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ENVIRONMENT POLITICS--As described in an earlier article, the Beverly Hilton, in what they are calling a “reconfiguration” of a project which won a referendum by 129 votes in an election with 569 documented cases of voter fraud, is using a California initiative loophole to try to build a 375-foot skyscraper in a city with a 45-foot height limit. 

While some of the false claims made by the signature gatherers of the skyscraper initiative very clearly attempted to give new horizons to the meaning of the word chutzpah, a recent development (no pun intended) also adds hypocrisy with a capital “H” to the mix.

As noted before, the use of the initiative process means that the Hilton, in their efforts to build the 375-foot skyscraper, doesn’t need to go through any of the reviews or public processes which would normally be required for any construction project, let alone a project of this magnitude.

While the Hilton is exploiting the initiative process to scrupulously avoid all municipal scrutiny, including environmental reviews, their neighbor to the west, on the site of the old Robinsons May, is also requesting a modification to its original entitlement. The project, owned by the Wanda Group, and known as One Beverly Hills, (as envisioned: graphic above) is seeking to convert some of the condos of the already entitled Richard Meier designed project to hotel rooms, not to add bulk, mass and height to the project like the Hilton. Playing the role of the good twin, One Beverly Hills is going through the City’s standard process, which includes various reviews, a supplemental environmental impact report and the ability of the public to raise concerns.

Despite disingenuous protestations to the contrary, the Hilton is trying to use the public planning process and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop the hotel project — and the competition— next door. In a 21-page letter to the City’s planning department, the Hilton raises a number of concerns and objections related to the One Beverly Hills hotel modification.

I can’t comment on the specifics of the Hilton’s objections at this stage. There is a process and those objections will be considered and addressed. But I sure will point out the utter irony in the Hilton’s use of the public process which they themselves are denying everyone else in connection with their own project.

With apologies to Gore Vidal, they have given hypocrisy a bad name.

Or maybe it’s not hypocrisy? Perhaps they are subtlety trying to convince the One Beverly Hills folks to come over to the Dark Side. Their utzing message would seem to be: “Hey, why bother go through the pesky review process when you could completely circumvent it with an initiative? Drop the application, buy signatures like we did, and come join us with ‘the Hilton Way’ in the fabuloso world of ‘Anything Goes’ development.

“Heck, you can even use our argument that we already went through numerous public meetings. You did, too! In fact, the changes you’re looking for might even be seen as less drastic than our own. We’re looking to build a 375-foot skyscraper in place of two buildings, adding bulk and mass to our project, reducing the amount of water we recycle and adding outdoor meeting spaces while you’re just looking to convert a few condos to hotel rooms.”

Now we can’t know for sure if the Hilton really is trying to win recruits for the Hilton school of development or just wants to make a little mischief. And in fairness to the Hilton, it should be noted that there are a few other parties who are trying to jump on the Hypocrisy bandwagon.

For example, in addition to a mystery objector, who had 87 pages worth of objections sent in anonymously, we have a couple of homeowner associations in Westwood who are expressing concerns about the project. These are the same moral authorities who expressed zero concern with the potential issues Metro’s tunneling under our High School could create. They’re clearly not concerned at all about our kids and they went to great lengths in the past to prove it, ignoring both logic and decency, not to mention the facts. They’ve been bought off by developers before, so maybe they’re just looking for another payday now. Whatever their motivation, you gotta give such bad neighbors credit for such a healthy sense of ego. One sometimes can just shake one’s head...

We also received a letter from LA Councilmember Paul Koretz. It’s difficult to say whether he raised objections to placate those homeowner groups — hey, it’s a lot easier to object to development in another city than in one’s own district, isn’t it? Who knows, he may have even been put up to it by lobbyists doing the Hilton’s bidding. The Hilton tried that ploy in WeHo, with their lobbyist having in fact drafted a letter ready for the signature of the WeHo mayor, who wasn’t about to be tricked.

Whatever the origin of Councilmember Koretz’s letter, we should remember that this is the same guy who ignored our own concerns when the Century City North Specific Plan was violated to create significant traffic on behalf of a favored developer. This is the same guy who allowed a 40+ story skyscraper to be built directly next to the High School and whose concern for our kids is only matched in its absence by former county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. While it’s true the pay-to-play nature of urban planning and development in LA might be considered to be extenuating circumstances, this is Beverly Hills, not LA, and certainly not Chinatown.

There are enough heapin’ helpings of hypocrisy to go around, but the Hilton itself definitely does take the first prize. Perhaps we should call that prize “the Con-rad.” They are availing themselves of a public planning process to object to a neighboring development, while they are denying everyone else the same opportunity in connection with their own scheme to build a skyscraper which is 70 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty (including the base) and over double the height of the highest building in Beverly Hills (or Niagara Falls for that matter).

Just another reason for the voters of Beverly Hills to reject a project which has already been described by some as “the Skyscraper of Greed” when it comes to the ballot later this year.

To paraphrase the incomparable Vin Scully: so when people write the name Hilton in capital letters in the history books of overdevelopment, that “H” stands out even more than the I-L-T-O-N. The H in “Hilton” stands for “Hypocrisy.”

(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

BUTCHER ON LA--I’ve been reviewing LA’s documents for many, many years. Used to be the CAO had its own font. You’ll notice it If you look through old files. CLA reports all have a similar style. Again, you know it when you see it. Every public document has a date, always an author or authors, usually a signature. The DWP “reform” plan handed out at the beginning of last week’s Rules Committee meeting has none of these. It only just made its way into the council file. 

Jack Humphreville responded to my Facebook post that all 2300 words of the “recommendations” were ‘written by Council President Herb Wesson’.  

Ron Kaye followed up, got all Captain Renault: Shocked, I say!

But this is more than that. The Council vote to put a plan for the complete isolation and prospective privatization of the DWP is scheduled for Tuesday, Election Day. Surely CD 10 knows all the unions opposing many of these proposals will be out walking precincts. Before the full Council has even reviewed Herb’s “recommendations,” the EERC is set to issue bargaining instructions.

Who actually wrote the “recommendations”? Does it matter? Is it still smart, good government for Los Angeles to have a city charter? It would be so much easier (for them) if the city council could just make changes without a vote of the public.

Important terms: an ordinance -- a law -- can be adopted by the city council with a simple majority vote. It can be similarly rescinded with an aye vote of eight councilmembers. A charter change requires a winning vote of the people.

Let’s review exactly what is proposed for a charter-changing initiative screaming to this November’s ballot:

  • Increase the size of the DWP Board of Commissioners from five to seven (1a)
  • Change the length of their term from five years to three years with staggered terms (1b) (currently the charter encourages the use of staggered terms, allows departmental commissions to develop their own rules)
  • Authorize the council to adopt an ordinance to create new board structure (1b) (3)
  • Prohibit registered lobbyists from serving on the board (1c) (currently the charter prohibits anyone who is a registered lobbyist from serving) [Sec. 501(d)] (2) 
  • Require specific board member expertise in one or more of seven areas (1e)
  • Authorize council to establish ordinance to pay board stipends (1e) (board members to be paid with the amount to be set by Council after the charter change passes)
  • Add new due-process review to remove board members (1g)
  • Add new hiring procedure for the General Manager of the DWP utilizing the same process as for the appointment of the Police Chief [Charter Section 575(a)], an open search recruitment, competitive evaluative process organized by the City’s Personnel Department, with the board responsible for ranking candidates for the Mayor’s selection and Council confirmation (1h)
  • Create new analytical operation headed by an Executive Officer, with staff and hiring authority, to provide the board “added policy and fiscal analysis” (1i)
  • Increase budget of the Office of Public Accountability to 0.05 percent of revenues from the previous year’s sale of water and electric energy (1j)
  • Allow for the current incumbent Ratepayer Advocate to serve a second term without convening Citizens Committee (1k)
  • Move authority from Council to the Board for: (1l)
    • Franchises
    • Concessions
    • Permits
    • Licenses
    • Leases
    • Contracts
  • Require strategic investment and revenue requirement plan every four years -- beginning in 2020 (1m)
  • Allow Council to ask for informational reports regarding board actions “for review only” (1n)
  • Exempt all board actions regarding contracts from council oversight below an amount to be set by ordinance sometime in the future (1o)
  • Authorize the City to waive the provisions of civil service by negotiating with the DWP unions (1p)
  • Move salary negotiations from the City Council’s EERC to the Board of DWP Commissioners solely (1p)
  • Require the utility to change from bi-monthly to monthly billing by January 1, 2020 (1q)

And these proposed changes in the section of the recommendations delineated as “Non-Charter Recommendations”:

  • “Following the adoption of the ballot measure,” an ordinance establishing a monthly stipend of $2000 per month for the seven new board members, indexed to the relevant CPI (i.e., automatic raises) (2)
  • Also an ordinance to set the salary of the GM (4)
  • Another ordinance after the measure passes clarifying the roles and authority of the Office of Public Accountability (5) and some manner of “report-back” about changes to the role of the OPA that “could be further defined by ordinance.” (6) Hiring of exempt workers at the OPA also to be accomplished by ordinance (7)
  • City Attorney will consult with the Board and report back on the role of the Board in overseeing litigation, recommendations to strengthen the work of the City Attorney at DWP also by ordinance (8) (the proposal to replace the City Attorney with its own DWP lawyers appears to have disappeared)
  • CAO, CLA, Personnel Department, with input from DWP, come up with a hiring plan and an MOA with performance metrics, etc., within 60 days (9)
  • Request bargaining instructions from the EERC to the DWP with help from the CAO and the Personnel Department to negotiate with all the bargaining units at the DWP to change collective bargaining agreements to expedite current hiring and promotion practices (10)
  • Ordinance to increase the authority of the GM to approve contracts; exempt contracts less that a “certain amount” from council oversight) (11); recommends reports concerning contracts including charter regulations regulating the contracting of city work [Charter Section 1022] (12) 
  • Ordinance to increase the authority of the Board to enter into contracts without council approval (13)
  • Exempt the DWP from existing purchasing rules (14) (15)
  • Exempt the DWP from the Mayor’s Executive Directive 4, Intergovernmental Relations (17) 
  • CAO, CLA, DWP to determine a way to “allow the Board to assume all collective bargaining responsibilities with regard to the DWP bargaining units.” (18)
  • Request a report from the City Attorney to the City Council regarding outstanding litigation about the Power Revenue Transfer (19)
  • DWP, with the City Attorney, CLA, CAO, the Board of Public Works, and the Bureau of Sanitation to study and report back “with an analysis on creating a fully integrated water group.” (20)
  • DWP, with the City Attorney, CLA, CAO to report back on options to help Rec & Parks, non-profits “that provide publicly accessible open space, and low income seniors” help with water and electric bills (21)
  • DWP, with the CLA, CAO to report back on options to help ensure access to clean energy solutions not limited by geography or income (22)
  • DWP, with the CLA, CAO to study the feasibility of creating new executive level management position to advocate for the “interests of underserved low income customer market segment” (23)
  • Blanket authority to “make any technical modifications and/or legal corrections to the draft election ordinance, draft resolution, draft ordinance requests, and any other related actions” (24)

At the June 2 meeting of the Rules & Elections Committee at which these “recommendations” were introduced and briskly adopted, DWP General Manager Marci Edwards said that the DWP is a business.

