PEOPLE POWER--The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled the City of Los Angeles violated the rights of LA residents by denying their right to due process in a dispute over the City's Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. The court also ruled the City ordinance governing appeals of subdivision tract maps is preempted by state law, which guarantees an aggrieved third-party’s right to be heard by the City Council. The case, Saunders et al., v. City of Los Angeles, et al., (L.A.S.C., Case No. BS154147), Notice of Entry of Judgment is attached.
The lawsuit against the city was brought by the La Brea-Willoughby Coalition (“Coalition”), a group of community activists who reside in the Hollywood enclave referred to as La Brea-Willoughby. The court ruled the Coalition was denied the right to due process when the City twice refused to allow an appeal of an approved small lot subdivision project.
The case arose from the Coalition's appeal of a small lot subdivision that had been approved by the City's Planning Department in the La Brea-Willoughby neighborhood – an area that consists of historical one and two-story affordable single family homes and garden apartments on regular sized lots. The developer of the subdivision, Jacob Cohen, purchased one of these garden apartment buildings regulated under Los Angeles' rent stabilization ordinance. He then proceeded to evict all the tenants. Cohen applied to the City Planning Department to subdivide the parcel into five separate small lots, pursuant to the City's Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. The City's Planning Department approved the developer's application in violation of zoning and planning laws.
The Coalition challenged the developer's proposed project, but the Planning Department approved it anyway. The Coalition then complied with all filing requirements, filing an appeal to the Central Area Planning Commission (CPC). As the matter was not scheduled with the CPC, that appeal was summarily denied without a hearing or decision by the Commission itself. The City’s reason for denying the Coalition's appeal? A provision of the Los Angeles Municipal Code which allows the Planning Commission to deny the Coalition's appeal outright if the Commission did not hold a hearing on the matter within thirty days.
The Coalition then appealed to the City Council. Again, the Coalition complied with the City’s appeal requirements. And again, the City summarily denied the appeal without the City Council ever hearing or considering it. The reasoning: the City Planning Department staff failed to transmit the appeal to the City Council for a hearing within thirty days.
Frustrated and dismayed, the Coalition retained Venskus and Associates, an environmental advocacy law firm, to file an action in Los Angeles Superior Court to challenge the City's denials of the appeals.
After considerable briefing and a bench trial, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the City of Los Angeles violated the members’ right to due process because the City's Planning Commission and then the City Council failed to consider the appeals and instead, summarily denied them without a hearing. The Court also held that Los Angeles Municipal Code sections 17.06(A)(4) and (A)(5), which the City used to justify the denial of appeals, unlawfully conflicted with the California state Subdivision Map Act.
Under the Court's ruling, the Planning Commission and City Council must now hear and consider community members’ timely appeals of subdivision development approvals.
We heard of other community advocates' appeals being denied by the City for similar reasons, so we knew we had to take this opportunity to challenge this despicable behavior by the City in court. Attorney Venskus explained, "We are very pleased that because of this judgment, the City is now stopped from violating others' due process rights to have their subdivision approval appeals heard by the Planning Commission and City Council."
(Lucille Saunders is President of the LaBrea-Willoughby Coalition community advocacy association and a longtime activist involved in neighborhood and city issues. She welcomes questions and comments at email@example.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
WORKERS RIGHTS-After the triumphant 2014 passage of Los Angeles’ $15.37 hourly minimum wage ordinance for city hotel workers, there came a moment of puzzlement for many at City Hall and elsewhere. Why was LA’s large hospitality union asking that some of its members be paid less than the promised wage?
Was this, as some suggested, a cynical deal to make a union shop more attractive to employers by making sure union workers got paid less than non-union employees?
This issue, as one person close to the situation said on condition of anonymity, “is a complex and challenging one.” The basic problem, however, seems to be the inability of many to understand the diverse needs and desires of working people, and the fact that some benefits may mean more to them than a fatter pay envelope would, if it excluded those benefits.
A recentLos Angeles Times article just about editorialized on the subject, referring to “a series of loopholes that cut union workers out of the very pay increases their leaders have championed.”
The article quoted two bellmen and a waitress at the Sheraton Universal, a hotel represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, complaining that it was unfair they only collected the current state minimum of $10 an hour in salary, while a nearby non-union hotel would pay $15.37 an hour. Both these positions garner very substantial tips or service charges in addition to the hourly wage, however, making them some of the best compensated of all hotel workers, although the base pay rate for tipped employees is $10 an hour. As it happens, UNITE HERE has compelled management to agree to return all tips to workers, instead of holding on to some of them, as hotels once did.
What gets left out of the complaint here, however, is how the wage and benefits package is determined. It isn’t, in fact, imposed by “union bosses” on the workers; as UNITE HERE spokeswoman Daria Ovide points out, the wage agreements are negotiated by the workers themselves, through their representatives. “I don’t think any union workers get paid less overall than a non-union worker does,” said Ovide. “There is a mosaic of benefits that non-union workers simply do not get. For instance, $7.50 an hour for full-family medical benefits alone. Pension benefits, legal benefits, training benefits for people who are laid off when hotels close to renovate. Add these up to the [$10 minimum] hourly wage and you just get more [than $15.37 an hour.]”
Ana Hernandez, a UNITE HERE shop steward who works as a telephone operator at the Sheraton Universal, pointed out that the union contract also brings work condition benefits, unavailable to non-union workers, something that is hard to put a dollar value on. She said: “We deal with a lot of hotel issues.” For instance, “union housekeepers do about 14 rooms a shift. Non-union housekeepers do as many as 30.” (A hotel employer spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)
Union officials agree that, because of the nature of their earnings, union workers who get tipped don’t always get paid as much per hour as union workers who work in areas where there is no tipping. This results from the negotiation process between the workers and management, that also tries to make union workers’ “total compensation” equitable. The agreed-upon contract, of course, is then voted on by the union rank and file.
