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EDUCATION POLITICS-According to the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." That is unless they have been systematically and purposefully subjected for generations to what remains a measurably inferior racist public education model specifically designed to assure their non-attainment of potential and the "unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," which in no small part is dependent on the achievement of such an education.

Predominantly students of color continue to exclusively be subjected to a non-education system of rote regurgitation of multiple choice answers with little or no writing or analysis. Their Pearson lessons consist of fragments of texts comprised of words and concepts they have never been taught. What most educational reformers ignore, who either have never been in an inner city classroom or do not care about dealing with the subjective reality they would find there, is that both teachers and students in these schools have an acquired aversion to the Socratic method of dialogue between teacher and student and the critical thinking it is designed to stimulate in both the student and the teacher.

The teacher's excuse is that they are faced with students who arrive in their class already years behind grade-level and their peer group. The majority of these students have continually been socially promoted grade after grade without prior grade-level standards mastery. Teachers now faced with this reality and no administrative plan or support to do otherwise have opted in their own Pearson subsidized self-defense to give these unprepared students multiple choice busywork to preempt the chaos that would be sure to follow from the boredom of students whose youthful vitality and potential has never been addressed in school. Can anyone explain to me the educational value of a word search on a grid of mixed letters?

As for the student, who has been socially promoted into subsequently harder grades with few if any critical thinking skills ever having been taught to them, the very act of now trying to educate these students in a relevant educational process that is asking them to think and not just choose A, B, C, or D is a destabilizing activity that will more than likely lead to a classroom rebellion against an activity of thinking they have never been asked to engage in before- perfectly predictable and understandable.

Social promotion or fraudulent credit recovery programs that offer students with profound academic deficits a passing grade in courses they objectively cannot pass by any honest measure is only deferring the students failure, while wasting the precious time of their youth, which could be more profitably used by honestly identifying and teaching the necessary academic foundation standards they literally have never been taught.

As for White folks- 94% of whom are out of public education- they literally have no idea as to the abysmal level of their local public school, because 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they are still able to avoid going to these schools by putting their children in private schools. Probably the quickest way to improve public education would be to require attendance for all in public schools as is done in Finland- the best educated country in the world.

Human beings are creatures of habit. And it is not easy work to finally teach a minority student what they should have been taught from pre-kindergarten and beyond. But there is literally no other alternative to doing this, if we want to finally break the cycle of racism in the United States.

Racist inspired underachievement has become such a part of American society that one does not even question why such a large part of the African American community- that which is under-educated- still speaks with an accent, while other immigrants have long since been incorporated into the fabric of American society.

Truly successful public education reform can only take place where there is both recognition and factoring in of the damage that institutionalized public education racism over generations has made our present day dysfunctional public school reality.

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com)

-cw

 

LA TRANSPO: THE ‘HOW’, THE ‘WHAT’ AND THE ‘WHERE’--There is probably no shortage of LA County residents who want more funding on transportation, but it's the "how" and the "what" and "where" that leaves the voters flustered.  Big-ticket items like "rail to LAX" and "rail line between the SF Valley and the Westside are attractive, but what about the bus and sidewalks that are supposed to help us use rail?  And are freeway/road motorists to be shown ANY love, here? 

So, with the understanding that it's by far too early to "just vote no" on any proposed "Measure R-2 sales tax", because we DO need more funding for transportation, here are some key questions for this tax's promoters to consider: 

1) Reaching for more rail lines is a good thing, but do we have our current rail lines properly maintained and spruced up with sufficient amenities to please the voters and future riders? 

Every advocate of the Expo Line and of rail in general acknowledges either the lack of rail cars, lack of parking, lack of security, lack of bicycle/pedestrian amenities, and--most importantly--the lack of bus connections to make our growing rail network a "winner" to serve a new generation of riders. 

After all, the Expo Line (which cost over $2 billion) wasn't just for those who already use transit, it was for everyone who paid for it.  It's understood that the "smart planners" all agree that the rail network is better for some than for others, but disenfranchising voters/taxpayers at this time doesn't seem too politically smart. 

Does it take a failure this November for the "smart planners" to acknowledge they're not as "smart" as they think they are? 

It may not be sexy to favor operations and amenities over new projects, but if it's deemed by enough voters that our rail system isn't ready for prime time do the "smart planners" really expect to convince taxpayers they should pay for more of that? 

2) The Rail Connection to LAX is a great and long-overdue idea, but its glaring lack of connections already has more than a few community leaders angry--particularly with those regions not served by that rail connection. 

The "Friends of the Green Line" project long ago concluded that the best way to assure a regional approach to LAX and Ontario and other airports was to create the very LAX/Metro/People Mover connection now being built under the leadership of Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, and others.   

So maybe it's not fair to look at "the glass half empty" rather than "the glass half full" because LA World Airports, Metro, and the LADOT are all doing the right things for the immediate future.  They deserve ample praise for their amazing turnarounds and progress...yet there are two glaring deficits/gaps in this Metro/LAX connection: 

a) The lack of a true LAX to Downtown/Union Station rail line.  The indirect Crenshaw Line serves the needs of that corridor, and goes back to the historic purpose of that line, which was to develop that underserved corridor. Yet while the needs of residents living south of the I-10 go underserved--thanks to CityWatch for more representation there--the need for the rail right of way to be more than a bikeway will best be addressed NOW.  Talk it up as part of the reason to vote "yes" this November!

b) The lack of a true LAX rail link to the Westside, and to Orange and Riverside Counties.  The South Bay deserves an expedited Green Line extension to connect to LAX (which was predicted by the "Friends of the Green Line" group to be the second-most favored region to want a connection to LAX), but what about the Westside?  What about the Green Line in the east that fails to connect to Metrolink and SoCal in general? 

3) Speaking of a lack of a Metrolink/Metro Green Line connection, how IS Metrolink to be funded and introduced to L.A. County residents who want access to/from the greater SoCal region? 

Are there enough funds proposed in a "Measure R-2" to create a seamless connection between Metrolink and MetroRail both at the eastern end of the Green Line, and for both the Foothill and Eastside Gold Lines?  Are we supposed to continue to accept the endless blather of how "Metrolink has different governance than MetroRail" so that their obvious connections aren't created. 

Orange and Riverside County residents are just like LA County residents:  they don't give a rip about any excuses as to WHY the MetroRail and Metrolink connections to LAX, Ontario, Burbank and other airports aren't being created.  They just want them to be created...and they'll demand the county leaderships to work together to plan, fund, and build these links ASAP. 

4) Do drivers no longer exist in LA County to merit tax/revenue support? 

Uber and Lyft have their roles in ways that "smart planners" never really expected--which goes to show us all that the human spirit can do things that Big Government can never dream of (and yes, you can be liberal as well as conservative to draw that conclusion). 

Ride-sharing reduces car trips and allows an economic and mobility boost in all sorts of ways.  Raising revenue, encouraging job formation, improving our environment--these are all things that should be embraced.   

So is throwing up the rail projects as the sole top billing a smart way to pass "Measure R-2"?  Seriously...can't freeway improvements and road repairs be part of how this November tax is promoted?  And are auto commuters to be so maligned that their votes and opinions no longer matter? 

