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Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait (photo above) created the “City of Kindness” initiative. The goal is as simple as the initiative’s title: people should be kind to each other, because, as Mayor Tait asks: “Who wouldn’t want to live in a city of kindness?”

While for the past 5 ½ years Mayor Tait has been trying to instill kindness as a core value of his city, others on his Council seem to be installing a completely different set of values. Now I don’t know for certain if kindness and greed are completely mutually exclusive, but I would tend to think so.

And so last night, the Anaheim City Council was faced with a decision about whether to give hundreds of millions of tax money to well-heeled developers. Call me Nostradamus, as I predicted the outcome a couple of weeks ago: the corporate giveaway passed, with Mayor Tait and Councilmember James Vanderbilt opposing corporate greed, all to no avail against a Council majority which has itself gotten generous campaign support from the putative beneficiaries of this bounty.

Oh, sure, this could lead to a prolonged discussion about the pernicious role of money within our political system. We could discuss Citizens United and Buckley v Valeo. We could discourse on how there is nothing close to a level playing field within our system and how in a true democracy, the best idea wins the day, not the hack with the biggest megaphone. In fact, “fairness” and “decency” are values which would seem to be more closely related to “kindness,” so we might discuss how if life oftentimes is not fair, it is our duty, our mission, as kind and decent people to try to do whatever we can to make it so. This, at least, is how I envision the Dalai Lama as addressing the issue.

But rather than philosophizing, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of hotel taxes, along with the rationale for taxpayer subsidies of private businesses. A “bed tax,” also known as “Transient Occupancy Tax” or TOT is a tax added to the price of a hotel room. In California, it’s generally seen as a tax which is very beneficial to cities. It’s a tax which generally goes to directly fund municipal services and seems to be one of the few taxes which cannot be plundered by the state government of California. And it’s a tax which is not paid directly by the businesses, i.e. the hotels directly, but which is paid by the hotel guests.

In Beverly Hills, our standard TOT is 14%, with newer hotels such as the Montage or the Waldorf Astoria, which is scheduled to open next year, paying an additional 5%. TOT is a significant source of income to Beverly Hills, providing roughly 25% of our General Fund revenue.

Similarly, TOT is an important source of municipal revenue in Anaheim. On May 15, Anaheim mayor pro tem, Lucille Kring, wrote an op-ed entitled, “When hotels come, Anaheim’s residents benefit.” Well, at least some of Kring’s council majority colleagues seem to benefit, as they have - unsurprisingly - gotten significant campaign donations from the prospective beneficiaries of the corporate giveaway. Ah, yes: money in politics. Citizens United. Buckley v. Valeo. Back to square one...

Writes Kring: “Revenue from hotels makes up the largest part of our general fund, Anaheim’s main funding source for public safety and community services.”

And yet if the state government suddenly told Anaheim that it was going to take 70% of the TOT, my guess is that the Council majority would be up in arms. How strange, then, that they are willing to give away 70% of the hotel revenue to developers. Ceding the money to the state treasury - in theory, at least - would presumably have some public benefit in mind; a corporate giveaway only benefits company executives and shareholders.

Kring’s justification for the largesse is as follows:

The notion that the hotel program is “giving away” revenue that could go to city services fails a simple test: You can’t give away what you don’t have.

Giving away something the city doesn’t have? She voted last night to approve an agreement which will give the city of Anaheim only pennies on the dollar of something she doesn’t have. The developer doesn’t have the money either. It comes from the hotel guests and is a way to help fund city services which also benefit the developer and its guests. Rebating such a tax is very different from lowering tax rates to remain competitive, since the tax is being paid by the hotel guest, not the corporation.

Of course, there’s also an unfortunate disconnect from reality in the sentence, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Cities throughout California are doing it all the time, including Anaheim. Just look at the unfunded liability of cities throughout the state. Just look at Anaheim’s. It’s $568 Million - and growing day by day. We municipalities and governmental agencies are giving it away today like it’s going out of style and until we institute sensible pension reform which creates fair and sustainable public employee salaries and benefits, we should never, ever utter the words, “You can’t give away what you don’t have” without having a scarlet “H” for “Hypocrisy” painted on our chests.

Another “justification” for the corporate giveaway, which Mayor Tait estimates at a shocking and staggering $600 Million, i.e. greater than the city’s entire unfunded liability, is that Anaheim needs to be able to compete with other cities. Writes Kring:

Anaheim isn’t playing on a level playing field with other cities offering far more generous incentives.

I guess Mayor pro tem Kring never heard the same sage advice I got from my mother: “Just because everyone else jumps off a bridge, doesn’t mean you have to.”

For the record, Beverly Hills offers no fiscal incentives to hotel developers. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Bupkes. In fact, if we exercise any discretion in approving a hotel, we generally execute a development agreement, which provides for public benefits above and beyond the TOT.

Because here’s the thing: tax rebates are not the only factor which determines where developers want to build luxury hotels. As everyone who is in real estate knows, the critical factor is: location, location, location. And Anaheim has that in spades. And the residents of Anaheim deserve to share in the success their city has helped to create. In short, a new Disneyland luxury hotel will not - cannot - be built somewhere else if Anaheim decides it is unwilling to play the corporate welfare game because it can use the revenue generated by TOT more than the developer.

No, Ms. Kring, the Disneyland Ultra Luxury Resort Hotel will not move to Tustin. Not going to happen. In fact, “The Disneyland Ultra Luxury Resort Hotel of Tustin” sounds even more off the wall than “The LA Angels of Anaheim.” Have a little more faith in your own city, some civic pride and some common sense about why Anaheim locations are so attractive for hotels of all price ranges, including luxury hotels. And, trust me, your city can use the tax money which comes out of the pockets of the hotel guests far more than the developers.

Tom Tait’s vision of Anaheim is as a “city of kindness,” a city of decency and a city of fairness. A city which focuses on quality of life, which attempts to make itself more livable and which understands that it takes more than bureaucracy to make a house a home. A city which puts its residents first.

Other councilmembers in Anaheim clearly believe in a different kind of city: a city in which Machiavellian corporate interests rule the day and the residents need to content themselves with the scraps and breadcrumbs dusted off the corporate table; a city in which the meaning of the Golden Rule is (as was made famous in “The Wizard of Id” comic strip): “whoever has the gold makes the rules.”

A city of kindness or a city of greed...

I’ll take Mayor Tait’s vision — which I share for my own City — any day of the week.

(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

MY TURN-Lately, I've pretty much stayed away from writing about Neighborhood Councils. My CW colleague Tony Butka seems to have that handled. I don't agree with many of his statements but why beat a dead horse? 

When I started writing for CW three years ago, Neighborhood Councils were my beat. I loved the idea of what they could do. One of LA's most hardworking volunteers introduced me to my own NC which, to be honest, didn't do much -- but it also stayed out of trouble. It was fortunate that the neighborhood it represented was fairly quiet. The Board members, especially the executive committee, treated their NC like a private gentlemen's club, putting in minimum activity and effort. 

I was recruited to do outreach (there was no outreach committee at that time) and I am sure they have regretted that decision many times over. I didn't even know what an NC was before joining and I had lived in my neighborhood for almost twenty years -- proof that they kept a very low profile for their ten years in existence. Within two years, we had recruited some terrific new people, added new committees and pretty much worked with all of the NCs in our region. Everyone in the Southwest Valley knew who we were. 

I saw firsthand what some dedicated folks who weren't afraid to put in the time and do some actual work could do for a neighborhood. It was exhilarating. Unfortunately, the old guard, who’d been running things since the NCs inception, finally energized themselves and defeated us in the next election. We had a great turnout though and walked away proud of what we had accomplished. 

In my first few months writing for CityWatch, I wrote a series of articles entitled, "Is BONC BUNK?" It was an analysis of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners that “oversees” the NCs citywide with some suggestions concerning how it could help make the system stronger. I was much kinder in those days so I left it up to you readers to decide. 

Now I can answer my own question truthfully: YES...BONC is indeed BUNK. The question floating around is: Does the NC system need the BONC to function? It has very little power and that was probably done deliberately. The founders assured me that its description was kept very generic in the City Charter so that it could evolve.

Not only is BONC getting hit but the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the city department that manages the day-to-day operations of the NC system, is also getting beaten up. Grayce Liu, DONE’s General Manager, has an impossible job. She has a third of the staff she needs to handle the 96 NCs and gets more lip service than help from the Mayor and City Council. 

It was thought when Council President Herb Wesson brought the NCs under his rules committee that things would improve. On the surface they did for a while. But the Council President isn't termed out until next year so he has no need to give the NCs much attention right now. 

In the last few months we have seen an exodus of Commissioners. The first one to leave was Karen Mack, who was President for two or three years. Previously, she served on the Commission representing Mid-City, and was known primarily for falling asleep during BONC meetings. Her life away from BONC was far more productive -- working for non-profit organizations. She is also politically well-connected through her family. 

When she became President she no longer slept through the meetings. But from what I saw, she showed very little enthusiasm, creativity or leadership. She and Commission Vice President Leonard Shaffer, who represents the South San Fernando Valley, devoted more time to consultations with the City Attorneys who attended the meetings than to finding ways to make the Neighborhood Council System better. 

After Karen Mack left, the South Bay/San Pedro Commissioner Victor Lopez got fed up with all the bickering in the various NCs in his area and resigned. In May, Olivia Rubio, who represented East Los Angeles, tendered her resignation. She was the quiet Commissioner who never really made waves and seemed to be more absent than present at meetings. 

The final blow -- at least for me -- was the unexpected resignation of Commissioner Lydia Grant, (photo above, center) the North San Fernando Valley Representative. This occurred at the most recent BONC meeting on Monday. 

Lydia was the spark plug, the instigator on the Board. To say that the City Attorneys probably did a happy dance on Monday night is an understatement. While President Len Shaffer seems to believe that the BONC’s primary duty is to make City Hall happy, Lydia questioned almost everything. She was there to serve her stakeholders and made a point of visiting all of the NCs in her area during the month. She also spent time with other neighborhood councils whose representatives were not so committed. 

I always wanted to clone Lydia. I may not have agreed with everything she said or proposed, but I saw her as an ideal volunteer -- prepared to give her nights, weekends and hours of phone time trying to make her eighteen NCs function better. I don't blame her for quitting. However, the NC system has lost one of its most powerful supporters. 

For a while, I attended many BONC meetings – but none lately. It was like watching paint dry. Nothing significant got accomplished because the City Attorneys assigned to meetings always had a reason why the Board couldn't do something. They went to great lengths to stop things because they were so afraid of lawsuits against the City. 

