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POLICING THE POLICE--U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Los Angeles on Wednesday to highlight the police department’s efforts to foster a stronger relationship with the community via social media.

The Los Angeles stop is part of Lynch’s national community policing tour, which spotlights departments that have excelled in that area according to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s final report, released last month. The LAPD, the report says, shines in its use of technology and social media. 

But not everyone agrees with that assessment. The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter considers such praise so wrongheaded that the activists are protesting Lynch’s visit.

“It’s a huge slap in the face. It’s a huge insult to black people and the people of Los Angeles,” Melina Abdullah, an organizer for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, told The Huffington Post. “Their use of social media is really surveilling us.”

Hamid Khan, the coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, is equally baffled by the recognition from the Justice Department.

The LAPD has used cutting-edge technology to create “a massive architecture of surveillance and spying and infiltration,” he said.

His coalition’s website lays out how the department watches the city’s residents. Stingrays and DRT boxes are used to track, intercept data on and sometimes jam mobile phones. Street cameras employ highly accurate facial recognition technology. License plate readers, drones and even police body cameras help the department know where people are and when. 

This wealth of data — which is collected even on individuals who haven’t committed crimes — fuels the LAPD’s predictive policing model, which the coalition asserts is used to “crunch crime statistics and other data with algorithms to ‘predict’ when and where future crimes are most likely to occur.” 

Even police efforts to interact through social media can have a sinister edge. Tweeting out to the community is one thing. Tracking the online activities of people who are, after all, just exercising their rights to civil protest is another  — and Abdullah, for one, fears the latter is happening.

In other words, Khan said, the LAPD — and other police departments — “are incorporating and codifying counterterrorism and counterinsurgency methodology and tactics into their daily policing.”

The LAPD declined to comment on its use of technology to surveil citizens. A Justice Department spokesman said that Lynch was simply in the city “to highlight ways in which the LAPD uses social media and technology to positively engage the LA community.” 

Body cameras are one of the tools that Los Angeles police use to surveil residents, according to the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

On Wednesday, Lynch attended a briefing at the LAPD Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division. It’s the department’s first fusion center — a place where it gathers, analyzes and shares information to scope out alleged threats.

Or Khan put it, “to spy and to gather information on people.”

LAPD’s participation in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative, for instance, has been heavily criticized for the activities that it deems to be suspicious. These include “suspected pre-operational surveillance” (using a camera or binoculars), “counter-surveillance efforts” (doubling back, evasive driving or changing your appearance), and taking measurements (counting footsteps).

Any of these innocuous behaviors can lead the police to write up a secret file on an individual and upload it into a database accessible to every law enforcement agency in the country, Khan said.

And the SAR program doesn’t surveil the city’s residents equally. Over 30 percent of suspicious activity reports involved black Los Angelenos and 50 percent of the women surveilled were black, according to an inspector general’s audit of the program in January 2015. Black people comprise 9.6 percent of the city’s population.

“These are the tools for racial profiling,” Khan said.  

People protest in March against the killing of a mentally ill homeless man, who allegedly tried to grab an LA police officer’s gun during a scuffle.

Beyond the surveillance, Abdullah takes issue with the Justice Department honoring what she called “the most murderous police department in the entire country.”

In 2015, LAPD officers shot 38 people — and killed 21 of them. The number killed, according to NPR, tops the number of people shot to death by police in several of the nation’s other largest cities, including Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. The LAPD also saw an uptick of deaths in custody last year.

At least eight people have been killed by on-duty LAPD officers this year, according to The Counted.

Lately, officers have also been cracking down on dissent at the public meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Abdullah said.

“This is the first week in four weeks that there have been no arrests for showing up at the oversight body public meeting,” she said. “And so, I’m really angry that the attorney general is turning a blind eye to that.”

Last week, an 81-year-old man was dragged out of the meeting and arrested for speaking off topic.  The week before, someone was arrested for filming the meeting, Abdullah said. On another occasion, a civilian was detained for walking out the wrong door. Abdullah herself was arrested for going over the two-minute speaking limit, she said.

The Los Angeles Police Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Considering all of these events, Abdullah said she can’t understand why the attorney general would highlight the LAPD as a pillar of community policing. 

Initially, she thought that Lynch was actually going to present the LAPD with the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service in Community Policing award. She even started a petition calling out the police department’s “long and deep history of corruption that continues in their current practices.” But there will be no award.

Still, Abdullah said of the attorney general, “It doesn’t make sense to me that, as a black woman, you can turn a blind eye to what LAPD has a history of doing and continues to do.”

(Julia Craven is a politics reporter for The Huffington Post … where this piece was first posted.)

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HUGH MARTIN EXPO PROJECT WILL OVERWHELM THE NEIGHBORHOOD--The Coalition to Preserve LA, a citywide, community-based group that seeks to reform L.A.’s broken planning and land-use system, has sent out mailers to Westside residents, denouncing the outsized mega-development Martin Expo Town Center.  The proposed project would create 16 new gridlocked intersections on the Westside’s already traffic-jammed streets and more than 7,000 car trips daily.

“The Martin project is overwhelming,” the mailer states. “But we can stop the overdevelopment avalanche.”

Martin Expo Town Center is proposed for the current site of the Martin Cadillac dealership on Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive. The Martin family, which operates Martin Automotive Group, is behind the mega-project. Through a company called Philena Properties, the Martin family is seeking a zone change and General Plan amendment from LA City Hall to build.

Since 2012, Martin Automotive Group and its representatives have contributed $3,650 to the campaign war chests of City Council and mayoral candidates, according the city’s Ethics Commission. In addition, since 2012, Philena Properties has spent $759,121 on politically connected City Hall lobbyists to win over politicians and bureaucrats.

That’s how things work in LA’s broken planning and land-use system — spread around the cash at City Hall and expect profitable favors in return. 

Coalition to Preserve LA mailer

As noted in the Coalition to Preserve LA mailer, Martin Expo Town Center will jam 516 residential units and at least 150,000 square feet of office space on the Martin Cadillac site, and will create 7,151 more car trips daily and 16 new gridlocked intersections. It also seeks a half-dozen on- and off-site liquor licenses and permits for live entertainment.

In other words, for the entire day and deep into the night, neighborhoods surrounding the project will be slammed with traffic jams and other quality-of-life impacts. Also, Angelenos who drive through the area will encounter a gridlock nightmare.

Community activists and such neighborhoods groups as the West of Westwood Homeowners Association, West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, Brentwood Homeowners Association and Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Association are seriously alarmed by the mega-project.

West LA-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council member Xochitl Gonzalez notes, “The Coalition to Preserve LA mailer is great. People on the Westside know what this project means — a more dangerous place for us to live. It will make it more dangerous to walk across streets, to bike anywhere, to get emergency services.”

She adds, “Anyone on the Westside knows that, during traffic time, Olympic Boulevard becomes a parking lot. The streets cannot take the additional traffic this project will generate. The leaders of Los Angeles are short-sighted. Adding oversized projects like this makes our city a less desirable place to live.”   

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

In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the LA City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous neighborhood groups all agree that reform is desperately needed.

Join our community-based movement by clicking here right now to donate any amount you wish, and follow and cheer our efforts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at [email protected] for more information.

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

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

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Later this summer when millions of college and university students moved into dorms and apartments, over 50,000 are projected to be homeless. According to 2013-2014 Federal Student Aid Form (FSFA) data, over 56,000 college students identified as homeless.

Last week, the Times reported that one in ten of California State University’s 460,000 students are homeless and one in five are food insecure, per initial findings of a study commissioned by Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, aimed at addressing the hidden secret at many of the nation’s public universities. 

White stresses the need for the country’s largest public university system to tackle the problem across its 23 campuses. Experts address that it’s difficult to calculate and measure the student homeless population, as many do not consider themselves homeless if they are couch surfing or living in cars. The homeless population tends to be underreported. 

According to the study, eleven campuses host a food pantry or homeless support programs. Fresno State has an app that notifies student when food leftover from campus catered events is available, as well as a center that provides free groceries, toothpaste, and other supplies. Cal State Long Beach’s intervention program gives students grants, hotel vouchers, meal assistance, and counseling, as well as assistance in finding campus jobs. 

Why do so many college students lack housing or adequate food? Experts point to issues like parental job loss and lack of affordable housing. For families in lower income brackets, a job loss can have serious consequences, especially when supporting a child in college. The gap between minimum wage earnings and housing costs has increased while federal housing subsidies have decreased. The average minimum wage employee working full-time cannot afford fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in most cities.

Three universities across the U.S. have had success with programs for homeless students. At Florida State University, Kennessaw State University in Georgia, and University of Massachusetts Boston, students have access to housing assistance and essential needs such as food and toiletries.

Addressing the needs of students who many not have adequate housing and food is an essential component of higher education. Kudos to the Cal State University system now addressing these issues in a proactive way. Colleges and universities across the country must continue to expand efforts to assist homeless students. California’s and America’s future is in their hands. How skilled, how educated do you want tomorrow’s doctors, scientists, leaders to be?

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo: LA Weekly. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BILLBOARD POLITICS--In 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a large-scale study of the effects of alcohol advertising on youth drinking. The conclusion: Exposure to alcohol advertising on TV, radio, and billboards contributes to increased drinking by underage youth, which in turn contributes to such problems as poor grades in school, risky sex, alcohol addiction, and car crashes. (Photo above: Billboard just a building away from a community center for low-income youth.)   

Other research has confirmed this link between advertising and increased youth drinking. Yet billboard companies continue to place prominent ads for alcohol in proximity to places where young people congregate. A case in point is the Outfront Media billboard pictured above, which is just a door away from Venice Arts, a community arts center for low-income youth on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice.

Was placement of that ad for Coors Light where it would be seen by many young people under the drinking age just a coincidence? Or deliberate? Less than a block away are a public phone with a Bud Light ad and a doubled-sided Lamar Advertising billboard that has displayed at least four alcohol ads in the past several years. More coincidence? 

As pointed out in an earlier article, this stretch of Lincoln Blvd. is a daily route for students at Animo Venice Charter High school who arrive by bus from other parts of the city and walk the street to and from the campus. Which means more exposure for the alcohol advertising, intended or not.

The Outfront Media billboard now displaying the Coors Light Ad also appears to be have been significantly enlarged in violation of the city’s sign code. According to city records, the sign was permitted in 1969 with two 12 ft. By 25 ft. faces. But inspection records show that the face with the alcohol ad is 26 ft. By 25 ft., or more than 100 per cent larger.

The Lamar Advertising billboard may also violate a sign code section prohibiting billboards from extending over a public sidewalk.

One certainty is that the placement of these signs violates the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s Code of Industry Principles, which states that ads for products illegal for sale to minors will be kept a “reasonable distance” from places where those young people congregate. On the other hand, perhaps Outfront Media considers the few steps from the billboard to the door of the youth center a “reasonable distance.”

 (Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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BUSINESS POLITICS--The immediate effect of British voters’ move to leave the European Union will hit California business but a ripple effect could also be felt with the state’s political decisions as well.

