GELFAND’S WORLD--While smaller cities such as Baltimore and Seattle were constructing tourist attractions to complement their harbors, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) concentrated on developing itself as a working port. POLA and its adjacent Port of Long Beach became the leading traders in American overseas shipping.

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VOX POP--Koreatown community leaders gave Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a tour of the site where a Beverly Hills developer is seeking to build a 27-story luxury housing project abutting low-rise apartments and on streets that can’t handle the traffic of a mega-project.  (Photo above.)

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HOW WE LIVE--Californians now have a better tool to track where the billions of dollars being collected through the state’s cap-and-trade program are being invested in their communities. An updated online map from TransForm, a transportation and walkability advocacy group, tallies projects receiving funding through the program, and their estimated greenhouse gas reductions.

California sets a legally enforceable limit on the amount of CO2 industry can emit, requiring businesses releasing more than 25,000 tons a year to get permits from the state. The state’s revenues from the permits are then invested in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), which supports projects to further reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The new TransForm map tracks these projects: 412 so far, representing over $1.5 billion in investment, and just over 3 million megatons of greenhouse gas reduction. Money has gone to the state’s high-speed rail project, wetland restoration, more efficient farmland irrigation, the expansion of urban canopy and more.

A less obvious use of the funds with immediate benefits for individuals and communities is the construction of affordable housing close to public transportation. These projects both reduce households’ reliance on private vehicles and help more individuals weather California’s affordability crisis.

To date, over $150 million from the GGRF has been utilized to build affordable, transit-oriented development. A 2014 report estimated that developing 15,000 such units could prevent 105,000,000 miles of vehicle travel every year.

According to the report, lower-income households living within a half mile of transit drove 25 to 30 percent fewer miles than those living in non-transit-oriented development; those living a quarter mile or less from transit drove almost 50 percent less.

By contrast, higher-income households drove more than twice as many miles and owned more than twice as many vehicles as extremely low-income households living within a quarter mile of transit. The report suggests that while demand is booming for luxury condos close to public transportation, carbon reduction goals will be best met by preserving some of that housing as affordable.

In addition to the mapping tool, TransForm released a video this week, co-produced with the Greenlining Institute, that tells the story of one resident in a new GGRF development. Esther Robert and her children live close to transit in West Sacramento. Without it, she says in the video, “I would probably be living with all of us in a studio apartment in some place I don’t want to be, just because that’s the only place I could afford to keep something over my head.”

Greenlining Institute Environmental Equity Director Alvaro Sanchez said in a statement, “California’s climate investments are improving people’s lives … . We’re not just tackling climate change, we’re bringing real help to communities that have historically been left out of economic prosperity or saddled with the worst pollution: affordable homes like Esther’s, better transportation choices, cost-cutting home weatherization, and much more.”

(Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Satellite Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. See her work at jakinney.com. This piece originated at NextCity.)  Photo by El Cobrador, via Flickr.


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-A 300-page analysis of shootings by Los Angeles police released by LAPD officials Tuesday concluded that over a third of those shot had documented signs of mental illness. LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck states the report will serve as a framework for the Police Commission to discuss how the police use force. 

In 2015, encounters where LA police used forced accounted for about 2,000 of the 1.5 million contacts police made that year. Of the 38 shootings by police last year, 14 were documented as mentally ill and of the 1,900 incidences that involved police use of Tasers, bean-bag guns, and other devices, about a quarter involved mentally ill people. 

The frequency of in-custody deaths also tripled, from 4 in 2014 to 12 last year. About half of these incidents involved someone deemed to be under the influence of drugs. 

One year ago, an officer fatally shot Charly “Africa” Keunang, a homeless man, on Skid row, when Keunang grabbed the rookie officer’s holstered gun. Keunang’s record had included time in a prison psychiatric hospital. Activists attended Tuesday’s commission meeting to protest that incident, along with another fatal shooting of a homeless man by an officer near Venice boardwalk. 

The nexus of law enforcement, prison, and mental illness is a serious issue, not only in Southern California but throughout the U.S. The number of mentally ill inmates in prisons is growing and many others are embroiled in the court system.

At the Federal level, authorities are turning up the heat on LA County Supervisors to improve the situation for inmates who are mentally ill; and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey is investigating how to divert the mentally ill from the criminal justice system. 

Part of the solution involves training officers to manage situations with suspects who may be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as well as being homeless. LAPD is already making some headway, having rolled out de-escalation training last year. Tasers are now required for all officers and bean-bag shotguns will be kept in the front of patrol cars rather than in the trunk. 

Assistant Chief Michel Moore shares, “At the end of the day, the instances in which we use force … is extremely rare. But at the same time, each incident is one too many if it can be avoided.” 

Continued efforts in training and in the way we handle the mentally ill in the justice system should help. 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

POLITICS--Are both political parties collapsing in California?

Over the past few years the release of Secretary of State data showing a drop in Republican registration has become a routine news story in California.

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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-Since 2000, the cost of housing in Los Angeles has outpaced income growth by four times. Conventional financial advice suggests spending no more than a third of a monthly paycheck on rent or mortgage payment but more than half of Southern Californians spend over 30% on housing, leaving many Angelenos cash-strapped for food, healthcare, transportation, and savings. 

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ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE-According to a peer-reviewed study just published in the journal Science, the nearly four-month leak released roughly 100,000 tons of methane -- effectively doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin. Southern California Gas Co. said it stopped the leak earlier this month. State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources engineers confirmed the leak was halted last week. 

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ANIMAL WATCH-GM Brenda Barnette advised the Animal Services Commission that her ‘executive management team’ met with the City Administrative Officer’s Budget Committee to discuss her most important priority items for the department’s 2016-17 budget.

