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 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

 

ENVIRONMENT POLITICS--An oil spill has reportedly leaked thousands of gallons of crude from a pipeline into a canyon in Ventura County, California, fire officials said Thursday—in what environmentalists say is a reminder of the dangers of coastal fossil fuel operations.

The leak spilled at least 29,000 gallons, or 700 barrels, as emergency crews used hoses to suck up the "gooey mess" that was created when the oil formed a small lake in a gorge known as Prince Barranca, the Los Angeles Times reported. [[http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ventura-county-oil-spill-20160623-snap-story.html ]]

The operating line has been shut down. The LA Times notes that it is the 10th time in 10 years that the pipeline company, Crimson Pipeline, has had its pipes break or fail.

Meanwhile, the oil company, Aera Energy, is jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil and is responsible for 25 percent of California's output, making it one of the state's biggest oil producers.

"It is distressing to once again see this kind of devastation visited upon a sensitive location," said Brian Segee, senior attorney with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center.

The figures on the oil spill have been difficult to verify. Earlier in the day, fire officials put the estimate at 5,000 barrels—or 210,000 gallons—before amending it to a much smaller number.

Segee noted that the response to last year's Plains All American oil spill on Santa Barbara's Refugio Beach was similar.

"So far estimates for the size of this spill have been all over the map. It is important to remember that with last year's Plains All American Oil Spill at Refugio Beach, the initial industry estimates were orders of magnitude below reality," Segee said. "But we are still very early in understanding the scope of this spill and the challenges that yet another major oil spill will deliver to our region. Regardless of the size, any amount of spilled oil is inexcusable and destructive."

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) told the LAT the spill should serve as another warning of Big Oil's risks.

CBD attorney Kristen Monsell said, "This major spill is another grim example of why we must get pipelines and oil drilling out of California's vulnerable coastal environment. The spill's already causing environmental damage. We've got to stop thinking about these oil spills as accidents and start regarding them as completely predictable ecological tragedies that we can prevent with strong action.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

CLEAN ENERGY PROGRESS-When PG&E retires its two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025, the electricity they generate will be replaced with gains in energy efficiency, renewable power, and pollution-free energy technologies. For years, some have claimed that we can’t fight climate change without nuclear power, because shutting down nuclear plants would mean burning more fossil fuels to generate replacement electricity. 

That’s wrong, of course, and now we have the proof. 

Today, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric became the first power company to announce plans to replace an aging nuclear reactor with sound investments that make us more energy efficient and help us get more clean power from the wind and sun. The announcement was part of a joint proposal negotiated with help from NRDC and Friends of the Earth, since joined and improved on by labor and other environmental groups. 

When PG&E retires its two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors, in 2024 and 2025, the electricity they generate will be replaced with gains in energy efficiency, renewable power, and pollution-free energy technologies. 

Closing California’s last nuclear power plant will also make the state’s grid more flexible, so more renewable energy can power California’s businesses and homes. And all of this will cost less than keeping Diablo Canyon open for another 20 years after its current Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses expire, ultimately saving customers more than $1 billion. 

The people at PG&E understand the promise of a clean energy economy  and how this forward-looking plan will lead to lower utility bills for its customers. It’s a tribute to what can be accomplished when we rally together around a common goal. What’s more, this plan is a model that can be replicated around the country, where nearly 100 nuclear reactors will retire in the coming decades, and around the world. 

Right now, America’s nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of our electricity nationwide. The U.S. Department of Energy tells us that by 2050 we can get nearly two thirds of our electricity from the wind and sun, while efficiency gains ensure that we do more with less energy waste. 

We’re on our way. Last year, 62 percent of all the new electric-generating capacity installed in our country was powered by solar or wind, and growth in electricity use has slowed dramatically since 2000, thanks largely to energy efficiency improvements. 

The joint proposal --  subject to approval by state and federal regulators  --  shows how we can keep the momentum going, and that’s what it’s going to take to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change. 

Last year was the hottest  since global recordkeeping began in 1880. This year is on track to be hotter still, with the hottest first five months of the year on record. And 19 of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 20 years. 

We’ve got to cut carbon pollution today so our kids don’t inherit more climate chaos tomorrow. That’s why, last December in Paris, the United States led China, India, and more than 180 other nations to put real plans on the table for shifting away from the dirty fossil fuels driving climate change to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. 

The plan to replace nuclear reactors with efficiency gains and renewable power puts PG&E at the forefront of that global transition. It proves we can cut our carbon footprint with energy efficiency and renewable power, even as our aging nuclear fleet nears retirement. And it strikes a blow against the central environmental challenge of our time, the climate change that threatens our very future.

 

(Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Silly me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I quoted the noble words that the Hollywood Fringe Festival uses to describe itself: 

"The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community." 

Freedom of expression. That's an ideal that we broad minded types should support. The Fringe's glowing self congratulation goes on: 

"Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival's mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

Diverse and cutting edge points of view. That's another impressive promise. 

But the Fringe seems to be having trouble living up to its own claims. As we have learned over the past two weeks, there is at least one point of view that is not allowable. 

To understand this story, we have to back up one step and explain that the Fringe has had an ongoing relationship with a website called Bitter Lemons. (Photo above, center: Colin Mitchell and Enci Box, Bitter Lemons founders.) During the rest of the year, Bitter Lemons reviews and publicizes local theater. While the Fringe is going on, Bitter Lemons helps to publicize the festival and the productions being staged there.

Back to the main question, which is how one manages to put forth a point of view that is so outrageous that it goes beyond the festival's realm of acceptability. Curiously, the point of view that the Fringe found so objectionable wasn't even a theatrical production. It was an editorial column published in Bitter Lemons. Colin Mitchell's column isn't even about the Hollywood Fringe. It's indirectly about a sexual and physical abuse scandal that happened in Chicago. Mitchell was reacting to a long article about a small theater in Chicago in which the lead actor got away with physical battery and the pushing of sexual boundaries. 

The Chicago scandal story that Mitchell reacted to is by Aimee Levitt, and appeared in the June 8, 2016 edition of the Reader (warning: this is a long and involved story, but worthwhile readiing for any would-be actors and actresses). In the small Profiles Theater in Chicago, an actor who evidently has charisma and some acting skills managed to run his cast and crew ragged, put women in situations that made them feel socially and sexually uncomfortable, engaged in staged fights that got all too physical -- bruising the actresses routinely -- and got away with his reign of fear for years. It's not immediately clear from reading the article whether the players put up with the abuse out of ambition (and fear) for their own careers, or whether it went even further, to some sort of Rasputin-like controlling relationship between the abuser and the abused. 

For some, this will be a tempest in a fairly small teapot, the teapot being small theaters, improv training, and the community of critics and reviewers who follow them. For others, those of us who are dedicated followers of the performing arts, it's of significance. When the integrity of the system is at stake, you take notice. In addition, the large number of young actors and actresses who are taking classes and trying to break into the business should be concerned. Their own safety and their right to retain their own dignity are what is at stake. 

The question involves sexual and physical harassment and what to do about it -- and who should be doing something about it . The question came to a head during the week of June 8 when the following things took place in the order given: 

1) The story broke in the Reader in its June 8 edition. The villain in the Reader piece is the leading actor at Profiles, one Darrell Cox. Just the physical damage to his supporting players sounds bad enough, what with one character or another being thrown violently against a refrigerator or thrown to the floor forcefully enough to cause the boards to creak. There is lots more in the Reader story. 

2) Colin Mitchell, the editor at Bitter Lemons, read the story and raised an interesting question. Where, he asks, is the personal responsibility among the actors and actresses who went along in their own abuse and degradation? Mitchell points out that they were all consenting adults, which turns out to be technically in error because one abused female was 17, but the point is accurate enough on the broader scale. At what point is it a moral obligation to set aside one's personal ambitions (or even fears) and take a stand for the greater public good? We might add to the question: What is the responsibility of the crew and potentially even investors in reporting violence and intimidation to the press or even to the legal authorities? 

Mitchell presented what I think is a strained argument. He says in effect that the actors and actresses who were victimized share some responsibility for not resisting, much less rising up in open revolt. Mitchell seems to have pushed a lot of buttons when he argued that they were all consenting adults. 

Obviously this is an argument of mixed merit. It is possible to be a legal adult without being entirely consenting, and lots of victims of crimes don't go right to the police. The Cosby scandal should be proof enough, if you don't want to familiarize yourself with the official statistics. 

But I think that Mitchell has raised an old but important moral question, even if he didn't quite get the wording perfect. At what point do bystanders -- or even victims -- have some moral obligation to protest and then to resist? It was a central moral question for my generation of post-holocaust Americans, with the explicit conclusion that Germans had an obligation to resist Nazi crimes. If Germans, under a totalitarian dictatorship, had some responsibility for the acts of their government, then it follows that Americans, in a much freer society, have some moral or ethical obligation to at least report on the sorts of activities that the Reader story exposed. One columnist from a major Chicago newspaper recognized this question and accepted some responsibility for failure to raise the topic in the public press at an earlier time. 

Mitchell's editorial is not deeply nuanced, but the seed of the post-holocaust argument is there, however little it is explicated. Mitchell asks in essence why the bruised and exhausted actress didn't just walk away, at the cost of removing a starring role from her resume, but at the gain of preserving her safety and dignity. 

There is a counterargument to Mitchell's position. Several, actually. But I will argue more from the rhetorical standpoint than from the psychological. One way to look at this whole sorry affair is that new rules and systems need to be put in place that protect theatrical newcomers from predators. That was the position developed in the Reader story. If you take this approach, you don't need to obsess on whether some actress was complicit in her own abuse. Not everybody is or can be a hero, and we as a society should protect even the naive and the young. Especially the naive and the young. 

Some of the criticism of Mitchell's editorial takes the argument much further, pointing out that victims in abusive relationships lose control at some point and can't be expected to be able to resist. I think that this argument is less persuasive following a careful rereading of the Reader piece, but it is not entirely lacking. 