It is not. It is the largest municipally owned and operated public utility in the United States, the power and water of the people of Los Angeles. Efforts to privatize, corporatize, or monetize the City’s assets stand squarely in the face of history.

This move is a privatization scheme, plain and simple. Every one of the problems at the DWP could be solved by greater public scrutiny, not less, with coordinated, strategic help from the rest of the City family.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and former chair of the elected charter reform commission reminded us in an LA Times op-ed last week City Council should retain oversight of DWP: “Like the airport and harbor, DWP is a proprietary department — essentially a business owned and operated by the city. It is undeniably a complex organization and reforms are warranted. But every broken water main and blackout reminds us that public accountability is indispensable.[Emphasis mine] 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild. She can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

  

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Hollywood Fringe hosts nearly three hundred theatrical performances in the month of June. It describes itself as an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts. That makes for plays, comedy acts, songs, and the odd magician or two, with allowance for nudity, political radicalism, occasional sanctimony, and lots of experimental writing. The catalog (see the link above) gives fair warning as to productions that push the envelope. 

The way to experience the Fringe is to show up on the day of your liking and take in two, three, or four performances and finish at the bar in Fringe Central. To make this approach possible, the Fringe encourages its productions to keep ticket prices low, typically in the five to fifteen dollar range. You might think of an afternoon and evening at the Fringe as ATM-accessible. 

Since the Fringe is open-access, that means that the piece you start out with may be dull, but sixty minutes later you may find yourself at a production that comes alive. My pick so far is the peculiarly named Bumperstickers the musical. The concept seems a little strange at first -- think of all those bumperstickers and build a musical with a heart around them -- but this group makes it work. They throw in some witty words and some pretty good tunes (music and lyrics by Gary Stockdale), and let rip. The organizers did a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo and, I've got to assume, that contributed to the full house on opening night. 

The plot, such as it is, is hung around 9 cast members who are sitting in traffic on the freeway during a typically jammed LA morning, listening to the radio and every once in a while noticing a bumper sticker. The bumper stickers are ones we remember, signifying the various social, political, and religious attachments automobile drivers wished to communicate to each other, ranging from the assertive (God said it, I believe it, that settles it) to the more embracing (coexist). Each such sticker provides the jumping-off point for a song-and-dance number. Using this conceit, the script allows itself to explore our modern society in ways alternately comedic and touching. 

Saturday night's show had a full audience who clapped along, tapped their feet, and cheered the actors. Performances of note were contributed by Jennifer Leigh Warren, who performed a gospel number expertly, Eliot Hochberg, who brings life to the role of the truck driver exhibiting the notorious old bumpersticker Gas, Grass, or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free, opera singer Jahmaul Bakare who makes fun of My Other Car is a Porsche, and Zachary Ford as the various radio announcers we listen to during rush hour. Lamont Dozier Jr. brought new life to the "I heart" bumper stickers we've grown to hate, and the remainder of a cast filled by talented professionals made for an enjoyable 90 minutes. 

On the same Saturday afternoon, I saw magician Nick Paul, who explains that he performs at the Magic Castle and cruise ships, and who does something tricky and a little scary when he pulls a giant inflated balloon over his head during a card trick. I also wandered into Vincent Deconstructed, nominally a play about Van Gogh near the end of his short life, and approximately at the level of a college drama society performance. There was overacting characterized by gasps and pained pauses, and some credible Italian accents. To adapt an old line, the characters were given too many words, all assembled in literary style in grammatically correct, complete sentences. People don't talk like that in any century. 

I'm looking forward to a production of The Owl and the Pussycat directed by friend and colleague Todd Felderstein. 

Summer Shakespeare and something almost about Shakespeare 

Tom Stoppard created his magnificent comedy/tragedy/satire Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in the 1960s. Coincidentally, it was first performed at the greatest of Fringe festivals in Edinburgh in 1966. This summer, we are lucky to have it back, in Orange County at the American Coast Theater Company. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern takes the titanic upheaval depicted in the play Hamlet and views it from the standpoint of two characters who are mere courtiers. How would ordinary people cope with the supra-human emotions -- and emoting -- of such as Ophelia, Hamlet, and Claudius? What do normal people feel in the presence of such an earthquake of feeling? Stoppard takes a shot at it with skill and humor. 

The same company is alternating Stoppard's play with Hamlet, using the same cast. Hamlet is being directed by Jeremy Aluma, who directed a clown's version of Hamlet recently, as well as Lunatics and Actors, which excerpts parts of Hamlet as performed by mental patients. It will be interesting to see how Aluma interprets Hamlet as undiluted tragedy. 

Finally, a list of nearly five dozen Shakespeare productions around town this summer can be found at the Shakespeare in LA website. 

Addendum: Cell Phones 

The recent report on cell phone radiation effects (or lack thereof) on rats has resulted in the usual hype. Careful analysis of the results can lead to various conclusions, ranging from the silly (cell phone radiation results in longer life on the average) to the concerned (cell phone radiation may result in cancer sometimes). Here is a careful analysis, albeit a long one, by cancer researcher David Gorski, who suggests that the design of the study and the results suggest that we are looking at false positives, that is to say, that the small number of tumors observed are chance results.  There will be a lot of discussion of these results over the next few months, but the take-home lesson is likely to be that they are inconclusive.

 

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

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is a documentary feature film honestly and sincerely portraying this vibrant ‘DIY’ community in Los Angeles. (Angela Boatwright) It features a new wave of loud, fast bands such as Psyk Ward, Rhythmic Asylum, Las Cochinas, Corrupted Youth and more.

The intimate and honest documentary, which made its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in January as one of the 20 feature-length selections, zooms in on the genre's local promoters, musicians and devout fans — predominantly Latino teens and young adults — who find meaning in the thriving punk-rock scene of South Central and East Los Angeles.

It earned critical kudos for its behind-the-rage look at young punk rockers making a homegrown scene. Helmed by first-time director and longtime punk rocker Angela Boatwright, it is now available on iTunes.

Punk rock is thriving in the backyards of South Central and East Los Angeles. A cobbled-together family of Hispanic teens and young adults comprise the scene: bands, fans, production, marketing, and security interwoven into a sub-culture of thrash and noise and pits. The sense of belonging is palpable; emotional bonds fostered among good families and those broken, poverty and wealth, adolescence and maturity, with the music emanating a magnetic chorus for all to sing together. ‘Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is a documentary feature film honestly and sincerely portraying this vibrant ‘DIY’ community.

Inside the backyards and small rooms of this music community is a palpable sense of belonging, as noted in the trailer. "A lot of bands that have heart are poor and come from dirty, scummy, prostitute-filled, bullet-flying, filthy places that people go by as they're driving on the freeway," says one person, as clips show fans finding hope amid poverty and crime. Another adds, "The message is: You're not alone out there."

Randall Roberts from the Los Angeles Times argues that for decades a low-budget, high-energy punk rock scene has been burning through the backyards and empty lots of East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and South Central Los Angeles.

If the new documentary “Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is any indication, the neighbors aren’t too happy about it. But the kids with mohawks keep coming anyway.

Boatwright, a professional still photographer, has shot musicians for years, and when she relocated to Los Angeles after nearly two decades in New York, she started scoping the city for projects.

“I was looking for like-minded people,” she said over coffee with Roberts in downtown Los Angeles. “I grew up into hardcore, metal and punk, and I knew L.A. had a really rich punk history. I thought, ‘I wonder what’s going on?’”

A resurgent punk scene that has thrived in and around the city since its birth in the late 1970s had blossomed once again in the shadow of the corporate music world. Each weekend, young promoters were organizing gigs away from the clubs and concert venues by booking bands in dirt lots and empty garages.

Directed by Angela Boatwright, the doc is produced for Vans: Off the Wall, Fusion and AOP Productions, and includes Doug Palladini, Eric Douat, Isaac Lee and Juan Rendon as executive producers, and Agi Orsi as producer.

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

-cw

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Chase Street in Northridge is a throwback to earlier times. Many of the neighbors have passed down properties for generations. Residents still raise chickens and farm animals on the large properties. The neighborhood is home to Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #782, El Encanto, a barn that had been converted into a residence by General Harris Malasky back in 1947. Neighbors say the barn has been preserved exactly as it has been for over 75 years. 

Valerie Collins grew up in this neighborhood. She rode horses nearby and speaks about the now gone walnut groves. Like the other longtime homeowners and residents, she is concerned with protecting the integrity of her neighborhood. 

Back in 1998, St. Mary & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church was built in her neighborhood. The church expanded to include a 58-unit senior apartment complex with 52 parking spaces, as well as a 40,480 square foot school on Roscoe Boulevard. 

Valerie shared with me that the church had removed 170 trees in the process of initial construction when they only had permission to remove 68 trees. “This also was a shady deal where they took the trees out over a Christmas holiday weekend when there was nobody around to notify,” the neighbor says. 

When the church had filed permits to expand the school and build two additional three-story senior apartment building, Valerie and her neighbors gathered 650 signatures forcing the hand of the city, which sent a zoning administrator from Valencia to the zoning meeting. Valerie says the zoning administrator put the brakes on the proposals until the church brought back “up to date” plans. (Expansion plan photo right.) 

The Chase Street neighbors say the church never came through with the updated plans. The neighbors who signed the petition are notified of proposed changes. “The city doesn’t notify you if you don’t say anything and then, people do whatever they want,” she warns. 

The church has installed a basketball court with windows directly overlooking a neighbor’s yard. Neighbors say the church regularly asks them to get rid of their animals or move the pens away from the senior apartments. Valerie will be joining the neighborhood council to address concerns she has about the future of her neighborhood. 

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood since I was four and I’m now 67,” she shares. “I’ve seen changes; some have been good but this hasn’t done anything for the community and that’s one of the things that is a stickler with me.” 

Valerie expresses concerns about the traffic brought by the church, especially during events and holidays when there isn’t adequate parking in the area and families run across the busy four-lane Roscoe Boulevard. 

She adds, “We pay taxes and this bring our property values down. We’ve lived here for generations and hand the properties down to our kids. We have to figure out what land use rules and the variances are. Nobody notified us about the initial apartment building. The city allowed it to be built over a historic monument!” 

