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THE TRUTH ABOUT ROAD DIETS-Everyone in NELA who’s been awake for the last few years know about the reactionary cabal that has been struggling to keep Highland Park a preserve for “leadfoot drivers.” You know, the sort that has been maiming and killing residents on Figueroa Street for years – the sort that, lately, has been accelerating the pace of the bloodshed. And now the car addicts have started a petition on change.org asking CD14 Councilmember José Huizar to remove the bike lanes from York Boulevard. 

Sign the counter-petition here.  

These people employ what you might call discredited arguments, but really, they are just plain lies. They state that bike lanes have caused a loss of business, but the empty storefronts that existed before bike lanes are now largely occupied, and older businesses such as Huarache Azteca have invested in sprucing up their façades. They claim that bike lanes slow down emergency response -- they don’t. They say bike lanes cause traffic backups. 

What they don’t mention is that collisions of all sorts dropped dramatically thanks to the street’s road diet, which later added bike lanes without reducing mixed traffic lanes further. As for the other intuitive assertions, this UCLA study on the York road diet itself should set your mind at rest. Its conclusions were based on actual data gathered on the actual York Boulevard -- not on “gut feelings.” 

What causes traffic backups is too many cars which are drawn to a street when it has too much lane space. Cars cause congestion; building more lanes makes more room for more cars to cause more congestion. Don’t take my word for it: listen to CalTrans, which now admits that More Roads Mean More Traffic.  

In fact, it should be obvious even to the Neanderthals that we’ve been building more roads and more lanes for eighty years -- and traffic has gotten steadily worse. 

So I offer a compromise: for the next eighty years, let’s build nothing but bike lanes and transit lines, and see what happens. 

Who knows? We might end up like Denmark, which currently holds the Number 1 spot on Forbes Magazine’s list of best places to do business,  as well as being home to the happiest population on this poor beleaguered planet. 

All those bike lanes help….

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying PigeonEdited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

METHANE MAYHEM-It’s early December, and I’m sitting in a mega-church packed with more than 500 people. They’re here to listen to an update on the efforts to contain an enormous natural gas blowout that occurred more than a month before. Gas from the leak is being blown by prevailing winds right into their community of Porter Ranch, in Los Angeles County, CA. 

People are mad. 

Hundreds of families have left their homes to get away from the rotten-egg smell of the gas, and moved into temporary homes elsewhere. Children are attending other schools further from the leak, which is spewing some 110,000 pounds of methane per hour from a broken well less than a mile from the neighborhood.  

Trust between the gas company, regulators, and community members seems absent. 

People question what else is in the gas that might have long-term health impacts. They want to know why many are suddenly reporting headaches and bloody noses.

I’m sitting in this church because my colleague Hilary Lewis and I were invited to Porter Ranch with our infrared gas-finding camera to see what this high profile disaster actually looks like. Before we arrived, the public had no access to images or video of the gas itself, as it’s invisible to the naked eye. 

We meet a local organizer in a supermarket parking lot, exit the vehicle, and even my horrible sense of smell instantly reacts to the scent of the gas more than two miles from where we stand. It’s coming from a well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, an 8,000-foot deep sandstone formation — a depleted oil field — that SoCalGas uses to hold vast quantities of gas. In fact, it’s one of the largest gas storage fields in the nation, comprising some 115 extraction and injection wells, some of which operate at pressures above 2,000 pounds per square inch — a hefty load for well casings over 60 years old. 

We hike the hills and document the gas blowing sideways and downhill into town. Later that night, we see a plume of gas at least a mile long spanning Aliso Canyon. Of all the sites I’ve shot as a certified infrared thermographer nationwide, this is, hands down, the largest volume of spewing methane gas I’ve ever seen — and I’ve visited nearly a hundred sites around the country, including the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Each day, the leak is releasing the same amount of greenhouse gases as the average daily emissions of more than 7 million cars.

This video footage — aired nationally on NBC’s The Rachel Maddow’s Show and many other media outlets — has helped to draw widespread attention to the leak, and has assisted local residents in their efforts to get justice and to hold industry, regulators, and policymakers accountable.  

Just ten days later, I return to Aliso Canyon to shoot additional infrared footage for the Environmental Defense Fund from a small chartered aircraft. We fly as close as is safe, seeing a plume nearly 1,000 feet high under calmer wind conditions. The pilot can’t help but note the pungent smell not long after gaining altitude. 

We get a view of the well pad itself — a mangled looking mess coated in mud. This mud was used to try to “drown” the well during the first several attempts to plug the leak. Nothing worked. There are huge craters around the well, and no one wants to get too close with machines for fear of a spark turning the entire scene into an enormous fireball.


The footage I shot for EDF makes an even bigger mark on the national consciousness. Soon thereafter, California Governor Jerry Brown declares a state of emergency regarding the leak, and the Los Angeles Times editorializes against fossil fuels, referencing the Aliso Canyon leak. 

Right now, as the leak enters its tenth week, the underground pressure has been reduced by half of its original rate, due to the gas escaping from the leak and other actions taken by SoCalGas — the company operating the facility — to withdraw gas in a controlled manner.  

It will be months before the leak is repaired. SoCalGas is currently drilling two relief wells to divert the gas below the leak source, much like what was done during the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. But by the time the wells are drilled, most of the gas will be gone anyway. 

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is 87 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. So far, an estimated 79,000 metric tons of methane have escaped from this one facility — so much that California’s goals to reduce climate pollution have been seriously compromised. It’s estimated that, at its height, the leak increased the state’s daily methane emissions by 25 percent.

What has this disaster taught us? For one thing, it’s yet another affirmation that fossil fuels are not safe or clean, and that things often go horribly wrong when it’s least expected. But more specifically, it highlights the woeful state of regulatory oversight on underground gas storage facilities such as Aliso Canyon. For example, the well casing at the site of the blowout failed hundreds of feet below the surface, likely due to the predictable corrosion of 60 year old well casings. To add insult to injury, the safety shut-off device for this well was removed long ago and never replaced.

So there you have it — a well operating at the upper limit of its pressure tolerance, with a safety valve deliberately removed long before, and a well casing that failed with no safeguards in place to prepare for when that time might come. Aliso Canyon has 114 other wells that could fail at any time unless adequate safeguards are in place.

Thankfully, Governor Brown’s declaration of a state of emergency will force a number of much-needed steps — both immediate and medium-term — that will address the situation. His declaration was much needed because, for example, the California Air Resources Board is considering new regulations that would address leak detection and repair for natural gas infrastructure, but these wouldn’t have applied to underground facilities like Aliso Canyon. Yes, you read that correctly. Now, due to Brown’s declaration, California regulatory bodies, including the Air Resources Board, will be required to assess the long-term viability of natural gas storage facilities in California.

It’s long past time to regulate these facilities properly, or take them offline entirely. Hundreds of underground natural gas storage facilities exist throughout the nation, and many of them could also experience catastrophic failures, in addition to other problems already occurring, such as groundwater contamination. 

To prevent more disasters like Aliso Canyon in California and around the country (there are 326 similar facilities nationwide) we need an emergency statewide effort to shut down facilities that lack basic safety equipment, including Aliso Canyon. Gas storage wells that lack shut off valves should be taken offline before other Porter Ranches happen. We also need increased oversight and management of these facilities, not to mention support for residents affected by pollution, including health care and financial compensation.

Moving forward, we also need a rapid transition away from gas. The Solutions Project, an organization working to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, has mapped out a plan for California to achieve 100 percent fossil fuel-free energy by 2050. This transition would protect communities from underground storage risks, gas line leakage, and explosions like the one in San Bruno.

Because nearby communities — and the global climate — cannot afford any more disasters, Earthworks, a nonprofit that works to protect communities from the adverse impacts of energy development, is working hand-in-hand with community groups to push for significant regulatory changes and enforcement. Learn more about Earthworks’ work here.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

(Pete Dronkers is the Southwest Circuit Rider for Earthworks. He is an ITC-certified thermographer. This piece was posted earlier at the excellent Common Dreams.)  Photo:   EarthWorks. The first (and to date only) direct overhead photos of the leaking Aliso Canyon well pad polluting Porter Ranch community; taken on December 17, 2015. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

PERSPECTIVE--Benedict Arnold betrayed our nation, but at least he accomplished significant good before he strayed down the dark path of treachery. He saved the Continental Army from certain defeat during the retreat from the failed invasion of Canada, skillfully parrying British efforts to destroy it. His leadership at Saratoga led to the most important strategic victory for the colonists and was a major factor in drawing France into the conflict. French assistance was vital in George Washington’s overwhelming victory over the British at Yorktown. 

Ratepayer Advocate Fred Pickel (photo) sold the ratepayers and stakeholders of the DWP up the Yazoo without so much as contributing to the public’s awareness of just why rates must be increased. 

His statement declaring DWP’s proposed series of rate increases as “fair and reasonable” has provided the DWP and its GM, Marcie Edwards, with a public relations windfall. 

The following press release was issued by the DWP on January 15: 

We are pleased that the Ratepayer Advocate has found that the power rate request to be “just and reasonable,” as it will invest in replacing aging infrastructure, which is critical to providing reliable electric service to our customers. If the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and the City Council approve the rate request, it  will allow us to continue the transformation of our power system to a clean energy future that protects the environment, while complying with regulatory mandates.

We have included key performance metrics and regular public reporting of our progress in the proposed power rate ordinance as recommended by the Ratepayer Advocate, and we are pleased that his report recognized that this will increase transparency and accountability by linking rates to the progress and performance of key programs. We are also grateful that the Ratepayer Advocate recognized that the Department has been instrumental in supporting the design and inclusion of the reporting mechanisms in the rate ordinances, referring to LADWP’s support and actions as, “unprecedented and a reflection of a more mature and sustainable management practices.”

Dr. Pickel’s independent review of the rate request is valuable, and we are reviewing his additional recommendations. We look forward to consideration of the power rate action by the Board of Water & Power Commissioners next Tuesday (January 19) and consideration of both water and power rates proposals by the City Council and Mayor thereafter.

Fred Pickel has never bothered to reach out to the media and the public about the need for reform at the utility. The hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned to the city’s poorly managed general fund at the expense of ignoring much needed capital improvements and maintenance to our water and power system should have been at the top of his agenda.

He should have been battling the City Council over the continuation of this backdoor tax and publicly disclosed how much it has diverted from the primary task of maintaining infrastructure.

He should have raised a giant red flag about the conflict of interest evident in DWP labor negotiations.  As long as the IBEW and its members can contribute to city election campaigns, the ratepayers will never have fair representation.

He should have emphasized the steady increases DWP employees received during the recession when the residents were taking pay cuts. 

He can analyze the numbers all he wants – and that is a job that must be performed – but the results lack meaning when taken out of context of the bigger issue of reform. In his report issued January 15th, the same date as the DWP press release, he attempted to couch his characterization of the increases as “fair and reasonable” in officialdom-speak:

Reasonableness is an opinion held by rate-setting public officials performing a specialized duty to the public interest. The essence of this opinion is whether the rates charged are equitable to the many competing interests facing a monopoly utility.”

