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HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--As we wind down from the Iowa Caucuses and candidates move on to New Hampshire, those of us in the Golden State often bemoan our last-to-the-dance-floor position in the presidential primary season. After all, one in eight U.S. residents is a Californian and our population is much more diverse than the Hawkeye and Granite states combined. Does our June primary date keep us from making an impact in the process? And how did we end up with such a late draft pick? 

For a bit of backstory, the primary system as we know it didn’t even exist until after the 1968 election when the McGovern-Fraser Commission moved the nominating decision out of the smoke-filled rooms at party conventions, giving the party rank-and-file more bang for their votes. 

The Commission created a direct link between the primary and caucus voters to the delegates who would attend the party’s national convention, binding convention delegates to particular candidates. If you’ve ever watched or attended a convention, you’ll remember seeing the roll calls leading to the formal nominations.

States differ in the decision making process as to how they elect or select delegates. For example, primaries are funded and run by state governments, while caucuses are the domain of the state party; each has different goals. Primary elections resulted from reforms during the Progressive era in order to avoid any mishandling by political parties. Since the state pays for primaries, most states prefer to hold primaries instead of caucuses. However, if a state party chooses not to follow state laws governing the process, which include the date of the primary or who may participate in the election, it may opt to pony up for a caucus. 

Each party gets to decide how many delegates are allocated to each state. In addition, conventions on both sides include “unpledged” delegates who are typically current or former office holders and party leaders. 

Primaries also differ as to which voters may participate. In a closed primary, only registered party voters can participate; in an open primary, unaffiliated voters can participate, as well. California currently has a semi-closed primary. For 2016, the Democratic, American Independent, and Libertarian parties have notified the California Secretary of State that they will allow No Party Preference voters to request their party’s presidential ballots in the June 7 Presidential primary. 

New Hampshire is an early player in the primary circuit in part due to tradition. Iowa captured the kick off because of logistics. After the 1968 primary reforms, a proposed June state convention in Des Moines wasn’t an option because there weren’t enough hotel rooms to house delegates. The earlier date didn’t have much impact in 1972 but in then 1976, Iowa pushed Jimmy Carter to the top tier of the Democratic contenders. In 2008, with a goal of introducing racial and regional diversity to the process, the Democratic Party moved the Nevada and South Carolina primaries to an earlier date. 

Still, these four states are relatively small in terms of population, which prompts the question of why the primary calendar doesn’t seem to account for that. Political scientists and pundits point to the 2012 Republican Growth and Opportunity Project Report, a post-mortem referred to as the “on-ramp.” Both the Democratic and Republican National Committees prefer a slow-building nomination process, which allows for more equal footing among candidates as they make the case to voters. They fear that starting the process in a larger state or group of states might give an advantage to the best-funded candidate. 

The politics of California, unlike Iowa, are diverse. Sure, it tends to swing towards the blue side, but the state has a wide mix of hard-right Central Valley conservatives, SoCal Republicans, Big City liberals and Berkeley socialists, as well as Humboldt County libertarians.

Given that California is such a populous and diverse state, is it fair that it typically doesn’t get much say since it has one of the latest primary dates? Perhaps this is this something that should change, depending upon the spread between the candidates. But why hasn’t there been more of a move to do that? 

If you recall, in 1996, 2000, and 2004, our primaries were held in March. Then, in 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation to move the 2008 primary to February 5. Although candidates did make appearances in California to discuss issues important to the state, 33 other states also moved their primaries to February 5 or earlier, biting into California’s influence. 

In February 2008, voter turnout was about 39 percent, only slightly better than earlier turnouts. Clinton and McCain captured most of California’s delegates but Obama eventually became the Democratic nominee. Holding the primary in February ended up costing the state $97 million during a cash-strapped time and then the state still had to hold another primary in June that year to choose state legislative and congressional seats, resulting in a turnout that was under 20 percent. 

During this election cycle, however, California could end up being a game changer. The state will send 14 percent of the total delegates needed to capture the Republican nomination to the RNC convention in Cleveland to be held July 18-21. Twenty-three percent of the delegates needed for nomination on the Democratic side will go from California to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Philadelphia on July 25-28. 

If no candidate has a substantial lead in delegate count by late spring, especially on the GOP side, California could potentially put the nominee over the top since the state’s Republican delegates are allocated by congressional district in a winner-takes-all scenario.

With both parties supporting a later primary date for states like California, it may be that the primary date is unlikely to change. In spite of this, if the top two or three contenders in both parties continue their current status, then perhaps in this election, California primary voters will have a say. 

Come November, though, if history repeats itself, the state’s 55 electoral votes are unlikely to go to the Republican candidate. The last GOP candidate to win the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

 

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

EDITOR’S PICK--We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct (and those who help cover it up). 

Last week we had one Los Angeles Police Department detective arrested for intimidating a witness and for false imprisonment after she claimed her boyfriend had sexually assaulted her. That was followed with the news that another LAPD officer was going to jail and this time for attempting to commit a lewd act with a 12-year-old girl and indecently exposing himself to five female victims in Huntington Beach. 

And while I can always depend on the news media to bring you those types of LAPD shenanigans, today we’re going to discuss crimes committed by LAPD officers that the news media isn’t telling you about but are happening just the same. 

So gather around folks for the latest installment of Newtongate and it’s a doozy. 

When last we spoke about Newtongate I described in great detail how then Captain Ed Prokop (photo: standing right above) replaced then Captain Jorge Rodriguez who was demoted and shipped off to Foothill for his alleged participation in Hoopesgate. Still with me? (Read the rest.

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--When investors decide to plunk their own money -- or more likely someone else’s money – into high-rise buildings, usually with luxury apartments or condos, their motivation is to turn a handsome profit. 

Despite their public persona, their investment decisions have nothing to do with self-serving claims about LA’s housing crisis, demographic trends, transit use, or land use policies promoting Transit Oriented Development. 

Developers invoke these arguments, especially proximity to transit, when they happen to coincide with their projects. This is why the same high-rise, luxury buildings shoot up in many neighborhoods where the only transit service is a bus line. Examples of these luxury buildings can be found in many LA areas, such as Warner Center and Century City, where the entire built environment is based on cars. 

In fact, in Century City a new 40-story luxury high-rise apartment building is soon opening, and it will be totally oriented toward automobile driving. It not only caters to the tiny percent of tenants who can afford its lavish apartments, but its full range of tenant services conspicuously includes on-call chauffeurs for its fleet of luxury cars. In addition to these and related amenities, it also offers Mayor Garcetti an opportunity to include its 283 rental units in his construction goal of 100,000 desperately needed new residential units in Los Angeles.  

For a precedent, the same LA Times article examines a new San Vicente Boulevard apartment building on the border of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles – not far from Century City. Already open, it offers concierge service for all possible needs, consciously mimicking the services provided by a five star hotel, including attendant parking and fully stocked pantries in each unit. If this luxury life style appeals you, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets. The typical apartment rents for $12,000 per month, and a penthouse unit is slightly pricier: $40,000 per month. 

To put this rent structure into perspective, once LA’s minimum wage reaches $15/hour and if you devoted half of your salary to rent, you would need at least 13 full time jobs to sign a lease for the basic units. The penthouse, in contrast, would require you to simultaneously work around 42 full time jobs. 

For moderate luxury units -- $2000 per month or more for a small single -- such as the many new, transit-adjacent apartments on the Miracle Mile, you would only need two full-time minimum wage jobs to make your rent. It is almost affordable in comparison to the San Vicente Boulevard project. To be fair though, you would have a Spartan life style if you had dependents or chose to spend less than half of your take home pay on rent in order to indulge yourself in a sumptuous life style, perhaps a full breakfast at the nearby International House of Pancakes. But, either way, in 2023 you would have walkable access to a future subway station, and you also could help the Mayor reach his goal of 100,000 new housing units for Los Angeles. 

When these high-rise, high-rent apartment buildings HAPPEN to be in Hollywood or on Wilshire Boulevard and similar places served by transit, they are only transit adjacent, not transit oriented. This is why we should not take the investors, builder, realtors, and their slick or naïve boosters at their word when they flaunt buzzwords like housing crisis, transit, elegant density, and transit-oriented development. They are just being opportunists who know little and could care less about affordable housing, transit, transit-oriented development, and sustainable city planning.  

If they truly believed in sustainable city planning – what I call the successful density of New York City versus the poorly performing density of Los Angeles -- they would insist that METRO engage in the same land use planning it once pursued through contracts with LA City Planning -- when they planned and built the original MetroRail subway in the 1980s. When done right, this planning should include heavily subsidized affordable housing projects at transit stations. 

This planning also needs to address the critical barrier to transit use, the first and last mile (i.e. getting people to the transit station). And, METRO and the City of LA need to make sure that all transit stations have a full range of standard amenities, such as snack bars, news stands and newspaper racks, dry cleaners, small grocery stores, bathrooms, and ATMs, as well as park ‘n ride, kiss ‘n ride, bus stops, cab stands, bicycle parking, and pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks radiating out in all directions from transit stations. 

Furthermore, all of this should be built during mass transit construction, not ignored forever (Purple Line Extension) or only addressed several decades after the transit lines became operational (Blue Line and Green Line). 

The bottom line is that the real estate speculators, the City of LA, and METRO have yet to demonstrate any interest in the planning and construction that turns Transit Adjacent buildings into an important component of Transit Oriented Communities. If this is changing, then I hope diligent CityWatch readers can share the evidence. Until then, however, any claims that these projects are sustainable should be dismissed as phony baloney. They are nothing but super-sized buildings for super-well off people with super-sized cars.  

There is one thing, however, that is sustainable about these projects: their marketing campaigns.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections at [email protected].)

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In the dystopian movie about Los Angeles, “Blade Runner,” the lead character, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was an expert at sleuthing out Replicants. They are androids so human that only an expert can detect them with 20 to 30 questions triggering an emotional response through a "Voight-Kampff" machine. 

In the case of an experimental android model named Rachael, Ford/Deckard ultimately determines that she, too, is a Replicant…but it takes him 100 questions to do this. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her. 

While I cannot promise that you will fall in love with the flacks and shills promoting unsustainable, luxury high-rise buildings in LA, I can at least give you a list of my own “Voight-Kampff” questions. Then you, too, can quickly get to work revealing their secret identities. I can also assure you that it won’t take the 20 to 30 questions necessary to expose the Replicants of “Blade Runner,” or even the 100 questions Deckard required for Rachael, the super-Replicant. 

Six questions should do the job just fine. 

Q1. What are the addresses of affordable housing projects in Los Angles that required legislative actions by the City Council (zone changes, General Plan amendments, or both) to be built? 

Over the past week I have repeatedly posed this question to opponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) since they claimed that the NII would block the construction of affordable housing in Los Angeles. So far, no one has coughed up a single address, much less a list of affordable housing projects stymied by LA’s current zoning code and General Plan. 

Q2. Should Los Angeles update its General Plan elements prior to any legislative actions by the City Council to approve zone changes and/or Plan Amendments for specific parcels? 

