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CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--How did homelessness suddenly become such a hot issue across California? There are many reasons, and few of them have anything to do with people who are homeless.

Those reasons—economic anxiety, budget surpluses, tax schemes, housing prices, prison reform, health care expansion, urban wealth, and political opportunism have combined to create today’s “homeless moment” in California.

For decades, combating homelessness has been a civic obsession in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its long tradition of progressive politics and generous homeless services. Now that homeless hubbub has spread statewide. To the surprise of many at the State Capitol, a $2 billion bond to pay for housing for the mentally ill homeless—previously a backburner issue in tax-and-education-obsessed Sacramento—became a central focus of this month’s budget negotiations. And around the state, local law enforcement officials have stirred the pot by claiming that recent measures to reduce the California prison population have exacerbated the homeless problem.

In Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second largest homeless population according to federal figures, homelessness has become the dominant political debate. Mayor Eric Garcetti has talked big about addressing the problem—declaring an emergency, promising that no military veterans will be living on the street—and now faces criticism for weak follow-up. L.A.’s city and county governments are now ensnared in huge debates about how to pay for additional public housing.

A similar pattern—of big plans to end homelessness followed by conflict about how to do it—has emerged in cities from Redding to Riverside. In San Diego, with America’s fourth largest homeless population, a leading city councilman called for ending all homelessness by the end of this year. (He’s since backed off). In Orange County, there have been calls for a “homeless czar” to speed up the building of shelters and housing. In Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin just held a press conference at the city’s baseball stadium to tout a plan to end homelessness in the next three years. In Sacramento, homelessness was a leading issue in the just-concluded mayoral election, with the victor pledging to build more housing for the homeless.

Given all this drama, you might expect that the number of homeless people is rapidly rising. To the contrary, homeless counts (the accuracy of which is another big debate) show relatively flat or even declining homeless populations in most of these cities. So why the sudden urgency? The short answer: the homeless are now more visible to the rich people who drive civic conversation. Fancy restaurants and new high-end housing have brought wealthy folks into urban neighborhoods and old industrial areas that once were havens for the homeless. Downtown L.A., home to a large population of unsheltered homeless for decades, has rapidly been transformed from one of the most affordable to one of the most expensive places to live in the city.

At the same time, anxiety about housing has never run deeper. The housing crisis of the previous decade cost many Californians their homes. California’s total failure to build housing—we’ve produced just one new unit for every eight new Californians in this decade—has led to sky-high prices. Many Californians are forced to spend more than half of their incomes on housing, and the prospect of sleeping on the street no longer seems so unlikely.

Politicians, who read polls showing this growing fear, have seized on the opening. Homelessness has become an almost perfect issue for politicians. Expectations of success are low (homelessness is persistent) so any progress can be spun as heroic. Few homeless people vote, so democratic accountability is close to nothing. And the issue doesn’t have a strong partisan profile, so there is room for political horse-trading and risk-taking.

In an extraordinary public letter late last year, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane urged experiments with different approaches to the problem—and took himself to task for not having done so previously. “I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness,” he wrote. “I have been a direct participant in many of my city’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing.”

Such self-criticism is easier for politicians when money is on the way. The federal government has stepped up funding for housing the homeless—especially for veterans. The state is running a surplus, and a state fund for mental health services, funded by the Proposition 63 tax on millionaires, is so full of extra dollars that even Gov. Brown, a notorious tightwad, agreed to borrow $2 billion from it to fund housing and other services for the homeless. He and the legislature also threw another $400 million in affordable housing dollars into the budget.

In some places, the notion of a homelessness emergency is seen as a justification for a money grab. LA County supervisors want the state—which famously limits local taxation—to permit them to impose their own millionaire’s tax to pay for more homeless programs. That money, of course, could free up other funds for other purposes—which is all the more reason to decree a homelessness emergency.

To be fair, much of this money will be spent on a strategy that has shown some success—providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless. This housing-oriented approach is a welcome departure from decades of efforts to fix the ills of the homeless—be they substance abuse or trauma or mental illness—before getting them housing.

But the focus on housing is narrow for a problem this complex. And today’s windfall for homeless services is unlikely, in California’s volatile budget system, to last. Even if it did, the disparate nature of the funding—a bundle of incentives and grants—isn’t efficient enough to create the capacity to cover the fluid and shifting homeless populations in California cities.

In his acclaimed new book, Evicted, Harvard professor Matthew Desmond argues that ending homelessness would require greater ambition than anything on the table in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. He advocates “universal housing” as a clear right, like the well-established right to public education.

Under Desmond’s proposal, the government would issue housing vouchers to families below a certain income threshold so that they pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The vouchers could be used to live anywhere they wanted—just as families use food stamps to buy groceries almost anywhere.

Such rental assistance is common in other developed countries like Britain and the Netherlands, which don’t suffer from American-style homelessness. In the U.S., universal housing via vouchers would cost $60 billion, Desmond estimates—real money, but a mere fraction of the hundreds of billions spent subsidizing the housing of wealthier people via the mortgage-interest tax deduction.

Universal housing wouldn’t have much chance of passage in Washington. But universal housing is just the sort of idea that California should try—if this homeless moment is really about ending homelessness.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square ... where this column originated.)

-cw

MY TURN-Stakeholders keep the heat up on the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) so we will probably be looking at the status of the California Bullet train for the next two decades. Who knows if anything will anything even be completed by that time? The issue has managed to bring out passions on both sides and that is a good thing. This is definitely the year for activism in politics. 

David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association and Board member of SAFE coalition are continually trying to have communication with the CHSRA and any other government officials who will listen to them. 

There are positives and negatives on both sides. The California electorate passed 1A with certain provisions. They defined "High Speed" as reaching speeds up to 220 miles an hour. 

They also were told that it would provide 150,000 well-paying jobs, cut down emissions from cars and trucks by almost half, and put the State into the same stratosphere as other great countries. Now that we’ve been designated the sixth largest economy in the world, we can lay claim to almost being our own country. Not to be cynical... but we know from past experience the number of jobs projected is always less and the costs are always more! 

On the other hand, do we need to have such high speeds? I enjoy taking the train from LA to San Diego because we pass through some scenic wonders and it’s a therapeutic start to a trip. It beats flying which is only 40 minutes. Of course, one must add two hours to the actual flying time to stand in security lines. It certainly doesn't make for a stress free start. I could drive the two and a half hours, which can and has turned into a five hour trip on the 405/5. So the train is a great choice even if it goes 50 miles an hour. 

The train between NYC and Washington DC is another great ride. One goes through five or six different states and the scenery is fascinating. I think the highest speed is 81 miles an hour. But the majority of Americans seem to be in a perpetual rush. I don't know how much scenery one can enjoy going 220 miles an hour. 

If only the project were that simple. People on the east coast try to live within walking distance to the nearest train station. Trains don't run all night and during the day; the sound of a train signaling its approach is rather pleasant. 

We Californians -- especially Angelenos -- are a different breed. We’re spoiled! We don't have to worry about digging out of snow. We have a great freeway system, especially at 2 am if – if CalTrans hasn't decided to do "roadwork" and close three lanes. Our cars are included as members of the family. If you believe the Liberty Insurance commercial, we even name them. 

But we must consider both the environmental and people impact that the new CHSRA business plan envisions for its ride to LA. The northeastern Valley seems to bear the brunt of the hardships. Several hundred thousand residents are going to be severely impacted over the next 13 years. 

Because the CHSRA decided to construct the Northern California portion first, Valley residents breathed a sigh of relief. CHSRC does not necessarily have the best communication skills. I attended one of the meetings where they were reporting progress to the LA City Council. I expected some fireworks and some tough questions from the City Council members. The only searching questions came from the audience and because of Council rules none of the questions could receive answers because they weren't listed on the agenda. 

Dave De Pinto keeps me apprised of the SAFE outreach. Here is a quote from his second to latest notice to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard, the CHSRA Board and CHSRA management and to a zillion other government officials. 

Dear Chairman Richard: 

On behalf of the united communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which includes several hundred thousand residents, I'm writing to again convey that your Agency's follow-up on numerous public _*and*_ elected official requests is inadequate and disappointing. Despite your public statements about increased transparency and your use of the term

"harassment" to describe our many, many efforts to get responses from your staff on numerous matters, as impacted stakeholders engaged in the Authority's outreach program, we will not be ignored or marginalized. 

We call for the Authority to be accountable and responsive to our concerns and issues. The most important of those issues remains the continued inclusion of infeasible above ground segments such as above-ground E2, in ongoing environmental studies."

 

You can read the entire statement the SAFE website. Basically, he wanted to know why CHSRA hadn't had any public outreach in a year. They had promised to hold meetings starting at the beginning of this year. 

In the last week both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee accused CHSRA of fiscal malfeasance. Apparently one of the bids received from Spain's giant construction company Ferrovial, had pointed out that the financing for this Bullet Train, including all the monies from various government sources would probably not be sufficient to maintain the rail system and that public subsidies...meaning tax payers would be on the hook. In a study of 111 rail systems worldwide only three did not rely on subsidies. This little disclosure was inadvertently left out of copies of the Spanish proposal. 

Proposition 1A passed in 2008 approved $9 billion in bonds to build the rail system, stating it would have to operate without future public funding. That $9 billion has now mushroomed to $64 billion. 