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LATINO PERSPECTIVE--As Donald Trump comes closer to clinching the nomination more people start to worry and pay closer attention. If you mention the name Donald Trump in East Los Angles you will now get a reaction, this is according to an article by Steve Lopez from the Los Angeles Times. 

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BILLBOARD WATCH-Several months ago, we wrote about a Clear Channel billboard on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice that violated an outdoor advertising industry code regarding the proximity of alcohol ads to schools and places of worship. That ad for New Amsterdam vodka was recently removed, but what’s displayed now on that 52 ft. high, 624 sq. ft. sign? An ad for Camarena tequila. 

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GELFAND’S WORLD--Being so damaged by the horrible memories of combat that you numb yourself with alcohol or try to take your own life … that's something that most of us don't understand. We haven't experienced our closest friends being shot to death in front of us, or endured the nightmares and depression that come from the grief and the guilt. But to a number of veterans of the Iraq War, these things are very real. The medical profession calls it PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Surely this is an inadequate set of words for the level of suffering that it represents. What used to be called shell shock and now is called PTSD is a syndrome that has resulted in broken lives and a substantial number of suicides among U.S. military veterans. 

The genesis of a new opera born out of an exploration of PTSD 

One Iraq War veteran by the name of Christian Ellis survived his own repeated suicide attempts and, during his extended therapy, met up with someone who asked him the traditional question, "What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?" Ellis explains that he joked, "Write an opera." He didn't realize at the time that Charles Annenberg Weingarten not only was interested in the answer Ellis gave, he also had the means to start the process that has resulted in the opera Fallujah. Ellis didn't actually write his own opera, but he had an opera written about him. It opens in Long Beach on March 12. 

Ellis was put together with writer Heather Raffo. She is an unusual combination in the opera world, having one Iraqi parent, having herself lived in Iraq for a number of years, and also being a talented playwright. She wrote the words that were set to music by composer Tobin Stokes. 

Last weekend, the Long Beach Opera company previewed excerpts from Fallujah and also had veterans including Christian Ellis talk about their experiences in combat and how it affects their current lives. The panel was held on March 20, fittingly enough at the VA Medical Center, Long Beach. 

The historical background 

The Battle of Fallujah, or technically speaking. the Second Battle of Fallujah, has been described as the most intense urban battle of the war. Fought in the last part of 2004, it involved house to house combat. It went on for weeks. When you read the historical accounts, you find that Fallujah was a comparatively small version of the pitched battles of the world wars, but it was of comparable intensity to those who fought in it. It serves in the literary context as representative of all wars, and also stands for the experiences of this generation not only in Fallujah, but also in other battles. 

Using art as therapy for PTSD 

The panel discussion at the VAMC included Christian Ellis and two other veterans of Iraq, Michael Hebert and Jon Harguindeguy. Hebert and Harguindeguy are themselves PTSD survivors who have a passion for art and also find in it some measure of therapeutic release. Hebert's painting with the words Fallujah never fades is a particularly striking glimpse into the feelings of one vet. Harguindeguy's depiction of the open mouth of a commander -- drawn mainly as teeth and tongue -- is pretty much unique in depicting the experience of being ordered about under circumstances that require almost inhuman self-control. 

Besides having obvious talents, these artist-vets are both involved in programs that provide veterans the chance to draw and paint. Doing art seems to help some of the veterans to open up and begin talking about their own difficulties. 

Comments by panelists and also by one audience member suggested the surprising assertion that doing art may be a potential counterbalance to the experience of war or to stress in general. The audience member gave the example of Japanese samurai, who learned artistic skills in advance of becoming warriors. 

The opera itself as artful therapy 

Like Greek tragedies, opera can provide catharsis. This opera, as described by one of the cast members, is intended to do just that. 

The presentation at the VA included excerpts from the opera sung by those who will star in the world premiere. It's not possible for me to do a thorough review of the opera at the moment because I haven't seen it in the entirety, but what I did see and hear is strangely beautiful and also sadly emotional with bits of hope. At least two of the LBO panelists and members of the cast and audience were visibly affected, and this just from short musical excerpts. 

Long Beach Opera provides its own discussion which includes the following synopsis: 

Fallujah follows mothers and sons as they search for hope and healing in the aftermath of a war that changed their relationships forever. The opera provides a glimpse inside real hearts and minds before and after one of the Iraq War’s biggest battles. The result is an inspiring, mind-opening, and moving opera by  Canadian composer, Tobin Stokes and award-winning Iraqi American playwright, Heather Raffo. 

A recurring theme expressed by the panelists was guilt. How does a normal person deal with the fact that he was ordered to do terrible things and did them? It was obvious that some audience members had similar thoughts, as the killing was done in all our names. The theme was subtly evoked near the end of the discussion when the moderator opened the presentation to audience questions, but first asked what questions were off limits. 

The answer: "Don't ask us how many people we killed." 

Each generation signifies its own wars with art and music. Fallujah adds to this cultural history. 

Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]












THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Residents dissatisfied with Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian’s record with development issues have launched a recall effort to oust the councilman from his representation of the 2nd Council District, which covers Valley Village, North Hollywood, and Studio City. Proponents of the recall effort allege that Krekorian has “demonstrated a marked bias favoring outside business interests over community sensibilities and community requests.”

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PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In Los Angeles real estate speculators have refined their tool box of scams to either block or contain local neighborhoods when they push back against projects that are out-of-character, out-of-scale, exceed the capacity of local infrastructure and services, or that require a parcel level legislative action by the City Council for investors to pull building permits. 

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BUTCHER ON LA-“…[T]he people of Los Angeles desired the size but not the character of a modern metropolis … to combine the spirit of the good community with the substance of the great metropolis.”

~ Robert Fogelson, “The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930,” 1967. 

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