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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-In my last column, I wrote about the increasing grassroots activism to address quality of life issues, which include a Wild West approach to development where developers fund environmental reviews and politicians greenlight variances and spotty spot zoning to get around the general plan. 

While the Coalition to Preserve LA collects signatures to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot, other groups are filing lawsuits to slow down the rash of development in the meantime. 

As developers and investors work to get in their “last slicks” before a possible turnaround, many see the fast track approval of mega-developments as propelled by what they see to be an obsequious city council and administration. 

Save Valley Village, in an unprecedented move, has filed a suit against all 15 city councilmembers for their “unlawful voting pact.” A spokesperson for the group says, “For the City Council to avoid CRIMINAL charges, each councilmember will have to make his own decisions and no longer succumb to the illegal voting pact.” 

Let’s take a look at Penal Code 86, which criminalizes vote trading agreements. The code grew from the State Constitution requirement that all municipal elections be non-partisan. Removing political parties from the equation would remove corruption from local politics. Wrong. Without parties in play, individual councilmembers had to find some other means to have their measures adopted by the entire city council or at or at least 8 of 15 votes. Enter vote trading. 

In 2006, the State Legislature amended Penal Code 86 to consider any type of voting agreement to be a form of criminal bribery. Councilmembers can’t legally agree to give or withhold his or her vote in return that another councilmember will give or withhold a vote on this or any other matter. 

However, Penal Code 86 doesn’t appear to have halted or even slowed down the unlawful vote trading pact that is the key to developer power at City Hall. Campaign contributions from developers and their attorney fill the coffers of councilmembers at the city and state level. State politicians are not held to the same financial caps as city politicians so the impact on the state level may be even greater. 

What’s the end result? Land-use entitlement approvals for specific plan amendments, zone changes, bonuses, and variances all require public hearings and protocol. Save Valley Village charges that the land use entitlements are being approved without this protocol, as shown by evidence submitted into the case record that proves noncompliance. 

To top things off, Mayor Eric Garcetti is supporting Assembly Bill 2356 authored by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez. Kathryn Phillips, director at the Sierra Club of California, wrote an April 18 column in CityWatch disclosing the mayor’s involvement. AB 2356 would change the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to allow for infill planning to circumvent disclosure of environmental impact of proposed development projects.

Mayor Garcetti has also received some heat for his role in the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Mine” voting agreements that have become commonplace. Back in December 2010, then Council President Garcetti boasted of a 99.35% record for unanimous votes in the Council. A unanimous track record has a flipside to that perceived efficiency, placing a whole lot of power in the hands of a few. Save Valley Village points to Los Angeles Councilmember Krekorian (photo above), who is the subject of the group’s recall effort. 

Critics say Krekorian, who represents North Hollywood, Valley Village, and Studio City, has favored commercial interests above community requests. Save Valley Village accuses the councilmember of approving zone changes, opposing efforts to designate local buildings as historic monuments, and failing to respond to concerns about dangerous demolitions. 

The catalyst for the effort to collect recall petition signatures is the destruction of the Hermitage Avenue home of a 17-year old Norma Jean Dougherty, better known as Marilyn Monroe. In June, the property was razed just days before a Cultural Heritage Commission hearing on the case. Critics say Krekorian failed to support the landmark request, along with his failure to act in another preservation case involving Henry’s Tacos in North Hollywood, both of which critics point to as an example of “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch My Back” voting agreements. The city council voted unanimously to approve the demolition of Monroe’s former home to pave way for a condo project. 

Per the Save Valley Village website, the unincorporated association is “working towards enforcing laws and legislation to protect us from developer-initiated zone changes and City Hall-motivated over-densification that erode the character of our neighborhoods and the quality of our lives by forcing massive developments into already established, healthy and sustainable communities and neighborhoods.” 

The association addresses a “disturbing loss of landmarks, homes, and cultural character. Projects go forward, notwithstanding violations of California Government Codes, Environmental/CEQA laws and local ordinances.” The increased density and growth of McMansions are threatening the Valley Village way of life, resulting in the loss of decades-old trees, historic homesteads, open spaces, and affordable housing, as demonstrated by the 300 percent rise in Ellis Act evictions from 2013 to 2014.

Elected officials, whether at the local, state, or federal level, have a responsibility to represent the needs and concerns of their constituents, not only those interests with the deepest pockets. 

Grassroots groups like Save Valley Village are doing what they can to keep the fox from the hen house, to protect the interests of the rest of us and to save the integrity of each neighborhood in our city.

 

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

LA TRANSPO: THE ‘HOW’, THE ‘WHAT’ AND THE ‘WHERE’--There is probably no shortage of LA County residents who want more funding on transportation, but it's the "how" and the "what" and "where" that leaves the voters flustered.  Big-ticket items like "rail to LAX" and "rail line between the SF Valley and the Westside are attractive, but what about the bus and sidewalks that are supposed to help us use rail?  And are freeway/road motorists to be shown ANY love, here? 

So, with the understanding that it's by far too early to "just vote no" on any proposed "Measure R-2 sales tax", because we DO need more funding for transportation, here are some key questions for this tax's promoters to consider: 

1) Reaching for more rail lines is a good thing, but do we have our current rail lines properly maintained and spruced up with sufficient amenities to please the voters and future riders? 

Every advocate of the Expo Line and of rail in general acknowledges either the lack of rail cars, lack of parking, lack of security, lack of bicycle/pedestrian amenities, and--most importantly--the lack of bus connections to make our growing rail network a "winner" to serve a new generation of riders. 

After all, the Expo Line (which cost over $2 billion) wasn't just for those who already use transit, it was for everyone who paid for it.  It's understood that the "smart planners" all agree that the rail network is better for some than for others, but disenfranchising voters/taxpayers at this time doesn't seem too politically smart. 

Does it take a failure this November for the "smart planners" to acknowledge they're not as "smart" as they think they are? 

It may not be sexy to favor operations and amenities over new projects, but if it's deemed by enough voters that our rail system isn't ready for prime time do the "smart planners" really expect to convince taxpayers they should pay for more of that? 

2) The Rail Connection to LAX is a great and long-overdue idea, but its glaring lack of connections already has more than a few community leaders angry--particularly with those regions not served by that rail connection. 

The "Friends of the Green Line" project long ago concluded that the best way to assure a regional approach to LAX and Ontario and other airports was to create the very LAX/Metro/People Mover connection now being built under the leadership of Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, and others.   

So maybe it's not fair to look at "the glass half empty" rather than "the glass half full" because LA World Airports, Metro, and the LADOT are all doing the right things for the immediate future.  They deserve ample praise for their amazing turnarounds and progress...yet there are two glaring deficits/gaps in this Metro/LAX connection: 

a) The lack of a true LAX to Downtown/Union Station rail line.  The indirect Crenshaw Line serves the needs of that corridor, and goes back to the historic purpose of that line, which was to develop that underserved corridor. Yet while the needs of residents living south of the I-10 go underserved--thanks to CityWatch for more representation there--the need for the rail right of way to be more than a bikeway will best be addressed NOW.  Talk it up as part of the reason to vote "yes" this November!

b) The lack of a true LAX rail link to the Westside, and to Orange and Riverside Counties.  The South Bay deserves an expedited Green Line extension to connect to LAX (which was predicted by the "Friends of the Green Line" group to be the second-most favored region to want a connection to LAX), but what about the Westside?  What about the Green Line in the east that fails to connect to Metrolink and SoCal in general? 

3) Speaking of a lack of a Metrolink/Metro Green Line connection, how IS Metrolink to be funded and introduced to L.A. County residents who want access to/from the greater SoCal region? 

Are there enough funds proposed in a "Measure R-2" to create a seamless connection between Metrolink and MetroRail both at the eastern end of the Green Line, and for both the Foothill and Eastside Gold Lines?  Are we supposed to continue to accept the endless blather of how "Metrolink has different governance than MetroRail" so that their obvious connections aren't created. 

