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THE PLANNING REPORT INTERVIEW--Cecilia Estolano,  co-founder of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, advises public & private sector clients as well as foundations and urban stakeholders on how to build thriving, healthy and vibrant communities. Prior to this, Estolano both led the city of LA's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) and practiced land-use law at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher. In this TPR interview, Estolano draws on her nationally recognized real estate and community engagement expertise to opine on the City of LA’s historically flawed planning and development process, and to diagnose the current policy landscape in Metro Los Angeles and state that inhibits the production of workforce housing. She also expands upon her personal mission to address inequitable economic development.

"Los Angeles is not a city that actually believes in planning. It doesn't respect community plans ... Comprehensive planning around a district or a community area is what it’s going to take to achieve our sustainability goals in Los Angeles." —Cecilia Estolano

As someone with nearly unequalled experience in inner-city housing and city building, what public policiesaccepting the disappearance of redevelopmentare currently depressing the supply of new affordable housing?

Cecilia Estolano: Number one: We need a permanent source of money to help fill the gap for low-income housing, specifically.

Number two: We need a much easier process for doing infill housing. Folks have been talking about this for years; The Planning Report has certainly followed it.

I think one of the most exciting prospects right now is the state legislation that was just approved for accessory dwelling units (ADUs). It’s really the easiest and least painful way to increase our supply of workforce housing, and it might be a way to fill in that middle gap that nobody’s addressing right now.

Why wasn’t the production of more workforce and affordable housing addressed when Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) dominated urban planning and reinvestment?

From the CRA’s perspective, we were trying to get our money out the door for low-income housing. Our mandate was to fill that gap, and we had a fantastic track record: We built something close to 30,000 units over the lifetime of the agency.

But now, with those sources gone, local government—and frankly, state government—have to be a lot more creative about the land-use strategies available to increase the supply of housing in the low-to-moderate-to-workforce levels.

That’s why you see legislation like the ADU bill coming out of the Legislature: because at some point, we have to get local government to move quickly on making it possible to do things like accessory dwelling units.

To the chagrin of affordable housing advocates and developers, much of the housing built in our metropolis since the 2008 economic collapse has been high-rise and expensive. What explains the paucity of affordable housing being built since CRAs were dissolved?   

It’s expensive to build in California, so if there are no subsidies and no mandate to build workforce or affordable housing, the market will go to high-end housing.

The entitlement process, particularly in the city of Los Angeles, is quite complex, and it requires a lot of predevelopment costs, lawyers, and folks at City Hall to help you lobby to get your project through. That adds a lot of cost, so to get your rate of return from your investors, you’re going to go to the luxury side.

Given the costs of LA’s entitlement process, why, in your opinion, has the city’s uniquely uncertain planning approval process not been reformed to offer more certaintysuch as building by-rightto those wishing to build workforce and affordable housing?

Candidly, I don’t think there’s the will among the elected officials in the city of Los Angeles to take that seriously. This is not a city that actually believes in planning. It doesn’t respect community plans.

But Los Angeles is not the only city in the county of Los Angeles. Other cities and jurisdictions can and have led the way in showing how to facilitate the production of workforce-level housing.

I look, in some ways, to the county of Los Angeles. Regional Planning Director Richard Bruckner, and leadership on the Board of Supervisors, are looking at innovative things like getting a few model types of accessory dwelling units preapproved—so that if you used one of these set floor plans, you could get free approvals and not have to go through any kind of discretionary approval process. The county is right on board with trying to make it easier to generate these units.

That’s not the case in the city of Los Angeles, however. The city’s having a very difficult time getting out of the way of this source—notwithstanding Mayor Garcetti’s interest in piloting some of these approaches with the Innovation Team. It’s been unfortunate to watch the city of Los Angeles create roadblocks.

When you were the executive officer of the LA City redevelopment agency and Gail Goldberg was the city’s Director of Planning, you both collaborated to save industrial land and to update the city’s zoning and community plans. What have you learned since then about the challenges of land-use reform in the city of LA? 

It’s such a different landscape now.

When Gail proposed updating 10 community plans right out of the gate, we at the redevelopment agency actually provided the funding to ensure that the three plans in South Los Angeles—which had not been updated for 20+ years—would receive the same amount of attention as, say, Hollywood. But that was a different era, when we had more resources and more flexibility in the use of those resources.

There are still tools available for cities to use, but it takes some bold thinking. Some cities have looked at Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts or the Community Revitalization Investment Authority as potential sources of funding for things like housing, or even the LA River Revitalization. But I think what we need is a source of money for planning. 

Comprehensive planning around a district or a community area is what it’s going to take to achieve our sustainability goals in Los Angeles. In fact, those two tools can be used for this type of planning, which Gail and I were trying to do.

One example of a place where I think we need to apply this kind of thinking is the area right around Union Station. ELP Advisors is working on a feasibility plan for the Park 101 project, which would cap three blocks of the 101 Freeway as it goes through Downtown Los Angeles.

That investment would create an amazing amenity: parkland right in the middle of the city. It would also knit together the Historic Core, the Civic Center, and the largest transportation hub in the region.

As we look at that, we also have to look at other investments going on in the area, including the Union Station Master Plan; the eventual advent of high-speed rail; the Regional Connector; and private investment going on in Chinatown. Altogether, we can see that this is a district that needs to be comprehensively planned.

It might be a great place to implement an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District. We’re investing a lot in the public realm that will create value for private property owners. We should be able to capture that value and use the proceeds to fund benefits like affordable housing.

Let’s put that EIFD in place now and begin to do integrated planning among the county, the city, Metro, Caltrans—and together, make that one of the most sustainable portions of the region. We could pull that off—but it would require big thinking beyond just little fixes at the level of the corridor or the intersection.

I think people are ready for this vision. There’s interest at Metro, at the county and in the city. People are ready to think big again in Los Angeles, and we finally have some tools to do it. So let’s apply them in a way that addresses our need for housing of all types, new visions of sustainability, and new connections for bike and pedestrian modes of transportation.

This is the place to do it, and it could become a showcase for the region.

Could you elaborate on the contrasting approaches that local jurisdictions other than the city of LA have taken to encourage the building more housing—for example, in Santa Monica, Pasadena, or Culver City?

ELP serves as the executive director of the Westside Cities Council of Governments, so we have familiarity with the work happening in Santa Monica, Culver City, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. Those cities have had a very strong commitment to the production of affordable housing.

We went through a planning process with a team at the Westside Cities COG, and found that the No. 1 priority for those cities is to address the issue of homelessness. In a few days, our Board of Directors will get a presentation from the regional representative for the county’s homelessness initiative to see how the Westside cities, as a sub-region, might work to address homelessness issues. Some of those cities are already digging in. They’re working on rapid rehousing and vouchers. They want very practical solutions.

It’s certainly easier to work at a smaller scale than that of the city of Los Angeles, but there’s also a strong commitment to addressing the need for housing at all income scales, and not just at the luxury level.

But let’s also give the city of LA credit—particularly CAO Miguel Santana—in proposing Prop HHH as a way to fund the production of housing to accompany the county’s enhanced services effort. We’ve seen an unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation between the city and county on homelessness. That gives us the best hope for a comprehensive approach than we’ve seen in many years.

 What reforms need to happen in the city of LA, in your opinion, to meet and surpass what Santa Monica and West Hollywood are doing to encourage the building of more affordable housing?

It comes down to leadership and building a constituency for support for affordable housing policy. We just haven’t seen that in a consistent way over the last few years.

There have certainly been efforts to address the homelessness issue, but in terms of using any of the tools still available to the city related to affordable housing —even land-use tools—there’s been a pretty laggard response.

There’s also been talk about having a fee associated with new development. But it’s probably the third time in my career that I’ve seen the city of Los Angeles debate this, and I just don’t know what the prospects are for success.

 Clearly, a strong commitment to city planning has not interfered with Santa Monica and West Hollywood’s ability to encourage the building of affordable and workforce housing. Some critics have suggested that the motto in the city of LA seems to be: “We don’t need planning; planning gets in the way of building.” What’s your take on this argument?

 The issue is: What is your vision for the city? What is your vision for how it will look and what we expect of development in the city?

The cities we’ve mentioned on the Westside have a very clear vision. They have high expectations of the quality of life that they want to achieve and maintain in their cities, and they use planning to do that.