3) Within a couple of days, a substantial number of people submitted angry and often caustic comments to Mitchell's piece. You can read them right below Mitchell's article. Here is one example of an outspoken reply: 

"This is white male privilege douchebaggery at its ugliest. Misunderstanding basic psychology of the predator and how he grooms victims. Blaming the victims. Then shaming the victims.

Shame on YOU for perpetuating a culture that blames those who are harmed.

"Sickening, puerile, privileged, cretinous behavior." 

4) Apparently the outcry became wide enough and loud enough to get back to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Hollywood Fringe Festival sent out an email announcing that it was severing relations with Bitter Lemons. So much for all that noble language in the mission statement quoted above. 

5) Shortly after, Bitter Lemons announced on its website that it had fired Colin Mitchell as editor in chief. Enci Box, the publisher of Bitter Lemons, put up a long explanation  which is worth reading, as it goes into the experiences an actress endures both in looking for work and in the theatrical experience itself. 

What I have been able to figure out by exchanging emails with the Hollywood Fringe and with Bitter Lemons is limited. The Hollywood Fringe explains, "Thanks for getting in touch. We have ended our media partnership with Bitter Lemons. The decision was a board-voted and staff-supported response to the editorial piece. That's all we'll be commenting on at this time. Thanks." 

This is an open admission that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is willing to engage in its home grown variety of censorship when it dislikes some particular message enough. 

As for Bitter Lemons, it was caught in the middle of this minefield, what with advertisers pulling their business from the Bitter Lemons organization. 

The Fringe makes another argument to the effect that it needs to be a safe space for all the performers working in its productions. I can see that the Fringe productions should be physically safe, but I suggest that they go too far if they mean to suggest that every performer be psychologically safe. That is an attitude that directly contradicts the idea of " the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

The argument that has been made in various forms is that Mitchell's column was hurtful to some readers. Taken further, this argument implies that some ideas are too dangerous to be allowed. Otherwise, the comment would be, "I strongly disagree with your position and wish to reply." 

Were Colin Mitchell's words and ideas hurtful? Possibly so. Undoubtedly so for at least some readers. But the idea of protecting freedom of expression is that this is a fundamental liberty. It is so fundamental that we dare not go so far as to protect people from having wounded feelings from hearing others' thoughts. As a nation, we've taken it so far as to protect the rights of modern day fascists wearing swastikas to parade in an area where holocaust survivors were concentrated. It's not that the United States is insensitive to the feelings of holocaust victims, but that we treasure freedom of speech as a core value. 

By the way, this is not meant to argue that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is obligated to follow the precepts of the First Amendment as if it were a governmental agency. It is not. It is a private organization and can legally hire or fire companies like Bitter Lemons as it sees fit. But it is also fair for us to point out that when the Fringe wraps itself in the flag of expressive freedom and brags about the untrammeled right to present material that is completely open and uncensored, well then, perhaps it ought to think about trying to live up to its own standards. 

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

-cw

MY TURN-Stakeholders keep the heat up on the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) so we will probably be looking at the status of the California Bullet train for the next two decades. Who knows if anything will anything even be completed by that time? The issue has managed to bring out passions on both sides and that is a good thing. This is definitely the year for activism in politics. 

David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association and Board member of SAFE coalition are continually trying to have communication with the CHSRA and any other government officials who will listen to them. 

There are positives and negatives on both sides. The California electorate passed 1A with certain provisions. They defined "High Speed" as reaching speeds up to 220 miles an hour. 

They also were told that it would provide 150,000 well-paying jobs, cut down emissions from cars and trucks by almost half, and put the State into the same stratosphere as other great countries. Now that we’ve been designated the sixth largest economy in the world, we can lay claim to almost being our own country. Not to be cynical... but we know from past experience the number of jobs projected is always less and the costs are always more! 

On the other hand, do we need to have such high speeds? I enjoy taking the train from LA to San Diego because we pass through some scenic wonders and it’s a therapeutic start to a trip. It beats flying which is only 40 minutes. Of course, one must add two hours to the actual flying time to stand in security lines. It certainly doesn't make for a stress free start. I could drive the two and a half hours, which can and has turned into a five hour trip on the 405/5. So the train is a great choice even if it goes 50 miles an hour. 

The train between NYC and Washington DC is another great ride. One goes through five or six different states and the scenery is fascinating. I think the highest speed is 81 miles an hour. But the majority of Americans seem to be in a perpetual rush. I don't know how much scenery one can enjoy going 220 miles an hour. 

If only the project were that simple. People on the east coast try to live within walking distance to the nearest train station. Trains don't run all night and during the day; the sound of a train signaling its approach is rather pleasant. 

We Californians -- especially Angelenos -- are a different breed. We’re spoiled! We don't have to worry about digging out of snow. We have a great freeway system, especially at 2 am if – if CalTrans hasn't decided to do "roadwork" and close three lanes. Our cars are included as members of the family. If you believe the Liberty Insurance commercial, we even name them. 

But we must consider both the environmental and people impact that the new CHSRA business plan envisions for its ride to LA. The northeastern Valley seems to bear the brunt of the hardships. Several hundred thousand residents are going to be severely impacted over the next 13 years. 

Because the CHSRA decided to construct the Northern California portion first, Valley residents breathed a sigh of relief. CHSRC does not necessarily have the best communication skills. I attended one of the meetings where they were reporting progress to the LA City Council. I expected some fireworks and some tough questions from the City Council members. The only searching questions came from the audience and because of Council rules none of the questions could receive answers because they weren't listed on the agenda. 

Dave De Pinto keeps me apprised of the SAFE outreach. Here is a quote from his second to latest notice to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard, the CHSRA Board and CHSRA management and to a zillion other government officials. 

Dear Chairman Richard: 

On behalf of the united communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which includes several hundred thousand residents, I'm writing to again convey that your Agency's follow-up on numerous public _*and*_ elected official requests is inadequate and disappointing. Despite your public statements about increased transparency and your use of the term

"harassment" to describe our many, many efforts to get responses from your staff on numerous matters, as impacted stakeholders engaged in the Authority's outreach program, we will not be ignored or marginalized. 

We call for the Authority to be accountable and responsive to our concerns and issues. The most important of those issues remains the continued inclusion of infeasible above ground segments such as above-ground E2, in ongoing environmental studies."

 

You can read the entire statement the SAFE website. Basically, he wanted to know why CHSRA hadn't had any public outreach in a year. They had promised to hold meetings starting at the beginning of this year. 

In the last week both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee accused CHSRA of fiscal malfeasance. Apparently one of the bids received from Spain's giant construction company Ferrovial, had pointed out that the financing for this Bullet Train, including all the monies from various government sources would probably not be sufficient to maintain the rail system and that public subsidies...meaning tax payers would be on the hook. In a study of 111 rail systems worldwide only three did not rely on subsidies. This little disclosure was inadvertently left out of copies of the Spanish proposal. 

Proposition 1A passed in 2008 approved $9 billion in bonds to build the rail system, stating it would have to operate without future public funding. That $9 billion has now mushroomed to $64 billion. 

The other source of financing was revenue from the Cap and Trade bill which, to date, has not generated its projected dollars. 

Not being an expert on railroad construction I asked De Pinto why we couldn't use the existing tracks with the reinforcement for high speeds. This way there would be little need for eminent domain environmental damage and seismic threats. 

He replied, "That's called the ‘blended approach’ and we can't get straight answers from them as it's too hypothetical and so many grade crossings would have to be altered, etc. It also causes a problem for them in that by law, they must travel from N. Cal. to S. Cal in two hours and forty minutes. The more they go the blended approach, the slower they go. But, it's cheaper for them and there are existing rights of way, so they do consider it in places. It's not going to use existing track here in the NE San Fernando Valley." 

So I asked, what could the speed be if they used existing tracks with modifications? 

He answered, "Every train/track situation is different country to country due to equipment, track layouts, etc. In California, they tout 220 MPH as their optimum speed and it's actually in the enabling ballot measure and legislation. 

"We know trains slow down around curves and approaching station stops. Based on all that CHSRA has said through the years, to expect 220 MPH through our community. That they would even propose such a thing demonstrates how out of touch and insensitive they are to local communities." 

There lies the elephant in the room. Scores of residents would not only have to live with huge, noisy and toxic dust conditions for years but, financially, it would place the values of their homes into a downward spiral.   

Just now, I received notice that the CHSRA sent "Permit to Enter" letters which indicated they will be conducting testing from June 2016 until December 2017. This is environmental impact testing for above-the-ground high speed rail. De Pinto notes in his letter to LA elected officials, that this testing is probably more like a three to five year project. SAFE is asking all their elected officials what they are going to do to protect these communities. 

There is a motion, which should soon be before the LA County Board of Supervisors, to remove all above ground routes from the existing plan and determine other alternatives. De Pinto's latest message, or as he calls it, his "rant", also suggests that those officials -- who are running for re-election or an open seat -- will be asked their position on the elimination of above ground tracks. The forthcoming election in November will have major consequences for those seeking to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley. 

The only elected official who has publicly supported SAFE is Assembly Member Patty Lopez who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District. 

This would make a great TV series. 

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected])

 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--How did homelessness suddenly become such a hot issue across California? There are many reasons, and few of them have anything to do with people who are homeless.

Those reasons—economic anxiety, budget surpluses, tax schemes, housing prices, prison reform, health care expansion, urban wealth, and political opportunism have combined to create today’s “homeless moment” in California.

For decades, combating homelessness has been a civic obsession in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its long tradition of progressive politics and generous homeless services. Now that homeless hubbub has spread statewide. To the surprise of many at the State Capitol, a $2 billion bond to pay for housing for the mentally ill homeless—previously a backburner issue in tax-and-education-obsessed Sacramento—became a central focus of this month’s budget negotiations. And around the state, local law enforcement officials have stirred the pot by claiming that recent measures to reduce the California prison population have exacerbated the homeless problem.

In Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second largest homeless population according to federal figures, homelessness has become the dominant political debate. Mayor Eric Garcetti has talked big about addressing the problem—declaring an emergency, promising that no military veterans will be living on the street—and now faces criticism for weak follow-up. L.A.’s city and county governments are now ensnared in huge debates about how to pay for additional public housing.

A similar pattern—of big plans to end homelessness followed by conflict about how to do it—has emerged in cities from Redding to Riverside. In San Diego, with America’s fourth largest homeless population, a leading city councilman called for ending all homelessness by the end of this year. (He’s since backed off). In Orange County, there have been calls for a “homeless czar” to speed up the building of shelters and housing. In Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin just held a press conference at the city’s baseball stadium to tout a plan to end homelessness in the next three years. In Sacramento, homelessness was a leading issue in the just-concluded mayoral election, with the victor pledging to build more housing for the homeless.

Given all this drama, you might expect that the number of homeless people is rapidly rising. To the contrary, homeless counts (the accuracy of which is another big debate) show relatively flat or even declining homeless populations in most of these cities. So why the sudden urgency? The short answer: the homeless are now more visible to the rich people who drive civic conversation. Fancy restaurants and new high-end housing have brought wealthy folks into urban neighborhoods and old industrial areas that once were havens for the homeless. Downtown L.A., home to a large population of unsheltered homeless for decades, has rapidly been transformed from one of the most affordable to one of the most expensive places to live in the city.

At the same time, anxiety about housing has never run deeper. The housing crisis of the previous decade cost many Californians their homes. California’s total failure to build housing—we’ve produced just one new unit for every eight new Californians in this decade—has led to sky-high prices. Many Californians are forced to spend more than half of their incomes on housing, and the prospect of sleeping on the street no longer seems so unlikely.

Politicians, who read polls showing this growing fear, have seized on the opening. Homelessness has become an almost perfect issue for politicians. Expectations of success are low (homelessness is persistent) so any progress can be spun as heroic. Few homeless people vote, so democratic accountability is close to nothing. And the issue doesn’t have a strong partisan profile, so there is room for political horse-trading and risk-taking.

In an extraordinary public letter late last year, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane urged experiments with different approaches to the problem—and took himself to task for not having done so previously. “I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness,” he wrote. “I have been a direct participant in many of my city’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing.”

Such self-criticism is easier for politicians when money is on the way. The federal government has stepped up funding for housing the homeless—especially for veterans. The state is running a surplus, and a state fund for mental health services, funded by the Proposition 63 tax on millionaires, is so full of extra dollars that even Gov. Brown, a notorious tightwad, agreed to borrow $2 billion from it to fund housing and other services for the homeless. He and the legislature also threw another $400 million in affordable housing dollars into the budget.

In some places, the notion of a homelessness emergency is seen as a justification for a money grab. LA County supervisors want the state—which famously limits local taxation—to permit them to impose their own millionaire’s tax to pay for more homeless programs. That money, of course, could free up other funds for other purposes—which is all the more reason to decree a homelessness emergency.

To be fair, much of this money will be spent on a strategy that has shown some success—providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless. This housing-oriented approach is a welcome departure from decades of efforts to fix the ills of the homeless—be they substance abuse or trauma or mental illness—before getting them housing.

But the focus on housing is narrow for a problem this complex. And today’s windfall for homeless services is unlikely, in California’s volatile budget system, to last. Even if it did, the disparate nature of the funding—a bundle of incentives and grants—isn’t efficient enough to create the capacity to cover the fluid and shifting homeless populations in California cities.

In his acclaimed new book, Evicted, Harvard professor Matthew Desmond argues that ending homelessness would require greater ambition than anything on the table in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. He advocates “universal housing” as a clear right, like the well-established right to public education.

Under Desmond’s proposal, the government would issue housing vouchers to families below a certain income threshold so that they pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The vouchers could be used to live anywhere they wanted—just as families use food stamps to buy groceries almost anywhere.

Such rental assistance is common in other developed countries like Britain and the Netherlands, which don’t suffer from American-style homelessness. In the U.S., universal housing via vouchers would cost $60 billion, Desmond estimates—real money, but a mere fraction of the hundreds of billions spent subsidizing the housing of wealthier people via the mortgage-interest tax deduction.

Universal housing wouldn’t have much chance of passage in Washington. But universal housing is just the sort of idea that California should try—if this homeless moment is really about ending homelessness.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square ... where this column originated.)

-cw

 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--The California media keeps getting it wrong. The state legislature hasn’t passed a budget. And the governor hasn’t made it law.

It’s not because they don’t want to do those things. It’s because they can’t. Not in California.

Yes, the legislature approved a document called a budget, and Gov. Brown signed it. But that is not the state budget. That is sort of a holding document that decides all the very easy things that can be decided under the California budget system.

All the budget optimism has blinded us to the unchanging reality in California:

The real budget is decided by voters.

And that’s not because they necessarily want it that way. It’s just how California works.

Anything that changes the constitution or affects previous initiatives has to be decided by ballot – that’s what makes California different. In addition, difficult tax and spending questions get put on the ballot by the rich and the interested – because they want political power or notice, or they want leverage, or they want something that they can’t get from the governor and the legislature.

Gov. Brown and the legislature’s main budget reform has been to move all these big ballot measure questions away from June, and pile them up on a big messy November ballot. That’s where voters will decided on the key points of the budget—various taxes including partial Prop 30 extensions, and a host of other questions that could affect spending and taxes.

So it’s November – or maybe December, when the votes are all finally counted – when the budget gets passed. Well, sort of. The courts can rule on measures, further delaying things.

So hold the congratulation about passing budgets, at least until the stores are decorated for Christmas.

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

-cw

 

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Last Friday, ABC’s 20/20 detailed the unfathomable saga of rehab mogul Chris Bathum, (photo above) subject of an April expose in LA Weekly written by Hillel Aron. Bathum’s company, Community Recovery, Inc., took in over $30 million in revenue last year, despite his record as a convicted felon and, by his own admission, that he is neither a licensed drug counselor nor a therapist. 

Bathum doesn’t even have a college degree and the only certification he holds is from a hypnotherapy institute. His legal troubles had been the subject of an LA Weekly cover story back in December. The founder and board chairman of a chain of over 20 sober living houses and outpatient clinics in California and Colorado has been the target of three lawsuits in early 2016 for allegations ranging from wrongful termination to sexual battery.

A pair of former patients at Bathum’s Community Recovery Los Angeles (CRLA) facilities alleges that Bathum had “isolated and targeted (the) plaintiffs and other women to prey on their addictions by using and supplying drugs around them, moving them to isolated hotel rooms and remote locations, encouraging them to use drugs with him, and sexually molesting them when they were high and/or incapable of consent.” 

According to various reports, Bathum is the subject of over 50 lawsuits, including former client Amanda Jester who filed a suit that he had molested her in a sweat lodge during a meditation session. Another client, Erika Bruakis, claims he provided her with crystal meth and made sexual advances toward her. Dana Reardon, the most recent patient to file a suit, claims he provided her with meth and heroin, forcing her to watch him engage in sex acts with two of his other patients. 

20/20 and LA Weekly both reported that Bathum overdosed on heroin and was taken by ambulance from a Malibu motel in December, which he denies. In fact, when questioned during the 20/20 report, he denied all charges and claimed his identity had been stolen. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department says he never filed a report. He is currently countersuing multiple women who have filed lawsuits against him for libel.

Bathum’s troubles didn’t start at CRLA. Last July, one of his former patients, Julie Hluchota, died of an overdose. Hluchota had entered a Malibu rehab clinic, Seasons, where Bathum was the co-founder and the director. After spending 90 days in the program, she began to work at the facility and relapsed just two months later. Hluchota alleged that Bathum made unwanted sexual advances toward her, which is denies. 

Just how does a convicted felon without a degree or credentials open and run a chain of sober living facilities and rehab clinics, preying upon young women in the most dire of conditions? 

Kenneth Whoridaz Whitfield has a lot to say about it. The 46-year old military veteran has been in recovery since 1993 and has been sober for the past six years. He shares that he made some bad decisions and relapsed in 2008, serving time in County and as a result, awakened to what recovery really is and what it isn’t. 

“People in the Inland Empire, San Bernardino, and other areas aren’t as affluent,” he says. “They might not have as many resources other than 12 step-programs. It was a real culture shock when I arrived in LA in May 2010. After I was incarcerated, I got clean and sober, thanks to the VA in West LA and Henry Waxman who was committed to staying on top of things to get veterans the best care possible,” he shares. “My experience at the VA wasn’t perfect but they did the best with limited resources and I’m back to being a productive member of society.” 

Following his time at the VA, Whitfield got into the field of recovery, managing a sober living facility in Mar Vista and working in marketing for another facility. When his last contract was up, he says he “didn’t like the direction the treatment world was going.” 

The U.S. is the most addicted country in the world, he says, and the consumer of 90 percent of prescription drugs worldwide. As a result, the addiction treatment centers and rehab have become a multimillion dollar industry. “Until society looks at prescription and illegal drugs as drugs anyone can get addicted to, nothing will change,” says Whitfield. 

He continues, warning, “Big names in rehab are just about making money. It’s easier to get a license as a rehab owner in California than it is to get a contractor’s license. If you have a felony record, you just have to write to the governor. Doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked can open clinics and rehab facilities. There’s no process to make sure they are legit and they are given carte blanche to scam insurance companies.” 

What can be done to change the broken system? 

Whitfield points to the Governor. “When it comes to this issue, he’s dropped the ball. He needs to put his foot down and say if you’re a sober living facility, you need to be non-profit,” he advises. “The East Coast has far more regulations. In New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, they don’t have this stuff going on. To open a treatment center there, you have to get a license like a hospital or mental health facility.” 