The Chase Street neighbors aren’t necessarily closed off to development. “We don’t want more than stories and we want something that looks nice that goes with the land and the area,” she explains. “Our area is quaint and we want to keep it that way.” 

For now, the longtime resident is waiting to see what happens next as the church continues to buy up more land. “We don’t want a school or three-story apartment building right over someone’s property. It’s not right. Quality of life should come first for the people who live here and take care of the land.”

 

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

-cw

GUEST COMMENTARY--The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) protects the environment by giving the public a voice in government projects and ensures that environmental effects of a project are mitigated. The Coastal Act requires oversight of development in California's Coastal Zone.

Now Governor Brown wants to disregard these laws so that development can occur without disclosing environmental impacts about the development to the public.

Don't let the Governor get his way. Help oppose Trailer Bill 707, which creates a broad exemption from CEQA and the Coastal Act for new development.  
 

(Trailer bills are pieces of legislation that change policy as part of the budget process. That means that these bills do not go through various policy committees necessary to vet legislation, and can fly under the public's radar.)

Trailer Bill 707 would allow housing development to be approved "by-right." This means there would be no local government review, no public hearings, and no environmental mitigation. This by-right provision would even make sure the California Coastal Act couldn't be applied to protect the coast from development impacts.

This trailer bill will create a large policy shift, and will not help make housing affordable. In fact, the bill could make housing affordability worse.

Don't let the Governor further his agenda to weaken the state's bedrock laws that ensure full disclosure about large building projects and their environmental impacts.
 

Don't let the Governor ignore the public's right to be a part of the process of environmental review.
 

(Kyle Jones is Policy Advocate for the Sierra Club of California.)

-cw

 

TUESDAY PRIMARY--Bernie Sanders and his California supporters not only expect to win big in next Tuesday’s primary, but say Democrats will not pick their nominee until July’s national convention.

“It’s a floor fight in Philly,” said Galen Swain, a semi-retired engineer standing at street corner Santa Cruz on Tuesday hoisting a “Honk for Bernie” sign near a big hall where Sanders was to speak. “I’m absolutely certain we will close the gap on her [in Tuesday’s primary]… This is a gut check for Democrats. Do they want to run a candidate who has the FBI for a running mate?”

The feistiness of Swain’s comments were commonplace at Sanders’ rally in this mid-California coastal city with a large state university. While Swain’s swipe at Hillary Clinton was referring to her use of a personal server for e-mails while Secretary of State—which has led to an ongoing FBI investigation—his larger point was about the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, the office-holders and allies who account for 15 percent of the national convention delegates.

“We want to make the case to the Democrats that your superdelegates are going to have to make a decision,” Swain said, referring to the emerging fact that neither Clinton nor Sanders will cross the threshold needed for the nomination until the superdelegates vote. “You gotta choose right. Will you select a flawed candidate or a guy who’s been adding numbers to your party?”

That declaration was the latest to emerge in a campaign year where most precedents have been upended. On the Republican side, Donald Trump’s rise blindsided the GOP. On the Democratic side, Sanders’ rise and continued success has also upended the process, which his supporters now say is about to enter an uncharted phase: pressing superdelegates.

“The superdelegates have never before had to be the deciding vote,” said Bruce Jones, who will be a national convention delegate for Sanders from California’s 14th congressional district. “And at this point, what Bernie says is let’s go to the convention, and on the floor, and in front of all the Bernie delegates and Hillary delegates, let them make a principled decision.”

“One of the things that’s really upsetting is this thought that the media will call this election early before the superdelegates vote,” said Jones, who was giving away buttons, selling t-shirts and snapping pictures of backers next to a big Sanders cutout. “Bernie Sanders is, without a doubt, the most popular candidate in this election. The other two are the two most unpopular ever.”

Campaigning To Win

On Tuesday, Sanders only encouraged his supporters to join his revolutionary bandwagon. He went first to Santa Cruz, where it has been decades since a major presidential candidate held a rally and a local convention hall was packed hours before he appeared. A large crowd was herded to an overflow area where he briefly appeared on a stage and spoke before going inside. 

“This campaign is asking you and every American to think outside the box—outside of the options that Congress and the media often give us,” Sanders said, then ticking off the issues that he’d address if elected president. Those included campaign finance reform, immigration reform and citizenship, Medicare-for-all national health care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and an energy policy that addresses climate change and creates jobs.

“What this campaign is ultimately about is to revitalize American democracy,” Sanders said. “A poll came out the other day. The overwhelming majority of people in this country—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—are disgusted with the current political system. They feel helpless. They feel that their voices are not being heard. They feel that elected officials are listening to the needs of wealthy campaign contributors but not to the needs of ordinary Americans.”

“What this campaign is about is changing that dynamic,” he continued. “It is about creating a political revolution. And all of you are the political revolutionaries. And that means that we have all got to understand that democracy is not a spectator sport… That means the understanding that every person here is extraordinarily powerful if you choose to use your power. But if you moan and grown, and throw things at the TV, that ain’t going to make much difference.”

“Four-hundred and seventy-five delegates are up for grabs. And I want to see our campaign win the vast majority of those delegates,” he concluded. “So I would hope that on June 7th, we have the largest voter turnout of any Democratic primary in California history. If that happens we are going to win this thing, and we will win it big.” 

Sanders then told everyone to vote next week and predicted he’d win if turnout was high. Inside the packed arena, he also repeated the contention that the superdelegates would have to pick their presidential nominee, because neither he nor Clinton would cross the party’s threshold to win the nomination based on the delegates awarded by primary voters and caucus participants. Superdelegates comprise 15 percent of the national convention’s attendees and are elected democrats, party officials and key allies.

“No candidate – not Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders – will have received the number of pledged delegates… that he or she needs to become the Democratic nominee,” Sanders said inside the hall. “The message to the Democratic leadership is that if the Democratic Party is to be the party of working people and young people and the middle class, they’ve got to open up the doors.”

Breaking the Mold

The determination of Sanders’ team to carry the nominating fight past California is causing great consternation among Clinton’s team and superdelegates—whose loyalty also is to the Democratic Party and who have spent years working inside it.

“When you run using language like this is a revolution, you have to expect a few revolutionaries will show up,” said Deb Kozikowski, a superdelegate from Massachusetts and vice-chair of that state’s Democratic Party, reached by phone on Tuesday.

Kozikowski said that superdelegates and party officials like her were paying careful attention to what was going on with Sanders. She said that Sanders had to ask each state party to put him on the primary or caucus ballot, which they did after he pledged to not bolt and run as a third-party candidate, and also after pledging that he would support the eventual nominee.

The thinking in Democratic Party circles at that time was that perhaps Sanders would get four or five percent of the delegates, she said, and his eventual embrace of the nominee would help contribute to a winning margin in November. Nobody, she said, foresaw his popularity, his message’s power, nor how angry the electorate has become. “Nobody ever figured he was good for more than 4 to 5 percent, but he’s at 40 to 45 percent [of the delegates].” 

Despite upending expectations, Kozikowski said that “automatic delegates [superdelegates] have never swung a nomination away from the individual who gets the most pledged delegates” in the primaries and caucuses. “The automatic delegates are in the same position they have always been — to give their nomination to the person who gets the most delegates.”

Why California Now Matters

Sanders is not just campaigning hard to win California, but to try to change the party’s nominating process. And he might win the Golden State, as polls last week put him two percentage points behind Clinton and attendance at his rallies—many thousands at a time— have consistently outdrawn Clinton’s events. New Jersey, the second most delegate-rich state to vote next Tuesday, is solidly behind Clinton, according to polls giving her a double-digit lead.

Where this goes is anybody’s guess. Should Sanders lose California where 475 pledged delegates are at stake, Kozikowski hopes he would start speaking to his supporters about the need to back Clinton and work inside the party. Making that transition takes time, she said, but depending on how the state votes, Kozikowski hoped that Sanders would shift toward that conversation.

“I’ve been trying to be circumspect in my remarks to give people enough opportunity to ease into what’s happening,” she said. “Until it happens, you cannot take it away from people who are in it [backing a candidate like Sanders] from a pure heart standpoint—They really are. They really believe this is their one chance to make America something they can really feel good about.”

Kozikowski, who is 61, said she hoped that his supporters and delegates would come to see that change is possible and laudable if it comes in smaller increments than Sanders seeks—which, obviously, is what she sees in Hillary Clinton. 

But Sanders supporters on Tuesday said almost the opposite—that more sweeping change is what is needed now, and that the Democratic Party should welcome the energy and vision of their candidate and his messengers.

“We aren’t going there [to Philadelphia] to be window dressing at the convention,” said Sanders national convention delegate Jones. “We aren’t going there to hold up signs and show unity… We are going there because we are principled and as long as Bernie is running in the race, he’s our candidate.”

And when asked about a Clinton-Sanders ticket, he lit up and replied that she’d make a good vice-president.

(Steven Rosenfeld writes for AlterNet. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.) 

-cw

 

POLITICS--I had the good fortune in recent weeks to discuss my commentaries from CityWatch and elsewhere on KFI AM-640’s Sunday Morning with Elizabeth Espinosa. It is surely coincidental that the all-powerful LA City Council president Herb Wesson invited me for coffee and a chat prior to a Council meeting last week.

Under his leadership, Council’s inauthentic meetings lack genuine public debate that result in preordained, orchestrated unanimous votes. Imagine flipping a coin 15 times and it always coming up heads….for every agenda item. That is the essence of Los Angeles City Council and the unquestioning local media enslaved to it.

Historically, those who do not go along with the Wesson Way get politically disemboweled like former Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernie Parks, who were ostracized and had their assignments and Districts’ best assets carved into the hands of Wesson allies, i.e. all the other Councilmembers. While Perry finagled her way back into a peachy political gig after terming out of office, Bernie went on to his pension-rich retirement.  

Read more ...

POT POLITICS--Hakeem Brown is unique. In the state of California, where black owned cannabis businesses are rare, Hakeem Brown owned and managed a licensed medical cannabis dispensary in Vallejo from 2009-2012, when it was shut down as part of a multi dispensary raid. The raid was deemed unlawful and the city was required to return the money seized during the police action.

Brown used this money to open up a new garden to grow for patients in Napa. This garden was raided and Brown was arrested for possession with intent to distribute despite possessing documentation confirming the medical nature of the garden. For four years the case has dragged on, with the judge limiting the ways in which those who were Brown’s patients can testify on his behalf.

Stories like Hakeem Brown’s are too common in a state that has allowed medical cannabis use for decades and is known for its lassie-faire attitude about cannabis. In fact, cannabis remains illegal in California, but you wouldn’t know it by witnessing its flourishing industry. The cannabis culture on display in incubators and expo halls is a far cry from what is happening on the streets of the Golden State, where in 2014, there were over 13,000 felony arrests for cannabis, with black and Latino people overrepresented among them.

