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AT LENGTH-San Pedro is once again waiting at the threshold of another round of redevelopment and speculation, based upon the Port of Los Angeles’ commitment to waterfront development and the “about-to-be-signed” lease on Ports O’ Call Village, newly minted as the “San Pedro Public Market.”

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ANIMAL POLITICS--Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus is a Latin phrase most familiar in legal circles meaning if a witness lies about one thing, you may assume that he lies about everything.

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PERSPECTIVE-When State Senator Bob Hertzberg announced his tax proposal, SB8, in late 2014, he made no secret of using it as a tool to raise taxes by a net $10 billion – that is, per year.

The senator tried to pass it off as “tax modernization.” 

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EDUCATION POLITICS-According to the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." That is unless they have been systematically and purposefully subjected for generations to what remains a measurably inferior racist public education model specifically designed to assure their non-attainment of potential and the "unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," which in no small part is dependent on the achievement of such an education.

Predominantly students of color continue to exclusively be subjected to a non-education system of rote regurgitation of multiple choice answers with little or no writing or analysis. Their Pearson lessons consist of fragments of texts comprised of words and concepts they have never been taught. What most educational reformers ignore, who either have never been in an inner city classroom or do not care about dealing with the subjective reality they would find there, is that both teachers and students in these schools have an acquired aversion to the Socratic method of dialogue between teacher and student and the critical thinking it is designed to stimulate in both the student and the teacher.

The teacher's excuse is that they are faced with students who arrive in their class already years behind grade-level and their peer group. The majority of these students have continually been socially promoted grade after grade without prior grade-level standards mastery. Teachers now faced with this reality and no administrative plan or support to do otherwise have opted in their own Pearson subsidized self-defense to give these unprepared students multiple choice busywork to preempt the chaos that would be sure to follow from the boredom of students whose youthful vitality and potential has never been addressed in school. Can anyone explain to me the educational value of a word search on a grid of mixed letters?

As for the student, who has been socially promoted into subsequently harder grades with few if any critical thinking skills ever having been taught to them, the very act of now trying to educate these students in a relevant educational process that is asking them to think and not just choose A, B, C, or D is a destabilizing activity that will more than likely lead to a classroom rebellion against an activity of thinking they have never been asked to engage in before- perfectly predictable and understandable.

Social promotion or fraudulent credit recovery programs that offer students with profound academic deficits a passing grade in courses they objectively cannot pass by any honest measure is only deferring the students failure, while wasting the precious time of their youth, which could be more profitably used by honestly identifying and teaching the necessary academic foundation standards they literally have never been taught.

As for White folks- 94% of whom are out of public education- they literally have no idea as to the abysmal level of their local public school, because 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they are still able to avoid going to these schools by putting their children in private schools. Probably the quickest way to improve public education would be to require attendance for all in public schools as is done in Finland- the best educated country in the world.

Human beings are creatures of habit. And it is not easy work to finally teach a minority student what they should have been taught from pre-kindergarten and beyond. But there is literally no other alternative to doing this, if we want to finally break the cycle of racism in the United States.

Racist inspired underachievement has become such a part of American society that one does not even question why such a large part of the African American community- that which is under-educated- still speaks with an accent, while other immigrants have long since been incorporated into the fabric of American society.

Truly successful public education reform can only take place where there is both recognition and factoring in of the damage that institutionalized public education racism over generations has made our present day dysfunctional public school reality.

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

-cw

 

GUEST WORDS--Why do people think of Los Angeles as ugly? Does it have to do with its scale? Its inconsistent architecture? Its departure from classical city forms? Or is it something deeper: a sense of apocalypse, of meaninglessness, a confrontation with the void?

“There are three great cities in the United States: there’s Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York — in that order,” wrote no less an authority on the built environment than BLDGBLOG author Geoff Manaugh in a much-sent-around reflection on the city. “I love Boston; I even love Denver; I like Miami; I think Washington DC is habitable; but Los Angeles is Los Angeles. You can’t compare it to Paris, or to London, or to Rome, or to Shanghai. You can interestingly contrast it to those cities, sure, and Los Angeles even comes out lacking; but Los Angeles is still Los Angeles.”

Manaugh posted that piece in 2007, less than a decade ago but still a time when Los Angeles' detractors as well as its boosters could argue, in all seriousness, that it may not, strictly speaking, count as a “city” at all. But what, then, to call it? I've heard “constellation of villages.” I've heard “megaregional core.” I've even heard varying numbers — six, seventeen, 72, 88 — “suburbs in search of a city.” In Manaugh's starker view, “LA is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots. No one’s going to save you; no one’s looking out for you. It’s the only city I know where that’s the explicit premise of living there – that’s the deal you make when you move to L.A. The city, ironically, is emotionally authentic. It says: no one loves you; you’re the least important person in the room; get over it. What matters is what you do there.”

I once put Los Angeles with the internet and the United States of America in a group of things people hate if they can't filter. By that I meant that these wide experiential spaces offer no one experience in particular — or, more accurately, they offer a greater infinity of possible experiences than most spaces, leaving it to you to perceive and navigate your way to a satisfying one.

If you go to America or on the internet thinking you'll find nothing but base, meaningless, brain-deadening expanses, you'll find nothing but base, meaningless, brain-deadening expanses. If you go into Los Angeles thinking you'll find nothing but a bunch of parking lots, you'll find nothing but a bunch of parking lots.

Of course, in Manaugh's eyes or those of an observer like him — Reyner Banham, the famous celebrator of 1960s and 70s Los Angeles in the book The Architecture of Four Ecologies and elsewhere certainly counts as an antecedent — you could do worse than a bunch of parking lots and the liberation from surrounding expectations that attend them. “If you can’t handle a huge landscape made entirely from concrete, interspersed with 24-hour drugstores stocked with medications you don’t need, then don’t move there,” for “Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame – even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it’s bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don’t matter. You’re free.”

Today, those parking lots have begun to disappear. As anyone who's sought permission to put up a tall building or waited the years (or more likely decades) for a new train line to open there knows, Los Angeles doesn't change quickly, at least not by the standards of the world capitals of Asia of even much of Europe. But some decisive shift has happened, some tipping point crossed, in the almost nine years since Manaugh wrote his optimistically nihilistic ode to the city. Some of the areas formerly occupied by cars or simply awaiting the arrival of cars have turned into sites of activity: parks, businesses, places to live and work, construction sites signaling the imminent arrival of the foregoing and much more besides.

But some still believe in the eternal nature of all those Los Angeles parking lots, that landscape made entirely from concrete. Manaugh may have written that in a clearly hyperbolic register, but many others will, if you tell them so, unquestioningly swallow any preposterous yet apparently, er, concrete figure you give them: that 90 percent of Los Angeles' surface is covered with the stuff, for instance, a “fact” of mysterious origin that once got passed around the urban planning journals unchecked for a period of years. It must have jibed with the harsh ideas on which people — outsiders and insiders alike — still fall back when thinking about the southern Californian metropolis, or village constellation, or megaregional core: That it's all paved over. That you can't breathe its air. That it has no public space but its filled-to-solidity freeways. That it's ugly.

That last one has demonstrated special resilience. “I was driving down Sunset and I turned down one of the roads that leads up into the hills, and I stopped at this place that overlooks the whole city,” says the troubled young architect protagonist of Model Shop, Jacques Demy's 1969 cinematic venture into Los Angeles. “It was fantastic. I suddenly felt exhilarated here. I was really moved by the geometry of the place. Its conception, its Baroque geometry. It's a fabulous city. To think some people claim it's an ugly city when it's really pure poetry — it just kills me.” They claimed it then, they claimed it before, and they continue to claim it now.