5) What about the role that Sacramento and Washington have to play in our transportation needs? 

Both the state and federal governments have shirked their legal and moral roles in funding our transportation needs, and the likelihood of promises to MATCH our local funding efforts is a vital winner to convince concerned and tapped-out voters and taxpayers.   

Because if our state and federal leaders don't promise to fight for matching dollars for LA County's efforts to "save itself", then the question of whether we're fixing or fueling the lack of state and federal largesse for transportation projects to benefit LA County will doom the November tax altogether.

 

(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  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

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CITY HALL--Los Angeles City Hall is making pawns out of its homeless. It’s a shameless mess, but it isn’t that the way it always is – the poorest are the most abused? 

The problem from the City Hall viewpoint is that developers are not making enough money. As City Hall watchers know, tending after the profits of real estate developers is City Hall’s mission in life. CityWatch wrote about one example back in 2013 and a follow-up article in 2014.  

As the City’s own HCID department noted in November 2015, there is a 12% vacancy rate among apartments constructed in the last decade. That segment of the market is particularly important as it reflects the newest additions, frequently in dense areas such as Hollywood. As we may recall, for years the W Hotel condos could not sell even 20% of their units even after a dramatic price slashing. 

Some people call the manic CRA building in Hollywood the “Edsel Mistake.” In the mid 1950's, Ford Motor Company came out with the Edsel, but it entered an overly saturated market.   Also, it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.   So too with these Hollywood Projects. Built in the modern 'Dreck' Architecture style, they also were aimed at a market which was saturated. 

Just as Millennials were reaching the family rearing age, the expensive Hollywood units came on-line. Like all prior generations, Millenniums move away from apartment living when they start families. Thus, all these projects, which were based on the false data that City Hall was feeding developers in the early 2000's, are still in the construction pipeline. But, the Millennials are already leaving. 

Ford was smart enough to stop constructing Edsels, but Los Angeles developers were not as bright. Thus, they continued with all their plans to build, build, build. In the developers’ defense, however, it was easier for Ford to retool the factories to produce different automobiles than it was to shelve a 10 year old plan to build a massive mixed-use project. 

As we recently learned, City Hall hit upon a brilliant idea. Demolish old rent controlled units and create a Homelessness Crisis. Then, the Mayor can ride to the rescue with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Affordable Housing subsidies for building Affordable Housing. Wisely, Mayor Garcetti did not phrase the program in terms of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Billionaires. He’s not dumb. He’s helping the homeless — by giving hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaires. 

As we recently learned, the plan is working to perfection. The Mayor has a plethora of homeless people for photo-ops and he has a grand cause – give more money to the developers or more housing for the homeless. One must admire the ingenuity. 

Just where will the Homeless live while these fabulous new accommodations are being constructed? The streets, preferable back alleys. We need just enough homeless visibility so that voters are duped into increasing their taxes in order subsidize the building of luxury units while pretending to help the poor. 

City Hall has one overriding concern – more profits for developers. Everything at City Hall is seen through this lens. They cannot help it. For 15 years, the City has singled mindedly pursued this objective, and each year Los Angeles deteriorates a little more. In 2016, Los Angeles leads in all the bad indicators and lags in all the good indicators. 

Salt Lake City housed its homeless. Let’s not make the most vulnerable among us into pawns in a real estate shell game. Have we no shame?

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)

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THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Whether we’re LA natives or adopted this city as our own, most of us love Los Angeles, from the majestic canyons winding to the sparkling Pacific, a hike through Runyon or Nichols Canyon just minutes from the energy of Hollywood, even a summer evening drive along Mulholland with the city and valley lights below. 

But if you gather even the most fervent of Angelenos, you’ll hear a range of complaints from skyrocketing rents to Sig Alerts that last far beyond rush hour and what activists refer to as the Manhattanization of Hollywood. 

Problematic quality of life issues have given rise to a trend of grassroots activism, lawsuits, and ballot initiatives throughout the city. Just last week, the nonprofit advocacy group Fix the City filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the City Council over the Catalina Tower project, a 27-floor mixed use apartment tower approved for a residential street in Koreatown, despite the lack of a full environmental impact review and analysis of subsequent traffic impact. 

The nexus of post-recession development and the housing crisis has brought on more than a few campaigns to halt what is seen by some as a Wild West growth with sloppy spot zoning and variances on one side, countered by arguments that the city’s general plan from twenty years ago doesn’t address the need for density in housing to reflect the current housing shortage. 

At the center of it all is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) campaign to stop mega-developments and a lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Palladium Residences, two residential towers that would be built next door to AHF’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters near a Metro Red Line stop. The lawsuit argues that the project violates the city charter, California Environmental Quality Act, and other laws. The developer is also named in the suit, which opposes the height and density of the project. 

Investors of the $324-million project counter that the Palladium Towers would provide needed housing and that the towers are similar in scale to other Hollywood buildings along major corridors. 

The nonprofit and the Coalition to Preserve LA have been collecting signatures for a March 2017 ballot measure that would place a two-year moratorium on many developments that don’t follow existing planning and zoning rules. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein defends the AHF position as a gentrification/social justice issue. AHF and supporters of the measure say mega-developments replace existing rent-controlled units and force out tenants, many whom are senior citizens or on fixed incomes. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, as the ballot measure is known, would halt spot zoning and create a plan to update the city’s Community Plans. The initiative would also put an end to developers handling the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and would restrict a developer’s ability to reduce parking requirements for residential units and off-site parking for commercial establishments. 

The NII isn’t the only nonprofit group working on ballot initiatives. The Build Better LA Coalition is working to get a housing affordability and high-quality job ballot measure. The initiative, which launched in February, would provide incentives to developers to create affordable housing near public transit and tie discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments to setting aside a percentage of rental and for-sale projects for low-income residents. The initiative also includes a local hire provision. The Build Better LA Coalition has wide support and endorsements by dozens of community organizations advocating for immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, low-wage labor rights, and educational justice. 

To deal with the explosion of short term rentals (STR) and the impact on local residents, a group of homeowners, tenants, and business owners have formed Community Above Profit (CAP.)  The group’s mission includes protecting Angelenos from the STR boom through organization and resources; educating the public on their rights and what can be done to prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by STRs; and informing city leaders of problems STRs are causing in communities. Toward the third goal, the group has drafted an ordinance to provide solutions. 

No matter which side of the issue Angelenos support, the growth of grassroots activism brings the discussion to the table, providing increased transparency in development and other issues facing the city. We can work together to impact change, balancing neighborhood issues with the challenge of affordable housing, transportation, and environmental concerns.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE--I saw first-hand the reaction of a neighborhood group to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Jill Stewart, (red jacket above.)former managing editor of the LA Weekly and now the campaign manager for the proposed measure, delivered a crisp presentation about the initiative to the Valley Village Homeowners Association on April 20th. 

It was not a one-way affair; Stewart fielded at least twenty questions from the roughly fifty members in attendance for the Association’s quarterly general meeting. The questions reflected a strong interest in the subject. Her answers were frank and there appeared to be no reservations about them from the attendees. Thirty-six signed up to receive more information about the initiative. 

