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LABOR ON IMMIGRATION-Maria Elena Durazo knows about immigrant workers, labor and civil rights. She has been the hospitality union UNITE HERE’s General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity since 2014. Before that she was the first woman executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents 600,000 workers, many of whom are immigrants and Latinos. She became a force for labor and living standards in the nation’s second-largest city -- and a thought-leader for the rest of the nation. 

When she was growing up, Durazo’s farm-worker family picked crops up and down the West Coast. Recalling that time, she told film maker Jesús Treviño, “As migrant farm workers, my dad would load us up on a flatbed truck and we would go from town to town and pick whatever crop was coming up. I think of my dad when he had to negotiate with contratistas [contractors]. I knew we worked so hard and the contratistas were chiseling us down to pennies. What was pennies to them meant food on the table for us.” 

Durazo spoke with Capital & Main about the threats to working people and immigrants from a new Trump administration -- and how to fight back. 

Capital & Main: Let’s begin with the Big Question. What do you see as the next battle fronts for labor and immigration -- what needs defending? 

Maria Elena Durazo: There is a great degree of worry about Trump giving permission to do harm in our communities, to immigrant families and immigrant neighborhoods–permission for people to attack, to harass kids, adults. 

Our job in the labor movement is to create safe-work places. Here in Los Angeles, and in a number of cities, officials are standing up and saying we’re not going to allow our local police to cooperate with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.] Our schools are saying we’re not going to allow ICE to come in. 

Families have an earthquake plan. Who do you call? How do you react? How do we protect ourselves? That’s the very first level, and we have to give confidence to our communities. We know how to be safe. Let’s remember that and do that stuff right away. 

C&M: The president-elect has said he intends to cut federal funds to cities that don’t collaborate with federal authorities on immigration policies. Local municipalities are saying no—Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has staked out his position–but what happens? Los Angeles could lose $500 million this fiscal year. 

MED: Remember the threats around apartheid? There were threats that pension funds in cities that divested from South Africa would be breaking the law…threats of lawsuits. Then divestment happened across the board. But it took a few to start it, to have the courage to say we’re not going to be threatened that way. 

C&M: Some people called President Obama the “deporter-in-chief”—news reports cite 2.4 million “removals” during his administration. Is that title fair? 

MED: He certainly dramatically increased the number of border patrol agents. We in the labor and immigrant rights movement had big clashes with President Obama. He did try to do a version of [having] local law enforcement cooperate with ICE. We fought that. 

At first he didn’t agree with giving deferred action to young people. ( DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  -- the Dreamers.) We pushed back, and he eventually agreed with it. He tried very hard to get a complete overhaul of the immigration laws and immigration system. He tried in his way. We certainly pushed in our way. We got as far as bipartisan Senate approval of a piece of legislation.

Other Republicans were adamant about blocking him at every single step. He only got as far as the enforcement part of it, which is why he was given the title. But other than DACA, he was never able to get the other pieces of legislative immigration reform. 

C&M: What lies ahead for the DACA students? There are some 750,000 young people completing their educations and working under a temporary protected status -- it seems that makes them a very vulnerable population for deportation. 

MED: Unless we fight back harder they present an opportunity for Trump to be able to say, “See? I’m doing things. I told you I was going to do something.” 

C&M: How real is President-elect Trump’s immigration rhetoric –“round them all up”? Should people be as afraid as they feel? 

MED: We should be worried about that. Not just worried, we should be acting on what he pledged to do, and what he continues to say he’s going to do. 

The people that he’s considering for these different [government] positions are very serious. It’s not a threat. It’s a very explicit promise. 

The other danger is to use the term “criminals” as a pretext to deport millions. [Trump] never said the majority of immigrants are hard-working men and women. There are at maximum a few hundred thousand immigrants [and] some that have had a run-in with law enforcement. That’s the pretext for going after millions. That’s the scary part because he knows people in this country could fall for that.

