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PROMISES, PROMISES-Nowadays, it’s almost impossible for developers to strike major deals with city governments without first negotiating some sort of community benefits agreement (CBA). Such agreements are typically legally binding deals involving developers, community groups and the local government in which a developer pledges funding or other assistance to a community in exchange for tax abatements, subsidies, regulatory changes or exemptions from the city for a project.

CBAs hold plenty of promise as a relatively new way for communities to hold local governments and private developers accountable. But so far, they’ve yielded a mixed track record. (One skeptical Silicon Valley city even rejected a Google CBA offer earlier this year.)

In New York City, CBAs have been a borderline calamity. See the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, or Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

There’s some hope, yet.

“At the end of the day, you can’t judge whether this process is going to be successful until 10 years from now,” West Harlem community leader Larry English told The New York Times in a 2013 story on the West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC), which got started with $76 million out of a CBA tied to Columbia University’s expansion.

For an idea of what could be ahead for CBAs, the University of California at Irvine’s Nicholas Marantz took a look back at the CBA tied to the development of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District (LASED), negotiated in 2001. The Journal of the American Planning Association recently published Marantz’s findings.

“The LASED CBA is widely regarded as the first in the U.S.,” Marantz writes.

Marantz examined two questions: First, have all the parties to the LASED CBA complied with the provisions concerning jobs, housing, and parks and recreational facilities. Second, if yes, did the developers provide benefits beyond those required under existing laws and regulations?

In the LA agreement negotiations, the community was represented by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice. (At one point, at least 29 organizations were involved, according to Marantz, so they formed this umbrella organization to negotiate on their behalf with the developer — a tactic that’s become commonplace in hammering out CBAs.) The developer was Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG).

The talks led to a mix of binding and non-binding goals. On jobs, for example, the CBA set a non-binding goal that at least 70 percent of permanent jobs in the LASED would be “living wage jobs” as defined by the CBA, while it set a binding pledge for AEG to submit an annual report to the city on the status of meeting the 70 percent goal. AEG did not comply with this public reporting obligation until 2014.

Marantz did not report finding any penalty paid by AEG for not meeting what was supposedly a legally binding goal. Furthermore, the CBA defined any job covered by a collective bargaining agreement as a “living wage job,” regardless of actual wages paid.

So was it worth it to fight for such goals around wages, binding or non-binding? According to Marantz, the answer may be yes, but not for the reason you might expect.

“Although the living wage goal was reportedly attained by 2013, the role of the CBA in attaining that goal is ambiguous,” Marantz writes. “The CBA, however, may have served as an important symbol in a long-term labor campaign that resulted in a stronger living wage law and the city’s 2015 adoption of an ordinance that would increase the citywide minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.”

On affordable housing, another common CBA focus area, the LASED CBA required AEG to provide $650,000 in interest-free three-year loans to specified affordable housing developers. It also required all residential developers in the LASED to either develop or subsidize one affordable unit for every five housing units in the LASED.

The development devil is in the details.

“Ambiguous language in the CBA ultimately allowed the LASED developers to fulfill the latter requirement in a way that covered only a fraction of the development cost for each required affordable unit,” writes Marantz.

Furthermore, Marantz reports, even though the CBA prioritized affordable housing for families, most of the affordable units completed in fulfillment of the CBA ended up being part of a college dormitory.

It’s worth noting that the LASED CBA isn’t just the first CBA in the U.S., it’s also widely cited as a model for many others, including a family of CBAs in the Los Angeles area (SunQuest Industrial Park, NoHo Commons, Marlton Square, and the CBA for the Los Angeles International Airport’s $11 billion modernization plan.)

All of those, in turn, have been cited by others: “Efforts in New York to replicate meaningful CBAs have been disappointing,” writes Good Jobs First NY. “Atlantic Yards, Columbia University’s expansion and Yankee Stadium attempted to implement CBAs but fell short of those modeled after the landmark agreements in California.”

Yet, as Marantz writes, “it is not clear that the LASED CBA yielded jobs, affordable housing units, or parks and recreation facilities beyond those that would have resulted from municipal mandates, federal regulations, and agreements between unions and employers.”

The real bottom line for CBAs may lie in their (generally) unintended effect of galvanizing marginalized communities to influence policies and resources beyond those tied directly to development projects. Like the living wage example above, for instance.

Marantz also points out that LASED developers provided only a fraction of the funds needed to construct the affordable housing, and parks and recreation projects in the neighborhoods surrounding the project. Most of the remaining funds came from multiple public sources as well as banks fulfilling obligations under the federal Community Reinvestment Act

“The LASED case thus demonstrates that a CBA can help direct resources to underserved communities,” he writes. “But only a small share of those resources may come from the developers who are subject to the CBA.”

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation

(Oscar Perry Abello is a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist writes about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. This piece was posted originally at Next City) Photo by Steve Jurvetson.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

 

ANIMAL WATCH--On January 1, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will begin recording all animal-abuse crimes reported by local law-enforcement agencies to its national database as “top-tier”—placing them on the same level as arson, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking and murder, rather than grouping them into the “other offenses” category.  

This great news was disclosed earlier this year when the FBI announced that it was re-categorizing crimes against animals as "crimes against society.”  The animal crimes that were regrouped to Part 1 offenses are intentional abuse and torture, gross neglect, sexual abuse and organized abuse, which includes dog fighting.

Does this mean we can now call the FBI instead of LA Animal Services to report an animal being beaten or starved or a staged cockfight or dog fight in progress next door?

Unfortunately, many reports by the media and enthusiastic animal activists have been misleading. In a desperate desire to believe there is a panacea to end animal suffering, someone even commented that this decision by the FBI signals an “end to animal cruelty, because the federal government is now in charge."

So that we do not have unrealistic expectations and—more importantly--so that this FBI decision does not become a diversion from holding local agencies accountable for responding to reports of animal cruelty or neglect and for prosecuting all such crimes, it is important to accept that this change by the FBI in how animal crimes are categorized is just that. It is merely a step up in existing reporting methods.

It signifies an important new recognition at the federal level of the importance of crimes against animals—including both abuse and intentional neglect. It also indicates that the Feds are undergoing a change in attitude that mirrors the societal shift to consider pets as family members and violence against animals to be as egregious as violence against humans.

What it does NOT mean is that all animal cruelty has suddenly become a federal crime, John Sibley explains in The Myth of the FBI and Animal Cruelty. It does NOT mean that there will automatically be a change in how animal crimes are prosecuted or that sentences will become harsher.  It also does NOT mean that the FBI will now become involved in local cases—other than those that include violations of federal law. 

FBI stats capture statistical data, not individual identities of perpetrators or those accused of crimes. This means that the reports will also NOT be of help to shelters in making adoption decisions.

Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) describes the importance of this recognition on A Humane Nation blog:

“The proper identification of animal cruelty crimes in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, once in effect, like the tracking of hate crimes and other important categories, would be national in scope. Within the FBI system, every incident would be reported, whether or not it results in an arrest or conviction…Having proper data on where and with what frequency cruelty is occurring would help guide lawmakers on policy decisions and law enforcement and nonprofit agencies on allocation of scarce resources.”

The FBI currently tracks animal cruelty crimes in the 32 states which report their stats to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS.) 

Since not all states are certified and participating in this database, the federal report is not a complete profile of criminal activity nationwide. Unfortunately, California is not listed as a reporting state at this time. Thus, crimes against local animals will not add to the database which will help the federal government and non-profits determine were more resources are needed.

According to the FBI, the official definition of animal cruelty will be:

Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured, transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., using objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.

The FBI has finally validated what animal lovers have long known--that animal crimes, whether solitary or organized, have a significant impact on society. However, we cannot allow this validation to lull us into silence or apathy. It must motivate us to even more vigorously report any suspicion, indication or evidence of neglect, violent or otherwise abusive behavior, abandonment, lack of food, water or adequate shelter, chaining, hoarding, animal fighting, or any mistreatment of any animal.

Owning any animal imposes a legal level of care on every owner. Owning a dog in the City of Los Angeles is a privilege, not a right. It requires a license and that certain specific standards of care and attention are met. No training, discipline or punishment may be done in such a manner that the animal is harmed.

Too often, caring observers wait until an animal is visibly injured to call L.A. Animal Services to do a welfare check.  That may be too late for the victim. It is not enough to talk to neighbors and friends. Animal Control Officers have the powers and know the legal procedure for addressing issues with owners and/or entering a property to act on behalf of the animal.

Do not give up—continue to call and report any activity in which an animal (or a human) is endangered. Contact the City Council or Mayor, if necessary. If it is important to the FBI, it should be important to them.

If you see something, say something! 

 

(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.

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

                                                                         

 

AT LENGTH--In every crucible where there are actors with competing interests, there is conflict. Without conflict there can be no resolution, let alone an end to a crisis. Random Lengths has played critical and important roles in most of the crucibles that have transformed the Los Angeles Harbor Area in the past 35 years.

The first crucible, which proved momentous in this paper’s history before it was even founded, occurred on the night of Dec. 17, 1976.

At the time, I had just moved into a new place I rented on 32nd Street, overlooking Cabrillo Beach and the West Channel, just a half mile from berth 46 at the Port of Los Angeles.

My friend Patrick was setting up my stereo in time for my birthday party. As he tinkered with the sound system, a glimpse out a living room window facing the bay caused him to excitedly call me over.

“Wow, James, you’ve got to come see this!”

He said it with such intensity that I immediately ran to see what he was witnessing.

Outside, across the channel was a ball of fire rising above a dark column of smoke, hundreds of feet into the sky as a Liberian oil tanker, called the S.S. Sansinena, exploded.

As light travels faster than sound, we stood there in awe for several seconds before we were hit by the concussion of the explosion.

All of the windows of my new apartment were turned into glass shards, barely missing my face as I ducked for cover. It was a night indelibly etched into my mind without having to go to the emergency room.

The ship was built in 1958 and had just discharged its cargo of crude oil into the tanks of Union Oil that were once located at 22nd Street and Harbor Boulevard. The Sansinena was taking on ballast and fuel when the massive explosion split the ship in half and obliterated multiple port buildings.

The blast shattered windows for miles around and triggered a fire that spread across the dock and in the water around the tanker. The LA Fire Department soon arrived on the scene to contain the blaze and rescue the survivors—casualties included six dead, three missing (but presumed dead) and 46 injured.

The Coast Guard investigation later concluded that the incident was caused by flammable vapor buildup on the deck of the ship. The ignition source was never identified.

This happened just three years before the first edition of Random Lengths hit the streets in December of 1979. The front-page headline of that edition read: “GATX Chemicals Endanger Harbor Area Residents, Government Shields Conglomerate in Effort to Bypass Zoning Regulations.”

Another crucible was when the port’s attempt to raze Knoll Hill in order to expand berths 97-102 during Mayor Richard Riordan’s administration—berths now occupied by China Shipping terminal.

The port’s continued purchase of property on this small knoll overlooking the main channel near the Vincent Thomas Bridge portended the hill’s ultimate demise. This was to be just another one in a long line of port excavations of small hills of San Pedro to accommodate port industrialization.

An off-the-record phone call by a harbor commissioner tipped me off to the coming crisis precipitated by an impending action by the Harbor Commission board.

The loss of one more hill to port expansion and the further encroachment of industrial port operations with its air pollution on the community was just the last straw for some activists.

The acting port director, Bruce Seaton, responded to community concerns with an “aw shucks- let’s go have some Busy Bee sandwiches” approach, and was seen as patronizing and was rebuffed.

Only after a community forum—sponsored in part by this newspaper—did port staff began to realize there was significant community opposition. Private meetings were set up, but devolved when it became apparent that the port was bent on bulldozing its way through the hill and the community. The community responded with a lawsuit.

The San Pedro Home Owners Association, lead by Janet Gunter, Andy Mardesich and Noel Park with the help of the Natural Resources Defense council alerted the community and sued the port and won a game-changing appeal. That one major victory over the industrial expansion of the Port of Los Angeles ended what one harbor commissioner, John Wentworth, termed the “100-year war” with the community.

