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POLITICS--To my knowledge, the only times I've ever experienced magic is when I met my wife for the first time, and when my two kids were born.  But I guess that love-at-first-sight isn't the only magic that abounds in the City of the Angels.  After all, we've got gobs of magic money coming out of Downtown--police settlements, utility settlements, and lots of resources to give developers when we were told that we were running out of water, and that our infrastructure was going to Hades in a handbasket. 

The only problem with all this magic, unfortunately, is that the average middle class Angeleno (for those of us who still exist) has to work with bank accounts that adhere strictly with the confines of math and science. 

In other words, when we have no money to spend, we can't.  And, unless we take a risk with our credit cards, we don't. 

So when the police do something horrible and send innocent men to prison for decades, their need to be compensated (and is money really sufficient compensation?) raises the other question of how Angelenos are supposed to pay for it...because it's not the corrupt police officers who will pay for it, but rather you and me. 

Ditto for the victims of the Porter Ranch gas leak.  They ARE victims, but will the SoCal Gas officials who should have prevented this pay the inevitable legal costs?  Nope, you and me again. 

So maybe we can add public sector/utility malfeasance to the list of problems we'll need to raise the torches and pitchforks about this fall. 

And I am sure that, as with overdevelopment, City Hall corruption/collusion with developers, lobbyists, special interests, etc., we'll be told to just suck it up and take it.  Never mind the fact that our police, utility and other dollars are going to this damage control instead of where our money is supposed to go. 

And I am also sure that Council President Herb Wesson (you know, the guy who redistricts at whim, makes overdevelopment deals at whim, tells former Mayor Riordan to shove off and not even let him speak in front of the City Council, and considers Mark Ridley Thomas' county supervisorial district as his manifest destiny), will shrug his bossy, regal shoulders and tell us that this is all just life in the Big City.  And not just the Big City, but "his" City. 

And I am also equally sure that former Council President and current Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is by far more of a compassionate man that the current king occupying his former position, will fail to acknowledge the rape and pillage of Angelenos' wallets...and perhaps arrange for even more overdevelopment and LADWP revenue transfers to pay for the LAPD and other outrages. 

So along comes the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, currently backed by former Mayor Riordan, and as reported in CityWatchLA we will have an interesting ride to this November's ballot. 

Because it appears that we WILL have to bring a ballot measure, and perhaps several others, to both challenge the City Council/Downtown oligarchy and demand their royal heralds and political appointees obey the law, and to respect the laws of financial responsibility when the magic money trees stop producing sufficient revenue to reverse the damage of City "leadership". 

And among those ballot measures may have to be either a revisitation of who the City Attorney represents (he is NOT legally obliged to represent ordinary Angelenos, believe it or not, but rather he is the attorney who ultimately MUST represent Downtown City leadership), or to add a City Ombudsman answerable ONLY to Neighborhood Councils. 

Because the magic sooner or later ends, leaving only the stark reality of a City on the edge of financial unsustainability and the cold, hard means we will have live within should we choose to address our financial, infrastructural, and governance problems.

 

(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 does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and 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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

BACK TALK--We are writing to respond to and clarify some of the issues raised in your article "Tom LaBonge Leaves the Cupboard Bare … Records on $600,000 Missing" posted on January 19, 2016 on City Watch.  

First, it should be stated that LaBonge's funding proposal of $50,000 for the urban design study for the benefit of the Miracle Mile community at large and its museums did go through a formal and publicly recorded vote. Per Council File No. 15-0741-S1, dated June 17, 2015, all ten Council members present voted "yes." (Five were absent.)

Second, LACMA is not the sole beneficiary of the $50,000 grant in question. The proposed funding was allocated for a project to benefit the community of the Miracle Mile and its five museums (LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft & Folk Art Museum, and the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures) to define and promote the Miracle Mile as a distinct and cohesive cultural destination. As a matter of accounting, LACMA was named the recipient of the funds in the name of all the museums and was in charge of paying the consultant using the grant funds. However, the benefits of the funding were to be equal among the five institutions and the City's 4th District community at large.

Finally, the scope of the project is greater than "a way-finding project involving signage along Museum Row."  The project's deliverable was a wide-ranging creative document detailing many factors that impact Museum Mile as a destination. This includes a variety of current and future concerns: consistent naming of the district; accounting of existing parking and proposed alternate models; available sidewalks and crosswalks before, during, and after Metro construction; possible collaborative public programming, and, finally, way-finding.  We believe the project will benefit the entire Miracle Mile community and are working with Councilman Ryu and his office to provide whatever information and documentation that he may need to support the project.

We kindly request that you publish this letter to address the factual inaccuracies and negative implications included in the article on CityWatch. Please reach out with any further questions or clarification about the far-reaching community benefits of this project.

(Miranda Carroll is Director of Communications at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2017

THE TRUTH ABOUT ROAD DIETS-Everyone in NELA who’s been awake for the last few years know about the reactionary cabal that has been struggling to keep Highland Park a preserve for “leadfoot drivers.” You know, the sort that has been maiming and killing residents on Figueroa Street for years – the sort that, lately, has been accelerating the pace of the bloodshed. And now the car addicts have started a petition on change.org asking CD14 Councilmember José Huizar to remove the bike lanes from York Boulevard. 

Sign the counter-petition here.  

These people employ what you might call discredited arguments, but really, they are just plain lies. They state that bike lanes have caused a loss of business, but the empty storefronts that existed before bike lanes are now largely occupied, and older businesses such as Huarache Azteca have invested in sprucing up their façades. They claim that bike lanes slow down emergency response -- they don’t. They say bike lanes cause traffic backups. 

What they don’t mention is that collisions of all sorts dropped dramatically thanks to the street’s road diet, which later added bike lanes without reducing mixed traffic lanes further. As for the other intuitive assertions, this UCLA study on the York road diet itself should set your mind at rest. Its conclusions were based on actual data gathered on the actual York Boulevard -- not on “gut feelings.” 