They go through a rigorous process of community planning with deep, extensive community engagement. These are difficult battles at the time. But once that plan has been adopted—precisely because of that rigorous process and community engagement, and because it’s a process that everyone has agreed on—they stick to it. That planning document becomes the guidepost, and city councilmembers defer to it.

That is not at all what happens in the city of Los Angeles. Here, there’s a much more politicized approach. Councilmembers zealously protect the extraordinary discretion that they have over how developments will move forward.

Los Angeles is a city that grew on real-estate speculation. It’s always been a source of quite a bit of power for councilmembers, and they haven’t been willing to give it up.

In an interview with The Planning Report last monthBill Witte of Related—the largest developer of affordable housing in the region—dismissed the Build Better LA ballot measure, which is touted by labor as a solution to growing the supply and affordable housing. What are your thoughts on this ballot measure?

I think it’s a very Los Angeles approach to force this issue by putting it on the ballot.

It’s interesting to see labor unions—which are probably one of the strongest constituencies outside of developers—come together with some aspects of the business community and the affordable housing community to take this approach.

Certainly, it’s a response to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative—the potential March ballot measure that would put a two-year moratorium on development in the way the city of Los Angeles does it.

It’s not nuanced. But it’s born out of a sense of desperation that if someone doesn’t move forward with an idea that’s better than zero growth, the council won’t come up with an alternative.

Of course, there’s desperation on both sides. There’s a sense that the city on its own just can’t find ways to use their planning tools effectively, and to respect those tools.

These initiatives are a reaction to generations of dysfunction in Los Angeles. We’ve had the greatest run-up, and one of the greatest real estate builds in the last few years, after one of the greatest crashes. Yet we’ve had no appreciable increase in the amount of affordable or workforce housing—because of complete paralysis by the city council and the mayor.

I am not a proponent of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative; I think it’s the absolutely wrong approach. But it certainly has focused the mind of the elected officials.

Mayor Garcetti has now proposed banning ex parte communications from the Planning Commission. Sadly, that would not have happened but for the threat of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Cecilia, if someday you were to seek to be LA’s mayor, what would you do over the course of four years to create a planning process in the city that would bring relief to those who are exasperated?

You’d have to build a broad political movement that could transcend city council boundaries.

You’d have to spend a lot of time building an enduring coalition of labor, affordable housing advocates, and some of the reasonable elements of the development community, and make the case that Los Angeles cannot prosper without a balanced economy and a balanced residential population.

You’d have to outline a plan to construct, not just low-income housing, but workforce housing.

You’d have to combine regulatory reform, entitlement-processing reform, and a genuine community planning process—and it would have to be accelerated. We can’t take 10 or 15 years to do community plan updates; that’s exactly the problem we’re in right now.

I think you have to do all of the updates within five years. Otherwise, there’s no legitimacy to the process.

That may seem like a Herculean and impossible effort. But that is what it will take to tackle this. Otherwise, why would anyone lend any credibility to the city’s commitment to planning?

Before closing: TPR covered community planning and wealth-building in East LA in our last issue. You’ve been working on a bioscience hub in East LA; talk about what motivates you to be involved in this project. 

The vision for a bioscience or biomedical hub in the area has been there for at least 15 years. We looked at it when I was at the redevelopment agency. We combined two project areas—the county’s and the city’s—to create it, and then redevelopment went away. But we never lost that commitment.

There’s a clear concentration of uses in the area: the LAC+USC General Hospital, the Keck Medical Center, the USC Health Sciences Campus, Cal State LA, which has a terrific STEM program, and Grifols, which is an international biopharmaceutical company. Those are the makings of what ought to be an industry cluster.

During the recession, while private industry and other sectors were declining, biotech actually gained jobs. It has strength in this region, but it could be stronger. It’s a sector that could grow and create jobs—and more importantly, create an avenue of opportunity for folks on the Eastside.

We partnered with East LA College this year on a program called the Biotech Leaders Academy. We were very fortunate to get an LA2050 challenge grant to fund it. We placed 10 East LA College students in industry internships in the bioscience sector, many in startup companies. We also gave them training on entrepreneurship—what it takes to start a biotech company. This fundamentally transformed these students’ views of their careers and what they could do with the degrees they were attaining.

This is the nuts and bolts of equitable economic development: hitching the economic opportunity of disadvantaged communities to the rising tide of a growing industry from the start.

These companies now see East LA College and Cal State LA as sources of talent. They typically recruit from graduate programs at UCLA, USC, or Caltech. But after the program, employers told us that these students were focused, mature, and motivated—some of the best interns they’ve ever had—and that they would consider taking future interns from East LA College.

That is equitable economic development, and that’s the kind of work we need to continue to do if we want Los Angeles to thrive throughout the region and not just in pockets on the Westside.

(This article was posted originally at the excellent Planning Report. CityWatch is reposting it because The Planning Report does exceptional work and because few things affect the lives of Angelenos or dominate the city conversation as thoroughly and dramatically today as passionately debated planning future of Los Angeles.)

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EDITOR’S PICK--The powerful economic resurgence that has swept Southern California is on display almost everywhere here, visible in the construction cranes towering on the skyline and the gush of applications to build luxury hotels, shopping centers, high-rise condominiums and acres of apartment complexes from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles.

But it can also be seen in a battle that has broken out about the fundamental nature of this distinctively low-lying and spread-out city. The conflict has pitted developers and some government officials against neighborhood organizations and preservationists. It is a debate about height and neighborhood character; the influence of big-money developers on City Hall; and, most of all, what Los Angeles should look like a generation from now.

This is a city that has long defied easy definition — at once urban, suburban and even rural — filled with people who live in homes with year-round gardens and open skies dotted by swaying palm trees, often blocks away from gritty boulevards, highways and clusters of office buildings. And it is no stranger to battles between entrenched neighborhood groups and well-financed developers seeing opportunity in a wealthy market; the slow-growth movement thrived here during the 1990s.

But the debate this time has reached a particularly pitched level, fueled by a severe shortage of affordable housing, an influx of people moving back into the city center and the perception that a Southern California city that once seemed to have unlimited space for growth has run out of track. “What’s that old cliché?” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti said in an interview. “The sprawl has hit the wall in LA” (Read the rest.) 

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NC ELECTIONS RE-BOOT-We take issue with “Build Bridges Instead of Firewalls…”, Jay Handal’s CityWatch article that contains his NC Election Report. In it, he distorts the facts and offers little by way of practical solutions for future elections. 

Issues with the voting process are not the fault of the Neighborhood Councils (NC) or their Bylaws, but of the dictates delivered by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). Much of what has been outlined disregards the real issues facing NCs and their relationship with DONE. Neighborhood Councils are the bridges for the stakeholders to the City and DONE has become the firewall. 

The Los Angeles City Charter (Charter Section 900) in 1999 intended “to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs….” The purpose of the Neighborhood Council System is to bring self-governance to the local level and engage stakeholders in that process. But standardization is the bane of NCs as it limits their individuality. Some NCs are round pegs and some NCs are square holes. This is hard for the bureaucrats to understand. Basically, NCs are like individual states in our country and are unique within themselves; no two states have the same election requirements or voting laws. NCs must have this same autonomy over their bylaws and elections. 

Since the elections were taken away from the NCs, problems have increased exponentially. Every election cycle has been run differently with changes to election procedures, election dates and forced requirements that do not always comply with individual NCs’ Bylaws. Originally, NCs ran their own elections under the direction of DONE. Then they were given to the City Clerk. Then they were given back to DONE and the City Clerk, which is where we stand today. It is time for the experimenting to end. Stakeholders deserve better. DONE and the City Clerk are supposed to be the support for the NCs, not the master. 

Handal misses the point when discussing the individual NCs’ Bylaws and their attempts to limit or exclude certain stakeholders within their districts. All NCs adhere to the definition of a stakeholder: “A ‘stakeholder’ shall be defined as those who live, work, or own real property in the neighborhood and also those who declare a stake in the neighborhood as a community interest stakeholder….” NCs may have different criteria for specific seats or categories on their board but no one is excluded, including non-citizens, the homeless, or the village gadfly. What works in Sunland-Tujunga or Studio City or San Pedro, may not work in Westwood or Chatsworth or Encino. One size does not fit all.

As far as the online voting debacle is concerned, California State Law prohibits electronic or online voting statewide, yet it was deemed by the powers-that-be in the City of Los Angeles that this does not apply to NC elections. The law applies to City elections, County elections, and State elections so why is a City government entity which receives taxpayer dollars excluded? 