The other source of financing was revenue from the Cap and Trade bill which, to date, has not generated its projected dollars. 

Not being an expert on railroad construction I asked De Pinto why we couldn't use the existing tracks with the reinforcement for high speeds. This way there would be little need for eminent domain environmental damage and seismic threats. 

He replied, "That's called the ‘blended approach’ and we can't get straight answers from them as it's too hypothetical and so many grade crossings would have to be altered, etc. It also causes a problem for them in that by law, they must travel from N. Cal. to S. Cal in two hours and forty minutes. The more they go the blended approach, the slower they go. But, it's cheaper for them and there are existing rights of way, so they do consider it in places. It's not going to use existing track here in the NE San Fernando Valley." 

So I asked, what could the speed be if they used existing tracks with modifications? 

He answered, "Every train/track situation is different country to country due to equipment, track layouts, etc. In California, they tout 220 MPH as their optimum speed and it's actually in the enabling ballot measure and legislation. 

"We know trains slow down around curves and approaching station stops. Based on all that CHSRA has said through the years, to expect 220 MPH through our community. That they would even propose such a thing demonstrates how out of touch and insensitive they are to local communities." 

There lies the elephant in the room. Scores of residents would not only have to live with huge, noisy and toxic dust conditions for years but, financially, it would place the values of their homes into a downward spiral.   

Just now, I received notice that the CHSRA sent "Permit to Enter" letters which indicated they will be conducting testing from June 2016 until December 2017. This is environmental impact testing for above-the-ground high speed rail. De Pinto notes in his letter to LA elected officials, that this testing is probably more like a three to five year project. SAFE is asking all their elected officials what they are going to do to protect these communities. 

There is a motion, which should soon be before the LA County Board of Supervisors, to remove all above ground routes from the existing plan and determine other alternatives. De Pinto's latest message, or as he calls it, his "rant", also suggests that those officials -- who are running for re-election or an open seat -- will be asked their position on the elimination of above ground tracks. The forthcoming election in November will have major consequences for those seeking to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley. 

The only elected official who has publicly supported SAFE is Assembly Member Patty Lopez who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District. 

This would make a great TV series. 

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)

 

GELFAND’S WORLD--Silly me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I quoted the noble words that the Hollywood Fringe Festival uses to describe itself: 

"The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community." 

Freedom of expression. That's an ideal that we broad minded types should support. The Fringe's glowing self congratulation goes on: 

"Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival's mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

Diverse and cutting edge points of view. That's another impressive promise. 

But the Fringe seems to be having trouble living up to its own claims. As we have learned over the past two weeks, there is at least one point of view that is not allowable. 

To understand this story, we have to back up one step and explain that the Fringe has had an ongoing relationship with a website called Bitter Lemons. (Photo above, center: Colin Mitchell and Enci Box, Bitter Lemons founders.) During the rest of the year, Bitter Lemons reviews and publicizes local theater. While the Fringe is going on, Bitter Lemons helps to publicize the festival and the productions being staged there.

Back to the main question, which is how one manages to put forth a point of view that is so outrageous that it goes beyond the festival's realm of acceptability. Curiously, the point of view that the Fringe found so objectionable wasn't even a theatrical production. It was an editorial column published in Bitter Lemons. Colin Mitchell's column isn't even about the Hollywood Fringe. It's indirectly about a sexual and physical abuse scandal that happened in Chicago. Mitchell was reacting to a long article about a small theater in Chicago in which the lead actor got away with physical battery and the pushing of sexual boundaries. 

The Chicago scandal story that Mitchell reacted to is by Aimee Levitt, and appeared in the June 8, 2016 edition of the Reader (warning: this is a long and involved story, but worthwhile readiing for any would-be actors and actresses). In the small Profiles Theater in Chicago, an actor who evidently has charisma and some acting skills managed to run his cast and crew ragged, put women in situations that made them feel socially and sexually uncomfortable, engaged in staged fights that got all too physical -- bruising the actresses routinely -- and got away with his reign of fear for years. It's not immediately clear from reading the article whether the players put up with the abuse out of ambition (and fear) for their own careers, or whether it went even further, to some sort of Rasputin-like controlling relationship between the abuser and the abused. 

For some, this will be a tempest in a fairly small teapot, the teapot being small theaters, improv training, and the community of critics and reviewers who follow them. For others, those of us who are dedicated followers of the performing arts, it's of significance. When the integrity of the system is at stake, you take notice. In addition, the large number of young actors and actresses who are taking classes and trying to break into the business should be concerned. Their own safety and their right to retain their own dignity are what is at stake. 

The question involves sexual and physical harassment and what to do about it -- and who should be doing something about it . The question came to a head during the week of June 8 when the following things took place in the order given: 

1) The story broke in the Reader in its June 8 edition. The villain in the Reader piece is the leading actor at Profiles, one Darrell Cox. Just the physical damage to his supporting players sounds bad enough, what with one character or another being thrown violently against a refrigerator or thrown to the floor forcefully enough to cause the boards to creak. There is lots more in the Reader story. 

2) Colin Mitchell, the editor at Bitter Lemons, read the story and raised an interesting question. Where, he asks, is the personal responsibility among the actors and actresses who went along in their own abuse and degradation? Mitchell points out that they were all consenting adults, which turns out to be technically in error because one abused female was 17, but the point is accurate enough on the broader scale. At what point is it a moral obligation to set aside one's personal ambitions (or even fears) and take a stand for the greater public good? We might add to the question: What is the responsibility of the crew and potentially even investors in reporting violence and intimidation to the press or even to the legal authorities? 

Mitchell presented what I think is a strained argument. He says in effect that the actors and actresses who were victimized share some responsibility for not resisting, much less rising up in open revolt. Mitchell seems to have pushed a lot of buttons when he argued that they were all consenting adults. 

Obviously this is an argument of mixed merit. It is possible to be a legal adult without being entirely consenting, and lots of victims of crimes don't go right to the police. The Cosby scandal should be proof enough, if you don't want to familiarize yourself with the official statistics. 

But I think that Mitchell has raised an old but important moral question, even if he didn't quite get the wording perfect. At what point do bystanders -- or even victims -- have some moral obligation to protest and then to resist? It was a central moral question for my generation of post-holocaust Americans, with the explicit conclusion that Germans had an obligation to resist Nazi crimes. If Germans, under a totalitarian dictatorship, had some responsibility for the acts of their government, then it follows that Americans, in a much freer society, have some moral or ethical obligation to at least report on the sorts of activities that the Reader story exposed. One columnist from a major Chicago newspaper recognized this question and accepted some responsibility for failure to raise the topic in the public press at an earlier time. 

Mitchell's editorial is not deeply nuanced, but the seed of the post-holocaust argument is there, however little it is explicated. Mitchell asks in essence why the bruised and exhausted actress didn't just walk away, at the cost of removing a starring role from her resume, but at the gain of preserving her safety and dignity. 

There is a counterargument to Mitchell's position. Several, actually. But I will argue more from the rhetorical standpoint than from the psychological. One way to look at this whole sorry affair is that new rules and systems need to be put in place that protect theatrical newcomers from predators. That was the position developed in the Reader story. If you take this approach, you don't need to obsess on whether some actress was complicit in her own abuse. Not everybody is or can be a hero, and we as a society should protect even the naive and the young. Especially the naive and the young. 

Some of the criticism of Mitchell's editorial takes the argument much further, pointing out that victims in abusive relationships lose control at some point and can't be expected to be able to resist. I think that this argument is less persuasive following a careful rereading of the Reader piece, but it is not entirely lacking. 

3) Within a couple of days, a substantial number of people submitted angry and often caustic comments to Mitchell's piece. You can read them right below Mitchell's article. Here is one example of an outspoken reply: 

"This is white male privilege douchebaggery at its ugliest. Misunderstanding basic psychology of the predator and how he grooms victims. Blaming the victims. Then shaming the victims.

Shame on YOU for perpetuating a culture that blames those who are harmed.

"Sickening, puerile, privileged, cretinous behavior." 

4) Apparently the outcry became wide enough and loud enough to get back to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Hollywood Fringe Festival sent out an email announcing that it was severing relations with Bitter Lemons. So much for all that noble language in the mission statement quoted above. 

5) Shortly after, Bitter Lemons announced on its website that it had fired Colin Mitchell as editor in chief. Enci Box, the publisher of Bitter Lemons, put up a long explanation  which is worth reading, as it goes into the experiences an actress endures both in looking for work and in the theatrical experience itself. 

What I have been able to figure out by exchanging emails with the Hollywood Fringe and with Bitter Lemons is limited. The Hollywood Fringe explains, "Thanks for getting in touch. We have ended our media partnership with Bitter Lemons. The decision was a board-voted and staff-supported response to the editorial piece. That's all we'll be commenting on at this time. Thanks." 

This is an open admission that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is willing to engage in its home grown variety of censorship when it dislikes some particular message enough. 

As for Bitter Lemons, it was caught in the middle of this minefield, what with advertisers pulling their business from the Bitter Lemons organization. 