Orange and Riverside County residents are just like LA County residents:  they don't give a rip about any excuses as to WHY the MetroRail and Metrolink connections to LAX, Ontario, Burbank and other airports aren't being created.  They just want them to be created...and they'll demand the county leaderships to work together to plan, fund, and build these links ASAP. 

4) Do drivers no longer exist in LA County to merit tax/revenue support? 

Uber and Lyft have their roles in ways that "smart planners" never really expected--which goes to show us all that the human spirit can do things that Big Government can never dream of (and yes, you can be liberal as well as conservative to draw that conclusion). 

Ride-sharing reduces car trips and allows an economic and mobility boost in all sorts of ways.  Raising revenue, encouraging job formation, improving our environment--these are all things that should be embraced.   

So is throwing up the rail projects as the sole top billing a smart way to pass "Measure R-2"?  Seriously...can't freeway improvements and road repairs be part of how this November tax is promoted?  And are auto commuters to be so maligned that their votes and opinions no longer matter? 

5) What about the role that Sacramento and Washington have to play in our transportation needs? 

Both the state and federal governments have shirked their legal and moral roles in funding our transportation needs, and the likelihood of promises to MATCH our local funding efforts is a vital winner to convince concerned and tapped-out voters and taxpayers.   

Because if our state and federal leaders don't promise to fight for matching dollars for LA County's efforts to "save itself", then the question of whether we're fixing or fueling the lack of state and federal largesse for transportation projects to benefit LA County will doom the November tax altogether.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-On April 20, 2016, the 2013 “Puppy Mill Ban” that prohibits the sale of any puppies, kittens or rabbits from retail stores in Los Angeles, other than shelter or rescue animals, became permanent, with the removal of the sunset clause.

With the customary puffery and halo-polishing that surrounds passage of any animal law, Councilman Paul Koretz assured the media that puppy mills were being impacted by the trend-setting “new business model” operating successfully in the City and offering only shelter animals for adoption, although his PAW Committee report lacked documentation other than the Best Friends’ heavily subsidized NKLA (No-Kill L.A.) adoption center.

Is Koretz factoring in the ongoing $15, $25 and “No Adoption Fees” events such as the “Black Friday Weekend Special” at the NKLA Adoption Center, which are an important aspect in making this “new business model” viable?

Is he considering the $300,000 Best Friends paid last year alone to encourage its NKLA partners to remove more animals from city shelters, according to L.A. Executive Director Mark Peralta, during his October 2015 report at the LAAS Commission meeting?

Koretz failed to cite any statistics on the number of adopters who were converted from buying a pet store puppy to adopting an adult mixed-breed shelter dog or whether any adopters were even asked this question.

He did not identify any independent former or new pet shops that are thriving under his law, which was also expanded to allow dog kennels, called “pet shops” with unlimited shelter animals to be maintained in any C-2 location in the city without a Conditional Use Permit.

Has Koretz even considered other sources that might now be providing purebred puppies or is he naïve enough to believe the potential closure of only eleven (mostly small) pet shops that sold live animals in Los Angeles changed the mindset of purchasers who want a purebred animal?

It was not long before the same activists who protested in front of Los Angeles pet stores and promoted the original ordinance (CF 11-0754) in 2013 appeared at LA Animal Services Commission meetings to demand that the Internet be regulated, and lamented (as predicted by opponents of the ban) that market-savvy puppy mills were offering to ship adorable puppies of any breed directly to buyers in LA. Imagine that!

Ironically, on April 20, the same day Paul Koretz and the LA City Council were basking in their humaneness, Los Angeles media ran the news that 23 puppies and young dogs being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico at San Diego were intercepted by Border Patrol.

Daniel Canedo, the driver of the sweltering SUV in which the dogs spent 5-1/2 hours with no water in covered crates, said he was bringing them to Los Angeles.

All the puppies were unconscious and two appeared to be dead, according to reports. But, soon fresh air and cool water provided by San Diego Animal Services brought some of their limp bodies to recovery. Others required more extensive veterinary care to survive.

In a posted YouTube video, these do not appear to be animals taken from the streets. Most were estimated at only six to eight weeks of age. Many of them shared a similar appearance -- enough that they could have been from the same litter -- or the same puppy mill.

Although ignored by Los Angeles officials when passing the puppy ban in pet shops, the Mexican puppy-mill pipeline, which purveys especially small-breed animals to be sold in parking lots or any public location in Los Angeles (for cash), is not new and is reportedly growing.

There’s an established nexus between the upsurge in Mexican puppy mills and historical efforts to shame pet stores that sell Midwestern puppies, rather than enforcing the California state laws that strictly regulate the conditions and care of animals in pet stores.

As early as 2004, LA Times reporter Richard Manosi wrote that untold misery was resulting to animals and unsuspecting purchasers as an explosion of puppy mills in Mexico rushed to fill the gap caused by pressures on American consumers not to buy purebred puppies from pet shops selling puppy-mill puppies from the Midwest, according to Mexican Puppy Mills Breed Grief to Southland  (LA Times, June 26, 2004.)

In October 2010, the National Geographic republished a report on the growing problem, entitled, Sick Puppies Smuggled From Mexico for Sale in U.S., in which animal agencies and federal Border Control inspectors worked together to compile a statistical estimate of the extent of puppy-mill smuggling operations. 

During the two-week operation in 2006 the officers found 362 puppies being brought across the border that looked less than three months old, the investigation found. Ill animals were seized by local animal control agencies and later adopted. However, the healthy ones were left with the smugglers because it is not illegal to bring dogs into the U.S. from Mexico. 

Federal law requires that any imported puppies be isolated until they are old enough to be vaccinated for rabies (formerly four months, but California law was changed in 2013, lowering the age to three months.) Puppy peddling of these smuggled animals can generate profits of more than $10,000 a month, animal control officials said.

You would think the news of the April 20 smuggling incident would bring cries of alarm and outrage from Los Angeles animal-welfare groups, such as Best Friends, and legislators (especially Councilman Koretz.) Mr. Canedo was merely charged with 23 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and issued a citation.

Could their lack of concern over the future of LA’s underground puppy market be influenced by the fact that Best Friends has announced that at the end of 2016 it is moving on from Los Angeles and will not seek renewal of its rent-free lease of the Northeast Valley Mission Shelter?

What impact will this have on the shelters from which it reports having taken over 17,000 dogs and cats from 2013 through 2015 (2015 figures projected), according to their September 8, 2015 report?

Perhaps Councilman Koretz wasn’t told by Best Friends or Jim Bickhart, former Mayor Villaraigosa’s aide and Koretz’ current political advisor, that this “new business-model” pet shop is not really new, although both were aware. It has already failed twice in LA. 

The following is excerpted from a media release posted in its entirety by Rabbit Advocacy. It was issued on March 16, 2009, by Lisa Dulyea, Best Friends staff, announcing, “Grand Opening of Woof Worx features animal shelter rescued pups.”

“Best Friends Los Angeles Programs (BFLA) hosted an event March 13 to celebrate the grand opening of the first rescued pets store resulting from A Puppy-Store-Free LA.”
  

It explains, “Best Friends has been hard at work to find an alternative, and collaborated with Woof Worx (formerly Pets of Bel Air) on the idea to sell wonderful, healthy, purebred puppies that come from local shelters. For a mere fraction of what it would cost at a traditional pet store, people can adopt one (or more) of these dogs, support a business that’s doing the right thing, and save a life.”  

A later paragraph reads, “We are so thrilled to be partnering with Jamie Katz, the owner of this beautiful store, and to support her in her efforts,” says Elizabeth Oreck, BFLA manager. “We truly believe that traditional pet stores that sell dogs from puppy mills will soon be a thing of the past, and that a store like Woof Worx will become a national model for cities all across the country.“ 

There is no exact date when Woof Worx closed, but it was after raving reviews by celebrities at the opening and sometime before any Yelp review was posted.  