Two years ago, when there were several new Commissioners, I had high hopes for change. It started with a "retreat" that generated some really good suggestions. In the last two years, though, those new Commissioners became so beaten down by both the City Attorneys and the Board President that they gradually lost interest. I can't say I blame them. 

Chairman Len Shaffer, who the Mayor's office appointed President for a second term, is a nice man who means well. The problem is he’s been seduced by the trappings of titles. He is still President of his low performing NC. I don’t see how he can handle both jobs effectively -- as well as his "day business." 

NCs should have term limits. That is the only way they can prosper. 

I did a little research on the importance of volunteers. California rates 36th in volunteer involvement. The state with the most volunteers, not surprisingly, is Utah. 

Here are some interesting stats from 2014 about our metropolitan area, which includes Long Beach and Santa Ana. Volunteers are defined as persons who do unpaid work (except for expenses) through or for an organization. 

  • 20.6% of residents volunteer, ranking them 45th among the 51 largest MSAs.
  • 1.0 million volunteers.
  • 26.5 volunteer hours per capita.
  • 283.2 million hours of service.
  • $3.0 billion of service contributed.
  • 41.9% of residents donate $25 or more to charity. 

Civic Life in America (2013 data): 

  • 84.4% frequently talk with neighbors.
  • 27.4% of residents participate in groups and/or organizations.
  • 58.1% of residents engage in "informal volunteering" (for example, doing favors for neighbors.)

Statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014 showed volunteering at a 10-year low. 

According to the BLS, the volunteer rate declined by 1.1 percent to 25.4 percent of the population for the year ending in September 2013. Approximately 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013. 

There are 1700 Angelenos serving on Neighborhood Council boards. Some of them have served on the same Board for at least ten years, and, even though times have changed...they haven't. 

Serving on an NC tends to become more like belonging to a private social club, with outsiders made to feel unwelcome. Some volunteers are perpetual whiners who find fault with everything. Some are power happy and have delusions of grandeur. There are quite a few NIMBY representatives who don't want any change at all. However, the majority are decent hard working people who care about their neighborhoods. They care about their neighbors, too. And they care about this City. 

I found this gem in my research that accurately describes the impact of volunteers: 

"Try this little exercise: imagine if one day, all volunteers simply didn't show up? What would our cities, towns, state/provincial parks, schools, places of worship, and libraries look like? What basic needs would go unmet? What opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive as a society would be lost? The truth is you likely cross paths with a volunteer at least once if not several times a day, no matter where you are in the world." 

Perhaps Cindy Cleghorn, Chair of the annual LA Neighborhood Congress should have a workshop on "the care and feeding of volunteers." In business we know that it is more profitable to keep an old customer than to constantly sell to new ones. We can recruit well...but keeping NC volunteers motivated and appreciated is another story. 

As always comments 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.)

PERSPECTIVE-The Los Angeles Times reported that CALPERS incurred its worst rate of return since 2009. 

One year does not make or break the pension fund. Two years of low returns in a row hurt, but alone are not enough to register as a crisis. 

What is telling is the average rate over the last 10-20 years has fallen well below the assumed rate of return of 7.5%, which is a major factor in determining the long-term funding of the retirement plan. 

The rates reported were as follows:

7.03% over the last 20 years.

Less than 6% over 10-15 years. (Bloomberg reported 5.1% over the last 10 years)  

LACERS has not published its updated rates yet, but almost all would expect a similar set of results. The fund was in negative territory for the year as of March 2016, which will drag down the average rates over the 10-20 year period. LACERS’ 20 year return will probably be treading close to the 7.5% earnings assumption, while those for the 10-15 year range will miss the mark by a significant margin. That range was already well below the assumed rate as of last fiscal year. 

What’s so special about the 10-20 year range? 

It is what I refer to as the relevant range

Think of it like comparing baseball players from different eras. Hard to decide who was the greater slugger – Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron – because they played under markedly different conditions and levels of competition. 

Comparing investment returns rooted in the years prior to 20-30 years ago is like going through a time warp. The world economy has changed drastically since then due to globalization. As I pointed out in an article several years ago, the United States is no longer the lone 800-pound gorilla in the market. As competition has increased, so has investment risk. 

Relying on more recent returns as a predictive gauge has even greater risk, since one extraordinary year will skew the results. 

Assuming a rate much beyond a very conservative level is playing with fire in an age where markets whipsaw in response to both rational and irrational reasons. Public employee pension managers are under pressure to hit artificially high rate assumptions that they willfully incur more pronounced risks.

Bad timing can kill you. It could also deliver one-off major gains, but who wants to take a Las Vegas approach to investing funds underlying a guaranteed payout? 

Public retirement funds are probably not going to collapse. Instead, they will require higher contributions to assure retiree benefits are covered. 

The additional cash will have to come from either greater employee contributions and/or the taxpayers. In case you haven’t noticed, the ballots are always filled with tax measures, utility rates are tracking upwards and the costs of government services has steadily increased. We do not need another bill to pay. 

In a city like Los Angeles, where the taxpayer contributions have grown from 10% of the general fund to 20% in ten years, the ability to provide basic services will diminish. 

It’s what I have repeatedly referred to as virtual bankruptcy, a slow and painful path for the public.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

SECOND UNIT ALERT!--The City Council is poised to adopt an ordinance that would instantly double the potential density of every single-family residential neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles. The ordinance will give all property owners the ability to build “by right” a second house on their property of up to 1,200 square feet (equal to the size of many homes in Los Angeles) without any discretionary review. Of course, both the primary residence and the second unit houses can be rented. Overnight, every property zoned for one dwelling unit would be upzoned to permit two dwelling units. Amazingly, the City Council has reached this precipice with virtually no public input and with no CEQA analysis. (Photo above: illegal rental unit in Los Angeles.)

This impending decision poses two important questions for individual Council members: Will the City Council put the interests of a few hundred active second dwelling developers ahead of the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have invested in and treasure the character of their single-family neighborhoods? And will the City Council make Los Angeles the first city in California to voluntarily surrender zoning authority over second dwelling development standards and subject itself to the State legislature’s control of those standards? 

How did the City Council arrive at this brink? As is often the case at City Hall, it’s a combination of factors: spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, the Planning Department’s determination to shoehorn rental units into single-family neighborhoods, a strategic decision to “fast track” the process to avoid public participation, the failure of City Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to ask serious questions and the “group think” that often afflicts City Hall.

In order to understand the City Council’s impending decision, it is important to review the tortuous history of the City’s regulation of second dwelling units (SDUs):

The City Adopts A Balanced Approach to SDUs--Over 30 years ago, the City adopted a so-called “granny flat” ordinance (LAMC 12.24.W.43 and 12.24.W.44), which limited the floor area of an SDU to 640 square feet required compliance with height, setback and other requirements in the underlying zone, established constraints on a second unit’s visibility from the street, set a minimum lot size, mandated additional on-site parking and required a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The purpose was to balance the desire for SDUs to house a family’s grown children, guests, or elderly parents with reasonable development standards and a CUP process to protect against possible adverse effects on the character of a single-family neighborhood. SDUs were prohibited in designated Hillside areas, equine-keeping areas and on substandard streets due to potential traffic congestion, parking problems and fire hazards. 

The City Conforms to AB 1866’s Ministerial Processing Requirements--In 2002, the State legislature adopted AB 1866, which sought to encourage SDUs as a source of affordable rental housing. AB 1866 honored local control and recognized the continuing power of all California cities to establish and enforce their own development standards for SDUs. While AB 1866 prohibited cities from using discretionary CUP procedures and standards to review SDU applications, it made clear that cities were not required to amend their ordinances to rescind CUP requirements or discretionary factors. 

Instead, cities could simply ignore those provisions and apply their development standards ministerially -- i.e., without public hearings and without any discretion to deny or mitigate second units and their impacts. If a City failed to adopt its own standards, then it would default to the more lenient State standards - the SDU could be up to 1,200 square feet in area, could be located in the back yard or front yard so long as existing zoning code requirements were met. AB 1866 also mandates that the SDU can be rented.

In 2003, then Chief Zoning Administrator Robert Janovici issued an administrative memorandum confirming that, in order to comply with AB 1866, the Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) would ministerially grant building permits for SDUs that satisfy the City’s previously adopted second unit development standards. 

The City’s Neighborhoods Reject Weakening Its SDU Standards--In 2009, the City Council asked the Planning Department to study whether the Zoning Code should be changed to weaken standards for SDUs. The Planning Department conducted extensive outreach to the City’s Neighborhood Councils and neighborhood associations. At hearings and workshops across the City, neighborhood representatives adamantly insisted that the City’s development standards should not be loosened. Then Planning Director Gail Goldberg advised the City Council that there was no support for changing the City’s standards for SDUs. 

The City Attorney Gets It Wrong The First Time --In 2010, the City Attorney issued a surprising and incorrect legal opinion: that the City supposedly needed to formally amend its second unit ordinance to delete the discretionary CUP factors and the 2003 Janovici memorandum was legally insufficient to do this. Then-Chief Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande dutifully complied, issuing a new directive (the now infamous ZA Memo 120) decreeing that the Planning Department and LADBS must implement the State’s lenient standards, which included approving any SDU up to 1,200 square feet. The City blindly followed the City Attorney’s bad advice and discarded its carefully developed second unit development standards.

With the post-recession housing recovery going into full swing, savvy Los Angeles developers realized that they could now purchase a single-family house as a rental property and, thanks to ZA Memo 120, receive a bonus: they could build and rent a 1,200 square foot second unit “by right” without any discretionary review! This windfall made speculation in single-family neighborhoods even more profitable: the developer could virtually double the rental income from a property by making a modest investment to build a second dwelling. The investor could now develop, on a “by right” basis, a multifamily rental property smack in the middle of what had been an owner-occupied, single-family neighborhood.

A Neighborhood Fights Back and the Court Agrees--When a property owner began constructing an oversized SDU on street frontage in Cheviot Hills in 2014, outraged neighbors formed an organization called Los Angeles Neighbors in Action, and sued the City to challenge the validity of ZA Memo 120. 

In February 2016, the Superior Court agreed with the neighborhood and concluded that ZA Memo 120 was invalid. The Court ruled that the City Attorney was wrong when he concluded that the City must use the State default standards supposedly because the City’s ordinance had not been formally amended to delete the discretionary CUP provisions. 

The Court also found that AB 1866 allows the City to continue to use its more stringent standards on a ministerial basis. The Court ordered the City to cease issuing building permits in reliance on ZA Memo 120 and to continue administering its existing development standards (i.e., a maximum 640 square feet and other development standards) on a ministerial basis until it takes further action to comply with AB 1866.