The Fringe makes another argument to the effect that it needs to be a safe space for all the performers working in its productions. I can see that the Fringe productions should be physically safe, but I suggest that they go too far if they mean to suggest that every performer be psychologically safe. That is an attitude that directly contradicts the idea of " the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

The argument that has been made in various forms is that Mitchell's column was hurtful to some readers. Taken further, this argument implies that some ideas are too dangerous to be allowed. Otherwise, the comment would be, "I strongly disagree with your position and wish to reply." 

Were Colin Mitchell's words and ideas hurtful? Possibly so. Undoubtedly so for at least some readers. But the idea of protecting freedom of expression is that this is a fundamental liberty. It is so fundamental that we dare not go so far as to protect people from having wounded feelings from hearing others' thoughts. As a nation, we've taken it so far as to protect the rights of modern day fascists wearing swastikas to parade in an area where holocaust survivors were concentrated. It's not that the United States is insensitive to the feelings of holocaust victims, but that we treasure freedom of speech as a core value. 

By the way, this is not meant to argue that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is obligated to follow the precepts of the First Amendment as if it were a governmental agency. It is not. It is a private organization and can legally hire or fire companies like Bitter Lemons as it sees fit. But it is also fair for us to point out that when the Fringe wraps itself in the flag of expressive freedom and brags about the untrammeled right to present material that is completely open and uncensored, well then, perhaps it ought to think about trying to live up to its own standards. 

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

-cw

CLEAN ENERGY PROGRESS-When PG&E retires its two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025, the electricity they generate will be replaced with gains in energy efficiency, renewable power, and pollution-free energy technologies. For years, some have claimed that we can’t fight climate change without nuclear power, because shutting down nuclear plants would mean burning more fossil fuels to generate replacement electricity. 

That’s wrong, of course, and now we have the proof. 

Today, California’s Pacific Gas and Electric became the first power company to announce plans to replace an aging nuclear reactor with sound investments that make us more energy efficient and help us get more clean power from the wind and sun. The announcement was part of a joint proposal negotiated with help from NRDC and Friends of the Earth, since joined and improved on by labor and other environmental groups. 

When PG&E retires its two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors, in 2024 and 2025, the electricity they generate will be replaced with gains in energy efficiency, renewable power, and pollution-free energy technologies. 

Closing California’s last nuclear power plant will also make the state’s grid more flexible, so more renewable energy can power California’s businesses and homes. And all of this will cost less than keeping Diablo Canyon open for another 20 years after its current Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses expire, ultimately saving customers more than $1 billion. 

The people at PG&E understand the promise of a clean energy economy  and how this forward-looking plan will lead to lower utility bills for its customers. It’s a tribute to what can be accomplished when we rally together around a common goal. What’s more, this plan is a model that can be replicated around the country, where nearly 100 nuclear reactors will retire in the coming decades, and around the world. 

Right now, America’s nuclear reactors provide about 20 percent of our electricity nationwide. The U.S. Department of Energy tells us that by 2050 we can get nearly two thirds of our electricity from the wind and sun, while efficiency gains ensure that we do more with less energy waste. 

We’re on our way. Last year, 62 percent of all the new electric-generating capacity installed in our country was powered by solar or wind, and growth in electricity use has slowed dramatically since 2000, thanks largely to energy efficiency improvements. 

The joint proposal --  subject to approval by state and federal regulators  --  shows how we can keep the momentum going, and that’s what it’s going to take to protect future generations from the growing dangers of climate change. 

Last year was the hottest  since global recordkeeping began in 1880. This year is on track to be hotter still, with the hottest first five months of the year on record. And 19 of the hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 20 years. 

We’ve got to cut carbon pollution today so our kids don’t inherit more climate chaos tomorrow. That’s why, last December in Paris, the United States led China, India, and more than 180 other nations to put real plans on the table for shifting away from the dirty fossil fuels driving climate change to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. 

The plan to replace nuclear reactors with efficiency gains and renewable power puts PG&E at the forefront of that global transition. It proves we can cut our carbon footprint with energy efficiency and renewable power, even as our aging nuclear fleet nears retirement. And it strikes a blow against the central environmental challenge of our time, the climate change that threatens our very future.

 

(Rhea Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ENVIRONMENT POLITICS--An oil spill has reportedly leaked thousands of gallons of crude from a pipeline into a canyon in Ventura County, California, fire officials said Thursday—in what environmentalists say is a reminder of the dangers of coastal fossil fuel operations.

The leak spilled at least 29,000 gallons, or 700 barrels, as emergency crews used hoses to suck up the "gooey mess" that was created when the oil formed a small lake in a gorge known as Prince Barranca, the Los Angeles Times reported. [[http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ventura-county-oil-spill-20160623-snap-story.html ]]

The operating line has been shut down. The LA Times notes that it is the 10th time in 10 years that the pipeline company, Crimson Pipeline, has had its pipes break or fail.

Meanwhile, the oil company, Aera Energy, is jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil and is responsible for 25 percent of California's output, making it one of the state's biggest oil producers.

"It is distressing to once again see this kind of devastation visited upon a sensitive location," said Brian Segee, senior attorney with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center.

The figures on the oil spill have been difficult to verify. Earlier in the day, fire officials put the estimate at 5,000 barrels—or 210,000 gallons—before amending it to a much smaller number.

Segee noted that the response to last year's Plains All American oil spill on Santa Barbara's Refugio Beach was similar.

"So far estimates for the size of this spill have been all over the map. It is important to remember that with last year's Plains All American Oil Spill at Refugio Beach, the initial industry estimates were orders of magnitude below reality," Segee said. "But we are still very early in understanding the scope of this spill and the challenges that yet another major oil spill will deliver to our region. Regardless of the size, any amount of spilled oil is inexcusable and destructive."

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) told the LAT the spill should serve as another warning of Big Oil's risks.

CBD attorney Kristen Monsell said, "This major spill is another grim example of why we must get pipelines and oil drilling out of California's vulnerable coastal environment. The spill's already causing environmental damage. We've got to stop thinking about these oil spills as accidents and start regarding them as completely predictable ecological tragedies that we can prevent with strong action.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--LA City Planning will soon be forced to make a clear choice regarding the Purple Line Subway Extension. In particular, City Planning is sponsoring two community meetings, on June 29 and 30, to undertake station area planning for three stations: Wilshire/LaBrea, Wilshire/Fairfax, and Wilshire/LaCienega, shown on the map above. 

Which approach to station area planning will prevail? 

The fork in the road for both METRO and the City of Los Angeles is the actual purpose of mass transit. Is it to improve the mobility of Los Angeles residents, to give them more appealing transportation options? Or, is the purpose of transit, such as the Purple Line Extension, to create opportunities for real estate investors to capitalize on suddenly valuable parcels at station areas? 

While most people assume the purpose of transit is to improve mobility for local residents, commuters, and visitors, the choice facing City Hall, based on clashing precedents, is much murkier. The direction, therefore, that the planners and then the City’s elected officials make, will have repercussions for decades to come, probably, in fact, past the end of the 21st century. 

There is a precedent for planning station areas early in the construction process, to make sure that neighborhoods adjacent to transit stations, generally in a quarter-mile radius, are carefully designed to reflect the concerns of both local residents and future passengers. In fact, the Planning Department already prepared comprehensive specific plans for the subway stations at LaBrea/Wilshire and Fairfax/Wilshire, including visionary station designs.  City Planning prepared these plans in the early 1980’s, when the original Metro Rail alignment was Wilshire Boulevard to Fairfax, and then north on Fairfax through West Hollywood, Hollywood, and over the Cahuenga Pass to North Hollywood. 

METRO, then called the Southern California Rapid Transit District, hired the Department of City Planning to prepare approximately 13 separate Specific Plans. When METRO changed the original alignment in 1986 because of political pressure, two of those completed plans, including their EIRs, now correspond to the new Purple Line Extension stations. They could easily be pulled out of old file cabinets, dusted off, and with a few changes, be brought up-to-date. 

But, don’t hold your breath because of a conflicting precedent, Metro’s Expo Lines. In this case, the planning process has strictly focused on up-zoning and up-planning station area parcels to promote Transit Oriented Development, even though METRO itself calls for Transit Oriented Districts/Commununities. 

This alternative is called Neighborhood Transit Plans, an ambitious City Planning program to create local plans for stations on all of METRO’s rail projects in Los Angeles. The most advanced of these plans, for the Exposition Line, is a draft specific plan, first unveiled in January 2015, but yet to be adopted. This draft is, in my view, the template for all future Neighborhood Transit Plans, including those for the Purple Line Extension. 

A careful look at this template reveals that it is a zoning document. Even though the template is labeled a plan, it is not, tellingly, part of the General Plan. It is, in effect, a plan implementation tool, zoning, that is mislabeled a plan. 

There is also a companion Streetscape Plans for each of the Exposition Line’s stations, but these document are not part of the draft Specific Plan. The differences are critical. The City Planning Commission and the City Council adopt Specific Plans as ordinances. Streetscape Plans, however, are only advisory documents that the Board of Public Works, Cultural Affairs Commission, and the City Planning Commission approve.  While Streetscape Plans do include detailed improvements for public areas, they have no implementation authority, such as the City’s budget, capital projects, or Departmental work programs. 

Basic Steps for Purple Line Station Area Planning 

Given these alternative precedents, how should the City of Los Angeles now proceed with comprehensive planning for the Purple Line Extension, as well as other METRO rail corridors? 