Just before that, at the January 26, 2009 LAAS Commission meeting, then-General Manager Ed Boks took a more cautious approach and received approval of a Letter of Agreement with “The Puppy Store” on Melrose Blvd. to create an “experimental, short-term pilot program [February 1 through September 1, 2009] to determine the feasibility of working with private pet stores to adopt animals for resale.”  

Boks’ report explained, “…if The Puppy Store can successfully execute and sustain a high-end pet store and achieve a reasonable financial return by selling only pets from shelters and rescues, it may become the model for other pet stores to follow.” 

There’s no specific date that shows when The Puppy Store closed, but a call to it a few months later revealed that the number was disconnected.  

Along with the “puppy mill” ban, Councilman Paul Koretz destroyed the ability of Los Angeles to regulate the very animals it claims to protect, and which are now part of an underground and Internet market that escapes monitoring or regulation.

 

The State of California enacted the Polanco-Lockyer-Farr Animal Protection Act to assure the humane treatment of any animal in a pet store and assure that purchasers knew the origin of the animal and were informed about spay/neuter. 

The legislative code is HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE SECTION 122125-122220.

Here’s just one section: 

Every pet dealer shall deliver to the purchaser of each dog or cat at the time of sale, written material, in a form determined by the pet dealer, containing information on the benefits of spaying and neutering. The written material shall include recommendations on establishing a relationship with a veterinarian, information on early-age spaying and neutering, the health benefits associated with

spaying and neutering pets, the importance of minimizing the risk of homeless or unwanted animals, and the need to comply with applicable license laws. 

We can read this and weep over what Los Angeles has lost and the suffering to animals and pet owners that is already resulting. 

Wouldn’t animals and their new owners have been far better represented if Councilman Koretz had demanded that Los Angeles Animal Services strictly enforce all laws available to protect them in City-permitted pet stores and, for those that violated these provisions, assure fines were levied and/or revocation of their permit to do business was publicized?

That could have started an on-going conversation with the public, with parents and with children -- who often are the reason a pet is sought -- about the benefits of adopting a shelter animal that needs a home. 

Instead, we have condemned even the compliant pet stores who provided what our State laws required, and who might have been convinced to obtain their purebred pets locally, and be governed under the State’s Polanco-Lockyer Pet Breeder Warranty Act. 

Instead, Koretz made local businesses the “bad guy” while opening the door for puppy mills that we cannot control.

                                                           

(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.

HYPOCRISY POLITICS--The best way to understand LA City Council shenanigans is to watch its meetings as I sometimes do -- hanging upside down on my Teeter inversion table. It clarifies the revisionist, upside-down declarations of politicians living in a bubble. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Councilmembers honored the “well-respected” alums of a local high school that included a felon awaiting sentencing who used to run the LA Sheriff’s department; a late LAPD chief whose abuse of the poor and minorities led to a deadly riot; an innately dishonest former city attorney; and a compulsive gambling sexist. #Charming 

It was as if the city’s fifteen lawmakers were reassuring themselves that their malfeasance of today will be blurred and distorted by future Councilmembers. 

Last week, their latest delusion surrounded a presentation to declare it Denim Day in Los Angeles, which raises awareness of the horrors of rape. But oh how the Councilmembers scattered when the public reminded the viewers of City Council’s own record regarding sexual harassment charges. 

In language that is utterly constitutional, but too colorful to share here, gadfly and former teacher John Walsh correctly cited City Council’s endless rubber stamping of liquor licenses “for convenience,” especially in poor communities, that contribute to crime -- including, but hardly limited to, rape. 

Also cited was the city’s incessant licensing of, and failure to close down unlicensed businesses marketing in human sex trafficking in which the victims are, if not raped in a stranger-on-stranger sense, are coercively raped by fear of pimp violence or economic harm.  

Councilmember Paul Krekorian, an attorney whose children includes a young daughter, who regularly attempts to throw public commenters off their timing by suggesting that aired concerns are “off-topic,” was unable to silence the critics in his appeal to the deputy city attorney who makes such determinations.  

Krekorian, who currently faces a recall effort, bounced animatedly in his chair and hurriedly walked in protest toward Council President Herb Wesson’s elevated podium despite the city attorney’s ruling, as the subject turned to the accusations of sexual harassment and coercive sexual misconduct of fellow Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar -- both of whom are married fathers of young women and girls, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by the city in settlements and legal fees related to those accusations. 

It continues to be lost upon our city officials that it is inherently sexual harassment, and coercive rape, when a boss has sex, whether once or a hundred times, with anyone who works in his or her office.

Even if it was a “consensual” relationship, it is coercive rape if the consequences of not having sex with the boss could result in economic harm to, for example, a single mother or a staffer who wants some day to run for office and seeks her boss’s endorsement. 

That is what may have happened when Francine Godoy, a former staffer in Huizar’s office, sued the city for sexual harassment. From 2006 to 2013, her salary jumped 280%, a rate considerably faster than others in his office received at a time of claimed city cutbacks, because she and Huizar (a graduate of Berkeley, Princeton and UCLA Law School) had a “consensual” relationship, according to him, in which she also sought his support for a political run. The taxpayers eventually paid $200,000 in legal fees, while it is unknown whether or how much Huizar may have paid Godoy to settle the case. She moved on to another job in the city, and he breathed a sigh of relief. 

Council President Herb Wesson, who has referred to Huizar as “my best friend” and supported his re-election, also held his head and urged the deputy city attorney – to no avail – to silence the speakers when the subject turned to Councilmember Mitch Englander. 

Englander is also in denial about sexual harassment claims by former staffer Melody Jaramillo against himself and his chief of staff John Lee. 

Englander has said that the $75,000 settlement paid to Jaramillo was for financial and legal expedience, yet he earlier favored squandering $600,000 to defend the city in the damages phase of David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg’s winning 1st Amendment suit against the city rather than paying him even a sliver of that amount for expedience. 

The men who approved these settlements, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Wesson, who are fathers or grandfathers of young women and girls, have yet to publicly condemn any of these specific actions – let alone declare the inappropriateness of having sex with the office staff – because, at LA City Hall, protecting their own, not your own, seems to be Job #1.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Whether we’re LA natives or adopted this city as our own, most of us love Los Angeles, from the majestic canyons winding to the sparkling Pacific, a hike through Runyon or Nichols Canyon just minutes from the energy of Hollywood, even a summer evening drive along Mulholland with the city and valley lights below. 

But if you gather even the most fervent of Angelenos, you’ll hear a range of complaints from skyrocketing rents to Sig Alerts that last far beyond rush hour and what activists refer to as the Manhattanization of Hollywood. 

Problematic quality of life issues have given rise to a trend of grassroots activism, lawsuits, and ballot initiatives throughout the city. Just last week, the nonprofit advocacy group Fix the City filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the City Council over the Catalina Tower project, a 27-floor mixed use apartment tower approved for a residential street in Koreatown, despite the lack of a full environmental impact review and analysis of subsequent traffic impact. 

The nexus of post-recession development and the housing crisis has brought on more than a few campaigns to halt what is seen by some as a Wild West growth with sloppy spot zoning and variances on one side, countered by arguments that the city’s general plan from twenty years ago doesn’t address the need for density in housing to reflect the current housing shortage. 

At the center of it all is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) campaign to stop mega-developments and a lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Palladium Residences, two residential towers that would be built next door to AHF’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters near a Metro Red Line stop. The lawsuit argues that the project violates the city charter, California Environmental Quality Act, and other laws. The developer is also named in the suit, which opposes the height and density of the project. 

Investors of the $324-million project counter that the Palladium Towers would provide needed housing and that the towers are similar in scale to other Hollywood buildings along major corridors. 

The nonprofit and the Coalition to Preserve LA have been collecting signatures for a March 2017 ballot measure that would place a two-year moratorium on many developments that don’t follow existing planning and zoning rules. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein defends the AHF position as a gentrification/social justice issue. AHF and supporters of the measure say mega-developments replace existing rent-controlled units and force out tenants, many whom are senior citizens or on fixed incomes. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, as the ballot measure is known, would halt spot zoning and create a plan to update the city’s Community Plans. The initiative would also put an end to developers handling the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and would restrict a developer’s ability to reduce parking requirements for residential units and off-site parking for commercial establishments. 

