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It Does Not Require Breaking the Law to Govern Our City

TAX OVERLOAD--In my last CityWatch article, I addressed the national/global issue of taxes, and how the mighty who want us to pay ever more taxes have their own tendencies to avoid paying them, and to avoid playing by the rules on just about everything else. Well, the same thing applies on a local level for the City of the Angels.

 

It's still tax season, and this November we might face not only one but two tax hikes--so therefore "Alpern's Law of Taxes" still merits some discussion.  It's not really "my" law but it's one I've adhered to for years, and it keeps getting forgotten in the argument of "how much taxation is fair?" It goes something like this:

It's NOT the amount of taxes that infuriates Americans as much as the perception of how well those taxes are being spent.

I know what it's like to work three jobs, as well as contribute money and time for all sorts of community and civic endeavors, only to get nailed in taxes simply because I chose to work 80+ hours a week.  Yet I did and do support the half-cent transportation sales tax in 2008 (Measure R) for a variety of reasons.

Eight years later, however, I am truly torn on this fall's upcoming "Measure R-2" to extend Measure R for a few decades and to raise the sales tax yet again.  It would allow a focus on finishing all of the big rail projects in LA County within our lifetimes, and enhance our credibility in Sacramento and Washington when we demanded matching funding.

Yet, will the new money be spent WELL?  Will it help establish good City and County Planning efforts, and enhance the principles of "Good Government"?

1) In particular, the City of LA is frightening in its unwillingness to promote Good Planning and Good Government.  Mayor Garcetti's announcement that he would fast forward Community Plans throughout the City is both welcome as it is frighteningly overdue.

I still very much like Mayor Garcetti, and consider him by far more responsive and affable than his predecessor, who was voted in with high hopes but held a contempt towards Neighborhood Councils and grassroots leaders promoting that thing called "democracy" and that thing called "following the law".

And while Wesson is clearly "the boss" in so many things Downtown, Herb Wesson's rule of the City Council has too much of the stink of Sacramento-type power-playing and too little of the local-level power-sharing that makes for the good city governments we see in most other cities in our state and nation.

Wesson's snubbing and cutting off of former Mayor Richard Riordan (who founded the Neighborhood Councils) has all the trappings of a man who will single-handedly destroy all the well-meant efforts of both Garcetti and other truly reform-minded City Council leaders who want to turn the corner from the "top-down" approach of former Mayors and former City Councils.

In particular, the horrific track record of the City with respect to Planning and associated efforts to do that thing called FOLLOWING THE LAW.

Environmental Law.  The City Charter.  CEQA.

2) Hence we all want to believe, but are rightfully cynical of, Mayor Garcetti's new initiatives for Community Plan updates.

It's a reasonable question to ask why this took so damn long for Mayor Garcetti to update these plans, but after having just fought a few horrific, bruising battles against City Council-backed megadevelopments, and after having just witnessed a dramatic uptick in density efforts in single-family neighborhoods that clearly violate the laws of both Planning and Common Sense, two questions come up:

a) What the hell is so damned tough about obeying the law?

b) Those taxpayers of L.A. are being vilified and belittled for...what reasons, now?

3) Mayor Garcetti and Council President Herb Wesson have to convince the voters that the timing and substance of their proposed reforms is based on Good Government, and not just a few promises to placate the voters and get them to vote in more new taxes.

a) The question of "why now?" must be answered, because updating the Community Plans is an effort that Neighborhood Councils have been screaming about for many years.

b) We sadly live in an era where politicians aren't allowed to apologize, and to acknowledge that they've turned the corner and "found religion" in their need to listen to the voters...but some sort of statement will clearly be necessary to restore the trust of a City of Los Angeles that has been hurt by the presence of too many Sacramento-type and too-few "sons and daughters of the City of Los Angeles".

c) Trust is critical, and making genuine progress is perhaps the greatest sort of "apology" that Mayor Garcetti and the City Council can create for its beleaguered citizens.

d) Issues of Infrastructure, Homelessness, Education, Transportation, Sustainability, and Transparency are all correctly pointed out and highlighted, as "Hizzoner the Mayor" has rightfully done.

On a final note, it should be remembered that it is up to the Mayor, and not the citizenry, of Los Angeles to step up and make this new focus one that is both believable and one that can become our new reality.

Because it shouldn't have taken the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative effort to make the City of LA finally start listening to its taxpayers and constituents to finally begin obeying the law.

 

(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  [email protected]. 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.)