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RATEPAYERS BEWARE-DWP Charter Reform will be on the November 8th ballot. Voters will do themselves a favor by viewing this initiative with a healthy dose of skepticism. As Shakespeare reminds us, “a rose by any other name….” Just so happens that in this case, the same can be said of reform. 

Some folks will be encouraged by the word “Reform” and operate under the correct notion that something needs to change at DWP. What they may not realize is that “something” is Brian D’Arcy’s power and that the proposed “reform” likely originated with D’Arcy himself. As documented by the LA Weekly, D’Arcy’s union Local 18 has made contributions to Councilman Fuentes’ campaign. Fuentes then introduced the D’Arcy measure under the rubric of reform. (The current rumor is that the reason Fuentes is not running for another City Council term is that D’Arcy has promised him a job). (Photo above: Brian D’Arcy.) 

At this point, some may ask, “What does the DWP boss get from this?” That’s a good question; and here is the answer: The D’Arcy measure allows for Civil Service standards to be bypassed pursuant to a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This means that a DWP union’s MOU, not the Civil Service standards developed over the last 130 years, will determine how DWP employees are hired and fired. This will provide D’Arcy an embarrassment of riches with regard to political power (and the exact opposite of what needs to be done to reform DWP). 

D’Arcy will be able to hand out $200K plus/year jobs (just as he does at JSI/JTI today) as political patronage, and get DWP employees fired that dare challenge him. This type of behavior is a rollback to the 19th century practice of patronage that inspired the creation of Civil Service in 1883 via the Pendleton Act. According to Tony Wilkinson, Chair of the Neighborhood Council DWP MOU Oversight Committee, in a CityWatch article on July 11, 2016, this will make DWP “totally dependent on labor negotiations with its dominant union (Brian D’Arcy’s Local 18) for a solution to its hiring crisis.” 

What voters need to know is that real DWP reform starts with curtailing, not enhancing, D’Arcy’s power. A real reform measure would limit the percentage of DWP employees that can belong to any one DWP union, abolish the JSI/JTI slush funds, and ensure that DWP employees that challenge D’Arcy (or any union boss) are protected from retribution. The D’Arcy Charter Reform is not reform, it is a union boss power grab. 

The forces supporting this initiative have constructed a Trojan Horse decked out in the livery of reform. Their intent is simple: mine DWP for resources to further their political aspirations. Able to bypass Civil Service, DWP jobs will be handed out as political patronage. Local 18 cash, funded by high salaries fueled by greased rate hikes, will flow into the campaigns of politicians willing to do D’Arcy’s will. What these supporters want is a 21st Century Tammany Hall, financed by DWP cash, with D’Arcy in the role of Boss Tweed. 

Those sitting on the fence may ask, “Is there anything good in D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform initiative?” Well, according to Tony Wilkinson’s July 11, 2016 CityWatch article, this initiative does not free DWP from the political meddling of elected officials and does not include the exemptions needed to resolve DWP’s hiring crisis. Wilkinson’s criticism does not stop there. He further states in his article that: 

“Inserting into the Charter a requirement that DWP implement monthly billing by January 1, 2020, raises the specter of a three-year (2017, 2018, 2019) forced march to a major billing system software change that can’t be halted if it is not ready. Did we learn anything from the last billing system fiasco?” 

Now, why does D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform initiative call for monthly billing (as oppose to the current bi-monthly)? The answer is simple: rate hikes will be less apparent to DWP customers, and rate hikes are required to fund Boss D’Arcy’s 21st Century Tammany Hall. 

In summary, D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform is not reform. It is a vehicle for cronyism, corruption, and rate hikes. And those supporting it need to re-visit this issue in-depth. “A rose by any other name…”

 

(Los Angeles native Schuyler Colfax is an independent writer and former military officer residing in the beautiful San Fernando Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THE GUSS REPORT-Hugo Rossitter, a veteran Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney, is not to be trusted … or so it would seem if you listen to … Hugo Rossitter. Or, consider his dubious documents and websites. 

A simple inquiry about inconsistencies on a recent affidavit he filed led to bizarre denials from him about two businesses listed on his Linked-In profile – businesses he claims are not and never have been active despite extensive evidence to the contrary. 

The subjects are tied together because, as the phrase goes, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, or, if a witness is lying about one thing, he may be lying about everything. 

A few weeks before the 4th of July holiday, I called Rossitter at his City Hall office to ask about the affidavit he wrote to obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of Herb Wesson, Los Angeles City Council president, against Wayne Spindler, an Encino immigration attorney, who wrote and drew reprehensible and racist content on a speaker card that he submitted to Wesson. 

After validating the affidavit’s authenticity, Rossitter could not explain why he signed it under penalty of perjury on April 27, fifteen days prior to the actual Wesson/Spindler incident on May 11. He similarly lacked explanation on why the Petitioner on related forms is listed as the Office of the City Attorney rather than the City of Los Angeles, since it is a workplace violence matter and Wesson works for the city. (The subsequent use of the boilerplate form, according to another City Attorney staffer, a case where Councilmember Paul Krekorian pro se sought a restraining order against Lee James Jamieson, the Petitioner is correctly listed as the City of Los Angeles). 

Rossitter could also not explain why his document said injunction, which is usually Civil Court, as opposed to TRO, which is usually Family Court, or what injunctive relief he sought, though both are technically injunctions. 

The next questions caused Rossitter to stop speaking altogether. 

Why were Spindler’s criminal and TRO hearings scheduled to take place at the same time in different courthouses? And, given the totality of these inconsistencies, was he engaged in a premeditated SLAPP action against Spindler? 

SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a meritless legal entanglement that powerful entities such as governments use to suppress critics by overwhelming their time, freedom and financial resources. 

Instead of denying it, Rossitter referred me to Rob Wilcox, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for City Attorney Mike Feuer. Wilcox said the date was due to Rossitter’s “sloppy” work.   He could not explain why the Petitioner was listed incorrectly. And he denied that the city ever engages in SLAPPs. 

But Wilcox too stopped talking when told of a 2006 Appeals court ruling against Rossitter and his boss Vivienne Swanigan, both working for then-LA City Attorney Rocky “Crash” Delgadillo, in favor of animal activist group Animal Defense League’s anti-SLAPP motion. More on Swanigan further down. 

Rossitter’s background is curious. Admitted to the California Bar in 1978, he went on inactive status from 1980 to 1995. After a stint with local television station KCAL-9, he joined the City Attorney’s office in 2002, primarily handling workplace violence issues. 

New job notwithstanding, at the same time, Rossitter got a real estate broker’s license and started two legal consulting businesses (See complete screenshots of WVPrevent and Southland Mediation) whose websites have the same mailing address and phone number, which I called twice on the 4th of July. Rossitter answered both with a business-like, “This is Hugo, how can I help you?” 

I asked Rossitter why his businesses, which are on his Linked-In page, are not listed with the California Secretary of State, City of Beverly Hills or City of Los Angeles Department of Finance. 

“They are not active,” he responded. When asked when they became inactive, he said, “They have never been active.” 

In other words, Rossitter would have you believe that two businesses listed on his Linked-In page as active since 2002 and 2003, with functioning multi-page websites, active fax and phone numbers (that he personally answers), email, street and mailing addresses, biographies and photos of him – and only of him – with claims of successes achieved for clients, his fees for those services ($395 per hour with a four-hour minimum), and what it costs to reschedule ($400 for a full day or $200 for a half day) is all just for show.   

“I just have those websites in case I want to run businesses like them someday,” he implausibly offered after a long pause.   

Told about abundant proof that those businesses are, indeed, functioning, Rossitter replied colorfully when asked whether he pays taxes on revenue from those businesses, takes a home office tax deduction, if he asked for and got permission from the city to have outside earned income, and if he submitted a required Statement of Economic Interest. He again stopped talking when asked whether, if moonlighting as a private attorney, he maintains a client trust account. 

Rossitter’s disclosure documents – some approved by Swanigan – provided to me by the Ethics Commission and begrudgingly by a Feuer deputy show dates crossed out and massive gaps, particularly for his WV Prevent enterprise. Their income level claims are inconsistent with success claims on his websites. And his web pages promise “real time” responses that conflict with city policy on using city time and assets for outside employment.   

And this is why it matters. Rossitter gets a prosecutor’s unspoken benefit of the doubt in court because most judges are former prosecutors. His credibility impacts the freedom, safety and finances of everyone involved in his cases. His dubious work on TROs, history of proven SLAPP activity and denials that neither business was ever functioning are red flags requiring investigation by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Public Integrity Division and the California Bar Association. 

If it is determined the city violated Spindler’s rights (who has filed a $775,000 claim against the city) and caused him economic harm, the taxpayers may end up paying the piper. It would not be the first time the taxpayers did that for outspoken, sometimes boorish, gadflies, either. Rossitter’s credibility will come into question. 

A closing thought on that TRO: Wesson’s colleague, LA City Councilmember Curren Price, who is African-American, said Spindler should be made an example of. But days later, Price approached Spindler outside of a committee meeting, shook his hand chuckling “PDQ. That is a good one. You got me.” Is that why criminal charges have not been filed, and might not ever be, against Spindler? And what, if anything, did Rossitter have to do with it?

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. The opinions expressed by Daniel Guss are his own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CITYWATCH ACTION POLL--“I think we should be working toward free tuition. That may sound pretty radical, but that was in the original intention of the CSU system, so lower-income students could afford education without having to break the bank with their family, or not even being able to go because they can’t afford it.” ” Cal Poly SLO student Erica Hudson as quoted in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Make it free! Make it free!

Fearless prediction. The next big fight in California budgeting is coming, and it will be about a student movement to make public universities free. And it could scramble politics and budgeting in the state.

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The San Luis Obispo Tribune offered a detailed story recently about Students for Quality Education, which has chapters at 19 of the 23 CSU campuses, and is ramping up for a big push this fall. They are going to challenge the CSU’s plans for annual increases in tuition tied to inflation – a model that resembles the approach favored by the legislature (and with some departures, by UC).

And they have a great argument. Subsidies to higher education more than pay for themselves; they were the foundation of California’s 20th century success. And tuition and fees have more doubled in the past decade, leaving many students in debt. The state, even in good times, is more interested in throwing money in a complicated rainy day fund than in investing in public higher education. And there are a lot of young Bernie Sanders supporters who need something to do.

Free tuition is it.

And there are many ways the students, and their sympathizers, could draw blood. One target would be Prop 55: the partial extension of Prop 30. They should point out that the measure doesn’t retain a sales tax increase, and is likely to produce less money than the stopgap Prop 30. The question: why doesn’t the state make tax changes that bring in more billions that go to higher education?

The students would also be wise to draft and start circulating a ballot initiative for 2018. It should be simple: bar UC and CSU from charging any fees or tuition to Californians, perhaps with the caveat that fees can be charged to students from families who make $250,000 or more.