How many civil rights laws in our history have been violated–as recently as George W. Bush, as far back as what was done to Japanese Americans? In the 1950s we had the deportations of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants. It wasn’t in the millions, but it certainly was at least in the hundreds of thousands. We’ve been through this. Are we in a position to fight back and refuse? 

C&M: How do we refuse? 

MED: There’s no doubt in my mind we have all the makings across this country to push back and show him. We won marriage equality, we’ve pushed and we’ve won a number of things on the environmental front. 

A million people march in the streets. We’ll disobey and we’ll have solidarity. We’re showing that in Los Angeles. We’re showing that in other cities. We have police chiefs saying they will not cooperate. That’s a very powerful thing that we have on our side. Community-based organizations saying we’re going to set up family safety procedures. The school districts saying, “We’re not going to allow that.” 

I spoke with Reverend James Lawson, the other day -- when I talked to him he said, “We know how to win. We’ve got these victories. Feel proud and great about them. This guy, there’s no way we’re going to let him destroy our country.” 

C&M: Major industries in this country benefit from the immigration system being broken. Are they going to go along with mass deportations– an enormous disruption in the economic system? 

MED: It’s a new opportunity to exploit immigrant workers even more. Wage theft will just go through the roof because there will be such a dramatic increase in this atmosphere of fear. There are sectors of our economy where employers will love it because they’ll be more in control. They know that 12 million people are not going to be deported overnight. But they’re going to take advantage of that fear. 

C&M: A chicken-processing plant in a Southern right-to-work state wouldn’t be happy if all its undocumented workers were deported. 

MED: No, they wouldn’t be happy, but let’s say Trump says, “You’re not going to like that. But how about if I give you unfettered guest workers?” They’ll be provided an alternative on that level. That’s one way that they could look at it. 

Look at these high-tech industry leaders that pretend to be so liberal. What do they want? Guest worker status for “highly skilled” workers -- to be able to have them here, to work them. They don’t care about them being permanently allowed to live in this country. 

There are industries like hospitality, where I expect those employers to defend their work force. In the past they’ve shown courage by publicly being on the side of [immigration] legislation. But they haven’t really taken much risk. Now it’s going to take more risk to defend their work force. Courage.

Leadership. They’re going to have to do more than just sign off on legislation. 

 

(Bobbi Murray has reported on politics, economics, police reform and health-care issues for Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and The Nation. This piece first appeared in Capital & Main.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

GUEST COMMENTARY--Think of a typical college town: bars and dispensaries galore, miles of bike lanes and stores that appeal to students. Now think of Westwood: two bars, virtually no bike lanes and full of niche stores like Sur La Table and Paper Source with almost no use for students.

The blame falls on the Westwood Neighborhood Council, which has favored high-end retailers instead of ones serving student interests. The council has a distinct lack of student representation, a problem made worse by the fact that it extended its member term length from two to four years. 

Supply and demand principles should govern Westwood stores instead of the outlandish desire to see expensive, Beverly Hills-type retailers in a part of Los Angeles dominated by university students.

And the problem isn’t just with business. Last year, the neighborhood council opposed creating a bike lane on Westwood Boulevard. A bike lane would benefit students commuting from south of Wilshire Boulevard as well as people traveling to Westwood. Instead, the council somehow devised the logic that a bike lane would actually make the road more dangerous for cyclists. This is like saying, “Let’s not build lanes for cars; it’ll make the road more dangerous for them.” When pressed for explanation, Councilwoman Lisa Chapman did not respond for comment. Contact Chapman or Councilman Paul Koretz if you agree with this logic and give them a hearty congratulations for concocting something so bizarre.

Despite the recent statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, Westwood Neighborhood Council Vice President Sandy Brown opposes the opening of marijuana dispensaries in Westwood. She fears they would harm its retail scene. When pressed on the issue, Brown became defensive and said, “(Students) can’t own the town. The town needs to represent the people who pay the taxes.”