First, the entire station area planning process should be completed and implemented before the Purple Line opens to the public in 2023. Considering that the Blue Line, Green Line, and Orange Line are operational, but do not yet have any adopted transit station area plans, this is not a good start. Likewise the Red Line subway, between the downtown and North Hollywood, with a Purple Line spur to Wilshire/Western, only has one adopted plan, the Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan (SNAP). This corridor, like other centers in Los Angeles, does, however, have land use plans prepared by the Community Redevelopment Agency. At some future point, these redevelopment plans will be transferred to the Department of City Planning and may become additional specific plans for transit stations.  

Second, the station area planning process should not reinvent the wheel. The dormant station plans from the previous rail alignment should be re-used, but with a warning. Those older plans did not view transit as a gift horse to real estate developers, but as a threat to existing communities located near stations. These plans protected existing communities from over-development by subway projects in older Los Angeles neighborhoods. These plans also included a subsequently discarded planning principle: new real estate projects should be limited to the capacity of local infrastructure and services. 

Third, instead of using rail projects to attract new residents to station areas, the plans should focus on public improvements that address the mobility needs of existing residents and commuters. This principle is at odds with the model Exposition Specific Plan, whose purpose is to encourage high-density apartment projects, based on the untested assumption that their tenants will live near subway stations and, therefore, use mass transit. 

Fourth, the restored station area plans must address heavy automobile traffic generated by the nearby Cedar-Sinai Hospital, Beverly Center, Beverly Connection, Grove Shopping Center, and Farmers Market. These local traffic generators need be carefully linked to the new subway stations. 

Fifth, to properly serve the transportation needs of Purple Line Extension neighbors and commuters, the planning process should include the following agencies and projects: 

  • Bureau of Street Services regarding systematic tree planning, pedestrian curb cuts, and other sidewalk improvement in the station planning areas, at least a 1/4 mile from the station site. The precedent for these improvements can be found at the Purple Line’s Wilshire-Vermont station, where METRO paid for similar improvements on both Vermont and Wilshire Boulevard. 
  • Department of Water and Power regarding the undergrounding of power utility lines in station areas. Since the relocation of these utility lines is part of subway construction, some of this work is already underway. 
  • Department of Transportation, regarding the construction of bicycle infrastructure and pedestrian enhancements, such as intersection redesign and way-finding signs. 
  • Bureau of Street Lighting regarding the installation of improved street lighting on pedestrian-oriented streets. 
  • METRO regarding the construction of station-site interfaces for cars (Kiss ‘n Ride and Park ‘n Ride), busses, taxis, carpools, vanpools, pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycles. 
  • Los Angeles Police Department regarding citations for automobile drivers who block pedestrian crosswalks with their cars. 

The combination of these public improvements is called Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) by METRO, so there should be no reluctance on their part to assure that these features are properly planned, funded, and constructed prior to 2023.  

Evolution of Station Area Planning in Los Angeles 

Underlying this discussion is the steady evolution of station area planning from broad improvements in mobility to now rolling out the red carpet for real estate projects. While the older plans were growth neutral, the current approach is clearly growth inducing, but with little concern for the public services that additional residents will require. 

A deeper question is why has the focus of station area planning changed so much during the 30 years between the first Metrorail project and the current one. The answer, I think, is the continued collapse of the post-WWII liberal order in the United States, which gradually became neo-liberalism. From the early 1970s onward, President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War promise to the American public of “guns and butter” could not be kept. The traditional liberal formula of progressive legislation at home (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Voting Rights Act, EPA) married to a hawkish foreign policy collapsed. Even though the hawkish component quickly resumed, this breakdown included the gradual elimination of many domestic programs, such as the Federal government’s programs for public housing programs and local transportation projects. 

To justify these cutbacks in domestic programs, neo-liberal ideology filled the bill nicely. Its main tenant was that market forces, if properly infused by deregulation and incentives to investors, could address stubborn social problems, such as traffic congestion and high priced housing. When applied to cities, neo-liberalism meant the elimination of major urban programs and the deregulation of zoning and environmental review. As a result, local government policies have since then deliberately benefited owners of commercial property, on the assumption that if zoning barriers, such as use, height, density, and parking codes, are removed, developers will build a cornucopia of Transit Oriented Development near transit stations. This miracle cure would simultaneously provide affordable housing and drive up transit ridership. So far this has not yet happened, but its defenders claim they need more time for their zoning plans to be vindicated. 

Unfortunately, we do not have enough time for this grand experiment to be played out. The supposed miracle cure of high density market housing built at subway stations, regardless of population trends or the capacity of public infrastructure and services, will lock us in to undesirable land use patterns that will haunt us for generations to come. Affluent residents in these areas are not likely to become regular transit users, while local streets, parking facilities, and other public services will not be able to keep up with increased user demand. 

This is why I have argued that the focus of station area plans should be public improvements, such as better sidewalks, not up-zoning and up-planning handouts for real estate tycoons. 

It is also why I now argue that the planning for the Purple Line stations forces the Department of City Planning to make some tough choices on the ultimate purpose of mass transit. Will it be the needs of residents and commuters or will it be the needs of real estate speculators? 

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He welcomes comments and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com.)

-cw

 

ELECTION 2016--As we head toward the Democratic National Convention, I often hear the question, “What does Bernie want?” Wrong question. The right question is what the 12 million Americans who voted for a political revolution want.

And the answer is: They want real change in this country, they want it now and they are prepared to take on the political cowardice and powerful special interests which have prevented that change from happening.

"What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life."

They understand that the United States is the richest country in the history of the world, and that new technology and innovation make us wealthier every day. What they don’t understand is why the middle class c ontinues to decline, 47 million of us live in poverty and many Americans are forced to work two or three jobs just to cobble together the income they need to survive.

What do we want? We want an economy that is not based on uncontrollable greed, monopolistic practices and illegal behavior. We want an economy that protects the human needs and dignity of all people — children, the elderly, the sick, working people and the poor. We want an economic and political system that works for all of us, not one in which almost all new wealth and power rests with a handful of billionaire families.

The current campaign finance system is corrupt. Billionaires and powerful corporations are now, through super PACs, able to spend as much money as they want to buy elections and elect candidates who represent their interests, not the American people. Meanwhile, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any major country on earth, and Republican governors are working overtime to suppress the vote and make it harder for poor people, people of color, seniors and young people to vote. 

What do we want? We want to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move toward public funding of elections. We want universal voter registration, so that anyone 18 years of age or older who is eligible to vote is automatically registered. We want a vibrant democracy and a well-informed electorate that knows that its views can shape the future of the country.

Our criminal justice system is broken. We have 2.2 million people rotting behind bars at an annual expense of $80 billion. Youth unemployment in a number of inner-cities and rural communities is 30 to 50 percent, and millions of young people have limited opportunities to participate in the productive economy. Failing schools all around the country produce more people who end up in jail than graduate college. Millions of Americans have police records as a result of marijuana possession, which should be decriminalized. And too many people are serving unnecessarily long mandatory minimum sentences.

What do we want?  We want a criminal justice system that addresses the causes of incarceration, not one that simply imprisons more people. We want to demilitarize local police departments, see local police departments reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and end private ownership of prisons and detention centers. We want to create the conditions that allow people who are released from prison to stay out. We want the best educated population on earth, not the most incarcerated population.

The debate is over. Climate change is real. It is caused by human activity, and it already is causing devastating damage in our country and to the entire planet. If present trends continue, scientists tell us the planet will be 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the end of the century — which means more droughts, floods, extreme weather disturbances, rising sea levels and acidification of the oceans. This is a planetary crisis of extraordinary magnitude.

What do we want? We want the United States to lead the world in pushing our energy system away from fossil fuel and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energy. We want a tax on carbon, the end of fracking and massive investment in wind, solar, geothermal and other sustainable technologies. We want to leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for future generations.

What do we want? We want to end the rapid movement that we are currently experiencing toward oligarchic control of our economic and political life. As Lincoln put it at Gettysburg, we want a government of the people, by the people and for the people. That is what we want, and that is what we will continue fighting for.

(Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. This piece was posted most recently at Common Dreams.) 

-cw

 

 

GUEST WORDS--Fourteen county workers in San Bernardino, nine parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church, 12 military employees in Navy Yard, 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and now 49 members of the LGBT community in Orlando, Fla. The attack last weekend in a gay nightclub has shocked the nation. It is the deadliest in a long and growing list of mass shootings that have become a disturbing trademark of the United States, setting us apart from every other developed nation in the worst way. (Photo above: Congresswoman Hahn with Congressman John Lewis.)

The American people are scared and angry — and they should be. After every attack, a number of my colleagues in Congress have stood in the way of enacting even the most obvious reforms to prevent the next one and protect human life.

There are effective and common-sense solutions that the American people want implemented. We need to reinstate the assault-weapons ban to get mass shooters’ weapon of choice out of our neighborhoods, and implement universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

Would these reforms have saved lives in Orlando? I am not sure, but doing nothing is not the answer. The American people are demanding action, and we must try anything we can to prevent further attacks.