No one knows for sure what the long-term effects of Brexit will be but there was extensive handwringing over the economic prospects for the state in the few days following the vote. The unpredictable nature of the unprecedented vote has raised concern. Britain is the second largest trading partner with California after China. In Southern California alone, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation reports that 1,145 British owned establishments employ 55,000 workers with their future status unknown.

Other possible issues: California’s movie business might find filming in Britain more economical with a depressed British pound meaning film projects meant for California and its workers could travel “across the pond.” Also, as California Chamber of Commerce president Allan Zaremberg said in a release, “This will probably make America and the dollar safe havens for international investments, which unfortunately could make California exports more expensive.

California political decisions could also feel a jolt from the Brexit vote when the state’s voters go to the polls in November and beyond.

If the action in Britain results in a worldwide economic slowdown or recession as some economists fear, California’s budget is bound to take a hit. The investing class of taxpayers would not do so well. The state budget relies heavily on the state’s top income taxpayers and benefits from their success with capital gains during good economic times. When the economy plummets so does the budget.

How might voters react to the extension of Proposition 30 or many local taxes on the November ballot in the shadow of an economic slowdown?

If the budget swings downward would the argument that the tax extension is necessary to offset budget loses be more compelling to voters than those who claim that maintaining the heavy burden on high-end income taxpayers will just continue budget woes into the foreseeable future?

More at risk would be local tax measures. Most of these sales taxes, parcel taxes, and property taxes that pay for local bonds come directly from most voters’ pocket. If the economy is struggling won’t voters want to keep more of their own money?

Then there is the interesting political dynamic created by the Brexit model of government separation.

The United Kingdom decided to separate from the European Union. Other EU countries may consider following suit. Meanwhile, Scottish officials are talking about separating from the UK so that an independent Scotland can remain in the European Union.

Will all this talk of government separation spur the separation movements that simmer in California? Calling Tim Draper and his plan for Six Californias that fell short of making the ballot via initiative recently. The website supporting the plan is still up. Or those who have dreamed for seven decades of creating the state of Jefferson in Northern California. 

Brexit’s inspired tidal wave will be hitting the California shore. The question is how severe will it be.

(Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)

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EDUCATION POLITICS--Globalization and technological change have shattered many of the economic models that have prevailed since World War II. This rapid change has driven justifiable concern about income stagnation and the prospects for this and future generations. Fortunately, there is a positive path forward through higher education, if we don’t take our eyes off the road. 

California continues to boast the finest public higher education system in the world. Our community colleges, California State University and the University of California comprise the three pillars of the Master Plan for Higher Education that has served us well for more than half a century. These campuses have energized our economy and fueled the innovation and creativity that are hallmarks of the California Dream. They are a big reason why California has the world’s sixth largest economy. We can’t afford to take public higher education for granted when the State sets its Budget priorities. 

Over the past several decades, there has been an unfortunate pattern of raiding higher education funding when the State gets into a fiscal jam. During the Great Recession, California’s community colleges lost $1.5 billion in State funding from 2008-09 to 2011-12. That lost revenue forced a 25% reduction in course offerings and shut 500,000 students out of the classroom. Fortunately, in the last few State Budget cycles, the community colleges have received healthy increases and it is imperative that this trend continues. 

Often overlooked, the community colleges provide the foundation of training and preparation that enable hundreds of thousands of Californians to embark on productive careers with solid incomes. Students with a degree or certificate from California community colleges nearly double their earnings within three years. Attending a community college gives students twice as good a chance of finding employment as those who fail to complete high school. Community colleges train 70% of our state’s nurses and 80% of firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical technicians. California community colleges are the largest provider of workforce training in the country. 

The community colleges also play a key role in readying students for four-year institution. Half of CSU graduate and almost a third of UC graduates started out in the community college system. Almost half of the UC graduates in science, technology, engineering and math started out at community colleges. 

All of the numbers underscore the importance of fully funding all three branches of California’s public higher education system. Californians with a college degree will earn an average of $400,000 more in their lifetime than those with just a high school degree. For every dollar the State invests in students who graduate from college, it will receive a $4.50 return on that investment. 

There has been some progress in restoring higher education funding in recent years, but much more needs to be done. It is essential that we accelerate State funding for all three branches of our higher education system and it is critical that the State resists back-peddling when the next economic downturn occurs.

 

(Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine are Co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former legislator who served as State Senate Republican Leader. Levine is a former Democratic member of the State Assembly and Congress.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRUTHDIG-Amid Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, it’s refreshing to take a look at Asian-Americans, who braved great hardship to come to the United States. In the face of racism, they began life in a hostile land, raised families and have made a significant contribution to the nation’s social, intellectual, economic and political life. (Photo above: Mayor Eric Garcetti at podium, Councilman David Ryu front row right.)

I’ve been intrigued by their lives, which mirror the experiences of other Americans of immigrant stock. I’ve watched the transformation of the Asian-American community from powerlessness to political office and clout. From my perch in Los Angeles and its suburbs that surround the city, I got to know a lot of the people who made it happen. Theirs is a great American story, one that offers hope in a time of gloom and cynicism.

But first some numbers to put this in perspective. More than 18 million Asian-Americans live in the United States, more than 5.5 percent of the population. Chinese comprise the largest group, more than 4 million, followed by Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese. They are the fastest-growing ethnic minority and are expected to play an increasingly important role in elections.

There were many turning points in the history of Asian immigrants to the United States. All of the immigrant groups treasure theirs. To record them all would fill a book. This is just a column, so I’ll write about the ones I saw.

The Korean-American moments of history are the most recent. An important one was the wrongful conviction of Chol Soo Lee, a Korean immigrant accused of a 1973 murder involving Chinese-American gangs in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A Korean-born journalist, K.W. Lee, then with the Sacramento Union, investigated the case. K.W., as everyone knows him, was the first Asian immigrant to work as a journalist on an American newspaper, starting out on the Kingsport Times-News in Tennessee. It took him more than 100 stories and five years before Chol Soo Lee was retried and acquitted. During this time, K.W. helped organize a grass-roots campaign by Asian-Americans, the Free Chol Soo Lee Defense Committee, one of the first Pan-Asian justice defense organizations.

I met K.W. while he was editor of the English-language edition of The Korea Times.   He was my gracious teacher and guide through Koreatown in the months preceding, during and after the biggest turning point for the Korean-American community, the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  It devastated Korean businesses and was forevermore known in the community as Sa-I-Gu, Korean for 4-2-9, the day in 1992 the riots began.

Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, (see photo above.) then a teenager, remembers the helplessness felt by Korean-Americans. He was one of the young Korean-Americans inspired by K.W. to become a community activist.  

Ryu was elected in 2015 in a historic demonstration of growing Korean-American power, beating a candidate backed by the City Hall establishment. He immigrated to the United States at age 5 with his parents. “The family was on food stamps,” he recalled. “There were six of us in a two-bedroom, 700-square foot apartment.”

Ryu was in the 11th grade when the riots began after a jury in suburban, mostly white, Simi Valley acquitted the white Los Angeles Police Department officers of the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American who had been stopped for a traffic violation.

The riots were a multiethnic event for a multiethnic city. African-Americans in South Los Angeles began looting and burning stores. Latinos joined in. Korean-American immigrants owned many of the small grocery and liquor stores, buying them as a way to begin the climb up the U.S. economic ladder. The stores tended to be family affairs, with the parents and children working to keep them open seven days a week. Most of the adults didn’t speak English well, and relations with the African-American customers were tense, just as they had been when Jews ran those stores before the 1965 Watts riots. Flames and rioting spread north of South Los Angeles. Too often, police and firefighters were not around. Korean-Americans armed themselves, and one, an 18-year-old college freshman, was shot to death.

After watching the riots and observing people fighting fires with their garden hoses, I attended a mass meeting of several thousand Korean-Americans in a Koreatown park. People were angry, feeling they had been neglected by the city’s political and law enforcement powers.

“It showed the Korean-Americans that you just couldn’t be quiet, knowing your place. You were shooting yourself in the foot,” Ryu told me.

Younger people like him were long put down by their elders, but no longer.

“We got to speak out,” he said. “We started organizing, registering voters, [believing] we cannot let this happen again. We need access. Connections.”

There were other examples of mistreatment of the Asian-American minority by politicians and law enforcement.

Back in 1871, 17 Chinese were lynched in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in a massacre that historians found was widely supported by the town’s white powers. 

All Asian-American immigrants were targeted by the 1913 California Alien Land Law, which had the effect of barring landowning by Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean farmers.

Japanese-Americans suffered the worst when, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved imprisoning 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “relocation” camps. Their long fight for reparations and recognition for the injustice was the beginning of Japanese-American political organization.

A governmental and political outrage of another kind spurred the political organization of the largest group of Asian-Americans, the Chinese. It began in the 1980s in Monterey Park, a small suburban city east of Los Angeles with a movement called “English only.” White merchants and politicians tried to ban Chinese-language signs from stores in a city that was becoming home to many Chinese-Americans. 

That’s when I met a young member of the small Garvey School District Board, Judy Chu, who taught psychology at East Los Angeles Community College. She and others organized a coalition of Asian-Americans, Latinos and whites against English only. She was elected to the Monterey Park City Council, the state Assembly and then to Congress, where she was the first Chinese-American woman to become a member of the House. She is chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus. English only, by the way, disappeared when Monterey Park became a majority Asian-American city.

I talked over the history with Mike Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona and the first Asian-American elected to the Los Angeles City Council. He later ran unsuccessfully for mayor.   

Woo’s election is part of the history, as is an action he took as a councilman. He was the first member of the council to call for the resignation of the influential police chief Daryl Gates, whose leadership of the department was blamed for police failures to control the 1992 riots and protect residents. The action by the Chinese-American councilman created a bond with African-Americans at a time when their relationship with Asian-Americans had been bad.

Today, more than 4,000 Asian-Americans hold local, state and federal offices. In a paper published by the Center for American Progress in 2014, scholars Karthick Ramakrishnan and Farah Z. Ahmad found that the number of Asian-American voters nearly doubled from more than 2 million in 2000 to almost 4 million in 2012. They are projected to constitute 5 percent of the electorate by 2025 and 10 percent by 2044.

This should be good news for the Democrats in this presidential election year, if they can take advantage of it. Most Asian-Americans favor Democrats and don’t like anti-immigrant politicians. The biggest number of Asian-Americans live in the West, where California, Oregon and Washington are Democratic. But their numbers are increasing in Arizona and, combined with the large number of Latino Arizonans, could deliver that usually Republican state to Hillary Clinton. In Florida a small minority of Asian-Americans, centered in Orlando, could combine with Latinos and take the state away from Trump.

The rise of this immigrant community in politics and its growing participation in the political process are a refutation of Trump and his portrayal of immigrants as an alien body invading the United States.

“The trend toward Democrats by Asians will continue,” Woo told me. “It might be accentuated by what Asians see as anti-immigrant bias.”

In a close election for president, that could make the difference.

