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MY TURN-For decades Los Angeles has had a reputation for being a series of bedroom communities with no City Center. Sidewalks wrapped up at 9 pm and if you wanted a late snack or a cocktail, the places to go were few and far between. That began to change once Staples built its downtown complex. But now we hear complaints about too much congestion, too many dogs and too many cars. 

Los Angeles is taking the next steps toward becoming one of the world's great Cities. We run on international commerce and technology, as well as entertainment. But like any growth spurt, (check with your teenagers,) it hurts...and can cause problems...and worst (or best) of all, it produces change – sometimes thought of as a dreaded of human occurrence! 

Yes, tourism has reached a new high but we can't be a city for just tourists -- Las Vegas learned that bitter lesson. So how do we balance all these technological and physical advances while holding on to our unique ambience as a city? Short answer: We don't! Although “gentrification” has become a dirty word, we must incorporate the changing face of Los Angeles into our planning. 

I certainly do not hold myself up as an expert in land use, real estate design or development. And I can’t provide magical answers to what seems to be a "mishmash" of City planning. But I have a lot of questions.

Various articles and opinions pieces in CityWatch and other local newspapers and websites, as well as conversations I’ve had with members of city commissions and agencies, have provided little practical consensus. The Planning Commission has a new Manager; the Department of Transportation is busy adding to the metro lines; General Services can't keep track of the real estate owned by the City; and the mayor wants to build 100,000 new housing units. The end result seems to be that no one is happy; there are so many “anti” groups that it’s hard to determine what any group is for. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which may be headed toward the November 8 ballot, professes to be for something – but that “something” is more of a negative. People backing the NII want to stop all new development requiring zone variances for a period of two years. RE-Code LA is the five-year plan this is, (surprise, surprise) already behind schedule. It’s a plan to try and get our city codes in some kind of order; to define what is needed whether building a single family home or a twenty-story office complex. And the requirements all vary depending on the area. 

Many LA City plans have conflicting codes and are often more than fifteen years old. It would make sense if each department involved in infrastructure and real estate would appoint a representative to each of the various official planning groups. This would ensure that all involved would have the same information. But maybe that is too much to hope for…. 

So back to NIMBY... the anachronistic term for "Not in My Back Yard." My colleague Dick Platkin, an expert on city planning or the lack thereof, thinks "NIMBYism is an epithet used by real estate speculators to disparage local residents who oppose their projects.

I was invited by Karen Zimmerman from the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council and the force behind the "Savethegolfcourse.org.” The golf course in question is the Verdugo Hills Golf Club on Tujunga Canyon Blvd, a privately owned public golf course which has been part of the community for years. 

The current owner is considering building over 200 homes in a gated-community with all the amenities. According to Sunland Tujunga homeowners, aside from losing a beautiful green area, losing the golf course would make the already terrible traffic on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard much worse. I noticed large banners around the neighborhood saying, "This Traffic Sucks." They are wondering how the Department of Transportation could justify issuing permits without major changes. 

One of the homeowners, Theresa Weinzirl, who has lived on Tujunga Canyon Blvd all of her life, invited me to view the traffic as she tried to get out of her driveway. The game of "chicken” is alive and well. Residents are concerned that the current infrastructure will not support the additional density. Even with an increase in the number of accidents, they can't even get a stoplight or stop sign in this dangerous area.   

I felt like a tourist going through the Northeast Valley with its miles and miles of rolling hills, trees, wildlife. It is like being in another world. Housing run the economic gamut from apartments to small original bungalows to spacious single family homes. The problem is that, even with all the lawsuits and injunctions against projects in Hollywood, it’s hard to get that kind of attention in the rural part of the valley. 

Another builder wants a permit to build 250 homes in the Tujunga Wash, which becomes flooded and filled with mud and debris every time it rains. In addition, there is also only one way in and out – a situation that is very dangerous. There has been and continues to be a homeless encampment in the wash that some of the NCs are working to clean up on weekends. This hardly sounds like the best place for so many new homes. 

Meanwhile, Lake View Terrace is seeking more business development. Now that the Cube Museum is open and Hansen Dam has water, they feel their community could provide great family activities for valley residents. But the problem is lack of eating facilities, too many liquor stores, no banks and no US Post Office. Residents in the area must leave the neighborhood to purchase basic items. 

On top of all of this, the High Speed Rail Line has tentative plans to go through Shadow Hills and the City of San Fernando. David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association, has helped form a growing opposition group called SAFE Coalition and has a well-run grassroots campaign underway. It might be moot if HSR decides to finish the Central Valley to San Francisco route first instead of connecting now to Burbank – chances are few of us will be here when they get finished with that! 

So, now what? The best compromise, is always something in which each side is satisfied and neither side is ecstatic. I think it behooves the groups that are fighting all these changes to take a realistic approach to the situation and come up with plans A, B and C. They need to include a wish of things – whether it be a community room, a park, or an athletic field -- that will make the community more livable. In exchange, they will have to agree to something on the developers’ wish lists. 

Let's face it. Even with all of growth and congestion that exists in LA, we still have acres of greenbelts, hills and mountains. We desperately need housing that middle and lower income people can afford. We need more facilities for veterans and more reasonable housing choices for seniors. But most of all, we need a plan that must have input from all relevant people involved. It should be vetted with an eye to insuring against future droughts, earthquakes, fires and other gifts from Mother Nature. 

And in the end, we can't fight progress. Do you recall the fight against freeways? Does anyone remember incinerators? Where can you buy a buggy whip? 

We’ve all seen the deadlock that occurs when parties fail to compromise -- what happens when, for instance, bond issues fail to improve schools and infrastructure. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t listen to each other. 

So above all, we must be practical, making sure that everyone benefits from our joint decisions -- the business community, our politicians, and most importantly, the people of Los Angeles. 

When it comes to planning for our City and finding the best possible outcome, we should all join forces. I say, “Let’s make a deal." 

As always comments are welcome.

 

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

 

 

 

 

BILLBOARD WATCH-With the city’s legislative agenda containing such hot-button issues as allowing new digital billboards and granting amnesty to unpermitted and non-compliant signs, it’s little surprise that LA billboard companies spent almost $2.3 million last year lobbying council members and other city officials. 

As in past years, Clear Channel was the big spender. According to City Ethics Commission reports, the Texas-based billboard giant and its parent company, iHeart Media, paid $670,326 to lobbying firms in 2015 to promote its interests in City Hall. 

Second on the spending list at $413,790 was West Hollywood-based Regency Outdoor -- perhaps surprising because the company owns far fewer billboards than the city’s big three, Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising. However, Regency is embroiled in a dispute with city officials over the fate of its highly valuable billboards on city property at LAX. 