Since most of LA’s General Plan elements are out-of-date, it is now impossible to know where future demand for housing, infrastructure, and services will appear. Likewise, it is impossible to know the status of the public facilities and services that future residents will need in these areas. To step into this mess with City Council legislative actions that will up-end the General Plan through amendments based on antiquated data opens the door to stunningly bad legislative decisions. 

Q3. Should Los Angeles carefully monitor its General Plan Elements prior to any legislative actions that amend them for single parcels? 

State of California planning guidelines and the provisions of the General Plan Framework Element and its Environmental Impact Report require a rigorous monitoring program and annual report. This report should examine the status of the LA’s infrastructure and services, including maintenance, as well as forecasts of changes in user demand. It also needs to determine which of the General Plan’s demographic assumptions have changed and which implementation programs have been rolled out, including their effectiveness. Until this happens, decades-old planning documents cannot be reliably used for legislative actions determining LA’s future land uses at the level of a single parcel. 

Q4. Should any legislative actions approving otherwise illegal projects for individual parcels, based on an applicant’s promises of future job creation and transit ridership, require regular reports confirming these promises? 

At present, applicants can promise the sky and the moon to the City Planning Commission and the City Council in order to get the legislative approvals that their mega-projects require. But the same applicants do not then need to conduct any subsequent studies to determine if the jobs or transit ridership they promised actually appear. If they do not appear, which is usually the case, there are no consequences, such as the revocation of building permits, zone changes, and General Plan Amendments. 

Q5. Should projects that promise the creation of jobs and generation of transit ridership be approved in separate, conditional phases? 

If the City Planning Commission and City Council’s legislative actions to approve special laws for individual parcels were broken into phases, the second or later stages could be rejected or postponed until the promised jobs and/or transit ridership appeared. In this way, liars and shady consultants would get their just rewards. 

Q6.  Should Proposition 13 be reformed by splitting the roles so cities can properly fund public services, such as affordable housing trust funds? 

Since single-family homes sell about every six years, while commercial properties, including apartment buildings, are rarely sold, the latter are the true beneficiaries of Proposition 13. The victims are not just owners of single-family homes, nearly all of whom bought their homes since 1978 and, therefore, pay high property taxes, but also the users of public facilities and services. Since many of these public facilities and services (e.g., affordable housing) have been downsized by perpetual public sector budget crises since California’s voters approved Prop. 13, splitting the roles would make sure that commercial properties were properly reassessed and then required to pay their fair share of property taxes. 

If these six questions are not sufficient enough for you to uncover the Rachael-style Replicants hiding among the advocates and pundits promoting otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartments in the name of affordable housing, then I will happily provide you another six questions. 

Just remember to keep a hand on your wallet.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

MUSING WITH MIRISCH--The recent LA Times article which highlighted a ridership slump at Metro has occasioned much hand-wringing, kneejerk blowback and rationalization among self-styled transit hipsters. The article points out how, despite ongoing expenditures of billions of dollars, Metro continues to struggle to get people to use public transportation. While it’s fairly easy to understand where the hand-wringing is coming from, if anything, the article indicates that we in LA County should collectively be cautious before approving another “transit tax” – something that is being proposed by Metro for this November’s ballot. 

For Metro and the transit advocates, many of whom themselves nosh on the taxpayer bounty provided by Measure R (with more noshing to come with the potential successor this November,) it’s all about the money. Focus groups, lobbyists, political advisors are all aimed at answering the question: How can we get the voters of LA County to approve a new tax? “Promise bones” are being thrown in all directions of the county to try to secure endorsements of local politicians in an effort to make sure the future tax measure doesn’t suffer the fate of Measure J, which failed to pass despite massive Transit Establishment support and virtually no funded opposition. 

It’s the wrong question for Metro to be asking. 

The critical question is not how we can get a new tax passed. The question is: How can we best improve mass transit within the County? And if we are going to pass another tax, how can we get the best value for our taxpayer dollars? And are we currently getting the best value for the billions Metro spends each year? And shouldn’t we ensure we are getting the best value-for-money before committing more funding to Metro? Finally, shouldn’t we ensure that the Metro Board proportionally and equitably represents all the residents of the County before the taxpayers of the entire County commit more money to the agency? (In a blatant rejection of the principle “one person, one vote,” the 6 million non-LA residents of the County are currently underrepresented by some 60% on the Metro Board). 

Much of the blowback to the Times article has been from anti-car activist types and their suggestions to increase Metro ridership have, not surprisingly, been punitive actions towards motorists: increase the cost of gas, increase the cost of parking, make parking more difficult by reducing building code parking requirements, end investment in road infrastructure, etc. In a headline in Metro’s “The Source,” Metro’s in-house publicist Steve Hymon questions a contention made in the LA Times article: “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” 

Indeed, the question is somewhat ironic in view of Metro’s own at times almost monomaniacal focus on building rail lines at the expense of bus service. As the Times article points out: “Although buses account for about 75% of Metro's ridership, rail operations and construction receive more money than buses do from Measure R, the county's most recent half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.” 

A number of transit hipsters have tried to discredit the Times article by pointing out that some of Metro’s expenditures haven’t borne fruit because construction is currently in progress and new lines haven’t opened yet; they have tried to relativize the situation by comparing ridership declines with even steeper dips in other jurisdictions. (However, none of them points out that the County’s population has increased by some 2 million from the height of ridership in 1985.) But no matter how you play with the figures, it’s hard to gainsay what I consider to be the crux of the Times article: 

"There's been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers," said Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. "Lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes." 

In light of this, it’s difficult to reasonably support a new tax (or a tax extension) without some major rethinking, reframing and a healthy dose of common sense, despite the sexiness of “shiny new things.” 

Metro’s new CEO, Phil Washington, has said of Metro’s construction efforts: “We’re not building for today. We’re building for 100 years down the road.” 

Washington’s long-term thinking is to be applauded, especially when the other Washington – and all other levels of government below it down to the local – generally think in vistas which don’t go beyond the next election cycle. But there is also clearly a challenge with spending billions of dollars now for “100 years down the road.” It means we need to make sure that any infrastructure we are building now will not be obsolete; it means we need to build with technological and demographic adaptability in mind. 

In the “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” article, Steve Hymon writes: “I like my car (which I often park at a Gold Line Station).” The implication is that a mix of transit options which includes cars can best serve the County’s residents. Hymon drives his car to the Gold Line, then takes public transit. However, this mix would be made more difficult by the anti-car hipsters who want to use punitive measures to force people to use public transit. Neither does Metro itself actually encourage or enable this mix on a consistent basis. The much touted Purple Line, for example, will offer no park-and-ride options, boxing out potential riders like Steve Hymon who would like to leave their cars at transit stations. 

As I wrote last April in The Los Angeles Business Journal, in which I proposed a municipal automated shuttle system for Beverly Hills, driverless vehicle technology offers an exciting solution to first/last mile challenges; getting to and from transit stations (“the first/last mile”) can be a substantial obstacle to potential commuters’ use of public transportation. In addition to hyperlocal transit applications, driverless vehicle technology can be a substantial part of the overall public transit equation, much bigger, in fact, than Metro is currently acknowledging. 

And that, quite frankly, seems to be a major part of the problem with Metro’s tax-and-spend strategy. It’s difficult to be forward-thinking with such an embrace of yesterday’s technology. Because as it currently stands, the next Measure R largely focuses on and plans to spend billions and billions on traditional rail lines and other “shiny new things.” 

Not every bus rider may dream of having a car, but it’s pretty safe to say that almost every transit rider wants to get from Point A to Point B in as efficient and time-saving manner as possible. D’uh. On demand point-to-point public transportation should be any transit agency’s ultimate goal, and while this will likely involve a cocktail of transportation forms, driverless mass transportation can and should play a major role in achieving solutions. 

Driverless vehicle technology, both within the private and public transportation sector has the potential to take significant numbers of vehicles off the streets, as well as to use the streets more efficiently. The irony of the potential of driverless vehicle technology within the public transportation sector should not be lost upon transit advocates who are more concerned with getting people from Point A to Point B than shiny new things and an anti-car bias: the road infrastructure we have developed in LA, much to the dismay of the anti-car crowd, could very well unwittingly prove to be the best “Point A to Point B” infrastructure investment we ever have made with the advent of automated vehicles and automated public transportation. 

A significant investment in driverless vehicle technology, along with an eye towards other kinds of developing technological solutions, perhaps including advanced models of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) should be a major focus of any future tax measure or additional transportation expenditures. 

What is being proposed now is mainly just a form of “same old, same old,” some of which indeed may be necessary, but certainly not to the exclusion of new, developing and future technologies with a 100 year forward-looking vista in mind. In other words, Metro is looking more to cobble together political support to get a new tax passed, rather than providing a forward-thinking vision to solve the actual transportation problems we face in LA County every day. Right now it seems like a case of matter over mind and money over vision, and that’s something we can and must change. 

When the Purple Line was approved, the notion of a municipal automated shuttle system would pretty much have been in the realm of “Beam me up, Scotty.” Now, the technology will be ready for prime-time before the LaCienega/Wilshire station opens. 

In short, a revolutionary end to Metro’s ridership slump is within our grasp, but Metro will have to change its current endgame. Metro should be less concerned with answering the question, “How can we get voters to approve a new tax?” and more concerned with answering the question: “How can we get people from point A to point B in as efficient, cost-effective and convenient a way as possible?” If Metro can use technology to figure out good answers to this question, ridership will naturally and organically increase and traffic will decrease. Rather than simply looking backwards to transportation models of the past hundred years, practical and political solutions should follow a well thought out, forward-looking vision which looks to fully integrate new and developing technologies. This is the clear and logical answer to Metro’s ridership slump. 

The Metro Board now has a historic opportunity to fix Metro’s ridership slump by providing real leadership for the benefit of all the residents in LA County; not surprisingly, it involves more – much more – than simply trying to get us all to pass another transportation tax. 

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills; as Mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

DEALING IN DEVELOPERS-Here’s a question for you: Does campaign money affect the actions of government officials? You may be laughing, but it’s a deadly serious question. About 2,500 families have been relocated from their homes in Porter Ranch and over 1,400 more have asked to be moved. They have been sickened by the catastrophic natural gas leak from a well about a mile from their front doors. 

The story of how those front doors ended up so close to a working natural gas storage facility begins with $245,000 in campaign donations. That’s how much the Porter Ranch Development Co. gave L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the LA City Council between 1982 and 1989, when the 1,300-acre project was under consideration. 

The mayor gave his approval to the Porter Ranch development late in 1989, and the council followed, unanimously, in mid-1990. 

Yet somehow, none of the city officials remembered to tell the public that just north of the proposed residential and commercial development, there was a massive underground natural gas storage facility, and right next to that, a working oil field. 