But why? We might begin to understand by looking at the cities to which Los Angeles' detractors usually make their aesthetically damning comparisons: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Paris — the more classically “beautiful” cities, all of which adhere more closely to the traditional city forms seen throughout centuries of history and across the rest of the world. So perhaps this sense of ugliness springs from Los Angeles' unfamiliarity, from its departure from established forms: a fine hypothesis, so far as it goes, but it breaks down when applied to places that depart even farther. Nobody would think to mount an argument for the ugliness of newer, far-flung strip-mall-and-office-park suburbs like Irvine or Calabasas, which nowhere even try to replicate anything traditionally urban.

Look at Los Angeles piece by piece, though, and you'll find that it actually possesses most of the elements we've learned to take as the signs of a proper city, such as a downtown core with old buildings on gridded streets from which development grew outward along railroad tracks. There are broad boulevards and residential lanes, there are some urban parks (more now than there used to be, with others in the planning stages), there are industrial zones, there are currently or historically ethnic neighborhoods like Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Little Armenia, and Thai Town. Not does it take that much searching to turn up the usual volume of monuments and tourist traps.

But in other respects, Los Angeles looks — or more relevantly here, feels — different indeed than other cities, in large part because it grew fast and alongside America's widespread adoption of the automobile and whose construction thus necessitated an unprecedentedly large scale mechanical replication. Hence the equally persistent perception of the city as America's most car-oriented, of which you'd think a trip to the likes of Phoenix or Atlanta or Orlando would instantly disabuse anyone, but perhaps places like those don't raise the expectations of a capital-C City the way Los Angeles does (even if those entertaining the expectations do so expressly to feel them dashed). The aesthetic discomfort must arise from uncanniness: people find Los Angeles ugly for the same reason they find a face with features not quite the right size in not quite the right places ugly.

And in many eyes, those features also clash with each other. The archetypal reaction comes out of the mouth of Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall on a drive through Beverly Hills: “Yeah, the architecture is really consistent, isn’t it? French next to Spanish next to Tudor next to Japanese.” That thoroughly sarcastic line surprised me the first time I heard it, not because I believed Los Angeles had consistent architecture, but because I'd never before thought of architectural consistency as a naturally desirable quality. “There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime,” wrote hard-boiled crime novelist James M. Cain in 1933, more than forty years before Allen's assessment, of the houses people had built. “Nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, and that is the one thing the human imagination cannot stand.”

And so we find ourselves back in Geoff Manaugh's Los Angeles, which “is the confrontation with the void. It is the void. It’s the confrontation with astronomy through near-constant sunlight and the inhuman radiative cancers that result. It’s the confrontation with geology through plate tectonics and buried oil, methane, gravel, tar, and whatever other weird deposits of unknown ancient remains are sitting around down there in the dry and fractured subsurface. It’s a confrontation with the oceanic; with anonymity; with desert time; with endless parking lots.”

But as Reyner Banham argued, “the fact that these parking-lots, freeways, drive-ins, and other facilities have not wrecked the city-form is due chiefly to the fact that Los Angeles has no urban form at all in the commonly accepted sense.” Or rather, it has no urban form — and certainly had no urban form in 1971 — legible to the average urbanite. Observers like Banham and his intellectual descendants have made a solid start on teaching us how to read what we'd previously considered unreadable cities, but work remains to be done, not least because the form of these cities themselves keeps shifting. It also holds true for cities like Toronto (reflexively considered Canada's New York, but on a deeper level its Los Angeles) and Seoul (where I live now), both of which also routinely get called ugly, and both of which also rank among the urban places I enjoy most in the world.

The aspiring appreciator of any of these cities must, in a sense, learn to read their languages — not the languages of their road signs and advertisements, but the grammar, vocabulary, and vernacular of their built environments. Banham, born and raised in Norwich, famously declared that, “like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive to read Los Angeles in the original.”

That may have sufficed 45 years ago, but the urban language of Los Angles has greatly expanded since then, and now we must read it differently. The city itself may still not strike you as beautiful, and you may find yourself face to face with the void there, but at least you don't really have to drive anymore.

(Colin Marshall blogs and writes about world cities for the Guardian. He also produces the video essay series The City in Cinema and hosted the world-traveling interview podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. He's currently at work on the book A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City. This perspective first appeared on byline.com.)  Photo: Colin Marshall. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

RIDING WITH RICHARD--It will come as no surprise to the readers of the blogs I infest, including this one, that I complain a great deal about The State of Things. The city’s roads, the city council, the LADOT, the incivility of discourse, the agreement among the Windshield Set willfully to ignore the pervasive evidence of Driver Privilege (which, like White Privilege, sets teeth to gnashing among those so privileged every time the subject is so much as mentioned) …

Today is different. Today I feel compelled to celebrate the mere all-suffusing joy of a bike ride along a dedicated path through a beautiful place and time…for we all need a break from the struggle now and then.

Sunday afternoon I headed west, as I usually do, but this day I chose not to visit anybody; I decided simply to ride along the Ballona Creek bikeway to the jetty between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey and look at the ocean.

Of course, I knew it was springtime—with jasmine sweetening the air all over LA, only the most obtuse would miss it—but I had forgotten that the Ballona Wetlands (saved from development by the concerted efforts of hundreds of ordinary folks like you and me) would be in bloom. And indeed, the world seemed a fabric of bright yellow flowers for miles and miles as I rode. Even my usual weary cynicism was shattered by the sight, on that cool and gray afternoon, so I took a few snapshots, which fill the rest of this page.

All I can say is that sometimes you’ve just got to get out and ride for the sake of your own soul. Do it soon: the bloom won’t last. Take the Expo Line to Culver City and get on the Ballona path and just ride. No need to hammer: the slower you go, the more you’ll enjoy. A little R&R to give you respite from the battle …

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are focused on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--If you claim that the L.A. Department of Water and Power is a bloated, bureaucratic mess, you won't get much of an argument. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council president Herb Wesson and Councilman Felipe Fuentes have all said they want to make the department more "nimble" and "efficient" — and all are engaged in a debate over how best to do that.

But if you ask why the department is a mess, you run into trouble. To hear Fuentes tell it, the issue is political interference from City Hall and the city's cumbersome civil-service system. His proposed solution is to establish an independent governance structure and a new personnel system for DWP, both of which would separate it from City Hall. 

Yet a recent report from the City Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst offers a somewhat different diagnosis. The report finds that many of the causes of the DWP's inefficiency are internal to the DWP. Distancing the utility from City Hall would not solve those issues. 

For instance, the report finds that it takes as long as two years to fill a vacant position. Vacancies are subject to an internal "bid process," whereby the most senior eligible DWP employee who bids for the position is automatically granted the job. If a manager does not want that candidate, the position may remain vacant indefinitely. Hiring of supervisors also is subject to veto by rank-and-file workers, which is exercised routinely.

Naturally, these rules make it difficult for the utility to hire people, or to consider candidates from outside the utility. That makes it more difficult to adapt to changing market conditions. All of these rules are the product of side agreements with the unions, and the unions would be loath to give them up.

"The primary disadvantage to removal of these rules is that negotiations will be very difficult," the report dryly notes.

"More than 95 percent of positions at DWP are IBEW 18," says Fred Pickel, the utility's ratepayer advocate. "They're the elephant in the room."

Pickel did his own report last year on the utility's billing fiasco, in which thousands of customers were overbilled and then forced to wait an hour or more to talk to a customer service representative. Pickel's report faulted the civil-service system and procurement processes but also blamed "labor rigidities." 

"The DWP has a management-labor relationship that is unlike that of any other utility known to [the ratepayer advocate], and the result is that some practices are decades behind the times," Pickel wrote.

DWP management employees are represented by their own bargaining unit. Of the 8,700 employees at the utility, all but 20 belong to a union.

For many important decisions, management and labor have an equal vote. Pickel argued that arrangement creates an "imbalance," which has made it impossible for the utility to evolve into the 21st century.