That would precipitate a crisis in Sacramento. How to pay for it? How to budget for it? But that would be healthy. Gov. Brown and Sacramento have dodged fundamental questions about the budget and taxation, instead limiting spending and riding the wave of economic growth. The budget system is still dysfunctional, as will become apparent in the next recession. Or when university students demand what ought to be their birthright.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. This was originally posted at Fox and Hounds.) 

-cw

VOX POP … VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--With a slick website and considerable political clout, Paramount Pictures has been pushing a $700-million plan to modernize its campus at 5555 Melrose Avenue, deemed the “Hollywood Project.” Larchmont residents, though, are justifiably concerned that the massive redo will overwhelm their community. On Thursday, July 14, the city’s planning commission will consider recommended approvals for the project.

In addition to worsening the already traffic-clogged streets around Paramount Pictures, many residents are alarmed by Paramount’s plan to construct a 15-story building along Melrose Avenue and install super-graphic signs touting the studio’s latest blockbusters. The building would tower over the nearby, low-slung, residential neighborhood.

For the project, Paramount Pictures executives seek approvals from the City Council and mayor that include a General Plan amendment and zone change.

In numerous letters to the city’s planning department, residents constantly noted that the 15-story building would destroy neighborhood character.

“A 15-story office building in our neighborhood blocking our view of the hills? Really? Are they nuts? This is not downtown Los Angeles,” wrote resident Teresa August.

She added, “I’m trying to think of a positive here, but am coming up short. It seems all good for Paramount, but all bad for us.”

Resident Kate Corsmeier wrote, “The Paramount lot is beautiful and historically significant, [but] a 15-story building does not blend with the existing buildings, will block views and add to the feeling of an impersonal commercial district rather than a cohesive commercial and residential area.”

Resident Susan Leibowitz noted, “It’s great that Paramount is infusing money [into] the neighborhood. But the building at Gower and Melrose is too tall for our neighborhood. There’s nothing that tall around here. They need to scale it back.”

And Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association president Charles D’Atri wrote:

I have grave concerns about a number of elements contained in the proposal plan… Several of the proposed features, including the 15- and 8-story towers, super signage and proposed new electronic sign district, are inappropriate and completely represent a break with the historical approach to development on this property. Massive 15-story office towers and lively bright electronic signage might be appropriate in a number of areas, however they do not have a place abutting a quiet, residential neighborhood.

Larchmont activists are expected to show up in force at the planning commission hearing at City Hall in room 350 at 8:30 a.m. on July 14, hoping L.A. officials will actively address their concerns. 

Rendering of massive Paramount Pictures’ “Hollywood Project”

But Paramount Pictures executives and employees have long been major campaign contributors to L.A. politicians. Since 2000, according to the city’s Ethics Commission, they have given at least $95,400 to local pols. At City Hall, that’s a sizable sum that doesn’t go unnoticed.

In addition, since 2003, Paramount has spent at least $238,187 on City Hall lobbyists, who then curry favor with City Council members and the mayor.

That’s how things work within LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Pay huge sums in campaign contributions and lobbying fees, and win big favors in return. 

Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do. 

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.)

-cw

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS--When Mike Ramos, the current district attorney for San Bernardino County (and candidate for California Attorney General), pleaded for Californians to send him one million dollars at the end of April -- so he could afford "paid petition gatherers" to collect enough signatures to qualify "the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016" for placement on the November 8 ballot -- he asserted, "the threat, and application, of a working death penalty law in California is law enforcement's strongest tool to keep our communities safe." 

Other than the proverbial bridge in Brooklyn, no bigger, more bald-faced balderdash has heretofore been sold to Californian voters.  

Eviscerating the myth that the death penalty acts as a valuable deterrent, the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund soberly observed in 2014, that "there's still no evidence that executions deter criminals."  Delving into scientific studies done on the subject for Newsweek, including a 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences (comprised of our nation's brightest scientific minds), Stanford Law Professor John Donohue’s assessment of the death penalty's deterrent value at the end of last summer was even bleaker. In a column called, “Does the death penalty deter killers?,”  Donohue resoundingly concluded: "There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide."  

Instead of continuing such a deeply flawed policy, Donohue wrote: “A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crime.” (Formerly a professor at Yale and Northwestern Law School, Donohue is one of the leading empirical researchers in legal academia.) 

The shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is just one of many reasons why “Proposition 66, ‘The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,’ is Fool’s Gold for Californians.”   

Savvy, streetwise, sophisticated Californians have a superlatively better, more effective alternative to vote for, called Proposition 62, "The Justice That Works Act of 2016."  Proposition 62 would (1) replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole; (2) require death row inmates to work and pay wages to their victims' families; and (3) save taxpayers a projected $150 million dollars a year. 

Apart from finally ending California’s ignominious and failed experiment with capital punishment -- making us a standard-bearer for other states where already, “practically speaking, the death penalty is disappearing”  – do you know what’s best about Proposition 62? 

Unlike Proposition 66, the prospective benefits of Proposition 62 are not illusory, based on a bunch of baloney, glorified ballyhoo, or like death penalty proponents’ deterrence argument – bunk.

 

(Stephen A. Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Think of it as a much bigger, real-life version of the movie Jaws. The town sheriff and the nerdy biologist want to warn the people about the menace, but the town fathers don't want to hurt business. 

"Maybe it's not that bad." 

"But it's a hungry, predatory beast that has already killed!" 

"Well, maybe it will go away." 

For those of a scientific frame of mind, global warming is the beast. It's the worst risk we face. Until giant bug-eyed monsters from outer space or land sharks invade us, or until we get into a nuclear war, global warming is our supreme risk. Nothing else comes close in terms of the worldwide catastrophic effects likely to occur. That's not only to us humans, but also to pretty much every other life form on the planet. 

What's the tie-in to the presidential conventions we will be having? In a word, global warming is potentially still at the stage where we humans can have some effect on the eventual outcome. At least I hope we are still at that stage. But we need to make a mutual decision as a species that we will do our best to prevent the worst. And that's where the politics of this democracy come in. Choices have to be made, and unfortunately, the choice-making process has been perverted. 

The choice: To decrease the slope of our descent into a dramatically worsened world, we have to make changes, beginning with our profligate spending of fossil fuels. At some point, we will also have to come to grips with our own population explosion, the root of our other problems. At another point we may choose to deal with ancillary problems such as the number of cattle we raise. These are, every one of them, difficult problems and each linked to solutions that will be painful to somebody. 

These next two weeks, we will observe the beginnings of the decision-making process. This week, the Republicans will engage in the first of two propaganda celebrations. Then the Democrats get to do their own rites. Should any of the speakers at either convention bring up the issue of global warming, we can expect diametrically opposed positions. It's as if the orbit of the earth around the sun were still in question, the way the two parties differ on this fundamental question. 

For some reason, the leaders of the Republican Party have bought into the mythology that global warming doesn't exist, or if it does exist then it is the result of natural changes, or that if it does exist and humans are partly to blame, then it's too late and too expensive to do anything about it. It's not unlike those arguments about gun control in which the pro-gun side wants to talk about anything but the guns themselves. In the case of global warming, the climate change denialists will talk about the inherent fallibility of scientific data, or raise accusations about the motives of climate scientists, or look desperately for (and even find) a couple of scientists who remain skeptical. But the overall weight of the evidence and the conclusion it implies aren't popular topics in Republican debate. 

The problem for climate change denialists is that the scientific data are getting to be pretty close to overwhelming. There is no disputing the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been going up steadily, and there is no disputing the fact that carbon dioxide has an absorbance and emission spectrum that helps our atmosphere to retain heat. That's why we use terms like greenhouse effect. The only remaining part of the argument is whether the plants and animals of planet earth will be incredibly lucky, at least for a while. 

At the moment, the official Republican line is that global warming is a hoax. Donald Trump has been going around reciting that position, for example in an interview with the editorial board of the Washington Post.  "I'm not a big believer in man-made climate change." 

Notice the choice of words: believer 

This should be a clue to the overall thought process that goes into such statements. The validity of a physical change affecting the entire surface of planet Earth is treated as if you can decide Yes or No based on your personal political obsessions. The tens of thousands of measurements made by orbiting spacecraft, the historical record found in tree rings and glacial cores, none of these matter if you can force yourself to remain in a strong enough state of denial. It's see no science, hear no science, speak no science. 

The Republicans have so far managed to treat global warming not so much as a scientific controversy, but as a political game that it is possible to win. 

The week after next, the Democrats will be holding their own convention. The question for mankind isn't whether the convention treats Bernie Sanders kindly, but whether the Democrats will be serious enough about global warming to even mention it. And if they mention it, will they make a serious case for doing serious things? 

The Clinton campaign treats global warming as a serious threat. My concern is Clinton's need to marry the concept of global warming to some oh-so standard political cliche mongering. Making America the world's clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge. Hear me out, Hillary: It's the crashing of major ecosystems, the extinction of tens of thousands of species, and a future of misery for much of the world's human population if we don't get going. It's not like adjusting the dollar exchange rate to improve our import/export ration by a couple of percent, or moving farm price supports up a few percent to save Illinois farmers from losing money on next year's crop. 

But the Democratic Party's argument is phrased in terms of creating jobs, not saving the world. 

I can understand the idea of sugar coating the medicine a bit, as long as we can agree that at some point, we may have to agree that humans need to make some sacrifices in order to save the world. But right now, the Clinton website is basically about the sugar coating, and not much about either the medicine or the problem it is supposed to treat. 

Still, the conversion of the American economy to solar power is a useful thing, and potentially decisive in stemming global warming if the rest of the world does the same thing. 

By the way, we (and the rest of the world) will probably be better off if Republican convention speakers avoid the topic of global warming. The reasoning behind this statement may seem strained, but the logic works: Right now, Republicans with a bit of intelligence and education have to know that they are on the wrong side of science on the question. They've been gradually shifting their position from "there is no global warming" to the slightly softened "it's getting warm, but we can still drive our cars." They're not quite ready to move even further, to "This is a major emergency, albeit a slowly forming one, and we have to do what it takes, even if it costs." 

That would be a decisive statement. It's too bad that the Republicans aren't decisive on global warming the way they pretend to be decisive on middle east wars. But they just aren't there yet. So it's better if they say nothing, because in saying nothing, there is less distance they have to back-peddle when the time comes. 

Notice that the Democratic Party position isn't a decisive statement that we need to save the world, whatever the price. It's more like a promise that the next economic stimulus package will include solar installations, and not just new highways and bridges.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]) 

-cw

 

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--Is there really something wrong with Watts? Or have we just taught ourselves to think that way? I grew up in Watts, and for as long as I can remember I have been hearing negative stories about the community from family, friends, and the people I knew. At a very early age I learned that the crime rate was high, that the neighborhood was drug-infested, that the schools were hopeless, and that Watts was home to many ills. 