It’s instructive to view the timeline for the Aliso Canyon oil and gas facilities above Porter Ranch: 

  • 1938 – Oil is discovered in Aliso Canyon
  • 1972 – Sempra Energy (parent of SoCalGas) turns a depleted oil field into an underground storage facility for natural gas. The company buys gas in the summer and stores it at Aliso Canyon so it can be delivered through pipelines to local customers in the winter.
  • 1982 to 1989 – The Porter Ranch Development Co. donates over $245,000 to LA City Council members and Mayor Tom Bradley.
  • 1989 – The Termo Co. of Long Beach buys the North Aliso Canyon oil field and develops it into an active drilling site, which it remains today.
  • 1989 – Mayor Bradley gives his approval to the Porter Ranch development after reaching an agreement with Councilman Hal Bernson, an advocate for the project, to have the developer provide affordable housing and new freeway ramps.
  • 1990 – The City Council votes 14-0 to approve the development after listening to three hours of comments from local residents about trash, traffic and sewage.
  • Oct. 23, 2015 -- SoCalGas discovers a leak at one of its injection and withdrawal wells, SS-25, at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch. The company is unable to stop the leak despite seven attempts to plug the well by pumping fluids down the well shaft.
  • Jan. 6, 2016 -- Gov. Jerry Brown declares an emergency and directs state agencies to implement tough new regulations to verify the safety and condition of all gas storage facilities. He asks for daily inspections of well heads, pressure measurements, and regular testing of safety valves. Meanwhile, a quartet of bills is introduced in the state legislature to toughen oversight. 

The crisis might have been prevented if the same safety regulations now being rushed into effect had been thoughtfully implemented in 1990, before thousands of Porter Ranch homebuyers closed escrow. 

It’s fair to ask: Why didn’t that happen? 

Would you like to guess how much money Sempra Energy has donated to state candidates and campaign committees in California just since 2001? 

More than $12 million. And that doesn’t count local candidates, like city councilmembers and county supervisors. 

Governor Brown was one of the candidates who accepted generous donations -- $79,200 between 2010 and 2014 -- from Sempra. Were his decisions ever influenced by that financial support? Maybe not, but last year Governor Brown vetoed six bills -- passed unanimously by the Legislature -- that would have reformed the California Public Utilities Commission by making it harder for the commissioners to be cozy with the utilities they regulate. 

One of the utilities regulated by the sometimes-cozy commissioners is Sempra’s SoCalGas.

Public trust is a fragile thing. As the emergency in Porter Ranch continues, investigations are underway into what happened, who is at fault, and how similar incidents can be prevented in the future. 

A lot is riding on every decision. 

When a catastrophic event puts public health at risk, no one should have to wonder whether government officials are acting in the best interest of the public, or whether they’re molding their decisions to help a campaign donor. 

There’s only one way to be sure. 

Everyone in California who holds a public office or is currently running for one, or both, should immediately stop accepting campaign contributions from Sempra Energy. 

The clean-up in Porter Ranch starts now.

 

(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece originally appeared in Fox and Hounds.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BILLBOARD WATCH-With the city’s legislative agenda containing such hot-button issues as allowing new digital billboards and granting amnesty to unpermitted and non-compliant signs, it’s little surprise that LA billboard companies spent almost $2.3 million last year lobbying council members and other city officials. 

As in past years, Clear Channel was the big spender. According to City Ethics Commission reports, the Texas-based billboard giant and its parent company, iHeart Media, paid $670,326 to lobbying firms in 2015 to promote its interests in City Hall. 

Second on the spending list at $413,790 was West Hollywood-based Regency Outdoor -- perhaps surprising because the company owns far fewer billboards than the city’s big three, Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising. However, Regency is embroiled in a dispute with city officials over the fate of its highly valuable billboards on city property at LAX. 

Other companies and the amounts paid to lobbying firms in 2015 are as follows: 

-Outfront Media $215,000

-Lamar Advertising $187,102

-JC Decaux $162,000

-Summit Media $146,365

-Intelligent Sign Network $90,092

-National Promotions & Advertising $20,612 

A Hollywood firm, Paramount Contractors, spent $155,962 lobbying city officials on signage issues, according to the Ethics Commission reports. Paramount Contractors isn’t a billboard company, but has been involved in legal disputes with the city over super-graphic signage on its Hollywood properties. 

The LA Outdoor Advertising Coalition, a group formed to lobby the city on billboard issues, spent $209,841 in efforts to influence city officials in 2015. Its membership includes Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising, among others.

 

(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected].)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--I couldn't help but get a massive case of deja vu when I read the Times-reported decrease in transit ridership, and an excellent response by transit advocate Ethan Elkind

My advice, if you want to learn the whole picture, is to click on both links above.  No worries, I'll wait ... 

... I think it's important to appreciate both points of view yet scrutinize them carefully.  Ignore them at your peril, but don't take either approach as "gospel".  I think that the Times writers are doing their jobs, and very much enjoy reading the work of both Ms. Laura Nelson and Mr. Dan Weikel, but feel obliged to mention that I've seen an anti-transit bias from Dan Weikel of the Times for as long as I've read him. 

Yet while I also respect and appreciate Mr. Elkind's work and opinions, I think that he, too, has his own bias that should be understood, noted, and appreciated. 

And, of course, I have my own bias--yet I have striven mightily over the years to be a "transportation" advocate and not merely a "transit" advocate.  Which means that I am as bullish about smoothing out the 101 freeway for smoother flow, and widening the I-5 freeway to enhance mobility, as I am creating an Expo Line, a Downtown Connector, a LAX/Metro Rail connection, etc. 

I am also into innovative Uber/Lyft and telecommuting as I am major works projects such as the aforementioned freeway and rail projects.  Ditto for DASH and bus operations funding while wanting to create more parking, bicycle and other access to transit. 

But it's not about me ... it's about YOU.  Is transit for YOU? 

There are those who think that mass transit is something to be worshiped, with the car being the transportation anti-Christ.  There are those who think that mass transit is a form of wicked socialism that prevents us from being free. 

And then there are the rest of us who just want a choice and a cheap, easy way to get from here to there, and who really wonder about the above two groups.We want affordable mobility that's not too tough on the environment, and which allows us to live our lives and make a few bucks to get by. 

Transit being "free" is like health care or college being "free"...unless there are volunteers involved, somebody is paying for it.  Which isn't a concept too tough for most adults to grasp, unless some of us want it for free and demand that others pay for things for which we benefit.  That demand doesn't sit well with most Americans, although economic stresses are probably making enough of us frustrated enough to insist on a break. 

Hence the desire of transit advocates for higher gas costs (to "force people out of their cars") is probably the last thing we need to encourage more transit spending: 

1) If the price of gas goes down, then we lose transit riders--and the Times writers have their case proven in that people DON'T really want to ride transit. 

2) No one likes to be "forced" to do ANYTHING. 

So for any transit advocate or planner or transportation expert who bemoans the recent falling of gas prices, perhaps a good self-administered slap in the face (and I mean so hard that it stings for five minutes afterwards) is in order. 

Cheap gas means cheaper food, cheaper industrial costs, cheaper transit operations, cheaper airline costs, and a host of secondary benefits.  Wanting gas and food and other economic costs to go up is misanthropic--and if you hate people, then fine...but don't be surprised if they'll hate you right back. 

Or at least ignore you. 

I think that both Nelson and Weikel on one hand, and Elkind on the other hand, do us all a good service.  We need to confront why many of us either don't want to, or cannot use transit if there are other ways to achieve mobility.  Lousy service, fears of our physical safety, convenience, etc. are all valid reasons and must NOT be ignored. 

Yet until we have a completed Expo Line, and a Foothill Gold Line, we won't have Metro Rail (with all of the linking bus lines) reaching the western and eastern ends of the county.  And to be honest, until we get a Downtown Light Rail Connector and a LAX/Metro Rail connection, we will have a disjointed rail system as inconvenient our freeway system would be without the I-10 or I-110. 

So some hard lessons learned, and the ability to really LISTEN to both sides, are good for us all. 

Problems with transit DO exist, and yet our Metro Rail system DOES have a brilliant future.   

But everything from parking to buses to bicycle amenities will be needed for transit to work. 

(And why in Heaven's name is the Eastside Light Rail Extension not sufficiently linking up to Metrolink, now?) 

The Expo and Eastside/Foothill Gold Lines are alternatives to the freeways in which they parallel, so WHY is there insufficient parking for those driving long distances to get out of their cars to access the trains? 

Why are we using rail projects an an excuse for overdeveloping?  Why are we using freeway expansions for overdeveloping? 

And why are we overdeveloping at all, if it will undo the mobility established by any new transportation project. That phenomenon is as smart as spending 25% more after a 10% raise. 

So maybe transit is for you.  And maybe transit isn't for you.  And maybe transit is for you when it comes to some needs, but not for others. 

But let's keep theology out of this.  Neither cars, buses, nor trains have the numbers "666" engraved under them, and those who advocate for either of those forms of transit should use common sense and common decency in making their case. 

And I'll let YOU figure out whether you like my idea or not:  I am a "transportation" advocate, a "mobility" advocate, and an "economic opportunity" advocate.  I like ANY form of transportation that is smart, cost-effective, attractive, and something that enhances our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life. 

(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

HUMAN TRAFFICKING LA STYLE--As the FBI mobilizes to crack down on Bay Area sex trafficking in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, community leaders met at California State University Northridge last week to tackle sex trafficking in the Valley. Just hours after the event, the Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force apprehended and arrested several suspects now charged with pimping and pandering. LA Council Member Nury Martinez joined LAPD and federal investigators on the undercover sting operation in Van Nuys that led to the arrests. Martinez was present in the sting’s final hours and during the arrest and investigation. 

Late last year, the LA City Council led by Martinez created the Valley Bureau of Human Trafficking Task Force to end decades of prostitution and trafficking along the Sepulveda and Lankershim corridors. “With the help of law enforcement and many resources within LAPD, we were able to dismantle a large and complex prostitution ring,” said Lieutenant Marc Evans of the Operations Valley Bureau and head of the task force. 

The task force worked with LAPD Major Crimes, Foothill Vice, Detective Support and Vice Division, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the investigation and arrest.   

“Valley residents are fed up with seeing young women put up for sale on our street corners,” said Councilwoman Martinez.  “As the only woman on the LA City Council, I take it very seriously and personally that I be the voice for these young girls and all women who are victims of human trafficking.” 

Thursday’s arrests were the result of the exceptional coordination of both local and federal law enforcement agencies.  The investigation focused on a brothel that had four locations.  Search warrants were served at those four locations throughout the valley on Thursday evening, including two in the Sixth District that is represented by the council member. 

According to Kim Roth, executive director of Strength United, California has emerged as a magnet for sex trafficking of children. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas identified by the FBI. 

Up north, the FBI opened a Human Trafficking Operation Center last week, coinciding with the start of Super Bowl week. A trial run in October resulted in the rescues of six children in the Bay Area, the youngest victim at 12 years old. 

High-profile events like the Super Bowl are lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers and criminal activity, according to Michele Ernst, a spokesperson for the FBI. “It’s market and demand,” she says. 

Betty Ann Boeving, the executive director and founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition estimates that less than 10 percent of those in the sex industry choose to participate. “Most are being forced against their will. Many are underage girls. This is the business of rape for profit,” she says. 

“I’m looking forward to shining a light on human trafficking in the Valley,” said Councilwoman Martinez. “We will raise awareness on all possible solutions going forward.  I’m committed to fighting human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley.” 

The efforts led by Martinez and others will hopefully continue to expose the problem of human trafficking in the Valley, as well as on a national and global scale.  