The NII isn’t the only nonprofit group working on ballot initiatives. The Build Better LA Coalition is working to get a housing affordability and high-quality job ballot measure. The initiative, which launched in February, would provide incentives to developers to create affordable housing near public transit and tie discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments to setting aside a percentage of rental and for-sale projects for low-income residents. The initiative also includes a local hire provision. The Build Better LA Coalition has wide support and endorsements by dozens of community organizations advocating for immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, low-wage labor rights, and educational justice. 

To deal with the explosion of short term rentals (STR) and the impact on local residents, a group of homeowners, tenants, and business owners have formed Community Above Profit (CAP.)  The group’s mission includes protecting Angelenos from the STR boom through organization and resources; educating the public on their rights and what can be done to prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by STRs; and informing city leaders of problems STRs are causing in communities. Toward the third goal, the group has drafted an ordinance to provide solutions. 

No matter which side of the issue Angelenos support, the growth of grassroots activism brings the discussion to the table, providing increased transparency in development and other issues facing the city. We can work together to impact change, balancing neighborhood issues with the challenge of affordable housing, transportation, and environmental concerns.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CITY HALL--Los Angeles City Hall is making pawns out of its homeless. It’s a shameless mess, but it isn’t that the way it always is – the poorest are the most abused? 

The problem from the City Hall viewpoint is that developers are not making enough money. As City Hall watchers know, tending after the profits of real estate developers is City Hall’s mission in life. CityWatch wrote about one example back in 2013 and a follow-up article in 2014.  

As the City’s own HCID department noted in November 2015, there is a 12% vacancy rate among apartments constructed in the last decade. That segment of the market is particularly important as it reflects the newest additions, frequently in dense areas such as Hollywood. As we may recall, for years the W Hotel condos could not sell even 20% of their units even after a dramatic price slashing. 

Some people call the manic CRA building in Hollywood the “Edsel Mistake.” In the mid 1950's, Ford Motor Company came out with the Edsel, but it entered an overly saturated market.   Also, it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.   So too with these Hollywood Projects. Built in the modern 'Dreck' Architecture style, they also were aimed at a market which was saturated. 

Just as Millennials were reaching the family rearing age, the expensive Hollywood units came on-line. Like all prior generations, Millenniums move away from apartment living when they start families. Thus, all these projects, which were based on the false data that City Hall was feeding developers in the early 2000's, are still in the construction pipeline. But, the Millennials are already leaving. 

Ford was smart enough to stop constructing Edsels, but Los Angeles developers were not as bright. Thus, they continued with all their plans to build, build, build. In the developers’ defense, however, it was easier for Ford to retool the factories to produce different automobiles than it was to shelve a 10 year old plan to build a massive mixed-use project. 

As we recently learned, City Hall hit upon a brilliant idea. Demolish old rent controlled units and create a Homelessness Crisis. Then, the Mayor can ride to the rescue with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Affordable Housing subsidies for building Affordable Housing. Wisely, Mayor Garcetti did not phrase the program in terms of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Billionaires. He’s not dumb. He’s helping the homeless — by giving hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaires. 

As we recently learned, the plan is working to perfection. The Mayor has a plethora of homeless people for photo-ops and he has a grand cause – give more money to the developers or more housing for the homeless. One must admire the ingenuity. 

Just where will the Homeless live while these fabulous new accommodations are being constructed? The streets, preferable back alleys. We need just enough homeless visibility so that voters are duped into increasing their taxes in order subsidize the building of luxury units while pretending to help the poor. 

City Hall has one overriding concern – more profits for developers. Everything at City Hall is seen through this lens. They cannot help it. For 15 years, the City has singled mindedly pursued this objective, and each year Los Angeles deteriorates a little more. In 2016, Los Angeles leads in all the bad indicators and lags in all the good indicators. 

Salt Lake City housed its homeless. Let’s not make the most vulnerable among us into pawns in a real estate shell game. Have we no shame?

 

(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.)

-cw

PLANNING GONE AWRY-If there are two words that joined together are a classic oxymoron, it is aesthetics and Los Angeles. Like most large cities, Los Angeles suffers from a number of forms of visual pollution, disorder and banality, including cheaply built buildings with mediocre to poor architectural quality, sign and billboard clutter, miles of overhead utility wires that further add to the clutter, a lack of consistent street trees and streetscape improvements and streets with cracks, fissures and broken down sidewalks. (Photo above: Walls of power lines line both sides of Lincoln Blvd.)

This ugliness is most evident in the unsightly commercial strip highways that crisscross Los Angeles, non-descript looking multifamily residential and commercial developments and inner city decay. As with most cities, the ugliness is not evenly distributed but is class based. It is tied to private incomes

and wealth. Los Angeles does have a few elite communities for the top 1-2 percent that are gorgeous, perfect in every way, and some additional communities for the upper middle class that are reasonably good looking but have some flaws. But beyond these top tier communities for the upper 20-25% the visual quality of the Los Angeles drops off precipitously. For the bottom 75% Los Angeles is a ugly, banal, depressing sprawl.

The smaller cities surrounding Los Angeles are nowhere near as unattractive. Most of them have buildings with higher architectural quality, business identification signs are controlled and billboards are banned, the utilities are underground or along adjoining alleys, there is a consistent canopy of street trees and street medians are often landscaped and their streets and sidewalks are in a better state of repair. This results in jarring contrasts when one crosses the boundary of one of the smaller cities and enters Los Angeles. 

Examples of such contrasts are driving south on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills and then entering an ugly looking section of La Cienega in Los Angeles, traveling east on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and then entering a miserable looking section of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood that has been neglected for decades, driving south on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and then encountering an ugly section of the Boulevard in Venice and traveling northeast on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City with its lush tree canopy and attractive, landscaped buildings and then encountering a barren section of Jefferson with few street trees and older, deteriorated buildings on the other side of the boundary line in Los Angeles. 

And there is the contrast between the banal and ugly Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles and the attractive looking Washington Boulevard a block to the south in Culver City. In the San Fernando Valley there are the same jarring contrasts when one drives west from Burbank into Los Angeles along Magnolia, Burbank or Victory Boulevards and Vanowen Street. Indeed, one can tell when one is entering Los Angeles because that is where the ugliness begins. 

For the most part, efforts to improve the aesthetics of Los Angeles have been sporadic and insufficient. 

The City of Los Angeles has never had a deliberate, comprehensive program to improve its appearance. With the exception of the small fraction of the LA covered by Historic Preservation Overlay Zones and the handful of Specific Plans that have design standards and design review boards, architecture is unregulated in Los Angeles. 

LA is a wide open free fire zone that allows the construction of buildings that are nondescript or downright ugly with the usual architectural “style” being the ubiquitous stucco boxes that lack the façade variations, ornamentation and sloped roofs that make a building charming and attractive. The only requirements that most new buildings in Los Angeles have to meet are the engineering standards in the Building & Safety Code to ensure that buildings are structurally sound so that they will not fall down during an earthquake. 

The planning system of Los Angeles is incapable of creating the beautiful grand boulevards that one sees in the cities of Europe and in some of our older, east coast cities. Creating such boulevards would require that buildings have a consistently high level of architectural quality and similar styles. 

While the City Council, after decades of voting it down, finally banned new billboards in 2002, thanks to the leadership of then Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, approximately 5,630 billboards remain in the City. These existing billboards cannot be removed due to a State law, A.B. 1353, that was quietly approved by the State Legislature in 1982 and which prohibits the removal of existing billboards through amortization schedules. Also, the 2002 ban on new billboards contains loopholes, such as sign district overlay zones, that still allow for the introduction of new billboards. Even though the City Council did enact an on-premise sign ordinance in 1986 that prohibits new rooftop signs and reduces the size and height of other business identification signs, a number of signs erected prior to 1986 still remain to clutter commercial streets. 