From that first story on the toxic GATX storage facility for petroleum products to the battle over the Port of Los Angeles petroleum coke export terminal to this story and most recently the redux of the China Shipping terminal dispute and settlement, Random Lengths has been on the side of the community reporting on the issues that affect this area the most, and in the process, giving voice to hundreds of community activists who have fought for years, often decades, to have economic and environmental justice issues settled, redressed or significantly mitigated.

These storylines started the 35-year editorial trajectory of this publication, going from reporting on the crisis to covering the ensuing conflicts, addressing issues of environmental injustice and the Port of Los Angeles’ responsibility of maintaining as sacrosanct local residents’ connection to their waterfront.

Along the way, Random Lengths has stood fast to its principles of free speech, open government and protecting the rights of the greater harbor area community. This has not ever been an easy job.

Also, on the front page of that inaugural issue was the paper’s mission statement, which read in part:

“What you read here you are not likely to find in other local newspapers, for we are not afraid of being controversial. On the contrary, we are committed to promoting an open dialogue on the important questions concerning our community [and] unlike other papers, we invite your participation, and in fact we depend on it.”

With the distance I now have from the writing of that mission statement and from my memory of having been at the masthead of this publication over the ensuing years, I can say with confidence that we have stayed true to that mission.

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission meeting on Dec. 17 is a crucible that brings Random Lengths full circle.

The Saving San Pedro’s Waterfront group, made up of local realtors, led by John Papadakis, is critical of Jericho Development and Ratkovich Co. The developers signed a 55-year lease with the port. It only develops 150,000 square feet of Ports O’Call Village.

During the public comment period, Papadakis remarked before the commission that, “This century began…with two great mayors in Richard Riordan and James Hahn…both had hearts of true servants when they adopted the Bridge to Breakwater promenade plan and began to plan and build it.

“They understood that our greatest resource our waterfront must be used to create prosperity, not poverty,” he said. “That the sea signifies life not the bringer of environmental crimes; that the people are the true owners and have the right of primary access to the water line, the highest and best use of the public shores that all people must economically benefit from the use of the waterline—not just one industry.”

Papadakis continued his scathing remarks. “This, the wealthiest port in the western hemisphere is housed in the only seaside slum in America,” he said. “That is a civic crime, commissioners. You’re crucifying this community on the iron cross of the cargo industry, by the orders of so-called leaders who are really public cannibals feeding on the dying carcass of the Harbor Area—for shame—by violating emission standards by intentionally choosing a deficient and unproven development team for the prime commercial opportunity at Ports O’ Call.”

Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian shot back. “It’s hard to sit up here and listen to this crap,” Arian said. “You live up there on the hill and you’re the slumlord in this town.” He then went on to say that, “If you want a fight, you got one and so do all you realtors.”

These remarks are reminiscent of those reported in the Daily Breeze almost 8years ago in an article titled “Revised LA Port plan derided at meeting” staff writer Donna Littlejohn wrote, “At last. It appears that the Port of Los Angeles has finally found consensus on its latest waterfront plan revision. Nearly everyone hates it.”

She proceeded to explain, “The new, scaled-down version unveiled at a public meeting this week drew scathing criticism, raising questions about the future of the 5-year-old dream of recreating San Pedro’s west channel with commercial and recreational uses.”

This continuing to echo what Papadakis envisioned as the grand “Bridge to Breakwater” plan.

This clearly sets the stage for the next conflict to come as the plans for the Ports O’ Call (photo above) development have not been discussed publicly for over two years. It also brings into focus the decades-long debate over the future of the Los Angeles waterfront that we have covered from the very beginning and brings some things almost full circle. The crisis of conflict continues.

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy- Don't listen to that man with the white cap--he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com )  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw  

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

PERSPECTIVE-The issues of utility rate increases, homelessness, street paving and sidewalk repairs dominated 2015 on our local scene.

Has anyone seen reform at the DWP?  

Mayor Garcetti was swept into office over two years ago, in part because of the blatant support for his opponent by Bryan D’Arcy, boss of  the DWP’s powerful IBEW Local 18 union.

His election raised hope for long-overdue reform at the largest municipal utility in the nation, one that has been so badly managed by City Hall appointees and corrupted by D’Arcy’s grip on elected officials.

It was false hope. His pick for the DWP’s GM, Marcie Edwards, did nothing to institute change; no one was fired for the IT atrocities that caused so much woe for many ratepayers – and has still not been resolved. She also sided with Bryan D’Arcy in the non-profit audit controversy, showing contempt and disrespect for City Controller Ron Galperin, the only one in the city who has shown resolve in dealing with the incompetence and corruption at the utility.

Galperin has received no support from other elected officials.

Dr. Fred Pickel, the Ratepayer Advocate has been no help at all.  The only advocating he has done has been on behalf of DWP’s management.   Rates are going up, but cost control is absent.  Compensation at DWP should be frozen and the surplus transfer to the city should be ended, until infrastructure is upgraded.

It won’t happen because the City Council will bend to D’Arcy in the next round of wage negotiations.

●●●

Homelessness is much talked about, but the city only knows about promising big dollars to address the spreading crisis.  The number of homeless has grown by 12% since Garcetti took office.   

A $100 million commitment for 2016’s budget will not go far if Garcetti and company pursue their pro-developer strategy that reduces affordable housing.  For every new unit created, there will likely be one eliminated. That’s not progress.

●●●

There is no commitment to attracting employers who offer middle-class jobs.  It’s all well and good to attract high-tech jobs, but most do not have the skills to fill those positions.  They are likely to employ as many outside the city as they do residents.

 

A lack of middle-class jobs will shift more people into the working class poor category.  These people will require rent subsidies to survive in an increasingly hot rental market, further undermining efforts to deal with homelessness.

●●●

The city finally made a commitment to repair streets and sidewalks, but it took a lawsuit.  The settlement requires the city to invest $1.4 billion over the next 30 years to cover repairs.  That’s not as robust as it seems since costs will escalate over that span of time, due in part to contract awards that will likely favor well-connected labor unions. That’s business as usual in LA.

Only when all of these problems boil over and directly affect the everyday lives of a majority of residents will you see pushback and a voter revolt. Even then, I wonder if that will be enough to break the cycle of apathy that passes for participation.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs atVillage to Villageand contributes toCityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: [email protected].)

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--The public question that has inspired the hottest rhetoric this year of 2015 is what we do about the homeless. Notice the wording there -- it's not really about homelessness as an abstract problem, it's about the people, or as some would have it, those people. It's about them having encampments. It's about them pitching their tents and parking their shopping carts along the city sidewalks. Saturday's LA Times ran a front page article by an architecture critic about the use of the freeway overpass as the new skid row. 

The increase in the apparent level of public homelessness in the area inspired a firestorm of complaining, concern, debate, and just plain bickering. One concern was that offering services such as meals to the homeless is a formula for attracting even more homeless people. 

We've had public forums on the issue where the discussion got heated, to put it mildly. We've heard a lot of partial approaches. Perhaps those partial fixes are better than nothing, but a little thought should convince us that there is no single, inspired solution to the problem. That's because every approach violates some principle, either economic, moral, or aesthetic. 

We all understand at some level that allowing people to eat and sleep for free reduces their incentive to get up in the morning and go to work for money. Some people at public forums seem to treat the problem as exactly that simple. You can hear it in the complaints about how the free dinners will only serve to bring in more of the homeless. These remarks usually finish with the worry that if we invite people for free food, they will stick around. 

 The underlying message, generally unspoken but plainly not unthought, is that allowing people to live for free goes against our values, sometimes abbreviated as the free enterprise system. If people can get jobs, even low paying jobs, then they can at least pay for their next meal. Also unspoken is the obvious thought, "If I have to work for my food and shelter, then why should we as a society set aside some group to be free of these requirements?"

Of course this argument breaks down if there are few jobs to be had and too many people looking for jobs. That was the case in the great depression of the 1930s, and it was certainly the case in Los Angeles for part of the recent recession. It seems to continue as a problem even now, although the economy has been improving slowly over the past five or six years. We can insist that people try to function in a free market economy, but it is obvious that there are some who fail. At this level, avoiding the homelessness issue strikes many of us as immoral. We clash, at least intellectually, with those who would prefer to put them all on a bus and send them somewhere else. 

At the level of simple reality, most of us realize that southern California is the somewhere else that the homeless come to, when they aren't from here anyway. 

Another way that the argument breaks down is when large numbers of children are affected. In this case, the potentially hungry ones are not responsible for their own situation. They are just victims. 

There are some homeless people who either could get some level of employment, or would have been able to be gainfully employed had they not wrecked their lives along the way. Those who avoided education in order to play around, and those who have spent many years engaging in recreational drug abuse, fit into that category. Another group who spent years in low level crime fit the category as largely unemployable. 

There are different kinds of homeless people, from the economically unfit to the mentally ill to the wanderers. No one approach helps them all, and no approach seems to be a full solution for any one category. We're left with half solutions at best. We should admit to that fact and agree that since we have compromise solutions at best, we should get on with creating the correct compromise. Let us create a societal agreement that will help people as best we can without destroying the economic fabric, and get on with it. 

What sort of compromise shall we engage in? I think that we have some clues from a recent column here in CityWatch by General Jeff.  He asks the simple question, where do people go to wash their hands? Extended a bit, the idea of basic sanitation as a civic necessity becomes obvious. As a society, we might decide that there are certain minimal comforts that everyone should have. To start, we should begin with General Jeff's comments and decide that drinking fountains, toilets, and soap and water are available, even on the streets. It's not such a bad idea even for the rest of us who have homes to return to, because we might be out on the streets, or in a place where there is no McDonald's men's room. 

The solution, such as it is, bridges the difference between the angry authoritarian approach and its opposite. 

We might also decide that there is some minimal amount of square footage that should be available for people to put down their blankets and doze. We can debate over where such places can be allowed, and whether there should be some form of encampments, but there ought to be some place for the weary man to put his head. 

And it doesn't have to be on the local park bench or in a residential neighborhood. This limitation by itself would remedy some of the gripes by people who have homes in residential neighborhoods and by business owners who currently deal with homeless encampments right outside their front doors. Down here, the Port of Los Angeles has seven thousand acres of land and lots of old warehouses that are no longer of much use. 

Since we have lots of homeless people and they have to sleep somewhere, we ought to think long and hard, and develop the compromise that allows for sanitation in the city and sleep for the weary. 

The big compromise will necessarily have to deal with the other big question of how to limit rewarding indolence, since that is a theme we hear repeatedly at the public forums. The big compromise requires that we provide people on the margin with some level of incentive to make good. My guess is that the social decision will be to make homelessness a little more comfortable and a lot more sanitary, but not as comfortable as life for working people. That's how the society as a whole dealt with welfare over the years. Its is far from a perfect solution, but it is something. 

Meanwhile, the real heroes are the social workers who talk to the homeless every day, trying to talk them into coming indoors and every once in a while, convincing someone to accept mental and social services.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch and can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

LA NOT READY FOR A SERIOUS SKID ROW CONVERSATION--While families across America come together this holiday season to spend quality time with one other, there are many who also choose to “give back” to the less fortunate. 

Every year since 2007, I have been in Skid Row on Sundays, but holidays are the worst time for the accumulation trash, debris and whatever remains from all the food that is handed out. It all ends up on Skid Row’s streets, especially near the missions. 

With many City workers off for the holidays, all of that trash builds up. One cannot help but wonder, where are all the trash cans? And, why doesn’t the City distribute additional trash cans before employees go home for the holidays? 

While these questions are valid, I couldn’t help but ponder a bit longer than normal about all the connected topics associated with trash in Skid Row. 

This has ultimately led to my realizing what the number one least-asked question in Skid Row is. 

My thought pattern goes something like this: trash and debris…leads to germs and bacteria…which leads to urine and feces…  Wait, I forgot to ask the question: 

Drumroll please… The number one least-asked question related to homelessness in Skid Row is: “Where do homeless folks wash their hands?” Boom! 

Years ago, the LAPD insisted on removing all the port-a-potties from Skid Row due to all the drug-related crime and prostitution occurring constantly in them. 