ACTION INFO--Strength United is a comprehensive social service organization that operates through CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.  It provides 24/7 support and crisis intervention, along with long-term counseling, victim advocacy and prevention-education programs to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, child maltreatment and other crimes 

Compton’s STAR (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience) Court, which provides referrals to specialized services for underage victims of sex trafficking.  

Journey Out works with survivors of human trafficking.   

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

-cw

EASTSIDER-A Bit of Background: Years ago, I used to live in Lincoln Heights, in a loft at the Brewery, over by the San Antonio Winery. It was there that I got sucked into LA politics, and even hosted an event for Tony Villaraigosa for CD 14, helping him dump incumbent Nick Pacheco. In retrospect, I apologize for that lapse. 

Anyhow, that was at the beginning of the Neighborhood Council movement and it became my entry into the world of “planning” by our political class. Just after Nick Pacheco was on his way out, beaten by Tony V, the ink was hardly dry when the Brewery and a bunch of other folks were gerrymandered (I mean, “redistricted”) into CD1 run by Councilmember Ed Reyes. Hello City politics…and hello Ed. 

Reyes came in with a city planning background so he naturally gravitated to the PLUM Committee. And there he reigned supreme until he was termed-out in 2013. Ed was famous for running the PLUM Committee as a “Committee of One” -- a fancy way of saying that his other two committee members couldn’t be bothered to show up for a lot of the meetings. 

Council Rules to the rescue -- you only need one committee member to conduct business. This was especially helpful when the other two members were folks like Jack Weiss and Jose Huizar. 

Along with Reyes came a big picture vision of “transit corridors” and “mixed use high density housing” to get us out of our cars (bad) and into the City’s version of “the wave of the future” (good.) I had never heard all those PLUM buzz words like “Adaptive Re-use” or “Residential and Accessory Services,” so it was pretty hard to figure out what they were talking about -- until it was too late to stop the steamroller. 

From the ground level, it seems that this stuff boiled down to warehousing public and private land –making it possible for the Council to (1) sell off and build all these transit-corridor, high-density, so-called affordable housing projects along the rail and bus lines; and (2) sell or resell the big old downtown buildings to their favorite real estate developers to be turned into condos and apartments. 

Evidently, this started a movement since we now see that the building of all this high density housing continues like a brush fire going through the Gorman pass on a high wind day – complete with all kinds of tax breaks, building waivers, and the elimination of parking to the “tune” of the rap song, “No one will need a car in the new LA.” 

Of course, in the real world we know now that there ain’t no affordable housing in LA. The Council “proponents” of affordable housing have largely destroyed it and the very idea of “affordable” is so laughable it should be a punch line on the Jimmy Fallon Show

I discovered the hard way that not one blade of grass, not one liquor permit, and not one single substandard plot of land was touched in districts controlled by the PLUM Committee without the personal say-so of Committee Members. And boy, oh boy, did they have the necessary control tools -- Interim Control Ordinances, Community Design Overlays, redefinition of various zoning codes, variances, and granting approvals of some projects while secretly allowing the building of entirely different projects with virtually no public input or notice. 

The Times Article

Does any of this sound familiar? What got me thinking about all these not-so-wonderful memories was the recent article in the LA Times about transportation funding – in which we see proof of the lies they told us. 

So, after approving Measure B in 2008, designed to be a thirty-year 1/2 cent sales tax to help build a wonderful transportation infrastructure necessary to serve all those smarmy crammed-in-like-lab-rats high density projects, we now discover that transit ridership is down. It’s not only down, it’s in a downward trend that is actually accelerating. 

So in exchange for something like $9 billion dollars of infrastructure investment, we’re seeing a ten percent decline in the use of that investment. This tells me that all the professional planning designed to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation was nothing but hype. 

Read the Ballots, Follow the Money

We must pay attention to the history our political elite – something they hope we will forget – and look at the City’s Mobility Plan 2035 (as re-amended). Here, again, is another project that doesn’t add up. The $9 billion spent to “get LA out of its cars” did just the opposite. Only in LA, right? 

So go ahead and have a good cry over the destruction of the City of Angels by those in search of hot money and fast exits. 

And get worried, get very, very worried. Remember this article when the next tax hike scam hits the ballot. Also, please read Jack Humphreville’s article,  “…Kicking the Can Down the Road.” 

Revisit the history. It seems the 30 year tax provided by Measure B wasn’t enough. No sir, even as we were spending that tax money for declining use public transit, Tony V and his pal Herb Wesson were running around in 2012 hawking Measure J, designed to extend the 30-year sales tax from Measure B for another 30 years! Honest, folks, even I don’t have the imagination to make this stuff up. In the end, Measure J’s necessary 2/3 majority was defeated by only a cat’s whisker – Yes, 66.11% and No, 33.89% – and that should scare the daylights out of everyone. 

Finally, let’s not forget Prop A, the last City power grab, when they tried to pass a 1/2 cent LA City sales tax to help balance the budget – a budget that was a train wreck, largely due to giveaways and waivers given to developers who were busy densifying and restructuring our City in the hope of getting rid of cars and reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gas, and our reliance on fossil fuels. Fortunately for us, voters didn’t buy into all the doom and gloom predictions from the political elite. People didn’t believe that the City would be broke if that tax didn’t pass -- and it failed by a vote of about 55% No to 45% Yes. 

Next time, let’s ignore the rhetoric and follow the money trail before we approve any more spending.

And if you’re feeling proactive, try checking out the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a ballot measure campaign run by Jill Stewart, formerly of the LA Weekly. This measure is also supported by our own Jack Humphreville.

 

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

 

ANIMAL WATCH-Was it an oversight or intentional that the new nonprofit proposed by General Manager Brenda Barnette to solicit funds for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services was incorporated as “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation?” 

At the January 12, 2016 meeting of the Animal Services Commission, GM Brenda Barnette urged approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Los Angeles Animal Services and “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation, Inc.”, incorporated by former Villaraigosa-appointed Commissioner Maggie Neilson, CEO of Global Philanthropy.   

Brenda Barnette claims that the purpose is “…to support the work of the Department much the way the LAPD Foundation, the LAFD Foundation, the Library Foundation and others support the work of City Departments.” 

However, other city-department “supporting foundations” clearly mention in their name the agency for which they are soliciting funds. 

So why wasn’t “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” incorporated as “Los Angeles Animal Services Foundation” or “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Services?” Both are available according to the CA Secretary of State.   

Ms. Neilson’s glib response to the Commission after that question was posed in public comment, was that “they” can change the name later. She didn’t explain why a compatible name was not used at the outset. 

Whether it is a lack of experience or perhaps being advised not to create any roadblocks for Brenda Barnette, none of the three attorneys on the Commission asked any probing questions about the blank spaces in the MOU or about a business plan, goals or officers. They were effusive over approving essentially a “blank check.” 

This was the first meeting after the resignation of Commissioner Jennifer Brent -- a tremendous loss, because she was the only Commissioner with actual animal sheltering and nonprofit management experience. 

Another obvious incongruence clouds the transparency of this proposed financial-support agreement: 

The MOU states:

“… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…;” 

The Articles of Incorporation for the Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation state:  

“The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and   that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

But the official mandated Mission Statement of the Department of Animal Services is clear:

        “To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel reportedly helped develop this MOU. Why would a nonprofit charity be set up with a statement of purpose not closely related to the Mission Statement of the agency for which it purports to raise funds? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency, such as L.A. Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after an owner relinquishes them or fails to claim them from the shelter. 

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money is spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? 

Annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” will be provided only to Brenda Barnette, the Department’s senior accountant, and the Commission. And, any other financial data or list of officers and/or employees will be provided only to the Department upon request, according to the MOU. 

One expert explained, “When a governmental agency, such as L.A. Animal Services, joins with an allied nonprofit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests.” 

L.A. Animal Services is definitely not cash-strapped or lacking in charitable funding. Although General Manager Brenda Barnette frequently claims she is hampered by a lack of funds, donors give generously and leave sizable bequests to support the homeless animals impounded at City shelters. 

According to GM Barnette’s report on January 26, 2016, there is a current balance of $2,288,560.00 in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF), which is a carefully monitored and controlled charitable fund to assist the Department. (In fact, in late 2014, the balance was so high that Barnette was instructed by the Commission to spend $500,000.) 

The unrestricted current donations, which can be used for any existing program for the welfare of animals except spay/neuter, total $1,206,992.75.

The Animal Sterilization (Spay/Neuter) Fund shows a cash balance of $4,684,103.47 (as of 12/31/2015) from donations, grants, pet-adoption deposits, fees, and General Fund subsidy. 

In addition, the Department of Animal Services has a tax-funded 2015-16 operating budget of $43,950,107. 

The “Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” is actually Brenda’s third (known) attempt to form a nonprofit. 

An August 13, 2014, report by Barnette to Mayor Garcetti regarding the creation of an Animal Foundation with former-Commissioner Maggie Neilson, is marked “Note and File.” 

It identifies that, “The General Manager is working with former Animal Services Commissioner Maggie Neilson, Partner and CEO of Global Philanthropy, to form "The Foundation," a public nonprofit to help support the work of Animal Services.” 

Then it took a strange turn -- proposing that “Part of The Foundation would use the abandoned South L.A. shelter as a job training location for community members…” Concluding, “Animal Services is working with Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals…” 

This is visionary; but, it is hard to grasp the nexus to raising money for an animal shelter. 

Former-Commissioner, Terri Marcellaro and GM Brenda Barnette were involved in forming the 2011 nonprofit, called “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Shelters” to solicit funds in the name of L.A. City shelter animals. Donor packages of up to $50,000 were planned to be offered by the Friends of LA Animal Shelters, according to their documents. 

Mr. Barnette was not entirely forthcoming in her report to the Commission about her involvement with this group.

Dov Lesel of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Administrative Office denied knowledge of an MOU or contract, in response to my inquiries; however, 187 pages of e-mails and other documents were obtained through CPRA requests.

A visit to the Friends of LA Animal Shelters website on November 14, 2012, showed under “Donate”: 

"Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters is the fundraising arm of the city shelters. If you give directly to the city, there is no guarantee your money will reach the animals. Any money donated to us is guaranteed to go directly to the animals."  (Note: This wording was changed soon after my CPRA was received by the City.) 

There was not then, and appears still not to be, an MOU or formal agreement with the City, although shelter animals are delivered daily (except Tuesday) to the Friends’ L.A. Love and Leashes adoption location at 1011 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica by L.A. City employees, using city vehicles, and picked up by 7:00 p.m.

There is no indication donated funds to these groups is given to L.A. Animal Services although they claim they are supporting the shelters. Nor do any of Ms. Barnette’s reports on the Animal Welfare Trust Fund mention donations from either group. 

Several questions need answers:

  • Was an MOU or formal contract ever entered into for this transport and/or adoption activity and to relieve the City of liability while the animals are at this location?
  • How many animals are actually being adopted at Loves and Leashes, since the City is investing a substantial amount of employee time and resources?
  • Under what authority is City property (animals) transferred to a new owner in an adoption processed in Santa Monica by other than a Los Angeles City employee? 

There is much discontent being expressed and questions arising about Ms. Barnette’s management performance and treatment of her employees. This is a time for her to either dispel the untruths or improve the issues that are creating discomfort for the Mayor. 