As with any ordinance, whether initiated by the City Council or through a ballot measure, subsequent enforcement is critical. 

For example, even though I am pleased with the proposed draft ordinance to deal with the problem of short-term rentals, will the city apply adequate resources to assure compliance if the proposal becomes law? God knows there is little or none in my neck of the woods. One such rental was cited by the City Housing Department last September. It was referred to the City Attorney’s office soon after, but continues to operate today. 

Section 11 of the NII enables an aggrieved person to take legal action against any violation of its provisions. Therefore, it would behoove the city to adequately staff its Planning Department to ensure thorough and timely reviews of developer requests for amendments. 

Stewart told the audience that developers are not going to pack up and leave the city rather than work within Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s rules. The city will still be a good place to build, as it has always been. 

I can tell you that builders still find Valley Village desirable even though the community has a formidable Specific Plan, especially with regards to multi-unit housing, the SB 1818 density bonus notwithstanding. 

What about the additional planners the city should hire? 

Stewart pointed out how large the mayoral and City Council staffs are – around 500 in total, a number higher than that of the entire White House staff (I confirmed 474 from a 2015 report provided to Congress). She suggested shifting some of the budget over to Planning. Checking the Planning department’s 2015-16 budget, it has 268 authorized positions of all types. It is not typical to have executive support staff outnumber employees of a department providing a critical service. 

It will be interesting to learn of the feedback from various homeowner associations and neighborhood councils around town as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative organizers make the rounds. 

If they have the same success in reaching out to them as Stewart appears to have achieved with Valley Village, then they will develop a diverse network comprised of knowledgeable people with a passion for protecting their quality of life.

 

(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 Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-On April 20, 2016, the 2013 “Puppy Mill Ban” that prohibits the sale of any puppies, kittens or rabbits from retail stores in Los Angeles, other than shelter or rescue animals, became permanent, with the removal of the sunset clause.

With the customary puffery and halo-polishing that surrounds passage of any animal law, Councilman Paul Koretz assured the media that puppy mills were being impacted by the trend-setting “new business model” operating successfully in the City and offering only shelter animals for adoption, although his PAW Committee report lacked documentation other than the Best Friends’ heavily subsidized NKLA (No-Kill L.A.) adoption center.

Is Koretz factoring in the ongoing $15, $25 and “No Adoption Fees” events such as the “Black Friday Weekend Special” at the NKLA Adoption Center, which are an important aspect in making this “new business model” viable?

Is he considering the $300,000 Best Friends paid last year alone to encourage its NKLA partners to remove more animals from city shelters, according to L.A. Executive Director Mark Peralta, during his October 2015 report at the LAAS Commission meeting?

Koretz failed to cite any statistics on the number of adopters who were converted from buying a pet store puppy to adopting an adult mixed-breed shelter dog or whether any adopters were even asked this question.

He did not identify any independent former or new pet shops that are thriving under his law, which was also expanded to allow dog kennels, called “pet shops” with unlimited shelter animals to be maintained in any C-2 location in the city without a Conditional Use Permit.

Has Koretz even considered other sources that might now be providing purebred puppies or is he naïve enough to believe the potential closure of only eleven (mostly small) pet shops that sold live animals in Los Angeles changed the mindset of purchasers who want a purebred animal?

It was not long before the same activists who protested in front of Los Angeles pet stores and promoted the original ordinance (CF 11-0754) in 2013 appeared at LA Animal Services Commission meetings to demand that the Internet be regulated, and lamented (as predicted by opponents of the ban) that market-savvy puppy mills were offering to ship adorable puppies of any breed directly to buyers in LA. Imagine that!

Ironically, on April 20, the same day Paul Koretz and the LA City Council were basking in their humaneness, Los Angeles media ran the news that 23 puppies and young dogs being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico at San Diego were intercepted by Border Patrol.

Daniel Canedo, the driver of the sweltering SUV in which the dogs spent 5-1/2 hours with no water in covered crates, said he was bringing them to Los Angeles.

All the puppies were unconscious and two appeared to be dead, according to reports. But, soon fresh air and cool water provided by San Diego Animal Services brought some of their limp bodies to recovery. Others required more extensive veterinary care to survive.

In a posted YouTube video, these do not appear to be animals taken from the streets. Most were estimated at only six to eight weeks of age. Many of them shared a similar appearance -- enough that they could have been from the same litter -- or the same puppy mill.

Although ignored by Los Angeles officials when passing the puppy ban in pet shops, the Mexican puppy-mill pipeline, which purveys especially small-breed animals to be sold in parking lots or any public location in Los Angeles (for cash), is not new and is reportedly growing.

There’s an established nexus between the upsurge in Mexican puppy mills and historical efforts to shame pet stores that sell Midwestern puppies, rather than enforcing the California state laws that strictly regulate the conditions and care of animals in pet stores.

As early as 2004, LA Times reporter Richard Manosi wrote that untold misery was resulting to animals and unsuspecting purchasers as an explosion of puppy mills in Mexico rushed to fill the gap caused by pressures on American consumers not to buy purebred puppies from pet shops selling puppy-mill puppies from the Midwest, according to Mexican Puppy Mills Breed Grief to Southland  (LA Times, June 26, 2004.)

In October 2010, the National Geographic republished a report on the growing problem, entitled, Sick Puppies Smuggled From Mexico for Sale in U.S., in which animal agencies and federal Border Control inspectors worked together to compile a statistical estimate of the extent of puppy-mill smuggling operations. 

During the two-week operation in 2006 the officers found 362 puppies being brought across the border that looked less than three months old, the investigation found. Ill animals were seized by local animal control agencies and later adopted. However, the healthy ones were left with the smugglers because it is not illegal to bring dogs into the U.S. from Mexico. 

Federal law requires that any imported puppies be isolated until they are old enough to be vaccinated for rabies (formerly four months, but California law was changed in 2013, lowering the age to three months.) Puppy peddling of these smuggled animals can generate profits of more than $10,000 a month, animal control officials said.

You would think the news of the April 20 smuggling incident would bring cries of alarm and outrage from Los Angeles animal-welfare groups, such as Best Friends, and legislators (especially Councilman Koretz.) Mr. Canedo was merely charged with 23 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and issued a citation.

Could their lack of concern over the future of LA’s underground puppy market be influenced by the fact that Best Friends has announced that at the end of 2016 it is moving on from Los Angeles and will not seek renewal of its rent-free lease of the Northeast Valley Mission Shelter?

What impact will this have on the shelters from which it reports having taken over 17,000 dogs and cats from 2013 through 2015 (2015 figures projected), according to their September 8, 2015 report?

Perhaps Councilman Koretz wasn’t told by Best Friends or Jim Bickhart, former Mayor Villaraigosa’s aide and Koretz’ current political advisor, that this “new business-model” pet shop is not really new, although both were aware. It has already failed twice in LA. 

The following is excerpted from a media release posted in its entirety by Rabbit Advocacy. It was issued on March 16, 2009, by Lisa Dulyea, Best Friends staff, announcing, “Grand Opening of Woof Worx features animal shelter rescued pups.”