Except students are far from owning the town. If Brown doesn’t want to address students’ desires, she would be more fit to preside over the neighboring Century City where the median age is 46, not the vibrant, young Westwood with a median age of 27. Brown, along with the rest of the neighborhood council, needs to acknowledge Westwood’s plurality of students, better represent them and in turn, attract more students and their money to Westwood.

The neighborhood council should support a recreational marijuana dispensary in Westwood and stop foolishly dismissing an opportunity to raise money for the city, the county and the state, especially considering most marijuana users fall within Westwood’s college-dominated age range. Yet Brown believes she knows best for Westwood, all while disregarding the thousands of students who indirectly pay property taxes through apartment rent, sales tax on purchases and income tax on revenues.

The neighborhood council isn’t the only association trying to keep Westwood from becoming the college town it’s meant to be. Steve Sann, chairman of the Westwood Community Council constantly reminds the community of the two organizations’ differences, but neither of the two councils seem to have students’ interests at heart.

Sann thinks that retail environments thrive with complementary uses to each other and thus, that a marijuana dispensary would offset expensive stores like Sur La Table. He consistently mentions The Grove while providing examples of how Westwood’s retail scene should operate. Once again, a council member neglects Westwood’s college-age demographics and their needs in contrast to those of high-class shoppers.

Westwood has the potential to be a unique place in the west side of LA. In a region full of expensive boutique shops and irritated drivers displeased with bikers and pedestrians, Westwood could have expansive bike lanes and stores and bars that attract students. Westwood could be an alluring college town nestled in a hectic city, but only with the support of the Westwood Neighborhood and Community Councils.

(This Jonathan Friedland perspective was posted originally at The Daily Bruin.) 

Graphic credit: Gwen Hollingsworth/Daily Bruin.

-cw

CAN THEY CO-EXIST?--California is now the capital of liberal America. Along with its neighbors Oregon and Washington, it will be a nation within the nation starting in January when the federal government goes dark. In sharp contrast to much of the rest of the nation, Californians preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin. They also voted to extend a state tax surcharge on the wealthy, and adopt local housing and transportation measures along with a slew of local tax increases and bond proposals. 

In other words, California is the opposite of Trumpland. 

The differences go even deeper. For years, conservatives have been saying that a healthy economy depends on low taxes, few regulations and low wages. 

Are conservatives right? At the one end of the scale are Kansas and Texas, with among the nation’s lowest taxes, least regulations and lowest wages. 

At the other end is California, with among the nation’s highest taxes, especially on the wealthy; toughest regulations, particularly when it comes to the environment; most ambitious healthcare system, that insures more than 12 million poor Californians, in partnership with Medicaid; and high wages. 

So according to conservative doctrine, Kansas and Texas ought to be booming, and California ought to be in the pits. 

Actually, it’s just the opposite. 

For several years, Kansas’s rate of economic growth has been the worst in the nation. Last year its economy actually shrank. 

Texas hasn’t been doing all that much better. Its rate of job growth has been below the national average. Retail sales are way down. The value of Texas exports has been dropping. 

But what about so-called over-taxed, over-regulated, high-wage California? 

California leads the nation in the rate of economic growth -- more than twice the national average. If it were a separate nation it would now be the sixth largest economy in the world. Its population has surged to 39 million (up 5 percent since 2010). 

California is home to the nation’s fastest-growing and most innovative industries – entertainment and high tech. It incubates more startups than anywhere else in the world. 

In other words, conservatives have it exactly backwards. 

Why are Kansas and Texas doing so badly, and California so well? 

For one thing, taxes enable states to invest in their people. The University of California is the best system of public higher education in America. Add in the state’s network of community colleges, state colleges, research institutions, and you have an unparalleled source of research, and a powerful engine of upward mobility. 

Kansas and Texas haven’t been investing nearly to the same extent. 