"When two partners each have a vote, it is self-evident that they also each have a veto," he wrote. "Vetoes are biased toward the status quo."

Andrew Rea, a consultant who authored yet another report on the DWP for the city controller, offered a different take on the union. In his view, the IBEW should be treated as a "partner" in making the utility more flexible, and solutions can come from deeper labor-management collaboration.

"The union is a key stakeholder and does a lot of good," Rea says.

That report has influenced Councilman Fuentes' proposal. Fuentes' plan would allow the DWP and IBEW to establish their own hiring procedures, unrelated to City Hall's personnel system. But it would not address the issues internal to the DWP that were raised in the CAO/CLA report or in Pickel's report. In public hearings to discuss DWP reform, the role of the IBEW is almost never mentioned, except occasionally by angry members of the general public. (Fuentes has taken $35,000 from the IBEW for his state and local campaigns.)

Pickel argues that the utility urgently needs to rebalance its relationship to its union.

"They have to be better at adapting to changing business environments," he says, citing the rise of rooftop solar as an example of new competition. "They’ve had a nice, comfortable, growing monopoly for 100 years. Now it’s not growing. It’s not projected to grow in the next five years. ... Lots of things are likely to happen in the utility industry."

(Gene Maddaus wrote this piece for LA Weekly  … where it appeared on April 21. He leaves the Weekly soon to write for Variety.)

-cw

TRANSPORTATION PRICE TAG--The headline reads “Metro details bold plan.” Of course, that’s the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority tooting its own horn on its own website.

No doubt, the plans for Metro’s sales tax increase are indeed bold, but perhaps the boldest thing about the plan is the extent to which it would tax county residents to the tune of more than $130 billion dollars over five decades. In other words, Metro’s plan is bold as in “chutzpah” rather than bold as in “visionary.”

That price tag is a lot of loot and should buy a lot of multimodal mobility.

One would think that in deciding how to spend $130 billion Metro could solve most of the county’s transportation problems. The problem is that Metro’s plan has been cobbled together with another objective in mind: getting the tax itself passed, rather than maximizing value for money, transportation-wise. That’s why we see various transportation incentive bones strategically thrown about the county, even though the individual projects might not all represent the best bang for our collective bucks.

While Phil Washington, Metro’s chief executive, is talking about using the money to build a transportation infrastructure “for the next 100 years,” the truth is that the upcoming ballot measure has been framed to deal with today’s political realities. Quite naturally, that means it is not necessarily the best plan for the next 100 years, though it might be the boldest, chutzpah-wise. The “bold plan” focuses heavily on — surprise, surprise — rail projects, described by the director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, Brian Taylor, as “shiny new things,” including an $8.5 billion tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass.

Of course, in the course of 100 years, shiny new things can easily become dull old things or even shiny obsolete things. Our children and grandchildren might very well be paying off Metro’s front-loaded spend-fest long after more efficient forms of transportation have transformed how we look at public transportation.

To avoid such an outcome, Metro should not focus on the technologies of the past hundred years. The proposal for spending the $130 billion is backwards-looking rather than forward-thinking and has very little funding set aside for new and developing technologies such as autonomous vehicles, which have the potential to revolutionize public transportation.

The City of Beverly Hills, with the unanimous approval of our Council, passed a resolution earlier this month to develop our own municipal autonomous shuttle system, which would provide on demand, point-to-point transportation within our City, thereby also solving the “first/last mile challenge.” We expect to have this system deployed before the first Purple Line station in Beverly Hills opens at La Cienega and Wilshire in 2023. As excited as we ourselves are about the potential of autonomous vehicles to transform public transportation into a first choice for mobility, it’s disappointing that Metro just doesn’t seem to get it. I’m not sure whether it’s simply a singular lack of vision, Metro’s single-minded focus on “Show me the money!” or a combination of the two.

Additionally, there is not a little irony baked into Metro’s “bold” proposal’s funding source. Sales taxes are notoriously regressive. Of the three main forms of state taxes, according to a recent report by the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy, sales tax hurts the poor the most. Poor people, who might benefit from the technological advances slighted by the Metro plan, tend to rely on buses, which themselves are given short shrift by the expenditure proposal. If Metro was really interested in social justice, one wonders why they wouldn’t have tried to figure out a financing mechanism, such as a tax on higher earners, which could fund a sensible transportation infrastructure buildout.

What, though, should one expect from a plan that bizarrely changes existing carpool lanes into toll lanes? Those billions in regressive tax money aren’t enough?

Despite the numerous flaws, Metro’s tax stands a good chance to pass. When one uses buzzwords such as “transportation upgrades,” the lesser informed tend to be rah-rah when they hear the outline of Metro’s proposal (something Metro is obviously counting on to get the ballot measure passed in a presidential election year).

Yet not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Metro board member and County Supervisor Don Knabe has pointed out that the proposal heavily advantages the city of Los Angeles, to the detriment of the other 87 cities and unincorporated areas of the county. This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the makeup of the Metro board, which gives Los Angeles outsize voting power and disproportionately turns the rest of the county into second-class transit citizens.

It’s time to finally make Metro accountable to the transit needs of the entire county — not just the most powerful part of it — through a fair recalibration of its board. It’s time to stop allowing Metro to treat the residents of the county like ATMs, and if Metro really wants to build multimodal infrastructure for the next 100 years, then it’s time for Metro to stop looking at the past and to start looking to the technologies of the next 100 years. Until all of that happens, the residents of the entire county should simply say “No” to Metro’s bold and brazen plan.

(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. This piece was posted earlier at the Los Angeles Business Journal and Huffington Post.)  

COMPASSION VS JUSTICE-On Aug. 10, 1969, Leslie Van Houten held down Rosemary LaBianca so fellow Manson-follower Tex Watson could skewer her with a bayonet. Then, she took a knife and stabbed the helpless woman 14 more times in the back. 

Nineteen times since she participated in the infamous slaughter, Van Houten applied for parole. Nineteen times, the state parole board turned her down. 

Until last week, when a two-member panel inexplicably recommended to grant her parole. 

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) vehemently opposes this mind-boggling decision, as does District Attorney Jackie Lacey. There was a very good reason the parole board denied her 19 times. How was her 20th petition any different? 

Van Houten's attorneys have painted her as a model prisoner. They said she earned bachelor's and master's degrees and ran self-help groups for incarcerated women. 

Maybe so. But let's not forget the facts. 

Van Houten brutally murdered an innocent woman while her cohorts carved up her victim's husband, wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca. She was sentenced to death; her sentence was commuted to life in prison only because the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. 

Even if she has been a model prisoner, her behavior behind bars doesn't mitigate the savagery of her crime. And time does not erase the fact that she willfully committed the crime. 

"We still suffer our loss," Leno LaBianca's daughter, Cory LaBianca, told the Los Angeles Times. "My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back." 

Van Houten's parole is not a done deal. 

The parole board's legal team has to review the recommendation. If they uphold it, Gov. Jerry Brown will decide whether she goes free or remains in prison. 

Sometimes justice means compassion, and compassion means justice. But not in this situation. 

The ADDA will keep you updated on the status of Van Houten's case. If it ends up on Gov. Brown's desk, we will provide you with information on how to express your opposition to freeing this brutal murderer.

 

(Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The

Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TENANTS RIGHTS--Democrat Assembly Member Mike Gatto (photo above) represents many tenants in his 43rd Assembly district, which includes East Hollywood, Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Burbank and Glendale. Yet, Assembly Member Gatto has become a landlord lobby front man by introducing legislation that would severely undermine tenants' ability to defend themselves in an eviction action. 

The landlord-backed AB 2312 (Gatto), would gut tenants' rights in an unlawful detainer actions by requiring represented tenants to deposit monthly rent in advance of trial with their attorneys. 

In fact, the landlord group Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles takes full credit for drafting AB 2312 and then giving it to Mike Gatto to introduce it on its behalf. 