We have a long way to go toward ending gun violence, but we have to start somewhere with something I believe we can all agree on: keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have gone to great lengths to stop terrorist attacks. Travelers must go through a full-body scanner before boarding a plane. Passengers cannot even bring a bottle of shampoo in their carry-on luggage. Federal authorities compile lists of suspected terrorists, and none of those individuals are allowed on a plane.

And yet, the suspected terrorists who have been deemed too dangerous to fly have nothing standing in the way of them buying an AR-15 at their nearest superstore and committing the same atrocity that we saw most recently in Orlando.

Gun violence has terrorized communities in this country for years, but it is time to also address it as a threat to our national security. Our lax gun laws are not a secret. Terrorist leaders know that the military style assault weapons readily available at stores can do as much — if not more — damage than bombs. ISIS and Al Qaeda recruiters know this is our weakness and have been urging lone-wolf attackers to take advantage of it for years.

Yet, many of my colleagues in Congress who have claimed to be tough on terrorism have stood in the way of efforts to close the terror loophole. My message to them: You are not tough enough.

Last year, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced legislation that would ban individuals on the no-fly list from buying firearms and explosives and empower federal authorities to stop individuals they suspect of having terrorist ties from purchasing guns that may be used for terrorist activities.

The American people are resoundingly behind this proposal. Members of Congress doing the bidding of the gun lobby are the only people standing in the way of its passage. After a 15-hour filibuster by my Senate colleagues, Senate Republicans have agreed to consider holding a vote on gun reform. This is an encouraging step.

I implore you to call your representative and your senators. Urge them to support “No Fly, No Buy.” This is common-sense legislation that can save lives.

(Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, represents California’s 44th District in the U.S. Congress. This perspective appeared earlier at Congresswoman Hahn’s website and at presstelegram.com.)

-cw 

 

STANDING FOR SOMETHING--It was almost midnight when I found myself glued to the live video of scores of Democratic congressmembers then about twelve hours into their historic sit-in. They were occupying the House chamber, jerry-rigging a social media-based broadcast when the Republican leadership shut-down the C-Span cameras, rising one after another to speak with passion, reminding the nation that business as usual is no longer okay. They are proud of themselves and each other, as they should be. They are grateful to civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis who has been leading them in speaking truth to power.   By late morning Thursday they were continuing to occupy the House.  Despite the Republican leadership announcing that the House is not in session, they are insisting that there be no congressional recess without voting on the proposed bills, and they are demanding that the public, filling the galleries, be allowed to stay.

They are reminding the world that since 1968 more Americans have been killed in gun violence than in all the wars in US history. They are demanding a vote on gun safety laws. It’s a moving, empowering thing to see.  It’s rare, powerful, and should be applauded.

"It’s a moving, empowering thing to see... And yet. There’s a huge problem."

And yet. There’s a huge problem. The two proposals the Democrats are demanding a vote on are very problematic.  One bill proposes only a small, completely insufficient expansion of background checks.  The second would not only be ineffective in preventing gun violence, but would cause a dangerous increase in racial profiling and Islamophobia.  That second bill is the basis for the slogan “no fly, no buy” – which refers to making sure that no one on law enforcement’s so-called “no-fly” lists is ever allowed to buy a weapon. 

If we were talking about actually preventing real terrorists from buying weapons, that would be a no-brainer.  But the “no-fly” lists are not lists of terrorists; they are lists of people –  American citizens, green-card holders, visitors, citizens of other countries – who end up on the FBI’s or other law enforcement agencies’ lists for reasons we and they never know. Maybe they share a name with someone once suspected of knowing someone whose second cousin once skyped with someone thought to be a would-be terrorist. Maybe their college roommate ended up trying to go to Syria. For some few of them, maybe they really do have dangerous intentions. But there are thousands of people on these lists. Most of them can’t even find out why they’re not allowed to fly, let alone succeed at challenging the prohibition.  We should not forget that President Nelson Mandela remained on the US “terrorist” watch-list until 2008. What the American Civil Liberties Union calls our “error-prone and unfair watch-listing system” doesn’t produce a list of terrorists at all. 

If it was up to me, I’d prohibit anyone – anyone, on or off those lists – from buying or possessing these lethal weapons.  But it’s not up to me.  And unfortunately the “no fly, no buy” rule being proposed in the newly militant House tonight is not going to prevent gun violence either.  What it is going to do, unfortunately, is further legitimize these watch lists, now as the basis for a politically more popular version of gun control.  But as the ACLU noted, “Our nation’s watch-listing system is error-prone and unreliable because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.” 

And we know that those “vague and overbroad criteria” end up being applied disproportionately to Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and others wrongly assumed to be linked to terrorism.  It is terribly sad that some of our most principled, consistent members of Congress – members of the Black Caucus, the conscience of the Congress, and the Progressive Caucus, whose members work against racism, against racial profiling, against Islamophobia and hatred, against war and beyond – are among those accepting and urging even greater reliance on this “error-prone and unreliable” system in the name of preventing gun violence.

The Democratic leadership is refusing to allow their now-insurgent party to officially endorse the most sensible (however insufficient) versions of gun control laws:  outlawing assault weapons, removing the prohibition on federal research on the public health consequences of gun violence, and universal background checks.  Those things, lethally opposed by the NRA, would not stop the epidemic of gun violence in this country but unlike the no-fly lists they would certainly help.  Some in the sit-in rejected those restrictions. At 12:35 in the morning, Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, one of those who had set up the live-streaming of the debate after the Republican leadership turned off the cameras, rose to call for all three of those goals.

The congressional sit-in is bringing moral power and renewed urgency to the cause of gun control. Watching the Democrats shout down Republican leaders desperately trying to reclaim control of the House might challenge the partisan bickering that has paralyzed Congress for years. It may mark the beginning of a turn towards the re-legitimation of Congress, long demonized as the least effective, least useful, least popular institution around. That renewed legitimacy, though, would be far more likely achieved if these members of Congress, as they consolidate their new moral credibility, would finally reject the current iteration of “no fly” lists as the basis for gun control – or indeed, as a valid method of counter-terrorism.

The Congressional sit-in protesters should be congratulated for standing up for their principles. And they should be pressured to make sure their plans to act on those principles don’t undermine other principles of civil rights and equality.

(Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.  Her most recent book is Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror.  This perspective was posted first at Common Dreams

-cw

POLITICS--As the summer and fall of this election cycle get ever closer, it will be very easy to let ourselves choose sides and be divided--but if we're smart, and if we're truly liberal (open-minded) and if we're truly conservative (common sense) this need not happen.  Furthermore, we MUST NOT let this happen. 

There's a lot of commonality between the many infuriated, disenfranchised and frustrated groups in our nation.  We're in shock and horror about the Orlando shooting, and we're in shock and horror over the incident a toddler being drowned by an alligator, and we're in shock and horror over how the Stanford rapist got such a lenient sentence. 

In other words, if we hate liberals/Democrats, or if we hate conservatives/Republicans, more than we love this nation, then that's a choice.  Some of you may make that choice, but it's still YOUR choice...and one that need not be adhered to. 

And if there is any take-home message from the GOP and Democratic primaries, if you're not angry and fed up about how our leaders have run our nation, then arguably you're one of the "privileged and protected" or you're just not paying attention to how ALL empowered sides have sold the majority of this nation (particularly the rule-abiding middle-class) out. 

So while the majority of Americans polled did not approve of Donald J. Trump's response to the Orlando shooting, the majority of Americans weren't supportive of Hillary R. Clinton's response, either.   

But Clinton's lead over Trump has slipped since Orlando...because virtually all Americans do NOT want these types of shootings to be "the new normal", and they are divided over how to address these shootings. 

But we appear to be united in that most of us do not like either Trump or Clinton.  We are concerned if immigrants (particularly Muslims) are assimilating into American/Western culture, but we refuse to lower ourselves to racist rhetoric. 

We're also concerned about BOTH Bush's AND Obama's screwups that have turned Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria into dangerous and empowered cesspools and terrorist violence.  Clinton's past actions as Secretary of State are part of this problem, but is Trump likely to be any better? 

And has President Obama allowed these types of shootings to be "the new normal"?  

But THIS is the big divide:  while liberals/progressives have focused on gun control over the role of Islamism as the major cause/problem that led to Orlando (and, before that, San Bernardino), it's the other way around for conservatives/pragmatists. 

Yet what if BOTH sides are correct? 

That's right...BOTH.  It would have been best to have better screened the Orlando shooter before allowing him purchase to certain weapons, and SOMETHING has to be done to best screen potential purchasers of weapons not available when the Second Amendment of the Constitution was written.

Yet there are a few caveats here--because very few believe that law-abiding Americans should be denied access to self-protection.  That said, very few of those advocating modified gun control really know what the heck they're talking about when it comes to the guns they want restricted. 

Yet while the NRA opposes some of the gun control restrictions of the Left, they also quickly opposed Trump's statements of the benefits of the rights and ease of a "conceal/carry" permit to any customer going into a nightclub, where alcohol is being consumed. 

Even in the Old West, there were bars, dance halls, and other public venues where guns and other weapons were to be checked in for purposes of public safety. 

And inasmuch as some of us may hate the gun-control advocates or the NRA, their more moderate proposals (better screening, gun show controls, more armed security guards at schools and nightclubs) are probably to be ignored at our collective peril. 