Nice to know how public officials interpret the meaning, but how about the public’s perspective?

Edwards wasted no time in using Pickel words to promote the city’s objectives. She should have paid him. Endorsements like that are worth money.

Pickel can redeem himself if he counters the DWP’s press release with a very public and unambiguous statement criticizing Marcie Edwards and her masters for leveraging his ill-conceived, and apparently nuanced, “fair and reasonable” characterization of the rate increases.

If not, it is time for the Neighborhood Councils to issue a statement of “no confidence” in Doctor Pickel’s ability to represent the public.

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

-cw

 

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-It’s been over 86 days since the Southern California Gas Company first reported the Aliso Canyon gas leak in the Porter Ranch community of the valley. The gas well, not expected to be contained until late February or early March at the earliest, has disrupted lives for many families in this suburban neighborhood. Over 2,200 residents have been temporarily displaced, housed in hotels and apartment buildings as far away as Warner Center and Westlake Village.

When students at Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School returned to classes after the winter break, they were no longer housed in their home schools. Back in December, the LAUSD board declared an emergency for these schools, both located within two miles of the gas leak. About 1,100 K through 8th grade students at Porter Ranch Community School are now housed on the Northridge Middle School campus; and 770 kindergarten through 5th grade students from Castlebay are housed at Sunny Brae Elementary School in Winnetka. In the months after the gas leak was first reported, absenteeism and visits to the schools’ health offices had increased; families had begun to choose independent study for their children. 

Could anything have been done to prevent the gas leak? Attorneys representing Porter Ranch families report that Southern California Gas Co. knew five years ago about the leaking wells in Aliso Canyon and had received a ratepayer increase to fund upgrades in 2013 -- but never replaced safety valves on its gas injection wells. 

LA County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is asking fellow board members to join him in possibly curbing residential development in parts of the northern San Fernando Valley until, as Antonovich said in a statement released last week, “a thorough investigation can take place as to what caused the leak and what safeguards will be put in place to avoid a failure of this magnitude again.” 

One of the caveats involves halting development in Deerlake Ranch, a 314-home tract approved sixteen years ago. And Newport Beach-based Foremost Companies is in the process of pulling building permits for the 230-acre development north of the 118 Freeway at Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just 10 miles west of the entrance to the storage facility. Antonovich has asked county agencies to re-designate the area as permanent open space. 

Way back in 1989, before the area was developed, locals opposed overdevelopment, fearing traffic, depletion of water, and a strain on sewage lines and landfills. Environmental reports that outlined plans for the just under 3,400 homes that would be known as Porter Ranch contained no obvious references to the massive natural gas storage facility about a mile away. Despite the concerns of locals, the 1,300 acre development was approved by City Council in 1990 and became one of the largest residential and commercial projects in LA history. 

Twenty-five years later, families are squeezed into hotel rooms, surviving on takeout or restaurant meals. Kids must adapt to new schools and do their homework in tight quarters, unable to play with friends after school, play soccer or take karate in the neighborhood studio. Residents have suffered from various health issues caused by the methane gas exposure. 

Mothers and fathers, residents and business owners, activists and attorneys continue to mobilize to fight for what was lost and for the future. We must look at what has happened in Porter Ranch as a cautionary tale -- a tragedy that should not be repeated. Until the gas company can stop the leak and ensure the area is safe, any further development there should be curtailed.

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

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Trishna Patel, Media Director and Travel Writer @RomanceTravelConcierge, sat down with George Sifuentes in the summer of 2015 to discuss the challenges of approaching strangers, the pressures that come with social media notoriety, and why he attributes his focus on LA’s Latino community to time spent with his grandmother. (Photo: A Sifuentes’ photograph) 

Patel asked him to describe his favorite things about shooting in Los Angeles -- what are his favorite areas and why? 

He responded by saying that the best thing about shooting in LA is the variety of people and neighborhoods that are so close to one another. Hands down his favorite place to shoot is Downtown on Broadway, running through the historic core where the city’s oldest souls and newest inhabitants walk side by side. His second favorite spot is Boyle Heights/East LA. To Sifuentes, Mexican culture is so visually strong in these areas that it's highly unlikely he’d leave without finding anything good. His third favorite spot is Venice Beach. He argues, if you look beyond the tourist trail you’ll find some of LA's truest characters that are influenced by art, music and gang culture. 

Another good question asked by Patel was, what exactly is it about people that Sifuentes wants to capture and portray? 

He answered by saying that he wants to portray truth and originality in his subjects – and for his audience to look at his portraits and understand without a doubt that his subject is the true and beautiful character he or she is. 

The Latino community has been Sifuentes’ home and Patel asked him about his particular interest in LA’s Latino community. Since he grew up with young parents, he spent a lot of time with his grandparents. For him, photographing streets in LA is a nostalgic act – he used to walk on Cesar Chavez Avenue and Grand Central Market with his grandmother. (Photo left: George Sifuentes) 

Being Latino here means so many different things, adds Sifuentes. “We are [one of] the few communities in Los Angeles that can point to five or more generations that were born and raised in this city. Documenting both the older and younger generations as well as observing the varying degrees of mainstream influence is very interesting to me.” 

Finally, he argues thatspeaking Spanish is everything when it comes to photographing the Latino community. It establishes a common bond which leads to trust; plus Latinos, mostly the older ones, want to know why the hell you want a picture of them in the first place. The elderly have no understanding as to why Sifuentes would want to photograph them. They could care less about his photographic passion and most of the time they are not even aware of their own beauty. 

I think Trishna Patel did a great service to the Latino residents of Los Angeles by conducting this interview with Sifuentes; he raises a very important awareness of what Los Angeles really is. He shows us a view of this city that is hard to document by any other means. 

I just hope that residents and visitors alike learn to appreciate the importance of our city’s great diversity; how it has and continues to contribute to the greatness of the State of California and to our country as a whole. 

After all, Los Angeles is one of the largest and most diverse cities in the world, and the second largest in the United States. It would be hard to imagine Los Angeles without its Latino community. 

Thank you George Sifuentes for your contribution to our city.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 19, 2016 

DEEGAN ON LA --“Harry Potter Swoops into Controversy with an Epic David Versus Two Goliath's Struggle on Eve of Theme Park’s Grand Opening” is not the Variety headline you’d expect as one of the world’s most famous and successful movie and book franchises makes its debut at Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s a brand new iteration: "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, a novel new ride -- in 3-D no less! 

The grand opening at the theme park has been announced for April 7. But will the Wizard be met by picketers protesting the closure of the southbound Hollywood 101 freeway’s Barham off ramp that was eliminated in order to build a grand driveway into the park, linked to the freeway? 

There is a fourth “D” in this scenario: it’s the “David” (aka Keep the Barham Ramp association) that is suing the two Goliath’s, Comcast-NBC Universal and Caltrans (State Department of Transportation.) The suit is over what Hollywood Hills resident John Strozdas, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says was a violation by Caltrans of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not providing substantial proof it had studied alternatives to the closure, and also not sufficiently backing up its findings regarding the closure's effects. 

"It is the experience of many persons who ... use the Barham (southbound) off ramp that police and fire services regularly use the ... off ramp to provide public services to that area and that without it, they will have to exit approximately one mile north ... increasing response time," states the lawsuit. 

Caltrans has addressed this allegation in fifteen succinct words, stating that this closure ”will have a less than significant impact on public services, including fire and police services.” 

Fifteen words buried in a 39,000 page Environmental Impact Report. Blink and you’ve missed it. 

This denial can be found on page 8, section K of an addendum to the EIR, the environmental impact report mandated by CEQUA. But no substantiating documentation supports this claim -- no independent traffic studies from LADOT and no on-the-record findings from LAFD and LAPD. Nor were there any attached documents showing Q+A from the community, many of whom say they were caught off-guard by the ramp’s closure since it had been labeled “Bennett Drive” and not what it actually is, Barham Boulevard. This looks like a wizardry that Harry himself might approve of, if, in fact, trickery was the objective. 

There were no justifying declarations from Caltrans or Comcast NBC-Universal that could reassure the community that they would have a happy Hollywood ending if they ever needed first responders in an emergency.  

The lawsuit alleges that Caltrans did not prove that public safety would not be impacted. Many residents believe there is reason to be fearful; they are concerned that fire and police responders will be the victims of this freeway ramp closure. And they may have a point. 

Has Comcast-NBC Universal, a monolithic entertainment giant capable of being a good neighbor and corporate citizen, cast a dark shadow over the people and places in its orbit? Did they know what they were doing to the surrounding community by closing off an important route for emergency responders?  

It seems that the southbound Barham off ramp just got in the way of the Harry Potter theme park visitor traffic plans. So it was “offed” and public safety has taken a hit. 

The new Grand Entry to the park is designed to speed visitors directly from the 101 Hollywood Freeway to Universal Studios Hollywood's first outdoor roller coaster, the "Flight of the Hippogriff,” a new restaurant called Three Broomsticks, a pub called Hog's Head, twenty-nine stores and restaurants at the City Walk promenade, and finally, the nineteen movie theaters -- all at the top of the hill. There’s a reason the sprawling complex is called Universal City. 

Freeway traffic will now flow smoothly in and out of this goldmine, possibly keeping local streets less congested with theme park traffic. That claim has yet to be proven, but will be settled once Harry Potter opens for several weeks of visitors during the spring and summer. 

While many Comcast corporate stockholders may be happy with the increased profits Harry Potter will generate, some community stakeholders are not so pleased. This community falls into three camps: the insiders, the outsiders, and the non-aware.  

Residents in the Cahuenga Pass, Lake Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills are fearful that this freeway ramp elimination will add precious minutes to emergency responders that had previously been “freeway close” via the Barham off ramp.  

As any cop or firefighter will tell you, when it comes to an emergency, it can come down to a matter of minutes. The faster the response, the better the result. An extra few minutes delay in reaching a heart attack or stroke victim can mean the difference between stabilization and eventual recovery, or a state of permanent vegetation, or worse. 

As a result of the Hollywood Freeway Barham off ramp closure and the new traffic management plan for emergency responders, those minutes will mount up quickly. 

NBC Universal has told CityWatchLA that “the Caltrans study concluded that the new 101 southbound on-ramp will help improve traffic along Cahuenga Boulevard, which means better access to local roadways for all drivers, including emergency vehicles. Caltrans also determined that the freeway improvements, including the off-ramp closure, will not impact public services.” All this remains to be seen, once Harry Potter opens and increased numbers of visitors swarm the Cahuenga Pass. 

Comcast-NBC Universal, the world’s largest media company (according to Forbes Magazine) with corporate annual net profits of $8 billion, and Caltrans, the mammoth state transportation agency with an annual budget of $11 billion. 

Comcast-NBC Universal and Caltrans maintain that public safety is not at risk with the closure of the Barham off ramp. But this is their opinion and not fact backed up by documentation and studies. And if tragedy occurs and the two Goliaths are wrong, more lawsuits could follow, especially if someone dies because an emergency responder is unable to get there fast enough. 