DONE courted the NCs to get them to approve online voting. In order to enlist the services of Everyone Counts, DONE reported they needed 35 participating NCs to cover the costs. They achieved that number but in the process gave wrong and misleading information to the NCs. None were advised that documentation requirements for online voters was not advised by the City Clerk. 

The Studio City NC, for example, voted for online voting but added the documentation requirement out of fear of potential voter fraud issues with a new, experimental online voting system. Their fears were well-founded but for different reasons. Other NCs faced similar problems. A major issue with online voting was the impossibility of doing election verification after the election. No actual ballots were kept for the online votes and no final tally that reconciled the ballot count issued. Contrary to Handal’s calling the online voting a success, it was a huge failure and most NCs that participated would not do it again. 

What faith can anyone have in an election outcome if it cannot be verified, especially when there are challenges of voter fraud? 

Many NCs that used online voting had a decrease in voters compared to previous elections. Much of this is attributable to the difficulty of registering and voting online, disenfranchising the stakeholders. Some then came to the polls to vote but many did not. The actual figures do not exist, or DONE has not released them.

Duplicate voting was not the major issue surrounding the elections, whether online or at the polls. In at least two elections, Studio City and Sunland-Tujunga, these NCs’ specific documentation requirements and the proper completion of the voter registrations, were not followed. DONE enabled this lapse in protocol and tried to blame the NCs for their documentation requirements being too complicated. Election Day was not the time to make this allegation, particularly to complaining stakeholders. As far as it being easier to vote for president than in a NC election, it is important to remember that you must be registered in advance to vote in all City, County, State and Federal elections and you can only vote in the district in which you live. NC stakeholders do not have to live in their district, and can vote in as many NC elections for which they may qualify. In other words, it’s apples to oranges. 

Another major issue is the misguided rules and enforcement of election challenges. Seamless is hardly the adjective that applies. There were no clear-cut guidelines and no specific election challenge panel(s) established. DONE relied on Regional Grievance Panels which were not really applicable. The rules fluctuated, and there was no transparency in the process. Challenges were dismissed without explanation and by an unknown entity. A specific case-in-point was the deplorable handling of the Studio City NC challenges and the reversal of an “unappealable” ruling. DONE maketh the rules and DONE breaketh the rules. 

Due to the flawed elections, these motions by Councilmember Paul Krekorian are pending before the Los Angeles City Council:

File Number 04-1935-S1 motion (Krekorian-Wesson, Jr.) – instructed the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to report on improving the voting environment for future elections and on the actions that DONE intends to take to train staff, engage stakeholders to create uniform policies across all neighborhood councils, and insure a safe environment for voters free of electioneering. 

File Number 15-1022-S2 motion (Krekorian-Wesson, Jr.) – instructed the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to cease the implementation of the online voting system for future elections until DONE completes a report with information about the experience of online voting for candidates, voters, staff and other stakeholders and on the actions that DONE intends to take to improve the implementation process, outreach, training, data security, and other processes. 

There is much more that can be discussed but we will leave that for another day. In the interest of brevity, we have chosen to offer our experiences on the most serious issues addressed in Handal’s election report. In conclusion, if DONE really wants to empower LA, it should engage with the NCs before issuing new rules or changing the rules. DONE’s sole role should be to provide support to the NCs in building the bridges to empower LA.

 

(Lisa Sarkin is the current past President of the Studio City Neighborhood Council and has participated in the Neighborhood Council System since 2005. Judy Price is a past President of the Greater Valley Glen [Neighborhood] Council and has participated in the Neighborhood Council system since its inception.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

POLITICS--Not many politicians have risen as fast as Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego. She just scored the 35th spot on Politco Magazine’s annual list of the Top 50 politicians in America, its “guide to the thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics in 2016.” She’s listed as “The progressive ideas lab.” 

“If states are the laboratories of democracy, then Lorena Gonzalez might be the nation’s most ambitious progressive scientist,” Politico enthuses. “After decades of lurching from crisis to crisis, California has emerged as a test case in how progressive government can work. And since 2013, Gonzalez, an assemblywoman who represents the state’s southernmost district, has become the brain trust for California’s most ambitious policy ideas – in the process, mobilizing liberals across the country too.

Her polices: The “Motor Voter” law for voter registration. Co-authoring the rise in the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. [The nation’s strictest law aimed at closing the gender pay gap, as well as proposing a bill this year to expand overtime for farmworkers. But it’s Gonzalez’s trailblazing advocacy of mandatory paid sick leave that could make the biggest difference nationwide.”

And let’s not forget the former cheerleader’s bill that designated part-time cheerleaders as full-time employees earning full-time benefits. Rah Rah Rah! Cis Boom Bah!

Except that all the economic policies impose higher costs for hiring people. As you learn in Economics 101, if the price of something rises, demand goes down. So the demand for workers will go down, raising unemployment.

But in politics, being lucky counts more than being right. And these policies occur as the country’s economy is growing, albeit at a slow pace. And in California, Silicon Valley’s extraordinary growth is paying for the higher cost of state government.

But the growth largely is in stock and real estate values, which artificially are pumped up because of the Federal Reserve’s zero-interest-rate policy, or ZIRP, now in its eighth year. When that ends, which might be next year, the economy will contract as it did in 2007-08. California’s unemployment rate will rise back to 10 percent – or higher, thanks to the new Gonzalez legislation.

And state deficits will soar back above $20 billion a year, despite (or because of) the two massive tax increases on this November’s ballot, which likely will pass. They are Proposition 55, $7 billion on those making incomes over $250,000 a year, which number actually puts one in the middle-class in California, because it’s already so expensive to live here. (This shocks folks from other states, but it’s true. What’s left after paying sky-high state taxes and a $4,000 monthly mortgage payment on a dinky home?)

And Proposition 56 ignites taxes $2 a pack, primarily on poor people, about the only ones left who smoke here. It also will boost a larger black market to fund terrorists.

But nobody will blame a mere state legislator for any of those disasters. The politicians at the top will get blamed. So, if a massive recession hits, it will be Gonzalez’ hour.

Her rivals: As the lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom will get much of the blame, even though his influence in that position is less significant than Jerry Brown’s dog, Colusa. Treasurer John Chiang, the other announced candidate for governor, will be hit with less blame, especially because of his reputation for frugality; but he’s still part of the state bureaucracy. And Antonio Villaraigosa’s mayoralty of Los Angeles (2005-13) is not remembered with fondness, as the latter part coincided with the Great Recession and the great city’s near bankruptcy.

Republicans, of course, are out of the running for statewide offices.

Voters also seek a fresh, cheery face. Gonzalez is a kind of Democratic Ronald Reagan, who actually was a Democrat the first part of his life. Add to that Democrats’ desire to advance women (see: Hillary Clinton, and the California Senate race) and Latinos/Latinas, and Gonzalez’ candidacy for governor seems inevitable.

(John Seiler is a former editorial writer at the Orange County Register. He is a veteran California journalist and can be reached at The Seiler Report. This piece was posted most recently at Fox and Hounds.) 

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CHARTER WARS-Oh, edu-friends! Sometimes I can hardly keep a straight face at the forces trying to destroy public education. So, this time, I didn't even try. I hope you'll laugh, too. 

I wish you could have been in LA LA Land with me last weekend! I made a video for you in case you missed the charter rally in the valley! 

Now that headlines from across the nation, of the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Network for Public Education, and the ACLU have all made clear—and John Oliver made hilarious—that the charter emperor has no clothes, the California charter lobby took its carnival to its favorite corporate reform playground, Los Angeles. Pacoima to be exact. The last bastion of that little inconvenience of democracy, the largest school district in the country that still holds school board elections, LAUSD. 

Edu-friends, I thought I had stumbled into a Trump rally. It really made me feel like these folks are our only chance at making education great again. 

“When I say ‘parent’ you say ‘power’!” Corporate reform champion and LAUSD board member Monica Garcia shouted. 

There were t-shirts with catchy phrases like “Fierce Learner”. Although I don’t know who let the guy slip in with an off-message t-shirt that read, “Public education is not for sale.” Ha! 

There were t-shirts with metaphors like Phoenix! I could almost smell the smoke rising from the ashes. Although, let’s face it, that might have been the fresh aroma of bull****. Some hoped you’d forget they were any metaphor at all. Could the M.I.T. t-shirts actually, officially, almost be connected to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Oh, who cares? Details, details! 