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)

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LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Julie Watson from The Associated Press wrote and reported that California this month has become the latest state to allow the terminally ill to legally choose to end their lives, raising worries among some people in the state’s large Latino and African-American communities that poor people with serious illnesses could be pressured to take lethal drugs as a cheaper option to long-term care. 

Concern has surfaced across the Golden State, from primary care physicians and administrators of large hospital systems, to ethics professors and clergy. 

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the nation, called the new law “a failure of solidarity” in a society where loneliness and isolation already prevail. 

But those fears were found to be unsubstantiated in a recently released study conducted by UCLA professor Cindy Cain with the department of health policy and management. 

Cain found that in states such as Oregon, which began implementing the law in 1997, the number of those who died with prescription assistance rose gradually each year, from less than 20 in 1998 to 105 in 2015. 

Most of those who chose to end their lives were 65 and older, white, had some college education; and more than 60 percent of them had private insurance. 

The data doesn’t support the idea that the passing of the aid-in-dying law will disproportionately affect the poor or vulnerable groups, Cain said. 

This spring, the national right-to-die advocacy organization Compassion & Choices named Latina, African-American and Filipina-American women to reach out to minority communities. The group also set up a bilingual hotline explaining the law and held meetings in largely Spanish-speaking areas such as California’s Central Valley. 

“We knew we would need to learn to talk about the issue around death and dying in a way that was not just recognizable to the white community,” said Toni Broaddus of Compassion & Choices. 

In an April 14 column in the Chicago Tribune, cancer patient Miguel Carrasquillo called on his fellow Latinos to “break the cultural taboo of discussing death and medical aid in dying.” 

He called himself the “Latino Brittany Maynard,” a reference to the 29-year-old California woman who was dying of brain cancer when she moved to Oregon to access the lethal drugs in 2014. Her story galvanized support for the proposal that became the California law. Carrasquillo’s mother supported his fight for the option, but his father saw it as intervening in God’s work. 

Carrasquillo died of cancer in his native Puerto Rico, lacking the funds to move to a state with a right-to-die law. His mother promised him she would keep pushing for the practice so others do not have to suffer as he did. 

In California, before a doctor can prescribe lethal drugs, a patient 18 or older must make two oral and one written request. The law also requires a diagnosis that the person has less than six months to live and that the person can take the drugs without help from anyone. 

Life-ending drugs will be covered under MediCal, the state’s public insurance plan, but it limits coverage of outpatient palliative care consultations unless the person has stage IV cancer.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Los Angeles Daily News staff writer Susan Abram contributed to this report.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DEEGAN ON LA-What’s the difference between an 18-unit apartment building at 1850 N. Cherokee Avenue in the heart of Hollywood that has a long history of providing rent-stabilized housing for working class tenants, and a trendy 24-unit boutique hotel that may replace it? How about the potential of a one-quarter-billion dollars gross for developer David Lesser over a 25-year life span of the new enterprise? And over $6 million in “bed taxes” to the City of Los Angeles over the same period? 

The conversion from rent-stabilized (RSO) apartments to hotel is an economic model for both developer Lesser and the City that may be too good to pass up. Most evictions and redevelopments hinge on what’s in it for the developer, and that usually means big profits. Incumbent rental occupants often become collateral damage and worse in the process. In this case, as in many others, some former tenants evicted by Lesser using the Ellis Act  have become homeless. 

If the boutique hotel is approved by the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM), and then the full City Council, there will be no more fixed 3% annual rent caps on the formerly Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) building. The new hotel’s room rates can fluctuate with the economics of supply and demand and LA will receive a 14% per bed, per night Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) that, in itself, could eventually bring the city one-quarter-million dollars annually.

An activist community is fighting City Hall over this conversion, and now has a second chance at a PLUM hearing on Tuesday, centered on a CEQA-based argument on homelessness that has apparently caught the attention of the PLUM members. It seems that the city has no overall screening process to consider the cumulative impacts of how Ellis Act evictions add to homelessness, especially the loss of RSO housing units, even though they are required to under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). 

Recently, Governor Brown declared that CEQA, a state law, that may get in the way of progress and hinder developers should be minimized or eliminated altogether. Brown wants it diluted or removed from the planning process. 

The full council file for the Cherokee Hotel (CF 09-0967-S1) project is now available online. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 28 at 2:30pm in Hearing Room 350 at City Hall. 

The transcript of an eye-opening conversation between Director of City Planning Vincent Bertoni and Councilmembers Jose Huizar (CD14) and Gilbert Cedillo (CD1) sheds some daylight on a City Hall where departments and council offices are not in sync. It shows us how an operational dislocation hurts occupants of RSO housing that are being evicted by the Ellis Act and becoming homeless as a result.

In the transcript of the PLUM meeting, the City Planning Director and two of the 15 City Councilmembers -- Huizar and Cedillo -- admit they do not know what the cumulative impact their constant approval of Ellis Act evictions has had in creating homelessness. Most likely, the other 13 Councilmembers are equally unaware that when they say “yes” to developers wanting to build in their districts, often with favors attached, they are also saying “no” to tenants who are also constituents. 

This shocking admission was reported by Jill Stewart and Miki Jackson in their expose published on June 24 in CityWatch, detailing how the “LA City Council and City Hall are clueless about their role in fueling homelessness.” 

In a stunning turn of events, PLUM will reconsider this matter on Tuesday, June 28. This reflects how far the community will go to try and preserve affordable housing in a rapidly densifying Hollywood that many consider ground zero for much of what’s wrong with city planning. It also highlights the influence that developers lord over politicos relying on them to fuel their election campaigns. 

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CD13), who holds sway over development projects in central Hollywood, is up for re-election next March. So is his mentor, former CD13 councilman and now Mayor, Eric Garcetti, who many credit or bedevil, depending on your point of view, with getting the development wrecking ball rolling into high gear in Hollywood. 

The developer has said he does not intend to tear down the two existing 1929 buildings on Cherokee, but to repurpose them, retaining the character that adds to the neighborhood. No word yet on the fenestration (the arrangement of windows and doors on the elevations of a building) but it’s likely that that will not change and, to the eye, the building may look pretty much the same as a hotel as it did as an apartment building. At least there is no longer the intrusive threat of the original plan that included a 69-unit condo building that could have looked something like this.     

We will never know if the prospect of the 69-unit condo project was a bluff, a threat or a tactic by the developer to make a 24-room hotel look better by comparison. But one thing’s for sure: the current tenants will be the big losers. A few of them have already become homeless and need to move far away to obtain affordable housing. This is yet another result of the citywide reduction in affordable housing exacerbated by Ellis Act evictions initiated by developers who are intent on tearing down pre-1973 rent stabilized (RSO) housing. 

Removing affordable housing from inventory is the opposite of providing supportive housing for the homeless and lower-wage-earning residents. While the City may think it can support evictions that result in more homelessness and then ask taxpayers or the Governor to fund homeless housing, in truth, it really can’t. 

This schizophrenic approach is hurting the neediest, and slowly works its way up the food chain to damage the many politicos that are starting to be seen for what they are: the creators, not the solvers, of the homeless problem that comes from Ellis Act evictions. 

This is a variation of the well-established pattern of dislocation and gentrification throughout Hollywood and other communities, with some unique twists, explained by community activist Sylvie Shain, saying, “the tenants of 1850 N. Cherokee were vacated in 2013, under the Ellis Act, per a prior project approval for this site to build a condo complex, which was approved in 2009 but never moved forward. Half of these tenants did not receive relocation assistance because the owner benefited from the applicability of a waiver in the Los Angeles Municipal Code (Chapter 151.09G), provided for in the following circumstance: “The tenant received actual written notice, prior to entering into a written or oral tenancy agreement, that an application to subdivide the property for condominium, stock cooperative or community apartment purposes was on file with the City or had already been approved.” 

This is another example of how Hollywood is rapidly changing people’s lives and bank accounts. This hotel conversion project shines a spotlight on the politicos that have helped to shatter the dreams of everyday people who have been living in Hollywood in redevelopment projects; and there are dozens more on the books. These are tenants who, under the politico’s pro-development addiction, are now unable to afford living in Hollywood once they have been “Ellis-Acted” out. 

Bertoni, Huizar and Cedillo now admit to being complicit in creating an increase in homelessness through their constant approvals of tearing down affordable housing, throwing people onto the street. More of their colleagues need to turn the corner away from denial and into the reality of taking solution-based actions. 

While everyone is scrambling for up to two billion dollars in funding to help the homeless, there’s an easy non-monetary first step available: place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. Get the facts and a perspective on how this directly and cumulatively impacts our homeless crisis.

 

(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.

 

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--The California legislature and Governor Brown now have all the ammunition they need to do what they should have done years ago. And that’s dump the outdated, outmoded, and grossly harmful Proposition 209. That’s the state amendment passed by voters two decades ago in 1996 that banned the use of race as a factor in college admissions.

The ammunition was supplied convincingly by the US Supreme Court when it strongly upheld the University of Texas’s affirmative action program. Justice Anthony Kennedy rammed the point home that race can be considered in admission to insure broad, and meaningful racially diverse colleges.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris further underscored the critical importance of affirmative action at California colleges in her friend of the court brief.

Affirmative action also assures the fair and equitable use of tax dollars for public education. This is a point missed or deliberately distorted in the affirmative action wars. That is that African-American and Hispanics pay taxes, lots of taxes, and are vital public stakeholders. Yet when colleges and universities shut the door or severely limit the number of African-American and Hispanic students at public institutions this means their tax dollars’ amount to de facto support of modern day quasi Jim Crow education. They are forced to pay for educational services and advantages in higher education that white students get and their children are denied.

Studies on college admissions to California colleges and universities have repeatedly found that there was a big plunge in the number and percentage of Black and Hispanic student enrollment after the passage of Prop. 209. This downward trend has remained agonizingly steady over the years. 

The studies also found that colleges and university administrators have done everything they could to devise policies and strategies employed to deftly skirt around Proposition 209 to ramp up the low numbers of black and Latinos on the campuses. The efforts have failed to boost the numbers. The problem of stagnant or declining Black and Hispanic student enrollment is made even worse by the widening gap between the percentage of underrepresented minority students graduating from California high schools and the percentage enrolling at UC. 

In 2014, the California senate took a big stab at trying to roll back Proposition 209 when it passed theConstitutional Amendment 5. This would have given voters another chance to consider the use of race in college admissions. The bill was pulled after some Asian-American constituent groups claimed that reinstituting affirmative action would do major harm to Asian-American students' chances of getting admitted to state colleges and universities. The charge that Asian-Americans would and are getting the short end of the admissions stick from affirmative action doesn’t hold up. 

Asian-American students already make up a disproportionate number of students at many public universities. According to university figures, at the University of Texas they make up 16 percent of the university enrollees though they are only 4 percent of the state’s population. 

The figures there are typical of their enrollment at many public universities where Asian-American students make up double digit numbers of the student population. 