If someone owns an outpatient treatment clinic, he or she should not be able to open a sober living facility and the facilities need to be licensed, he suggests. There should be some oversight and regulation to check up on non-licensed employees handing out medication, as well. Residential treatment centers must have doctors and nurses present to provide the level of care necessary.

Substance abuse and addiction come at a tremendous cost to individuals, families, and society. As the need grows for rehab and sober living facilities, it’s crucial that we don’t allow unscrupulous entrepreneurs to take advantage of Californians in the most dire straits. California should follow the lead of other states that place more restrictions on who can open and operate facilities, as well as how the facilities operate. 

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

 

 

THE CITY-Los Angeles is facing an economic disaster. The 2020 Commission’s December 2013 report, A Time for Truth, set forth our tale of woe, and two years later, our situation is more precarious. When the time came for the illustrious and clueless 2020 Commission to set forth some remedies in its 2104 report, “A Time for Action,” it came up dry. The centerpiece seemed to be a huge political gift to BNSF Railway, a client of Mickey Kantor, a senior partner at Mayer Brown Law Firm who was the major force behind the 2020 Commission. The City of Los Angeles would simply take over the port of Long Beach like Wall Street raiders take over and destroy smaller companies, and then make Kantor’s client the only freight railroad for the port. 

For a while, some people thought that building a football stadium in DTLA would financially save Los Angeles. That idea fell through when the voters refused to increase the sales taxes so that the city could give the NFL the $1 Billions it wanted. The financial theory behind the football stadium was that it would employ a lot of people to build and then a lot of hotdog venders on game days. Not only do football stadiums not benefit the local economy, the $1 billion was not going to CIM Group, federal felon Juri Ripinksy or other developer friends of Garcetti. 

As the City’s own HCIDLA department wrote in its November 17, 2015 report, Los Angeles has a glut of apartments constructed within the last ten years. There is a 12% vacancy rate and 5% vacancy is equilibrium. In 2013, the City construct 150% of the housing needed for people who had above moderate income.   

Wall Street has become reluctant to loan developers money to construct into a glut, and poor people cannot afford to pay the rents which will create the revenue stream to repay the Wall Street loans for mixed-use projects. Projects in TODs are more expensive as the land costs more and construction costs escalate as building heights soar. The City has demolished over 20,000 rent controlled units since 2001. Thus, we have a significant homeless crisis due to the City’s allowing poor people’s homes to be demolished and thrown on to the streets. 

Basta! Enough with the Doom and Gloom already. What’s the solution? 

The Know-it-Alls have decided that the City of Los Angeles will Deficit Finance its way to prosperity. Here’s the plan. 

(1) The City will issue bonds for several billion dollars more than it can repay. The City must deficit finance on a huge scale in order to make this scheme work. The City has to borrow billions of dollars more than it can possibly repay. The City has make certain that its debt will be so enormous that a bankruptcy reorganization will be infeasible, leaving a quick and complete bail out as the solution. 

(2) The City (Metro and the County) will give these billions of dollars to those multi-millionaires and billionaires who finance the various political campaigns aka real estate developers. 

(3) These developers will construct massive projects which Los Angeles does not need and Angelenos for the most part do not want... 

(4) By spending billions of dollars which otherwise would not be spent, the entire economy will be stimulated. 

(5) When the time comes to pay off the bond holders and repay the banks, the City won’t have the money. The City will be billions of dollars short and then it will run to Washington DC, screaming: “Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy.” As everyone knows, no federal government can allow Los Angeles to go bankrupt. Wall Street will not tolerate it? Who, do you think, bought all the bonds and loaned LA all those billions of dollars? If LA went BK, they would lose billions of dollars. Deja vu 2008. 

(6) Thus, LA plans to issue a series of billion dollar bonds and it will also borrow up the ying yang. The City knows now – right now in 2016 – that it has no intention of paying off the bonds or repaying the loans. The Feds will step in and pay whatever it takes – $1 trillion, $4 trillion, more. It does not matter! The Feds will pay off the debt to avoid a Los Angeles Bankruptcy. 

Will federalizing Los Angeles debt work? 

Yes and No. 

Answer #1: Yes, it will work. 

No matter how much LA borrows, the Feds will pay off the debt. There is no number too high. In fact, the higher the debt, the more pressure on the Feds to pay off the debt outright rather than allow Los Angeles to re-organize. Organization takes time and some lenders may have to take a financial “hair cut.” Wall Street will want is $1.75 on the dollar and the surest way to get all its money is to have a gigantic crisis. 

It’s the same as the game play where the City destroyed thousands of rent-controlled apartments in order to manufacture a huge homeless crisis so that people will vote to issue $1 billion in bonds. Then developers will BK their LLCs and LLPs, causing the City in turn to scream bankruptcy so that the Feds will bail out Los Angeles. The poor will still be poor, but the billionaires will become wealthier. Kind of like the last 30 years! 

Answer #2: No, it will not work. 

The things which LA is buying range between worthless and detrimental. Los Angeles is investing in 19th Century choo-choo trains and dense residential construction which the overwhelming majority of Angelenos and Americans shun. 

Meanwhile, other areas of the country are busily re-creating old Los Angeles in places like Texas and the Carolinas. If people take the time to look at what Austin is doing and at what is happening outside Dallas and what could happen in North Carolina if it stopped its run-away bigotry, one sees that it is what made Los Angeles a destination city. We offered a combination of job opportunities, a decent climate and virtually endless single family homes. 

Garcetti has declared war on the single family home. The lack of single family homes and the atrocious school district are the largest factors driving out the productive middle class. Employers are shunning Los Angeles and the type of highly dense housing which Garcetti loves will quicken the departure of both educated workers and employers to other states. The exodus is already under way. 

Some very short term events are likely: 

(1) CEQA will be gutted so that more high density housing can be constructed faster to pump more money into the economy faster. 

(2) Billions more in bonds will be issued. 

(3) The courts will rule against all or almost all challenges to any construction project with no regard to whether it is legal or illegal. 

Leading up to 2012, many State leaders saw that the Community Redevelopment Agencies were pushing cities and the State into insolvency due the billions of tax dollars which the CRAs were sucking away from incremental property taxes. Effective February 1, 2012, all the CRAs were abolished and massive insolvency was avoided. At that time, there was no plan to bail out the cities or the State. 

After 2008, the public was extraordinarily hostile to bailouts so the CRA’s had to be killed off and killed quickly. In that climate, many politicos saw the need to force the developers and city to hold back on development. The orders went out to the judges to uphold the challenges to these projects until the economy could correct itself. 

Now in 2016, there is a plan to bail-out the Cities but there is no need to resurrect the elaborate CRA structure. Each councilman says what he wants, and the LA City Council passes it unanimously. Don’t worry about Penal Code 86 which criminalized the vote trading agreement. The judges have their new marching orders to kill any lawsuit which questions the propriety of the City’s being run by a criminal vote trading pact. 

With the bailout plan in place, the priorities have shifted to stop all citizen challenges to the massive spending which is being launched. Most likely the trial courts will rule that citizens have no right to question the decisions of the City leaders and that will throw the cases into the appellate process for several years. Meanwhile, billions of dollars will be borrowed and given to the developers. 

The construction industry will keep Los Angeles’s economy afloat, and ironically, as City devolves it probably will become less crowded as an increasing number of people move away. That will leave LA with more elderly, until they start dying off. A city without modern jobs will lose young of working age. 

Starting after 2026, what we currently call “corporate welfare” will morph into “municipal welfare,” in that city will perpetually need the Feds to prop up the economy. Who knows if LA will continue to have the political clout to keep the Deficit Spending Plan going after 2040. In a culture where only the short term matters, only fools ask such questions.

 

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

HEALTH POLITICS--Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., has been in the news twice in the past two weeks. But the stories weren’t about one of its doctors discovering a cure or inventing a new life-saving procedure. They were about 11 tragic deaths that occurred at the hospital and about the hospital’s costly and illegal union-busting campaign that forced Huntington into signing a settlement agreement with the California Nurses Association.

This is what happens when a hospital puts profits over people—its patients as well as its employees.

The 625-bed facility made headlines when it reluctantly admitted that 11 Huntington patients had died between January 2013 and August 2015 after being infected by dangerous bacteria from medical scopes. Another five patients were infected but are still alive. The hospital acknowledged the deaths only after the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD) was about to release a report about the outbreak of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) pseudomonas aeruginosa linked to procedures (called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) performed with scopes made by the Olympus Corporation.

The city agency’s investigation, which began last August with an unannounced site visit and continued with cooperation from hospital staff, blamed both the design of the scope and the hospital for lapses in infection control. For example, according to the report, the hospital used canned compressed air from Office Depot to dry the scopes—which is not recommended by the manufacturer or by nationally recognized cleaning guidelines. The PPHD report triggered stories in the Los Angeles Times headlined “11 deaths at Huntington Hospital among patients infected by dirty scopes, city report says” and “Pasadena hospital broke the law by not reporting outbreak, health officials say.”

Initially, Huntington only notified patients who had been treated with the scope between January and August 2015 about the possibility of infections. The PPHD, after it began its investigation, insisted that Huntington notify all patients who had been treated with the scopes since January 2013. The PPHD had to ask Huntington twice to notify those earlier patients before the hospital complied.

The duodenoscope is, according to the Times, “a long snake-like tube with a tiny camera on the tip that is inserted into a patient’s throat and upper gastrointestinal tract. It is used to treat cancer, gallstones and other problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts.” The PPHD report concluded: “This broad bacterial contamination supports the hypothesis” that the hospital’s disinfection and maintenance “were insufficient to prevent the spread of infection.”

“We take responsibility for the deficiencies outlined in the [Pasadena Public Health Department] report and have taken steps to ensure rigorous compliance going forward,” wrote Derek Clark, the hospital’s director of public relations, in an email response.