“It’s called majority rule,” said Local 11 President Tom Walsh. He observed that it doesn’t always satisfy everyone. He contended the idea that his union would take a lower salary simply to make unionization more appealing to management is absurd. There certainly hasn’t been a rush of invitations from management inviting UNITE HERE to organize non-union hotels, because their managers understand that even with a lower starting wage, union agreements cost them more.
Another union official, who asked not to be identified, noted: “Employers don’t pick unions, workers do. Not everyone needs the same benefits package. Undocumented people may need health care the most. Others need more sick days. People in sight of retirement want pension benefits. They don’t always care what form their earnings come in.”
He added, “They’re calling this a sweetheart deal. But unions couldn’t go on representing workers if they got them a $13 wage with no benefits when there was a $15 wage on the books.”
Walsh noted that the lower starting salary is not set in stone. “We’re going to fight harder for more money the next time we negotiate.”
(Marc Haefele is a commentator on KPCC’s Off Ramp program and has written for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Carol Emig who is president of Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization and Arturo Vargas, the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, have found that the 2010 Census missed some 400,000 young Latino children — the equivalent of more than half a congressional district. The data — a comparison of census records with county birth, death and immigration records — indicate that the 2010 undercount rate for young Latinos was 7.1%, compared to 4.3% for non-Latinos. The shortfall was pronounced in specific counties in five states: California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York.
California accounted for more than a quarter of young Latino children who were not counted. An estimated 47,000 Latino children under age 5 were missed in Los Angeles County alone, by far the biggest undercount of any county in the United States.
According to an Op-Ed that Emig and Vargas wrote in the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday, U.S. Census Bureau data are used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds to states and counties for transportation, public health, early childhood programs and other essential services. And young Latino children — who represent one-quarter of all U.S. children under 5, and whose numbers are growing — need these services most of all, since nearly two-thirds of them live in or near poverty. The census count also determines each state's congressional representation. An accurate census is essential to the fair distribution of national resources and to the very life of our democracy.
They explained that many California families struggle to afford child care in a state where the average annual cost of center-based infant care was $11,600 in 2013 (the latest year available.) That's more than 40% of the median income for single-parent families.
The federal Child Care and Development Block Grant allocates funds to help states subsidize child care for low-income families. How is the amount of the block grant determined? By the census count of children under age 5.
In California's case, the thousands of missing Latino children means that every year, California received less than its fair share of Child Care and Development Block Grant funds. This is why it’s so important to have an accurate count.
The Census Bureau does an important job of counting the country's residents every 10 years and paints a generally accurate picture of the total population. The next census, in 2020, will be the first to count people online, but technology alone can't fix the particular undercount of Latino children.
I think we can all agree with Emig and Vargas when they argue that undoing the Census' Latino undercount requires quick action — the 2020 census is around the corner — as well as adequate funding for research and education from Congress and private groups. It isn't only a matter of helping one group of children and their families.
When Latino children are undercounted, they are shortchanged, but so is every other U.S. resident. The undercount can be remedied in time for the next census, if we act now. Hopefully by the next five Cinqo de Mayos everyone will be in the books.
(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: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Photo: LA Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE? Metro thinks you should cough up another half cent in sales tax to help provide for $120 Billion worth of transit projects. That’s what Metro thinks. CityWatch wants to know what you think … it will take you less than 30 seconds. If you feel you don’t know enough about this ballot measure, Steve Hymon over at The Source sums it up for you below the LA Pulse Poll.
If the election were today, would you support a ½ Cent Sales Tax increase to pay for $120 Billion worth of transit projects over the next five years?
Would you support a ½ Cent Sales Tax increase?
STEVE HYMON AT THE SOURCE-A long list of transit projects, road improvements and commuting options could be built over the next five decades under a $120-plus billion spending plan Metro released for a potential November sales tax ballot measure. Here’s the link to a PDF of the report and attachments on metro.net.
The spending plan would also devote billions of dollars to pedestrian and cycling projects, commuter rail, transit operations and programs to keep the Metro transit system in a state of good repair. The plan, too, would return billions to local cities — money those cities could spend on their own local transportation projects and transit services.
The big theme here in one sentence: we’ve come a long way in building a modern transportation system in Los Angeles County but we still have work to do.
Many transformative projects are part of the plan. If the ballot measure goes to voters and is approved, the sales tax would begin in mid-2017 and target the following highway and transit projects to be completed in the plan’s first 15 years:
Transit projects (first 15 years)
Construction of an expansive rail station/transit center where Crenshaw/LAX Line riders will transfer to a people mover (which LAX is planning to build) that will serve LAX terminals.
The Purple Line Extension subway to Westwood (a decade earlier than currently planned).
A potential rail line or bus rapid transit project on Van Nuys Boulevard north of the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
A new ExpressLane and bus service along the 405 spanning the Sepulveda Pass. A second phase of the project would add a potential underground rail line between the Orange Line and Purple Line. A third phase would extend the project from the Purple Line to the LAX area.
Grade separations and improvements for the Orange Line busway in preparation for a mid-century conversion to light rail.
A potential light rail line between Artesia and the Green Line in South Gate. A second phase in the 2030s would extend this new line from the Green Line to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
A bus rapid transit project on Vermont Avenue between Hollywood and 120th Street, which includes the stretch of Vermont between the Red/Purple Line and the Expo Line.
An extension of the Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont.
Bus rapid transit between the Orange Line and Red Line in North Hollywood and the Gold Line in Pasadena.
Highway projects (first 15 years)
Purchase of right-of-way for the High Desert Corridor, a potential new freeway, energy and high-speed rail corridor between the 14 freeway and State Route 18 in San Bernardino County.