I heard so much about its dangers that I planned my life around avoiding them. The safest way to live, I figured, was to focus on my education to protect myself—with the expectation that I might one day leave. I spent most of my youth indoors reading and writing, instead of playing outside with the other children. 

I must admit that, while I never challenged Watts’ reputation as a kid, I was curious about where it came from. Watts had its problems, but it never felt half as bad in the experiencing as in the telling. And I never felt fearful in the way that people expected me to be. 

As I got older, it bothered me that when people who didn’t live in Watts talked about the community, they always seemed to talk about the 1965 Watts Riots. The fact that this is still true more than 50 years later, in 2016, seems bizarre, given how neighborhoods change and how few of the people who were there are still here. 

As I studied journalism and learned to write, I decided I had the power to change how people thought about Watts. Three years ago, having entered my mid-20s, I started to publish essays about Watts. I didn’t shrink from Watts’ problems, but I also wrote about my life and family and the joys of it.

One essay I wrote for Zócalo Public Square in 2014 became a sensation. In it, I praised Watts for offering a lot of institutions to help young parents and kids, but I wondered why it didn’t offer what I needed as a young, childless college student who was also working. I couldn’t print out an essay or get college-related advice anywhere in Watts. I closed the piece by suggesting that Watts needed a local neighborhood center with computers and guidance counselors who can help people who are trying to get ahead. 

I was especially frustrated because, with every passing day, the distance grew between Watts’ bad reputation and its improving reality. 

The essay was also published in Time magazine and became so popular that reporters started calling to interview me. Of course, many of them were preparing pieces in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots. NBC included me in their special on the anniversary. I used every opportunity to talk about the virtues of the community, the ways it had changed, and the need to improve some of the statistics around poverty that fuel our reputation. 

I was proud of my work and glad for the attention, but for some reason, it didn’t feel right. I took a hiatus from writing articles to continue my schooling and work while I thought about why I felt unsettled. Was I approaching the story of changing Watts’ reputation wrongly? Had I not done enough? 

I was especially frustrated because, with every passing day, the distance grew between Watts’ bad reputation and its improving reality. Schools were getting better, crime and violence were even less common, and there were all kinds of fairs and programs in the community that seemed to lead to people getting jobs and health care. 

I didn’t have to go far to see this. Two impressive developments had launched within walking distance of my home. Last year, a College Track program opened in Watts, helping high school students enter college and also working with them so they can successfully complete their degrees. The second development came this January when chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened a much-needed restaurant down the street from me and it quickly became a favorite among people in the neighborhood.

Things were looking up for Watts, and for me. I even received a letter in the mail giving me permission to use an old community recreational room to jumpstart my own resource center—exactly like the one I envisioned in my Zócalo article.  

Pedestrian bridge over Blue Line tracks, Watts. 

But I was less than thrilled -- Watts’ reputation still wasn’t moving as fast as Watts. 

Then one day, I had a conversation with my neighbor for an article I was planning to write to end my self-imposed sabbatical. He had lived in Watts for as long as I could remember and was very popular in the neighborhood. I asked him what he thought of all the improvements in Watts, and his reply really hit me: “To be real with you, I just lay my head there. I’m like most people, I don’t really pay attention to that stuff.”

I thought this was funny at first. But then I thought about it some more, and some more after that, and it hit me. He was deeply right. 

I’m glad for the changes, but they didn’t really mean that much to me, or my own experience of Watts. Because Watts was never to me anything like the place people think it was. And if it didn’t really matter to him or matter to me -- we had built lives here -- why was I worrying so much about its reputation? 

My problem was mine, not Watts’. Why was I making myself unhappy worrying about a reputational problem that wasn’t in my power to fix? 

Watts is a fine place, with problems and virtues like other places; I’m proud to live here and I value it for what it’s given me. After all, hadn’t I learned the value of education here in Watts, sometimes from the same people who taught me about Watts’ ills? I have more positive to say about this place than negative (and I’m very grateful to see more and more positive things blooming here). And now that I’ve allowed myself to be happy about Watts, my goals feel even clearer. I won’t stay in my house, and I’m going to go outside and get my resource center up and running. 

You can think what you want about Watts. I’m too busy enjoying my neighborhood to care.

 

(Shanice Joseph, a journalist and student, lives in Watts. This essay is part of South Los Angeles: Can the Site of America's Worst Modern Riots Save an Entire City?, a special project of Zócalo Public Square and The California Wellness Foundation.) Photos by Steve Hymon. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRANSIT TALK-I’m home again, for a few minutes at least. Hey, cut me some slack; have you ever heard of snow and ice? It’s summer and to fully appreciate the places I’ve been, this is the best time of the year to be there. 

As usually happens when I spend time soaking up the energy of great cities, I feel enriched and inspired to bring some of those lessons home to Los Angeles. My latest trip took me to New York, Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. And all three cities get a shout out for re-envisioning and making great things happen in their streets, open spaces or transit. 

What New York has done with its Hudson River waterfront and extension of the 7 Train west to the Hudson Yards  is legendary, and Madison is practically Mecca to a bike rider. 

Away from Los Angeles, It was a week of contrasts, a chance to scope out the most expensive transit improvement -- the Calatrava station at New York’s World Trade Center site -- and the most basic of massive domestic urban transit systems, Chicago’s seemingly ubiquitous L. 

My biggest shout out goes to the much maligned city of Chicago. Why do people hate on Chicago? For all that city’s violent crime, failing schools and missteps of its tone deaf mayor, Chicago is awesome, to use a word I can’t believe I just uttered, given my age. 

Between some of the world’s finest urban architecture, beautiful parks, great transit and bike share, terrific food and music, vibrant neighborhoods and a lake the size of an ocean, I’ll take it. 

In light of the terrible news of the past two weeks, how great it is to have something homegrown and American Made to celebrate. 

Whoever would have thought we would live to see the same sort of shameful attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement that plagued this country back in 1968? 

Attention No Faux News and you other haters: a disciplined civil disobedience movement à la SNCC and Dr. King himself did not murder five police officers in Dallas. RIP the officers as well as Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. We are better as a country than the side of things we have seen as of late. 

But let’s get back to Chicago. Won’t you please come to Chicago?  

I remember that it gets cold in the Windy City, as in really cold, but the views south from the Lincoln Park Nature Boardwalk and north and west from The Field Museum and Adler Planetarium in Grant Park are breathtaking urban landscapes (photo above) that rival anything one finds on either coast. 

Given the week’s news, I had second thoughts about leaving behind bucolic Madison, my free summer Bcycle bikeshare membership and chair near the stage on The Terrace at the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union. The brats and beer and open mic night on Lake Mendota alone almost justified the out-of-state tuition at one of the Country’s finest public (and private) universities. And that’s even after years of Scott Walker’s shameful efforts to eviscerate The Wisconsin Ideal 

Though I was sorry to miss the opening day of Bike Metro, LA’s new bikeshare program, Bcycle, Madison’s protected bike lanes and its lakeside paths helped me appreciate the significance of bikeshare’s arrival in Los Angeles as nothing short of transformational. It’s a shot in the arm for the growing chorus of support for complete streets in Southern California. 

After the time I spent in Madison, Chicago beckoned me. The “express” Van Galder bus from Madison hit a traffic wall around Austin and Cicero. But that was okay for me as there were CTA Blue Line tracks running down the middle of the Eisenhower Expressway. Sure, the train line is not pretty and standing on those platforms in the winter must be brutal, but let’s focus on the positive; the line exists and offers functional, frequent 24/7 transit to thousands of daily riders. 

In spite of Chicago’s traffic, reminiscent of any hour on the 5, 405, 10, 110, 605, 710 (need I go on?) we eventually made it to The Loop where the real fun started at Chicago’s Union Station. A walk/architectural tour through The Loop of the big shouldered city and along the Chicago River (with kayakers!) never disappoints. 

With the quiet Expo Line to Santa Monica in mind, I have a soft spot in my heart for the noisy, gritty L, a largely bare bones urban transit system that rivals New York’s bursting at the seams behemoth. If Chicago was building the L today, it would never get its basic design past the public and the Federal Transit Administration. But there it is, in all its Loop-centric glory, taking riders nearly everywhere in the sprawling city. 

All over Chicago, I saw plenty of rust and the lines are pretty noisy at times. But, assuming the tracks and trains are safe, to an inveterate transit fan, the rattles and rust are small prices to pay for the frequency that we can only dream of for our own LA Metro. 

For a “city junkie,” there is almost nothing like riding the L through The Loop and out into Chicago’s vibrant neighborhoods. 

On the active transportation front, Chicago’s robust Divvy bikeshare program is super popular, especially near the Lake and parks, making it hard to find a bike at some of the stations. 

The takeaway for LA is: build out our transit fast and within budget and give Angelenos the frequency they need and the system will land discretionary riders who don’t even think about driving. This is what LA Metro’s November Ballot Initiative is all about and why we need to vote for it early and often as they would in Chicago. 

Just don’t get me started about the fact that Chicago’s Blue Line goes all the way to O’Hare, not just nearby, requiring a second ride. 

Since I probably sound like a PR flack for Chicago, I should add that I saw some annoying things there like Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s name on the sign at Bixler Playlot Park in Hyde Park, as if Rahm paid for the playground himself. 

In LA, of course, we would never put the name of a living County Supervisor on the name of a regional park. Never! Right? 

And I am not so nearsighted that I missed the resilient blight and crime that plagues much of Chiraq’s South Side and West Side. 

But in Chicago, like in New York, I also saw a vibrant city where races mix, at least on the L and in the street and parks along the Lake. 

LA fascinates me because its density and clash of dreams and cultures creates a built environment that is greater than the sum of its parts. Our cousins in Chicago and Madison and New York are also doing great things that can teach us a thing or two about how to build and rebuild cities that work. 

Now let’s get out and vote. 

(Joel Epstein is a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), recruiting and outreach. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be contacted at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE CITY-All cultures have death rituals. America’s is familiar to all. We are shocked when people are killed. Yes, shocked! It hasn’t happened in, well, maybe a few weeks. And we’re shocked that such a thing can happen in America. 

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen guns down 49 people inside a gay night club and less than a month later, on July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson guns down five police officers in Dallas. In between, we had daily murders across the nation including what appears to be two executions by police officers – victims Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. 

Out come the votive candles, the tears, the wailing, the recriminations – oh, it is all so well scripted. We have to hurry up and finish our death ritual over the Dallas police death because in our predatory violent culture, the next mass murder is in the making. 

Americans need to take stock of their culture and admit some things to themselves.

(1) We live in a violent predatory culture. 

