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DEEGAN ON LA-The threats against an elected official were of enough concern to warrant extra security precautions. The overflow crowd was, by all accounts, hostile and angry. As the meeting unfolded, four distinct parties to the dispute emerged: the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council and surrounding community members, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), the Friends of Runyon Canyon, and the Department of Recreation and Parks. 

The verbal brawl and chaos at the Durant Library in Hollywood a few nights ago was prompted by a proposal for the donation of a basketball court, embedded with a corporate sponsor’s logo, planned for installation in Runyon Canyon Park. 

Who knew you could purchase corporate sponsorship rights for spaces in our city’s parks? Or that there was a city department that specializes in matching up private enterprise with public entities expressly for this purpose? Or, that non-profit corporations have been created to work these private-public partnerships to support underfunded city projects? 

Despite these mysteries, everyone there knew for sure that obtaining community buy-in, especially a review by the local neighborhood council, (in this case the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council) would have been more than politic…it was mandatory. 

Those who overlooked that piece of the review process – meaning, all three on the other side of the issue -- ruefully admitted their omission. 

“What was missed was consulting with the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council. The City didn't communicate as well as it could have. That’s where the frustration came from, and rightfully so,” said a spokesperson for Councilmember David Ryu (CD4.) 

The Councilmember apologized to the group at the meeting, but also expressed concern about the tone and “hostile language” directed toward him and his staff, the Department of Recreation and Parks staff, the Friends of Runyon Canyon Park, and the neighborhood council. 

Don Andres, VP of the Friends of Runyon Canyon Park, weighed in, saying, “Unfortunately, we did not solicit input from the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, and we should have done that, and we apologize for that. We made a false assumption that this had been communicated.” 

“Going forward, the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council will have a person on their board designated as park liaison. It’s a great lesson learned,” said Vicki Israel, Assistant General Manager of the Partnership and Revenue Branch at the Department of Recreation and Parks. 

The cause of the heated dispute is a plan signed off on downtown that arrived as a surprise up in the hills. It would allow a clothing manufacturer to provide funds to build a basketball court in the middle of Runyon Canyon Park and “brand” it with its corporate logo. 

The corporate donor has also offered to provide Rec and Parks with maintenance funding on an annual basis for a period of ten years. In purely abstract philanthropic terms, this $260,000 donation would be called a restricted gift plus an endowment: a very solid “get.” The donor would also expect a tax write-off. 

The philanthropic exchange is very unbalanced right now because, while the donor may be satisfied, the community-as-recipient is not. 

Councilmember David Ryu says he will speak to the City Attorney, who would need to be the one to unwind what sounds like a “done deal.” Others murmur about litigation. It’s a mess. 

All groups involved -- the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, David Ryu, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Friends of Runyon Canyon – must figure out a way to provide the community with something they can honor instead of vilify. 

Not only did the community object to the basketball court but they were also concerned with the “commercialization” of the park. Anastasia Mann, President of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, said, “People see Runyon Canyon as a precious wilderness park... As their community park, despite the influx of out-of-the-area visitors. The community members present reflected 99% opposition to building a basketball court in the middle of the park. There are stakeholders now discussing a lawsuit and/or injunctions to halt the building of the basketball court.” 

The councilmember’s spokesperson stated, “David Ryu will consult with the City Attorney’s Office in regards to the future of the basketball court project and possibly scaling the logo back.” 

How does Runyon Canyon Park fit into this puzzle? Who are the Friends of Runyon Canyon”? And what is this unit at Rec and Parks that cultivates corporate sponsorships and partnerships? 

A few facts and stats can help illustrate the scope and popularity of Runyon Canyon Park. This public gem, a site for which Councilmember David Ryu and the Department of Recreation and Parks are “public stewards,” is a 136-acre urban park, including a 90-acre off-leash dog park, an open space turf area and numerous hiking trails -- all situated in the wilderness of the Hollywood Hills. The park is managed by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks; it has two main entrances, off Fuller Avenue in Hollywood at the bottom of the park and off Mulholland Drive at the top of the park. 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon, a private 501c-3 non-profit support group, surveyed the park visitors in April/May 2015 and found that Runyon has a diverse set of users with diverse needs. It’s a very popular regional park with about 35,000 visits per week (can be multiple visits per day by one person), 1.8 million visits per year, and 300,000 dog visits per year. Visitors from the surrounding zip code (90046) make up 20% of the visitors, while 25% are infrequent visitors or tourists. Overall, 85% of visitors come from greater LA. About one-third of its visitors are under 39 years of age, and about one-fifth are over 50 years old. 

For all that went wrong -- a massive communications breakdown that shut out community input – there is an upside. With community participation and buy-in, there’s a chance to create a model program and vision for Runyon Canyon Park that can give the park sustainability, benefiting the local neighborhood and its extended community of park users – all in an era of lowered financial expectations that has meant doing more with less, unless, of course, you have some friends. 

But “friends” are just what the city and the community need right now. However, like any new relationship, everyone must vibrate on the same frequency. That means the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, Councilmember David Ryu, the Friends of Runyon Canyon, and the Department of Recreation and Parks must all get in sync and come to an agreement. 

Summing up the current state of the relationship and the challenges facing it, Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council President Anastasia Mann said, “The Friends of Runyon Canyon are nice, good, dedicated people, who have worked hard and mean well, who love Runyon Canyon and with whom HHWNC has worked and supported emotionally and financially since their inception as a 501c charitable organization. But, because of recent circumstances, if FORC wants to be trusted and therefore continue to raise money to support the park, they should be willing to take to heart the opinions of the local stakeholders, their passions, and their fears, as hard as it may be, without judging them antagonistically.” 

