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LARGEST URBAN OIL FIELD--With 840 miles of beautiful coastline and palm trees swaying in the breeze, “toxic” is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of California. Yet, in spite of its reputation as a progressive environmental state, California’s toxic affair with oil and gas has been hiding in plain sight.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest urban oil field. Though it is the second most populous city in the country, LA is still the wild, wild west when it comes to oil development. Active oil wells dot the cityscape, connected by a spider web of pipelines carrying oil, explosive fumes, and corrosive acids directly under homes. Worst of all, these oil wells have a devastating impact on Angelenos’ long-term health.

I went on a “toxic tour” of LA and witnessed what it looks like when extreme fossil fuel extraction collides with the places where people live, work, and play. Our reliance on fossil fuels puts real communities at risk across the city. Extreme oil extraction injects a toxic mixture of chemicals into the ground to stimulate oil wells in a manner similar to fracking, and the emissions can cause headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory ailments, inter-generational reproductive harm, and even cancer for surrounding neighbors.

Last year, the state of California mandated an independent scientific assessment of oil and gas development. They found that in areas of high population density — such as South Los Angeles — oil drilling poses elevated health risks because more people are exposed to toxic air contaminants. The 580,000 Angelenos living less than a quarter mile from an oil well are subjected to the dangers of neighborhood drilling every single day. L.A.’s oil problem is more than just a problem; it’s a crisis of human health and safety.

On that eye-opening tour, I met young Nalleli Cobo — a South L.A. teenager who has been fighting neighborhood drilling since she was sickened at age nine by the AllenCo Energy drill site across the street from her home. For years, she was in and out of hospitals trying to get answers to the long list of symptoms she experienced daily. On some days, Nalleli had to be carried to the car to go to the doctor because painful body spasms made it difficult to move.

After hundreds of community complaints, USEPA investigators finally conducted an inspection — only to fall ill immediately upon entering the drill site. Though they were temporarily forced to shut down, AllenCo is now working to reopen the drilling site this year.

Make no mistake about it, LA’s oil drilling is toxic.

Shockingly, Nalleli’s story isn’t unique. California is the third largest oil producing state in the nation and over 75% of the active oil wells in Los Angeles are within 2,000 feet of homes, schools, or hospitals, where they pose the gravest threat to human health.

Concrete walls may try to shield extreme extraction from neighbors’ eyes, but they are useless at protecting them from poisonous fumes. It’s common to see workers in hazmat suits monitoring rigs on one side of a wall, while families on the other side remain completely unprotected sitting around their dinner table.

That’s why Nalleli, fueled by her sense of duty to protect her neighbors and fellow Angelenos, wants to hold her elected leaders accountable for allowing the oil industry to pollute her community. As a member of the coalition called Stand Together Against Neighborhood Drilling (STAND-LA), she has spoken at press conferences with Senator Barbara Boxer, organized health surveys to track symptoms in her community, and serves as a youth plaintiff in a lawsuit against the City of L.A. for violating her civil rights. Nalleli has even taken the fight to Pope Francis, asking him to urge the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to stop leasing their land to AllenCo Energy and other oil companies.

Fortunately, Nalleli is not alone in this fight. This Saturday, thousands of Californians will gather to support the communities on the front lines of neighborhood drilling at the March to Break Free from Fossil Fuels. They will gather at Los Angeles City Hall to call on Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson to put an end to urban oil drilling.

Confronting the mighty oil industry is not an easy task, but Mayor Garcetti and President Wesson need only follow the courageous lead of Nalleli and others in STAND-L.A. who have been fighting for years. LA’s elected leaders have the opportunity to send a clear signal to the rest of the nation with a victory in this climate battle. We must keep oil in the ground. Stand with Nalleli and families like hers on the front lines at this critical moment in history.

(Mark Ruffalo is an Oscar-nominated actor and climate change activist. This perspective was posted most recently at Huff Post.) 

-cw

TRUTHDIG--The day Bernie Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in the Indiana primary, I stopped by his Los Angeles headquarters, a rundown storefront in the Latino neighborhood of East Hollywood, and I talked with campaign volunteers preparing to register voters.

Ismael Parra, one of the volunteers, was hoping for a Sanders win in Indiana that night and, of course, wants one in the California Democratic primary on June 7. Such victories, Parra said, would give the campaign the momentum to stop Hillary Clinton on the first ballot of the Democratic National Convention, throwing it into pandemonium. 

“If we get through the first ballot, it will be crazy,” Parra told me on Tuesday. 

Parra and I spoke at an important time. The national media is all but awarding the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, and Sanders needs California to stay alive. 

Parra, a writer and member of the National Writers Union, is just one in a diverse group of volunteers I’ve met while following the Sanders campaign since early last fall. Their challenge is to propel Sanders to victory in California and win more of the state’s 548 delegates than Clinton does. 

Nasim Thompson, a volunteer in another Sanders storefront in a largely African-American neighborhood in South Los Angeles, has the same goal as she canvasses door to door and trains new volunteers. 

“We have energized volunteers and community members,” she said. 

From the beginning, activists like Parra and Thompson have made the Sanders campaign as much a social and economic movement as a political campaign. Led by its unusual and compelling candidate, the Sanders campaign has given voice to discontent among liberals about the Democratic Party elite. For the two terms of Bill Clinton and two more of Barack Obama, the rich businesspeople and the politicians and technocrats who served them have been the shot callers. They ignored those who felt left out of the ’90s prosperity and the mild recovery from the Great Recession. 

Resentment simmered, surfacing only in the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, both generally ignored by the mass media. Along came Sanders to give it a voice, a sense of direction and an energy that make Hillary Clinton and her campaign look pallid by comparison. The Sanders team is now the Democratic Party’s activist base, and without its enthusiastic participation, Donald Trump may be elected president in November. 

On the afternoon of April 30, I tagged along while Sanders supporters marched through a down-at-the-heels portion of Downtown Los Angeles on their way to a rally at City Hall several blocks away. Drummers in the garb of Aztec Mexico led the march. Organizers were among the crowd, spurring the men and women on. “Are you ready to fight?” a couple of them shouted. I counted about 500 when the march started, but it soon doubled in size, the result, I bet, of days of campaigning on social media. 

I was impressed with the enthusiasm and organization required to bring out such a crowd. 

Organization was also evident the following day at an entirely different venue, the big Beverly Hills home of Lauren Steiner, high above the city in Benedict Canyon. Steiner is a hardworking and effective volunteer leader. Tirelessly pounding away on Facebook, she persuaded about 25 to 30 people to come her house for bagels before they headed to their congressional district caucus to vote for her and others for national convention delegate. 

As I watched them sign up for tasks and discuss the campaign, I saw some of the political currents that are shaping the campaign. 

One was how to treat Clinton. Some in the room reviled her. A woman objected to what they said. “What I don’t like is the negativity,” a woman said. “We are still Democrats.” A man replied, “I don’t have any loyalty to the party especially when it is headed by crooked Hillary.” 

Volunteer Julie Tyler said, “I’ve called people out on Facebook when they talk that way.” And Steiner said, “There is a way of talking about policies that isn’t hateful.” Looking ahead, Steiner and Tyler probably saw the danger, a Trump victory over disunited Democrats. 

Steiner brought up a more immediate problem -- connecting with the area’s African-American voters and growing Latino population. That’s been a Sanders weakness from the beginning and a possible roadblock to his final, all-out push in California. Clinton is leading Sanders 51 percent to 41.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of California polling. She polls well among African-Americans. Latino polling and results from earlier contests are mixed. With the primary election just over a month away, the campaign is setting up low-income outreach teams, but it may be too late. 

The future of the Sanders movement -- before and after the Democratic National Convention -- depends on these disparate volunteers. 

If Sanders wins California, it would be a big upset. Yet even if he does, he probably wouldn’t get enough delegates to force the convention into a second ballot and to stop a Clinton nomination. But what happens after the convention is important, too. Will the Sanders movement remain intact? Will Lauren Steiner, Julie Tyler, Nasim Thompson and Ismael Parra get behind Clinton for the fall campaign against Donald Trump? 

Their names don’t typically make it into the coverage of the presidential campaign by the national media, but these volunteers are the future of the Democratic Party and of progressives who believe in the electoral process. 

If Clinton is to have a chance of defeating Trump, she’ll need them at her side. She’s not going to do it by herself or with her elite backers and veteran political advisers. The Sanders movement is the Democratic Party’s activist base. Without them, Clinton could very well lose. 

Lose to Trump? Is that crazy? No.  

I wouldn’t put all of my money on Clinton’s plodding, cautious approach to our serious national problems. Nor would I bet on her annoying, condescending smiles when asked questions about tough issues like her Wall Street speaking fees. That won’t work against killer Trump.  

After the national convention and the November election, whether Clinton wins or loses, the Sanders volunteers shouldn’t drop out. They’ll have to translate the excitement for the Sanders campaign into enthusiasm for continuing to build a movement: the Sanders revolution. Hopefully, he’ll be leading it, as he promised.

 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)  Photo: YouTube. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-Heartworm disease is a serious infection that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets--mainly dogs--but also cats, coyotes, ferrets, wolves, sea lions, seals and other animals. And, occasionally it infects humans. The worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal.  

It is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito. Heartworm cases are increasing in Los Angeles, according to a report updated on April 26, 2016, by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. 

This disease is NOT spread directly from animal-to-animal (or animal to human). Rather, infected animals are reservoirs for the disease but may not display symptoms. The transmission of the disease occurs when a mosquito bites and sucks the blood from an infected animal and then carries it to the next victim. 

Areas like California and Arizona, where heartworms have not been a problem, are now finding that building development and improved irrigation systems have also enabled mosquitoes to survive. Where there are mosquitoes, there are heartworms, experts advise. 

Three new species of drought-resistant mosquitoes are spreading throughout LA. County: the Australian backyard mosquito, the Yellow Fever mosquito and the Asian Tiger mosquito -- the latter two are also capable vectors for human viruses, such as West Nile and Zika, according to LA County officials. 

All three have transmitted heartworm in other countries, and therefore may spread heartworm here. They are black with white stripes, are “efficient” virus transmitters, biting multiple hosts, and are aggressive daytime biters.  They have a short flight range, averaging about one-quarter mile; however, strong winds can blow mosquitos a long way. 