“Best Friends Los Angeles Programs (BFLA) hosted an event March 13 to celebrate the grand opening of the first rescued pets store resulting from A Puppy-Store-Free LA.”
  

It explains, “Best Friends has been hard at work to find an alternative, and collaborated with Woof Worx (formerly Pets of Bel Air) on the idea to sell wonderful, healthy, purebred puppies that come from local shelters. For a mere fraction of what it would cost at a traditional pet store, people can adopt one (or more) of these dogs, support a business that’s doing the right thing, and save a life.”  

A later paragraph reads, “We are so thrilled to be partnering with Jamie Katz, the owner of this beautiful store, and to support her in her efforts,” says Elizabeth Oreck, BFLA manager. “We truly believe that traditional pet stores that sell dogs from puppy mills will soon be a thing of the past, and that a store like Woof Worx will become a national model for cities all across the country.“ 

There is no exact date when Woof Worx closed, but it was after raving reviews by celebrities at the opening and sometime before any Yelp review was posted.  

Just before that, at the January 26, 2009 LAAS Commission meeting, then-General Manager Ed Boks took a more cautious approach and received approval of a Letter of Agreement with “The Puppy Store” on Melrose Blvd. to create an “experimental, short-term pilot program [February 1 through September 1, 2009] to determine the feasibility of working with private pet stores to adopt animals for resale.”  

Boks’ report explained, “…if The Puppy Store can successfully execute and sustain a high-end pet store and achieve a reasonable financial return by selling only pets from shelters and rescues, it may become the model for other pet stores to follow.” 

There’s no specific date that shows when The Puppy Store closed, but a call to it a few months later revealed that the number was disconnected.  

Along with the “puppy mill” ban, Councilman Paul Koretz destroyed the ability of Los Angeles to regulate the very animals it claims to protect, and which are now part of an underground and Internet market that escapes monitoring or regulation.

 

The State of California enacted the Polanco-Lockyer-Farr Animal Protection Act to assure the humane treatment of any animal in a pet store and assure that purchasers knew the origin of the animal and were informed about spay/neuter. 

The legislative code is HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE SECTION 122125-122220.

Here’s just one section: 

Every pet dealer shall deliver to the purchaser of each dog or cat at the time of sale, written material, in a form determined by the pet dealer, containing information on the benefits of spaying and neutering. The written material shall include recommendations on establishing a relationship with a veterinarian, information on early-age spaying and neutering, the health benefits associated with

spaying and neutering pets, the importance of minimizing the risk of homeless or unwanted animals, and the need to comply with applicable license laws. 

We can read this and weep over what Los Angeles has lost and the suffering to animals and pet owners that is already resulting. 

Wouldn’t animals and their new owners have been far better represented if Councilman Koretz had demanded that Los Angeles Animal Services strictly enforce all laws available to protect them in City-permitted pet stores and, for those that violated these provisions, assure fines were levied and/or revocation of their permit to do business was publicized?

That could have started an on-going conversation with the public, with parents and with children -- who often are the reason a pet is sought -- about the benefits of adopting a shelter animal that needs a home. 

Instead, we have condemned even the compliant pet stores who provided what our State laws required, and who might have been convinced to obtain their purebred pets locally, and be governed under the State’s Polanco-Lockyer Pet Breeder Warranty Act. 

Instead, Koretz made local businesses the “bad guy” while opening the door for puppy mills that we cannot control.

                                                           

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDITOR’S PICK-Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Once upon a time, I considered longing for a long-lost past a relatively innocuous exercise. I don’t really go for the iconic schmaltz of Norman Rockwell paintings, but I never thought that idealizing days of yore could be a dangerous activity.

But that was before Donald J. Trump launched a presidential campaign on the promise of making America great again.

On the surface, the real estate mogul’s pledge of renewing national greatness doesn’t seem so bad. After all, like any politician, he seems to be simply appealing to national pride and ambition. Couldn’t that just get our collective competitive juices flowing and produce more gross national excellence?

Well, no, actually.

Making a comeback or triumphing over one’s hardships requires more than nostalgia. Sometimes it requires the ability to visualize—literally—what a better future would look like. In a brilliant 2014 essay on beauty and justice, Harvard art historian Sarah Lewis explores the power of images to propel people forward. She cites the example of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who decided to seek his freedom from slavery after spending too many Sundays feeling taunted by the gentle, unhindered movement of the sailboats on Chesapeake Bay.

Douglass would later argue that those most capable of inspiring change—poets, prophets, and reformers—are those who can conjure images that capture the contrast between what is and what could be. “They see what ought to be by the reflection of what is,“ he said, “and endeavor to remove the contradiction.”

By contrast, the image of the future Donald Trump is offering is not a reflection of what is, but rather of what may or may not have been. He hearkens back to a past in which Americans—or at least some of them—enjoyed unchallenged economic and cultural dominance. While it isn’t particularly clear what era he’s nostalgic for, “Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one. He is propelling us backwards.

“Making America Great Again” is less about achieving a shiny new vision as it is about restoring a gauzy old one.

The late Russian-born novelist and playwright Svetlana Boym made a distinction between two types of nostalgia, reflective and restorative. While the former tends to be wistful and dreamy (think of Reagan’s “Morning in America” imagery), the latter, which lies at the core of many modern national and religious revival movements, is deadly serious.

Restorative nostalgia has two essential plot lines, the first being the return to a hallowed past and the second being the conspiracies that explain why that past was lost. As such, these nostalgic movements come to be more about the search for scapegoats than they are about recapturing any sort of tradition. They’re particularly attractive to groups who feel victimized by change in the modern world.

Of course, Trump’s politics of nostalgia certainly has its cast of villains, including Mexicans, Muslims, China, and Japan. His rhetoric of restoration is clearly more focused on dealing with enemies—both within and outside our borders—than it is on inspiring or building the intrinsic capacity of the people whose greatness he says he hopes to reclaim.

Such aggrieved nostalgia may feel novel in a U.S. presidential race, particularly given the collective pride in our unwavering focus on the future. Yet it is all too common around the world. It underlies Islamist movements’ anger towards the West, Vladimir Putin’s project to restore Russia to its rightful place in the world, and the more virulent strains of Chinese nationalism. In places like the Balkans, a victimized sense of nostalgia is practically a birthright. Hence one of the paradoxes of the Trump phenomenon is that in seeking to “Make America Great Again” by invoking a litany of wrongs committed against us, he sure is making America more like the rest of the world.

The most extreme form of restorative nationalist nostalgia could be seen in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While anti-Semitism had existed for centuries, Hitler employed what UCLA historian Saul Friedländer has called “redemptive anti-Semitism,” a national salvation myth that held that Germany’s prominence could only be regained through the removal of Jews. Since Hitler blamed Jews not only for Germany’s defeat in World War I but for the subsequent collapse of the monarchy, he argued that their expulsion—which later led to genocide—was necessary to make Germany great again.

I’m not implying that Trump intends to commit mass murder. But the rhetorical mechanism he employs is essentially the same. Far from being a quaint stroll down memory lane, the politics of nostalgia is a recipe for resentment, and potentially, revenge. It’s also a perfect way to blame others for your lot in life.

(Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square and the author of the Wanderlust column. Posted originally at excellent Zocalo Public Square.)

-cw

 

THE JUDGE AND THE VETERAN—(Just when you think ‘good people’ all lived at another time and another place, along comes Judge Olivera … providing hope and a feel good story amongst the torrent of news angst we endure every day. That’s why we’re publishing this story. For the hope it provides.)

Here's how it's done: A North Carolina judge - and veteran - who sentenced a three-tour, PTSD-afflicted veteran to 24 hours in jail for a DUI offense, and noted how the offender trembled at sentencing, served the time with him. 

Judge  Lou Olivera, 45, a Gulf War veteran who presides over an innovative Cumberland County veterans' court, had sentenced Joseph Serna to a 24-hour jail stint after Serna admitted he'd lied about an urinalysis test. 

A married father of seven and Special Forces Green Beret sergeant who served three tours in Afghanistan, Serna has appeared multiple times in Olivera's court as he struggles with sobriety.

When Serna showed up for his jail time, he was met by the judge explaining, "We're going to turn ourselves in."

They spent the night in a single cell - Olivera gave him the bed and slept on mats on the floor - talking about their families and military service, Serna's three tours in Afghanistan, the friends he lost and the injuries he suffered, "our dreams for us and our families, and the road to take us there."

A moved Serna said of the judge, "He stepped in there for me. I will never let him down again."

As for Olivera, he cited a story he'd read: "It talked about a soldier with PTSD in a hole. A family member, a therapist and a friend all throw down a rope to help the veteran suffering. Finally, a fellow veteran climbs into the hole with him. The soldier suffering with PTSD asks, ‘Why are you down here?’ The fellow veteran replied, ‘I am here to climb out with you.’”

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams  … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY-For the better part of a century, Southern California has been seen as the land of surfers, hipsters and youthful innovators. Yet the land of sun and sea is becoming, like its East Coast counterpart Florida, increasingly geriatric. 

This, of course, is a global and national phenomenon. From 2015-25, the number of senior-headed U.S. households, according to the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University, will grow by 10.7 million, compared with 2.5 million households headed by people ages 35-44. 

After some delay, this aging process is accelerating in California. Large-scale immigration, which supplied a younger population for decades, is slowing markedly. Once considerably younger than the country, the state appears to be heading toward the national median age. Since 2000, the senior population in Southern California has grown by 24 percent compared with 18 percent nationally. Unless immigration or domestic migration pick up soon, this aging trend should accelerate. 

At the same time, our analysis shows that some areas – notably along the Orange County coast – are rapidly becoming virtual retirement communities, with a diminishing number of children and young families. For those sitting in their houses in affluenza-afflicted enclaves of Southern California, this may seem good news: “aging in place” while their homes increase in value. But this trend is less a boon for younger people, particularly families, as well as for companies seeking to launch and expand here. 

Aging in (a nice) place 

Today, the most aged parts of the country remain largely either in Florida or in the old Rust Belt cities where young people have been decamping for generations. In contrast, Southern California’s grey tide has set in later, and is occurring most noticeably in specific areas. 

The aging process is most marked in two kinds of areas. First, as geographer Ali Modarres has demonstrated, historically Latino sections of Los Angeles, such as East Los Angeles and the Pico-Union district, are aging rapidly. In LA now, immigrants are older than the rest of the population, as their offspring decamp elsewhere, and the oldest, and most dependent on the services unique to ethnic enclaves, remain behind. 

Similarly immigrant-rich areas like Santa Ana, although still relatively young, are getting old more rapidly than the region as a whole. But the most dramatic aging is taking place in traditionally Asian immigrant communities, like Westminster and Garden Grove. 

Westminster, the original Little Saigon, has seen its share of seniors grow from 11.0 percent to 17.8 percent from 2010-14, an astounding 60 percent increase and far above the state and national averages. The aging wave now sweeping East Asia now has a California counterpart. 

The other major incoming gray tide is building along Orange County’s affluent coastal communities. A land renowned for fit bodies and surfer gals and dudes is getting pretty weather-beaten. There’s only so much plastic surgery can do. 

Newport Beach and San Clemente are the leading edge of the oldster wave. More than 20 percent of Newport Beach residents and 18.6 percent of those in San Clemente are at least 65, a population share well above the county, regional, state and national norms. These towns are rapidly becoming what demographers refer to as “NORCs”: naturally occurring retirement communities. 

Most Inland Empire communities remain relatively youthful. With an 11.8 percent share of seniors, the Riverside-San Bernardino area ranks considerably below Los Angeles, Orange County and the state. Although some areas, like Hemet, Apple Valley and Redlands, have double-digit shares of 65-and-overs, many of the Inland communities remain well under national averages for seniors, including Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside and Ontario. Overall, the Inland regions seem to be retaining a more youthful population. 

Preserving, not creating wealth 

The greying of California, particularly along the Southern California coast, could well shape the state’s future. Older populations tend to be more interested in preserving wealth than creating it; for them, high housing prices – particularly given Proposition 13 protections – serve as a hedge against old age. 

In the short run, the economic impact may be muted, since much of the growth will take place among what may be described as “the young old,” who may be economically and socially active for at least another decade. Senior entrepreneurship rates have grown, while those for other age groups, notably millennials, have dropped. 

On the other hand, the “young old” likely will be staying in their old homes for a protracted period of time. Whatever their political orientation, they actually benefit from the current regulatory regime, which keeps housing supply limited, all but guaranteeing rising property values, particularly for single-family homes and offices. 

This may explain why so many prominent property owners express remarkably little concern about the future impact of the decreasing migration of younger, educated workers from other parts of the country. Seniors have made their beds in the nicest parts of California, and seem determined to stay there, even if their kids will never be able to live there. Apres moi, le deluge! 

The rising prices, however, will impact basic services. As baby boomers, particularly those with nice pensions, continue to retire, they will reduce the number of experienced teachers, police and fire personnel. With much of Orange County and Los Angeles County housing now beyond the price range of most public servants, the strains will likely be greatest there. The same is true of similarly skilled private-sector workers. 

Aging demographics, and out-of-sight housing prices, also are having an impact on corporate relocations and expansions. In the coastal locales, the affluent, predominately white but increasingly Asian populations can still fill the top positions at tech or business service firms, but it’s increasingly difficult to staff companies that require middle managers and skilled technicians. 

Companies that need to staff up for these kind of jobs will increasingly need to head to lower-cost locales. In this sense the Toyota U.S. headquarters move in 2014 from Torrance to the Dallas suburbs, notes Southern Methodist University Dean Albert Neimi Jr., was motivated largely by a need for affordable middle-class housing and may be the precursor of the Southern California coast’s economic future. 

These dynamics are also being felt in the technology industry, long concentrated along the state’s coastal counties. A recent report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office refers to the difficulty that high-tech employers have in retaining and recruiting staff. LAO cited survey data from the Silicon Valley, which for years has been California’s economic “Golden Goose.” In a 2014 survey of more than 200 business executives and conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, 72 percent of respondents cited “housing costs for employees” as the most important challenge facing Silicon Valley businesses. 