Other companies and the amounts paid to lobbying firms in 2015 are as follows: 

-Outfront Media $215,000

-Lamar Advertising $187,102

-JC Decaux $162,000

-Summit Media $146,365

-Intelligent Sign Network $90,092

-National Promotions & Advertising $20,612 

A Hollywood firm, Paramount Contractors, spent $155,962 lobbying city officials on signage issues, according to the Ethics Commission reports. Paramount Contractors isn’t a billboard company, but has been involved in legal disputes with the city over super-graphic signage on its Hollywood properties. 

The LA Outdoor Advertising Coalition, a group formed to lobby the city on billboard issues, spent $209,841 in efforts to influence city officials in 2015. Its membership includes Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising, among others.

 

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

GUEST WORDS-Just after the first of the year, the County released its draft set of homeless initiatives and, next week, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve and adopt the recommendations.  

The County Homeless Initiative, a comprehensive plan comprised of 47 recommendations, represents the largest, most coordinated effort ever undertaken in LA to attack the root causes of homelessness and move thousands of individuals and families from the streets to dignity and stability. The County has the funding in this year’s budget to begin to move all 47 strategies forward. Twelve elements of the plan, those believed to have the most immediate and achievable impact, are slated to be implemented before June 30 of this year. 

Of course there will always be some doubters. Lately, I have read news accounts opining that this latest initiative is no more likely to succeed than previous plans. I say, "Not true, for several reasons."

First of all, we have made a new level of financial commitment ($150 million in funds), we have a strong political will, and we are seeing unprecedented cooperation between the County, the City of LA, other cities in the County, and service providers. It is a cross-cutting and innovative approach to homelessness. 

The strategies in the plan are built around four critical areas:

  • prevention and frontline intervention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place
  • outreach and housing navigation so that, once homeless, people are not forced to go from office to office to receive the services and support they need
  • housing and services for those who need on-going support, and
  • expanded employment and income opportunities. 

There are many significant and distinctive elements to the County plan. First, the plan considers realistic ways to reduce the pipelines into homelessness. Many men and women who become homeless have engaged LA County social services before they ever lost their homes. They may be coming out of jail, foster care, or hospitals; others may be the victims of domestic violence. In this plan, we have focused on how we discharge individuals from those systems so that they can be stabilized before they become homeless. 

Second, although the most visible percentage of our homeless population are those on the streets who are often mentally ill, they represent only about 20 percent of our total homeless population. In actuality, most homeless people can be quickly re-housed. The County initiative emphasizes rapid re-housing, a policy innovation with a proven track record in curtailing homelessness. Many people slip into homelessness as a result of an employment or medical crisis, but, if they can be rapidly re-housed, their lives can be stabilized and they can begin to meet monthly rent payments again. Importantly, the County will partner with local cities to implement this strategy in the hope that we can end people's homelessness in the same communities where they first fall out of their homes. 

The County initiative also aims to reduce the many barriers that stand between homeless individuals and families and the services that could help them. This is why those developing the Initiative engaged virtually every County department in the design. I hear people refer to the so-called “service resistant” homeless population, but so many barriers stand between people experiencing homelessness and the help they need, that to call people “service resistant” simply isn’t fair. People experiencing homelessness often don’t feel safe in shelters. Homeless men and women cannot bring their animals to a shelter. Shelters don’t provide places to store people’s belongings so people are at risk of losing the few things they own. And people experiencing homelessness may be reluctant to take the time to stand in line for services that could help them if it means sacrificing a day’s income on the streets. 

The solution to homelessness is not more shelter beds, it's housing and a variety of services. Homelessness is a complex problem, and solving it will require a complex solution. That’s why every one of the 47 strategies outlined in the County plan is important. Our goal is “functional zero” homelessness. This year we will attempt to meet that “functional zero” goal for veterans, that is, we will work to have sufficient permanent and temporary housing so that as veterans become homeless they can be housed right away. The goal of the County’s historic initiative is to bring that to every Angeleno.  

Ten years ago, LA embarked on an effort to end homelessness, but, this year, the circumstances surrounding the new initiative are substantially different than a decade ago. This time, we have the engagement and support of lead nonprofits, philanthropy, business, the city and an unprecedented commitment and will in the County. There is consensus and alignment across these important sectors and that is why I am optimistic about the success of this far-reaching initiative in solving one of the most challenging moral issues facing Los Angeles.  

(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

MUSING WITH MIRISCH--The recent LA Times article which highlighted a ridership slump at Metro has occasioned much hand-wringing, kneejerk blowback and rationalization among self-styled transit hipsters. The article points out how, despite ongoing expenditures of billions of dollars, Metro continues to struggle to get people to use public transportation. While it’s fairly easy to understand where the hand-wringing is coming from, if anything, the article indicates that we in LA County should collectively be cautious before approving another “transit tax” – something that is being proposed by Metro for this November’s ballot. 

For Metro and the transit advocates, many of whom themselves nosh on the taxpayer bounty provided by Measure R (with more noshing to come with the potential successor this November,) it’s all about the money. Focus groups, lobbyists, political advisors are all aimed at answering the question: How can we get the voters of LA County to approve a new tax? “Promise bones” are being thrown in all directions of the county to try to secure endorsements of local politicians in an effort to make sure the future tax measure doesn’t suffer the fate of Measure J, which failed to pass despite massive Transit Establishment support and virtually no funded opposition. 

It’s the wrong question for Metro to be asking. 

The critical question is not how we can get a new tax passed. The question is: How can we best improve mass transit within the County? And if we are going to pass another tax, how can we get the best value for our taxpayer dollars? And are we currently getting the best value for the billions Metro spends each year? And shouldn’t we ensure we are getting the best value-for-money before committing more funding to Metro? Finally, shouldn’t we ensure that the Metro Board proportionally and equitably represents all the residents of the County before the taxpayers of the entire County commit more money to the agency? (In a blatant rejection of the principle “one person, one vote,” the 6 million non-LA residents of the County are currently underrepresented by some 60% on the Metro Board). 

Much of the blowback to the Times article has been from anti-car activist types and their suggestions to increase Metro ridership have, not surprisingly, been punitive actions towards motorists: increase the cost of gas, increase the cost of parking, make parking more difficult by reducing building code parking requirements, end investment in road infrastructure, etc. In a headline in Metro’s “The Source,” Metro’s in-house publicist Steve Hymon questions a contention made in the LA Times article: “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” 

Indeed, the question is somewhat ironic in view of Metro’s own at times almost monomaniacal focus on building rail lines at the expense of bus service. As the Times article points out: “Although buses account for about 75% of Metro's ridership, rail operations and construction receive more money than buses do from Measure R, the county's most recent half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.” 