AB 2312 is unjust and burdensome to tenants. There is no such requirement on any other group of litigants. The bill singles out tenants as a group and effectively discourages them from defending themselves. 

Many tenants face real barriers in accessing a bewildering legal system due to limited financial resources, limited English proficiency, cultural differences, disabilities, work demands, caregiver responsibilities, and/or lack of transportation options. To add a requirement that a tenant facing eviction be required to deposit the alleged rent owed into escrow adds to these almost-insurmountable burdens, and will create a "pay to play" justice system. 

There are many legitimate reasons why a tenant may not pay the alleged rent owed and will not have it available for deposit. He or she may dispute the amount of rent due because the payment was lost. (Photo right: Assemblyman Gatto.) 

Some tenants do not have checking accounts and pay by money order or cash, so that they no longer have easy proof of the funds once delivered. There are often misunderstandings with landlords over how payments have been applied to the amount owed. Tenants often (legally) pay out of pocket for necessary repairs and deduct such costs from their rent payments. Tenants may also (legally) withhold rent for ongoing habitability problems. 

Despite the myriad legitimate reasons a tenant could dispute the amount of rent claimed by the landlord, this bill would force the tenant to deposit the claimed amount just to get a lawyer. 

AB 2312 would strip many tenants of their right to an attorney, and with it, their ability to defend themselves in speedy, highly confusing eviction proceedings. 

  • ACTION INFO: The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear this horrible bill on May 3.

We ask that you contact the Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and urge that he do everything that he can to kill this bill.

Tell Assembly Member Stone that you are opposed to AB 2312 and urge they he and other Assembly Judiciary Committee members vote NO!

(Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

POT AND THE LAW-- “Marijuana is practically legal in California already.” Every time I hear this, which is often, I cringe. You certainly wouldn’t hear this in any urban center from the people, largely black or brown, who bear the weight of our prohibitionist laws. You wouldn’t hear this from the patient with a debilitating illness who lives in a city that has banned medical cannabis and risks a federal felony charge by having his medicine delivered through the US postal service. You also wouldn’t hear that from the marijuana farmer in Humboldt who had her children taken away last year. 

Despite medical marijuana being legal in California since 1996, and an ounce or less decriminalized since 2011, we still make over 13,000 felony arrests every year, with a total of 154,547 marijuana arrests for felonies and misdemeanors between 2010 and 2014. Of those, 90% are male, and with a statewide population of 7%, African Americans comprised 22% and 18% of those arrested for felonies and misdemeanors respectively, despite the fact that black Americans use and sell drugs at approximately the same rates as white Americans. 

Fortunately, Californians will have the opportunity to support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), based on key lessons and guidance from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, DC, and Uruguay, and is consequently the most advanced marijuana legalization measure to date. 

AUMA establishes a clear line between personal use and commercial activity. If you are 21 or older, you can use, share, store, transport up to one ounce of dried flowers (8 grams of concentrate), and you can have up to six plants growing in your home. If you have any more product than that on your person you need to have a license, it’s that simple. And there are 19 different license types under AUMA, everything from indoor cultivator license to an outdoor cultivator, a manufacturer, tester, retailer, and the list goes on to a special micro license for small shops that can do it all, similar to a microbrewery or a boutique winery. 

AUMA eliminates or reduces most marijuana offenses, proactively and retroactively, only maintaining sales to a minor, transfer across state lines, growing on public lands, and home butane extraction as felony offenses. This is going to vastly reduce the hundreds of thousands of people caught up in California’s criminal justice system every year. As we have seen in Colorado and Washington, D.C., cumulative marijuana arrests rates dropped by over 80%, and 85%, respectively, in the first year after legalization. 

AUMA also has a smart bold formula for allocating the tax revenue it will generate when fully implemented, estimated by the nonpartisan LAO office to reach up to $1 billion. After ensuring the new law is adequately funded and evaluated, hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in the prevention of alcohol and other drug misuse, and the treatment of substance abuse disorders, with most of the money earmarked for youth. 

Funds will also be provided to a Community Reinvestment Fund that will grow to $50 million annually to support diversion and reentry programs supporting economic development, education, housing, and legal services in communities disproportionately harmed by drug war policies. Also a first, revenue will be dedicated to a special Environmental Restoration and Protection Account to fund cleanup, remediation and restoration of environmental damage to our state’s public lands and watersheds. Additionally, funds will be used to staff and improve state parks. As with other recent measures, AUMA dedicates significant revenue to law enforcement, who will finally have both clear directives and sufficient funding to address those who continue to operate outside of the licensed market.

AUMA allows people harmed by the war on drugs to fully participate in the legal market. While a well-regulated legal market is certainly necessary to reduce the illegal market, as California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy chaired by the Lieutenant Governor noted, there must be opportunities for those who have operated in the illicit market to enter the legal market. Under AUMA, a prior conviction for possession, possession for sale, sale, manufacturing, transportation, or cultivation of any controlled substance shall not be the sole basis for the denial of a license. 

While AUMA is relatively prescriptive, there is also a good deal of flexibility masterfully woven throughout the law. 

For example, it currently includes a ban on large cultivator licenses (22,000 sq. ft.), as a way to give the small farmers a head start for the first five years. After which, the state legislature can decide whether they want to extend that ban by a simple majority vote or move to a fully open market. State and local tax rates can also change, subject to voter approval requirements imposed by state law. In addition, marijuana criminal penalties may be further reduced by a majority vote the state legislature, but they cannot increase them without a vote of the people. 

And importantly, AUMA prohibits the marketing and advertising of marijuana to minors and near schools or youth centers and establishes strict packaging and labeling standards, including warning labels and child- resistant packaging, to keep marijuana products out of the hands of children. Bringing an ensconced underground economy under the rule of law is no simple task but I believe we have designed the best model for our unique California landscape, a system that reflects the wide array of community stakeholders. 

Let’s get it right for California, and let’s make the Golden state the gold standard for marijuana policy and ending prohibition.

 

(Lynne Lyman is California state director for Drug Policy Action, one of five backers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). This piece first appeared in Huffington Post.) Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SOUTH OF THE 10--Although this is not breaking news, it still shocks me. The Clinton family came to the national attention of Black families in 1992 thanks to the Arsenio Hall Show. Then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton started blowing his saxophone on the popular night time talk show and we were hooked. Black folks dubbed him our “First” Black president.

After winning in 1992, President Clinton signed two laws into effect that have negative repercussions for Black families. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) which placed limits on how long a mother could receive welfare benefits and the The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 led to the creation of “three strikes”.

Decades later, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, former President Bill Clinton apologized to Black people for his role in the mass incarceration of Blacks.

Today, at least a half dozen Black men are lined up to be delegates for his wife’s bid for the White House. 

Bill Clinton said Wednesday that the crime bill he signed into law as President in 1994 worsened the nation's criminal justice system by increasing prison sentences. 

"I signed a bill that made the problem worse," Clinton told an audience at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual meeting in Philadelphia. "And I want to admit it." 

According to the NAACP, African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, and have nearly six times the incarceration rate of whites. 

The Department of Justice paints an even grimmer picture. Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 35% of jail inmates, and 37% of prison inmates of the 2.2 million male inmates as of 2014 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014.) 

Candidates wishing to be delegates for the 2016, are self-promoting on social media, hoping to garner support at the polls May 1. 

So, what do delegates do? 

Odest Riley Jr. says the role of the delegate is to vote at the Democratic National Convention, the sentiments of the residents who elected them. 

Millennials will play a large role this election cycle.

Brent Dominic Page, managing partner at the consulting firm Millennial Government Affairs, tells 2 Urban Girls: “It is important for Millennials to vote this election cycle because there is a lot at stake. Millennials are facing a contracting economy with little job opportunity. While there are no job opportunities they are forced into over $1 trillion in student loan debt. Millennials have the greatest political potential but a lot to lose. In this election Millennials will be a huge driving force at the polls. In 2012 23 million millennials voted so we expect to see an increased number for the 2016 general election.” 