The community suspects that Comcast-NBC Universal paid Caltrans $30 million to facilitate the closure of the southbound Barham off ramp, stating that there remain two other ramps in the same proximity. Comcast-NBC Universal denies the existence of these funds, stating that such money was earmarked for unrelated traffic studies of the 134-170 freeway interchange and for Hollywood and Highland. Carrie Bowen, Director of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 (Los Angeles and Ventura counties), would neither confirm nor deny this when her office was contacted by CityWatch. We will discover the truth of these allegations if the pending litigation reaches a judge and jury.  

One payment by Comcast-NBC Universal that has been acknowledged is the $50,000 paid to the Outpost Homeowners Association in negotiating for their support or tamping down their opposition, depending on which side you take. These funds were earmarked for traffic mitigation for neighborhood improvements, stated John Campbell, a board member of the HOA at the time of the transaction. “The fact is, they ‘bought our HOA’, and even though the money went to the city, under the stewardship of former CD4 Councilmember Tom LaBonge, it was just a cute way of the HOA accepting those funds and be able to say we’re clean.” He added, “We couldn’t even get $250 from the HOA for the cause (the lawsuit), because they had already been bought.”  

This chilling effect on an HOA’s prospective support of a lawsuit shows how funds by developers are used to freeze opposition. Several other HOA’s surrounding the Harry Potter project may have had their own “deals” with Comcast-NBC Universal. This makes them “insiders,” and an example of how the shoe can sometimes be on the other foot -- with the HOA “green-mailing” the developer, withholding support until funds are provided. This is often described as “traffic mitigations.”  

The proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure may supercharge needed reform and cast sunlight on developers, mandating that this “cash for blessings” paradigm be forced out of the shadows, creating transparency instead of suspicions and secrecy.  

Developers and HOA’s alike must be required to publicly disclose what cash and other transactions take place as part of the land use agreement process. 

This puts a spotlight on the “insiders:” the several neighborhood homeowner associations that Comcast-NBC Universal has been cultivating ever since it was mandated by LA County to do community outreach during the 2013 approval process for the Comcast-NBC Universal Evolution Plan, the 25-year blueprint for the property. 

The six favored homeowner organizations (HOA’s) are Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association, Cahuenga Pass Property Owners Association, Hollywood Knolls Community Club, Studio City Residents Association, Toluca Estates Drive Homeowners Association, and Toluca Lake Homeowners Association.  

The following rules of public engagement were set by Comcast-NBC Universal’s management for the quarterly meetings with these groups:  You must be specifically invited, one of two authorized representatives of one of the six approved HOAs; you must RSVP and be authenticated before being given the location of the meeting; and you may send your questions in advance for review by Comcast-NBC Universal before the meeting even starts. The meetings are not open to others in the community, or the media. Some have called this strict control mechanism “elitist,” or “preaching to the choir” or “non-inclusive.”  

The next meeting is Tuesday, January 19, the day following the celebration of MLK’s birthday: the man who challenged us all to “let freedom ring” in his historic 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech before tens of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. But freedom to engage with Comcast-NBC Universal is apparently not universal, unless you are a favored and vetted insider in the group of six. Once a year, they let all members of the approved HOA’s in the front door for what Comcast NBC-Universal callas an “annual meeting”. 

How some parts of a community get included in the conversation may stem from the rigid corporate culture governing Comcast-NBC Universal, whose corporate parent, Comcast Corporation, is legendary for hiring dozens of ex-Members of Congress, and anyone else with influence in Washington DC, to lobby Congressional and state legislatures for the cable company’s agenda. Forbes Magazine ranked Comcast the number one media company worldwide last year. They are big and they are powerful. They have a very good record of setting the meeting agenda and getting what they want. They are a Goliath. As is Caltrans, a Goliath.  

The “David” in the piece is a small, outsider community group -- the Keep the Barham Ramp association -- fighting huge odds through a pair of lawsuits against the two Goliath’s. However, the Biblical story of David versus Goliath reminds us that one well-placed rock, lobbed by sling shot into the eye of a giant leveled the playing field. 

Negative opinions are being directed at public relations sensitive, image-conscious Comcast-NBC Universal. In this climate, it will reveal how it plans to treat a community that they do not really “own.” This could end up being the rock that is thrown at them.

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

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

TRANSIT TALK-It's said that no good deed goes unpunished, but the Westside will soon have to grapple with the benefits and challenges of a major mass transit line running through Culver City through West LA and ending up in Santa Monica. And make no bones about it -- there are both solid benefits and thorny challenges to be confronted. 

On Friday, January 15, 2016, roughly 15 years after it was approved by Metro in 2001, the Expo Line Construction Authority handed control of the Exposition Light Rail Line to Metro to begin pre-revenue service (testing, troubleshooting, analysis but no actual commuters yet.) 

The Expo Line was and is a very special moment in both county and grassroots politics. Its main support came not from the top down but from the non-profit, volunteer organization Friends4Expo Transit  which was founded, led, and co-chaired by Santa Monica resident Darrell Clarke and several others at a time when the Internet, modern grassroots advocacy, and neighborhood councils were all in their earliest stages of development.  

The Friends4Expo Transit was itself championed by both those in power and ordinary residents who -- as the memory of the LA riots faded and an awareness developed that gridlock was destroying our quality of life -- realized that Los Angeles needed new paradigms in both mobility and development. Initial outreach from Metro came in the form of two special engineers -- David Mieger and Tony Loui -- who provided guidance, updates, and education. 

LA and other Westside, Mid-City and Downtown residents needed their cars because buses alone cost most commuters more time and patience than they could tolerate, and because greater access to a reviving Downtown was imperative to reestablishing an urban core necessary for Los Angeles County to become a major national and worldwide economic power. 

Friends4Expo Transit intentionally had co-chairs and an inner circle made up of both men and women, and of individuals of both black and white ethnicities, and were both Westside and Mid-City residents. Outreach to grassroots and political entities was foremost and was performed with virtually no budget whatsoever. 

The grassroots and political powerhouses of the City and County of Los Angeles really didn't know what to make of Friends4Expo Transit, whose members paid out countless of their own dollars and devoted years to the work of overcoming the political and economic obstacles necessary to make the Expo Line a reality. 

There were more local and political obstacles to overcome than could possibly be described here, and the struggle to create a proper, well-built, and environmentally-friendly Expo Line was a tedious, prolonged fight which still goes on today. Even the formation of the Expo Line Construction Authority did not end the struggle – and arguably that Authority's leadership may have created a few problems. 

Only when the Authority did true outreach to community leaders and Friends4Expo supporters did things begin to happen; but issues such as native plants, station design and allowing the existence of the accompanying Expo Bikeway was and are still ongoing points of contention. 

This is particularly true for the Expo Bikeway that still remains a hotbed of contention in the Cheviot Hills region that had been the focal point of opposition to the Expo Light Rail Line. 

It is certainly not the fault of either Metro or Friends4Expo Transit that the City of LA has problematic and potentially illegal tendencies to overdevelop, thwarting both its own City Charter and CEQA law, the question of whether a "Pandora's Box" has been opened weighs heavy on the minds and hearts of those who fought for the Expo Line. 

People who gave it their all fighting for the Expo Line were and are also being strong-armed by City of LA and Santa Monica leaders and planners whenever issues of common-sense zoning, congestion, and environmental law arise. 

Following the approval and initial construction of the Expo Line between Downtown and Culver City, momentum for mass transit throughout the county helped pass a half-cent sales tax (Measure R).  A decade ago, the empowerment of county residents and political leaders, influenced by the passage of the Expo Line, helped Measure R pass by an overwhelming majority of county voters. 

Yet the modern-day debates over Planning and Mobility in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles threaten whether a "Measure R-2" will achieve the 2/3 voter threshold this November that is needed for voters to approve more local funding to jumpstart transportation and mass transit. 

But it began with Westside and Mid-City grassroots voters and organizations willing to take a big chance on mass transit and who were optimistic yet concerned about what the Expo Line will bring. 

And, depending on how much local governments respond or fail to establish a successful Expo Line, will see whether the same grassroots that got the City/County powers-that-be to create the Expo Line will change course to halt more mass transit because of overdevelopment this November. 

Let's just hope and remember that -- in an era where ordinary citizens feel less empowered than ever -- that the Expo Line is a symbol of what ordinary individuals could do if they put their collective hearts and minds into a singular project: a rail line, the Expo Line, which is hoped and meant to connect us and bring us together.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

MY TURN-I received a lot of questions asking me how I felt about Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (District 7) announcing that he would not run for election in 2017. I have been critical of him and his rather cavalier attitude toward most of his constituents. In fact, much of the central and northeast parts of the San Fernando Valley have not been well served by their elected city officials. 

Fuentes is well known for not answering questions. And so is his staff. I have asked them all to state their points-of-view on issues I have covered in my articles. All have neglected to answer any queries, either negatively or positively. I don't take this personally because many of his constituents have also been ignored, and I’m not even a constituent. However, as my dear departed Mother would say, that is just plain rude! 

The Los Angeles Times ran an interview with Fuentes in which he spoke about his sixteen years of public service. He gave the impression that he was burned out, that he could no longer give his constituents the service they deserved if he opted for a second term. I was rather taken back since I had yet to discover what services he had actually devoted to them in his first term. 

His comments sounded rather noble, but what the interview did not disclose were the other factors involved -- including angry constituents. In September, Fuentes announced that the space occupied by the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) for the last eleven years would have to be vacated in November. He also gave an eviction notice to the Substation of LAPD housed in the same city-owned building. 

He had decided to rent the space (for $1.00 a year) to two non-profit organizations involved in helping the homeless. A great hue and cry was raised both in CityWatch and by other Valley news outlets and social media. All the protest came to naught; the STNC and the LAPD had to find new homes. 

Apparently, the City Council doesn't interfere with decisions made by individual Councilmembers, even when the Councilmember is not truthful in the file on which he is asking them to vote. 

Fuentes claimed that the change would free up space for groups that address homelessness and other community issues. “I'm not going to be apologetic for bringing more services into the district,” he said.  

Adding to the intrigue was an aide to US Rep. Tony Cardenas, who also represents part of the Valley.  She disclosed last year that she had received a subpoena to appear before a Federal grand jury. Months later, the LA Times reported that several aides to another Valley officeholder, CM Nury Martinez, had also received subpoenas. 

Fuentes' district director, Yolanda Fuentes Miranda, went before the grand jury in December. The councilman declined to comment on Miranda, who happens to be his aunt, but said her appearance had nothing to do with his decision to leave after one term. 

Last September, when I began my research into District 7, I found that none of the NCs and non-profit groups were ready to go on record with their opinions of Fuentes – even though he is not running for re-election. Such reticence would indicate that they were afraid of retribution. 

Northeast Valley politics has existed as a kind of political stronghold for a long time. Some stakeholders refer to groups in power as "the cartel" or "the machine." I don't think they mean they are literally relatives of the Mexican cartels or have anything to do with the drug trade, but they have pretty much picked the winners of the various electoral races in their area for several years. 