A number of transit hipsters have tried to discredit the Times article by pointing out that some of Metro’s expenditures haven’t borne fruit because construction is currently in progress and new lines haven’t opened yet; they have tried to relativize the situation by comparing ridership declines with even steeper dips in other jurisdictions. (However, none of them points out that the County’s population has increased by some 2 million from the height of ridership in 1985.) But no matter how you play with the figures, it’s hard to gainsay what I consider to be the crux of the Times article: 

"There's been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers," said Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. "Lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes." 

In light of this, it’s difficult to reasonably support a new tax (or a tax extension) without some major rethinking, reframing and a healthy dose of common sense, despite the sexiness of “shiny new things.” 

Metro’s new CEO, Phil Washington, has said of Metro’s construction efforts: “We’re not building for today. We’re building for 100 years down the road.” 

Washington’s long-term thinking is to be applauded, especially when the other Washington – and all other levels of government below it down to the local – generally think in vistas which don’t go beyond the next election cycle. But there is also clearly a challenge with spending billions of dollars now for “100 years down the road.” It means we need to make sure that any infrastructure we are building now will not be obsolete; it means we need to build with technological and demographic adaptability in mind. 

In the “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” article, Steve Hymon writes: “I like my car (which I often park at a Gold Line Station).” The implication is that a mix of transit options which includes cars can best serve the County’s residents. Hymon drives his car to the Gold Line, then takes public transit. However, this mix would be made more difficult by the anti-car hipsters who want to use punitive measures to force people to use public transit. Neither does Metro itself actually encourage or enable this mix on a consistent basis. The much touted Purple Line, for example, will offer no park-and-ride options, boxing out potential riders like Steve Hymon who would like to leave their cars at transit stations. 

As I wrote last April in The Los Angeles Business Journal, in which I proposed a municipal automated shuttle system for Beverly Hills, driverless vehicle technology offers an exciting solution to first/last mile challenges; getting to and from transit stations (“the first/last mile”) can be a substantial obstacle to potential commuters’ use of public transportation. In addition to hyperlocal transit applications, driverless vehicle technology can be a substantial part of the overall public transit equation, much bigger, in fact, than Metro is currently acknowledging. 

And that, quite frankly, seems to be a major part of the problem with Metro’s tax-and-spend strategy. It’s difficult to be forward-thinking with such an embrace of yesterday’s technology. Because as it currently stands, the next Measure R largely focuses on and plans to spend billions and billions on traditional rail lines and other “shiny new things.” 

Not every bus rider may dream of having a car, but it’s pretty safe to say that almost every transit rider wants to get from Point A to Point B in as efficient and time-saving manner as possible. D’uh. On demand point-to-point public transportation should be any transit agency’s ultimate goal, and while this will likely involve a cocktail of transportation forms, driverless mass transportation can and should play a major role in achieving solutions. 

Driverless vehicle technology, both within the private and public transportation sector has the potential to take significant numbers of vehicles off the streets, as well as to use the streets more efficiently. The irony of the potential of driverless vehicle technology within the public transportation sector should not be lost upon transit advocates who are more concerned with getting people from Point A to Point B than shiny new things and an anti-car bias: the road infrastructure we have developed in LA, much to the dismay of the anti-car crowd, could very well unwittingly prove to be the best “Point A to Point B” infrastructure investment we ever have made with the advent of automated vehicles and automated public transportation. 

A significant investment in driverless vehicle technology, along with an eye towards other kinds of developing technological solutions, perhaps including advanced models of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) should be a major focus of any future tax measure or additional transportation expenditures. 

What is being proposed now is mainly just a form of “same old, same old,” some of which indeed may be necessary, but certainly not to the exclusion of new, developing and future technologies with a 100 year forward-looking vista in mind. In other words, Metro is looking more to cobble together political support to get a new tax passed, rather than providing a forward-thinking vision to solve the actual transportation problems we face in LA County every day. Right now it seems like a case of matter over mind and money over vision, and that’s something we can and must change. 

When the Purple Line was approved, the notion of a municipal automated shuttle system would pretty much have been in the realm of “Beam me up, Scotty.” Now, the technology will be ready for prime-time before the LaCienega/Wilshire station opens. 

In short, a revolutionary end to Metro’s ridership slump is within our grasp, but Metro will have to change its current endgame. Metro should be less concerned with answering the question, “How can we get voters to approve a new tax?” and more concerned with answering the question: “How can we get people from point A to point B in as efficient, cost-effective and convenient a way as possible?” If Metro can use technology to figure out good answers to this question, ridership will naturally and organically increase and traffic will decrease. Rather than simply looking backwards to transportation models of the past hundred years, practical and political solutions should follow a well thought out, forward-looking vision which looks to fully integrate new and developing technologies. This is the clear and logical answer to Metro’s ridership slump. 

The Metro Board now has a historic opportunity to fix Metro’s ridership slump by providing real leadership for the benefit of all the residents in LA County; not surprisingly, it involves more – much more – than simply trying to get us all to pass another transportation tax. 

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills; as Mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--As we wind down from the Iowa Caucuses and candidates move on to New Hampshire, those of us in the Golden State often bemoan our last-to-the-dance-floor position in the presidential primary season. After all, one in eight U.S. residents is a Californian and our population is much more diverse than the Hawkeye and Granite states combined. Does our June primary date keep us from making an impact in the process? And how did we end up with such a late draft pick? 

For a bit of backstory, the primary system as we know it didn’t even exist until after the 1968 election when the McGovern-Fraser Commission moved the nominating decision out of the smoke-filled rooms at party conventions, giving the party rank-and-file more bang for their votes. 

The Commission created a direct link between the primary and caucus voters to the delegates who would attend the party’s national convention, binding convention delegates to particular candidates. If you’ve ever watched or attended a convention, you’ll remember seeing the roll calls leading to the formal nominations.

States differ in the decision making process as to how they elect or select delegates. For example, primaries are funded and run by state governments, while caucuses are the domain of the state party; each has different goals. Primary elections resulted from reforms during the Progressive era in order to avoid any mishandling by political parties. Since the state pays for primaries, most states prefer to hold primaries instead of caucuses. However, if a state party chooses not to follow state laws governing the process, which include the date of the primary or who may participate in the election, it may opt to pony up for a caucus. 

Each party gets to decide how many delegates are allocated to each state. In addition, conventions on both sides include “unpledged” delegates who are typically current or former office holders and party leaders. 