Cannabis has been a non-incarcerable offense in California since the 1970s, and possession of less than an ounce has not been an arrestable offense since then. However, the subjectivity of “possession”, vs. “possession with intent to distribute” enables police to use “evidence” such as an empty baggie or a certain amount of cash to take a non-arrestable offense and flip it to a potential felony. Or, as in the case of Hakeem Brown, claim that cannabis grown for medical purposes is simply a front for illegal dealing. 

In the city of Oakland, black people comprise 25% of the population yet 78% of those arrested for possession with intent to distribute. On the other hand, white people comprise 35% of the population and only 8% of those arrested for possession with intent to distribute.

The racially disparate policing of cannabis crimes is not new information. Multiple reports have highlighted this pervasive practice. In 2011, then-Governor Schwarzenegger passed a law moving simple possession of an ounce or less to an infraction. Now considered on par with a traffic ticket, guilty parties simply had to pay a fine, no court appearance, no criminal record.

This change in penalty classification also came with downsides. Now data on marijuana possession offenses are no longer collected at the state level, which means it is now much more difficult to measure whether unequal enforcement persists after marijuana possession was reduced to an infraction. Additionally, as with traffic court, the fees added onto the fine can be hefty and can be more burdensome for some to pay than others.

In a collaboration between the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California, racial data on who is getting infractions were obtained from the cities of Los Angeles and Fresno and analyzed to determine whether there were racial disparities in marijuana possession enforcement. Data collected from Los Angeles and Fresno show that blacks were respectively cited for marijuana possession infractions 4 and 3.6 times more often than whites. The disparity is worse than the rates at which blacks were arrested for simple possession of marijuana prior to 2011, when possession was a misdemeanor offense.

In 2010, black were 2.2 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Latinos were cited for marijuana possession infractions 1.4 times in Los Angeles and 1.7 times in Fresno more often than whites. It is likely that these disparities are actually greater. California has a long history of data collection challenges regarding Latinos, who are often classified by law enforcement officers as white and thus undercounted.

Most marijuana possession citations are issued to young people in both jurisdictions, particularly in Los Angeles. The mean age for those receiving marijuana infractions is 26.58 years old in Los Angeles and 28.82 years old in Fresno. In both cities, the majority of marijuana possession infractions were issued to individuals 29 years of age and younger.

Hakeem Brown was lucky. He was found not guilty at his trial in April. While he was fighting for his freedom, others were planning for the green rush. The infraction and arrest data in California show that there is a bigger issue at stake than industry. The harms of cannabis prohibition persist in California, and they do so most for young people of color.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which will give California voters the opportunity to legalized regulated marijuana this November, allows those in jail for marijuana offenses that will no longer be punishable by arrest to petition for release, and for those on probation or parole to have their records expunged.

It also allows those with drug felonies to not only work in the industry but to be business owners. It’s far past time to stop the bleeding of prohibition that has been centered in our most vulnerable communities, and legalize cannabis in California. Once we move cannabis into a regulated market, we can slowly dress the wound left by decades of disparate enforcement by making a place in the industry for those like Hakeem Brown who have been on the front lines and have the scars to show for it.

(Amanda Reiman is the manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.  Follow Amanda Reiman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AmandaReiman

-cw

POWER POLITICS--California’s Senate District 27 comprises some of the most beautiful and valuable real estate in the country. From the beaches of Malibu to the Santa Monica Mountains to the flat lands of the San Fernando Valley and beyond into Ventura County, it is treasured by environmentalists and coveted by their mortal enemies — the developers. 

In order to build in what is called SD-27, California's 27th Senate district, you need to be “entitled” — you need to have the right. Those rights are called “entitlements” and the lawyers with the right connections, the ones who can get you those entitlements, are considered royalty. When one of them decides to run for office the gloves come off. 

The Rezniks are the king and queen of entitlements. They have gotten entitlements for billions of dollars worth of real estate deals, so when Janice Kamenir Reznik abruptly decided she was entitled to the State Senate seat vacated by Fran Pavley she just took for granted that the other candidates would politely get out of her way. After all, Reznik & Reznik specialized in entitlements. 

They had helped Shappell Industries, the developers of Porter Ranch, get all their entitlements to build next to the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage yard, now the largest natural gas storage facility in the Western U.S.  But now all those homeowners are entitled to is righteous anger and reimbursement for the cost of moving out until the leak was capped and for the cleanup of the oil slime that coats their homes.

But let’s start at the beginning:  

As hubby Ben points out, in an interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, "There were no land use lawyers back then." In 1979, when Shappell approached Reznik & Reznik for help with some land use issues, Ben and his partner, Janice, had created a whole new specialty – land use litigation - and we all know the rest.  

Janice blames lack of oversight for Porter Ranch, noting on her website that "the debacle in Porter Ranch, which is part of the 27th District, revealed that the legislature was asleep at the switch." 

But when the facts are revealed, it seems that the developers of Porter Ranch were not into disclosure. When Porter Ranch was permitted, the environmental report didn’t mention that oil field just down the road, as the Daily News reports.    

Ben and Janice were there "in the trenches" as Ben revealed to the Journal back in 2011, making sure those switches stayed turned off! During the 1980s the Rezniks represented virtually all the biggest developers, according to the LA Times. If you live in the Valley, just look out your window or maybe just inhale and you can experience the results of their labors, or as Janice calls them, “accomplishments.” 

Expanding their reach soon after Porter Ranch was built, the Rezniks went after the oil companies themselves - not as adversaries but as clients, hiring a former SoCalGas company regulatory attorney to head up their brand new Energy and Utility Division! So as methane wafted over SD 27, where Janice plans to reign, we know whom to thank - the Rezniks.  And don't be fooled - the firm name is Reznik & Reznik - the first is Ben and second is Janice - or is it the other way around?  

But the Rezniks weren’t through with the Valley – there was still Ventura Boulevard – the charming, historical low-rise walkable Main Street of the San Fernando Valley.  Remember when the afternoon sun hit the Encino backyards north of Ventura? Well thanks to the Rezniks the sun shines there no more.  Finally the City Council stepped in and created a plan to limit the height of buildings along the Boulevard – but not before Reznik extracted an exemption for his client’s 172-unit apartment building in Encino.  The LA Times reported on the negotiations. 

And on the Encino project in particular: When homeowners objected to the scale of the project, “Ben went nuclear,” the Times reported, cynically threatening to add subsidized (read Section 8) housing to the plan.  He got 150 units and he and his developer client headed right to the bank. 

In 1997, facing cash-flow problems, the Rezniks headed to the West Side, leaving behind a complaint about violations of their profit sharing plan and their office building which was put up for sale – but not their home.  Too bad the Reznik’s division which represented management against labor wasn't there to defend them.   

Reznik even went so far as to use labor negotiations to try to weaken CEQA – a long range goal: “That’s part of where the reform needs to take place so you can avoid a situation where CEQA is used as a leverage tool for someone to gain other advantages that have nothing to do with the environmental welfare of the community at large,” Reznik said, according to DTLA News. In 2015 Reznik predicted CEQA reform.  Sorry, Ben.  Even Jerry Brown can’t help you with this one.  

But even at Jeffer Mengals, where he oversaw over $20 billion in real estate deals, nothing was too petty for Reznik.  When his client Norman Bench Advertising lost its exclusive contract to manage the bus benches, Patt Morrison reports that Norman started removing all the benches leaving mothers, children, the old and infirm to stand for as long as it took to for the bus to come.  Nice work.  L.A. scrambled to get another firm to rebuild them. 

But let’s be fair - the Rezniks represented homeowners too - like this sheik who wanted to build an 85,000-square-foot mega mansion in Brentwood. The sheik filled the profile of the Rezniks' typical client - he had big problems and deep pockets! Vanity Fair called their article on the project "There Goes the Neighborhood"! .
Ben and Janice are a team. They raise money together – whether from developers or big oil (Chevron) aka the California Dental Association whom you can thank for all those mailers!   The Resniks use their connections well and if they get control of the gold mine that is SD 27 you can kiss CEQA goodbye along with much of what is left of our open space.  And if the developers want CEQA “reform” what will Chevron demand?    

If you want to trust SD 27 to Team Reznik then you know how to vote.  Maybe we would be better off with the Barrows … of Bonnie and Clyde.  

 

(Dorothy Reik is  head of Progressive Democrats for America of the Malibu/Santa Monica area and  a member of the California State Central Committee. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of CityWatch or its other writers or contributors.)

-cw

 

GUEST COMMENTARY--Several months ago as I was driving through the City of San Fernando I noticed that there were no “cars for sale”. As I continue to drive in an attempt to get home to Pacoima it also became obvious to me that there are no parking lots on the lawns of single family residents nor were the streets being used as auto repair shops. 

I decided to ask “why?” I drove to the San Fernando City Hall and inquired. A young woman asked me could she help I replies “Yes.” I asked “Why are there no cars for sale on the streets of San Fernando?” She ask me to wait a minute and made a phone call. A young man entered from the rear and I repeated my question. 

He laughed and asked, where did I live? Once I said Pacoima, he really had a good laugh, and replied: “We enforce the laws in San Fernando, we all live under the same state laws, the difference is the City of Los Angeles don’t enforce the existing laws.” 

I didn’t need any additional explanations, the reason for the steady creeping decadence and crud in the city of Los Angeles is the failure of the city’s code enforcement agencies. It matters not what laws are on the books, if they are not enforced they are worthless. But then, I read almost daily the city council is steady making new laws. For what, they cannot enforce the ones they have now. 

Since that initial drive through San Fernando, I have been there many times. There are no peddlers on the street, I never see individuals cooking and selling food from carts on the streets or in the parks. Nev-er saw an 18 wheel tracker trailer parked on the streets of San Fernando. 

Why, what is the difference, two communities in such close proximity, yet one is clean, the other in a steady decline into “Third World Status”.

 

(Morris Eichon and Edwin Ramirez are co-publishers of the Pacoima Today Newsletter.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY-In the past, it was other people’s governments that would seek to make your life more difficult. But increasingly in California, the most effective war being waged is one the state has aimed at ourselves. 

The Jerry Brown administration’s obsession with becoming a global model for reducing greenhouse gases is leading to an unprecedented drive to completely reshape how Californians live. Rather than focus on more pragmatic, affordable steps to reduce greenhouse gases – more efficient cars, rooftop solar systems and promoting home-based work – the goal increasingly seems like social engineering designed to force Californians to adopt the high-density, transit-oriented future preferred by Brown’s green priesthood. 

