GELFAND’S WORLD--Long Beach Opera started the season in a regular theater, then moved to a National Guard Armory for its second production, and now is performing in the basement of the Federal Bar in Long Beach. One local wag, when informed of these wanderings, referred to LBO as the Found Space Opera. There is a bit of truth to this, in that LBO has a penchant for finding an unusual place to fit the show rather than trying to fit the show to the home arena. In the case of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine -- The Human Voice -- the tiny performance space in the basement of what was previously a bank puts the action and sonic intensity right in our faces, mere feet away, and thereby manages to drive some serious emotional impact.

I must confess that I approached this performance with some trepidation, as I had seen La Voix Humaine at the Chicago Lyric Opera back in the 1980s, and it didn't connect with me. After all, this opera features a lone performer who sings into a telephone for the duration of the piece. In the cavernous spaces of the Chicago opera house, the performance lacked drama and emotional connection. But this week things were different. Performed up close and with emotional intensity, this opera is a completely different organism.

In Long Beach this week and next, Suzan Hanson adds that something to the performance that brings it alive, and that something is acting ability to add to vocal power. In this case, acting ability involves not just expression and movement. It involves the use of the voice to convey nuances of emotion and situation.

So what is La Voix Humaine, and why did it work so well for LBO?

The opera was crafted by Francis Poulenc in the 1950s, based on a 1930 play by Jean Cocteau. A woman is alone in her room, waiting for the telephone to ring. There are a couple of wrong numbers, but finally her now-former lover rings in. We've been told in advance that her ex is going to marry someone else, but we don't know much of anything beyond that.

The opera consists of the woman communicating through multiple telephone conversations. We are allowed to figure things out bit by bit through hearing her side -- but only her side -- of the conversations. We find out one critical thing fairly early in the performance, when the performer learns that her ex-lover will be marrying the next day. The woman, who is referred to in the opera only as Elle (in other words Her), reacts in various ways, at some times putting on a brave front, other times being flirtatious, but gradually crumbling. She admits to a previous suicide attempt, and then pretends to be talked down from the emotional edge.

In a way, this story is the mirror image of all those shows in which some brave cop or fireman is trying to talk down a suicidal person. La Voix Humaine provides us the other side of the story -- we are placed in the mind of the suicidal person rather than the rescuer. It's a curious inversion, because those tv shows usually start by making the audience irritated at the suicidal character -- why can't she behave herself and get down off the ledge, or put down the gun? This opera presents us with the opposite point of view. We begin to empathize with her as we begin to feel her pain.

Suzan Hanson has been singing with LBO for a decade and a half at this point, and as a dramatic actress, this may be her performance to remember.

On a secondary note, this opera fits in with a century old tradition that historians of cinema and drama have been commenting on for several decades, namely the telephone drama. Americans are familiar with the comedy of Bob Newhart, featuring the one-sided phone conversation as a plot gimmick. But the telephone as a major plot point is actually more than a century old. Cinema historian Eileen Bowser, former curator at the Museum of Modern Art, explained how early cinema used the evolving technology of the day. It was what Bowser refers to as the telephone thriller, which developed in the early 1900s. The telephone was fairly new at the time, and provided a cinematic way of connecting characters to each other on screen while showing them as separated by distance. It's a way of adding dramatic tension to a situation, because the audience can be kept in ignorance about one side or the other as the storyline develops.

La Voix Humaine takes the idea a step further by presenting that one side of the conversation live, right in front of the audience, and by gradually developing the heroine's distress. At first she puts on a brave front not only to the audience but to her distant telephonic companion. As the minutes go by, she allows herself to feel things more and more directly, until she finally allows herself to succumb to unbearable anguish -- and with great musical expressiveness.

One of the strong points of this production is the intimate relationship of the playing area to the audience. There can't be much more than a hundred or so seats in the room, so it's a dramatic connection that is akin to seeing a powerful play close up. This is both benefit and problem, because there are only four performances remaining, and half of them are already sold out.

By the way, the opera's storyline includes the technical glitches characteristic of telephone service in a bygone era. There are lost connections and something that the modern generation is thankfully ignorant of, the problem of interruptions on a party line. But these are all too real to Elle, who answers the ringing of the phone with her plaintive, "Hello, hello!" In the LBO presentation, the two words signal us that we are about to be presented with more clues to what has happened and will happen in one woman's doomed and lonely life.

LBO chose to present La Voix Humaine in English translation rather than in the original French. At one level, this takes away something, but only if you are fluent in French. Cocteau was interested in exploring the human voice, as the title implies. In the current production, LBO chooses to make the emotional connection by using understandable language -- and with terrific diction by Hanson. This was the right choice.

LBO opened the evening with a series of short pieces by Satie, including narration, presented to fine comic effect by Robin Buck.


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



GUEST COMMENTARY--Last week, a federal judge ended a years-long tug of war when it ruled that Los Angeles County must remove a religious cross from its county seal.

Though religion has been an important part of Los Angeles’ history, the decision allows the Los Angeles County to present itself as an unbiased government that values no religion over others.

The ruling concludes a lawsuit that claimed the addition of a cross on top of the San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles County’s seal was unconstitutional. Los Angeles County supervisors voted to add the cross to the seal in 2014 despite imminent legal action.

Though it may go unnoticed by many, the images that appear on the county seal are not trivial. Anyone working with the Los Angeles County should be able to expect a religion-neutral environment. Because the seal appears on many official documents and forms, anyone working on current official county paperwork has to do so on a document adorned with a Christian symbol. It’s not hard to imagine how this could be perceived as bias.