Primaries also differ as to which voters may participate. In a closed primary, only registered party voters can participate; in an open primary, unaffiliated voters can participate, as well. California currently has a semi-closed primary. For 2016, the Democratic, American Independent, and Libertarian parties have notified the California Secretary of State that they will allow No Party Preference voters to request their party’s presidential ballots in the June 7 Presidential primary. 

New Hampshire is an early player in the primary circuit in part due to tradition. Iowa captured the kick off because of logistics. After the 1968 primary reforms, a proposed June state convention in Des Moines wasn’t an option because there weren’t enough hotel rooms to house delegates. The earlier date didn’t have much impact in 1972 but in then 1976, Iowa pushed Jimmy Carter to the top tier of the Democratic contenders. In 2008, with a goal of introducing racial and regional diversity to the process, the Democratic Party moved the Nevada and South Carolina primaries to an earlier date. 

Still, these four states are relatively small in terms of population, which prompts the question of why the primary calendar doesn’t seem to account for that. Political scientists and pundits point to the 2012 Republican Growth and Opportunity Project Report, a post-mortem referred to as the “on-ramp.” Both the Democratic and Republican National Committees prefer a slow-building nomination process, which allows for more equal footing among candidates as they make the case to voters. They fear that starting the process in a larger state or group of states might give an advantage to the best-funded candidate. 

The politics of California, unlike Iowa, are diverse. Sure, it tends to swing towards the blue side, but the state has a wide mix of hard-right Central Valley conservatives, SoCal Republicans, Big City liberals and Berkeley socialists, as well as Humboldt County libertarians.

Given that California is such a populous and diverse state, is it fair that it typically doesn’t get much say since it has one of the latest primary dates? Perhaps this is this something that should change, depending upon the spread between the candidates. But why hasn’t there been more of a move to do that? 

If you recall, in 1996, 2000, and 2004, our primaries were held in March. Then, in 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation to move the 2008 primary to February 5. Although candidates did make appearances in California to discuss issues important to the state, 33 other states also moved their primaries to February 5 or earlier, biting into California’s influence. 

In February 2008, voter turnout was about 39 percent, only slightly better than earlier turnouts. Clinton and McCain captured most of California’s delegates but Obama eventually became the Democratic nominee. Holding the primary in February ended up costing the state $97 million during a cash-strapped time and then the state still had to hold another primary in June that year to choose state legislative and congressional seats, resulting in a turnout that was under 20 percent. 

During this election cycle, however, California could end up being a game changer. The state will send 14 percent of the total delegates needed to capture the Republican nomination to the RNC convention in Cleveland to be held July 18-21. Twenty-three percent of the delegates needed for nomination on the Democratic side will go from California to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Philadelphia on July 25-28. 

If no candidate has a substantial lead in delegate count by late spring, especially on the GOP side, California could potentially put the nominee over the top since the state’s Republican delegates are allocated by congressional district in a winner-takes-all scenario.

With both parties supporting a later primary date for states like California, it may be that the primary date is unlikely to change. In spite of this, if the top two or three contenders in both parties continue their current status, then perhaps in this election, California primary voters will have a say. 

Come November, though, if history repeats itself, the state’s 55 electoral votes are unlikely to go to the Republican candidate. The last GOP candidate to win the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EASTSIDER-A Bit of Background: Years ago, I used to live in Lincoln Heights, in a loft at the Brewery, over by the San Antonio Winery. It was there that I got sucked into LA politics, and even hosted an event for Tony Villaraigosa for CD 14, helping him dump incumbent Nick Pacheco. In retrospect, I apologize for that lapse. 

Anyhow, that was at the beginning of the Neighborhood Council movement and it became my entry into the world of “planning” by our political class. Just after Nick Pacheco was on his way out, beaten by Tony V, the ink was hardly dry when the Brewery and a bunch of other folks were gerrymandered (I mean, “redistricted”) into CD1 run by Councilmember Ed Reyes. Hello City politics…and hello Ed. 

Reyes came in with a city planning background so he naturally gravitated to the PLUM Committee. And there he reigned supreme until he was termed-out in 2013. Ed was famous for running the PLUM Committee as a “Committee of One” -- a fancy way of saying that his other two committee members couldn’t be bothered to show up for a lot of the meetings. 

Council Rules to the rescue -- you only need one committee member to conduct business. This was especially helpful when the other two members were folks like Jack Weiss and Jose Huizar. 

Along with Reyes came a big picture vision of “transit corridors” and “mixed use high density housing” to get us out of our cars (bad) and into the City’s version of “the wave of the future” (good.) I had never heard all those PLUM buzz words like “Adaptive Re-use” or “Residential and Accessory Services,” so it was pretty hard to figure out what they were talking about -- until it was too late to stop the steamroller. 

From the ground level, it seems that this stuff boiled down to warehousing public and private land –making it possible for the Council to (1) sell off and build all these transit-corridor, high-density, so-called affordable housing projects along the rail and bus lines; and (2) sell or resell the big old downtown buildings to their favorite real estate developers to be turned into condos and apartments. 

Evidently, this started a movement since we now see that the building of all this high density housing continues like a brush fire going through the Gorman pass on a high wind day – complete with all kinds of tax breaks, building waivers, and the elimination of parking to the “tune” of the rap song, “No one will need a car in the new LA.” 

Of course, in the real world we know now that there ain’t no affordable housing in LA. The Council “proponents” of affordable housing have largely destroyed it and the very idea of “affordable” is so laughable it should be a punch line on the Jimmy Fallon Show

I discovered the hard way that not one blade of grass, not one liquor permit, and not one single substandard plot of land was touched in districts controlled by the PLUM Committee without the personal say-so of Committee Members. And boy, oh boy, did they have the necessary control tools -- Interim Control Ordinances, Community Design Overlays, redefinition of various zoning codes, variances, and granting approvals of some projects while secretly allowing the building of entirely different projects with virtually no public input or notice. 

The Times Article

Does any of this sound familiar? What got me thinking about all these not-so-wonderful memories was the recent article in the LA Times about transportation funding – in which we see proof of the lies they told us. 

So, after approving Measure B in 2008, designed to be a thirty-year 1/2 cent sales tax to help build a wonderful transportation infrastructure necessary to serve all those smarmy crammed-in-like-lab-rats high density projects, we now discover that transit ridership is down. It’s not only down, it’s in a downward trend that is actually accelerating. 

So in exchange for something like $9 billion dollars of infrastructure investment, we’re seeing a ten percent decline in the use of that investment. This tells me that all the professional planning designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation was nothing but hype. 