What causes traffic backups is too many cars which are drawn to a street when it has too much lane space. Cars cause congestion; building more lanes makes more room for more cars to cause more congestion. Don’t take my word for it: listen to CalTrans, which now admits that More Roads Mean More Traffic.  

In fact, it should be obvious even to the Neanderthals that we’ve been building more roads and more lanes for eighty years -- and traffic has gotten steadily worse. 

So I offer a compromise: for the next eighty years, let’s build nothing but bike lanes and transit lines, and see what happens. 

Who knows? We might end up like Denmark, which currently holds the Number 1 spot on Forbes Magazine’s list of best places to do business,  as well as being home to the happiest population on this poor beleaguered planet. 

All those bike lanes help….

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying PigeonEdited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-It’s been over 86 days since the Southern California Gas Company first reported the Aliso Canyon gas leak in the Porter Ranch community of the valley. The gas well, not expected to be contained until late February or early March at the earliest, has disrupted lives for many families in this suburban neighborhood. Over 2,200 residents have been temporarily displaced, housed in hotels and apartment buildings as far away as Warner Center and Westlake Village.

When students at Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School returned to classes after the winter break, they were no longer housed in their home schools. Back in December, the LAUSD board declared an emergency for these schools, both located within two miles of the gas leak. About 1,100 K through 8th grade students at Porter Ranch Community School are now housed on the Northridge Middle School campus; and 770 kindergarten through 5th grade students from Castlebay are housed at Sunny Brae Elementary School in Winnetka. In the months after the gas leak was first reported, absenteeism and visits to the schools’ health offices had increased; families had begun to choose independent study for their children. 

Could anything have been done to prevent the gas leak? Attorneys representing Porter Ranch families report that Southern California Gas Co. knew five years ago about the leaking wells in Aliso Canyon and had received a ratepayer increase to fund upgrades in 2013 -- but never replaced safety valves on its gas injection wells. 

LA County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is asking fellow board members to join him in possibly curbing residential development in parts of the northern San Fernando Valley until, as Antonovich said in a statement released last week, “a thorough investigation can take place as to what caused the leak and what safeguards will be put in place to avoid a failure of this magnitude again.” 

One of the caveats involves halting development in Deerlake Ranch, a 314-home tract approved sixteen years ago. And Newport Beach-based Foremost Companies is in the process of pulling building permits for the 230-acre development north of the 118 Freeway at Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just 10 miles west of the entrance to the storage facility. Antonovich has asked county agencies to re-designate the area as permanent open space. 

Way back in 1989, before the area was developed, locals opposed overdevelopment, fearing traffic, depletion of water, and a strain on sewage lines and landfills. Environmental reports that outlined plans for the just under 3,400 homes that would be known as Porter Ranch contained no obvious references to the massive natural gas storage facility about a mile away. Despite the concerns of locals, the 1,300 acre development was approved by City Council in 1990 and became one of the largest residential and commercial projects in LA history. 

Twenty-five years later, families are squeezed into hotel rooms, surviving on takeout or restaurant meals. Kids must adapt to new schools and do their homework in tight quarters, unable to play with friends after school, play soccer or take karate in the neighborhood studio. Residents have suffered from various health issues caused by the methane gas exposure. 

Mothers and fathers, residents and business owners, activists and attorneys continue to mobilize to fight for what was lost and for the future. We must look at what has happened in Porter Ranch as a cautionary tale -- a tragedy that should not be repeated. Until the gas company can stop the leak and ensure the area is safe, any further development there should be curtailed.

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

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

EDUCATION POLITICS-Sixty-two years after Brown vs. Board of Education supposedly made integration the law of the land, why is it we still have de facto segregation and an objectively inferior public school system in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and beyond? 

The best explanation is the least cited reason: People who are not themselves subjected to inferior segregated public education are loathe to comprehend how impossible attaining a good education is in a district like LAUSD that has sanctions in place for any teacher who tries to buck its clearly inferior system. 

The corporate media, bent on supporting the privatization of public education for profit, continues to censor information regarding the abysmal state of affairs in the vast majority of LAUSD and charter schools. 

Parents without children in these schools have no personal knowledge or any way of knowing how deplorable public school conditions are since their predominantly white children are safely ensconced in comparatively high functioning private or parochial schools. 

These students are being taught critical thinking skills in all subjects through a rigorous curriculum that rarely, if ever, exists at the super-majority-minority-poor-segregated LAUSD schools -- not to mention in many other districts like it throughout the country. 

Those outside the failing LAUSD system are effectively limited to what actions they might be willing to take to change things, mainly due to their media-nurtured ignorance as to what is really going on. 

Add to this the pernicious, unchallenged racial stereotypes that foster low expectations for minority students -- with no expectation that better is even possible – and you are left with the disingenuous rhetoric that “every child should be a lifelong learner who is going to college,” even if they can't read, write, or do basic math. 

So, if 94% of the white population is able to avoid integrated public education by escaping to private, parochial, and certain majority-white charter schools, then it’s no wonder they continue to rationalize their choices, often by falsely believing that the same quality of education might be available in our degraded public schools. 

Another reason inferior segregated public education still exists in 2015 is that no regulatory agency seems willing or capable of taking action against clearly segregated, failing public schools that are in violation of the law. A conspiracy of silence continues to block any objective media coverage of the neglect that remains a closely guarded secret in plain sight. 

Again, this dearth of knowledge has everything to do with the corporate ownership of both the commercial and public media – entities that continue to censor any news that contradicts their corporate masters' move to privatize the $2 trillion a year public education "business for profit.” 

All this negativity tends to create low self-image and low expectations for all involved in segregated public education. Some good teachers still try to get their students to accomplish just one thing that they had formerly been taught was impossible within the “no-expectation” public and charter schools. Good teachers persist in doing this with the knowledge that, once their students master just one thing they didn't think they could do, they might have an epiphany – they might just come to believe they are capable of learning everything. 