While underground utilities have been required in new subdivisions since 1966, there are still many miles of existing, unsightly overhead wires in the older sections of Los Angeles put up prior to the 1960s that are untouched by that requirement. A proposal for a program to underground those wires will likely be met with resistance due to its cost and that DWP has higher priorities for its funds that involve converting its electricity sources from coal and oil to green technologies and replacing old, leaking water mains. 

Similarly, a program to systematically plant street trees along the City’s major highways, to have a consistent canopy as in Beverly Hills and Culver City, will also probably face resistance due to its cost. Because the Great Recession of 2008-2009 reduced the City’s tax revenues, the City of Los Angeles had to severely cut back the number of miles of streets resurfaced each year and has spent almost nothing on repairing broken down sidewalks. A welcome development in this area is the recent settlement of a lawsuit involving unsafe sidewalks that requires the City to spend $1.3 billion over 30 years on a program to repair broken sidewalks. And with the economic recovery that has been underway since 2009 that has increased tax revenues, the City has been able to allocate more funds to resurfacing streets that have unattractive looking cracks, fissures and potholes in their roadways.

A key question regarding aesthetics in Los Angeles is why have the smaller cities been so much more successful in preserving and enhancing their appearances than Los Angeles? Because the business interests that profit from the creation of ugliness operate throughout the Los Angeles region, not just in Los Angeles, the smaller cities have faced the same pressures for “uglification.” Yet, for the most part, the economic interests have been kept under control in the smaller cities. In Los Angeles there has been insufficient countervailing power to keep special interests such as developers and the sign and billboard companies in check on aesthetic issues. 

Two City bureaucracies, DWP with is many miles of overhead wires and the Bureau of Street Services that does not have a program to plant a consistent canopy of street trees, are also complicit in the creation or non-alleviation of ugliness. One explanation for the inadequate aesthetic safeguards in Los Angeles is that, because the City is so large, the residents of individual communities who would like to take control of the appearance of their communities have been out voted by the rest of Los Angeles, unlike the residents of the smaller cities have a much greater voice and influence with their City Councils. 

However, this explanation is unconvincing because the Los Angeles City Council in effect operates as 15 separate cities with residents only having to obtain the support of their local councilperson with the rest of the City Council deferring to what a Councilperson wants for their district, which minimizes being outvoted. Another explanation is that the large size of Los Angeles, with each of its 15 Council districts representing approximately 253,000 residents, results in high costs for campaigns for Council seats. This in turn makes candidates for the City Council dependent on campaign contributions for developers and other business interests, resulting in politicians placing the interests of their campaign donors over those of their constituents. 

This is a partial explanation. However, a more likely factor is the political/planning culture of Los Angeles. As in most places, city planning in Los Angeles is highly politicized. It is an aspect of democracy and politics with the quality of planning being done depending mainly on the quality of the citizen activists that put pressure on City Hall. 

Unfortunately, for the most part, the activists have not been concerned about aesthetic issues but rather focus most of their attention on individual development projects that they deem to be out-of-scale and incompatible with the character of their communities. Their opposition has been to excessive density and height and the resulting traffic congestion. 

Other activists have been concerned about threats to the natural environment. Rarely have they been concerned about architecture, sign and billboard clutter, overhead utilities or the lack of consistent street trees along the major streets. And the only persons protesting broken down sidewalks are those who have been impacted by them, who have tripped over uplifted sidewalks. Hearing few if any complaints about aesthetic issues from their constituents, City Council offices then conclude that these are not problems that deserve their attention. It will require a major expansion of the range of concerns expressed by the homeowner associations, neighborhood councils, environmentalists and individual citizens in order to generate the political will needed to address ugliness in Los Angeles. 

If the political will were to be found for a comprehensive program to improve the appearance of Los Angeles, what would the program consist of? At a minimum, a program for aesthetic improvements should consist of: 

  1. Standards for architectural quality for all commercial, industrial and multifamily residential  buildings built in Los Angeles, as with Beverly Hills and San Marino. This would involve Planning Department staff checking building plans against standards of architectural quality for each identifiable architectural style, with the style to be selected by the developer. However, if a community decides that it would like to limit the range of acceptable architectural styles in order to preserve or enhance its character, it should be permitted to do so. 
  1. Enactment by the City Council of the sign and billboard ordinance approved by the City Planning

Commission that continues the 2002 billboard ban and contains very few loopholes. New billboards that are smaller and placed against the sides of buildings to minimize clutter would be allowed only if a much greater number of existing billboards are taken down. 

  1. A strong request from City Council to the State Legislature that it repeal A.B. 1353, which prohibits the removal of existing billboards through amortization schedules. Because a repeal of A.B. 1353 will face very strong opposition from the billboard industry lobby in Sacramento, Los Angeles will need to put together a coalition with many other cities and counties. Upon repeal of A.B. 1353, the City Council should then require that all remaining billboards in Los Angeles be removed in accordance with amortization schedules that allow sufficient time for the billboard companies to recover their investments in their signs. The City Council should expect and plan for lawsuits from the billboard companies over any ordinance that removes billboards through amortization schedules. However, billboard removal through amortization schedules is constitutional and has been periodically upheld by the courts. 
  1. A major program by the DWP to underground overhead utilities in Los Angeles, to be financed by a temporary surcharge on DWP bills. To reduce the cost the program should be limited to undergrounding the wires along the major and secondary highways and some collector streets which, due to their high traffic volumes, are the most visible parts of Los Angeles. To further reduce the annual cost of the program should be spread out over 20-30 years. 
  1. A major program by the Urban Forestry Division of the Bureau of Street Services to systematically   plant street plant street trees along the major and secondary highways of Los Angeles, where there presently are gaps in the tree canopy or trees that are too small. To reduce the annual cost, this program should be spread out over 15-20 years. 
  1. Increased budget allocations for street resurfacing, to resurface all streets with cracks and potholes on an accelerated schedule.   In addition, implementation of the recent court settlement requiring the City to establish a program to repair broken down sidewalks. 
  1. Economic and planning studies on the feasibility of bringing about the redevelopment of the City’s

many unsightly commercial strip highways into grand, mixed use boulevards, as called for by the Framework Element of the General Plan. Enactment of plans and ordinances containing incentives to bring about their redevelopment. 

  1. Economic development programs to bring new and higher paying jobs to deteriorated low-income communities, to raise incomes so that it will be more feasible for developers to redevelop those communities. The development programs should look into the feasibility of re-industrializing Los Angeles, to offset the de-industrialization that has taken place during the past 40 years. Also, the City Council’s recent action to require a higher minimum wage in Los Angeles will assist in raising incomes in poor communities.   

Of the items programs on this list, five (No.s 2,3,4,5 & 6) are directly under the control of government and are not closely tied the health of the economy of Los Angeles. The remaining three (Nos. 1, 7 & 8) are dependent in part on whether development activity can be redirected towards the low income communities. Standards for architectural quality, for example, will have a minimal impact if there is little or no new construction for the standards to regulate. And the commercial strip highways in low income communities cannot be improved if there is no new development along them. 

The large accumulation of ugliness in Los Angeles is, in the end, a result of a lack of political will, of insufficient countervailing power against the economic interests and government agencies that have created it.  It will require expanded citizen activism to overcome opposition from the interests that profit from the ugliness and the inertia of the City’s bureaucracies. The limited amount of such activism in the past is the main reason for the unattractiveness of much of Los Angeles. As Shakespeare said in his play, Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars. It lies with us”.

 

(John Issakson is a planning activist living in Los Angeles.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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EDUCATION POLITICS--“We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings.” The presidential primaries are putting a huge emphasis on political engagement among our youth, but some youth are cutting their political teeth on issues closer to home. 

At Venice High School, two students have started the Union of Venice Students to inform their classmates about their rights, especially the right to opt out of standardized tests. 

The students, Cobalt and Ruben, were inspired by the movie Defies Measurement, a documentary that traces the transformation of an Oakland, California school from a creative, nurturing incubator for students into a test prep institution. The documentary is a moving portrayal of corporate education reforms sucking the life out of a school. 