One big exception, and what I think precipitated a grassroots push back, was the election of Assembly Member Patty Lopez who upset and defeated Raul Bocanegra. Incumbent Bocanegra was supposed to become speaker of the State Assembly…but Patty Lopez threw a nice monkey wrench into that plan. 

It is rumored that there are grand jury ethics questions related to that election. Staff members from three different political offices were supposedly sent as “supervisors” and “watchdogs” for the recount of the Lopez/Bocanegra votes – all while working for other politicians. 

I had a business office in Mexico for more than 20 years. Some of the political nepotism I see here is reminiscent of how political jobs were handed out down there during those times. 

There are quite a number of staff positions occupied by people with the names “Fuentes” and “Padilla.” Some of them must be related to the elected office holders and their titular boss, Alex Padilla. 

District 7 is really a microcosm of Los Angeles. There are ranchers seeking to retain the rural flavor of the area and they fight against most development. There are pockets of extreme poverty and a huge homeless population, attracting drug dealers, thieves and other ne'er-do-wells. There are also middle class sub-divisions and gated communities. The terrain is both hilly and urban inner city. There is a large Latino population and a conservative white group. The region runs the gamut on the economic scale. 

The Bullet train is causing a great deal of stress to many residents. Plans now call for it to run through the middle of some of these Northeast communities. And El Nino will probably flood the Tujunga Wash where developers want to build 250 upscale homes. 

But despite all these real and potential difficulties, residents of the Northeast Valley have seen that grassroots efforts can make a difference. A new group, initiated by Sunland Tujunga community leaders late last year, now has over 2500 Facebook members on its page called, "An Open Letter to CD7." It has spread to neighboring communities and they are working the social media and raising awareness. 

Here is an edited look at their purpose: 

OUR MISSION: CD7 Open Letter has been created to recruit members of the ST community to become signers to the open letter that the administrator will author in an effort to bring about positive change to CD7 in general and Sunland Tujunga in particular. 

When the letter is complete, members will have the opportunity to decide if they support it. If they do support it, their name will be included as a signer. 

The group is for people who support the following goals: 

1. Cleaning out the homeless camps all over CD7.

2. Strict enforcement of vagrancy, loitering and trespassing laws.

3. Cleaning up the parks.

4. Initiation of patrols of the Wash, forest and sensitive wildlife areas to ensure that camps are not reestablished.

5. Proactive working with property owners who have been impacted by the influx of transients and trespassers caused by public policy failures…people who have no means to effectively deal with it on their own.

6. Enforcement of the homeless ordinances recently passed by the LA City Council but largely abrogated by the mayor.

Members agree that a solution should start with law enforcement. The city should work to make our streets livable and safe again and not give them over to transients and drug dealers. We believe it’s about being able to take our kids to the park or on a safe walk along the creek in Big Tujunga. It's about not being attacked in our cars by crazy people. It's about seeing new stores open because Foothill no longer looks like a mini Skid Row. 

Members of this group truly want to help the homeless. We are all compassionate people, many of whom devote time and treasure to help. But unless the authorities make it more difficult to live on the streets or in the Wash and on the hillsides, no one is going to have the motivation to get help. The camps will continue to grow. 

Transients who steal and the hard core drug dealers who have threatened us need to be dealt with by the authorities or, at the very least, they have to be made so uncomfortable that they relocate to other areas. 

IF YOU'D LIKE TO PARTICIPATE, PLEASE VISIT HERE. 

Just in the last couple of weeks, community leaders from different neighborhoods have met to talk honestly about the kind of person they would want to represent them on the LA City Council. The groups have included Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Independents but unfortunately (for me) no press. This is a non-partisan office. These leaders see an opening for neighbors to actually have a voice in who they elect, instead of being given just a few choices. 

It is rumored that potential candidates will receive a “report card” from representatives of the entire area; their grades on the most important issues will be disseminated in the community. 

Several people have indicated their desire to run. The big question is... who will be anointed by the old guard? Raul Bocanegra has already had several fund raising events; it’s rumored he wants a re-match with Patty Lopez. 

I question why Fuentes decided to give so much notice in announcing his “retirement” from politics. During the next year and half he can continue to follow the same shoddy path or he can create a legacy of inclusion, putting his constituents before his personal agenda. If he would resign now the cost of a special election would be burdensome.  

We will be watching his actions closely. As always, comments welcome…

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

EDUCATION POLITICS-The LA Times has written another diatribe peddling Eli Broad’s privatization plan for Los Angeles public schools (Eli is certainly getting his money’s worth in underwriting the LA Times education coverage). 

“What the LA School Board's resolution opposing the Broad plan might accomplish is to continue making this a politically divisive issue. Potential donors might then decline to join the effort, but would that really be helpful to students?”  

Really? Is it the democratically elected representatives’ vote to support public schools against a hostile private takeover that is the problem here? Is it LAUSD’s fault for discouraging otherwise willing donors to pay for the weaponry that would destroy its schools?

The LA Times goes on: “A better move would be to call on Great Public Schools Now [Broad's group] to provide a place at the table for the district’s new superintendent, Michelle King, to participate in the planning process. If the new nonprofit organization hopes to overcome resistance in the community, it needs to be more open about its planning and it needs to open the process to public discussion…”

Hello!

In its ongoing effort to convince the city that a huge public entity should be handed over to a private group of titans, the LA Times now suggests inviting the public official to the table to give the effort some credibility. This is the superintendent, who was appointed by the democratically elected board, to lead the public entity the titans seek to control.

As Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis has said, “You can’t have a seat at the table when you’re on the menu.”

The LA Times even suggests the plan should include funding for outside auditors.  I guess that’s to head off the mob that will cry foul at circumventing public process.

It seems the LA Times needs a civics lesson.

The things they think would make this process go better are the very things that define democratic process—the things inherent in a public school system: Public hearings. Involvement of experts. Inclusion of all stakeholders. Service to all not some.

If this group of do-gooders has such a bright idea, why don’t they come to a school board meeting, present it, and participate in the discussion that any of us does? Let’s hear a discussion about the educational value, the impact on desegregation goals, the research-based evidence, the cost, etc.

They won’t do that because they’re titans. They think they should run things without the inconvenience of public interference.

The LA Times has backed itself into a corner in advocating for the private takeover of the public school system. Now calling for a *public* process into a private takeover does not fix that.

The LA Times’ conflict of interest in promoting Eli Broad’s plan remains a problem. Just as every LA Times article about education now comes with an asterisk (*), so does this version of a public process.

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub Jan 19, 2016

 

 

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative targeted for the November ballot picked up an endorsement from former mayor and top philanthropist Richard Riordan on Thursday. The initiative would place a citywide two-year moratorium on projects that attempt to circumvent existing land zoning in Los Angeles. 

Riordan has expressed disapproval with Mayor Garcetti’s policies. “If a person moved to the city now and heard Eric Garcetti talk, they’d assume he’s a member of the Tea Party,” the former mayor shared. “He isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer – through these zoning deals on land development.” 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) would prevent spot zoning by individual city council members that paves the way for developers to bypass existing zoning laws to build taller, denser buildings across the city on land zoned for less dense development. 

Should the initiative make the November ballot, stakes would be high. In attempt to address rising rents in Los Angeles, Garcetti has promised to add 100,000 housing units by 2021. A second piece of Garcetti’s plan is to place housing within proximity of rail and bus lines to encourage mass transit. 

On the other side, supporters of CPLA and the Neighborhood Integrity Commission argue that mega-development adds to street traffic and has a negative impact on both neighborhood character and livability with developers cutting deals to build larger structures than the city’s infrastructure can handle. 

Riordan cautions against placing too much zoning control in the hands of single council members. “That person is being lobbied by the developers and getting campaign money or campaign promises and this just has to end,” he warns. (Photo right: So-called Palladium Project that prompted the ballot measure.) 

The former mayor also questions the impact of positioning developments near bus, rail, and subway lines, noting that traffic congestion surrounding “elegant developments” near mass transit has worsened rather than improved. “You’re going to have more and more traffic around these over-developments,” he adds. “You cannot put in expensive condos and rental units and hope to attract people who will use public transportation. You will have two cars in each family.” 

The issue of affordable housing is crucial as LA moves forward. Tying development to encourage residents to use mass transit is an ambitious plan but spot zoning is unlikely to be the panacea. As Riordan predicts, the working class and poor will continue to be driven out, a historically prevalent outcome of gentrification. “Los Angeles is not a fast-growing city and it won’t grow all that much in the future but it’s going to switch to wealthier people under current policies,” Riordan observes. “It’s like San Francisco – a lot of wealthier people and a lot fewer minorities.” 

Riordan reflects on his own record as mayor. “When I was mayor, we prevented people from taking industrial land and turning it into high-rises because we still needed factories and manufacturing – for the good jobs it provides to the working class in LA.” 

He believes the moratorium to end land flipping and spot-rezoning is necessary to stop the net loss of existing, older affordable housing units in LA and he challenges Garcetti to define affordable housing. 

“It has zero to do with housing the homeless. It has to do with creating solidly middle and upper-middle class condos that area $4,000 a month,” he concludes. “Garcetti’s affordable housing will probably go for close to $3,000. So I want him to define it because the working poor in L.A., without question, can’t afford City Hall’s ‘affordable housing.’” 

Changing the landscape of affordable housing in Los Angeles, as in cities across the country, is complicated. Developers are more likely to build multi-unit projects that will capture rents that the market will bear. If we don’t curtail the power of individual city council members to assist developers in bypassing zoning restrictions, we aren’t likely to see that landscape change. We need to address the affordable housing issue in Los Angeles. Paving the way for developers to work around existing restrictions is not the way to do it.

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 29, 2016

GUEST WORDS--By the time Tom LaBonge [photo] termed out of the City Council in June 2015 his City Hall office was a mess. Shades of the fall of Saigon, file cabinets were emptied and records were shredded or just vanished. Not a single piece of paper was left for the incoming David Ryu administration. Council District Four residents who had been asking for assistance with problems or filing complaints were out of luck because there were no records for Ryu’s staff to respond to.

To make matters even worse, LaBonge had gone on a last minute spending spree. He promised to hand out over $600,000 in discretionary funds to various groups with no documentation to show how these expenditures had been earmarked or why.

When those of us who closely follow City Hall found out that LaBonge had emptied the CD 4 bank account we were stunned because the use of discretionary funds had been a major issue in the runoff election between Carolyn Ramsey, LaBonge’s former Chief of Staff, and David Ryu. For many voters LaBonge passing out money like Halloween candy was the straw that pushed them into Ryu’s camp. Ryu won the election hands down. (We can only speculate if those funds and files would have been left intact if Ramsey had been elected.)

In order to bring some sanity to the situation, on his first day in office Councilman Ryu filed motions to have LaBonge’s spending spree rolled back. On July 28, 2015 the City Council voted 15-0 to do just that. They cancelled LaBonge commitments and declared that these funds were unencumbered. Ryu then appointed a committee of stakeholders to advise him in this effort to review LaBonge’s pledges, but with no paperwork to go on the effort has been extremely daunting. The committee has been diligently trying to help the Councilman examine the requests and appropriately reallocate funds. But the task is complicated. Did the groups listed by LaBonge as needing public funds actually apply for them or was this LaBonge’s peevish attempt to empty the coffers before he left office?