While some may argue the cross belongs on the seal as a matter of visual accuracy – it was recently restored after being lost for a time – the seal’s purpose as a symbol of Los Angeles doesn’t necessitate accuracy. In fact, many elements of the seal are inaccurate.

Still, there are legitimate reasons some may want the mission on the seal to bear the cross. Religion is more than just a belief system; it is tied deeply to culture and is an integral component of history. Everything, from art to systems of government, is impossible to study through a lens that omits reference to religion. Therefore, symbols like the Christian cross atop the San Gabriel Mission have a local cultural meaning that extends beyond a general representation of Christianity.

The Los Angeles County has a duty to acknowledge its cultural history, which includes the San Gabriel Mission that played a crucial role in the development of Southern California. The acknowledgement of this history cannot be separated from Christianity, so it is understandable that some would argue for the inclusion of the cross on the mission.

However, the first and most important task of the county will always be to serve and protect its current constituents, and that constituency is more diverse than ever. To make good on this duty, the county must do what it can to respect all of the various belief systems without giving approval to some over others.

Having the San Gabriel Mission on the Los Angeles County seal but omitting its cross strikes a fair balance between acknowledging the county’s religious cultural history and creating a nondiscriminatory environment.

(This editorial appeared last week in the Daily Bruin. It reflects the view of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.)


PEOPLE POWER--Valley Village has gone Hollywood. Following Howard Beale’s lead in “Network,” it’s yelling, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.”

Valley Village has gone Hollywood in another way. It is suing the City of Los Angeles. Hollywoodians learned a long time ago that the only way to derail the developer juggernaut at City Hall is to sue. The Valley Village uprising began when Councilmember Krekorian needlessly demolished one of Marilyn Monroe’s old homes before people could have it moved to another location. See CityWatch article from August 27, 2015.

Marilyn’s former home did not even interfere with the condo project which Krekorian wanted. The mentality which prevails at City Hall is a feudal one, where each councilmember fancies himself as the Lord of his fiefdom with his constituents as serfs. Their role is to render him homage and gifts. When the peasants had the nerve to oppose the needless destruction of Marilyn’s modest home, Krekorian’s office helped the developer use an invalid permit to demolish it just three days before the Cultural Heritage Commission hearing that was to consider the matter.

Following in Hollywood’s litigation footsteps, tiny SaveValleyVillage sued the city over the illegal demolition of Marilyn’s home.

SaveValleyVillage filed a follow-up lawsuit challenging City Council’s unlawful vote trading practices wherein councilmembers agree not to vote No on a project in another council district. Penal Code 86 criminalized all vote trading agreements. That unlawful vote trading pact is the key to developer power at City Hall. All a developer has to do is be “nice” to one poor councilmember and he will be bestowed with riches that include entitlements, exemptions and financial subsidies. Not only does a developer receive an iron clad guarantee of unanimous City Council approval, but just by being nice to a council member he gets a cheap way to rape the zoning code.

With the knowledge that voters had stopped La Bonge’s hand-picked successor from being elected in Hollywood’s Council District 4, Valley Village decided not to wait for Krekorian’s re-election time, but to undertake a recall…a big challenge for such a small group.

Councilmember Krekorian’s wanton destruction of Marilyn’s former home was particularly mean spirited, but Angelenos throughout the city are treated in a similarly shabby manner. Each councilmember knows that his or her word is law within the district, thanks to the City Council’s unlawful “voting pact.”

The question for Angelenos is this: Are you sick and tired of councilmembers who are too busy obsessing over maximizing the profits of Big Business to care about your quality of your life?

If the councilmember approves a project which is patently illegal, such as the Target Store in Hollywood, he knows that it will pass unanimously. If he wants to destroy a historic home like the Bartlett Home in Hollywood or Marilyn’s home in Valley Village, he knows that the City Council will unanimously approve. If he wants to approve a mega project that will loom over nearby homes, the homeowners will soon find a humongous wall in their midst.

As an example, look at how Council President Wesson helped get hundreds of millions of dollars for developers to provide disabled accessible housing that has been allegedly pocketed by those developers and was sued by advocates of the disabled. Wesson has supported the demolition of thousands of rent controlled units, creating an artificial market for his developer buddies to construct affordable housing with funds earmarked for the disabled. Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti have both been shedding crocodile tears for the homeless. But in the meantime, they are steering hundreds of millions of dollars to their developer friends for the construction of “affordable housing.”

The problems besetting Valley Village and Hollywood are citywide, although Mitch O-Farrell (Council District 13) and Herb Wesson (Council District 10) are especially aloof from their constituents. If Angelenos want to really take back our city from the City Hall Overlords, maybe two more recall petitions would be a good start.

If we Angelenos, do not look out for ourselves, who else will do it? If we don’t step up now, then when? We have the tool of the “recall.” We need to find the will to use it. And three recalls are better than one.


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

PERSPECTIVE-When voters get angry at a politician, some turn to the recall process. There have been over 150 recall attempts in California; nine made it to the ballot, five succeeded in removing an official. The best known effort ran Governor Gray Davis out of office.

Five out of 150 …. a poor return by any measure.

The latest attempt is underway in my own backyard. A group of Valley Village residents wants to start a recall process against City Councilmember Paul Krekorian. (Photo above.) He is accused of allowing the premature demolition of a 1930’s era structure, which briefly served as a residence for Marilyn Monroe before she rose to fame.