Instead, super-expensive Automatic Public Toilets (APT’s) were installed – FIVE for the entire 50-block Skid Row community. But there are so many moving parts in these self-cleaning restrooms that, combined with the 24-hour constant usage, the APT’s often are out-of-service -- even though they are serviced by contracted maintenance crews 3-5 times per day. 

Only one of the missions remains open for 24-hours. This means there are extremely limited restroom options in an area with a reported 10,000 to 15,000 residents, and of those, 2,000 to 3,000 are homeless folks sleeping on Skid Row streets.  

All of this means that homeless folks and residents living in missions or low-income housing who travel several blocks from home have to “get creative” when they have to use the restroom. 

In 2012, the City of Los Angeles was cited by the LA County Health Department for three violations, one of which was for a high concentration of urine and feces all over Skid Row. 

Going back to the “number one least-asked question,” even when homeless folks relieve themselves, whether it be in an alley or behind a car, where would they be able to wash their hands? 

People outside of Skid Row don’t even realize that a person living in low-income housing (in this case an SRO) who happens to be receiving GR (General Relief) only receive $221 a month; sometimes they don’t have money at the end of the month to by a bar of soap. This means there are even residents who have access to bathrooms who can’t wash their hands in a sanitary manner. 

With El Nino fast-approaching, along with the germs and bacteria that will travel with it, a much-needed holiday gift would be bars of soap and hand sanitizers. 

It would help tremendously if a responsible person or team could walk around pouring bleach into all the nooks and crannies where homeless people relieve themselves. (I say this holding my nostrils closed just thinking about some of the smells “passing” in the air. Pun intended.) 

Maybe Santa could drop off his elves for a few months before next year’s holiday season so they would be tasked with BPD (Bleach-Pouring Duties). 

I don’t think Los Angeles is ready to have serious conversation about everyday living in Skid Row. In February, 2016, both the City and the County of LA plan to release comprehensive strategic plans on homelessness. But I can almost guarantee that funding for hand sanitizer, soap or bleach will not be anywhere in these two separate documents. 

And by the way, why will there be two different strategic plans released the same time anyway? But that’s a whole different article for a later time. 

Right now, though, it must be made public as to just how easily germs and bacteria can spread in Skid Row. Since it is winter time, it won’t be considered offensive if volunteers wear gloves when passing out food, blankets or whatever. 

Fist bumps instead of handshakes are a must…anyway, it makes people seem cool. Even volunteers should carry hand sanitizer in their pockets and/or purses. 

While we appreciate it if you want to “give back,” there are many more realistic complexities that all should be aware of. 

Instead of “walking to end homelessness,” how about pouring some bleach to end undesirable smells? It’s a more realistic way to help. 

I hope Angelenos appreciate what a luxury it is to have a place to wash their hands and soap to wash them with. 

Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us in Skid Row!

 

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

-cw

 

 CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

NO ONE’S LISTENING--Since October, residents of Porter Ranch California have been exposed to dangerous contaminants from a massive natural gas leak that continues to seep into the air, causing a catastrophe the scale of which has not been seen since the 2010 BP oil spill.

After only a week of visiting families in Porter Ranch, I am already experiencing the headaches, nausea and congestion that have plagued this community living at the center of one of the most significant environmental disasters in recent history.

Southern California Gas Co., or SoCalGas, has essentially ignored the impact to victims and its actions have instead added to their suffering. The company has refused to release air quality data that could be used to protect its residents, it has made relocation very difficult, and it has forged ahead with plans to expand its facility before the leak has even been contained.

The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground, and it shows no sign of stopping. As the pressure from weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area. According to tests conducted in November by the California Air Resources Board, the leak is spewing 50,000 kilograms of gas per hour — the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.

At this rate, in just one month, the leak will have accounted for one-quarter of the total estimated methane emissions in the state of California.

So it is no surprise that residents here feel sick. While I can escape to my home to recover from my symptoms, this community wakes up to conditions that cause vomiting, nosebleeds and serious respiratory issues daily. And no one really knows the potential long-term side effects of benzene and radon, the carcinogens that are commonly found in natural gas.

This dangerous environment is why the Los Angeles Unified School District unanimously voted last week to close two Porter Ranch schools and relocate their nearly 1,900 students and staff to protect their safety.  

SoCalGas’ response to this disaster is almost as alarming as the impact on the community.

The company has offered some assistance in relocating residents in the affected area, but those efforts are woefully inadequate. People have been told they have to wait, they are 300th in line and that they will not be able to relocate before Christmas. Many residents simply cannot afford pay for a hotel or apartment while continuing to cover home costs. SoCalGas does not even know exactly how long it will take to fix the leak, but the company’s CEO has said it will be at least another three to four months. Curiously, despite this admission, SoCalGas is only offering three months of relocation to those fortunate enough to receive a return call. 

The company has also refused to release the data from air quality monitoring it has conducted in the community, despite numerous requests from the public. The company is withholding vital information about the exact composition of the air — information that is critical for the thousands of residents who want to understand why they are so sick. That is why I have been out in the community distributing canisters that we hope will provide an independent verification of the toxicity in the air. 

And while Porter Ranch continues to suffer, SoCalGas is moving ahead with a project to expand the Aliso Canyon facility, even though the company still has no idea how the gas leak there started and is unsure of how to fix it. The company hasn’t even established any risk management or emergency response plans in the event of another leak. 

That is why I am working with the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg to seek justice for Porter Ranch and hold SoCalGas accountable for the physical and emotional damage they have caused, and to ensure that something like this never happens again. This community should not have to wait any longer to receive the justice and fair treatment it deserves.

The situation Porter Ranch residents are facing today is unacceptable. It is time for SoCalGas to acknowledge this fact, gather whatever resources are necessary to help every resident now, and provide answers about the health impacts to residents who have suffered for too long.

(Erin Brockovich is a renowned consumer advocate who works to help Americans everyday on multiple fronts. Her comments were posted first at Common Dreams.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

COUNTERPOINT--I have been trying very hard not to weigh in on Dick Platkin's latest “Mansionization Crusade”  to limit our ability to build a modern home in Los Angeles. I spent 7-plus  years defending my neighborhood against his misguided mission to prevent the building of homes with attached garages or any other architectural features that don't conform to his vision of a proper home … and I'm tired. 

But in his last CityWatch article (“Mansionization at a Crossroads...”), he said something that should make sense to anyone who does want to engage in this battle. Make your voice heard!   

Talk to your neighbors. Sign Petitions. Talk to reporters if you can. Make appointments with your Councilman and speak to him, not one of his aids. Attend hearings. Write letters to your Councilman, the Mayor, the Planning Department. And if possible, talk to any political movers and shakers you might know or your neighbors might know that might have influence with the politicos.  Motivate your neighbors to do the same. 

Because in the end, this is a political fight and the deck is stacked against you. It doesn't really matter what you want. It only matters what your Councilman wants... or in this case, the entire City Council. And if they want to change the Mansionization Ordinance and severely limit what kind of home you can build, it will most certainly happen. 

If the changes Mr. Platkin proposes were just for his District, this would be a done deal because Councilman Paul Koretz is already “on board” and, like every other Councilman, Koretz is pretty much emperor of his own district. No Councilman would dare oppose another Councilman's control over his individual district without risking interference with his own district's management … at least that is what I believe. 

And don't depend on the Planning Department to do anything more than give the Council what they want. I know. In my district, we handed Paul Koretz and the Planning Department signed statements from the majority of property owners in the neighborhood opposing proposed zoning changes … but Koretz wanted the changes … so we were ignored and the zoning changes took place. 

There is only one way you can stop the proposed zoning changes. And that is to create enough political noise to make the politicians think twice; to make them wary of political fallout. Not an easy task when our representatives are typically deaf to anyone who is not a threat to their political image. But if enough people scream; if you can get the support of the right people; if you can get enough public visibility to make the City Council nervous … then maybe you have a chance. 

The sad truth is that the proposed zoning changes will do nothing to enhance the quality of life in our city. If Dick Platkin and his ilk really cared about Los Angeles, they would stop trying to impose their idea of a proper single family home on their neighbors and start fighting all the new condominiums, apartments, and hotels that are being built with little or no concern for the impact on neighborhoods or the city at large. 

Each one of these projects bring with them 300 families and 600 cars to one location and nobody seems to link that fact to our congested streets, horrendous freeway traffic, growing air pollution, and inadequate and overly expensive parking … not to mention the challenge of providing city services like water, gas, power, schools, etc. 

Yes, we have real problems in this city. Our leaders don't seem to be able to see beyond their term of office. They have no density plan whatsoever. How many people per square mile is reasonable? That question is not even on their radar. It seems to me we are building New York City West minus the subway. OK … maybe we are trying to build some mass transit, but do we really want to be like New York!? Not me! 

For the record, I have lived in Los Angeles and my neighborhood for almost 70 years. I live in a small home and have no ambitions (or money) to build a modern home. But I recognize that today's families need more space than most old homes can provide. Given today's economy, it is not uncommon to have more than one generation living together and sometimes even three (Parents, children, and grandparents). 

It is irresponsible and heartless to prevent families from building or expanding their homes to meet their needs.

 

(Charles Tarlow  is a Los Angeles homeowner, has served on a neighborhood council board and can be reached at: [email protected]

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

 

 

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--If you are following debates over growth and density in Los Angeles, I strongly recommend you watch the new film, The Big Short.   Without giving away too much of the plot, it is about several financial analysts who saw through the bombast that lead to the mortgage-based real estate bubble that nearly devastated the global economy in 2008-09.   

The only thing that stopped that Great Recession from turning into another Great Depression was the United States government bail out of the banks.  According to Bloomberg News, it took $13 trillion dollars of public dollars to stem the red ink that flowed from sub-prime mortgages into the entire financial system.  

Now, less than a decade later, the cheerleaders of another real estate bubble are ushering in Act II.  As recently presented in City Watch (“If you want LA to continue Living in the Past, then the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is for You”), we are once more being treated to the preposterous argument that unrestrained real estate speculation is an urban miracle cure.  It represents the present rather than the past.  It eliminates the cause of high priced housing: planning and zoning regulations.  It allows for vertical growth rather than horizontal sprawl.   It creates jobs.  It promotes transit ridership.  And on and on.   

So, let us actually look at Los Angeles to evaluate several of these often repeated claims for their “truthiness.” 

Dishing out planning and zoning exceptions to super-sized projects allows us to be modern, to no longer be stuck in the past.   Really?  If we have learned anything from the recently concluded Paris climate summit, it is that modernity means dealing with climate change, not thumbing our nose at it through zoning approvals that allow mega-project after mega-project to proceed despite their unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  

Yes, the claims that high rise, mixed use projects in Hollywood and elsewhere are “green” (i.e., low carbon footprints) is belied by their Environmental Impact Reports.  Like the Hollywood Community Plan -- overturned by Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman -- all of the mega-projects’ Draft Environmental Impact Reports reveal that these projects will generate unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  Why?  Because they are automobile-oriented.   These buildings are only transit-adjacent, which does not, in any way, make them transit-oriented.   

They all have large parking structures to serve the needs of their well-heeled, car-loving tenants and condo-owners.  These tenants are, in fact, the least likely demographic group to use transit, even though many of these proposed and/or approve projects are close to METRO Red Line stations.  If these projects contained significant numbers of affordable units, they could eventually become transit-oriented developments because those tenants are more likely to use transit.  But, in LA this is not happening because the City Council long ago rejected inclusionary zoning provisions that would have mandated approximately 20 percent affordable units in all new apartment projects. 

In addition, the Hollywood area and other potential transit-oriented areas, such Korea Town and the Miracle Mile, suffer from two more deficits never mentioned by the groupies of real estate speculation.  Enthralled at appearing “modern,” these hucksters overlook the obvious.  Los Angeles does NOT have a dense mass transit system, nor does it have dense local services. 