Here are some tips to protect your pets, family and community. 

Mosquito Control.  Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so empty any outdoor containers in which water collects every two days and clean them thoroughly. This includes pet drinking bowls and birdbaths. Also, remove any uncovered bottles and jars or unused toys and planters in your yard. Throw away old tires lying in the backyard and clean gutters so rain will not be trapped. 

Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the inside of the container, just above the water level. The eggs can then lay dormant for up to several years while waiting for the right conditions to produce larvae. According to sgvmosquito.org, these mosquitoes can breed in a bottle cap of water. 

Unfortunately, Aedes have evolved in well-populated areas and like living in close contact with humans and in urban environments. So, the best prevention is to not make them welcome on your property or in your community. 

Keep Pets Inside your Home at Night.  Mosquitoes feed the most at dawn, dusk and at night, so keep your pet indoors. 

Coyote Control.  Infected coyotes can be reservoirs for the disease. Do NOT leave food or water for coyotes or any animal outside. This attracts rodents, other wildlife and feral cats, which attract coyotes. 

Have Your Pets Checked for Heartworm. In 15% of the heartworm cases confirmed in Los Angeles County, the animal was not treated. Untreated pets may become ‘reservoirs’ and infect mosquitoes, and then the mosquitoes can infect more pets and/or people. 

A human can be infected by a mosquito that has fed on an infected dog but human infections are rare, with the greatest danger being that it can create a small mass in the lungs. “The mass itself isn’t usually a problem, but if it gets seen on an x-ray, it may appear very similar to a lung tumor, potentially leading to the use of more invasive diagnostic techniques (e.g. lung biopsy) to rule out cancer,” warns WormsandGermsBlog.com.  

However, lest we take human infection too lightly, a paper published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in May 2001 reports the fourth case of heartworm infection confirmed in a California resident--all of which were males.  A 28-year-old man had become lost in a an Ohio state park for 18 hours, wearing only shorts and sandals and claimed to have been bitten numerous times by mosquitoes.  

Doctors eventually determined that an orchiectomy (removing a testicle) was necessary. “Histopathology revealed a well-preserved immature male D. immitis, the canine heartworm, in a branch of the spermatic artery,” the report states. (J. H. Theis, A. Gilson, G. E. Simon, B. Bradshaw, & D. Clark; Am J Trop Med Hyg May 2001vol. 64 no. 5 317-322).  

Getting back to more common dangers and the prevalence of heartworm disease in Los Angeles, of the 187 cases reported between 2005-2014, 53% were “Confirmed,” 41% were Probable, and 6% were “Suspected.” However, the 2005- 2015 total shows that veterinarians had reported 258 cases, in 18 cats and 240 dogs—an increase of 71 cases. The majority of the cases (75%) had no symptoms at the time they were diagnosed. 

The graph on the L. A. County Public Health site shows these cases by year and the alarming increase in 2014, when laboratories were required to begin reporting cases. 

Approximately 60 percent of dogs travel with their owners, thus increasing the potential for heartworm exposure,” says Robert Stannard, DVM, with the American Heartworm Society. [

 But, in 29% of the cases in L.A. County, owners indicated the pet had not traveled outside of Southern California, so they had acquired the infection locally. 

Sadly, sick dogs are being brought to Los Angeles—often surreptitiously-- by “rescuers” or brokers for foreign puppy mills.  They are transported from countries or states which are heartworm-endemic to California, where there is no requirement for heartworm testing and they can become reservoirs for mosquitoes.  

Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs: 

The disease is rare in dogs less than one year of age because the microfilariae take five to seven months to mature into adult heartworms after infection. 

Unfortunately, by the time clinical signs are seen, the disease is usually well advanced,” according to VCA Hospitals.  

“The most obvious clinical signs of heartworm disease are a soft, dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina. All of these signs are most noticeable following exercise, when some dogs may even faint or become disoriented. …In advanced cases, congestive heart failure may be apparent and the abdomen and legs will swell from fluid accumulation. There may also be evidence of weight loss, poor condition and anemia. Severely infected dogs may die suddenly during exercise or excitement.” 

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats: 

"It is necessary for a cat to be bitten by an infected mosquito in order to become infected with heartworms," VCA Hospitals remind us that it is a wise to keep cats inside at all times. 

The most common signs are a sudden onset of coughing and rapid breathing, signs that can also be caused by several other diseases. Other common non-specific clinical signs include weight loss and vomiting. On occasion, an apparently normal cat may be found dead, or may develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure and heartworm disease is diagnosed on a post-mortem examination.” 

Treating and Preventing Heartworms in Your Pet: 

“Your veterinarian will select the correct drug and administration time based on your pet's condition,” says Ernest Ward, DVM. 

You can prevent your dog from getting heartworms by using a heartworm preventive. When a dog has been successfully treated for heartworms, it is essential to begin a heartworm prevention program to prevent future recurrence. With the safe and affordable heartworm preventives available today, no pet should ever have to endure this dreaded disease.” 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS-California is supposedly the nation’s green trailblazer, but it’s also the third largest oil-drilling state, with Los Angeles having more urban wells (over a thousand) than of any other U.S. city. (Photo above: Warren E & P drill site, smack in the middle of homes in Wilmington, South Los Angeles.) 

Five-million-plus Californians - the rich and not so rich - live within a mile of a well. It’s our dirty little backyard drilling secret. Only it’s not so secret anymore. 

The easy oil is long gone. What’s left gets extracted by highly-toxic and water-intensive well stimulation treatments (WST) - hydraulic fracturing or acidization.  An oil derrick in the backyard is one thing, but when hazmat-suited workers use large amounts of hydrofluoric acid to access out-of-reach oil deposits alongside homes, schools and hospitals, it’s time to worry. 

Residents living cheek-by-jowl with WST operations complain of nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, skin rashes and high rates of asthma. 

Last July the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) concluded the chemicals used in WST are hazardous and poorly understood. The council recommended establishing “science-based setbacks, or human health buffer zones to protect residents.” 

However, eight days before the CCST published its government-commissioned fourteen-hundred-page report, California state officials jumped the gun by proudly announcing the nation’s toughest (and first) fracking regulations (based solely on their own less exhaustive in-house impact assessment). 

Americans Against Fracking co-founder David Braun claims this timing overlap (and the fact the CCST disclosed other facts, such as serious water contamination risks from fracking because of California’s shallow aquifers) meant CCST’s report was intentionally buried by the special interest of Big Oil. 

For Braun and many environmentalists, the oil industry wields way too much political clout in the Golden State, spending an estimated $22 million annually lobbying legislators, including our illustrious green leader -- Governor Brown. 

As it turns out, while first-time-round 1970’s Governor Brown may have been the greenest Governor of them all, millennial Brown walks both sides of the fossil fuel divide. 

Yes, though our Governor can claim his “zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree” when it comes to reducing the state’s petroleum use, he’s extremely friendly to oil extraction and production.

It’s as if 77-year-old Brown operates in simultaneous parallel universes. This past December at the UN Paris Climate Change Conference COP21, there was eco-warrior Brown, describing in biblical proportions the catastrophes that will/are accompanying climate change -- plagues of beetles, powerful wildfires, mass exoduses of climate refugees. That Governor Brown exhorts other nations to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground.  

While back home the other Brown promotes fracking as the most efficient way to retrieve the states remaining oil. He’s also been loathe to regulate WST -- even when addressing the vital importance of water conservation in our drought-plagued state. 

For Braun, it boils down to the revenue stream big oil generates that helps balance California’s unwieldy budget, and pay for Governor Brown’s pet projects: The Delta twin-tunnels, and the state’s high-speed rail. 

But as Braun calls it, “If you’re a climate leader you don’t enable the worst climate polluters, that’s the bottom line.” 

A sentiment shared by fellow anti-fracking activist and actor, Mark Ruffalo. One of Ruffalo’s suggestions to deter oil production is “taxing oil extraction in California and using the money to transition to all-electric vehicles.” 

Such a tax would’ve worked nicely with the part of SB 350 that aimed to halve California’s gasoline use by 2030. It was the most ambitious renewable energy increase for the state so far. However heavy resistance from oil companies meant Brown lacked enough support even inside his own party, and the gasoline reduction part of the bill was defeated last October. 

Speaking at Pepperdine University in Malibu last month, leading U.S climate change activist, Bill McKibben, says when it comes to getting the world off fossil fuels “the resource that matters most is political will.” 

It’s the lack of a consolidated political movement that allows fracking and acidizing to continue unabated in California, according to Ruffalo. He believes when Californians rise up and declare enough is enough, it will embolden our Governor to say no to the oil industry. 

And any day now would not be a moment too soon. 

McKibben warns while human beings cope best with the kind of incremental change California is using to adapt to climate change, at the rate our planet is warming there’s no time for anything but a rapid and drastic shift from fossil fuels. 

Spelling it out, McKibben says it would take 400 Hiroshima bombs dropping daily to melt the Arctic ice-sheet as fast as it’s currently melting. 

Brown and McKibben talk the same big-apocalyptic-climate-change talk, we just need to push our Governor to start urgently walking the walk.

 

(Belinda Waymouth Environmental journalist and advocate, UCLA geography/environmental studies graduate, mother and surfer. This perspective was first posted at HuffingtonPost.com. )

CITY HALL--“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth.” Carl Sagan … meet LA City Councilman Paul Koretz. 

My last CityWatch article, “No Kill: LA’s Big Lie,” discussed Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent charade that LA Animal Services, the city’s shelter system, is approaching “No Kill” status. By any standard, including its own, the City kills thousands of healthy, happy and highly adoptable animals, thousands more that just need a little TLC, and doesn’t know what has become of scores of animals it dumped on other high kill cities. 

Garcetti and his minions deny the killing by attempting to redefine death. Measured as ever, he responded with telling silence. 

So I struck up an email conversation with Councilman Paul Koretz, whose decades-long career promising help for animals has delivered none.

His ban on elephant torture devices known as bull hooks started as a promise to ban circuses which exploit animals, then just those that exploit elephants, then all elephant torture devices, then just bull hooks. What we got – a ban on bull hooks that still doesn’t take effect until next year – was an impotent piece of nothingness, since the circus beat Koretz to the punch by stopping its elephant exploitation altogether by retiring them to a sanctuary last week.