Ironically, teachers who go this extra mile are too often targets for removal at LAUSD where, in the vast majority of charters, positive rhetoric takes the place of substantive critical thinking skills. One substitute teacher, who is in high demand at predominantly white charters, related to me how she was censured at a mostly Latino charter when she tried to teach critical thinking skills to her Latino students. She was punished for trying to develop the notion that ideas are interrelated; she was punished for not teaching rote fill in the blanks, the norm at that particular school and others like it. 

Since she knew from prior teaching assignments in predominantly Latino schools in Greater Los Angeles that the students were painfully aware of Presidential candidate Donald Trump's defamatory statements against Latinos, she pointed out that Trump in no way supported any of his allegations with facts. She went on to point out that what was conspicuously missing from all of his diatribes against Latinos and Muslims were any facts to support his inflammatory statements. 

Immediately, her students were able to see not only the weakness of Trump's attacks, but also their own deficiencies in the assignment they had been working on, where they had been asked but did not make a connection between the story’s thesis and the ideas that supported the thesis. 

A passing Vice Principal happened to overhear this teachable moment and consequently requested that this teacher not return to this school in the future.

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

CHARTER SCHOOL WARS-As we continue to see, the highly biased LA Times is under the thrall of Eli Broad and his cohorts to take over public education in Los Angeles and convert it to free market profiteering. Almost daily, the Times runs what is loosely called journalism, lauding charter schools and defaming public schools.  They add a disclosure announcement at the end of these articles admitting they are paid for by Broad and non-profits such as United Way where he calls all the shots. 

Here is the operant paragraph of Sunday's editorial from the LA Times, which is paid for by Eli Broad and his claque of pretenders (see their full disclosure which appears repeatedly with most of the education issues on which they report). 

“A better move would be to call on Great Public Schools Now to provide a place at the table for the district’s new superintendent, Michelle King, to participate in the planning process. If the new non-profit organization hopes to overcome resistance in the community, it needs to be more open about its planning and it needs to open the process to public discussion — after all, whether charter schools or not, these are all public schools.” 

“The Times receives funding for its digital initiative, Education Matters, from the California Endowment, the Wasserman Foundation and the Baxter Family Foundation. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Broad Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, the Times retains complete control over editorial content.” 

What a pile of manure…the only way these charter schools are public, is that We the People, we the public, we the taxpayers, are forced to pay for them…with NO oversight by the public, the government, or the school system. This is an amazing scam concocted by the Bonfire of the Vanities guys to use public funding for public schools while transferring students to privatized charter schools, all for their own profit.  Rupert Murdoch and Eli Broad have openly written about this, and they and their billionaire buddies are gathered in their kingdoms, cackling at their success in fooling the public. 

Now we read in their controlled corporate media, the LA Times, that Broad and Company wants the new Superintendent of LAUSD, Michelle King, to sit at their golden table as a participant with his hit squad, to charterize and privatize the rest of LAUSD…or at least for now, up to 50 percent more charters which take away from public education. Their fantasy seems to be that Michelle King will now work for them and be a subject to Myrna Castrejon…and of course Eli Broad. 

It is shocking to see that Broad lawyers and PR firms now use as their mouthpiece, this hard core, non-educator, lobbyist for CCSA who spent her time twisting arms in Sacramento and who now thinks she is on the same level as the new Superintendent of LAUSD. 

Here is the Times dossier for Myrna Castrejon, (photo) the political hit woman who works for charter schools: 

“The organization driving a controversial effort to vastly expand charter schools in Los Angeles has selected one of the state’s most visible charter school advocates as its first executive director.

Myrna Castrejon, 50, is leaving her position as a lobbyist and strategist for the California Charter Schools Association to lead Great Public Schools Now, a non-profit organization established to carry out the charter expansion strategy, which was first developed by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and his foundation. 

“In her new position, Castrejon will become the face of an initiative that is stoking tumult among educators and push-back from the Los Angeles Unified School District. An early proposal called for raising $490 million to enroll half of the district’s students in charter schools over the next eight years. 

Castrejon, senior vice president of government affairs for the charter association, begins her new role Feb. 22. She said a key priority will be reaching out to leaders of the nation’s second largest school district who, just two days ago, publicly opposed the plan developed by the Broad Foundation. 

LA Unified Supt. Michelle King on Thursday echoed concerns raised by the school board, saying she does not support any initiatives that propose to “take over” the district by encouraging students to enroll in charters.” 

How many of the California legislators are under the influence of Broad and his endless cash? We know for a fact that former LA Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, who is now preparing to run for Governor, is prime among these sellouts to Big Money. He is so close to Eli and John Deasy, he can taste them. 

Have we lost all control of American society and democracy to Broad his band of oligarchs? How can they form a new 501c3 and think it will be the vehicle to infiltrate the school district and usurp it totally from the Superintendent to the BoE to every classroom and every piece of LAUSD real estate? 

The arrogance and sheer chutzpah of this power grab is mind boggling. 

The real public, those of us living in the community, better wake up to this irreversible loss of public schools; we must take to the streets to preserve what is left. California already has more charter schools than any other state in the Union, and Los Angeles has the most of any city in the nation. Yet university reports show that the preponderance of these charters do no better than public schools in educating students, and a large group does far worse...all the while making big bucks using ill prepared teachers who flee their charges quickly.

(Ellen Lubic, Director, Joining Forces for Education, Public Policy educator/writer. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of CityWatch or its ownership.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

 

METHANE MAYHEM-It’s early December, and I’m sitting in a mega-church packed with more than 500 people. They’re here to listen to an update on the efforts to contain an enormous natural gas blowout that occurred more than a month before. Gas from the leak is being blown by prevailing winds right into their community of Porter Ranch, in Los Angeles County, CA. 

People are mad. 

Hundreds of families have left their homes to get away from the rotten-egg smell of the gas, and moved into temporary homes elsewhere. Children are attending other schools further from the leak, which is spewing some 110,000 pounds of methane per hour from a broken well less than a mile from the neighborhood.  

Trust between the gas company, regulators, and community members seems absent. 

People question what else is in the gas that might have long-term health impacts. They want to know why many are suddenly reporting headaches and bloody noses.