Mann continued, “Sadly, the situation has resulted in some damage within the local stakeholder base to FORC's credibility due to their acknowledged lack of transparency about the corporate sponsorship of a basketball court in Runyon, the story behind the acquisition of the sponsorship, as well as the legal precedent it sets for the future. Legitimate questions were raised about the possible future use of the ball court site for publicity, charity events, impact on wildlife, etc. What angered people the most was the apparent avoidance of proper public disclosure, therefore input, as well as the lack of any environmental impact study (CEQA).” 

“Our very engaged community here is upset that there was no proper publicly noticed process until Monday night's meeting by HHWNC at which time they were told it is "too late" to turn back. That anger seemed to blur anyone's willingness to participate in a discussion of the pros and cons of any aspect of the professionally presented proposed "Vision Plan”, added Mann. 

Now, because they were overlooked in the initial process, the neighborhood council and the community actually have an advantage in round two. As tempers cool down and all sides prepare for an upcoming town forum on the topic, neighbors can be at the center of attention and can possibly leverage their influence for a better result than offered in the original plan. “Going forward, there will be town halls with CD4, the community, the Neighborhood Council and us, hopefully for a date very soon in May,” Friends of Runyon Canyon VP Don Andres told CityWatch. 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon have been working on a Vision Plan for the park that extends beyond the current basketball court and logo dispute. 

“The park has many challenges and needs so much infrastructure improvement,” stated Don Andres, VP of the Friends of Runyon Canyon. He continued, “If it remains unsafe, it may ultimately face closure. To ensure this wilderness area remains, we must focus on infrastructure, and so we have commissioned a landscape architect to do a Vision Plan, to get an independent view of a very large regional park in the middle of neighborhoods. What is it that we should do with this park, independent of any individual bias, or parks and recreation, and be objective? 

“This Vision Plan is a conceptual set of ideas of what the park could be, not a blueprint for implementation. It focuses on a park improvement and preservation plan. How to deal with erosion control, run-down trails, DWP lines, storm water runoff, and increased public safety. LAFD frequently rescues hikers, so we must consider the public safety aspects of the overall park plan.”

Amplifying the needs, Andres continued, “We need more water fountains, better trails, repair of the east trail steps. We have a diverse set of users who don't understand some of the potential dangers of the park. We also have to know how to make park land safe, to restore it to a level that it wouldnt erode away, and understand the importance of maintaining the sustainability of the land. 

“Given the diversity and enormous number of people visiting Runyon and the related neighborhoods, the only real solution is a compromise and balanced approach”, concluded Andres. 

Speaking about the Vision Plan, the Ryu spokesperson pointed out that, "80% of visitors are from outside the Hollywood area. We must consider the overall infrastructure needs of the park to make it safe for all users. On Monday, we heard from many residents who live near the park, but it's also important that we hear from as many park users as possible." 

The city has opened a new branch at the Recreation and Parks Department to identify sponsorship possibilities and to cultivate prospective sponsors. The beneficiary project receives cash, and if processed through a 501(c-3) such as Friends of Runyon Canyon, the donor (such as this clothing manufacturer) receives a significant tax write-off; donors get both branding and promotion as well as a tax-deduction. That's a lot. Ideally, it would be a very discrete acknowledgement, handled appropriately, maybe on a side fence, and without commercial slogans or other marketing overtones. This requires very careful monitoring. 

Vicki Israel, Assistant General Manager Partnership and Revenue Branch at the Department of Recreation and Parks, explains how this unique program works: “With budget reductions we cannot do it alone anymore, and have started creating public-private partnerships with the Department of Parks and Recreation. They are necessary and we seek them. Our naming policy and a sponsor recognition policy, that create the guidelines and policy to continue to reach out and obtain partners, were approved by the Board of Park Commissioners and the City Attorney. 

“One of our partners is the Friends of Runyon Canyon that came to the Department of Parks and Recreation about their plans. We created a MOU (memorandum of understanding) that we took to the Board of Park Commissioners as public process. When it was approved, the Friends of Runyon Canyon went out to do fundraising on behalf of Runyon Canyon. They dont want commercialization.” 

When asked if it was accurate to say the basketball court donation was "facilitated by the Friends of Runyon Canyon,” FRC’s Don Andres told CityWatch, “Not really. That implies much more Friends involvement than what really happened.” 

Unknown, or yet-to-be-revealed, is how this project got launched to start with -- by whom and exactly when? How did the San Francisco area-based donor know to go to an unheralded department in the city bureaucracy, if it was not with the navigation that FRC and their MOU with the department could facilitate? Now that the idea has become almost toxic, nobody seems to want to own the origin of the plan. The donor is a voice still to be heard from, although it may wind up wishing it never got involved, no matter what its good intentions. The public relations backlash could hurt more than the corporate branding in the park could help. But if the donor pulls out, that issue might dissolve. 

This is a matter that needs more (hopefully civil) conversation and clarity to reach a resolution. The neighborhood council has undeniable parity as an interested party, and the councilmember has stepped in. There must be an agreement between them. 

For now, considering where this dispute is taking place, let's let a Hollywood icon have the last word: “What we've got here is failure to communicate.” - Paul Newman, from the 1967 movie, “Cool Hand Luke.”