Read the Ballots, Follow the Money

We must pay attention to the history our political elite – something they hope we will forget – and look at the City’s Mobility Plan 2035 (as re-amended). Here, again, is another project that doesn’t add up. The $9 billion spent to “get LA out of its cars” did just the opposite. Only in LA, right? 

So go ahead and have a good cry over the destruction of the City of Angels by those in search of hot money and fast exits. 

And get worried, get very, very worried. Remember this article when the next tax hike scam hits the ballot. Also, please read Jack Humphreville’s article,  “…Kicking the Can Down the Road.” 

Revisit the history. It seems the 30 year tax provided by Measure B wasn’t enough. No sir, even as we were spending that tax money for declining use public transit, Tony V and his pal Herb Wesson were running around in 2012 hawking Measure J, designed to extend the 30-year sales tax from Measure B for another 30 years! Honest, folks, even I don’t have the imagination to make this stuff up. In the end, Measure J’s necessary 2/3 majority was defeated by only a cat’s whisker – Yes, 66.11% and No, 33.89% – and that should scare the daylights out of everyone. 

Finally, let’s not forget Prop A, the last City power grab, when they tried to pass a 1/2 cent LA City sales tax to help balance the budget – a budget that was a train wreck, largely due to giveaways and waivers given to developers who were busy densifying and restructuring our City in the hope of getting rid of cars and reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gas, and our reliance on fossil fuels. Fortunately for us, voters didn’t buy into all the doom and gloom predictions from the political elite. People didn’t believe that the City would be broke if that tax didn’t pass -- and it failed by a vote of about 55% No to 45% Yes. 

Next time, let’s ignore the rhetoric and follow the money trail before we approve any more spending.

And if you’re feeling proactive, try checking out the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a ballot measure campaign run by Jill Stewart, formerly of the LA Weekly. This measure is also supported by our own Jack Humphreville.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Now that I have your attention, just how would California qualify as a beacon of conservatism? It depends how you define the term. 

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, most conservatives have defined themselves by pledging loyalty to market capitalism, supporting national defense and defending sometimes vague “traditional” social values. Yet in the Middle Ages, and throughout much of Europe, conservatism meant something very different: a focus primarily on maintaining comfortable places for the gentry, built around a strong commitment to hierarchy, authority and a singular moral order. 

Until recently, modern California has not embraced this static form of conservatism. The biggest difference between a Pat Brown or a Reagan was not their goals – greater upward mobility and technical progress – but how they might be best advanced, whether through the state, the private sector or something in-between. Under both leaders, California evolved into a remarkable geography of opportunity. 

In contrast, California’s new conservatism, often misleadingly called progressivism, seeks to prevent change by discouraging everything – from the construction of new job-generating infrastructure to virtually any kind of family-friendly housing. The resulting ill-effects on the state’s enormous population of poor and near-poor – roughly-one third of households – have been profound, although widely celebrated by the state’s gentry class. 

Demographics of a new feudalism

One factor that made California such a disruptive economic, cultural and political force was its large percentage of people hailing from elsewhere. Yet as California’s basic costs, notably for housing, have risen to well above the national average, even adjusted for incomes, the state has become ever more dependent on those born here and far less on obstreperous outsiders. 

In the 1930s, barely a third of Californians were born in the state, and the share remained less than half until about 2000. Today more than 55 percent of state residents are natives. This trend will become more pronounced in the next generation, as more than 70 percent of teens and young adults in California were born in-state, up from barely half in 1990. At the same time, more domestic inward migration has dropped; since 2000 the state has lost a net 1.7 million domestic migrants. 

Even immigration, long a major source of new energy for the state, has been trending down. The foreign-born population is no longer growing rapidly and, as a recent USC report suggests, the next generation will be largely homegrown: over 90 percent of children in California are homegrown. 

The USC researchers label this shift “the homegrown revolution.” On the positive side, they argue, this shift to the native population could provide greater stability in a state that has generally lacked that characteristic. But societies dominated by the native-born – think of the Deep South traditionally, the Midwest or much of Europe outside the large cities – also tend to be conservative in their nature, often more interested in preservation of status quo – whatever that might be – than shaking things up. 

At a time when twentysomething billionaires are being minted, largely in the Bay Area, California’s middle class is being hammered. The state now ranks third from the bottom, ahead of only New York and the District of Columbia, for the lowest homeownership rate, some 54 percent, a number that since 2009 has declined 5 percent more than the national average. The peasants, it appears, are expected to remain landless much longer, or be forced to leave the state. 

Rather than a land of opportunity, our “new” California increasingly resembles a class-bound medieval society. The proportion of aggregate income taken by the top 1 percent is greatest in a couple of Californian metros, San Francisco and San Jose, as well as New York. California is the most unequal state when it comes to well-being, according to the report by Measure of America, which is a project of the Social Science Research Council. 

These inequities clearly aren’t changing the state’s policy direction. Gov. Jerry Brown explains the state’s leading poverty rate as simply a reflection of how grand things are and California’s natural attractiveness. Poverty, he says, is “really the flip side of California’s incredible attractiveness and prosperity.” It’s a view not far from the old excuse espoused by the British tories, that “the poor will always be with us.” 

This inequality is being justified – and made worse – by attempts to turn California into a mecca for the most extreme measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Like a good medievalist, Brown blames this one phenomenon for virtually everything, from wildfires to the drought and mass migrations. Like a medieval cleric railing against sin, Brown seems somewhat unconcerned that his beloved “coercive power of the state” is also largely responsible for California’s high electricity prices, regulation-driven spikes in home values and the highest oil prices in the continental United States. 

Once the beacon of opportunity, California is becoming a graveyard for middle-class aspiration, particularly among the young. In a recent survey of states where “the middle class is dying,” based on earning trajectories for middle-income cohorts, Business Insider ranked California first, with shrinking middle-class earnings and the third-highest proportion of wealth concentrated in the top 20 percent of residents. 

New theology emerges

How can this approach be sold to the masses? The climate religion is key, since it implies that people’s suffering is endured for a greater cause. And, in classic medieval fashion, those who disagree can expect to be silenced and even subjected to criminal penalties. “God,” Gov. Brown recently suggested, “is not mocked.” 

The new religion had better be strong, given what it will ask of the masses. Increasingly, the honest green answer – as opposed to the “green jobs” chimera sold by well-financed environmental publicists – is to move our society away from the competitive, capitalistic system which, for all its flaws, has created unprecedented global wealth. One popular idea, particularly in Europe, is to embrace the idea of “de-growth,” which even calls for removing such measures as GDP from consideration. 