I’m sitting in this church because my colleague Hilary Lewis and I were invited to Porter Ranch with our infrared gas-finding camera to see what this high profile disaster actually looks like. Before we arrived, the public had no access to images or video of the gas itself, as it’s invisible to the naked eye. 

We meet a local organizer in a supermarket parking lot, exit the vehicle, and even my horrible sense of smell instantly reacts to the scent of the gas more than two miles from where we stand. It’s coming from a well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, an 8,000-foot deep sandstone formation — a depleted oil field — that SoCalGas uses to hold vast quantities of gas. In fact, it’s one of the largest gas storage fields in the nation, comprising some 115 extraction and injection wells, some of which operate at pressures above 2,000 pounds per square inch — a hefty load for well casings over 60 years old. 

We hike the hills and document the gas blowing sideways and downhill into town. Later that night, we see a plume of gas at least a mile long spanning Aliso Canyon. Of all the sites I’ve shot as a certified infrared thermographer nationwide, this is, hands down, the largest volume of spewing methane gas I’ve ever seen — and I’ve visited nearly a hundred sites around the country, including the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Each day, the leak is releasing the same amount of greenhouse gases as the average daily emissions of more than 7 million cars.

This video footage — aired nationally on NBC’s The Rachel Maddow’s Show and many other media outlets — has helped to draw widespread attention to the leak, and has assisted local residents in their efforts to get justice and to hold industry, regulators, and policymakers accountable.  

Just ten days later, I return to Aliso Canyon to shoot additional infrared footage for the Environmental Defense Fund from a small chartered aircraft. We fly as close as is safe, seeing a plume nearly 1,000 feet high under calmer wind conditions. The pilot can’t help but note the pungent smell not long after gaining altitude. 

We get a view of the well pad itself — a mangled looking mess coated in mud. This mud was used to try to “drown” the well during the first several attempts to plug the leak. Nothing worked. There are huge craters around the well, and no one wants to get too close with machines for fear of a spark turning the entire scene into an enormous fireball.


The footage I shot for EDF makes an even bigger mark on the national consciousness. Soon thereafter, California Governor Jerry Brown declares a state of emergency regarding the leak, and the Los Angeles Times editorializes against fossil fuels, referencing the Aliso Canyon leak. 

Right now, as the leak enters its tenth week, the underground pressure has been reduced by half of its original rate, due to the gas escaping from the leak and other actions taken by SoCalGas — the company operating the facility — to withdraw gas in a controlled manner.  

It will be months before the leak is repaired. SoCalGas is currently drilling two relief wells to divert the gas below the leak source, much like what was done during the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But by the time the wells are drilled, most of the gas will be gone anyway. 

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 87 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. So far, an estimated 79,000 metric tons of methane have escaped from this one facility — so much that California’s goals to reduce climate pollution have been seriously compromised. It’s estimated that, at its height, the leak increased the state’s daily methane emissions by 25 percent.

What has this disaster taught us? For one thing, it’s yet another affirmation that fossil fuels are not safe or clean, and that things often go horribly wrong when it’s least expected. But more specifically, it highlights the woeful state of regulatory oversight on underground gas storage facilities such as Aliso Canyon. For example, the well casing at the site of the blowout failed hundreds of feet below the surface, likely due to the predictable corrosion of 60 year old well casings. To add insult to injury, the safety shut-off device for this well was removed long ago and never replaced.

So there you have it — a well operating at the upper limit of its pressure tolerance, with a safety valve deliberately removed long before, and a well casing that failed with no safeguards in place to prepare for when that time might come. Aliso Canyon has 114 other wells that could fail at any time unless adequate safeguards are in place.

Thankfully, Governor Brown’s declaration of a state of emergency will force a number of much-needed steps — both immediate and medium-term — that will address the situation. His declaration was much needed because, for example, the California Air Resources Board is considering new regulations that would address leak detection and repair for natural gas infrastructure, but these wouldn’t have applied to underground facilities like Aliso Canyon. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, due to Brown’s declaration, California regulatory bodies, including the Air Resources Board, will be required to assess the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California.

It’s long past time to regulate these facilities properly, or take them offline entirely. Hundreds of underground natural gas storage facilities exist throughout the nation, and many of them could also experience catastrophic failures, in addition to other problems already occurring, such as groundwater contamination. 

To prevent more disasters like Aliso Canyon in California and around the country (there are 326 similar facilities nationwide) we need an emergency statewide effort to shut down facilities that lack basic safety equipment, including Aliso Canyon. Gas storage wells that lack shut off valves should be taken offline before other Porter Ranches happen. We also need increased oversight and management of these facilities, not to mention support for residents affected by pollution, including health care and financial compensation.

Moving forward, we also need a rapid transition away from gas. The Solutions Project, an organization working to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, has mapped out a plan for California to achieve 100 percent fossil fuel-free energy by 2050. This transition would protect communities from underground storage risks, gas line leakage, and explosions like the one in San Bruno.

Because nearby communities — and the global climate — cannot afford any more disasters, Earthworks, a nonprofit that works to protect communities from the adverse impacts of energy development, is working hand-in-hand with community groups to push for significant regulatory changes and enforcement. Learn more about Earthworks’ work here.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

(Pete Dronkers is the Southwest Circuit Rider for Earthworks. He is an ITC-certified thermographer. This piece was posted earlier at the excellent Common Dreams.)  Photo:   EarthWorks. The first (and to date only) direct overhead photos of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad polluting Porter Ranch community; taken on December 17, 2015. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Trishna Patel, Media Director and Travel Writer @RomanceTravelConcierge, sat down with George Sifuentes in the summer of 2015 to discuss the challenges of approaching strangers, the pressures that come with social media notoriety, and why he attributes his focus on LA’s Latino community to time spent with his grandmother. (Photo: A Sifuentes’ photograph) 

Patel asked him to describe his favorite things about shooting in Los Angeles -- what are his favorite areas and why? 