The point is, these kids have a great shot at getting into a school like that because they received extra credit for attending this rally! Several of them told me so. 

There were other ways to tell this was no ordinary rally. It was literally on—wait for it—AstroTurf! That’s right, edu-friends. Mere grass isn’t good enough for these disrupters! 

It was like a carnival! 

Just listen to this charter school principal shriek -- I mean lead -- the crowd. 

“You have MORE accountability for MORE student learning! Can we do it? YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! SI, SE PUEDES [sic],” she cheered. 

Only 5% of California’s students attend charters, but this rally looked like the whole world had descended to celebrate charters! They boasted 3000 attendees. The cop I asked estimated 900 to 1000. 

So how did these folks get here? Nothing is left to chance by the charter lobby. They had buses! But it was billed as a march, so a march it will be! Buses dropped folks off three blocks away so they could march into the rally! 

And at the pilgrimage to Pacoima, the messianic theatrics did not disappoint. 

The charter principal tells the story of “throwaway schools” and trashes the idea of integration. 

And if you think anyone in LAUSD has the solution, you just don’t know how to let private enterprise capitalize on a good old fashioned crisis. I couldn’t find anyone in LAUSD there to set folks straight. 

Chan ends her dramatic oratory with the 1993 miracle of miracles, the charter school law. That’s the law that lets some students into a charter if they win the lottery. 

By the way, what rally could be complete without a drawing of its own? Just fill out the address card and give it to CCSA Families. Gotta capture your personal data somehow. 

And it’s going to take a lottery—or maybe that principal’s miracle of miracles—for our public school system to survive charter schools sucking them dry. 

What are our district leaders doing about this? What of LAUSD Board member Monica Ratliff, a headliner at the charter rally? 

“I believe that parents should have the right to choose the school that they think is best for their children: Charter schools, magnet schools, pilot schools, private schools, traditional public schools…” Ratliff said. 

And if you think a debate about opposing views was a good idea, think again. 

“Rhetoric that turns discussions about education into an ‘us against them’ narrative is never, ever helpful,” Ratliff finished. 

A narrative. So it seems that it’s all about a story. Is the story about re-segregation of schools? Or discriminatory enrollment practices? Or the bilking of millions of public dollars into private hands? 

Edu-friend, that rhetoric is never, ever helpful! Especially with a new campaign beyond LAUSD where the charter debate is just icky. In fact, maybe she’s right. Maybe the real problem is those of us who talk about the problem. 

But hey, politician’s speeches are nobody’s favorite part of a rally. And at this rally, EVERYBODY loves charters! In fact, they’ll pledge their allegiance to them, and that’s exactly what they did before boarding the buses to return home.

 

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

LOS ANGELES COUNTY--One of these Tuesdays the LA County Board of Supervisors plans to vote on whether to grant a 60-year lease to MDR Boat Central, L.P. and so remove the final obstacle to that company’s construction of an 80 ft. high automated dry stack boat storage facility which will extend 11,600 square ft. over the water. (Photo of proposed project above.) 

The vote should be continued until after the forthcoming election and subsequent installation of District 4’s next County Supervisor. It’s the people of District 4 who will be most directly affected by the project. 

The dry stack boat storage facility is an ineffective solution in search of a problem. As we reported in an earlier CityWatch piece, Marina del Rey doesn't happen to have a shortage of affordable dry stack facilities and boat slips; and contrary to what the Coastal Commissioners were led to believe (during a festival of ex parte meetings with the applicant,) there's only one operational, fully automated dry stack boat storage facility in the world. It's associated with the neighboring luxury condominium complex and does not even have the ability to store non-luxury sized boats. We could go on. 

 

Far more important are the voices of the people who use and love Dock 52. No one is more eloquent on the topic than one of the public speakers at a recent public hearing on the project. What follows are the words of Dr. Patrick O'Heffernan, edited only for space:  

“Dock 52 is more than a parking lot and a boat ramp. It is a community resource used by people from around the county. On any given Sunday morning you will see my club there with thirty or forty people. You will see other bike clubs, many who are African American, as is my club. You will see groups of people in buses and vans from Koreatown to go fishing. You will see church groups who use this as a stage for their fundraising. This is more than a parking lot. It is a community resource. 

“I did a little survey of my own and found that people come from at least five different congressional districts in Los Angeles to be here. They come from Menlo Park, from west Adams to east Compton to the Valley, all over. One of the reasons that they come here is this is the only free parking lot in the Marina and there are many, many families and many, many groups that get together to come down there with their children and can spend the day over on the bridge, over by the Ballona Creek fishing, teaching their children how to fish, and they won't do it if they had to pay for parking. 

When you look at social benefits of Dock 52 and begin to calculate those, and there are many of you that do that, you see that any benefits that might accrue to the 235 people that might possibly use some of the slips in this, some of the storage in this -- there is no question. It fails a cost benefit analysis for the same reason it fails the social benefits. The social benefits accrue to 200 people or less, depending or whether or not the facility is used and to the investors, but thousands of people use Dock 52 over the year. They use it for parking to go into the path. They use it for fishing. They use it for boat launching. Thousands of people use it, so when you balance that against the possible utility of 200 people with their boats, there is no question." 

 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a teacher who lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ELECTION 2016--For those of us struggling to pull ourselves from our summer distractions, and who are now confronting this November's elections, it's an easy choice. Some of us looooove Clinton, and some of us looooove Trump. Some of us love neither...and may even hate both of them. So what to do...what to do...hey, I know! We should reach for our Johnson! 

Gary Johnson, that is, the Libertarian candidate who also ran in 2012. Now which Johnson you'll reach for is up to you, presuming that this is a "protest vote.” (For those who genuinely like Gary Johnson and his political platforms, you might want to stop reading right now.) 

Many who claim to support Johnson (but really don't know which Johnson they're actually reaching for) may not be aware that: 

--Johnson not only favors "amnesty" for those here illegally, but strongly opposes the term "illegal immigrant" altogether. 

--Has viewpoints on legalization of drugs that place him further to the left than anyone else running for President. 

--Wants to cut the federal budget by approximately half, which includes education, the military, Social Security, and just about everything else...yet chose William Weld, known as a "Big Government" Republican from Massachusetts, as his running mate. 

But for the rest of us who are STILL enraged and/or disgusted and/or offended and/or put off and/or distrusting of and/or annoyed by and/or oblivious to BOTH Trump and Clinton, there's always the option of grabbing your Johnson. 

Will you grab your anti-Democratic Big Government Johnson, or will you grab your anti-GOP Christian Nation Johnson? 

Hillary Clinton's health got you concerned -- they've got a catchy tune for her coughing. No need to reach for your Advil...reach for your Johnson! 

Donald Trump's verbal antics got you down? They've got a catchy tune for that, too. No need for seizures...seize your Johnson instead! 

Sick of Clinton's endless claims of chauvinism and sexism?  Then take hold of your Johnson -- he's a dude and he won't accuse you of gender discrimination if/when you disagree with him! 

Sick of Trump's endless calls for "the wall?"  No worries, just grapple your Johnson instead -- he favors open borders and empathizes with our neighbors to the south! 

Hillary's laughing off the inquiries and accusations leaving you with the impression she's just too evil for your tastes? Then nab your Johnson! 

Donald's statements got you wondering if Hitler's been reincarnated? Then lay your hands on your Johnson, and never let go! 

Will Mitt Romney, both former Presidents Bush, and John McCain take hold of their collective Johnson and go third party this year?  

Will former Sanders supporters snap up their collective Johnson and vote third party this time around? 

Colin Powell and several other major political figures haven't taken a break on making their living from book-writing and the speaking circuit, and yet they still refuse to endorse either Trump or Clinton at this time. Are Colin Powell and the others each clutching their Johnson because they think the two main candidates are jerks, and they prefer a Johnson to a jerk? 

Certainly the two-party system appears to have devolved from a real choice to an oligarchy of the "same ol’, same ol’," with the base of each party having to figure out which political leadership listens to and cares about the needs and hopes and fears and goals of average Americans. 

Which means that each and every one of us, come Election Day, will have to choose between reaching for the lever to vote for the lesser of two evils...or reach instead for our own personal, private Johnson.