Armed with detailed information and plenty of passion, the Union of Venice Students is imploring their classmates to get engaged and opt out of the upcoming standardized tests.

I interviewed these courageous and intelligent activists after a copy of their no-longer-underground newspaper Venice Posted found its way to me. 

PS: So how did you get involved in student politics? 

Ruben: The school system is here for us. It’s always been a philosophy of mine, but with the student union, I felt as though it would be a powerful way for us to really kind of establish that philosophy among our fellow peers. Get more and more students involved in what’s going on in our education system. 

Cobalt: My focus on the union is awareness of rights. Because in state law, with education code and all that, there are all these rights that students have. But students don’t know they have these rights and the administration doesn’t recognize these rights. So that, I think, is one of the main forces of evil. 

PS: Evil is a pretty big opponent, but you don’t strike me as someone Waiting for Superman. How are you fighting evil? 

Ruben: Last semester I sent an email to our principal where my stance was on the Smarter Balanced test and I was kind of asking her why she was putting so much pressure on it. I told her Instead of focusing on these exams, we should maybe focus on making the school better. Ya know? Well, she really rebuffed it and kinda said, ‘oh, just meet with me in person’. I really wanted something in writing, too, to see what her stance was on it. 

PS: Why? 

Ruben: I felt it’s more clear what her position is and there’s no miscommunication, where, ‘I heard she said this.’ Having it in writing is what she said, to make it more clear. 

PS: Is this the first time you’ve considered political action? 

Cobalt: I’ve always been sort of saying ‘hey, I’ve got this right and I should be allowed to exercise this right’. It has gotten me into some trouble in the past.

One of the rules at school is you’re not allowed to wear hats that don’t have the Venice High School logo on it. But I always saw that as infringing on my free speech. So I have this hat with a red star on it that I bought when I was in China. And I always wear that. Then this year I got called out on it. I was in the Dean’s office for three hours while they basically told me that if I didn’t agree to follow this rule they were going to send me out of the school. That’s how that ended, I sort of stopped wearing the hat because I wanted to focus more on organizing this so we could have a larger body with more strength than just one person wearing his hat. 

PS: Kind of the opposite of a dunce cap. What else? 

Cobalt: The [administration] is putting in a lot of things to convince students that you’re better off taking the test. She’s bringing back the policy of Off-campus passes for seniors next year. The requirements are you have to have 3.0 GPA, high attendance, and you have to have taken the Smarter Balanced test. There’s also, I’ve heard talk of local businesses giving money to the school for every student that takes the test and some teachers are only going to sign you letters of recommendation [for college] if you take the test. 

PS: So is that the typical response from your teachers?

Ruben: We have an interesting response from teachers. Either you’re completely for the test or you’re completely against the test. That’s something we’ve noticed, a trend. Several teachers have approached us telling us to kind of quiet down, I want to say, with our distribution of our newsletter, and other teachers are completely endorsing us like ‘yeah, I’m with you 100%’. But they don’t want to put it out there and, really stay out of trouble with the administration. I thought that was an interesting trend. 

PS: Has the administration talked with you about your activism? 

Cobalt: Not directly. She went to [our teacher] and told him to tell us to stop. He basically said, ‘I’m not in charge of them. They have this right to do that.’ She’s never actually come to us directly. She’s always tried to go indirectly around or talked to someone else to tell them to tell us to stop. 

Ruben: More recently, she’s told all of my teachers. They’ve got pressure from the administration to tell us to stop distributing this newsletter. 

PS: New York State had 200,000 opt outs last year. How many did Venice High have? 

Cobalt: Last year, I feel like the bulk of the opt out movement was because it was happening at the same time as the AP tests, and not having anything to do with the whole standardized testing in general. 

We’ve noticed that it seems to be flipping around this year. A lot of the people who have been telling me, “oh yeah, I’m definitely going to opt out’, most of the people who I feel like  I’ve been hitting the most with this message are people who aren’t in AP classes. The people who seem to be in opposition to the movement the most are the ones who are in the AP classes. 

Ruben: I think they’re just trying to be as much of a scholarly student as they possibly can. 

Cobalt: There’s also a lot of propaganda going around about the test. Like if you don’t take this test your life is not going to be able to be good. You’re not going to be able to have a good college education. You have to take this test. It’s almost being brainwashed into some people that, this test, you have to take it. 

PS: Last election, someone named Marshall Tuck ran against our State Superintendent on the platform that the Ed Code is too long and cumbersome for adults to understand. What do you think? 

Cobalt: Ever since I’ve been getting into issues regarding free speech and stuff, I’ve gotten myself well versed in several sections of the Ed Code. 

Ruben: He knows them like the palm of his hand. 

Cobalt: Like, that one is Section 60615. I think it clearly says that these tests, you can’t be forced to take them, and the parent does have the right to opt them out. But I do feel like it should be worded as more of an explicit right and less of a ‘this is something you can do’. I feel like if it was listed as more of an explicit right, then that would, ya know, like all the things that are happening like with the principal saying, ‘you have to take the test in order to get this thing’, I feel like that would sort of stop because you can’t be punished for exercising your right. 

PS: After some parents sued their school district, LAUSD has actually told schools they have to send a letter home informing parents of the right to opt out. 

Cobalt: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve gotten that. 

PS: What do you think about the idea that parents just want to look at a school's overall test score to decide on a school for their kids? What do you say to them? 

Cobalt: For me, when I was looking at schools, we first were looking around and my mom had found this school because of the foreign language magnet. I had always been into foreign languages. She said oh let’s go here. We went to the tour, one thing we noticed on the tour was the tour was being run by students and they were all happy to be at school and they loved the program and they were all talking about the activities and the clubs they were involved in, the classes they were taking. 

Someone mentioned that there was a trip to China they took with the Chinese class and that’s really what got me to want to come to this school. And then I went to another school and the entire first hour of the tour was sitting in the library watching a presentation, a power point where they were talking about their curriculum and what they focus on and then going through their test scores, like a chart or graph of their test scores and you didn’t actually get to see the classes. What I liked about this school’s tour was that we went into a lot of classes. The other school, we didn’t go into any classes. It was just focusing on these scores and numbers that didn’t mean anything. 

PS: You’ve been handing out the opt out forms. Do people get it? 

Cobalt: Some people do. If they read the newspaper. I wanted to distribute it with the newspaper but I didn’t have enough copies printed. That was the only problem. So we’re going to have an Opt Out Day. We were originally planning to all stand out on the front lawn and make a large line and hand them out. Have a couple extra copies but then it rained that Friday. So we were stuck. 

PS: In the movie, we pretty much see how a school district’s obsession with test scores can suck the life out of a school. Has all the life been sucked out of Venice High School? 

Ruben: No, now it’s just two or three minutes of a teacher explaining why we have to take the tests. Not much of a curriculum change. 

Cobalt: I feel like that will be coming soon. This is only the 2nd year of Smarter Balanced, so I think that as the years go on, curriculum will start to shift to teaching to this test specifically. 

I’d always had the idea of, hey, teachers have a union. Maybe students should have a union. But then with the growing issues at the school, I decided, you know, I think we should actually start one. 

PS: What do your parents think? 

Ruben: They’re behind us 100%. 

PS: There’s no standardized test for student activism. So how do you measure your success? 

Cobalt: The way we distribute [the newspaper], is we go out in the hallways or after school out on the front lawn, and we just hand it to anyone we see. We look around and can see a couple people reading it. That’s what we like to see. 

Ruben: We’re adamant about not distributing during class time. To make sure it’s legitimate and we don’t violate— 

Cobalt: We don’t hand it out during class time because that can be disruptive. 

Ruben: We have a lot of mixed response. The more scholarly students are like, ‘You guys are crazy. Stop doing this nonsense. Take the test and get over it.’ 

Cobalt: ‘You can’t do this. You’re going to hurt the school too much’. I‘ve heard other people saying, ‘Man, I’ve just read this, everything is so right, I’m opting out right now.’ 