He responded by saying that the best thing about shooting in LA is the variety of people and neighborhoods that are so close to one another. Hands down his favorite place to shoot is Downtown on Broadway, running through the historic core where the city’s oldest souls and newest inhabitants walk side by side. His second favorite spot is Boyle Heights/East LA. To Sifuentes, Mexican culture is so visually strong in these areas that it's highly unlikely he’d leave without finding anything good. His third favorite spot is Venice Beach. He argues, if you look beyond the tourist trail you’ll find some of LA's truest characters that are influenced by art, music and gang culture. 

Another good question asked by Patel was, what exactly is it about people that Sifuentes wants to capture and portray? 

He answered by saying that he wants to portray truth and originality in his subjects – and for his audience to look at his portraits and understand without a doubt that his subject is the true and beautiful character he or she is. 

The Latino community has been Sifuentes’ home and Patel asked him about his particular interest in LA’s Latino community. Since he grew up with young parents, he spent a lot of time with his grandparents. For him, photographing streets in LA is a nostalgic act – he used to walk on Cesar Chavez Avenue and Grand Central Market with his grandmother. (Photo left: George Sifuentes) 

Being Latino here means so many different things, adds Sifuentes. “We are [one of] the few communities in Los Angeles that can point to five or more generations that were born and raised in this city. Documenting both the older and younger generations as well as observing the varying degrees of mainstream influence is very interesting to me.” 

Finally, he argues thatspeaking Spanish is everything when it comes to photographing the Latino community. It establishes a common bond which leads to trust; plus Latinos, mostly the older ones, want to know why the hell you want a picture of them in the first place. The elderly have no understanding as to why Sifuentes would want to photograph them. They could care less about his photographic passion and most of the time they are not even aware of their own beauty. 

I think Trishna Patel did a great service to the Latino residents of Los Angeles by conducting this interview with Sifuentes; he raises a very important awareness of what Los Angeles really is. He shows us a view of this city that is hard to document by any other means. 

I just hope that residents and visitors alike learn to appreciate the importance of our city’s great diversity; how it has and continues to contribute to the greatness of the State of California and to our country as a whole. 

After all, Los Angeles is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world, and the second largest in the United States. It would be hard to imagine Los Angeles without its Latino community. 

Thank you George Sifuentes for your contribution to our city.

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 19, 2016 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--There is no shortage of heat when it comes to planning debates in Los Angeles, but not much light, especially when attention turns to the proposed Neighborhood Protect Initiative.  For example, an instant opposition group, that does not appear to have even read the initiative, is already mislabeling it the Housing Moratorium Initiative.   

So, borrowing a term from Hizzoner, Eric Garcetti, lets return to some (city planning) basics.  Maybe it is possible to shed some light on these heated planning debates through three simple questions and answers: 

What do we mean by planning?  In California there is not much grey when it comes to planning.  Every city is legally required to prepare and adopt a General Plan.  State law not only specifies that this General Plan must be timely and internally consistent, but it also must include the following elements:  Land Use (Called community plans in Los Angeles), Circulation and Transportation (Called Mobility Element in LA), Housing, Noise, Conservation, Open Space, and Safety.  

In addition most cities, including LA, have an optional Air Quality element.  Furthermore, LA has another element that ties everything together, the General Plan Framework Element.  It also has a new Health element, and many ancient elements, such as Infrastructure, that were prepared a half century ago, but never subsequently updated or rescinded. 

In LA nearly all of these General Plan elements are out-of-date. They are also internally inconsistent, with different base years, horizon years, and presumably even contradictory goals, policies, and implementation programs.  To say the least, they urgently need to be updated.  It is not just a question of following state law. Current, carefully monitored plans are necessary for LA to avoid the chaos resulting from roller coaster market forces determining the city’s fate. 

In addition to the General Plan element, most California cities must prepare an annual monitoring report on its General Plan that is submitted to Sacramento for review.  In LA, which is a charter city, this requirement is built into the legally adopted General Plan Framework Element and its related Environmental Impact Report.  Despite these legal obligations and related lawsuits, City Hall has ignored this monitoring requirement for the past 20 years.  It never created a mandated monitoring program, and it has never drafted a full monitoring report, just a few partial reports.  

This, then, is what constitutes planning in California.  Issues related to zoning, which occupy most of the time and energy of the LA Department of City Planning, are nothing more than a partial implementation mechanism for the city’s Land Use Element.  The 3,000 building permits per year that the Department of Building and Safety shunts off to City Planning for special review are, therefore, only a tiny part of what constitutes real city planning.    

It is, therefore, unfortunate that in Los Angeles, a city that desperately needs good planning, city planning has been reduced to zoning technicalities.  Most city planners, even those with graduate degrees and professional certifications, wile away their days as zoning technicians, processing the building permits that Building and Safety sends over to them.  In effect, their job is to legalize otherwise illegal projects. 

What do we mean by density?  In Los Angeles most references to density take their lead from the primary focus of the city’s planning department: reviewing and almost always approving land use exemptions for large and tall buildings that are otherwise illegal.  This is why in LA there is often agreement by proponents of these discretionary permits, as well as their critics, that density is nothing more than large buildings.  

But, this is only a small part of what really constitutes density.  Many cities that have dense buildings, like New York City, also have high-density public infrastructure and public services necessary for those dense commercial and residential buildings to function.  This includes high-density mass transit, as well as wide, well maintained, tree covered sidewalks that support a high-density pedestrian traffic.  It also means high-density libraries, neighborhood parks, and schools for the high-density population.  In it entirety, this is what should be called good density.  It also accounts for New York City’s low per capita carbon footprint.  In its case, a high density built environment actually works. 

But, in LA what already exists or is proposed for such neighborhoods as Hollywood, Koreatown, Downtown LA, and even Warner Center, is bad density.  It consists of high-density buildings that are permitted through discretionary approvals decades before essential supporting high-density infrastructure and services appear.  LA’s current planning approach is to therefore put the cart many, many years before the horse.  If it were to plan correctly, the General Plan’s mandatory and optional elements would first be brought up to date.  At the same time the city’s public infrastructure and public services need to be upgraded through careful planning and monitoring prior to the approval of new high-density buildings.  If this were done in the correct order, then LA could end up with good density, rather than the bad density that is already blighting much of the city and getting worse as the current real estate bubble swells. 