This approach has been bolstered by the entry into the fray of Brown’s former colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Francis. Brown, meanwhile, increasingly speaks of climate change in theological terms. Although it’s hardly the stuff of political campaigns, Brown embraces Francis’ opposition to increased “creature comforts” – like air conditioning – as part of a general move toward achieving the desired “level of enlightenment.” 

Medievalism: A New Model? 

For the past 170 years, California has stood at the apogee of rapid change, often using engineering – most notably with water and electricity – to build its economic power. Yet, just as the citizens of the declining Roman Empire began to lose faith in its systems, our leadership, both public and private, seems to have decided that most growth, except that what raises asset prices, is bad because of its inevitable effects on climate change. 

This belief makes a certain amount of sense, particularly for those, notably public-sector workers, tech millionaires and affluent retired homeowners, who actually may benefit from stagnation. Widespread, broad-based growth and change is not necessary if your key goal is to pick up a comfy pension, or use regulations to up the value of your old single-family house. In contrast, the losers in this arrangement are the ascendant working class, young families and other newcomers. 

For many who, in other times, might have come to California, coming here now, as Dartmouth College economist William Fischel has shown, means trying to enter “exclusionary regions.” Due to their often unattainable costs, the state’s most desirable urban centers – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, West Los Angeles, coastal Orange County and San Diego – seem destined to become enclaves primarily for the old, who bought homes during less-expensive times, the children of the rich, a transient young population and – of course – lots of low-paid service workers. 

Meanwhile, the fastest growth in the ranks of college-educated millennials in recent years has been in such lower-cost regions as the four large Texas cities (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin), Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, as well as such “rust belt” cities as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Families also are settling in small, relatively inexpensive metropolitan areas, such as Fayetteville in Arkansas and Missouri; Cape Coral and Melbourne in Florida; Columbia, S.C.; Colorado Springs and Boise, Idaho. 

With California’s economy now largely tied to abstract reasoning and serving those with accumulated wealth, there may be little chance here for advancement by those whose talents lay with their hands or by grass-roots entrepreneurial guile. Once the land of opportunity, the Golden State, indeed, is devolving into something very fundamentally conservative: class-bound, dominated by natives and lacking in opportunities for all but a few. Our state leaders are building a future that boosts their senses of self-worth, while consigning much of our population to permanent status as serfs or struggling commoners. 

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of www.newgeography.com … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.) Illustration by Chris Morris. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--I couldn't help but get a massive case of deja vu when I read the Times-reported decrease in transit ridership, and an excellent response by transit advocate Ethan Elkind

My advice, if you want to learn the whole picture, is to click on both links above.  No worries, I'll wait ... 

... I think it's important to appreciate both points of view yet scrutinize them carefully.  Ignore them at your peril, but don't take either approach as "gospel".  I think that the Times writers are doing their jobs, and very much enjoy reading the work of both Ms. Laura Nelson and Mr. Dan Weikel, but feel obliged to mention that I've seen an anti-transit bias from Dan Weikel of the Times for as long as I've read him. 

Yet while I also respect and appreciate Mr. Elkind's work and opinions, I think that he, too, has his own bias that should be understood, noted, and appreciated. 

And, of course, I have my own bias--yet I have striven mightily over the years to be a "transportation" advocate and not merely a "transit" advocate.  Which means that I am as bullish about smoothing out the 101 freeway for smoother flow, and widening the I-5 freeway to enhance mobility, as I am creating an Expo Line, a Downtown Connector, a LAX/Metro Rail connection, etc. 

I am also into innovative Uber/Lyft and telecommuting as I am major works projects such as the aforementioned freeway and rail projects.  Ditto for DASH and bus operations funding while wanting to create more parking, bicycle and other access to transit. 

But it's not about me ... it's about YOU.  Is transit for YOU? 

There are those who think that mass transit is something to be worshiped, with the car being the transportation anti-Christ.  There are those who think that mass transit is a form of wicked socialism that prevents us from being free. 

And then there are the rest of us who just want a choice and a cheap, easy way to get from here to there, and who really wonder about the above two groups.We want affordable mobility that's not too tough on the environment, and which allows us to live our lives and make a few bucks to get by. 

Transit being "free" is like health care or college being "free"...unless there are volunteers involved, somebody is paying for it.  Which isn't a concept too tough for most adults to grasp, unless some of us want it for free and demand that others pay for things for which we benefit.  That demand doesn't sit well with most Americans, although economic stresses are probably making enough of us frustrated enough to insist on a break. 

Hence the desire of transit advocates for higher gas costs (to "force people out of their cars") is probably the last thing we need to encourage more transit spending: 

1) If the price of gas goes down, then we lose transit riders--and the Times writers have their case proven in that people DON'T really want to ride transit. 

2) No one likes to be "forced" to do ANYTHING. 

So for any transit advocate or planner or transportation expert who bemoans the recent falling of gas prices, perhaps a good self-administered slap in the face (and I mean so hard that it stings for five minutes afterwards) is in order. 

Cheap gas means cheaper food, cheaper industrial costs, cheaper transit operations, cheaper airline costs, and a host of secondary benefits.  Wanting gas and food and other economic costs to go up is misanthropic--and if you hate people, then fine...but don't be surprised if they'll hate you right back. 

Or at least ignore you. 

I think that both Nelson and Weikel on one hand, and Elkind on the other hand, do us all a good service.  We need to confront why many of us either don't want to, or cannot use transit if there are other ways to achieve mobility.  Lousy service, fears of our physical safety, convenience, etc. are all valid reasons and must NOT be ignored. 

Yet until we have a completed Expo Line, and a Foothill Gold Line, we won't have Metro Rail (with all of the linking bus lines) reaching the western and eastern ends of the county.  And to be honest, until we get a Downtown Light Rail Connector and a LAX/Metro Rail connection, we will have a disjointed rail system as inconvenient our freeway system would be without the I-10 or I-110. 

So some hard lessons learned, and the ability to really LISTEN to both sides, are good for us all. 

Problems with transit DO exist, and yet our Metro Rail system DOES have a brilliant future.   

But everything from parking to buses to bicycle amenities will be needed for transit to work. 

(And why in Heaven's name is the Eastside Light Rail Extension not sufficiently linking up to Metrolink, now?) 

The Expo and Eastside/Foothill Gold Lines are alternatives to the freeways in which they parallel, so WHY is there insufficient parking for those driving long distances to get out of their cars to access the trains? 

Why are we using rail projects an an excuse for overdeveloping?  Why are we using freeway expansions for overdeveloping? 

