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EASTSIDER-When I grew up, we had a whole bunch of automakers in the US, mostly based in Detroit. One heck of a lot of jobs, mostly in America. That ended with the full-on onslaught of the Global Economy, which we are told is “good for us” and somehow produces a better free market which should make us all sing hosannas and clap with joy. 

I still remember the television pronouncement of President Bill Clinton as he told us all to get over the idea of working for one employer and retiring on their pension. We lived in the new, competitive, global economy and we needed to get used to it and be willing to train, and retrain, for a bunch of different jobs during our working life so that we too, could become competitive. Or some such horsepuckey. 

So here’s my poster child for “how’s that workin’ for ya?” Let’s talk about airbags. You know, the ones that are in virtually every car these days, made overseas by the Takata Corporation, a veritable shining example of global competitiveness and its outcomes. 

These devices were so cost competitive on a per unit basis that they created close to a monopoly: no one else could compete with their prices. After all, if car companies can save a few cents per unit on every car they make, then they should do so. Then add all that up and “hurrah” – it’s a shining example of global competitiveness in action. 

But it is also a prime example of what happens when a system goes wrong. The simple timeline of the airbag problem and efforts to fix it shows us how incapable our system is in actually dealing with global problems of this magnitude. Here’s Consumer Reportstake on it. 

And this gift just keeps on giving. I own a Toyota and was overjoyed to be greeted by this headline last week: “A second airbag supplier SNAFU hits Toyota, 1.4 million cars recalled.” 

Seems to me that all this points out some pretty serious flaws in the wonderful “global economy” theory. When things go wrong, no one knows the magnitude of the problem for a long time because the chain of how it has occurred is murky, complex, and has happened over a long period of time. The company on the hook is simply unable to fix the problem for every vehicle, because, in truth, doing that all at once would make them go bankrupt. So too bad for all of us and our cars. But we still go through these tortured exercises about how the government is somehow responsible for figuring out what to do. It’s a huge mess and coping with it is beyond the ability of any one of these global giants. Plus, the car manufacturers can’t take the hit all at once either. 

Remember, one of the upsides of the old “inefficient” economy was a certain amount of redundancy. There were usually a fair number of parts manufactured so that, if one messed up, there were quick fixes or alternatives. In fact, often a manufacturer would step up and actually make the part if necessary. Our global system, in contrast, tends to rely on a “just in time” assembly process with pieces coming on a slow boat from China. The old system had the advantage of redundancy, as well as being close to home -- and oh, by the way, providing jobs for us. 

The financial services industry could care less about this because they are the primary beneficiary of the global economy. They’ve already taken in their money and have it lodged in institutions all around the world, able to move their profits at the click of a button at the speed of electrons. 

By financing these deals with a massive amount of highly leveraged debt, they have made tons of money which they and their corporate partners can hide overseas to evade US taxes. If one of the deals goes bad, some investors (like your and my 401-k plans) get hit. However, the corporate types along with their profits have moved on, bearing no responsibility. 

In the meantime, people die. Also, a heck of a lot of folks in the United States have lost their jobs, with most of the manufacturing losses permanent. There is a direct correlation between the so-called free trade deals and job losses for us, and it’s not based on news media hype. Even the New York Times gets it. 

If you want to really know the details, check out the 55-page research paper referred to in the Times article here.  

Where does all this leave you and me? How about we consider less globalization and more local jobs? How about actually reigning in “Too Big to Fail” banks? Of course, I wouldn’t hold my breath with the two presidential candidates we have, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

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

THE CITY-The illustrious attorney Mickey Kantor of the mega law firm Mayer Brown formed a fancy-smancy committee of poobahs back in 2013 to figure out what was wrong with the City of Los Angeles. Contrary to the proclamations of our new mayor that he had revitalized everything, this gaggle of self-appointed VIPs discovered that the City was going to rack and ruin. It wrote: 

“Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline.” 

When time rolled around to fix the problem, the 2020 Commission became the Zero Zero Commission. It had nothing. 

Now, we read about all sorts of solutions in the LA Times, LA Weekly and CityWatch. Borrow $1.2 billion to build homes for the people we just made homeless by tearing down their homes. Or, better yet, how about a $120 billion tax increase for more subways, when, with each billion dollars we spend on transit, a smaller percent of the public actually uses mass transit? 

The cause of the City’s ruin can be viewed three times a week on TV. All we have to do is tune to the City Council’s live feed or to Channel 35 and we can watch criminality in action. Mickey Kantor is right: the City of Los Angeles is in decline, but there was no reason for him to keep the origin of our municipal woes a secret. His commission just lacked the guts to admit the truth. The Los Angeles City Council operates under an unlawful vote trading pact which Penal Code 86 criminalized a decade ago in 2006. 

The vote trading pact is the old “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch my back” trade-off. No councilmember will vote “No” on any project in another councilmember’s district. In return, no councilmember will vote “No” on any project in his or her district. As a result, any project which a councilmember places on the City Council agenda unanimously passes. They’ve got a 99.9% unanimous passage rate. 

This is not passage by a mere majority vote – this unlawful “voting pact” requires that every single councilmember who is present must vote “Yes” every single time. It does not matter how many laws a project may break -- it gets unanimous approval. It does not matter how many millions of dollars in gifts the developer gets -- there is unanimous approval. It does not matter if the city treasury cannot pay for roads or sidewalks because the developers are draining the coffers. Each project gets unanimous approval. The overriding concern of the City Council is that each and every council member has every one of these special deals with his special friends unanimously approved. 

Of course, almost nothing works in the city, and naturally we have too little money for pension funds, streets or paramedics. Yet, the councilmembers always get unanimous approval for whatever gifts they want for their special friends – no questions asked. Literally, no councilmember ever asks another council member if giving millions of dollars to CIM Group for 5929 Sunset is a wise idea. 

The City’s rotten core, its criminal vote trading system, continues on many fronts: 

  •  If a councilmember’s buddy wants to construct twin skyscrapers straddling an earthquake fault line, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  •  If a councilmember’s buddy wants $14 or $20 million for his Hollywood high rise which the courts closed down for being illegally constructed, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Krekorioan’s buddy wants to tear down Marilyn Monroe’s historic home in Valley Village three days before the Cultural Heritage Commission meets, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell wants to continue evicting the elderly, disabled and the poor from their rent-controlled apartments so his buddies can continue to create more high-end, luxury boutiques for the rich and famous, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Wesson wants all the sales tax revenue at the CIM Midtown Project to go to CIM Group and not to the City, he’s got – unanimously. 
  • If a councilmember wants the millions of dollars of hotel taxes from its Grand Hotel to go to his buddy, aka Korean Airlines, he’s got it – unanimously. 

It does not matter what project a councilmember wants or how much the project will drain the city treasury, the councilmember gets it – unanimously. 

Let’s go back to Mickey Kantor and his report from 2013. It continued: 

“As a consequence, Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept. City revenues are in long-term stagnation and expenses are climbing.” 

What is the City’s response when someone complains about the criminal vote trading agreement? The City claims that it is above the law. The City says that it is none of the courts’ business how the City conducts its internal affairs. It claims that it does not have to follow Penal Code § 86 because the Mental Processes of the councilmembers are confidential and privileged. 

The City’s claim is far more than councilmembers’ asserting the Fifth Amendment. It claims that no one may present any evidence in court from which a jury could infer that a councilmember had a criminal state of mind. King Louis XIV of France made the same assertion when he claimed, “L'etat c'est moi'” (I am the state). 

In line with its grandiose belief, the City claims that the State of California has no power to enforce its laws setting the limits on how cities may govern themselves. The State can pass all the laws it wants, but the City denies that the courts have the right to adjudicate whether the City is following the law. 

The City claims that it is solely a matter of politics, and courts may not hear cases that involve politics. The fancy word for this weird idea is “justiciable.” The City asserts that the question of whether or not city councilmembers engage in criminal vote trading is a non-justiciable issue. It is not the court's role “to dictate the manner in which councilmembers choose to vote.” The City asserts that the courts are impotent in the face of this massive, decade’s long criminal vote trading agreement that has brought disaster upon the City.

So now, you know why the 2020 Commission turned tail and ran away. The City insists that the only law it has to follow is the law it wants to follow. In fact, the City claims that it does not even have to follow its own rules and procedures. Why? Because the courts may not second guess what the city actually does. 

So we Angelenos can forget about exalted commissions. We can forget about the Neighborhood Councils or submitting our comments to challenge construction projects. We can forget about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. We can forget about everything because the fix is in. 

The role given to us Angelenos is simple – approve hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds, rate hikes, and tax increases so that each city councilmember has an endless supply of money to dole out to his friends.

 

(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA WATCHDOG--In August, the Los Angeles Times awarded Mayor Eric Garcetti a C for his performance during his first two years in office.  While Garcetti received a B+ on his Vision, his overall ranking was dinged by a C- on Leadership and D on Political Courage. 

Unfortunately for all Angelenos, the “smooth on the podium” Garcetti has not shown leadership or political courage when addressing our cash strapped City’s budget, its lunar cratered streets, its massive $15 billion in unfunded pension liability, and its antiquated management information systems. 

One of the major financial goals of the City over the past decade has been to eliminate its Structural Deficit, where the growth in expenditures (primarily personnel costs – salaries, benefits, and pension contributions) exceeds the increase in tax revenues.  And of course, Garcetti pledged to eliminate the Structural Deficit as part of his Back to Basics program where the City would “live within its financial means.” 