There are legitimate and pressing needs for discretionary funds in CD 4: trees to be trimmed, potholes to be filled, sidewalks to be fixed, and the list goes on! Which of the projects on LaBonge’s list should be funded, which should not?  This is public money and each group should have to step forward and make their case for the funds to the Council office – and to the public.

The list of LaBonge’s giveaways ranged from Parent Teacher Associations to museums. It also appears that some funds were earmarked for projects outside of  Council District Four – these are probably the most egregious items.

The amounts on LaBonge’s list range from $2500 to $50,000. Some names are recognizable while others are not. All are just a simple line entry on  a page that lists the names and amount. There are no supporting documents illuminating why one group was to get money and others were not. To many this is the perfect example of a slush fund: opaque, arbitrary, and subjective.

One name and amount on LaBonge’s ledger immediately jumped off the page: Museum Associates was to get $50,000 to finance a way-finding project involving signage along Museum Row.

I had to look at it several times to make sure I was really seeing what I was seeing. Museum Associates is a privately owned 501(c)(3) non-profit doing business as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This group receives around $30-million a year from the County to run LACMA and is also slated to get another $125-million from the County to build its new museum on Wilshire Boulevard. Museum Associates also owns the old May Company property were the Motion Picture Academy is being built – as well as its Spaulding parking lot and 6006 Wilshire Boulevard. So, the first thought that came to mind was does LACMA really need $50,000 from the CD 4 discretionary fund and if so, why?

In a letter LaBonge submitted to the City Council on July 28, 2015, he asked them to leave his financial gifts in place and not return the funds to Councilman Ryu. LaBonge claimed he was fulfilling a $ 100,000 commitment to Los Angeles County by giving $50,000 to LACMA and $50,000 to the Ford Museum. That actually should be fairly easy to check out. An inquiry to the County should turn up something that references such a commitment.  

Museum Associates should also be of help as they have a personal service contract with an independent contractor detailing plans for a way-finding plan to promote LACMA and other Miracle Mile museums. That contract mentions a grant from the city that will be used to pay the contractor. Surely there is something in writing that Museum Associates can produce that details the conditions of such a grant? The project may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but what elevated it above all the other needs in CD 4?

Again, these are public funds and there must be a paper trail documenting the basis for this grant. Without that the specter of quid pro quo will forever hang over all of these funds and projects.

David Ryu is committed to an open and transparent process in this matter. He promises to come up with a grant proposal system that all must comply with. There is already a template that many Neighborhood Councils use to help them in this process. Whether a Neighborhood Council or a Council Office, there needs to be a rational and fair way to vet the expenditure of public money. After all, it’s our money – not Tom LaBonge’s.

(James O’Sullivan is Vice President of Fix The City and President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. This perspective was posted first in the MMRA Newsletter, edited by Ken Hixon.) 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

 

 

 

LA WATCHDOG--The Los Angeles Rams are returning to Southern California, 35 years after they left Memorial Coliseum for Anaheim and 21 years after ditching Anaheim for St. Louis.  But most importantly, the return to the Southland is not being financed with taxpayer money which is why the move to Inglewood does not make economic sense for either the San Diego Chargers or the Oakland Raiders. 

The Rams will be playing in an 80,000 seat stadium that is projected to cost $1.8 billion. But this futuristic, high tech venue is only part of a 298 acre, $3 billion entertainment complex that will consist of not only the football stadium, but over 4 million square feet of retail, office, hotel, and high end residential space as well as a 6,000 seat performing arts venue and a 25 acre park. 

This entertainment complex that is located in Inglewood, just south of the refurbished Forum that is now managed by New York based Madison Square Garden, is owned by Hollywood Park Land Company, a joint venture between two sophisticated, well-heeled partners, San Francisco based Stockbridge Capital, a real estate investment firm with almost $10 billion of assets under management, and The Kroenke Company, a commercial real estate and development company founded in 1985 by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. This family enterprise controls over 60 million square feet of space, including shopping centers, warehouse facilities, residential real estate and entertainment venues in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. 

However, if the Chargers or Raiders decide to relocate to Inglewood, the second team in the market would have to pony up $900 million, an amount equal 50% of the cost of the not-so-profitable stadium.  However, this team would not have the opportunity to participate in the upside of the joint venture unlike Kroenke, the owner of the Rams and one of the principals of the Hollywood Park Land Company. 

As a result, both the Chargers and Raiders would be better off by staying in their respective cities, leveraging the threat to move to LA with the cities of San Diego and Oakland for new stadiums, saving their $900 million needed for the Inglewood stadium, foregoing the payment of a substantial relocation fee, and taking the $100 million that the National Football League has offered each of them to stay in their existing markets. 

The relocation of the Rams to Southern California, the second largest media market in the country, is a huge win for the NFL as the 17 million residents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (including the Inland Empire) will more than offset of the loss of 3 million people in the St. Louis metropolitan area where the Rams play second fiddle to their beloved Cardinals. 

Kroenke will benefit not only from his investment in the Inglewood entertainment complex, but also from the increase in the value of the Los Angeles Rams (v. the St. Louis Rams) over and above the $550 million relocation fee that the NFL will extract from the team.  

While the economics of the relocation of the Rams to Inglewood (and not the City of Los Angeles, contrary to the impression left by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti in his Sports Center interview) is of paramount interest to the 32 billionaire owners of the NFL, our question is when will we have winning team?  Fans may not be bothered by being forced to buy a personal seat license for thousands of dollars and pay over $100 for a nose bleed ticket, but putting up with another losing team is unacceptable, especially now that the Lakers have lost almost 80% of their games this season.  

The Rams have not had a winning record in 12 years.  Over the last five years, the team has won less than 40% of its games and over the last ten years, less than 30% of its games.  So the question to Stan Kroenke and Coach Jeff Fisher (a home town boy who graduated from Taft and USC) is: “What is the plan to produce a winning team, especially in a division that features the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks?”

 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

COUNTY WATCH--The LA County Counsel Annual Litigation Report and the Chief Executive Officer’s Annual Risk Management Report will be heard on Tuesday at an atypical 1pm Board of Supervisors meeting.   

The Board of Supervisors is the defendant in county lawsuits and in FY2014-2015 roughly $61 million dollars or half of the county's total litigation bill was deployed toward fighting the Sheriff's myriad legal battles. 

Supervisor Solis described the reports as “an urgent call for introspection and action."  Self-analysis is critical but the county residents who have been footing the clearly escalating bill for such litigations are entitled to basic information.  That's because the dirty little secret that no one at the county wants us to know, is that half of the county's liability costs goes to lawyer fees, much of which is paid to outside white shoe law firms who have repeatedly refused to disclose their hourly rate or provide anything close to the kind of itemized bill one might expect from a plumber. 

Abetting such preposterous non-disclosure, the County has long been invoking Gov code 6255, which states "the public interest served by not making the record public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record." Why?  The City of Los Angeles, hardly a paragon of transparency, provides such information.     

The truth is, however, that the only interests served by the county's non-disclosure are those of the outside law firms themselves.  An important example of this fact relates to Richard E. Drooyan who was at first hired pro bono (an arrangement in and of itself, highly unorthodox and fraught with potential conflicts of interest) as General Counsel for the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence but then was hired by the board to be the Implementation Monitor responsible for enacting the CCJV's recommendations.   

Apparently, Mr. Drooyan's compensation went from zero to a salary so unorthodox as to be made a virtual state secret by the board of supervisors who to date have spent thousands of dollars opposing a simple public records act request for the basic terms of Mr. Drooyan's contract.  Even though every one of the County's more than 100,000 employees has their salaries disclosed.  

It’s the salary that they dare not speak of, but it's important for us to know, because frankly we should get our money back. 

Perhaps the most important of the  CCJV recommendations requiring implementation was also the "deliverable" …  whose quality could best be assessed, and frankly, the document-- critical to the well-being of both deputies and inmates --is a disgraceful mess, full of embarrassing typographical errors and until recently, lacking page numbers.  Much more importantly, by not stripping out certain problematic sections, it has had the effect of actually legitimating them.   

One of several egregious examples can be found on page 90 of the revised manual we are told "Sworn personnel may demonstrate a “sparking” of the weapon in an effort to gain voluntary compliance of the suspect."   

How much did we pay to have that rule slip through the cracks?   

Which one of the 63 recommendations of the CCJV did that fall under?  How is sparking a Taser not something like cracking a whip?  

Until we are given such information, the public is left groping in the dark for sane policies on all of the above.  

Until our representative leaders get their house in order there is little chance that the jailhouse will be put in order.   

So, maybe that's a good excuse not to kick meaningful reform down the road any further, but rather kick the 2+ Billion dollar jail plan down the road until the many diversion programs focused on reduction before construction can get funding and get to work. 

While the OIG Max Huntsman's website has a terrific piece on deputies shooting themselves in the foot, one wonders what our OIG thinks of the "Use of Force Manual" and in particular, the language regarding Tasers?  

 

(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 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

GETTING IT RIGHT-After many months of delay, the city finally got to work on the much-needed amendments to its flawed mansionization ordinances – the Baseline and Hillside ordinances known as the BMO and BHO.  Homeowners and residents from Echo Park to Valley Village to Westwood have pleaded for years for relief from reckless overbuilding. Now, they are voicing enthusiastic support for meaningful reform. 

Some supporters live in neighborhoods already covered by Interim Control Ordinances that provide a measure of protection. Others are in neighborhoods that are still fully exposed to the devastation of mansionization.  Some are in a queue to be designated HPOZs (Historic Preservation Overlay Zones) and some will rely on citywide regulations for protection. Exact preferences may differ a bit from one cohort to the next, but they are all calling loud and clear for appropriate limits on home size in single-family neighborhoods. Naturally, there some who are still fearful of opponents’ doomsday scenarios. No surprise there.  

The real surprise is the breadth of support from Angelenos who do not even live in the single-family neighborhoods covered by the BMO and BHO. Some of these supporters live in “mixed” neighborhoods where single-family homes share the street with multiple-family dwellings; some live in higher-density residential neighborhoods. Some own their homes and some rent.  

What they all share is their grasp of the big picture: Los Angeles will never be a world-class city until it demands development that honors the scale and character of its neighborhoods, both residential and commercial. Amending the BMO is an essential element of enlightened public policy, moving toward a more livable city.  

The mansionization ordinances in effect since 2008 have fallen far short of their goal. Councilmember Paul Koretz’s admirable council motion to amend them laid out a simple, straightforward path to getting it right. His amendments propose allowing for spacious, comfortable homes for modern families, while still respecting the scale and character of established neighborhoods.  