A project on the 710 South between the ports and the 60 freeway to improve congestion, ease truck traffic and improve the movement of freight. It will be built in two phases, with the second phase in the next 15 years of the spending plan.
New lanes for the 71 freeway in Pomona between Interstate 10 and Rio Rancho Road.
ExpressLanes on the 105 freeway between the 405 and 605.
A new carpool lane and truck lane in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Lake Hughes Road in the Santa Clarita area.
SR 57/SR 60 interchange improvements.
An active transportation project in the first 15 years is completing the Los Angeles River bike path between downtown Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley.
Other projects to be built in the second 15 years of the plan: an extension of the Green Line to Torrance; an extension of the Eastside Gold Line to South El Monte or Whittier (the other branch could be built later as an option to accompany an additional 10 year extension of the tax); direct HOV connectors for the 60/105 and 405/110 interchanges; new auxiliary lanes and ramp improvements on the 405 in the South Bay, and; an extension of the 110 ExpressLanes to the 405.
Projects in the final 10 years of the plan: a potential northern extension of the Crenshaw Line to the Purple Line, West Hollywood and Hollywood; bus rapid transit on Lincoln Boulevard, and; an extension of the Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink Station.
The full list of projects can be found in Attachment A of the report posted above. A description of the major projects is in Attachment H.
Please keep in mind these projects are on top of the three under construction (Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega and Regional Connector) and the one that is about to open, the Expo Line to Santa Monica (May 20).
The potential ballot measure would ask voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a half-cent for 40 years and to continue an existing half-cent sales tax (Measure R) for 18 years. The staff report will also provide the Board with scenarios for taxes running longer than 40 years.
The Metro Board of Directors will decide at their meeting next Thursday whether to formally release the draft plan to the public and begin a public review and input period. If the Board releases the plan, Metro would hold community meetings and Telephone Town Halls across the county this spring.
Another point of emphasis: This is a draft plan for public review. It could change. The Metro Board will have the final say on the spending plan and whether to put a ballot measure before county voters. That decision is scheduled to be made at the Board meeting on June 23.
Why do I use the word ‘potential’ when discussing some of the above projects? Because Metro still must complete environmental studies for those projects. The spending plan seeks to provide enough funds for more expensive alternatives that were not previously fully funded.
The spending plan for the potential ballot measure is based on input from stakeholders across Los Angeles County. Metro staff selected projects to be funded and the order in which they would be built based on wide-ranging criteria. Among them: improving travel times, increasing safety, providing better access to transit for those most dependent on it, reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change and creating and maintaining local jobs.
Something else that is crucially important to understand: having local funds is the key to building anything these days. Local dollars attract state and federal dollars. That’s how things get built in the 21st century. Example: Metro used local funds to help secure nearly $1.9 billion to help build the Regional Connector project and the first segment of the Purple Line Extension.
To say the least, this is an ambitious plan. I encourage everyone to read the staff report and attachments. There is a lot here to digest. We’ll try best to answer your questions in the comment sections. And we’ll certainly be posting a lot about many aspects of the plan in the coming weeks.
GUEST COMMENTARY--As Metro considers a potential transportation sales tax for the ballot in November 2016, jurisdictions such as the City of Los Angeles will see what’s called “local return” funds with this new possible revenue. Right now the draft plan proposes 16% of the potential Metro Measure go back to cities and unincorporated areas of the County. So far, there are no policy requirements how jurisdictions spend this local return, so each city and the unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County will make these policy decisions.
What is local return? They are funds allocated and distributed monthly to jurisdictions on a “per capita” basis by Metro. The City of Los Angeles, given its size, receives the biggest local return in the County, many estimate that this has the potential to be $4 billion in transportation funds for the City of Los Angeles if the Metro sales tax is successful.
City of Los Angeles: LA is beginning discussions on how to use these new transportation dollars if Metro’s transportation sales tax is successful. There are already two motions introduced by Councilmembers on how to potentially use these funds (Motion 1, It is likely that these will begin to be discussed on Wednesday May 25th at the City of LA’s Transportation Committee.
Join us on Thursday 5/12 at 2pm for a conference call/webinar to discuss this opportunity in the City of Los Angeles. Kindly email John Guevarra at email@example.com registration and a calendar invite.
Investing in Place was dismayed to see the Los Angeles Times op-ed from Council Member Joe Buscaino advocating that we focus only on potholes with these funds. So far there is no mention of a strategic vision for these funds, as well as an issue important to us — of funding/accelerating the fixing of the City’s over 11,000 miles of broken sidewalks with these public dollars. Let’s change this.
Investing in Place supports fixing potholes, but we’d like to see a more strategic, data informed approach base on needs/outcomes and community input.
Investing in Place supports prioritizing fixing broken sidewalks, improving the safety of crosswalks, addressing the backlog of bus stops in need of investments, and the implementation of existing plans (Mobility 2035, Vision Zero, Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan and more) brought into this important policy and funding conversation.
It is critical that the City of Los Angeles take a thoughtful and inclusive approach with the potential $4 billion in new transportation funds to address improving our communities and all the ways we travel on our streets and sidewalks. After all, do we want $120 billion in transportation taxes and still have broken #lasidewalks and crosswalks? We sure don’t.
THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-All over the city, developers are using pretty unscrupulous measures to remove residents from their homes under the pretext of building affordable housing. Throughout Los Angeles, disgruntled activists have been organizing to fight back, collecting signatures for recall petitions and to add initiatives to the ballot. If developers want to change the face of the city, they’ll face some angry voices.
Perhaps one of the most creative approaches come from Silverlake artist Anne Hars. Through her “UpHouse Balloon Project,” she places bouquets of balloons to mark homes slated for demolition to make way for new luxury housing.