But the political rhetoric is not consistent with reality as the City is now projecting a cumulative four year deficit in the range of $300 million, in large part because of a new labor agreement with the City’s civilian unions. This deal with the campaign funding management of the civilian unions turned a projected surplus of $68 million in 2020 into a deficit of $100 million, a negative swing of $168 million. 

This $300 million cumulative deficit does not include any money for the City’s ambitious homeless initiative, the systematic repair of our lunar cratered streets, the proper funding its pension plans and management information systems, the “goal” of hiring of 5,000 new employees, or any new labor contracts for the City’s 32,000 employees. 

However, these deficits are very difficult to comprehend as projected revenues over Garcetti’s first eight years (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2021) in office are anticipated to increase by 35%, or $1.6 billion.  This shows that our City has a spending addiction, a problem that the mayor has refused to address.  

Garcetti’s lack of leadership and political courage was evident by the fact that he was missing in action when the LA 2020 Commission recommended two finance related reforms.  These reforms included the adoption of a three year budgeting cycle and the establishment of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our city’s precarious finances.  

The LA 2020 Commission also suggested the formation of a Commission on Retirement Security to review, analyze, and make recommendations to stabilize our City’s seriously underfunded pension plans.  As it is, the financial demands of the City’s two pension plans threaten to devour our City’s future and burden the next two generations of Angelenos with tens of billions of obligations. But where was our Back to Basics mayor? 

The Mayor has also failed to develop a comprehensive operational and financial plan to repair and maintain our streets, some of the worst in the nation.  At the same time, the City receives a kickback of over $200 million a year from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help maintain our streets and transportation systems.  Instead, our mayor is crowing about fixing 2,400 miles of streets a year.  But this pothole filling strategy is just a band aid that does not address our thousands of miles failed streets and neglected alleys.  

Garcetti tell us that he wants LA to be the best run big City in America.  But this is not in the cards unless the City is willing to devote the significant resources to update City Hall’s antiquated management information systems with new enterprise software systems that are necessary to run complex organizations in this ever changing world.  

Mayor Garcetti has been blessed by an improving economy that has resulted in a huge increase in revenues.  But he has squandered this opportunity to stabilize the City’s finances by failing to address the Structural Deficit, our failing infrastructure, our seriously underfunded pension plans, and our antiquated management information systems. 

Mayor Garcetti has failed us and as a result, he has flunked Budget and Finance and deserves the failing grade of D. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected].)

-cw 

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The Fourth of July, like many holidays, has lost some of its luster as a patriotic paean to independence. We think of barbecues and pool parties, fireworks and, if we’re lucky, an extra day off. It’s the centerpiece of summer, flanked by Memorial Day and Labor Day. 

We sometimes forget that the Fourth represents more than a burger on the grill and watermelon. The holiday celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Two-hundred and forty years ago, the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves part of the British Empire. Two days later, they called themselves a new nation, the United States of America. 

The founding fathers present at the First and Second Continental Congress had guts. They didn’t like how Great Britain was treating the colonies and they were willing to do something. 

When I hear from Angelenos gathering forces to solve a problem in our city, I think about the founding fathers. Whether the issue is the influence developers wield on City Council, unfettered development, gentrification, homelessness, the lack of restrictions on sober living facilities, or even the plight of migrating birds if a three-day concert should be held in the Sepulveda Basin, citizens throughout the city are fully committed to making a difference to change the course. 

It’s easy to feel powerless against what we perceive as well-funded political machines and interests with deep pockets. Does each one of us really have a voice? What I see when I attend meetings in living rooms or meeting areas is that, gathered together, our voices can be loud enough to be heard.

So, in honor of Independence Day, use your voice at the ballot box by joining with neighbors and other concerned citizens to work on an issue you wish to change, and even by commenting on an article you’ve read. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedoms to vote, to assemble, and to speak out against injustices. Together, we can make a difference.

 

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

GUEST WORDS--"(T)he Metro plan itself, looks good on paper. It’s missing one critical element though, which is a transit system to California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Of even more concern though, is the lack of legal guarantees in the plan. The plan is built on trust, and unfortunately I do not think Valley residents trust Metro to follow through." -Richard Close

Metro’s sales tax expenditure plan, now commonly referred to as Measure R2, is scheduled to be considered by the entire Metro board June 23rd.  If approved, Metro’s expenditure plan—coupled with an evergreen provision that obviates the need for Metro to ever come back to the voters—would then be on the November ballot. Serious concerns are being raised by reputable Valley leadership that the San Fernando Valley is not receiving a fair share of the proposed funding resulting from passage of new sales tax. As one of the Valley’s most recognized and tenured leaders, what are your thoughts on Metro’s Draft Expenditure Plan?

The people of the San Fernando Valley realize that they have not received a fair share of the money that has been raised through the original Measure R sales tax increase for rapid transit. Of the 88 rail stations in the County, the Valley only has 2. In the prior ballot measure, we were promised a number of light-rail lines, and those never were built. Therefore, Valley residents are very skeptical of the newly proposed Metro plan.

That said, the Metro plan itself, looks good on paper. It’s missing one critical element though, which is a transit system to California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Of even more concern though, is the lack of legal guarantees in the plan.  The plan is built on trust, and unfortunately I do not think Valley residents trust Metro to follow through.

In the original Measure R, they raised our sales taxes but we received very little. Now, they want to raise the sales tax to 9.5% with “commitments”, not legal requirements.

I want to see the Measure pass. But without legal guarantees, Valley residents will not vote for the measure in November and it will not get the 2/3 vote needed to increase the sales tax. 

As one who has been in the room when reaching consensus is necessary what does Metro need to do to entice the San Fernando Valley voters to support by a super majority Metro’s new Sales Tax Measure R2?

Before the Metro Board vote next Thursday it is necessary to change the plan so that what is promised on paper is legally binding. Secondly, they have to put more programs and funding into the San Fernando Valley because we have not received our fair share for the last twenty years. For example, where are people to park to use the transit lines. In the Valley, we need adequate parking to encourage more use of the system. 

It is time for the Valley to get their fair share of rapid transit projects and take part in the transformation that is occurring in other places in the county.

Who are the Valley stakeholders and whom should Valley residents turn to for guidance on this issue? Who, essentially, is looking out for the Valley?

The transportation leaders for the Valley are Senator Robert Hertzberg, former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and former Assemblyman Richard Katz. These are the community leaders that are working to protect the Valley.  Without 2/3s Valley support in November, the Metro plan is dead. 

(Richard Close, President of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, for nearly four decades has been a well-recognized San Fernando Valley (SOHA) civic advocate. This piece was posted originally at the Planning Report.) 

-cw

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Has Loretta Sanchez given up?

Given how much ground the U.S. Senate candidate has to make up on Attorney General Kamala Harris, what on earth was Rep. Sanchez doing visiting Spain on a recent trade mission?

There will be plenty of time to visit that fascinating (and even more stalemated than the U.S.) country after the November elections. Congresswoman, you’d be very welcome to join me at the 2016 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in San Sebastian, November 16-19.

But if you’re running for Senate from 30 points down, it’d be good to spend every possible minute in California.

Just compare Sanchez’s profile with that of Lt.. Gov Gavin Newsom, whose gubernatorial election isn’t until 2018. Newsom is making news almost every day. Part of that is because he’s involved in two initiative campaigns, on guns and marijuana. Of course, come to think of it, that’s a strategy that Sanchez, who needs to be better known, should have adopted herself.

The timing of the Spain trip was awful. With the presidential nominees decided, these weeks before the conventions offered an opportunity for Sanchez to get more media coverage.

Tt this point, it would be nice just to be present and show any sign of life. The case for Sanchez was supposed to be that she’s a fighter. California, with only 2 senators to represent 39 million, needs a non-stop fighter, trying to achieve some balance in a U.S. senate stacked against the Golden State. Spending critical campaign time in Spain raises awful questions: does Sanchez understand what the job requires? And does she really want it?

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

-cw

POLITICS LA--Among the British-inflicted “repeated injuries and usurpations” spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, none holds greater significance for Angelenos than does the English king’s crime of erecting “a multitude of New Offices” and sending “hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Could the Framers have been referring to anything other than the Enforcement Division of LA City’s Ethics Commission? While the chronology doesn’t scan, have a listen to the audio recording of the recent campaign finance “proceeding” against longtime Neighborhood Council member Kelly M. Lord, and you’ll know what we mean.  

As we touched upon in an earlier CityWatch piece, Kelly Lord was last month wrongly convicted at the hands of Ethics Enforcement Director by Sergio Perez of campaign violation so tortured in design, so poorly cobbled together, and “out from left field” as to be meaningless. All for a 2011 City Council election in which Mr. Lord raised just $4,000 and got trounced by City Council member Mitch Englander. Thomas Jefferson would do back flips in his grave. The details can be found here

But for the purposes of this piece, it suffices to underline, two bigger issues with the case, which would exist even if Mr. Lord were actually guilty of a legitimate campaign violation, which, again, he was not.  To put it simply, the four ethics commissioners, Serena Oberstein, Melinda Murray, Ana Dahan, led by chair Nathan Hochman, made mincemeat of Mr. Lord's constitutional rights by holding precisely the kind of Kangaroo court persecution which colonial Americans suffered at the hands of British thugs.  

Due process requires in layman's terms, that the government can't take your possessions or prosecute you for a crime whenever they feel like it and for any reason that tickles their fancy and without a rule book for the proceedings.  The constitution makes the government jump through many hoops before they can deprive you of your property and or freedom.  

One could hardly imagine a trial with less due process than the prosecution of Kelly M. Lord. First, most of us think it is important in a trial to have a judge. But apparently not the Ethics Commission.  According to their manual, the presiding officer needs to have not a single qualification including a law degree.  According to the commission's whim, the presiding officer can be anyone of the commissioners or the commissioner's as a group, or (the only sane alternative) an actual judge provided by an organization certified and experienced at conducting administrative hearings.   