The other old argument is that affirmative action is just another way of imposing quotas that would admit a lot of unqualified, poorly educated Black and Hispanic students to the colleges. This is nothing more than a rehash of the old quota or reverse bias argument that’s been used for years by conservatives to thwart affirmative action.

Quotas have long since been ruled illegal. Despite popular myth even before the imposition of Proposition 209 in California there was never a quota system that mandated a set number of Black and Hispanic students be admitted at any California university or state college. Race, then, was simply used as one of several factors that could be considered in a student’s admission. 

The brutal reality is that Proposition 209 is a relic of a time past when the relentless attack on affirmative action was a sneaky, and malicious way to maintain a racially discriminatory, two tiered education system that blatantly excluded Black and Latino students. It was bad public policy then, and in the two decades that Proposition 209 has been on the books, it still is.  

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, there’s absolutely no reason why California lawmakers shouldn’t speak too and dump Proposition 209. Their swift action on this can and will serve as a model for other states that followed California’s lead and imposed bans on affirmative action in higher education to make affirmative action a reality again. We’ll all benefit from that.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.) 

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AT LENGTH--It has been more than 10 months since Councilman Joe Buscaino held his San Pedro Forum on Homelessness at the Warner Grand Theatre, where he reiterated the commonly held belief that neighboring cities were busing their homeless to the San Pedro area. 

He vowed he would stop this practice and called for greater cooperation amongst local cities to curb the importation of homeless people. Then he appointed a special task force to deal with the issue. The San Pedro Homeless Taskforce still hasn’t reported its findings. The homeless problem persists. Only it’s not what Buscaino expected. 

In Buscaino’s weekly e-news bulletin, he reports that, “In April, the Emergency Response Team met with 145 homeless individuals, 85 percent of whom are from the Harbor Area.” 

The report continues on about the reported results in the month of May that, “the team met with 170 individuals, 88 percent of whom were from the Harbor Area.” 

These reports from his trusted sources are similar to, but higher than national statistics, that show that most people who are homeless live in places in which they were reared and lived in a home.

The reality is that the people whom we have come to call “homeless” in our neighborhoods (at least some 85 to 88 percent) are in fact right at home because this is where they came from. They just don’t have a roof over their heads with a permanent address. 

This fact flies in the face of tightly held prejudices that perceive the homeless in our communities as outsiders. The councilman now must recognize them as his constituents. 

The Cost of Sweeping Homeless-- This is a hard fact to swallow for the indignant Saving San Pedro crowd after shaming the homeless on social media and having consistently called for more encampment sweeps to the tune of $30,000 per action. 

It was reported at one of the recent Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meetings that there have been 27 such sweeps in the Harbor Area since the end of last summer, possibly more by now. By my estimation, the sweeps have cost the taxpayers of Los Angeles somewhere around $810,000. 

In addition to this expense, the police routinely issue tickets for infractions for any of the 24 municipal codes of which the homeless could be in violation, just by existing in a public space. Most of these tickets go to warrant for failure to appear. This only adds to the public expense and burden to the superior courts­, not to mention the cost to the homeless themselves. 

This criminalization of the poor has become a revolving door with a downward spiral. It’s part of what keeps the homeless, homeless. None other than the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized this vicious cycle for what it is: a civil rights violation that jeopardizes federal housing grants to our city. Enforcement actions such as the ones this city has used do nothing but make city officials look responsive. 

In response to the Los Angeles Police Department’s growing awareness that we can’t arrest our way out of homelessness, the Los Angeles Police Commission and the Los Angeles Chief of Police, Charlie Beck, issued new policy guidelines this week that change how officers approach the mentally ill and homeless populations. This policy change comes after two officer involved shootings of homeless people in the past few years. One of those shootings was judged “out of policy” and the officer is being criminally prosecuted. 

Clearly there must be more creative and effective ways to spend $810,000 in Council District 15 and the rest of Los Angeles. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the estimated $80 million spent on police and fire department to react to the homeless crisis isn’t working either. 

Homelessness itself is not a crime. We as neighbors and as citizens of this city and nation must not continue down this misconceived path. The homeless are our neighbors without shelter. If this were any other kind of crisis that left 46,000 residents countywide without shelter for even a day, someone would call for the Red Cross and the National Guard to step in. 

In Los Angeles, we talk the issue to death at city council meetings. Then we propose three different bond or tax measures, one of which will be voted on in November. Yet, not one new emergency shelter or new low-income housing unit will be opened or built before then. 

If this is how Los Angeles handles a crisis, I’d hate to see how the city would respond to the next major earthquake.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Hollywood Fringe Festival ran through June 26, allowing increasingly lively crowds to catch up to shows that have been receiving positive coverage. I managed to catch Tilt, Time Stands Still, and Office Beat, a Tap Dance Comedy. I have to admit that the idea of a tap dance comedy struck me as unusual, but it turned out to be one of the better shows. 

Office Beat is the creation of Tap Overload, itself the creation of Gabe and Mindy Copeland, a husband-and-wife team with long backgrounds in tap. The show opens on a more or less normal office setting with a row of desks and chairs. But this office is a bit peculiar, because the workers don't talk and don't seem to be doing much office work. What they do is tap dance. They like to tap dance. They do it as individuals, in pairs, and as an entire ensemble. 

One day, they get a new boss. He's a mean guy. He posts signs making it against the rules to do any more tap dancing. (This is called dramatic tension, and it's all that this show has or needs.) The staff resist the new boss by dancing when he's not around, and becoming increasingly rebellious to him when he is around. I'll leave it to your imagination to decide whether the boss ultimately has his way, making this show a tap dance tragedy, or maybe he eventually changes his mind even as he discovers that he himself can tap! (The exclamation point would be appropriate if things were to turn out that way, don't you think?) 

About half way through Office Beat, I realized that this show has managed to capture the look and feel of the good old days of silent film. There is no spoken dialogue, and the cast is left to communicate using their own athletic ability, facial expression, and a bit of mime. There are a few written signs (No Tap Dancing Allowed) which fit the bill precisely as replacements for what the old-time movies used to call intertitles. And just like the silent movies -- which were never silent, but had musical accompaniment, often with a lot of rhythm -- the show was ultimately a bit of Buster Keaton or Clara Bow. 

Gabe Copeland as the new hire and Valerie Rockey as an office worker were outstanding. Rockey turns out to have been the runner-up on the tv show So You Think You Can Dance. Actually, they all were quite good. The audience filed out in good humor. 

Time Stands Still is the story of Sarah, a photographer of wars and famines, who has arrived back home to New York City from the middle East. She is recovering from a near-fatal exposure to an improvised explosive device. She squabbles with her long-time boyfriend James, a writer of wars and famines. The two of them squabble with their old friend Richard, an editor at the magazine they seem to work for, and they get to know Richard's brand new love interest Mandy. This is a lot of introduction to shoehorn into 60 minutes of playing time. Mandy, though much younger than the others, is the source of commonsensical interventions when they are most needed. It's that oldest cliche from the movies as explained by Roger Ebert -- in a story about teachers and students (or in this case, the young and the middle aged), the teachers eventually learn from the students, the older from the younger. 

Lauren Shein as Sarah holds her own with a convincing and naturalistic acting style. Tashia Gates as Mandy gets to portray positive emotion battling the gloom and anger presented by the others. 

I mention the next play because it has been getting a lot of positive comments in the Fringe's own review site, while paradoxically reflecting on my own negative comments about the Fringe management in a previous column. Tilt is either a decent first effort by a talented actor/playwright or the ultimate salute to sadism, irresponsibility, and amorality. 

In a mountain cabin, a slightly hairy, crazed fellow shambles around holding a crowbar in hand and spouting pseudo-profundities. The door opens and in comes a less-crazed fellow in a black leather jacket. It turns out that they did an armed robbery a week earlier and have been hiding out. Black leather jacket went away for a few days, leaving the hairy fellow to watch over the cabin. 

It is at this point that we learn something shocking. Sometime during that interval when leather jacket was away, the hairy fellow was surprised by a couple who were trying to gain entry. The couple, who we never see, were interested in what used to be called a romantic tryst. We now learn that the hairy fellow, reacting to being discovered, used his crowbar to break the legs of the couple. Then he duct taped them to a couch. This is all rattled off in what otherwise passes as a comedy. The fact that this conduct amounts to torture doesn't come up in the ensuing dialogue. The hairy fellow is resigned to killing the captives, and leather jacket desperately tries to find a way out. Neither of the main characters displays empathy towards the captives. 

The staging gimmick is that the main characters are looking towards the audience as they discuss the injured couple. We are the victims and they are us. It's not quite breaking the fourth wall, but it's close enough. 

There is a lot of further explication of how this all came to be. The fellow in the black leather jacket turns out to be the more civilized -- or at least less crazy -- of the two crooks. He's been a Beverly Hills jewelry salesman, and now he is caught up in something he didn't intend. It's the ultimate nightmare -- a wide awake bad dream in the making -- being forced to choose between joining in murdering the injured couple or somehow figuring a way out of the quandary. 

You might say that leather jacket is more capable of planning for the long run, and the hairy fellow is less capable of impulse control. Perhaps the moral of this story is that you shouldn't take off and do armed robberies with homicidal maniacs, because bad things could come out of it. Or you might consider the moral question faced by the salesman -- should he take some action that will eventually result in him being punished by the justice system (like arrange for the two victims to be saved), or should he abandon the injured couple to their own bad luck and just take off. Like I said, the leather jacket character doesn't seem to apply empathy to his attempts at planning. The victims are there as a plot gimmick, put there to create an impossible situation for the less crazy of the two crooks. 

This not being a romance, the salesman eventually takes his half of the swag and leaves the injured couple to the announced homicidal intention of the crazed fellow. It's about as amoral an ending as you might imagine. 

There is something worth thinking about here. If you were to analyze this play according to a deep critic such as the late John Gardner, whose book On Moral Fiction explained what real literature is about, you would realize that the play comes from a very bleak and depressing place. The salesman raises the moral issue early on, but this theme just sort of evaporates away, as the dialogue takes the two characters into an exploration of their own relationship and how they came to be stuck in their difficult situation. Our salesman character doesn't so much deal with his moral question as he manages to divert himself from it by thinking about other things. 

I guess we have a new art form here, the theater of responsibility avoidance. Students of Antonin Artaud and the theater of cruelty might take note. 

I've concentrated on the meaning of the play, sort of like you might consider the moral meaning of Oedipus Rex or Rhinoceros, but only to illuminate the fundamental lack of moral thought at its core. 

This is not to criticize the acting or the technical proficiency that went into the writing and directing. Ben Moroski is the author and plays the guy in the leather jacket. Michael Shaw Fisher plays the hairy guy. Unlike some other Fringe plays I have seen over the past couple of years, the actors do their lines like they really mean them, find the comedic pauses effectively, and basically sell the characters to the audience. Tilt is worthy of being considered on a higher level than, for example, Time Stands Still, because the presentation is excellent. The fact that one play argues serious moral concerns and the other makes them frivolous is a different question. I wonder if Tilt, as performed this week, might (with a little judicious rewriting) be the opening act in a much deeper three act play. 