(2) We love our violent predatory culture. 

(3) We have no intention of changing our violent predatory culture. 

The habitual murders reflect our collective consciousness. Other countries don’t have similar violence, but then they’re pussies. Just ask Donald Trump. Just ask the NRA which insists that the answer to gun violence is more gun violence. Who agrees with the NRA? The United States Congress. Yes, we ourselves and the culture which we have fashioned for ourselves are the problem. 

Gun control, however, is a silly place to start. No predatory culture will give up its best weapon to kill other people. We cannot even stop insane people and terrorists from buying guns. Besides, railing against too many guns is merely one obligatory part of the Death Ritual. 

As long as we support a predatory culture where the wealthy rape the poor, gun violence will be with us every day, 365 days per year. 

What is a predatory culture and how do we know we live in one? 

If your country allows a handful of Wall Street investment bankers crash the world economy and your President’s response is to give them trillions of dollars, you live in a predatory country. 

If your country locks up more people for longer periods of time than any other industrialized nation, you live in a predatory country. 

If your country believes that adequate health care is a privilege for the wealthy, you live in a predatory county. 

If 60% of the people in your country think the death penalty is a good thing, you live in a predatory country. 

If you live in a city which destroys 20,000 rent-controlled apartments and then proposes to give $1.2 billion to the millionaires who tore down the poor people’s homes, you live in a predatory city. 

Recently, we saw the LA City Council once again unanimously approve the destruction of poor people homes so that the Cherokee Apartments could be turned into a boutique hotel. 

Right now Councilmember Krekorian, recently famous for his needless destruction of Marilyn Monroe’s Valley Village home (photo above), is now showing more of his sadistic streak with the demolition of more Valley Village homes at the intersection of Hermitage and Weddington. 

Let’s be very clear about this project. It will demolish long time Valley Village homes in order to make way for tax shelters for the rich and famous. Few Angelenos have heard about this most recent scam where established homes are destroyed, and in their place, we have In-Fill projects of so-called single family homes (small lot subdivisions), which are nothing more than apartments constructed on top of garages. 

The finances behind these frauds took a while to reveal itself. Since Wall Street has soured on the glut of large apartment complexes in Los Angeles, Garcetti, Krekorian, O’Farrell and others have devised a new scam. They still construct apartments, but they call them Small Lot development so that each apartment is treated as if it were a single family home. This charade allows each apartment to be sold individually as a tax shelter. 

The key to a tax shelter is that it loses money. That loss is beneficial to millionaires who need write-offs against profits elsewhere in their portfolios. An entire apartment complex is too large and apartments may not be legally sold as separate entities. Thus, we have the new scam, i.e. the apartments are designed to be standing units so that they can be sold to non-investors who need tax write offs. 

Thus, Krekorian’s plan is based on the sadistic impulse to destroy people’s homes so that his buddies can build tax shelters for the world’s wealthy. 

In our predatory culture, we see nothing wrong with that. Angelenos do not care that their City Hall is crimogenic and the LA City Council is run as a criminal enterprise.  If we will not stop Garcetti’s rampage on the poor after 20,000 rent-controlled units were destroyed, if we will not stop O’Farrell as he rewards the Cherokee Hotel for making the elderly, disabled and poor into the homeless, if we will not stop Krekorian in his ravaging of Valley Village, then we are the supporters of the predatory culture which routinely gives rise to these mass murders. 

Mark your calendars. The next mass murder has been penciled in for around August 10̀-20th, during which time, LA will have made a hundred or so more people homeless. 

Or we could reject the City’s sadistic predatory culture which daily destroys more of our homes, making more Angelenos homeless. 

We can Choose Life or continue the American Death Ritual.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Graphic credit: LA Curbed. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EXPOSED—Want to know who has the most to gain/lose in politics? Follow the money. MapLight has done that for us on California’s ballot measures. Who’s ‘for’ the legalization of pot? Who’s against it? Keep reading.

1 — There are 17 measures that have qualified for California’s November ballot, covering everything from death and taxes to sex, drugs, and guns.

2 — Initiative campaigns have already raised about $185 million.

3 — The biggest spender so far is the pharmaceutical industry. It has contributed $70 million — or 38 percent of all the money raised for ballot measures so far — to fight Proposition 61, which would limit the prices state agencies pay for prescription drugs.

4 — Unions, school administrators, and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems have given $19 million to the campaign for Proposition 55, which would extend an income tax increase on people earning more than $250,000 a year.

5 — Tom Steyer, a billionaire and possible Democratic contender for governor in 2018, has contributed $1 million to support Proposition 56. The measure would increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack.

6 — Some big names in Silicon Valley, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Paul Graham of Y Combinator, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce have given money to support Proposition 62, a measure that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

7 — A competing measure, Proposition 66 is aimed at eliminating delays in carrying out the death penalty by imposing time limits on legal reviews of capital convictions. It has the support of law enforcement groups.

8 — Supporters of Proposition 64, a measure to legalize marijuana, have raised over $7 million. Napster founder Sean Parker has contributed about $2.8 million.

9 — The committee opposed to legalizing pot, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, Sponsored by California Public Safety Institute, has raised $141,000.

10 — A measure requiring actors in adult films to wear condoms, Proposition 60, has raised more than $1.6 million from its only financial supporter, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Methodology:
MapLight analysis of campaign contributions to the ballot measure committees associated with California’s November 2016 ballot measures. All numbers are based on latest data made available by the California Secretary of State as of July 7, 2016.

(Bret Hendry is the Communications Manager at MapLight.

-cw

CALWATCHDOG--New polling and a surprise endorsement light up Loretta Sanchez’s quest for the U.S. Senate — but both also illustrate the challenges ahead. 

Sanchez — a Democratic congresswoman from Orange County — is hoping to cobble together enough votes from a mix of Latinos, Republicans, independents and Democrats to carry her past Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, the frontrunner. 

Harris won first place in the June primary by a wide margin — 40 percent to 19 percent — with the vote split between 34 candidates. Polling released Friday gives a clearer picture of how the two candidates stack up head to head, showing Harris in a comfortable, yet surmountable, lead.

And while the polling suggests Sanchez still faces significant difficulties winning over Republicans, Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative radio host from Orange County, endorsed her on his show on Thursday, giving Sanchez her second high-profile Republican endorsement since the primary. 

POLLING--To win, Sanchez will likely need around a third of Democrats, the vast majority of Latinos and more than half of independents and Republicans to cast their ballots for her. 

A Field Poll released Friday showed Harris with a 15-point lead (39 percent to 24 percent). The good news for Sanchez was that 22 percent of respondents were undecided, the bad news was that 15 percent — a large portion of which were Republicans — said they’d vote for neither. 

Harris led among voters in nearly every category, including among Republicans, independents and Southern California voters (Harris is from the Bay Area). 

Sanchez, however, had a strong lead among Latinos, a nice lead among voters ages 18 to 39, and a slight lead among voters making less than $40,000 annually. 

Republicans--Perhaps the most troubling data point for Sanchez was the 31 percent of Republicans who said they wouldn’t vote in the Senate race, essentially saying they would just skip over that race on the ballot without one of their own to choose from. 

Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who specializes in Latino issues, said he doubted the Republican undervote will be as “significant as other Democrat demographics” and believes Sanchez has a chance to win in November. 

“I think there’s a very real shot,” Madrid said. “Difficult, certainly; but absolutely possible.” 

Fragile coalition--Sanchez walks a fine line in appealing to Latinos and Republicans, as the former is increasingly dissatisfied with the latter

And she can’t veer too far to the right and hope to win a large chunk of Democrats or vice versa. After all, Sanchez is still a partisan Democrat and has strong support from Democratic lawmakers and constituencies, including unions.  

While some Republican insiders have reached out to Sanchez, introducing her to donors and voters behind closed doors, few are willing to make overt displays of support. 

Endorsements--Republicans like Hewitt who have come out in support of Sanchez give cover to other Republicans who may have a tough time voting for a Democrat by finding her to be the moderate candidate, or at least the lesser of two evils. 

The Libertarian-leaning Orange County Register Editorial Board endorsed Sanchez during the primary (while Republicans were still in the race), primarily for voting against the Iraq War in 2003, for voting against the PATRIOT ACT (which expanded the federal government’s use of surveillance against U.S. citizens), and for opposing the 2008 bank bailout. 

Hewitt called her the more “moderate” of the two candidates and said he would occasionally find consensus with Sanchez in military and defense issues — Sanchez sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.  

“You and I are not going to agree a lot, but occasionally, we’re going to agree on Armed Services and some Defense appropriation issues,” Hewitt told Sanchez on air Thursday. “I’m not going to agree with your opponent ever.” 

In June, Richard Riordan, the former Republican Mayor of Los Angeles, endorsed Sanchez for her opposition to the Iraq War and for her ability to work across the partisan aisle to pass legislation. 

Congressional Quarterly recently listed Sanchez as one of the 25 most influential women in Washington, for being a “debate shaper and swing vote.” For the majority of her nearly two decades in Congress, she’s been in the minority party, meaning most accomplishments have been made with an element of compromise. 

“I’ve known Loretta Sanchez for many years, she is tough and not afraid to take a stand on important issues,” Riordan said at the time. “(Sanchez) knows how to work with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.” 

Sanchez actually used to be a Republican, dating back to high school in Anaheim. But similar to Latinos today repulsed from the Republican Party by its presumptive presidential nominee, Sanchez switched when she heard former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan warn of the “illegal invasion” of Mexicans coming across the country’s southern border, according to the Los Angeles Times

Uphill climb--Even if Sanchez can unite behind her Republicans, Latinos, independents and leftover Democrats, she still faces an opponent in Harris who has statewide name recognition and the full backing of the Democratic establishment, which in California has so often proven to be enough.  

For every play she makes for one group, she risks alienating voters of another group. Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio said, for example, attacking Harris, the attorney general, as being soft on crime was a decent strategy, but risks losing appeal among progressives. 

And despite Sanchez’s moderate profile as a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Caucus and her independent streak on larger issues, she still has a fairly liberal voting record in the House.

“It’s an uphill climb,” said Maviglio. “What credentials does Loretta Sanchez have to appeal to Republicans? She’s been a partisan Democrat in the House. Is she less liberal than Kamala Harris? Only by a hair. That’s not a convincing argument.”

 

(Matt Fleming writes for CalWatchdog … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-The City Planning Commission hearing on amendments to the two citywide mansionization ordinances – the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) and the Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BHO) -- took place on Thursday, July 14, 2016. To get a full report on what transpired, please open this link.  

If you are concerned about mansionization -- the hasty and often illegal demolition of smaller, less expensive houses to clear building pads for pricey, oversized, out-of-character McMansions -- then these amendments are the big one. In Los Angeles, the mansionization process began in the Beverly Grove neighborhood, where I live, over a decade ago, but has since spread over the entire city. Contractors have bulldozed thousands of well-priced, middle class homes to make way for a crowd with apparently with more money than taste. 