In other words, there is no requirement to have any idea what they are doing.  In the case of Kelly M. Lord it was the commission's whim to have its Vice President Nathan Hochman play the role of judge.  It just so happens that he is a lawyer, though not one with any experience as a Judge, the small wrinkle in the choice of Hochman as we've mentioned in these pages before is that he is a campaign donor to precisely the person Kelly M. Lord was running against, at the time of his alleged campaign violation: namely, City Council Member and recently trounced county supervisor candidate, Mitchell Englander (who, through no fault of his own, also happens to be the nephew of the single most successful lobbyist in the Los Angeles region.) 

Listening to Hochman, Enforcement Director Sergio Perez and the rest of the commission fly by the seat of their pants in conducting the tribunal against Mr. Lord, will shock even the most unscrupulous lawyers. At the end of the proceeding one listens with horror and disbelief as Mr. Hochman asks if there are any volunteers among the other commissioners or Ethics Commission staff to draft the official finding of fact and application of law (ie. the official judgement against Mr. Lord).  Did that volunteer need to be a lawyer, let alone a lawyer with any experience or training in such matters?  Nope.  Did the volunteer have to have the faintest idea of what he or she would be doing?  No siree, Bob!   Could the volunteer have been the receptionist at the Ethics Commission?  Why not?  If he or she is willing to pitch in. 

The friendly patter and good-natured chuckles exchanged among the commissioners during the phase of the trial at which the extent of the punishment was being mused over is sickening when one thinks about Kelly M. Lord sitting just a few feet away, twisting in the wind.  After each of the commissioners had had an opportunity to expound on his or her feelings of how much or how little to mitigate or make harsher the punishment of Mr. Lord, they satisfied themselves with an eye-popping fine of $15,900.  By comparison, Mr. Lord's campaign raised in total, barely $4,000 dollars, which brings us to the second violation of Mr. Lord's constitutional rights: Eighth amendment which prohibits the levying of "excessive fines."   

This independence day is an appropriate time to call for a complete dismantling of the enforcement division of the Ethics Commission. Violations of the law including those related to elections and campaign finance should be handled by actual professionals acting in accordance with actual rules of due process and presided over by actual judges, who actually understand the Bill of Rights.  This is not at all to say that the whole of the Ethics Commission should be shut down. On the contrary, the extensive data base it provides of campaign contributions, money spent on lobbyists, and other tools of pay-to-play is an invaluable service to the public.  

“And as for Mr. Lord, he should take that $15,900 judgement against him, show it to a civil rights lawyer, and then do with it what those fed-up citizens at Boston harbor did with all those crates of tea.” 

Happy Birthday America! Happy fourth of July! 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District, and is an elected member of the Studio City Neighborhood Council. Joshua Preven is a teacher who lives in Los Angeles.)

ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY-Governor Jerry Brown has signed another California budget essentially along the lines he proposed, once again thwarting the designs of some legislative Democrats for expansive new and renewed programs. Not that Brown hasn’t had some expansive programs of his own, especially in education, health care, energy and the environment, and new infrastructure for a sustainable new economy.

“This solid budget makes responsible investments in California and sets aside billions of dollars to prepare for the next recession,” Brown declared in a signing statement. 

That last is the tell, the reminder of why Brown has been loathe to restore a number of social welfare programs which he and predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut back in the period in which the now four-term governor inherited a $27 billion state budget deficit. Why not? Because they’re the sorts of programs that grow and grow. And Brown is more convinced than ever that the next economic downturn is already on its way. 

This, despite the fact that California’s economy during Brown’s governorship has grown in the world, trailing only those of China, the US as a whole, India, Japan, and Germany. 

Russia? Just behind California. Britain? Back in 11th place, even before the exit from the European Union which continues to roil the world economic landscape (and has just turned into a real-life ‘House of Cards’ in both the Conservative and Labour Parties.) 

Brown, who has continually, in the view of many analysts, low-balled California revenue forecasts, even doubled his new state budget rainy day fund. Though, of course, any big downturn will probably require significant future budget cuts. That’s the only actual “spending limit,” as I’ve noted with regard to other governors, which works in a democratic society, and is well within the broad constitutional powers of the California governorship. 

Brown’s longstanding and growing concern about an economic downturn reflects one of the key eventualities that could lead to the defeat of the Democrat he ended up successfully backing earlier this month in the California primary, former Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton. 

Despite a month of woe, the execrable de facto Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump only trails Clinton by, on average, a mid-single digit margin. 

The continued danger of a Trump presidency, which if anything has increased again in the wake of Brexit, added a sense of urgency to Brown’s hosting of the first ever Clean Energy Ministerial held in the US. Brown hosted what has become an annual summit of major world energy ministers in his home town San Francisco a few days before the California primary. 

The two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination also created a second global organization on renewable energy and climate change, the Subnational Clean Energy Ministerial, representing subnational governments in key energy-producing nations.    

Trump is a notorious climate change denier who has vowed to push an energy strategy which would take America back -- though hardly in the way he meant it last week when he appropriated Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan -- at least half a century, relying on coal and other fossil fuels to the extent that the cooking of the planet would not only not be reversed, it would be accelerated.

Clinton, in sharp contrast, has committed to major steps forward along the renewable energy path that California is blazing into the future. 

Brown also just wrote a powerful article in the New York Review of Books, discussing former Defense Secretary William Perry’s new book, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink.” 

In it, Brown says that Perry, a defense technology insider for more than half a century, “As much as anyone, is aware of the ways, secret and public, that technical innovation, private profit and tax dollars, civilian gadgetry and weapons of mass destruction, satellite technology, computers, and ever-expanding surveillance are interconnected. But he now uses this dark knowledge in an effort to reverse the deadly arms race in which he had such a pivotal role.” 

As it happens, Clinton takes a more conventional view, and, among other things, has long backed the NATO expansionism which has alarmed Russia since the ‘90s and may drive a new nuclear arms race as Brown and Perry point out. I’ll have more on this going forward. 

Trump, however, has views on nuclear weapons which are frankly terrifying. 

He blithely recommends an increase in nuclear proliferation and has spoken of using nuclear weapons as though they are just another military option, holding out the prospect of nuking the terrorists of ISIS. In the American system, the president has quite stunning and immediate direct power over the nuclear button. 

If Hillary Clinton is elected, there’s room for debate and improvement on nuclear weapons along the lines advocated by Perry, Brown and others. 

But if Trump is elected, there can be nothing but opposition to a profoundly dangerous mindset and temperament. And perhaps prayerful hopes for the best. 

In which case Brown’s Jesuit background might come in handy.

 

(William Bradley is a political analyst. He blogs at Huffington Post  … where this piece was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ALPERN AT LARGE--"Well, Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a Monarchy?"

"A Republic, if you can keep it."

--Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in response to a woman asking Dr Franklin this question at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as per the notes of Dr James McHenry, one of Maryland's delegates to the Convention. 

Too many of us in our "modern, enlightened era" (the quotes are there because we're becoming less modern, and certainly less enlightened) have too little knowledge of our nation's history, and know too little of the difference is between a Republic and a Democracy, of the Separation of Powers, and just basic Civics to understand the extraordinary responsibility Benjamin Franklin was talking about. 

Our Democratic Republic is NOT for the entitled, and it is not for the cowardly... 

...and here's another critical quote from Dr. Franklin: 

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." 

In other words, our nation, "the home of the Brave and land of the Free", is NOT for sissies, and NOT for those looking for OTHERS to take care of THEM. 

1) And on that note, let me APOLOGIZE for an expression I used before in a recent CityWatch article.

I used the word "civil service mentality" to describe some of the more customer-unfriendly, honesty-challenged, and both contemptible and passenger-contemptuous individuals at United Airlines, and that expression should have been "entitled".  So while United Airlines IS by far too often an entitled and customer-unresponsive entity, our dedicated City workers are, by and large, NOT. 

I am, as I have stated on numerous occasions, the proud son of a retired former engineer who worked for the City of Los Angeles Dept of Sanitation and Refuse.  Many of the current efficiencies and modern sanitation practices of our City are due to his efforts, and I grew up living a more modest lifestyle than most of my neighbors because of his fixed income. 

So I would like to give a shout-out and call for respect to my neighbors and friends working for Council members, at the LADOT, Department of Public Works, and elsewhere.  Their income is overall much much lower, and with much less upside income potential, than many of their private sector counterparts.   

Most of them deserve a raise. Like our armed forces, they preserve and defend what we all take for granted. 

2) So let's throw the blame where it belongs ... with City management. 

Remember...brains AND courage?  That means when you ignore the small businesses of Los Angeles, and ignore all the rules of economics, and not only raise the minimum wage but jack it up to the point where businesses will either similarly jack up their prices or bolt outside the City limits, it's neither brains nor courage to do that sort of thing. 

Congrats to winning over the voters and activists who understandably are infuriated about income inequality, but I just hope that Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are able to "man up" if and when their business-unfriendly policies catch up with them ...AND MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE!!!

Because just about EVERYONE wants upside income potential to go UP, and for the average Angeleno to thrive, but pandering to feel-good policies that threaten the economic future of the middle-class just for some short-term publicity is neither Free nor Brave, and it's exactly the sort of thing that our nation shucked off when we chose to give up our Monarchy and become a Republic.

Raising the minimum wage?  Great.  Doing so to a level that small businesses were screaming? Not so great. 