What do we mean by growth and development?  In L.A. these are euphemisms for real estate speculation.  When officials and pundits talk about growth and talk about development, they mean privately financed real estate projects, usually commercial skyscrapers, apartment complexes, or a mix of the two. 

But, this focus on real estate speculation is an inaccurate definition of growth and development.  Growth also refers to the full gamut of the planning issues addressed in a city’s General Plan, and development also includes all of the public facilities that are necessary for a large modern city like LA, that intend to become a high-density world city.  

Growth also includes the expansion of schools, colleges, universities, galleries, theaters, and museums.  Development should incorporate the roll out of the alternative transportation modes addressed, in part, by LA’s new Mobility Element:  high speed interurban rail, commuter rail, heavy rail (subways), light rail (trolleys), express busses, local buses, shuttles, motorcycles and bicycles, and finally walking.  In short, all of these infrastructure and service categories, whether public, non-profit, or private, are the sum of what should be factored into any analysis and description of growth and development.   

The Unifying Principle:  If there is a unifying principle that will turn all of this heat into light, it can be found in every General Plan.  These plans cover 100 percent of a city’s land area.  They address far more than the privately owned lots that are the subject of building permits and discretionary planning actions. 

Depending on the neighborhood, these private owned lots only comprise 20 to 40 percent of a city’s land area.  The remainder is streets, parkways, sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, public buildings, parks and beaches, power lines and related easements, and different forms of open space.  

Since this is a majority of a city’s total area, and this is fully addressed through the planning process, it only makes sense that these areas need to be fully considered when talking about planning, density, and growth and development.  It also means that these discussions should be linked to each city’s budgeting process and reflected in the work programs of each city department.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who writes on local planning issues for City Watch.  He welcomes questions, comments, and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com. ) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

EDUCATION POLIITICS-LAUSD is a business that for generations has been more concerned with the well-being of its exclusive "agreed vendors" of goods and services than it has been for the successful formation of its students. The uncontested reason for the very existence of this behemoth as the second largest school district in the United States is what is called the “economics of scale.” This is where, in theory, a larger entity like LAUSD, with its enormous buying power, should be able to get the best price for goods and services at the lowest wholesale market price. 

However, the opposite reality has been the case for generations. For years, you could go into any retail store and buy almost anything for less than LAUSD pays for it. You could even get the newer more up to date model or version with better warranties. 

So why is it that LAUSD remains such a dysfunctional entity, rife with incessant scandals such as the building of Belmont High School on an irremediable toxic waste dump or the way-over-budget Ambassador Hotel high school being built with talking benches or the still unaddressed $1.3 billion iPad debacle? Why is this happening generation after generation to the detriment of the vast majority of its primarily poor and minority students? 

The reason? Power corrupts. And unnecessarily centralized power corrupts absolutely. While the idea of “economics of scale” might be reluctantly tolerated, what is never addressed is that the consolidation of power brings the danger of endemic corruption -- especially when highly centralized administrative business decisions are made by inexperienced ex-teacher administrators who are ill-equipped to stand up to the sophisticated vendors who’ve been bilking the district for years. 

Into this fray comes new LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King, who has moved up the ranks in this purposefully flawed de facto segregated, academically underachieving culture over the past thirty years. She has done this by not by making waves and by going along to get along. When you examine who the LAUSD chooses for its superintendent (or any administrative position), it seems that the most important qualification is the assurance that person will do nothing to change its vendor-friendly, student-toxic culture. 

Whether it is Michelle King or her most recent predecessors Ramon Cortines and John Deasy, the hallmark of this type of “reform” leadership is that it only addresses the effects of a long-failed LAUSD public education but never the underlying causes. King’s first suggestion upon entering the superintendent's job was to have exclusively all boy and all girl campuses. This notion is supported by competent academic authorities, yet it doesn’t address the damage of socially promoting students who arrive in kindergarten already way behind. 

Instead of championing an early intervention program addressing each student's academic level, irrespective of age, it seems that under Michelle King, LAUSD will continue to socially promote ill-prepared students…who are then assured to fail whether they are in a mixed gender or single gender school. 

The same is true for her second goal: "making sure every student graduates." Again this cannot be done without addressing the deficits underlying each student’s prior grade level achievements in a timely, age-sensitive manner. Up until now, this is something that has remained conspicuously absent in the plans of prior LAUSD superintendents. Why do they never question of failure of social promotion and the assured subsequent academic failure? 

It’s human nature to not change unless there are known negative consequences. But one cannot blame LAUSD administrators alone, especially since no local, state, or federal oversight has done anything to hold LAUSD accountable for its failure. Socially promoted students lacking the skills they should have with a high school diploma arrive at junior college unprepared. Unfortunately, 75% continue to fail, some taking remedial classes, and a disproportionate number of them dropping out; and there is no governmental agency legally charged with intervening, asking questions like, "What's going on here and who's fixing the grades and the CAHSEE exams that these students have supposedly passed?" 

It is not lost on me that new LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King is an African American and a woman. One can only hope that she will comport herself in a manner befitting the needs of what remains a nearly 90% de facto segregated school system. And this is 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education said, "Separate but equal...is inherently unequal." Yes, and I still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

PERSPECTIVE--Benedict Arnold betrayed our nation, but at least he accomplished significant good before he strayed down the dark path of treachery. He saved the Continental Army from certain defeat during the retreat from the failed invasion of Canada, skillfully parrying British efforts to destroy it. His leadership at Saratoga led to the most important strategic victory for the colonists and was a major factor in drawing France into the conflict. French assistance was vital in George Washington’s overwhelming victory over the British at Yorktown. 

Ratepayer Advocate Fred Pickel (photo) sold the ratepayers and stakeholders of the DWP up the Yazoo without so much as contributing to the public’s awareness of just why rates must be increased. 

His statement declaring DWP’s proposed series of rate increases as “fair and reasonable” has provided the DWP and its GM, Marcie Edwards, with a public relations windfall. 