Anne has launched a Go Fund Me page last month to finance even more balloon bouquets. “The balloon project seeks to ask people to consider the meaning of home and community, the value of our labors, and if we are going to be a caring city – a city of angels, or a city that rewards developers profiteering off homelessness and the housing crisis,” she says. “With your help, I can balloon more threatened rent stabilized homes across Los Angeles and help draw attention to the loss of affordable homes in L.A.”
Inspired by the Pixar film “Up,” Hars has been installing balloon bouquets on “small-lot plots throughout the areas west of downtown, which are prime for gentrification by over-zealous developers. Many of the small lot plots where Hars places her balloon installations often contain rent-stablized cottages, typically occupied by low income households.
Developers evict tenants to make way for larger, high density luxury housing developments, which has motivated Anne to do something. She says evicting as many as 64 or more tenants adds to the growing population of Los Angeles homeless, as the tenants aren’t able to afford most of the rents in LA.
So far, local neighborhood groups have been helping the artist affix balloon bouquets to dozens of homes slated for demolition.
The areas hit by this new wave of gentrification include Chinatown, Silverlake and Echo Park, where housing values are on the rise while median household wages are stagnant, well below the national average. Many lower-income families can’t afford to pay market value rents; they depend on rent control. Cities with separate municipal governments like Santa Monica or Long Beach have strict rules limiting evictions and new developments but Los Angeles does not.
The latest area hit by development fever is an original 1934 property in Valley Village and the fate of the property is in the hands of The Cultural Heritage Commission. If the property is not designated as historic, it will be demolished to build a three-story condo, resulting in the destruction of 80-year old trees, as well as the last piece of history on the block.
The 1934 property is a hub of community education and urban farming. On the other side of the equation sits Urban-Blox, a boutique firm that “works with a select roster of notable architects to develop urban infill properties…dedicated to seeing value where others do not, which often involves re-imagining and redeveloping properties towards new uses, density, or end users,” per the firm’s website.
If the historical designation is denied, more than 28 small lot houses will be demolished, along with three dozen mature trees -- every square inch of open space. A public street will be vacated and tenants will be evicted from rent-control buildings. The property is across the street from the Dougherty House, which was razed just three days before the property was to be considered as a city Historical Cultural monument. The pair of single story houses that were demolished included a front home built during World War II and the back home believed to have been an early-century gabled farm house and the former home of a young Norma Jean Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe.
Like the Dougherty House, the 1934 lot has already been approved for demolition by, yes, you guessed it, Councilmember Paul Krekorian. Currently, residents are in litigation with the property owners over title. Although the property hasn’t yet been sold, plans to develop it are already underway.
The cozy relationships council members have with developers seems to be behind the wave of gentrification. While the buzzword “affordable housing” is tossed around, tenants are evicted from what was affordable housing to pave the way for McMansions and costly condos. As land values continue to rise in certain neighborhoods, long time tenants are being forced out, hardly helping LA’s affordable housing crisis.
In the meantime, Anne Hars continues to do her part to make Angelenos aware. Local groups throughout the city contact her with new sites. There are 25 sites on her ever-growing list. She believes developers are “war profiteers.”
Hars is raising funds through Go Fund Me. For donations ranging from $10 for a Little Bag of Balloons to $65 for a Big Bouquet, Anne will be able to balloon off threatened properties.
VOX POP--As a mayoral candidate in 2012, Eric Garcetti boasted that Hollywood’s high-end development had “become a template for a new Los Angeles.” With those words, LA Weekly looked into what that template would look like for the rest of the city. The paper’s findings were startling, especially for working- and middle-class folks.
In 2013, with an investigative report titled “Hollywood’s Urban Cleansing,” the Weekly found that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13,000 Latinos were driven out of Hollywood and East Hollywood. As a longtime City Councilman, Eric Garcetti represented these neighborhoods, and experts and activists blamed the exodus on luxury overdevelopment, which spurred eye-popping gentrification. Residents and experts decried the city’s planning policies, which Garcetti and other City Council members largely shape, that dramatically altered affordable communities forever. The Weekly wrote:
Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor in the March 5 primary and has for 12 years avidly led the urban renewal in Hollywood, won’t discuss the census data, the outflow of Latinos or the area’s net population loss, none of which were foreseen by his office. But Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ rights advocacy group, says, “It was an economic tsunami that pushed low-income people out. There was massive displacement.”
Representing more than 8 percent of Hollywood and East Hollywood’s population, the exodus of nearly 13,000 mostly Latinos is believed to be the largest mass departure from an LA neighborhood since “black flight,” between 1980 and 1990. In that demographic upheaval, 50,000 residents fled the violence and shattered neighborhoods of South Central and South Los Angeles.
Garcetti and other LA politicians have insisted that growth is as inevitable as summer tourists, and that City Hall is merely facilitating Hollywood’s unavoidable, denser future with smart planning. But census data and the stories of those who have fled suggest that city planners and political leaders are facilitating what some criticize as the urban cleansing of Hollywood.
Father Michael Mandala, who was pastor at the landmark Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Sunset Boulevard from 1998 to 2011, repeatedly saw landlords drive out Latino families of three or four in order to rent the same space to one or two white tenants. “I’m wondering if the policymakers are on the mark with fixing Hollywood,” Mandala says, “or are they clearing out what they don’t want?”
What happened in Hollywood is remarkably similar to what’s happening today in other LA neighborhoods, such as Koreatown and Westlake. It begs a simple question: Is this the kind of citywide template that Angelenos want?
Further, Hollywood activists believed developers, who have given millions to L.A. politicians in campaign contributions, were receiving big favors while citizens were getting screwed over — the same complaint uttered today by residents in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. The Weekly reported:
Brad Torgan, an attorney at The Silverstein Law Firm, which represents one of the groups, describes the Hollywood Community Plan as Garcetti’s personal “vision for Hollywood — good and bad.” But, Torgan says, “There’s a perception that the plan was created for the development community at the expense of the residents.”
