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MY TURN-For decades Los Angeles has had a reputation for being a series of bedroom communities with no City Center. Sidewalks wrapped up at 9 pm and if you wanted a late snack or a cocktail, the places to go were few and far between. That began to change once Staples built its downtown complex. But now we hear complaints about too much congestion, too many dogs and too many cars. 

Los Angeles is taking the next steps toward becoming one of the world's great Cities. We run on international commerce and technology, as well as entertainment. But like any growth spurt, (check with your teenagers,) it hurts...and can cause problems...and worst (or best) of all, it produces change – sometimes thought of as a dreaded of human occurrence! 

Yes, tourism has reached a new high but we can't be a city for just tourists -- Las Vegas learned that bitter lesson. So how do we balance all these technological and physical advances while holding on to our unique ambience as a city? Short answer: We don't! Although “gentrification” has become a dirty word, we must incorporate the changing face of Los Angeles into our planning. 

I certainly do not hold myself up as an expert in land use, real estate design or development. And I can’t provide magical answers to what seems to be a "mishmash" of City planning. But I have a lot of questions.

Various articles and opinions pieces in CityWatch and other local newspapers and websites, as well as conversations I’ve had with members of city commissions and agencies, have provided little practical consensus. The Planning Commission has a new Manager; the Department of Transportation is busy adding to the metro lines; General Services can't keep track of the real estate owned by the City; and the mayor wants to build 100,000 new housing units. The end result seems to be that no one is happy; there are so many “anti” groups that it’s hard to determine what any group is for. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which may be headed toward the November 8 ballot, professes to be for something – but that “something” is more of a negative. People backing the NII want to stop all new development requiring zone variances for a period of two years. RE-Code LA is the five-year plan this is, (surprise, surprise) already behind schedule. It’s a plan to try and get our city codes in some kind of order; to define what is needed whether building a single family home or a twenty-story office complex. And the requirements all vary depending on the area. 

Many LA City plans have conflicting codes and are often more than fifteen years old. It would make sense if each department involved in infrastructure and real estate would appoint a representative to each of the various official planning groups. This would ensure that all involved would have the same information. But maybe that is too much to hope for…. 

So back to NIMBY... the anachronistic term for "Not in My Back Yard." My colleague Dick Platkin, an expert on city planning or the lack thereof, thinks "NIMBYism is an epithet used by real estate speculators to disparage local residents who oppose their projects.

I was invited by Karen Zimmerman from the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council and the force behind the "Savethegolfcourse.org.” The golf course in question is the Verdugo Hills Golf Club on Tujunga Canyon Blvd, a privately owned public golf course which has been part of the community for years. 

The current owner is considering building over 200 homes in a gated-community with all the amenities. According to Sunland Tujunga homeowners, aside from losing a beautiful green area, losing the golf course would make the already terrible traffic on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard much worse. I noticed large banners around the neighborhood saying, "This Traffic Sucks." They are wondering how the Department of Transportation could justify issuing permits without major changes. 

One of the homeowners, Theresa Weinzirl, who has lived on Tujunga Canyon Blvd all of her life, invited me to view the traffic as she tried to get out of her driveway. The game of "chicken” is alive and well. Residents are concerned that the current infrastructure will not support the additional density. Even with an increase in the number of accidents, they can't even get a stoplight or stop sign in this dangerous area.   

I felt like a tourist going through the Northeast Valley with its miles and miles of rolling hills, trees, wildlife. It is like being in another world. Housing run the economic gamut from apartments to small original bungalows to spacious single family homes. The problem is that, even with all the lawsuits and injunctions against projects in Hollywood, it’s hard to get that kind of attention in the rural part of the valley. 

Another builder wants a permit to build 250 homes in the Tujunga Wash, which becomes flooded and filled with mud and debris every time it rains. In addition, there is also only one way in and out – a situation that is very dangerous. There has been and continues to be a homeless encampment in the wash that some of the NCs are working to clean up on weekends. This hardly sounds like the best place for so many new homes. 

Meanwhile, Lake View Terrace is seeking more business development. Now that the Cube Museum is open and Hansen Dam has water, they feel their community could provide great family activities for valley residents. But the problem is lack of eating facilities, too many liquor stores, no banks and no US Post Office. Residents in the area must leave the neighborhood to purchase basic items. 

On top of all of this, the High Speed Rail Line has tentative plans to go through Shadow Hills and the City of San Fernando. David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association, has helped form a growing opposition group called SAFE Coalition and has a well-run grassroots campaign underway. It might be moot if HSR decides to finish the Central Valley to San Francisco route first instead of connecting now to Burbank – chances are few of us will be here when they get finished with that! 

So, now what? The best compromise, is always something in which each side is satisfied and neither side is ecstatic. I think it behooves the groups that are fighting all these changes to take a realistic approach to the situation and come up with plans A, B and C. They need to include a wish of things – whether it be a community room, a park, or an athletic field -- that will make the community more livable. In exchange, they will have to agree to something on the developers’ wish lists. 

Let's face it. Even with all of growth and congestion that exists in LA, we still have acres of greenbelts, hills and mountains. We desperately need housing that middle and lower income people can afford. We need more facilities for veterans and more reasonable housing choices for seniors. But most of all, we need a plan that must have input from all relevant people involved. It should be vetted with an eye to insuring against future droughts, earthquakes, fires and other gifts from Mother Nature. 

And in the end, we can't fight progress. Do you recall the fight against freeways? Does anyone remember incinerators? Where can you buy a buggy whip? 

We’ve all seen the deadlock that occurs when parties fail to compromise -- what happens when, for instance, bond issues fail to improve schools and infrastructure. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t listen to each other. 

So above all, we must be practical, making sure that everyone benefits from our joint decisions -- the business community, our politicians, and most importantly, the people of Los Angeles. 

When it comes to planning for our City and finding the best possible outcome, we should all join forces. I say, “Let’s make a deal." 

As always comments are welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Six questions should do the job just fine. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just remember to keep a hand on your wallet.