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PUMP POLITICS--Transportation funding in California has, as SBCA readers must know by now, reached a “crisis.” Shrinking gas tax revenues, combined with an increasing reliance on local sales taxes limited to specific transportation projects, have left our overbuilt and under-maintained highways, roads, and bridges without enough funds to keep them in a basic state of good repair.

Last year the need for a solution was so urgent that Governor Brown called a “special legislative session” on transportation funding, but the process so far has produced little. Some legislators proposed “bold” funding ideas, including raising the gas tax. Increasing the gas tax is long overdue, but meets such knee-jerk opposition that just bringing up the subject counts as a bold action. A lack of focus, and an inability to come to an agreement about how to “fix” what is a royal mess, means that so far no solution is forthcoming.

Meanwhile the yearly state budget process is underway again, with hearings to begin in earnest in the next few weeks. Governor Jerry Brown made his budget proposal in January, and will issue a “May revise” after tax day when state revenues are clearer.

In addition to the state budget, legislators are deciding how to spend the forty percent of last year’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) that remained unallocated. This money comes from cap-and-trade and must be used to further reduce greenhouse gases. In this case, having such a large chunk of extra funds has created a sort of paralysis because everyone wants some of it.

While transportation is only part of the budget, it is a big one, and how we invest transportation dollars now will have an impact on the state for many years.

Governor Brown’s proposed budget includes a couple of new sources of income for transportation funding, but it is unclear how he will make them happen. In addition to raising gas taxes, Brown proposed a “road improvement charge” that would be added to vehicle registration fees. However, both proposals need approval by two-thirds of the legislature to pass, and Republican members continue to oppose raising taxes or adding fees. The new sources of funds would add $4 billion to Brown’s transportation budget—so if they do not pass, transportation spending could be in jeopardy.

Brown also proposes new GGRF allocations for transit (capital expenses, not operations) and for a new “low carbon roads” program. Streetsblog has written about the problems with this proposal -- that in part it seems to duplicate the existing Active Transportation Program, and that the rest of it remains worrisomely undefined.

Brown’s proposal would include the following new allocations:

From increased taxes and a new “road improvement charge”:

  • $3 billion to highways and local roads for maintenance
  • $900 million to the State Transportation Improvement Program,  which is controlled by Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission and puts most of its funding towards highway expansion
  • $200 million to trade corridors, which unfortunately means highway expansion, not rail

From the GGRF:

  • $400 million for transit capital projects
  • $100 million for “low carbon roads” 

Breaking the budget plan down into categories of “highway expansion” (car-planning-per-usual) vs. “active transportation” vs. “transit,” it is clear that it is very much business as usual. 

Business as usual: The Active Transportation Program receives less than one percent of the total proposed transportation budget, and transit does not fare much better. Image courtesy the California Bicycle Coalition

Of the total transportation budget of $18.1 billion, only a tiny slice goes to active transportation. That slice doesn’t even match the statewide bicycle commute mode share of 1.1 percent, let alone the share of all trips currently made by bicycle or walking. According to the last California Household Travel Survey, almost 20 percent of all trips are made by walking, biking, and transit -- and Caltrans’s Strategic Management Plan calls for increasing that to 47 percent by 2020.

If California wants to encourage people to bike and walk and take transit, it will to have to invest a larger percentage of its budget in those travel modes. Years of planning exclusively for cars has put the state way behind where it needs to be.

Meanwhile, the California Transportation Plan 2040, the framework used for planning to meet the state’s future transportation needs, includes the following strategies to meet a variety of state goals, including transportation and environmental goals:

  • Doubling transit service and transit speed and reducing transfer wait times
  • Twenty percent of local bus service to be Bus Rapid Transit
  • Fifty percent reduction in future high-speed rail fares
  • Five percent increase in carpooling and car-sharing
  • Doubling bicycling and walking

If the cost to own and operate private cars keeps increasing, and there are huge increases in vehicle and fuel efficiency, then the state would be able to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, according to the plans’ projections.

But bicycling and walking are not going to double without more investment in making them safe, viable options for more people.

Advocates working on these issues in Sacramento have been formulating ideas for a counter proposal for the transportation budget. Working as a coalition under Climate Plan, groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, California Bicycle Coalition, Greenbelt Alliance, Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, TransForm, PolicyLink, MoveLA, Public Advocates, and a host of others, are proposing that the governor and legislators invest transportation dollars where they will make the biggest difference in meeting public health, climate change, and equity goals.

Among their ideas are to:

  • Build Complete Streets on all those new and newly-repaved roads
  • Use transportation investments to create better job opportunities
  • Reject “low carbon roads” and invest in the existing Active Transportation Program
  • Balance transit capital investments with money for operations and transit passes
  • Increase the investment in the Active Transportation Program by at least $100 million to bring it more in line with other spending
  • Mitigate trade corridor expansion impacts, including environmental and induced traffic effects

Next Monday, April 11, the Climate Plan coalition will present a package of bills in Sacramento -- including some SBCA covered here  -- that move the state closer to achieving these goals. Stay tuned to Streetsblog California for coverage of their reception at their first hearing.

 

(Melanie Curry writes for Steetsblog California, where this piece was originally posted. To keep up with state transportation policy, follow Streetsblog on Twitter/StreetsblogCal.) Photo: The SF Chronicle. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Long Beach Opera started the season in a regular theater, then moved to a National Guard Armory for its second production, and now is performing in the basement of the Federal Bar in Long Beach. One local wag, when informed of these wanderings, referred to LBO as the Found Space Opera. There is a bit of truth to this, in that LBO has a penchant for finding an unusual place to fit the show rather than trying to fit the show to the home arena. In the case of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine -- The Human Voice -- the tiny performance space in the basement of what was previously a bank puts the action and sonic intensity right in our faces, mere feet away, and thereby manages to drive some serious emotional impact.