Dense housing needs a dense transit system for local residents to regularly take transit.  This is why cities like New York, with its transit-oriented built environment, generate such high levels of transit ridership.  That city’s subway system, augmented by busses, has an astounding number of alternative origins and destinations.  In contrast, Hollywood residents only have a few Red and Purple Line destinations:  NoHo, Universal Studios, Koreatown, and some parts of downtown Los Angeles.  Many busy Los Angeles destinations will not be mass transit accessible for many decades – if ever -- such the Sunset Strip, downtown Beverly Hills, Westwood, Veterans Administration, UCLA, USC, Century City, Venice, and much of Santa Monica, to cite just a few popular destinations. 

Dense housing also needs dense public infrastructure and public services to effectively dislodge those who can afford to drive cars out of their vehicle.  As again demonstrated by New York City, a city needs wide, well maintained, ADA-compliant, sidewalks covered by trees and free of overhead wires and billboards, for residential density to achieve its intended low carbon goal.   

In the same vein, transit-oriented communities also need well-serviced local parks, schools, community gardens, and libraries.  Finally, these communities also need a full array of nearby private services, including restaurants and bars, dry cleaners, medical offices, grocery stores, drug stores, hardware stores, and clothing stores. 

When the Los Angeles neighborhoods targeted by investors for high density, such as Hollywood and Koreatown, provide these amenities, then the anticipated benefits of large, tall, mixed-use buildings could eventually appear.  Until then, however, to approve and then build these enormous structures is an invitation to failure.  The reason that the boosters overlook this is not quite a mystery though.  Like the commercial enterprises they shill for, their focus is short-term.  Once the Council dishes out the zoning and planning entitlements they need, and the buildings they ballyhoo are built, they are on to their next commercial project.   Their approach is antithetical to long-term planning, which is why real estate speculators and their supporters view planning as a barrier, not a manual for crafting a much-improved Los Angeles. 

Mega-projects help solve LA’s housing crisis by channeling billions of private investment into local real estate projects.  If this claim were true, Los Angeles would already be far better off, but it isn’t.  Building expensive homes and apartments does not increase the supply of affordable housing.  There is no linkage between these two real estate markets.  An analogy told to me by one correspondent explains this simply and straightforwardly:  building lots of Ferraris does reduce the cost of Hondas.  

Furthermore, the actual situation is much worse because new luxury housing often replaces affordable houses that are quickly bulldozed out of way – often illegally -- to assemble building sites.   For example, the Department of Building and Safety issues at least 2000 demolition permits per year for single-family houses.  They are almost all smaller, older “starter houses.”  When the wreckers leave, these new building pads quickly sprout over-sized houses that cost three times as much as the ones they replaced.  

The job creation myth.  Nearly every Statement of Overriding Considerations issued by the City Planning Commission and City Council cites job creation as the rational for ignoring the generation of unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  In these cases, though, talk is cheap because these decision makers never require a monitoring program to determine if the perpetually promised jobs actually appear.   Similarly, they never revoke zoning and planning approvals when the promised jobs do not materialize. 

While it is theoretically possible that some of the mega-projects will generate significant numbers of jobs, it is highly unlikely.  The free market approach to job creation has already failed miserably in Los Angeles.  While the Los Angeles area has had moderate population growth since 1990, job creation has been stagnant.  In fact, according to KPCC, there has been no change in the number of local jobs in over 25 years.   

Other CityWatch writers will undoubtedly debunk the alleged benefits of large commercial projects in Los Angeles requiring special zoning and planning exemptions.  I trust, though, that presenting the facts regarding the myths of modernity, construction of affordable housing, and employment is enough to take the wind out of the boosters’ sails and encourage wide support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.  

 

(Dick Platkin is a retired LA City planner who writes on planning issues for CityWatch.  He welcomes comments, corrections, and questions at [email protected]. )

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

SERVICE REPORT CARD--Got a gripe about street maintenance or trash pickup?  Graffiti or storm drains? Want to express your admiration for our local fire or police services?  Animal services or libraries? Had a particularly good or bad experience with another local city service this year?

The City of Los Angeles Budget Advocates have created a comprehensive survey for Angelenos across the city to weigh in on a wide variety of city services, which will help them with budget planning for the coming year.  The survey gives you a chance to let the city know what’s working for you and what isn’t.  Please take a few minutes to fill it out and add your voice to the planning process.  The deadline for responses is January 15. Everyone is invited to contribute.

 

 

  

Take the Survey in English  

Take the Survey in Español

 

(Elizabeth Fuller is the co-owner/publisher of the Larchmont Buzz.

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015


CAL WATCHDOG-Public employees at California cities and counties took home more than $36 billion in compensation last year, according to new payroll data released by the state’s chief fiscal officer. 

State Controller Betty T. Yee disclosed the 2014 payroll data from 54 counties and 468 cities, which included information on more than 600,000 employees. The disclosure is part of the controller’s latest update to the “Government Compensation in California” website. 

The open government online portal allows users to map compensation levels throughout the state, assemble charts, evaluate payroll trends and export data for in-depth statistical analysis. 

Vernon: Smallest City, Biggest Pay 

The state controller’s public employee payroll website has become a powerful tool for journalists and citizen watchdogs to identify wasteful spending and corruption in local government. 

Among the municipalities with questionable payroll data from 2014: the city of Vernon. Although it is the least populous city in California, with just 123 residents, Vernon has double number of employees. And those employees earn $103,601 per year in salary — the highest average salary in the state. Vernon employees also take home, on average, another $32,462 per year in health and retirement benefits. 

Vernon’s top salary is followed by the city of Hayward with $94,041 average salary, and Palm Desert at $89,582 in average salary. The state controller’s office notes that the average wages for city governments overall fell by 3 percent to $59,614. 

In 2014, the average salary for county employees increased by approximately 3 percent to $60,993. At the county level, the nearly 19,000 employees at Santa Clara County received the highest average wage, earning $78,486 per year in wages and $27,655 in retirement and health benefits.

Nine Local Governments Fail to Disclose Data

The controller’s office classified six cities as non-compliant entities for having “filed a compensation report that was incomplete, was in a format different than the one requested by the Controller’s Office, or was submitted after the reporting deadline.” San Francisco, the largest non-compliant entity joined the cities of Bell, Compton, Covina, Dana Point and Santa Ana on the list of non-compliant entities.

The counties of Modoc, Monterey and Riverside were the three counties, or 5.3 percent, that failed to file.

The city and county of Los Angeles remain the largest local government agencies. Los Angeles County employs 103,338 people with a cumulative wage of $7.2 billion in annual salary and $2.76 billion in health and retirement benefits. The city of Los Angeles paid out $4.5 billion in wages and $703 million in health and retirement benefits.

Yee’s latest disclosure builds on the work of her predecessor. In 2010, following the high-profile corruption case at the city of Bell, then-Controller John Chiang didn’t wait around for local governments to clean up their act. He ordered cities, counties and special districts, under Government Code sections 12463 and 53892, to share salary and other wage information with his office. Initially, some local governments balked, then dragged their feet in disclosing the payroll data.

To access State Controller Betty Yee’s payroll database, go to publicpay.ca.gov

Top 10 Highest County Employees in California

1. Faculty Physician-Contract: $1,360,744
Kern County

2. Faculty Physician-Contract: $1,295,929
Kern County

3. Orthopedic Surgeon-Contract: $1,092,651
Kern County

4. Chairman, Department of Surgery: $851,665
Kern County

5. Medical Director II: $775,999
Los Angeles County

6. Physician – VMC: $760,461
Santa Clara County

7. Chief Physician III Surgery-Neurological: $728,489
Los Angeles County

8. Physician: $727,864
San Joaquin County

9. Physician – VMC: $684,365
Santa Clara County

10. Physician – VMC: $658,745
Santa Clara County

Top 10 Highest City Employees in California

1. Police Sergeant: $592,652
City of Burbank

2. Fire Chief: $487,871
City of Richmond

3. Chief of Police: $487,644
City of El Monte

4. City Manager: $470,249
City of Lincoln

5. City Manager: $419,840
City of West Covina

6. City Attorney: $412,211
City of Escondido

7. Power Engineering Manager: $403,271
City of Los Angeles

8. Assistant City Manager: $396,548
City of Oxnard

9. City Manager: $395,501
City of Escondido

10. Police Officer (PERS): $393,573
City of Oakland

(John Hrabe is an investigative journalist, freelance writer and communications strategist with a decade of experience managing media outreach for local, state and federal political campaigns, public relations clients, and new media start-ups. This piece was posted first at CalWatchDog.comEdited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays is a great time for politicians to announce things that would normally get greater scrutiny during the year. After all, everyone is making family get together plans, traveling, and/or hiding from year end duties. In that context, along comes a Report from the City Controller with the spiffy name “Disposition of City’s Surplus or Obsolete Items and Equipment” and I lick my chops because I just know that there’s going to be some real gems buried within. 

The Controller’s audit report does not disappoint. The headlines in it say that the City isn’t monitoring its fleet vehicle system, and is spending more money than many of the vehicles are worth in maintenance. For cars there is a photo of a Civic Hybrid that cost $24,000 (new) but they have spent $44,000 to maintain and repair it. On the big iron Street Sweeper side, there’s a photo of one that cost $232,000 to buy -- but another $360,000 to maintain. 

Buried in the document, however, is a story that really interests me: back in 2011, Tony V’s City was broke due to the Mayor and the Council’s incompetent fiscal policies. They were desperate to make the budget look balanced. So, through a series of cuts, early retirements, and shifting employees to DWP and the like, they cooked the books enough to get a bond measure through and stay “solvent.” 

One of the brilliant ideas the Council had was to disband the General Services Department’s Salvage Section -- the folks who monitored the disposCWal of the City’s surplus and/or obsolete items. So guess what happened? Not much, and that’s the essential finding of how and why the City has no real system and has lost a bunch of money. Gee. 

The audit misses a fundamental understanding of how and why LA City’s bureaucracy operates the way it does, and the implications therein. At the top of the food chain are the elected officials, who, by current definition, make political decisions regarding oversight of the City. They do not make business decisions, unless you count getting developers, billboard companies, and the like to make campaign contributions to their coffers. 

I point this out to explain the impact of the City Council’s actions as they axed or crippled, year after year, every request by City Departments for vehicle replacement – and abandoned all oversight. 

So when these half-baked mandates trickle down to the troops, there is one lesson that almost every vested City employee has learned well:  as long as you “go along to get along” and don’t make waves, you will have a fine future and a pension with the City of Los Angeles. On the other hand, if you make waves, take risks, or (god forbid) make the elected officials look bad, your life will be very unpleasant indeed. 

Consequently, no one said anything

Looking at the guts of the audit, there are two fundamental lessons to be learned. First, over 80% of the money we are talking about comes from cars -- vehicle fleet maintenance, which represents 83% of all auction income, to be exact.  

Second, outside of vehicles, no one department or agency has responsibility or understanding of exactly what, if any, policy the City has regarding the sale or disposal of obsolete property. Thus it is hard to quantify the rest of the items discussed in the audit; they aren’t even tracked internally, or if they are, it’s by happenstance. 

For example, electronic equipment has its own website (CitiMAX) which almost no one uses. Most of the stuff that gets donated through it (surprise) is because of City Council requests, and even then, the amount of paperwork involving formal Council action is not cost effective. 

I am personally aware of this and remember well when the Glassell Park NC tried to get the City to cough up a computer for our use. No deal. And when the NC used its own funds to buy one, we had to comply with all the CitiMAX requirements of inventory, serial numbers and other information and justification. And now we know all this data went nowhere. So, well done, DONE, BONC and Council offices – thanks a lot. 

If there is a single takeaway moment in the report, for me it is the following: the auditor complained that, as they tried to obtain data, they were reduced to looking at individual employees’ Excel spreadsheets that didn’t even have a common template. Clearly, the Mayor’s “World Class City” is an emperor without clothes. 

The final report has a six point series of recommendations that require action by the Council and City Departments, although there is no reason to believe those points will survive the City Council budget process. For a copy of the full report, click here

For those of you with a mathematical bent, Pareto’s Principle is alive and well – 80% of the dollars comes from about 20% of the stuff. In line with this concept, I propose a variation on this idea -- two simple recommendations that would fix 80% of the problems identified in the audit: 

1) Reconstitute the Salvage Unit, staff it with competent people, give them citywide authority and responsibility. 