 

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

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

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

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

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

-Outfront Media $215,000

-Lamar Advertising $187,102

-JC Decaux $162,000

-Summit Media $146,365

-Intelligent Sign Network $90,092

-National Promotions & Advertising $20,612 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times Article

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

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

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

Read the Ballots, Follow the Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

LET’S TALK NELA--A regular topic of discussion in North East LA (NELA) is what to do about rogue councilmember and carpetbagger-in-chief Gil Cedillo. His obstructionism famously keeps Figueroa Street a slaughter alley lined by scattered shops struggling vainly against economic desolation … while José Huizar’s York Boulevard, nurtured by its road diet and bike lanes, thrives. York’s shops and eateries host crowds that often spill out onto the sidewalks, where folks can actually dine, stroll, and window shop without feeling hemmed in by manic traffic. Meanwhile, Cedillo’s Figueroa sees firefighters mopping blood off the streets all too regularly, while his cabal of NIMBY ranters keeps him bloated with the odd turbulent pride of stubbornness.

Although the man has his supporters, the community, by and large, would love to see Cedillo replaced. The man squeaked in by around 800 votes, after a campaign whose promises he discarded like so much used toilet paper once in office. His campaign funds came almost entirely from outside the district, and real-estate developers of the more rapacious sort figured largely in his financing. His tenure in office has been marked by photo ops and “No” votes, though he did add some plastic trash bins to the streets…and now he wants to amend the city’s Mobility Plan 2035 to make it more of a Mobility Plan 1955, at least in CD1.

Clearly, Cedillo is not acting in the best interests of the district, or of the city as a while, and is perhaps in violation of the state’s Complete Streets Act.

But few locals want to run against him and his well-financed machine. The community may have to draft someone…and I won’t be the first to suggest that that someone could be Josef Bray-Ali, publisher of this blog.

True, Bray-Ali has written and said some immoderate things in the last couple of years—an understandable reaction to the betrayals and frustrations imposed on the community by Cedillo (watch this video of Cedillo, while in full prevarication mode, touting “real bike lanes,” Copenhagen-style, as a must for LA—even as he prepared to backstab us). One can understand a few flashes of verbal temper under the circumstances.

More to the point is Bray-Ali’s position in the community: he has lived in CD1 for over ten years, owns a small business on Figueroa, and was even a developer himself—not the sort building outsized megablock monstrosities, but partner in a firm dedicated to intimate, low-impact neighborhood-scale projects. He has even written about parking and development for the Los Angeles Business Journal (unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall). 

He is the son of an immigrant, speaks usable if inelegant Spanish, has plenty of contacts at City Hall, and truly cares about the community and all its stakeholders. It would be an uphill battle, but he would be a very good council member, one who would keep the best interests of the district, the city, and the region (which are all, of course, tied together) always in mind. He’s far from being “just a bike guy”—I’d say he knows LA’s municipal code better than most people currently in the administration. Small business, traffic safety, neighborhood health, beneficial development, parking and transportation—Bray-Ali sees them all in the context of community . CD1 could do worse—and has.

Josef, do you feel a draft?

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.) 

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--The “invisible tsunami” of natural gas that has been spewing from a broken well in the backyard of an affluent Los Angeles suburb has caused illness and losses to businesses, and driven thousands from their homes. With their lives turned upside down for more than three months, residents continue to wait for the gas company to stop the leak once and for all.

The rotten-smelling air in and around the Porter Ranch community will begin to clear when the well is permanently sealed. And Southern California Gas Company, which operates the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility where the leak originated, says it expects to have the leak stopped this month. But the effect that the natural gas’s main component -- methane -- has had on the atmosphere doesn’t simply vanish when the well ceases operation.

The well has released more than 91,000 metric tons of methane gas into the air, according to Environmental Defense Fund, but the exact toll it has taken on the environment isn’t immediately clear. In part, that’s because the gas can only be seen with a special infrared camera, making this an invisible catastrophe in California -- there are no oil slicks in the clouds above Los Angeles, no wildlife covered in crude. But make no mistake: The volume of methane that has been ejected into the air is massive, and its effect on global warming is real. (Now, click here. We’ll help you visualize it.) 

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--As a Californian and presumably a normal sort of person, I find it strange that Ted Cruz finished first in the Iowa Caucuses. The political experts tell us that his fellow Senators hate him and that the Republican Party fears him. And he looks like Grandpa Munster. Why would so many supposedly loyal Republican voters support him? 

A good question with several answers. It turns out that one of those answers is negative for Cruz's hopes of winning the Republican nomination. 

For all of their phony pretentions to legitimacy, the Iowa Caucuses destroyed last week's political foundations and created a new world. It reminds you a little of the world wars. Donald Trump, last week's Mussolini, got knocked off the winner's stand and had to settle for second place. Ted Cruz took first place by 4 points. 

You have to admit that it's strange. There's just something about the guy that infuriates people. Let's start with a joke making the rounds. 

Why do people take an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? 

Answer: It saves time. 

But the Ted Cruz enigma remains. He managed to win a Senate seat in a major state and has now knocked off the one person who was picked to finish first and who gets more press coverage than any two or three of his opponents combined. 

Here is an article by Caroline Bankoff in New York magazine that takes a swing at the question. In essence, he is for himself even when this violates party loyalty, and he doesn't know how to be a team member. This has put some of his fellow Republican senators on the spot as Cruz has played games about shutting down the government once again. There is also an inkling of a more far reaching explanation from one of his college classmates. Cruz seems to have come to college politically formed. The beliefs he expresses today haven't changed from when he was a teenager. 

But that doesn't seem to be quite enough to explain why so many of his fellow Republicans are actively trying to undermine him. After all, the rule in politics is to go with the winner if he's on your side. Republicans and Democrats alike have put up with sleaze and downright corruption when it provides the winning edge, both in D.C. and in Sacramento. Republicans understand that Cruz as president would provide a solid conservative brand of leadership, yet they still dislike him. 

Like I said, Cruz is an enigma to the rest of the normal people around the country. 

So what else does the Iowa result tell us? 

First of all, it probably means that Ted Cruz won't get the Republican nomination, much less win the presidency. This is simply a matter of recent history. Iowa Republicans seem to vote for the most right wing sorts. They also seem to limit their choices to those who wrap their campaigns around evangelical fervor. The fact that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are recent winners tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Winners in Iowa are too far right to win nationally. 

