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What’s Worse than Lobbyists Who Say They Don’t Lobby?

PARKS’ PLACE-The O’Jays sang, "People, don’t let money change you-it’ll keep on changing, changing up your mind." I feel like this song needs to be played on repeat for some of our city’s property owners.  

Yesterday, Dr. Lucy Jones with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provided Council with an overview of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Resilience by Design earthquake recovery proposal (released in December 2014) that if approved, within one year of passage, building owners of soft-story buildings would be required to submit documentation to the city that an acceptable retrofit has already been conducted on the building or that one is required. Retrofitting (or demolition if needed) would need to be completed within five years.

Building owners of non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings (which according to the report are "most concrete buildings built before the implementation of the 1976 code"), would be required to submit documentation to the city that their buildings have been retrofitted, or need to be retrofitted within five years. Retrofitting (or demolition if needed) would need to be completed within 25 years to the standards set by the Basic Safety Objective of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Standard 41 or equivalents. 

The report also proposes adopting and implementing a voluntary rating system for building safety according to United States Resiliency Council (USRC) guidelines, creating a "Back to Business" program to expedite re-opening buildings for business and ensuring their safety should they experience any damage in an earthquake, having DWP create a seismic resiliency plan and pipe network via a bond measure if necessary for funding.

First things first, in public comment, one person from the Apartment Owners Association of California stated that his organization had not been consulted on the Mayor’s mandatory retrofitting proposal. 

It’s absolutely crucial for outreach and communications to be strong, transparent, and conducive for affected property owners during this process. Without this, property owners will come to knee-jerk, rash conclusions and focus solely on the cost of retrofitting and not the benefits. At the appropriate time, tenants need to know what this mandatory retrofitting means for them. 

Second, of course some property owners came with their hands out and lips pouted complaining about how much retrofitting will cost them, saying that it’s a state’s issue and that the government should pay for it, or how they should be allowed to pass the cost to renters. 

Yes retrofitting is costly. But as I’ve asked before, what price can you put on people’s lives? Is someone from the Valley worth $150? Is someone from downtown worth $75? If 400 people die downtown and historic buildings collapse beyond repair, will we be okay with that because we’re saving money today by avoiding and ignoring the problem? 

Honestly, most of us are guilty of not having a complete earthquake preparedness and recovery plan in place as far as a meeting place, where to go if damage occurs to our homes, etc., but property owners who don't know if their buildings are safe are unequivocally gambling on other peoples’ lives. 

Dr. Jones mentioned that there has been a voluntary retrofitting program in effect in the city of LA since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. I wonder how many property owners knew about this. I also wonder if they are fully aware of the safety, or lack thereof, of their buildings. If the city can’t even identify buildings that may need retrofitting, property owners are probably in the dark as well. What we do know is that concrete buildings can be particularly deadly and I think the proposed 30-year repair deadline stated in the proposal is way too long a time period. 

As far as financing retrofitting, it is the city’s responsibility to maintain infrastructure like sewers, water, and communications for an earthquake. Property owners are responsible for their structures. If the roof is leaking in your apartment building, you are responsible for repairing it--it’s your building. The city is not going to come out to repair your roof. I don’t know why this simple notion is getting lost in translation. 

However, as an owner of a residential rental property, there is a city housing ordinance that allows you to legally pass through the cost of mandated retrofitting to tenants over a prescribed period of time; it’s known as 'rehabilitation'. 

I’m not oblivious to the fact that LA is a renter city and that the cost of housing is exorbitant. I know property owners of section 8 housing in particular barely make profit on their buildings and this retrofitting requirement would perhaps make them sell their buildings because they can’t afford the repairs. We could go on all day on property owners v. tenants v. the city. But we can’t afford to do this- we’ve been doing it for too many decades as is. I don’t have all the answers, but this proposal and process needs to move forward- painful as it may be.

●●●

Something else that’s painful is lobbying organizations saying they don’t lobby. 

Nearly a week after Emily Alpert Reyes at the Los Angeles Times dresses up the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) as the City Hall prom queen, she came back to report that the organization ‘failed to report lobbying’. Where’s the pig’s blood when you need it? 

From the story: 

"Between 2009 and 2014, LAANE did not report any payments to its registered in-house lobbyists or any related expenses, despite the fact that emails and calendars for city officials show those lobbyists met regularly with lawmakers and their aides and helped suggest wording to city lawyers for the hotel wage ordinance." 

WHAT-"After The Times raised questions about the missing information, LAANE said it had mistakenly left off information about payments to in-house lobbyists and would submit amended filings." 

COME AGAIN-"This is not the first time the organization has admitted to making mistakes on the city forms: Deputy Director James Elmendorf confirmed last year that LAANE had failed to report which government agencies each of its lobbyists had tried to influence, and later sent in amended forms after The Times drew the missing information to its attention." 

OMG -The Times claimed that LAANE "gets things done"...well now we know how.

Today I submitted a letter to the Ethics Commission asking that they thoroughly investigate LAANE's lobbying violations, particularly ones where they did not disclose that they were lobbying to pass a particular cause (i.e. minimum wage increase for hotel workers). I'll let you know what develops.  

Has 2015 inspired some members of your beloved Council to take a stand for fairness, transparency and what’s right?

●●●

Maybe, just maybe… 

The city chose the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to study the impacts that a $15.25 minimum wage increase (beginning 2019) would have on the city’s workers and businesses. The university had to go to bid like other contenders and supposedly won because they offered to do the work at the lowest price. 

The conflict (and there’s always a conflict), is that this group is the same group that handled the report for Mayor Garcetti’s initial $13.25 by 2017 minimum wage increase saying that, "In sum, the proposed policy would provide significant gains in income to Los Angeles’ low-wage workers and their families. Most businesses would be able to absorb the increased costs, and consumers would see a small one-time increase in restaurant prices. The policy’s impact on overall employment is not likely to be significant." Clearly it's a report favoring the Mayor’s agenda. 

Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Felipe Fuentes want to restart the bidding process to seek a more independent voice in researching this matter. Very commendable of them and worth a shot. However, these minimum wage increase ordinances (for hotel workers and for workers in the city overall) are saturated in the union’s 11 herbs and spices. They’re so ready to fry these things up that no matter where the research comes from, they’ll come in full force to Council, in matching neon shirts, and will raise hell in saying how good these drastic changes will be for our economy. 

It is my opinion, the major conflict of interest was allowing UC Berkeley to apply to the City's "Request for Proposal" to provide an independent analysis of their previous report. It was my hope that the UC Berkeley staff would have shown more integrity by opting out of the process and allowing another company to produce the requested independent review. Integrity is such an important element in our society but it seems to get lost in self-interest. 

Finally, I believe that it would be major mistake for the city to move forward on a citywide minimum wage increase without having a corresponding job creation program. Most minimum wage increases across this nation reflect that there is a corresponding loss of jobs while attempting to raise the wages of the remaining employees. The general perception for the necessity of increasing the minimum wage is to raise employees out of poverty, not to create an increase in the unemployment rate. 

This whole thing is like a Maury Povich episode to me so I’m ready for the next mildly-depressing showdown.

 

(Bernard Parks is Los Angeles Councilman for the 8th Council District. He is also  former Los Angeles Police Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 


 

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 20, 2015