The same week that the story about the deaths broke, Huntington also made news when it reluctantly agreed to a settlement with the California Nurses Association (CNA). The hospital agreed to rescind the firing of registered nurses Allysha Shin (whose last name was Almada before she was married last October) and Vicki Lin and restore their full back pay. Both were illegally fired as part of Huntington’s vicious and expensive anti-union campaign last year.

The results of last year’s union election were overturned. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will determine a new election date. Huntington also agreed to abide by labor laws that protect the RNs’ right to organize and agreed to post its commitments throughout the hospital and email the notice to all nurses.

It would hardly be news that a hospital has agreed to obey the law, except that Huntington so egregiously broke the law last year that they had to put it in writing before CNA would approve the settlement agreement.

During last year’s organizing campaign, the union caught Huntington engaging in dozens of illegal acts of intimidation designed to prevent the nurses from gaining a stronger voice in their workplace. CNA brought these unfair labor violations to the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which ruled against the hospital. Hospital officials were scheduled to testify on June 6 before an NLRB hearing. But on June 1, the hospital agreed, as part of the settlement with CNA, to set aside the results of last year’s election and allow the nurses to move forward with a new election.

“We have the best nurses in the world and we continue to respect all of their rights, including their right to be represented by a union, should they so choose,” said Huntington public relations director Clark.

If you’re wondering whether there’s a connection between these two news stories—the 11 deaths and the union battle at hospital—wonder no longer. There is.

Sources among nurses and CNAbelieve that the hospital knew that the deaths were due in part to its negligence in sterilizing its scopes—and its efforts to keep them secret—was about to go public, because a Los Angeles Times reporter had been asking questions. Huntington signed the settlement agreement with CNA on May 31. The Times’ first story about the scopes scandal came out the next day.

Were Huntington’s top executives worried about this double whammy of news stories about the hospital’s self-inflicted wounds? Better to settle with the union than to expose themselves to more negative publicity at the NLRB hearing, where nurses were prepared to testify about the hospital’s outrageous and costly efforts to frighten and intimidate them from organizing and voting for the union. An administrative law judge was slated to review 42 objections to the 2015 election. These included the 175 challenged ballots that led to an inconclusive election result, the firing of Shin and Lin, and other labor law violations committed by Huntington administrators. The NLRB had anticipated a three-to-four-week hearing.

“The terms of the agreement make it clear that we have the right to speak out and that the hospital’s campaign to silence us must stop,” said Terri Korrell, who has been an RN at Huntington Memorial Hospital for 42 years.

But there’s another important missing piece to the story about the tragic deaths of 11 Huntington patients. Huntington nurses warned hospital management about the problem with unsterilized scopes, but their concerns were ignored. It wasn’t until a Huntington nurse expressed concerns to CNA—which then, protecting the nurse’s identity, notified federal health agencies and the Los Angeles Times—that Huntington removed the scopes and began taking appropriate action. This is one reason that many Huntington nurses were organizing to gain a voice in their workplace. It had to do with patient care—specifically, the hospital administration’s prioritizing of revenue over patient care.

In 2014, Huntington nurses felt that they weren’t being listened to about this and many other aspects of patient care. So they contacted CNA and began talking about organizing a union. The nurses who called CNA felt that having a union, with a collective bargaining agreement insuring an independent voice for nurses in advocating for patients, was the only way that they would be listened to regarding the erosion of patient-care conditions, including chronic short staffing and inadequate supplies.

On paper, Huntington is a “nonprofit” institution, but in reality, it operates like a large for-profit corporation. Soon after the nurses’ union drive began in May 2014, the hospital (named for Henry E. Huntington, a turn-of-the-century railroad tycoon) engaged in a nasty and expensive union-busting effort. They paid a bevy of experienced and high-priced anti-union firms and consultants—Littler Mendelson, IRI and Genevieve Clavreul of Solutions Outside the Box—to harass nurses and undercut their organizing efforts. Managers at the hospital interrogated nurses about their union activity, required nurses to attend anti-union “captive audience” meetings and denied pro-union nurses access to the hospital when they were off-duty and wanted to discuss union matters.

When pro-union nurses and community allies, including a number of prominent local clergy, were meeting in the cafeteria, hospital security staff told them to remove their literature from the tables, but didn’t say anything to a group of anti-union staff at the other side of the cafeteria who had their own materials. One of the hospital’s security staff took photos of a pro-union nurse as she passed out leaflets on the public sidewalk outside the hospital. The hospital arbitrarily switched the retirement date of one nurse who had worked at Huntington for 31 years—and who was an outspoken union supporter—so she wouldn’t be able to vote in the union election last April.

Not all the nurses were initially sympathetic to the idea of unionizing. One of the reluctant nurses was Shin, who worked in the intensive care unit. Shin considered Huntington Hospital her second home. Her mother has worked there as a nurse for over 30 years. She was born at the hospital, attended its day care center and volunteered there when she was in high school. She worked as a nurse’s aide in Huntington’s ICU before becoming an RN. The family volunteers their dog at the hospital as a therapy dog.

“I was close with my mom’s coworkers. I loved Huntington,” Shin recalled. “I knew I wanted to go into nursing.”

Given her strong ties to the hospital, Shin was thrilled when she was hired at Huntington five years ago after graduating from the nursing program at California State University in Los Angeles. She worked hard, made close friends among her fellow nurses and enjoyed caring for her patients.

“I was outspoken about patient safety,” Shin said. “In nursing school, I learned that a lot of hospitals use lift teams to help patients turn over or get out of bed, so nurses don’t have to strain or hurt their backs. I gave my manager some research about this, but nothing happened. When we were short on linens or IV pumps, I mentioned it to my manager. But the problem continued. I thought the hospital was jeopardizing patient care, so I said something.”

Her words went unheard.

“To cut expenses, the hospital began rationing supplies, like bed linens and patient gowns,” Shin explained. “Many of our patients in the ICU have very compromised immune systems so the risk of infection is very high. It is absolutely essential that we have adequate supplies of clean linens, yet the hospital is intent on limiting these basic necessities.”

Nurses say that patient care standards at Huntington have eroded, compromised by cuts in nursing as well as support staff. Nurses have been forced to do more work with less help. They were made to do more admissions, more transportations of patients and more housekeeping tasks because of hospital cutbacks in these areas. The unsterilized scopes were among the many issues that nurses brought to Huntington management’s attention.

Thanks to CNA’s efforts, California is the only state in the country to enact a law mandating the ratio of nurses to patients in acute care facilities, which Huntington and other hospitals opposed before it was passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. The law took effect in 2004, giving hospitals five years to phase in the changes. Nurses report that Huntington has repeatedly violated the nurse-to-patient ratio law, endangering patient safety.
Even so, when some of her colleagues contacted CNA to help them organize a union at Huntington, Shin had doubts.

“At first I wasn’t sure it was a good idea,” she said. “I went to some informational meetings. But I soon realized that we needed a collective voice to be advocates for ourselves and our patients. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right.”

Shin became a visible leader in the union drive. Before and after work, she met with fellow nurses—in their homes, coffee shops and outside the hospital—to encourage them to support the unionization effort. She was one of three Huntington nurses whose photo appeared on a CNA-sponsored ad on public buses running throughout the Pasadena area. “Save one life, you’re a hero,” the ad said. “Save a hundred lives, and you’re a nurse.”

Last July 26, she spoke out at a public community forum at a local church and at a news conference on the need to improve conditions at the hospital, joined by many local elected officials and community leaders who supported the nurses’ right to organize. A few days later, she was quoted in a local newspaper about conditions at Huntington Hospital and management’s expensive union-busting campaign.

Shin was suspended a week after the article was published and fired several weeks later, despite her long-term ties to the hospital and her excellent performance evaluations.

“I put my whole soul into caring for my patients, and management knows this. At Huntington, I worked as a nurse educator and sat on a committee of nurse leaders who bring patient care concerns to management. I have special training in trauma and open heart,” Shin said. “I care deeply about providing the best possible care, and that’s exactly why I spoke up at the community forum—to help ensure that RNs are supported in providing top-quality, safe care.”
“The next thing I knew, I was fired,” she said. “They tried to silence nurses. They tried to intimidate other nurses from speaking out. It’s wrong.”

On election day, the hospital received 539 votes to the union’s 445, but 175 votes were disputed, leaving the final results inconclusive. In addition, CNA filed dozens of objections to management’s illegal conduct during the election period. As a result, the NLRB did not certify the results.

CNA filed many “unfair labor practice” charges against the hospital with the NLRB, including Shin’s firing and other efforts to suppress voting and otherwise rig the outcome of the election. CNA asked the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction to force Huntington to rehire Almada and Lin. In January, the federal agency found that there was enough evidence to show that Huntington had illegally terminated Shin and Lin for their union involvement. 

The nurses intend to continue their efforts to win representation with CNA in the near future. They plan to wage another union campaign, and they hope that Huntington will abide by the settlement agreement to obey the law and refrain from hostile intimidation tactics so that the election will take place on a level playing field.

The settlement “is an enormous breakthrough for all Huntington RNs who have worked hard to seek union representation and stood up valiantly for justice in the face of HMH administration’s illegal and immoral campaign,” CNA President Malinda Markowitz said. “Management is finally accepting reality. We nurses deserve a place at the table. Our voices deserve to be heard. In order to be patient-care advocates, we need the protection of a union to fight for our patients.”

The experience had a profound impact on Shin, who was raised in a conservative family and had no prior involvement with activism of any kind. Last October, Shin was invited to the White House Summit on Worker Voice because of her leadership role in the union drive at Huntington. She presented a stethoscope to President Obama on behalf of her fellow nurses and the California Nurses Association. Engraved on the stethoscope was the message: “Listen to Nurses.”

“Watching the courage of my fellow nurses as they dealt with the hospital’s anti-union campaign, and seeing activists from other unions and from the community lend their support, really opened my eyes and strengthened my resolve to fight for workers’ rights and patient care,” she said.