 

(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Here in the United States September is Hispanic Heritage month, and I like to talk about what it means to be Hispanic or Latino in America. This subject is something that growing up in Mexico City I never really thought much about. 

In Mexico when it comes to identifying yourself in official government forms like the passport they don’t ask you whether you are Hispanic or not, they just ask what kind of skin shade or tone do you have. So it was either tez blanca or tez morena meaning white tone or brown tone or shade, none of these Hispanic, or white non- Hispanic classifications. 

Unlike America, Mexico is a very homogeneous country, and they don’t collect census data on ethnicity. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook Mexico is composed of mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 62%, predominantly Amerindian 21%, Amerindian 7%, other 10% (mostly European). You will never see forms asking you whether you are Latino or Hispanic, in Mexico that is irrelevant. 

However, here in the United States it is important being that our country is very diverse. So which is it? Hispanic or Latino? What are we? What does it mean to be Latino? Or, Hispanic in America? – The answer to this question depends on who you ask. The two words are most of the time used interchangeably. So which word to use? Ever since I started college at USC I have been asking myself this question, and here we are many years later still trying to figure this out. 

I did a little research online and I think I finally found a definition that I can settle with, and of all places I found it in The Tennessean, this paper is part of the USA Today Network and their Education reporter Jason Gonzales explained it very well when he said that “for those of For those of Spanish or Latin American origin, the terms describe a shared experience in the United States and by their definition includes a broad category of people with different cultures and heritage. Both words are to be celebrated because they represent our many differences.” 

He added “Latino means those from Latin America and includes Brazil, while Hispanic means those of Spanish-speaking origin and includes Spain.  The term Hispanic was first used by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to describe the numerous Spanish speakers in the United States. And Latino was adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 2000 count. Neither word specifies a certain ethnicity, but speaks more to a broader group of people.” 

A broader group of people who share the same experience of being Americans of Latin decent. The word Latin and Hispanic unites us in a common bond that in many ways is, ironically uniquely American. 

Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by remembering that we are Hispanics, we’re Latinos, and we are Americans. Whichever word you use to describe yourself be proud of it, and always keep in mind that no matter where we came from, or what’s our cultural heritage Latinos, Hispanics have made, and continue to make America great. Happy Hispanic Heritage month to all.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com.)

-cw

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-There’s been a fierce debate about presidential debates. The debate is whether they really do make or break a presidential candidate. This starts it all over again in the run-up to the three scheduled debates between GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The hard political reality is that unless a candidate makes a whopper of a misstatement, looks blurry and bleary on stage, or is simply flat-footed, and grossly unprepared with his or her answers, they don’t mean much in deciding who ultimately bags the White House. 

Most voters cling to their party affiliations, political beliefs, and personal likes and dislikes of candidates no matter what the candidates say on the issues. The mass of voters just aren’t swayed by a candidate’s verbosity, good looks, or seeming erudition on the issues. 

However, this go around, the debates do have real significance because Trump and Clinton have a lot to prove to a lot of voters who don’t like either one of them, and are deeply uneasy about the prospect of either one of them in the White House. 

Trump’s high mountain to scale starts with Trump. He’s loathed by millions as little short of a stupendously unqualified carnival barker pitchman who parlayed wild and deliberately inflammatory “birtherism” and racist- immigrant- Muslim- and Obama- bashing into the top GOP spot. 

The added knock is that he got where he did in great part because of a slavish media that at times has acted as his unofficial PR team in shoving him down the public’s throats. His job is to try to undo, soften, or instill collective amnesia about his dubious history and ploys to get attention. His management team has already given a big hint at how he’ll try to pull off this Houdini trick. 

He palavered with the Mexican President. He went to two black churches. He went to Flint, Michigan. He talked about jobs and police abuse both places. He pithily back-pedaled from birtherism vis-à-vis Obama. He laid out a detailed policy position on child care, promised to lay out even more detailed positions on tax reform, foreign policy, health care and social security. He’s trying mightily to take off the table that he’s little more than a Klansman in a suit, has a zero policy program, less than zero ability to govern, and is totally incapable of being anything other than an arrogant, know-it-all blowhard. 

The charm image he’ll try to project is Trump the reasoned, thoughtful, stick to the script, disciplined, play by the established political rules candidate with the right temperament to work with Democrats, make sound political decisions, and show cool judgment on the thorny and at times crisis issues that confront all presidents. 

It’s a tall order. But in the debates and everything surrounding them, Trump must convince the independent conservatives and moderates in the handful of swing states that will decide the White House -- who don’t think much of Clinton, but just can’t bring themselves to pull the lever for a guy who they see as an overt racist and an egomaniacal political neophyte -- that he is neither one. 

Clinton has a high mountain to scale too. It also starts with Clinton. In the early going, the election seemed almost a forgone conclusion for an easy Clinton win given the trainload of baggage Trump dumped on the political platform. But the continued pulverizing of her over the emails, the Clinton Foundation doings, and now health questions all of sudden have turned a seeming rout into a real dogfight. 

Clinton’s bigger problem is the nagging perception that is shown in the polls, and that is that millions see her as everything from a congenital liar to a crook. The most charitable in all of this negative voter perception of Clinton is that she’s untrustworthy. 

Clinton must undo, offset, or instill collective amnesia about these negatives. She must play hard on her strengths, dependability, experience, and her cast iron grasp of the big ticket policy issues from the economy to foreign policy. 

She must tie herself to the Obama positives where needed and project a people friendly-no academic think tank policy wonk-plain English speaking demeanor when answering debate questions. When the inevitable questions come up about the emails and the foundation and her health, she’ll have to act and show physical vigor, look directly into the cameras, admit that she made mistakes with the emails, learned from the mistakes, and it will never happen again. 

And, while the foundation has done phenomenal work and improved conditions for legions globally, say that she’ll be completely out of the Clinton Foundation business, and that includes Bill and Chelsea too. 

There’s little margin of error for Trump and Clinton in the debates. Both have a lot of hard work to do to try to turn their mountain high pile of negatives into some semblance of positives. Millions will be watching to see if they can do that. This time the debates really do mean something.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let’s Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism, (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-California is one of the states with the highest percentage of surplus wild horses and burros; yet, little public or political attention has focused on this. Because of the projected wild-equine population increase, it is a humane issue that is becoming critical from both an ethical and financial standpoint and has gained heightened importance after a recent recommendation by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board for disposing of these animals. 

An estimated 67,027 wild horses and burros roam 31 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Western U.S. The agency’s recommended total sustainable population for this space is 26,715. This means the number of animals now exceeds the maximum appropriate level by more than 40,000; and, it is increasing at a rate of 15 to 18 percent annually. The BLM's historical finding is that both wild horse and burro herds double in size about every four years.

Additionally, in August 2016 the BLM reports that the number of off-range -- unadopted or unsold -- wild horses and burros maintained in holding facilities called Herd Management Areas (MHA's) from California to Illinois was over 45,000.

The federal Bureau of Land Management is mandated to manage, protect and control wild horses and burros under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This law also authorizes the BLM to remove excess wild horses and burros, which have no significant natural predators, from the range to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for multiple uses, in accordance with the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. 

Each year, an inventory is required of the number of wild horses and burros roaming BLM-managed lands. From this, the Appropriate Management Level (AML) is determined. This is the number of animals that can thrive in balance with other public land resources and uses. The AML for California is estimated at 2,200. However, the Golden State's wild equine population is now at 4,925 horses, plus an additional 3,391 burros, for a total of 8,316. 

In neighboring Nevada, an epic number of 34,531 wild horses and burros inhabit the federal rangelands -- nearly three times the AML 12,811 figure the BLM says the state can support. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) announced in April he will take legal action to force the federal government to fund the management of Nevada’s wild horse population at appropriate levels because of the impact on the state's economy.

The BLM has been rounding up and relocating wild horses and burros to its holding facilities so that privately owned cattle could graze on the land, critics contend. The cost of maintaining almost 46,000 horses in these overcrowded facilities reached $49 million in 2015. 

Director Neil Kornze says it can cost about $50,000 per animal to feed and care for wild horses sitting in corrals and pastures over their lifetime and that cost has doubled over the last seven years. He predicts that if the BLM cannot adopt out and/or transfer a significant number of the wild horses and burros being held to other government agencies upon request (such as, the Border Patrol), the cost of feeding and caring for them during their lifetime could rise to $1 billion. 