I must confess that I approached this performance with some trepidation, as I had seen La Voix Humaine at the Chicago Lyric Opera back in the 1980s, and it didn't connect with me. After all, this opera features a lone performer who sings into a telephone for the duration of the piece. In the cavernous spaces of the Chicago opera house, the performance lacked drama and emotional connection. But this week things were different. Performed up close and with emotional intensity, this opera is a completely different organism.

In Long Beach this week and next, Suzan Hanson adds that something to the performance that brings it alive, and that something is acting ability to add to vocal power. In this case, acting ability involves not just expression and movement. It involves the use of the voice to convey nuances of emotion and situation.

So what is La Voix Humaine, and why did it work so well for LBO?

The opera was crafted by Francis Poulenc in the 1950s, based on a 1930 play by Jean Cocteau. A woman is alone in her room, waiting for the telephone to ring. There are a couple of wrong numbers, but finally her now-former lover rings in. We've been told in advance that her ex is going to marry someone else, but we don't know much of anything beyond that.

The opera consists of the woman communicating through multiple telephone conversations. We are allowed to figure things out bit by bit through hearing her side -- but only her side -- of the conversations. We find out one critical thing fairly early in the performance, when the performer learns that her ex-lover will be marrying the next day. The woman, who is referred to in the opera only as Elle (in other words Her), reacts in various ways, at some times putting on a brave front, other times being flirtatious, but gradually crumbling. She admits to a previous suicide attempt, and then pretends to be talked down from the emotional edge.

In a way, this story is the mirror image of all those shows in which some brave cop or fireman is trying to talk down a suicidal person. La Voix Humaine provides us the other side of the story -- we are placed in the mind of the suicidal person rather than the rescuer. It's a curious inversion, because those tv shows usually start by making the audience irritated at the suicidal character -- why can't she behave herself and get down off the ledge, or put down the gun? This opera presents us with the opposite point of view. We begin to empathize with her as we begin to feel her pain.

Suzan Hanson has been singing with LBO for a decade and a half at this point, and as a dramatic actress, this may be her performance to remember.

On a secondary note, this opera fits in with a century old tradition that historians of cinema and drama have been commenting on for several decades, namely the telephone drama. Americans are familiar with the comedy of Bob Newhart, featuring the one-sided phone conversation as a plot gimmick. But the telephone as a major plot point is actually more than a century old. Cinema historian Eileen Bowser, former curator at the Museum of Modern Art, explained how early cinema used the evolving technology of the day. It was what Bowser refers to as the telephone thriller, which developed in the early 1900s. The telephone was fairly new at the time, and provided a cinematic way of connecting characters to each other on screen while showing them as separated by distance. It's a way of adding dramatic tension to a situation, because the audience can be kept in ignorance about one side or the other as the storyline develops.

La Voix Humaine takes the idea a step further by presenting that one side of the conversation live, right in front of the audience, and by gradually developing the heroine's distress. At first she puts on a brave front not only to the audience but to her distant telephonic companion. As the minutes go by, she allows herself to feel things more and more directly, until she finally allows herself to succumb to unbearable anguish -- and with great musical expressiveness.

One of the strong points of this production is the intimate relationship of the playing area to the audience. There can't be much more than a hundred or so seats in the room, so it's a dramatic connection that is akin to seeing a powerful play close up. This is both benefit and problem, because there are only four performances remaining, and half of them are already sold out.

By the way, the opera's storyline includes the technical glitches characteristic of telephone service in a bygone era. There are lost connections and something that the modern generation is thankfully ignorant of, the problem of interruptions on a party line. But these are all too real to Elle, who answers the ringing of the phone with her plaintive, "Hello, hello!" In the LBO presentation, the two words signal us that we are about to be presented with more clues to what has happened and will happen in one woman's doomed and lonely life.

LBO chose to present La Voix Humaine in English translation rather than in the original French. At one level, this takes away something, but only if you are fluent in French. Cocteau was interested in exploring the human voice, as the title implies. In the current production, LBO chooses to make the emotional connection by using understandable language -- and with terrific diction by Hanson. This was the right choice.

LBO opened the evening with a series of short pieces by Satie, including narration, presented to fine comic effect by Robin Buck.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture, science, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)

-cw


 

PERSPECTIVE-When voters get angry at a politician, some turn to the recall process. There have been over 150 recall attempts in California; nine made it to the ballot, five succeeded in removing an official. The best known effort ran Governor Gray Davis out of office.

Five out of 150 …. a poor return by any measure.

The latest attempt is underway in my own backyard. A group of Valley Village residents wants to start a recall process against City Councilmember Paul Krekorian. (Photo above.) He is accused of allowing the premature demolition of a 1930’s era structure, which briefly served as a residence for Marilyn Monroe before she rose to fame.

You can argue until the cows come home, or Marilyn, if the property was historically significant, as the group claims. Indeed, the developer pulled the trigger on razing it before approval was granted by the city.

Regardless of what Krekorian’s role was, or was not, the math of this recall attempt runs overwhelmingly against success.

The recall group would be required to get signatures from 15% of the registered voters in CD2, or around 18,000+.

The largest turnout in CD2 in many years was back in 2009 in a hotly contested race between Krekorian and Chris Essel. It was a race I covered extensively in my blog, including a blow-by-blow account of almost every debate, and, boy, were there a bunch of them, held in every corner of CD2.