PS: What else did learn from the movie? 

Cobalt: In the movie, they said there was some law regarding statistics, that when you take a statistic that measures something and you really focus on it, then the focus shifts to the statistic itself rather than what that’s trying to measure. 

What I think is happening is this country, the education system, the people in charge of it, the government and all that, is focusing on these test scores, but they’re not really focusing on what these test scores are measuring: the quality of our education. 

PS: What do you think would be the best measure of your education? 

Cobalt: Personally, I don’t think that you can measure the true quality of one’s education. I feel like that’s just too complex of a thing. It’s multi-sided. You can’t actually accurately measure it with any sort of testing, or any sort of assessment. It’s something that develops within a person and they take that and go into the real world and put that in action. 

Ruben: I agree with him. We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings. We have different qualities. Some people have qualities in art. Some people love math. Some are more analytical. Some are a bit more closed minded. I feel like numbers, or choosing A, B, C or D really can’t measure what kind of human being you are. What’s your ranking as a human being? 

Note: The school principal did not respond to requests for an interview.

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect  and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Sunday saw an old American tradition brought back, the opening of a local political campaign headquarters. The idea seems like an anachronism, sort of like a dial telephone or bias ply tires, but there it was on a bright Sunday afternoon in San Pedro. In this case, it was the candidacy of Warren Furutani, who is running for the open state senate seat in a district that goes from the harbor in the south up to Watts and Inglewood to the north. 

Since the district is strongly Democratic, the question as to who goes to Sacramento would have been determined in the primary election in previous years. Now, with California's nonpartisan blanket primary, the top two vote getters go on to the November runoff, even if they come from the same political party. 

Furutani's main opponent is Democrat Steven Bradford, who previously represented the state assembly district that makes up the northern half of the senatorial district. Bradford is African American and has political strength in that end of the district, while Furutani is Japanese American and has his roots in the more southerly portion. 

I used the term anachronistic earlier, because we have all become adapted to the modern digital style of politics, based around nationally broadcast debates, internet news, and Facebook arguments. The other word that comes to mind is atavistic, because the local campaign headquarters is a throwback to earlier days. I can remember when we didn't have the internet or smart phones, and volunteers walked door to door handing out mimeographed fliers. (Were they mimeographed? How old do you have to be to remember the mimeograph machine?) 

But there are decent enough reasons to add some of that old time political technique to our modern technological campaigns. The opening of a campaign headquarters is a chance to energize the troops. The idea is to get people into a room together and pump them up with rousing speeches, a buffet, and one overworked coffee pot. Those same people will be asked to volunteer their time working the phone banks over the coming months. It's a chance for people to make an emotional and intellectual commitment to one candidate. 

For the volunteers, it is also a chance to mingle with elected officials and respected ex-officials. In this one room on this one afternoon, we heard from the state Treasurer, the former mayor of Cerritos, the former mayor of Carson, and the city councilman from San Pedro, Joe Buscaino. 

Some may remember that Buscaino won the open City Council seat just a few years ago by defeating Furutani, and here he was, giving an energetic introduction, telling us why we need Warren Furutani up in Sacramento. Maybe it was just the decent thing to do, but I get the idea that Buscaino genuinely respects Furutani. In fact, when they ran against each other, their campaigns were particularly clean and respectful, something surprising and nearly unique in present day politics. 

In a way, the opening of a campaign office is like a college reunion. I ran into people I'd known when I lived in Lakewood in a different century. There was Rick Tuttle, the former Controller of the city of Los Angeles, and there were Julian, Joy, Sergio, and Louis. There were also members of a younger generation who are feeling their political oats. There were a couple or three men who had run for major elective offices in the past few years and hadn't quite won, but were there because that's what office seekers do. 

This gathering was notable for the presence of Asian-American politicians including the former mayor of Cerritos and notably, John Chiang. Chiang has worked his way through state Controller to his current office as state Treasurer. He is being touted as a possible candidate for governor, and he got a lot of enthusiastic cheers as other speakers dusted off an old line, referring to him as "the next governor of California." Furutani could do worse than be touted by a statewide elected official like Chiang. 

In conversation, Furutani seems like a thoughtful person, and he demonstrated enormous patience listening to my extended inquiries about his campaign strategy, platform, and general interests. When I asked him what he is most interested in, he replied, "Education." That seems believable and appropriate, considering that Furutani previously held elected office on the school board prior to being elected to the state Assembly. He doesn't seem to be interested in blowing his own horn all that extravagantly, but the other speakers pointed out his accomplishments in protecting public education when he was in the state legislature. 

When I asked what the campaign is likely to be about, Furutani answered, "The environment." He brags that he doesn't take contributions from oil interests, unlike his opponent. He also reminded me that this district has oil refineries, of which at least one uses a potentially dangerous chemical additive that could have done a lot of human damage during the recent refinery fire. 

I tend to doubt that the oil issue will be all that telling in the coming campaign for the simple reason that Democrats are not going to go into vigorous attack mode against an industry that employs so many workers. Still, it was a good try, and suggested that liberal Democrats have to work hard to differentiate themselves from their equally liberal opponents. It's the mirror image of the Republican Party where campaigners fight to be more to the right than the other guy. 

In his own campaign speech, Furutani talked about being a fourth generation Japanese American, and how his whole family has its roots in the 35th Senatorial District. His family lived on Terminal Island until the Pearl Harbor attack, following which they were forced to live in what the authorities euphemistically referred to as a relocation center -- Furutani bluntly refers to it as a concentration camp -- in the southeast part of the country. Furutani is a graduate of Antioch University. He served previously on the LAUSD board and on the community college board prior to his election to the state Assembly. 

His choice of topics to push in this campaign include the old standards: the economy, education, and the environment. Interestingly, he also wants to concentrate on the way we treat the elderly. His campaign packages this collection into what he calls the "Four E's." 

It's true that lots of campaign headquarters have been opened and closed during the presidential primary season, but those were mainly created, funded, and maintained by national presidential campaigns. For the vast majority of the 20 or so serious candidates, those headquarters came and went and are now forgotten. The classical grass roots campaign headquarters, maintained on a minimal budget and featuring long-term local activists working for somebody running for local office is a different species entirely, Americana at its most activist.

 

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

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--I saw first-hand the reaction of a neighborhood group to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Jill Stewart, (red jacket above.)former managing editor of the LA Weekly and now the campaign manager for the proposed measure, delivered a crisp presentation about the initiative to the Valley Village Homeowners Association on April 20th. 

It was not a one-way affair; Stewart fielded at least twenty questions from the roughly fifty members in attendance for the Association’s quarterly general meeting. The questions reflected a strong interest in the subject. Her answers were frank and there appeared to be no reservations about them from the attendees. Thirty-six signed up to receive more information about the initiative. 

As with any ordinance, whether initiated by the City Council or through a ballot measure, subsequent enforcement is critical. 

For example, even though I am pleased with the proposed draft ordinance to deal with the problem of short-term rentals, will the city apply adequate resources to assure compliance if the proposal becomes law? God knows there is little or none in my neck of the woods. One such rental was cited by the City Housing Department last September. It was referred to the City Attorney’s office soon after, but continues to operate today. 

Section 11 of the NII enables an aggrieved person to take legal action against any violation of its provisions. Therefore, it would behoove the city to adequately staff its Planning Department to ensure thorough and timely reviews of developer requests for amendments. 

Stewart told the audience that developers are not going to pack up and leave the city rather than work within Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s rules. The city will still be a good place to build, as it has always been. 

I can tell you that builders still find Valley Village desirable even though the community has a formidable Specific Plan, especially with regards to multi-unit housing, the SB 1818 density bonus notwithstanding. 

What about the additional planners the city should hire? 

Stewart pointed out how large the mayoral and City Council staffs are – around 500 in total, a number higher than that of the entire White House staff (I confirmed 474 from a 2015 report provided to Congress). She suggested shifting some of the budget over to Planning. Checking the Planning department’s 2015-16 budget, it has 268 authorized positions of all types. It is not typical to have executive support staff outnumber employees of a department providing a critical service. 