The following press release was issued by the DWP on January 15: 

We are pleased that the Ratepayer Advocate has found that the power rate request to be “just and reasonable,” as it will invest in replacing aging infrastructure, which is critical to providing reliable electric service to our customers. If the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and the City Council approve the rate request, it  will allow us to continue the transformation of our power system to a clean energy future that protects the environment, while complying with regulatory mandates.

We have included key performance metrics and regular public reporting of our progress in the proposed power rate ordinance as recommended by the Ratepayer Advocate, and we are pleased that his report recognized that this will increase transparency and accountability by linking rates to the progress and performance of key programs. We are also grateful that the Ratepayer Advocate recognized that the Department has been instrumental in supporting the design and inclusion of the reporting mechanisms in the rate ordinances, referring to LADWP’s support and actions as, “unprecedented and a reflection of a more mature and sustainable management practices.”

Dr. Pickel’s independent review of the rate request is valuable, and we are reviewing his additional recommendations. We look forward to consideration of the power rate action by the Board of Water & Power Commissioners next Tuesday (January 19) and consideration of both water and power rates proposals by the City Council and Mayor thereafter.

Fred Pickel has never bothered to reach out to the media and the public about the need for reform at the utility. The hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned to the city’s poorly managed general fund at the expense of ignoring much needed capital improvements and maintenance to our water and power system should have been at the top of his agenda.

He should have been battling the City Council over the continuation of this backdoor tax and publicly disclosed how much it has diverted from the primary task of maintaining infrastructure.

He should have raised a giant red flag about the conflict of interest evident in DWP labor negotiations.  As long as the IBEW and its members can contribute to city election campaigns, the ratepayers will never have fair representation.

He should have emphasized the steady increases DWP employees received during the recession when the residents were taking pay cuts. 

He can analyze the numbers all he wants – and that is a job that must be performed – but the results lack meaning when taken out of context of the bigger issue of reform. In his report issued January 15th, the same date as the DWP press release, he attempted to couch his characterization of the increases as “fair and reasonable” in officialdom-speak:

Reasonableness is an opinion held by rate-setting public officials performing a specialized duty to the public interest. The essence of this opinion is whether the rates charged are equitable to the many competing interests facing a monopoly utility.”

Nice to know how public officials interpret the meaning, but how about the public’s perspective?

Edwards wasted no time in using Pickel words to promote the city’s objectives. She should have paid him. Endorsements like that are worth money.

Pickel can redeem himself if he counters the DWP’s press release with a very public and unambiguous statement criticizing Marcie Edwards and her masters for leveraging his ill-conceived, and apparently nuanced, “fair and reasonable” characterization of the rate increases.

If not, it is time for the Neighborhood Councils to issue a statement of “no confidence” in Doctor Pickel’s ability to represent the public.

(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 Village to Village or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.)

-cw

 

DEEGAN ON LA --“Harry Potter Swoops into Controversy with an Epic David Versus Two Goliath's Struggle on Eve of Theme Park’s Grand Opening” is not the Variety headline you’d expect as one of the world’s most famous and successful movie and book franchises makes its debut at Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s a brand new iteration: "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, a novel new ride -- in 3-D no less! 

The grand opening at the theme park has been announced for April 7. But will the Wizard be met by picketers protesting the closure of the southbound Hollywood 101 freeway’s Barham off ramp that was eliminated in order to build a grand driveway into the park, linked to the freeway? 

There is a fourth “D” in this scenario: it’s the “David” (aka Keep the Barham Ramp association) that is suing the two Goliath’s, Comcast-NBC Universal and Caltrans (State Department of Transportation.) The suit is over what Hollywood Hills resident John Strozdas, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says was a violation by Caltrans of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not providing substantial proof it had studied alternatives to the closure, and also not sufficiently backing up its findings regarding the closure's effects. 

"It is the experience of many persons who ... use the Barham (southbound) off ramp that police and fire services regularly use the ... off ramp to provide public services to that area and that without it, they will have to exit approximately one mile north ... increasing response time," states the lawsuit. 

Caltrans has addressed this allegation in fifteen succinct words, stating that this closure ”will have a less than significant impact on public services, including fire and police services.” 

Fifteen words buried in a 39,000 page Environmental Impact Report. Blink and you’ve missed it. 

This denial can be found on page 8, section K of an addendum to the EIR, the environmental impact report mandated by CEQUA. But no substantiating documentation supports this claim -- no independent traffic studies from LADOT and no on-the-record findings from LAFD and LAPD. Nor were there any attached documents showing Q+A from the community, many of whom say they were caught off-guard by the ramp’s closure since it had been labeled “Bennett Drive” and not what it actually is, Barham Boulevard. This looks like a wizardry that Harry himself might approve of, if, in fact, trickery was the objective. 

There were no justifying declarations from Caltrans or Comcast NBC-Universal that could reassure the community that they would have a happy Hollywood ending if they ever needed first responders in an emergency.  

The lawsuit alleges that Caltrans did not prove that public safety would not be impacted. Many residents believe there is reason to be fearful; they are concerned that fire and police responders will be the victims of this freeway ramp closure. And they may have a point. 

Has Comcast-NBC Universal, a monolithic entertainment giant capable of being a good neighbor and corporate citizen, cast a dark shadow over the people and places in its orbit? Did they know what they were doing to the surrounding community by closing off an important route for emergency responders?  

It seems that the southbound Barham off ramp just got in the way of the Harry Potter theme park visitor traffic plans. So it was “offed” and public safety has taken a hit. 

The new Grand Entry to the park is designed to speed visitors directly from the 101 Hollywood Freeway to Universal Studios Hollywood's first outdoor roller coaster, the "Flight of the Hippogriff,” a new restaurant called Three Broomsticks, a pub called Hog's Head, twenty-nine stores and restaurants at the City Walk promenade, and finally, the nineteen movie theaters -- all at the top of the hill. There’s a reason the sprawling complex is called Universal City. 