On September 9, in an effort to curb the increasing overpopulation West-wide, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which suggests policy for the Bureau of Land Management, proposed a program that would either euthanize (which means shoot) or sell without limitation “all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable.” 

Cries of outrage by animal activists accused the government of squandering its very limited resources in rounding up and holding the animals instead of launching a wide-scale birth-control effort. 

A petition to the United States Congress claiming that not enough had been done to have the horses adopted was posted by Protect Mustangs  on September 12, declaring, “The public is outraged. Wild horses and burros are living symbols of freedom and the pioneering spirit of the American West.”

Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation, a wild horse advocacy group based in Colorado, stated the BLM should advance the use of fertility control vaccines that keep populations in check but allow horses and burros to remain free on the range. 

In a chart titled, Population Growth-Suppression Treatments, the BLM explains that the currently available fertility control vaccine (PZP) is limited to a one-year period of effectiveness (initially assumed to be 22 months) and must be hand-injected into a captured wild horse." If deployed via ground-darting, PZP has the same duration but is very difficult to deliver to an animal which avoids human contact and the sizes of the herds makes it difficult to locate or track individual animals. 

Kathrens told the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands earlier this year that. “Current management practices of round-up, removal and warehousing … cause compensatory reproduction – an increase in populations as a result of decreased competition for forage.” 

"In other words, there would not be a surge in wild horses if the BLM hadn’t removed most of them from their land in the first place," summarizes Inhabitat. 

Director Neil Kornze advised Congress in his 2017 budget request that the BLM is "overwhelmed" and sees no slowdown in population of these animals. BLM is requesting the establishment of a congressionally chartered foundation that would help fund and support efforts to adopt horses that have been rounded up.

Kornze told a House Appropriations subcommittee in March that the growing herds are causing environmental harm to vast swaths of rangeland. Among other things, he asked Congress to help by authorizing tax credits to "incentivize adoption" of wild horses (E&E Daily, March 4.) 

Skeptics pointed to the Washington Times article on October 24, 2015, confirming a report by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General that between 2009 and 2012, the BLM sold 1,794 federally protected wild horses to a Colorado rancher who admitted that most of the horses that he purchased through the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program went to slaughter. The Times also reports that taxpayers footed the $140,000 cost of delivery of the animals. 

On September 15, BLM spokesman Jason Lutterman issued a rapid response that the agency will NOT institute the controversial proposal by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. “The BLM will not euthanize or sell without limitation any healthy animals. We’re going to continue caring for and seeking good homes for the un-adopted animals in our off-range corrals and pastures.” 

To sell the animals “without limitation" essentially removes protocols established in a BLM 2013 policy aimed at ensuring they won’t be slaughtered and includes other provisions to assure that these protected animals are not resold or do not fall into the hands of abusers. 

BLM Director Kornze also asked Congress to help by authorizing tax credits to "incentivize adoption" of wild horses (E&E Daily, March 4.) 

However, The Verge points out, adoptions are only $125 apiece, and even purchasing all 45,000 equines for $5,625,000 would do little to offset the $49 million that the BLM spent on them just last year.

Now we have more facts, but resolution still seems to be at an impasse. How would Californians react to the possibility that -- without progress in management -- thousands of the Golden State's wild horses and burros could face euthanasia?

                                                                                   

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

INFORMED COMMENT--A Brown University political scientist estimates that as of 2016, The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost the American taxpayers $5 trillion. That number isn’t important when we consider the human cost: Some 7,000 US troops dead, 52,000 wounded in action; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead who wouldn’t otherwise be, 4 million displaced and made homeless, etc.

Just to put that $5 trillion in perspective. Let’s say you chose five individuals.  Each of the five will spend $10 million a day.  That’s the cost of Heidi Klum’s mansion.  They’d be buying the equivalent of five of those each day.

They’ll do that every day of their lives.  All five of them.  And then each of them will be succeeded by one their children, who will spend $10 million dollars a day, and one of their grandchildren, and one of their great-grandchildren, until 270 years have passed and it is the year 2286.  That’s the equivalent of a stardate for Captain Picard of the Enterprise. 

Neta Crawford, a professor of Political Science at Brown University published the study for Brown University’s Watson Institute. 

Professor Crawford writes:

“As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $ 3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and o n Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $6 5 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $3 2 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.”

The US has spent $1.7 billion for combat and reconstruction.  I have a sinking feeling that first they spent half of it on destroying things and then they spent the other half on rebuilding them.

Through 2053, the US government owes the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans $1 trillion in medical and disability payments along with the money to administer all that.

Crawford adds:

“Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the US changes the way it pays for the wars.”

Of 2.7 million military personnel who served in those two theaters, 2 million have now left the military and have entered the Veterans Administration system.  Some 52,000 of them were wounded in action and many need care.

Because the Bush administration borrowed money to pay for the wars, we’ve paid half a trillion dollars in interest alone.

At least al-Qaeda had been based in Afghanistan.  Iraq had had nothing to do with September 11.  It was Bush’s invasion that brought al-Qaeda there, which later morphed into ISIL.

We were lied into that war, and it has weakened our economy.  If anyone can tell me what benefits that war brought the average American, I’d like to hear it.

The Iraq War was a government-led Ponzi scheme and as usual the little people are the ones who took a bath.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.  He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years and speaks Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)  

-cw

EASTSIDER-Full disclosure: I’ve always been a news junkie. Until lately, when I stopped watching for a week because it was all the same stuff and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been channel surfing, and trying to figure out why all 200 news media outlets have the same 10 stories every day, like synchronized swimming. It used to be that local stations actually did local news, newspapers did investigative journalism, and it was only the one or two big national news items that got any system-wide attention. 

That’s all changed in the last decade. There are no real reporters anymore, because they all got fired to save money. Heck, even the old wire services like the AP, UPI & Reuters are going down fast. For those of you who don’t recognize any of these names, they are havens for journalists to sell their news stories to whomever is willing to buy them. They are great for avoiding the cost of having to pay employees to cover overseas events, with all that payroll overhead. You can read more about them here.  

One way to look at wire services is that they were the harbinger of the new cost cutting measures to provide no news at all. If you think about it, those brave wire service men and women were the first wave of our new “gig”, or “sharing” economy, where there are really no employers as such, hence no nasty overhead costs or liability for the big corporations who pipe out the news. 

Kinda’ like the Los Angeles Times of Chicago we have now, with under 400,000 subscribers and one centralized source of non-content. Leavened by a few casual help. Or the local television stations and cable networks, where all the money goes to the few talking heads, who have to fix their teeth and regularly visit the plastic surgeon to look just like their employers want, and spend hours just getting through makeup so we can adore them on air. 

So what happened to the news? Now we have the same formula across the 200 or so media outlets. Ninety percent of this “news” is the same identical regurgitation of every single shooting, mass protest, car chase or international terrorism event in the universe, plus a couple of the same national political events. This pablum is then bookended by stories about Tech and Social Media. 

The only way we can tell the difference between a national and a “local” show, is that the local news has traffic and weather. 

So what’s the new source of news? 

After a week away from the news, I tried again, and Eureka! I suddenly understood what’s replaced reporting. We now have TWEETS! It finally occurred to me that over time, all the faces we see on television have been paying more and more attention to their iPhones and tablets and laptops. They have shifted to tweets for their news to share with the masses who tune in with bated breath, albeit in fewer numbers. 

Tweets are perfect for the new news. They are cheap (free), mindless (at 140 characters or less, they can’t really convey much detail,) and by concentrating on what’s “trending,” you can leverage the burned out attention span of the masses to the folks who have zillions of followers. Yes sir, what’s trending now is the new mantra of the people who don’t want us actually thinking about the decline of our country by the corrupt politicians, their political parties, and the billionaires who own it all. 

In short, it’s the absolutely perfect environment for Donald Trump. Think about it. He’s all flamboyancy, tweets instead of talks, he has tons of followers, gets off on controversy and creates all kinds of groovy stuff that the mindless talking heads can riff off of everyday. Wow, in our 24-hour endless news cycle, he is the perfect tool to increase audience share. Heck, sometimes he even tweets a bunch and then we get updated news flash tweets. 

What a brilliant news concept. No cost here -- tweets are free. Even better, the personalities who inhabit the 200 news outlets don’t have to do any research, much less think. Just report the tweet, pump up the controversy and wait for the outrage. 