You can argue until the cows come home, or Marilyn, if the property was historically significant, as the group claims. Indeed, the developer pulled the trigger on razing it before approval was granted by the city.

Regardless of what Krekorian’s role was, or was not, the math of this recall attempt runs overwhelmingly against success.

The recall group would be required to get signatures from 15% of the registered voters in CD2, or around 18,000+.

The largest turnout in CD2 in many years was back in 2009 in a hotly contested race between Krekorian and Chris Essel. It was a race I covered extensively in my blog, including a blow-by-blow account of almost every debate, and, boy, were there a bunch of them, held in every corner of CD2.

The campaign was ugly and generated much media coverage. Very large sums of money were in play, including union contributions from IBEW Local 18. You know, Brian D’Arcy’s boys and girls – the same ones who gave us those free-wheeling non-profit trusts who have used $40M of our money to pay for junkets and steak dinners. Allow me to digress, but I am still waiting for DWP General Manager Marcie “D’Arcy” Edwards’ reports dealing with reforming the trusts.

For all of that hoopla, rancor and treasure, the turnout was around 15.5%.

So, what are the odds of getting good signatures from 15% of the registered voters for a low profile, and likely little-publicized campaign?

You do the math.

I am sure there are quite a few residents in CD2, as in any district, who do not even know who their council members are.

“Sign what?”

“Who is Krekorian?”

There is a time and a place for recalls. When there is an adequate body of evidence strongly supporting the possibility of malfeasance, start circulating the petitions.

But it requires due diligence to build a case.

Aggrieved citizens would better serve themselves and the public by focusing on developing and funding alternative candidates for scheduled elections.

It takes work, but the sooner started, the better.


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


NEW GEOGRAPHY--In principle, there is solid moral ground for the recent drive to boost the minimum wage to $15, with California and New York State taking dramatic steps Monday toward that goal. Low-wage workers have been losing ground for decades, as stagnant incomes have been eroded by higher living costs.

Read more ...

THE CITY--Neighborhood activists scored a rare victory recently at LA City Hall when lawmakers reversed their prior approval of a 252-unit townhome/condo project that critics say was part of a backroom deal cooked up by former councilman Tom LaBonge and a project that exemplified the city’s immoral practice of allowing residential projects to be built in freeway-adjacent ‘Black Lung zones.’

Read more ...

PERSPECTIVE--I’ve watched AMC’s hit show, ‘The Walking Dead’, since season one.

The characters grew on me, although only a few of the original cast have survived the zombie apocalypse to date.

But I am losing interest in the show. There was a time where I eagerly looked forward to the new season. I would plant myself in front of the TV at 6:00 PM on Sunday night – thank God for satellite TV, or it would have been 9:00 PM.

Read more ...

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-The consumer financial site WalletHub has released a study assessing how efficiently some of America’s largest urban centers apply taxpayer money on key expenditures and LA is at the bottom of the list. WalletHub analysts compared 78 cities for Return of Investment (ROI) on Adjusted Education, Adjusted Law Enforcement, and Parks & Recreation ROI. LA ranked at 55. 

Read more ...

SORTING OUT ELECTION SCENARIOS-Senator Bernie Sanders has repeatedly emphasized the importance of mass movements as an essential instrument for social, political and economic change in the United States. For example, here is a typical Bernie quote from a recent CNN interview, “The only way we bring about real change in this country, which represents the needs of the middle class and working families, is … a mass movement, and that's what we are trying to create and are succeeding in creating right now." Bernie has also repeatedly argued that a Sanders administration could only implement his campaign platform with the strong, sustained support from an external mass movement. 

Read more ...

EASTSIDER-Speaking as a 3rd generation Californian, I finally just couldn’t take the babblings of the talking heads today as they cheerfully said how Bernie should pack it up and go home – that he would have, except for the fact that he has bags of money and got lucky in six of the last seven states, including Wisconsin. 

Read more ...

JUST SAYIN’--While I'm sure there are many potential candidates for people who were targeted and labeled toxic for having reported something that even remotely approximated truth, I find the summary public career execution of television personality Phil Donahue to be a compelling first contender for this dubious distinction. 

In 1996, television talk show host Phil Donahue celebrated what until now remains "the longest continuous run of any syndicated talk show in U.S. television history." And this success was clearly based on the trust his honesty inspired in his fiercely loyal audience. 

And yet by February 25, 2003, when Donahue who "was ranked #42 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time," had his career brought to an abrupt end when he was fired by MSNBC for his opposition to the selling of the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq to the American people. 

Clearly his opposition to the fear and bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction had to be silenced, given his popularity with the American people and any potential that might have had for causing the American people to question this done deal. 

Long before the current film Spotlight deigned to make a film about tolerated child molestation and cover up in the Catholic church, Donahue produced the first national television program in the 1980s showing widespread child molestation by Catholic priests. 

This level of difficult honesty was still something that was tolerated and had a place in American media, but with the selling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the profit motivated endless war footing this country has remained on, clearly that is no longer the case. 

I don't recall who once said to me that freedom in the 19th century was expressed as the freedom from oppression, while freedom in the 20th century was to be seen as the freedom of expression. But in the 21st century, it seems painfully clear that any supposedly constitutional guaranteed right of expression or any civil liberty that in any way challenges the corporate oligarchy's exclusively profit motivated agenda has been made illegal. 

