DO SOMETHNG, I BEG YOU--As the writer, producer, and director of many of the Human Rights exhibits at the Museum of Tolerance in NY and LA (including one on the poisonous impact of hate speech) the silence of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the face of the bigotry and intolerance sweeping our nation is both unconscionable and deplorable.

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PAYING TO PLAY-Harvard-Westlake's motto -- Possunt Quia Posse Videntur  (“they can because they think they can”) is about to be tested. The elite private school is about to run into a buzz saw of opposition from a Los Angeles public that does not appreciate being trifled with.

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GUEST WORDS-A Committee of five registered voters in Los Angeles has gained a lot of traction in its effort to place a game changing initiative on the November ballot. The proposed “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for a Livable Los Angeles” will give voters the power to stop over-sized development for the next two years.

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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The State Assembly has passed SB7, which raises the smoking age to 21, and SB5 which regulates e-cigarettes as tobacco products. Both bills, which passed on February 25, are expected to pass in the State Senate before reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

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GUEST COMMENTARY-Because of the events surrounding the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak and its effect on the residents and businesses in my district, I know all too well what can happen when vital infrastructure is allowed to age to the point where it fails. Infrastructure cannot be neglected. It requires constant investment and updating. 

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PERSPECTIVE-As I pointed out in Monday’s edition of CityWatch, the City of Los Angeles booked a $7.6 billion adjustment to recognize the unfunded pension liability owed to the beneficiaries of its public pension programs. It is an admission that the residents and stakeholders of the city are on the hook for very generous retirement benefits offered to municipal employees. For the record, the adjustment does not cover exposure to virtually free health benefits.

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PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you are concerned about planning issues in Los Angeles, then you have undoubtedly heard about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and perhaps a counter-initiative, the Build Better LA Initiative. 

Affordable housing: You have may have also heard the repeated claims by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents that it would block the construction of affordable housing. Nice try, but it takes far more than repetition of a talking point to actually make it true. 

This is why I still stand by my previous Citywatch articles: the critics have not yet presented evidence that LA's zoning laws and General Plan designations impede the construction of affordable housing projects. While Neighborhood Integrity Initiative supporters are already looking under every rock for any relevant data, we also invite those who make the “affordable housing argument” to back it up. 

More specifically, I have repeatedly reached out for evidence, in particular the addresses and case numbers of affordable housing projects that required City Council legislative actions to pull building permits. Until advocates, experts, or CityWatch readers can furnish data such supporting these affordable housing claims, I will assume that the critics are only blowing smoke. 

Filtering: A related affordable housing argument is called filtering. It is based on the parallel claim that new, expensive housing filters down to eventually become old and affordable, given enough housing construction and time. Ergo, we should open the floodgates for luxury housing construction in order to meet the housing needs of everyone else. 

The State of California, through a recent report from the Legislative Analyst’s office, has argued that filtering takes a generation to actually work. Under perfect conditions this could be true, but I would go much further than the Legislative Analyst to rebut the filtering argument for Los Angeles. (Note photo above showing old housing in Angelino Heights --not yet affordable after a century.) 

In LA, the price of older housing is going up, not down, and since 1980 the cost of LA’s housing has more than doubled in constant dollars. Even if we accept the caveat that filtering only works when there is substantial construction of new housing, it is still a phantom in LA. Porter Ranch is one of the few LA neighborhoods with substantial construction of new housing over the past 25 years, but where is the evidence that nearby communities with older housing, such as Chatsworth, Northridge, or Granada Hills, have, therefore, had a decline in housing prices or rents? For that matter, what about the vast stretches of post-war homes and apartments in the Valley that are now more than 50 years old? Has any of it filtered down to become affordable housing? 

According to Appfolio, exactly the opposite has happened despite large amounts of aging housing. Apartment rents in the south Valley went up 9 percent in 2015. 

To date I have only heard second-hand anecdotes about apartment buildings whose landlords let buildings deteriorate, especially those near USC. In these cases, however, landlords deliberately ran their apartments into the ground so existing tenants would voluntarily leave. Once they did, however, the landlords made basic repairs and then leased the same units out to students, but at a much higher rents. The result is filtering upwards, not downward. 

But such anecdotes about such landlords are not hard data, and as we continue to look, we also patiently wait for the critics of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to finally document filtering in Los Angeles.  

Free market fables: So far, the claim about filtering, like the affordable housing argument, is just another free market fable thrown at the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to see if it sticks. At one time this Pollyannaish belief in the cure-all properties of deregulated real estate markets was confined to the recesses of Ayn Rand and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. But, these myths have now oozed into the deep crevices of the Democratic Party, including nearly all elected officials at City Hall and even some affordable housing advocates. 

Free market myths and fables, however, cannot substitute for hard evidence when it comes to setting public policy. 

If the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s opponents were truly concerned about affordable housing – instead of using it as a weak stalking horse for the needs of real estate speculators to build luxury mega-projects -- their time might be better spent advocating for alternative affordable housing programs, such as these: 

1) Inclusionary zoning. Many cities already have zoning requirements that force developers to include about 20 percent affordable housing units in all apartment and condo projects. LA only has a density bonus ordinance, and John Schwada has shown that it has produced few genuine affordable units. 

2) Housing preservation.  Each year LA loses thousands of affordable units to demolitions to clear sites for high-end projects, such as McMansions. This has to stop, but calls for the preservation of existing affordable and lower cost housing are sparse. 

3) Rent control changes.  At present landlords can automatically raise rents by 3 percent per year. This, too, must stop. Likewise, vacancy decontrol must go. This loophole allows landlords to raise rents to whatever level the market will bear when a tenant moves. 

4) More resources from the Federal government. Affordable housing requires the restoration of Federal housing programs, as well as State programs, such as community redevelopment agencies. While a collection basket for LA's Affordable Housing Trust Fund is always welcome, it cannot substitute for well-funded public housing programs. 

None of these approaches conflict with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, offering further evidence that it does not stand in the way of affordable housing.


(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch LA. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLITICS--Are both political parties collapsing in California?

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

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