Many millennials were integral in the passage of Proposition 47 due to their families being in prison on petty charges. 

The male candidates don’t fit the criteria and are not affected by Clinton’s crime bills but possibly know of someone in their community who is. 

With the 43rd Congressional District being home to some of the most underserved, poverty stricken people, the message being sent is, since those laws don’t pertain to me, then Hillary’s cool. 

It will be interesting to see how the delegates selected will be able to look other Black people in the face and sell Hillary Clinton as the person we need for our next President.

 

(Melissa Hébert is an alumni of California State University Dominguez Hills with a degree in Political Science and a member of LAAAWPPI. She is the editor-in-chief of blog 2urbangirls.com and host of the Urban Girl Show. Melissa is also President of School Site Council in Inglewood Unified School District and is the mother of two handsome sons. She can be reached at [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

A WIN FOR TRANSPARENCY-The truth about the behind-the-scenes battle over the Archer School for Girls’ building project may soon be revealed now that the City of LA has lost its fight to keep secret the contents of 146 emails written by or to city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin, during the heat of this controversy. 

The winner in this fight for greater government transparency is the Sunset Coalition, a non-profit public advocacy group organized to oppose the controversial $100 million Archer campus expansion project. The project was approved in August 2015 by the City Council. 

“The city and Archer wrongly withheld these emails in violation of the law,” said Brentwood resident Zofia Wright. Wright and her husband, David, are leaders of the Sunset Coalition. 

“The judge’s ruling is a major victory for transparency and open government,” added Wendy-Sue Rosen, president of the Brentwood Residents Coalition. “Now we will be able to see what the City has been trying to hide from the public.”  

The fight over the emails is one chapter in the Coalition’s larger legal fight to overturn the City Council’s decision to allow the Archer expansion project to go forward. 

In its lawsuit, the Coalition has alleged Archer’s massive expansion project will overwhelm Brentwood with its illegally large structures, jeopardize the health of its own students with toxic fumes and swamp already-paralyzed Westside streets, including Sunset Boulevard, with “tens of thousands” of additional vehicle trips. 

The LA Superior Court lawsuit argues that the campus expansion project – involving nearly a quarter million square feet of construction and tens of thousands of construction-related truck trips – will “significantly burden not only the nearby residential community, but also the entire west side of Los Angeles.” 

According to recent city records, Archer spent $985,016 to hire the law firm of Latham & Watkins and Sugerman Communications to lobby City Hall officials and influence their decision-making.

Initially, the city vigorously opposed full public disclosure of the contents of 173 emails sought by the Sunset Coalition and its plaintiff-partners, the Brentwood Residents Coalition, the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn. and the Wrights. The 173 emails were among thousands of City Hall documents initially delivered to Archer’s opponents in November. 

During their inspection of these documents, the opponents found these 173 emails that were heavily redacted or otherwise obscured without a valid reason. The coalition filed a motion to gain full disclosure of their contents. 

Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien agreed there was a problem and ruled that 146 of the 173 documents contained information that should be fully released without being censored. 

O’Brien noted that “many [of the emails] reflect public commitments, efforts for compromise, evaluation of community interests, balancing interests, and frustration and venting regarding efforts at compromise apparently overseen by the councilman’s office….Also many reflect internal on-going negotiations.” 

O’Brien observed that some of the email comments were so frank and revealing that it is clear the authors “never meant [them] for general circulation.” 

“This ruling could have a major impact on the way the city does business in the future,” predicted Coalition attorney Doug Carstens, a partner in the the law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “Public employees, including elected officials, must realize that their emails can be open to the public. After all, these officials work for the public, not the other way around.” 

Proposition 59, passed by voters in 2004, unequivocally established the public’s right of access to the writings of public officials.  Proposition 59 amended the state Constitution to provide: “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” 

“The public's right to access records of public agencies is enshrined in our state Constitution,” said Carstens. “Despite this, the City sought to keep documents from being disclosed. That attempt has been resoundingly rejected by the Court.” 

Carstens and Coalition members plan to soon begin a comprehensive review of the controversial emails. 

The coalition’s review of the mountain of documents released earlier by the city has already produced surprises. 

For example, early on in the Archer controversy, Bonin appeared to be an ally of the many Brentwood neighbors deeply concerned about the project’s impact on the community and on Sunset Boulevard traffic. But in the spring of 2015, only weeks before Archer’s project was scheduled for a council vote, project critics were blindsided by Bonin when he abruptly and publicly endorsed the school’s plan. 

Now, however, after reviewing the trove of documents and emails that were previously released, the Coalition has learned that Bonin in 2014 had already reached a private deal to support Archer’s plan even though he continued to falsely represent himself as an ally of concerned critics until the spring of 2015. 

“We had to sue,” said Zofia Wright. “It is the only way we can obtain the protections for the community that our elected leaders failed to provide in the first place.”

 

(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA’S INCREDIBLE ZONING SOLUTIONS-A recent LA Times editorial, “LA’s broken planning system,” described how the City is now seeking support for its planning and zoning “reform package,” by proposing, once more, simply to update the City’s 35 community plans. Ostensibly, the promised updated plans will “head off” a proposed ballot initiative that would impose a moratorium on major construction projects. 

This proposed “solution” overlooks the City’s fundamental credibility problem: an ever-widening gulf between what’s promised and what’s actually delivered. In a recent example, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action prevailed against the City when the Superior Court found that, based on repeated mistaken City Attorney advice, LA’s building officials have been routinely ignoring the City’s adopted zoning standards for development of second units (“granny flats”) in single family residential zones. 

The City’s response? Not to follow its existing adopted standards designed to protect surrounding neighborhoods. Not to await the long-promised zoning reforms of its re:code LA study founded on extensive community input and customized for LA’s diverse neighborhoods.  Rather, the City proposes to “fast track” a proposed repeal of its adopted standards (which strictly regulate a proposed second unit’s size, location and visibility from the street), while replacing them with a very weak “one size fits all” standard that ignores any consideration of the surrounding neighborhood. Without any prior community input and study, the proposal is now scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on May 12. 

When a similar proposal was broached in 2009 under the tenure of former Planning Director Gail Goldberg, community meetings were swamped with homeowners wanting a voice in potentially major density changes to their neighborhoods. 

Under state law, second units must be approved on a ministerial basis if they meet the locality’s adopted standards. No public hearings can be held, no conditions of approval may be imposed to mitigate adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, and no second unit permit can be rejected, no matter how negative the ensuing traffic and infrastructure impacts. 

These state law procedural requirements are bad enough, but, if a locality does not have its own adopted standards, it must ministerially approve any second unit application that meets the lenient state ”default” standard. The Legislature specifically designed the “default” standard to be so utterly weak that any rational city would prefer to adopt and enforce its own local standards, rather than follow that lenient state standard. 

In light of the strong outpouring of citizen opposition to the Department’s 2009 effort, then Planning Director Gail Goldberg “pulled the plug” on the study and refused to send any repealing ordinance to the City Council. Most citizens assumed the issue had been put to bed at that point. But that was only the beginning. 

In 2010, in response to the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the Planning Department issued a behind-closed-doors administrative memo (ZA 120) ordering the Building and Safety Department (LADBS) to stop following the City’s adopted second units standards. Instead, ZA120 ordered LADBS to follow the weak state “default” standard for second units. 

In 2014, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action brought its lawsuit demanding that the City set aside ZA120 and resume following its adopted local standards. After almost two years of litigation, the Superior Court recently ruled that, since 2010, based on the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the City has unlawfully been ignoring its adopted protective standards on a routine basis -- about 40 percent of the second unit permits issued by LADBS since 2010 have violated those adopted standards -- and ordering the City to stop using ZA 120 (and the state “default” standard) as the criteria for second unit permits.  