With plenty of City Council and City Planning Department support behind them, the investors, contractors, and realtors in the mansionization business have been able to neutralize six previous attempts to stop McMansions by smothering them in loopholes. As a result, there has not even been a blip in the number of affordable houses demolished and then replaced by extremely expensive, intrusive monster houses in more and more LA neighborhoods. 

In this relentless cycle of real estate speculation, the only areas able to protect neighborhood character and scale are about 30 Historical Preservation Overlay Zones (e.g. Hancock Park), several residential Specific Plans (e.g. Mount Washington), and four neighborhoods with Residential Floor Area Districts (e.g., Beverly Grove).

While important, these zoning overlay ordinances only shield small areas. They oil loud squeaky wheels so truly awful planning practices can roll through the rest of Los Angeles unperturbed by multiple anti-mansionization policies in adopted and approved city planning documents. 

While these local anti-mansionization ordinances cannot unring a bell, they can at least protect the remaining homes in a handful of neighborhoods. But that also means that the rest of Los Angeles will not have dependable protection against mansionization until the City Council adopts a strong, citywide anti-mansionization ordinance. The current BMO-BHO amendments could finally provide that protection, but it will be a knock down, drag out fight over the coming months. Many neighborhood David’s are already facing off against a small army of Philistines, who are in league with City Hall decision makers taken in by the mansionizers’ frequently repeated but always debunked talking points.  

Breaking news: The City Planning Department recently issued their staff report for the Thursday hearing, and it does have some good points: 

  • It recommends reducing by-right FAR from 0.50 to 0.45 on R1 lots of less than 7,500 square feet. 
  • It calls for the full elimination of the exemption for covered porches, patios, and breezeways. 
  • It calls for public hearings for all waivers (10% Zoning Administrator Adjustments) decided by the Department of City Planning. 

But the staff report falls far short in other key ways: 

  • In hundreds of public comments and letters, Angelinos living in “the flats” identified the exclusion of attached garages from a house’s floor area (a 400 square foot freebie for mansionizers) as the single most damaging loophole. Even the City Planning staff report concedes that this has been “one of the most requested changes” and that if included, it would encourage detached garages with driveways that “provide increased separation between houses.” We would also add that the elimination of this loophole results in smaller houses. 
  • But city planners recommend keeping the exemption for attached garage space, even though the City Council expressly directed City Planning to eliminate all loopholes that promoted mansionization. 
  • Communities in the hillsides that are covered by the Hillside Mansionization Ordinance asked, above all, that the City drop the 1,000 square foot floor area minimum for non-conforming lots and tighten grading and hauling allowances. 

But city planners recommend keeping the 1,000 square foot minimum, as well as excessive grading and hauling allowances. 

Communities with larger lots (RA, RS, and RE zones), such as Tarzana, first and foremost requested that the City eliminate the same square footage bonus loopholes in their zones that they removed in R1 zones. 

But the city planners recommended keeping these bonuses, asserting that larger lot sizes and smaller FARs “make these zones better able to accommodate” the bonuses/loopholes. The bigger question, why there should even be a secret (ministerial) process to enlarge houses above their initial by-right size without a public, discretionary process, was, of course, not asked and not answered. 

Finally, all LA neighborhoods repeatedly requested that City Hall keep the amended mansionization ordinances as short, straightforward, and enforceable as possible. They knew, from bitter first hand experience, that LA’s Department of Building and Safety cannot understand and/or will not enforce the most basic mansionization provisions, such as the required posting of demolition and construction permits. They know that anything exceeding a barebones mansionization ordinance will be easily gamed by the mansionizers. 

They also realized that the inclusion of new design features lifted from re:code LA, encroachment planes and side wall articulation, are nothing more than lipstick on a pig. These are complicated, hard-to-enforce design provisions whose rationale, camouflaging bloated houses, is a myth. They are no different than the existing loopholes that the Council ordered City Planning to eliminate from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance because they promoted mansionization. The locals know these design gimmicks utterly failed over the past eight years, and they will not work if again forced upon LA’s neighborhoods. Like before, they are nothing more than a recipe for further mansionization pretending to be fancy architectural doodads.

The first draft of the current BMO/BHO amendments in October 2015 received over 600 responses, and the Planning Department reported that these comments favored tighter limits on McMansions by a margin of almost 4-to-1. The second draft drew over 1000 responses, and there is no reason to think that public sentiment suddenly changed in favor of loopholes, whether old or new. 

But the Planning Department’s summary of “the most representative comments” pairs every objection to its reinstatement of loopholes with an opposing comment, while leaving out any mention of relative frequency, the actual validity of claims and counter-claims, and the instructions of the City Council. 

At the hearing on Thursday, speculators and realtors were expected to be out in force. Some of them have a simple, short-term outlook based on making a quick buck, regardless of the consequences for other people. Others are simply so ignorant they have not noticed that the neighborhoods with the highest property values are those, like the HPOZ’s, that protect neighborhood character. Finally, others clothe their greed in long-winded architectural discourses that boil down to “wear shirts with vertical stripes if you want to appear thinner.”
NEXT STEPS: We all know what we need to do: Show up at the hearing!  And, after the hearing, submit testimony directly to the City Planning Department, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council. This way, your testimony will be contained in the official file forwarded to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) for its public hearing on the same amendments. Plus, you can also present your testimony again at the PLUM hearing. These are the City of LA staff that you should contact. Remember to include CF 14-0656 in the subject line. 

City Planning Commission: [email protected]

City Council PLUM Committee: [email protected]

Tom Rothmann:   [email protected]

Nicholas Marrakech: [email protected]

Phyllis Nathanson:   [email protected] 

Niall Huffman: [email protected]

Another round of emailed public testimony will show support for meaningful reform of LA’s repeatedly flawed efforts to stop mansionization. 

For further information on the next stages in the adoption process, this website will have all the information you need.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He welcomes comment and corrections at [email protected]. He also thanks Shelley Wagers, who wrote an earlier version of this column.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Just days before the delegates arrive in Cleveland for the GOP convention and less than two weeks before the Democrats gather in Philadelphia, California officials have been busy certifying the over 8.5 million ballots cast last month. Voters and local election officials alike have been scratching their heads about confusing rules and overlapping that occurred during the primary voting process. 

Most complaints stem from the dissimilar rules governing both presidential and statewide elections. Primaries for state offices are open; voters can choose candidates across party lines. Rules for the presidential primary differ and are governed by the political party.

Independent (no party preference) voters were able to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary but were not permitted to vote in the GOP primary. Independent voters were required by the Democratic Party to use a designated “crossover” ballot which did not include a vote for the party’s governing committee. This special ballot was only presented to unaffiliated voters if they asked for it. 

Furthermore, local election officials were held to enforcing the rules – and procedures were inconsistent from county to county. Training for poll workers isn’t even consistent throughout the state. Activists have alleged that independent voters may not have had the chance to vote for Sanders. Election Day reports pointed out a number of “polling place flash points” where poll workers either gave the wrong advice or weren’t using the latest roster of registered voters. 

After there were some suspected uncounted provisional ballots in other states, Sanders supporters in California used social media to inform people to refuse provisional ballots. At the same time, election officials noted the state election law gives wide discretion to accept provisional ballots. Reports from Contra Costa County concluded eighty-eight percent of the county’s provisional ballots were counted. Eighty-seven percent of Los Angeles County’s over 268,000 provisional ballots were counted. 

In the days following the June 7 primary, more private citizens than usual were showing up to watch over the tallying of provisional ballots and in San Diego, social media activists accused election workers of changing provisional ballots. 

Snafus happened when voters showed up at different polling places than where they were registered and ended up mistakenly voting for down-ticket races for which they weren’t eligible to vote. In San Diego, workers redacted those particular votes with white correction tape, leaving in place the votes for president and U.S. Senate. In other counties, election workers were copying the voter’s choices to a clear ballot, similar to what happens with damaged ballots. An activist group in San Diego has filed a lawsuit claiming that the procedures followed to recount the required manual recount of one percent of the ballots were incorrect. 

Additional problems occurred when voters who don’t typically go to the polls were confused about their party affiliation. For example, some voters believed they were registered independents (who could receive provisional ballots for the presidential primary) but were, in reality, members of California’s American Independent Party. 

In Riverside County, allegations were levied that changes may have been tampered with in the state’s online registration portal to change part affiliation, charges Secretary of State Alex Padilla denies. 

Election changes in 2014 allow for completed vote-by-mail ballots to arrive as late as 72 hours after the polls close, provided they are postmarked on Election Day. This typically causes late counting in less populated counties. 

In elections with such a wide array of ballots by both party affiliation and language, as well as such large numbers of candidates like the 34 primary candidates for the U.S. Senate race in California, voting systems need to be updated. More money is needed to expand voter communications and to pay for mandated procedures to ensure fair, uniform elections and equal treatment of voters throughout the state.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

JUST THE FACTS--I have been ranting and raving about the deteriorating conditions of our once proud City of Los Angeles neighborhoods for a number of months. Homeless are entrenched in many parts of our residential communities, pot holes exist on more roadways than I can count, severe traffic congestion is in all parts of the city with all the freeways in all directions jammed most times of each and every day until late evenings, graffiti is sprawled along business corridors, trash is spilling over trash cans at bus stops, and crime is increasing in all categories. 

Being a native of Los Angeles and living here for nearly 70 years, I know what our city used to look like and what it used to offer residents, business owners and visitors over the years. 

For the residents, there was affordable housing, good public schools for the children, good manufacturing jobs; auto, bicycle and motorcycle travel on well maintained roadways and relatively safe neighborhoods where people could walk on sidewalks that were even and without huge cracks to trip and fall without fear of being confronted by thugs, homeless living on the sidewalks and an assortment of conditions that turn a well - maintained city into a place that is in severe decay and neglect. 

It can all be turned around with strong, consistent and determined political leadership.   It happened in New York City when Rudy Giuliani was the mayor and the city was experiencing decay at an alarming rate. 

The police were given the tools to do their job and the public work crews were directed to clean up the mess. The transit line operators were tasked to clean the cars before they left the barn and all turned around in a short time. 

I don’t see that happening here in Los Angeles. While I know and respect Mayor Eric Garcetti, his management team is not connected with the task at hand. Homelessness is out of control and the only remedy from our city leaders is an increase in taxes and fees. They want us to put up over one billion dollars to remedy the situation. Money without a plan for how to spend it. 

There will surely be more city jobs created with more and more bureaucracy and costs to the tax payers. I say enough with the constant demand for more money to fix a problem that our city leaders let get out of control. 