The Court also explained that the City has at least three choices to comply with its ruling. First, it can amend its existing ordinance to formally delete the discretionary CUP requirements and other discretionary factors. Second, by administrative memorandum, it can “sever” the discretionary aspects from the ordinance and apply the City development standards ministerially; i.e., it simply could reissue the 2003 Janovici memo. Finally, the City Council can repeal its SDU ordinance and default to the lenient State standards. 

At this point, one might think that the City would want keep its own second unit development standards in place, if only to respect the desires of its neighborhoods that would be negatively affected by more SDUs. But never underestimate the power of bad legal advice in a City Hall that fails to ask tough questions. 

The City Attorney Gets it Wrong – Again-- In a second instance of spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, coupled this time with bad policy recommendations from the Planning Department, City Hall determined that, after the Court rulings, the only “feasible” option available to the City would be to repeal the City’s SDU ordinance entirely, thereby subjecting the City to the State's lenient standards -- and potentially doubling the density of the City’s single family neighborhoods overnight!

Following closed door briefings of the City Council by the City Attorney, the Planning Department produced an ordinance in record time proposing to repeal its SDU standards and default to the State standards – becoming the only city in California ever to voluntarily abandon its right to set its own SDU development standards and surrender control to the State legislature. Of course, this means that if the State legislature loosens its default SDU standards further – say increasing the maximum area to 1,500 square feet or eliminating all off-street parking requirements – the relaxed standards will automatically apply throughout Los Angeles.   

Shortly after the Court issued its ruling, LADBS put a hold on the hundreds of building permit applications in plan check. Astonishingly, LADBS even put a hold on SDU projects that fully satisfied the City’s existing development standards. 

The City Attorney and the Planning Department Create a “Crisis” to Exploit-- Recognizing the adage that “You should never let a serious crisis go to waste,” the Planning Department and the City Attorney have created a crisis promoting the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Their explanation? Several hundred property owners and real estate investors who have SDUs in plan check or under construction must be grandfathered immediately to protect their interests! 

The Planning Department packaged the repeal of the City’s SDU ordinance with the grandfathering of the pending projects as a single “urgency” ordinance and put it on the “fast track” to City Council approval. Amazingly, the City Attorney and Planning Department have never offered a legal justification or other reason why the repeal ordinance must be considered on an expedited basis, even if the stranded SDU projects deserve an “urgency” ordinance. 

Not surprisingly, there is no legal justification for treating the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Of course, due to the Planning Department’s “fast track” approach, few Neighborhood Councils or neighborhood associations have had adequate time to learn about or voice their opinions on the proposed repeal. 

What about the other two clear options offered by the Court in its decision? To the first option -- simply amending the City’s SDU ordinance to remove the CUP requirement and delete other discretionary factors -- the Planning Department fabricated an excuse that to do so would supposedly require public outreach and take a year or two, even though the amendment could be easily drafted and processed as quickly as the repeal ordinance. 

To the second option -- simply reissuing the 2003 Janovici interpretation -- the Planning Department has pronounced an even weaker reply: the interpretation would somehow be inconsistent with the City’s Housing Element, despite the fact that the Housing Element does not require implementation of the State’s lenient standards. 

By tying the repeal ordinance to the grandfathering provisions, the Planning Department has also activated a small but very vocal group to advocate for the repeal of the SDU ordinance: the several hundred homeowners and developers with SDU projects halted by LADBS. In no time, these homeowners and investors began calling Councilmembers demanding that the repeal of the SDU ordinances be expedited so that their projects can move forward!           

The City Planning Commission and the PLUM Committee Blindly Follow--Things moved quickly from there. In what amounts to lightning speed for City Hall, the Planning Department produced a staff report and “urgent” repeal ordinance ready for the City Planning Commission on May 12, 2016. Despite the strong objections of the few homeowners associations that had become aware of the situation, the Planning Commissioners failed to ask any hard questions to keep the Planning Department honest and meekly followed the Department’s conclusion that there is no other option to repealing the SDU ordinance.

On June 7, 2016, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee also deferred to the incorrect advice of the Planning Department and City Attorney. To their credit, Councilmembers David Ryu and Nury Martinez presented testimony at the PLUM Committee hearing contending that the City should not abandon its residential neighborhoods and repeal its SDU ordinance. Both Councilmembers followed with letters formally opposing the repeal ordinance. Nevertheless, the PLUM Committee asked the City Attorney to produce a final repeal ordinance for City Council action. 

Three weeks later, without any further public testimony or discussion, the PLUM Committee recommended approval of the repeal ordinance.

With the PLUM Committee approval, the final ordinance is teed up and ready for final City Council action as it reconvenes after its summer recess. This could be as soon as the last week in July or the first week in August. 

The City Council Prepares to Make a Decision as Major Concerns Persist--The full City Council has not yet focused on the ramifications of its decision. There is still time for the Council to take a deep breath and then take a hard look at how the City Attorney and Planning Department have painted it into this corner. After numerous twists and turns, we have reached the final scene in this drama. Of course, the City Council can follow one of the other Court-recognized options to keep its SDU protections in place.

The following fascinating questions are presented:

  • Will the City’s homeowners, neighborhood associations and Neighborhood Councils be able to make their voices heard? 
  • Will Councilmembers question the advice of the City Attorney and Planning Department that no option other than repeal is “feasible”? Will the City Council decide to pursue another option to maintain its SDU protections? 
  • Will Councilmembers question the Planning Department’s policy objective to promote the development of large SDUs on a “one size fits all” approach throughout Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods? 
  • Will the Councilmembers who represent Hillside areas realize that these neighborhoods will have no further meaningful protection from SDUs? 

The last 10 years have been hard on Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods. First, the recession crushed housing prices and led to tens of thousands of foreclosures and homes converted to rental properties. The recession caused the City to reduce services to its single-family neighborhoods, as tree trimming, sidewalk replacement, road repaving and street sweeping became a thing of the past. Next came the density bonus for affordable housing, mansionization and the assault of Airbnb and other short-term rentals on otherwise quiet owner-occupied, single family neighborhoods.

The Planning Department’s current effort to promote rental housing in single-family neighborhoods, abetted by terrible ongoing advice from the City Attorney, leaves one wondering whether the City Council even understands the ramifications of its decisions, much less whether it really listens to or cares about its single-family neighborhoods.

But it is not too late for the City Council to step away from the brink. The Council can easily reject the Department’s proposed repeal ordinance and act to protect our single-family neighborhoods. For example, the Council can simply amend the SDU ordinance to keep the current protective standards while removing the discretionary CUP elements. Alternatively, the Council can decouple the grandfathering provisions to protect the reliance interests of property owners whose SDUs were stopped by LADBS and issue a new administrative memorandum that applies the existing SDU protections ministerially. 

Anyone who cares about their neighborhood should call or email their Councilmember immediately to stop the repeal ordinance!

(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He also co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

KPCC SHORT LIST-Boyle Heights artist Lilia Ramirez is looking for a new place to live. The house she's rented for the past 8 years has been sold. It will soon be demolished to make way for a brand new housing complex. The search for a new apartment has been tough. If Ramirez wants to stay in Boyle Heights, it's going to cost her. 

“Even here, the prices are being hiked up,” Ramirez said. “It’s been difficult, and we haven’t found anything that we really could realistically afford.” 

Ramirez is one of many in Boyle Heights who is getting priced out of the neighborhood. Investors are scooping up property.  New is replacing old. And typically, when a property changes hands, renters are on the losing side, given the bad news that they must move out. 

KPCC wants to document displacement and track how Boyle Heights residents are resisting it. We invite our audience to tell us where they see rising rents, "going out of business" signs, and rallies to keep a beloved building. 

The local Mexican restaurant Carnitas Michoacan is preparing to close its doors after 33 years. A shiny new Panda Express will be moving in. Not far from there, activists are trying to save a beloved community garden. Its 15-year lease with White Memorial Hospital ended in January. 

"Sometimes you can't really stop it," Ramirez said. "We could protest. We could speak our mind. We could write about it, get some press on it, but ultimately at the end of the day, if you have the money ... it's profit before people, unfortunately." 

There is little data available to pinpoint just how high rents are climbing in this pocket of Los Angeles, long known for being one of the more affordable areas. Crystal Chen, who tracks LA rents for the website Zumper told KPCC that the median price of a two-bedroom apartment in Boyle Heights is now $1450 a month, a 12 percent increase over the prior year. 

Much of the city is experiencing rising rents. But residents in Boyle Heights have long had an expectation of affordability. Many of the homes are protected by LA's rent control ordinance, which prevents landlords from raising the rent more than three percent each year. Because of rent control, Boyle Heights residents tend to stay put. If they decide to move, the landlord can hike the price up to the going market rate. Neighbors have been shocked by those prices. 

For example, resident Elvira Barrales told KPCC she pays a little less than $600 a month for her studio apartment, where she’s lived for the past 16 years. When a similar unit opened up in her building, it was advertised online for $1,100. 

Property in this historically working-class immigrant community has become more desirable for a number of reasons. The most obvious: Boyle Heights is just across the river from downtown LA. Apartments in downtown can rent for more than $3000 a month there. Comparatively, Boyle Heights is a bargain. 

The longtime residents also have a long history of fighting for their neighborhood. Residents show up to public hearings. They ban together. The products of their efforts are quite obvious: a new playground in Hollenbeck Park, improved schools, safer streets. Then there are the young entrepreneurs, some who grew up in Boyle Heights and came back to invest, opening shops, cafes and bars.  

Those improvements have collectively made the area more attractive to outsiders. Recently, the neighborhood has seen art galleries pop up – not surprising, considering that downtown's Arts District is a stone's throw away. But art galleries are a surefire indication that change is afoot. Boyle Heights activists have seen what has happened in cities like New York and San Francisco -- and even in neighborhoods closer by, like Highland Park and Venice. After the art galleries come in, more upscale stores and restaurants follow, and with it, rents shoot up. 

They're not waiting around for it to happen in their neighborhood. 

"It's not that I'm saying that this is the panacea, that everything is fine in [Boyle Heights]," local restaurant owner Carlos Ortez told KPCC. "But when something is being touched that belongs to the community, everybody reacts to it." 

Community groups are actively fighting changes in the neighborhood. They have protested the art galleries and marched to protect a local garden.  

They've also fought new housing that threatened to displace older residents. But the question remains: how long will they be able to keep holding off the tides of gentrification?

 

(KPCC’s “The Short List” appears online. Credited writers and editors are Kellie Galentine, Elizabeth Munoz and Carla Javier.) Photo credit: Photo: Martha Daniel/KPCC. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Sometimes it is necessary to be as frank as possible to communicate a point, and this is such a time. It is hard to find anything like a legislative threat to someone’s business model to bring out his or her inner-scoundrel. In this case, it is real estate speculators who have generated a spirited, but thoroughly bogus defense of their construction of McMansions and their close relative, high rise luxury apartment buildings. 