Perversely, however, as noted above, the City has recently proposed repealing its adopted second unit standards, and, in their place, implementing the very weak state “default” standard. The City has put this repeal proposal on a “fast track” as an urgency ordinance and noticed a Planning Commission public hearing for Thursday, May 12.  

As the proposed second unit repeal ordinance comes to hearing, we must put LA’s planning establishment on notice that we will not tolerate the continuing broken planning system. The City’s repeal proposal is bad public policy:  

  • It would allow second units to be built anywhere in any single family residential zone with virtually no protective standards for the surrounding neighborhood, without any public hearings, and without any discretion for LA’s decision-makers to condition or reject inappropriate increased density. 
  • Contrary to the rhetoric behind the much-heralded re:code LA study (which is supposed to include customized zoning standards to take into account the diverse topography, density and character of LA’s neighborhoods), the City’s repeal proposal would replace the existing strict second unit standards with a weak “one size fits all” “default” standard. 
  • The proposed “default” standard is so lacking in protection for surrounding single family neighborhoods that Los Angeles, as a rational municipality, should not want to be required to implement its extremely weak provisions and should instead prefer continuing to enforce its own protective local second unit ordinances. 

As the City begins formulating its defense against the upcoming ballot initiative, we need to signal to the City that this kind of bad planning proposal -- at wide variance from its promised good planning goals -- is completely unacceptable.  

Please join me and many other citizens, homeowner groups and neighborhood councils in investigating and writing about the City’s proposed second unit ordinance repeal. Call or email your City Council representative (and any other Council members or Planning Commissioners you know) to ascertain their commitment to, or distance from, this repeal proposal. Inquire whether they believe that the City should retain its existing adopted second unit standards until such time as a better, customized second unit zoning reform proposal is recommended by the re:code LA study. 

Plan to attend the May 12, 2016 Planning Commission public hearing at 8:30 AM at City Hall, Board of Public Works, Room 350, 200 N. Spring Street, LA 90012.

 

(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He alsol co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices.) Photo credit: Beverly Press. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EASTSIDER-Recently someone suggested I take a look at an LA Times article entitled, “California doesn’t have enough affordable housing, and lawmakers aren’t doing much about it.” 

It got me thinking. I honestly don’t know what “affordable housing” means anymore in Los Angeles. To the City Council, it seems to mean giving away public land and/or tax breaks and/or wholesale variances so that big developers can build more hundred-unit monstrosities by providing a handful of un-affordable “affordable housing” units. 

My first up close and personal experience with housing projects, which I guess is what the euphemism partly stands for these days, was Jordan Downs (photo above). In the late 60’s, I was a social worker in Watts assigned to the General Relief Intake program, (probably called something different today ever since President Clinton “eliminated welfare as we know it”), and obviously a number of the home calls I made were to the Jordan Downs housing project. 

The one thing I’ll give to this place is that it really was affordable. People could actually live there and, heck, usually the roofs didn’t even leak. And there were a lot of really nice people living there. Also a number of really sad and desperate people. I may have flunked the PC course, but I don’t exactly know what anyone expected when too many of the youth there got a crappy education, had extensive police records, and, over all, little hope of getting a (legal) job. 

What I really remember is that I was there on welfare too – it was just a different part of the same program. But since I was a white college educated Berkeley type, I was getting paid a heck of a lot more than the GR recipients I was trying to “help” navigate through the dense, complex paperwork needed to get a very few bucks and a lot of hassle. As I recall, what’s now DPSS was then called the Department of Charities. I kid you not. Brings to mind sad scenes out of a Charles Dickens novel. 

At the same time, Jordan Downs was very much better than a lot of the alternatives people had for housing in my world. You had to have an address to even apply for welfare, and some of the addresses were pretty rough. 

All this also reminded me of an article in the LA Times back in 2013 describing how the Jordan Downs Housing Project was going to be torn down. Comparing that article to the policy wonk LA Times piece about lawmakers and housing, who could resist? What a juxtaposition. 

And by the way, what’s this stuff about Jordan Downs being the worst? I remember the Aliso Village projects in Northeast LA, over on 1st and Clarence. That place was no joke. Of course, in celebration of the millennium, the City tore down Aliso Village around 2000. As I recall, the “new” Pueblo del Sol which supplanted it, attracted a more upscale crowd; the inhabitants of Aliso Village got dumped harder than folks did during the Chavez Ravine giveaway to the O’Malley’s (of Dodger Stadium fame.) 

My question is, what happens to the people who used to be able to survive in housing projects and other forms of actual affordable housing? Do they just go away? Do they die? Do they become homeless so that the City and the Mayor can then try to raise taxes to “help” them? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t see anyone writing about these realities. 

Where are the low wage, often undocumented, folks going to go? You know, the ones that the rest of us in LA depend on to provide all the services people don’t want to do ourselves, and don’t want to pay even a minimum wage for? Where will my friends in Northeast LA go when they lose their work? Will they quietly slip away, not to be seen again? People don’t want to talk about this issue. It’s as if something bad will happen if we even try to have an honest discussion. 

To put this in context, let’s look at the 2020 Commission. Remember that? The first part of its report, “A Time for Truth,” indicates that some forty percent of families in LA either make poverty wages or are unemployed. The poverty rate is defined as a very low $23,850 a year. If these folks pay $1500 a month for rent, then that would leave $5850 to pay for everything else for that year. Fat chance. 

So, it seems to me that we don’t have any affordable housing anymore. The tiny slice we do have is in the process of being developed out of existence. To be crude about it, the “old” housing project model is being dumped, along with the folks who lived there. The “new” affordable housing model seems to consist of big new developments, with median rents close to $3000 a month along with a few “affordable” housing units in exchange for all the sleazy breaks that the lawmakers can give their developer lords and masters.

As a long time Californian, I find these changes really depressing. And I wonder what happens when folks renting these new expensive abodes lose a gig, split from their partner, or get sick. Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I hope I’m wrong. 

If anyone knows about any real affordable housing that’s happening in the City of Angels, let me know. It would be a lot more newsworthy than the Mayor’s new budget. 

 

(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.

PEOPLE’S VOICE--When it comes to policy making for planning and land use in LA, politicians and top city bureaucrats don’t want you to know what secret moves they’re orchestrating behind the scenes to help their deep-pocketed developer pals. It was true in 2008, and it’s just as true in 2016. Startlingly so. 

That’s what one quickly realizes when reading the excellent 2008 LA Weekly feature story, “Bitter Homes & Gardens: City Hall’s ‘Density Hawks’ Are Changing LA’s DNA.”  It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how development works in Los Angeles, and it’s another installation of “The Bulldozer Files,” in which we highlight important press coverage of LA’s ongoing land-use wars. 

Just like today, the LA Weekly found in 2008 that City Hall pols and bureaucrats were approving variances and zoning changes at eye-popping rates that few people knew about. Those approvals were helping developers, who are major campaign contributors in LA, become even richer. The paper noted: “The constant overriding of zoning protections has indeed been relentless — a binge of ‘zoning variances’ and ‘zone changes’ granted by longtime Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande, a little-known official who is the rear admiral of a pro-density flotilla inside City Hall that long predates [Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa’s administration.” 

The variances and zone changes — quite simply, permissions to skirt existing rules — are granted on a case-by-case basis, and LoGrande hands them out like candy. LoGrande did not return numerous phone calls from the LA Weekly. Four biweekly Planning Department reports, randomly selected by the Weekly from March, June, September and December 2007, show that requests to increase housing density or square footage rolled in at about 260 annually, slowing only as the mortgage crisis hit. Retired Zoning Administrator Jon Perica explains that while the sought-after density increases are subjected to design, environmental and compatibility review, “the Planning Department historically approves about 90 percent.” 