The campaign was ugly and generated much media coverage. Very large sums of money were in play, including union contributions from IBEW Local 18. You know, Brian D’Arcy’s boys and girls – the same ones who gave us those free-wheeling non-profit trusts who have used $40M of our money to pay for junkets and steak dinners. Allow me to digress, but I am still waiting for DWP General Manager Marcie “D’Arcy” Edwards’ reports dealing with reforming the trusts.

For all of that hoopla, rancor and treasure, the turnout was around 15.5%.

So, what are the odds of getting good signatures from 15% of the registered voters for a low profile, and likely little-publicized campaign?

You do the math.

I am sure there are quite a few residents in CD2, as in any district, who do not even know who their council members are.

“Sign what?”

“Who is Krekorian?”

There is a time and a place for recalls. When there is an adequate body of evidence strongly supporting the possibility of malfeasance, start circulating the petitions.

But it requires due diligence to build a case.

Aggrieved citizens would better serve themselves and the public by focusing on developing and funding alternative candidates for scheduled elections.

It takes work, but the sooner started, the better.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-There’s no question that the affordable housing crisis in LA is a major issue. Median rent grew 27 percent between 2000 and 2013 while household incomes for renters fell by 7 percent in the same period. Bootleg apartments or unpermitted rental units have formed sort of a black market economy -- until the units are discovered by housing inspections. Typically the landlord doesn’t have enough time to bring the units to compliance and in 80 percent of the cases, the tenants are evicted, which brings further challenges to the struggling renters.

Between 2010 and 2015, about 2,560 non-permitted units have been cited by City enforcement agencies and 1,765 of those have been removed. Only 201 (12%) were legalized by complying with the City’s building and zoning regulations. This has caused a net loss in the City’s housing creation.

Back in 2014, LA City Councilman Felipe Fuentes introduced motion CF 14-1150, seconded by Paul Koretz, that examines the consequences and logistics of a program that would legalize LA’s safe but unpermitted rental units. At first, the idea was supported by both tenant advocates and landlords but a new amnesty ordinance backed by the council brings far less enthusiasm from landlords. To legalize the units, the landlords must keep a specified number of units in the building affordable for a 55 year period.

Affordable housing mandates for both landlords and developers are often met with a preference to “just pay the fine” rather than lose out on income. The other issue is if the city will be able to actually enforce the ordinance.

Cities across the country, including West Hollywood and Santa Monica, have similar ordinances. The City of Santa Monica passed a law that permits owners to keep the unpermitted units as long as they meet a basic level of standards without having to meet current development standards like setback and density provisions. Parking requirements may be adjusted if the traffic engineer determines the parking situation is not feasible. Only 30 of about 484 units have actually been legalized since the passing of the ordinance, perhaps in part due to the lack of code enforcement procedures for citing illegal units, as well as the absence of a time limit. Santa Monica’s rent stabilization laws also prevent the units from being removed unless the unit is not habitable or cannot be made habitable.

Currently, the number of Angelenos who pay 50 percent or more of their incomes in rent is greater than in other cities. The problem is more pronounced for low-income renters but the housing shortage has also impacted middle- to upper-income renters, which impacts everything from traffic, air quality, jobs, and the quality of life for residents living in unsafe or overcrowded conditions.

Bootleg apartments in multi-unit buildings are constructed from converted rec rooms, storage rooms, or illegally subdivided apartments. If authorities find the unpermitted units, owners typically are given 30 days to remove the unit or legalize. However, the barrier towards legalization isn’t always building code compliance but more often planning and zoning codes, including density and parking.

One concern is that legalization could result in a rent increase or displacement without protections, which is why the council included the affordable housing mandate. The City Council recommends that renters of the unpermitted units aren’t evicted and are protected by any rent stabilization ordinances.

Motivating multi-unit building owners to convert the unpermitted units while providing affordable housing is a challenge, while maintaining a neighborhood’s livability is also a challenge. However, encouraging apartment owners to convert unpermitted bootleg apartments into viable living spaces seems to be one of the logical solutions to a significant and widespread problem.

The bootleg apartments in Los Angeles, as they exist, present problems because the city cannot verify life and safety standards or if the units are allowed under the zoning code. A successful program would allow for the preservation of safe, livable units while respecting the neighborhood character and habitability.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Formerly the second in command at the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Paul Tanaka, now faces up to 15 years in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Tanaka was convicted on Wednesday on charges he tried to squash an FBI investigation of the country’s largest urban jail system.

During the two-week trial, Tanaka pointed his finger at retired Sheriff Lee Baca as the mastermind behind the plan. Baca, who previously pleaded guilty to a single felony charge as part of a plea deal, is facing a six-month prison sentence for lying to federal investigators that he was unaware that his deputies had threatened an FBI agent in 2011. The agent had been investigating allegations of corruption and civil rights violations against inmates.

According to prosecutors, the scandal hinges at least in part from the efforts of Tanaka and Baca to hide an inmate informant from the FBI in connection with an investigation into brutality and civil rights violations against inmates. Unlike cases that may involve a single or a handful of rogue cops, this conviction for a jail and obstruction scandal … reached all the way to the top echelons of the Sheriff’s Department,” wrote Joel Rubin of the LA Times.

Tanaka quickly rose through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department and had a reputation as a tough and domineering leader. Prior to his retirement in 2013, he ran the day-to-day operations of the department and had even more power than Sheriff Baca, whom Tanaka attempted to hide behind to excuse his actions through his “but he made me do it” testimony on the stand.