There's one other lesson from Iowa that I call wolfpack ethics. In a series of debates leading up to Iowa, a series of Republican wannabes took shots at Donald Trump. They were swatted down by Trump, much as the pack leader swats down rambunctious cubs. The sorriest cub was Jeb Bush, who took such a beating that Saturday Night Live made him into an ongoing political joke. That's the way of the wolfpack. The alpha wolf defines the leadership role. 

But the alpha wolf is always a potential target to be replaced. It's not a matter of if, but of when and by whom. It wasn't last month and it wasn't Jeb Bush. Ted Cruz was careful to avoid a definitive tangle with Trump in the early going.  

By Wednesday of this week, everything had changed. We've all heard by now about Trump's polite concession speech on Monday night, followed by his attack on Cruz as cheater and stealer of the election the very next day. At the risk of mixing metaphors, we have Trump going through the stages of grief, this stage being denial, while Cruz gets to try out his new role as alpha wolf. You could tell that Cruz had decided that this is his moment when he pulled out the new term Trumpertantrum

There is an old rule that applies to attacking alpha wolves. If you are going to try to replace the alpha, the one thing you must not do is lose. Cruz is taking a chance in coming back at Trump just a few days before the New Hampshire primary election. If Trump should win, then he will be in a position to retake the alpha position. 

Trump has deftly set this situation up by claiming that the Cruz victory in Iowa was fraudulent. We can expect that come Tuesday night in New Hampshire, a victorious Trump will remind television viewers that this time, justice has triumphed. If Cruz should manage to pull off a miracle and beat Trump on Tuesday, then we can expect Cruz to give us an even louder wolf howl. 

And then there were the Democratic caucuses in Iowa. It's hard to call this anything but a dead draw. That might be enough for Hillary to call it a victory. It might also be enough for Bernie to call it the beginning of a political revolution. Whatever happened in Iowa is probably of little consequence in New Hampshire this time around. That's because New Hampshire voters have a strong propensity to vote for governors and senators from their neighboring states. Vermont is right next to New Hampshire, for those who didn't know. If Hillary runs close, that would signify a near-defeat for Bernie. If Bernie wins big, it's still a race.

 

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

-cw

 

SUBSIDIZING WALL STREET-Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come. 

If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change. 

These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both. 

That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers. 

The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price. For a long time it made sense to provide these very generous subsidies — we all benefit from a robust solar industry. Some of us closest to the economics of solar thought it made more sense to subsidize larger solar installations, which are up to three times more cost-effective than residential solar systems. But broad adoption of solar and renewable power is a goal we must all support. 

But what is happening now is that Wall Street has figured out how to game the system. And what usually happens when Wall Street financiers and speculators get involved is happening now in solar — the rich are being subsidized by the poor. 

Net Energy Metering allows wealthier solar customers to sell the power they produce back to power providers at retail rates. Solar customers might think they are “off the grid,” but their lights still go on at night or when the sun isn’t shining because they are using the electric grid as a giant free battery.

But they don’t pay for it, others do. And “others” are renters and homeowners without the funds to install solar. 

Solar customers are by every measure wealthier and whiter than traditional power customers. That’s because it’s expensive to install rooftop solar (between $12,000 and $40,000, even with the generous tax credits), and because you generally have to own your home in order to install the panels. What’s more, the panels are typically leased to the homeowner by a company like SolarCity. Those companies then bundle the leases and sell them to investors (sound familiar?), and it is not the customer but the investors who receive both the tax credit and the benefit of the Net Energy Metering subsidy associated with the panel. 

Traditional power customers also include CARE customers — low-income families who earn less than 200 percent of the poverty level — who are particularly impacted by this decision. There are nearly 1.5 million CARE families across California, taking home an average of $40,180 a year — and they receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric and natural gas bills. By comparison, there are only 200,000 solar customers, and they earn more than double that amount — about $92,210 each year. 

The CPUC’s proposed ruling would force CARE customers to pick up the tab for the high cost of Net Metering, eating into the discount those families need. That would very plainly divert money intended for low-income customers to Wall Street and wealthier Californians. That’s not right, and the proposed decision has been roundly criticized by ratepayer advocates and others across the state. 

California is moving towards a green energy future, and that’s a positive thing. But we need to be cognizant of how we get there. Forcing low-income people to subsidize Wall Street will only exacerbate the growing income inequality that is gnawing at our communities. 

We need to fight climate change. We need to fight income inequality. We don’t need a subsidy for the wealthiest and Wall Street that makes income inequality in our state worse.

 

(Tom Dalzell is the business manager and financial secretary of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245. This piece was posted earlier at Huffington Post and Capital and Main.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

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JUST SAYIN’--In her speech at the end of the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton said, "I am a progressive who gets things done for people. I am honored to stand in the long line of American reformers who make up our minds that the status quo is not good enough, that standing still is not an option."

That same night Sanders, who rarely uses the word "I" in his speeches, proclaimed, "It is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics. The American people are saying 'no' to a rigged economy. They no longer want to see an economy in which the average American works longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1%." 

While disappointed by the disingenuous Chelsea Clinton proxy attack that claimed a Sanders presidency would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, I've moved quickly past the distractions and histrionics of the political hardball being played against Clinton, as well as Sanders, to draw some conclusions at this stage of the Democratic Presidential Primary.

Small steps to the left by Clinton on key issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership seemingly in response to Sanders' long held positions on this and other issues, is not enough. I am not willing to settle for promises of incremental progress that largely maintain the status quo while the working poor and middle class are locked in the iron grip of economic and environmental inequality, typically carried out by legislators whose campaigns are largely funded by Wall Street. 

Bernie Sanders is running a campaign funded with $75 million coming from small donors; people who are donating $27 on average, under the banner of revolution. This provides a distinct contrast to every other competitive presidential candidate, all of whom are receiving millions of dollars from some combination of super PACs, Corporate America and America's richest 1%.