And why are we overdeveloping at all, if it will undo the mobility established by any new transportation project. That phenomenon is as smart as spending 25% more after a 10% raise. 

So maybe transit is for you.  And maybe transit isn't for you.  And maybe transit is for you when it comes to some needs, but not for others. 

But let's keep theology out of this.  Neither cars, buses, nor trains have the numbers "666" engraved under them, and those who advocate for either of those forms of transit should use common sense and common decency in making their case. 

And I'll let YOU figure out whether you like my idea or not:  I am a "transportation" advocate, a "mobility" advocate, and an "economic opportunity" advocate.  I like ANY form of transportation that is smart, cost-effective, attractive, and something that enhances our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life. 

(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

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In the dystopian movie about Los Angeles, “Blade Runner,” the lead character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was an expert at sleuthing out Replicants. They are androids so human that only an expert can detect them with 20 to 30 questions triggering an emotional response through a "Voight-Kampff" machine. 

In the case of an experimental android model named Rachael, Ford/Deckard ultimately determines that she, too, is a Replicant…but it takes him 100 questions to do this. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her. 

While I cannot promise that you will fall in love with the flacks and shills promoting unsustainable, luxury high-rise buildings in LA, I can at least give you a list of my own “Voight-Kampff” questions. Then you, too, can quickly get to work revealing their secret identities. I can also assure you that it won’t take the 20 to 30 questions necessary to expose the Replicants of “Blade Runner,” or even the 100 questions Deckard required for Rachael, the super-Replicant. 

Six questions should do the job just fine. 

Q1. What are the addresses of affordable housing projects in Los Angles that required legislative actions by the City Council (zone changes, General Plan amendments, or both) to be built? 

Over the past week I have repeatedly posed this question to opponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) since they claimed that the NII would block the construction of affordable housing in Los Angeles. So far, no one has coughed up a single address, much less a list of affordable housing projects stymied by LA’s current zoning code and General Plan. 

Q2. Should Los Angeles update its General Plan elements prior to any legislative actions by the City Council to approve zone changes and/or Plan Amendments for specific parcels? 

Since most of LA’s General Plan elements are out-of-date, it is now impossible to know where future demand for housing, infrastructure, and services will appear. Likewise, it is impossible to know the status of the public facilities and services that future residents will need in these areas. To step into this mess with City Council legislative actions that will up-end the General Plan through amendments based on antiquated data opens the door to stunningly bad legislative decisions. 

Q3. Should Los Angeles carefully monitor its General Plan Elements prior to any legislative actions that amend them for single parcels? 

State of California planning guidelines and the provisions of the General Plan Framework Element and its Environmental Impact Report require a rigorous monitoring program and annual report. This report should examine the status of the LA’s infrastructure and services, including maintenance, as well as forecasts of changes in user demand. It also needs to determine which of the General Plan’s demographic assumptions have changed and which implementation programs have been rolled out, including their effectiveness. Until this happens, decades-old planning documents cannot be reliably used for legislative actions determining LA’s future land uses at the level of a single parcel. 

Q4. Should any legislative actions approving otherwise illegal projects for individual parcels, based on an applicant’s promises of future job creation and transit ridership, require regular reports confirming these promises? 

At present, applicants can promise the sky and the moon to the City Planning Commission and the City Council in order to get the legislative approvals that their mega-projects require. But the same applicants do not then need to conduct any subsequent studies to determine if the jobs or transit ridership they promised actually appear. If they do not appear, which is usually the case, there are no consequences, such as the revocation of building permits, zone changes, and General Plan Amendments. 

Q5. Should projects that promise the creation of jobs and generation of transit ridership be approved in separate, conditional phases? 

If the City Planning Commission and City Council’s legislative actions to approve special laws for individual parcels were broken into phases, the second or later stages could be rejected or postponed until the promised jobs and/or transit ridership appeared. In this way, liars and shady consultants would get their just rewards. 

Q6.  Should Proposition 13 be reformed by splitting the roles so cities can properly fund public services, such as affordable housing trust funds? 

Since single-family homes sell about every six years, while commercial properties, including apartment buildings, are rarely sold, the latter are the true beneficiaries of Proposition 13. The victims are not just owners of single-family homes, nearly all of whom bought their homes since 1978 and, therefore, pay high property taxes, but also the users of public facilities and services. Since many of these public facilities and services (e.g., affordable housing) have been downsized by perpetual public sector budget crises since California’s voters approved Prop. 13, splitting the roles would make sure that commercial properties were properly reassessed and then required to pay their fair share of property taxes. 

If these six questions are not sufficient enough for you to uncover the Rachael-style Replicants hiding among the advocates and pundits promoting otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartments in the name of affordable housing, then I will happily provide you another six questions. 

Just remember to keep a hand on your wallet.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-Who is going to win the Super Bowl, Denver or Carolina? I don’t know, but we already know the identity of the loser: San Francisco. The city of San Francisco, already facing a deficit, is realizing two weeks before the big game that Super Bowl festivities will leave them with more than $4.3 million in costs. 

To cover it, a city analysis shows, the mayor’s office has asked departments to identify millions in surplus moneys, or to redirect staff time and other resources from projects to support the Super Bowl.

The departments have found those surpluses, the analysis found, and that’s not good news – because they weren’t supposed to have surpluses, at least according to what they told the Board of Supervisors during the budget review for this fiscal year. 

Even worse, San Francisco had no written agreement with the NFL or the Super Bowl host committee, or the city’s fire, police and emergency management departments when the Bay Area bid on the game and signed letters promising not to seek reimbursement from the NFL for public safety services in support of Super Bowl-related events. 

And the game itself isn’t even in San Francisco—it’s in Santa Clara (which did get a written agreement on costs.) 

This state of affairs is more than an embarrassment to San Francisco. It’s a reminder that only fools court professional football. Sadly, there’s a new NFL team in California – the Rams have moved to Los Angeles. And worse still, the Rams are building a new stadium that is supposed to host Super Bowls. 

Let’s hope that Inglewood, a much less prosperous place than San Francisco, makes sure to get its costs reimbursed.

 

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It [UC Press, 2010]. This column was posted first at Fox & Hounds … connecting people and ideas.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDITOR’S PICK--We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct (and those who help cover it up). 

Last week we had one Los Angeles Police Department detective arrested for intimidating a witness and for false imprisonment after she claimed her boyfriend had sexually assaulted her. That was followed with the news that another LAPD officer was going to jail and this time for attempting to commit a lewd act with a 12-year-old girl and indecently exposing himself to five female victims in Huntington Beach. 