2) Hire a couple of “freelance” thirty-somethings or their equivalent (that is, no regular full-time employment), pay them enough to cover wages and benefits, then have them develop a simple, web based, data management system for centralizing everything that needs to be kept track of. Then make everybody use it. 

This would be simple and quick with a provable return on investment model. I suggest this be done immediately because, given their mind set, City Council is likely to come up with some stupid major IT project that they would then bid out to the usual “big name/bad result” corporate consultants…who contribute to their campaigns. 

Stay tuned...

 

(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.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

CORRUPTION WATCH--I fear that today's shocking revelation in the Los Angeles Times about Mitchell Englander flying down to Arizona with a staff member for a Taser fundraiser, concurrent to the company seeking a major body worn video contract with our city, may be the tip of an iceberg. First of all it's not okay. 

Regardless of the contorted logic and twisted thinking that the downtown lobbyists and their pack of lawyers will put forward, it is still not okay.  

As for the council members who will come out to defend or may feel sympathy for Mr. Englander (photo), claiming that the disclosure requirements were too confusing, we ought to demand, as some of us have, that the Ethics ordinance be rewritten, immediately   

And without any disrespect intended for Common Cause or Clean Money or other groups trying to bring accountability, while indirectly seeking political support from the very group they help regulate, we should be sure to include in any discussion, a reasonable number of outraged residents with a modicum of street smarts, to help explain what quid pro quo means so that your average eighth grader could grasp the concept.

But make no mistake, Mitchell Englander is the man of the hour and he should receive the strongest possible sanction. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whom the council member crassly honored as the CD12 Pioneer woman in April, ought to remove any endorsement from Englander's campaign website as should the City Attorney Mike Feuer, and both should team up to provide the public with an overview of what they are doing to help enforce state bid rigging laws … or, admit that they’re not really paying attention.  

One excellent way to avoid bid rigging is to avoid bidding and competition altogether. Unfortunately, that is in direct conflict with the public's best interest. We need to make that clear.   All too often, good journalists are left with bad campaign finance laws scribbled down by the Englanders, Knabes et al. and the public must endure a chorus of "it's perfectly legal" on the opinion pages.  

Enough is enough. 

Council member Englander should put all of that Taser money he received and put it into a special city ethics fund. 

Taser should also be fined, and, in exchange for the right to participate in fair and open bidding, the company should be required to provide 15 state of the art body worn video cameras, to be worn by ALL 15 members of the City Council during the several months it will take to have a fair and reasonable RFP.  As Englander himself put it in September 2013, just after teeing Taser up for a near-exclusive trial, it's a "great opportunity to set the record straight, to give us extra eyes and ears" where we obviously need them. 

The Lobbyists, including Arnie Berghoff, mentioned in the Times article, who shares an office and presumably bunk-desks with the regularly highest grossing lobbyist firm, Uncle Harvey dba (Englander Knabe & Allen), ought to explain just how deep the relationship between Taser and the council member really is, and make a substantial voluntary deposit into the aforementioned special city fund.  

Politicians trying to score political points by being anti-cop is truly unsavory. What's far worse is politicians like Mitchell Englander, who pretend to have the cops best interests, while doing real damage to the brand.  By selling out Main Street to Wall Street … and Taser … Englander has violated something most good cops hold near and dear and work hard to deliver every single day: FAIR and HONEST protection and service to Los Angeles citizens.

 

(Eric Preven is 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.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

EDUCATION POLITICS-In looking at LAUSD's latest defamatory attack on nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith, (photo) one can only surmise that those running the District are starting to run scared. Esquith's billion dollar lawsuit brought by lawyer Mark Geragos has too great a probability of bankrupting the District if it’s allowed to be tried in the forum of a neutral court. 

The LAUSD smear machine (aka "LAUSD investigative team") has been given their marching orders: do not find the truth, but rather, get the goods on Esquith --even if they have to fabricate or distort the facts. 

After years of war against teachers and other certificated and classified employees (whose only crime was to question district policy or make too much money,) LAUSD has an amoral group of administrators and outside contractors in place, seeking to supplement their income or position, even if they have to lie, fabricate, or distort evidence to do so. 

By examining the recent indictment of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for first degree murder of Laquan McDonald, we are reminded of how deceptive public entity cultures like this work. 

After a 13-month cover up, we saw what happens when an organization is allowed to investigate itself. In this case, it came to a pre-ordained conclusion of innocence because that was the only explanation acceptable to those whose loyalty to the organization took precedence over commitment to truth and the rule of law. 

This same self-dealing culture has existed for generations at the LAUSD, to the preclusion of good pragmatic public education. No administrator could ever have gotten to a position of power unless he or she showed a willingness to fabricate lies and subordinate truth to support LAUSD’s party line. 

LAUSD has put out for public consumption the fact that "the district's investigative team, which includes former LA Police Department detectives, [has] launched an investigation." They do not emphasize the "former" status of these LA Police Department detectives, who are either retired from LAPD or moonlighting for LAUSD as a second job to supplement their income. LAUSD seeks to cultivate the appearance that this is an LA Police investigation, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

The corporate-owned press continues to selectively report only the "facts" as LAUSD presents them, instead of asking questions like…has any LAUSD investigator ever found a teacher they were investigating innocent? Or, how many of these "LA Police Department detectives" have found evidence of LAUSD administrative wrongdoing among personnel who are still working for the District? 

A more fundamental question is, why are local, state, and federal agencies ceding control of their investigatory function to LAUSD -- which is a self-interested party to Esquith’s $1 billion civil lawsuit alleging criminal conspiracy and other charges against the LAUSD administration? 

The hallmark of all LAUSD investigations is that they investigate themselves, deviating from any notion of legal objectivity. And what they do investigate never seems to go anywhere, like in the case of the iPad scandal under former Superintendent John Deasy or the sexual harassment investigation against current and habitually retiring Superintendent Ramon Cortines. 

In my own case, when I filed a whistleblower complaint against my principal Janet Seary and her superior, Jan Davis, for graduating students with low elementary school math and reading ability, the LAUSD's Office of Inspector General allowed Seary and Davis to investigate themselves. Not surprisingly, they found they had done nothing wrong. The fact they were given this case, in which they had a clear conflict of interest, was never addressed by the District or any other authority. Now, the Esquith class action lawsuit is finally bringing these actions into the light. 

But my favorite illustration of LAUSD's one-sided railroading of teachers, along with anyone else questioning LAUSD's often illegal behavior, was given by my then Vice Principal Rene Martinez. Asked under oath why he included in my evidence file only the ten negative letters from my students (that were obtained through a rather intimidating process) and none of the five positive letters, he said, "They did not go to the charges against you," showing how one-sided the LAUSD's investigatory process remains. 

It is very telling to look at the LAUSD’s modus operandus as it goes after "enemies":  neither Mr. Martinez nor Mr. Johnson from the LAUSD Office of Inspector General had any idea what “exculpatory evidence” meant. True to LAUSD culture, Mr. Martinez has been made principal of his own school and he should continue to do well as long as he remains unfettered by the truth – or as long as Esquith is not successful in finally bringing accountability to LAUSD. 

Let’s consider the recently released incriminating evidence alleging that Mr. Esquith engaged in improper sexual activity with his students. Before getting into the purposefully prurient nature of these charges, it is worth asking: 

  1. Why were all charges against Esquith not brought immediately? 
  1. Is it a mere coincidence that the more Esquith stood up for himself against LAUSD, the more egregious the heretofore unmentioned subsequent charges were? 
  1. What was the relationship between Mr. Esquith and the student bringing the charges? Were they good students or bad with a score to settle? 
  1. Why bring these "new" charges against Esquith now, instead of allowing the class action trial    process of discovery and testimony under oath to determine in a neutral forum who is telling the truth? 
  1. Under what circumstances was the testimony of prior students against Esquith made? Were these circumstance neutral, as required by the standards set up in the McMartin Preschool case, where falsely accused teachers and administrators were vilified by false charges for close to 10 years before it was revealed that the students were manipulated into making their testimony? 
  1. How is it that Esquith’s alleged improper sexual behavior going back to the 1970s is only now seeing the light of day, now that LAUSD is faced with a billion dollar class action suit? 

Any teacher can tell you is that there are several things that might allow Mr. Esquith's comments to be viewed as acceptable, given the subjective reality that all teachers face. First, students transitioning from childhood into young adulthood like to flirt. It is important and completely normal for students to flirt with their teachers and others, still knowing that they are safe. I cannot think of any conscientious teacher I know who has not been flirted with or who would ever take advantage of a young person's vulnerability. 

A second issue that every teacher I know encounters with both male and female students is that many students have a poor self-image, making them feel incapable of even trying to do the assigned work. In trying to help a student overcome a poor self-image, it is entirely possible that an excellent and empathetic teacher like Esquith might tell a 14-year old student that she was, "beautiful, elegant, dazzling, sexy, and gorgeous," especially if this could help her accomplish something she believed she couldn’t do. In this context, what Esquith is alleged to have said is more than justified. 

For 30 years, Rafe Esquith taught in a lower socio-economic neighborhood, even though he could have done better financially, had he taken one of many offers to go elsewhere. But he chose not to. Rather, he chose to set up a foundation ensuring that students of modest financial means could have access to education programs. He wanted to help them go on with their education after graduation, encouraging them to work hard and master the rigorous traditional public education he was trying to give them. 

But in quoting an email out of context, where Esquith refers to himself as "your favorite ATM," the district is seeking to imply some false negative motive on the part of Esquith, when sainthood is a more reasonable conclusion. 

There is an insane irony to the fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, which should be dedicated to the highest traditions of open intellectual pursuit, remains a closed and insular bastion of cult-like behavior -- a place where those who question it are targeted for removal and destruction. As constituted, LAUSD’s leadership only seems concerned with mindlessly defending its failed public education policy along with its obscenely extravagant financial privilege against anyone like Rafe Esquith who is foolish enough to intelligently question them.

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

DEVELOPMENT POLITICS-Politics is local but Los Angelenos are sick and tired of seeing local interests steamrolled by downtown powerbrokers willing to do whatever it takes to achieve City Hall cooperation.  

One such controversy has stoked deep-seated resentment in Coldwater Canyon where residents who would very much like to be settling in for a cozy El Niño are instead bracing themselves for a battle against a new private parking garage, athletic field and pedestrian bridge over a major public thoroughfare in Studio City.  

Speaking about Harvard-Westlake School’s request to have the three-story 750-car lot and bridge over Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, school Vice President John Amato said, “Our kids have to perform in front of audiences so we have to have parking for visitors, and we want to have all our parking in one location.” 

In LA city politics, the closest thing to absolute power is the ability of a city councilmember to make or break a land-use project in his or her district. Two days after telling his constituents who live in the area 24-hours a day that the school's bridge over Coldwater was a "challenging issue for the community," District 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian received (most on the same day) donations from eighteen Harvard-WestlakeTrustees, with all but two giving the maximum $700 contribution and none disclosing their relationship to the school on the donation form.   

This activity resulted in a $20,950 windfall for Mr. Krekorian's campaign committee from the school's trustees alone. All but a few of those contributions were made on November 3, 2014 and though we saw references to "homemaker," "investor" and "stamp collector," not one of the contributors identified his or her role as a school trustee. This tops the virtually simultaneous contributions made to Mr. Krekorian by the same trustees and administrators on February 18, 2011, also with not a single trustee identifying his or her connection to the school.  

There is no more effective way for a 501c3 non-profit to lose its tax-exempt status than by contributing to a political campaign, so writing a check from Harvard-Westlake School is something only a fool would entertain. But having that many trustees make donations on a single day violates the spirit, and possibly the letter of the federal law that prohibits 501c3s from engaging in political activity. 

Incredibly, Mr. Krekorian did not return any of those contributions. On the contrary, he used them to obtain public matching funds from the City, so that each Harvard-Westlake contribution was in effect supplemented by $500 of taxpayer funds. In other words, literally the very same people who are having their quality of life at their homes intruded upon by the school's plan were made to match the Harvard-Westlake influence-peddling donations. 