The newest outrage comes from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in the form of a proposed “road diet.” This would essentially halt attempts to expand or improve our roads, even when improvements have been approved by voters. This strategy can only make life worse for most Californians, since nearly 85 percent of us use a car to get to work. This in a state that already has among the worst-maintained roads in the country, with two-thirds of them in poor or mediocre condition. 

The OPR move reflects the increasingly self-righteous extremism animating the former Jesuit’s underlings. Ironically, the governor’s proposals to impose this road diet rest partly on expanding the California Environmental Quality Act, which Brown, in a more insightful moment, described as a “vampire” that needs a “stake through the heart.” Now, instead, the inquisitors seize on vague legislative language and push it to what the Southern California Leadership Council has dubbed “an undesirable and unmanageable extreme.” 

In essence, the notion animating the “road diet” is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit. It’s not planning for how to make the ways people live today more sustainable. It has, in fact, more in common with Soviet-style social engineering, which was based similarly on a particular notion of “science” and progressive values. 

Brown’s green political theology already has done much to devastate the state’s heavily minority working class. Despite its improved economy, California ranks the very worst in such measurements as poverty, once the cost of living is factored in, among all states, including Mississippi. By the most recent estimates, roughly one in three California households, largely minorities, lives close to, or in, poverty. 

The higher electricity costs caused by Brown’s policies impact the poorer, heavily minority inland areas, where residents are more dependent on heating and cooling than in the wealthier, and generally whiter, more temperate coastal areas. It also makes manufacturing and other blue-collar industries that employ them ever less competitive. The state’s policies have also made it, according to one recent survey, “the worst” state in America in which to be a trucker. Policies that make the roads worse won’t make that situation any better. 

Brown’s green jihad is also burdening housing development. Despite high prices and demand, California has consistently failed to build enough housing, both single-family and multifamily structures, largely due to regulatory constraints. What is being built, after leaping over numerous hurdles, tends to be very expensive, or, in the case of affordable housing, can be achieved only with massive subsidies. 

Some suggest that policies promoting higher density lead to more affordable housing and a lower cost of living. Given the high costs of building such housing, this notion is absurd. Indeed, research consistently shows that dense cities – Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco – are also among the least-affordable in the nation. 

Increasingly, California’s middle class is also suffering from these policies. High housing costs are already putting ownership out of reach even for fairly affluent families, something that does not bode well long-term for our human capital. Some tech workers have started to relocate, notably to lower-cost areas such as Texas and Arizona. Many more, suggests a recent Beacon Economics study, will migrate in the future, as they enter their thirties. 

In a sense, the “road diet” can be seen as the state adding insult to injury – and in a way that is seriously detached from reality. Los Angeles, for example, has spent $16 billion on a rail system, but the share of people taking transit in the entire region has actually declined. One has to be utterly delusional, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti arguably is, to think that anti-driving policies and transit will actually make Angelenos more mobile. 

But for the bureaucratic clerics at OPR, how regular people live does not constitute the Holy Grail. Instead, they want to use “the coercive power of the state,” recently celebrated by Gov. Brown, to make driving ever more miserable. OPR even is considering mandating devices on cars that measure mileage. Oddly, the “road diet” makes no distinction between electric cars, hybrids or economical cars as opposed to gas guzzlers. 

For the OPR, driving is intrinsically undesirable. Hence, road improvements are bad because they “likely lead to an increase in [vehicle miles traveled].” For most Californians, cars remain easily the more efficient option; in Southern California, the average transit commute takes nearly twice as long as driving alone. And federal data shows this to be the case across the nation, including in New York, the city with by far the nation’s best transit system. Indeed, Hong Kong, with its high density and high-quality transit system, comes the closest to the goals of folks like OPR and Mayor Garcetti, with work trip travel times 75 percent greater than in Los Angeles. 

Even as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, the road diet won’t be much help. In fact, ever more congested freeways – the likely result of the road diet – could actually increase carbon emissions, as well as other pollutants, something the OPR planners largely ignore. More pragmatic ways to address congestion and reduce greenhouse gases – promoting improved mileage, electric cars, ride-sharing as well as more telecommuting – can accomplish these objectives without purposely inconveniencing Californians. Meaningful greenhouse gas reductions, notes a report by McKinsey and Co., can be achieved without reducing driving and without living in denser housing.

Basically, the road diet, like much of the Brown agenda, will do little to suppress warming even as it succeeds in making Californians more miserable. For one thing, California is too small to have any measurable effect on a global phenomenon. Indeed, these policies could prove self-defeating, as they chase residents and industries to other states and countries with more energy-consuming climates and less-strict regulation. 

In a more rational world, such hostile policies would lead to push-back from the citizenry. But California is an increasingly left-leaning, one-party state where issues are rarely debated. Pockets of resistance inside the Democratic Party to Brown and his agenda – many of them minorities from the state’s interior – are being criticized by the state’s gentry class, an effort financed by the omnipresent hedge-fund billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his legislative minions. 

Sadly, it may be years before the public is fully aware of these issues, and what they mean for people’s daily lives. Voters may soon find that, if they pass a bond measure, such as one being proposed for Los Angeles that includes road improvements, that Gov. Brown’s planning elite will eliminate them. This classic “bait and switch” would leave drivers shelling out money for investments that don’t make their commutes easier. 

Ultimately, congestion will become more and more the norm, while governments pour ever more funds into transportation systems that don’t really take cars off the road. There will be manna from heaven – in the form of Sacramento spending – for politically connected developers, construction unions and contractors, as well as for those politicians they so generously fund. But for most Californians, the memory of greater mobility will fade into oblivion. 

Ultimately, only Californians can slow or reverse this unwise drive toward a society that is gridlocked not only on the roads, but also in terms of class and upward mobility. The middle-class dream of better incomes, good public schools and up-to-date infrastructure is slowly being erased by an over-reaching regulatory state that rewards the well-connected but devastates the middle class. This process can only be reversed when Californians finally stand up and say, as a people, basta ya! Enough already!

 

(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.” This was first posted at newgeography.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THE EXPO LINE--Memorial Day, my son and I had the pleasure of a quiet, enjoyable walk in the area where so much hullabaloo over the Expo Line occurred over the past two decades. That highly-disputed region between Overland Avenue and the 405 freeway.  The trains were quiet, and pretty much hidden behind the sound walls. The main noise coming from children on their roller skates and a considerable number of bicyclists. 

Is this widened right of way, particularly near the Westwood/Rancho Park station, the "Palms Park West" that some Expo advocates (including myself) fought for?  No.  But the pedestrians, bicyclists, and skaters now have a nice new place to travel, and I dare say the children and their parents from Rancho Park and adjacent neighborhoods will be the biggest winners. (Photo above: Palms sound wall.) 

Is this widened right of way one big parking lot?  No--there is a lot of need, and very short supply, of good parking spaces (not free, but affordable and to enhance overall community access to this new light rail line) for the Expo Line.  This is particularly true for the "regional" stations at Bundy/Olympic, Exposition/Sepulveda, and Venice/Robertson but not so ideal for the "local/neighborhood" stations at Westwood/Rancho Park. 

The private sector can and should be expected to come up with transit-oriented residential development that requires parking spots for long-distance Expo Line commuters who live far away, but with financial incentives to keep those living near the line to minimize use of automobiles .  Workforce housing and senior/student housing advocates also have a golden opportunity for affordable and transit-oriented housing. 

The biggest problem, arguably, is the poor quality of the sidewalks on major thoroughfares such as Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards: 

1) Pity that all the screaming that Rancho Park and Cheviot Hills did, to the waste of hundreds of thousands of legal dollars from dues-paying homeowners associations, wasn't focused on redoing and repairing the sidewalks on Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards between Pico and National Blvds.  Pity also that consensus for a rail bridge over Overland Ave. wasn't fought for, but at least we can fight for better sidewalks and bus stations. 

2) Pity also that both the City Council and City Attorney haven't been able to come up with a legal answer to prevent the homeless from setting up quasi-permanent residence on the Sepulveda Blvd. sidewalks below the I-10 freeway overpasses.  The Exposition/Sepulveda station, however, is clean and free from graffiti, homeless encampments, and other urban blight...and we should keep it that way. 

The Mar Vista Community Council just unanimously voted for expedition of repairing our City's sidewalks from a woefully-insufficient 30-year schedule to a 7-10 year schedule, and starting with our sidewalks (particularly near our transit stations) would be a true no-brainer. 

The need for high-quality smart bus benches for the transit-dependent on Sepulveda and National Blvds. would also be a step up for those who must, and those who want, to access transit and mobility without their cars. Until that happens, it's just not fair to expect anyone to use bus transit unless they're financially forced to do so...and it's not like other cities and counties don't have quality bus shelters/benches. 

And while speeding up the line with signal prioritization Downtown for the trains is an issue, the ridership is still very high for the Expo Line (at least 45,000/day and counting) because Santa Monica, West LA, Culver City, the Mid-City, and Downtown LA are all key locations to access.  It's worth pondering how future Laker, Clipper and other sports teams' games will be impacted by the presence of the Expo Line. 

It's no secret that the first step is always the most painful...and hence we needed an Expo Line Authority to get this legally-difficult piece of infrastructure done at all.  It's also no secret that the reason that insufficient speed and mitigation for the Expo Line rests almost entirely on those who opposed the line, and not on Metro and the LADOT, who just wanted a convenient, safe, and attractive ride for those who wanted a new mobility option. 

But for now, as of last Memorial Day, it was a nice day to walk, roller skate, bicycle, or just sit down on a bench and take in a new stretch of open space that used to be nothing but weeds and sawdust--and it's my guess that all the rumors of property values in Rancho Park and adjacent neighborhoods going UP are absolutely true now. 

The best end to a fight is often a calm, pleasant silence as a final "statement" and "resolution".  I'm glad we can finally enjoy this golden silence for now, and hopefully for the indefinite future.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected]. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.

-cw

EASTSIDER-So it’s political season again, and the other day I was wondering about two things for this week’s article. First was, how much does it cost to buy an Assembly seat in California? Second was, why in god’s name would Jose Huizar care about homeless people? Lucky me, the Internet (and CityWatch, of course) saved me yet again. 

Let’s do the easy one first -- our very own Council District 14’s Jose Huizar. Goodness knows he’s personally created enough homeless people with his propensity to do anything any developer wants, including wiping out affordable housing in the name of saving affordable housing, having the police sweep folks up out of Skid Row to make way for new downtown developments, and approving skybridges between the developments downtown so that the tenants don’t have to be bothered with the smell and reality of those living below them. 

When I saw in the LA Times that Huizar had become a champion of a one “B” as in Billion dollar bond for the homeless, I was momentarily perplexed. 