Dowell Myers, a demographer and urban planning professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, says L.A. political leaders and planners have already gone too far to draw a high-end crowd to Hollywood. “We don’t need more condos,” he says. “We need more rentals. Rentals are where you house lower-income and poor people.”
Dennis Frenchman, a well-regarded professor of urban design and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a similar message for Los Angeles’ leaders: “Diversity is the key to long-term sustainability. … Density without diversity makes things worse.”
Former Hollywood resident Mercedes Cortes, who was pushed out of her home, asked a question that still remains relevant today — and one that City Hall leaders have shown no signs of considering when trying to carry out a new template for a denser, more high-end Los Angeles filled with luxury housing mega-projects.
As if talking directly to Garcetti, the grandmother and retired house cleaner [Mercedes Cortes] delivers up one of [her] complaints, still unanswered after all these years: “When they start to build something, why does the middle class have to suffer for that?”
With our community-based movement, however, citizens across L.A. are standing up and speaking out. We are no longer allowing City Hall to easily get away with their secret deals and bad planning policies that dramatically impact millions of hard-working Angelenos. Read more of the Weekly article, and you’ll know why our cause and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is so important.
And please join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and follow and cheer our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPEAK UP--Across Los Angeles, homes are being torn down and replaced with bigger houses, called "McMansions" by some. Now the city is considering a plan designed to keep the number of supersized homes in certain areas in check.
To prevent some new homes from blocking views and changing the look of neighborhoods too dramatically, the LA Department of City Planning has proposed changes to a 2008 citywide "mansionization" law.
The amended law would scale back or eliminate certain building bonuses and exemptions that could lead to overly large homes. For example, homeowners could no longer get a bigger space allowance for including energy-efficient features. And certain patios and porches larger than 150 square feet would count toward the size of the house, the current limit is 250 square feet.
The 2008 law is "not ... working as well and some neighborhood groups thought there were certain loopholes that developers were taking advantage of," said Principal City Planner Tom Rothmann.
Complaints about outsized homes have been growing in recent years. The city, needing time to amend its mansionization law, offered a temporary fix last year to about 20 neighborhoods in LA predominantly on the Westside and in the southern San Fernando Valley. Two-year building limits went into effect in 15 neighborhoods identified by their councilmembers as having a high rate of mansionization. Five other neighborhoods were being designated as historic zones and got two-year moratoriums on building and demolition permits.
The planned changes to the citywide ordinance will cover the rest of the city's neighborhoods, ranging from Brentwood to South LA.
The proposal is creating concern within the building industry.
Changing the law would jeopardize jobs, said Tim Piasky, CEO of the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.
"There’s a cottage industry out there that is buying older homes and remodeling them and bringingthem to current standards," he said.
The city is also eroding homeowners' rights by preventing them from adding size — and value — to their property, said Piasky. He acknowledged that some houses may offend sensibilities, but said they’re in the minority.
"You’re impacting all of them just to address a few outliers," Piasky said. "I think that it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater."
Not all neighborhood groups are pleased with the proposals, either. The group "No More McMansions in LA." is urging its members to e-mail or call lawmakers and let them know the proposed changes to the mansionization law don't go far enough.
After four public hearings, the city planning commission and the city council's Planning and Land Use Committee will review the proposal before it goes to the full council for a vote. Rothmann said if all goes as planned, the changes could be adopted by the fall.
The planning department will take public comment at the first hearing on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles.
The other hearing dates are:
Monday, May 9, 7-9 p.m. - Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center
Tuesday, May 10, 7-9 p.m. - Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
Monday, May 16, 7-9 p.m. - Marvin Braude Constituent Service
(Josie Huang writes for KPCC Radio… where this piece originated.) Photo: Reed Saxon/AP.
GETTING THERE FROM HERE--On May 20th, history will be made in Los Angeles with the opening of the second phase of the Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica. In theory, this line, dubbed the "Aqua Line" by those who advocated for it, is one of the greatest victories of grassroots activism in our modern era ... but while Metro deserves kudos for keeping close to the grassroots, it has the potential to be undermined by the same forces that made LA County such a traffic-laden hellhole in the first place.
First things first: I am truly honored to have been part of the Friends4Expo Transit (F4ET) team, and in its innermost circle, for the decade or so (2000-2012) I fought for it. Yes, there were battles beyond that, but the big decisions were in our collective rear-view mirror but that time, and the Expo Line was a fait accompli. Being part of grassroots activism like F4ET will be one of my life's most cherished efforts.
And to people like Darrell Clarke, Russ Davies, Kathy and Jim Seal, Julia Maher, Faith and Pressley Burroughs, Bart Reed, Jonathan Weiss, Karen Leonard, Sarah Hayes, Annette Mercer, and a host of others who "jumped on board" that train to connecting Downtown to the Mid-City to the Westside, it really WAS a "Friends" movement--it's doubtful they'll ever get the credit for the sacrifices and slander they encountered along the way.
We all meant well, and wanted an extra option to the I-10 freeway traffic and wanted to bring the different geographic, socioeconomic, and ethnic regions between the Downtown and the beach together. I'll go out on a limb and suggest that we either played a role, and/or were the result of, improving racial and socioeconomic relations after the LA riots of 1992 which was a huge factor in shutting down the Wilshire Subway effort.
What we did NOT expect (well, maybe we should have expected it), was the stubborn and entrenched (but very empowered ... WAY too empowered) minority of individuals who had a lot to gain with respect to their egos and political status by fighting the line for racial reasons ... and speaking ONLY for myself, I was appalled to see both black and white "community leaders" use the race card to fight this line.