Article II of the City of Los Angeles Code of Ethics states that persons in public service "shall not give occasion for distrust of their impartiality or of their devotion to the city's best interests."  How could Mr. Krekorian affirmatively state that he is impartial while taking so much money from a highly interested part y...  or in this case, parties?  

The answer, shamefully, is the public was never supposed to connect the dots and figure it out. 

Obviously taking large donations and submitting them to the matching fund compromises impartiality. But it does more than that. It also erodes basic trust and the public's faith in our politicians. The Ethics Commission, the very office which approved the dispensing of the public matching money should take responsibility to rectify the unacceptable status quo. A good start would be to close the loophole that allows for this type of stealth donation. Trustees with business before the city should be required to disclose that relationship. If the hard ban on political activity for 501c3s makes that impossible, the loophole will be effectively closed. Next item... 

Councilmember Krekorian should do now what he should have done a year ago -- return the eighteen contributions he received from Harvard-Westlake Trustees. Of equal importance, he should return all of the matching funds he obtained through use of the Harvard-Westlake money. Harvard-Westlake ought to amend its 990 tax filings appropriately, checking the correct (and honest) box that indicates that they have indeed been engaged in lobbying -- nearly a million dollars in lobbying for what has become...a bridge too far.  

The smart people, and there are many at Harvard-Westlake, ought to realize that a parking structure on the campus side of the public roadway would be just fine. Any digging in the hillside in question will merely be digging a hole for the school's reputation. 

 

(Eric Preven is 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.)

-cw                

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

MOM’S POV--News junkie that I am, I was awakened by a 6 am push feed notification from the Washington Post. LAUSD schools would be closed due to a threat received by a school board member. As of Tuesday afternoon, the threat appears to have been some sort of hoax, per Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) who serves on the House Intelligence committee. 

My daughter atten ds high school in Las Virgenes Unified School District, which chose not to close schools. I was notified by a robocall and at least two emails that our schools in LVUSD would remain open. 

New York Police officials stated a similar threat had been made on New York City schools but the threat was deemed not credible. “We cannot allow ourselves t raise levels of fear,” New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said. New York mayor Bill de Blasio commented that the threat appeared to be “so generic and so outlandish” that the New York officials were not taking it seriously. 

Rep. Brad Sherman shared that the author of the email claimed to have “32 jihadist friends” ready to attack with bombs and rifles. He claimed to be a devout Muslim who had attended an LA high school where he had been bullied. Sherman had been given a copy of the email by a school board member. 

When I was first aware of the alleged threat, like most parents, I questioned whether to send my daughter to school. Most of her soccer classmates were staying home. I made the decision to send her to school and to be available by text. 

By early afternoon, the threat had been deemed a hoax but the experience did raise some issues for me. How do we handle these potential threats? Do we allow these threats to paralyze our society, which is, aside from violence, the true aim of terrorists? How do we explain this to our kids? 

We are pretty fortunate to be living in a country where terrorist threats are not part of our typical day. In plenty of countries around the world such as Israel people face the possibility of terrorism or war on a daily basis. However even in our own country, in cities like Chicago, homicide is at an all-time high. 

Certainly, we live in unsure times when terrorists cells and even rogue disengaged gunmen attack in places where we have always felt safe, in schools, religious institutions, theaters, which is exactly what terrorists want. 

For parents, setting your children free as they grow up has always been one of the biggest challenges, that first time we allow our kids to go to the mall with friends or to drive by themselves, even when we send our toddlers to preschool or kindergarten for the first time. Setting all of this in the milieu of potential terrorist threats, whether domestic or ISIS, escalates our anxieties and worries to a new level. 

I think of all the parents in other countries or cities who face the threat of violence as part of life, the real terror in not knowing if your child will arrive home safely at the end of the day. It’s so easy to point fingers at everyone we perceive as a threat. We have candidates like Donald Trump riling supporters with his plan to exclude all Muslims from entering the U.S.

Most of us have seen the images of refugees risking their lives so they and their families can live in peace, far from the daily threats of violence or with basic human rights. I hope we can remember that fear we felt Tuesday morning, unsure of our children’s safety and we can think of those parents for whom threats might not have turned out to be a hoax.

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

GUEST WORDS--The news out of the Middle East is relentlessly disheartening these days, but the other day I reread this amazing story from a while back about a child in the region whose birth was so threatening to his country’s ruling elite that the king slaughtered untold numbers of infants to make sure the boy would never grow up. 

Luckily, the boy’s stepfather learned of the king’s intentions in a dream, so he whisked his family away to exile in a neighboring country. Once the evil ruler died, the refugee family moved back to their homeland and settled near the Sea of Galilee, where a growing number of followers came to recognize the young man as the king of his people and, indeed, their savior.

The songs I hear in my local drugstore and on the radio tell me over and over again that Christmas is about joy. And, of course, it is. But that’s only half the story. The Christmas tale, which appears in only two of the four Gospels—in two very different versions—is a lot richer and more challenging than we generally choose to remember.

Every year around this time, I try to get my head and heart prepared for the holiday season. I ask myself what I should think about as Christmas approaches. What do I want to learn? How do I want to grow? I guess you could say it’s my personal version of Advent.

A year ago, I was so ill prepared for the season that I went to visit my good friend Frank McRae, who has studied the Old and New Testaments, to request guidance. He considered my question, went silent for a moment or two, and suddenly slammed his palm violently on the table. “He was born in a manger!” he yelled. “And yet they found him! Those three wise men didn’t let the humble surroundings distract them. They knew greatness when they saw it. It helped that they came from the East, from far away. They didn’t share whatever local prejudices there may have been against a child of humble parents in such humble surroundings.”

In one fell swoop, my friend turned my Christmas into a meditation on discernment, the need to see clearly, and to recognize goodness around us, in whatever shape or form.

In their wonderfully insightful book, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus’ Birth, New Testament scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan encourage us to understand the Christmas story for what it is: a parable, a metaphorical narrative whose truths lie not in its factual details, but in the multiple meanings we can find in it.

Of course, Jesus himself was famous for his parables, the best of which subverted conventional ways of seeing the world. These parables, Borg and Crossan write, “invited his hearers into a different way of seeing how things are and how we might live.” In other words, as invitations from Jesus to see differently, they were also opportunities for people to change their lives and circumstances.

Today’s popular Christmas stories are often sentimental and viewed through the gauzy lens of warm and fuzzy childhood memories. Unlike Easter, which more clearly invites believers to meditate on notions of sacrifice, repentance, and transcendence, Christmas is more likely to be focused on gift-giving family togetherness than on individual faith and transformation.

But the story of the birth of Jesus is clearly more than sentimental. It’s about the weak and the wise outsmarting the powerful. It’s about the humble and faithful turning the world upside down. As Borg and Crossan argue, these are not tales designed to safeguard the status quo.

So this year, as I celebrate the birth of Jesus with the ones I love, I will also be thinking about where exactly I stand in a world that clearly needs fixing, and whether I’m doing my part to help turn it upside down.

Because whether or not there has ever been a war on Christmas, the Christmas story is itself about conflict. And each December 25, we are given an opportunity not only to welcome joy into the world, but to declare which side we are on.

(Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square. … where this column originated.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

PLANET WATCH--As the Executive Director of the California Infill Federation, and in my former role as the leader of the California State Senate, I was inundated with anecdotes about how often California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits were used to try to block or leverage (often for non-environmental purposes) environmentally beneficial projects like transit, infill housing, and infrastructure.

Defenders of the CEQA status quo dismissed each anecdote as an irrelevant anomaly, and extolled CEQA’s policy value in protecting public health and the pristine natural environment. Serious political debate was thwarted by this anecdote-versus-dogma stalemate.

The stalemate was broken last summer when the law firm of Holland & Knight published “In the Name of the Environment,” a report describing the more than 600 CEQA lawsuits filed statewide over a three year period (2010-2012).  The report confirmed the widespread litigation abuse of CEQA against environmentally beneficial and benign projects in existing California communities for non-environmental purposes.  The report demonstrated that:

  • Projects designed to advance California’s environmental policy objectives are the most frequent targets of CEQA lawsuits:  transit is the most frequently challenged type of infrastructure project, renewable energy is the most frequently challenged type of industrial/utility project, and housing (especially higher density housing) is the most frequently challenged type of private sector project.
  • Debunking claims by special interests that CEQA combats sprawl, the study shows that projects in infill locations within existing communities are the overwhelming target of CEQA lawsuits. For infill/greenfield projects, 80 percent are in infill locations, and only 20 percent are in greenfield locations. CEQA litigation abuse targets  core urban services such as parks, schools, libraries and even senior housing.
  • Sixty-four percent of those filing CEQA lawsuits are individuals or local “associations.  CEQA litigation abuse is primarily the domain of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opponents and special interests such as competitors and labor unions seeking non-environmental outcomes.  Only 13% of those filing CEQA lawsuits are environmental advocacy groups with a prior track record of filing CEQA lawsuits.

While the mainstream media reported these remarkable statistics, none of CEQA’s traditional status quo defender’s reported or even acknowledged the existence of this important report – until UCLA law professor Sean Hecht challenged one of the report’s core findings, which is that CEQA lawsuits are often aimed at precisely the types of projects that are critical to achieving California climate goals, including infill development, transit, and renewable energy.  But while environmental advocates generally view addressing climate change as an urgent priority, Hecht’s critique boils down to, “CEQA may cause meddlesome delays to important climate projects, but so what?”  And he entirely avoids the other core conclusion in the report, which calls for ending abuse of this great California environmental law by the many who file abusive lawsuits solely to advance a non-environmental agenda.

“Infill” is a Place, Not a Project

Hecht first takes exception to the report’s methodology of categorizing “infill” as a location, namely property within an existing community.  The report demonstrates that of the CEQA lawsuits that challenge projects located in either “infill” sites (within existing cities and established communities in unincorporated counties) or “greenfield” sites (in unincorporated county areas that are often criticized as “sprawl” into agricultural or open space lands), a whopping 80% of CEQA lawsuits targeted projects in “infill” locations.

Hecht argues that “infill” should be defined not as a location but as a type of project, such as transit-oriented development.  Mr. Hecht’s infill-as-project-type definition is wholly at odds with a broad range of established infill-as-a-location definition, including for example the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the US Green Building Council (which developed the LEED rating system for green buildings and neighborhoods, and whose members include for example the Natural Resources Defense Council).

It is also noteworthy that “In the Name of the Environment” uses the same definition of “infill” as has been used in other Holland & Knight CEQA studies published more than two years ago to track the pattern of projects (and judicial outcomes) for CEQA appellate court decisions; this consistent methodology allows for a direct comparison between reports.  Although more than 60% of reported appellate court decisions over a 15-year study span involved projects on infill locations, the new study shows that an even higher percentage of infill projects are actually targeted by CEQA lawsuits.

CEQA Lawsuits Against Transit Projects Matter

Hecht next concludes that since “only four or five” transit projects were challenged during the study period, the report does not make the case that climate-critical transit projects were a notable target of CEQA lawsuits.

In fact, the report shows that anti-transit CEQA lawsuits were the most frequent type of public infrastructure CEQA lawsuit during the study period, surpassing both highway projects and local roadway projects, and that twelve  transit projects were targeted by CEQA lawsuits: the Bay Area Berryessa Extension, Capitol Expressway Light Rail, Third Street Light Rail, San Francisco transit plan, Westside Subway Extension, Regional Connector Transit Corridor, Light Rail Maintenance Facility, Crenshaw-LAX Transit Corridor, Gold Line and Expo Line, Perris Valley Line Project, and the High Speed Rail Project.

Hecht’s dismissal of the importance of ending CEQA litigation abuse against transit ignores the tens of thousands of riders who remain unserved, and hundreds of tons of pollutants including greenhouse gas emissions that continue to be generated by traditional automobile commute patterns, by CEQA litigation abuse against transit projects.

Renewable Energy

Finally, as Hecht frankly acknowledges, “To be sure, there are legal impediments and regulatory hurdles that affect the development of renewable energy projects.  But CEQA is not the only such impediment, nor the most serious one.”