Income is not equal in the United States, but our voices should and can be a powerful force as the people of Iowa proved in showing that this revolution is real. Not because Sanders is promising that he will do this alone, but because he is calling upon the providence of the American people to stand up for what benefits our country as a whole:


"No president, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody else, will be able to bring about the changes that the working families and the middle class of this country, that our children, that the seniors, our seniors deserve.” Sanders continued, “No one president can do it because the powers that be, Wall Street with their endless supply of money, corporate America, the large campaign donors are so powerful that no president can do what has to be done alone. And that is why -- and that is why what Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution."

This is not a commitment by Sanders to seek incremental progress. It is a promise to fight for fairness as the sword and shield of the American people in the war against inequality.


As Americans, revolution is in our blood going back to our Country's origins. Today we are witnessing a political revolution of the people, by the people and for the people versus establishment money and politics. 

I stand with the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders.

 

(Jason Gardea-Stinnett is the Former Executive Vice President AFSCME District Council 36.)   Photo: CNN. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DRUG POLITICS--For anyone not living in a bubble, or perhaps just so lucky and healthy to have super-duper insurance and/or no health problems, it's pretty obvious that pharmaceutical prices are going up to unsustainable levels.  And if "unsustainable" is the the wrong word, perhaps "infuriating" or "predatory" or "criminal" is a more appropriate description. 

There's a reason or three why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have so many followers--they're angry at former President Bush, they're angry at President Obama, and they're angry at how the average American--in particular, the middle class who are trying to play by the rules and who are both stymied and exhausted at how they're being stiff-armed and shoved into decreased economic mobility. 

Part of this is the increasing cost of pharmaceutical medications, including those that are generic and have been around for decades.  We need them for our health and survival, and their astronomical elevations in cost are both unnecessary and infuriating.  And both dangerous and deadly. 

Yet as with the rising cost of health care, it's easy to blame one part of the problem as the solitary monster to be slain...when what we REALLY are fighting is more akin to a Hydra--that mythological creature with multiple heads, and which, if we cut off one head, two will grow in its place. 

In other words, if address only one part of the problem then we risk not fixing the problem at the least, or making the problem greater as the worst result of our efforts.  

If you want to hate on Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, health plans, pharmaceutical companies, or anyone else that's fine--but naivete won't fix the problem: 

Rrecognizing that health care is (as with our nation) a combination of pragmatic capitalism and socialism is certainly more helpful in confronting our issues. 

1) Part of our pharmaceutical cost-conundrum is caused by capitalism at its worst, but yet not capitalism at its best.  Somehow pharmaceutical companies have manipulated their way into being virtual monopolies, when they should have so much competition that the price for medications--particularly generics--should be plummeting.  

2) Part of our pharmaceutical cost-conundrum is caused by socialism at its worst, but yet not socialism at its best.  Somehow pharmaceutical companies have been granted too much exclusivity in creating medications--including generics--while not being demanded to keep their prices lower each year as their profits are met and their production prices presumably go down. 

Do you get the picture?  When socialists demand price controls, and when capitalists demand more competition, they're both right, and merit a seat at any table where resolution of this problem will occur. 

And if you're only going to demand on one approach, while ignoring the other approach, you're invariably going to make the problem worse. 

Is the FDA too demanding and cost-driving on pharmaceutical companies to make new products, or are they a necessary quality control agency...or both? 

Arguably, the "fix" should start on generic companies that really do little to nothing to create new products, and are raising their prices simply because they can. 

Martin Shkreli is both a repugnant individual (he doesn't merit the title "human being") who will be heard from in Congress, but he's also done us a service by highlighting this crisis with his outrageous price-gouging: 

1) Shkreli is only the worst of the worst, with Turing and Valeant and Mylan Pharmaceuticals being only slightly less predatory than this contemptible individual in what they have done to the pocketbooks, lives, and health of Americans everywhere. 

2) And where the devil was Congress while doctors were screaming about this over the last few years?  They got dragged to the table in addressing this, and either laziness, fear, or lobbyist contributions are probably to blame.  Unfortunately, THIS current President and Congress will likely do very little until after the fall elections to address this, because the "Affordable Care Act" (cute name, huh?) was politically- and not economically-driven. 

The more money gets thrown into health care, the more we'll see pharmaceutical companies--particularly companies who've either manipulated or been granted governmental exclusivity on certain medications--wanting a piece of that money flow...whether they've earned it or not: 

1) Is the government to blame for not enforcing price controls?  Probably--after all, why should the United States pay thrice the cost that Canadians and Europeans pay for the same medications? 

2) Are health plans to blame for not enforcing price controls?  Probably, although their negotiating power and step-therapy plans are their best weapons in demanding lower medication costs.  In other words, perhaps your health plan is just doing its job when you're denied the medication that you and your doctor want.  Unless you LIKE rising deductibles and premiums. 

And premiums and deductibles ARE going up...for everyone. 

1) I doubt that the Vermont plan of taxing physicians for paying for Medicaid will work (LINK: ), because even if you just think doctors are all mega-rich and getting kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies (I am still waiting for mind after almost 25 years in practice) there's the aforementioned Hydra analogy: 

If we smack around doctors, they will invariably stop seeing all patients, and might just leave to another state. Then we'll see how cheap and easy it is to see doctors who still remain. 

And WHY are we so embracing of Medicaid as the new normal?  Some need that, and they're not getting enough, but if YOU don't have a job that helps cover your health plan YOU have a lousy job.  Deal with that.  

And if you're not getting a second or third job to ensure you can pay for appropriate insurance for you and your family, you're either in an environment where you have no ability to achieve economic independence or you're not doing YOUR job.  Deal with that, too.  (I'm a physician, and I have three jobs, by the way) 

2) I also have major concerns about the November initiative that will require drug companies to allow the same low prices to non-veterans as they do with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.   

I don't doubt for a moment the sincerity, good intentions and righteous anger of those promoting this initiative, but while pharmaceutical companies need a good smackdown this is the wrong one.  If they can't afford this low cost for so many, then these companies will jack up their costs for veterans, too...and that helps us all...how? 

Again, remember that Hydra analogy. 

We want innovation from pharmaceutical companies to create new cancer treatments and new antibiotics, but the $1 billion "moonshot" of President Obama is a joke when considering the $2.6 billion needed to create a single drug. 

To conclude, and in short, we need to: 

1) Demand, require, enable, and encourage generic pharmaceutical companies to keep older medications dirt-cheap.  As in $5-15 per refill for older medications, and perhaps $25 for a few per refill. 