By and large, most everyone--black, white, Latino, and Asian--saw this line as a no-brainer. The I-10 freeway is horrible, and people need another option. End of story.
Unfortunately, and in part thanks to the host of legal and community efforts to stop this line, and in particular to place this line underground everywhere from USC to Dorsey High School to Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park, it's now a lot slower than it could have been had those fighting (and really misleading their neighbors!) the line figured out that:
1) This is a line that has a cap on ridership because it shares the tracks with the Blue Line in the Downtown area, so only so many trains each day could run on it.
2) If a grade separation was needed, and the choice was between a $30-$40 million bridge, a $300 million underground tunnel, or at street level, then DEMANDING the tunnel would inevitably lead to a street level solution.
Oh well, so it'll be 50 minutes from one end to the other, but not everyone goes that far, and it's almost certain that there will be signal modifications and operational modifications along the way to make it faster--and during rush hour, it's by far better than the I-10 ... at least with respect to traffic.
Other issues to be fixed include insufficient parking and an imbalance to bikes and "alternative transportation" that really hurts car commuters (who want to access the line, and/or access the pedestrian venues nearby), as well as an overdevelopment craze that treats this limited light rail line as if it were the Wilshire Subway.
The Expo Line is a light rail line that will carry 80,000-100,000 riders a day, while the Wilshire Subway is meant to carry 300,00 or more riders a day. For the City of LA to re-zone Pico Blvd. on the Westside, or anywhere else along the line, the way it is trying very very hard to do, and in a manner against the wishes of the grassroots activists who fought the line, truly undoes the good will that Metro and the grassroots have worked so hard to fight.
So whither Los Angeles mass transit? Will the Crenshaw/LAX Line be a success story about redeveloping Crenshaw Blvd. and allowing a Mid-City to Westside to South Bay line to develop? Will the political leaders highlight this line as the first step to both a LAX link as well as a "Phase 1" that cries out for both a "Phase 2" to the north and a "Phase 3" to Downtown as we see with the Expo Line.
Mass transit is, indeed, in transit in the City and County of Los Angeles, and for it to succeed in the 21st Century it will ... as with the Expo Line ... need to listen to the grassroots.
After all, it is the grassroots and taxpayers that are being asked to pay for it, right?
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com.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.)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' request by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the lessee of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, for a special event called AngelFest scheduled for October 7-9, 2016 has been delayed until 2017. The event will be “a three-day commercial family-friendly music, food, and cultural event with maximum attendance of 65,000 people per day (including approximately 1,200 workers).
The event is developed and managed by the Make Good Group and designed to have a cross-generational and multicultural feel highlighting the unique contributions the City of Los Angeles makes to the world.” Tickets for the event are proposed to cost approximately $295 for the three days, with a portion of every ticket sold donated to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation to improve the recreational amenities within the Basin.
During the event, five performance stages and other additional festival areas, including concessions, would be open to ticketholders at the northeast portion of the Basin including Woodley Park (I and II), the cricket fields, the archery range, the Japanese Garden, and the northern developed part of the Wildlife Area (known as Woodley III). The AngelFest is planned to end at each day by 9:45 p.m.
After the Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared, the Corps concluded that the project was in “compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and all applicable environmental laws and regulations. The Corps determined that the impacts resulting from the implementation of the two action alternatives evaluated in this EA would not have a significant impact upon the existing environment or the quality of the human environment; therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required. This finding generated an immediate, and negative response from environmental groups. The Festival has now been rescheduled until 2017, but still remains a major source of concern to Valley residents.
The primary purpose of the Basin “is to provide flood risk management for the residents of Los Angeles County residing downstream of Sepulveda Dam.” The Basin venue is ill equipped to handle large City-wide “entertainment” functions, concerts, outdoor spectaculars, etc. These activities interfere with the Basin’s natural habitat and negatively impact its ecosystem and environmental sustainability. The Basin is unique in that it is a flood basin, not an ordinary park. Musical festivals are incompatible with the intended purpose of the Basin.
The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society is opposed to this event. It has expressed concerns that “Woodley commons is a deceptively complex, mostly self-contained ecosystem. Erecting a security barrier around its Wildlife Reserve during a huge event with loud music, bright lights and pyrotechnic displays does next to nothing to protect that ecosystem. From the pocket gophers that feed raptors, herons and owls to the insects and plants that feed resident and migrant bird populations, the entire park weaves a web of support that is robust yet fragile. Birds and other wildlife in the park have taken decades to acclimatize to freeway noise and airplane overflights — but five music stages blaring …, 65,000 people tramping around daily, plus all the trucks, structures, cables, generators, porta-potties and untold other hardware needed for this project, will tear the fabric of that web in ways that will in some cases be felt for years, or forever.”
The obvious environmental destruction clearly offsets the economic benefits gained. The Basin should be restricted to low density recreational uses that do not impact the natural ecosystem of the Basin. The comment period still remains open from April 12, 2016 to May 27, 2016. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on May 27th. Direct comments to: AngelFest.firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Deborah Lamb, Deborah.L.Lamb@usace.army.mil or at (213) 452-3798 for information. Documents may be viewed at this Army Corps of Engineers website.
(Gerald A. Silver is President of Homeowners of Encino. He served on the Citizens Advisory Committee that helped craft the Ventura Blvd. Specific Plan. He can be reached at email@example.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
BIZ WATCH--The attention-grabbing tiff between California Governor Jerry Brown and Florida Governor Rick Scott over the latter’s business-snatching safari to the Golden State highlighted a week of the state’s constant struggle to stay on top of business recruitment. The scorecard was mixed with news highlights of one business coming, one leaving and, watching with regret, one that got away.