It was a good bet that guilt and remorse were not on his list of reasons for doing this, so why indeed would he, of all people, care? CityWatch to the rescue, in the form of Richard Lee Abrams’ very cool article last week about bonds for the homeless

Eureka! The answer is simple -- the scumbag real estate developers are in trouble!

I always wondered exactly who could afford the obscene rents in their new developments, and Mr. Abrams demonstrated the obvious answer: no one can or will. Vacancies are up, what’s left of the middle class is beatin’ it out of Dodge, and the developers are in a pickle. 

For example, I could never figure out who actually lives in the giant Orsini development on Sunset Blvd by the Hall of Administration, because it looked like about 10 people were actually renting in this monstrosity. 

Now I have the answer. No one really lives there. It’s just like the housing market when the banks kept churning out mortgage CDO’s way past the point of no return until the collapse. Here as well, the development machine has to keep on building until the bottom falls out. 

Gallopin’ Jose to the rescue. Since the only population statistic LA has that’s growing is its homeless population (thanks to the developers and City Hall,) so how to extract some money from them? After all, they don’t have any money. 

BONDS! Of course, let’s put a billion dollars of liability on the taxpayers, to fuel the developers’ machine. Of course it won’t actually work, as a recent LA Times article points out, but, what the hey, build them and don’t worry about who’s actually going to be able to get in. LA politics at their blatant worst. 

And that’s the tie in to my question about what it costs to buy an Assembly seat…as well as why our City is simply one giant ATM machine to the developers. 

See, at least I know what it costs to buy an LA City Council seat -- about $400,000 to $500,000 cash up front before you announce. Unless, of course, it’s a fight between two professional politicians contesting the same seat. But when it comes to buying an Assembly seat, I had no idea – but recent legislative changes got me to wondering. 

Dan Walters to the rescue, it turns out that the short answer is, the cost varies -- based on which District you run for, and what ballot initiatives will be on the November ballot! 

You see, back in 2011 the governor and the legislature changed the rules of the game for state wide runoffs and ballot measures. Courtesy of SB 202 (2011), ballot measures must appear on the November instead of the June ballot. Add in the “top two” primary system change from Proposition 14 (2010), and the June primaries became a sort of second-rate event. The real action comes in November. 

Here’s how the combination of these two changes revised the fiscal math of winning a seat in the California legislature. First, it made most of the elections a one party runoff. Since almost all the seats are gerrymandered to be guaranteed safe for either a Democrat or a Republican, the top two primary vote getters are usually from the same party. The old system saw the top Republican and top Democrat face off in November, no matter how many votes each got. 

Whether it was intended or not, this makes the buying and selling of legislative seats in the primary a lot less interesting because the runoff is usually the top two Dems or Republicans in a given District -- instead of our “old” two party everywhere system. Essentially, insiders only need apply. Makes you think that Bernie and the Donald are right about the system being rigged, doesn’t it? 

Prime example here would be between Kamila Harris and Loretta Sanchez in the Senate race to replace Barbara Boxer. They will likely be the two winners out of a field of some 34 candidates for that gravy-no-term-limit position, so the primary is just a warmup. Watch for party machinery, money and endorsements, arm twisting, those kinds of things. And Republican candidates probably won’t get bunch of votes. Parenthetically, I’m told the smart money is on Willie Brown’s pony in the race, Kamila Harris. 

The second change involves our initiative process – it’s where the money variable really comes into play because there’s a ton of money behind some of these initiatives. That money is usually going to go to one of the top two November candidates. 

As an example, let’s look at the 4th Assembly District, way up around Lake/Yolo/Napa Counties. There is no incumbent, and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D) has suddenly become the beneficiary of some $700,000 from front groups backed by Chevron and Valero oil companies. Wonder why? C’mon, no you don’t -- Big Oil has an interest in the outcome. 

And look at the millions of special interest dollars that will be spent on stuff like the billion dollar bond measure for the homeless. On top of that, right now, statewide, we have the pot initiative, maybe an extension of the Governor’s Prop 30 sales tax, bonds for Education, as well as the Metro 1/2 cent sales tax measure. And back to our 4th Assembly district race…just coincidentally, there’s also talk about an “oil extraction tax” on you know who.   

If you think that the players in these ballot measures aren’t going to give to their favorite politicians to curry favor (sounds nicer than buying their vote), then you still believe in the tooth fairy. 

And the Point Is... 

Like the headline says, Bernie and the Donald agree on one thing -- the game is rigged. And it is. This isn’t about Democrat or Republican, it’s about how politics really works in 2016, particularly here in California. Most of these state offices are locked in by political gerrymandering to be permanently (D) dem or (R) rep. My little traipse through reality is simply an explanation about how the political parties, special interests, lobbyists and political consultants manipulate us like Monsanto’s genetically modified food crops. 

So think about this article when you vote on the June primary ballot or in the November general election. Check out the results and see if I’m right in my analysis. Get disgusted, get angry, and get involved.

 

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

 

 

PERSPECTIVE--The DWP GM’s long-awaited report on the status of reforms at the Joint Institutes for Safety and Training, the two non profits who have eaten through over $40M of DWP ratepayer money, was released on May 12th.

As with her first report last September, General Manager Marcie Edwards failed to provide any substantiation of reported progress. This is in direct contradiction of promoting “the purposes of transparency and follow-up,” as she claimed in her cover memo of this latest report. 

It only remains to be seen if Edwards, who openly criticized City Controller Ron Galperin’s audit of the trusts, legally changes her name to Marcie D’Arcy.

Before I dive into the report, “Let’s do the numbers,” as Kai Rysdall of American Public Media’s popular Marketplace broadcast says.

Unfortunately, the Trusts have not published their audited financial statements since the end of fiscal year 2013, compelling me to rely on the IRS 990 filings for 2014 data. The 990s are short on detail, but there is enough to point to an increase in cash accumulation of $500K over the previous year.

 

That brings the total cash for the two trusts to $11.3M, pushing three times the annual contribution they receive from us, the ratepayers. Still no explanation is forthcoming as to what plans there are for this excess funding.

It is worth noting that the trusts are 501(c)(6) corporations.

IRC 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.

It would appear, then, that some of the $11.3M could work its way into political action. The Trusts previously reported they wanted the money for a “rainy day fund.” Not a bad idea, since it would help offset the $4M IBEW Local 18 poured into Wendy Greuel’s failed campaign for mayor.

The rapid growth in prepaid expenses from $75K to $991K over three years in the Joint Safety Institute raises questions. Is it an advance for a major program – or perhaps junkets for the next few years? A reconciliation of the account is in order. Ordinarily, prepaid expenditures tend to level out in most organizations owing to timing (as appears to be the case at the Joint Training Institute).

Edwards’ report pointed to accomplishments, but offered no evidence of what the specific steps were, not even a hint. It alludes to the establishment of formal spending and contracting policies, without sharing so much as a summary; the same for assurances that there would be adequate segregation of duties – a vital safeguard against fraud.

Perhaps the most pathetic admission is the failure to identify duplication of services between the two trusts. At the same time a dedicated manager has been engaged to invest the Trusts’ cash even though the city is capable of handling the role.

No justification was given for the $220K salaries paid to each of the administrators beyond being linked to the DWP pay scale. You would think the jobs could be consolidated.

Edwards did not question any of the assertions.

It is time to authorize another audit of the Trusts by the City Controller. This time, the audit should focus on the reform process and the so-called accomplishments. Otherwise, the report is nothing more than a “trust me” statement.

Would you trust an unaudited report from an organization with an unscrupulous track record?

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

-cw

CITYWATCH VOX POP-Cheering for an end to overdevelopment and new hope for community empowerment, activists from Venice to NoHo to the Wilshire District rallied in Frogtown on Wednesday to kick off signature-gathering for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a citizen measure aiming for the March 2017 ballot. 

The diverse crowd shouted “No More!” just outside the planned “Bimbo Bakery” luxury complex, which will dwarf the Latino enclave of Elysian Valley — and which sets a disturbing precedent for devoting much of the river to “waterfront” homes for households of $500,000 to $750,000 and up. 

Residents of Frogtown, or Elysian Valley, spoke out side by side with residents from the Westside, Hollywood, Wilshire District and Valley. 

Melissa Arechiga, an Elysian Valley resident whose parents were among the last families to be evicted during the infamous destruction of Chavez Ravine to make room for Dodger Stadium, told reporters, “We want to make sure that what happened at Chavez Ravine doesn’t happen again.” 

Arechiga worries that the box-like, 117-unit luxury project along Blake Avenue, just a few miles from Chavez Ravine said the so-called Blake Avenue Riverfront Project will destroy the character of the neighborhood and price out its working-class residents. 

Robert Leyland, an elected member of the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council, told the crowd in Frogtown that the “out-of-scale” Riverfront project was a hot topic during the recent ouster of Neighborhood Council members who worked closely with numerous developers who see Elysian Valley as hot. 

“The pro-development candidates lost, and the neighbors won” key seats in the Neighborhood Council elections, Leyland reported, to the cheers of activists from across LA. 

Jill Stewart, campaign director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said the 2017 measure, which needs about 65,000 signatures to make the ballot, is “hotly opposed by developers and City Hall politicians who have accepted millions of dollars from developers since 2000.” 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the City Council to create a General Plan for LA's aging infrastructure and to plan out the city's future based on real, not exaggerated, population projections. 

The City Council has shirked this core duty for more than a decade, leaving a Wild West system driven by wealthy, and often foreign, developers and their bankers. Current infrastructure plans at City Hall, for example, date from the 1950s. 

Stewart dispelled a key falsehood being publicly repeated by City Council members — “their lie that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative halts most development for two years.” In fact, the narrowly crafted two-year timeout affects “3% to 5% of projects in Los Angeles — those so far out of character for the community and its infrastructure that these projects require a full legislative exemption vote from the City Council,” Stewart said. 

She explained, to applause from supporters, that the vast majority of Los Angeles development plays by the rules. Nor will the measure slow down construction of 100 percent affordable housing, which is exempted from the timeout aimed at City Council mischief. 

What will face a tough time when the initiative is approved, Stewart said, are the kinds of giant, rule-bending projects that are now recklessly swamping entire neighborhoods with their impacts. 

Instead, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative brings in the community, forcing the City Council to work with the community, at meetings held only at night and on weekends, to update the 35 Community Plans — reforms that could protect the Los Angeles River, for example, from luxury condos now being planned behind closed doors. 

From Koreatown, attorney Grace Yoo gave a dramatic example of City Hall's secretive dealings: the proposed 27-story luxury Catalina Avenue skyscraper in a two-story neighborhood on a tiny street about the width of the one in Frogtown. Her group NAME TK and the Coalition to Preserve LA recently sued to halt the project, which has already destroyed affordable housing — and will mean the destruction of even more. 