When you are slower to help animals than the circus itself, you have failed. Even severely abused Peruvian circus lions were sent to a sanctuary in South Africa last month, but are still exploited at Staples Center, down the street from Koretz’s and Garcetti’s offices in LA City Hall. 

Koretz, whose committee oversees LA Animal Services, has turned a deaf ear to LA’s irrelevant spay/neuter law, and misuses public meeting rules to prevent issues from being heard before a large, televised audience watching City Council meetings. Case in point: a filthy tire repair business in Van Nuys has the city’s blessing to breed pit bulls and Chihuahuas … the two types of dogs LAAS kills the most. Years after it was brought to his and Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s attention, the problem festers and cannot be discussed during scheduled agenda items. 

Koretz agreed to field my questions but ultimately addressed only one of them. Here’s question #9: 

“A recent CityWatchLA article explained LAAS unwillingness to pick up stray and injured animals due to its negative impact on the city's "live release" rate, a statistic that is widely rejected by humane advocates because it doesn't take into consideration an array of qualitative factors. Is it actually LA's policy to no longer pick up strays or injured animals?” 

And here is the discussion that followed: 

Paul Koretz: “I have asked and have been told that is not true. When I have spoken to [LAAS GM] Brenda Barnette, (photo above with Koretz) I have not been told that we are leaving strays on the street to improve our live save rate.” 

In a separate email, I sent Koretz Barnette’s own published statement: 

Daniel Guss: “Please see Page 4 at the top. "Also, everyone needs to remember that if we’re successful at rounding up all the strays, it will place more crowding pressure on our shelters, rescuers and everyone else working to increase the live save rate." How do you compare this to what you say Brenda said to you in response to your question?” 

PK: “Did she really say that? When and in what context?” 

DG: “It is her document. It is dated (6/25/15).  In response to the protests. Her chosen words.” 

A day later, Koretz responded: 

PK: “Despite Brenda's quote, which she acknowledges but says it is out of context, LAAS is not avoiding picking up strays to artificially keep down the live save rate. They are picked up when seen, they respond to complaints, they patrol for them in problem areas, but we just don't have the resources to find and pick up every stray. And no other city anywhere picks up all their strays. 

So that is the response, and I have no reason to believe it is not credible. Although I wouldn't mind adding resources to find more strays in areas where stray dogs are still running in packs.” 

DG: “She took HERSELF out of context? I asked you about that exact verbatim quote. You indicated you asked her about it and denied it was happening. Where was the context lost and by whom?”

Over the weekend, Koretz responded with (depending on your level of cynicism) a semi-non-sequitur that either hedges, is a red herring or simply demonstrates his detachment from issues related to life, death and suffering. Question #9, like all the others, remained unanswered. 

PK: “Not defending. Just paraphrasing her response as I recall it.” 

And that was that -- with no further explanation from Koretz on this or any other question. He was duped again but chooses to rationalize and embrace the bamboozle.

Again, I refer you to Carl Sagan … “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.”

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who lives in Los Angeles, and blogs on humane issues at www.ericgarcetti.blogspot.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PEOPLE POWER--The Los Angeles Superior Court ruled the City of Los Angeles violated the rights of LA residents by denying their right to due process in a dispute over the City's Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. The court also ruled the City ordinance governing appeals of subdivision tract maps is preempted by state law, which guarantees an aggrieved third-party’s right to be heard by the City Council. The case, Saunders et al., v. City of Los Angeles, et al., (L.A.S.C., Case No. BS154147), Notice of Entry of Judgment is attached.  

The lawsuit against the city was brought by the La Brea-Willoughby Coalition (“Coalition”), a group of community activists who reside in the Hollywood enclave referred to as La Brea-Willoughby. The court ruled the Coalition was denied the right to due process when the City twice refused to allow an appeal of an approved small lot subdivision project. 

The case arose from the Coalition's appeal of a small lot subdivision that had been approved by the City's Planning Department in the La Brea-Willoughby neighborhood – an area that consists of historical one and two-story affordable single family homes and garden apartments on regular sized lots. The developer of the subdivision, Jacob Cohen, purchased one of these garden apartment buildings regulated under Los Angeles' rent stabilization ordinance. He then proceeded to evict all the tenants. Cohen applied to the City Planning Department to subdivide the parcel into five separate small lots, pursuant to the City's Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance. The City's Planning Department approved the developer's application in violation of zoning and planning laws. 

The Coalition challenged the developer's proposed project, but the Planning Department approved it anyway. The Coalition then complied with all filing requirements, filing an appeal to the Central Area Planning Commission (CPC). As the matter was not scheduled with the CPC, that appeal was summarily denied without a hearing or decision by the Commission itself. The City’s reason for denying the Coalition's appeal? A provision of the Los Angeles Municipal Code which allows the Planning Commission to deny the Coalition's appeal outright if the  Commission did not hold a hearing on the matter within thirty days.

The Coalition then appealed to the City Council. Again, the Coalition complied with the City’s appeal requirements. And again, the City summarily denied the appeal without the City Council ever hearing or considering it. The reasoning: the City Planning Department staff failed to transmit the appeal to the City Council for a hearing within thirty days

Frustrated and dismayed, the Coalition retained Venskus and Associates, an environmental advocacy law firm, to file an action in Los Angeles Superior Court to challenge the City's denials of the appeals. 

After considerable briefing and a bench trial, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the City of Los Angeles violated the members’ right to due process because the City's Planning Commission and then the City Council failed to consider the appeals and instead, summarily denied them without a hearing. The Court also held that Los Angeles Municipal Code sections 17.06(A)(4) and (A)(5), which the City used to justify the denial of appeals, unlawfully conflicted with the California state Subdivision Map Act. 

Under the Court's ruling, the Planning Commission and City Council must now hear and consider community members’ timely appeals of subdivision development approvals. 

We heard of other community advocates' appeals being denied by the City for similar reasons, so we knew we had to take this opportunity to challenge this despicable behavior by the City in court. Attorney Venskus explained, "We are very pleased that because of this judgment, the City is now stopped from violating others' due process rights to have their subdivision approval appeals heard by the Planning Commission and City Council."

 

(Lucille Saunders is President of the LaBrea-Willoughby Coalition community advocacy association and a longtime activist involved in neighborhood and city issues. She welcomes questions and comments at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 GUEST COMMENTARY--As Metro considers a potential transportation sales tax for the ballot in November 2016,  jurisdictions such as the City of Los Angeles will see what’s called “local return” funds with this new possible revenue.  Right now the draft plan proposes 16% of the potential Metro Measure go back to cities and unincorporated areas of the County.  So far, there are no policy requirements how jurisdictions spend this local return, so each city and the unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County will make these policy decisions.

What is local return? They are funds allocated and distributed monthly to jurisdictions on a “per capita” basis by Metro. The City of Los Angeles, given its size, receives the biggest local return in the County, many estimate that this has the potential to be $4 billion in transportation funds for the City of Los Angeles if the Metro sales tax is successful.

City of Los Angeles: LA is beginning discussions on how to use these new transportation dollars if Metro’s transportation sales tax is successful. There are already two motions introduced by Councilmembers on how to potentially use these funds (Motion 1, It is likely that these will begin to be discussed on Wednesday May 25th at the City of LA’s  Transportation Committee.

Join us on Thursday 5/12 at 2pm for a conference call/webinar to discuss this opportunity in the City of Los Angeles. Kindly email John Guevarra at [email protected] for registration and a calendar invite. 

Investing in Place was dismayed to see the Los Angeles Times op-ed from Council Member Joe Buscaino advocating that we focus only on potholes with these funds. So far there is no mention of a strategic vision for these funds, as well as an issue important to us — of funding/accelerating the fixing of the City’s over 11,000 miles of broken sidewalks with these public dollars. Let’s change this.

Investing in Place supports fixing potholes, but we’d like to see a more strategic, data informed approach base on needs/outcomes and community input. 

Investing in Place supports prioritizing fixing broken sidewalks, improving the safety of crosswalks, addressing the backlog of bus stops in need of investments, and the implementation of existing plans (Mobility 2035, Vision Zero, Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan and more) brought into this important policy and funding conversation.

It is critical that the City of Los Angeles take a thoughtful and inclusive approach with the potential $4 billion in new transportation funds to address improving our communities and all the ways we travel on our streets and sidewalks.  After all, do we want $120 billion in transportation taxes and still have broken #lasidewalks and crosswalks?  We sure don’t.

(Jessica blogs at Investing In Place … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

 

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--On May 20th, history will be made in Los Angeles with the opening of the second phase of the Expo Line from Culver City to Santa Monica.  In theory, this line, dubbed the "Aqua Line" by those who advocated for it, is one of the greatest victories of grassroots activism in our modern era ... but while Metro deserves kudos for keeping close to the grassroots, it has the potential to be undermined by the same forces that made LA County such a traffic-laden hellhole in the first place. 

First things first: I am truly honored to have been part of the Friends4Expo Transit (F4ET) team, and in its innermost circle, for the decade or so (2000-2012) I fought for it.  Yes, there were battles beyond that, but the big decisions were in our collective rear-view mirror but that time, and the Expo Line was a fait accompli.  Being part of grassroots activism like F4ET will be one of my life's most cherished efforts. 

And to people like Darrell Clarke, Russ Davies, Kathy and Jim Seal, Julia Maher, Faith and Pressley Burroughs, Bart Reed, Jonathan Weiss, Karen Leonard, Sarah Hayes, Annette Mercer, and a host of others who "jumped on board" that train to connecting Downtown to the Mid-City to the Westside, it really WAS a "Friends" movement--it's doubtful they'll ever get the credit for the sacrifices and slander they encountered along the way. 

We all meant well, and wanted an extra option to the I-10 freeway traffic and wanted to bring the different geographic, socioeconomic, and ethnic regions between the Downtown and the beach together.  I'll go out on a limb and suggest that we either played a role, and/or were the result of, improving racial and socioeconomic relations after the LA riots of 1992 which was a huge factor in shutting down the Wilshire Subway effort. 

What we did NOT expect (well, maybe we should have expected it), was the stubborn and entrenched (but very empowered ... WAY too empowered) minority of individuals who had a lot to gain with respect to their egos and political status by fighting the line for racial reasons ... and speaking ONLY for myself, I was appalled to see both black and white "community leaders" use the race card to fight this line. 