It is seen as intolerable heresy requiring someone who dares to engage in it like an Edward Snowden someone who must have the moral courage to literally put their life on the line or be willing to seek sanctuary in Russia or elsewhere. Dare to point out that what the U.S. government and its state and local government components openly advocate and implement as being completely and utterly in violation of basic constitutional rights and you better starting looking for a deep hole in which to hide. 

The problem with this awareness is that barring some other insight or proposed course of action, people have tended to become demoralized by their expression of an alternative truth to government party line. 

What people don't realize is their feelings of powerlessness are merely the well executed end product of a corporate media whose goal is to make the majority of people in this country think they are in the minority, because if corporate media no longer reports the tree falling in the forest then it must not have fallen. 

However, this well nurtured corporate media fantasy that the majority is merely a disgruntled and maladjusted minority- be they Left, Right, or somewhere in between- is starting to break down due to an Internet individually connected world where the success of a "not serious candidate" like Bernie Sanders openly contradicts this corporate media "dominant narrative."

In reality, all Americans can still believe and democratically implement that we the people should decide what is good for we the people...if we have the persistence to see through the corporate media exquisitely executed charade of seamless virtual reality.

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


IT’S ALL ABOUT JOBS--A week ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (METRO) Board held a hearing on a proposed $120-billion plan to dramatically expand mass transit throughout the region. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was on hand to support the Crenshaw Northern Extension. We have pressed for this project for several years, and so were pleased that it was included in the list of projects to be funded. However, we were disappointed that it is not scheduled to begin construction until 2049. (Photo: Work on Crenshaw/LAX line in progress.)

A little background for those not familiar with this project. The Crenshaw line is a north-south light rail line that will connect to an LAX people mover. Its northern terminus is at the Expo Line below the 10 Freeway. The proposal would extend that line north through the Mid City area and West Hollywood before terminating at the Hollywood & Highland Metro Station. I think most people would agree that it makes sense to connect the airport to the region's top tourist destination. Hopefully, we can get this project's timeline moved forward. 

The important thing at the moment, though, is to get this plan approved on November 8th by the voters. That is not necessarily an easy thing, because all of the improvements (as currently proposed) would be funded by an extension of the existing sales tax for 18 years and an additional half-cent sales tax for at least 40 years, boosting the county's base sales tax rate to 9.5-percent. The measure must be supported by two-thirds of the electorate.

In the past, LA voters have been supportive of mass transit, passing Measure R in 2008, and more recently, falling just short of the needed votes for Measure J in 2012, gaining 66.1-percent in support but needing 66.7-percent. 

The new initiative calls for highway improvements as well as a dozen mass transit projects that would double our existing system. Having a transit system that gets people to where they want to go is key to the economic future of this region. It is also key to having a livable city.  

One of the criticisms we often hear from opponents of mass transit expenditures is that the system doesn't take people where they want to go - despite the fact that METRO is currently building five lines, more than any other place in the country. This new measure will expand the system even further. The sooner we get started on this expansion, the sooner there will be a system that gets people to more destinations. 

The METRO network is the key to dealing with growth issues in the region, and is the only solution that I have heard from any source that makes sense. As is currently happening in Hollywood, future development would be encouraged in close proximity to transit stations. Yes, that may require up-zoning in areas near the stations, but by focusing development there, it also allows the City to preserve existing single-family neighborhoods elsewhere. As the system is built-out, residents will be able to utilize mass transit to get around. It is true that people will still have cars and use them, but by orders of magnitude, we will see significant improvement as the system is expanded. 

There are three general suggestions to handle growth that I have heard that do not make sense. Some people suggest that we merely concentrate all development in Downtown L.A., but that is not an answer for growth. This region is so vast and spread out that you cannot accommodate all development in the center city. Besides that, if you do not encourage development within sub regions, those communities will deteriorate. New development is critical to revitalizing our neighborhoods. 

The proponents of the proposed Neighborhood Integrity "no growth" Initiative don't want increased density near transit stations. For them, the solution is to merely build-out under the current zoning citywide. The problem with that is it would spread development all over the city whether near transit or not, resulting in more congestion everywhere. Plus, you cannot justify the high cost of building a mass transit system if you cannot concentrate potential riders near the stations.

And then there are those who say they don't care where development goes so long as it isn't built near their neighborhoods. That is again not a solution and an abrogation of our responsibility. Development must go somewhere if we are to have a healthy economy, and it is better to have a plan than no plan at all.

Which brings us back to the Metro proposal that will likely be placed before voters this fall. There are hundreds of successful transit examples worldwide that point the way for Los Angeles. We have reached the physical limits of growth in this region. The basin is filling in. If our children are to have a future here, we have to find a way to grow and improve mobility.

Voters need to seriously consider the benefits of this expansion of our transit system and determine if those benefits justify the increase in sales taxes. Personally, I believe that the expansion is warranted. 

This region is on the right track, and with the support of voters we will continue in the right direction.

(Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 23 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood. This perspective was posted earlier at the Hollywood Chamber and Fox and Hounds.) 


WHISTLING A DIFFERENT TUNE--Back in February, when the enormous gas leak in Aliso Canyon was finally plugged, SoCal Gas promised to do everything in its power to offset the disastrous environmental effects of the largest methane release in American history. Seeking to ensure the company followed through with that promise, Governor Jerry Brown had officials with the state's Air Resources Board come up with a step-by-step plan for the company to follow in reducing emissions. Having received a draft of that plan, however, SoCal gas seems to have changed its tune a little. Okay, actually a lot.