Freeway traffic will now flow smoothly in and out of this goldmine, possibly keeping local streets less congested with theme park traffic. That claim has yet to be proven, but will be settled once Harry Potter opens for several weeks of visitors during the spring and summer. 

While many Comcast corporate stockholders may be happy with the increased profits Harry Potter will generate, some community stakeholders are not so pleased. This community falls into three camps: the insiders, the outsiders, and the non-aware.  

Residents in the Cahuenga Pass, Lake Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills are fearful that this freeway ramp elimination will add precious minutes to emergency responders that had previously been “freeway close” via the Barham off ramp.  

As any cop or firefighter will tell you, when it comes to an emergency, it can come down to a matter of minutes. The faster the response, the better the result. An extra few minutes delay in reaching a heart attack or stroke victim can mean the difference between stabilization and eventual recovery, or a state of permanent vegetation, or worse. 

As a result of the Hollywood Freeway Barham off ramp closure and the new traffic management plan for emergency responders, those minutes will mount up quickly. 

NBC Universal has told CityWatchLA that “the Caltrans study concluded that the new 101 southbound on-ramp will help improve traffic along Cahuenga Boulevard, which means better access to local roadways for all drivers, including emergency vehicles. Caltrans also determined that the freeway improvements, including the off-ramp closure, will not impact public services.” All this remains to be seen, once Harry Potter opens and increased numbers of visitors swarm the Cahuenga Pass. 

Comcast-NBC Universal, the world’s largest media company (according to Forbes Magazine) with corporate annual net profits of $8 billion, and Caltrans, the mammoth state transportation agency with an annual budget of $11 billion. 

Comcast-NBC Universal and Caltrans maintain that public safety is not at risk with the closure of the Barham off ramp. But this is their opinion and not fact backed up by documentation and studies. And if tragedy occurs and the two Goliaths are wrong, more lawsuits could follow, especially if someone dies because an emergency responder is unable to get there fast enough. 

The community suspects that Comcast-NBC Universal paid Caltrans $30 million to facilitate the closure of the southbound Barham off ramp, stating that there remain two other ramps in the same proximity. Comcast-NBC Universal denies the existence of these funds, stating that such money was earmarked for unrelated traffic studies of the 134-170 freeway interchange and for Hollywood and Highland. Carrie Bowen, Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 (Los Angeles and Ventura counties), would neither confirm nor deny this when her office was contacted by CityWatch. We will discover the truth of these allegations if the pending litigation reaches a judge and jury.  

One payment by Comcast-NBC Universal that has been acknowledged is the $50,000 paid to the Outpost Homeowners Association in negotiating for their support or tamping down their opposition, depending on which side you take. These funds were earmarked for traffic mitigation for neighborhood improvements, stated John Campbell, a board member of the HOA at the time of the transaction. “The fact is, they ‘bought our HOA’, and even though the money went to the city, under the stewardship of former CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, it was just a cute way of the HOA accepting those funds and be able to say we’re clean.” He added, “We couldn’t even get $250 from the HOA for the cause (the lawsuit), because they had already been bought.”  

This chilling effect on an HOA’s prospective support of a lawsuit shows how funds by developers are used to freeze opposition. Several other HOA’s surrounding the Harry Potter project may have had their own “deals” with Comcast-NBC Universal. This makes them “insiders,” and an example of how the shoe can sometimes be on the other foot -- with the HOA “green-mailing” the developer, withholding support until funds are provided. This is often described as “traffic mitigations.”  

The proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure may supercharge needed reform and cast sunlight on developers, mandating that this “cash for blessings” paradigm be forced out of the shadows, creating transparency instead of suspicions and secrecy.  

Developers and HOA’s alike must be required to publicly disclose what cash and other transactions take place as part of the land use agreement process. 

This puts a spotlight on the “insiders:” the several neighborhood homeowner associations that Comcast-NBC Universal has been cultivating ever since it was mandated by LA County to do community outreach during the 2013 approval process for the Comcast-NBC Universal Evolution Plan, the 25-year blueprint for the property. 

The six favored homeowner organizations (HOA’s) are Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association, Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association, Hollywood Knolls Community Club, Studio City Residents Association, Toluca Estates Drive Homeowners Association, and Toluca Lake Homeowners Association.  

The following rules of public engagement were set by Comcast-NBC Universal’s management for the quarterly meetings with these groups:  You must be specifically invited, one of two authorized representatives of one of the six approved HOAs; you must RSVP and be authenticated before being given the location of the meeting; and you may send your questions in advance for review by Comcast-NBC Universal before the meeting even starts. The meetings are not open to others in the community, or the media. Some have called this strict control mechanism “elitist,” or “preaching to the choir” or “non-inclusive.”  

The next meeting is Tuesday, January 19, the day following the celebration of MLK’s birthday: the man who challenged us all to “let freedom ring” in his historic 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech before tens of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. But freedom to engage with Comcast-NBC Universal is apparently not universal, unless you are a favored and vetted insider in the group of six. Once a year, they let all members of the approved HOA’s in the front door for what Comcast NBC-Universal callas an “annual meeting”. 

How some parts of a community get included in the conversation may stem from the rigid corporate culture governing Comcast-NBC Universal, whose corporate parent, Comcast Corporation, is legendary for hiring dozens of ex-Members of Congress, and anyone else with influence in Washington DC, to lobby Congressional and state legislatures for the cable company’s agenda. Forbes Magazine ranked Comcast the number one media company worldwide last year. They are big and they are powerful. They have a very good record of setting the meeting agenda and getting what they want. They are a Goliath. As is Caltrans, a Goliath.  

The “David” in the piece is a small, outsider community group -- the Keep the Barham Ramp association -- fighting huge odds through a pair of lawsuits against the two Goliath’s. However, the Biblical story of David versus Goliath reminds us that one well-placed rock, lobbed by sling shot into the eye of a giant leveled the playing field. 

Negative opinions are being directed at public relations sensitive, image-conscious Comcast-NBC Universal. In this climate, it will reveal how it plans to treat a community that they do not really “own.” This could end up being the rock that is thrown at them.

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the MidCity West Community Council, and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

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