On the same weekend, Long Beach Opera performed The News. It's a rhythmic, tuneful one-act opera with two female singers, a supporting band, and full-wall projections of what is going out from a television news show. It's the news on television, performed in front of us as modern opera. 

Mark Swed's review in the L.A. Times nailed it: The singers are great, the band is great, and the level of in-depth commentary on how television delivers the news is a bit weak. Singer Loire Cotler is something called a rhythm vocalist. She uses her voice as a percussion instrument to amazing effect. Maeve Hoglund is the more traditional soprano voice, and performs well.

 

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

-cw

CALLING IT LIKE IT IS--Call it the Eric Garcetti Trickle-Down Theory of Dishonesty, where the city’s top executive has so consistently told half-truths to the public that mendacity has drip, drip, dripped down to his voluntary Commission appointments.

There was Garcetti’s $1,400 per plate DC fundraiser for his re-election coffers on the eve of the LAPD Commission ruling on the Ezell Ford killing, which he told Black Lives Matter protestors was a trip to raise money for housing.   He also claimed that veteran homelessness would be eradicated in LA by the end of 2015, at which time he admitted was still rampant because the problem was twice as bad as he originally thought.

In recent weeks, I exposed at Huffington Post his awkward, dishonest Tweets about Super Bowl LV coming “back to Los Angeles,” and here on CityWatch his untruthful claim that LA was on the verge of becoming a “No Kill” city, despite doctored statistics and there being no such thing as a no kill city anywhere in the U.S.

So, it was no surprise last week that City Council, as predicted, unanimously confirmed Garcetti’s re-appointment of Roger Wolfson to the LA Animal Services Commission despite having a 41% absentee/tardiness record in 2015, on track for worse in 2016 and his ongoing failure to pay his overdue dog licenses or their late fees.  In fact, City Council failed to ask Wolfson a single question as he sat in the front row with his arm wrapped behind LAAS GM Brenda Barnette. (Photo above.)

Wolfson’s story about his background in the legal profession does not add up, especially between June 10, 2013 and June 17, 2015, and in his City Council file resumes.

On that 2013 date, in a gushing LA Times article about plays he puts on in his backyard, Wolfson said, “I’m not a doctor or lawyer, but I want to be a pillar of my community.”

But on June 17, 2015, Wolfson described himself in an interview with TheNewHollywood.com as “a civil rights attorney.”

According to Wolfson’s City Council file, which contains an overkill list of every speech he says he ever created or delivered, he was indeed an attorney, describing himself as a founding partner of Haft, Harrison and Wolfson, a NY law firm founded in 1999, which he started after working as an attorney at the law firm he says was founded by his mother and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

Wolfson’s resume, which appears to be identical for both of his Garcetti appointments, lists him as a member of the New York, Connecticut and District of Columbia Bars, but is unclear as to whether he is presently licensed to practice law before any of them.

According to the Connecticut Judicial Branch, Wolfson was suspended in 2000 for failure to pay a client security fee.  He is presently listed as retired and therefore cannot practice law there.

In Washington D.C., records reflect that Wolfson is suspended due to his failure to attend continuing education courses and/or pay dues, and might not be able to practice there, either.

(NOTE: Attorneys not actively practicing law often list themselves as “inactive.”  Suspensions, whether administrative or disciplinary, are considered a permanent black mark on an attorney’s record.)

And according to the New York State Unified Court System, Wolfson’s license lapsed in April.

Wolfson also lists himself as a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar Association, which is largely considered a vanity membership, except for those who actually practice law before the SCOTUS, which Wolfson does not appear to have done.   Its Public Information Office did not respond in time for this article.  Wolfson and the Mayor’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.

In the world of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council, the truth glass is almost always half bull. 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, Huffington Post, KFI AM-640, LA Times, LA Daily News, and Los Angeles Magazine.  He blogs on humane issues at: ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) 

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EASTSIDER-In New York they’re looking at a ban on short-term rentals like Airbnb.

And in San Francisco they are adopting new tougher rules to clamp down on Airbnb and the short-term rental industry. 

Heck, even the City of Chicago is fighting back. 

Meantime in LA it appears that the City of Los Angeles and the Mayor have their hands out to take the money and run. As we all know, his honor Eric Garcetti is gaga over the Silicon Valley and its billionaires, not to mention desperate to appear hip, slick and cool. Probably has visions of being governor. 

On Thursday, the day before this article appears, the LA City Planning Department is set to take up a staff recommendation to open the floodgates and approve a relatively lax short-term rental Ordinance. 

Anatomy of a Fix 

The Process--After dead silence since the May hearing, they suddenly released the staff report and recommendations on Thursday, June 16 simultaneous to announcing that the City Planning Department will take up the recommendations at City Hall on Thursday, June 23 – only at the tail end of their Agenda, using the weasel words, “The following item is scheduled to be heard after 10 am.”

In case you can’t figure the outcome of this process, remember that the City Planning Commissioners are all appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. Just sayin’.

Also, in terms of bureaucratic manipulation, since the required public hearing has already taken place (see the Staff report), the Commission can limit the time each side has to speak, and/or the amount of time each speaker gets to speak. Say…one minute? Thirty seconds? 

Miraculous City Attorney Lawsuit--With great fanfare, City Attorney Mike Feuer magically announced on June 20 a really big lawsuit against three of the worst offenders in Venice who turned rent controlled housing into Airbnb hotels. 

I guess we are to believe that this timing is all a great coincidence. Right. A cynic would argue that the suit is weak in the first place, and will be up against a bunch of well-heeled folks who have big time law firms on their side. And while this suit sounds good, the proposed Ordinance essentially gives the people who destroyed affordable housing and evicted tenants a pass on prior bad acts -- the Ordinance simply says they can’t do it anymore. 

I guess this is designed to make people think that Councilmember Bonin has actually achieved something as Venice crumbles. 

Carefully Drafted Staff Report with Cutesy Wording--Let’s take a look at the seventy-nine pages of the actual Report and Recommendations. You can find it here 

While the Short-Term Rental Ordinance was called just that in the Draft, it is now cleverly renamed a “Home Sharing Ordinance.” In fact, the Ordinance language starts out by proudly announcing: 

“The use of a Primary Residence for the purpose of Home-Sharing shall be considered accessory to a residential use.” 

Well there you have it. Forget the law that says you can’t have short-term rentals in a residential neighborhood. Change the law and go for the cash. 

In fact, about half of the entire Ordinance has to do with how to gather the Transient Occupancy Tax. If you read through the language, it’s hard to escape that the real priority of the City to make money and support Silicon Valley hosting platforms. 

Speaking of which, forget individual homeowners being able to do anything. The private right to sue which appears in the Santa Monica Ordinance is totally missing here. And the weasel words about “other avenues or statutes” available to private individuals is either misplaced or simply untrue. 

Speaking of shutting up those pesky homeowners who are not part of the “sharing economy,” another major change in the draft is that now, the information about hosts as well as the information provided to the City by the platforms like Airbnb will not be public. That’s right, the City is making a swap of protecting confidentiality for the hosts and the platforms in exchange for TOT cash. The concept of a private right to sue when your city won’t protect you from the party house next door is kaput. 

Even better, the City is essentially setting up a parking ticket system instead of real enforcement. Just as opponents of short-term rentals have feared, in true scofflaw fashion, the folks making a bundle can pay a ticket and the party just goes on. And on. 

In a studied insult to the City enforcement employees who have worked so hard to hand the City Attorney the evidence to prosecute folks like Carl Lambert and his like, in the new ordinance, the City reserves the right to subcontract enforcement. So if you’re a City employee, who exactly are these “qualified consultants” and/or outside subcontractors? 

Anyhow, the fines/tickets/confidentiality system smacks of an odiferous trade off. 

Finally, just in case you don’t think this is a rush to judgment, note the final actual Ordinance language: 

“(h) Administration and Regulations. City Departments and Agencies may promulgate regulations, which may include but are not limited to application requirements, interpretations, conditions, reporting requirements, enforcement procedures, and disclosure requirements, to implement the provisions of this Chapter. No Person shall fail to comply with any such regulation.”

And this is a finished product? 

Stay Tuned--Honestly, I hope I’m wrong about how quickly this is going to sail through the City Planning Commission. It would be nice to know that they have integrity, are willing to ask the hard questions, and will slow down the vote on the Ordinance to answer some serious questions. They need to flesh out how all this is going to work beyond the work product of the City Hall elite. 

Of course it would be nice to know if any of the Commissioners also have any potential conflicts of interest.

 

(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.

GUEST COMMENTARY--The GPS navigation and social networking app Waze, which has more than 50 million users, uses nearby drivers’ alerts and real-time traffic to save you time while driving. But, as of last week it could start adding a few minutes to your commute. However, it is all under the goal of keeping you safe. 

The app altered their algorithm so it no longer suggests drivers go across several lanes of heavy traffic or turn left where there aren’t any stop signs or traffic lights. Also, the app is considering a new feature, just in Brazil for now, that would direct users around certain neighborhoods that are deemed unsafe, even if that route is faster. 

The new crime function of the app is being developed after a woman was murdered in Brazil when Waze led her to a neighborhood known for gang violence. But, how does Waze define a dangerous neighborhood? They say they using crime data so that the crime app is based on facts instead of biases. However, others argue that crime data is often unreliable. 

If Waze is leading enough people away from certain neighborhoods, then that could have an impact on how many people visit that neighborhood, buy products in that neighborhood, like gas and groceries, and their general thoughts and biases toward the neighborhood and its inhabitants. All these things add to inequities between neighborhoods. Waze says they are working with local police and community members to correctly identify neighborhoods’ level of safety. Their hope is to have the crime feature added in Brazil before the 2016 Olympic Games. 

Although these new features are designed to increase safety, Waze can still be extremely distracting for drivers. First launched in Israel, it lets you chat with nearby drivers, see traffic reports from other Waze users and chart your own route. Then it provides real-time navigation and alerts you to nearby congestion, car accidents, speed traps, construction zones, potholes, stalled vehicles and/or unsafe weather conditions. The app does have a safety feature built in to ask if there is a passenger with you who is using the app, but you have to wonder how many people say yes even when they’re alone. If they engage in the chat feature, they are essentially texting while driving, which is illegal in California and over 30 other states. 

Police departments have also voiced disapproval for the app, which they say undermines their efforts to enforce safety because drivers are alerted to their presence. It also may be a safety issue for policemen, if someone wants to target law enforcement. Waze lets their location easily be known. However, WAZE disagrees with law enforcement about both of these issues, of course. 

Waze has also been an issue for neighborhoods that were once quiet areas, free of major traffic. The app is known for leading users through side streets to avoid usually congested highways and major roads. Neighborhood residents are complaining of decreased quality of life because of noise pollution from cars and safety hazards for children playing outside because their neighborhood streets are becoming race tracks for the inpatient driver. 