Again, Hecht’s willingness to set aside the urgency of addressing climate challenges by simply accepting that renewable energy projects face “legal impediments and regulatory hurdles” that include CEQA demonstrates a complacency with the status quo that is fully at odds with the environmental community’s urgent pleas for dramatic change to address what they present as a climate emergency.    Hecht simply – and without any rational basis – dismisses the relevance of CEQA lawsuits filed by competing unions seeking to control jobs at the same renewable energy facility.  Why is this non-environmental abuse of California’s premier environmental statute, which has the effect of threatening or even derailing projects dependent on time-sensitive public funding, acceptable to established environmental advocates such as Hecht?

The Last Resort Rule

Hecht’s critique follows advice offered by other prominent law school professors such as Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz:

“If you have the facts on your side, hammer the facts. If you have the law on your side, hammer the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law, hammer the table.”

Hecht has neither the law nor the facts on his side: the report unequivocally demonstrates that CEQA is in fact abused for non-environmental purposes, and CEQA litigation abuse is aimed at environmentally critical as well as environmental benign projects that are core elements of the state’s climate leadership efforts.  Hecht should stop hammering the table.  The report deserves a thoughtful dialogue, and CEQA deserves thoughtful reform to end CEQA litigation abuse for non-environmental purposes.

(Don Pereta is the Executive Director of the California Infill Federation, and Former President Pro Tem of the California State Senate. This piece was posted first at Fox and Hounds

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

EASTSIDER-If you’re like most Angelenos, you’re worried about the upcoming DWP rate increases -- fearing that you are going to get fleeced, and frustrated that you can’t understand how it works. So here’s a very short primer that I hope is understandable, along with some suggestions as to what you can do. 

The basics: Over the next five years, DWP is looking for about 5% per year in water rate increases, and about 4% per year in power rate increases. That translates into roughly $1.2 to 1.4 billion in increases over the five years, depending on how you count a couple of variables. 

The really interesting part is that the DWP doesn’t particularly care how much any individual ratepayer pays in their bill. It’s basically an engineering company at heart, so what they really care about is the total number of dollars they will need over the five-year time period to do their job. Period. 

Who pays what and how that money is divided up into the rate structure for water and for power is of secondary interest to the people who have to do the actual work. 

What’s not needed: The hundreds of millions of dollars that the City grabs as a ‘transfer fee’ each year and the millions of dollars in “feel good pet projects” Council members shift over to the DWP – projects that you and I have to pay for in our DWP bill. We need to stop this ripoff! 

Guess who makes the decisions as to how much you and I will pay individually? The politicians, of course.  After looking at how other utility companies do their billing, hiring a bunch of consultants, and getting input from the Ratepayers Advocate, the DWP Board then votes to send recommendations to the LA City Council. Abut for practical purposes, it’s really the Mayor and the City Council that decide.  Remember, the Mayor appoints every single DWP Board member, and if they fail to do his bidding, they get zapped.  

You have probably heard me say that these new funds are mostly needed to fix the crumbling infrastructure (largely thanks to past manipulation by City Council,) and to pay for legislation requiring a high percentage of renewable energy over this same time period. Every time the Mayor, the City Council, or the State Legislature gets that old ‘feel good green hot flash’ impulse, they impose yet another set of unfunded mandates that the DWP has to implement. And of course, you and I are the funding for these unfunded mandates. 

I can make probably make enough changes in my own water/power needs to offset some of these increases, and can then marginally afford them. But if you talk to my 90 year old mother-in-law who gets about $1000 a month in Social Security, she’s not so thrilled -- nor can she absorb these increases.  All she gets from the politicians is a bunch of hot air and no help. For her and many other Angelenos, the bottom line is the cost, and she’s hurting. 

So let me give you the political math about DWP rate setting, along with some suggestions as to what we can do about it. All my politically savvy friends say that in the era of 10% voter turnouts for LA City elections, homeowners, representing about 40% of the overall population, are far and away the largest percentage (60%) of people who actually bother to vote in municipal elections. 

Why is this important? Because something like 90% of renters do not pay a water bill directly. Big apartment buildings have ‘master meters’ where there is no individual breakdown of use by unit.   Couple that with the Apartment Owners Association findings that about 78% of LA City apartments are subject to rent control, and you discover that there is unfortunately no reason that renters should pay attention to how much water they use -- and according to the LA Times, they don’t. 

Now if you are a homeowner in the Valley, where temperature swings are higher and lot sizes are much larger, you may take a double hit. The proposed new 4-tier system hits people with larger lots in higher temperature zones more than other ratepayers. 

So now you know that homeowners, particularly those in the Valley, have some proof that they are getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. But are we doomed? And who can fix this? 

Remember, the DWP as an entity has no stake in the answer to these questions – all they want is their $1.2 to 1.4 billion over the five year period. It’s a political exercise. So forget the DWP Board of Directors, unless you like spinning your wheels and getting blown off. Don’t forget: the Mayor owns them. 

Of course, you could try to influence the Mayor himself, that is, if you could actually find him in between his jet setting travel schedule and photo ops. Good luck with that. 

Or, and here’s my proposal:  take a look at the LA City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee. That is where the proposed DWP Rate Increase goes after the DWP Board votes on them in December or January. That is where the proposals are subjected to the political process before the full Council votes on the final rates. And that is one of the few places where politics can still count in modifying ratepayer increases. 

And guess what? All five members of this committee are up for re-election in 2017. The Chair is Felipe Fuentes (CD7), and the other members are Gil Cedillo (CD1), Bob Blumenfield (CD3), Paul Koretz (CD5), and Mitch O”Farrell (CD13). These five are the most vulnerable of the pack, because the voters can actually hold them accountable for their actions. And face it, until a councilmember or two pays the price for ignoring us (as in, losing their sinecure), it will be business as usual for our “go along to get along” elected officials.  

Forget the details about the proposed DWP rate increases. Let’s talk about the “transfer fee” and the pet projects and why everybody doesn’t get treated the same way in their bills. 

Consider talking to all of the homeowners you know and the people and community groups they know. Start focusing on these five elected officials. Demand equal treatment in deciding who pays what for water and power rates. Tiers are not legally mandatory. Get rid of them. Make a stink. Demand answers about these issues from the members of the E&E Committee. You may discover that councilmembers don’t know as much as you think they should. Get excited and start talking about Valley Succession again. Whatever works! 

This fight may be uphill, but it is not a children’s campaign. If you do the political math of who owns homes and who votes, we are one whale of a special interest group. We know we are being used and we know we can do something about it at the polls. Heck, we might even get a fair rate structure. 

For more information about the DWP, its budget, and rate structure go to this link.  

(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.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

NEW GEOGRAPHY--When I arrived in Los Angeles four decades ago, it was clearly a city on the rise, practicing its lines on the way to becoming the dominant metropolis in North America. Today, the City of Angels and much of Southern California lag behind not only a resurgent New York City, but also LA’s longtime regional rival, San Francisco, both demographically and economically. 

Forty years ago, San Francisco was a quirky, backward-looking town, a haven for the gilded rich and hippies, a quaint but increasingly insignificant town. The Dodgers and the Lakers ruled the California sporting world. 

Today things couldn’t be more different. San Francisco and its much bigger southerly neighbor, Silicon Valley, have morphed into the global epicenter of the technology industry, with 25 tech companies on the Fortune 500. In contrast, Los Angeles County, which has almost twice as many people, is home to only 15 Fortune 500 firms total. 

Meanwhile, the Giants and the Golden State Warriors have become consistent winners while the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers disappoint and the Lakers are painfully unwatchable. 

Although there is a desire to repeat LA’s success with the 1984 Olympics and bring football back to town, that would only put a happy veneer over the city’s core problem: the long-term decline of its business sector. In 1984, the city had a strong and highly motivated business elite highlighted by 12 Fortune 500 companies who could help sponsor the games and provide management expertise. Now there are only three within city limits, with the departure of major corporations such as Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum and Toyota, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. 

In contrast, the Bay Area is full of thriving companies and successful entrepreneurs, many of them astoundingly young. Of the 30 richest people in the country, five live in the Bay Area; Southern California has only one, the Irvine Company visionary Chairman Donald Bren, and he’s in his eighties. The Bay Area accounts for the vast majority of American billionaires under 40; if not for Snapchat’s founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, as well Elon Musk, who lives in LA but spends much of his time working in Northern California, where Tesla and Solar City are located, LA would be off the list. 

This unfavorable contrast with the Bay Area, sadly, is not just a recent development. Since 1990 Los Angeles County has added a paltry 34,000 jobs while its population has grown 1.2 million. In contrast, the Bay Area, which added roughly the same number of people during the same time, gained a net 500,000 jobs, mostly in the suburbs. In 1990 Los Angeles had around the same number of private-sector jobs per person as the Bay Area, roughly 410 per 1,000; today Los Angeles’ private-sector jobs to population ratio has dropped to 364 per 1,000 while the Bay Area’s has grown to 415. Worse yet, while the Bay Area has increased its share of high-wage jobs to 33 percent since 1990, Los Angeles percentage fell to 27.7 percent. 

How LA Blew It in Technology 

As recently as the 1970s, as UCLA’s Michael Storper has pointed out, L.A. stood on the cutting edge not only in hardware, but also software. Computer Sciences Corp. was the first software company to be listed on a national stock exchange. In 1969, UCLA’s Leonard Kleinrock invented the digital packet switch, one of the keys to the Internet. 

In 1970, IT’s share of the economy in greater Los Angeles and in the Bay Area was about the same (in absolute terms it was bigger in LA). By 2010, IT’s share was four times bigger in the north than in the south. 

Storper links the decline in large part to the strategies of the biggest high-tech companies in the L.A. area: Lockheed Martin, Rockwell and TRW focused on defense and space, essentially becoming dependent on government spending. In contrast, the Bay Area technology community, although also initially tied to Washington, began to move into more commercial applications. In the process they also developed a huge network of venture capitalists who would continue to help found and finance fledgling firms. 

Today the San Jose area enjoys the highest percentage of workers in STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics-related jobs) in the country, over three times the national average. San Francisco and its immediate environs, largely as a result of the social media boom, now has a location quotient for STEM jobs of 1.75, meaning it has 75% more tech jobs per capita than the national average. In contrast, the Los Angeles area barely makes it to the national average. 

Southern California remains an attractive to place to live, but it’s hard to imagine it as the next Silicon Valley. L.A. had its chance, and, sadly, it blew it. 

The Growing Demographic Crisis 

Storper and other critics suggest that Los Angeles failed in part because it tried to maintain high-wage blue collar industries while the Bay Area focused on information and biotechnology. The problem now, however, are the factors in L.A. that drive industry away, such as ultra-high electricity prices and a high level of regulation. Even amidst the recent industrial boom in many other parts of the country, Los Angeles has continued to lose manufacturing jobs; Los Angeles’ industrial job count stands at 363,900, still the largest number in the nation, but down sharply from 900,000 just a decade ago. 

This decline places LA in a demographic dilemma. Like the Midwestern states that lured African-Americans to fill industrial jobs during the Great Migration, LA attracted a large number of largely poorly educated immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America. These people came for jobs in factories, logistics and home-building, but now find themselves stranded in an economy with little place for them outside low-end services. 

Although inequality and racial disparities also exist in the Bay Area, the issue is far more relevant in Southern California. The Bay Area’s population is increasingly dominated by well-educated Anglos and Asians. San Francisco’s population is 22 percent black or Hispanic; in Los Angeles, this percentage approaches 60 percent

Poverty and lack of upward mobility are the biggest threats to the region. In Los Angeles, a recent United Way study found 35 percent of households were “struggling,” essentially living check to check, compared to 24 percent for the Bay Area. 

recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality found that, once adjusted for cost of living, Los Angeles has the highest level of poverty in the state, 26.1 percent. Rents are out of control for many people who are struggling in an increasingly low-wage dominated economy. In fact, Los Angeles is now the least affordable city for renters, based on income, according to a recent UCLA paper. 

Is There A Way Out? 