2) Support, encourage, and enable brand-name pharmaceutical companies to create and profit from the development and distribution of new and innovative medications. 

Both government and the private sector will need to do its share.  Any other approach is just self-delusion and a prescription for both higher prices and reduced health for the majority of exhausted, hard-working Americans.

 

(Ken Alpern, M.D., is a practicing dermatologist with patients and clinics in L.A., Orange and Riverside Counties.  He is also 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.)

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--There is a reason why most popular gangster movies tell stories of legendary godfathers in the old times, convicted felons serving their sentences in prison, or fictionalized characters. Sean Penn missed that part when publishing his interview with the notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

Penn and Mexican soap-opera star Kate del Castillo didn’t figure it out, but the organized crime in Mexico is not a movie. You don’t interview a fugitive serial killer right when he is planning his next kidnapping and slaughtering, before he goes to jail, without becoming his accomplice . . . unless you are as untouchable as a Hollywood star.

More than 50,000 people have been murdered during the current administration (plus countless non-reported by states completely controlled from the top by the cartels, like Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa or Chihuahua), and more than 120,000 people were killed during the so-called “war on drugs” ordered by former President Felipe Calderon. These people are not extras in a Scorcese’s film.

On November 23, 2011, twelve partially calcined people were found in the trunk of a burning van in the Rosales Neighborhood of Culiacán City, the capital of Sinaloa State. That same day, another burning van in Desarrollo Urbano Tres Ríos was found with four bodies, with the head of one of them thrown to the sidewalk. On that day, “El Chapo” freely conducted his business throughout the country and the entire world. It was a business as usual day for the Sinaloa Cartel. It looked like any other day on another year, like May 2nd, 2012, when twenty-two people were found murdered within less than twelve hours, or June 21st, 2013, when two teenagers were killed, allegedly, because they made fun of the son of a gangster at school.

That’s life and death in a period of time that Sean Penn qualifies as “strictly business”: “’El Chapo’ is a businessman first, and only resorts to violence when he deems it advantageous to himself or his business interests,” he says

The drug lord said so, and he believed it. Sean Penn is “disappointed” of current journalists, but didn’t care to apply their basic rule of fact checking. Had he done so, he would have probably learned that while “El Chapo” was operating freely as a “business man” between 2009 and 2012 there were 330 femicides in Sinaloa, 80% of which remain unsolved. While certainly all these women were not killed personally by “El Chapo” with his bare hands, the rate of femicides in any state where there is organized crime is higher than it is elsewhere.

Drug trafficking is not just about cartels fighting against each other for a better and larger turf. Drug trafficking is an anti-democratic culture of death, extortion, sexism, prostitution, nepotism, tyranny and humiliation permeating the social, political and private life at all levels, everywhere it goes. The obvious territory is that of the military forces, police corps and bribed politicians. Little we know or care about the organized crime inside education, universities and scientific research, for instance, even though the University of Sinaloa often obtains more false credentials, for obvious reasons, and therefore receives more government funding than others where corruption is not the law.

Just because the Mexican Government has become the organized crime at a local, state and federal levels, it doesn’t mean apolitical drug lords should take over the entire country as an alternative to the corruption. Ms. Kate del Castillo doesn’t see it that way though. She referred to the drug lord as a savior, saying that she trusts “more” in him than corrupt politicians. Then she added the advice to start “trafficking with love,” which apparently the drug lord understood as a greenlight to contact her. Two years after her famous Tweeter request, it turned out she was trying to make a Narcos-style Hollywood movie about the drug lord, as confirmed by her own friend, human rights advocate and journalist Lydia Cacho.

Mrs. Lydia Cacho, who has been herself persecuted by corrupt politicians involved in the organized crime, confesses, “Kate told me she was making a movie about ‘El Chapo’.” It is unclear whether Mrs. Lydia Cacho knew about the actor’s alleged money laundering business with the criminal (which is now under investigation), but she is now in contact with Del Castillo and became her spokeswoman. In a recent interview with Univisión’s anchor Jorge Ramos (the Mexican equivalent of Charlie Rose), Lydia Cacho blames the Mexican Secretary of State and Sean Penn for betraying Del Castillo’s “true” and pure intentions, which were no less than the making of a gangster’s movie.

I spoke to one close friend of Mrs. Lydia Cacho, author of “The Eden’s Demons” about pederasty and organized crime in Puebla State. I asked her why this human rights advocate and activist would be willing to risk her longtime earned credibility by unapologetically portraying the soap-opera’s star as a victim. The answer I received is typical of the drug-trafficking world culture, “Because, they are friends, and she was probably going to participate in the movie as an ‘advisor’ or screenwriter.”

Same thing happens to Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was Sean Penn’s protégé when he started working in Hollywood. They are friends. So González Iñárritu supports Penn’s side. He quotes a famous Mexican journalist, Julio Scherer García, who once said he would “go to hell” in order to obtain the opportunity to interview someone, and actually interviewed another drug lord from Sinaloa.

However, Scherer was a journalist. He used to provide a context to the conversation, and never perceived drug lords as his “saviors” like Del Castillo does, or “simple business men.” He was the Founder. Editor of “Proceso,” the prestigious investigative magazine in Mexico. Two of his reporters, longtime journalist Regina Martínez and talented photo-reporter Rubén Espinosa, were murdered by the Veracruz government involved with another powerful Cartel, the “Zetas.”

The state of Veracruz is one of the 10 most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. Quoting the director of a publication that has lost two of its best reporters precisely because they denounced the organized crime is a disservice to journalism.

This is not the first time that González Iñárritu quotes without reading someone though. When he first won a Spirit Award for his movie “21 Grams,” took the stage along with actor Sean Penn, and he spoke in favor of peace, only quoting Peruvian novelist and Nobel Price Mario Vargas Llosa. He simply didn’t know that Vargas Llosa had just been in Irak as an “embedded” reporter for the Spanish newspaper “El País,” supporting Spanish pro-Bush President Aznar portraying the US Marines as the most polite, nicest soldiers — until the Abu Ghraib prisoners’ torture and abuse scandal took place and Vargas Llosa got silent.