California can improve the score if it keeps business burdens in mind. More on that later.
But first, the positive.
The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced that medical device company Cerebain Biotech was moving headquarters from Dallas, Texas to Costa Mesa. GO-Biz’s announcement crowed about California’s dominance in the biotech field with 2848 companies directly employing 281,000 people. California, home to so many innovative companies, is hosting the annual biotech convention in San Francisco in June.
On the other side of the balance sheet, Jumba Juice announced it was moving its national headquarters from Emeryville to Frisco, Texas outside of Dallas. The company noted that less expensive living and operating costs were major reasons behind the move.
Win one, lose one in the business tug-of-war with Texas.
As far as that rhetorical battle with Florida, pretty much a wash as well. Governor Brown pushed back at Florida. He said job creation success in California is far superior than that in Florida with California creating twice as many jobs as Florida over the past year.
True as far as it goes. But since Florida’s population is about half California’s, Florida actually had a slightly faster jobs growth rate. The fact checking site PolitiFact put the issue in context this way: “Brown’s claim is close on the raw numbers. But it leaves out the important context that California is a much larger state that needs to add more jobs to keep its millions more people employed.”
On the other hand, PolitiFact dismissed Gov. Scott’s argument that California would lose 700,000 jobs because of the new minimum wage increase law.
All the while this activity was going on, across the state line in Nevada, the enormous Tesla battery gigafactory is going up. Bloomberg News had an updated report on the giant factory.
A couple of years ago, there were a number of articles on this site supporting California’s attempt to capture the factory designed to build batteries for the Tesla car company, which is headquartered in California.
Ironically, in this period of prominent discussion of building walls, I began my article about the Golden States’ failure to win the factory this way: “Maybe we should build a fence around California not to keep people out but to keep businesses in now that the Tesla decided that the battery gigafactory would set up shop across the border in Nevada.”
The gigafactory represented the latest technology and possibly 6500 jobs, so it was a big loss to California and its quest for capturing businesses that produce innovative and cutting edge technology.
What to make of all this? That California is in a constant competition with other states over business placements and job creation. To stay competitive, state legislators and regulators have to consider businesses’ bottom line costs, which seem to grow simply because of state imposed mandates, regulations and taxes.
While legislators congratulate themselves for passing bills to improve the human condition, they should remember that successful businesses are the essential element for improving people’s lives. Legislators must consider ways to offset the growing costs they mandate on business so that businesses remain in California, are built in California and create more jobs.
(Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds … where this analysis was first posted … and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)
DEEGAN ON LA-The aspiring streetwear-star with a bankroll meets the hard-bitten political operative. The result? Instead of working with each other’s vibe to make one and one equal two (a big win for the community,) we have zero. What they planned -- a basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park -- has unraveled, becoming a seriously controversial issue. This could not have been the intention when what many emphatically call a “secret, back-room deal” was put together. Yet we see what can happen when not enough daylight is cast on the process. Things get overlooked in those deep dark recesses. Instead of “what can we get?” it ends up being “what can we get away with?”
Hubris and reckless behavior lead to missed opportunities to serve the community. Just consider the mocking statements that were recently published online. This includes, “Ryu’s in our pocket. That’s why this (Runyon Canyon basketball court) went that far. LOL. Just a matter of time till we throw that basketball court in there. They just waiting for the right time playas”, and “Com’n man we run Runyon Canyon playaz! We do music videos up here. Smoke sessions up heya!” And, “Out with the Old and in with the New. Can’t stop it, Won’t stop it!” These public boasts were made by Mike Sabando, obviously a supporter of FORC’s (Friends of Runyon Canyon) plan to install a corporate-branded commercial basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park, but otherwise a random social media unknown. This is indicative of the chatter that’s been characterizing this star-crossed project.
That Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) would be in Sabando’s pocket is hilarious, but the rhetoric shows how this controversy, and the delusion, is metastasizing instead of settling down.
It’s been exactly four weeks since the lid blew off this situation when an unsuspecting public learned, what they say was for the first time, about development and commercialization plans in the park under the auspices of Friends of Runyon Canyon, a public benefit support group empowered by the LA Rec and Parks department to find “deals” to bring it revenue in exchange for “sponsorships.”
The Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) is a California 501-3 (c) corporation, whose status is granted by the Attorney General of California. It is considered a charity. Locally, they are supervised by the Department of Recreation and Parks. And the CD4 office has great sway over them, as well.
What they themselves need now are some friends. It could be time for a make-over in how the community they are supposed to be serving views them. Nineteen public comments were submitted about FORC at a hearing of the Board of Commissioners of Recreation and Parks on May 4. They all amounted to the same request to the board: “Immediately dissolve FORC.”
At this meeting, Catherine Landers, Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, confirmed that construction of the basketball court had stopped. This follows Ryu’s recent public announcement that, "Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park, and the department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks commissioners reconsider its prior approval of the project."
FORC is likely come under more scrutiny because of its dual-status as a charity and city surrogate, due to the deal they made with the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) making them a proxy of RAP in stewarding Runyon Canyon Park. That adds a layer of expected public accountability, transparency and engagement, the same as if dealing with a city official.
FORC can no longer operate as a closed-door, candle-lit, membership-by-invitation organization with a $5,000 suggested donation -- a clubhouse for an elite few. Openness is their best offense as they struggle to get ahead of some very bad public relations. They granted branding rights in the park to a donor, but now their own brand is hurting.
Both RAP and CD4 are aware that this is serious. Being a public benefit charity, and a proxy for the city, it’s easy to understand why there have been calls for much more oversight and transparency than FORC has been receiving or providing. Change must come, willingly or mandated, beginning with a program of transparency.
Extra scrutiny is now being promised by grass roots activist groups like Runyon Canyon Defenders and others, that may have had investigators at the County Recorder, pulling plot maps and parcel information for an-about-to-be-announced acquisition of 2450 Solar Dr.