“Enough is enough,” said Yoo. “The City Council needs to respect the community.” 

Stewart said the location for the rally was chosen because the luxury project approved on the river, a citywide resource, exemplified what’s wrong with City Hall’s out of date, developer-oriented General Plan and Community Plans. 

The geographic and ethnic diversity represented by community leaders at Wednesday’s kickoff showed the Coalition to Preserve LA campaign is reaching neighborhoods in all corners of LA. “This is a city-wide movement,” Stewart said. “That’s got to frighten our opponents — developers and City Hall.” 

Mannie Flores of the Pico-Union Westlake community said he was supporting the initiative because it will give greater control to a community fighting an uphill battle against displacement and gentrification. Even with the LA Unified School District on its side, his area is fighting hard to prevent an influx of restaurant-nightclubs, and drinking drivers, near community schools. 

Community plans, as sought by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and heavily influenced by residents, not by developers, could restrict locations of alcohol-serving businesses. 

Sylvie Shain, a community organizer, told initiative supporters the story of her fights to obtain justice for tenants, including a Vietnam War veteran, evicted from their homes on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood because the new owners want to turn rent-controlled apartment into haute hotel rooms. 

Echo Park artist Anne Hars caused a sensation when she shared with the crowd a flyer she designed on the spur of the moment to capture her views of the disruption caused by the overweening influence of developers. 

The flyer shows a developer directing a bulldozer to knock down a house as the family/tenants run for their lives. The flyer’s inscription says: “Welcome to Garcettiville.” (Photo above.) Hars is well-known for putting up balloons around homes that are slated to be bulldozed to make way for developers’ projects. 

Equally popular were the petitions that need to be circulated and signed by registered voters to get the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot. 

Questions and answers were also shared at the event. One question: can a petition circulator obtain signatures from folks who live outside their immediate neighborhoods? Answer: Absolutely. The only issue is making sure the signer is a registered voter and resident of Los Angeles. 

Another question: can my neighborhood council endorse the initiative? Answer: Absolutely. A Neighborhood Council may vote to endorse a ballot measure. But councils are barred from endorsing individual political candidates.

(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner and is the Communications Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.)

-cw

JUST THE FACTS--Don’t be fooled and fall for all the talk and commercials generating from City Hall about More Taxes and Fees and Bond Measures that are being proposed by city leaders to address Transportation, the Homeless Crisis, Lack of Affordable Housing, Crime and myriad other social issues facing the City of Los Angeles and our region of Southern California. 

I will start with Transportation and the 7-day a week gridlock we face on our local streets and freeways. While we are glued to our cars, we are being pressed and encouraged to support a tax increase for the next 40 YEARS to address the freeway and roadway traffic gridlock in the region served by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. 

The problem is not the lack of connecting roadways and freeways and surface streets for us to use in our travels. It is the over development of residential apartments and condos in and around every inch of land that is available. 

The problem is that the rich developers want to chew up every inch of land to build apartments and condos at market rate prices. Nothing that is affordable for the middle class or senior population with many living on social security. When we examine our transportation gridlock, the answer is not more buses and trains to the rescue. 

At the present time, how many of you ever ride the public transportation on a regular schedule? I bet few of you reading this article are regular public transit riders. I know this since I have used the Orange Line, Red Line and Blue Line on occasion. Many of the rides are reflective of our marijuana culture. I know this because every time I have ridden the public transit lines, the area has a distinct odor of Marijuana. 

Many of the women I have spoken to state that they will never ride the public transit lines due to their fear of becoming the victim of a crime. So to conclude, spending our hard earned tax dollars on additional public transit lines will not reduce the congestion and gridlock on our roads. We are a car-oriented society and that is not going to change in the years ahead. 

Remember that it was the politicians and city planners and auto industry that scrapped the Red Line and other public transit systems from our region many years ago and pushed us into those nice cars with all the comfort features we have come to enjoy. Galpin Motors would not be the world leader in Ford sales for over 25 years if we liked and used public transportation. 

So, my recommendation is vote NO on any new tax proposal for more public transportation. Remember they want this tax to last the next 40 years. Our grandchildren’s children will be faced with this tax for many years to come.

●●

When Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a Housing Emergency almost a year ago, it was because he was forced to do something since the situation was and remains out of control, while negatively impacting communities all around Los Angeles. Since that time, we have not seen anything significantly done to address the problem. The only remedy is the request for more money. 

With an $8 BILLION DOLLAR-plus city budget, a few thousand dollars does little to correct the current situation. Recent reports by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority illustrate the growing homeless situation in and around Los Angeles County. 

Across LA County, homelessness has increased 5.6 percent and this is on top of the 12.4 % from the previous two years. What is truly alarming is that homelessness has increased 36% in the San Fernando Valley. With a 2% vacancy rate across Los Angeles, finding housing … especially affordable housing … becomes more and more difficult. And finally, of the homeless population increase, 25% are seniors who have been unable to find housing.

●●

My final review deals with the increasing crime trends in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. As the murders continue to increase along other violent crimes, neighborhoods buckle under to protect their families. There have been propositions that have contributed to cleaning out the prisons and putting the criminal element back on the streets. Prop 109 and Prop 47 are two of he measures that have been partly responsible for making our cities across California less safe. A new proposal by Governor Brown will continue the trend of putting more criminals on our streets. We have gone up and down with crime over the years. The recent trends show continued increases in crime. 

If you care about your city and county and state, take the time to vote in this Tuesday in California’s Primary Election. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

                

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUEST WORDS--Hardly anybody outside of city government has heard of the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan, but this obscure document has huge implications for the future of Los Angeles.  The DWP is set to adopt the 2015 UWMP on June 7, in spite of the fact that the picture it gives of our water resources is largely inaccurate.  What's more, it's likely that city officials will use the DWP's absurdly optimistic projections to greenlight even more reckless development. 

For those who aren't familiar with the process, the preparation of the UWMP is mandated by the State of California.  Every five years, water agencies are required to create a plan that shows how they're managing their water resources.  It makes perfect sense.  I'm sure everyone reading this understands how important it is that we practice effective stewardship in this area. 

Unfortunately, the phrase "effective stewardship" doesn't really come to mind leafing through the draft of the 2015 UWMP.  A better phrase to describe the authors' conclusions would be "completely divorced from reality".  But let's start with some facts.... 

Here in LA we only get about 10% of our water from local sources.  Almost 90% of the water we use comes from outside LA, most of it the result of runoff from snowpacks in the Sierras and the Rockies.  Here's the bad news.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, between 1955 and 2015, April snowpacks in the Western United States declined 23% on average.  In other words, if you're thinking this is a cyclical drought and everything will get back to normal in a year or two, think again.  The snowpacks have been declining for decades, and all the current data indicates the trend will continue.  This means that the sources we rely on for almost 90% of our water are shrinking steadily. 

The 2015 UWMP acknowledges that we're getting less water from the Sierras, and that deliveries from the LA Aqueduct have been drastically reduced.  During the 2014/2015 period, the LAA brought us less than 14% of what it delivered during the same period 30 years ago.  And do you know how much water we got from the Aqueduct between April and September 2015?  Not a drop.  The LAA was dammed for months to comply with an agreement we've made with the people in the Owens Valley. 

So how are we going to replace the water we used to get from the LA Aqueduct?  The 2015 UWMP offers the usual talk about recycling and stormwater capture, both of which are certainly important, but I’ll talk about that later.  Right now, let’s focus on this section from the Executive Summary under the heading Water Transfers. 

“LADWP plans on acquiring water through transfers of up to 40,000 AFY [acre feet per year] to replace a portion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (LAA) water used for environmental enhancements in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The City would purchase water when available and economically beneficial for storage or delivery to LADWP’s transmission and distribution system.” 

The problem with this is, there’s no guarantee that the Metropolitan Water District, or any other water agency, will be able to spare 40,000 acre feet every year for the next 25 years.  The UWMP mentions transfers of water originally intended for agriculture in the Central Valley.  What?  Have they seen the photos of landscapes collapsing due to overpumping?  Are the farmers in the Central Valley just going to hand over 40,000 AFY?  To back up its claims, the 2015 UWMP offers a chart titled “MWD Forecast Supplies of Groundwater Storage and Transfers in 2040, Average Year (1922 – 2004 Hydrology) “.  Note the dates in parentheses.  They’re basing their calculations on conditions that existed well before the current crisis began.  And they’re using those figures to project water supplies 25 years into the future. 

Let’s move on to groundwater.  Historically the city’s aquifers have given us 10% to 15% of what we use in a year.  But according to the 2015 UWMP, we can boost that to almost half our supply by 2040.  Check out this statement from the Executive Summary. 

“The exhibits show that the City’s locally-developed supplies will increase from 14 percent to 49 percent in dry years or to 47 percent in average years.”  

This is a pretty amazing statement.  But it’s this next sentence that really knocked me out. 

These local supplies are not influenced by variability in hydrology, and will become the cornerstone of LA’s future water supplies. 

To say that our groundwater resources are not influenced by variability in hydrology is absolutely untrue.  It’s a ridiculous claim, and the people at the DWP know it.  Groundwater in LA, just like groundwater all over the world, is subject to constant variations in hydrological conditions.  This is especially true in the Western US given the ongoing changes happening to our climate.  For the DWP to make this statement at all is absurd, but to put it in a document that will be used in planning for the next 25 years is incredibly irresponsible.  

Adding to the uncertainty about our groundwater resources is the fact that about half of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are currently closed due to industrial pollution.  The DWP is planning to build treatment plants to purify the water from these wells, but nobody knows when they’ll actually break ground.  At this point they don’t even have the funding lined up. 

And this leads us back to the DWP’s plans for recycling and stormwater capture.  There’s no question that we need to pursue both aggressively.  To its credit, the DWP has already made some progress in both areas, and has ambitious plans for the future.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  At this point, the DWP’s recycling and stormwater capture programs are in their infancy.  The majority of the projects listed in the 2015 UWMP are still in the planning stages.  Making them happen is going to be a long, complex process.  The DWP rate increase will help, but nobody knows what the eventual cost will be.  Getting approvals for these projects will require cooperation from private interests and government agencies.  In other words, talking about these projects is a lot different from actually making them happen.  The 2015 UWMP claims that we’ll be getting half our water from local sources by 2040, based in large part on the assumption that all their plans for recycled water and stormwater capture will go without a hitch.  That’s simply not going to happen. 

To put all this in context, it’s not news that the City of LA is inflating its claims about access to water.  We’ve been doing it for decades, and so have many other cities all over the Southwest.  Why?  In order to promote development.  If you want to get investors to back construction in your city, you have to guarantee that they’ll have access to all the water they need.  So the 2015 UWMP is really just the latest chapter in our long history of lying about our water resources. 