The city leaders need to take some of the billions of dollars in our current budget to address this most serious situation. It is interesting that the city leaders let the situation get out of control and are now turning to the taxpayers to correct the situation they created and ignored for such a long period of time. 

The message here is simple. VOTE NO ON ANY AND ALL MEASURES ASKING FOR MORE OF YOUR MONEY TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM THE CITY LEADERS LET GET OUT OF CONTROL IN THE FIRST PLACE!

●●

TRAGEDY IN DALLAS--The attack on law enforcement rose to a new level when a crazed man assassinated five Dallas police officers and injured many others during a march protesting police shootings in other parts of the country. This tragedy illustrates just how dangerous police work has become. 

In Dallas, with a starting salary of $44,000 a year, it takes brave and courageous individuals to join a career where your life can end in an instant. Your family and friends will remember you each and every day while society moves on and returns back to normal in short time. 

Serving with the LAPD for nearly 50 years, I have lost partners and friends to the dangers of the job. With the grace of God, I remain here to remind you to show your appreciation when you encounter a member of law enforcement. They have a very dangerous job and it is not getting any easier. A friendly smile and wave goes a long way to express your appreciation for your police officers. 

If you are so inclined, when in a restaurant and see an officer on code 7 (Meal Break) think about picking up their tab. This gesture goes a long way in expressing your appreciation for our police. It is not about the person’s color or race with the officers it is about enforcing the law in a fair and professional manner. If you just comply with the officers directions, your encounter can be a pleasant one for both of you.  

(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected].)

-cw

 

CO-EXISTENCE ALERT--I have 56 years’ experience with coyotes first hand. I am a college-educated, retired USDA Wildlife Specialist. I have lived among coyotes for a collective 210 days in remote locations in Arizona while collecting biological samples for the Center for Disease Control and Arizona Game and Fish Department. I have studied and pursued them in every way possible over these years. I have kept live coyotes on my property for the USDA for observation and urine collection for several years. And I’ve dealt with damaging and dangerous coyotes first hand and witnessed the death and the trauma they cause. 

I know coyotes. They do not belong in town, in your community, in your neighborhood, or in your back yard. These wild animals are dangerous. They are equivalent to “urban terrorists” as they invade the urban areas of America because they are there to kill – it’s their expertise. They are not cute little wild dogs, they are not a friendly wild animal, they are not your friend in anyway; they are dangerous. Anyone who tells you that you can co-exist with these dangerous wild animals is irresponsible and putting your life, your family’s life, your children, grandchildren, pets, and property in danger! 

Look closely at a few things they tell you to do to protect yourself from dangerous coyotes:

  1. Secure your home to prevent unauthorized entry by coyotes – as you would to prevent burglars from entry. 
  1. Never let your pets out into your very own back yard without supervision. You must police them. 
  1. Watch your children closely at all times when they are outside -- guarding against coyotes as you would against criminals like kidnappers. Imagine seeing your child being eaten by a coyote. 
  1. Secure all access to your home and buildings both above and below the foundation from unauthorized entry by coyotes. Again, like burglars and other criminals, they are thieves in the night. 
  1. Never travel the same routes day in and day out -- change your pattern, like you would from a stalker or attacker. 

Let’s get real here, people! This dangerous wild animal is a trespasser. The coyote has proven to be a threat to humans, pets and property for decades. It is doing what criminals do, what stalkers do, and what terrorists do – and some would want you to learn to co-exist with them? Well then, let’s all learn to co-exist with muggers, rapists, stalkers, drunk drivers, and murders as well. After all, they have rights too. But do you really want to learn to live with a rattlesnake in the kitchen? 

According to some unrealistic and perhaps deranged people, rattlesnakes, killer bees, alligators, grizzly bears, cockroaches, and others have more rights to live anywhere they want than we do. If these creatures (like snakes) take up residence in your back yard or under your house (like skunks) or in your attic (like bats) – well, that is their right. 

Their proponents say, “We have moved in on them” … but they were there first! Poor misunderstood wild animals … you must “learn to live with it!” 

There is a reason that all across America there are no closed hunting seasons on coyotes. Many states do not even require hunting licenses to pursue coyotes. There are no bag limits on coyotes either. There is a reason that there have been bounties paid on killing coyotes for over 50 years. The state of Utah now pays a $50 bounty for each coyote killed. There is a reason that one federal agency has had a huge focus on controlling coyotes in America for over 100 years: coyotes are abundant. They cause a huge amount of personal property damage where ever they go. Coyotes are dangerous to humans, pets, and livestock and cause tens of thousands of dollars of damage each year in America. 

Everything I have stated here is simple to research and very easy to verify. The USDA has a fulltime well-staffed research center in Utah that studies coyotes every day. These are dangerous wild animals that must be monitored and controlled. Coyotes do not belong in your community, your neighborhood, or your back yard. And the so-called “coyote experts” seldom are that. Most have not even been alive for as long as I’ve been dealing directly with coyotes. 

Public officials encourage “co-existence” with coyotes because they don’t have the budget or the experience to deal with them. They just hope the problem goes away. But it won’t and if they were real experts they would know that. 

Activists like those who run Project Coyote have the single agenda of stopping all hunting in America -- and they want to start with the coyote. They want to raise money from you by giving you a false message with unrealistic claims about these dangerous animals. Much of what they claim is simply made up! 

I encourage all of you to take action like some other communities have. Green Valley, Arizona rose up and fought back against a single coyote that bit eight different adults. They killed this bad coyote and the attacks immediately stopped. Long Beach, California is fighting back by forming a citizens group to demand something be done about their increasing coyote problem. They found that the City of Long Beach has no budget for this control and the California Fish and Wildlife Department is doing basically nothing because they also have no budget for it. Printing up a few pamphlets will not stop the invasion and danger. 

So, what has caused this invasion? This terrorism? It is easy to figure. Across America, coyotes are showing up where they have not been in the past, looking for something to kill and eat on the roof tops of New York City, in the back yards of Pennsylvania, in downtown Chicago, and in many other similar locations. The expansion is due to the loss of rural habitat, reduction in hunters and the increasingly abundant amount of resources available in town. There is more water, more cover, and more trash to rummage through. There are pets to eat, plenty of cool shade, lots of food and most importantly, “no pressure” from other coyotes or people pursuing them. 

Urban America is a safe place for these dangerous wild animals. And it’s becoming even safer as misguided people try to “co-exist” with them. Do not fall for it. Fight back against this new urban terrorist! 

Other perspectives on urban coyotes 

 

(James A. Schmidt is a retired USDA Wildlife Specialist.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDITOR’S PICK--In Los Angeles, resistance to change at the neighborhood level has never been at more of a fever pitch than it is today. We have the massive effort behind the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which seeks to curb large-scale development; we have the grassroots resistance to gentrification in Boyle Heights; and we have the curious case of the Silver Lake Reservoir. Presently a gaping muddy hole, the 96-acre reservoir can no longer be used for drinking water — but that hasn't stopped some residents from demanding it be refilled, despite the severe drought. 

The two-part reservoir was built in the early 1900s as an emergency water supply and was designed to be useful, not pretty. Yet the reservoir later became a sort of focal point of the upwardly mobile community.

"Many longtime residents think this is their lake," the reservoir keeper, Manuel Trujillo, once said, according to the application to make the reservoir a Historic-Cultural Monument. "The lake adds to the property values of the nearby homes. When the lake was drained in 1975 for some reconstruction, the
property values dipped."

In the wake of 9/11, the federal government mandated that all water supplies be kept underground. So in 2013, the the reservoir was taken offline. In the summer of 2015, it was drained so that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns the reservoir and surrounding land, could rebuild some pipes, sending drinking water to a new subterranean reservoir underneath Griffith Park. 

The reservoir was supposed to be refilled by the end of this year, but things are running a little behind.

Oh yeah, we're also in the middle of a really bad drought, which has led some to wonder aloud, why are we filling this thing up with water again? Water that no one will use, except to look at?

Surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, the reservoir is essentially a jail for water. Now that it won't be functioning as an actual reservoir, maybe it could put to an actual use? Like maybe a park? 

Once ideas such as these started percolating, Silver Lake residents started getting agitated. Not all of them, of course. Silver Lake Forward [[ http://silverlakeforward.com/ ]]   is pro-park; it has Moby on its side! Catherine Geanuracos, a co-founder of the group who lives in Silver Lake, says the group is calling for a new planning process to come up with the best use for the land.

"It’s a public asset that’s changing, and it seems like we could create something really amazing for the community," Geanuracos says.

But a far more vocal group, active in the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, has formed, calling itself Refill Silver Lake Now. [[ http://refillsilverlakenow.org/ ]] From its website:

Refill Silver Lake Now is a dedicated group of people advocating for the prompt refilling of the Silver Lake Reservoir (Historic-Cultural Monument 422), home to many species of wildlife, and critical nesting grounds for the legally protected blue heron. The reservoir is not only a crucial spot on the Pacific Flyway for migrating waterfowl but an essential body of water for the L.A. County Firefighters in battling blazes in the area, including Griffith Park. In short, it is the heart and soul of the 43,000 people and countless wildlife that call Silver Lake their home.

Members of Refill Silver Lake Now turned out in force at a recent public meeting to discuss the future of the reservoir. They cheered when City Councilman David Ryu promised it would be at least partially filled next spring. And they lost their collective shit when Councilman Mitch O'Farrell suggested that maybe, just maybe, we should think about putting the land to better use than a dreary water jail. According to Curbed LA:

One thing’s for sure: Most of the residents who attended the meeting are not interested in a damn park! The loudest cheers of the evening came when a woman informed the officials at the meeting that Silver Lake did not want to hear about alternative uses for the reservoir — just a quick refill.

There was also nearly a riot when City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell raised the prospect of landscaping the path around the lake, making the mistake of comparing the project to Echo Park Lake and saying future public meetings would be a "marketplace of ideas." From the back of the room, one woman shouted, "It’s not a marketplace. It’s a community!"

"The people who were at that meeting were incredibly opinionated," Geanuracos says. "And they're entitled to their opinions. But that room wasn’t representative of the current population of Silver Lake, let alone the whole city."

It's not as if the reservoir doesn't already have some parklike elements. There's a much-loved jogging track, a basketball court, a dog park and, of course, the Silver Lake Meadow, which opened in 2011. There was a bit of resistance to the meadow, too – it only got the green light after officials agreed to make it a "passive space," meaning no dogs and no sports.

"We would be open to any discussions about beatification once the water’s in," says Jill Cordes, one of the co-founders of Refill Silver Lake Now. She says she's worried about a giant, gaping muddy hole siting around for years while landscape architects fiddle around with various plans.

One issue yet to be addressed: What kind of water will the DWP use to fill the hole with? The original plan called for drinking water, even though no one can drink from it. But drinking water is in demand right now. It's expensive.