Most importantly, diverting Angelenos from the horrific mismanagement in the City by smacking around small business owners makes short-term political sense, but only so far as the citizenry remains blind and uneducated as to what long-term damage our Downtown leaders have done.

That government-by-fiat approach over businesses is what Socialism is all about.  Yes...Socialism. 

And for those who are enamored by that form of government, just take a look at the crime, food lines, and civic unrest of Venezuela, which once had a growing and modernizing economy. 

Because Socialism is about the most efficient way to make income inequality WORSE, not better ... but enough uneducated individuals will feel "empowered" all the way down to Economic Hell". 

To Mayor Garcetti and the City Council:  perhaps if you REALLY want to help the middle class and small businesses, you'll find a way to make utility costs cheaper, and to really, really, REALLY take on the LA Department of Water and Power, which again keeps slipping into controversy and blatant mismanagement at the expense of City residents and businesses. 

3) Democracies, and Democratic Republics, are supposed to be messy and argumentative--but it keeps tyranny from taking over. 

There's a reason why CityWatch has so many things to raise up.  We have heroes like City Controller Ron Galperin, who continues to uncover more mismanagement and downright corruption in how our City spends its taxpayer monies. 

There are also heroes like CD11 City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who works side by side with City workers to restore the credibility gap left in the wake of the Hahn and Villaraigosa eras, but who also calls out corruption and bad City policies whenever he sees them arise. 

Yet, overall, we still have a two-tiered society--the empowered and the unempowered.  We have our empowered City leaders, and those unempowered volunteer activists and Neighborhood Council leaders who don't get paid in anything but heartache and indigestion while they "dare" to promote accountability and transparency in the way public money is spent, and how the economy is promoted. 

Do we have enough meetings (like, for example, the county Metro agency does for its rail, road and other projects) in the evenings when it comes to City Planning and other critical issues...or do we just stack the deck so that paid lobbyists and hired guns can overrun the City Chambers while the citizenry is hard at work feeding their families? 

How long are we going to endure rising taxes for this, that, and any other diversion the City Council can come up with rather than demanding the City live within its means, focus on basic City services, and not treat the public's money like it belonged personally to the Mayor and City Council? 

It's good to have an Olympics, but will Angelenos get rewarded by having their sidewalks fixed within 7-10 years, and not an insulting 30 years?   

We've paid and paid and paid.  That whole "taxation without representation" thing is going on today as much as it did under King George III, and just because we don't have an institutional monarchy doesn't mean Downtown too often doesn't understand that our taxes and fees is NOT their money. 

Ultimately, it's up to each and every one of us.  We can either fight for another round of City reform (such as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which comes out next year, and demands reasonable City Planning policies consistent with City Bylaws and Environmental Law be adhered to), move out of the City whenever we can...or just live with bad government like the lower life forms we've gotten used to being. 

Do we, as American citizens, recognize that brains and courage have ALWAYS been needed, and ALWAYS will be needed, to fight for a fair and representative Democracy that empowers and truly, TRULY takes care of its citizens? 

Or will we just give in to the siren's song of decrying those who do raise these issues as "crazy" or "unrealistic"?

 

(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

GUEST COMMENTARY--Some state legislators and student leaders called a University of California advertising campaign “tone-deaf” and accused the University of a “cover-up” after they learned that the UC spent $158,000 on online ads and radio time promoting its good practices.

The advertisements were intended to defend the UC after a March state audit, which found the UC had lowered admission standards for nonresident students in order to raise revenue. In the advertisements, the University pointed to highlights from its rebuttal to the audit, including the fact that 84 percent of UC undergraduates hail from California.

The spending didn’t hurt students, and it had good intentions. But it further damaged the University’s image and was not only unnecessary but ultimately ineffective.

The state’s audit lacked sorely-needed context that residents need to be aware of when assessing their stake in and access to California’s higher education system, such as the University’s balancing act between serving in-state students and enrolling out-of-state students, who can provide three times the amount of tuition dollars and help the University’s precarious financial situation. Given this, the UC’s motivations were understandable.

However, the University seriously misread the state of public opinion when it decided that spending money on an advertising campaign was the best way to improve their standing with the public. Instead, the move brought sharp criticism from California State Assembly member Catharine Baker, who called it “tone-deaf”, and University of California Student Association president Kevin Sabo, who said the University thought it was “above transparency.”

While the money came from the University’s endowment funds earmarked for administrative purposes, this represents a serious waste of resources. UC spokesperson Dianne Klein told the Sacramento Bee that the University thought it was necessary to promote a positive message because of negative press’ power to dominate the conversation surrounding the audit.

It was a worthy effort, but the university decided to try creating this positive message through a $158,000 ad campaign instead of using its existing press corps or spending the money on community engagement. In other words, the University spent money to flood Californians with information to reflect its struggle with the state. This is certainly not on par with a cover-up, but it isn’t the wisest use of University resources.

Instead, the University should be calling attention to the root cause of the enrollment controversy: years of underfunding from the state government. Danny Siegel, Undergraduate Student Association Council president, told The Bruin just that in an interview earlier this week: “The onus is on the state for this (spending). The UC wouldn’t be enrolling so many out-of-state students if the state wasn’t underfunding UC in the first place.”

Just as the state failed to acknowledge how its declining contribution to the UC has created the need for nonresident enrollment, the UC failed to acknowledge that residents don’t just need to know more about the UC, but rather need to be better engaged with it and its issues.

(This Daily Bruin Editorial Board commentary was posted originally by the UCLA Daily Bruin.)

PET WATCH-On June 11, 7-year-old lab-pit mix “Cash” opened doors at the Pooch Hotel where his owners Talita Trygsland and Louis Angelo left him for care and disappeared into the night.

Video surveillance shows Cash opening doors and exiting onto busy Highland Blvd without any Pooch Hotel staff members in sight.  It wasn’t until the next morning when Cash’s owners went to pick him up that the staff realized he had gone missing.  

This is not the first time a pet has suffered in Pooch’s care. Last year a 13-pound French Bull dog, “Boggs” was mauled to death by another dog. Since the death of Boggs, new owners have taken over.

Paradise 4 Paw’s currently owns the Pooch Hotel along with 9 other locations across the US. Saq Nadeem, Founder and CEO financially assisted the owners of Cash in their search at the outset but, according to sources, is no longer is providing such assistance. At this point they are merely providing the use of their location as a meeting place for volunteers.  

A search campaign in such a large city is costly and includes many rolls of tape, neon posters, and color photocopies. Volunteers are needed and a Facebook page has been set up.

If you can volunteer please contact the owners or message them on Facebook. A gofundme page has been set up to help the owners cover expenses.  There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Cash.

If you see Cash, please take a photo and text to 310-497-8887 with the location.

GUEST COMMENTARY-For nearly 40 years, the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs was our local consumer protection agency. As director of the department since 2012, it was my job to make sure all consumers in LA County were treated fairly under the law. 

However, Los Angeles County is only at its strongest when both consumers and businesses thrive. So about a year ago, the County’s Board of Supervisors made an important change to both the focus and name of my department. Today, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs empowers both consumers and businesses in LA County. 

Starting this July 1, LA County will have an increased minimum wage. Businesses in unincorporated areas of LA County with more than 26 employees must pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour. 

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees will follow a staggered schedule, paying $10.50 an hour beginning July 1, 2017. The minimum wage will increase every year until 2021, eventually reaching $15 an hour. 

The County believes honest work deserves fair pay and this law will certainly boost workers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet. 

The Board of Supervisors has tasked my department with enforcing the minimum wage. If workers believe they are not being paid the correct minimum wage, they can file a claim. We will look into the claim, contact the business if necessary, and take appropriate actions to ensure businesses are in compliance. 

The County’s minimum wage law includes an anti-retaliatory measure that states that employers cannot punish workers if they file a wage claim or assist in an investigation. 

We know some business owners are concerned about what this change means for their bottom line. However, just as our department’s name suggests, we are working hard to boost Los Angeles County businesses. 

For months, my team has reached out to businesses across the County. We conducted several round-table events and went door-to-door to more than 200 businesses to educate employers about the new wage law. 

When enforcement efforts begin later this year, if a claim is filed against a business, business owners will have the opportunity to prove they’re in compliance, or to correct a violation. 

In addition, the Board of Supervisors and my department are developing new programs to help businesses succeed. The Small Business Initiative, a collaboration with several County departments, will provide workplace development programs and faster plan checks for restaurants among many benefits. The County’s Small Business Utilization plan is establishing easier ways for local small businesses to compete for millions of dollars of available County contracts. 

So when we say “Honest Work, Fair Pay,” that could mean your business getting paid, too.

Consumers and businesses thriving...it’s the LA County way.

 

(Brian J. Stiger is Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Visit dcba.lacounty.gov or call 1-800-593-8222 to learn more about LA County’s new minimum wage. This piece first appeared in PublicCEO.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

URBAN UPLIFT-Fifteen percent of the landmass of Los Angeles is streets and sidewalks. These 7,500 centerline miles of roads constitute the single largest physical element under city control, according to Lilly O’Brien, program manager of the Great Streets initiative -- a political organization staffed by trained urban planners housed in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. 

Great Streets has been working with city councilmembers, city departments like the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and nonprofit design organizations to make better use of existing city resources and infrastructure while simultaneously creating urban corridors that reflect --and hopefully economically engage -- the people who live there. The initiative ties into a national and even global push to pedestrianize underutilized swaths of the urban fabric. In design terms, the 15 streets the project has undertaken so far largely demonstrate this blend of infrastructural alignment and local identity through sidewalk installations and pop-up play spaces. 