The conviction will likely be appealed. To date, nine members of the Sheriff’s Department have either accepted plea agreements or been convicted in connection with the scandal.

Tanaka’s conviction and Baca’s plea are a move in the right direction. Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California notes, “This trial is not about one individual, or an isolated incident of obstruction of justice by a law enforcement official. Rather, this case is about a culture of lawlessness and violence within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that went unchecked if not abetted by the top brass.”

Villagra adds that the conviction is “one more important step in the process of effecting much needed reform, a process that includes federal prosecutions… and implementation of the reforms proposed by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. This trial and the plea by former Sheriff Lee Baca are important reminders that no one is above the law and those individuals entrusted to uphold the law must also obey it.”’

Tanaka’s sentencing has been set for June 20.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST COMMENTARY--Last week, a federal judge ended a years-long tug of war when it ruled that Los Angeles County must remove a religious cross from its county seal.

Though religion has been an important part of Los Angeles’ history, the decision allows the Los Angeles County to present itself as an unbiased government that values no religion over others.

The ruling concludes a lawsuit that claimed the addition of a cross on top of the San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles County’s seal was unconstitutional. Los Angeles County supervisors voted to add the cross to the seal in 2014 despite imminent legal action.

Though it may go unnoticed by many, the images that appear on the county seal are not trivial. Anyone working with the Los Angeles County should be able to expect a religion-neutral environment. Because the seal appears on many official documents and forms, anyone working on current official county paperwork has to do so on a document adorned with a Christian symbol. It’s not hard to imagine how this could be perceived as bias.

While some may argue the cross belongs on the seal as a matter of visual accuracy – it was recently restored after being lost for a time – the seal’s purpose as a symbol of Los Angeles doesn’t necessitate accuracy. In fact, many elements of the seal are inaccurate.

Still, there are legitimate reasons some may want the mission on the seal to bear the cross. Religion is more than just a belief system; it is tied deeply to culture and is an integral component of history. Everything, from art to systems of government, is impossible to study through a lens that omits reference to religion. Therefore, symbols like the Christian cross atop the San Gabriel Mission have a local cultural meaning that extends beyond a general representation of Christianity.

The Los Angeles County has a duty to acknowledge its cultural history, which includes the San Gabriel Mission that played a crucial role in the development of Southern California. The acknowledgement of this history cannot be separated from Christianity, so it is understandable that some would argue for the inclusion of the cross on the mission.

However, the first and most important task of the county will always be to serve and protect its current constituents, and that constituency is more diverse than ever. To make good on this duty, the county must do what it can to respect all of the various belief systems without giving approval to some over others.

Having the San Gabriel Mission on the Los Angeles County seal but omitting its cross strikes a fair balance between acknowledging the county’s religious cultural history and creating a nondiscriminatory environment.

(This editorial appeared last week in the Daily Bruin. It reflects the view of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In principle, there is solid moral ground for the recent drive to boost the minimum wage to $15, with California and New York State taking dramatic steps Monday toward that goal. Low-wage workers have been losing ground for decades, as stagnant incomes have been eroded by higher living costs.

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MY TURN-I don't know about you but the election cycle this year seems interminable. I think we are the only industrialized nation that has an almost two year pre-election cycle. Add to this the fact that in LA we are also in the middle of Neighborhood Council (NC) elections. And they have caused a controversy all of their own. (Photo above: Westwood Neighborhood Council voting booths.)

Of course, this year is a little different from other NC election years. Like our national elections they have their own set of candidates, voters, complainers, winners and those who are crying foul for a variety of reasons.

There were some large organizational changes this year. How the outcome will be judged depends on who you talk to. Only part of the San Fernando Valley has concluded its elections; the rest will continue in other parts of the City each week until May.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century. For the first time, online voting has been available for those NCs that were willing to be the pioneers. Thirty-two out of the ninety-six neighborhood councils decided to be part of the experiment. We won't know the results until the election cycle is over.

The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA), under General Manager, Grayce Liu, spent almost a year investigating ways to make the election system more efficient. They hired city activist Jay Handal as Election Manager whose job has been to focus on nothing but making the elections work. Previous elections had been part of the EmpowerLA’s staff duties on top of everything else. They had an impossible workload.

Handal hired election supervisors for each of the twelve regions. They, with input from NC Board members, developed an entire marketing plan. Some of you might have seen the bus bench advertisements in your neighborhoods. There were templates developed for all kinds of promotional materials. Previously, each NC had had to do all the promotion itself.

Here's where it becomes complex. Right now our Presidential primary elections are taking up all the oxygen with a complicated process in which some states have open primaries, closed primaries, caucuses, and other methods of delegate selection. Likewise, the NCs all have different bylaws governing their elected Boards. For anyone trying to be somewhat efficient, as well as fair, it is a nightmare!  

Voter identification seems to be one of the biggest problems. Some NCs require what they call "self-affirmation," similar to our regular elections. You go to your polling place, sign a document that you are eligible to vote, get your ballot and go on your way. Others have what is called "documentation" -- and that is where the system breaks down.

When the system was devised, it was impossible to anticipate all of the circumstances that could occur. Each NC developed its own by-laws covering many things, including the structure of its board and how it would be elected.

Some NCs have eleven different ballots and the voters are restricted to voting for only candidates in their specific categories. As an example, a business owner in his NC could only vote for the candidates allocated “commercial seats.” Only stakeholders are allowed to vote, but the definition of a "stakeholder” has been redefined several times.