The DWP could fill the reservoir with recycled water, but that would take a lot longer; it's unclear how long. 

"We’re willing, as a group, to potentially wait a month or two if it means we can be a shining example for using reclaimed water in Los Angeles," Cordes says. But she doesn't think the DWP can get it done that fast. In that case – well, the group is called Refill Silver Lake Now

Cordes also worries that any major enhancements to the reservoir would attract crowds. And traffic.

"Where would people park?" Cordes asks. "How would they get here? I don’t understand. Unless you made half the reservoir a parking lot. And who wants that?"

She adds: "This is a respite in the middle of a giant city. I don’t see why there's anything wrong with keeping it a nice tranquil spot."

Of course, the Silver Lake Reservoir is not owned by Silver Lake. It's owned by the DWP. It's public land. 

"This whole part of our city, not just the few surrounding blocks, use the meadow and use the walking track," Geanuracos says. "It’s an incredible resource for us already. And so it’s a really interesting question. Those people [who live here] are impacted more. But there’s also a potential huge benefit for the whole area."

(Hillel Aron writes for LA Weekly  … where this piece originated.)

-cw

VOX POP--Powerful City Hall lobbyists, who are popular hired guns among developers, raised a whopping $124,046 in the first quarter of 2016 for seven City Council members, one of whom is running for Los Angeles County supervisor. Lobbyists help developers bend the rules and get City Council approvals for zone changes, General Plan amendments and/or height district changes for gigantic development projects across LA.

In June, the city’s Ethics Commission released a quarterly lobbying report for the first quarter of 2016. It contains eye-popping figures that show City Hall lobbyists are raising king-sized cash for LA. politicians’ campaign chests and officeholder accounts. 

Council members Mike Bonin of District 11, Gil Cedillo of District 1, Mitch O’Farrell of District 13 and Joe Buscaino of District 15 each received lobbyist fundraising money for their 2017 re-election bids. Council member Mitchell Englander of District 12 received lobbyist campaign cash for his LA County supervisor run, and Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson received lobbyist fundraising money for his 2015 campaign.

Nury Martinez of District 6 received lobbyist money for an “officeholder account,” as did Bonin, O’Farrell, Buscaino and Harris-Dawson. An officeholder account is a controversial slush fund used by City Council members to pay for expensive meals and travel.

The top five lobbyists firms to raise money for City Council members include, according to the Ethics Commission:

  1. Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell — $20,848 for Mike Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $700 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account;
  2. Benjamin Resnick — $20,848 for Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $700 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account;
  3. Afriat Consulting Group — $7,300 for Gil Cedillo’s 2017 campaign, $4,700 for Mitch O’Farrell’s 2017 campaign and $4,450 for Nury Martinez’s 2013 officeholder account;
  4. Englander Knabe and Allen — $4,700 for Mitch O’Farrell’s 2017 campaign and $700 for O’Farrell’s 2013 officeholder account, $3,300 for Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $1,400 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account, $2,900 for Mitchell Englander’s 2016 county supervisor campaign, $1,400 for Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s 2015 campaign and $700 for Joe Buscaino’s 2011 officeholder account;
  5. M Advisors — $8,900 for Buscaino’s 2017 campaign.

All of these lobbyists have been hired by deep-pocketed developers to woo politicians and bureaucrats at LA City Hall.

Council member Bonin represents such neighborhoods as West Los Angeles, Venice, and Palms, all areas that developers have been looking to overbuild. In O’Farrell’s district, developers have been pushing controversial projects in Hollywood, Silver Lake, Elysian Valley and Echo Park.

And councilmen Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Mitchell Englander are members of the powerful Planning and Land-Use Management Committee, which signs off on zone changes and General Plan amendments sought by lobbyists on the behalf of developers.

See a pattern here? Politicians get big money from developers and lobbyists, lobbyists rake in millions from developers, and developers make huge profits from the help of politicians and lobbyists. And the citizens get what? Traffic gridlock, unaffordable housing, outsized development that ruins our neighborhoods, gentrification and essentially screwed. 

But that’s how things work within LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Spread around huge sums in campaign contributions to City Council members, and win big favors in return. 

In addition to lobbyists raising major money for local politicians, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign chests of LA politicians, according to Ethics Commission records.

Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do. 

Developers and their politician pals will do anything to defeat our reform movement and continue their wrong-headed policies. But together, we, the citizens, can create the change that LA needs!

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.) 

-cw

TAX TSUNAMI--The overburdening of taxpayers in the City of the Angels is a very, very real thing--except, of course, to the privileged, the disconnected, and the powerful interests tied to the majority of the City Council and Mayor who feel that our sales, parcel, utility, and other taxes are just not high enough.  More importantly, the perception and reality alike of how our taxes are being spent argues that Downtown is attacking its taxpaying residents. 

1) It's no secret that our taxes, when compared to other cities, counties, and states in the nation, are very high--and arguably either the highest or very close to it.  More taxes are acceptable when they're being spent well, but not acceptable when the past history of how they're being spent is poor. 

My CityWatch colleague Jack Humphreville isn't the only one decrying the billion-dollar homeless bond plan the City is trying to push this November.  We're being asked to pay more taxes for transportation, parks, educational facilities...yet again...but what is our past history of spending. 

And THEN City taxpayers get attacked AGAIN for being cruel and selfish.  To oppose this homeless measure is being conflated with not caring about the homeless--which itself is a cruel and selfish argument not against those who are questioning this initiative, but against those who are completely oblivious to the City of Los Angeles' horrible history on how its past homeless issues-related spending has gone. 

So City taxpayers have to endure being attacked both with more taxes, and then morally pummelled and bullied into spending more taxes--despite a horrible history on how they were spent in the past--and therefore get attacked again. 

2) Good planning, and good policies, and good representation, will lead to the acceptance of more taxes and new City initiatives...but the converse is certainly true as well.  Bad planning and policies and ignoring the voters/taxpayers won't sit well when they're being asked to do more...and more...and more...and more! 

One of the best reasons I support individuals like CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin is that he takes his own credibility and representing the Westside very seriously...and it is certain that he will bridge the voters, the City workers, and developers into doing the right thing. 

It was Mike Bonin, and others, who are leading the fight to avoid LAX from smashing a few critical hundred feet into Westchester and threatening the safety, traffic and infrastructure of the entire region.  Others on the City Council caved in to the overreaching of LAX, some with better intentions than others--but poor Planning is poor Planning. 

But NO ONE wants, or will ever put up with, poor Planning--particularly when it's almost certainly illegal, threatens neighborhoods, the economy, and both the environmental safety and quality of life solely for the purpose of making a few very rich and connected individuals more rich. 

Everyone with a conscience and a brain wants affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and enhancement of our commercial corridors--but trashing neighborhoods to do that?  No--it's NOT acceptable. 

It's NOT acceptable on the Westside, the Eastside, in the Valley, or South Los Angeles. 

Whether it's an amazingly by-right project on Venice Blvd. in the Westside that is several stories higher than other buildings for miles around, and with fewer parking spaces than units, merely because the City of Los Angeles has grossly and immorally misinterpreted state affordable housing laws ... 

... or whether the gigantic and out-of-character Cumulus skyscraper in South/Mid-City Los Angeles is being promoted along the Expo Line near the La Cienega station... 

...illegal, immoral, environmentally-unsafe and neighborhood-destroying mega-projects are NOT acceptable to a City or County that voted for more transportation options to CATCH UP, NOT WORSEN traffic, and to IMPROVE, NOT DESTROY neighborhoods.   

3) Be they black, white, brown, or yellow taxpayers, NO ONE should be a slave to a Downtown Planning Politburo-like system gone amok.  And when the taxpayers and voters get stepped on too much, they'll have to face the Hobson's choice of either taking more abuse or screaming NO!!! to new tax initiatives just to make their elected leaders be heard. 

The Casden project was a horrible poison pill for Expo Line supporters in the Westside, and the Cumulus project was a horrible poison pill for Expo Line supporters in the Mid-City/South L.A. region.  

And "by-right" rules to the otherwise-venerable goals of affordable housing and transit-oriented development, but which establish projects and development that do anything BUT achieve those goals while making a few cruel and scurvy developers richer, is just plain WRONG. 

I am not the only transit advocate in agony over whether to promote Measure R-2 or not this November, because more sales taxes are needed to operations of mass transit, fixing our streets, and repairing our infrastructure--but "feeding the beast" is anything but acceptable. 

What is particularly sad is that the aforementioned Councilmember Mike Bonin, and former Santa Monica City Mayor Denny Zane have an EXCELLENT and VERY CREDIBLE record on past and planned-future spending of transportation funds, and on acknowledging what is and isn't real transit-oriented development. 

But they risk losing, and WE risk losing, a very necessary initiative (Measure R-2) if it will only result in empowering the developers and "the 1%" while disempowering the rest of us and consigning our City into a living hell...to which only the option of moving is available. 

To the Mayor, the City Council, the Board of Supervisors, and to our state and federal electeds: 

1) Stop attacking taxpayers with poorly-conceived and nontransparent spending initiatives, because they will threaten the ones that ARE well-conceived and transparent. 

2) Stop attacking taxpayers for being cruel and selfish when, in fact, they are anything BUT...although those doing the attacking are likely those who truly merit the monikers of "cruel" and "selfish". 

We have a City to save, and you're killing our ability to save it.

 

(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 protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

 

LA PROTEST WATCH--A sober New York Times headline last weekend described what many assume has been a dramatic change in fortune for Black Lives Matter, the de facto civil rights movement of the day. “Black Lives Matter Was Gaining Ground,” it read. “Then a Sniper Opened Fire.”

The story outlines how, since 2013, BLM has slowly but steadily built national support for its in-your-face protest tactics and its relentless message that African Americans have borne the brunt of police brutality, often fatally, for far too long. Against the odds, BLM and its larger critique of American racism have gone mainstream and become a de rigueur topic in circles ranging from celebrities to presidential hopefuls. The most recent fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, were among the most shocking and egregious of many such killings captured on camera in the last three years, including the high-profile shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.

These and other images were galvanizing the national conscience, much the same way as images of civil rights protesters being abused by police stunned the public in the ‘60s. But last week, when a black, military-trained sniper killed five Dallas policemen at the tail end of a peaceful BLM protest in that city, this national support allegedly stalled; in its place is a BLM backlash that has emboldened public figures like Rudy Guiliani to declare that by focusing exclusively on black lives, the organization is inherently racist. The question posed by the New York Times and other mainstream media is how, or even whether, BLM will survive.

The criticisms of BLM, especially accusations of racism, are not new. But the Dallas shootings instantly moved such criticism from the background to the fore, giving Guiliani and other pro-police types full license to characterize BLM as counterproductive and even dangerous—one pointed accusation is that in stoking black dissatisfaction, BLM is actually responsible for the deaths of the Dallas cops.