By and large, most everyone--black, white, Latino, and Asian--saw this line as a no-brainer.  The I-10 freeway is horrible, and people need another option.  End of story. 

Unfortunately, and in part thanks to the host of legal and community efforts to stop this line, and in particular to place this line underground everywhere from USC to Dorsey High School to Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park, it's now a lot slower than it could have been had those fighting (and really misleading their neighbors!) the line figured out that: 

1) This is a line that has a cap on ridership because it shares the tracks with the Blue Line in the Downtown area, so only so many trains each day could run on it. 

2) If a grade separation was needed, and the choice was between a $30-$40 million bridge, a $300 million underground tunnel, or at street level, then DEMANDING the tunnel would inevitably lead to a street level solution. 

Oh well, so it'll be 50 minutes from one end to the other, but not everyone goes that far, and it's almost certain that there will be signal modifications and operational modifications along the way to make it faster--and during rush hour, it's by far better than the I-10 ... at least with respect to traffic.

Other issues to be fixed include insufficient parking and an imbalance to bikes and "alternative transportation" that really hurts car commuters (who want to access the line, and/or access the pedestrian venues nearby), as well as an overdevelopment craze that treats this limited light rail line as if it were the Wilshire Subway. 

The Expo Line is a light rail line that will carry 80,000-100,000 riders a day, while the Wilshire Subway is meant to carry 300,00 or more riders a day.  For the City of LA to re-zone Pico Blvd. on the Westside, or anywhere else along the line, the way it is trying very very hard to do, and in a manner against the wishes of the grassroots activists who fought the line, truly undoes the good will that Metro and the grassroots have worked so hard to fight. 

So whither Los Angeles mass transit?  Will the Crenshaw/LAX Line be a success story about redeveloping Crenshaw Blvd. and allowing a Mid-City to Westside to South Bay line to develop?  Will the political leaders highlight this line as the first step to both a LAX link as well as a "Phase 1" that cries out for both a "Phase 2" to the north and a "Phase 3" to Downtown as we see with the Expo Line. 

Mass transit is, indeed, in transit in the City and County of Los Angeles, and for it to succeed in the 21st Century it will ... as with the Expo Line ... need to listen to the grassroots. 

After all, it is the grassroots and taxpayers that are being asked to pay for it, right?

 

(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

WORKERS RIGHTS-After the triumphant 2014 passage of Los Angeles’ $15.37 hourly minimum wage ordinance for city hotel workers, there came a moment of puzzlement for many at City Hall and elsewhere. Why was LA’s large hospitality union asking that some of its members be paid less than the promised wage? 

Was this, as some suggested, a cynical deal to make a union shop more attractive to employers by making sure union workers got paid less than non-union employees? 

This issue, as one person close to the situation said on condition of anonymity, “is a complex and challenging one.” The basic problem, however, seems to be the inability of many to understand the diverse needs and desires of working people, and the fact that some benefits may mean more to them than a fatter pay envelope would, if it excluded those benefits. 

A recent Los Angeles Times article just about editorialized on the subject, referring to “a series of loopholes that cut union workers out of the very pay increases their leaders have championed.”

The article quoted two bellmen and a waitress at the Sheraton Universal, a hotel represented by UNITE HERE Local 11, complaining that it was unfair they only collected the current state minimum of $10 an hour in salary, while a nearby non-union hotel would pay $15.37 an hour. Both these positions garner very substantial tips or service charges in addition to the hourly wage, however, making them some of the best compensated of all hotel workers, although the base pay rate for tipped employees is $10 an hour. As it happens, UNITE HERE has compelled management to agree to return all tips to workers, instead of holding on to some of them, as hotels once did. 

What gets left out of the complaint here, however, is how the wage and benefits package is determined. It isn’t, in fact, imposed by “union bosses” on the workers; as UNITE HERE spokeswoman Daria Ovide points out, the wage agreements are negotiated by the workers themselves, through their representatives. “I don’t think any union workers get paid less overall than a non-union worker does,” said Ovide. “There is a mosaic of benefits that non-union workers simply do not get. For instance, $7.50 an hour for full-family medical benefits alone. Pension benefits, legal benefits, training benefits for people who are laid off when hotels close to renovate. Add these up to the [$10 minimum] hourly wage and you just get more [than $15.37 an hour.]” 

Ana Hernandez, a UNITE HERE shop steward who works as a telephone operator at the Sheraton Universal, pointed out that the union contract also brings work condition benefits, unavailable to non-union workers, something that is hard to put a dollar value on. She said: “We deal with a lot of hotel issues.” For instance, “union housekeepers do about 14 rooms a shift. Non-union housekeepers do as many as 30.” (A hotel employer spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.) 

Union officials agree that, because of the nature of their earnings, union workers who get tipped don’t always get paid as much per hour as union workers who work in areas where there is no tipping. This results from the negotiation process between the workers and management, that also tries to make union workers’ “total compensation” equitable. The agreed-upon contract, of course, is then voted on by the union rank and file. 

“It’s called majority rule,” said Local 11 President Tom Walsh. He observed that it doesn’t always satisfy everyone. He contended the idea that his union would take a lower salary simply to make unionization more appealing to management is absurd. There certainly hasn’t been a rush of invitations from management inviting UNITE HERE to organize non-union hotels, because their managers understand that even with a lower starting wage, union agreements cost them more. 

Another union official, who asked not to be identified, noted: “Employers don’t pick unions, workers do. Not everyone needs the same benefits package. Undocumented people may need health care the most. Others need more sick days. People in sight of retirement want pension benefits. They don’t always care what form their earnings come in.” 

He added, “They’re calling this a sweetheart deal. But unions couldn’t go on representing workers if they got them a $13 wage with no benefits when there was a $15 wage on the books.” 

Walsh noted that the lower starting salary is not set in stone. “We’re going to fight harder for more money the next time we negotiate.”

 

(Marc Haefele is a commentator on KPCC’s Off Ramp program and has written for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-All over the city, developers are using pretty unscrupulous measures to remove residents from their homes under the pretext of building affordable housing. Throughout Los Angeles, disgruntled activists have been organizing to fight back, collecting signatures for recall petitions and to add initiatives to the ballot. If developers want to change the face of the city, they’ll face some angry voices. 

Perhaps one of the most creative approaches come from Silverlake artist Anne Hars. Through her “UpHouse Balloon Project,” she places bouquets of balloons to mark homes slated for demolition to make way for new luxury housing. 

Anne has launched a Go Fund Me page last month to finance even more balloon bouquets. “The balloon project seeks to ask people to consider the meaning of home and community, the value of our labors, and if we are going to be a caring city – a city of angels, or a city that rewards developers profiteering off homelessness and the housing crisis,” she says. “With your help, I can balloon more threatened rent stabilized homes across Los Angeles and help draw attention to the loss of affordable homes in L.A.” 

Inspired by the Pixar film “Up,” Hars has been installing balloon bouquets on “small-lot plots throughout the areas west of downtown, which are prime for gentrification by over-zealous developers. Many of the small lot plots where Hars places her balloon installations often contain rent-stablized cottages, typically occupied by low income households. 

Developers evict tenants to make way for larger, high density luxury housing developments, which has motivated Anne to do something. She says evicting as many as 64 or more tenants adds to the growing population of Los Angeles homeless, as the tenants aren’t able to afford most of the rents in LA. 

So far, local neighborhood groups have been helping the artist affix balloon bouquets to dozens of homes slated for demolition. 

The areas hit by this new wave of gentrification include Chinatown, Silverlake and Echo Park, where housing values are on the rise while median household wages are stagnant, well below the national average. Many lower-income families can’t afford to pay market value rents; they depend on rent control. Cities with separate municipal governments like Santa Monica or Long Beach have strict rules limiting evictions and new developments but Los Angeles does not. 

The latest area hit by development fever is an original 1934 property in Valley Village and the fate of the property is in the hands of The Cultural Heritage Commission. If the property is not designated as historic, it will be demolished to build a three-story condo, resulting in the destruction of 80-year old trees, as well as the last piece of history on the block. 

The 1934 property is a hub of community education and urban farming. On the other side of the equation sits Urban-Blox, a boutique firm that “works with a select roster of notable architects to develop urban infill properties…dedicated to seeing value where others do not, which often involves re-imagining and redeveloping properties towards new uses, density, or end users,” per the firm’s website. 

If the historical designation is denied, more than 28 small lot houses will be demolished, along with three dozen mature trees -- every square inch of open space. A public street will be vacated and tenants will be evicted from rent-control buildings. The property is across the street from the Dougherty House, which was razed just three days before the property was to be considered as a city Historical Cultural monument. The pair of single story houses that were demolished included a front home built during World War II and the back home believed to have been an early-century gabled farm house and the former home of a young Norma Jean Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe. 

Like the Dougherty House, the 1934 lot has already been approved for demolition by, yes, you guessed it, Councilmember Paul Krekorian. Currently, residents are in litigation with the property owners over title. Although the property hasn’t yet been sold, plans to develop it are already underway. 

The cozy relationships council members have with developers seems to be behind the wave of gentrification. While the buzzword “affordable housing” is tossed around, tenants are evicted from what was affordable housing to pave the way for McMansions and costly condos. As land values continue to rise in certain neighborhoods, long time tenants are being forced out, hardly helping LA’s affordable housing crisis. 

In the meantime, Anne Hars continues to do her part to make Angelenos aware. Local groups throughout the city contact her with new sites. There are 25 sites on her ever-growing list. She believes developers are “war profiteers.” 

Hars is raising funds through Go Fund Me. For donations ranging from $10 for a Little Bag of Balloons to $65 for a Big Bouquet, Anne will be able to balloon off threatened properties. 

For more information, visit her Go Fund Me site

 

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

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' request by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the lessee of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, for a special event called AngelFest scheduled for October 7-9, 2016 has been delayed until 2017. The event will be “a three-day commercial family-friendly music, food, and cultural event with maximum attendance of 65,000 people per day (including approximately 1,200 workers). 

The event is developed and managed by the Make Good Group and designed to have a cross-generational and multicultural feel highlighting the unique contributions the City of Los Angeles makes to the world.” Tickets for the event are proposed to cost approximately $295 for the three days, with a portion of every ticket sold donated to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation to improve the recreational amenities within the Basin. 