There are growing concerns among members of the City Council and the public about strays, animal protection and the condition of animals in the shelters. There is unpardonably slow response to calls for humane investigations of suffering, starving and abused animals. 

This is the time for Brenda Barnette to devote her attention to her duties and fulfill her obligations to the animals and residents of Los Angeles. Fundraising should be last on her list.                                                                       

(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.

MY CAMPAIGN COMMON SENSE-Madeleine Albright once said, “I'm not a person who thinks the world would be entirely different if it was run by women. If you think that, you've forgotten what high school was like.” 

I should be a Bernie Sanders voter. I’m left of most. I embrace his positions on just about everything. He’s running a positive, inspiring campaign, mobilizing and organizing. Pretty much everyone I love and respect is “feeling the Bern.” 

It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’ve never particularly liked Hillary or Bill Clinton (except for that one time when I got to hear him speak in person at whatever convention was in Los Angeles – the one where he introduced himself walking down that long, long corridor – Oh, my!)

In 2004, after hearing now President Obama speak at that convention and thinking I was the only one hearing him at that hour, whatever that hour was, I became an early, enthusiastic Obama supporter. I was so inspired by his candidacy that I hit up then Councilmember Garcetti to help get 17-year old Steven Butcher to Montana to work the primary and to Westmoreland County in western Pennsylvania for the general election – exciting, positive campaign experiences that’ll last a lifetime! 

But I am also old enough to remember 1980. My first plane ride across the country to register voters for Barry Commoner and to collect signatures to qualify the Citizens Party for the ballot in Virginia (“No-Fuck” is the correct pronunciation of the city named Norfolk; back then, we had to send people to the county registrar on Tuesday afternoons, the only time folks could register to vote) and then in many other states. We were young and it was so much fun! 

I can’t believe I was shocked at Ronald Reagan’s election the morning after that Election Day. Working to re-elect President Jimmy Carter would’ve been a much better use of that kind of youthful exuberance, and I rue the political work I did that season. 

This election feels like 1980 to me. 

Stephen Breyer is 78; Antonin Scalia is 80; Anthony Kennedy is 80; and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 83.

“Everything Planned Parenthood has believed in and fought for over the past 100 years is on the ballot,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, announcing their first ever primary endorsement. 

This year, SEIU has it right: “Hillary Clinton has proven she will fight, deliver and win for working families,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a statement announcing the endorsement from the 2-million-member union.

All things being equal -- this is where I’ve come to on this election. I understand things are not equal and I’m not even sure what it means. For me? I guess it means Why the Fuck Not? All things being equal, let’s elect a woman, qualified, experienced, tested, mature, smart, and wise. Why the hell not?

I agree with Joan Walsh (The Nation, “Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton, With Joy and Without Apologies,” January 27, 2016): “I’m tired of seeing her confronted by entitled men weighing in on her personal honesty and likability, treating the most admired woman in the world like a woman who’s applying to be his secretary.” 

Responding to Sanders’ misstatement lumping Planned Parenthood in with “the establishment,” Walsh calls on decades of feminist history: “Yes, Planned Parenthood and NARAL have worked hard to become respected political players in the last 30 years, because the women they represent need political clout, not just services. But I’m old enough to remember when feminists were told that our issues -- ‘cultural’ issues like abortion and contraception -- were costing Democrats elections, so couldn’t we pipe down for a little while? Now we’re the establishment?” 

Brendan Quinn lists Clinton positions I support in the Blue Nation Review, April 13, 2015:

  • She’s pro equal rights for LGBT Americans
  • She opposes using “religious freedom” to justify cutting access to healthcare and discrimination
  • She understands economic inequality – and wants to fix it
  • She thinks anti-vaxxers are stupid
  • She supports gun control
  • She knows the criminal justice system in this country is broken
  • She wants to fix Citizens United
  • She supports other women in the climb towards equality
  • She supports American Workers
  • She’s Pro-Choice 

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

All things being equal -- us grammas gotta stick together. Like Secretary Madeleine Albright says: “"I think there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-Who is going to win the Super Bowl, Denver or Carolina? I don’t know, but we already know the identity of the loser: San Francisco. The city of San Francisco, already facing a deficit, is realizing two weeks before the big game that Super Bowl festivities will leave them with more than $4.3 million in costs. 

To cover it, a city analysis shows, the mayor’s office has asked departments to identify millions in surplus moneys, or to redirect staff time and other resources from projects to support the Super Bowl.

The departments have found those surpluses, the analysis found, and that’s not good news – because they weren’t supposed to have surpluses, at least according to what they told the Board of Supervisors during the budget review for this fiscal year. 

Even worse, San Francisco had no written agreement with the NFL or the Super Bowl host committee, or the city’s fire, police and emergency management departments when the Bay Area bid on the game and signed letters promising not to seek reimbursement from the NFL for public safety services in support of Super Bowl-related events. 

And the game itself isn’t even in San Francisco—it’s in Santa Clara (which did get a written agreement on costs.) 

This state of affairs is more than an embarrassment to San Francisco. It’s a reminder that only fools court professional football. Sadly, there’s a new NFL team in California – the Rams have moved to Los Angeles. And worse still, the Rams are building a new stadium that is supposed to host Super Bowls. 

Let’s hope that Inglewood, a much less prosperous place than San Francisco, makes sure to get its costs reimbursed.

 

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It [UC Press, 2010]. This column was posted first at Fox & Hounds … connecting people and ideas.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DEEGAN ON LA-Reform is in the air across the land, and it’s also evident in our city. The mood has been set by an angry national political debate that pits the 99% against the 1%, the haves versus the have-nots, and the far left against the far right. Here in LA, it’s more prosaic where there is a call to reform our out-of-control development plan for the city. People are angry and it’s bubbling up into lawsuits and litigation that have replaced reason. That must change. We must get a grip on land use. 

There’s a ballot measure planned for the November elections asking the voters to weigh in on the land use and development policies in our city. Already, leaked murmurs from City Hall are calling for appeasement and conciliation to prevent this from happening.  

But let’s not negotiate. The people need to speak on this one, not just compromise with politicians. Let’s get the issue out there to be fully vetted by the public; the public deserves to vote. Remember, it’s the people, not the revolving-door politicos, who make up the permanent government. 

Politicos at the root of the land use regulation problem have been served notice: fixing the mess they’ve made may be taken out of their hands if the proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative qualifies to appear on the November 8 ballot. It calls for a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning -- a hiatus for all the winks and nods and special zoning variance favors between the politicos and developers.  

Pro-growth advocates can be expected to do everything possible to halt this proposed ballot measure in its tracks. They are wealthy, enjoying unqualified political support at City Hall from the Mayor and City Councilmembers. This is why it is so crucial for the conversation to be elevated above the heads of the politicos to include the voice of the voters. If there’s a ballot measure in November the people will speak and the politicos will be forced to listen. No wonder the opposition is forming. 

The clock is ticking and the players are scrambling, some to advocate and others to assail. The stakes are as sky high as the developers want their new buildings to be. In the run-up to the November vote, they will face greater scrutiny and city planners will be held more accountable; politicos will no longer be the masters of their districts when it comes to land use decisions – decisions that, until now, have needed only their sign-off on a variance to skirt around any kind of land use rhyme or reason.  

Of all the players, the 15 councilmembers stand the most to lose. Financial support from developers is the high octane fuel powering the engines of many council offices and campaigns. Only one councilmember, David Ryu (CD4,) has a website showing the transparency of his dealings with developers who do business in his district. Knocked as a naive newcomer, Ryu may be the last man standing if the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is passed by the voters on November 8. He looks even better because the others look so bad. 

Anti-development sentiment is widespread but fractured. Each neighborhood seems to form its own splinter group with its own take on what’s good for them. Many have been tarred as NIMBY’s -- a stigma that needs to change. A good start toward changing this perception has been launched by the Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) and its Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a grassroots-driven ballot measure seeking to rein in “mega” development in Los Angeles over the next few years. 

According to CPLA’s Campaign Director Jill Stewart, "The November ballot measure will put a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning, and will force the City Council into a public process during that moratorium, to rewrite the 1980s-era General Plan. Most planning is spot rezoning that is done in back rooms then presented as a near-inevitability. We're seeing a huge number of older, affordable housing units destroyed to make way for luxury units, and destruction of neighborhood character, not to mention significantly worse surface street congestion.” 

The developers’ mantra seems to be “let’s make a deal,” and it’s the politicos who are brokering those deals. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative says, “let’s deal the people in -- all of the communities and neighborhoods that are being drastically affected by your back-room moves. Let them tell us what they want by voting “yes” or “no” on the ballot measure.” 

Paving the way for the ballot measure signature drive is the start of the “Stop Manhattanwood” campaign that, says the campaign’s newly launched website, “is a new awareness and advocacy campaign featuring billboards and online elements to educate concerned citizens in Los Angeles and elsewhere about the impact that tremendous growth and overdevelopment in Los Angeles—particularly in the Greater Hollywood area—is having on the overall quality of life in the city”.  

For once, there is no Hollywood dream-factory hyperbole or political overstatement to this sobering fact: the land use policies of the city are a mess-- physical Hollywood is the epicenter -- though not the only area of concern. 

So who are the known principal players right now in the battle that is shaping up? 

There’s Mayor Eric Garcetti,who has a history being at the eye of the Hollywood overdevelopment storm starting as councilmember in CD13 when the wrecking ball started rolling, followed by his tenure as President of the City Council, and now as Mayor. Some say a run for Governor or Senator may be next for him. He has motive, means and opportunity to get the land use mess cleaned up – and maybe put smiles on the faces of voters. 

Next up from the city is Garcetti’s newly appointed head of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP) Vince Bertoni, who brings more than 25 years of planning experience – including a previous stint at LADCP. When Bertoni was Deputy Planning Director in Los Angeles he oversaw the adoption of 16 historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZ) and a Hollywood community plan. 

Nobody has stood up to say he or she is “for the status quo, for uncontrolled development,” and willing to take that side of the argument. It’s no wonder. Although an opposition is forming to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the fight will eventually be joined. 

So far there is no announced opposition, creating a vacuum allowing the advocates of reform to set the agenda and step into the empty space, claiming as much ground as possible before an opposition organizes and gets funded. The ballot measure team is off to a good start this week with twin programming launches -- both billboards and ballot measure awareness outreach. 

Leading advocates include the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein and Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) Campaign Director Jill Stewart. This is a tough and determined team involving an organization renowned for advocacy, inended on educating area residents about the growing problem in the city and region, and particularly in the Greater Hollywood area. 

An ad campaign using “Stop Manhattanwood” billboards has begun and can be seen at major intersections like Vine and Santa Monica; Cahuenga, north of Sunset (above the Jack in the Box); Sunset and Van Ness (near Denny’s); Melrose, west of La Brea; and at Western and Lexington Avenues. The campaign will run for three months, a prime time for gathering signatures for the ballot measure. 

Synchronized to this effort is the Coalition to Preserve L.A.’s Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, supported by a grassroots group that will be gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot. They must amass 61,486 signatures to qualify its measure for the November 8 ballot. A few days ago, the Los Angeles City Clerk informed the backers that they may begin circulating petitions.  

The Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) will soon start the ballot signature process to qualify the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for the November election. They will visit groups citywide to discuss the ballot measure and solicit citywide buy-in from individuals for the fight. Their aim is to build a volunteer corps trained in workshops that will help get out the message, to spread the word to neighbors. It’s like a political campaign.  

So, the race is on. Nearly 100 years ago, when New York City was only a village, Rogers and Hart wrote the classic, “I’ll Take Manhattan, a song that has become part of  “The Great American Songbook.” A century later, people in our sunny city are singing a different tune – “I’ll Take Manhattan? No, you can have it!” 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the MidCity 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.

EDUCATION POLITICS-The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has carried on a disingenuous and premeditated war for the last ten years against thousands of expensive high seniority teachers. This has occurred while their union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has done nothing to defend them -- something they are obligated to do and have the power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement. And now, the self-dealing UTLA "Power Slate" leadership running the union has the chutzpah to ask for more dues, even as it continues to sell out its membership by colluding with LAUSD administration to attack senior teachers. 

In 2006, then LAUSD head of Office of Risk Management and Insurance Services Director David Holmquist -- now Chief Legal Counsel for LAUSD -- laid out in the Health and Welfare Benefits: Retiree Health Actuarial Valuation Update and Retreat Preview Presentation to the Audit, Business and Technology Committee how senior teachers salary and benefits were pushing LAUSD into the red he subsequently decided to go after them. Over the next 10 years, Holmquist systematically targeted senior teachers while UTLA leadership hasn't lifted a finger to help them. This group accounts for 87% of all teachers who have been hit with false charges and prematurely forced out of their careers.

Instead of bringing one unified legal action in defense of these senior teachers (as UTLA has power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement) UTLA instead divided up the claims of these similarly targeted teachers. UTLA is paying their law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, to walk these teachers through the dismissal process, encouraging many to take early retirement and without advocating on their behalf as they had the power and legal obligation to do. (see below) 

2008-2011 LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement 

ARTICLE V

GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE

1.0 Grievance and Parties Defined: A grievance is defined as a claim that the District has violated an express term of this Agreement and that by reason of such violation the grievant's rights under this Agreement have been adversely affected. Grievances as defined may be filed by the affected employee or by UTLA on its own behalf or on behalf of an individual employee or
group of employees where the claims are similar. On filing a grievance on behalf of a group, UTLA need not specify the names of the employees, but must describe the group so that the District has notice of the nature and scope of the claim. 

Instead of defending its rank and file, a union's primary function, UTLA leadership converted a substantial part of its strike fund into political contributions without notifying the membership or any of the committees. And then they pleaded poverty. 

Since even before the administration of UTLA President Warren Fletcher, UTLA leadership has habitually lied, saying that it carried member defense insurance with a company that was actually no longer in business. They even campaigned for ratepayers to join the union by assuring them they would be covered by this insurance policy that never existed. 

Initially, UTLA was self-insured when the number of LAUSD targeted teachers was small, but over the last 10 years with literally thousands of teachers being targeted for removal by LAUSD, UTLA has continued to do absolutely nothing to defend these predominantly senior teachers. Instead, they have allowed teachers to be systematically targeted and removed on false charges by LAUSD. This continues unabated to this day. 

If a hike in dues was necessary to defend teachers, why did UTLA leadership wait 10 years until thousands of senior top salary teachers had been targeted and removed by LAUSD? All this did was empower LAUSD administration to go after even more senior teachers, cutting significantly the dues that could have been collected by UTLA. 

Why was this allowed to happen? Simply stated, there has been no continuity of leadership advocating on behalf of teachers’ best interests. The union’s law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, has been allowed to run UTLA for 43 years without any written agreement between them and the union. Officers come and go, and like a mirror image of LAUSD leadership, UTLA's entrenched bureaucracy keeps selling out its members. 

If the present proposal of 30% dues increase becomes policy, future increases could be instituted without rank-and-file voting. Without this agreement, were national affiliates to raise dues in the future, UTLA could still at that time conduct a vote of the entire membership so they could determine whether they wanted to have their dues raised or not. This provides leverage to ensure that their affiliates would have to provide sound rationale for any dues increase. It would also provide leverage to UTLA leadership, who could pressure affiliates into advocating a clear message to justify the need for a dues increase. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in May, as expected, defendant CTA will undoubtedly seek to raise dues on UTLA members later this year. One should never give up a right to vote - as UTLA is now asking its membership to do. 

This current vote on raising UTLA dues includes an online option, but to date UTLA has not allow delegates to vote via online voting options (in violation of the online voting initiative,) since this would encourage greater rank and file participation and the likelihood that the raising of the dues proposal would not pass. 

Furthermore, the decision to use an outside vendor to conduct the vote was done secretly by the Board of Directors, and the House of Representatives was never informed or allowed to weigh in on that decision. Traditionally, any election run by an outside vendor must also been overseen by the UTLA Elections Committee -- yet the Board of Directors unilaterally decided to exclude the Elections Committee. 

For months, UTLA leaders have been claiming that it can't buy group legal insurance for housed teachers, because UTLA can't offer differing services to each affiliate. This claim, on its face, is false, since each affiliate already offers differing discounts on auto, travel, and other insurance services -- these services are not and have never been identical. UTLA has not responded to this criticism, which was pointed out months ago. 

It has been well publicized that UTLA aspiring leadership met secretly with then Superintendent John Deasy at Drago Restaurant in the middle of the last big UTLA election. UTLA Power Slate leaders have claimed this meeting was to discuss problem principals, an explanation that, on its face, doesn't make sense. Why meet at Drago and not LAUSD or UTLA? And why was former President Fletcher intentionally not told about the meeting? It seems more likely the meeting was to agree to delay talk of a pay raise in exchange for allowing candidates time off to campaign during school hours. As a result, a pay raise was delayed for an extra year -- money directly taken out of teachers pockets as UTLA leadership colluded with management.

It is also worth mentioning that for years UTLA leaders were reimbursed by UTLA for money they paid into the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) -- in effect, allowing them to double dip and they did not report this on their taxes. UTLA leaders claim this policy is no longer in effect, but there is nothing in writing to support that assertion. 

Adding more self-dealing to the fire, UTLA continues to claim that it fights the "charter privatizers." But right now former UTLA President John Perez and UTLA Staff Member Michael Bennett serve as the Board President and Vice President respectively of Montague Community Charter School. To date, UTLA has not disclosed their compensation levels and whether or not they are receiving any additional compensation from other outside entities such as the California Charter Schools Association. On a related note, both were former UTLA Officers who benefited from the STRS kickback. As Mr. Perez was a UTLA leader for over 10 years, he received over 10 years of this kickback. 

In general, UTLA has continued to operate with an air of secrecy; it doesn't even disclose to members how they spend money. In fact, in 2015, at a UTLA House of Representatives meeting, one member asked, at the microphone, for more detailed budget and expense information -- more than the four page document provided to elected members of the House of Representatives. 

At the time, UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye, a member of the Union Power Slate stated in response, at the microphone, "If we provide that to you, we might as well be giving that to the district." What is UTLA so afraid of? If they want a 30% dues increase, the, at a minimum, shouldn't they tell us right now how they have been spending – or not spending -- our dues money? If UTLA is responsible, why not celebrate that by operating transparently -- and asking LAUSD to follow UTLA's example. Instead, UTLA is silent about district waste and contracts, and is even under federal investigation into how they may have misappropriated money from the strike fund: 

National affiliates have done a terrible job over the past twenty years advocating for public education, which is why we find working conditions to be what they are today. Their big solution is to organize a "walk in" in February, another do nothing photo op. In Detroit, on the other hand, rank and file teachers are organizing sick outs without the support of their union leadership. We need to start fighting affiliates cozying up to privatizers, union-paid holidays disguised as host conferences, bloated bureaucracies, spending millions on meals and travel, and now they want to give themselves even more money. 

Under these circumstances, do you really want to give a blank check to UTLA and their national affiliates who have stood by for years allowing professional teachers to be savaged by LAUSD and districts like it around the country? I urge you to vote no. 

(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]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

GUEST WORDS-Just after the first of the year, the County released its draft set of homeless initiatives and, next week, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve and adopt the recommendations.  

The County Homeless Initiative, a comprehensive plan comprised of 47 recommendations, represents the largest, most coordinated effort ever undertaken in LA to attack the root causes of homelessness and move thousands of individuals and families from the streets to dignity and stability. The County has the funding in this year’s budget to begin to move all 47 strategies forward. Twelve elements of the plan, those believed to have the most immediate and achievable impact, are slated to be implemented before June 30 of this year. 

Of course there will always be some doubters. Lately, I have read news accounts opining that this latest initiative is no more likely to succeed than previous plans. I say, "Not true, for several reasons."

First of all, we have made a new level of financial commitment ($150 million in funds), we have a strong political will, and we are seeing unprecedented cooperation between the County, the City of LA, other cities in the County, and service providers. It is a cross-cutting and innovative approach to homelessness. 

The strategies in the plan are built around four critical areas:

  • prevention and frontline intervention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place
  • outreach and housing navigation so that, once homeless, people are not forced to go from office to office to receive the services and support they need
  • housing and services for those who need on-going support, and
  • expanded employment and income opportunities. 

There are many significant and distinctive elements to the County plan. First, the plan considers realistic ways to reduce the pipelines into homelessness. Many men and women who become homeless have engaged LA County social services before they ever lost their homes. They may be coming out of jail, foster care, or hospitals; others may be the victims of domestic violence. In this plan, we have focused on how we discharge individuals from those systems so that they can be stabilized before they become homeless. 

Second, although the most visible percentage of our homeless population are those on the streets who are often mentally ill, they represent only about 20 percent of our total homeless population. In actuality, most homeless people can be quickly re-housed. The County initiative emphasizes rapid re-housing, a policy innovation with a proven track record in curtailing homelessness. Many people slip into homelessness as a result of an employment or medical crisis, but, if they can be rapidly re-housed, their lives can be stabilized and they can begin to meet monthly rent payments again. Importantly, the County will partner with local cities to implement this strategy in the hope that we can end people's homelessness in the same communities where they first fall out of their homes. 

The County initiative also aims to reduce the many barriers that stand between homeless individuals and families and the services that could help them. This is why those developing the Initiative engaged virtually every County department in the design. I hear people refer to the so-called “service resistant” homeless population, but so many barriers stand between people experiencing homelessness and the help they need, that to call people “service resistant” simply isn’t fair. People experiencing homelessness often don’t feel safe in shelters. Homeless men and women cannot bring their animals to a shelter. Shelters don’t provide places to store people’s belongings so people are at risk of losing the few things they own. And people experiencing homelessness may be reluctant to take the time to stand in line for services that could help them if it means sacrificing a day’s income on the streets. 

The solution to homelessness is not more shelter beds, it's housing and a variety of services. Homelessness is a complex problem, and solving it will require a complex solution. That’s why every one of the 47 strategies outlined in the County plan is important. Our goal is “functional zero” homelessness. This year we will attempt to meet that “functional zero” goal for veterans, that is, we will work to have sufficient permanent and temporary housing so that as veterans become homeless they can be housed right away. The goal of the County’s historic initiative is to bring that to every Angeleno.  