Shin was thrilled by the CNA-Huntington settlement, which she called a “huge success for Huntington nurses.” But she decided to resign from Huntington and continue her nursing career at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, a CNA-represented hospital nearby.

“For the past six months, I’ve been working at Keck USC, a hospital where RNs enjoy a CNA contract,” she explained. “Huntington RNs deserve the same protections and benefits that RNs enjoy under CNA contracts. I am committed to supporting my former HMH colleagues with their quest to win union protection. I’ll be there each and every step of the way.”

Underlying the scopes scandal and the hospital’s illegal anti-union efforts is a larger problem that isn’t unique to Huntington. At many hospitals, nurses try to alert management about issues with patient care and management blows them off or retaliates. This is emblematic of the corporatization of health care—pushing for profit at patients’ expense. Hospitals like Huntington spend large sums of money in certain areas, while cutting back on areas that support safe patient care. The difference at Huntington is that nurses, unlike the majority of California hospitals, do not yet have a powerful independent voice through union representation, leaving management’s priorities unchallenged.

Since 2010, for example, Huntington has increased the prices it charges for its services 16 percent faster than its costs have increased. In other words, the hospital seeks to boost its bottom line at the expense of patient care. During that same period, the hospital has received almost $2.5 billion in revenue from patients and had a net income of almost $87 million.

On a day-to-day basis, Huntington is run by longtime CEO Steve Ralph, who earned $3.9 million in 2014 according to its most recent 990 form submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. . (Huntington’s PR director refused to provide Ralph’s current compensation). But the hospital’s broad policies and direction are shaped by its board of directors, who include doctors, business people and civic leaders. Nurses and other employees, patients and their families, and community members have a right to hold the board accountable for the hospital’s patient-care problems as well as for its expensive and illegal anti-union campaign.

According to the hospital’s website [[http://ourstory.huntingtonhospital.com/ ]]   and press releases, Huntington’s board of directors [[ http://www.huntingtonhospital.com/Resource.ashx?sn=BoardofDirectors ]]   include: Paul Ouyang (chairman); Jaynie Studenmund (vice chairman); Stephen Ralph (president and CEO); Sharon Arthofer; former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard; Wayne Brandt; Louise Bryson; James Buese, M.D.; Michelle Chino; Reed Gardiner; Armando Gonzalez; Christopher Hedley, M.D.; R. Scott Jenkins; Paul Johnson; David Kirchheimer; Ellen Lee; Lolita Lopez; Lois Matthews; Allen Mathies Jr., M.D.; John Mothershead; Elizabeth Olson; Kathleen Podley; James Shankwiler, M.D.; John Siciliano; Rosemary Simmons; K. Edmund Tse, M.D.; and Deborah Williams.

Americans view nurses more favorably than any other profession. Nurses have ranked No. 1 in the Gallup Poll’s “honesty and ethics” survey every year but one since 1999. (The exception is 2001, when firefighters topped the list, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks). Despite this, hospitals like Huntington refuse to grant nurses the dignity and respect that they deserve.

If nurses had union protection and did not have to fear retaliation for voicing concerns about patient safety at their hospital, would 11 innocent patients have died? The question lingers with many people. Huntington nurses want the hospital to return to its founding mission: to provide quality and safe patient care.

Over the past two years, Huntington nurses and community members alike have had to endure an aggressive anti-union campaign of harassment, intimidation, surveillance, bullying and wrongful termination—a campaign launched with the Huntington administration’s blessing. This costly battle has been waged against nurses who simply want to exercise their federally protected rights to organize a union and, more importantly, to uphold their responsibility to protect the sick and vulnerable admitted as patients under their care.

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.)

-cw

THE GUSS REPORT--Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has reappointed Roger Wolfson to the LA Animal Services Commission, which City Council will undoubtedly unanimously reconfirm on Tuesday. An attorney and television writer whose last IMDB credit was in 2012, Wolfson had no qualifications or prior experience when first appointed, and has since that time failed to consistently attend the twice monthly meetings or do much of the work of a Commissioner except for his self-described “personal” humane pursuits. 

“He’s so arrogant that [he] can’t seem to be bothered to show up at all very often,” said Marla Tauscher, an attorney involved in humane affairs inside and outside of the city, and who recently filed suit against LAAS. “In the last 4 meetings I’ve attended, he hasn’t been at three and was late to the fourth. If he’s so busy he can’t make it, he should resign. It’s not as if we can’t live without his searing insight.” 

Tauscher is right. 

In 2015, of the 22 LAAS meetings that Wolfson was supposed to attend, he was either absent (4x) or late (5x) 41% of the time. And it is tough to tell whether he rolled out of bed in time for the 10am and occasional 7pm meetings in 2014 because he refuses to force LAAS to post the meeting minutes for that year, 76% of which are still missing from the LAAS website. 

In 2014, Wolfson did offer a written observation about LAAS before he acknowledged that he was warned that one does not criticize LAAS when on the Commission. 

“(LAAS is) a leaking rowboat, Dan. No way to plug all the holes at once. I’m doing my best,” he wrote in an August 28, 2014 email

To date, Wolfson’s “best” resulted in none of those holes being plugged or even addressed honestly, including: 

  • The 8,807 pet “adoptions” that the city falsified by simply shuffling animals between cages in city-owned buildings, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “adoptions were up.” 
  • The inconsistently applied $25 drop off fee that is written in LAAS policy for people bringing an animal to a city shelter, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “impounds are down.” 
  • Failure to enforce no pet sales laws or to determine why breeder permits are available to anyone who wishes to breed their animals, including pits and Chihuahuas, the two breeds most often killed by LAAS. 
  • Failure to pick up stray animals reported to LAAS. 
  • Inability to collect millions of dollars in annual dog licensing revenue, including from Wolfson himself, who failed to pay his dog license fees to the city until he was first appointed by Garcetti, and even then, only for the present year due. According to LAAS records, his obligation remains unpaid, as are his unassessed late fees that others, including City Council president Herb Wesson, are charged when it was determined that he, too, was delinquent. 

Wolfson’s delinquency is treated differently than was that of his predecessor Ruthanne Secunda, a wealthy literary agent who was terminated from the appointment when it was discovered that she voted on city leash and licensing laws while disregarding both herself. 

Councilmember Paul Koretz, at that time, wrote in an email,  “A Commissioner violating a leash law and license law that she voted on or at least clearly knew about is unacceptable. The fact that she acted once she was caught and licensed her animals shouldn’t impress anyone…. Your commissioner is an idiot and absolutely should go.” 

Later in Koretz’s email, he erroneously referred to me as a “moron” for pointing out Secunda’s failures, and somehow concluded that it was a criticism of the LAAS GM. Note: Koretz at first denied writing the email, but apologized in person after being shown a copy of it. 

At the last Commission meeting that Wolfson actually attended, he called for more nighttime meetings that are held at the local shelters, but simultaneously tried to reduce the amount of speaking time that local attendees could use to share their concerns, rendering such meetings moot. Why have meetings in the community if you are not dedicated to listening to the community? 

Wolfson, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, also admitted the emotional atmosphere in the shelter is so "intense" that sometimes he can't go back for several weeks. 

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to Huffington Post, KFI-AM 640, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News and other publications. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

DEEGAN ON LA--Although homelessness in Los Angeles County has reached crisis proportions, Governor Jerry Brown this week refused to take action on two proposed solutions that were put forward to him by the LA Board of Supervisors. 

The problem’s getting worse, not better, by the day. Heat is simmering and a boiling-over point may be on the horizon. “The issue of homelessness is compelling beyond contradiction,” declared Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, addressing his remarks to an audience of county stakeholders on Thursday, June 16. He is one of the most vocal County Supervisors addressing what he calls “an unescapable reality.” 

Ridley-Thomas’ rhetoric is matched by his similarly forceful advocacy of solutions: one was a motion to the Governor, co-authored with Sheila Kuehl and unanimously backed by all five supervisors, to ask the Governor to declare a statewide state of emergency to help the homeless that would unlock a half billion dollars from the state’s Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties.  Governor Brown said that a declaration by him of a state of emergency to help the homeless “is not appropriate.” 

The second motion was an appeal to the state legislature and the Governor for a millionaires’ tax, the so-called “Robin Hood” tax that would allow the County to tax millionaires 1% of their personal income to pay for homeless housing. Brown also turned this down, saying he had deep concerns when it comes to allowing local governments to levy additional taxes. 

Despite these two rejections, Ridley-Thomas vowed that the County will continue to push the Governor for more action. “Homelessness is not a partisan issue, it is a humanitarian concern. Engaging state leadership to join with us in providing solutions is critically important,” said Ridley-Thomas. 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Governor Brown was trained to be a Jesuit priest. One of the “Six Values” that are known as the “Principles of the Jesuits” is the “Principle of Cura Personalis: Care for the individual person” that includes having concern for the poor and marginalized, categories that squarely define the homeless. 

“We are faced with an ever-expanding crisis, and the crisis is worsening” is how Ridley-Thomas characterized the matter. He continued, saying that “the increase in homelessness is trending upward in a very disturbing way, and is clearly not deniable. It isn’t simply our imagination -- the problem is expanding. People throughout the county report they are seeing homeless in their communities that they have never seen before. This makes it abundantly clear that something is going on. According to the polls, homelessness is a top-tier issue of people in the County, and combating homelessness is an unescapable reality.” 

What are the other options? 

The budget the Governor and state lawmakers agreed on this week would set aside some funding for affordable housing, to be spent only if a separate deal can be reached on streamlining the process for new construction. The Governor recently called for relaxing the rules on construction zoning and environmental reviews in an effort to “streamline” the process for new construction. 

There may be $267 million in the new budget to build supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, but the County’s share of that would only be about $40 million, which is 10% of the estimated $450 million per year it would cost to address housing issues for the homeless. And, that $40 million allocation would be just for this year’s budget.