That’s why Los Angeles Conservancy has come out in support of amendments that faithfully reflect his motion. (You can find a partial list of organizations that support the amendments on the No More McMansions website.) But important as it is to fix the BMO and BHO, it’s not the end game. It’s a down payment on the promise of sustainable development -- an explicit commitment to end mansionization – and both are embedded in the City of Los Angeles’ policies and principles.  

Our city’s residential neighborhoods are beset on many sides. R-2 and R-3 neighborhoods are grappling with the replacement of duplexes by McMansions – a trend that runs directly contrary to the city’s density and affordability initiatives. They are threatened by small-lot subdivisions that disrupt the fabric of neighborhoods and severely strain infrastructure.  

So why do R-2 and R-3 neighborhoods care about fixing single-family neighborhoods? Because the BMO and BHO amendments are first-up on the agenda, and they set the tone for everything that follows. Fixing the BMO forces the city to acknowledge that mansionization is too widespread and damaging to ignore. It strengthens the arguments and paves the way for regulation that will preserve the scale and character of other zones and neighborhoods. It serves as a foundation to build on.  

Speculators who are strip-mining residential neighborhoods would love nothing better than to drive a wedge between hillsides and flats, single-family neighborhoods and all the rest. But Angelenos are on to them. We know that money gives developers and realtors access and clout while the rest of us must rely on our numbers and our nerve. We are standing together to insist that the city do right by its residents. 

 

(Shelley Wagers is a neighborhood activist who has campaigned for the last ten years to stop mansionization in Los Angeles. She is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more information, please log on to  www.nomoremcmansionsinlosangeles.org or send email to [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016

DEEGAN ON LA--Our city may have more billionaires than Manhattan, the fabled, silk-stockinged borough in New York City, but we don’t yet have what that Eastern city has:  a “billionaire’s row” where there is competition to see who can build the tallest building to house the richest owners. 

Aren’t we lucky? But for some, don’t we wish! (Photo above: NY Skyscrapers) 

“Tower Envy” has arrived -- along with the desire by some in powerful positions to make us look like Manhattan. 

Laid back Los Angeles has its share of high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs -- a big collection of family foundations and scores of “paper millionaires” who may have been serving you dinner last night and are still dreaming that their script will be the next big box office hit.

But we don’t have that many towers … for now. New York City has, by recent count, ten times as many towers as we have here in LA. And many say, “let’s keep it that way.”  But others say, “game on.”

It used to be that New York’s 1,250-foot tall Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. Now, there are two dozen 1,000 foot plus towers in construction or the planning stages in New York, several of them on Billionaire’s Row between the southern edge of Central Park and 56th Street.

Nowhere, in our own City of Gold, epicenter of the Golden State, do we have what our eastern cousins have on “billionaires row” (although we do have a “billionaires beach.”) And we don’t have a building boom breaking the 1,000 foot barrier. That would be equivalent to 100 floors! There’s lots happening on “billionaire’s row” in New York and it is causing some anguish.  We should learn from their pain.

Pro-growth supporters here in LA, those being accused of trying to turn our city into another New York, can take heart that the average height of our tall buildings is only 41 stories; theirs is 39 stories, but those are dubious bragging rights -- they have many more tall buildings than we have, ten times as many, as reported in tracking by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

A city of steel canyons shading it most of the day, New York City presents a stark contrast to sun-kissed Southern California. The direct sunlight, all day and all year, is one of our region’s true natural attributes, along with our mountains and valleys and the stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline communities from the South Bay to Malibu. Add in the surf and sunscreen and you have the complete opposite of “The Big City.” 

This is one of the things that attracts people here in the first place…a climate unmatched by most cities on Earth, a population that “lives and lets live,” and a pride that we don’t have to be anything more than what we are: a City of Gold. Why would we want to be a “City of Shade” like Manhattan? 

As the civic leaders and those in the third floor executive suite at City Hall, the politicos, developers and NIMBY’s all know: there’s a huge conversation going on about being LA -- laid back or New York “Manhattanized.” Low slung or vertical? Increased density or missed opportunities for growth? Or is it mix?

Two of the newest, and let’s hope freshest leading voices in this conversation will be recently appointed (subject to confirmation) Vince Bertoni as Director of City Planning, who is currently Pasadena’s Planning Director. He is replacing the longtime incumbent Michael LoGrande, who has has resigned. The other new voice is Jill Stewart, executive director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, who is leaving her longtime post as editor of the LA Weekly to take up her new advocacy position.

The Mayor has had a “tear-down” in LoGrande, and now he’s bringing in a “fixer-upper”in Bertoni, as well as the vocal opposition now under the leadership of Stewart. She is putting in place a “shadow” planning department that may have its framework created by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure. 

So meet the new land use and development troika: Garcetti, Bertoni and Stewart.

What a great start to 2016. Everyone’s on notice: it’s not likely that we will experience the city planning chaos of 2015 that was marked by multiple lawsuits and equivocations. Politicos have to think twice about using their near-dictatorial powers over zoning in their council districts, making spot decisions and granting favors that go against the interests of the communities, and the community groups that must regroup to help to create a citywide strategy by aligning with the new leadership at the city planning department instead of automatically calling their lawyers.  (Photo right: Los Angeles skyscrapers.

The phrase, “I’ll sue you”, roared by community groups, should be tabled until the dust settles. We’ll have to see how the new planning director, the mayor, and the backers of the ballot measure arrive at a compromise. 

The new organization, CPLA (Coalition to Preserve LA) led by Jill Stewart, is influenced by the advocacy-experienced Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF.) It recently polled a group of concerned citizens and voters and learned that 72% of those surveyed expressed support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would create boundaries within which developers and politicos will need to operate. Poll info can be seen here.  

There could be little doubt that the slew of successful lawsuits filed by community groups against the city and developers may have triggered the ballot measure. Emboldened by these successes, it’s becoming SOP for litigation to be as common as an EIR for new mega projects. As the city rapidly densifies, the litigation element is a huge red flag. Another could the growing concern that we are not experiencing unparalleled growth and soon we may become victims of a housing bubble, followed by a crash

Both Bertoni and Stewart bring considerable talents to the face-off involving continuing the low slung, horizontal profile of our city or spiking it upward to the stars complete with towers in the vertical profile typical of growing cities everywhere. 

Stewart’s remit is more interesting than Bertoni’s. The organization she fronts has newer energy and a smarter approach – to go over the heads of lawmakers, supporting the rights of the public by letting them vote on land use and development policy in November. The clock is ticking as the qualifying signatures accumulate. That should make the politicos sit down for some serious talks.

Vince Bertoni inherits a city planning department seen by many as a co-conspirator in turning our beautiful city into an eyesore. Mansionization and towers have signaled the decline of the city’s Mediterranean identity and the concurrent diminishment of our quality of life.

Towers may be inevitable as our city expands and continues to densify. But, they should be planned in areas zoned for them. Thesezones need to be part of an integrated master plan rather than the “Wild West” approach that satisfies the politicos and developers but not the needs of the greater city.

We should be thinking about the future generations that will settle in zones that are yet to be determined. 

“Planning” is the operative word and it must be returned to the vocabulary of “growth.”

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

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

TRADE WINDS--There is good news and bad news to report from the world of those whose business it is to relay the news. The good news is that the family of Sheldon Adelson, the casino-owning billionaire, bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest daily paper in Nevada, at the end of last year. The bad news, too, is that the Adelsons, who initially sought to hide their controlling interest in the Review-Journal, bought the paper.

The purchase is good news because it’s a vote of confidence in the continuing relevance of metropolitan newspapers. Adelson is one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful business tycoons, with a net worth estimated at more than $20 billion. He is such an important Republican funder that presidential candidates half-jokingly refer to their bids for his support as the “Adelson primary.”

Adelson is also hugely influential in Israel, where he owns newspapers and is close to the prime minister, and in China, given his casino company’s dominant presence in Macau. The fact that Adelson (his sons, technically) deemed their hometown paper a coveted trophy (they paid an inflated $140 million for it) is a sign that newspapers may be making a comeback, at least as billionaire status symbols. Ten years ago when I worked at the Los Angeles Times we practically begged deep-pocketed Angelenos to make an offer for the paper, but to little avail.

Business tycoons, like the rest of us mortals, are susceptible to trends and fads, and when someone like Adelson considers newspapers as desirable a commodity as sports franchises or yachts, other prospective buyers tend to follow. Indeed, Jeff Bezos’ 2013 purchase of the Washington Post may have done more than anything in a long time to make newspaper ownership cool again. And that’s what this industry needs—billionaires eager to rescue newspapers for their cool factor. Certainly no one has been rushing to buy them these days for their profitability.

The bad news, of course, is that Adelson’s injection of resources into the newspaper will likely come at the expense of its independence. Why, after all, does he really want to control the paper? You now have the wealthiest tycoon in the city’s leading industry controlling its largest news outlet. Adelson no doubt believes he is providing a civic good by ensuring the viability of the newspaper’s future, but he also has a strong agenda when it comes to litigation and regulatory issues affecting his casino empire, and how they are covered in the press.

Even if Adelson turns out to be a more benign owner than liberal critics are assuming he will be, it’s safe to assume that the Review-Journal will not be known in coming years for its aggressive reporting on the casino industry or on Adelson’s business dealings in Macau.

Debates about media ownership, about who controls the printing presses and airwaves, have long been an impassioned subject in this country, and for good reason.

By the same token, while Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post provided a needed boost in resources to one of the nation’s most important newspapers, it’s safe to assume that the Post won’t be taking the lead in covering how Amazon is altering the retail landscape and influencing legislation in various jurisdictions. But at least Bezos isn’t a Washington insider, giving his journalists a great deal more autonomy than their counterparts in Las Vegas are likely to enjoy.

Debates about media ownership, about who controls the printing presses and airwaves, have long been an impassioned subject in this country, and for good reason. The First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to directly control who can or can’t own newspapers, but Washington has for decades imposed media ownership limits via its power to award licenses to run TV and radio news broadcasters. The somewhat antiquated media ownership rules, and the public debates around them, blindly champion the ideal of so-called localism, of preferring media owners embedded in the communities they cover.

Adelson’s ownership of the Review-Journal suggests the potential downsides to local ownership of media. So does history: It was the local ownership of many TV stations in the deep South that blocked national network coverage of the civil rights movement a half-century ago.  (Photo left: Adelson)

At the same time, the critically-acclaimed movie Spotlight offers a veiled homage to the underappreciated advantages to out-of-town ownership. The movie, about the Boston Globe’s inquiry into the epidemic of Catholic priests abusing minors and its cover-up by the church, barely alludes to the fact that the newspaper was at the time owned by the The New York Times. Much of Spotlight’s dramatic tension revolves around the journalists’ willingness to stand up to, and upset, powerful local interests, but little is made of the fact that their institutional employer was insulated from such pressure by the fact that its owner wasn’t local.

Having worked at four different newspapers, I know there are always trade-offs when it comes to who owns media, and that the character of owners isn’t solely determined by whether they are local or out of town, individual or corporate. It is hard to come by truly judicious and independent owners who can act as truly neutral community arbiters. The profile of the ideal media owner, from a public interest standpoint, is an individual or family with deep roots in a community that is focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the news business, and won’t compromise that journalistic integrity to advance other business interests. Think of the Sulzbergers of New York or the Grahams of Washington.