In both cases the geese that lay their golden eggs are threatened by public opposition that is pressuring City Hall. And in both cases, the speculators have responded to public opposition with a torrent of lies to maintain their private gain at the public’s expense. 

Top Three Lies of the Mansionizers--Since the lies of the mansionizers – investors, contractors, realtors, architects, and a few bamboozled residents who support the construction of McMansions – were resurrected last week at the City Planning Commission’s public hearing on amendments to the Baseline and Hillside Mansionization Ordinances, let’s start there. If you are a regular CityWatch reader, then my apologies for dredging these whoppers up from the muck. 

Lie #1. No one can tell me what to do with my property--Sorry, Charlie, but the U.S. Supreme Court approved zoning as part of the police power of local government nearly a century ago. Cities have a total right to control land use through zoning and planning, and their purpose is to find a reasonable balance among all property owners and residents when it comes to the use of land. This means that no one can do whatever they want with their property. 

Lie #2. Opponents of mansionization are opposed to progress--There is nothing modern or advanced about plopping expensive, over-sized, boxy, energy intensive, automobile-oriented McMansions into existing residential neighborhoods. If they should be built at all, they should be located in new, jumbo-sized suburban lots large enough to accommodate new jumbo-sized houses.  

Lie #3. Anti-mansionization ordinances jeopardize property values--The mansionnizers regularly trot out this lie to bamboozle low-information local residents who believe their single family home nest egg will be pulled under water by a whirlpool of zoning amendments. But there is no evidence at all for this claim. Los Angeles neighborhoods with Historical Preservation Overlay Zones, Residential Floor Area Districts, and Specific Plans have exactly the same trends in property values as adjacent neighborhoods where the mansionizers have free rein. The only threatening action to property values is the construction of a McMansion next to you. In that case, the market value of your house declines by $50,000 to $100,000. 

Top Three Lies of the Luxury High Rise Syndicates--High rise buildings, mostly filled with luxury apartments, are sprouting up in many older Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Koreatown and Hollywood. What they have in common is that most of these buildings can only be legally built through City Council legislative actions for individual parcels: zone changes, height district changes, and General Plan Amendments. This business model, which has extraordinary adverse community impacts, would have stayed out of view were it not for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Scheduled for the March 2017 ballot, this Initiative would halt the City Council’s legislative actions to legalize these otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartment projects through spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The investors, contractors, sub-contractors, realtors, and their allies at City Hall, have pushed back against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative with some truly imaginative fairy-tales, otherwise known as lies. Here is their top three: 

Lie #1. We need to continue City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning to build affordable housing--Through CityWatch and private inquiries over the past six months I have repeatedly asked for the addresses of affordable housing projects built through zone changes and/or General Plan Amendments. So far I have only been sent one address that checked out, and I am still patiently waiting for a long list to miraculously appear in my inbox. When that happens, I will gladly withdraw my accusation of lying. 

Lie #2. Los Angeles is a rapidly growing city, and its existing zoning is not sufficient to meet the housing needs of future residents--The Department of City Planning relies on the Southern California Association of Government for its population forecasts. These forecasts are notoriously high. For example the General Plan Framework Element, which is the heart of LA’s General Plan, overestimated LA’s population by over 500,000 people. It predicted a Los Angeles population of 4,300,000 people in 2010, while the US Census reported that LA’s 2010 population was only 3,800,000 people. 

But even if this and subsequent population forecasts turned out to be correct, there still is no evidence of insufficient zoning to meet future housing needs. The Framework’s own technical studies, which City Hall has never up-dated since they were submitted over 20 years ago, concluded that existing zoning (as of the mid-1990s) would build-out to a city of 8,000,000 people. Likewise, the AB 283 zoning consistency project, which ended in 1991, reached the same conclusion: Los Angeles had sufficient zoning to accommodate 5,000,000 more people. 

Lie #3. High-end market housing built through City Council legislative actions addresses Los Angeles’ housing crisis by increasing the supply of affordable housing, by forcing down housing prices, and by eventually filtering down to become affordable housing--While these claims are consistent with classical economics and the tenets of neo-liberal market fundamentalism, there is no data to back them up. Like, the tall tale that the construction of affordable housing depends on City Council legislative actions, I have also repeatedly asked for the names of Los Angeles neighborhoods where new luxury housing has forced down the price of other housing. I asked about immediate deflation of housing costs, as well as long-term reductions through filtering. So, far I have not yet received a reply. No one spinning these lies has been able to identify even one Los Angeles neighborhood where luxury housing construction increased the supply of affordable housing, even in the long-run. 

THEREFORE? 

There should be no mystery why no one has stepped forward to identify the neighborhoods where speculation in McMansions or residential sky-scrapers increased the supply of affordable housing. Perhaps they don’t exist? Or perhaps the amount of existing affordable housing eliminated through demolitions and evictions to make way for speculative real estate projects vastly exceeds the number of new affordable housing units added to LA’s housing supply through City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The repetition of these lies, despite their repeated rebuttal and lack of supporting evidence, speaks volumes about the motives of those who dredge them up again and again. All they care about is their business model, not the overall well-being of Los Angeles’ residents, employees and visitors. 

As a result, any planning approach that is based on these lies will doom LA to a downward spiral of ugly, out-of-scale, out-of-character white elephant projects that clash with adopted plans and that exceed the capacity of existing and future public infrastructure and services.

 

(Dick Platkin reviews city planning issues for CityWatch. He is a former LA City Planner who is now active in the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. Please send any comments or corrections to rhplatkin@gmail.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

TRUTHDIG--Post-Bernie Sanders progressives should focus unrelenting attention on the racism infecting American society, illustrated by the killings of black men by police and the deaths of officers at the hands of armed African-Americans.

I consider this issue and income inequality the greatest problems facing America. Unfortunately, the Bernie Revolution is frittering away its energy by embracing too many good causes, rather than concentrating on these.

But before I discuss that, I’ve been digging into what Sanders’ followers are thinking of doing after the election this fall, and they’ve got interesting things to say.

“I think the [Bernie] movement is as strong today as it ever has been,” filmmaker Montgomery Markland told me. He’s planning to campaign and raise money for the state and local candidates Sanders hopes to mobilize after the Democratic National Convention next week.

Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America, mirrored the pride and disappointment many followers are feeling after Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. He wrote about it in In These Times

“While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him. There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.”

I received a long and thoughtful response from Carson Malbrough, a young African-American man who is a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a leader in Students for Sanders. We exchanged emails when I was writing about Sanders volunteers

“We [younger voters] are the future of this country, and what we saw in Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, yet it was everything we could want,” Malbrough wrote.

“He advocated for economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, drastic changes to higher education, etc., in ways we didn’t know were possible because most politicians don’t have the conviction to do it. … You’ll see many Sanders supporters joining or creating new issue-oriented organizations, educating and registering more of our peers to come out and vote, peacefully protesting for justice and even running for office with the same progressive platform Sanders called for. … I don’t believe any other candidate could have catalyzed this many people like this, especially considering how new most of us are to politics.”

I asked if he was disillusioned by his candidate’s endorsement of Clinton.

“I am far from disillusioned at this point,” he said. “I was disappointed at how the primary ended, but despite that, I still hold my head high. The anger and passion we all felt will not go away, and that’s because this is bigger than just Bernie Sanders. Our system that is corrupted by money and power is something we didn’t know could be changed. We never expected to see our voices amplified on a national level. We never expected for all of the issues and values we care about to be vouched for so passionately.

“To be honest, many of us never expected to even care about politics. But now that we’ve witnessed our potential, there’s no turning back. We will turn this anger into action in order to make our country better moving forward. Even when all the cards are stacked against us, we will lead, and we will achieve the unthinkable.”

As for himself, “I personally plan on casting my first vote for Jill Stein, and the reasons why are simple. My predecessors marched and died for my right to vote, and I value that right. I value it so much that I refuse to waste it on the two major parties’ nominees because I don’t align with them on a moral level. I do not align as Democrat or Republican, so this fall I will be voting with my conscience.”

All these folks have good ideas, and they believe in them. That’s why the Sanders movement was great to cover. It was something I myself hadn’t experienced for some time—politics with a purpose.

But the crisis over racism calls for something bolder and more single-minded than the laundry list of good ideas being tossed about by the Bernie Revolution. It demands support of Black Lives Matter and its police reform agenda.

There are good reasons for this, such as the special racism directed toward African-Americans since slavery, particularly by police and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system. Then there are the numbers. As The Guardian reported in its project titled “The Counted,” on American deaths, of the 598 people killed by police this year, 147 were black, 94 Hispanic, 13 Native American and 297 white, which figures, since whites are 77 percent of the population. African-Americans, being only 13 percent of the population, died in disproportionate numbers. So did Latinos, with 18 percent of the population, but not in the numbers inflicted on black people. 

Moving the country closer to open racial conflict is the fact that eight police officers—five in Dallas, three in Baton Rouge, La.—have been shot and killed by African-Americans recently. One of the Baton Rouge police officers, Montrell Jackson, was African-American. He had been on duty in the tense city during the days of protest that followed the killing of an African-American by white Baton Rouge officers, a period of time also marked by rumors of a foiled murder plot against police.

Jackson’s presence reflected a little-noticed aspect of urban policing: Police departments, particularly urban ones, tend to be racially mixed. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department is 40 percent Latino, 38 percent white, 12 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian, statistics that are generally similar to those of other urban police departments.

While on duty during the protests, Jackson posted a powerful message on Facebook. “I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.” He also wrote, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”

He got a bullet, instead.

If Baton Rouge police had not killed a black man, there probably would have been no protests, and Jackson and the others, protecting peaceful demonstrators, would not have died.

Black Lives Matter is working to elevate the situation to the top of the national agenda.

Many people, liberals among them, will argue that all lives matter. That’s true, except that all deaths are not treated the same. Nor are all confrontations with police. Studies, and just as important, decades—even centuries—of anecdotes offer irrefutable proof that when stopped by police, African-Americans get a harder time and face a greater chance of being killed.

Black Lives Matter is being smeared at the Republican National Convention, which has given the GOP presidential nomination to Donald Trump. From the beginning, the party has framed the convention as a law-and-order event. As violence has increased in recent weeks, Trump took on the mantle of the law-and-order candidate. And the Republicans’ special target is Black Lives Matter.

Trump’s inflammatory campaign is designed to weaken liberals, just as Republican law-and-order campaigns did in the 1960s and 1970s. The well-intentioned Bernie Revolution will be eclipsed by race hatred.