So while traffic apps, like Waze, may be a godsend to the overstressed driver with a long commute, it doesn’t come without consequences that are affecting people’s quality of life. The new safety features may help to prevent accidents in the U.S. and maybe violence in Brazil, but data is not kept on traffic accidents or violence that happen when using Waze so we won’t know for sure. 

The bottom line is that traffic congestion is a real issue that needs to be addressed with safe and relatively convenient commuting alternatives, like biking and trains. But until that happens, remember that if you use these apps, nothing replaces common sense.

 

(UCLA Center for Health Advancement’s mission is to supply evidence-based information to key policy decision-makers in California and around the country. This perspective was posted originally at UCLA Center for Health Advancement.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDUCATION POLITICS-If you sat down and tried to think of the worst possible system for funding public education, I don't think you could come up with anything worse or more problematic than Average Daily Attendance (ADA.) It’s a public school funding model exclusively based on how many warm butts there are in public school seats on any given day. So why is this system of public school funding so bad? Let me count some of the ways. 

For starters, ADA is based on the false assumption that the “old school” K-12 grade-level model of public schools is still a fair representation of the abilities of the students in these respective grades. But this is no longer the case and it hasn't been for generations. Why? The majority of whites with the social capital necessary to hold public school administration accountable have abandoned inner city public schools to its present inferior, de facto segregated status. What now has existed for a long time is a reality where predominantly minority students without grade-level mastery or competence are socially promoted with their age group grade after grade -- whether or not they have mastered prior grade-level standards, which most students have not. 

When a school's financial well-being is solely dependent on an ADA model of how many students are in class on any given day, it sets off a predictable sequence of events that could be avoided, if the school was not so dependent on ADA, but instead, funded in a manner designed to adequately address the subjective levels of its students and their documented deficits. Needless to say, such an academic reality-based system would stand a much better chance of addressing these student deficits, if they were vigorously confronted early on in their school careers. 

But because funding and the financial well-being of the school is based on ADA, school administration has become predisposed to doing as little as possible, especially when it comes to things like enforcing discipline, which has become predictably out of control. Because the very act of education has become humiliating to socially promoted students who lack the prior grade-level standards mastery necessary to be productively engaged by the teacher, what else could you expect? 

While students might already be profoundly behind grade-level academically, they are still smart enough to know that given this “ADA reality,” they can pretty much do what they want without fear of consequences from either teacher or administrator. This logically leads to behavioral chaos in our inner city schools. 

A student so "empowered" by school ADA dependence can be so disruptive that he or she is literally holding the rest of the class hostage, making it impossible for the teacher to teach the students who want to learn. And when the education process is so stymied, even these students predictably and unnecessarily fall behind grade-level. Of course, this only increases their chances of ultimate post-secondary education failure. 

A disruptive student being sent out of class only winds up being sent back to class again and again with no consequences -- suspension would cause a loss of ADA. I've actually had students in class say to me, "I'm not going to do any work...and I’m not going to let anybody else do work. What are you going to do about it?" The administrator's response to the teacher (not the student) is, "Can't you control your class?" By making it the teacher's problem the administrator doesn't have to do anything except keep collecting a very expensive ADA that in turn precludes any real teaching or learning. 

With ADA as the sole determinant of how public schools are funded, school dysfunction is nothing but the predictable consequence of a system in which subjective, actual student academic ability plays no part in the school funding model. One should not be surprised under these circumstances if these schools remain abysmal failures. Long ago, platitudes took the place of measurable and substantive academic gains, improvement, and independently verifiable achievement. School administrators have been lying to themselves about what is an easily verifiable and abysmal reality in our present day inner city, de facto segregated public schools that are failing. 

Not only should mere attendance not be the only thing determining how good or successful any one school or school district is, but rather, it’s also a pretty good indicator that everything will be done in these districts -- legal or not so legal -- to assure that the state and federal government will not turn off the money spigot. What other business entity is allowed to audit itself, trusting people whose livelihood depends on coming up with verifiable lies? 

Given the political power that an entity like LAUSD has, they are able to falsify things like a supposed graduation rate improvement last year that is completely contradicted by any independent monitoring of how these students do after a fraudulent graduation. How else would you account for a 70% failure rate of students taking the community college entrance examination based on the same academic skillset their high school diploma is supposed to prove they mastered? 

But of course, the business of public education goes on. Or should I say, those in charge of giving us the business at LAUSD and elsewhere around the country goes on. Only now in the face of diminishing enrollment and fewer teachers there has nonetheless been a 22% increase in administrators at LAUSD.  

If you or someone you know has been targeted and are in the process of being dismissed and need legal defense, get in touch:

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-In my last CityWatch column, I detailed some of the issues facing California’s extensive rehab and recovery industries. As in all industries, the unscrupulous operate alongside those who are committed to helping those battling addiction. One reader commented, “I was in a sober living (facility) in the valley for almost two years and it helped me build a foundation that I have now. I have been clean for almost five years and now I feel I have my life back.” 

While the many mental health professionals and addiction specialists who strive to ethnically support those fighting addiction should be recognized for their efforts, those who open and operate facilities that scam families and prey on addicts should not be permitted to continue to do so. 

Recovery and rehab is a multi-billion dollar industry. Addiction is an ever-growing problem throughout the United States. Treatment for addiction has been rising five percent per year, projected to reach $42.1 billion by 2020, according to Federal estimates. Many states, including California, have been moving drug offenders into community programs to curb prison costs and reduce prison populations. Residential rehab treatment can range from $2,000 to over $25,000 per stay. 

The marketplace has created a dire need for facilities and has attracted those who are less than scrupulous. While inpatient and outpatient facilities in California and other states do have licensing restrictions, sober living and halfway houses often operate in a grey area with little or no governmental oversight. However, legislators in California and other states have been working on laws to require sober living facilities to be inspected, certified, and subject to ethical codes and consumer protections. 

Two bills are currently headed to Assembly Appropriations Committee; AB 2255, authored by Assembly Member Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) would authorize The California Department of Health Care Services to investigate complaints, impose sanctions, and commence disciplinary actions, including revocation of certification. The bill would also require “drug- and alcohol-free” residences have on-site, live-in managers, operators, or owners and for clients to participate in “legitimate programs of recovery from substance abuse disorder.” 

AB 2403 by Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) would authorize the California Department of Health Care Services to deny permits for treatment facilities within 300 feet of other facilities. Both bills face some opposition. 

While California legislators work to find a solution, let’s take a look at Florida, a state that was plagued with problems. In the mid-2000s, unlicensed and unregulated operators crammed patients seeking help for addictions ranging from alcohol to heroin into sober living facilities. Residents who didn’t follow the rules were released onto the streets. Following a scam involving inflated insurance claims, the Florida Legislature passed a 2015 law that requires certification of homes that receive patients from licensed rehab facilities. Florida is home to approximately 1,200 sober living facilities that house 12,000-13,000 residents. 

Regulating sober living facilities was a challenge because people recovering from addiction are protected by federal laws, including the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts. However, Florida State Rep. Bill Hager (R-Boca Raton) pushed for years before his most recent bill was signed into law. Sober living facilities can voluntarily register with the state, which means they will be monitored by the Department of Children and Families to meet certain health and safety requirements. The law provides incentives for registration. State-funded rehab centers may only send clients to state-certified sober facilities, for example. 

Sober living facilities in Florida have been raided on charges of fraud and illegal patient brokering. Some facilities were receiving kickbacks from treatment facilities and labs processing drug tests, requiring residents to be tested several times each day. In addition, some facilities pay “junkie hunters” $500 to sign up recovering addicts at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Rep. Hager and Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) are proposing legislation to ban both practices. 

Restricting the zoning of sober homes is a challenge due to disability and housing laws. As the facilities are classified in California as “group homes,” they do not require license or certification although the facilities are not permitted to provide medical care or therapy on-site. However, if the state is able to put together a list of sober living facilities meeting minimum criteria, perhaps the state could at some point mandate which facilities get referrals by the court system or prisons, as well as apply resources to increase consumer awareness. 

Sober living facilities do fulfill a need, assisting those post-recovery maintain sobriety. However, regulations are needed to prevent unscrupulous operators from taking advantage of patients through insurance fraud and lack of oversight, threatening safety and health.

 

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

 NEW GEOGRAPHY-In a state ruled by a former Jesuit, perhaps we should not be shocked to find ourselves in the grip of an incipient state religion. Of course, this religion is not actually Christianity, or even anything close to the dogma of Catholicism, but something that increasingly resembles the former Soviet Union, or present-day Iran and Saudi Arabia, than the supposed world center of free, untrammeled expression. 

Two pieces of legislation introduced in the Legislature last session, but not yet enacted, show the power of the new religion. One is Senate Bill 1146, which seeks to limit the historically broad exemptions the state and federal governments have provided religious schools to, well, be religious. 

Under the rubric of official “tolerance,” the bill would only allow religiously focused schools to deviate from the secular orthodoxy required at nonreligious schools, including support for transgender bathrooms or limitations on expressions of faith by students and even Christian university presidents, in a much narrower range of educational activity than ever before. Many schools believe the bill would needlessly risk their mission and funding to “solve” gender and social equity problems on their campuses that currently don’t exist. 

The second piece of legislation, thankfully temporarily tabled, Senate Bill 1161, the Orwellian-named “California Climate Science Truth and Accountability Act of 2016,” would have dramatically extended the period of time that state officials could prosecute anyone who dared challenge the climate orthodoxy, including statements made decades ago. It would have sought “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused or misled the public on those risks.” 

Although advocates tended to focus on the hated energy companies, the law could conceivably also extend to skeptics who may either reject the prevailing notions of man-made climate change, or might believe that policies concocted to “arrest” the phenomena may be themselves less than cost-effective or even not effective at all. So, fellow Californians, sign onto Gov. Torquemada’s program or face possible prosecution and the fires of hell. 

The new intolerance 

Although they target widely different issues, these pieces of legislation reflect a highly authoritarian and illiberal brand of progressivism evolving into something of a state religion. On one hand, California cannot tolerate the autonomy of religious institutions if they refuse to embrace the secularist ideology that dominates the state. Even religious clubs on California State University campuses can no longer restrict their leadership to those who actually are believers. 

Similarly, the emerging attack on anyone questioning climate change orthodoxy represents another kind of religion, one that gives officially sanctioned science something close to papal infallibility. Despite the fact that there remain widely divergent views on both the severity of climate change and how best to address it, one has to adhere to the accepted “science” – or else. 

Perhaps most shocking of all, this new spirit of progressive intolerance is affecting other institutions, notably academia and the media. Long incubators for free thinking, the academy, as liberal legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz note, now routinely violates due process. 

The University of California even has promoted the idea of “freedom from intolerance” in order to protect students from any speech that may offend them as discriminatory. In the context of today’s campus, this means that not only the lunacy of Donald Trump but even conventional conservatism must be curtailed as intrinsically discriminatory and evil. Yet, at the same time, proudly violent groups like the Black Panthers are openly celebrated. 