Then why does any of this matter?  It matters because the situation has changed.   All through the 20th century, whenever we needed water we’d just reach out and grab it from somewhere else.  The LA Aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct were built to support development in rapidly growing cities throughout the Southwest, with LA being the biggest customer.  

The problem is, we can’t do that anymore.  The snowpacks in the Sierras and the Rockies are shrinking.  Water flowing through the Colorado River is declining.  Farmland in the Central Valley is collapsing.  And for the first time in its history, the LA Aqueduct has gone dry.  

This is why the DWP Board of Commissioners must not adopt the 2015 UWMP at its June 7 meeting.  For them, voting to approve this largely fictional document is just business as usual.  It’s what the City of LA has been doing for decades in order to insure that City Hall can justify any amount of development.  I’m not arguing that we should halt development.  What I’m saying is that we need to plan for future development based on a realistic assessment of the water resources we actually have.  The 2015 UWMP is far from realistic. 

Let me put this as simply as possible.  We need water to survive.  LA, along with the State of California, is in the middle of an unprecedented water crisis.  If we don’t change the status quo and take a long, hard look at reality, we could end up compromising resources that are crucial to LA’s survival. 

This is serious, folks. 

(Casey Maddren was born in Los Angeles and has lived here most of his life.  He tries to capture as much of the city as he can in his blog, The Horizon and the Skyline.)

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA--Dreams of “ballin" in Runyon Canyon Park faded away Wednesday, when the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners rescinded their prior decision to allow for construction of a basketball court at the center of a very heated controversy involving the Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) support group, Council District 4, the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP), the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, and the surrounding community. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) stepped in and asked the RAP commissioners to reconsider their prior approval of the basketball court in the urban wilderness park, and that led to their decision to pull the plug on the project. The Friends of Runyon Canyon supported his request. 

The slam dunk that FORC thought would have been a welcome improvement as part of their plans for the park—-the installation of a basketball court in the rough terrain of the very popular urban wilderness park—turns out to have been defeated by a full-court press from the surrounding community that was too deafening for David Ryu and the Rec and Parks commissioners to ignore. Ryu ran for office on a pledge to listen to the community before making a decision and, on this matter, he got an earful, and a lawsuit. 

The dispute has not been without its moments, and there may be more, as some in the community have begun to mobilize a push to revoke the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between RAP and the Friends of Runyon Canyon, on the grounds that FORC has “lost the trust of the community”. At a meeting of the RAP Commissioners on June 1, several community speakers made public comments asking that the revocation of FORC’s MOU be placed on an upcoming commission agenda. It’s now up the commissioners to deal with that request, since they are the ones that made the deal with FORC to begin with. The spotlight now shifts to them, waiting to see what they will do. 

Losing their license, right now, is not a solution until FORC proves that they did not learn from their very significant mistakes, and have taken advantage of their second chance, by turning their program around and becoming a fully transparent team player, and reaching out to and reconciling with their opponents. 

The chips have now fallen, and the consequences for FORC, RAP and CD4 going it alone without having included the community in the decisions of what to do in the park, for which they have each apologized, are now clear. 

At FORC, the controversy has caused a change in their leadership. They now have a new president, and the organization may have a new attitude. In their May 17 letter to David Ryu they acknowledged that “the project was far more divisive than anyone ever imagined”. 

FORC’s leap-before-you-look approach, that tried to force the basketball court into reality without any public comment, seriously backfired and damaged their credibility and standing in the community. 

At Rec and Parks, the cancellation puts them in the awkward position of losing a significant donation to their program of public-private partnerships that would help bring revenue into their program. It may also make potential donors wary of becoming embroiled in a controversy if a community doesn’t “like” their gift. 

For David Ryu, this has been an affirmation of his stressing that extensive community outreach and buy-in is critical before taking action. He came late to this project that was launched by his predecessor, and may have been caught by surprise by what he inherited, but quickly responded to his constituents and got into action. In a few weeks he will complete his first year in office, and this could be a fitting way for him to close out the year with an accomplishment that delivers on his campaign pledge that what communities and neighborhoods think about projects matters, and they must, and will be, heard by him. 

Anastasia Mann, President of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, captured the sentiment that many should be sharing, when she said “Thanks to David Ryu and his staff for throwing themselves in the middle of the bullring. Very admirable, and also RAP for coming to the table. It’s a very rare occurrence to get a “mea culpa” from city government. We need to be very grateful to David Ryu and his team for taking the high road, and to RAP for supporting the cancellation”. 

The FORC support group, a public entity doing business as a proxy for the Rec and Parks department, has now revealed some of their finances on their website, but has not published their donor agreements, or the minutes of their board meetings. While they ask for donations, they do not say how many they have received, or who they were from or their individual value, leaving too many unanswered questions about who FORC is. 

Changing this, and becoming 100% transparent about their operations, could go a long way to helping them regain the trust of the community. They need to diffuse the strong opposition against their existence from certain parts the community that have already created the firestorm that led to the cancellation of the basketball court. 

The “community” is just one of the constituencies that FORC must satisfy. They must also maintain the backing of the RAP commissioners and Councilmember David Ryu. 

A requirement by Ryu and RAP for them to be more transparent and to populate their website with more data might help bring FORC into the sunlight. Channeled properly, FORC may wind up as a benefit to the community, and return them to their service mission that could help to restore the communities’ faith and trust in them, and help make Runyon Canyon Park sustainable for the future.

(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].)

-cw

Previous columns in the Runyon Canyon Park series: 

  • Backroom Plan for Basketball in Runyon Canyon Park Continues to Unravel … Tension Mounts

Tim Deegan May 5, 2016 CityWatch 

  • LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue

Tim Deegan April 21 CityWatch 

  • Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!

Tim Deegan April 11, 2016 CityWatch

 

 

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EDUCATION POLITICS--Yesterday, the LA School Board agendized boardmember Ref Rodriguez's recommended changes to Prop 39 implementation. A copy of the resolution. 

The Board heard public comment from parents. This is what I saw and what I said.

I don't know who the blonde haired, blue eyed woman wearing the sport coat was. When the board members were an hour late, she huddled with three Latina moms and asked if they could hang just a little longer. She said the board members were on their way.

The reporter from the LA Times interviewed them but refused to acknowledge the woman in the sport coat.

Once the meeting started, two of the moms made public comment about how important it was for charter schools to keep their funding. One said the teachers union is trying to keep their schools from getting money for special ed. Stealing was mentioned. Another explained how much better special ed is in the charter school. The teachers at the regular school had tried to put her child in a special class. Now he has art.

Then I spoke. Here are my prepared remarks, and here is an audio recording of my four minutes. I sound strident, but damn. I can't believe we are fighting this fight. 

"I noticed that this resolution seeks to find an impartial group of people currently working on co-located campuses. As a parent who has been a charter parent co-locating, as well as a traditional host school parent, I wish you luck in that. You have all heard about the fences that divide co-located campuses. If you come to our schools, you won’t find anyone sitting on that fence. There are people firmly planted on one side or the other.

"So the best we can hope for is a balanced group from both sides of the fence: of people pushing for more privatization through charters, and those of us who seek support for our district public schools.

"I would request that you include in your discussion concrete examples in real life, many of which we have sent to some of you:

- The misrepresentation of waiting lists, including charters asking the public to sign even with no intention of enrolling in order to game the system to get more Prop 39 space. You check our work; you count the students in the classrooms we say are unavailable. Check the work on the waiting lists and make sure they’re official.

- The increased burden on the public district school that turns principals into multi-tenant property managers.

- An equitable allocation of classrooms—a charter classroom is considered full when there are 24 students and the district’s classrooms are sometimes well over 40.

"I share the anecdote of a charter parent confronting me on a public sidewalk near a shared campus and asking me, what is wrong with the charter, a vibrant vine, wrapping itself around the dying tree of the

district school?

 

"Lastly, the charter lobby informs parents of meetings like this so their voice will be heard. Please do the same. Tell your school communities that important policies like this are going to be discussed so that we have an opportunity to save our own schools and save public education. The public schools don't advertise; the charters do. Please do your outreach. It is odd to me that many charter advocates on the board and in the district proudly proclaim to be so, yet our district’s public school advocates remain quiet. We need you to speak up. Defend our schools. Defend public education.

Please, get off that fence."

There was no discussion among the board members. They will deliberate and possibly vote on the resolution at the next board meeting.

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect  and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

 

CALIFORNIA ECONOMY--While most attention focused on the marijuana initiative will revolve around whether the drug should be legalized for recreational purposes, there is a discussion to be had about the tax that would be applied to marijuana if the initiative passes.

The proposal carries an excise tax of 15% above and beyond sales and use taxes imposed by state and local governments. In addition, there is a tax levied in the cultivation stage on marijuana flowers and leaves measured on a per ounce basis. According to the fiscal impact calculated for the initiative summary, the revenue generated from the marijuana tax could be hundreds of millions of dollars to over a billion dollars annually.

Most of the money is dedicated for specific purposes covering administration of the law, treating serious substance abuse, training law enforcement on applying the law, black market prevention, and providing environmental cleanup for public lands damaged by illicit marijuana trade.

Dedicating tax revenue for specific purposes is a familiar tool to get initiative measures passed but doesn’t enrich the general fund, which provides government’s basic services.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, tax revenue has been dedicated to a number of purposes as well, but the main priority for the revenue is the basic government service of education. In 2015, the state raised $135 million in taxes and sent $35 million for school construction with additional revenues dedicated to other school grants.

The Tax Foundation recently reported that the Colorado collection of taxes on marijuana started slowly but exceeded expectations last year. The effective tax rate in Colorado is 29%, determined by state officials as too high to squelch black market purchases of the weed. The state will drop the tax a couple of points next year in hopes of dealing with black market sales. 

This all begs the question of how the marijuana tax issue will play in the coming debate over passing or rejecting the California initiative. I suspect the tax argument will be of minor significance to voters given where the tax money is going.

Assuming those who intend to use the product and want to do so legally are willing to pay the tax, a new tax dedicated to general purposes might drum up more enthusiasm from non-users who are tired of hearing about all the tax plans floated this election season to fund basic government services.

The recent PPIC poll found support for legalizing recreational use of marijuana among likely voters, 60% to 37%. However, less than half of the adults asked (45%) said the generated tax revenue should be used as dictated by the initiative. There were no questions in the poll to determine if the money would be better spent in other areas.

With a crying need for transportation funding, for example, an argument could be made that new revenue would serve an important general purpose.

Too late for this initiative to change the ground rules if the measure passes. However, a future initiative could re-direct some or all of the marijuana tax funds.

But, first the measure has to pass and there will be opposition focused on the overriding issue of legalizing the drug.

(Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds  … where this piece was first posted … and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)

 

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