For one day, nonprofit organization Street Beats (photo above, courtesy Street Beats) transformed the intersection of Crenshaw and Florence into a musical instrument by using bump-outs to install DJs at each corner and fashioning scramble crosswalks to look like a giant urban keyboard. Pedestrians could engage in light-pole-mounted-speaker beat battles using iPads. 

Meanwhile, on Reseda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, LA-Más attempted to transform the car-oriented environment of the sidewalk into a living room by designing the installed furniture in a late-midcentury modernist style and combining it with a painted flagstone paving pattern. (Photo left, courtesy Stacey Rigley/LA-Más.) As Lilly O’Brien said, “these are designed to be places that could both support a communal space and a local economy.” 

“Our installations weren’t supposed to blend into the fabric; they were supposed to live in the in-between of the sidewalk, between what’s legal and illegal, between what’s private and public,” architect Elizabeth Timme, the co-executive director and cofounder at LA-Más said. According to Timme, her boundary-blurring work made it clear that the street was a pedestrian space, not a vehicular space, while also creating a far more accessible and welcoming area. 

Kounkuey Design Initiative has been working on a pilot “Play Streets” program for the initiative that closes off thoroughfares in South LA to vehicles and then introduces varying amounts of infrastructure to see “how play gets activated,” cofounder and executive director Chelina Odbert said. 

She’s discovering that regardless of the amount of equipment introduced into the environment, “people will play no matter what; closing down the street does the trick tangentially.” After securing the participation of LADOT and the Great Streets initiative, Odbert enlisted the help of “play experts” (i.e. kids) to develop the initial design concept into a workable reality, introducing everything from Hula-Hoops to temporary slides on reclaimed asphalt. The pilot program will run for one year, and depending on its results, may effect more permanent, citywide changes. 

This potential for broader urban change is in keeping with the scope of Mayor Garcetti’s original plan. As he told AN via email, “I launched the Great Streets initiative to energize public spaces, provide economic revitalization, increase public safety, enhance local culture, and support great neighborhoods. We are changing the culture around how we use our streets by partnering with urban designers on community-level improvements that appear hyperlocal but reverberate around our city.” 

The ongoing initiative will continue to develop and apply its findings to streets throughout Los Angeles.

 

(Julia Ingalls is a writer for the Architect’s Newspaper. This piece originated at archpaper.com.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE CITY--Is it a good idea for the City of Los Angeles to borrow so many billions of dollars that the Federal government will have no choice but to bail out the city five, ten or fifteen years from now?

From a Keynesian macro-economic point-of-view, deficit spending at the right time and in the right place can be beneficial -- spending of billions of dollars can stimulate a sluggish economy. 

Traditionally, deficit financing has been done by the Federal government during the bust phase of the business cycle. We are currently in the boom phase of the business cycle. 

Los Angeles, however, is facing an economic disaster that is not shared by other portions of the country. What was once the nation’s premier destination city has become an “exodus city,” meaning that more people are moving away than are coming here. The gross numbers of this exodus, however, can be too simplistic. We need to look at who is coming and who is not coming to LA, as well as what part of the population is leaving. 

Due to the economic down turn after 2008, the number of illegal “Mexican” immigrants declined. (People use the term “Mexican” in common parlance without regard to national origin to refer to any persons who come illegally or legally from south of the border.) People who were drawn to the US to work naturally lost their economic incentive to come here during the Great Recession. Illegal “Mexican” immigration was primarily the result of a strong economy. When our economy turned south, so too did the “Mexicans” – they went home and stopped spending money locally. And their absence made recovery much slower in Los Angeles. 

Another reason LA is becoming an exodus city is that educated Millennials who have reached child rearing age are leaving. Unlike the “Mexicans” who are easily re-attracted to Los Angeles by an improved economy, when the Millennials move away, they are unlikely to return. 

These younger people are moving to Texas, Arizona, Nevada and the Carolinas in order to have the kind of lifestyle that is being killed in Los Angeles. They’re seeking single family homes with yards in cities with new infrastructure and decent schools. If they wanted to raise their families in a small high rise near a freeway and use slow dirty mass transit, they could move to NYC or Chicago or simply stay in Hollywood. 

Back during the period of time that former Mayor Villaraigosa and Council President Garcetti were declaring war on the middle class and the single family home, other parts of the nation were creating “new Los Angeleses.” Decades ago people flocked to Los Angeles primarily for our endless single family homes and our great weather. We also had job opportunities galore. 

Families like the ones that moved to Los Angeles in the 1920's, the 50’s and the 80’s now see a different Los Angeles -- a crowded, dirty urban area dominated by a pathologically corrupt City Hall that is waging war on the very things Millennials desire the most: a single family home and a decent job. Employers see the same situation; they realize that the high cost of doing business in LA is more than the escalating taxes. 

In order to attract an upwardly mobile, family-oriented work force, there must be a decent school system. But LAUSD is one of the worst school districts in the industrialized world. It costs between $11,000 and $32,000 per year per children to send a kid to private school in Los Angeles. Employers know that they have to pay that extra cost since the only place their employees receive income is from their employers. Why would an upwardly mobile family want to penalize their children by sending them to LAUSD schools when they can move to a smaller city with decent public schools? Why would employers want to absorb the overhead of paying employees enough to cover the cost of private schools for their children? 

If, however, someone comes along and gives away billions of dollars to a particular LA business whose projects can only be done by people who live, work and spend their money in Los Angeles, the City can economically survive. One thing about a huge mixed-use project in Hollywood with 30% occupancy -- it cannot be built in China by Chinese laborers. The same is true of the Subway to the Sea that goes from DTLA to the ocean. There’s no way to export those jobs. 

As we learned from the Chinese, an economy can be kept afloat by constructing entire cities…where, incidentally, no one will live. So, is there any reason that the same game plan cannot be used in Los Angeles? Answer: No, there isn’t. It can be done here -- provided we Angelenos don’t have to pay the bill. 

Federalizing local debt so that LA can deficit finance its way out of economic disaster is much better than the old CRA system. Before we abolished the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA,) Angelenos bore the brunt of the corruption. CRA projects paid no incremental property taxes to the city and that seriously reduced the City’s operating revenues. Although LA had the legal right to spend CRA money on streets, paramedics, parks, pension contributions, etc. while Villaraigosa was Mayor and Eric Garcetti was City Council President, it chose to give the money to real estate developers. That decision to give hundreds of millions of dollars annually to real estate developers is why Los Angeles now has a crumbling infrastructure whose deterioration is far beyond our financial means to repair without tax increases. 

Under this new system to Federalize debt, the Federal government will bear the economic losses. People still think that Federal money is free and there are no economic or social costs in opening the Federal bank vaults and letting the money spill out. One thing is clear though – the more the City borrows and spends, the better the economy becomes in the short run. 

Every dollar spent by a construction worker has the same multiplier effect as the dollar spent by an aerospace engineer. NASA, however, is not located in LA, but construction workers on The Subway to the Sea have to stay and spend their wages in LA. From an economic stimulus standpoint, there is no reason that federalizing local debt will not work. 

Here are the steps: 

(1)   Borrow Billions of dollars and spend it locally. 

(2)   Have the Feds bail out Los Angeles. 

What could go wrong? 

The November 17, 2015 the HCIDLA report to the Mayor warned what can go wrong – the voters might not approve the necessary bonds or tax increases that require a 2/3 vote in order to prevail on the November 2016 ballot. 

As the HICDLA report said, it will be a massive sales job and its outcome is questionable. Thus, two advertising campaigns are under way: 

The first ad campaign pleads the plight of the homeless – who will remain homeless despite the fact that Los Angeles has plenty of empty apartments to house them. It will be important between now and the November election not to let anything reduce the scope of the homeless crisis. If people realize that there are better ways to help the homeless than giving billions of dollars to real estate developers, they won’t approve the sale of bonds. 

If ballot measures fail, the City could borrow funds from the Federal government or through smaller bond offerings and then give those funds to developers to construct apartments were a portion of the projects are for affordable housing. For example, on May 13, 2016, the City Housing Committee approved $27.6 million in bonds to provide money to give to developers for affordable housing. 

The second ad campaign is designed to convince us that we need more subways despite the fact that Angelenos shun subways and basically, the only people who use mass transit are people who have no other choice. The fact that the subways were constructed for the poor is shown by the lack of parking near the subway stations. Just take a look at the Metro Stop at Western Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. If people living in The Oaks wanted to use the subway, the nearest place to park their cars would be their own home since there is no parking anywhere near the subway station. 

Thus, the crucial first step for Los Angeles to “deficit finance” its way to financial success is to convince voters to incur billions of dollars’ worth of debt that will then force the Feds to pay our bills starting five, ten or fifteen years from now.

 

(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CITYWATCH ACTION POLL--Californians are set to decide whether to make recreational marijuana use legal, as other Western states have done, after the California Secretary of State’s office said on Tuesday the issue could be put to voters in the November ballot.

The proposed so-called “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” which is supported by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom among others, would allow people aged 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana for private recreational use and permit personal cultivation of as many as six marijuana plants.

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“Today marks a fresh start for California, as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself,” initiative spokesman Jason Kinney said in a statement.

The measure would also establish a system to license, regulate and tax sales of marijuana, while allowing city governments to exercise local control over or disallow commercial distribution within their borders.

The initiative required just over 402,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and exceeded that number on Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s office said. Secretary Alex Padilla is slated to certify the initiative on June 30.

Opinion polls show attitudes have shifted more in favor of liberalized marijuana laws since California voters defeated a recreational cannabis initiative in 2010.

California led the way in legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, with 22 other states and the District of Columbia following suit, although cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law.