It’s time for progressives, for all the people who rallied behind Sanders, to take a stand against this. Black lives do matter.

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)

-cw

GELFAND’S WORLD--The major take-home lesson from this week's events is that Donald Trump isn't really all that smart after all. This becomes evident (and even obvious) when you look at this week's convention. It's also becoming increasingly obvious that Trump's spin doctors are either stupid themselves or so much under Trump's control that they aren't allowed to do necessary things like, for example, owning up to errors. In the face of obvious plagiarism in a major convention speech, the best tactic would have been to say "Oops" and throw some relatively unknown speech writer under the bus. Instead, the campaign went with "see no plagiarism, hear no plagiarism." 

The Verge summed up the Republican response to the plagiarism story deftly. Kevin Drum provides an equally fine summary. File this week's events under "you couldn't make this stuff up." 

Let's also consider what the news media missed in reporting on Melania Trump's speech. I think it's evident that Melania didn't entirely understand the sentences she was having so much trouble reading. I invite you to look and listen carefully to the alternate performances (all over YouTube), one the 2008 original and the other the 2016 counterfeit. Listen to Melania's reading of the plagiarized paragraphs, which was, as best I can tell, without a real feel for what she was saying. You can see it in her hesitations as she searches for the next words on the teleprompter, and then as she gives a wooden reading of what had originally been spoken with infectious enthusiasm by Michelle Obama. 

But Melania Trump had earlier told a reporter, "I read it once over, and that's all because I wrote it with as little help as possible." Melania's English is slightly broken even in this short comment (didn't she really mean, I read it over once?), so it's obvious that she needed a lot of help just to put grammatical sentences on paper. What she was reading is obviously not her own style of speaking, and it showed. I don't think we expect future First Ladies to be great rhetorical stylists, but the easy arrogance with which Melania lied about writing the speech is telling. It's part and parcel with the campaign and with her husband's easy use of falsity. 

All of this is, paradoxically, a modest defense of Melania Trump. I don't think she would have figured out to steal Obama's wording, because it is way above her English language ability. What's strange is that she didn't notice the inserted paragraphs. This failure to recognize the copied words would be even stranger had she taken a serious role in crafting the speech. 

The important point about this story is how the Trump campaign handled it. They could have taken a lot of the heat off by telling a bit of near-truth, as long as they did it immediately. "We goofed. Our writers let Melania down. She wanted to make a particular point, and as part of the writing process, they stuck in some filler, parts of an old speech, and worse yet someone else's speech, and forgot to replace them with fresh words that accurately reflect Melania's heritage." 

See how easy that is? Even I can write it. And it didn't take me all that long, although I'm not creative enough to have thought of comparing Michelle Obama's words with the My Little Pony story. That took a lot of Googling on somebody's part at the RNC headquarters. That this line of defense was tossed up by an RNC Communications Director shows just how walled off from reality this campaign is. Perhaps Donald should be campaigning on building a wall against reality instead of a wall against Mexicans. It would be a lot more believable. 

When the campaign spokesman told that magic pony story, I was reminded of a classic Jane Curtain - Dan Ackroyd skit on Saturday Night Live, the one where Ackroyd plays a sleazy businessman trying to defend his practice of selling bags of broken glass to children as toys. The logic of Bag O' Glass was equally as compelling as what we heard coming out of the mouths of serial Republican apologists. 

Following in the "you can't make this up" category, there was Ted Cruz doing a little getting even with The Donald by avoiding an actual endorsement. As of this writing, Sen. Ted Cruz is being castigated by the party faithful for inviting people to vote their consciences. The party faithful have a point. Kicking the party's nominee in the groin, at least figuratively speaking, isn't something a featured speaker is supposed to do at his party's national convention. During the speech, Cruz was booed, and after the speech, his wife was almost physically attacked. 

Some pundits have claimed that both Cruz and Trump got what they wanted -- Cruz got to embarrass Donald on the big stage and jump start his 2020 campaign, and Donald got to watch Cruz being booed off the stage. If either or both of these inferences are true, then it reveals a deep lack of political professionalism on both sides. 

The 2016 Republican National Convention is on track to set a Guinness Book of Records entry for most traditions violated, starting with Donald Trump's public intrusion in nearly every public festivity. Melania's goof, which could have been repaired by a little bit of timely near-honesty, has ballooned into a continuing point of discussion, even if the people inside the convention hall are doing their best to pretend that they've never heard of the word plagiarism

There are a few take-home lessons from the first three days of the convention. 

The first is that Donald Trump isn't all that good at administering things. As they say in the law, res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself. Presidential nominating conventions have become all too predictably controlled, but that's for a reason. Since organizational control is something that we want in a president, loss of control is considered to be a negative. The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was the worst, what with street riots outside and turmoil inside, but for petty ineptitude that isn't linked to a major Asian war, this one wins the gold. 

The second take-home lesson is that Melania Trump is a liar. Not a very accomplished liar, and not convincingly intelligent as a liar, but a liar. 

The third take-home lesson is that we shouldn't trust anything that the Trump campaign tells us. Ever. The one time they really needed to say something truthful, it didn't seem to enter their minds. They seem to be so embedded in Donald Trump's easy way with falsehood that it took close to 48 hours to develop the scapegoat approach. 

The result, to our amusement and their chagrin, is that the Melania plagiarism story controlled the news for two straight days, and continues to show up on sites such as CNN.com even on the last day of the convention. 

Television is good at some things. On Monday night, tv stations were already showing the side-by-side footage of Melania Trump and Michelle Obama separated by eight years. Two speakers, two conventions, two different years, but it could have been choir practice for all the difference in the wording. About the best you can say for Melania Trump's stolen passages is that she mixed up a phrase in the middle of one of them. 

Late night comedians must be busting a gut laughing. They have easy punch lines for years to come: 

As believable as a Melania Trump speech. 

As believable as a Trump campaign spokesman. 

They blamed it on the Magic Pony.

 

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

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--While Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg apologized for her remarks on Donald Trump last week, politicians and the media who did backflips to criticize her are rewriting history. Strong, opinionated women, like “The Notorious RBG,” are always criticized. She spoke what many people already feel about the utterly unqualified Donald Trump. Her comments deserve a deeper analysis beyond subjective punditry or sanctimonious Tweets. 

It is worth watching Lawrence O’Donnell’s piece taking the issue out of the headlines and putting it in context. There has been clear precedent for Supreme Court involvement in elections prior to Justice Ginsburg’s opining. 

The first justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, ran for Governor of New York twice during his service. Three other Supreme Court justices ran for presidential nominations while serving and continued to serve after they lost their campaigns. As O’Donnell points out, a surprisingly erroneous Washington Post piece said, “Supreme Court experts I’ve spoken to were unaware of any justices getting so directly and vocally involved — or involved at all, really — in a presidential campaign.” 

Staying out of political campaigns is actually a recent tradition, despite what the media is yelling. 

In 2000, Justice Antonin Scalia was the justice who stopped the recount in Florida with an unprecedented injunction favoring George Bush. He then was one of the five Republicans on the Court who overruled the Florida Supreme Court and installed George Bush in the White House. The vast majority of the 5-4 decisions since the Justice Rehnquist era, when Republicans had the Court majority, have not deviated from GOP orthodoxy and favoritism. For instance, the Citizens United decision overwhelmingly results in more financial support on behalf of Republican candidates.

In 2004, it was public knowledge that Justice Scalia had a friendly and personal relationship with Dick Cheney, and yet would not recuse himself on a case involving the then-vice president. “In a 21-page memorandum filled with scorn and with lessons in the ways of Washington, Justice Scalia wrote that if people assumed a duck hunting trip would be enough to swing his vote, ‘the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined.’” 

The media states again and again that the Supreme Court stays out of politics, but actions speak louder than words. Justice Samuel Alito has not attended a State of the Union since President Obama critiqued the Citizens United decision in 2010. 

Public or not, how has having no personal opinion ever been an expectation of a Supreme Court justice? How would that expectation be at all plausible or rational? Gary Legum writing for Salon says that “the idea that [Justice Ginsburg] has ‘crossed the line’ or shattered some previously unspoken and unbroken pact America has with its Supreme Court judges that they stay away from politics is overblown... For us to continue pretending that the third co-equal branch of our government can somehow remain immune to the highly polarized atmosphere of the other two is to infantilize the American public.” 

If we are comfortable enough labeling our Supreme Court justices as either “liberal” or “conservative”... If we are so comfortable with assuming that an established and accomplished judge such as Merrick Garland, for instance, with a long resume of impartiality on the bench is nothing more than a political football to be tossed around by Republicans... If we are truly happy to accept these labels and partisan plays with the Supreme Court, is it actually surprising or so wrong that a distinguished, 23-year-serving justice should hold a personal opinion? The actions of Justice Scalia are lauded and Justice Ginsburg is immediately criticized. There is one big difference — Ginsburg is a woman.

 

(Barbra Streisand is a singer, actress, director, composer and activist who writes a blog for the Huffington Post where this piece first appeared. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

 

 

ALPERN AT LARGE--Black mayors, police chiefs, political leaders, and even a black President...check.   The call to reform law enforcement and promote community-based police...check.  Black Lives Matter and the President striking the right balance between being pro-civil rights and pro-law enforcement...well, not so much. 

As I stated in a previous CityWatch article, it is up to Black Lives Matter to be an organization that follows in the lead of the revered Martin Luther King, or to follow in the lead of the Black Panthers or Ku Klux Klan as to being a separatist, dividing (and resented) force in American culture. 

There are a lot of horror stories in the world, what with ISIS, European acts of terrorism and the economic forces behind the Brexit vote.  A senseless police shooting showing either bias or poor police training is something that Americans of all ethnic backgrounds cannot tolerate--but domestic or foreign acts of terrorism cannot be ignored while the issue of police/ethnic relations is being weighed. 

We now have not one but two crazed men who clearly had the goal of killing police officers--both in Dallas and Baton Rouge, it was undeniable, unmistakable murder.  Arguably, the Dallas shooting was a hate crime in that the shooter clearly wanted to kill white police officers, but in Baton Rouge both black and white officers were targeted. 

Particularly scary is that both shooters were American military veterans who were honorably discharged, and who took an oath to defend our nation. 

Also particularly scary is that a significant number of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-police supporters are now taking the road of celebrating the deaths of these police officers. 

Even more scary altogether are the threats and hopes of some BLM leaders (like activist Shaun King) to stage a coup (or some sort of revolution) similar to that which we saw in the nation of Turkey. 