Problem is, such owners are becoming an endangered species, given the challenges to the traditional newspaper business model. Many 20th-century newspaper-owning families were admirably principled and civic-minded, but it’s also true that they were making big profits that shored up their independence. In its present crisis, the newspaper business needs more people like Bezos and Adelson to enter the fray, to subsidize newsgathering with fortunes made in other businesses. The hope is that such individuals will do so because they believe it’s a worthy philanthropic cause, or because they think they can re-engineer the business model over time to make decent returns on a once distressed asset.

The worry, however, is that new owners will wade into the business not for those reasons, but to help their own pre-existing agendas. Which is why we should all keep an eye on what happens in Vegas. Contrary to Sin City’s marketing slogan, whatever happens there with the Review-Journal and its new owner is unlikely to stay there. It will help shape a national trend.

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

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

 

 

 

 

CALWATCHDOG--Gov. Jerry Brown has intervened as activists, analysts and residents decried a massive ongoing leak in a Los Angeles-area gas pipeline. “More than two months after a natural gas leak began emitting large amounts of a greenhouse gas near a wealthy neighborhood here, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, ordering California agencies to move as quickly as possible to resolve the issue after previous attempts to stem the flow of methane failed,” the New York Times reported.  

“In declaring the state of emergency, Mr. Brown — who has been criticized by many residents for his slow reaction to the problem — reiterated all the state has been doing to help plug the leak and monitor air quality, as well as the state’s efforts to make sure the gas company paid for disruptions and damage caused by the leak,” the Times added.

An environmental mess

The disaster afflicting Porter Ranch, one of Los Angeles’s newest communities, has broken unflattering environmental records. Already “the largest recorded natural gas leak in California’s history,” according to the Independent, the leak has been “expelling an estimated 110,000 lbs of methane into the atmosphere every hour: about a quarter of the state’s daily methane gas emissions.” Tim O’Connor, California director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s oil and gas program, told the Independent that the leak was “far greater than the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster” in its aggregate impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Southern California Gas has conceded that its own judgment may well have been to blame for the breach. In a statement, the company revealed “it decided nearly 40 years ago against replacing an underground safety valve that could have cut off the gas leak when the storage tank first erupted in late October,” as the Fiscal Times observed. “Executives of Southern California Gas apparently concluded it was too hard to find replacement parts for the valve and that the underground storage tank wasn’t close enough to homes to warrant the time and expense. Instead, they gambled that the cutoff valve would never be needed. Now they are struggling to contain runaway greenhouse gas emissions that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and greatly contribute to climate change.”

Fumes and fury

The news has compounded outrage and frustration in Porter Ranch, where Southern California Gas has moved to help residents cope with — or flee — the fumes. “This is the biggest community and environmental disaster I’ve ever seen, bar none,” Mitchell Englander, the neighborhood’s representative on the Los Angeles City Council, told Bloomberg. “Life there is not on hold — it’s on the edge and it’s on the brink of pandemonium. People are living with fear, uncertainty and doubt.” What residents remain have been plagued by discomfort and illness.

“A shopping center by the freeway still bustles, but the longest lines are at a storefront that Southern California Gas established to assist residents with relocation, health problems, air-filtration systems and claims. The smell of chemicals added to natural gas — which itself is colorless and odorless — pervades the air. Homes of residents who’ve already received relocation assistance sit vacant, while signs warn of increased police patrols to ward off looters. Some residents and visitors wear gas masks.”

Health officials have issued reassurances that residents’ symptoms, including dizziness and vomiting, were only temporary.

Gov. Brown himself arranged to meet neighborhood representatives. Paula Cracium, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, told the Los Angeles Times “she and others at the meeting urged Brown to be more visible on the issue and to help with a major concern that will last long after the leak is plugged — declining property values.”

(James Poulos writes for CalWatchdog … where this perspective was originally published.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-In an Op-Ed last December, the LA Times brought to our attention the results of UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey which noted that only 43% of Californians received a flu shot in 2014. Worse, among Latinos, the largest racial or ethnic group in the state, only 37% were vaccinated, many of them in Los Angeles. 

The Opinion/Op-Ed illustrated that in early November, California had its first infant death of the year from the flu. It can be easy to forget that the flu actually does kill. Young, healthy adults might only miss a few days of work if they catch the flu this winter, but by skipping flu shots, getting sick and potentially spreading the virus, they are also endangering vulnerable children, many with chronic diseases, as well as the elderly with whom they come in contact. 

That statistic becomes even more troubling when one examines differences among first, second and third-generation Latinos. First-generation Mexican Americans — those born in Mexico, where vaccination is widespread and more commonly accepted than in the United States — are far more likely to get flu shots than those born and raised here. In 2014, only 24% of second-generation Latinos and 15% of third-generation Latinos in California received a flu vaccination, compared with 61% of first-generation Latinos. 

A Los Angeles Times study, using the California Health Interview Survey data, showed that even when taking into account factors such as insurance status, health status and characteristics such as education and age, the disparity in flu vaccination rates among Mexican Americans of different generations remains. 

This is an economic issue as well as a public health issue. One study estimated that in just one year, 2003, the flu cost the United States $87.1 billion in medical costs and lost wages. The Latino population is expanding in Los Angeles and California, and that means absenteeism and hospitalization costs associated with the lack of flu vaccinations will also expand if the generational patterns continue. 

There is one simple explanation for why vaccination rates among second and third-generation Latinos differ so significantly from those of their newcomer parents and grandparents. Mexico heavily promotes vaccination in general, and it has the highest rate of flu vaccination among people 65 and older in the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the U.S., however, many people aren't persuaded by public health campaigns for flu shots; they are suspicious of vaccinations, wrongly believing that shots cause health problems rather than prevent them. 

The flu vaccination message that has been so well communicated in Mexico needs to spread to Latinos and everyone else in California. Flu shot campaigns aimed at Latinos should particularly target second and third-generation immigrants. Now, such campaigns are mostly delivered in Spanish, though the Pew Hispanic Center has shown that English is the predominant language for the children of newcomers. Family-related messages are also important because many Latinos live in multigenerational homes, where the risk of spreading the flu to the very young, to the elderly, as well as to those with chronic diseases, is acute. 

We must agree with the conclusion of the writers of the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece (Mariaelena Gonzalez, assistant professor of public health and a member of the Health Sciences Research Institute at UC Merced, and Jennifer Mendiola and Van Do-Reynoso, both doctoral candidates at UC Merced) when they say that California and Washington should provide funding for new outreach to promote free or low-cost vaccinations; they should also fund additional research into the most effective forms of health communication for our changing population. 

The lack of wide-spread vaccinating among Latinos creates unnecessary dangers. Economic losses, due to the flu and the deaths associated with it each winter, are preventable with a one-dose vaccine. Los Angeles, a city that already has many issues to solve, does not need to add this unnecessary and preventable problem to the pile.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village.  He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016  

 

 

HOW MUCH WILL LA PAY?--Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood in Skid Row pledging to devote $100 million in city funds to the "war on homelessness." Months later, details on where the money was coming from or what it exactly it would be put towards still eluded the public. It was heartening that city officials recognized the growing homeless population and an imperative to act on it, but the solutions were not grounded or all-encompassing.

This week, the city of LA released a comprehensive report on what strategies and financial costs would be required to systematically wipe out homelessness in Los Angeles.

The report calls the City Council's pledge of $100 million in homeless funding an "important first step," but would have to be "magnified significantly" over the next ten years to actually fund the end of homelessness in Los Angeles.

According to the report, to fully tackle the homelessness epidemic in Los Angeles, some $1.85 billion would have to be spent over the course of a decade, reports the LA Times  -- and that's a number that "primarily the price of building or leasing new housing units," but not the expanded services and workers to provide them the report also recommends.

Last year, City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer Miguel Santana and Chief Le­gis­lat­ive Ana­lyst Sharon Tso were put in charge of compiling the report that would act as a starting point for Los Angeles' first comprehensive plan to end homelessness in the city. The resulting document lays out several strategies officials believe will work in tandem to more effectively get people off the streets.

They offer the following as focal points for their plan:

Housing First
The report praises and advocates for a strong adherence to the Housing First approach, saying it "works to remove barriers to housing upfront in order to encourage better health outcomes for chronically homeless individuals." The Housing First philosophy is just as it sounds, putting the individual in long-term housing as a first step, and then applying social assistance to contribute to self-sufficiency.

Expand Rapid Re-Housing
Rapid Re-Housing involves taking individuals and families that are homeless and giving them rent vouchers for a specific period of time in an effort to give them footing to get back into the private housing market. It is thought to be more successful with people who are not chronically homeless. (It's also been very effective for families with kids, early evidence shows.) The report calls for an expansion of the program to quickly reduce the number of lower needs cases in the city.

Offering More Shelters and Storage Facilities
One short term solution the report offers is an increase in shelters and modifications in the services they provide. Currently, Skid Row is the central hub for homeless, necessitating long and costly commutes for many. A greater number of shelters around the city would ease access to case workers, health and social services, as well as laundry and hygiene facilities and allow people to "easily connect to the services they need to manage their personal well being."

Also suggested is expanding a safe parking program for those living in RVs and the creation of a mobile shower program that would travel the city offering a chance to wash up as well as connection to case management.

Acknowledge the Demographics of the Homeless
The report recognizes the need to distinguish the different types of homeless individuals to more effectively cater to the unique needs of each group rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The report breaks down the homeless population into four demographics: individuals, families, youths, and veterans. Different services can be targeted towards each subgroup to maximize their individual effectiveness.

City Council asked the City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer (CAO) and Chief Le­gis­lat­ive Ana­lyst (CLA) to put an extra focus on homeless youth, LBGTQ homeless, as well as homeless individuals with pets that are often denied access to shelter due to the animal. People under these circumstances might require extra levels of service that fit their unique situation.

"No Wrong Door"/Coordinated Entry System
The "No Wrong Door" concept advocates that any city department that regularly comes in contact with the homeless could be equipped to connect those individuals with social, medical, or housing resources. Places like libraries and public parks would be used as access point to get people into social service programs.

Integrated into the "No Wrong Door" policy would be a Coordinated Entry System, a standardized entry into social services databases that would ensure "detailed and verifiable tracking of metrics at the level of the individual." Homeless data with this increased level of individual information will help the city better analyze the effectiveness of their programs.

Increased Accountability in Government
The report advocates for the creation of a "Homeless Strategy Committee" made up of the mayor, CAO, and CLA. In addition, the position of "Homeless Coordinator" would be created and filled with an expert in the field. The Coordinator would report to the CAO, acting as the point-person between City Hall and homeless services. The Homeless Coordinator would be in charge on enacting any city plans on homelessness.