For anyone paying attention, and very few people are, LoGrande’s decisions — buttressed by the rulings of seven area planning commissions populated with Villaraigosa’s appointees — are why some corners of the city are taller and more congested than 10 years ago, even neighborhoods whose legally binding zoning plans were supposed to achieve the opposite. 

What’s worse, politicians and bureaucrats regularly pushed forward land-use policies that dramatically altered neighborhoods with little public debate or transparency. One of the few elected officials that spoke out about such secret governing was longtime LA County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. 

The LA Weekly wrote: “In fact, Angelenos don’t have a clue what’s been happening, or what’s coming. In the 32 months since Villaraigosa was elected, for example, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News have written only four stories about a plan to allow apartments without parking in order to squeeze in more units. The phrase “SB 1818” has appeared in just 14 articles. The mayor’s czar of zoning variances, Michael LoGrande, is virtually unknown — mentioned just six times in Los Angeles print media in the past two years. And the “superpublic” hearings cited by Blumenfeld were attended almost exclusively by lobbyists, a few activists and the occasional curious neighbor. 

“’There should be a debate!’ Yaroslavsky wheezes, a victim of allergies, dabbing his nose with a handkerchief. 

“The proponents of the density hawks, including the director of the Planning Department, and the real estate industry, and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce — they had the audacity to say that they negotiated the plan [with homeowners]. Not true, there wasn’t one neighborhood group that knew about it!” 

Today, any frontline community activist will tell you that such skullduggery still happens at LA City Hall, where politicians and developers continue to manipulate LA’s rigged and broken development-approval system for their own self interests. 

After years of chicanery, it’s either naive or insane or both to think that crew will suddenly reform itself. 

It’s why we need a community-based, citywide solution such as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The measure will finally start the process of truly changing the unfair development-approval system by giving citizens more substantive tools to protect their neighborhoods from overdevelopment and the numerous quality of life impacts that come with it. Such as traffic gridlock, the destruction of neighborhood character and the displacement of longtime residents — many of whom are working-class families and senior citizens — through gentrification. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, for example, stops the practice of developers writing their own environmental impact reports — an obvious and troubling conflict of interest. An EIR studies how a new project, such as a 27-story skyscraper proposed in the middle of a low-slung, working-class neighborhood in Koreatown, affects an existing community. 

It’s no wonder that developers and local politicians are worried sick that our community-based movement and citywide ballot measure will actually succeed. We’ll change the old way of doing business that brings them millions in profits and campaign contributions. 

So read more of the Weekly article. You’ll know why our fight is so important. 

And please join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and follow and cheer our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also send us an email at [email protected]

Together, we can create the change that LA needs!

 

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for 2PreserveLA.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-In my last column, I wrote about the increasing grassroots activism to address quality of life issues, which include a Wild West approach to development where developers fund environmental reviews and politicians greenlight variances and spotty spot zoning to get around the general plan. 

While the Coalition to Preserve LA collects signatures to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot, other groups are filing lawsuits to slow down the rash of development in the meantime. 

As developers and investors work to get in their “last slicks” before a possible turnaround, many see the fast track approval of mega-developments as propelled by what they see to be an obsequious city council and administration. 

Save Valley Village, in an unprecedented move, has filed a suit against all 15 city councilmembers for their “unlawful voting pact.” A spokesperson for the group says, “For the City Council to avoid CRIMINAL charges, each councilmember will have to make his own decisions and no longer succumb to the illegal voting pact.” 

Let’s take a look at Penal Code 86, which criminalizes vote trading agreements. The code grew from the State Constitution requirement that all municipal elections be non-partisan. Removing political parties from the equation would remove corruption from local politics. Wrong. Without parties in play, individual councilmembers had to find some other means to have their measures adopted by the entire city council or at or at least 8 of 15 votes. Enter vote trading. 

In 2006, the State Legislature amended Penal Code 86 to consider any type of voting agreement to be a form of criminal bribery. Councilmembers can’t legally agree to give or withhold his or her vote in return that another councilmember will give or withhold a vote on this or any other matter. 

However, Penal Code 86 doesn’t appear to have halted or even slowed down the unlawful vote trading pact that is the key to developer power at City Hall. Campaign contributions from developers and their attorney fill the coffers of councilmembers at the city and state level. State politicians are not held to the same financial caps as city politicians so the impact on the state level may be even greater. 

What’s the end result? Land-use entitlement approvals for specific plan amendments, zone changes, bonuses, and variances all require public hearings and protocol. Save Valley Village charges that the land use entitlements are being approved without this protocol, as shown by evidence submitted into the case record that proves noncompliance. 

To top things off, Mayor Eric Garcetti is supporting Assembly Bill 2356 authored by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez. Kathryn Phillips, director at the Sierra Club of California, wrote an April 18 column in CityWatch disclosing the mayor’s involvement. AB 2356 would change the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to allow for infill planning to circumvent disclosure of environmental impact of proposed development projects.

Mayor Garcetti has also received some heat for his role in the “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch Mine” voting agreements that have become commonplace. Back in December 2010, then Council President Garcetti boasted of a 99.35% record for unanimous votes in the Council. A unanimous track record has a flipside to that perceived efficiency, placing a whole lot of power in the hands of a few. Save Valley Village points to Los Angeles Councilmember Krekorian (photo above), who is the subject of the group’s recall effort. 

Critics say Krekorian, who represents North Hollywood, Valley Village, and Studio City, has favored commercial interests above community requests. Save Valley Village accuses the councilmember of approving zone changes, opposing efforts to designate local buildings as historic monuments, and failing to respond to concerns about dangerous demolitions. 

The catalyst for the effort to collect recall petition signatures is the destruction of the Hermitage Avenue home of a 17-year old Norma Jean Dougherty, better known as Marilyn Monroe. In June, the property was razed just days before a Cultural Heritage Commission hearing on the case. Critics say Krekorian failed to support the landmark request, along with his failure to act in another preservation case involving Henry’s Tacos in North Hollywood, both of which critics point to as an example of “I’ll Scratch Your Back, You’ll Scratch My Back” voting agreements. The city council voted unanimously to approve the demolition of Monroe’s former home to pave way for a condo project. 

Per the Save Valley Village website, the unincorporated association is “working towards enforcing laws and legislation to protect us from developer-initiated zone changes and City Hall-motivated over-densification that erode the character of our neighborhoods and the quality of our lives by forcing massive developments into already established, healthy and sustainable communities and neighborhoods.” 

The association addresses a “disturbing loss of landmarks, homes, and cultural character. Projects go forward, notwithstanding violations of California Government Codes, Environmental/CEQA laws and local ordinances.” The increased density and growth of McMansions are threatening the Valley Village way of life, resulting in the loss of decades-old trees, historic homesteads, open spaces, and affordable housing, as demonstrated by the 300 percent rise in Ellis Act evictions from 2013 to 2014.

Elected officials, whether at the local, state, or federal level, have a responsibility to represent the needs and concerns of their constituents, not only those interests with the deepest pockets. 

Grassroots groups like Save Valley Village are doing what they can to keep the fox from the hen house, to protect the interests of the rest of us and to save the integrity of each neighborhood in our city.

 

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

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Whether we’re LA natives or adopted this city as our own, most of us love Los Angeles, from the majestic canyons winding to the sparkling Pacific, a hike through Runyon or Nichols Canyon just minutes from the energy of Hollywood, even a summer evening drive along Mulholland with the city and valley lights below. 

But if you gather even the most fervent of Angelenos, you’ll hear a range of complaints from skyrocketing rents to Sig Alerts that last far beyond rush hour and what activists refer to as the Manhattanization of Hollywood. 