Voters in four states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska - plus the District of Columbia, have gone a step further since 2012 in permitting recreational use for adults. Voters in several more states will consider similar legislation in November as well.

Opponents of liberalized marijuana laws have argued that such measures carry public safety risks and would make pot more accessible to youngsters.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco for Reuters. Posted by Huff Post.) 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-On July 14, 2016, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission will consider proposed amendments to the Baseline and Hillside Mansionization Ordinances. As explained in previous City Watch articles, a unanimously adopted City Council motion directed the Department of City Planning to revise the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance by removing bonuses and exemptions that contribute to mansionization. 

Apparently City Planning only got the first part of this message because through many months of ordinance preparation, they have gradually reverted to their tried and true model, gradually slip in mansionization loopholes, whether bonuses or exemptions advanced by real estate developers, even when opposed by nearly all neighborhood residents and organizations. 

As this showdown over the fate of LA’s neighborhoods comes closer, we can learn about the day-to-day realities of mansionization in Los Angeles, including repeated claims and the counterclaims, by examining the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District (RFA).  It is now nearly three two years old, and it contains, by the far, the toughest anti-mansionization provisions in Los Angeles, aside from Historical Perseveration Overlay Zones and several residential Specific Plans. 

Beverly Grove RFA historical lessons to date: 

  1. The ordinance provisions that the City Planning staff, alongside the City Planning Commission and the City Council added to the original 2008 Baseline Mansionization Ordinance in 2008 were billed as design enhancements that would curb the visual impact of larger houses. This claim, often advanced by architects, was that articulated front facades, stepped back second stories, breezeways, decks, and balconies reduce the harsh visual impact of McMansions. But, in practice, it was all a hoax. 

These so-called design features were nothing more than loopholes that allowed developers to increase the size of houses by 42 percent through secret ministerial decisions conducted by the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS). To this day, in fact, no one knows what loopholes LADBS used to approve building permits for the thousands of McMansions built in Los Angeles over the past decade. 

  1. When the hard data, including photographs, was presented to the City Planning Commission (CPC) for mansionization in Beverly Grove, the CPC readily conceded that the mansionization bonuses and exemptions they had celebrated five years earlier had totally failed. They even complimented Beverly Grove residents on their thorough case and approved forthwith the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District. 
  1. The Beverly Grove RFA episode then became the basis for a unanimous City Council motion directing City Planning to remove the loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. City Planning’s initial response was to take up that challenge and also fold-in the closely related Hillside Mansionization Ordinance. 

Beverly Grove practical lessons to date: 

  1. During the ten years of organizing to stop mansionization, Beverly Grove residents, including their neighborhood association, the Beverly Grove Homes Association (BWHA) never gave up. The residents and the BWHA wrote many articles for City Watch, had repeated contact with reporters and columnists at the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, and became regulars at Council District 5. They also maintained a professional demeanor and attempted to restrain any rancor towards elected officials, even in the case of former Councilmember Jack Weiss, who was in cahoots with the mansionizers. 
  1. As a result of continued reinvention or their organizing activities, the Beverly Grove community disposed of a phony pro-mansionization astro-turf organization (i.e., top down groups pretending to be grass roots associations) created by some realtors and contractors. The residents also beat back the astro-turf organization’s nuisance lawsuit. To little surprise the astro-turf group pulled up it tent and disappeared into the night the moment the City Council adopted the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District. Their POB and web-site also soon vanished. 
  1. Like all other neighborhoods in LA, the mansionizers made a host of the sky-is-falling claims about ordinances that restrict mansionization. In the nearly three years that the Beverly Grove RFA has been in force, all of these claims have been totally disproven by reality. 

The mansionizers claimed the RFA would reduce property values, but, like other RFA’ and HPOZs, local Beverly Grove home values have soared over the past three years. The only trend that can be observed is that houses next to Beverly Grove’s 75 McMansions have not appreciated at the same rate. 

The mansionizers claimed that real estate activity would stall in the Beverly Grove neighborhood, but the same realtors are still hard at work with the same door knocking, mailers, flyers, and ads. They still are shilling with form letters designed to look like hand-written notes from people who claim they want to move into the neighborhood and desperately want to buy a house. 

The mansionizers’ claim that McMansions are built by local residents who need more space has also been shown to be bogus. All of the Beverly Grove McMansions are spec houses, and no local resident demolished their house, moved into a rental property for a one or two years, built a McMansion on the suddenly empty lots, and then moved back to the neighborhood. Instead, the local residents who sold out to the mansionizers sheepishly disappeared, probably loading up moving vans with their prized possessions in the dark of cold and windy nights. 

The mansionizers claimed that McMansions are designed for large, multi-generational families, but the people buying the McMansions have the same family size as other residents. McMansions filled with large multi-generational families were just a fiction. 

Finally, the mansionizers often repeated claim that they are only building to meet a market demand has also not held up. The McMansions sell more frequently than older houses, and often sit vacant for many months with for sale signs. In some cases, the lack of demand caused builders to move into their empty houses, and in other cases turn them into party houses or short-term rentals. 

The real upshot of these lessons in that local campaigns against mansionization must charge on for years and be continually, but not arrogantly, in the face of elected officials and City Planning staff. 

A second conclusion is that the repeated claims of mansionizers are nothing more than self-serving hot air. They constantly make the same bogus Chicken Little opinions, no matter how many times they are rebutted by opponents, or, in the current case, by empirical reality. They nevertheless plod on in the hopes they can eke out a few more spec houses before a new, effective mansionization ordinance finally puts the kibosh on their slimy business model. 

Finally, a third conclusion is that any decisions to add size and bulk to a house beyond what is allowed by-right, must not be a ministerial LADBS decision, but must go through City Planning as a discretionary action.

 

(Dick Platkin writes on Los Angeles city planning issues for CityWatch. He lives in Beverly Grove, and is a Board Member of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE--Controller Ron Galperin (photo above) has uncovered a gap in the City’s cash management controls.

The audit report, covering the issuance of Proposition O bonds, makes a case for the city to hire a real Chief Financial Officer instead of parsing out finance responsibilities to a mishmash of executives who appear to have trouble communicating with each other.  

Bonds to fund various projects were issued way in advance of the commencement of actual work on projects dealing with water quality.  This finding raised a red flag and called into question the management of projects authorized under other propositions.

The net result was an average balance of $171 million in idle cash from 2010 through 2015 – idle meaning sitting in the treasury earning very little. All the while debt was serviced at higher rates. The negative margin was 1.9 points, which amounts to an average loss of $3.2 million per year. The actual loss was pegged at $54 million.

This is a loss of real dollars; the payments were unnecessary.

There is plenty of blame to go around.  CAO Miguel Santana either failed to perform basic analysis of the cash flows or did not understand the magnitude of the timing.

The Bureau of Engineering regularly failed to reasonably estimate project schedules, which led to the too-early issuance of bonds.

But there is one department that should share accountability – the Office of Finance.

According to the Office’s website:

The Cash and Debt Management Division manages the City’s cash handling policies and practices as well as the City’s relationship with our banking partner Wells Fargo Bank. This Division manages Street Improvement Bonds and coordinates other debt issuance in the City.

Antoinette Christovale served as Director of Finance/Treasurer for 16 years, which happens to span the entire time the bonds were issued. I do not know what her specific duties were, but a treasurer would ordinarily stay on top of debt service and be involved in analyzing the need and timing of bond issues.

It appears that Christovale’s department failed to identify another problem.

In an audit report issued  June 2015, Galperin discovered $500,000 in payments to Wells Fargo Bank for check printing from February 2012 to March 2015.  The City prints its own checks. 

Christovale retired in early 2016. She was replaced by Galperin’s Deputy Controller, Claire Bartels. 

While the players may change, the organizational structure that led to this embarrassing lack of due diligence is still in place.

Let’s hope Bartels and Santana ride herd on the departments charged with managing debt.

Better yet, let’s fold the Office of Finance and the CAO under an independent CFO with solid credentials. The City is an $8 Billion entity.  Only the most able executive should be trusted with its finances.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected].)

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TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--This is neither the first nor last time I will emphasize that American voters, taxpayers, consumers, or just about anyone reasonable will have a problem either paying more to get more, or being flexible and adaptable for unexpected delays or cost overruns when it comes to transportation, health care, education, the homeless, or anything else...but NO ONE tolerates being lied to or disrespected when it comes to our hard-earned and precious money, safety and time. 

As both a physician (dermatologist) and a transportation/community advocate, I believe that acting with credibility and honor is the best way to ensure that our fellow human beings are treated with respect, and that we can most likely get something in return when it's needed (like better health care and transportation spending). 

If we need more spending, then do it!  But how often is it simply a manner of spending WELL and with an operating policy of being sensitive versus tone-deaf to those doing the spending? 

After all, if the argument can be made that we need to spend more on a given priority or project, then most people will do it if they at all possibly can.  But diverting any reasonable argument or complaint with a "wordstuffing" or a suggestion that the person complaining is making an argument completely different, and completely unreasonable, than the actual argument being made just is WRONG.  And it'll backfire. 

CASE IN POINT #1:  As per my last CityWatch article, the concern and fury behind me and my family being LIED TO by United Airlines for up to three days after repeated requests, and complaining about lousy and inadequate operational management in its Midwest/Southern operations got me both: 

1) A slew of private responses stating that--yes--United really IS lousy with respect to operations and ATTITUDE towards their customers (and probably their workers, too), compared to other domestic U.S. airlines. Furthermore, American and Southwest have made advances in the domestic air commuter market because they're more efficient, and really are trying to achieve better customer service with a more professional and kind approach to their paying customers. 