George Minter, Regional Vice President of SoCal Gas, writes on the first page of a written response to the ARB's proposed plan: 

As you are aware, the ARB explicitly decided not to regulate fugitive emissions, such as those from the leak at Aliso Canyon, a decision confirmed by the ARB on multiple occasions. Thus, any proposed mitigation program from the ARB does not itself impose any legal obligations on SoCal Gas.

Translation: We're going to go ahead and ignore your recommendations because you can't legally make us do anything about any of this.

As the LA Times points out, technically SoCal Gas is right that there is no current law that would force them to comply with the state's recommendations. But given the extraordinary scale of the leak, the impact it had and continues to have on residents of Porter Ranch and surrounding areas, and how much it has negatively affected California's emissions goals, it seems callous for the company to reject state proposals for addressing the problem. And boy has SoCal Gas rejected those proposals.

The plan drafted by the ARB includes recommendations that SoCal Gas focus on cutting methane emissions, which have a much larger effect on climate change than carbon; invest in offsetting opportunities in and around the site of the leak; and act quickly to reduce global emissions, putting a timeline of five to ten years on reduction efforts. SoCal Gas politely declined to follow all of these recommendations.

Most egregiously, the gas company disputed an important measurement of the leak's environmental impact. The ARB wants SoCal Gas to offset the leak according to a metric that accounts for methane's enormous short-term effect on the environment. SoCal Gas, however, wants to use a more traditional measurement that would allow it to spend considerably less money offsetting the emissions. According to a report by KPCC, by the standards SoCal Gas wants to use, the company would achieve only 30% of the emissions mitigation that the state is asking for, saving itself $64 million in the process.

Making matters worse, some environmental activists say even the state's recommendations will not fully offset the enormous damage caused by the leak. Anna Moritz, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told KPCC that "it will be incredibly difficult to mitigate those effects not only on local communities, and the ecology of the area, and the climate... it may be impossible, in fact, to get us back to prior to the leak."

SoCal's rejection of the state's proposals comes amid news that the CEO of parent company Sempra Energy will be receiving a year-end bonus of more than $3 million, bringing her total compensation for 2015 to $16.1 million.

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed a lawsuit against SoCal Gas that would force it to adhere to a state plan for the emissions offset, but the company doesn't seem to worried about the case. As KPCC reports, SoCal Gas recently told shareholders that the value of the gas lost plus emissions mitigation would be just $33 million. For those keeping score at home, that's about the cost of two years worth of pay for Sempra Energy's CEO.

(Elijah Chiland is associate editor at LA Curbed … where this piece originated.)



SKID ROW- On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council passed a revised ordinance which completely dissed all homeless folks in LA and should embarrass any and all Angelenos. They did it with one 13-1 vote. As a home-grown Angeleno, this is the lowest point I’ve personally experienced since the “Rodney King Riots” in 1992. 

The issue? Homelessness is rising at an alarming rate in Los Angeles. With a glaring shortage of low-income housing and literally no low-income housing units under construction anywhere in the city, homeless people are piling up on our city’s sidewalks. That also means that tents, encampments, personal property and even bulky items have been expanding over more and more sidewalk areas, making homelessness that much more unmanageable. 

With multiple settlement agreements (Jones v. City of LA) (Lavan Injunction) already on the books, homeless folks are allowed to pitch tents and sleep on the sidewalks from 9pm until 6am. Without anywhere to go and/or store their belongings in the daytime, houseless people living on the streets simply leave their tents up 24/7. 

The Los Angeles Police Department is either inconsistent or confused about what to do. If they cite homeless sidewalk dwellers at a feverish pace (think: Safer Cities Initiative), the police will be seen as bad guys who lack compassion as they criminalize the homeless. On the other hand, if they look the other way, sanitation and public safety issues endanger more people than just homeless persons. 

With the City Attorney’s office combing through every relative legal document, and after months and months of weighing all options, they presented a unique option that no one saw coming. It’s called ordinance 56.11, a law already on the books that the City Attorney’s office has simply decided to revise

As previously stated, City Council voted to approve it, although the vote was not unanimous. This happened after the revised version of the old ordinance went through not one but two committees – the Public Works and Gang Reduction committee and the Homelessness and Poverty committee. All the “i’s” were dotted and all the “t’s” were crossed. 

Here’s the problem: 

In deciding that homeless folks can no longer store/possess their personal property on the sidewalk in the daytime, it has been determined by the City that the only possessions a homeless person can possess must fit into a “60-gallon container with the lid closed.” 

In other words, a trash can…say what? That’s right, the City of Los Angeles has voted and approved a revised ordinance which orders homeless persons to store their good belongings in a large trash can. Wow! 

As a Skid Row resident, I can’t even begin to find the words to describe how demoralizing and inhumane this idea is! 

City Councilmember Gil Cedillo (the lone dissenting vote) said during the council meeting at City Hall, “We were on one path which was a more respectful path focusing on housing, services and storage and now we are on a totally different path altogether.” 

Less than two months ago, the City of Los Angeles unveiled its “comprehensive homeless strategy” --a plan that combines resources with the County of Los Angeles. The County’s separate release of their own plan is just over 100 pages. The City’s plan is well over 200 pages. 

What’s relative to this topic is the emphasis the City put on their strategic priority strategy to “decriminalize” homelessness. 

Now, less than two months later, they’ve suddenly changed their course of action -- a complete 180. 

The negative effect is deeply concerning. For the ordinance language to instruct homeless people to store their property in trash cans is not only embarrassing for human beings struggling to survive, but the collective damage caused to their subliminal mental psyches cannot (and will not) be measured nor documented. 

