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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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THE CITY--Neighborhood activists scored a rare victory recently at LA City Hall when lawmakers reversed their prior approval of a 252-unit townhome/condo project that critics say was part of a backroom deal cooked up by former councilman Tom LaBonge and a project that exemplified the city’s immoral practice of allowing residential projects to be built in freeway-adjacent ‘Black Lung zones.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PERSPECTIVE--I’ve watched AMC’s hit show, ‘The Walking Dead’, since season one.

The characters grew on me, although only a few of the original cast have survived the zombie apocalypse to date.

But I am losing interest in the show. There was a time where I eagerly looked forward to the new season. I would plant myself in front of the TV at 6:00 PM on Sunday night – thank God for satellite TV, or it would have been 9:00 PM.

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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-The consumer financial site WalletHub has released a study assessing how efficiently some of America’s largest urban centers apply taxpayer money on key expenditures and LA is at the bottom of the list. WalletHub analysts compared 78 cities for Return of Investment (ROI) on Adjusted Education, Adjusted Law Enforcement, and Parks & Recreation ROI. LA ranked at 55. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You do the math.

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

“Sign what?”

“Who is Krekorian?”

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

But it requires due diligence to build a case.

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

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


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


SORTING OUT ELECTION SCENARIOS-Senator Bernie Sanders has repeatedly emphasized the importance of mass movements as an essential instrument for social, political and economic change in the United States. For example, here is a typical Bernie quote from a recent CNN interview, “The only way we bring about real change in this country, which represents the needs of the middle class and working families, is … a mass movement, and that's what we are trying to create and are succeeding in creating right now." Bernie has also repeatedly argued that a Sanders administration could only implement his campaign platform with the strong, sustained support from an external mass movement. 

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