During the event, five performance stages and other additional festival areas, including concessions, would be open to ticketholders at the northeast portion of the Basin including Woodley Park (I and II), the cricket fields, the archery range, the Japanese Garden, and the northern developed part of the Wildlife Area (known as Woodley III). The AngelFest is planned to end at each day by 9:45 p.m. 

After the Environmental Assessment (EA) was prepared, the Corps concluded that the project was in “compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and all applicable environmental laws and regulations. The Corps determined that the impacts resulting from the implementation of the two action alternatives evaluated in this EA would not have a significant impact upon the existing environment or the quality of the human environment; therefore, preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement is not required. This finding generated an immediate, and negative response from environmental groups. The Festival has now been rescheduled until 2017, but still remains a major source of concern to Valley residents. 

The primary purpose of the Basin “is to provide flood risk management for the residents of Los Angeles County residing downstream of Sepulveda Dam.” The Basin venue is ill equipped to handle large City-wide “entertainment” functions, concerts, outdoor spectaculars, etc. These activities interfere with the Basin’s natural habitat and negatively impact its ecosystem and environmental sustainability. The Basin is unique in that it is a flood basin, not an ordinary park. Musical festivals are incompatible with the intended purpose of the Basin.  

The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society is opposed to this event. It has expressed concerns that “Woodley commons is a deceptively complex, mostly self-contained ecosystem. Erecting a security barrier around its Wildlife Reserve during a huge event with loud music, bright lights and pyrotechnic displays does next to nothing to protect that ecosystem. From the pocket gophers that feed raptors, herons and owls to the insects and plants that feed resident and migrant bird populations, the entire park weaves a web of support that is robust yet fragile. Birds and other wildlife in the park have taken decades to acclimatize to freeway noise and airplane overflights — but five music stages blaring …, 65,000 people tramping around daily, plus all the trucks, structures, cables, generators, porta-potties and untold other hardware needed for this project, will tear the fabric of that web in ways that will in some cases be felt for years, or forever.”           

The obvious environmental destruction clearly offsets the economic benefits gained. The Basin should be restricted to low density recreational uses that do not impact the natural ecosystem of the Basin. The comment period still remains open from April 12, 2016 to May 27, 2016. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on May 27th. Direct comments to: [email protected]. Contact Deborah Lamb, [email protected] or at (213) 452-3798 for information. Documents may be viewed at this Army Corps of Engineers website.      

 

(Gerald A. Silver is President of Homeowners of Encino. He served on the Citizens Advisory Committee that helped craft the Ventura Blvd. Specific Plan. He can be reached at l[email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Carol Emig who is president of Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization and Arturo Vargas, the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, have found that the 2010 Census missed some 400,000 young Latino children — the equivalent of more than half a congressional district. The data — a comparison of census records with county birth, death and immigration records — indicate that the 2010 undercount rate for young Latinos was 7.1%, compared to 4.3% for non-Latinos. The shortfall was pronounced in specific counties in five states: California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and New York. 

California accounted for more than a quarter of young Latino children who were not counted. An estimated 47,000 Latino children under age 5 were missed in Los Angeles County alone, by far the biggest undercount of any county in the United States. 

According to an Op-Ed that Emig and Vargas wrote in the Los Angeles Times this past Sunday, U.S. Census Bureau data are used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds to states and counties for transportation, public health, early childhood programs and other essential services. And young Latino children — who represent one-quarter of all U.S. children under 5, and whose numbers are growing — need these services most of all, since nearly two-thirds of them live in or near poverty. The census count also determines each state's congressional representation. An accurate census is essential to the fair distribution of national resources and to the very life of our democracy. 

They explained that many California families struggle to afford child care in a state where the average annual cost of center-based infant care was $11,600 in 2013 (the latest year available.) That's more than 40% of the median income for single-parent families. 

The federal Child Care and Development Block Grant allocates funds to help states subsidize child care for low-income families. How is the amount of the block grant determined? By the census count of children under age 5. 

In California's case, the thousands of missing Latino children means that every year, California received less than its fair share of Child Care and Development Block Grant funds. This is why it’s so important to have an accurate count. 

The Census Bureau does an important job of counting the country's residents every 10 years and paints a generally accurate picture of the total population. The next census, in 2020, will be the first to count people online, but technology alone can't fix the particular undercount of Latino children.

I think we can all agree with Emig and Vargas when they argue that undoing the Census' Latino undercount requires quick action — the 2020 census is around the corner — as well as adequate funding for research and education from Congress and private groups. It isn't only a matter of helping one group of children and their families. 

When Latino children are undercounted, they are shortchanged, but so is every other U.S. resident. The undercount can be remedied in time for the next census, if we act now. Hopefully by the next five Cinqo de Mayos everyone will be in the books.

 

(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]) Photo: LA Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

VOX POP--As a mayoral candidate in 2012, Eric Garcetti boasted that Hollywood’s high-end development had “become a template for a new Los Angeles.” With those words, LA Weekly looked into what that template would look like for the rest of the city. The paper’s findings were startling, especially for working- and middle-class folks.

In 2013, with an investigative report titled “Hollywood’s Urban Cleansing,” the Weekly found that between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13,000 Latinos were driven out of Hollywood and East Hollywood. As a longtime City Councilman, Eric Garcetti represented these neighborhoods, and experts and activists blamed the exodus on luxury overdevelopment, which spurred eye-popping gentrification. Residents and experts decried the city’s planning policies, which Garcetti and other City Council members largely shape, that dramatically altered affordable communities forever. The Weekly wrote:

Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor in the March 5 primary and has for 12 years avidly led the urban renewal in Hollywood, won’t discuss the census data, the outflow of Latinos or the area’s net population loss, none of which were foreseen by his office. But Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ rights advocacy group, says, “It was an economic tsunami that pushed low-income people out. There was massive displacement.”

 Representing more than 8 percent of Hollywood and East Hollywood’s population, the exodus of nearly 13,000 mostly Latinos is believed to be the largest mass departure from an LA neighborhood since “black flight,” between 1980 and 1990. In that demographic upheaval, 50,000 residents fled the violence and shattered neighborhoods of South Central and South Los Angeles.

 Garcetti and other LA politicians have insisted that growth is as inevitable as summer tourists, and that City Hall is merely facilitating Hollywood’s unavoidable, denser future with smart planning. But census data and the stories of those who have fled suggest that city planners and political leaders are facilitating what some criticize as the urban cleansing of Hollywood.

 Father Michael Mandala, who was pastor at the landmark Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Sunset Boulevard from 1998 to 2011, repeatedly saw landlords drive out Latino families of three or four in order to rent the same space to one or two white tenants. “I’m wondering if the policymakers are on the mark with fixing Hollywood,” Mandala says, “or are they clearing out what they don’t want?”

What happened in Hollywood is remarkably similar to what’s happening today in other LA neighborhoods, such as Koreatown and Westlake. It begs a simple question: Is this the kind of citywide template that Angelenos want? 

Further, Hollywood activists believed developers, who have given millions to L.A. politicians in campaign contributions, were receiving big favors while citizens were getting screwed over — the same complaint uttered today by residents in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. The Weekly reported:

Brad Torgan, an attorney at The Silverstein Law Firm, which represents one of the groups, describes the Hollywood Community Plan as Garcetti’s personal “vision for Hollywood — good and bad.” But, Torgan says, “There’s a perception that the plan was created for the development community at the expense of the residents.”

Experts were clearly disturbed by City Hall’s hard push to help out their deep-pocketed developer pals. The paper wrote:

Dowell Myers, a demographer and urban planning professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, says L.A. political leaders and planners have already gone too far to draw a high-end crowd to Hollywood. “We don’t need more condos,” he says. “We need more rentals. Rentals are where you house lower-income and poor people.”

 Dennis Frenchman, a well-regarded professor of urban design and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a similar message for Los Angeles’ leaders: “Diversity is the key to long-term sustainability. … Density without diversity makes things worse.”

Former Hollywood resident Mercedes Cortes, who was pushed out of her home, asked a question that still remains relevant today — and one that City Hall leaders have shown no signs of considering when trying to carry out a new template for a denser, more high-end Los Angeles filled with luxury housing mega-projects.

As if talking directly to Garcetti, the grandmother and retired house cleaner [Mercedes Cortes] delivers up one of [her] complaints, still unanswered after all these years: “When they start to build something, why does the middle class have to suffer for that?”

With our community-based movement, however, citizens across L.A. are standing up and speaking out. We are no longer allowing City Hall to easily get away with their secret deals and bad planning policies that dramatically impact millions of hard-working Angelenos. Read more of the Weekly article, and you’ll know why our cause and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative 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 FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at [email protected]

Together, we can create the change that LA needs!

BIZ WATCH--The attention-grabbing tiff between California Governor Jerry Brown and Florida Governor Rick Scott over the latter’s business-snatching safari to the Golden State highlighted a week of the state’s constant struggle to stay on top of business recruitment. The scorecard was mixed with news highlights of one business coming, one leaving and, watching with regret, one that got away.

California can improve the score if it keeps business burdens in mind. More on that later.

But first, the positive.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) announced that medical device company Cerebain Biotech was moving headquarters from Dallas, Texas to Costa Mesa. GO-Biz’s announcement crowed about California’s dominance in the biotech field with 2848 companies directly employing 281,000 people. California, home to so many innovative companies, is hosting the annual biotech convention in San Francisco in June.

On the other side of the balance sheet, Jumba Juice announced it was moving its national headquarters from Emeryville to Frisco, Texas outside of Dallas. The company noted that less expensive living and operating costs were major reasons behind the move.

Win one, lose one in the business tug-of-war with Texas.

As far as that rhetorical battle with Florida, pretty much a wash as well. Governor Brown pushed back at Florida. He said job creation success in California is far superior than that in Florida with California creating twice as many jobs as Florida over the past year.

True as far as it goes. But since Florida’s population is about half California’s, Florida actually had a slightly faster jobs growth rate. The fact checking site PolitiFact put the issue in context this way: “Brown’s claim is close on the raw numbers. But it leaves out the important context that California is a much larger state that needs to add more jobs to keep its millions more people employed.”

On the other hand, PolitiFact dismissed Gov. Scott’s argument that California would lose 700,000 jobs because of the new minimum wage increase law.

All the while this activity was going on, across the state line in Nevada, the enormous Tesla battery gigafactory is going up. Bloomberg News had an updated report on the giant factory.