Another option may be for the city to place a bond measure on the November ballot to build more housing for the homeless. While there may have been public support for millionaires to be taxed to pay for this program, it’s unknown how all voters will react to paying for homeless housing out of their own pockets. An increase of the sales tax or a parcel tax are other options, but both would need supervisorial support and a vote by the public. 

Identifying the problem and estimating the cost have been done. Now, getting someone to pay for it is the real challenge. 

Not one to give up, Ridley-Thomas said, “The momentum we are building is very encouraging. We are part of a movement that is articulating itself from a perspective of compassion and doing what is right for the homeless.”

 

(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.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--More than 300 law enforcement personnel swept an area east of Los Angeles in an operation targeting two Latino gangs that resulted in 52 arrests and the seizure of drugs with a street value of $1.6 million, California's Attorney General's Office said in a statement. 

Police seized 67 firearms, including assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, as well as $100,000 in cash and quantities of methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana, in Thursday's raids in Riverside County. 

"The large amounts of narcotics, currency, and most importantly, the large cache of weapons seized, will no doubt disrupt the criminal gangs' enterprise, thus making our communities that much safer," the police chief of the city of Corona, Michael Abel, was quoted as saying. 

The raids targeted the Corona Varrio Locos gang and the Mexican Mafia, known as "La Eme," a criminal organization that operates throughout the California prison system. 

They stemmed from a joint investigation by the Corona Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff's Gang Task Force and the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation Special Operations Unit Southern California team. 

"Criminal gangs brazenly trafficking guns and drugs on our streets jeopardize public safety and will not be tolerated," said California Attorney General Kamela Harris. 

The Mexican Mafia controls the drug trade and conducts other illicit activity in state correctional facilities and elsewhere, according to public safety officials. 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, assisted with the investigations and seizures inside the state prison system, where some of the criminal organizations continue their illegal activities. 

"A strong blow has been dealt to the Mexican Mafia that's constantly working to extend their criminal enterprise in this region," Derrick Marion, the chief of the CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety, said. 

The Corona Varrio Locos street gang operates in the city of Corona and surrounding areas of the Inland Empire, a region of Southern California, and is affiliated with the Sureños, a Southern California gang that in turn takes orders from La Eme, the state AG's office said.  

Criminal activity has been going up in the Los Angeles area recently, but because of these actions by law enforcement our communities are a little less dangerous today.

SANE SPEED LIMIT LAWS-Every day we hear about drivers killed in collisions on their way to work or pedestrians mowed down when crossing the street. You may be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t anyone do anything about this? Aren’t there laws to prevent this?” Believe it or not, there are legal obstacles to making our streets safer. We have laws dating back to a more car-centric era that treat pedestrians and cyclists as afterthoughts. If we want active transportation to be accepted by mainstream America, a legal framework will have to evolve to protect all of our road users. 

In this series, I will examine legal danger zones and potential fixes for reducing traffic-related deaths in California. 

One of the most obvious places to start is speed limits. Since we know conclusively that speed kills, why don’t we set lower speed limits? 

A 10 mph reduction in vehicle speed from 40 mph to 30 mph, means that a pedestrian who is hit by a car has just increased his or her chance of survival from 10 to 50 percent. 

In Los Angeles, police are unable to ticket speeding drivers for violating the posted speed limit on 75 percent of the city’s streets. Why not? Because the speed surveys required by law for these streets have expired.  There is a fear in the active transportation community that the city would be legally required to increase speed limits, further endangering the public, if these speed surveys are conducted. 

How did we arrive at such an absurd state of affairs? 

California law requires that speed limits be set based on the “prevailing speed.” The prevailing speed is determined by a speed survey which calculates the speed of cars in the 85th percentile. Once this speed of majority drivers is determined, the law only allows an additional 5 mph reduction to account for unforeseen safety conditions. This method of determining the speed limit does not consider the severity of injuries inflicted on a pedestrian or cyclist if hit by a car travelling at the prevailing speed. This needn’t be the case. Alternative speed-setting methods have been effectively used both stateside and overseas. 

In countries with the highest rates of bicycle ridership, the severity of injuries caused by crashes at a given speed is taken into account when establishing speed limits. This approach is known as Injury Minimization, or Safe Systems.  The idea is to minimize the probability of death and serious injury. It is derived from Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative which dictates that car crashes will occur no matter what; therefore, our road systems ought to be designed to protect us. If we wish to have a larger percentage of people engaging in active transportation, this approach deserves a look. 

While the Safe Systems approach started in traditional bike meccas such as the Netherlands and Sweden, the philosophy is gaining traction in other jurisdictions as well. Throughout the United Kingdom, the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign has succeeded in reducing speed limits to 20 mph in more than half of the largest urban areas in Britain. This movement encourages people who walk or bike to use the road system safely. Places adopting the lower speed limits results in more children walking and biking to school.  

New York City is the first major urban area in the United States to usher in lower speed limits to reduce death and injury. Thanks to strong advocacy from Transportation Alternatives, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the 25mph speed limit into law in 2014. Additionally, Oregon and Washington have both passed legislation allowing for 20 mph speed limits.  

There is a glimmer of hope for us here in California since there is already an existing exception to the dreaded prevailing speed/85th percentile law: the school zone. This is a legislative exception carved out to protect vulnerable people, namely children. School zones are exempt from the typical speed survey calculations and mandate a 25 mph speed limit when children are present. 

What about designating a pedestrian zone? Or an active transportation zone? The same rationale of protecting vulnerable road users could apply. Don’t children who walk to school deserve the same protections as children who are within the school zone? 

If Californians want to experience the benefits of lower speed limits, our work is cut out for us. First, we need a fair and enforceable standard for setting speed limits; second, we need a legislator to champion the cause. The Swedish/Dutch Injury Minimization approach is a solid place to start. We can also learn from successful campaigns implemented in the UK and states such as Oregon and Washington. 

The challenge of eliminating traffic deaths is great, but the risks of inaction are unconscionable.

 

(Andrew Said is a prosecutor with the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. He focuses on safe streets and active transportation. This piece was provided CityWatch by the author.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Over the past decade, Southern California has lagged well behind its chief rivals – New York and the Bay Area, as well as the fast-growing cities of the Sun Belt – in everything from job creation to tech growth. Yet, in what the late economist Jack Kyser dubbed “the creative industries,” this region remains an impressive superpower. 

By creative industries, we mean not just Hollywood’s film and television complex, which remains foundational, but those serving a host of other lifestyle-oriented activities, from fashion (photo above) and product design to engineering theme parks, games and food. We may be lagging Silicon Valley in technology and New York in finance or news media, but when it comes to entertaining people, and defining lifestyle, the Southland remains a powerful, even primal, force. 

Overall, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., creative industries employ more than 418,000 people in L.A. and Orange counties. This is larger than second-place New York, and more than five times larger than the San Francisco and Seattle regions. Orange County and Los Angeles account for 80 percent of statewide employment in entertainment and fashion. In toys, LA and OC account for over two-thirds of statewide jobs. 

As a whole, visual- and performing-arts providers have done best in percentage terms, growing by 23.8 percent, followed closely by fine arts and performing-arts schools, with 23.2 percent growth. The SoCal creative economy took a big hit during the recession, when overall employment decreased 14.5 percent, compared with 8 percent for all other industries. But recent trends speak to the resiliency of the region’s creative industries. From 2009-14, employment finally began to grow, even as the rest of LA’s economy was still shrinking. 

As other local industries fade, the creative ones become more important, making up a growing share of the regional economy. New research by Chapman University’s Marshall Toplansky and Nate Kaspi found Orange and Los Angeles counties boast among the highest per capita employment in these creative fields of any major region in the country. 

These jobs are also critical to supporting the region’s beleaguered middle class; 63 of the 80 creative occupations in California have annual wages higher than the statewide median of $38,920.

The Inland Empire does less well in these industries, but has a strong presence in such design fields as furniture and decorative arts. The Coachella music festival, taking place in Riverside County every year, is widely seen as the most successful concert venue in the world and a global incubator of lifestyle trends and fashion. 

Overall, in most creative industries, we simply crush the nerd culture of the Bay Area. Los Angeles easily leads the nation when it comes to independent artists, writers and performers, with a location quotient eight times the national average, twice the share of New York. If Arby’s has the meats, we have the artists.

Persistently vibrant --Southern California’s creative economy, as Cary McWilliams noted 60 years ago, came as a result of some very good fortune – largely the exodus of movie producers seeking respite from New York process servers and close proximity to the Mexican border. Once there, they discovered the possibilities of shooting films and living in an ideal climate. 

“Here was an industry,” noted McWilliams, “perhaps the only industry in America that required no raw materials, for which discriminatory freight rates were meaningless and, which at the same time, possessed an enormous payroll.” 

Hollywood’s geographic spread has grown inexorably over time, moving from its birthplace to what would have once been considered the distant reaches of the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. As entertainment and lifestyle have expanded as industries, the dispersal has been even greater, with fashion and lifestyle-related employment particularly strong in Orange County and with some artisanal production concentrated in the Inland Empire. 

The deep roots of the creative industries, and their synergy within the region, helps explain why they have remained intact. For decades, in fields like energy and aerospace, Southern California has been losing both company headquarters and production facilities at a rapid rate. The region’s once-vast manufacturing base, a key provider of middle-class and blue-collar jobs, has been evaporating, the victim of both foreign competition and an ever more strangling regulatory regime. 

In contrast, the major movie studios all remain based in Southern California, although their ownership’s home bases tend to fluctuate. Hollywood and other creative fields face regulatory challenges but are not nearly as vulnerable, for example, to high energy costs as industrial or logistics firms. They also benefit from close ties with those who run California’s one-party political system. Finally, they have been fortunate to draw on a workforce that trends young and childless, at a time when families, pressed by high housing prices, have been moving inland and, increasingly, out of state. 