Ten years ago, LA embarked on an effort to end homelessness, but, this year, the circumstances surrounding the new initiative are substantially different than a decade ago. This time, we have the engagement and support of lead nonprofits, philanthropy, business, the city and an unprecedented commitment and will in the County. There is consensus and alignment across these important sectors and that is why I am optimistic about the success of this far-reaching initiative in solving one of the most challenging moral issues facing Los Angeles.  

(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

GUEST COMMENTARY-Just eighteen months prior to handing over (in a below-market private sale) the keys to an old firehouse (photo above) bordering Richard Weintraub’s proposed development site for Sportsmen’s Landing, the City slapped Mr. Weintraub with a $1.6 million lawsuit to recover several years’ worth of taxes that he, as a hotel owner, was required to but did not pay.  

Mr. Weintraub was quite effective at enforcing the first part of the law (requiring guests to pay the tax,) but when it came to turning the tax money over to the City, he was considerably more lax. No worries, though. On a motion from Councilmember Krekorian, the City agreed to Weintraub’s low-ball settlement offer—a 37% discount from what the City originally sued for.  

Apparently, that wasn’t enough special treatment for Mr. Weintraub, who, on July 15, 2015, told a group of Studio City residents that “in thirty years of doing this, this has been the least pleasant project I've had to deal with, and the least pleasant group of people, I've had to deal with.” 

No comment -- except to say that it’s time for the City to 1) close the loophole practice of selling City surplus property in “private sales” instead of public auctions and 2) put a shorter leash on the City Council’s power to hand-out amnesty-like lawsuit settlements to “well-connected” but law-breaking individuals.  

Meanwhile, things just keep getting worse. Last week a formal complaint I filed with the City Attorney protesting the City Council’s blocking of testimony from residents opposed to the Sportsmen’s Landing development was rejected without coherent rationale. 

Trust me…it won’t be the last word.

 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.) Photo: CBS News LA. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TRANSIT TALK--In my circles, there has been a lot of discussion swirling around Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times article, “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California,” by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel. 

The Times’ authors cast a disparaging light on recent downturns in ridership: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county’s only transit option.” The article further asserts a number of causes for declining ridership, including “a changing job market, falling gas prices, fare increases, declining immigration and the growing popularity of other transportation options, including bicycling and ride-hailing companies,” and also immigration patterns and new drivers licenses for the undocumented. 

The internet has already responded to the Times

  • Steve Hymon at Metro’s The Source, responds citing national trends and touting transit’s promising future, though Hymon ultimately concludes that Metro can do better. 
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? hosted a discussion with Loren Kaye, Denny Zane, and Brian Taylor. Taylor blames a lack of agreement on policy goals that results in a “distorted” system that favors cheap car travel. 
  • Railtown author Ethan Elkind notes that the Times graphic misleadingly emphasizes Metro’s 1985 peak ridership.  
  • Jarrett Walker criticizes the Times for identifying an “accelerating” trend out of what is actually “very noisy” but largely flat ridership data. Walker emphasizes that the current one-year decline in ridership is not a “trend” yet; labeling it one is presumptuous. 
  • Matt Tinoco at LAist echoes Elkind and Hymon and questions the role of changing demographics, including gentrification in L.A.’s core.  
  • Eric Jaffe at CityLab points to new research that disputes the article’s claim, made by transit critic James E Moore that, “It’s the dream of every bus rider to own a car.” 

At yesterday’s Metro board meeting, CEO Phil Washington asserted that transit ridership is cyclical and that LA’s decline is in line with national trends. He also stated that he would be responding via a planned Times guest editorial. 

There are a lot of keystrokes already stricken on this, but, nonetheless, I’d like to weigh in with some ideas and some questions, and to further hear from SBLA readers on what you think. Like the Times list, I don’t think that there is one smoking gun cause, but plenty of interacting and overlapping factors that influence ridership.  

Overall Investment – Transit vs. Cars

My first thought upon reading the article was to blame declining ridership on a disparity of investment between transit infrastructure and car infrastructure. The U.S., California, and Los Angeles continue a long pattern of spending huge budgets to support driving, and not so much for transit. Governmental regulations, including parking requirements, also require massive private investment to serve cars, with little to no provisions for transit. 

Collectively, we pay people to drive, and so people drive a lot. I am skeptical that even Measure R’s significant transit investments will move LA County toward a greater transit share because Measure R also provides billions of dollars for highway and road expansion. 

Yonah Freemark touches on these disparities in his study showing that light rail investment did not increase transit mode share. Freemark concludes: “But spending on new lines is not enough. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations. None of the cities that built new light rail lines in the 1980s understood this reality sufficiently. Each region also built free highways during the period … These conflicting policies had as much to do with light rail’s mediocre outcomes as the trains themselves — if not more.” 

Compared to steep bus ridership declines in neighboring Orange County, Metro’s success in keeping ridership declines minimal can be seen as a success story. Metro was able to stave off more severe service cuts and greater fare increases due to Measure R. This brings to mind the futility in the Red Queen’s statement to Alice in Wonderland: “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Metro is expanding rail transit (and highways) as fast as it can, but its bus service remains largely unchanged, and therefore declines as public subsidies prioritize other modes. 

Too Soon To Judge Measure R

The Times article does review earlier events, but the article names and critiques Measure R (2008) and a future R2.1 which is expected to go before voters in November, 2016. It is possible to be critical of Metro’s priorities, but probably not Measure R itself. At least not yet. There is a long lag time for massive capital projects, so the rail that Measure R is building is just not done yet. The first Measure R-funded rail line will open in March, and the second opens in May. 

Metro has been operating under earlier sales tax measures – Prop C (1990) and Prop A (1980). There is a longer-term case to be made that when Metro focuses on rail building (since the mid-1980s) that other modes suffer, more on this below. 

Buses Matter – Fares and Service

The unacknowledged elephant in the room is Metro bus service. The Times notes correctly that 75 percent of Metro’s ridership is on the bus. Overall transit ridership has been largely flat since Metro began building rail in the 1980s, despite three successful property tax measures. The Bus Riders Union and others have shown that huge capital projects tend to divert Metro resources away from their core bus service. 

The Times acknowledges this in this quote from Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies: “There’s been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers….lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes.”

Since at least 2008, when Measure R passed, the push to expand Metro rail has meant that bus service has been flat, slightly declining through twice-yearly “service adjustments” and declining slightly in proportion to population growth. Especially since 2008, Metro’s top priority has been an accelerated rail construction schedule. This has, as I say, sucked the air out of the room. Bus service has declined slightly since 2008 (with no new rail mileage yet), resulting in a corresponding slight decline in ridership. 

If Metro is not going to expand its bus service (I wish it would, but that will take political will), then it will need to run bus service as efficiently and effectively as possible. Public transit expert Jarrett Walker stresses the importance of running a frequent service network, which will “serve more people without more money.” This is exactly what Metro is planning to do this June, with its Strategic Bus Network Plan. There are a lot of details still to be finalized, but that should be a small positive step forward for bus ridership. 

Another huge bus ridership factor is fares. Metro’s peak ridership periods correspond to periods of low fares. The last year of declines is in part attributable to September 2014 fare increases.  

If Metro’s goal is solely to expand ridership (and it isn’t) then Metro needs to go back to basics and pay as much attention to its core bus service as it does to its “shiny new” rail service. It is not possible to lower fares and greatly increase service, but if the agency is prudent fiscally, it can and should incrementally grow its bus service, keep fares as low as possible, and reap increased ridership. 

Gas Prices

Metro’s budget analysis showed very little correlation with gas prices. Other analyses finds a greater correlation. With gas prices currently in unusually strong decline, this previously weak factor is likely helping pull ridership downward, too. 

The Future of Metro Ridership

Metro ridership is in decline due to a host of factors. Some of these are outside Metro’s control, including gas prices and national transportation funding. Some of these are controlled by Metro, including fares and service. 

The leadership needs to come from the top, Metro’s board of directors, and its CEO. Phil Washington makes a very promising statement in the Times article, telling the reporters, Metro’s goal is to convert 20% to 25% of the county’s population into regular transit riders. 

Unfortunately, according to Census data (specifically, American Community Survey data), LA County transit commute share hovers just above 7 percent. Metro should be setting mode share goals (what percent of transit riders do we want?), reporting on them, and tailoring investments to realize goals. This is difficult to change abruptly, with lots of road funding embedded in Measure R, but the agency does have discretionary funds, and can shape the next sales tax measure with Washington’s stated goal in mind. 

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA.  He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Now that I have your attention, just how would California qualify as a beacon of conservatism? It depends how you define the term. 

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, most conservatives have defined themselves by pledging loyalty to market capitalism, supporting national defense and defending sometimes vague “traditional” social values. Yet in the Middle Ages, and throughout much of Europe, conservatism meant something very different: a focus primarily on maintaining comfortable places for the gentry, built around a strong commitment to hierarchy, authority and a singular moral order. 

Until recently, modern California has not embraced this static form of conservatism. The biggest difference between a Pat Brown or a Reagan was not their goals – greater upward mobility and technical progress – but how they might be best advanced, whether through the state, the private sector or something in-between. Under both leaders, California evolved into a remarkable geography of opportunity. 

In contrast, California’s new conservatism, often misleadingly called progressivism, seeks to prevent change by discouraging everything – from the construction of new job-generating infrastructure to virtually any kind of family-friendly housing. The resulting ill-effects on the state’s enormous population of poor and near-poor – roughly-one third of households – have been profound, although widely celebrated by the state’s gentry class. 

Demographics of a new feudalism

One factor that made California such a disruptive economic, cultural and political force was its large percentage of people hailing from elsewhere. Yet as California’s basic costs, notably for housing, have risen to well above the national average, even adjusted for incomes, the state has become ever more dependent on those born here and far less on obstreperous outsiders. 

In the 1930s, barely a third of Californians were born in the state, and the share remained less than half until about 2000. Today more than 55 percent of state residents are natives. This trend will become more pronounced in the next generation, as more than 70 percent of teens and young adults in California were born in-state, up from barely half in 1990. At the same time, more domestic inward migration has dropped; since 2000 the state has lost a net 1.7 million domestic migrants. 

Even immigration, long a major source of new energy for the state, has been trending down. The foreign-born population is no longer growing rapidly and, as a recent USC report suggests, the next generation will be largely homegrown: over 90 percent of children in California are homegrown. 

The USC researchers label this shift “the homegrown revolution.” On the positive side, they argue, this shift to the native population could provide greater stability in a state that has generally lacked that characteristic. But societies dominated by the native-born – think of the Deep South traditionally, the Midwest or much of Europe outside the large cities – also tend to be conservative in their nature, often more interested in preservation of status quo – whatever that might be – than shaking things up. 

At a time when twentysomething billionaires are being minted, largely in the Bay Area, California’s middle class is being hammered. The state now ranks third from the bottom, ahead of only New York and the District of Columbia, for the lowest homeownership rate, some 54 percent, a number that since 2009 has declined 5 percent more than the national average. The peasants, it appears, are expected to remain landless much longer, or be forced to leave the state. 