Despite these myriad challenges, Los Angeles, and indeed all of Southern California, is far from a hopeless case. It is unlikely to become the next Detroit and is better positioned by natural and human resources than it’s similarly troubled big city competitor Chicago. It still enjoys arguably the best climate of any major city in the world, remains the home of Hollywood, the nation’s dominant ports and a still impressive array of hospitals and universities. 

At least some of the city’s leadership has begun to recognize the challenges facing the region. “The city where the future once came to happen,” a devastating blue ribbon report recently intoned, “is living the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out.” 

This recognition might be the first step toward a turnaround, but the area really has increasingly little control over its own fate. Today San Francisco and its immediate environs, despite its much smaller population, is home to virtually every powerful politician in the state: both its U.S. Senators, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General. Not surprisingly, state policies on everything from greenhouse gases, urban density and transit to social issues follows lines that originate in, and largely benefit, San Francisco. 

Most troubling of all, the local leadership seems clueless about how to resuscitate the economy, or even how this vast region actually operates. Neither another Olympics nor getting a football team or two will make a difference. Even worse is the effort by Mayor Eric Garcetti to densify the city to resemble a sun-baked version of New York. 

This has been part of the agenda for developers, greens and most local academics for the better part of 30 years. But the problem remains: Los Angeles, and even more so its surrounding region, is not New York, nor can it ever be. It is, and will remain, a car-dominated, multi-polar city for the foreseeable future. After all, the vast majority of Southern California’s population growth — roughly 75 percent — came after the Second World War and the demise of the Red Cars, LA’s  much lamented pre-war transit system. 

Some outside observers such as progressive blogger Matt Yglesias now envision LA as “the next great transit city.” Yet in reality, despite spending $10 billion on new transit projects, the share of transit commuters has actually dropped since 1990; today nearly 31 percent of New York area commuters take public transportation, while 6.9 percent do so in Los Angeles-Orange County. 

People take cars because, for most, it’s the quickest way to work. Few transit trips take less time, door to door than traveling by car, not to mention the convenience of working at home. The average transit rider in Los Angeles spends 48 minutes getting to work, compared to people driving alone, at 27 minutes. 

This reflects L.A.’s great dispersion of employment, which is not compatible with a transit-driven culture. In greater New York, 20 percent of the workforce labors in the central core; in San Francisco, the percentage is roughly 10 percent. But barely 2 percent do so in Los Angeles. The current, much ballyhooed revival of downtown Los Angeles then is less a reflection of economic forces, than the preferences of a relatively small portion of population for a more urban lifestyle and as market for Asian flight capital. Its population of 50,000 is about the same as Sherman Oaks or the recently minted city of Eastvale in the Inland Empire. 

Rather than seek to become someplace else, Los Angeles has to confront its key problems, like its woeful infrastructure, particularly roads, among the worst in the country, and a miserable education system. These are among the likely reasons why people with children are leaving Los Angeles faster than any major region of the country. 

Yet Los Angeles is not without allure. Overall Los Angeles-Orange has grown its ranks of new educated workers between 25 and 34 since 2011 as much as New York and San Francisco and much more than Portland. 

Perhaps most promising is the region’s status as the number one producer of engineers in the country, almost 3,000 annually. This raw material is now being somewhat wasted, with as many as 70 percent leaving town to find work. 

What Los Angeles needs to do is to provide the entrepreneurial opportunities to keep its young at home, particularly the tech oriented. As the Bay Area has shown, it is possible to reshape an economy based on pre-existing strength. For LA the best regional strategy would be based on a remarkably diverse economy dominated by smaller firms, a population that, for the most part, seeks out quiet residential neighborhoods and often prefers working closer to home than battling their way to what remains a still unexceptional downtown. 

One place where Los Angeles could shine is in melding the arts and technology. Unlike New York, which has relatively few engineers, Los Angeles still has the largest supply in the country. The Bay Area may be more appealing to nerddom, but is unexceptional in the arts. This revival will not come from the remaining suits in LA; roughly half of workers in the arts are self-employed, according to the economic forecasting firm EMSI. 

This entrepreneurial trend will continue since, with the studio system clearly in decline, as large productions go elsewhere, digital players such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple as well as Los Angeles based Hulu have become more important. Los Angeles could expand its arts-related niche by supplying the content that these expanding digital pipelines require. 

Given the corporate exodus, and the difficult California business climate, overall L.A.’s recovery must come from the bottom up, and be dispersed throughout the region. According to Kauffman Foundation research, the L.A. area already has the second highest number of entrepreneurs per 100 people in the country, just slightly behind the Bay Area. 

The next LA can succeed, but not by trying to duplicate New York or San Francisco. Instead there’s a need for greater appreciation why so many millions migrated here in the first place: great weather, beaches, suburban-like living and entrepreneurial opportunities. Only when the local leadership rediscovers the uniqueness of LA’s DNA can the region undergo the renaissance of this most naturally blessed of places.

 

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

ACTION ALERT-The future of land use and development in our city gets down to a choice: do we want a horizontal city, mimicking what we know -- the low slung buildings and sometimes NIMBY attitude toward development. Or do we want a vertical landscape, where towers triumph? Strong cases can be made for both, each with its pros and cons.  

There’s no end to the number of people who want to live in LA and enjoy our perfect climate and laid back lifestyle. Against that demand is a significant housing shortage -- a finite and dwindling supply of affordable housing. It seems that every time a rent-stabilized pre-1978 building is torn down, often unscrupulously by invoking the Ellis Act, it’s replaced with a bigger building with smaller units and higher rents, forcing the relocation of previous tenants who cannot afford to stay. 

Neighborhood groups are flexing some muscle by joining the conversation. Developers and politicos are becoming accustomed to strident pushback, as evidenced by the recent epidemic of litigation against development. Much of that is centered in Hollywood -- ground zero for development and densification. Rules once created by legislation are being replaced by rules based on litigation. 

Imaginative messaging has become one successful weapon in the arsenals of both developers and communities. Developers are using Hollywood storytelling skillsto gain acceptance for their projects. More and more, communities are successfully mobilizing at the grassroots level. 

Redevelopment of a block at Sunset and Crescent Heights provoked a neighborhood crisis when it was announced. However, this has become a textbook example of how to win hearts and minds. The project’s original, controversial design was changed once Frank Gehry was brought in. The message to the community was that what Gehry was planning would be different -- as evidenced by the installation of two models of the 8150 Sunset project in his massive survey show on view now at LACMA. (Model photo above.) 

The models show a group of three buildings isolated on a plinth. Nearby, a second, more dramatic and storytelling display incorporates the model within the context of the whole hillside, so that perspective can be presented. Lots of visitors are spending time studying these displays at this very popular exhibition. 

This is a smooth presentation, located in a subtle, hushed museum gallery context. It comes across as interesting and effective “advocacy” instead of a hardcore sales job. As a bonus, it didn’t hurt that this pitch to skeptical hillside neighbors who objected to the architect’s first version, were reminded that they would now have a Frank Gehry work of art to look at. Most works of art are memorialized in a museum setting after they have been created and gained an audience. This flips the sequence: the project’s three buildings are displayed as a significant work of art even before being built. 

What other living architect has taken over most of a massive exhibition pavilion at one of the country’s most visible museums? Talk about reinforcement and Hollywood image-making! 

Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami sold his “Multicolore Monogram for Louis Vuitton” handbags during his MOCA exhibition. So it’s no wonder LACMA is now allowing Gehry’s exhibition floor to be an exchange of sorts. For the developers, it’s much more imaginative than fighting with neighbors who are protesting or even litigating against them. This is an example that other developers may want to think about: how to be a storyteller – presenting their projects in a venue where they can tell their story -- a location that goes beyond the traditional community meeting. Hollywood, as one of the image-making capitals of the world, presents lots of opportunity for development conversations to come. 

But then how do you fight against development when you don't have the powers of persuasion on a grand scale such as this? Answer: you have to be a guerrilla and use grassroots techniques that require hustle, imagination and drive. Until last week, when the LA City Council approved Historic Cultural Monument status for 118-124 N. Flores St. in Beverly Grove, (popularly known as theMendel Meyer house,) it was uncertain that a grassroots campaign to achieve that goal would succeed. 

During the summer, tenants at the Los Flores property were evicted by the landlord who used, (and many say unfairly,) the Ellis Act to evict them. The goal was to tear down this building that would eventually be ruled a historic-cultural structure; the landlord wanted to build a bigger building with increased rental potential. All but two tenants, a couple, took the money and moved. Steve Luftman, however, got to work, waging guerrilla warfare (almost like Abbie Hoffman,) against the development establishment. 

What Luftman did should inspire anyone facing eviction under suspicious circumstances: say no and fight back using every means possible that substitutes for money. Namely, engage the neighbors and the community, make a case at the land use committee of the neighborhood council and solicit the support of your councilmember. Use the media by repeatedly sending out stories and updates to the press; open an email address and use other digital resources like social media. 

In addition, you can hold a demonstration at the subject building, file for historic cultural monument status, go to every hearing that has anything to do with your project and make public comment, and most of all, don’t give up! 

Steve Luftman didn’t give up and now the Mendel Meyer house has been granted historic cultural landmark status. The building will not be demolished. 

The Edinburgh Bungalow Court, (photo) not far from Luftman’s building, now awaits a hearing by PLUM (LA City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee,) and a vote for preservation by the full City Council. “This has been an incredible fight, and it’s not over yet,” says tenant Heather Fox, co-organizer with Brian Harris of the efforts to protect Edinburgh Bungalow Court. A developer wants to replace it with a small lot sub-division. 

The Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in support of Edinburgh Bungalow Court’s Historic Cultural Monument status on November 19, with lots of community backing and strong supportive remarks to the committee by Councilmember Paul Koretz. 

Fox and Harris also enlisted the support of the LA Conservancy, once it was clear that Survey LA http://preservation.lacity.org/survey had flagged Edinburgh Bungalow Court as an excellent example of a Hollywood bungalow court. 

In the last two months, other guerrilla techniques used to gather community support for Edinburgh Bungalows included a demonstration outside the Bungalows, a canvassing of the neighborhood, handing out flyers, knocking on doors, and stopping to chat with people in the community at every chance. Advocates even set up a lemonade stand on the corner outside the Bungalows; they made yard signs and started a Facebook page. 

Their neighborhood council, Mid City West, supported the preservation with a board motion. By the November 19 Historic Cultural status hearing date, they had 200 petition signatures and 91 letters from people who live and work in the community. Over 30 people showed up at the hearing to speak, including the councilmember, LA Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage, and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance. 

“We have met so many wonderful people who really care what happens to their neighborhood, and are so grateful for the enthusiasm of the community and especially for the concern and active part of our city councilman Paul Koretz,” says Fox, describing the grassroots, community-led fight for preservation of this structure from demolition. 

Moving to a grander scale is the proposal by The Coalition to Preserve LA to launch a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure in an attempt to better manage the spread of new developments in Los Angeles. 

Key elements of their plan include a proposal for a construction moratorium for 24 months for city-approved projects that aim to increase some types of density. During this period, review and updates of community plans would be conducted. 

City employees, rather than developers’ staff, would be in charge of preparing an environmental review of major development projects. 

The city’s community plans would be reviewed and become consistent with the city’s General Plan. 

The General Plan will not be allowed to be amended by what is popularly known as “spot zoning” --where developers are able to get separate variances for a single project. 

The Coalition is ironing out the final language. Then the matter will either be considered by the full City Council – or sent to the voters as ballot measure. Which alternative will be used is yet to be determined. 

Leaders of the Coalition to Preserve LA include Michael Weinstein, Ballot Measure Proponent and President of AHF(Aids Healthcare Foundation); Jacqui Shabel, Hollywood Neighborhood Alliance; Jack Humphreville, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); Helen Berman, UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); John Campbell, Save Residential Hollywood; and Miki Jackson, Ballot Measure Proponent. 

No matter which side of the “horizontal versus vertical” development debate you are on, you can expect lots more noise from each side. This kind of public dialogue is both healthy and an affordable, so add your voice!

 

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

-cw                

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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