It should be emphasized that Turkey is a very different nation than the United States--but it's not hard to conclude that many Turks, even those who oppose Prime Minister Erdogan, were or are or ever will be OK with a military-supported coup in this modern era.  Yet the U.S., like Turkey, will fear and oppose a coup or military action and treat its supporters (even if they claim to be pro-civil rights) with contempt and outrage. 

Already there is a petition to label Black Lives Matter as a "terror" group, which the Obama presidency has turned down.  It is understandable, even though Black Lives Matter was to a large degree founded on the false narrative of Ferguson, MO criminal Michael Brown being angelic and shot with a "hands up, don't shoot" that never happened, because BLM can, if it chooses, be a uniting force for good. 

Black Lives Matter DOES have the ability to establish itself as a force for unity within this nation. When GOP senator Tim Scott of South Carolina described his unfair scrutiny at the hands of police, it's cause for compromise and concern. 

But of equal importance is that law enforcement, who defend both black and non-black Americans every day, and are themselves comprised of increasing numbers of black officers, also get their fair share of compromise and concern.  The decision of President Obama to not light up the White House blue at the request of police organizations was, in retrospect, a very bad one 

It's clear that the Black Lives Matter has the support of the White House, but does law enforcement?   

After the Dallas funeral, when the President didn't condemn the murderer enough and was too quick to throw the blame on that event on law enforcement, it clearly led to a reasonable complaint of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of President Obama's support of BOTH sides of the law enforcement debate. 

With the Baton Rouge shootings, President Obama will (despite his clear condemnation of the shooter) have a harder time than ever convincing the American people he supports both the police and civil rights alike.  Maybe he ought to throw up the blue lights at the White House NOW to show that he isn't taking the side of the more radical elements of BLM over law enforcement. 

And the Black Lives Matter movement will (despite the overwhelming majority of America's support for civil rights) have a harder time than ever convincing the American people they support the police, and American society in general, and become a uniting, not dividing force, of the civil rights movement in American culture and American politics.  

Because while Black Lives Matter asks the reasonable and timely question of who will protect young black men from untrained and potentially biased police officers, another reasonable and timely question is now that of: 

Who will protect the American people, including and especially black Americans, from Black Lives Matter?

 

(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.)

-cw

GOP CONVENTION--As it officially puts Donald Trump atop its ticket this week, the Grand Old Party is rushing headlong toward an unofficial label it is desperately trying to avoid: the White People’s Party.

With his harsh tone toward Mexicans, his proposed ban on Muslims from entering the United States and his seeming tolerance of white nationalist groups, the reality TV star is painting Republicans ever further into a demographic corner that could threaten their viability as a national political organization in the coming decades.

“If we don’t expand our ability to reach voters, particularly Hispanic voters, and the rising tide of Asian voters, we’re going to have a generational wipeout,” said Florida’s Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant and longtime Trump critic.

Trump’s language and positions appear to be translating into dismal poll numbers already, particularly in those states where it could matter most. In Florida, a June poll found Trump receiving 20 percent support from Latino voters compared to 68 percent for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

And in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a Marist College poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released last week actually showed Trump with zero percent support among African-American voters.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way at all. Just three years ago, the Republican National Committee published a report detailing the relentless demographic changes the country was undergoing, and how the party’s very existence was at stake if it failed to expand beyond its traditional base.

“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” wrote the authors of the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” giving the example of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s poor showing with Latinos. “If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

Many Latino Republicans are already doing so, thanks to Trump. One California delegate said he tried to give away guest passes to the Cleveland convention to Mexican-American friends – longtime GOP donors from the Los Angeles area – as a way to get more black and brown faces in the Quicken Loans Arena. He was unable to find a single taker, he said, on condition of anonymity to speak freely about his party’s nominee. “Not even one,” he said.

But Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the candidate’s appeal would transcend race and ethnicity. “We think that the message that Donald Trump is talking about ― jobs, security, trying to bring law and order to a community with no preference to any particular ethnic group ― we think those messages will resonate,” he said at a Sunday news conference, and then predicted: “We do think that our Hispanic support is growing. ... I expect to do much better that Romney did in 2012 in the Hispanic community.”

Other Republicans remain unpersuaded.

One of the authors of that 2013 report, Ari Fleischer, said Trump’s nomination will at least test the validity of their conclusions. “Certainly Donald Trump has gone in the opposite direction from what we recommended,” said the former top aide to President George W. Bush. “If he loses, he’ll give even more credence to our report.”

At Trump rallies across the country, even in racially diverse communities like San Pedro, California, and Fairfax County, Virginia, black or brown faces are few and far between.

At the Iowa State Fair last summer, two middle-aged white men who had just dropped kernels of corn into Trump’s jar at a makeshift straw poll there discussed how important it was to end both illegal and legal immigration because the newcomers’ children would be American citizens ― and by dint of their ethnicity further change this country. (Neither wanted to share his name with a reporter.)

At a June Trump campaign event in St. Clairsville, Ohio, 62-year-old Brenda Johnson also railed against immigrants, and explained how much it upset her to hear them speak in other languages. “They should speak English in public,” she said. “It’s fine if they want to speak in their own language at home.”

Such attitudes, of course, are not new among voters, and Trump is certainly not the first Republican presidential candidate to use racially tinged language and identity politics.

That began in earnest in 1968, when Richard Nixon took advantage of Southern Democrats’ anger over President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act to make inroads into the Deep South. While openly segregationist George Wallace ran a third-party campaign that year and won five of those states, Nixon’s use of the “Southern Strategy” led to what aide Kevin Phillips called “the beginning of a new Republican era” in his 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority.

It was a dramatic reversal for a party that was founded to abolish slavery a century earlier, and which through the first half of the 20th century consistently supported civil rights laws for African-Americans. But from 1968 forward, Republican presidential candidates, to varying degrees, used phrases that appealed to working-class white voters who believed that Democrats were, at the expense of poorer white people, favoring blacks and other minorities.

Nixon’s appeal for “law and order,” Ronald Reagan’s story of the Cadillac-driving welfare mom, and George W. Bush’s refusal to condemn South Carolina’s display of the Confederate battle flag from atop its state capitol all spoke to a constituency that delivered Republicans the White House in every election between 1968 and 1988, with the exception of the post-Watergate election in 1976, when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter won narrowly.

But in 1992, California flipped from Republican to Democratic, as Mexican-American voters responded to Republican efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Republicans quickly learned that the “Solid South” no longer gave them a lock on the Electoral College.

In the subsequent years, Florida, then Colorado and Virginia, also came into play in presidential elections as their minority populations increased ― to the point where demographics now actually favor a Democrat over a Republican.

Ironically, Trump’s racially polarizing candidacy could actually accelerate that shift. North Carolina, which President Barack Obama narrowly won in 2008 but narrowly lost four years later, currently is leaning slightly toward Clinton. Georgia could also wind up closer than the 8-point win for Mitt Romney in 2012, while traditionally red Arizona, with its large Mexican-American population, could actually break for Clinton.

As it happens, this was exactly the sort of demographic change the party warned about in its 2013 report. Between 2000 and 2012, the Republican presidential candidate got between 87 and 88 percent of his total votes from white people. But as the electorate has gradually become less white, white votes are no longer enough to win. Only once in the past six elections has the GOP candidate won the popular vote: 2004, when George W. Bush took 43 percent of the Hispanic vote. In the 2012 election, Romney won only 27 percent of that vote.

 “The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become,” the report stated. “According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 29 percent and Asians to 9 percent.” 

North Carolina RNC member Ada Fisher believes Donald Trump will do well with African-American and Latino voters.

At the RNC’s meeting in Boston the summer after the 2012 loss to Obama, party Chairman Reince Priebus fairly scolded Romney for suggesting during the primary season that immigrants living in the country illegally should “self-deport.”

“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ ― I mean, it’s a horrific comment to make,” Priebus said. “It’s not something that has anything to do with our party. But when a candidate makes those comments, obviously it hurts us.”

For party leaders, the need to adapt was not only for the next presidential election, but for the presidential elections in decades to come. Mainstream Republicans got behind a comprehensive immigration overhaul, as the “autopsy” recommended, and watched it pass the Senate only to founder in the House as the party’s disproportionately Southern, disproportionately working-class base revolted.

In perhaps the most ominous sign of where things were headed, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), a co-sponsor of the bill in that chamber, reversed himself and opposed it as he positioned himself for his presidential run.

The rejection of the party’s received wisdom was complete when Trump in his announcement speech called undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists” (although he allowed that some might be good people) and promised to build a wall along the southern border. In the coming months, he vowed to ban Muslims from entering the United States as a response to terrorist attacks, declined at first to criticize former KKK leader David Duke, and most recently defended the use of an image that resembled the Star of David badge that Nazis forced Jews to wear in Hitler’s Germany before they systematically rounded them up and murdered them.

Even this week, when offered the opportunity to speak at the NAACP conference in Cincinnati ― a mere 30 minutes away on his 757 jet ― Trump declined, even though he was afforded the flexibility to speak at the time and day of his choosing. Every recent GOP nominee has spoken at the conference, going back to George W. Bush in 2000.

The promise to “take our country back” and “make America great again” appeals to lesser-educated whites who wish for a return to an era when a college degree was not necessary to earn a middle-class living and the population was overwhelmingly white, said Alan Abramowitz, a demographer at Emory University. “He’s trying to appeal to a sense of displacement, a sense of being left out, of being left behind,” he said. “Elect me and we’ll finally have a leader who will undo all these terribles.”

Priebus, in the wake of a new poll showing Trump’s overall standing with Latinos down to 14 percent, told Fox News on Sunday that Trump appreciates the need to do better.

“I know Donald Trump’s going to be doing a Hispanic engagement tour coming up soon,” Priebus said. “He understands we need to grow the party ― it’s the party of the open door, tone, rhetoric, spirit ― all those things matter when communicating to the American people.”

That statement, though, is somewhat of a departure from the party’s typical response since Trump became the presumptive nominee, which is to ignore the Growth and Opportunity Project report and the long-term strategy behind it. Instead, they focus on the tactics for this coming election, and how, despite everything, Trump can still triumph by winning big among white working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Wisconsin.

RNC members and officials, in fact, even insist that Trump will exceed expectations among Latino and African-American voters, his rhetoric to date and current polling notwithstanding.

Helen Aguirre Ferre, who took over as head of Hispanic communications after the previous director quit because of her distaste for Trump, said Latino voters are interested in more than just immigration, and that many will be receptive to his message on jobs and national security.

Even in her hometown of Miami, where two of the three Cuban-American members of Congress have disavowed Trump, Ferre said Trump has the potential to do well. She pointed to his 22 percent showing in Miami-Dade County, Rubio’s home, in the March 15 primary. “I think that speaks volumes,” she said, adding that Trump’s campaign will work hard to win over those Latino voters in November. “I think they’re waiting to be courted.”