Perfect. The twits who give us the news can handle tweets. No danger of substance there. No nasty facts. Revenues up. The owners of the outlets are happy. More advertisers. 

Hillary Clinton doesn’t stand a chance. Character defects aside, the shortest sentence she knows is a paragraph. Face it, she’s a policy wonk at heart. She knows that this President stuff is complicated, darn it, and she is determined to share her expertise with us whether we want it or not. 

So even as they go say “oh my goodness, see what Donald has done now,” the media love him – he’s the absolute paragon of tweets for twits like them. Hillary is boring. Unless, of course, she gets sick or has the two hundredth “new” report come out about her email server. Then it’s hot news, at least as a soundbite. 

After all, the captains of industry who own the news media don’t really want to spend too much time talking about how she’s a member of the billionaire club. Not on air. After all, club members don’t rat each other out when it comes to money. 

Now I am not saying that all news media personalities are twits. Some are probably smart – smart enough to swap millions of dollars a year in their personal services contracts in exchange for being a professional twit. And increasingly, they have their own twitter handles, so that people can follow them as they follow .... 

Partly as a result of all of this pablum, and the shift away from print media, more people use smartphones than desktop computers these days. Recent studies would indicate that all this is simply increasing the gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to news.

­

These information shifts create all kinds of problems in terms of learning about what is really going on in the world that affects our lives and our money. People with crummy internet access, or none at all – something that is particularly prevalent in rural and low socioeconomic areas -- aren’t getting much real news at all. And the news that the rest of us get on our smartphones tends to be soundbite news -- most folks aren’t reading long articles on their phone. 

So, how do we get informed? 

The most important way to get informed is to have a population that has learned to learn and think for itself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a big goal of the current educational system, which focuses on career choices and specific occupations, even though most of the jobs that this produces won’t be around in a decade. 

On the other hand, most people I know are pretty pragmatic and have at least developed a solid BS meter as they grow up. So let me share with you how I find the news. 

Reading CityWatch is a great beginning. You will get more truth here about the machinations of our local political elite and their lords and masters than you will ever find in commercial media outlets. At least until Ken Draper makes a bundle of money and sells the website to MSNBC or Fox News. 

More generally, given that we’re all time challenged, I use a news aggregator called Feedly.com, although there are lots of other web based sites that do the same thing. You take all the online information sources that you want to know about and these web apps deliver the summary content of each. That way I can look through the headers to choose which full articles to read. I also subscribe to the electronic editions of the LA Times (sigh) and the Sacramento Bee. Told you I’m a news junkie. 

This system allows me to skim the posts for issues I’m interested in to get different points of view. Instantly. It’s a handy way to sort the crud from solid information. Otherwise, the temptation for us is to only get information that simply reinforces our existing beliefs. I believe the growth of this kind of niche media marketing is how we got to the place where people are challenged to have a civil conversation about matters political. Everyone reinforces his or her own belief system. 

Honestly, to find out real information has never been easier. Even though we are all stressed with the realities of our everyday life -- making rent/mortgage/bills, trying to get/keep a job or series of gigs, kids and all that entails, figuring out health insurance, and a pension or anything that will allow us to retire – it’s important to take time to figure out the who, what and why of how we got into this mess. So that we don’t get surprised by the next financial meltdown, or at least get some notice to do our best to survive. 

We all know that politicians won’t suddenly take the pledge and get honest, and that the icons of the financial services industry and corporate CEOs who control the entire global economy aren’t going to suddenly get religion and start paying the taxes on what they’ve been hiding overseas. We need to get smart and learn how to see who’s doing what to whom for ourselves. 

Otherwise, it’s tweets, twits, and mindless mainstream media.

 

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

LA WATCHDOG--In June, the Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power postponed its consideration of a 10 year, $63 million lease of six floors of office space at Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex, because it did not pass the smell test.* 

Now, the Department is considering another ten year lease, but only for four floors at a cost of $41 million.  But once again, this deal is not ready for prime time as it is not in the best interests of the Department and the Ratepayers. 

The Department’s management makes the valid argument that its needs this additional space to house 700 employees who are needed to oversee the repair and maintenance of its water and power infrastructure, to modernize its IT and financial management systems, and to facilitate succession planning and the transfer of institutional knowledge as a third of its work force is eligible to retire over the next five years. 

But a ten year, $41 million lease is out of the question since DWP has not developed a long term plan to determine its real estate needs.  This space plan would include the reconfiguration of the John Ferraro Building, DWP’s 50 year old, 1.6 million square foot headquarters that is located across from the Music Center in DTLA. Interestingly, this idea was nixed during the City’s budget crisis by Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council.  

The “restacking” of JFB is estimated to be an expensive two or three year project if it were properly planned and managed by an experienced, independent contractor who would develop a floor by floor plan that would limit the disruption to the Department’s operations.  

There is also the concept of locating some of the Department’s noncore functions in less expensive real estate in parts of our City that would benefit from economic development. 

A well thought out and properly executed space plan would indicate that the Figueroa Plaza lease not exceed four or five years and that Department would need only three floors of “creative” office space.  This would imply that a five year lease (including parking) would be in the range of $12 million, not including tenant improvements of around $9 million that the City wants DWP to pay.  The total lease would be approximately $21 million, a significant discount to the new $41 million proposal. 

However, the City should consider cutting DWP and its Ratepayers a break given that we are forking over $291 million to fund the illegal 8% Transfer Tax on Power System revenues.  We are also being slammed with a five year $1 billion rate increase.  As such, the City should consider waiving the annual rent of about $2 million a year, leaving DWP to pay for the tenant improvements and parking.  DWP would be responsible for the $9 million tenant improvements that would stay with the building after the lease is over.  

The City will argue that it cannot afford the loss of revenue.  But given the vacancy factor of this out of the way location, its lack of amenities, its government dominated rent roll, the lack of interest by private sector renters, and the complex’s deferred maintenance, the likelihood of attracting tenants for these three floors is questionable. 

And maybe it is time for the City to give a little something back to the Ratepayers. 

 

●●

 

  • Previous CityWatch articles on the DWP lease of Figueroa Plaza 

--The Fig Plaza Stick Up: Ripping Off DWP Ratepayers for $40 Million

June 27, 2016 

--Exposed! City Overcharging DWP Millions on Downtown Fig Plaza Rent

June 20, 2016

 

(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--We need to send a loud and clear message to Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Herb Wesson led City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Community College District, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Governor Jerry Brown, and our representatives in Sacramento that we are not their ATM. 

LA WATCHDOG--In the 2013 Mayoral race, Candidate Eric Garcetti opposed Proposition A, the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax that would have raised our already regressive sales tax to a staggering 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country. 

LA WATCHDOG--In her ten years on the Los Angeles City Council (2001-2011), Janice Hahn never met a wage increase, rate increase, or tax increase she did not like.  She was also opposed to increased transparency into the operations, finances, and management of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

In 2007, Hahn was a major supporter of the 5 year, 25% wage increase for the City’s civilian workers.  While the economics of this deal were questionable even under favorable economic conditions, it turned out to be a disaster when the economy tanked and the City’s finances were turned upside down.  

Even with this river of red ink, Hahn was unwilling to support the hard decisions to balance the budget because she did not want to antagonize the leaders of the City’s unions who had snookered Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council President Eric Garcetti with promises to bargain in good faith if the City’s financial condition changed.  

The City eventually balanced the budget, but only after it dumped 1,600 employees onto the DWP payroll (along with $175 million in unfunded pension liabilities) and enticed 2,400 senior employees to retire through the Early Retirement Incentive Program that stuck the City’s underfunded civilian employee pension plan with an additional $600 million liability. 

In 2008, Hahn was a sponsor of the Proposition A (the City of Los Angeles Special Gang and Youth Violence Prevention, After-School and Job Training Programs Tax), a $36 parcel tax designed to raise about $30 million a year.  But this ballot measure failed to receive the necessary two thirds vote, in large part because the ballot measure did not win the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times.  

In 2008 and 2010, Hahn supported two hefty rate increases in our water and power rates while, at the same time, putting on a show where she pretended to sympathize with the downtrodden Ratepayers.  After all, she wanted the continued support of DWP’s domineering union, IBEW Local 18, and Union Bo$$ d’Arcy, its politically powerful business manager.  