A couple of years ago, there were a number of articles on this site supporting California’s attempt to capture the factory designed to build batteries for the Tesla car company, which is headquartered in California.

Ironically, in this period of prominent discussion of building walls, I began my article about the Golden States’ failure to win the factory this way: “Maybe we should build a fence around California not to keep people out but to keep businesses in now that the Tesla decided that the battery gigafactory would set up shop across the border in Nevada.”

The gigafactory represented the latest technology and possibly 6500 jobs, so it was a big loss to California and its quest for capturing businesses that produce innovative and cutting edge technology.

What to make of all this? That California is in a constant competition with other states over business placements and job creation. To stay competitive, state legislators and regulators have to consider businesses’ bottom line costs, which seem to grow simply because of state imposed mandates, regulations and taxes.

While legislators congratulate themselves for passing bills to improve the human condition, they should remember that successful businesses are the essential element for improving people’s lives. Legislators must consider ways to offset the growing costs they mandate on business so that businesses remain in California, are built in California and create more jobs.

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

 

WHAT’S THE ISSUE? Metro thinks you should cough up another half cent in sales tax to help provide for $120 Billion worth of transit projects. That’s what Metro thinks. CityWatch wants to know what you think … it will take you less than 30 seconds. If you feel you don’t know enough about this ballot measure, Steve Hymon over at The Source sums it up for you below the LA Pulse Poll.

If the election were today, would you support a ½ Cent Sales Tax increase to pay for $120 Billion worth of transit projects over the next five years?

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STEVE HYMON AT THE SOURCE-A long list of transit projects, road improvements and commuting options could be built over the next five decades under a $120-plus billion spending plan Metro released for a potential November sales tax ballot measure. Here’s the link to a PDF of the report and attachments on metro.net. 

The spending plan would also devote billions of dollars to pedestrian and cycling projects, commuter rail, transit operations and programs to keep the Metro transit system in a state of good repair. The plan, too, would return billions to local cities — money those cities could spend on their own local transportation projects and transit services.

The big theme here in one sentence: we’ve come a long way in building a modern transportation system in Los Angeles County but we still have work to do.

Many transformative projects are part of the plan. If the ballot measure goes to voters and is approved, the sales tax would begin in mid-2017 and target the following highway and transit projects to be completed in the plan’s first 15 years:

Transit projects (first 15 years) 

  • Construction of an expansive rail station/transit center where Crenshaw/LAX Line riders will transfer to a people mover (which LAX is planning to build) that will serve LAX terminals.
  • The Purple Line Extension subway to Westwood (a decade earlier than currently planned).
  • A potential rail line or bus rapid transit project on Van Nuys Boulevard north of the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
  • A new ExpressLane and bus service along the 405 spanning the Sepulveda Pass. A second phase of the project would add a potential underground rail line between the Orange Line and Purple Line. A third phase would extend the project from the Purple Line to the LAX area.
  • Grade separations and improvements for the Orange Line busway in preparation for a mid-century conversion to light rail.
  • A potential light rail line between Artesia and the Green Line in South Gate. A second phase in the 2030s would extend this new line from the Green Line to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
  • A bus rapid transit project on Vermont Avenue between Hollywood and 120th Street, which includes the stretch of Vermont between the Red/Purple Line and the Expo Line.
  • An extension of the Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont.
  • Bus rapid transit between the Orange Line and Red Line in North Hollywood and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

Highway projects (first 15 years)

  • Purchase of right-of-way for the High Desert Corridor, a potential new freeway, energy and high-speed rail corridor between the 14 freeway and State Route 18 in San Bernardino County.
  • A project on the 710 South between the ports and the 60 freeway to improve congestion, ease truck traffic and improve the movement of freight. It will be built in two phases, with the second phase in the next 15 years of the spending plan.
  • New lanes for the 71 freeway in Pomona between Interstate 10 and Rio Rancho Road.
  • ExpressLanes on the 105 freeway between the 405 and 605.
  • A new carpool lane and truck lane in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Lake Hughes Road in the Santa Clarita area.
  • SR 57/SR 60 interchange improvements.

An active transportation project in the first 15 years is completing the Los Angeles River bike path between downtown Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley.

Other projects to be built in the second 15 years of the plan: an extension of the Green Line to Torrance; an extension of the Eastside Gold Line to South El Monte or Whittier (the other branch could be built later as an option to accompany an additional 10 year extension of the tax); direct HOV connectors for the 60/105 and 405/110 interchanges; new auxiliary lanes and ramp improvements on the 405 in the South Bay, and; an extension of the 110 ExpressLanes to the 405.

Projects in the final 10 years of the plan: a potential northern extension of the Crenshaw Line to the Purple Line, West Hollywood and Hollywood; bus rapid transit on Lincoln Boulevard, and; an extension of the Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink Station.   

The full list of projects can be found in Attachment A of the report posted above. A description of the major projects is in Attachment H.

Please keep in mind these projects are on top of the three under construction (Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega and Regional Connector) and the one that is about to open, the Expo Line to Santa Monica (May 20).

The potential ballot measure would ask voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a half-cent for 40 years and to continue an existing half-cent sales tax (Measure R) for 18 years. The staff report will also provide the Board with scenarios for taxes running longer than 40 years.

The Metro Board of Directors will decide at their meeting next Thursday whether to formally release the draft plan to the public and begin a public review and input period. If the Board releases the plan, Metro would hold community meetings and Telephone Town Halls across the county this spring.

Another point of emphasis: This is a draft plan for public review. It could change. The Metro Board will have the final say on the spending plan and whether to put a ballot measure before county voters. That decision is scheduled to be made at the Board meeting on June 23.

Why do I use the word ‘potential’ when discussing some of the above projects? Because Metro still must complete environmental studies for those projects. The spending plan seeks to provide enough funds for more expensive alternatives that were not previously fully funded.

The spending plan for the potential ballot measure is based on input from stakeholders across Los Angeles County. Metro staff selected projects to be funded and the order in which they would be built based on wide-ranging criteria. Among them: improving travel times, increasing safety, providing better access to transit for those most dependent on it, reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change and creating and maintaining local jobs.

Something else that is crucially important to understand: having local funds is the key to building anything these days. Local dollars attract state and federal dollars. That’s how things get built in the 21st century. Example: Metro used local funds to help secure nearly $1.9 billion to help build the Regional Connector project and the first segment of the Purple Line Extension.

To say the least, this is an ambitious plan. I encourage everyone to read the staff report and attachments. There is a lot here to digest. We’ll try best to answer your questions in the comment sections. And we’ll certainly be posting a lot about many aspects of the plan in the coming weeks.

(More from Steve Hymon at the Source)

SPEAK UP--Across Los Angeles, homes are being torn down and replaced with bigger houses, called "McMansions" by some. Now the city is considering a plan designed to keep the number of supersized homes in certain areas in check.

To prevent some new homes from blocking views and changing the look of neighborhoods too dramatically, the LA Department of City Planning has proposed changes to a 2008 citywide "mansionization" law. 

The amended law would scale back or eliminate certain building bonuses and exemptions that could lead to overly large homes. For example, homeowners could no longer get a bigger space allowance for including energy-efficient features. And certain patios and porches larger than 150 square feet would count toward the size of the house, the current limit is 250 square feet. 

The 2008 law is "not ... working as well and some neighborhood groups thought there were certain loopholes that developers were taking advantage of," said Principal City Planner Tom Rothmann.

Complaints about outsized homes have been growing in recent years. The city, needing time to amend its mansionization law, offered a temporary fix last year to about 20 neighborhoods in LA predominantly on the Westside and in the southern San Fernando Valley. Two-year building limits went into effect in 15 neighborhoods identified by their councilmembers as having a high rate of mansionization. Five other neighborhoods were being designated as historic zones and got two-year moratoriums on building and demolition permits. 

The planned changes to the citywide ordinance will cover the rest of the city's neighborhoods, ranging from Brentwood to South LA. 

The proposal is creating concern within the building industry. 

Changing the law would jeopardize jobs, said Tim Piasky, CEO of the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.  

"There’s a cottage industry out there that is buying older homes and remodeling them and bringing them to current standards," he said. 

The city is also eroding homeowners' rights by preventing them from adding size — and value — to their property, said Piasky. He acknowledged that some houses may offend sensibilities, but said they’re in the minority. 

"You’re impacting all of them just to address a few outliers," Piasky said. "I think that it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater." 

Not all neighborhood groups are pleased with the proposals, either. The group "No More McMansions in LA." is urging its members to e-mail or call lawmakers and let them know the proposed changes to the mansionization law don't go far enough

After four public hearings, the city planning commission and the city council's Planning and Land Use Committee will review the proposal before it goes to the full council for a vote. Rothmann said if all goes as planned, the changes could be adopted by the fall. 

The planning department will take public comment at the first hearing on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. 

The other hearing dates are: 

  • Monday, May 9, 7-9 p.m. - Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center
  • Tuesday, May 10, 7-9 p.m. - Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
  • Monday, May 16, 7-9 p.m. - Marvin Braude Constituent Service

 

(Josie Huang writes for KPCC Radio    … where this piece originated.) Photo: Reed Saxon/AP.

DEEGAN ON LA-The aspiring streetwear-star with a bankroll meets the hard-bitten political operative. The result? Instead of working with each other’s vibe to make one and one equal two (a big win for the community,) we have zero. What they planned -- a basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park -- has unraveled, becoming a seriously controversial issue. This could not have been the intention when what many emphatically call a “secret, back-room deal” was put together. Yet we see what can happen when not enough daylight is cast on the process. Things get overlooked in those deep dark recesses. Instead of “what can we get?” it ends up being “what can we get away with?” 

Hubris and reckless behavior lead to missed opportunities to serve the community. Just consider the mocking statements that were recently published online. This includes, Ryus in our pocket. That’s why this (Runyon Canyon basketball court) went that far. LOL. Just a matter of time till we throw that basketball court in there. They just waiting for the right time playas”, and “Com’n man we run Runyon Canyon playaz! We do music videos up here. Smoke sessions up heya!” And, “Out with the Old and in with the New. Can’t stop it, Won’t stop it!” These public boasts were made by Mike Sabando, obviously a supporter of FORC’s (Friends of Runyon Canyon) plan to install a corporate-branded commercial basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park, but otherwise a random social media unknown. This is indicative of the chatter that’s been characterizing this star-crossed project. 

That Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) would be in Sabando’s pocket is hilarious, but the rhetoric shows how this controversy, and the delusion, is metastasizing instead of settling down. 

It’s been exactly four weeks since the lid blew off this situation when an unsuspecting public learned, what they say was for the first time, about development and commercialization plans in the park under the auspices of Friends of Runyon Canyon, a public benefit support group empowered by the LA Rec and Parks department to find “deals” to bring it revenue in exchange for “sponsorships.” 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) is a California 501-3 (c) corporation, whose status is granted by the Attorney General of California. It is considered a charity. Locally, they are supervised by the Department of Recreation and Parks. And the CD4 office has great sway over them, as well. 

What they themselves need now are some friends. It could be time for a make-over in how the community they are supposed to be serving views them. Nineteen public comments were submitted about FORC at a hearing of the Board of Commissioners of Recreation and Parks on May 4. They all amounted to the same request to the board: “Immediately dissolve FORC.” 

At this meeting, Catherine Landers, Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, confirmed that construction of the basketball court had stopped. This follows Ryu’s recent public announcement that, "Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park, and the department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks commissioners reconsider its prior approval of the project." 

FORC is likely come under more scrutiny because of its dual-status as a charity and city surrogate, due to the deal they made with the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) making them a proxy of RAP in stewarding Runyon Canyon Park. That adds a layer of expected public accountability, transparency and engagement, the same as if dealing with a city official. 

FORC can no longer operate as a closed-door, candle-lit, membership-by-invitation organization with a $5,000 suggested donation -- a clubhouse for an elite few. Openness is their best offense as they struggle to get ahead of some very bad public relations. They granted branding rights in the park to a donor, but now their own brand is hurting. 

Both RAP and CD4 are aware that this is serious. Being a public benefit charity, and a proxy for the city, it’s easy to understand why there have been calls for much more oversight and transparency than FORC has been receiving or providing. Change must come, willingly or mandated, beginning with a program of transparency. 

Extra scrutiny is now being promised by grass roots activist groups like Runyon Canyon Defenders and others, that may have had investigators at the County Recorder, pulling plot maps and parcel information for an-about-to-be-announced acquisition of 2450 Solar Dr.   

The land acquisition is great for the park and for the wildlife, and has been in the works for many years prior to FORC entering the picture. 

Another player in this game, FORC’s streetwear partner in the park, is not regulated except by the economics of supply and demand. Their new product line, “Summer 2016 Dolphin Motorsports Legacy 1.1,” went on sale April 30. It cannot hurt their brand’s street marketing campaign to be in the midst of a controversy like the mess at Runyon Canyon Park when they are dropping their product into the marketplace. The four weeks leading up to that release has been a publicity bonanza for them. Their street cred may actually be increasing from being at the epicenter of this dispute. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said P. T. Barnum, a 19th century American showman, prankster and circus owner. 

Right now, it feels like the math adds up to plus one for the streetwear brand and minus one for FORC. But the sum is still zero, even though the streetwear partner, who is a FORC board member, gave FORC a quarter-million dollars to provide park improvements. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that, apparently, it was never revealed or stated publicly during negotiations with Recreation and Parks that the donor was an insider board member who would benefit by receiving a corporate designation in the park -- along with a huge tax-write off and other benefits. 

“Neither staff nor I knew that the donor was a (FORC) board member during negotiations…” [that would receive value that] “would directly benefit his company,” states the RAP executive that conducted the negotiations. 

When asked by CityWatch, a FORC spokesperson denied that the board seat appointment existed during negotiations, even when challenged by being shown a timestamped social media screenshot from the donor captioned, “With my fellow board members the other night at one of our fundraisers for Runyon Canyon Park. I’m super excited to part of this organization and can’t wait to see some of our initiatives come to life.” (Like his corporate-branded basketball court!) 

This social media announcement was uncovered and verified by neighborhood activists, in classic political “truth squad” fashion, as being made at a FORC fundraiser held during the period that RAP was negotiating with the donor (a FORC board member.) who was then awarded valuable concessions by Recreation and Parks during the talks. It raises the question: was this self-serving insider dealing? Yes or no, it’s not the kind of shadow that people trying to brand themselves as philanthropists would want hanging over them. Google searches last forever. 

When the timestamp was pointed out, the streetwear star responded by erasing the caption. This is how cover-ups start…one small erasure becomes a termite and, before you know it, the house collapses. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), a major player in this controversy that is in his district, has stepped in to lead the effort to clean up the mess. His goal is to refocus attention where it is needed -- on the future of Runyon Canyon Park, a regional park which must be readied over the next few years to welcome everybody, including millions of visitors and dogs. If Ryu plans to continue working with either of these players in determining the future of Runyon Canyon Park, he has his work cut out for him. He’ll need to help shift the debate from character assessment to park assessment. 

Boss Tweed, the head of New York City’s infamous Tammany Hall political machine (circa 1800’s), was famous for this political advice: “Don’t write it, if you can say it. Don't say it, if you can wink or nod.” The political pro at the heart of FORC seems to be mimicking Tweed when he starts an initial conversation with CityWatch by saying, “can’t we just make this story go away?” When told no, he then asked that nothing be in writing, wanting to just meet for coffee and talk, saying, “I hate using email.” 

So, are we in the shadows of disgraced politicos -- LBJ and his credibility gap, Nixon and his cover-ups, Boss Tweed’s manual of evasive tactics, and a twist of P.T. Barnum? Who and where are the political mentors to guide what started out as well-intentioned citizens, volunteers doing “the people’s business”? 

The spotlight will shortly be on one player who is trying to stay below the radar as things get more complicated – the councilmember who is the chair of the City Council’s Arts, Parks, and River Committee. He is a colleague and campaign consultant client of the FORC board member taking the most heat. In Tweed-speak, he might be the “grease” for this deal…he may have a key to the clubhouse. His committee has an appeal on its docket filed by lawyers to challenge the November 4, 2015 determination by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners finding that construction of a basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Article III, Section 1(y), Class 11, Categories 3 and 6 of the City's CEQA Guidelines. 

Another mentor must now be David Ryu. This mess is in his district, and, while he is slowly taking steps to clear it up, time will tell if he’s able to pull the variety of disparate, discordant interests together to find a solution that makes sustainability of the park as the top priority. Populations and demographic shifts are variables that will continue to bring new voices into any civic conversation, but the raw earth and nature -- the park -- remains the constant. It must be protected and improved for everybody. 

FORC has a chance to be a star, but must first become a transparent player; its website should include every minute of every meeting, a full financial disclosure report, the agreement with the streetwear donor and any other donors, and an accurate listing and biography of its directors and their terms of office. In addition to their fundraising, they must start “friend-raising” in the community that uses the park. As a quasi-public agency they must not discriminate about who can be a member and should open their doors to all. 

David Ryu can seek full public disclosure by FORC today. He does not need anything but the inherent power of his office to demand that. The credibility of FORC, and their fiduciary role as a fundraiser for the city, is on the line. They are at a turning point, poised to do great things. 

Waiting for a lawsuit to be filed in order to bring a motion to the City Council so it can act on the issue may be a purely technical response. The lawsuit, filed on April 27 and prepared by Citizens Preserving Runyon, is waiting in the wings, held off only by David Ryu’s request to RAP for a review of the situation. But the threat of looming litigation is not the only leverage Ryu has: he can use his bully pulpit. 

With the appeal now pending in Committee, there will soon be a step forward in clarifying one key issue -- CEQUA compliance. CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

It’s time to move out of damage control and into a proactive stance about how to make Runyon Canyon Park the best public resource it can be for all communities. It’s time to move the conversation from silly remarks on social media to serious talk among the professionals that are charged with protecting our parks. It’s time to open dialogue with all the communities that FORC, RAP and CD4 serves. 

A lot has happened in 30 days. Much of it good. 

Other articles in this series include: Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!” and LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue.” 

 

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

 

 

May is Bike Month, something that always seemed odd to me here in SoCal. There is no defined “biking season” in the Southland, and the concept doesn’t make sense anywhere, really. If the good burghers of Copenhagen can ride to work through February snowstorms, if commuters costumed in goosedown and wool can clackety-clack their studded tires down Minneapolis bikeways in January, why do we in La-La Land have Bike Month? What, it was too cold to ride in December, when it was 80 degrees, or in January when it was 70, or in March, when the headlines read, “Drizzle Batters LA”?

So, while in cities with crappy weather, from Boston to Detroit to the baking heat of Phoenix, people who want to ride just ride, often on nice new bikepaths, here in LA we gear up for the start of a mythical window of opportunity that somehow makes cycling “practical,” in a region where the weather barely changes month to month.

And where what would really make riding practical—ie, more bike lanes and paths, and traffic calming—are dismissed as, oddly, “impractical.” So we keep shoveling money at more car lanes, and watch traffic grow worse and worse. For eighty years, we’ve built more lanes, and watched traffic grow worse. Making more room for bikes instead seems more practical to me….

But, Bike Month events are good PR, much needed in a city whose media and commentariat still devote extraordinary efforts to looking wide-eyed with amazement when some middle-aged cube dweller does something so unheard of as pedaling to work. So, I guess LA does need Bike Month, if only to get a few more folks actually to try riding, and see that it’s not in fact “impractical.”

CicLAvia is the prime force in allowing Regular Folks to try riding on real streets without having to get a prescription for anti-anxiety meds first. The event is patterned after Bogotá’s famous ciclovias, which have been a weekly occurence since the late Seventies, and now liberate 80 miles of that city’s streets every Sunday.

LA’s CicLAvias are (for now) much smaller and far less frequent, but they have a huge effect. And there’s one coming up on May 15th, bringing the love to the Southeast partions of Los Angeles county, including parts of LA proper, Huntington Beach, Lynwood, and South Gate.

There’s also the Bicycle Culture Institute’s LA Bike Fest, coming this Sunday, May 8th, to Grand Park downtown. This is a party, not a ride, but it promises to be one hell of a party, so get your tix now. There will be music, art, and beer! And rides will no doubt form up as the day progresses.

And the Los Angeles County Bicycle coalition has a roster of activities for the month, including Bike to Work Day Pit Stops on May 19th, the “Blessing of the Bicycles” on May 17th, and the Ride of Silence on May 18th, plus outreach, workshops, and more.