As Counterpunch’s article “Hollywood and the CIA” by Ed Rampell notes, cinema can be a very powerful propaganda tool. However, in this case, there is no mastermind twisting the information to support drug cartels, but just plain ignorance – Hollywood and Mexican soap-operas’ greed finally meeting.

In the meantime, real journalists in Mexico continue risking and losing their lives, literally.

The flirtatious text messages Kate del Castillo exchanged with the drug lord arranging a secret meeting and inviting Sean Penn were immediately released by the Mexican Government. However, in the case of the 43 Ayotzinapa kidnapped and disappeared students, their parents have been demanding for more than one year the disclosure of the Mexican Army and the Iguala City Police’s phone exchanges and text messages. There are still no answers for them. They are not so glamorous.

In New York City, Mr. Antonio Tizapa, father of one of the Ayotzinapa students, demands the immediate disclosure and release of any information regarding those phone calls and text messages. “Each one of these students have a cell phone, and the soldiers had cell phones. How come none of their text messages and calls are public?” he asked on a public statement during a rally in front of the Mexican Consulate, on January 26. Some of this information would probably explain what really happened in the Ayotzinapa’s case.

(Malú Huacuja del Toro is a feminist Mexican novelist, playwright and screenwriter with eight fiction published books in Spanish. She wrote the first “anti-soap opera” in Mexico, produced in 1988. She is also an activist for Ayotzinapa and the Zapatista movement. She lives in New York. This piece was posted originally at CounterPunch

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG--The City of Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious, $470 million plan to modernize and expand the Convention Center so that it can compete with other first tier, West Coast cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim in attracting large scale conventions. This undertaking is expected to be completed by 2020 and is designed to promote tourism, one of the main drivers of our economy, and to stimulate the private development of hotels, restaurants, residences, and office and retail space in the South Park neighborhood and the rest of DTLA. 

This expansion will increase the Convention Center offering to almost 1.25 million square feet, up 43% from the current level of 870,000 square feet.  At the same time, the new and improved Convention Center campus is designed to be an integral part of the community, linking seamlessly with the neighborhood, LA Live, and Staples. 

The City will also encourage the development of several thousand new hotel rooms in DTLA to accommodate highly desired, big spending, out of town conventioneers who will not only stimulate our economy, but will also contribute generously to the City’s coffers through the 14% Transit Occupancy Tax on their hotel bill.  

This also includes a privately financed, upscale Convention Headquarters Hotel of at least 1,000 rooms that will be strategically located on City owned property, most likely near Staples and LA Live on the north end of the campus.    

The City intends to finance this $470 million expansion with debt, which, when combined with existing Convention Center debt of almost $300 million, will total a staggering $770 million. This debt will be serviced by the Convention Center’s 25% share of the Transit Occupancy Tax which is expected to yield the Convention Center $54 million this fiscal year.  By 2020, this tax is projected to increase by over 20% to $261.8 million, resulting in $65 million to service Convention Center debt. 

However, our cash strapped City does not have the financial flexibility to finance this expansion and other immediate worthwhile projects, including the $1 billion to replace its aging and neglected equipment (including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances) without blowing a gaping hole in its Debt Management Policy which limits debt service for Non-Voted Indebtedness to less than 6% of General Fund revenues.  This violation would send the wrong message to the investment community, resulting in a downgrading of the City’s credit rating and higher interest rates.  

The City Administrative Officer has recommended that the City enter into a Public Private Partnership (a “P3”) where the City would select a turnkey development partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the expansion of the Convention Center and the development of the surrounding real estate.  Under this recommended alternative, the 44 year old West Hall would be demolished and rebuilt (not retrofitted as currently envisioned).  The partner would also develop 9 to 14 acres of the 54 acre campus by creating “an integrated mixed-use real estate development” that would help to offset the costs of associated with the Convention Center, a loss leader that cannot even begin to pay the interest on $770 million of debt.  Needless to say, any development plans need to be consistent with the Community Plan.  

A P3 also protects the City from any cost overruns associated with the expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of the Headquarters Hotel and isolates it from any operating losses.  The partner is also responsible for maintaining the campus in excellent condition, a task that the City has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing on a sustained basis. 

While the terms of the P3 need to be worked out, including any “availability service payments” by the City to service the debt, the net result will result in more cash for our City’s deficit prone budget by creating a more vibrant Convention Center, more out of town visitors resulting in higher increased Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, and lower contributions to the Convention Center. 

The expansion of the Convention Center in conjunction with a well-capitalized partner is a win-win for our financially challenged City.  Don’t blow it. 

 

(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 Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes “introduced a motion calling for a 2016 ballot measure to reform and restructure” our Department of Water and Power.  

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved a five year, 21% increase in our power rates that were appropriately deemed “just and reasonable” by the Ratepayers Advocate.  This represents a bump of 4% a year, considerably lower than the 8% that was tossed around a year ago. 

But there was no discussion about how DWP Ratepayers would be hit with $150 million in new taxes as a result of the $770 million increase in revenues over the next five years.  Overall, the City’s haul from the Ratepayers is projected to increase to over $800 million, up from the current level of around $650 million. 

There are two taxes on power system revenues, the City Utility Tax and the 8% Transfer Fee. 

The City Utility Tax is equal to 10% of residential revenues and 12½% of commercial revenues with a blended rate of about 11½%.  Based on projected revenues of $4.22 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, this tax will generate around $485 million for our friends that occupy City Hall. 

The 8% Transfer Fee is equal to 8% of the prior year’s revenue and according to DWP’s projections, it is scheduled to increase to $327 million in 2020, up from $266 million last year.  

But this fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit (Eck v. City of Los Angeles) that alleges that this “fee” is a violation of Proposition 26 (The Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act), a ballot measure that was passed by voters of California in November of 2010 that prohibits the collection of “disguised taxes” in the form of fees or rates. 

This issue was addressed in public comment at the Tuesday Board meeting by Walter McNeill, a Redding based attorney who successfully sued the City of Redding and its municipally owned utility in a similar case.  But that was the end of the discussion because the City (and not the Department of Water and Power) is opposing the class action lawsuit. 