The land acquisition is great for the park and for the wildlife, and has been in the works for many years prior to FORC entering the picture.
Another player in this game, FORC’s streetwear partner in the park, is not regulated except by the economics of supply and demand. Their new product line, “Summer 2016 Dolphin Motorsports Legacy 1.1,” went on sale April 30. It cannot hurt their brand’s street marketing campaign to be in the midst of a controversy like the mess at Runyon Canyon Park when they are dropping their product into the marketplace. The four weeks leading up to that release has been a publicity bonanza for them. Their street cred may actually be increasing from being at the epicenter of this dispute. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said P. T. Barnum, a 19th century American showman, prankster and circus owner.
Right now, it feels like the math adds up to plus one for the streetwear brand and minus one for FORC. But the sum is still zero, even though the streetwear partner, who is a FORC board member, gave FORC a quarter-million dollars to provide park improvements. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that, apparently, it was never revealed or stated publicly during negotiations with Recreation and Parks that the donor was an insider board member who would benefit by receiving a corporate designation in the park -- along with a huge tax-write off and other benefits.
“Neither staff nor I knew that the donor was a (FORC) board member during negotiations…” [that would receive value that] “would directly benefit his company,” states the RAP executive that conducted the negotiations.
When asked by CityWatch, a FORC spokesperson denied that the board seat appointment existed during negotiations, even when challenged by being shown a timestamped social media screenshot from the donor captioned, “With my fellow board members the other night at one of our fundraisers for Runyon Canyon Park. I’m super excited to part of this organization and can’t wait to see some of our initiatives come to life.” (Like his corporate-branded basketball court!)
This social media announcement was uncovered and verified by neighborhood activists, in classic political “truth squad” fashion, as being made at a FORC fundraiser held during the period that RAP was negotiating with the donor (a FORC board member.) who was then awarded valuable concessions by Recreation and Parks during the talks. It raises the question: was this self-serving insider dealing? Yes or no, it’s not the kind of shadow that people trying to brand themselves as philanthropists would want hanging over them. Google searches last forever.
When the timestamp was pointed out, the streetwear star responded by erasing the caption. This is how cover-ups start…one small erasure becomes a termite and, before you know it, the house collapses.
Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), a major player in this controversy that is in his district, has stepped in to lead the effort to clean up the mess. His goal is to refocus attention where it is needed -- on the future of Runyon Canyon Park, a regional park which must be readied over the next few years to welcome everybody, including millions of visitors and dogs. If Ryu plans to continue working with either of these players in determining the future of Runyon Canyon Park, he has his work cut out for him. He’ll need to help shift the debate from character assessment to park assessment.
Boss Tweed, the head of New York City’s infamous Tammany Hall political machine (circa 1800’s), was famous for this political advice: “Don’t write it, if you can say it. Don't say it, if you can wink or nod.” The political pro at the heart of FORC seems to be mimicking Tweed when he starts an initial conversation with CityWatch by saying, “can’t we just make this story go away?” When told no, he then asked that nothing be in writing, wanting to just meet for coffee and talk, saying, “I hate using email.”
So, are we in the shadows of disgraced politicos -- LBJ and his credibility gap, Nixon and his cover-ups, Boss Tweed’s manual of evasive tactics, and a twist of P.T. Barnum? Who and where are the political mentors to guide what started out as well-intentioned citizens, volunteers doing “the people’s business”?
The spotlight will shortly be on one player who is trying to stay below the radar as things get more complicated – the councilmember who is the chair of the City Council’s Arts, Parks, and River Committee. He is a colleague and campaign consultant client of the FORC board member taking the most heat. In Tweed-speak, he might be the “grease” for this deal…he may have a key to the clubhouse. His committee has an appeal on its docket filed by lawyers to challenge the November 4, 2015 determination by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners finding that construction of a basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Article III, Section 1(y), Class 11, Categories 3 and 6 of the City's CEQA Guidelines.
Another mentor must now be David Ryu. This mess is in his district, and, while he is slowly taking steps to clear it up, time will tell if he’s able to pull the variety of disparate, discordant interests together to find a solution that makes sustainability of the park as the top priority. Populations and demographic shifts are variables that will continue to bring new voices into any civic conversation, but the raw earth and nature -- the park -- remains the constant. It must be protected and improved for everybody.
FORC has a chance to be a star, but must first become a transparent player; its website should include every minute of every meeting, a full financial disclosure report, the agreement with the streetwear donor and any other donors, and an accurate listing and biography of its directors and their terms of office. In addition to their fundraising, they must start “friend-raising” in the community that uses the park. As a quasi-public agency they must not discriminate about who can be a member and should open their doors to all.
David Ryu can seek full public disclosure by FORC today. He does not need anything but the inherent power of his office to demand that. The credibility of FORC, and their fiduciary role as a fundraiser for the city, is on the line. They are at a turning point, poised to do great things.
Waiting for a lawsuit to be filed in order to bring a motion to the City Council so it can act on the issue may be a purely technical response. The lawsuit, filed on April 27 and prepared by Citizens Preserving Runyon, is waiting in the wings, held off only by David Ryu’s request to RAP for a review of the situation. But the threat of looming litigation is not the only leverage Ryu has: he can use his bully pulpit.
With the appeal now pending in Committee, there will soon be a step forward in clarifying one key issue -- CEQUA compliance. CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.
It’s time to move out of damage control and into a proactive stance about how to make Runyon Canyon Park the best public resource it can be for all communities. It’s time to move the conversation from silly remarks on social media to serious talk among the professionals that are charged with protecting our parks. It’s time to open dialogue with all the communities that FORC, RAP and CD4 serves.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.