Farther west, Santa Monica Spoke lists a number of events, some ongoing, on their calendar; you might get a chance to try out the city’s Breeze bikeshare system while you’re there.

Metro, the county’s transit agency, co-sponsors many of these events, and runs a couple of its own, such as Bike Night at Union Station on May 27th. Check out their main event page at The Source for more.

And, of course, just get out and ride your bike everyday….

Wait— you say you already do?

Of course you do. Because every month is bike month, everywhere!

See you on the road …

(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

 

CAMPAIGN FINANCE FLURRY-A rare competitive presidential primary in California and a crowded November ballot has spurred state action on election financing this year. 

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed AB 120, which will help counties incur the additional expenses associated with the high turnout expected in the June 7 presidential primary, and to process the approaching deluge of petitions from interest groups seeking to qualify initiatives for the November ballot. $16.2 million will be divided among the state’s 58 counties. 

“It absolutely goes a long way to assisting us in juggling this kind of perfect storm: the initiatives colliding at the same time we’re producing ballots and tallying ballots,” said Neal Kelley, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. 

The last day for any measure to qualify for the November ballot is June 30. The Secretary of State’s office suggested that proponents turn in their petitions last Tuesday to ensure counties had enough time to verify the signatures by the qualification deadline. 

But proponents of several measures remain on the streets gathering signatures. Among the measures is the Justice and Rehabilitation Act backed by Brown and his allies. 

The money in AB 120, which passed the Legislature last week, creates a financial incentive for counties to get the signature-checking done more quickly--and gives campaigns more time to gather signatures. Counties would be eligible for some of the $16 million only if they verified signatures turned in as late as May 20 before the June 30 qualification deadline. 

Kelley, who is also the registrar of voters for Orange County, called the money “a huge help.” 

Secretary of State Padilla originally asked Brown for twice the amount. Lawmakers will consider the proposal during budget hearings for the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

The issue of how to pay for elections has been a source of tension between state officials and county officials, who administer elections. California Forward, thanks to a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, has been the studying the issue and will release its Election Funding Project in late May. 

“While these funds will help the counties navigate a busy and expensive political year in 2016, the long-term issue of election funding in California needs to be addressed,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “CA Fwd’s assessment will provide some guidance on how to construct a new state-county funding partnership that provides adequate resources with the right incentives for a collaborative and efficient elections system." 

CA Fwd surveyed the 58 California county election officials, who had some strong opinions about what needs to happen: 

  • Nearly all of who responded (96 percent) agree that California should adopt a different funding framework for elections. 
  • 88 percent think there should be more collaboration among counties in providing election services and procuring voting equipment. 
  • Our voting equipment is aging. 76 percent say they will need to replace their equipment within the next four years…nearly half of those needing replacement in the next year or two.

81 percent want to explore alternative funding methods for elections. 

CA Fwd also convened county registrars, surveyed the funding models in other states, and consulted with state advocates and staff in developing its assessment.

 

(Ed Coghlan is a contributing editor and special correspondent for California Forward and the California Economic Summit, dealing with all matters related to California's sputtering economy and how we as a state can get it back on track. He is a veteran of television news at all levels and serves as a media consultant in his spare time.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NEIGHBORHOODS RIGHTS--While short-term rentals help a few people make ends meet by renting their home to vacationing strangers, the protection of the safety, stability and character of our residential neighborhoods is being threatened by a misguided proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance. Furthermore, it is a disservice to the legal system and system of justice to pass a law that you know is going to be disobeyed – and not enforced! 

RIGHT TO TAKE ACTION--Thousands of illegal short-term rentals of 30 days or less that are strictly prohibited by existing law are being openly advertised and rented in Los Angeles every day. The lack of inspections, investigations, and prosecutions reflect the lack of resources and commitment to enforcement on the part of the Department of Planning, the Department of Building and Safety, and the City Attorney. There is nothing new in the Draft Ordinance that provides any enforcement process against a Host that refrains from registering. 

Under a similar law passed February 2015 in San Francisco, it is reported that only 1,647 Hosts had registered by March 2016 -- out of an estimated 9,000+ Hosts with listings on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Flipkey. The only hope of containing this illegal activity is to afford neighbors and/or neighborhood homeowner associations the right to bring a civil action in Court for injunctive and monetary relief with the right to recover attorney fees and costs. And the private right of action should be based on the existing law in Los Angeles that completely prohibits short-term rentals -- not complicated by new issues proposed in the Ordinance that would be difficult to prove, such as whether a Host has resided at the property for at least 6 months or a limit on short-term rentals by a Host for no more than 90 days each calendar year. 

NO REASONABLE LIKELIHOOD OF ENFORCEMENT--The critical primary residence requirement is not capable of being disputed by the City and would be difficult even in a private right of action. What proof would the City Attorney require, and how would the proof be obtained, to show that a Host is not eligible to register because the property was rented out legally to four different persons for 60 days each during a calendar year? In addition, how would the concepts of “Host” and “Primary Residence” be made applicable to properties owned in the name of different limited liability companies organized in Nevada -- where no information is required about the ultimate owner? This is only one example of the impossible morass created by any attempt to regulate short-term rentals as opposed to the existing, clear, outright prohibition. 

Questionable Jurisdiction-Does the City have a legal opinion that it has the necessary legal jurisdiction over any Hosting Platform to be able to impose the requirements and impose the fines set forth in the Draft Ordinance? Is there jurisdiction if the Hosting Platform has no personnel, office, or assets in Los Angeles or even in California? It is delusional to expect that Airbnb will willingly help with enforcement. Time after time, they have testified before governing bodies throughout the country and refused to divulge any information about their Hosts. 

Hasn’t Airbnb asserted Federal law and the First Amendment as shields preventing them from being compelled to monitor and police their users, and from liability for content generated by users of their services? Is the City Attorney, who has not brought any cases against illegal Hosts, now ready, willing and able to take on the Hosting Platforms?

90 DATS TOO LENIENT-The prohibition on operating Home-Sharing for more than 90 days each calendar year is much too lenient. It would allow a constant stream of different strangers to occupy a home for 45 full weekends each year which is 87% of the year (assuming the 2 nights between Friday and Sunday equates to 2 days.) If an Ordinance is passed (which it should not be), the maximum permissible annoyance of neighbors should be 34 days, or 17 weekends per year which is 33% of the year. That would be both more reasonable and more enforceable. 

GUEST LIMIT--The provision in the Draft Ordinance limiting a rental to no more than one group of guests is not effective nor adequate. It would allow a 2 bed/2 bath house to be rented to a fraternity of 40 persons for a weekend, which should not be allowed. There should be a limit of 2 guests per available bedroom. 

SHORT-TERM RENTALS LIKE HOTELS--If the City is going to legalize what are, in effect, hotels in residential neighborhoods, the City should enforce the fire code, health, safety, insurance, and labor laws applicable to hotels. The rules should be the same - both for the protection of guests and to level the playing field out of fairness to competing businesses. 

New Ordinance is Not Necessary--The proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance is motivated by a desire of the City Council to collect hotel-type transient occupancy taxes, and by a situation caused by a complete failure of the City Attorney to enforce the prohibition against short-term rentals. Our residential neighborhoods were never intended to accommodate hotel-like environments with transient occupancy by strangers and the noise, parking, traffic, litter and other activities not usual and customary in a residential zone. 

The financial problems of a relatively few residents, and the financial problems of the City, must not be solved on the backs of homeowners who had a right to expect that the residential neighborhood in which they made a large home investment would not be commercialized in any manner. It is doubtful that the City leaders would be considering this Ordinance if the provision for tax revenue was not included -- as usual, follow the money. 

Threatening the destruction of the character and safety and cohesiveness of the single family neighborhood that has meant something since the beginning of urban zoning is not the answer. Enforce the existing law!

 

(Raymond Klein has been involved with land use and transportation issues for over 10 years on the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association and is an occasional CityWatch contributor. Views expressed are his own.) Prepped for CityWatch by Llinda Abrams.

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Once again, the LA City Council displayed its unanimous voting tendencies – and its deep connection with developers. Wednesday, they voted to permit the construction of a controversial Target shopping center in Hollywood, which seems to be one of the epicenters of runaway development. Close to two years ago, a judge ordered work at the site to be stopped but times, they are a-changin’.

Following a 13 to 0 vote, the council revised planning and zoning rules to give heads up on the Sunset Boulevard Target’s 74-foot-tall retail center … more than double what the City allows and in the face of law suits and protests from the community. The city council has been pretty liberal with zoning variances, allowing for a Wild West, anything goes environment that seems to be friendlier to commercial interests than to constituents.

In 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. put the brakes on the council’s approval of the Target center. The judge said the council failed to demonstrate that Target would suffer an “unnecessary hardship” if the retail chain complied with the city’s height rules … which limit shopping centers at that location to no more than 35 feet. The construction was halted but is now expected to resume within weeks.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes part of Hollywood, is a proponent of the vote, which he says will bring in tax revenue. Challengers to the project say they’ll file another lawsuit, charging that an environmental impact report should have been prepared on the changes to city planning rules.

Proponents of the multi-story Target also cite increased commercial revenue, employment opportunities, and convenience as reasons to support the project.

On another front, the city council faces concerns that its approvals may continue to be challenged in courtrooms, which happened when a judge struck down a 22-story apartment building that had been approved by the city council. A judge also invalidated the council’s greenlight on the Millennium skyscraper project, ruling that the city didn’t properly assess impact on the nearby community.

Target was also at the center of a controversy over a city requirement that a child care facility be included in the project. In lieu of onsite facilities, O’Farrell told the LA Times, Target will absorb a fee for childcare services near the store. The Board of Recreations and Parks Commissioners will determine the fee. According to Target, the new store will bring 250 full- and part-time permanent jobs to the community. The store is expected to be completed next year.

Although commercial development may have the upside of increased employment, the continued path of unanimously approved development projects has left Hollywood and other communities in a whirlwind of constant construction. EIRs funded by independent sources or the city should be the rule, not reviews funded by less than objective developers themselves. The fox cannot be trusted to guard the hen house. Should neighbors and activist groups bring a lawsuit to put a damper on the project once again, they’ll join a long list of community activists who aim to maintain the integrity of the city.

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

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