In 2010, she and her partner in crime Richard Alarcon sided with Mayor Villaraigosa in his scheme to have DWP withhold $73.5 million from the City’s General Fund unless the City Council agreed to an even higher rate increase. But this effort failed when the 13 other members of the City Council refused to go along with hare brained stunt that was not in the best interests of the City and the DWP Ratepayers.  

In late 2010, Hahn was also one of the opponents of the placing on the ballot the charter amendment to create the Ratepayers Advocate to oversee the operations, finances, and management of the Department.  And even after 78% of the voters approved this ballot measure in March of 2011, Hahn continued her efforts to water down the powers of the Ratepayers Advocate because Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s concern about increased transparency and accountability into the operations and finances of our Department of Water and Power. 

While Hahn was on the City Council, Hahn gave lip service to pension reform.  But when push came to shove, Hahn was MIA because once again she was unwilling to alienate the leaders of the City’s civilian unions who refused to negotiate in good faith to reform our seriously underfunded pension plans.  

The County Board of Supervisors has undergone a significant change as the fiscally responsible Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina have been replaced by Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, both of whom are not known for their budget balancing prowess.  Adding the fiscally irresponsible and inexperienced Janice Hahn to the Board of Supervisors that has a budget of $28 billion and pension liabilities exceeding $50 billion is only asking for trouble, especially if the economy experiences a downturn. 

A vote for Janice Hahn will be a vote for budget shenanigans, a vote against pension reform, a vote against transparency, a vote for the self-serving leaders of the County’s public unions, and a vote for increased taxes on the hard working citizens of Los Angeles County. 

(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 Build Better LA Initiative is the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s attempt to increase affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles by requiring real estate developers who want a zoning change or General Plan amendment to include low income housing in their developments.  It also provides for increased density in Transit Oriented Communities in return for affordable units. 

But this November ballot initiative (officially the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning Initiative Ordinance JJJ) is over 10,000 words and very difficult for planning gurus to understand to say nothing of us mere mortals.  But maybe this obfuscation is part of County Fed’s strategy.  

The proponents of the initiative are playing up the lack of affordable housing in the City.  But County Fed’s underlying goal is to establish the equivalent of “project labor agreements” on all developments of ten or more units that are granted General Plan amendments that allow for increased residential space, density, or height.  

Notably lacking is any discussion about the economics associated with this ballot measure.  But according to several sources, this initiative will increase construction costs by about 30% to 40%, in large part because of the onerous hiring requirements (see below) contained in the initiative. 

There has not been any discussion or analysis of the impact this initiative would have on our streets, especially in areas such as Hollywood and DTLA where congestion is already a major league problem. More than likely, these supersized skyscrapers will require many more luxury apartments to pay for the affordable units, resulting in massive increases in traffic as the upper income tenants will not rely on the bus or subway, but will tool to work in their gas guzzling BMWs. 

There are also no specific provisions that require the City to update its General Plan or its 37 Community Plans.  Rather, it appears that “up zoning” and “spot zoning” will continue to be business as usual, only this time on steroids, all to the detriment of our family oriented neighborhoods and streets.  

This initiative also gives extraordinary power to the City Council as it will have the ability to adjust the affordable housing requirements of a particular project “upon a showing of substantial evidence that such adjustments are necessary to maximize affordable housing while ensuring a reasonable return on investment for Developers.” 

Talk about an invitation for corruption! 

Union sponsored Initiative JJJ is not ready for prime time.  It adds significantly to the cost of construction.  There is no planning.  It is overdevelopment of steroids.  It does not respect our neighborhoods.  It grants the City Council too much power.  And it is an invitation for corruption. 

Vote NO on JJJ.  There are better ways to build LA.

 

●●

 

Ballot Language 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND LABOR STANDARDS RELATED TO CITY PLANNING. INITIATIVE ORDINANCE RRR 

Shall an ordinance: 1) requiring that certain residential development projects provide for affordable housing and comply with prevailing wage, local hiring and other labor standards; 2) requiring the City to assess the impacts of community plan changes on affordable housing and local jobs; 3) creating an affordable housing incentive program for developments near major transit stops; and 4) making other changes; be adopted? 

Hiring Requirements 

All building and construction work on the project will be performed at all tiers by contractors which

(a) are licensed by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(b) shall make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 30% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by permanent residents of the City of Los Angeles of which at least 10% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by Transitional Workers whose primary place of residence is within a 5-mile radius of the covered project;

(c) employ only construction workers which possess all licenses and certifications required by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(d) pay their construction workers performing project work the wages prevailing in the project area determined pursuant to California Labor Code § 1770; and

(e) have at least 60% of their respective construction workforces on the project from: (1) workers who have graduated from a Joint Labor Management apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California, or have at least as many hours of on-the-job experience in the applicable craft which would be required to graduate from such a state-approved apprenticeship training program, and (2) registered apprentices in an apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California or an out-of-state, federally-approved apprenticeship program.

●●

 

(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--In November, we will be asked to reject or approve “The California Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016.” If approved by a majority of the voters, this ballot measure, Proposition 55, will extend to December 31, 2030 the “temporary” income tax surcharges on upper income Californians that were authorized in November of 2012 when 55% of the voters approved Proposition 30. 

Prop 30 was designed to prevent “devastating” cuts to the State’s educational budget by establishing a seven year “soak the rich” income tax surcharge (2012 to 2018) and a four year quarter of a cent increase in our sales tax (2013 to 2016).  

According to Legislative Analyst, this 12 year extension of the ‘temporary” income surcharges will increase state revenues by $4 billion to $9 billion a year from 2019 through 2030, depending on the economy and, importantly, the stock market.  This year’s budget assumed $7 billion from these income tax surcharges. 

But this is not the only “revenue enhancement” scheme that is being cooked up by our friends in Sacramento and the campaign funding leadership of the public sector unions. 

State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is pushing to extend the sales tax to include services.  This so called “reform” would generate “roughly $10 billion in its first year and increasing amounts thereafter.”  According to a chart prepared by the California Board of Equalization, the State has identified 15 industries and 487,000 firms that have the potential to generate $111 billion in sales tax revenue.  This includes lawyers, accountants, and other value added service providers. 

According to a report by State Controller Betty Yee and her Council of Economic Advisors on Tax Reform, another revenue enhancement is the “split roll” where commercial and industrial properties would be assessed at their fair market value.  At a 1% property tax rate, annual “revenue gains would likely surpass $5 billion and may add up to more than $10.2 billion.”  However, the split roll will require the approval of the voters since it involves amending Proposition 13, the third rail of California politics. 

The folks in Sacramento and their cronies in the transportation lobby are also beating the drums for an increase our gas tax, already the highest in the nation when you factor in the impact of the “cap & trade” fees.  This proposed increase is estimated to be in the range of $2 billion to $4 billion a year.  This money would help fund efforts of the California Department of Transportation to repair the State’s highways, roads, bridges, and other related infrastructure.  

At the same time, the State is swiping $1 billion a year from CalTrans, a bloated agency where 3,500 surplus employees are costing the State, its taxpayers, and our roads over $500 million a year. 

Our good friend Hertzberg is also pushing a bill (SB 1298) that would allow stormwater / urban runoff to be considered as wastewater, thereby allowing the County of Los Angeles to levy $20 billion in fees without the approval of the voters.  This would result in an increase in our real estate taxes of 8%.  

Proposition 30 has done an admirable job of making up revenue shortfall over the last five years.  Since 2012, the State’s General Fund revenues have increased by almost $34 billion (39%) while overall revenues, including special funds, has increased to almost $171 billion, a bump of more than 40%. 

Now that income and sales tax revenues have rebounded to record levels, Proposition 55 and the 12 year extension of the “temporary” income tax surcharges represents just another revenue grab by the State, the California Teachers Association, the hospital lobby, and the SEIU (Service International Employees Union) that deserves to be rejected by the voters in November. 

And while a “soak the rich” tax has a certain appeal, we need to be careful not to kill the golden goose.  If only a small percentage of the upper income taxpayers and their profitable corporations and the small businesses they control decide to relocate or not invest in our economy, many of our fellow citizens will be without good manufacturing or value added service oriented jobs.  

We need to send a message to the fiscally irresponsible scoundrels in Sacramento, their cronies, and the campaign funding leaders of the public sector unions that we are not their ATM.  After all, we are doing more than our fair share as we have the highest income tax rate, the highest sales tax, and the highest gas prices in the country.  

Vote NO on Proposition 55.

(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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