And inasmuch as we don't want to devolve into racism, SOME common sense profiling of potential gun purchasers is in order to prevent more tragedies such as Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Orlando...so let's not kid ourselves: 

The "gun nuts" will need to be more carefully screened, but there will probably be a lot of potential Muslim gun buyers who will be screened, as well. 

Because while President Obama might be trying to make the Orlando tragedy into a "gun control thing" it would be better received if he also pleaded for American Muslims to "step up". 

After all, it's not unrealistic to be terrified of BOTH crazies that were responsible for the Sandy Hook, Gaby Gifford and Aurora, Colorado shootings (all Democrats, by the way, and unrelated to Sarah Palin) AS WELL AS Islamist extremists (who apparently had friends, neighbors, and families who could have, and SHOULD HAVE, turned them in before the tragedies occurred). 

The truth will set us all free--because we will ALL need to step up and do the right thing to prevent future tragedies from occurring.  Attorney General Lynch's censoring certain parts of the Orlando shooter's phone calls to remove references to his Islamist extremism won't help anyone, and won't prevent any future tragedies. 

So if you, the reader, just HATE Republican and conservatives more than you love this nation, or if you just HATE Democrats and liberals more than you love this nation, then that is your choice.

But it's a choice that you need not make.  Listen to all sides, and don't dismiss them as being devoid of excellent and moderate and smart compromises. 

Let's let these tragedies unite us, not divide us--we owe it to the memories of the slain and maimed to do the right thing in their name, and in the name of future American generations.

 

(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

 

EDITOR’S PICK--In the days following the horrific attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando – one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history, which claimed the lives of 49 people (50 counting the shooter) and left over 50 wounded – evidence began to mount that the gunman likely possessed multiple motives. This evidence is not surprising in light of what research has revealed about the origins of violence, which includes the knowledge that most people who commit violent acts are driven by a complex, multifaceted and intertwined set of factors. The underlying root causes of violence, then, cannot be reduced to one or two sources. To invoke a cliché, the world is not black and white. The nature of violence is no exception, and our individual and collective understanding of it must not be either if we are to effectively address and prevent all forms of it. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the shooter’s perceived justifications for perpetrating the murderous rampage may have been intense psychological and emotional pain over his sexual orientation – a catastrophic blend of deep shame, humiliation and bitterness over his possible queerness. 

Besides his apparent queer inclinations, there were several noteworthy details about the shooter’s life that were omitted during many discussions about motives: his history of domestic violence, both as a victimizer and a witness to it in childhood; his employment with G4S, one of the largest private security firms in the world, for which he rendered services that included the imprisonment and mistreatment of juvenile offenders; and, his fascination with the NYPD, which he apparently idolized as a would-be police officer. 

In addition, based on testimony from eye witnesses and acquaintances, racism could also have influenced his choice of target. What is more, we know from reports that both the ideologies behind and atrocities of the so-called U.S-led “war on terror” and terror groups operating across the world could have contributed to the gunman’s unspeakable act. 

All these factors, plus additional ones that may surface in the days and weeks ahead, may have played a role in the shooter’s toxic thinking and derangement, and ultimately led to the massacre which unfolded that awful night. 

For these reasons, as well as others, the attack in Orlando cannot be explained away by the tired and parochial refrain, “they hate us because of our freedoms,” regardless of the lengths to which some might go to convince people of its validity. 

Yet, almost immediately after news of the nightclub tragedy broke, various political leaders and members of the corporate media, among others, began engaging in selective hate and bigotry against Muslims. They did not ask questions. They did not want answers. They conveniently ignored or discounted credible information regarding the gunman’s background and automatically defaulted in their dogmatic thinking to blaming so-called “radical” Islam. 

Those who spew hate, especially in the wake of a national tragedy, only reveal their bigotry, cowardice and bad character, and, whether they intend to or not, incite further hostility against vulnerable minority groups. Practitioners of such reactionary thinking tend to use the red herring of immigration and foreign “terrorism” to advance their own xenophobic and jingoistic agendas. This careless and irresponsible behavior only fuels Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. 

Demagoguery and fear-mongering about terrorism and the “Other” is extremely lucrative for the multi-trillion dollar war industry. The tragic incident in Orlando could prove to be another opportunity for war profiteers to grow even richer. Islamophobia and racism sells war. A national conversation about homophobia, domestic violence, the security-surveillance state and prison-industrial complex does not. 

We will never stop mass shootings if we continue to fault Islam. Sadly, however, the religion will probably continue to be targeted and exploited by small-minded people to communicate and spread anti-Muslim, ultra-nationalist propaganda. Horrendous violence is sometimes committed in the name of Islam, as it is in the name of other religions. However, this in no way makes religion culpable for it, yet Islam is deliberately and repeatedly scapegoated. 

It is utter nonsense to attribute mass shootings to Islam, particularly when an honest analysis of these incidents provides some concrete albeit complicated answers regarding the pathologies of violence. If it were about blaming or banning a particular demographic to eliminate mass shootings, the statistical data show that religion should not be a candidate. 

The Albany Times Union’s Chris Churchill articulates this point well in a recent column: “…if you look at the long list of recent mass shootings, you can't help but realize that it is entirely dishonest to call this a Muslim or immigrant problem…It would be far more accurate to call it an angry and isolated young man problem. In fact, if the goal is ending mass shootings, it would make much more sense to ban all men under the age of 35 than it would to bar Muslims.” 

Not only is the problem of mass shootings far from being rooted in religion, the policy of sound gun control offers some solid evidence about preventive approaches: In his latest column, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, calls attention to the fact that, “Over the last two decades, Canada has had eight mass shootings. Just so far this month, the United States has already had 20…. Canada’s population is 3.2 percent Muslim, while the United States is about 1 percent Muslim — yet Canada doesn’t have massacres like the one we just experienced at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., or the one in December in San Bernardino, Calif. So perhaps the problem isn’t so much Muslims out of control but guns out of control.” To insist, therefore, that Islam is the problem would be to expose either profound ignorance or explicit and virulent racism regarding the religion. 

The good news is that there is a significant number of antiwar and peace and justice groups working diligently to identify and eliminate the multiple and interconnected forms of violence that could have influenced the mass shooting at Pulse. The #VetsVsHate movement is one example of this work.  

#VetsVsHate was inspired by efforts including the Veterans Challenge Islamophobia campaign, an national initiative of Veterans For Peace launched earlier this year in collaboration with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). The campaign seeks to confront and stop the verbal and physical targeting of Muslims. Along with on-the-ground nonviolent protest/civil disobedience actions against the vitriol being directed at Muslims, social media has been a vehicle through which veterans and allies have expressed their defense of and solidarity with the Muslim community. 

As an organization dedicated to abolishing war as well as ending violence in all its forms in order to help build a more just and peaceful future, VFP believed it had a responsibility to release a statement on the mass shooting in Orlando. The statement reads, in part: “Tragedies like this often lead people to look for someone or something to blame. Veterans For Peace rejects attempts to perpetuate hatred against the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. We ask all to resist this temptation. We call on all people to challenge the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against all forms of hate; and at this time particularly against homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Let us instead recommit ourselves to working toward a world without hatred and prejudice.” 

IVAW also released a statement about the attack on Pulse which touches on many of the same points that were conveyed in the VFP statement. 

Veterans have a unique perspective on the various ways in which enmity and violence develops and destroys lives, as many of them were thrust into situations where it was inescapable and on full display. Veterans can speak with authority on how and why demonization and persecution of the “Other” can and does produce violence. Frequently, they are eager to share their insights with anyone willing to listen and learn. The aftermath of the Pulse massacre has proven to be one such time when veterans are speaking out. 

Below are the voices of four veterans who offer their perspectives on the Pulse nightclub attack and the hate rhetoric and blame game that followed: 

“Anytime a shooting or bombing occurs around the world, the collective hearts of 1.7 billion Muslims is shattered and the anxious prayer "please don't let them claim to be Islamic" is uttered. This is because all Muslims know that the tenets of Islam proclaim that the unjust taking of one life is equivalent of killing all of humanity in the sight of God, particularly during this time of Ramadan -- when it is forbidden to even engage in an argument with another person much less commit a mass shooting. This is precisely how every single Muslim in the world knows that the Orlando shooter was a fraud, whose only belief system was violence and hatred. But, true to form, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the world is witnessing the charity and goodness of Muslims, who are donating blood (even though they are fasting from food and water), bringing sustenance to those in need, or, like me, standing shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ+ community through tears in solemn vigils of remembrance for the beautiful souls we lost. We know that our bonds of kinship as minority communities cannot and will not be torn asunder by violence because our bonds are made of love and unity and they are everlasting.” –Nate Terani (Navy veteran, VFP member, and Phoenix-based VCI field organizer) 

“Hijab. Allah. These are terms we think of when we come upon the word “Muslim.” People also think “terrorist,” which is a destructive way of thinking. Both the events of 9/11 and the Orlando massacre caused tremendous suffering for many. But we must not forget these tragedies hurt the Muslim community as well. When 9/11 occurred, I like many Americans said we needed to go over there and do something about it. However, I didn’t understand Islam. I ended up meeting a man wanting to explain the beliefs of Islam to people who didn’t know, to strike down the belief that all Muslims are evil. Since that time, I’ve never looked back and even in the Marine Corps (while I never deployed) I stood up for our brothers and sisters, some of whom were Muslim. Two quotes come to mind for me: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (Santayana) and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (Gandhi). Knowledge is power and if we do not understand Islam we need to educate ourselves in order to dispel Islamophobia.” –Renee Whitfield (Marine Corps veteran, #VetsVsHate supporter) 