Now, the definition states a stakeholder eligible to vote is anyone who lives, works, owns property or has a continuing long-term organizational interest (kids attend school, family belongs to Church etc.)

This came about because of what was called the "drive-by" voters who claimed eligibility because they bought coffee at Starbucks daily. On a more serious note, it precluded developers from sending temporary workers on a construction project to vote in the NC election for the candidates the developer believed would be more amenable to his projects.

It was also used to keep the "old guard" from having election competition.

This is reminiscent of the way certain States have legislated "voter ID" laws, demanding voters have several different kinds of ID in order to vote. One would think that voting should be made easier. After all, we want big turnouts, right? I guess the adage, “be careful what you wish for" -- in other words, we want large turnouts but are they always desirable? The Republican Party is enjoying record turnouts but not exactly with the outcome they desire.

I have observed that having these types of restrictions doesn't encourage involvement...it chases people away.

On the subject of elections, I attended a gathering of people discussing "Why You Vote the Way You Do,” facilitated by Leon Williams of Sherman Oaks, who has been holding Salons for the past twenty-five years. wice a month he has different speakers come and attend his "Conversations with Leon.” I asked the question, "Do you know who is running for office locally?" I followed that up with, "Do any of you attend your Neighborhood Council Meetings?”

After all, these were intelligent, informed people who obviously cared enough to come out on a rainy evening and discuss politics. Only one person knew the name of his Councilmember. Another couple mentioned that they had tried to volunteer for their local NC but apparently the Board was not terribly welcoming.

I am curious if the online voting system will be successful. Some States have already incorporated it into their election process. California, with only one Tuesday election date, really needs to investigate online voting.

Handel said that some of the NCs who have experienced great turnouts have done an effective job in reaching out to their stakeholders. The NCs that have not even sent out a single mailer asking for candidates and promoting the election site have only themselves to blame for a poor turnout.

City Council President Herb Wesson placed the Neighborhood Councils under his rules committee almost a year ago. It would help if he would tackle some of the major issues affecting the operations of the Neighborhood Councils. He recently organized a task force to look at the issue of funding. Most of the people attending the first task force meeting wanted him to handle some of the other priorities as well.

The solutions are there...this is not nuclear science.

As always comments are welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-Have you been the victim of a dog attack or witnessed a dog attacking a person or animal in Los Angeles and were unable to reach Animal Services or were told that no officer was available to promptly respond? 

Does LA Animal Services adequately address complaints about menacing dogs turned loose by owners to threaten pets and people in your community?

Is your neighborhood plagued by strays or abandoned animals that have been reported to LAAS but not picked up?

Are you alarmed that coyotes have entered your well-fenced yard or are roaming your neighborhood, snatching beloved pets and frightening children and adults?

Are roosters or barking dogs disturbing your sleep and quiet enjoyment of your home? 

Do you suspect someone is abusing an animal or hoarding animals but you don’t know how -- -or are afraid -- to report it? 

Have you called LAAS at night about a dog or cat hit by a car or injured wildlife and been told there are only two Animal Control Officers available for the entire city?

Or, maybe you have had a great experience with LA Animal Services' field staff and were impressed by their professionalism, compassion, and competence and how quickly an officer arrived. 

Do you receive prompt, friendly service and accurate advice when you contact a city shelter? Do you love how the adoption of a pet was handled? 

Do city shelters provide a variety of animals that would make you return again to adopt?

Are you convinced and comforted by claims that LA is “almost no-kill”? 

Well, here’s your chance to tell Brenda Barnette about any or all of the above! 

Critics and supporters of Brenda Barnette’s tenure as General Manager of Los Angeles Animal Services (LAAS) -- -and all stakeholders in the city -- -are now promised an opportunity for their ideas, suggestions, and complaints to influence the future of animals and people in Los Angeles (whether or not they are pet owners.)

At a retreat in January, Animal Services Commissioners, LAAS staff and a representative from the Mayor’s office exchanged ideas about a shared vision for the future, GM Barnette announced at the last Commission meeting.

We are working together to create a Strategic Plan for LA Animal Services that encompasses the Mayor’s initiatives and valuable input from the community to help shape our goals and priorities for the next three to five years.

“We all agreed this means learning how the community perceives the Department -- what they feel they need and what they expect from us . . . and, we want to engage as much of the community as possible,” she said in a personal interview.

To accomplish this, evening community meetings are scheduled in each of the 15 Council Districts (see below).

If you can’t attend a meeting (or if you attend and also want your opinions to be included in the online survey results), here’s the survey link:  bit.ly/LAAS-Survey.  Participants must live in the city of Los Angeles or be business owners or employees of a business in LA.

Professional consultant and facilitator for the Strategic Plan meetings, Francisca Gonzales Baxa, emphasized, “The goal is to obtain the community’s input and best ideas to help LAAS promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.”

The draft Strategic Plan will be compiled from public input and presented to the Commission for consideration and modification before it is adopted for the Department. That meeting is another opportunity for public comment.

Here is the message Brenda Barnette said she would like to share with Angelenos:

“The Mayor and his staff have been very supportive of this process. After we held the retreat and started talking about having a strategic-planning process, developing a strategic plan for the Department became one of my priority performance goals. 

“ want to hear from people who don’t have pets, those who are afraid of dogs, those who need help sharing their neighborhood with wildlife and those who encounter animal cruelty and illegal animal activities but don’t know how to report what they have seen.

“I want to work with the community to create a Department that is balanced and one that meets the needs of the entire community.” 