How can the City of Los Angeles pat itself on the back as if they did something good when the negative long-term impact will cause more trauma to an already wounded and vulnerable population – a population the City is already struggling to help? 

As a formerly homeless man who still lives in Skid Row, I say, “How dare the City of Los Angeles order me to put my belongings in a trash can? Does that mean the City thinks my personal property is worthless? Is my life as a Skid Row resident also worthless? How do I know this isn’t a trick and as soon as I ‘voluntarily’ put everything I own in a trash can, it won’t ‘accidentally’ be mixed-up with real trash and discarded into a dumpster?” 

As someone who often wears suits and ties, is the City of Los Angeles now telling me that I must store my suits and ties in a trash can? Are they out of their minds? 

This is an insult and very well may be the most disrespectful ordinance in the history of the City of Los Angeles and possibly all of America. (Right after slavery laws!) 

Imagine the Summer Olympics with millions of tourists from all over the world here to cheer on their countries’ athletes. How will the City of Los Angeles answer the most-asked question: Why do all the homeless people here travel with trash cans filled with all of their personal belongings? 

I don’t even want to know the City’s answer. It will probably be even more disrespectful and embarrassing than me having to pull my suit, tie and dress shoes out of a trash can for a meeting at City Hall. How many millions will the City spend – or, rather, waste – to build brand new trash cans? Surely they’re not gonna just rinse out used ones…right? 

The human rights violations continue to mount. Where is the United Nations when you need it?


(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DEEGAN ON LA-The alignment of well-organized community activists, an egregious land use proposal, a councilmember that “got it”, and some guerrilla tactics all combined a few days ago in a victory for hillside residents and wildlife when a proposed 132,000 square foot hillside party house was scratched by the developer, following an outpouring of objections from the community. The Michael Scott Party House in the hills will not be built. 

The project was unable to get the support of Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) who, after carefully listening to his community of outraged constituents, called on the Building & Safety Commission to deny the haul route permits and requested that the applicant withdraw his project as proposed. A spokesperson for Councilmember Koretz told CityWatch that “developer Michael Scott did indeed subsequently withdraw his application.”   

Many factors contributed to this victory and provide a “how to” manual for communities in our city faced with rampant out-of-control development that’s happening practically everywhere. For a while, especially in Hollywood, it took expensive litigation to stop a developer. 

Now, communities are becoming more aggressive and emboldened in taking the lead in the fight against developments that they feel do not fit in their neighborhoods. Many success stories are being written. More will come as the developer-politico axis realizes people are angry with what they see as the ruination of their neighborhoods. 

The successful activist model created to stop the party house relied on a coordinated community campaign that sets a good example. 

The key is to be tactical with your strategy to stop a project, or modify it, so it fits into your vision of your community. Steps you can take that this and a few other recently successful community preservation campaigns have taken include: 

  1. Get on record with your councilmember immediately. Find him/her at this link and send a letter or email stating your objections to the development project. Every letter and email counts. Swamp your councilmember with community objections. Say what you are against specifically, not just NIMBY (not in my back yard) complaints. 
  1. Learn the “Council File” number at this link so you can its track progress through the city system. Go to the hearings and make public comment. 
  1. Learn the City Planning route the project is taking at this link.  Find out the code(s) assigned to the project, and what they mean; go to hearings and speak out. The public is always allowed public comment time at public hearings on zoning and in City Council committee and full council meetings. 
  1. Know some city planning vocabulary
  1. Make contact with several key staff at your council office. Know who they are and be sure they know who you are and why you are contacting them. Who to know at your council office: the councilmember, the chief of staff, the planning deputy, the deputy that covers your community, and the press deputy. 
  1. Register to vote at http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voter-registration and remind your Councilmember that you are a constituent that has a vote, and the action he or she or she takes on the project may influence how you vote the next time they are up for election. Now is a watershed time for this tactic: half the city council members are up for election in the March 2017 primaries. If you live in an odd-numbered district, your council member will need to campaign for re-election in the next several months and will need your vote to win. Elections are won by very small numbers of votes which magnifies the importance of each vote. It’s powerful leverage when an organized community gets together on an issue and says to their councilmember “we won’t vote for you unless…” 
  1. Open a Facebook page to share with supporters. 
  1. Start a Move On petition 

and adjust the settings so each time someone signs the petition and enters a comment that information automatically arrives in the email box of who you select to receive it. Include the council member, the chief of staff, the planning deputy, the deputy that covers your community, and the press deputy. The constant reminder that there is organized opposition makes an impact. 

  1. Go to your neighborhood council and make public comment at the land use committee meeting and at the board meeting. If the land use committee has not scheduled a hearing on the project you object to, request one. Most NC’s try to protect their neighborhoods and may be on your side. They are a great resource to get you “into the loop.” 
  1. Be inspired. Each of these projects became a victory for the community activists that campaigned to protect their neighborhoods: Los Flores; Edinburgh; Hillside Party House and Harry Potter. 
  1. Contact a reporter at your local paper and give them your story. Media pressure helps bring your message not only to the developer and the council office, but to your greater community. Editors like local stories. David v. Goliath themes capture attention. 
  1. Never back down. Tennis legend Bjorn Borg, a former world No. 1 tennis player widely considered to be one of the greatest in tennis history, with 11 Grand Slam titles that included 5 consecutive wins at Wimbledon, revealed a secret of his success when he said, “My greatest point is my persistence. I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball.” 