This cult of political correctness has reached such ludicrous levels that the University of California considers it a “microagression" to assert “America is a land of opportunity,”  or to dare to criticize race-based affirmative action. Perhaps more dangerous, such attitudes are incubated in our law schools, which increasingly embrace the notion that the law should be employed specifically to promote certain ideals – whether environmental, race-related or gender-related – embraced by overwhelmingly progressive institutions, irrespective of constitutional limits. 

The media, to their shame, increasingly embrace these notions, for example, by refusing to print letters from climate change skeptics, as has occurred on outlets such as Reddit and the Los Angeles Times.  Increasingly, mainstream newspaper accounts do not even bother considering skeptical views, including those held by dissenting scientists or questioning economists. What we used to associate only with Soviet-era papers like Pravda increasingly pervades much of the mainstream media. 

In such an environment, it’s not surprising that legislators and elected state officials feel free to target churches, conservative think tanks or energy companies such as Exxon with criminal sanctions and penalties. That such approaches are disguised either as being “scientific” or reflective of “social justice” makes them no less heinous and fundamentally illiberal, in terms of traditional American values of tolerance and respect for dissenting opinions. 

Forgetting Madison, embracing groupthink 

For the record, I am neither a Christian, nor do I deny that climate change could pose a potential serious long-term threat to humanity. What worries me most is the idea that one must embrace official orthodoxy about how to combat this phenomenon, or question its priority over so many other pressing concerns, such as alleviating poverty, both here and abroad, protecting the oceans or a host of other issues. Similarly, I have always disagreed with holy rollers like Sen. Ted Cruz, who would seek to limit, for example, abortion or the rights of gay people to marry, or would allow school prayer. 

But the new progressive intolerance now represents, in many ways, as great, if not more pervasive, a threat to the republic than that posed by either religious fundamentalists or even the most fervent climate change denier. It violates the Madisonian principle that assumed that religious and moral ideas “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” To revoke that principle is to reduce the United States to just another authoritarian state, even if the official ideology is couched in scientific research or estimable embrace of racial or gender differences. 

It is no surprise, then, that today many Christians – as much as two-thirds, according to one recent survey – feel that they are being persecuted. Indeed, if they dissent from orthodox views, they now can find themselves the subjects of official opprobrium, as seen in the case of Chick-fil-A in New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged his constituents, somewhat unsuccessfully, to boycott the popular restaurant. In some cases, you can lose your job by taking the wrong position, as was the case for Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla. The attempt to impose orthodoxy on religious schools, as in SB1146, seems the logical extension of such thinking. 

The jihad against anyone who dissents on climate issues also impacts those who are not religious. Couched in the oft-repeated hysterical language that has come to dominate green politics, anyone who dissents on the orthodoxy – whether a moderate Democrat, an energy company or the stray scientific skeptic – faces the possibility of official persecution. 

Already, 16 Democratic state attorneys general are actively seeking such action against companies and individuals, which should offend anyone who believes in the ideals of free speech and diversity of opinion. That our own governor and Legislature embrace such repressive views is anathema to the very idea of California, where the “free speech” movement originated and fostering unorthodoxy has been something of a tradition. Slowly, our very essence – born of debate and dissent and the presence of so many ethnicities and world views – is being stamped out in an attempt to enforce orthodoxy. 

This process, as in so many areas, has been exacerbated by our transition into a one-party state where, increasingly, only the most orthodox views on all issues can be tolerated. Ultimately, we as Americans – and Californians – will pay a price for this. History is replete with stories of decline brought on by enforced official orthodoxy, from Byzantium to China’s Qing dynasty, the Spain of the Inquisition, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union or the current religious autocracies of the contemporary Middle East. 

As we seek to limit options and ways of thought about everything from marriage and bathrooms to how the planet operates, we don’t just persecute dissenters. We also undermine our ability to innovate, adapt and evolve as a society.

 

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.”) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--Were the evictions of more than 20 disabled veterans, elderly and low-income people from 1850 N. Cherokee, (photo above) which left two residents of the rent-stabilized building permanently homeless, a really rare outcome of the LA City Council's habit of giving developers favors to build whatever they want, even if it pushes the poor out of the way? Or is the tragic scenario at Cherokee Avenue actually a lot more widespread than imagined — as testimony this week involving three LA City Council members strongly suggested? 

The answer: The testimony revealed that the City Council and LA Planning Department have no idea how many evictions, or how much destruction of affordable housing, they create by approving “spot zoning” — the severe bending of zoning rules on a single piece of land. In fact, City Hall's broken planning system is fueling LA's luxury housing craze — at the expense of everyone else.  

Historic 1850 N. Cherokee is the centerpiece of a tragedy, having been emptied in 2013 of its low-income Angelenos by the wealthy Lesser family — to make way for luxury condos. A “spot zoning” change in 2009 allowed the Lessers to subdivide the land for luxury condos. This exemption from zoning rules wipes out many rent-stabilized units in Los Angeles. Already 22,000 rent-stabilized units have vanished in LA since 2000, fueling LA's homeless crisis. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a reform heading for the March ballot and sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, is focusing heat on the City Council to end its practice of letting wealthy developers get around zoning rules that are supposed to protect communities.  

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the City Council to do its job, by writing a General Plan and 35 Community Plans that respect what communities want, reducing developer control over the planning process.  

But as testimony at City Hall this week revealed, the system is broken. Only some Cherokee tenants were paid relocation fees required under the Ellis Act, a state law that allows mass evictions if the building owner wants to permanently transform his structure into a non-rental use. Some Cherokee residents, according to testimony before LA City Council members Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Jose Huizar, were not properly compensated.  

Several tenants were also promised a chance at the new condos that were on the way at Cherokee. Under redistricting in 2012 the property was shifted from Council District 4 to District 13. Developer David Lesser persuaded the new city councilman, Mitch O'Farrell (who is even more eagerly pro-developer than Garcetti), to allow Lesser to pursue a much more profitable project — a luxury hotel.  

“Susan,” an older woman who lived at Cherokee for 30 years, was among those mass-evicted by Lesser under the Ellis Act. Susan told the Council members, “You never quite recover from that. I dream about my old apartment. Now I see it happen to dozens, probably hundreds, probably thousands of other people. It’s unconscionable what’s going on.”  

City officials have justified allowing Lesser to switch from condo housing to hipster hotel by portraying the forced-eviction apartment building to be nothing more than a “vacant” shell, no harm done. Which is clearly a lie by city officials. But just as improper, the Department of Planning has declared the proposed upscale hotel to be “residential” not commercial — allowing wealthy developer Lesser to provide fewer amenities, yet another City Hall favor to a developer who drove people out.  

“Homelessness is on rise and 1850 Cherokee is an example of that,” Sylvie Shain, an advocate for the displaced who appealed the hotel plan this week, testified to Cedillo, Harris and Huizar. “Two of the former tenants are still homeless three years later — one lives on the couches of benevolent friends and the other is living in his car.”  

Sitting as the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM), the three councilmembers ultimately did something rarely seen at City Hall: they sided with the little guys. Dawson and Cedillo voted to back Shain’s appeal of the city’s approvals for a luxury hotel at Cherokee, with Huizar voting against Shain’s appeal. (Photo right: Councilman Huizar)  

In a revealing and highly unusual exchange, all three PLUM committee members — Cedillo, Dawson and Huizar — appeared stunned that the city's small Department of Planning, whose staff is about half the size of Seattle's, does not know how many people the City Council is displacing by backing “Ellis Act” evictions. Yet the City Council and Department of Planning are the ones who set these evictions in motion, whenever they let developers turn LA’s desperately-needed affordable housing into a different use.  

How is this possible? Los Angeles has the highest paid City Council in the nation ($184,000 a year), and each council member has a personal staff of up to 25 aides. Yet read the below back and forth between the three councilmen and Director of City Planning Vince Bertoni at this week's fascinating PLUM hearing (yes, we said fascinating hearing). It reveals that the City Council is utterly in the dark about the human displacement its land-zoning manipulations cause:  

Huizar: “Mr. Bartoni when we get these projects before us, seeking an 'entitlement' and/or a new use on a property, is there something in the documents that flags to [us] that the property is under the rent-stabilization ordinance and/or the Ellis Act? Does anything flag us?”  

Vince Bartoni, City Planning Director: “I’ll ask Mr. Rausch to come to the microphone to address that.”  

Charlie Rausch, L.A. City Planner: “What was question again?”  

Huizar: “Whenever there’s an applicant to change a use for a property, do we get somehow flagged in our documents that this [property] is under rent-stabilization or under the Ellis Act?”  

Rausch: “Generally not. I haven’t seen one in a case file.”  

Huizar: “I’ve always wondered what’s the cumulative impact … At some point we should have an odometer that says, 'Look, you’re taking off [the market] all these rent stabilization units. Does the left arm in housing department, who is in charge of this, really know what we are doing over here?” 

At that point, Rausch reminded Huizar of the hotly disputed proposal to transform the affordable Wyvernwood housing development in Huizar’s district in Boyle Heights, displacing a staggering 6,000 residents who stand in the way of 4,400 proposed luxury condos and luxury rentals. Only 15% would be set aside as “affordable.” The gigantic multi-skyscraper urban renewal plan hearkens back to massive, vertical projects pushed by Eastern cities decades ago.  

Boyle Heights residents have marched in the streets against Wyvernwood, which would forever transform and gentrify heavily working-class and Latino Boyle Heights. It would pour 20,000 mostly upscale new residents into several 24-story towers, and would include 300,000 square feet of office, commercial and retail space. The wealthy developer, Steven Fink of Fifteen Group in Miami, would be allowed by City Hall to carve up extensive green space and meadow-like grounds that meander through Wyvernwood, to jam in several new streets.  

With a nod to respecting the existing tenants, Huizar has nevertheless backed the developer. Simply put, Wyvernwood is the equivalent of displacing a small working-class town for the desires of a single developer.  

In the end, this week's City Hall PLUM committee upheld Sylvie Shain's appeal against the luxury hotel proposed at Cherokee, which she based on requirements of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.  

Cedillo said of the human displacement tragedy created at 1850 N. Cherokee, “People have been basically put asunder.” Dawson said, “We don’t even know if the people got the basic relocation fee — while the letter [of the law] might have been met, the spirit is being violently violated in this case.”  

If Cedillo and Dawson stick to their guns at next Tuesday's follow-up PLUM hearing (plus find one more city council member on PLUM to back them with a third vote), the consistently pro-developer LA Planning and Land Use Committee might find itself in an unusual situation: turning down a rich developer with a bad project that breaks the city’s zoning rules and displaces people.  

Mark Simon, of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, summed it up best to the PLUM councilmen: “Just walk outside — in maybe 20 feet in each direction, [you'll] get some hard evidence of the devastation projects like these cause on the homeless impact. It's ridiculous to say there’s no hard evidence — my God, we’re all living with it.”