Whether this process will result in a valid, viable plan for a well-staffed Animal Services department that fulfills its public safety mandate and addresses the serious and dangerous issues of dog attacks, animal (domestic and wildlife) abuse, illegal animal fighting, abandonment and neglect -- with vigorous criminal prosecution -- will not be known until it is devised and implemented.

But for a very small investment of time and effort, everyone in Los Angeles can and should participate. Skepticism or complacency must be put aside because this plan will be formulated with or without broad public input and directly affects everyone's personal safety (human and animal).

Remember, failure to contribute abdicates the right to future dissent.

Here's the current schedule for Strategic Plan meetings:

Wednesday, April 13, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 7, Pacoima City Hall, Media Room
13520 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima, CA 91331

Monday, April 18, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 6, Marvin Braude Bldg., Rm 1A & 1B
6262 Van Nuys Blvd.,Van Nuys, CA 91401

Tuesday, April 19, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 5, Encino Community Center
4935 Balboa Blvd., Encino, CA 91316

Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Councilmember Blumenfield’s
District Office Community Room
19040 Vanowen St., Reseda, CA 91335

Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 12, Community Service Center
9207 Oakdale Ave., Suite 200, Chatsworth, CA 91311

Thursday, April 28, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 13, Sandra Cisneros Campus
1018 Mohawk Street, Los Angeles, CA 90026

Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 4, Hollywood Field Office
6501 Fountain Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90028

Wednesday, May 4, 2016, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Council District 2, Studio City Recreation Center
12621 Rye St., Studio City, CA 91604

Tuesday, May 10, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 14 Field Office, Community Room
2130 E. 1st Street, Suite 241, Los Angeles, CA 90033

Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 10, District Office
1819 South Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90066

Tuesday, May 17, 2016, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Council District 8, District Office, Community Room
8475 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 9004

More info @ http://www.laanimalservices.com/community/

 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

PEOPLE POWER--Valley Village has gone Hollywood. Following Howard Beale’s lead in “Network,” it’s yelling, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.”

Valley Village has gone Hollywood in another way. It is suing the City of Los Angeles. Hollywoodians learned a long time ago that the only way to derail the developer juggernaut at City Hall is to sue. The Valley Village uprising began when Councilmember Krekorian needlessly demolished one of Marilyn Monroe’s old homes before people could have it moved to another location. See CityWatch article from August 27, 2015.

Marilyn’s former home did not even interfere with the condo project which Krekorian wanted. The mentality which prevails at City Hall is a feudal one, where each councilmember fancies himself as the Lord of his fiefdom with his constituents as serfs. Their role is to render him homage and gifts. When the peasants had the nerve to oppose the needless destruction of Marilyn’s modest home, Krekorian’s office helped the developer use an invalid permit to demolish it just three days before the Cultural Heritage Commission hearing that was to consider the matter.

Following in Hollywood’s litigation footsteps, tiny SaveValleyVillage sued the city over the illegal demolition of Marilyn’s home.

SaveValleyVillage filed a follow-up lawsuit challenging City Council’s unlawful vote trading practices wherein councilmembers agree not to vote No on a project in another council district. Penal Code 86 criminalized all vote trading agreements. That unlawful vote trading pact is the key to developer power at City Hall. All a developer has to do is be “nice” to one poor councilmember and he will be bestowed with riches that include entitlements, exemptions and financial subsidies. Not only does a developer receive an iron clad guarantee of unanimous City Council approval, but just by being nice to a council member he gets a cheap way to rape the zoning code.

With the knowledge that voters had stopped La Bonge’s hand-picked successor from being elected in Hollywood’s Council District 4, Valley Village decided not to wait for Krekorian’s re-election time, but to undertake a recall…a big challenge for such a small group.

Councilmember Krekorian’s wanton destruction of Marilyn’s former home was particularly mean spirited, but Angelenos throughout the city are treated in a similarly shabby manner. Each councilmember knows that his or her word is law within the district, thanks to the City Council’s unlawful “voting pact.”

The question for Angelenos is this: Are you sick and tired of councilmembers who are too busy obsessing over maximizing the profits of Big Business to care about your quality of your life?

If the councilmember approves a project which is patently illegal, such as the Target Store in Hollywood, he knows that it will pass unanimously. If he wants to destroy a historic home like the Bartlett Home in Hollywood or Marilyn’s home in Valley Village, he knows that the City Council will unanimously approve. If he wants to approve a mega project that will loom over nearby homes, the homeowners will soon find a humongous wall in their midst.

As an example, look at how Council President Wesson helped get hundreds of millions of dollars for developers to provide disabled accessible housing that has been allegedly pocketed by those developers and was sued by advocates of the disabled. Wesson has supported the demolition of thousands of rent controlled units, creating an artificial market for his developer buddies to construct affordable housing with funds earmarked for the disabled. Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti have both been shedding crocodile tears for the homeless. But in the meantime, they are steering hundreds of millions of dollars to their developer friends for the construction of “affordable housing.”

The problems besetting Valley Village and Hollywood are citywide, although Mitch O-Farrell (Council District 13) and Herb Wesson (Council District 10) are especially aloof from their constituents. If Angelenos want to really take back our city from the City Hall Overlords, maybe two more recall petitions would be a good start.

If we Angelenos, do not look out for ourselves, who else will do it? If we don’t step up now, then when? We have the tool of the “recall.” We need to find the will to use it. And three recalls are better than one.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

JUST THE FACTS-I am pushing my article on the Los Angeles Police Commission to a later date due to the “rants” I received about my last piece in CityWatch on the Second Amendment and guns. 

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