The last great alternative for most young, middle-class families who wish to remain in California is moving to places like the Central Valley and the Inland Empire, where the senior population also tends to be smaller. Of all Southern California, the Inland Empire also has had the most marked millennial growth, far more than in Los Angeles. The Inland area has also seen the state’s most rapid rate of growth in ages 25-to-34 college-educated people. 

Yet these places, while still family- and youth-friendly, will be hard-pressed to compete with similar regions, notably in Texas, Arizona and the Southeast. These areas may not enjoy California’s natural and cultural amenities, but also do not have to function under the draconian tax and regulatory regime imposed by Sacramento, which is supported implicitly by residents along the greying coast. 

Unless the housing issue is addressed, we are doomed to become an older society that likely will be less innovative. High housing prices are making California, long an importer of talent, into a talent exporter. 

Over the past 10 years, notes economist Bill Watkins, California has produced twice as many holders of four-year degrees as new jobs. If these young people are getting trained, often at least partially at taxpayer expense, the beneficiaries of their skills will be more affordable and, often, less senior-dominated places. 

Nothing can alter this dynamic until there is some change in California’s planning regime. The state’s increasingly burdensome anti-growth message clouds the future of younger families who lack inherited wealth. Yet few in Sacramento seem concerned about how well California manages to retain young people, and avoids transitioning, particularly along the coasts, into a retirement community for the affluent. 

If you want to see where that future leads, look at Japan, where high costs and low birth rates, after decades of remarkable success, have helped usher in 20 years of stagnation. California, fortunately, is not there yet, but it may be time to concern ourselves on how to avoid a similar fate.

 

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of New Geography … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Wendell Cox was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. He chaired the Service Coordination Committee and also served on the Rail Transit and Finance Review Committees. This piece was first posted most recently at newgeography.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDITOR’S PICK--Airbnb, star of the “sharing economy,” is “committed to strengthening the neighborhoods and cities we serve.” Uber is “passionate about the cities we call home.” Google wants “a better world, faster.” Facebook has its own “social good” team.

But as much as Silicon Valley powerhouses love to tout their efforts to give back to their communities and make the world a better place, they also love to hide their money in tax havens.

The Panama Papers scandal has shaken the world by exposing a secretive world of offshore shell companies, which can “facilitate bribery, arms deals, tax evasion, financial fraud and drug trafficking.” But the use of shell companies to avoid taxes is a tried-and-true method of corporate governance for many of America’s biggest companies.

A new report by Oxfam tallied the offshore money of 50 top public U.S. companies, and the winner was Silicon Valley’s own Apple, with $181 billion held offshore. The company would owe $59.2 billion in taxes if the profits weren’t held offshore, according to a report by Citizens for Tax Justice.

As for Airbnb, the first tenet of its “Community Compact” states: “We are committed to treating every city personally and helping ensure our community pays its fair share of hotel and tourist taxes.” But as Bloomberg reports, Airbnb manages its finances “via units in Ireland and tax havens like Jersey in the Channel Islands” that will allow it to avoid the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service.

Uber, meanwhile, uses a Netherlands entity headquartered in Bermuda to shield its non-U.S. income from U.S. taxes, according to Fortune.

Here’s Bloomberg’s David Kocieniewski:

“This is the challenge that Airbnb, like Uber and other companies in the so-called sharing economy, poses for the world’s treasuries. In the five years since these businesses began their spiraling growth, some cities and states around the globe have fought hard to make them play by the same rules as traditional hotels or taxis and collect various local taxes – often as not, they’ve lost.”

Google – as in “don’t be evil” or “do the right thing” – had mastered the strategy long before.

Bloomberg’s Jesse Drucker reported in 2010 that Google saved $3 billion in taxes with complicated income-shuffling arrangements known as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich.” The strategy sparked outrage, but never mind that – Google saved another $2.4 billion in 2014 with a Bermuda shell company.

Facebook did it, too. Those tech companies may have to disclose more about their income-juggling act under new European legislation sparked by the Panama Papers.

But while Panama faces a lot of flack, Drucker reminds us that the U.S. has something in common with the Central American nation: “Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.” In fact, he reported, the U.S. is “becoming the go-to place to stash foreign wealth,” with shell companies in states such as Nevada, Wyoming and South Dakota.

So it’s not all about offshore. The New York Times found that Cupertino-based Apple avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and other states by routing profits through Nevada, where the corporate tax rate is zero.

And the amazing thing is that, unlike the secrets revealed by the Panama Papers leak, all of these tech company shenanigans have been well documented for years and are easily findable on, well, Google.

(Will Evans is a reporter of Reveal News  … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (the IOES) hosted a panel this week on GMOS: Global Solution or Global Risk? The GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. You might have expected a resurfacing of the old, largely discredited fears about food safety, and that the audience would be full of folks talking about Frankenfoods, as some like to call them. This was largely not the case. Instead, the discussion focused mainly on long-term economic and ecological trends in world agriculture. 

The panelists raised concerns about food security, which seems to refer to our ability to continue raising and distributing produce rather than anything about terrorism. There was one other topic that isn't discussed very much in the first world countries: the plight of the world's poor, including families barely surviving as subsistence farmers. 

You can see the flier for the presentation, including the names and bio's of the panelists here

One panelist was Peter Kareiva, who concentrates on risk analysis for this technology. Kareiva comes across as a down home guy, but he is privy to the upper levels of scientific thought. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. For those who aren't familiar with the title, it's a very high honor indeed, generally indicating a lifetime of upper level scientific achievement. Kareiva is on the NAS committee that considers GMO technologies and their potential risks. 

Here is what he says, summarized as best I can: Decades of research and laboratory studies are convincing that genetically modified foods are safe for us, our pets, and farm animals to eat. He pointed out that we have been living a kind of large scale experiment in that Americans eat a lot of GMOs, whereas Europeans have avoided them. As he explained, if there were any effect of GMO ingestion, we should have seen differences between the two populations by now, and we haven't. 

Timothy Wise, of Tufts University, seems to specialize more in broader scale policy studies in agricultural economics and sociology, rather than in biochemistry. He raised questions about long term safety, mentioning experiments involving the feeding of GMO food to lab animals which, he claimed, raised some concerns. Kareiva shot down this line of argument rather easily, explaining that the better designed experiments did not indicate any harmful effects. In particular, Kareiva pointed out that a study by Seralini -- which got worldwide press coverage a while back -- was badly designed and statistically inconclusive. Hold onto this thought because I will be coming back to it later. 

Timothy Wise stuck to his guns, arguing that the only consensus among scientists about GMO use is that there is no consensus. Kareiva didn't take a large bite out of this rather vague assertion, but he did leave the impression that when knowledgeable scientists look at competent studies, then the consensus on the immediate safety of GMO foods emerges. He conceded that longer term studies could very well be done, and should be, even though we are a quarter of a century into the use of GMO crops. 

Maywa Montenegro, a biologist who is completing her graduate studies in environmental policy at Berkeley, took the discussion in another direction. She pointed out that to focus on the safety of eating GMO food was to divert our attention from other important issues. These include the effects of herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup) on farm workers, contamination of soil and water, the economic consolidation of the seed companies, and ecological simplification. If I understand correctly, the last term refers to the loss of wild species and the reduction in the number of strains of food crops that occurs as agriculture becomes monoculture. 