Rather than a land of opportunity, our “new” California increasingly resembles a class-bound medieval society. The proportion of aggregate income taken by the top 1 percent is greatest in a couple of Californian metros, San Francisco and San Jose, as well as New York. California is the most unequal state when it comes to well-being, according to the report by Measure of America, which is a project of the Social Science Research Council. 

These inequities clearly aren’t changing the state’s policy direction. Gov. Jerry Brown explains the state’s leading poverty rate as simply a reflection of how grand things are and California’s natural attractiveness. Poverty, he says, is “really the flip side of California’s incredible attractiveness and prosperity.” It’s a view not far from the old excuse espoused by the British tories, that “the poor will always be with us.” 

This inequality is being justified – and made worse – by attempts to turn California into a mecca for the most extreme measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Like a good medievalist, Brown blames this one phenomenon for virtually everything, from wildfires to the drought and mass migrations. Like a medieval cleric railing against sin, Brown seems somewhat unconcerned that his beloved “coercive power of the state” is also largely responsible for California’s high electricity prices, regulation-driven spikes in home values and the highest oil prices in the continental United States. 

Once the beacon of opportunity, California is becoming a graveyard for middle-class aspiration, particularly among the young. In a recent survey of states where “the middle class is dying,” based on earning trajectories for middle-income cohorts, Business Insider ranked California first, with shrinking middle-class earnings and the third-highest proportion of wealth concentrated in the top 20 percent of residents. 

New theology emerges

How can this approach be sold to the masses? The climate religion is key, since it implies that people’s suffering is endured for a greater cause. And, in classic medieval fashion, those who disagree can expect to be silenced and even subjected to criminal penalties. “God,” Gov. Brown recently suggested, “is not mocked.” 

The new religion had better be strong, given what it will ask of the masses. Increasingly, the honest green answer – as opposed to the “green jobs” chimera sold by well-financed environmental publicists – is to move our society away from the competitive, capitalistic system which, for all its flaws, has created unprecedented global wealth. One popular idea, particularly in Europe, is to embrace the idea of “de-growth,” which even calls for removing such measures as GDP from consideration. 

This approach has been bolstered by the entry into the fray of Brown’s former colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Francis. Brown, meanwhile, increasingly speaks of climate change in theological terms. Although it’s hardly the stuff of political campaigns, Brown embraces Francis’ opposition to increased “creature comforts” – like air conditioning – as part of a general move toward achieving the desired “level of enlightenment.” 

Medievalism: A New Model? 

For the past 170 years, California has stood at the apogee of rapid change, often using engineering – most notably with water and electricity – to build its economic power. Yet, just as the citizens of the declining Roman Empire began to lose faith in its systems, our leadership, both public and private, seems to have decided that most growth, except that what raises asset prices, is bad because of its inevitable effects on climate change. 

This belief makes a certain amount of sense, particularly for those, notably public-sector workers, tech millionaires and affluent retired homeowners, who actually may benefit from stagnation. Widespread, broad-based growth and change is not necessary if your key goal is to pick up a comfy pension, or use regulations to up the value of your old single-family house. In contrast, the losers in this arrangement are the ascendant working class, young families and other newcomers. 

For many who, in other times, might have come to California, coming here now, as Dartmouth College economist William Fischel has shown, means trying to enter “exclusionary regions.” Due to their often unattainable costs, the state’s most desirable urban centers – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, West Los Angeles, coastal Orange County and San Diego – seem destined to become enclaves primarily for the old, who bought homes during less-expensive times, the children of the rich, a transient young population and – of course – lots of low-paid service workers. 

Meanwhile, the fastest growth in the ranks of college-educated millennials in recent years has been in such lower-cost regions as the four large Texas cities (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin), Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, as well as such “rust belt” cities as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Families also are settling in small, relatively inexpensive metropolitan areas, such as Fayetteville in Arkansas and Missouri; Cape Coral and Melbourne in Florida; Columbia, S.C.; Colorado Springs and Boise, Idaho. 

With California’s economy now largely tied to abstract reasoning and serving those with accumulated wealth, there may be little chance here for advancement by those whose talents lay with their hands or by grass-roots entrepreneurial guile. Once the land of opportunity, the Golden State, indeed, is devolving into something very fundamentally conservative: class-bound, dominated by natives and lacking in opportunities for all but a few. Our state leaders are building a future that boosts their senses of self-worth, while consigning much of our population to permanent status as serfs or struggling commoners. 

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of www.newgeography.com … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.) Illustration by Chris Morris. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-It’s not a coincidence that the Obama administration has chosen Los Angeles as the first city to support the President’s effort to encourage qualified permanent residents to become U.S. citizens. 

Obama administration officials met here this past Friday with Mayor Eric Garcetti, local nonprofits and business owners to discuss ways to make this happen. 

The meeting was part of a multi-city tour by the White House’s Task Force on New Americans, that the administration previewed in a call with reporters Thursday. 

“To launch forward we must return to our core values as Americans and even in these tough times strive to embrace our role as a nation of immigrants, a nation of dreamers, a nation of hope,” Mayor Garcetti said on Twitter about the meeting, which was closed to the public. 

In recent years, California has moved repeatedly to provide rights, benefits and protections to immigrants in the country illegally, including in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, rules to limit deportations and state-funded healthcare for children. 

Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have signed on to participate in the task force, as have cities in 25 other states. 

Senior Deputy Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the meeting will allow federal officials and members of Garcetti’s staff to coordinate with local leaders in business, nonprofit and community organizations. It also focused on how the federal government can make it easier for new citizens to integrate into life as Americans, according to the White House.

“Starting in California is a perfect kickoff from our perspective,” Chavez said. 

Chavez also praised several California efforts, including the partnership between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Los Angeles Public Library system to create “citizenship corners” at every branch and hold citizenship classes, increased funding for citizenship and naturalization services by the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and targeting of individuals eligible for naturalization and connecting them with resources in San Francisco. 

Garcetti said that Step Forward LA, a program created in 2015 that helps people determine whether they are eligible to become citizens and prepares them for the citizenship test, has helped 45,000 people. 

There are an estimated 350,000 legal permanent residents in Los Angeles alone who are eligible to apply for citizenship but haven’t. In the greater area, the number soars to 750,000. “This isn’t an abstraction for us. It isn’t an abstraction for me,” Garcetti said. The biggest hurdle is the cost; currently the application fee is $595 (Add to that a $85 biometric fee for a total of $680.

Joining the White House’s effort is former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (photo above), who became a U.S. citizen in July. He said he wants people to know there are resources available to assist people starting the process and to help integrate new citizens. “I am excited to vote in my first presidential election,” he said.

 

(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: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

SPORTS POLITICS--When I was growing up in Mexico, I rooted for a scrappy, financially troubled soccer team named Atlético Español that ultimately broke my heart by being relegated to a lower division and fading out of existence. I envy Mexican friends who can still root on the same teams they did as kids (and as I am still able to do in the NFL—Go Steelers!).

The power of sports fandom can at times seem irrational, especially to those who, blessed with an immunity to this potent virus, can utter those devastatingly inhumane words: “It’s just a game.” As the novelist Nick Hornby wrote in the opening of Fever Pitch, his wonderful memoir of growing up an Arsenal fan in England: “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”

Sitting in a Phoenix sports bar watching the Carolina Panthers utterly dismantle the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, I witnessed this pain of which Hornby spoke, and which I had felt in my core the previous week when the Denver Broncos knocked my Steelers out of the playoffs. The atmosphere in the bar went from celebratory to funereal over the span of two quarters. By the end, we were at a wake, talking in hushed tones, awkwardly reaching for some reassuring words of consolation for each other.

“Well, they had a good season” sounded a lot like the variants of that line you often hear at funerals: “He led such a full life.” At least no one said: “It’s only a game.”

So why the depth of passion among so many sports fans? Part of it, to be sure, is our appreciation and love for the sport being followed, and that sport’s central role in the sliver of our lives we can devote to leisure and entertainment. But I think that is only the tip of sports fandom’s iceberg.

The depth of our passion and commitment as sports fans comes from our sense of identity, how we connect to our past selves, and how we remain connected to the meaningful places in our lives, and to the people around us. Sports fandom, like religion, is fueled by nostalgia and a yearning for permanence in a world that is inherently impermanent.

Which is what makes the disappearance of Atlético Español so traumatic for me—the fatal version of the disruption alluded to by Hornby, alongside the pain. When I tune into Liga MX and see so many of the other teams Atlético used to play against still around, it’s as if I’ve been edited out of a picture I thought I was in, as if the moorings tying me to my childhood in Mexico have been irreversibly cut.

Back in America’s version of football, many people are stunned that, after a deluge of scandals in the last couple of years (brain injuries, star players involved in off-field crimes, allegations of cheating, franchise owners eager to bilk cities for sweetheart stadium deals), the NFL’s ratings continue to spike. Ratings for this past regular season and playoffs are up from a year ago, at a time when audiences for almost everything else keep fragmenting.

When NBC launched Sunday Night Football in 2006, the telecast ranked ninth in primetime ratings for the season. Ever since 2011, Sunday Night Football has been the undisputed primetime leader. A remarkable 14 of the 15 most watched TV shows last fall were football games, and the six highest-rated broadcasts of all times are Super Bowls (the M.A.S.H. 1983 finale is clinging to the seventh spot).

The NFL has done a brilliant job of leveraging fans’ nostalgia and desire to remain identified with the places they’ve moved away from. Hence the need to keep franchises in places like Green Bay and Buffalo, even if many of their fans cheer them on in warmer climates, and for a business model that makes all franchises competitive.

Parity means most teams will have moments of glory, enough to deepen an entire generation’s engagement with their ancestral NFL tribe. But the league puts its long-term success at risk when it lets teams move around for short-term gain, as it recently did when it allowed the Rams to leave St. Louis for Los Angeles.

We live in an age when we share fewer narrative threads in common, and when fewer narrative threads endure throughout our lives. Holidays help, including the upcoming observance of Super Bowl 50. I remember my mother in her later years turning on the NFL on Sundays to have games on in the background, because she liked to hear “the sounds of fall,” or because it connected her to her son if the Steelers were playing, or to her beloved Boston if it was the Patriots.

The Star Wars cultural phenomenon springs from a similar nostalgia and yearning for recurring shared narratives in an age of impermanence. Its fandom feels sports-like. I took my 11 year-old son to see The Force Awakens on opening weekend, with a lump in my throat at the realization that he is the exact age I was back when the first (or fourth, if you insist) Star Wars came out. Naysayers who complained that the plot of the new film too closely mimics the original Star Wars completely miss the franchise’s appeal. I don’t begrudge successful Steeler seasons because I have seen them before; I thrill at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown following in the footsteps of Steeler greats Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. And so it is with Rey’s journey echoing Luke Skywalker’s.

We all yearn to tap into these stories and memories that have defined us. As the Red Sox-obsessed protagonist in the Hollywood adaptation of Fever Pitch, played by Jimmy Fallon, asks his less-devoted-to-Fenway girlfriend:

Do you still care about anything you cared about years ago?

(Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where this column was first posted. He is also Zocalo editorial director and  professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and a fellow at New America.)

-cw

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