“As a Latinx. A Muslim. A Veteran. A serious conversation is necessary to discuss the ways Toxic Masculinity, Militarism, Homophobia, and Islamophobia contributed to the shooting in Orlando, as well as helping shape the narrative told by US media outlets and posturing of U.S. politicians. We live in a society that is homophobic, heterosexist, and is discriminatory towards marginalized people. In communities across the U.S., both children and adults are learning to perpetuate oppressive behavior towards the LGBT+ community. Homophobia like Islamophobia can be fear-driven, but it is also contempt-driven.” –Ramon Mejia (Marine Corps veteran, IVAW member, Texas-based VCI field organizer) 

“A long time ago, I made it a point not to watch the news, listen to the radio or read a newspaper regularly. It felt like ingesting poison. Existing in our society – at times – feels the same way to me; an onslaught of verbal insults or the stare of the unspoken judgement. It has been a long journey of realising my existence is not an embarrassment, the colour of my skin is not some mistake, who I love is not “a sin and I am going to hell” or that my last name does not warrant that I be singled out and labelled. When I step outside my home, I must emotionally and spiritually prepare myself to deal with “the world”. I know I will encounter individuals who believe what mainstream mass media has been feeding them: ready-made summaries consisting of lies and fear and pre-packaged judgements of hate. When I am directly (or indirectly) confronted with someone who unleashes their poison upon me, I must work times over to not mirror their behavior, lest I prove true to that person what the media machine has fed them. I believe we are all truly connected. Admittedly, I struggle with this belief when I encounter another’s fear and hate. Whether in that moment or thereafter, there is a deep realisaton that their anger and hate is a symptom of the insecurity and dis-empowerment syphoning upon the spirit of the many in our country. My responsibility, is to ensure my journey and activism remain genuine and fluid, rooted in from a spiritual connection.” –Monique Salhab (Air Force and Army veteran, VFP board member) 

If more people in the U.S., especially our lawmakers, truly listened to and took voices like the ones shared above seriously, we might be able to make meaningful strides in curbing the sort of violence that took so many innocent lives and devastated so many families last week in Orlando. Hate rhetoric and anti-Muslim sentiments will fail to bring us closer to stopping violence. It will, however, continue to breed hostility and erode the Constitution. This is unacceptable and must be countered by individual and collective efforts to grow diversity, inclusivity and equality and secure civil and human rights for all people, both at home and abroad.

  

(Brian Trautman is an Army veteran and currently sits on the national board of directors of Veterans For Peace (VFP). He teaches peace studies and economics at Berkshire Community College in western Massachusetts and resides near Albany, NY.)

-cw

PERSPECTIVE--Sunday, I woke up to the news “that someone had shot up a gay club in Orlando and there were many injured and killed.” I then went about my morning getting ready to go to a gay family picnic celebration. There would be a jumping castle and lots of games and fun stations set-up for kids to play. The news hadn’t sunk in yet, and I didn’t look for details.

There was some talk at the event and a couple folks said they were glad this celebration was taking place at a (and this is my description) “gated” park and that reservations were required to attend.

I like to think the reservations were so those organizing the event would know how many to plan for … but now I wonder. Here in New Orleans we still have closed family Facebook groups and operate by rules some of y’all might think are from the days in which social tolerance was much lower.

My initial thought regarding the shooting at Pulse in Orlando was that this was a hate crime planned for Pride. The social psychologist in me guessed some perceived threat had likely led to this event and, indeed, the detail about Omar Mateen’s fury over seeing two men kissing was reported early. It was only after I had returned home that I started to learn the details and that the death toll was rising.

There are so many angles and lessons to learn from this event, but I felt compelled to share my opinions on the symbolic importance of the gay bar to myself and the gay community, spurred by these two tweets from Jeramey Kraatz: 

 

 

Growing up a sexual minority means you were most likely raised by the majority script. This means you likely weren’t taught the skills or coping mechanisms to deal with your sexuality and most definitely homophobia. You live in fear that those you love the most may not understand. Moreover, you go from one day being what you thought of as “typical” and having unrecognized privileges to coming out. In the next moments, many of those privileges are wiped away and you have to re-frame expectations for yourself and what you can do and what is possible … just because of a few words you said out loud.

For many non-heterosexual people, gay bars help us find our way. They are often the most accessible safe spaces available. So much so that they have academically been compared to churches for the LGBT community, complete with rituals, a sense of community, and a routine. Religious scholar Marie Cartier wrote a history of life at gay bars before the Stonewall riots. “The only place that you could be a known homosexual — even though you could get arrested there and it was not safe,” she wrote, “was a gay bar.” Even today, just knowing that they are there is powerful. 

I have gone years not really celebrating Pride, but during a week like this you realize why it is there and why we do it and why it is important.

(Lisa Wade is an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, currently on leave and living in New Orleans. Her newest book, American Hookup, is about the emergence and character of the culture of sex that now dominates college campuses all across the country. This piece was posted first at Pacific Standard Magazine.)

 

 

 

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

LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the Herb Wesson led City Council must think we are absolute fools if they believe that we will vote to approve massive tax increases in November while they continue to neglect our City and trash our quality of life.

On Friday, the Rules Committee of the City Council will consider placing on the ballot a measure to authorize the issuance of $1 billion of bonds.  This money will be used to finance the building of more housing for the homeless.  

The County is also considering a yet to be determined $250 million tax to help fund its homeless initiatives, including, subject to Sacramento’s approval, a controversial “millionaire’s tax” of 0.5% on incomes north of $1 million. 

The County is also contemplating a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County, especially in underserved areas.  

At the same time, Metro will place on the ballot a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to fund transportation related projects and operations.  This will increase our sales tax to a whopping 9½%. 

Over the next 40 years, this new Metro tax, along with the existing transportation taxes, will raise almost $300 billion, of which almost $25 billion will be kicked back to City Hall as part of the Local Return program.  

Despite a kickback from Metro of over $200 million this year, City Hall does not have a comprehensive plan to repair our lunar cratered streets and alleys, some of the worst in the country. 

Nor does City Hall have a detailed plan to repair our residential sidewalks in a timely manner. Rather, homeowners may have to wait up to 30 years pursuant to the court mandated Sidewalk Repair Program unless residents are prepared to pony up their own dough to pay for a substantial portion of the cost to fix their broken sidewalks and replant their trees.  

City Hall is also starving our Department of Recreation and Parks by hitting it up for almost $60 million a year as part of its “full recovery cost” program.  This represents a third of its General Fund charter mandated allocation.  As a result, our parks have deteriorated and the Department has embarked on an unpopular program to commercialize our parks. 

The City Council and the Jose Huizar led Planning and Land Use Management Committee are preparing to allow the campaign funding billboard industry to install intrusive digital billboards in many areas outside the designated sign districts.  But the light blight from these highly profitable digital billboards is an assault on our quality of life. 

The Mayor and the City Council are also selling us out to real estate speculators and developers by approving zoning variances for luxury residential skyscrapers that will result in increased congestion on our already clogged streets.  

There are also hot button issues involving small lot subdivisions, short term rentals (AirBnb), granny flats, mansionization, and the hillside communities that have inflamed the impacted residents.  

At the same time that the City is neglecting our infrastructure and failing to protect our neighborhoods, City Hall has no problem entering into a new contract with the City’s civilian unions that will eventually cost an extra $125 million a year. This will result in a structural deficit of over $100 million for the fiscal year ending 2020 as opposed to a previously anticipated surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.  

And this does not include the impact of the “goal” of hiring 5,000 new City employees or the underfunding of the City’s two pension plans by at least $400 million a year as the City relies on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%. 

The three ballot measures all have fatal flaws that will make it difficult for them to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters.  They are also the beginning of an onslaught of new taxes (including DWP, stormwater, and streets and sidewalks) that will have the cumulative impact of raising our taxes by at least $1.5 billion.  This is the equivalent of a 30% increase in our real estate taxes or a 3% increase in our sales tax to 12%. 

City Hall will put on a full court press to convince us to approve these taxes.  But City Hall’s reputation for neglecting our streets, sidewalks, and parks; for not respecting our quality of life; for selling out to the real estate and billboard industries; for its kowtowing to the City’s civilian unions; and for its unwillingness to really balance the budget will doom these ballot measures to failure. 

Who are the fools now? 

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday morning, the Rules Committee of the City Council released its recommendations for the reform of our Department of Water and Power.  This 2,300 word document addressed three areas of reform:  1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit undue interference and meddling by the Mayor and the City Council, 2) more efficient contracting and procurement policies that would free management from overly burdensome overhead, bureaucracy, and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department, free from the City’s civil service requirements, that would allow for hiring flexibility. 

The recommendations are a constructive start, but need to be refined over the next three weeks if the measure to reform the Department is to be placed on the November 8 ballot for our approval.  