 

(Jill Stewart is Campaign Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and former LA Weekly editor. She can be reached at [email protected] Miki Jackson writes about Los Angeles politics. She can be reached at: [email protected]

-cw

Tags: Jill Stewart, people’s voice, Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, 2preservela, 1850 N. Cherokee, LA City Council, city hall, PLUM committee, David Lesser, Erick Garcetti, Jose Huizar, Gil Cedillo, Coalition to Preserve LA

 

POLITICS-In the primary election this month 89 local taxes and bonds faced voters. The total is expected to increase in November. In some jurisdictions voters likely will face multiple tax increases dedicated for different purposes.

Los Angeles is a prime example.

Today, the transportation agency known as Metro is considering a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects. Los Angeles already has a sales tax for transportation but it has an end date approaching. No end date on the new tax proposal. In a change of tactics, Metro leaders decided to extend the sales tax on a permanent basis.

Los Angeles City residents will probably also face a bond or parcel taxes to fund homeless remedies. The city council plans to move both measures forward, making the final decision on which mechanism to advance to the ballot once council members can further “study” the issue.

Consider that shorthand for which version polls better.

In fact, polling already seems to be moving the decision makers to consider a bond to benefit the homeless. Voters often look at bonds as free money, not realizing that they are funded by property tax increases. Polling shows greater acceptance for bonds than parcel taxes, which have the dreaded “tax” word attached.

In reality, a $1 billion bond would cost twice as much as the $1 billion parcel tax program because of the interest to pay the bond. Parcel taxes have their own issues that could upset a campaign to achieve the necessary two-thirds voter for passage, the same mark bonds must hit. Would a parcel tax be levied per parcel or per square footage? Square foot charges are aimed at collecting more revenue from larger, commercial properties, which likely would open the door for an opposition campaign funded by business. In addition, a square footage tax may be challenged as unconstitutional.

Despite the economics of the more expensive bond proposal, the politics favor pursuing that approach.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County is considering a parcel tax for parks. The county also considered raising an income tax for the homeless but that plan has sputtered. It required state approval which it did not get. The parks proposal would more than double revenue now brought in by the property assessments that currently help fund county parks. Again, business is opposed to the square foot method and has informed county supervisors that so many, varied tax measures cannot be justified.

In addition to local taxes, voters will face statewide tax measures on the ballot. The $2 a pack cigarette tax increase and the Proposition 30 income tax extension initiatives are both expected to be on the ballot. And, let’s not forget that the marijuana legalization measure has a tax attached to the growth and sale of cannabis.

Analysts wonder how voters will react to an onslaught of taxes. The question is particularly of concern in localities like Los Angeles if all the taxes are placed on the ballot. Many of the local taxes and bonds, unlike the state measures, require a two-thirds vote to pass.

My guess is that multiple tax measures will benefit opponents who need just over one-third of the vote to defeat most tax measures.

(Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. His insightful column appears daily at Fox and Hounds.) 

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--LA City Planning will soon be forced to make a clear choice regarding the Purple Line Subway Extension. In particular, City Planning is sponsoring two community meetings, on June 29 and 30, to undertake station area planning for three stations: Wilshire/LaBrea, Wilshire/Fairfax, and Wilshire/LaCienega, shown on the map above. 

Which approach to station area planning will prevail? 

The fork in the road for both METRO and the City of Los Angeles is the actual purpose of mass transit. Is it to improve the mobility of Los Angeles residents, to give them more appealing transportation options? Or, is the purpose of transit, such as the Purple Line Extension, to create opportunities for real estate investors to capitalize on suddenly valuable parcels at station areas? 

While most people assume the purpose of transit is to improve mobility for local residents, commuters, and visitors, the choice facing City Hall, based on clashing precedents, is much murkier. The direction, therefore, that the planners and then the City’s elected officials make, will have repercussions for decades to come, probably, in fact, past the end of the 21st century. 

There is a precedent for planning station areas early in the construction process, to make sure that neighborhoods adjacent to transit stations, generally in a quarter-mile radius, are carefully designed to reflect the concerns of both local residents and future passengers. In fact, the Planning Department already prepared comprehensive specific plans for the subway stations at LaBrea/Wilshire and Fairfax/Wilshire, including visionary station designs.  City Planning prepared these plans in the early 1980’s, when the original Metro Rail alignment was Wilshire Boulevard to Fairfax, and then north on Fairfax through West Hollywood, Hollywood, and over the Cahuenga Pass to North Hollywood. 

METRO, then called the Southern California Rapid Transit District, hired the Department of City Planning to prepare approximately 13 separate Specific Plans. When METRO changed the original alignment in 1986 because of political pressure, two of those completed plans, including their EIRs, now correspond to the new Purple Line Extension stations. They could easily be pulled out of old file cabinets, dusted off, and with a few changes, be brought up-to-date. 

But, don’t hold your breath because of a conflicting precedent, Metro’s Expo Lines. In this case, the planning process has strictly focused on up-zoning and up-planning station area parcels to promote Transit Oriented Development, even though METRO itself calls for Transit Oriented Districts/Commununities. 

This alternative is called Neighborhood Transit Plans, an ambitious City Planning program to create local plans for stations on all of METRO’s rail projects in Los Angeles. The most advanced of these plans, for the Exposition Line, is a draft specific plan, first unveiled in January 2015, but yet to be adopted. This draft is, in my view, the template for all future Neighborhood Transit Plans, including those for the Purple Line Extension. 

A careful look at this template reveals that it is a zoning document. Even though the template is labeled a plan, it is not, tellingly, part of the General Plan. It is, in effect, a plan implementation tool, zoning, that is mislabeled a plan. 

There is also a companion Streetscape Plans for each of the Exposition Line’s stations, but these document are not part of the draft Specific Plan. The differences are critical. The City Planning Commission and the City Council adopt Specific Plans as ordinances. Streetscape Plans, however, are only advisory documents that the Board of Public Works, Cultural Affairs Commission, and the City Planning Commission approve.  While Streetscape Plans do include detailed improvements for public areas, they have no implementation authority, such as the City’s budget, capital projects, or Departmental work programs. 

Basic Steps for Purple Line Station Area Planning 

Given these alternative precedents, how should the City of Los Angeles now proceed with comprehensive planning for the Purple Line Extension, as well as other METRO rail corridors? 

First, the entire station area planning process should be completed and implemented before the Purple Line opens to the public in 2023. Considering that the Blue Line, Green Line, and Orange Line are operational, but do not yet have any adopted transit station area plans, this is not a good start. Likewise the Red Line subway, between the downtown and North Hollywood, with a Purple Line spur to Wilshire/Western, only has one adopted plan, the Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan (SNAP). This corridor, like other centers in Los Angeles, does, however, have land use plans prepared by the Community Redevelopment Agency. At some future point, these redevelopment plans will be transferred to the Department of City Planning and may become additional specific plans for transit stations.  

Second, the station area planning process should not reinvent the wheel. The dormant station plans from the previous rail alignment should be re-used, but with a warning. Those older plans did not view transit as a gift horse to real estate developers, but as a threat to existing communities located near stations. These plans protected existing communities from over-development by subway projects in older Los Angeles neighborhoods. These plans also included a subsequently discarded planning principle: new real estate projects should be limited to the capacity of local infrastructure and services. 

Third, instead of using rail projects to attract new residents to station areas, the plans should focus on public improvements that address the mobility needs of existing residents and commuters. This principle is at odds with the model Exposition Specific Plan, whose purpose is to encourage high-density apartment projects, based on the untested assumption that their tenants will live near subway stations and, therefore, use mass transit. 

Fourth, the restored station area plans must address heavy automobile traffic generated by the nearby Cedar-Sinai Hospital, Beverly Center, Beverly Connection, Grove Shopping Center, and Farmers Market. These local traffic generators need be carefully linked to the new subway stations. 

Fifth, to properly serve the transportation needs of Purple Line Extension neighbors and commuters, the planning process should include the following agencies and projects: 

  • Bureau of Street Services regarding systematic tree planning, pedestrian curb cuts, and other sidewalk improvement in the station planning areas, at least a 1/4 mile from the station site. The precedent for these improvements can be found at the Purple Line’s Wilshire-Vermont station, where METRO paid for similar improvements on both Vermont and Wilshire Boulevard. 
  • Department of Water and Power regarding the undergrounding of power utility lines in station areas. Since the relocation of these utility lines is part of subway construction, some of this work is already underway. 
  • Department of Transportation, regarding the construction of bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian enhancements, such as intersection redesign and way-finding signs. 
  • Bureau of Street Lighting regarding the installation of improved street lighting on pedestrian-oriented streets. 
  • METRO regarding the construction of station-site interfaces for cars (Kiss ‘n Ride and Park ‘n Ride), busses, taxis, carpools, vanpools, pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycles. 
  • Los Angeles Police Department regarding citations for automobile drivers who block pedestrian crosswalks with their cars. 

The combination of these public improvements is called Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) by METRO, so there should be no reluctance on their part to assure that these features are properly planned, funded, and constructed prior to 2023.  

Evolution of Station Area Planning in Los Angeles 

Underlying this discussion is the steady evolution of station area planning from broad improvements in mobility to now rolling out the red carpet for real estate projects. While the older plans were growth neutral, the current approach is clearly growth inducing, but with little concern for the public services that additional residents will require. 

A deeper question is why has the focus of station area planning changed so much during the 30 years between the first Metrorail project and the current one. The answer, I think, is the continued collapse of the post-WWII liberal order in the United States, which gradually became neo-liberalism. From the early 1970s onward, President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War promise to the American public of “guns and butter” could not be kept. The traditional liberal formula of progressive legislation at home (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Voting Rights Act, EPA) married to a hawkish foreign policy collapsed. Even though the hawkish component quickly resumed, this breakdown included the gradual elimination of many domestic programs, such as the Federal government’s programs for public housing programs and local transportation projects. 

To justify these cutbacks in domestic programs, neo-liberal ideology filled the bill nicely. Its main tenant was that market forces, if properly infused by deregulation and incentives to investors, could address stubborn social problems, such as traffic congestion and high priced housing. When applied to cities, neo-liberalism meant the elimination of major urban programs and the deregulation of zoning and environmental review. As a result, local government policies have since then deliberately benefited owners of commercial property, on the assumption that if zoning barriers, such as use, height, density, and parking codes, are removed, developers will build a cornucopia of Transit Oriented Development near transit stations. This miracle cure would simultaneously provide affordable housing and drive up transit ridership. So far this has not yet happened, but its defenders claim they need more time for their zoning plans to be vindicated. 

Unfortunately, we do not have enough time for this grand experiment to be played out. The supposed miracle cure of high density market housing built at subway stations, regardless of population trends or the capacity of public infrastructure and services, will lock us in to undesirable land use patterns that will haunt us for generations to come. Affluent residents in these areas are not likely to become regular transit users, while local streets, parking facilities, and other public services will not be able to keep up with increased user demand. 

This is why I have argued that the focus of station area plans should be public improvements, such as better sidewalks, not up-zoning and up-planning handouts for real estate tycoons. 

It is also why I now argue that the planning for the Purple Line stations forces the Department of City Planning to make some tough choices on the ultimate purpose of mass transit. Will it be the needs of residents and commuters or will it be the needs of real estate speculators? 

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].)

-cw

 

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