2) A gaggle of trolls (probably paid and/or butthurt airline workers) who all said the same thing--that weather is something we can't avoid, and to "get used to it or don't fly".  As if I, a physician, would ever promote unsafe travel!  As if a reasonable delay of luggage arrival isn't understandably going to happen at times! 

But if United's Houston hub will be shut down by a two-hour rain storm, and the other airlines won't be, then maybe United Airlines needs to have a smackdown in the marketplace with other, BETTER airlines that actually do give a damn about their customers, and who won't lie and lie and LIE about when planes will leave and arrive, and when luggage will truly arrive and leave an airport, in a manner that distinguishes them from other competing airlines.   

Honesty is the best policy, after all...and the private sector won't tolerate inhumane treatment when there are other choices to make. 

CASE IN POINT #2:  The public sector, while it is more often than not a monopoly (and an onerous one, at that), must also treat their "paying clientele" (you know, the TAXPAYERS) with regards to honesty and transparency and respect. 

It is neither honest, nor transparent, nor respectful, to knowingly LIE through one's teeth about how the California High-Speed Rail's "competitiveness" with an air flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Those suckering the rest of us with respect to speed, cost-effectiveness, convenience, and viability of a LA/SF high-speed rail never did apologize to the taxpayers... 

...and the public relations of that entire project threatens the entire future of intercity/commuter rail, which is an endeavor that our state really MUST pursue (LINK: ).  When Governor Brown leaves office, expect a slowdown--or even shut down--of funding for the High-Speed Rail project by less rigid governors who realize that other transportation projects need funding first. 

Yet we DO need a high-speed rail, or at least higher-and-more-frequent intercity rail network in our state! 

But NOT for the LA-SF connection.  As I learned when I had to give a lecture in Bakersfield, there is NO nonstop flight to/from Bakersfield and LAX, Ontario, Orange County, Burbank or any other local possibility.  Fresno is also an obnoxious commute and problem.  My commute yesterday between my Temecula clinic and Bakersfield was by car--very inefficient, and very exhausting. 

And for THIS we should blame the CA High-Speed Rail ninnies who should have always shut their pieholes about a speed and operational impossibility between LA and SF, and who should have emphasized the inability for Central Californians to access either northern and southern California with efficiency and ease. 

If or when we get a High-Speed Rail, we will NOT have most of the commuters going from Northern to Southern CA, or vice versa--most of those commuters will be going from SF or Sacramento to Fresno or Merced, or from the LA Basin to Bakersfield. 

Already we see high ridership on the Amtrak service between LA, Anaheim and San Diego--and with more and faster trains, we'd see more.  Because it just makes sense--check out the proposed CA High-Speed Rail route

And on THIS issue, the governor is to blame--the airlines will not fly more if it's not cost-effective to go to/from Central CA...but they WOULD help with the costs if a pitch could be made to emphasize the smaller commutes that airlines can't profitably do, instead of compete with (and probably antagonize) airlines who do a pretty decent job of getting to/from Northern and Southern CA. 

CASE IN POINT #3:  No, I do NOT have a hard heart for the homeless--and I really don't know just about ANYBODY with a heart and/or brain who does.  I treat the homeless, and fight for the homeless when I can.   

So I'll keep this brief.  But if the City and County of LA wants to grab state emergency funds, and spend all kinds of money, good after bad, to address the homeless emergency before our utilities and sidewalks and basic services are funded--at the expense of the same taxpayers who are screaming for their taxes to pay for our critically-necessary infrastructure...they will fail. 

Taxpayers will revolt, and maybe not spend more on needed transportation initiatives, because they do NOT like to be disrespected.  No one likes to be disrespected.  Or lied to.  Or "wordstuffed" into saying they don't care about the homeless, or that they don't care about the infrastructure mess our government leaders got us into. 

No one knows if November will be a success or failure for the transportation initiatives our society needs to pass to deal with a half-century of underinvestment in our infrastructure (so vital for our economy, environment, and quality of life!). 

But if November IS a failure, then our government leaders will suffer the same fate as United Airlines inevitably will if it dehumanizes and disrespects and lies and diverts the taxpaying, voting public. 

I've worked with enough honest, sincere and moral leaders (LA Councilmember Mike Bonin and Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane come to mind) to know that we CAN get the right message to the voters.  But sadly enough, they're in the minority of our so-called leadership. 

And we'll all suffer as a result--because whether it's the private or public sector, it's always, always, ALWAYS management who creates a successful or failed operational business or government endeavor.

 

(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.)

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JUST THE FACTS--Those in power with little or no concern for you and your family have done it again and again and are continuing the trend of doing it one more time. I am talking about the new avalanche of tax proposals that have been approved by various forms of government with no insight as to the challenges most of us face in our daily dealings with society and the multiple layers of government that control and manipulate our lives and provide us with little in return. 

I will begin with the proposed ½ cent transit tax that was originally scheduled to run for the next 40 years. Since 40 years was not enough time to soak us of more of our hard-earned money, it was modified to … the end of time. Yes a new transit tax if approved will be on the books forever! 

How long is that going to be? Past most of our lives and onto the lives of our children’s children. That is not very nice of our generation to saddle future generations with taxes before they are even born into our society with so many taxing situations. 

This tax is proposed to enhance our region’s transportation in many ways. I like the one about the freeway enhancements. They want to use our new tax dollars to install more car pool lanes then convert then into Fast Trac lanes where you have to purchase a computer and pay per mile depending on how many passengers you have in your vehicle. We pay to build the enhancement then pay to use it. Not much of a FREEway anymore. More like a toll road like they have established in parts of Orange County and other parts of the country. 

If you recall, CalTrans spent around one billion dollars expanding the 405 freeway from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside in an effort to reduce the congestion and gridlock on the 405. Well, if any of you have driven on the 405 recently you know you still sit in your car waiting for traffic to move. The money spent was good in establishing freeway construction jobs and not much more. 

The Experts now want to try another wild and costly solution to remedy the current and continual traffic gridlock along the same area of the 405. This time it will involve a tunnel or some other process to move traffic along the corridor. The pie in the sky ideas to reduce traffic in our congested region are just that. Wishful thinking without much if any substance.   

Before you vote to add an additional ½ sales tax to city purchases for transportation enhancements, ask yourself this simple question. How often and how much do you rely on public transportation to move around Los Angeles? I imagine that most of you seldom if every use the bus or rail system serving the Los Angeles region.   Since you don’t utilize the public transportation system in Los Angeles, why vote for an additional tax. 

The transit dependent population that currently uses public transportation to move about Los Angeles will not change. It will just be more of the same. More money gone and little if any improvement for those of us that enjoy the comfort of our cars. Remember that Keyes Motors would not be a world - class car dealer if people did not purchase cars to drive around our region. 

In addition to the transit tax, there are other proposed taxes and fees to address the exploding homeless population. Namely a $1.1 to 1.5 Billion dollar bond measure or parcel tax. The City of LA has an approved $8.76 BILLION DOLLAR BUDGET FOR THE 2016-2017 fiscal year. One would think that if the Billions were spent wisely, we would not have to keep going back to the tax payers for more and more money. 

Don’t forget about your DWP fees that are all going up. They have already been approved for increases for the next few years.   

I could go on and on with the increases we are all facing on the November election ballot. My message is very clear and to the point. With a city budget of $8.76 BILLION Dollars, there is money to dedicate to the priorities in our region. NO NEW TAXES. VOTE NO in November and let our elected officials do the job we have elected them to do. Provide municipal services within the approved budget. No more fees and/or taxes!      

(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].)

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 DEEGAN ON LA- Mixing and matching the needs of guests, hosts, neighbors and the City is a challenging problem being attacked and defended from all sides, as a prospective Short-Term Housing Ordinance makes its way through the review process and into law. 

The huge black eye of “party houses” has only fueled the debate for those who do not want short-term rentals. These houses, many of which charge admission, often rent short-term just for the weekend, frequently beginning the party on Friday evening and not ending it until Monday morning. 

Ersatz country clubs by day and dance halls at night, these hillside houses are both loud and a threat to public safety when the narrow canyon roads are clogged with double-parked cars that make it impossible for emergency vehicles to pass through. When the police arrive, responding to complaints from neighbors, it’s easier to take the ticket and pay the fine then turn down the volume. Tickets are a cost of doing business. 

Help with the party house problem, though, is on the way. Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) has introduced a motion 

that will regulate party houses. It’s now with the Public Safety committee, and City Council President Herb Wesson has ordered that the Planning and Land Use committee (PLUM) also review it. It’s gotten so bad that some developers are building houses in the hills with the intention of turning them into party houses. There will be public hearings and a vote by the full city council that will lead to the Mayor signing whatever ordinance is developed into law. 

Ryu is suggesting that the strong party house laws in Newport Beach’s “Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance”, and Malibu’s “Excessive Special Events Ordinance” be viewed as best practices models. 

Party houses are the “poster children” for what can go wrong. But they are not the only objectionable elements in the booming “shared economy” paradigm – a phenomenon that has introduced the world to Uber, Airbnb, and other ways to access transportation and housing -- doing it your way.  

A hearing by the Planning Commission on June 23 did little to resolve the overall short-term housing matter, except for allowing an opportunity for the commissioners to vote for extending the number of days that a host can rent short-term – extending it to 180 days annually, double what had been proposed as a 90-day limit. While some cheered that extension, others were upset that this represents an upward trend. The Commission also considered a 15-day limit on the rental of second homes. That issue is worthy of a separate hearing and review. 