But unlike the class action lawsuit involving the Telephone Users Tax (Ardon v. City of Los Angeles) where the City hoodwinked Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue and escaped a billion dollar liability owed to Angelenos for an estimated $25 million plus a very generous $18 million in legal fees, this litigation is higher profile and more clear cut as it concerns easily identifiable payments from DWP to the City and does not directly involve DWP’s 1.4 million Ratepayers. 

If the City were to lose this case, and there is a high likelihood that it will, the revenue stream from the 8% Transfer Tax would come to a screeching halt, blowing an even larger hole in the City’s already unbalanced budget.  Over the next four years, the City’s cumulative deficit will exceed $400 million as a result of the new labor contract with its 20,000 civilian workers.   

The City would also be liable for over $1.5 billion for past transfers.  This would cost the City $150 million a year to service the Judgement Obligation Bond that would be floated to pay this liability.  

Rather than play Russian Roulette with the City’s finances, where there are at least four bullets in the six shooter, the City needs to reach a negotiated settlement with the plaintiffs, the Ratepayers, and the City’s voters that requires the City to reimburse DWP and its Ratepayers, that places a new tax on the ballot to help the City balance its budget and repair its infrastructure, that truly reforms the governance of the DWP, and that requires the City to Live Within its Means. 

Otherwise, the City, true to form, will continue to “kick the can down the road” until the spaghetti and meatballs really hit the fan.

 

(Note: On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes will introduce a motion to the City Council that will have recommendations on how to reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power.  But any reform must include significant input and buy in from the Ratepayers who do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti who view Ratepayers as their dedicated ATM.  See DWP Reform: Set for Yet Another Burial.”)  

 

 

(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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LA WATCHDOG--At its December 10 meeting, the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission unanimously approved the “up zoning” of the Palladium Residences (photo: proposed) to allow the development of two thirty story towers that will house 731 luxury rental apartments.  The doubling of this project’s density will result in additional profits of at least $50 million for Crescent Heights, the Miami based developer. 

This mixed use development will also include a mere 24,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants and also includes improvements to the 63,000 square foot Palladium, the 1940 Art Deco venue located in the heart of Hollywood, one block east of Sunset and Vine. 

The supporters of this $500 million project claim that it will help alleviate the City’s housing crisis.  But the rents in these luxury apartments are not affordable unless you are making north of $100,000 a year.  This is double the City’s median household income of less than $50,000 a year. 

Nor are these apartments family friendly unless there is a household income in excess of $200,000 a year.  

The developer and its bought and paid for supporters in City Hall are touting that 5% of the apartments are being reserved for working class Angelenos who make no more than 120% of the median income. But that will result in a modest decrease in revenues of less than 2%, or $600,000 a year, a small price to pay for at least $50 million in additional profits.  

To put the 5% set aside in perspective, New York City is demanding that 25% of the units in an up zoned building be reserved for affordable housing. 

The Planning Commission was also impressed that this “elegant density” project was in an area served by the Metro Red Line and numerous bus routes.  But most of the residents in these two luxury high rises will not be schlepping to work on the subway or bus, but rather tooling to their offices in high powered BMWs.  

This will lead to increased gridlock at Sunset and Vine and Hollywood and Vine, two of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the City.  And this does not include the impact of Millennium Hollywood and many of the other projects in the surrounding area that will add thousands of new residents and cars to the already stressed street and freeway infrastructure. 

Real estate speculators and developers and their cronies argue that this “up zoned” project is good for the economy.  While that can be argued, the need for high end apartments is questionable as the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department reported that there is a 12% vacancy rate for apartments built in the last ten years.  Furthermore, there are many other development opportunities in Hollywood and throughout the City that will not destroy our neighborhoods, be less stressful on the infrastructure and public safety, and most importantly, provide affordable housing to thousands of hard working Angelenos. 

The Palladium Residences is just another poster child in a long list of developments where City Hall has sold out to campaign funding real estate speculators and developers who could care less about ordinary Angelenos. 

So it is not surprising that former Mayor Richard Riordan has endorsed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would eliminate “spot zoning” of mega projects if it is approved by the voters in November. 

While a recent poll indicated that 72% of the voters approved of the Initiative, Riordan’s game changing endorsement has put City Hall and Mayor Eric Garcetti on the defensive.  As Riordan said, Garcetti “isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer -- through these zoning deals on land development.”

 

(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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

LA WATCHDOG--In April of 2014, the LA 2020 Commission recommended that our City establish the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations our Department of Water and Power, set policy, appoint the General Manager, and set utility rates. 

But City Council President Herb Wesson buried this constructive measure in the bowels of City Hall, never to be discussed again, including by Mayor Eric Garcetti who promised us that he would reform DWP.  

In December of 2015, the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey recommended reforming the governance of DWP to limit the political interference by City Hall in its operations, management, and finances.  But Navigant, the consulting firm that was retained by the Controller, the Mayor, and the Herb Wesson led City Council, did not outline any specific reforms other than to form a “committee to examine governance reforms for the LADWP, with the explicit task of reporting on its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.” 

Unfortunately, this Governance Committee will consist of City Hall insiders, including “representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council Energy & Environment Committee, CAO, CLA, Controller, City Attorney, Office of Public Accountability, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, the general manager of LADWP, and a representative from labor.”  

But who is representing the Ratepayers, the “working slobs” who are paying the bills and being fleeced for over $1 billion a year by City Hall and its cronies? 

While the Governance Committee that consists of City Hall insiders will claim to be working in the best interests of the Ratepayers, rest assured that our Elected Elite will try to game the new system of governance to their advantage at our expense, especially when it comes to using us as an ATM. 

However, Ratepayers need to be an integral part of this process if the findings of the Governance Committee are to have any credibility with Angelenos who do not trust the Department and the hot air know-it-alls at City Hall.  Furthermore, the Governance Committee needs to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner and not behind closed doors as is so often the case at City Hall, especially when it comes to issues involving our wallets. 

Any recommendation by the Governance Committee must also include a requirement that the Department provide Ratepayers with timely information that is consistent with investor owned utilities such as Southern California Edison.  This would include not only financial information and operating statistics, but a comprehensive letter written to Ratepayers discussing the Department’s operations and financials. 