Problematic quality of life issues have given rise to a trend of grassroots activism, lawsuits, and ballot initiatives throughout the city. Just last week, the nonprofit advocacy group Fix the City filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the City Council over the Catalina Tower project, a 27-floor mixed use apartment tower approved for a residential street in Koreatown, despite the lack of a full environmental impact review and analysis of subsequent traffic impact. 

The nexus of post-recession development and the housing crisis has brought on more than a few campaigns to halt what is seen by some as a Wild West growth with sloppy spot zoning and variances on one side, countered by arguments that the city’s general plan from twenty years ago doesn’t address the need for density in housing to reflect the current housing shortage. 

At the center of it all is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) campaign to stop mega-developments and a lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Palladium Residences, two residential towers that would be built next door to AHF’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters near a Metro Red Line stop. The lawsuit argues that the project violates the city charter, California Environmental Quality Act, and other laws. The developer is also named in the suit, which opposes the height and density of the project. 

Investors of the $324-million project counter that the Palladium Towers would provide needed housing and that the towers are similar in scale to other Hollywood buildings along major corridors. 

The nonprofit and the Coalition to Preserve LA have been collecting signatures for a March 2017 ballot measure that would place a two-year moratorium on many developments that don’t follow existing planning and zoning rules. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein defends the AHF position as a gentrification/social justice issue. AHF and supporters of the measure say mega-developments replace existing rent-controlled units and force out tenants, many whom are senior citizens or on fixed incomes. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, as the ballot measure is known, would halt spot zoning and create a plan to update the city’s Community Plans. The initiative would also put an end to developers handling the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and would restrict a developer’s ability to reduce parking requirements for residential units and off-site parking for commercial establishments. 

The NII isn’t the only nonprofit group working on ballot initiatives. The Build Better LA Coalition is working to get a housing affordability and high-quality job ballot measure. The initiative, which launched in February, would provide incentives to developers to create affordable housing near public transit and tie discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments to setting aside a percentage of rental and for-sale projects for low-income residents. The initiative also includes a local hire provision. The Build Better LA Coalition has wide support and endorsements by dozens of community organizations advocating for immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, low-wage labor rights, and educational justice. 

To deal with the explosion of short term rentals (STR) and the impact on local residents, a group of homeowners, tenants, and business owners have formed Community Above Profit (CAP.)  The group’s mission includes protecting Angelenos from the STR boom through organization and resources; educating the public on their rights and what can be done to prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by STRs; and informing city leaders of problems STRs are causing in communities. Toward the third goal, the group has drafted an ordinance to provide solutions. 

No matter which side of the issue Angelenos support, the growth of grassroots activism brings the discussion to the table, providing increased transparency in development and other issues facing the city. We can work together to impact change, balancing neighborhood issues with the challenge of affordable housing, transportation, and environmental concerns.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--Sunday saw an old American tradition brought back, the opening of a local political campaign headquarters. The idea seems like an anachronism, sort of like a dial telephone or bias ply tires, but there it was on a bright Sunday afternoon in San Pedro. In this case, it was the candidacy of Warren Furutani, who is running for the open state senate seat in a district that goes from the harbor in the south up to Watts and Inglewood to the north. 

Since the district is strongly Democratic, the question as to who goes to Sacramento would have been determined in the primary election in previous years. Now, with California's nonpartisan blanket primary, the top two vote getters go on to the November runoff, even if they come from the same political party. 

Furutani's main opponent is Democrat Steven Bradford, who previously represented the state assembly district that makes up the northern half of the senatorial district. Bradford is African American and has political strength in that end of the district, while Furutani is Japanese American and has his roots in the more southerly portion. 

I used the term anachronistic earlier, because we have all become adapted to the modern digital style of politics, based around nationally broadcast debates, internet news, and Facebook arguments. The other word that comes to mind is atavistic, because the local campaign headquarters is a throwback to earlier days. I can remember when we didn't have the internet or smart phones, and volunteers walked door to door handing out mimeographed fliers. (Were they mimeographed? How old do you have to be to remember the mimeograph machine?) 

But there are decent enough reasons to add some of that old time political technique to our modern technological campaigns. The opening of a campaign headquarters is a chance to energize the troops. The idea is to get people into a room together and pump them up with rousing speeches, a buffet, and one overworked coffee pot. Those same people will be asked to volunteer their time working the phone banks over the coming months. It's a chance for people to make an emotional and intellectual commitment to one candidate. 

For the volunteers, it is also a chance to mingle with elected officials and respected ex-officials. In this one room on this one afternoon, we heard from the state Treasurer, the former mayor of Cerritos, the former mayor of Carson, and the city councilman from San Pedro, Joe Buscaino. 

Some may remember that Buscaino won the open City Council seat just a few years ago by defeating Furutani, and here he was, giving an energetic introduction, telling us why we need Warren Furutani up in Sacramento. Maybe it was just the decent thing to do, but I get the idea that Buscaino genuinely respects Furutani. In fact, when they ran against each other, their campaigns were particularly clean and respectful, something surprising and nearly unique in present day politics. 

In a way, the opening of a campaign office is like a college reunion. I ran into people I'd known when I lived in Lakewood in a different century. There was Rick Tuttle, the former Controller of the city of Los Angeles, and there were Julian, Joy, Sergio, and Louis. There were also members of a younger generation who are feeling their political oats. There were a couple or three men who had run for major elective offices in the past few years and hadn't quite won, but were there because that's what office seekers do. 

This gathering was notable for the presence of Asian-American politicians including the former mayor of Cerritos and notably, John Chiang. Chiang has worked his way through state Controller to his current office as state Treasurer. He is being touted as a possible candidate for governor, and he got a lot of enthusiastic cheers as other speakers dusted off an old line, referring to him as "the next governor of California." Furutani could do worse than be touted by a statewide elected official like Chiang. 

In conversation, Furutani seems like a thoughtful person, and he demonstrated enormous patience listening to my extended inquiries about his campaign strategy, platform, and general interests. When I asked him what he is most interested in, he replied, "Education." That seems believable and appropriate, considering that Furutani previously held elected office on the school board prior to being elected to the state Assembly. He doesn't seem to be interested in blowing his own horn all that extravagantly, but the other speakers pointed out his accomplishments in protecting public education when he was in the state legislature. 

When I asked what the campaign is likely to be about, Furutani answered, "The environment." He brags that he doesn't take contributions from oil interests, unlike his opponent. He also reminded me that this district has oil refineries, of which at least one uses a potentially dangerous chemical additive that could have done a lot of human damage during the recent refinery fire. 

I tend to doubt that the oil issue will be all that telling in the coming campaign for the simple reason that Democrats are not going to go into vigorous attack mode against an industry that employs so many workers. Still, it was a good try, and suggested that liberal Democrats have to work hard to differentiate themselves from their equally liberal opponents. It's the mirror image of the Republican Party where campaigners fight to be more to the right than the other guy. 

In his own campaign speech, Furutani talked about being a fourth generation Japanese American, and how his whole family has its roots in the 35th Senatorial District. His family lived on Terminal Island until the Pearl Harbor attack, following which they were forced to live in what the authorities euphemistically referred to as a relocation center -- Furutani bluntly refers to it as a concentration camp -- in the southeast part of the country. Furutani is a graduate of Antioch University. He served previously on the LAUSD board and on the community college board prior to his election to the state Assembly. 

His choice of topics to push in this campaign include the old standards: the economy, education, and the environment. Interestingly, he also wants to concentrate on the way we treat the elderly. His campaign packages this collection into what he calls the "Four E's." 

It's true that lots of campaign headquarters have been opened and closed during the presidential primary season, but those were mainly created, funded, and maintained by national presidential campaigns. For the vast majority of the 20 or so serious candidates, those headquarters came and went and are now forgotten. The classical grass roots campaign headquarters, maintained on a minimal budget and featuring long-term local activists working for somebody running for local office is a different species entirely, Americana at its most activist.

 

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

-cw

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