"We have seen hosts voice concerns about the proposed cap -- from the number of days to the fact that it applies to a person even if they are just sharing a spare bedroom in their home. Even with the proposed 180 days that is an increase from the original proposal of a 90 day annual limit -- when someone shares a spare bedroom, or the home in which they live -- these dont represent housing units taken off the market, but rather, the homes of middle class people trying to make ends meet,” says Glenn Gritzner with Mercury, speaking for Airbnb 

Key issues of the proposed ordinance include the types of residences permitted, registration of housing units so they can be tracked, having a cap on the number of rental days (the 180-day decision), data-sharing from rental platforms (the booking agencies) to the city so there can be monitoring and enforcement, setting and collecting fines for breaking the rules, and the collection of the city’s 14% transient occupancy tax (TOT). 

Considering that none of these elements currently exist (except the 180-day limit) it’s a huge expectation to believe this problem will have been solved in one hearing. In fact, going into the Planning Commission hearing, Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) called the proposed ordinance “half-baked”, in a letter to the Planning Commission President. 

The pros and cons include regulating what has traditionally been a unregulated mom and pop business, and accountability and standardization that applies to hosts and “platforms” -- tech-speak for online websites where you can advertise your property if you are a “host” or find lodging if you are a “guest.” 

Regulation and accountability through registration, monitoring, reporting, and taxation would go a long way to stabilizing this market before it gets really out of control. 

The simple way to get the taxes collected, offers Helen Walker, who manages several properties, is to sign up with a service like Avalara at mylodgetax.avalara.com. 

“They send a reminder every month and we just sign in to their website any time between the 1stt and 10th of the month, and report the income for the prior month. They calculate the taxes due and pay them to the tax collector and the money comes directly out of our bank account. They charge a small service fee for filing. No muss, no fuss. They automatically renew our business license each year, too. They take the burden off the websites having to report to the City, and puts the burden squarely on the property owner/manager, where it should be in the first place. What could be easier?” 

Organization like the Short Term Rental Association have mixed feelings about the ordinance. Executive Director Robert St. Genis is concerned that the process may move underground, away from any sort of standardization or quality control or accountability which are all features of the proposed ordinance. 

He adds, “There are parts of the ordinance that we like, such as TOT (transient occupancy tax) revenue payments going into affordable housing, and we support registration, and registration fees within reason, but don't agree that portals should be the policemen. The term limit of 180 nights is a job killer, completely arbitrary and accomplishing no goals whatsoever other than hurting livelihoods and killing jobs.” 

“A key component is the use secondary homes as vacation home rentals. That may need to be addressed in a separate ordinance. Many, many owners own vacation residences, and generations of families have been doing this for decades.” 

“At the end of day, this is such a complex issue that it cannot be dealt with by one piece of legislation. All agree it is not going away. So, how do we address it? We dont want to drive it underground.” 

With no controls, measuring the size of the short-term rental market is hard to gauge, but best estimates by independent monitors are that there are 20,000 “hosts” in LA. Ari Teman, the entrepreneur behind the Airbnb monitoring software Sublet Spy 

says that “40 hosts — out of L.A.s 20,000— account for the majority of L.A.s Airbnb activity.” 

What does the establishment say, those that are now faced with challenges to their business model? Barbara Nichols, a real estate broker, cites several concerns, including, “Long term renters are vetted, credit checked, and background checked. You know who you are dealing with. When you move into a single family neighborhood you have an expectation of knowing who your neighbors are. Strangers in and out of a neighbors house destroys neighborhood connections. If the argument for “home sharing” is to help a homeowner pay the mortgage, a homeowner can rent a spare bedroom for six months or a year and currently get the same benefit.” 

Users of Airbnb are enthusiastic about the availability of obtaining housing for a few nights when traveling, and point out the non-financial benefits of hosting. David Mann, who has experience as a host and a guest says “When I host, I proactively engage with my guests and that way get to know people from everywhere. They sense I am interested in what life is like in their part of the world, and friendships have developed during and after their stay. Its more of a social relationship than an economic relationship. My one bad experience as a guest was immediately remedied by Airbnb staff beyond my expectation." 

A few days ago, the city stepped in, with City Attorney Mike Feuer filing charges 

against apartment owners that allegedly evicted tenants, then rented out their units via Airbnb. With regulations, Airbnb would be required to flag an egregious situation like this and block the landlord from renting through them and profiting unfairly. Other platforms could do the same. Platforms can already voluntarily ask the city housing department for this information, but do not. 

Attorney Randy Renick of Hadsell Stormer & Renick, who is representing some of the evicted tenants, says that “Airbnb is a co-conspirator in this scheme and needs to be taken to account. They've known landlords have been violating the RSO for some time, using the Ellis Act to wrongly evict tenants, but theyre willing participants in re-renting units. The city housing department can provide a list of Ellis Act evictions on request. Airbnb could use that to filter out properties that do not qualify for short term rental. As I understand it, the City Attorney is going to be sending the list to Airbnb, whether they like it or not.” 

Legal action is a good start, but enforceable guidelines are a solution. That’s the big challenge now, with so many different perspectives from City Councilmembers, hosts, guests, platforms and the public all weighing in. 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EASTSIDER-If you’re an LA City Council member, life is grand. You are part of the highest paid city council in the United States, your term in office is good for 12 years (3 four-year terms), and all you really have to do is dance to the tune of the lobbyists, developers, and (mostly) Democratic insiders that brought you to the dance. No one who means anything can upset your applecart. 

So from your standpoint, everything is just fine in our town. 

Even as you finish selling the City to developers, and are now in the process of selling off the peoples neighborhoods. Witness the four Planning Department Ordinances that are speeding through the system and forever changing single family zoning for where we live. 

Another case in point would be last week’s decision by the spineless Planning Commission to actually increase the number of days a short-term rental can be used from 90 to 180 days, and to specifically provide for allowing vacation homes. Woo hoo! Party on! 

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life ain’t so grand. So let’s take a look at what’s up for most Angelenos. 

1) Us old folks are still working. That’s right. More people over 65 are still working, and for longer, than any time since the turn-of-the-century. 

That doesn’t jibe too well with all those TV ads about checking your stock portfolio from your wonderful retirement home in some beautiful enclave. It’s more like: retirement, what retirement? This shift has unintended consequences as well, such as blocking employment for younger people since companies don’t have to pay to train older workers. 

2) Lots of folks in the “prime working age” category aren’t working at all.  

This is just not cool on so many levels. If you couple the decrease in what they call “workforce participation” with LA’s ridiculous rents, we’re talking about systematically destroying the lives of people at the very time that they are supposed to be improving their lot and tucking money away for retirement. 

3) Also, many younger people have it so rough that they’re living with their parents

For the first time since the turn-of-the-century, more 18-34 year olds live with their parents than live with spouses or partners -- even as the politicians and TV talk about an America that simply doesn’t exist anymore. 

4) Not only that, but for all the talk about Millennials and Hipsters, their real employment opportunities aren’t that good.     

One of the categories that I find particularly scary is what happens to young people who are neither working nor in school. This is a key part of our future, yet they wind up being categorized as “disconnected youth,” with predictions of a life far from the American dream that’s being sold by our politicians. 

5) Of those younger people who do get jobs, it is clear that the educational system has seriously let them down. Income segregation is the polite term.

And for college grads, it turns out that a lot of employers don’t even think they have the right job skills for the real world, even as they have piled up student debt. 

When I grew up, California had the best (and free) public education system in the nation. What the heck happened? 

6) What we used to call the middle class is both shrinking and changing as well. The phrase simply doesn’t mean what it used to, just as scary is what we call “middle class” is down by some 20% since the 1970’s. That isn’t trivial, and it’s even more troubling since it costs something like 30% more to even be in the middle class. No wonder life doesn’t feel so good for the governed. 

7) If you adjust for the outrageous housing costs and rents, LA just isn’t that attractive a place anymore. For example, renting a home in LA is simply beyond the reach of many people who do have a job.

A Tale of Two LA’s--In summary, the reason the troops do not have happy faces about our elected officials is that life in LA is pretty much going in the wrong direction and has been for quite a while. Deny it as they may, the City Council knows about these facts, because the LA 2020 Commission gave it to them straight in their report some time ago.

While the Mayor and City Council talk lovingly about the new “sharing economy,” even as they sell our neighborhoods to Airbnb and their ilk, the truth of the matter is that the new version of employment without benefits like health insurance, sick leave, vacations and pensions simply continues to erode what we refer to as the middle class backbone of our society. 

The Takeaway--I believe that the fundamental problem is that elected officials simply live in a different world than the troops. They only talk to each other and their mutual group of rich backers, lobbyists, and party insiders. So for them the world is good, and they simply have no real understanding of how most of the rest of us live. Their livelihood is determined by their current office, and the next one they will run for and the bubble that they live in. 

When politicians do run for office, they are not living in the same world as you and I. It’s all about demographics, likely voters, vote by mail, and statistical analysis of issues. Plus the hot button issues that will get them the $400,000 to $500,000 to finance their campaigns, along with suppressing the voters that might vote for someone else. 

It is the same at the national level -- like when Hillary Clinton comes out with one of her “I feel your pain” speeches; or Donald Trump channels the pain and anger of the large chunk of our society that has simply been discarded -- even as he flies in his jet to Scotland to advertise the opening of his luxury golf course. It’s just a ploy. Trump is probably more believable in his horsepuckey than Clinton, but it is still just smoke and mirrors by all. 

Same for our local City Council and Mayor. Their daily lives and who they interact with are the elites and special interest groups who all live in the same bubble. Do that long enough and you simply have no real connection with the average person who lives in your district. 

They cannot relate to those who they no longer understand. Welcome to the land of 15-0 and 11-1 prearranged votes. Our City Council. 

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

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