And North Carolina’s Ada Fisher, one of only a handful of African-American RNC members, said Trump will exceed expectations with black voters, too. “I think Trump will do quite fine. I think he will do great things,” she said, showing off the “Make America Great Again” hat his campaign had given her. “I’ve been a supporter of Donald Trump since the beginning.”

To Florida consultant Wilson, the official party line on Trump ― from the idea that he will do well with minorities to the hope that he can drive up working-class white voter turnout enough to win ― is just plain silly, especially with Trump’s weakness with college-educated white voters and women voters generally.

“This is them trying to whistle past the graveyard, pretending like Donald Trump isn’t happening,” he said. “Math is math, it doesn’t negotiate.”

(S.V. Date is Senior Political Correspondent for Huffington Post  … where this piece was first posted.)

 GUEST WORDS--I have a lot of respect for journalist Farhad Manjoo, who currently writes a tech column for the New York Times. But a few things struck me from his recent piece on Alvin Toffler (photo above), the writer of the six-million copy bestseller “Future Shock” (1970) who died recently at the age of 87. Manjoo captured Toffler well, but drew the case for a world overwhelmed by technological advancements much too starkly: 

“…in rereading [the] book, as I did last week, it seems clear that his diagnosis (of ‘future shock’) has largely panned out, with local and global crises arising daily from our collective inability to deal with ever-faster change.” 

Really? We are now to lay all societal and political ills, both foreign and domestic, at the feet of tech advancements? Manjoo, who is just 38 years old, sounds co-opted by digital elder-think, the affliction of many people over 50 who project onto everyone else their clumsiness and resistance to the firehose stream of messages and notices brought to us daily through our mobile devices. 

I have two millennial kids in their early and mid-twenties who seem to be adapting quite capably. They’re not much different than their peers. Their brains and social mythos may not resemble my older brain and views, but I have confidence that their grit and inventive powers remain undiminished. I put stock in those powers, as I believe we all should for the better part of the reasonably smart, reasonably stable kids stepping up to fill our shoes. 

“Millennials are going to save our asses!” roared a thoughtful boomer friend a few evenings ago when a group of us got together. Between us we have collectively parented at least a score of kids, all now aged between 20 and 32 years old. His was a frustrated rebut to our lamenting over the polarized state of American politics, and I believe his pronouncement approaches a ground truth. Let’s give the rising generation of young people all due credit for absorptive capacities either absent or anemic in we aging but still quite sentient products of a slower time. 

Manjoo’s column also reminded me of something I heard said by David Matthews, President and CEO of Kettering Foundation, at a conference in the early 2000s. When asked how what was then a new world of digital technology would influence politics, civics and society in general, Matthews gave a classic Matthews response in his slow Alabama drawl: “Willy. Nilly.” Which he pronounced “Willah. Nillah.” to our appreciative laughter. By that, he meant that technology’s effects would fall unevenly across people of the globe -- more like the way rainfall varies across vast and differing landscapes than like a tsunami pouring a devastating wall of water over us all. 

Finally, I think it’s inaccurate to suggest that because of the demise of knowledge centers like the Carter Administration’s Office of Technology Assessment the public sector is now at a complete loss for predictive perspectives on the future. We’ve still got the U.S. Defense Department’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program and dozens of private and public institutes and universities that contract with government on research ventures of all kinds. 

We’re a country that builds hybrid institutional collaborations – public, private, nonprofit and combinations thereof – that don’t have distinction or the classic jurisdictional mandates of permanent governmental institutions. But they still manage to effectively elevate ideas and productive thinking into public discourse through other means and mechanisms. We do that because we have a history of not trusting public institutions too, too much for innovation, even as much as we rely and count on them to step in and help us with large-scale services and resources when things go haywire in giant ways.  

I picture Alvin Toffler going to his grave not at all a pessimist but rather as what I like to think of as an “awesome-ist,” struck dumb at times by the sheer wonder of how resilient humanity can be. He had an appreciation few people can grasp for the astonishing disruption that new tools and discoveries can unleash. 

Toffler clued us in with “Future Shock” to what he rightly foresaw as some dire consequences of rapid technological change. But he had a child, too, who, very sadly, died at about the same age Farhad Manjoo is today. 

At least for the time Karen Toffler was alive, I bet her father regarded the planet and its people with a measure of abiding hope, even fervent optimism, that the flesh and the ideas he spawned would throw into the common enterprise and blaze the way ahead. Not always perfectly, by any means, but amazingly well.

 

(Paul Vandeventer is President and CEO of Community Partners.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA WATCHDOG--Why haven’t Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson followed up on the recommendation by the LA 2020 Commission to “establish a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?”  

Why?  Because these two ambitious politicians fear alienating the campaign funding leaders of the City’s unions who do not want a public discussion of the facts surrounding the City’s ever increasing annual contributions to the City’s two massively underfunded pension plans that are forcing the City to scale back on basic services. 

Over the last ten years, the City’s contribution to its two pension plans (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System) has tripled to $1.1 billion, up from $350 million in 2005.  As a result, pension contributions now chew up 20% of the City’s $5.6 billion budget, up from less than 10% in 2005. 

This $750 million increase in pension contributions has forced the City to cut back on basic services such as public safety and the repair and maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, and parks.  The City has even resorted to placing an ill-conceived $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot to fund supportive housing for the homeless. 

Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse as the City, its pension plans, and their fiscally irresponsible, Garcetti appointed Commissioners are banking on an overly optimistic rate of return of 7½% on the combined investment portfolio of $33 billion.   

But the stock and bond markets are not cooperating as demonstrated by this year’s less than 1% return on CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) $300 billion investment portfolio.   

If the City’s pension funds earned this meager 1% as compared to the targeted 7½%, it would result in an investment shortfall of an estimated $2.7 billion, an amount equal to about half of the City’s annual budget.  This “loss” will increase the unfunded pension liability as of June 30, 2016 to almost $11 billion, representing a funded ratio of an unhealthy 74%.  

However, if the investment rate assumption was a more reasonable 6½% as recommended by knowledgeable investors such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, the unfunded pension liability would jump to over $16 billion, representing a dangerously low funded ratio of 66% and almost three times the City’s annual budget. 

Over the next five years, the City’s two pension plans will rack up an additional shortfall of over $5 billion if the rate of return on their investment portfolios is 6½%, a much more likely outcome than the targeted return of 7½%. 

But rather than recognizing this combined shortfall of $7.9 billion over the next five years, the City has cooked up a scheme to amortize these losses over a 20 year period, reducing the hit to the City’s budget.  

Even with this scheme, the City’s pension contribution is expected to increase by more than 50% over the next five years to $1.7 billion, representing 27% of the City’s projected General Fund budget. 

Garcetti and Wesson, along with Budget Committee Chair Paul Krekorian and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz, will tell us they made significant reforms to LAFPP in 2011 and LACERS in 2013 and 2015.  But these cosmetic amendments are nickels and dimes and did not address the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½% and the unsustainable post-retirement medical benefits. 

This pension time bomb is a weapon of mass financial destruction where we will burden the next generation of Angelenos with tens of billions of unsustainable debt. This will destroy their standard of living and their environment.  

It is time for Garcetti, Wesson, and the members of the City Council to get off their fat asses, put on their big boy pants, and begin to address this problem by establishing an independent, well-funded Committee for Retirement Security. 

Only then will we be able to begin the hard task of developing a solution where the City and its future will not be devoured by the pension monster. 

(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 Tuesday, July 5, the County Board of Supervisors voted to place on the November ballot a $95 million parcel tax to benefit the County’s parks.  

Unlike a traditional parcel tax of $40 on each of the County’s 2.4 million parcels, this new parcel tax will be based on the square footage of improved property in the county (6.4 billion square feet) times 1.5 cents per square foot, an amount that may be adjusted upward based on the Western Urban Consumer Price Index.  Over the next 35 years, this tax will raise almost $6 billion based on reasonable assumptions for inflation and growth as compared to $4 billion under the traditional parcel tax. 

This new levy will replace two parcel taxes totaling $81 million that were approved by the voters in 1992 and 1996, one of which expired in 2015 ($52 million) while the second parcel tax ($29 million) will expire in 2019. 

In drafting the final, 8,700 word ballot measure, the Supervisors listened to the public (and their polls) and lowered the proposed tax to $95 million from the $200 to $300 million level that was discussed in its May 3 meeting.  

While this proposed increase (including the cost of living adjustment) is reasonable, especially given inflation since 1992, getting the approval of two-thirds of the voters will be a tough sell. 

The Supervisors may snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by approving Sheila Kuehl’s motion to make this parcel tax a permanent tax, eliminating the 35 year sunset provision.  

In 2013, 55% of voters in the City of Los Angeles rejected Proposition A, in part because many Angelenos were turned off by the permanent nature of the half cent increase in our sales tax to a whopping 9 ½ %.  This may also apply to the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax that is being proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“Metro”) for the November ballot. 

Another contentious issue is the allocation of the tax revenues.  The Valley and the other parts of the County believe that they are not getting their fair share as the Supervisors are favoring the districts represented by Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas based on the Needs Assessment Report that called for revenues to be spent disproportionately in underparked areas of the County. 

There are other issues that are of concern, including the lack of independent oversight, the lack of a maintenance plan for the County’s existing parks, shifting the burden to the owners of commercial real estate, and the potential for the new Board of Supervisors to burden the next generation with mountains of debt secured by this new parcel tax.  

But the real kiss of death may be “voter fatigue” where the overwhelmed and mad as hell voters reject all of ballot measures trying to pick our pockets.   

At the State level, we are being asked to approve $9 billion in general obligation bonds to finance K-12 and Community College facilities (Proposition 51), a $1 billion cigarette tax (Proposition 56), and the 12 year extension of the Governor Brown’s “temporary” income tax surcharge that is expected to yield $5 to $11 billion a year (Proposition 55, also known as the Pension Tax as these revenues will eventually fund the massive pension liabilities of CalPERS and CalSTRS).  

The County is also proposing a $130 million marijuana tax to finance its homeless efforts. 

Metro is proposing to nick us for an additional $850 million a year by permanently increasing our sales tax by a half cent, resulting in a sales tax of mind boggling 9 ½ %.  This, along with the other related taxes, will result in tax revenue of $3.5 billion a year for Metro.  

Finally, our City has placed on the ballot a measure to allow the City to issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds to fund, along with private real estate developers and other government entities, an estimated $3 to $4 billion of supportive housing. 