Good luck, warriors!


(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.

ME AND BILL ROSENDAHL-A few years ago a friend got into a beef with a well-known multi-millionaire when he loudly protested about the mysterious building project happening on the entrepreneur’s sprawling LA property. The police were summoned by the big-shot’s entourage, including body-guards, and my friend called me, frantic and scared, asking for help.

So who do you call to stop an injustice leveraged by a rich guy’s bullies? LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, that’s who. (Photo above: Former Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl with former California Assemblyman Tom Hayden.) 

I reached Bill at City Hall and described my friend’s situation; his reaction was immediate and emphatic. What Bill told the LAPD brass I never knew. Nor did I ask. I do know the LAPD never showed up to investigate that totally bogus complaint. 

I saw Bill a few days later to thank him. “Hey,” he laughed. “You know how I hate these rich guys who think they’re above the law.” 

It was vintage Bill Rosendahl, elected in 2005 as the LA City Council’s first openly gay lawmaker.

Bill had many of the instincts of politicians but didn’t share some of their worst shortcomings. “I like him personally,” he once told me after a city councilman got into a conflict-of-interest controversy. “But he’s like all politicians – they get too much power and they can’t help themselves. They’re like kids around candy.” I can’t recall anyone ever saying the same about Bill’s tenure at City Hall.

Bill often reacted viscerally to society’s privileged. Even more reliable was his instant affection for society’s underdogs. 

But Bill was also the effusive, gregarious cable TV talk-show anchor who loved gossiping with journalists. 

Archives at Loyola Marymount University contain 814 public affairs shows hosted by Bill between January 1989 and Sept. 2006 when he was an executive at Century Cable and later at Adelphia Communications. I don’t know Bill’s record as a TV executive but I know as a “journalist” he was an enthusiastic and skilled enabler of lively TV debates about public affairs, and that may be his most lasting public legacy. 

Bill always tried to use his anchor-man platform for good. 

In November 1999, Councilman Joel Wachs, then a closeted gay man, was being interviewed by Bill about his campaign for mayor. During the taping, Bill asked Wachs: "Are you a gay man?" Wachs’ answered that he was. Shortly afterward, Bill called to tip me off. Bill said he believed Wachs’ revelation would help his mayoral election chances (not enough it turned out). I got the story, and Bill was helping move the ball for the gay community.

Bill’s signature sign-off on his shows was “God bless and bye-bye!” It was corny. But endearing.

Deep-down Bill was someone who practiced “religion” – if religion means having a big-heart. For years, he provided food and shelter for a revolving crew of homeless people in his Mar Vista home. Bill had an ascetic’s indifference to appearances. His house sometimes looked like it was lifted out of the Ozarks: the free-range chickens clucking in the backyard, the ill-kept lawn, the beat-up truck. It was not the typical Westside domestic scene. Overseeing this menagerie was Bill’s big heart, providing a welcoming space for an array of colorful characters. 

Three weeks ago, I held Bill’s scrawny hand in mine as he lay in a sunlit room in his house. Bill was dying from cancer; his face ravaged by illness. I said comforting words to him but I’m not at all certain he recognized me or public affairs consultant Rick Taylor who was also visiting Bill. Earlier, Rick reminded me that he had run the campaign of Bill’s fiercest rival in Bill’s first campaign for council. “But Bill never held it against me,” said Rick. “He was that kind of a guy.”

Seeing Bill in that bed – with hospice caregivers tiptoeing around - was sad and humbling. But I was also grateful to have had a chance to pay tribute to a man who was an important and unforgettable part of LA’s civic life. 

A few days after that visit, I talked to former assemblyman Tom Hayden who mentioned that he too had visited Bill to pay his respects and regale him with talk about their mutual progressive political friends and roots (Bill worked for George McGovern and Bobby Kennedy in the Sixities). “He was fully conscious and in good spirits when I was with him,” Hayden said. “But he could barely talk.”

Then Hayden dropped a ‘bombshell.’ 

Let me explain. Hayden for months has been fighting to block a developer’s plan to bulldoze a rugged hillside and cut down dozens of trees to make way for two 15,000 square foot mansions in Brentwood’s Sullivan Canyon. The developers have included Ezri Namvar, the so-called “Bernie Madoff of Beverly Hills,” and his family. (Ezri Namvar is now serving time in a federal lockup after being convicted of running a Ponzi scheme that stole millions from the Persian Jewish community.)

During his visit with Bill (who had represented Brentwood on the City Council,) Hayden swears the dying man whispered to him: “Save Sullivan Canyon.”  

Hayden told me he wasn’t trying to get an endorsement. “It was volunteered,” said Hayden. And what was it really worth anyway? 

Still here’s the eerie part. The maybe-Bill-karma part.

Soon thereafter, Hayden’s crusade against the Sullivan Canyon mega-mansions project hit pay-dirt. It happened when a City Hall bureaucrat surprisingly ruled that team-Namvar had violated a seldom-used city law that made it illegal to cut down so-called “protected trees” on their property unless they had a permit. Their punishment for killing three protected trees: A five-year ban on developing anything on their property. 

It was a stunning victory for Mother Nature and LA’s urban forest. It came out of the blue. Or did it?

Hayden told me the day Bill died that his Irish Catholic heart pondered the possibility that Bill’s death-bed blessing had something to do with the Sullivan Canyon “miracle.” Maybe, he said, it was just another good deed from the man with the big heart. 

There’s not much more to say but this: Bill, “God bless and bye-bye!”