And while I can always depend on the news media to bring you those types of LAPD shenanigans, today we’re going to discuss crimes committed by LAPD officers that the news media isn’t telling you about but are happening just the same. 

So gather around folks for the latest installment of Newtongate and it’s a doozy. 

When last we spoke about Newtongate I described in great detail how then Captain Ed Prokop (photo: standing right above) replaced then Captain Jorge Rodriguez who was demoted and shipped off to Foothill for his alleged participation in Hoopesgate. Still with me? (Read the rest.

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-Was it an oversight or intentional that the new nonprofit proposed by General Manager Brenda Barnette to solicit funds for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services was incorporated as “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation?” 

At the January 12, 2016 meeting of the Animal Services Commission, GM Brenda Barnette urged approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Los Angeles Animal Services and “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation, Inc.”, incorporated by former Villaraigosa-appointed Commissioner Maggie Neilson, CEO of Global Philanthropy.   

Brenda Barnette claims that the purpose is “…to support the work of the Department much the way the LAPD Foundation, the LAFD Foundation, the Library Foundation and others support the work of City Departments.” 

However, other city-department “supporting foundations” clearly mention in their name the agency for which they are soliciting funds. 

So why wasn’t “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” incorporated as “Los Angeles Animal Services Foundation” or “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Services?” Both are available according to the CA Secretary of State.   

Ms. Neilson’s glib response to the Commission after that question was posed in public comment, was that “they” can change the name later. She didn’t explain why a compatible name was not used at the outset. 

Whether it is a lack of experience or perhaps being advised not to create any roadblocks for Brenda Barnette, none of the three attorneys on the Commission asked any probing questions about the blank spaces in the MOU or about a business plan, goals or officers. They were effusive over approving essentially a “blank check.” 

This was the first meeting after the resignation of Commissioner Jennifer Brent -- a tremendous loss, because she was the only Commissioner with actual animal sheltering and nonprofit management experience. 

Another obvious incongruence clouds the transparency of this proposed financial-support agreement: 

The MOU states:

“… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…;” 

The Articles of Incorporation for the Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation state:  

“The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and   that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

But the official mandated Mission Statement of the Department of Animal Services is clear:

        “To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel reportedly helped develop this MOU. Why would a nonprofit charity be set up with a statement of purpose not closely related to the Mission Statement of the agency for which it purports to raise funds? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency, such as L.A. Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after an owner relinquishes them or fails to claim them from the shelter. 

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money is spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? 

Annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” will be provided only to Brenda Barnette, the Department’s senior accountant, and the Commission. And, any other financial data or list of officers and/or employees will be provided only to the Department upon request, according to the MOU. 

One expert explained, “When a governmental agency, such as L.A. Animal Services, joins with an allied nonprofit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests.” 

L.A. Animal Services is definitely not cash-strapped or lacking in charitable funding. Although General Manager Brenda Barnette frequently claims she is hampered by a lack of funds, donors give generously and leave sizable bequests to support the homeless animals impounded at City shelters. 

According to GM Barnette’s report on January 26, 2016, there is a current balance of $2,288,560.00 in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF), which is a carefully monitored and controlled charitable fund to assist the Department. (In fact, in late 2014, the balance was so high that Barnette was instructed by the Commission to spend $500,000.) 

The unrestricted current donations, which can be used for any existing program for the welfare of animals except spay/neuter, total $1,206,992.75.

The Animal Sterilization (Spay/Neuter) Fund shows a cash balance of $4,684,103.47 (as of 12/31/2015) from donations, grants, pet-adoption deposits, fees, and General Fund subsidy. 

In addition, the Department of Animal Services has a tax-funded 2015-16 operating budget of $43,950,107. 

The “Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” is actually Brenda’s third (known) attempt to form a nonprofit. 

An August 13, 2014, report by Barnette to Mayor Garcetti regarding the creation of an Animal Foundation with former-Commissioner Maggie Neilson, is marked “Note and File.” 

It identifies that, “The General Manager is working with former Animal Services Commissioner Maggie Neilson, Partner and CEO of Global Philanthropy, to form "The Foundation," a public nonprofit to help support the work of Animal Services.” 

Then it took a strange turn -- proposing that “Part of The Foundation would use the abandoned South L.A. shelter as a job training location for community members…” Concluding, “Animal Services is working with Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals…” 

This is visionary; but, it is hard to grasp the nexus to raising money for an animal shelter. 

Former-Commissioner, Terri Marcellaro and GM Brenda Barnette were involved in forming the 2011 nonprofit, called “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Shelters” to solicit funds in the name of L.A. City shelter animals. Donor packages of up to $50,000 were planned to be offered by the Friends of LA Animal Shelters, according to their documents. 

Mr. Barnette was not entirely forthcoming in her report to the Commission about her involvement with this group.

Dov Lesel of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Administrative Office denied knowledge of an MOU or contract, in response to my inquiries; however, 187 pages of e-mails and other documents were obtained through CPRA requests.

A visit to the Friends of LA Animal Shelters website on November 14, 2012, showed under “Donate”: 

"Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters is the fundraising arm of the city shelters. If you give directly to the city, there is no guarantee your money will reach the animals. Any money donated to us is guaranteed to go directly to the animals."  (Note: This wording was changed soon after my CPRA was received by the City.) 

There was not then, and appears still not to be, an MOU or formal agreement with the City, although shelter animals are delivered daily (except Tuesday) to the Friends’ L.A. Love and Leashes adoption location at 1011 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica by L.A. City employees, using city vehicles, and picked up by 7:00 p.m.

There is no indication donated funds to these groups is given to L.A. Animal Services although they claim they are supporting the shelters. Nor do any of Ms. Barnette’s reports on the Animal Welfare Trust Fund mention donations from either group. 

Several questions need answers:

  • Was an MOU or formal contract ever entered into for this transport and/or adoption activity and to relieve the City of liability while the animals are at this location?
  • How many animals are actually being adopted at Loves and Leashes, since the City is investing a substantial amount of employee time and resources?
  • Under what authority is City property (animals) transferred to a new owner in an adoption processed in Santa Monica by other than a Los Angeles City employee? 

There is much discontent being expressed and questions arising about Ms. Barnette’s management performance and treatment of her employees. This is a time for her to either dispel the untruths or improve the issues that are creating discomfort for the Mayor. 

There are growing concerns among members of the City Council and the public about strays, animal protection and the condition of animals in the shelters. There is unpardonably slow response to calls for humane investigations of suffering, starving and abused animals. 

This is the time for Brenda Barnette to devote her attention to her duties and fulfill her obligations to the animals and residents of Los Angeles. Fundraising should be last on her list.                                                                       

(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.

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