And this assault on our wallets does not include the $150 million tax increase associated with the recent $1 billion increase in our DWP water and power rates, a street tax that was pushed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2014, or any taxes to fund the County’s $20 billion stormwater plan.   

Maybe it is time for us to send our Elected Elites (and their cronies) in Sacramento, the County, and the City a loud and clear message that we are sick and tired of being their ATM by voting NO on all of these ballot measures.

●●

Ballot language

 

Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection, and Water Conservation Measure           

To replace expiring local funding for safe, clean neighborhood/ city/ county parks; increase safe playgrounds, reduce gang activity; keep neighborhood recreation/ senior centers, drinking water safe; protect beaches, rivers, water resources, remaining natural areas/ open space; shall 1.5 cents be levied annually per square foot of improved property in Los Angeles County, with bond authority, requiring citizen oversight, independent audits, and funds used locally? 

●●

(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--“Need now means wanting someone else's money.  Greed means wanting to keep your own.  Compassion is when a politician arranges the transfer.”  

Once again it is silly season in Los Angeles as our Enlightened Elite will be blowing smoke in our face, urging us to approve the proposed offering of up to $1.2 billion bonds over the next ten years.  These funds, along with billions from real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of an estimated 10,000 units of supportive housing for LA’s homeless population. 

But this well intentioned measure that will be on the November ballot does not deserve our support. 

For openers, the City does not have the necessary management expertise, organizational capabilities, or experienced personnel to manage such a complex program.  This is because social services are the responsibility of the County which has dropped the ball in caring for the homeless population that numbers around 45,000 persons (less than 0.5% of the County’s population). 

Furthermore, the City does not have a well thought out plan to implement this ambitious multi-billion dollar endeavor.  How does the City propose to work with real estate developers and other government entities to raise billions needed to complete the build out of 10,000 housing units?  How does the City intend to work with County and the State, each of whom have their own ideas about how to address the homeless issue?  How does the City propose to pay for the necessary services that the homeless require since the City is prohibited by law from financing these day to day expenses with bond money? And how will the City develop a team of qualified individuals to implement this program in an efficient manner? 

There is also inadequate oversight of this multi-billion dollar build out that involves numerous real estate developers, many of whom already have close relationships with our elected officials.  The City is proposing to establish by ordinance a Citizens Oversight Committee where its seven members will be appointed by the Mayor and City Council.  But will this Committee be independent of the Mayor and the City Council?  And will it have the necessary expertise, resources, and authority to monitor and control the effectiveness of this program? 

In developing this $1.2 billion bond measure, the City Council failed to solicit input from the Neighborhood Councils and the public, unlike the process involving the reform of Department of Water and Power that will be on the November ballot and DWP’s $1 billion rate increase.  Rather, it is a top down process, where the all-knowing City Hall apparatchiks dictate policy to the City’s proletariats. 

The City proposes to service the $1.2 billion of bonds by imposing a new tax on our property.  But this tax, which starts off at $6 million a year and peaks at $100 million in 2028, is not necessary because the debt service (principal and interest) may be financed by a small percentage of the projected increase in the City’s General Fund revenues.  

Over the next 30 years, the average annual debt service is $60 million and equals 3.5% of the increase in the City’s tax revenues.  

This leads to the question that if the Mayor and City Council believe that the homeless issue is so important, why not make it a budget priority?  This contrasts with the City authorizing a $200 million giveaway for the Grand Avenue Hotel or approving a $125 million a year wage and benefit increase for the City’s civilian unions. 

The City has also refused to address its Structural Deficit, its annual budget, and its finances.  The Mayor and City Council have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances, to develop a multiyear budget, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s seriously underfunded pension plans.  It has also not developed a plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or to benchmark the efficiency of the City’s operations. 

Simply stated, Mayor Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council do not want our City to Live Within Its Means.  

The proposed $1.2 billion bond proposal is just another attempt by our Elected Elite to throw money at a problem based on the premise that we, the voters, should trust them to spend our hard earned dough efficiently. 

But with no organization and management, no plan, no oversight, no outreach, no respect for our wallets, and no budget reform, the measure to authorize $1.2 billion in bonds to fund the City’s homeless initiative deserves a NO vote in November. 

●●

The following is the proposed ballot language. 

HOMELESSNESS REDUCTION AND PREVENTION, HOUSING, AND FACILITIES BOND. 

To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits?

(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--At its meeting last Tuesday, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power postponed its consideration of DWP’s proposed ten year, $63 million lease of 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex, because a CityWatch article suggested that the Department may be overpaying by $20 million. 

This overpayment is part of the City’s scheme to stick the Department and its Ratepayers with almost $15 million of tenant improvements, an expense normally the responsibility of the landlord, in this case the City of Los Angeles. 

The City is also attempting to extract an additional $5 million through higher than market rents.  

However, it appears that DWP is being slammed for an additional $20 million as market professionals and several DWP employees have indicated that the Department needs only half the contracted space to house the 550 employees who are scheduled to occupy Figueroa Plaza.  This would require DWP to adopt space planning techniques similar to those used in the private sector. 

Of course, if DWP had adopted proper space planning techniques for its 1.6 million square foot headquarters building, then this ten year, $63 million lease would not be necessary.  But past attempts by DWP to modernize its historic 50 year old headquarters building were shot down by the previous mayor and the Garcetti led City Council.    

By the way, the concept of proper space planning also applies to the City and its more than 32,000 employees. And just imagine how the tens of millions in annual savings could be used to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or house the homeless, alleviating the need for an increase in our taxes.  

This ten year, $63 million lease for 124,250 square feet of City owned office space was the creation of the Municipal Facilities Committee and its members, the City Administrative Officer, the Chief Legislative Analyst, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, as it was looking to off load the expense of this office space that was vacated by the Lewis Brisbois law firm as a result of the DaVinci Fire on December 8, 2014.   

In November of 2015, the City was prepared to move the Housing and Community Investment Department (“HCID”) and its 600 employees into this office space.  It intended to finance the tenant improvements and relocation from the leased Garland Building by issuing debt and recouping any debt, operating, and maintenance expenses by hitting up HCID’s special funds. 

But the HCID relocation plan was scrapped when Garcetti’s office realized that it would be easier to dump the surplus office space and the cost of the tenant improvements onto DWP and its Ratepayers, “saving” the City and its General Fund $63 million over the next ten years.  This was despite pushback from DWP’s management.  

The terms of this unfavorable lease need to be reviewed and analyzed by an independent third party in conjunction with the Ratepayers Advocate.  Any opinions and findings, along with all backup material, must be shared in a timely manner with the Ratepayers and the public before the lease is discussed by the politically appointed Board of Commissioners. 

This deal also serves as a call to reform the relationship between DWP and the City.  This would require an ordinance that requires that any transaction between the Department and the City be subject to a thorough analysis by the City, the Department, and the Ratepayers Advocate.  This analysis would also be shared with the Ratepayers and the public.  

Of course, this uneconomic deal that further soils the reputation of our Elected Elite raises the question of how many other stinkers have been approved by the Mayor, the City Council, and the politically appointed Board of Commissioners that are not in the best interest of the Ratepayers. 

(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--At its meeting on Tuesday, the Garcetti appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power will consider the adoption of a ten year, $63 million lease for 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex located at 201-221 North Figueroa Street in DTLA.    

This 25 year old property, purchased by the City in 2007 for $219 million, consists of two 16 story towers comprising 615,000 of office space and is located north of the Central Business District and about a quarter of a mile west of DWP’s headquarters on North Hope Street. 

LA WATCHDOG--The politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power recently approved two money losing water recycling projects that will result in DWP blowing $93 million of Ratepayer money.  This amount represents about a quarter to a third of the recently approved five year, 25% increase in our water rates. 

These Board decisions (with only one the five Commissioners voting NO on both deals) were made without relying on any financial analysis prepared by the Department.  Nor were these two projects compared to other alternative water saving investments that may have higher rates of return.  To the contrary, I supplied the Commissioners and DWP management with a cash flow analysis (based on the Department’s assumptions) for both recycling projects that showed that these two uneconomic water recycling projects were stinkers. 

But the politically appointed Commissioners were only following the wishes (orders) of Mayor Eric Garcetti (photo above) who, through his Executive Directive No. 5 (Emergency Drought Response – Creating a Water Wise City) dated October 14, 2014, established a goal of reducing the purchase of imported water by 50% by 2024.  This will require increases in local supplies through conservation, the remediation and replenishment of our aquifers, and increases in our local supplies through the recycling of wastewater and storm water. 

Unfortunately, this aspirational, politically inspired Executive Directive was not accompanied by any operational or financial analysis, putting the Department in a very difficult and awkward position. 

The first project, the $20 million Griffith Park South Water Recycling Project, is located within the nation’s largest urban park and will supply 477 acre feet (156 million gallons) of recycled water a year to the Roosevelt Golf Course and the surrounding area.  Based on the Department’s assumptions for the purchase price of treated water from the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”), this project does not recoup its investment until 2040 (23 years).  

Alternatively, it would take over 40 years for this debt financed project to repay a loan that had an interest rate of 5%. 

Furthermore, this deal is double stinker as it is a pet project of former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and the responsibility of the Department of Recreation and Parks, not DWP and its Ratepayers, since it located entirely within Griffith Park. 

The second water recycling project, the $73 million Elysian Park Downtown Water Recycling Project, will supply 2,561 acre feet (835 million gallons) of recycled water a year to Elysian Park, DTLA, Exposition Park, Boyle Heights, and other adjacent areas, once again reducing the need for potable (drinkable) water. But like the Griffith Park pet project, the DWP does not recoup its investment until 2040 and would not be able to repay the loan until 2057.  

The economics of these two projects assume that they will have a life of 30 to 50 years.  However, this may be a bogus assumption if the recycled water from the LA-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant can be processed into potable water (direct potable reuse or better known as toilet to tap) that can be introduced directly into our water system.  This would result in a “stranded” asset, resulting in an even greater hit to the Ratepayers. 

The debt laden Water System does not have the flexibility to sink cash into money losing projects as its ambitious $5.5 billion capital expenditure budget is already causing its long term debt and debt ratios to balloon to levels where it will endanger its coveted bond rating. 

While the aspirational goal of reducing our dependence on purchased water from Northern California and the Colorado River is worthy target, it must also be accompanied by a rigorous operational and financial analysis that results in the Department investing in projects that have positive rates of return and at the same time discarding the dogs.  Otherwise, Garcetti’s green policies will result in considerably less green in our wallets.  

[Note: On Wednesday, MWD, the major supplier of water to our City, issued a press release stating that its “stress test” showed that it had sufficient water supplies to meet the demands of its customers for the next three years.]

(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

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