BLM activists have for their part rejected the backlash, as well as the narrative that their cause now hangs in the political balance. National protests against police violence have continued unabated, including in Los Angeles, where the rate of questionable shootings of black people by police is higher than in any other big city. The BLM backlash seems to have actually increased participation in protests. 

“Of course people who have power want to say what we’re doing is divisive, but what’s divisive is killing black people,” says Melina Abdullah, a key BLM organizer and professor of Pan African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. “State-sanctioned violence is the issue.”

Abdullah adds that the group that convened on Sunday at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood for a march numbered in the thousands; typically it would be about 200 people. She says the show of force speaks to the urgency of the cause of police reform and racial justice – an urgency that’s growing, not diminishing.

Akili, a fellow BLM activist and project coordinator for Corporate Accountability International, agrees with Abdullah that the Dallas shootings, tragic as they were, cannot obscure the real, deeply historical problems of inequality that have animated the movement from the beginning. “The two items are separate—the shooting in Dallas, and our demands for justice,” says Akili, who goes by one name. “These two things are not related, but we’re connecting them. That’s wrong. [Sniper] Micah Johnson was a deranged individual and we are not accountable for that. You can’t paint all black people with the same brush, but that happens all the time.” Especially when it comes to acts of violence.

Coincidentally, or appropriately, Los Angeles has become a hotbed of protest this past week. The Sunday night march in Inglewood shut down the 405 Freeway near LAX airport. On Tuesday, protesters were visibly angered by the Los Angeles Police Commission’s ruling that the 2015 fatal shooting of Redel Jones, a 30-year-old black woman who allegedly charged officers with a knife, was in policy. Jones was one of 36 people killed by the Los Angeles Police Department last year. After having swarmed City Hall, only to be refused entry, protesters are now enacting an “occupy” campaign; Abdullah says she and others will stay in the streets until LAPD chief Charlie Beck is fired. They will stay, she says, until that goal is achieved. No more negotiating.

It could very well be a long haul, with long odds for success. Abdullah is undeterred. “It’s summer,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.”

(Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles journalist whose posts regularly appear on KCET’s SoCal Focus blog. Her book, Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line, is published by University Press of New England. This column was posted most recently at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

 

DECISION TIME--Thirty-one years ago, Kevin Cooper was sentenced to death by a California court for the brutal murder of four people in a ranch house in Chino Hills, a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles.

The bodies of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and a family friend, 11-year-old Chris Hughes, were all found stabbed to death. Josh Ryen, the couple’s eight-year-old son, managed to survive the attack.

From the start, Cooper’s case has been besieged with controversy: Cooper has steadfastly maintained his innocence; the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department destroyed and concealed important evidence; and the case was the first to make use of then-new DNA testing. One 9th Circuit Judge went so far as to write that Cooper “is either guilty as sin or he was framed by the police.” In a scene seemingly taken straight from The Making of a Murderer, there are allegations that the police planted physical evidence implicating Cooper and concealed statements from eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen three white men leaving the crime scene on the night of the murders. 

While no definitive evidence has been found to confirm Cooper’s guilt, he remains on death row. That’s because the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 constrains his ability to present new evidence. The AEDPA, passed during Bill Clinton’s administration, was one of a number of laws and regulations designed to prevent what were seen as an unending string of appeals afforded to those facing execution, particularly those who were claiming innocence as a result of newly discovered evidence.

But even judges involved in Cooper’s case have expressed doubt as to his guilt: One judge on the 9th Circuit called the ruling “wholly discomforting.” In 2009, the 9th Circuit denied en banc review of Cooper’s case, and the powerful dissent, joined by four other judges, begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

Cooper is one of 747 people on California’s death row, and one of the 16 who have now exhausted all of his appeals. He faces execution if the backers of the (confusingly named) new pro-death penalty initiative, California Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, have anything to do with it.

Amid declining support for the death penalty across the nation — 19 states have eliminated it entirely, and 2015 saw a record low in the number of death sentences and executions doled out — there’s been a joint endorsement by the California District Attorneys Association, law enforcement, and a majority of prosecutors across the state to enact the CDPRSA. They argue it will fix the death penalty.

That’s a potentially major shift in a state where more people on death row die from suicide than have been executed, and where more inmates have died of natural causes (60) than have been executed (13) since 1978. (Visiting San Quentin’s death row in 2015, the Los Angeles Times described a harrowing scene of wheelchairs lining the hallways.) Meanwhile, death row has cost California taxpayers $4 billion since it was reinstated in 1978. A Los Angeles Times story describes at least 20 death row inmates who are likely “permanently incompetent” — deemed to be unqualified for execution because of mental illness.

While the CDPRSA is being hailed by some as a panacea to prison bloat, there’s simply no research to support the notion that speeding up executions will save money—money that could be better used to solve cold cases or fund public defenders.

The death penalty in California has been headed toward extinction for a long time. Reinstated in 1978, death sentences, while technically legal, have been trapped in a morass of case law, further exacerbated by the unavailability of the execution drugs and the desperate attempts by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to write a new lethal injection protocol that survived the challenges of advocacy groups. As a result, no one has been executed in California since 2006.

With the exception of a few outlier counties, death sentences have gone down across the United States. Last year saw the lowest number of death sentences and executions in the last two decades. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were 49 death sentences issued in the U.S. in 2015, 14 of which were in California, more than any other state. (Texas, long a staple of the “death belt,” had only two.) These 14 death sentences were not evenly distributed throughout the state — Riverside County alone had eight.

There’s simply no research to support the notion that speeding up executions will save money.

Though California hasn’t executed anyone in a decade, certain counties in California continue to sentence people to execution at disproportionately high rates. As legal expert and senior researcher at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice’s Rob Smith explains, these outlier counties account for almost all of the death sentences in the U.S. It so happens that five of these counties are in California — Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Kern.

Kern, Orange, and San Bernardino counties have produced more death sentences than the three most death-loving Texas counties, despite having fewer people. Riverside County, which is home to just 6 percent of California’s population, has produced over 50 percent of last year’s death sentences, more than Los Angeles County, which has over three times as many people. Most experts argue that these death sentences are the result of overzealous prosecutions, not increased crime.

So, is the CDPRSA a ploy to cement Southern California as the new death belt?

The immediate risk posed by the CDPRSA is that innocent people will be executed. Three men have been exonerated from California’s death row since its reinstatement. And while the district attorney of San Bernardino, Michael Ramos (who is sponsoring the initiative and is running to replace Kamala Harris as attorney general of California), told me that “California has never executed an innocent person,” those who know the Tommy Thompson case might disagree. Thompson, who was convicted in 1984 in Orange County largely on the basis of snitch testimony, went to the execution chamber with many people still asserting his innocence. And, despite evidence to the contrary, Ramos remains similarly convinced of Cooper’s guilt.

Supporters of the CDPRSA argue it will save money and help victims — namely, by double-celling death row inmates and saving on their health care and other housing expenditures. But there’s little evidence to support this argument. In fact, there’s reason to think the initiative will cost more money than is currently being spent on death row, because it moves death cases to the front of the docket, pushing out other cases and jamming courts.

Further, the $4 billion that has been spent on death row has come at the cost of other public-safety provisions, particularly in the counties that seem to favor executions the most. In 2010, the California Supreme Court held that at least 18 cases in Riverside against people accused of felonies and serious misdemeanors were dismissed because of the “fault or neglect” of the county government; the new death penalty initiative would seem to further strain a system that has already proven insufficient.

There is also little to no reason to think that victims’ families benefit from a death sentence. Take the case of Scott Dekraai in Orange County — if the prosecutors there gave up the death penalty, the case would be over because no one questions Dekraai’s guilt. Instead, the Orange County district attorney’s pursuit of a death sentence, in light of substantial police and prosecutorial misconduct, just means the case will be stalled for decades. “Stop the madness. Take the death penalty off the table and end all the appeals, all the court appearances,” a victim’s sister said in the local press.

Rather than creating justice, speeding up the death penalty increases the risk of a dreadful mistake, all to satisfy a handful of prosecutors who should be focused on following the law, not making it. Courts will be blocked up and costs will increase. And while the Supreme Court decided not to take up the issue of whether the death penalty itself violates the 8th Amendment, Justice Stephen Breyer has given hints that he is watching the issue closely.

California’s showdown on whether the death penalty should be resuscitated will indeed be an interesting battleground to watch.

(Jessica Pishko writes for excellent Pacific Standard Magazine  … where this piece originated.)

-cw

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Since the petition to recall Councilmember Krekorian was approved on March 29, the activists at Save Valley Village have been hard at work collecting enough signatures prior to the upcoming July 26 deadline. If the petition gathers enough signatures, the recall vote would trigger a special election. 

I sat down with a member of Save Valley Village for an update on the fast approaching deadline. Where does the group stand on the petition effort and what is the pulse in the neighborhood? 

“A day does not go by where we do not receive at least one e-mail from a constituent eager to sign. Everyone has a personal experience of being ignored by the council office, frustrated by over-development, and vanishing character and culture,” shared the spokesperson for the group. “People are still reaching out to us wanting to do what they can to remove Krekorian from office.” 

The petition, she says, has appealed to an “extraordinary cross-section of voters, wealthy homeowners, elderly pensioners, professional people, blue collar workers, immigrants, homemakers, artists, small business owners, renters, students -– residents of every imaginable cultural and religious background, across the socioeconomic spectrum.” 

However, she adds, “A number of people were afraid to sign the petition for fear of retaliation. Council members are not permitted to view the signature sheets, yet people feared they would be singled out. They feared the possibility that getting their request fulfilled in the future would somehow be compromised – as if those requests are getting fulfilled now. This is indicative of the lack of confidence in the integrity of our city systems.” 

“A woman was promised a stop sign by Krekorian who was running for office in his first election – in 2009. She would rather continue waiting for a response from his office, over seven years later, than sign a piece of paper that would help get her the appropriate person elected to get her stop sign and be done.” 

The petition movement has brought together many people, affording the grassroots group the opportunity to further grow its database of residents committed to preserving the character and culture of the community. 

With about two weeks to go, petitions are still circulating throughout the neighborhoods. The group had hoped to get the signatures in prior to the July 26 deadline to leave room for collecting additional signatures as needed. 

As indicated by the graphics below, the response has been mixed between those who “didn’t have time,” “needed more information,” and signed, as well as a handful who weren’t sure who Krekorian was. A second survey noted over 52% percent of those asked had signed.

 

 

No matter the outcome, the Save Valley Village spokesperson notes, “There is nothing in the Election Code preventing voters from filing another Petition to Recall. We have learned a great deal from the process and have a good handle on the Pulse of Council District 2 – which is more than we can say for our Council Office.”

 

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

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