One recommendation of the Rules Committee would require the Department to develop a “four year strategic investment and revenue plan (the “Plan”) for approval by the City Council and the Mayor.”  This would also include a robust discussion on our water and power rates.  While this planning process would give the City Council more authority over the DWP, it would also provide the Board and the management greater operational and financial flexibility as long as they stayed within the Plan’s guidelines. 

[Note: The City Council should take its own advice and develop a multiyear strategic, operational, and financial plan for our City!] 

Once the Plan is approved, the Board of Commissioners, the General Manager, and her management team should be given considerable authority to operate the Department without undue interference and meddling from the City Council and the Mayor.  This would include the elimination of the burdensome requirement that the Board and the Department clear agenda items with the Mayor’s office. 

The Rules Committee recommended that the seven part time commissioners (an increase from the current level of five part time commissioners) serve three year staggered terms.  But three years does not allow Commissioners enough time to learn the intricacies this $5 billion a year enterprise and would deprive the Board of important institutional and industry knowledge.  Rather, the term should be five years as outlined in Councilmember Felipe Fuentes’ January 22 motion that kicked off the discussion of the reform of our Department of Water and Power.  

The Rules Committee recommended that Commissioners could be removed by the Mayor with the concurrence of the Council or by a vote of 75% of the Council.  To the contrary, removal should be only for cause and not at the discretion of our elected officials. 

The recommendations appear to address the General Manager’s request that the Department be granted more freedom in contracting and procurement by amending the City Charter to allow the Department to enter into selected power contracts, leases, and design build arrangements with the approval of the Board of Commissioners, bypassing the need for a time consuming ordinances approved by the slow moving City Council. 

The biggest disappointment is that the Rules Committee was not able to follow through on Fuentes’ motion to “authorize the Department to oversee its own hiring functions and remove the Department from its obligation to follow civil service rules.”   While reform was endorsed by the Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s IBEW Local 18 (a scary thought to some), this motion ran into a buzz saw as the leaders of the City’s civilian unions were vehemently opposed to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department, free from civil service.  Rather, they are demanding that the City “meet and confer” which will allow the City unions to demand concessions from the Department in return for their approval.  

This collective bargaining may result in an impasse that will most likely result in litigation if the City Council has the gumption to take the side of the Ratepayers and pursue the establishment of a Human Resources Department that reports to the management of DWP.  

According to insiders, this is a continuation of the bad blood between the City’s civilian unions and IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy as the civilian unions have contract envy and resent d’Arcy’s justified opposition to the 2009 Early Retirement Incentive Program that allowed 2,400 senior City employees to retire early at a cost of over $300 million to the City (and its taxpayers). 

In the meantime, the Rules Committee should recommend that the City’s Personnel Department devote considerable resources to DWP and establish an fully staffed office at DWP to serve the Department’s needs, similar to the successful arrangement with the City Attorney.  Furthermore, the Department should be allowed to have 10% of its work force be exempt from civil service so that it has the flexibility to hire staff to fill positions in IT, customer service, purchasing, training, and other important departments. 

The Rules Committee has conducted an open and transparent process, taking input from many constituencies. This compares to the process with Measure B in 2009 (Mayor Villaraigosa’s ill-conceived solar plan) and Proposition A in 2013 (the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax).  Both were rejected by the voters. 

We have two to three weeks to rework and refine the Rules Committee’s recommendations, during which time we need continued transparency and flexibility.

(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--If we are to hold the senior management of our Department of Water and Power accountable to the Ratepayers, the City Council, and the Mayor for the efficient operation of this complex, asset-intensive $5 billion a year enterprise that is transitioning its power and water systems to meet overly aggressive environmental mandates, then the management team must have the flexibility and authority to make operational decisions without undue interference from the City Council, the Mayor, the leadership of the City’s unions, and other self-serving special interest organizations. 

There are two operational reforms that will allow DWP to be more nimble and efficient.     

The first operational reform would allow DWP to establish its own Human Resources Department to oversee its 9,000 employees, allowing the Department greater flexibility by removing its reliance on the City’s slow moving, overly bureaucratic Personnel Department and its burdensome civil service rules and regulations.  This would result in increased accountability as Human Resources would report to DWP’s General Manager, unlike the current situation where the Personnel Department is not accountable to DWP management. 

Furthermore, the personnel and hiring policies needed for the successful operation of the nation’s largest municipally owned utility are significantly different than those of the City given the engineering background and specialized skills required by the Water and Power Systems. 

The second operational reform would permit the management greater discretion in its procurement and contracting process, eliminating time consuming bureaucratic delays as contracts work their way through the DWP and the City’s cumbersome bureaucracy.  This reform would eliminate the Mayor’s micromanagement of operational contracts and increase the contracting authority of the General Manager to more realistic levels of $5 to $15 million depending on the type of contract. 

Over the last month, City Council President Herb Wesson and his Rules Committee have held at least four open meetings discussing the reform of our Department of Water and Power, including unprecedented evening meetings in the Valley and South Los Angeles, where numerous people and organizations have had a chance to air their opinions and recommendations and engage in discussions with the Council Members.  (Thank you, Herb.)  But we have yet to see any Committee action or instructions to the City Attorney which will leave us with very little time to review, analyze, and comment on the proposed ballot measure. 

There are also the issues involving the role and independence of the Board of Commissioners, the potentially illegal 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System which supplied the City with $267 million this year, and the impact on the Ratepayers of efforts to have DWP subsidize the operations of various governmental entities (LAUSD and Recreation and Parks) and even greater environmental mandates. 

While these financial and governance issues are very important, they should not overshadow the need to reform the Department’s Human Resources function and the Contracting and Procurement policies so that the Department may operate more efficiently and we, in good faith, can hold the General Manager and the rest of her management team responsible for their management decisions.

(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--The reform and restructuring of the governance and operations of the our Department of Water and Power is intended to make our utility more nimble and efficient so that it is better able to address the increasing complex operational, organizational, technological, management, financial, and regulatory challenges it faces and will continue to face in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment.  At the same time, our engineering focused DWP must earn the trust, confidence, and respect of its 1.5 million Ratepayers by developing into a more customer centric and efficient enterprise.  

There are three areas of reform that have been discussed at multiple meetings throughout the City: 1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit the interference from the City Council and the Mayor, 2) improved contracting and procurement policies to eliminate overly burdensome overhead and layers of bureaucracy and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department for the Department’s 9,000 employees, separate and distinct from the City’s slow moving Personnel Department and City’s cumbersome civil service regulations. 

While there has been considerable discussion about the three areas of reform, there has been no meaningful discussion of the Transfer Fee/Tax because of the class action litigation alleging that this fee/tax is illegal because it violates Proposition 26 (the Supermajority Vote to Pass new Taxes and Fees) that was approved by California voters in 2010.  However, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes suggested that the Transfer Fee/Tax, which provided $267 million to the City’s coffers this year, be capped at its 2010 level of $221 million.  

On the other hand, a better idea would be to ask the voters to phase out the Transfer Fee/Tax over a 10 year period and waive the repayment of the $1.5 billion of illegal transfers made since 2011.  But to win over the voters, City Hall must be willing to reform its budget policies by agreeing to place on the ballot for our approval or rejection a charter amendment that will require the City to Live Within Its Means.** 

There also appears to an appetite by City Hall to hit up the Ratepayers to support other initiatives that are not part of the core mission of the Department. 

At Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Chair of the Arts, Parks, and River Committee, proposed that DWP (read Ratepayers) subsidize the utility bill of the Department of Recreation and Parks to the tune of $20 million a year.  Mayor Garcetti also proposed to lower the rates for the Los Angeles Unified School District, DWP’s largest customer. 

While Recreation and Parks and LAUSD provide important public services, the Ratepayers should not be required to foot a portion of their utility bill.  This is not our responsibility.  Rather, these poorly managed government entities should feel the pain of the full impact of the recent $1 billion rate increase, just as we Ratepayers are forced to do. 

There are also others on the City Council and in the environmental community who are pushing the One Water agenda which would essentially put Ratepayers on the hook for financing a good chunk of the City’s $8 billion stormwater and urban runoff plan over the next 20 years.   This would deprive Angelenos of the right to approve or reject this massive project.   

There are others who want to expand the Department’s green agenda for the Power System without giving any consideration to the impact on the Ratepayers.  As it is, we are going to be hit with a $1 billion rate increase over the next 5 years plus another $150 million in new DWP related taxes.    

City Council President Herb Wesson has taken DWP reform under his wing, conducting a number of open meetings of the Rules Committee which he chairs.  He has also indicated that he intends to meet with labor and environmental groups, hopefully in open and transparent sessions where the public will be able to listen in and participate.  

We have yet to see any definitive ballot language.  This is disturbing since the ballot language needs to be determined within a month in order to be on the November ballot.  And as we all know, the devil is in the details, especially when it involves the politicians and their cronies who occupy City Hall. 

The reform and restructure of our Department of Water and Power will be a tough sell to the voters who do not trust or respect DWP and City Hall.  Rather than trying to do too much which will only complicate any ballot measure, the City Council and the Mayor (who has yet to come forward with any definitive thoughts) are strongly advised to follow the old KISS adage: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

+++

** The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment, if approved by the voters, will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan; to pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within twenty years; to implement a twenty year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.

+++

(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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