Here is one interesting fact that this diverse group of panelists were able to agree on. The use of chemical insecticides goes way down when farmers use insect resistant plant strains. This is because plants with a particular inserted gene (known by the acronym BT) confers built-in resistance to being chewed up by insects. On the other hand, using herbicide resistant plants means that farmers can use more weed killer, and they do. Herbicide use up, insecticide use down. 

By the way, BT is a long-time favorite among organic farmers, because it is the natural product of a bacterial strain. It's just that they spray it on the crop rather than use seeds that carry the BT gene internally. Customers who buy organic food don't always know that they can potentially get a dose of BT with their produce. 

The last panelist was Pamela Ronald, who is a professor at UC Davis and an actual expert on plant genetics and genetic engineering. Ronald was a breath of fresh air, because she understands farming, organic farming, and the differences between agricultural genetics and agricultural economics. 

For example, she pointed out that in the western world, almost all farmers use seeds that they have purchased from corporate sources. This is true whether the agricultural enterprise is an organic farm or non-organic, and whether the seeds have genetic modifications or not. Ronald pointed out (along with others) that farmers in poorer countries can't afford to pay for seed, and need to save seed from this year's crop in order to plant next year's. 

One couldn't help but notice that a discussion that concentrates on the plight of third world farmers rapidly diverges from the discussion of western concerns about GMO food safety. The safety of eating GMO crops (in terms of fears about eating foreign gene products and recombinant DNA) is a small thing compared to the fear of crop failure and mass starvation. Ronald spoke of beneficial GMO crops, such as those designed to provide vitamin A to large numbers of people who grow up on a diet deficient in this nutrient. 

The critique: apparently it's just as hard to debate science as it is to explain it 

You may have noticed that I've presented a rather one-sided account here, in the sense that I took Peter Kareiva's comments as accurate, whereas I have discounted the remarks of Timothy Wise. You might say that I'm a bit biased in favor of those who understand the technology, and a bit biased against those who raise speculative concerns about unforeseen risks without laying out the rational, factual basis for these concerns. I think this is a fair point. 

But my problem as an audience member and as someone trying to report the debate to the reader is that there was something that was largely missing from the discussion. The absent element was the factual basis of the arguments as might have been expected to be presented by either side

For example, there has been a lot of public controversy and concern about the herbicide known as glyphosate, the compound that was originally introduced into the market as Roundup. One audience member asked an obvious question: what is glyphosate, and is it dangerous? I think that this is a reasonable request, but it's something that should have been presented at the outset. 

Admittedly, this would have involved a three minute review of some high school chemistry and a slide or two. But at least then, we would have had something more concrete to wrap the discussion around. We were watching experienced teachers up on stage, but there was essentially no teaching. It would have been nice to get something, even at the level of a Wikipedia article, to introduce the topic. 

Just for the sake of argument, here is a link [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate] to the Wikipedia explanation of what Roundup (chemically known as glyphosate) is, and what its advantages are compared to other herbicides. You have to read pretty far down to find that even the European Union does not consider glyphosate to be a risk to humans, although there are mentions of concerns about effects on farm workers subject to large doses. 

Instead of the scientific specifics, we heard opinion after opinion after opinion in this discussion. I am fairly certain that most of the opinions were defensible, with the possible exception of a few remarks made by Timothy Wise. But how could anyone but an expert make a reasonable evaluation? Perhaps I'm wrong and Timothy Wise was speaking the truth, while the panelists who were favorable to GMO technology were wrong. But how could the audience know? 

I don't mean to tear down the panelists. I think that they did what they were asked, and given the limits of time and the breadth of the subject matter, they presented their individual judgments as clearly as they could. But let's consider a disagreement on the science that came up during the discussion. If you feed GMO corn to lab animals, does it do anything bad? Wise suggested that the results of numerous studies did not lead to a clear conclusion that GMO food is safe. Kareiva pointed out that he had read most or all of the published studies, and that the ones suggesting harmful effects are badly designed or inadequately interpreted, or both. 

This kind of argument is fairly common in public discussions of scientific studies. Unfortunately, it is no longer convincing to the public because blanket statements critical of experimental design are trotted out by villains and righteous scientists alike. I based my evaluation of the Kareiva vs Wise disagreement on my own preexisting knowledge of some of these studies. 

The Seralini study which involved feeding GMO corn to rats was discredited, but unless you read the evaluations and know something about scientific methodology, you just have to decide whose word you are willing to accept. And the more scientific background you have, the better your judgment is likely to be. I was left with evaluating the arguments based on my personal judgment as to the credibility of the panelists. 

As an aside, in the infamous study in question, Seralini and colleagues looked at a strain of rats that were originally inbred to be susceptible to cancer. They have been used in cancer studies ever since, because they provide a more sensitive test than other animals, or even other strains of rat. In fact, if you keep these rats alive, almost all of them will develop cancer spontaneously at some point of their lives. Seralini's group drew conclusions from using this highly inbred strain, conclusions which were rejected outright by careful scientists who looked at the published data. 

I came away from the presentation accepting most of what I heard, including the fact that mass agriculture does damage to the natural environment, that the poorer third world suffers economic effects from corporate power, and that the long term ecological ramifications of farming is uncertain. 

But what became clear is that there is a sharp demarcation between the popular complaints about GMOs and the reality. The existence of GMO technology by itself doesn't seem to be the issue. Rather, it is the impoverished state of much of the world's population, and what the rest of the world might be able to do about it. The argument seems to settle into concerns about private megacorporations controlling the development, production, and sale of next year's seeds. 

But here is a topic that was not mentioned by any of the panelists, by the moderator, or by any of the audience questions: Aren't we really talking about the effects of the human population explosion? After all, if the population were half what it is today (and not expanding), then we would have some wiggle room to expand agricultural technology, preserve wild habitats, and potentially live free of starvation. As it is, we are using almost every available spot of open land to grow food to feed ourselves, without concern or respect for the other species we are destroying. 

I suspect that the topic of GMOs could be useful in provoking the broader discussion, which was best touched on by Maywa Montenegro. Perhaps the topic would more correctly be described as the effects of the ways we reorganize the land into fields of crops. thereby destroying woodlands and pastures. And if so, shouldn't we be talking about a more serious approach to human population, just as we need to be talking about a more serious approach to global warming? 

The panel was ably moderated by Edward Parson, who is that rare species, a physicist and mathematician who is a professor in the Law School, concentrating on climate change. We can expect to hear more from him on his chosen topic.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture, science, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

CALIFORNIA--According to word from the Governor’s office, Jerry Brown has signed legislation directing $176.6 million “to expedite and expand [lead] testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks around the former Exide Technologies facility in Vernon, California.” 

The legislation came in the form of AB 118, by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and SB 93, by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). 

The funds — a loan from the General Fund — will allow the state to expedite soil testing within the 1.7-mile radius of the Exide Technologies facility and remediation of contaminated soil “where lead levels are the highest and potential exposure the greatest.” 

That last disclaimer suggests that $176.6 million may be enough to get the ball rolling on residential testing and cleanups, but not enough to finish the job. 