Ratepayers must also insist on transparency on all discussions between City Hall and the Department.  This would require that all conversations and meetings be documented in writing and agreed to by both parties, subject to the penalty of perjury, and be made available to the public on the web within 48 hours.  These “ex parte” rules would also apply to any conversations between City Hall and the IBEW, the Department’s domineering union.  

The Governance Committee needs to allow the DWP to establish its own Personnel Department and rules, freeing it from the City and its overly restrictive civil service regulations that do not give this 9,000 person organization with almost $5 billion in annual revenues the necessary flexibility to operate in an efficient manner. 

The Governance Committee should support a more robust and independent Ratepayers Advocate that has the resources to analyze the operations and finances of the Department on a timely basis to make sure DWP is hitting its operating and financial metrics.  The Ratepayers Advocate must also have the resources to improve its outreach to the Ratepayers and other DWP stakeholders, including those who occupy City Hall. 

The Governance Committee should also consider direct Ratepayer participation.  This would include allowing Ratepayers to vote on any rate increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and/or permitting the Ratepayers to elect the Board of Directors as is the case with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. 

One of City Hall’s major goals would be to legitimize the 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System that is currently the subject of a viable class action lawsuit.  This year, it is expected to be in the range of $275 million.  But rather than agree to continue this less than transparent tax, Ratepayers should approve its gradual phase out over a ten year period. 

Over the next five years, DWP is anticipating spending between $15 and $20 billion transforming the Department.  This includes getting off coal, developing sources of local water, meeting numerous unfunded environmental mandates, and repairing and maintaining its aging water and power infrastructure. 

The key to this successful transition is excellent management that is allowed to operate an efficient, well-funded, flexible organization without undue interference from City Hall. 

We cannot afford to have the politically ambitious duo of Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson bury the reform of our Department of Water and Power in the bowels of City Hall yet again.

(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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

LA WATCHDOG--According to a December 31 Facebook posting by Mayor Eric Garcetti, “2015 was a big year. We laughed together, cried together and worked together to make our city better. Just in time for the New Year, check out this short video we made to celebrate all that Los Angeles has accomplished over the last 12 months. Can't wait to see how we'll outdo ourselves in 2016!” 

But rather than go through the 21 modest accomplishments (see below) presented in “Looking Back at the Past Year in LA,” we should review what was not highlighted in this professionally produced two minute video. 

There was no substantive discussion about our Department of Water and Power and the massive $1.4 billion, 30% increase in our utility rates over the next five years.   

There was no mention of reforming DWP’s chaotic governance despite Garcetti’s 2013 campaign pledge and the recommendations of both the LA 2020 Commission and the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Industrial Survey.  

Nor was our cash strapped City’s budget a topic of conversation even though the City is expected to have a budget deficit of more than $400 million over the next four years.  

Nor was the budget busting new labor contract for the City’s civilian workforce mentioned even though it will add over $125 million in annual costs and roll back pension reform.  It will also make it more difficult for the City to outsource work (such as road repairs) to more efficient, better managed private contractors. 

Nor was the $13.5 billion unfunded pension liability (71% funded) of the City’s two pension plans discussed or that pension contributions are devouring over 20% of the General Fund budget.  

Nor was the state of our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure mentioned.  

But rather than dwelling on 2015, we need a better understanding of what Garcetti is planning for 2016 and beyond.  And this does not mean platitudes and aspirations, but definitive policies and goals so that we can render a judgment on his leadership when he is up for reelection in 2017. 

Will Garcetti pursue the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our City’s strained finances and its budget shenanigans? 

Will Garcetti follow the blue ribbon Commission’s advice to form a Committee for Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?” 

Will Garcetti lead the reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power as was recommended by both the LA 2020 Commission and the Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey? 

Will Garcetti follow up on the LA 2020 Commission’s recommendation to update the City’s Community Plans “to enhance neighborhood input and establish a thoughtful growth strategy?”  

Will Garcetti develop an operational and financial plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our failing infrastructure? 

There are many other issues that need to be addressed, including, but certainly not limited to, balancing the budget without raiding the Reserve Fund, fixing the City’s poorly managed and inefficient work force, updating its management information systems, and funding the Los Angeles River and the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

Eric, Angelenos elected you to lead the City, not to kick the can down the road.  And to judge your leadership, we need results and not a lot of political hot air.  Otherwise, how can you expect us to vote for you when you are up for reelection in March of 2017 or when you run for higher office in 2018?

●●●●●

Looking Back at the Past Year in LA

 

1.  Mayor Garcetti signs LA’s first-ever Sustainability City pLAn.

 

2.  Angelenos work together to Save a Drop and conserve water.

 

3.  Shadeballs help conserve and preserve water quality in our reservoirs.

 

4.  CicLAvia turns 5.

 

5.  LA commits to acquiring the largest Electric Vehicle Fleet in the country.

 

6.  The US Army Corps of Engineers signs off on a plan to restore the Los Angeles River.

 

7.  Los Angeles hosts first-ever US-China Climate Leaders Summit.

 

8.  Mayor Garcetti represents Angelenos and Climate Mayors at UN Climate Conference in Paris.

 

9.  Los Angeles becomes the host city for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

 

10. Los Angeles becomes the official US bid City to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

 

11. Mayor Garcetti signs historic minimum wage increase into law.

 

12. An $8.5 billion modernization and a record number of passengers at LAX.

 

13. California new Film Tax generates an estimated $1.07 billion in economic activity.

 

14. LA makes new investments in smart infrastructure, including ultra-high speed internet, smart poles, and solar powered small benches and bus stops.

 

15. City and County leaders begin an unprecedented collaboration to combat homelessness in Los Angeles.

 

16. #HomesforHeroes helps house homeless veterans and their families.

 

17. Mayor Garcetti signs a groundbreaking seismic retrofit bill into law.

 

18. Los Angeles prepares for El Nino.

 

19. LA first responders adopt new tactics to reduce emergency response time.

 

20. Metro’s Silver Line Express expands to San Pedro.

 

21. Construction on the new Crenshaw line and expansion of Metro’s Gold and Expo lines will transform LA’s transportation network in the coming year.

 

(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

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 2

Pub: Jan 5, 2016

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