(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-Rent control won’t solve California’s enormous housing problems. But that’s not stopping many Californians from pursuing rent control policies in their hometowns. 

2016 threatens to become the Year of Rent Control, with the topic white-hot in the Bay Area, home to California’s most expensive housing. Rent control refers to laws that put limits on how much landlords may raise rents; such laws often include provisions requiring landlords to produce specific causes before evicting tenants. 

Last summer, Richmond became the first city in California in 30 years to pass a new control law (the law was later suspended, and the issue will likely be decided at the ballot.) This touched off similar legislation and ballot measures to establish or strengthen rent control in other Northern California cities, including Alameda and Santa Rosa.

And in recent months, rent control has become a top issue in the state’s biggest cities.

In San Jose, multiple proposals to tighten rent controls, perhaps by tying them to inflation, have been debated in the city council, and some could go to the ballot. A ballot initiative to cap rent increases was just filed in Oakland. Los Angeles is considering a new registry of rents and a crackdown on landlord efforts to skirt existing rent control laws. And in San Diego, a tenants’ movement and an online petition are building momentum to establish new controls. In all these places, landlords have countered with their own legislation or possible ballot measures. 

The attention to rent control is understandable, given the costs of housing, but unhelpful. Rent control is a policy that, as libraries full of research and California’s own experience demonstrates, doesn’t do much to accomplish its avowed purpose: to make more affordable housing available. The last thing California needs is a costly and time-consuming fight over rent control. 

As the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office made clear in a 2015 report, the heart of California’s housing problem is that we Californians have long failed to build anywhere close to enough new housing to accommodate the number of people who live here. The office said we’d need an additional 100,000 units a year, on top of the 100,000 units we’re building, to mitigate the problem. 

As a result, housing prices and rents have long been higher than in any other state. And the problem has been getting worse, even in this era of slower population growth. In 1970, the gap between California home prices and the rest of the country was 30 percent; today, home prices are 250 percent more expensive than the American lverage.

The shortage is strongest in the urban coastal counties where people most want to live, creating a wave of people who push inland in search of housing. So Californians devote more of their incomes to housing, live in more crowded spaces, and commute further to jobs. In a Sacramento speech last fall, Roger Sanders, former finance director for the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, noted that, from 2010 through 2014, “the state population increased by 1.55 million, while throughout all of California only 312,000 permits for new housing were approved, or one unit for every five new residents.” 

Significantly, the urban counties (10 northern counties and seven southern counties) approved only 200,000 units, or only one for approximately eight new residents.” 

The reasons for the lack of building are many and related: community resistance, environmental policies, high costs of construction, a lack of fiscal incentives for local governments to approve housing, regulatory constraints on development, and the high cost of land. This is such a wickedly complex problem that it’s laughable to see rent controls as a cure. 

Since housing markets are regional, it’s especially hard to see how local rent control in one city or another could ever make any impact. To the contrary, one reason for California’s sprawl is the way that cities within regions compete with each other to claim the most desirable businesses and housing for themselves, while sticking their neighbors with needier people. 

And if rent control really works to control prices and produce stability, as its supporters claim, why are the cities with rent control -- among them Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Francisco, Santa Monica, San Jose, Thousand Oaks, and West Hollywood -- so expensive? And on the other side of the question, opponents of rent control sound ridiculous when they warn that it will discourage new construction, especially since state law has exempted new construction from rent control laws since 1995. All but about 15 cities in California have no rent control -- and they have housing shortages, too.

The real import of the rent control debate is as a reminder of California’s civic disease: our long history of embracing complicated formulas as ways to dodge the hard work of democratically solving tough problems. Rent control laws often include complicated formulas for allowing rents to be raised by different percentages or in different ways depending on a host of conditions (like whether a landlord has made capital improvements or had made previous rent increases.) 

It’s instructive that rent control’s California history is deeply intertwined with the ultimate dodgy California formula, Proposition 13. That constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 1978, provided the foundation -- via its limits on property tax increases and supermajorities for state and local taxation -- upon which two generations of other fiscal formulas have been built.

One false promise of Prop. 13 was that saving property owners money on their taxes would lead to lower home prices and rents. So when home prices and rents soared after the amendment passed, liberal cities began to install rent control ordinances that, like Prop. 13, didn’t lower rents or housing prices either. 

Rent control has been -- and will be, if it expands in the near future -- just another complication in a housing world that already has too many such kludges. And it’s a particularly counterproductive one since, just as Prop. 13 keeps taxes lower the longer you stay in your home, rent control grants special privileges to the older and more stable among us, regardless of their actual financial need. 

That is the peculiar tragedy of 21st-century California: A place that once cherished and defined the new is now organized around the imperative of favoring the old and the established. It is infuriating, and odd, that people who think of themselves as progressives defend, and even seek to extend, such fundamentally conservative policies. 

The people who need protection in California are poor people who cycle through housing. The best approach here is not more housing incentives -- decades of housing incentives both to developers and renters have produced very little housing here -- but developing robust support structures (via transportation, health, child care, jobs, and cash) that follow poor people wherever they can find opportunity. And, of course, more housing.

In a state devoted to anti-tax formulas that don’t keep taxes low and education funding guarantees that don’t guarantee much money for education, it’s no surprise that rent control laws don’t make housing affordable. So let’s not pretend that rent control is anything other than just another way of pretending to address our housing problems.


(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. Primary editor: Andrés Martinez. Secondary editor: Paul Bisceglio.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


More Articles ...