It will be interesting to learn of the feedback from various homeowner associations and neighborhood councils around town as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative organizers make the rounds. 

If they have the same success in reaching out to them as Stewart appears to have achieved with Valley Village, then they will develop a diverse network comprised of knowledgeable people with a passion for protecting their quality of life.

 

(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.

BILLBOARD WATCH-Despite the unanimous opposition of the City Planning Commission, an LA City Council committee is pushing ahead with a plan that could ultimately result in new digital billboards going up in a wide area of the city. 

Last fall, the planning commission approved a new citywide sign ordinance that restricts the brightly-lighted signs with rapidly changing ads to special sign districts in a limited number of high-intensity commercial areas. At a meeting this week, the council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee (photo above) turned a cold shoulder to that idea, and directed three city departments to jointly develop detailed proposals for allowing the currently prohibited signs outside those restricted areas, either on city-owned property or on both public and private property. 

Committee chairman Jose Huizar (left, above) said these proposals need to include revenue sharing to the city, funding for sign law enforcement, and the removal of billboards blighting various neighborhoods. This is an about-face from 2015, when Huizar was running for re-election and his answer to a candidates’ questionnaire seemed to support restricting digital billboards to sign districts. 

Committee members Felipe Fuentes and Marqueece Harris-Dawson both complained that the City Planning Commission’s restriction of new digital billboards to sign districts wouldn’t result in the removal of billboard blight from their districts, in the east San Fernando Valley and South LA., respectively. 

The ordinance approved by the planning commission requires that new digital billboards in sign districts be offset by the takedown of existing billboards in surrounding communities at a square footage ratio of ten to one. In that ordinance, sign districts are only allowed in 22 areas of the city zoned regional center or regional commercial, such as downtown, Universal City, Warner Center, LAX, Century City, and the Coliseum/USC area, among others. 

There are no sign district-eligible areas in Fuentes’s district, but there are two in an adjacent district, in Van Nuys and Panorama City. The ordinance approved by the Planning Commission doesn’t limit the required billboard takedown to a specific distance from a sign district, and commissioners discussed expanding the takedown area to the entire city, although that provision wasn’t included in the final version of the ordinance. 

At the committee meeting, Harris-Dawson called many of the existing billboards in his district “a big, giant sore thumb.” That district includes a sizeable sign district-eligible area in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza commercial area, and under the planning commission’s ordinance a new full-size digital billboard could be put up there only if 10 full-size billboards or a larger number of smaller billboards were first removed in the surrounding community. 

Neither Fuentes nor Harris-Dawson mentioned the fact that a city survey has shown that more than a hundred billboards in those councilmembers’ districts have either been erected or altered without required permits. In a letter to the PLUM committee last year, City Attorney Mike Feuer said his office was ready to help take enforcement action against many billboards across the city that fall into that category, but to date the committee members haven’t responded to that offer. 

There was little discussion by committee members about the city’s prospect of getting revenue from new digital billboards, although that’s been a central point of a vigorous lobbying campaign by a coalition of billboard companies that wants to put up an untold number of new digital billboards along freeways and city streets. That coalition includes the three largest billboard operators in the city -- Clear Channel, Outfront Media and Lamar Advertising. 

Councilmember Paul Krekorian has put forth a proposal to allow new digital billboards on city-owned property in exchange for a share of revenue and the takedown a certain number of existing billboards, but the councilmember’s proposal leaves details such as the exact number of new billboards and their locations to be worked out. 

Councilman Gil Cedillo, a PLUM committee member, floated a proposal two years ago to allow new digital billboards in any commercial area through a conditional use permit process. And Clear Channel, which owns 84 digital billboards that have been shut off by court order since 2013, has pushed for city permission to relocate some of those billboards, ostensibly to locations where they aren’t as likely to generate complaints from nearby residential neighborhoods. 

All those proposals got a firm thumbs down from the Planning Commission, whose members agreed that any digital signs should be restricted to sign districts where their size, brightness, and hours of operation could be strictly regulated to minimize potential traffic hazards, light pollution, and adverse affects on surrounding residential neighborhoods. 

The major billboard companies have long opposed these restrictions, and while none have publicly commented on Krekorian’s proposal, it’s unlikely that they are happy with the prospect of being allowed new digital billboards only on a limited number of properties owned by the city. 

In fact, Lamar Advertising sued the city in 2013 for the right to put up 45 new digital billboards in specific locations in a wide area of the city. The Louisiana-based company won a favorable ruling from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, but the California Appeals Court overturned that ruling earlier this year, upholding the city’s right to ban those signs. 

Another 2014 proposal, by committee member Mitchell Englander, called for granting “amnesty” to all unpermitted and out-of-compliance billboards in the city, but there was no mention of it at this week’s meeting. The Planning Commission emphatically rejected the idea, calling instead for the city to begin enforcing the law against all illegal billboards. 

Neither Englander nor Cedillo commented on the planning commission’s action during this week’s PLUM committee meeting. Both councilmembers, as well as Huizar, have received significant financial support from billboard companies in their past election campaigns. And Englander has gotten a number of campaign contributions from billboard companies and their lobbyists in his current bid for election in November to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

 

(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Dennis@banbillboardblight.org. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Leaders in Education Awards (LEA) downtown Los Angeles. This is really an amazing organization. 

Founded in Los Angeles in 1975, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund empowers Latino families with the knowledge and resources to successfully complete a higher education, while providing scholarships and support services to as many exceptional Hispanic American students as possible. HSF strives to make college education a top priority for every Latino family across the nation, mobilizing our community to proactively advance that goal – each individual, over a lifetime, in every way he/she can. 

HSF also seeks to give its Scholars all the tools they need to do well in their course work, graduate, enter a profession, excel, help lead our nation going forward, and mentor the generations to come. As the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting Hispanic American higher education, HSF has awarded over $500 million in scholarships and provides a range of impactful programs for students, HSF Scholars, Alumni, and parents.

Their mission is to empower Latino families with the knowledge and resources to successfully complete a higher education, while providing scholarships and support services to as many exceptional Hispanic American students as possible. 

This year’s Honorees are: 

Parents of the year: Angelica Prieto and Antonio Ramirez they emigrated from Mexico seeking better opportunities in the U.S.  They met in Dallas through family members and settled there to raise their children. They are currently supporting their family by working primarily in hospitality services at four different hotels. 

Community Partner of the Year: “Mexican American Legal Defense Fund”. With a mission “to protect and promote the civil rights of all Latinos living in the United States, MALDEF, which was founded in 1968 in San Antonio Texas, strives to implement programs that bring Latinos into the mainstream of American political and socio-economic life. 

Corporate Partner of the Year: The Southern California Gas Company. SoCalGas is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, providing service to 21.6 million consumers in more than 500 communities. Its 20,000 square mile service map encompasses central and southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border. Headquartered in Los Angeles, it employs more than 8,400 employees. SoCalGas is a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego. 

Female Scholar of the Year: Kathleen Guerra, she is studying Mechanical Engineering at MIT. 

Male Scholar of the Year: Bill De La Rosa, he’s studying Sociology & Latin American Studies at Bowdoin College. 

Without the support of HSF these great students would not have been able to attend college, or it would’ve been more difficult for them. 

Wells Fargo, the bank has made an $8.1 million commitment to HSF, over the next 3 years, a significant portion allocated to HSF.net 2.0. On behalf of our scholarship recipients, past, present, and future, we are grateful.  Other partners are: Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company, Target, Univision, FedEx, P&G, Time Warner, Walmart and many other corporations. 

How much is a lifetime of open doors worth?  What does it cost to build this country’s next generation of leaders? It costs a lot! Yet, only $8.33 per month from donors like you will help a Hispanic student complete college and prepare to lead our nation.  That’s about as much as it costs to buy one movie ticket a month.   

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com.) –cw

 

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