Rezoning
In a move that might ruffle the feathers of NIMBYs all over town, the report stresses a need to revisit the land use policies of the city, citing a need for greater density. Part of the reason for the housing shortage has been city plans that skew towards lower density in the face of a growing population. The authors urge the city to analyze "existing residential and mixed-use zoning and land use capabilities citywide, creating new citywide residential zoning maps with greater density in areas most capable of supporting it." The report does recognize how controversial rezoning can be, so they make a note of suggesting city officials work with local communities to "reconcile these citywide maps with their existing local neighborhood plans."

Mayor Garcetti called the report "the blueprint we need to guide our decision-making process," but it remains to be seen how much of these plans will actually be enacted, as the price tag is certainly steep. Also unclear is what effect the proposed $1.8 billion in state funding for housing mentally-ill homeless people will have on the overall price. The report's authors suggest everything from state and federal grants to fees on real estate transactions to help foot the bill, but admit that funding might have to come from a bond or tax hike. Though Mayor Garcetti has talked a big talk about ending homelessness, proposing a tax hike might be a tough sell if he's running for mayor again in 2017.

At least one city official seems confident about public support for the plan. Councilman Mike Bonin told KPCC that he's "impatient" about enacting the plan, claiming constituents in his Westside district cite homelessness as a top concern, even higher than traffic. He added that "we have to do a lot of work to get those funding streams in place," but that "people are hungry for proposed solutions." Bonin thinks that if "folks really believe the city and county are working together," they would be open to funding such an expensive plan.

(Jeff Wattenhofer writes for Curbed LA, where this perspective was first posted.) Image via Tom Andrews / Curbed LA flickr pool. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

RENTER RIGHTS--“It’s raining! It’s pouring! Evictions are soaring!” chanted the small but defiant crowd on the corner of Vermont and Franklin avenues in Los Angeles’ gentrifying Los Feliz neighborhood. Holding signs reading, “Honk if your rent is too high” and “Where will you go when you can’t afford your neighborhood?” the demonstrators had come to protest the Ellis Act eviction of the residents of 1655-65 Rodney Drive from their 12 rent-stabilized apartments.

Enacted in 1985, the Ellis Act provides a way for landlords to get out of the rental business other than selling their properties. Under this law, a landlord can evict an entire property’s residents with 120 days’ notice for most tenants, or a full year’s notice for senior citizens and disabled tenants. If the landlord tries to re-rent the apartment within five years, then the tenant has a right to reclaim his or her old apartment at the same rate they were paying when evicted. After five years, the landlord can then re-rent that unit at market rates.

With the last day of their notices coming up quickly, the Rodneyites have had to scramble to find new homes.

“I’ve been here for 23 years,” said evicted resident Mark Simon. “I moved here in November of ’92. And it was such a stable home for me, I never expected to move — as did so many of us. It totally shatters your system. I really, honest to god, have not had a great night’s sleep [since being evicted],” he added.

Speaking about the troubles faced by the residents in looking for new apartments, 10-year resident Roberta Morris said the problem is not just that everyone is simply paying a little above their old rents — “It’s whether you’re paying two or three times more.”

After chanting and picketing in a drizzling rain, the protestors walked down Vermont to the now-empty apartment of Walt Senterfitt for a press conference. Senterfitt and Morris spoke to the gathered crowd in front of piñatas emblazoned with the names of their landlords: Jeffery Scapa and William Silverman.

Senterfitt and Morris drew parallels between the decreasing amount of affordable, rent-controlled housing and the increasing number of homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles, pointing out that some of the evicted residents’ apartments were already reoccupied within mere weeks of being emptied. Although the evicted residents told Capital & Main that Scapa and Silverman insisted to them that this is okay because the new tenants are not paying any rent, the original residents are not so sure.

According to Simon, the residents’ troubles with Scapa and Silverman began when the two men first purchased the property in 2011. He said that Scapa showed up that very day offering the long-time residents $7,000 to move. When none of the residents took him up on his offer, he responded by informing them that they could no longer have furniture on their patios (even those only accessible from single apartments) and that they had to remove the air-conditioning units installed by a previous owner. After the residents retained an attorney, they did not hear from Scapa or Silverman until January of 2015, when they were given their Ellis Act eviction notices.

After concluding their talk, Senterfitt and Morris called the landlords on speakerphone, and were answered by a man who identified himself as William Silverman. Senterfitt informed him that he was on speakerphone in front of the gathered crowd and cameras, and began to question him. When Senterfitt asked about the Ellis Act evictions, Silverman insisted that he and Scapa were acting within the law. After Simon pointed out that the disabled and elderly residents had to retain a lawyer in order to get their legally required one-year move-out period, Silverman hung up.

Calls to Silverman and Scapa for comment were not returned as of the posting of this article.

Senterfitt pointed out that anyone could see, through an open door, that one of the newly emptied apartments was in the process of being renovated, remarking “that’s not what you do if you’re going out of the rental business.”

(Luke Dowling writes for Capital&Main … where this piece was originally posted.) Photos by Luke Dowling.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

GELFAND’S WORLD--Stewardship is not a word we hear very often nowadays. The term is generally used to describe humanity's responsibility to preserve the natural world, most importantly all those life forms that are not human. As the species with predominant power, we have encroached on most natural habitats to some extent and to near totality for some. I'm going to go out on a limb here and make an argument that may seem paradoxical about how our stewardship of the southern California ecology can be maximized. 

First though, I think it's important to make the case that stewardship of the ecology is a human responsibility. That includes making exhaustive efforts to preserve the California Condor and desert tortoises along with all manner of other species both plant, animal, and microbial. Our stewardship extends even beyond the living things, to geological features, bodies of water, and something as evidently obvious as the concentrations of gases naturally found in the atmosphere. 

Making the argument that stewardship of all these things is our human responsibility is not as easy as one might think. The right wing position seems to be that our responsibility does not extend to preserving minor species, particularly when the existence of those species gets in the way of human industries. The protection of a complex habitat which includes the spotted owl might be the best known example of this political divide. 

I think that the argument ultimately comes down to morality. I find it astounding that some of my fellow humans think it's acceptable to abolish an entire species. As a naturalist once explained, a species is not only the currently surviving members, it is the entire history of that species, spread out over time, including its evolutionary development. You might think of the brook trout as the ultimate in a line of development that began with earlier fishes and before that, with ancestors that were only proto-fish. If you wipe out the entire population of brook trout, you have reduced the earth by that whole history and all of the living members. You have also made it impossible for future brook trout to exist. 

Most people, if put to the test, would agree that we ought to save a desirable species such as the brook trout. That is to put a human-centric view on the question. But what about other species that are not as likely to end up in our frying pans? 

The moral argument is that we as the predominant species don't have the right to abolish any other species. To take a different view is, to my thinking, arrogant. It is to assert a right of destructiveness that should be opposed.

There is of course a utilitarian argument that goes along with the moral argument. We survive as a species in a complex ecology that supplies us with oxygen, water, foods, and even the bacteria that grow inside of us and which help us to survive. Remove any one of those pillars, and our top end of the ecosystem crumbles. 

I don't think that the utilitarian argument is as strong as the moral argument, because you can always find a technical replacement for any one other part of the wider ecology. Humanity continues to survive just fine in the absence of the mammoth or the giant sloth. We might not do so well in the absence of bees, as so many people want to remind us, but I think it is obvious that some fraction of humanity would survive the calamity of bees disappearing in North America. But it would be immoral for us to allow honey bee extinction if we had any means to prevent it. 

The whole question of maintaining species survival gets even more complicated when you try to factor in the geographic requirements. Here in southern California, we have become aware that some of our four legged inhabitants need to migrate from place to place. These requirements stem from a number of factors ranging from seasonal hunting to the need to find a mate. For this reason, the various governmental entities have made an effort to preserve wildlife corridors in a region that has become a giant extended suburban expanse. It's important to preserve those wildlife corridors in order to preserve some species. 

Let's summarize the logic: We have a moral obligation to do our best to preserve the entirety of the complex ecology that surrounds us, and this sometimes requires the preservation of extended geographical areas, corridors, mountain sides, wetlands, deserts, and forests. 

The paradoxical point is that we don't necessarily have to preserve all such places, as long as we protect enough of each, and that the ones we protect connect up to each other sufficiently well. 

What is the biggest risk to this kind of preservation? It's obvious that it is us. All of us millions of humans have to live somewhere. 

Putting humans in a smaller area so as to preserve other areas for nature would seem to make sense. The question is whether we humans would like this kind of arrangement. I would argue that we do like the arrangement, and the evidence is that so many of us voluntarily choose such an arrangement. 

We call it the city. 

Our chosen behavior of living in close proximity to each other serves to concentrate our numbers in the fewest number of square miles. In so doing, we can potentially leave other areas as the equivalent of nature preserves. 

Whether the areas external to the city limits are actually protected is a separate question, but the sine qua non is that the largest number of people be concentrated in the smallest area. 

And thus we come to the paradox that encouraging the densest growth in our city is potentially the best approach to human stewardship of the surrounding ecologies. Our 400 square miles are covered with asphalt and construction to the point that hardly an acre of natural habitat is to be found, except in specifically designated preserves and ponds. But suppose we were to have the same number of people spread out over 800 or 1600 square miles. It's hard to imagine how spreading people out over more square miles would make the urban area a better way to steward the nonhuman species. We would just have twice or four times the area damaged to the point of ecological destruction. 

The corollary I'm making here is that adding high rise residential buildings to areas that are already part of the city doesn't do any additional ecological damage. By contrast, moving the boundaries of the city outwards and constructing new subdivisions from previously open land does damage to the wider ecology. It does so by erasing nature and replacing it with lower density urban development. 

It may very well be that as city dwellers, many of us would prefer to live in low-rise areas and to avoid the traffic problems and higher rents that accrue when high rise development ensues. But at least let's recognize that our human obligation to the rest of nature is best served by containing our mechanical civilization within boundaries so as to allow the remainder to flourish. 

Or to put it bluntly, the fact that I happen to live in an area of mostly one and two story abodes may be to my benefit, but it doesn't do much for the wildlife population. They don't live here anyway, and if some developer were to tear down my whole block and replace our humble lodgings with forty story towers, it wouldn't reduce the number of indigenous life forms, because they were removed long ago. But building upwards could potentially provide for more humans without plowing over more square miles of natural lands. 

Some readers may recognize that our civilization doesn't consist only of cities and nature. Much of the land mass is used for agriculture. It's actually a related argument, because tilled fields can coexist with adjacent wildlife corridors, and some kinds of agricultural activities can accept a good deal of wildlife. But that's another argument for another day.

Likewise, the fact that a dense city is a way to protect the lands beyond it  from excessive development is not an excuse for having chemically dangerous cities. The recent fiasco in which the city of Flint, Michigan allowed its water to become contaminated with lead is not an argument against cities. It is an argument against badly run cities. 

The argument that allowing density in cities is potentially environmentally protective is not an argument that all such growth is good. It is just one subset of a wider argument that humanity should adopt a policy to protect as much of the natural environment as we can. But if it is possible to contain most of our human population in constrained regions and in so doing, provide for a healthy, robust civic life, then we ought to be thinking about such things.

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

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