The creative industries matter even more to the regional economy, given the losses of aerospace, which has largely decamped to other states that do not disdain a source of technology-oriented, high-wage employment. In contrast, the entertainment economy continues to compete with less-expensive U.S. locales, such as Louisiana or Michigan, as well as well-funded global centers such as New York or London. Much of the employment reflects what might be called the Hollywood mode of production, dominated by small artisanal firms that often sell their services to clients around the world. Working together, they offer levels of expertise not easily duplicated elsewhere. 

In creative sectors, notes a report prepared for Otis College of Art and Design by the LAEDC, self-employment is more common than wage and salary employment. In the visual and performing arts, there were over 2.7 self-employed persons in Los Angeles County for every salaried worker. In Orange County, the ratio was even more striking, nearly 4-1. 

However, the real appeal of Southern California lies in the area’s way of life. Entertainment professionals, designers and theme-park creators like each other’s company, or at least enjoy gossiping about their co-workers. What the creative industries share with the rest of us is an enjoyment of the dispersed, outdoors-oriented and increasingly culturally diverse lifestyle associated with Southern California. 

Impact on the future --This cross-fertilization and creative flair could prove critical in the emerging digital economy, notes a recent Neiman study, where industries, like media, cluster in places where content creators live, notably, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and New York. The LAEDC predicts continued growth in these industries to the end of the decade. 

California’s expanded film and television tax credit program also appears to be slowing some of the industry’s migration. But, while incentives will continue to play a role, there remain many challenges, notably the shift to digital production and the potential shift of decision-making from the increasingly antiquated networks and movie studios to digital disrupters such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix. 

There is also potential fallout if furniture and apparel manufacturers, closely aligned with the creative industries, are forced to shift more operations to less-regulated, less-expensive regions. Fashion, for example, has thrived largely due to the ability of LA’s flexible garment production sector to churn out “fast fashion” products. If production, partly because of the state’s new $15 minimum wage, continues to depart, this link could be weakened. 

As with other industries, the biggest challenge could prove the cost of living. High housing prices are slowing growth in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley; soaring residential costs could also limit the ability of artists and creators to settle permanently in the Southland. Ultimately, the region needs to expand or retrofit its stock of housing so artists can still live a Southern California – as opposed to a New York – lifestyle. The prospect of living in dark boxes in paradise is not what has driven creative people to this region. 

To thrive, the creative industries will need to expand regionally, as they have in parts of Orange County and in the old Los Angeles County beach cities. The new-urbanist dream of a densely packed mini-NY is not congruent with the sunlight-oriented lifestyle that, in the final analysis, is our most compelling product. 

Southern California’s creative edge ultimately draws inspiration from its climate, open beaches, mountains and its necklace of unique small neighborhoods and towns. We may have lost tech to Silicon Valley, banking to Wall Street, energy and manufacturing to places like Texas and Utah, but we remain paramount when it comes to creation, and that could pace our recovery in the decades ahead.

 

(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.” Charlie Stephens is a researcher and MBA candidate at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics; he is founder of substrand.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA PROFILES--Homelessness is presently a political, hot topic as it continues to sprout in almost all parts of the City of Los Angeles. The story of Toastmaster Michael Perez’ volunteering for the homeless caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest for Table Topics ---held bi-annually in downtown Los Angeles. 

The Contest Topic was open-ended enough for contestant Perez to respond from direct life experience. He won the Division Contest, rising to the district level competition. However, he didn’t make good at the district contest, though he did walk away with a bundle of impromptu speaking skills and a cherished experience. 

Later, I contacted Perez for an interview on his altruistic story that caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest. Perez explained that when he was attending Cal State University Northridge, his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma in partnership with another fraternity held an annual event to feed the homeless on skid row. About fifty volunteers made 1,000 peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches in Northridge to distribute to the homeless at 3:00 a. m. on Thanksgiving Day. Their target was the homeless without shelters who are situated in one place at that time in the morning. 

“Phi Beta Sigma is a multicultural fraternity with an inclusive motto, ‘united we stand, united we fall,’“ Perez articulated. “We wanted to show our brothers and sisters living in skid row that someone cared for them. What a better time than on Thanksgiving Day when we’re all enjoying freshly home-cooked meals.” 

Perez admitted that a bit of fear lingered in the air when they took to the streets not knowing how they [homeless] were going to respond especially at three in the morning. 

“It was lit well enough for us to navigate from street to street. We zigzagged in and out of major streets --started walking up Sixth Street, then north on Central Avenue, etc.--covering 30 square blocks and ending back at Pershing Square, where we started,” Perez said in one breath. 

The crew handed sandwiches to everyone they saw in the street, and in a matter of two hours the sandwiches were gone. “People were sleeping, lying down on cardboards, inside tents, while some sat on the bare concrete sidewalks,” he said. 

Perez (photo left) explained that there are some homeless who don’t even bother to go to a shelter or church where distributions of food are offered because of their circumstances, “We targeted those who don’t have access, for whatever reason, and give them a break from their harsh reality by bringing some hope into their lives.” 

When Perez saw someone sitting by a tent, he’d ask how many inside and left sandwiches for them. In some cases, when there were lone tents, “we left a couple of sandwiches in a bag with a note, letting them know why the sandwiches were there.” 

Perez expressed that in the past, he heard about a few cases where homeless men tried to grab female volunteers. For the three consecutive years that he volunteered, he saw no obstacles. Women were paired with men for precaution, and the crew was welcomed with open arms. 

“Starting off on Thanksgiving Day with men and women getting together to distribute food before twilight is very powerful. This feeling of community unity brings meaning to community service,” Perez said. 

“This experience made my Thanksgiving even better. 

Perez is a Mechanical Design Engineer, a graduate from Northridge-U and works in the aerospace field as a mechanical designer.

 

(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils and is a neighborhood council participant.)

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SORTING OUT THE STATISTICS-The recent primary offered signs of improvement for California’s abysmally low voter turnout. Recent elections have seen some of the worst turnout in the state’s history. The 2014 election cycle was particularly dismal, but 2012 also set a new low for a presidential primary election. Moreover, California has been lagging behind other states in both registration and turnout. 

However, there has been a large surge in new registrants over the last few months, and the California Secretary of State currently estimates that almost 9 million Californians participated in the 2016 presidential primary election, compared to only 4.5 million in 2014 and 5.3 million in 2012. 

If we look at the share of voting-eligible residents who have registered in time for each of the last 18 primary elections, California’s registration rate has always fallen within a fairly narrow band—from a low of 66% in 1988 to a high of 75% in 1996. 

In this context, the 2016 registration rate might be seen as a disappointment. Compared to the same point in the 2012 primary election cycle, the registration rate has remained largely unchanged, though it is still comparatively high when viewed in the context of the past several decades. 

How can we square this result with the reported surge in new registrants? The registration rate typically drops some between elections as county registrars purge voters who have moved or died from the registration rolls, and relatively few new voters sign up to take their place. This decline was especially large between fall 2014 and the beginning of the primary season this year. Given that baseline, a flat registration rate is consistent with a surge of new registrants, and must be considered something of a success. 

More to the point, these registrants turned out to vote at a higher rate than we have seen in any primary since 2008. The estimated 8.9 million ballots translates to a turnout rate of about 50% among registered voters. That sits comfortably in the broad average of California’s presidential primary turnout, and marks a considerable improvement over 2012. 

In fact, California’s presidential primary turnout now shows no clear sign of decline since 1984; it may even be holding its own relative to other states. But midterm turnout is a different story. There is a much longer downward trend for such elections, both viewed on their own and relative to trends in other states. 

On balance, there are signs of recovery from the low turnout levels of 2012 and 2014, despite concerns that California’s late presidential primary would discourage participation. Whether this improvement will be sustained into the fall—and whether things will turn around for mid-term elections in 2018—of course remains to be seen.

 

(Eric McGhee is a research fellow at Public Policy Institute of California where this was originally posted. He focuses on elections, legislative behavior, political reform, and surveys and polling.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

GUEST WORDS-- Since joining the LA County Board of Supervisors 18 months ago, I, along with my colleagues on the Board, have taken a series of steps to build prosperity and economic security for residents by raising the minimum wage and establishing programs to promote social enterprises, help small businesses thrive and prevent people from falling into homelessness when they encounter short-term financial crises, like the loss of a job or a catastrophic medical condition.

Last week, the Board took another significant action to try to stabilize and empower low-income households in the county.  Fifteen percent of our residents live below the official poverty line, but more than three times that number (49%) lack sufficient savings to live above the poverty level for three months if they lose a job or suffer a financial emergency. These residents don’t hold sufficient household wealth to weather even a brief financial storm.

Twenty-eight percent of County households either don’t have a bank account or rely on check-cashing stores and payday lenders with high interest rates. Those dramatic numbers led to the Board voting to establish a Center for Financial Empowerment which will help thousands of families reduce their debt and save money. 

The Center for Financial Empowerment will coordinate and promote the many existing financial services already available for low-income residents such as financial literacy, free tax preparation, accessing appropriate benefits and helping consumers manage their debt.  Similar Centers have been established in Boston, Chicago, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

In LA, the Center will initially prioritize two populations: families and young people. According to a New America Foundation report, low to moderate income County residents fail to claim more than $370 million in Federal EITC funds each year. The Center for Financial Empowerment will focus on ensuring that County families tap a greater share of that EITC funding. 

In addition, the Center will target young people, 18 to 24, who are just entering the job market and starting families. Over the last decade, San Francisco’s Office of Financial  Empowerment has helped more than 75,000 “unbanked” San Franciscans open safe, affordable bank accounts, and more than 22,000 college savings accounts have been opened for public kindergarten students.

I am very grateful for the support of my colleagues, especially Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion that established the Center, and to Citi Community Development which will provide significant financial support for the first year of the County’s pilot.

I am hopeful that these new County efforts will help more and more families build the kind of household wealth that will allow them to send children to college, purchase homes and start new businesses!

(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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