Last fall, the Department of Toxic Substances Control was already running out of funds to continue testing and remediation, after spending just $8 million to put together a work plan and test and clean up fewer than 200 properties. 

While the average cost of testing and cleaning up area properties — originally estimated to be at about $40,000 per site — may come down over time, the fact that as many as 10,000 may need remediation means the final bill may be more than double what was just allotted. 

And it does indeed appear that most properties around the plant will need remediation, if current figures are anything to go by. 

Of the 758 properties the Department for Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has sampled thus far, only five have not needed cleanup.  And, according to KPCC, of the 382 properties the County Department of Public Health (DPH) tested, 354 needed remediation, with 215 of them registering levels between the cleanup threshold of 80 parts per million (ppm) and 399 ppm of lead, and 139 having more dangerous levels hovering between 400 and 999 ppm.  

The money also does not cover any of the costs borne by residents whose health was damaged by exposure to lead or other contaminants emitted by Exide over the decade-plus that it operated without a formal permit and regularly violated emissions standards. Nor, to the best of my understanding, will it cover the costs of any studies to investigate the longer-term health impacts on the surrounding communities. 

But it is a good start -- as is the governor’s reiteration of a commitment to conduct a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the cleanup process. 

In disbursing these funds, the state is banking on Exide to reimburse them for the costs of the cleanup. The extent to which that will be possible remains to be seen. In its own study conducted last summer, Exide downplayed its responsibility for lead contamination in the areas surrounding the Vernon plant, declaring that, beyond the immediate footprint of the facility, “Exide’s estimated contributions to soil lead concentrations are no longer statistically distinguishable from [existing] background concentrations.” 

In layman’s terms, that essentially translates to, “Good luck trying to hold us accountable.” 

For more information on DTSC’s testing and cleanup efforts in the communities near Exide, click here. For full text of the two bills just signed visit http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/. 

Please keep an eye out for a longer-form story on Exide coming soon. In the meanwhile, see our extensive coverage on Exide’s confounding and often confusing case. More about the draft environmental impact report regarding Exide’s closure plan is here.  More about the closure process, the lead testing process, and the challenge of linking Exide to the lead contamination can be found here.  

  • If you’d like to learn about why the community is adamant that state agencies be held accountable for allowing Exide to commit as many environmental crimes as it did, please visit LA.StreetsBlog. 

(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog  … where this piece was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

LA WATCHDOG--Ever since Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council eviscerated the budget of our Department of Recreation and Parks in 2010 to help balance the City’s out of control budget, Rec & Parks has been on a mad dash for cash, willing to sell its soul for a few extra bucks, the hell with the neighboring communities.  

Under the new “full cost recovery” program that targeted the Recreation and Parks budget, City Hall slammed the Department with $38 million in chargebacks, consisting primarily of costs for water and power ($16 million) and General Fund expenses ($17.5 million).  This ding represented more than a quarter of the Department’s appropriation in the 2011 budget.   

Despite the healthy increase in City revenues, this policy has only gotten worse as chargebacks for the upcoming year have ballooned to $60 million, representing more than a third of its General Fund revenue. 

As a result, our parks are in disrepair and its programs gutted as the Department has eliminated more than a quarter of its worker bees. 

While the commercialization of our parks is understandable, it has not been well received by Angelenos who believe our parks should be free of billboards, signage, and other forms of intrusive advertising and corporate sponsorship.  And this opposition has only been fueled by the ham handed Department managers and Commissioners who have been less than transparent with the public, especially with those that live in close proximity to the parks. 

A prime example is the near riot by Hollywood residents over a plan to commercialize Runyon Park by allowing Pink + Dolphin, a streetwear company, to place its controversial logo on a newly constructed basketball court in exchange for $250,000.  This situation was further aggravated by Rec & Parks failure to engage the Hollywood community. 

As a result of the furious backlash, Councilmember David Ryu called a halt to this deal, at least for the time being.   

We are also seeing opposition to AngelFest, a new three day “family friendly music, food and cultural festival” that may be held in October in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.  And while the Department will take in an estimated $1 million over the next three years that can be reinvested in the local parks, the Department failed to engage the environmental and conservation communities who are concerned about the adverse impact on the park and its wildlife. 

The Department also stirred up a hornet’s nest when it bungled the proposal to have Live Nation and Anschutz Entertainment replace Nederlander as the operator of the Greek Theatre in Griffin Park.  As a result, Rec & Parks will “self-manage” the venue, a scary thought given the City’s lack of management expertise and the need for the cash strapped City to invest $20 to $40 million to upgrade the aging venue. 

We are also seeing controversies where the residents of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood Land, Lake Hollywood Estates, and the Hollywood Dells are in open revolt against the Department because of the traffic and safety issues resulting from tourists flocking to see the Hollywood sign. 

We also have issues involving Elysian Park and Councilman Gil Cedillo’s efforts to raid a $12.5 million fund set up by the Department of Water and Power to mitigate the impact of a covered reservoir. 

Now is the time to reform our Department of Recreation and Parks. 

The first step is to establish a better relationship with the public.  This would include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Neighborhood Councils similar to the successful arrangement with the Department of Water and Power.  This would also involve considerable outreach to the public, something the Department has not done with any consistency. 

At the same time, the Department needs to develop a long range operational and financial plan that meets the goals of all Angelenos. 

Once the Department gains the trust and confidence of the public, the City should place a measure on the ballot that would increase the charter mandated appropriation by $75 to $100 million over a four year period.  At the same time, the Department would assume responsibility for all its direct and indirect expenses. 

Importantly, this is not be a new tax, but would require the City to allocate scarce funds to the Department. 

This is similar to Measure L, the March 2011 charter amendment that was approved by 63% of the voters that increased the mandated funding for the Library Department by over 70%. 

The Department of Recreation and Parks has been the center of increasing controversy, in part because of its lack of funding and the failure of its management to develop an open and transparent relationship with the public. 

But now is the time for the Department to develop and implement its good neighbor plan. 

(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:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw 

LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his State of the City address (photo above) to an enthusiastic City Hall centric audience at the headquarters of Norabachi Corporation, a growing Harbor City manufacturer of LED lighting for industrial and commercial applications.  On Wednesday, April 20, he will present his proposed budget for the year beginning July 1, 2016. 

LA WATCHDOG--City Council President Herb Wesson is hell bent to place on the November ballot a measure to reform and restructure our Department of Water and Power so that it will be a more “nimble and efficient” enterprise that will grant management the flexibility to meet the ever increasing operating, organizational, and financial challenges in our rapidly changing world.  

LA WATCHDOG--“God gave us rain and you figured out how to tax it.” 

The current Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles is considering developing its own Stormwater Plan to capture rainwater, stormwater, and urban runoff in effort to curb pollution in the Santa Monica Bay and to develop new sources of water to recharge our groundwater supplies. 

LA WATCHDOG--The Department of Water and Power will ship $267 million of our hard earned cash to City’s coffers this fiscal year pursuant to the 8% Transfer Fee. Along with the 10% City Utility Tax of $344 million, the City’s total haul will be over $610 million, an amount equal to 16% of the Power System’s revenues. 

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