California also provides services to a diverse population, including a large percentage of immigrants. Donald Trump to the contrary, such diversity is a huge plus. Both Hollywood and Silicon Valley have thrived on the ideas and energies of new immigrants. 

Meanwhile, California’s regulations protect the public health and the state’s natural beauty, which also draws people to the state – including talented people who could settle anywhere. 

Wages are high in California because the economy is growing so fast employers have to pay more for workers. That’s not a bad thing. After all, the goal isn’t just growth. It’s a high standard of living. 

In fairness, Texas’s problems are also linked to the oil bust. But that’s really no excuse because Texas has failed to diversify its economy. Here again, it hasn’t made adequate investments. 

California is far from perfect. A housing shortage has driven rents and home prices into the stratosphere. Roads are clogged. Its public schools used to be the best in the nation but are now among the worst – largely because of a proposition approved by voters in 1978 that’s strangled local school financing. Much more needs to be done. 

But overall, the contrast is clear. Economic success depends on tax revenues that go into public investments, and regulations that protect the environment and public health. And true economic success results in high wages. 

I’m not sure how Trumpland and California will coexist in coming years. I’m already hearing murmurs of secession by Golden Staters, and of federal intrusions by the incipient Trump administration. 

But so far, California gives lie to the conservative dictum that low taxes, few regulations, and low wages are the keys economic success. Trumpland should take note.

(Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley and the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

AN ALTERNATIVE TO WALLED-OFF US--On Tuesday Nov. 8, Californians voted in record numbers to reaffirm our commitment to freedom, openness and really just basic human decency.  This fundamental difference in values offers an alternative future for America and indeed the world.

Civilizations succeed when they open themselves to new ideas and new people from new places. There is nothing great in closing off a country from the world.  Simply compare the backwardness of inward-looking medieval Europe – filled with castle walls – to the flourishing in the open minded Renaissance.

As an alternative to a walled off America, California builds bridges to every corner of the globe.  Every iconic Apple product says “designed in California,” and Hollywood movies inspire millions.  That open and imaginative attitude is exactly what the world needs to build a bright future.

Today, Californians work to automate driving, pioneer personalized medicine and colonize Mars. Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership, California’s economy has growth to the sixth largest economy in the world, and our once-troubled state finances have stabilized.

Yes, California still has its share of problems.  Housing costs prohibit all but the creative elite from affording life in too much of coastal California.  Too many of our roads are chock full of potholes. The quality of too many of our kids’ schools is too often a function of the zip code they live in.  And a lingering drought challenges us to do more to prepare for an uncertain water future.

Yet fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with California that cannot be addressed by what is right with California.  Gov. Brown’s call for common sense reforms could lower housing costs. New sensors can map potholes radically more affordably and comprehensively

The web can connect students with opportunities unimaginable a generation ago and help us move beyond our one-size-fits-all public education system. And new data technologies enable new ways to measure and thus better manage California’s precious water resources. 

Today there is a global crisis of confidence in our basic public institutions. Meanwhile, ultimately none of those promising pilots linked above are certain.  Ultimately, they simply highlight a new frontier for public problem solving. Of course, the pioneers’ journey by land and sea to California was far from certain as well.

Today’s challenges offer a golden opportunity for Californians to bring that pioneering spirit to bear on our pressing public problems.  America – and indeed the world – needs nothing less from California today.

(Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator.  He currently runs a big water data project to prepare California to adapt to our historic drought and whatever the future holds. This perspective was posted first at Cal Buzz.

-cw 

ALPERN AT LARGE--With all due respect to those who live in a housing project, I think it's safe to say that most of us want to live in a home, and not in a beehive.  And with all due respect to those who live in Manhattan or in Downtown LA, I think it's safe to say that most of us would move to those places if we wanted to truly live there. 

Similarly, when we ask for a drink of water, we don't want to be firehosed and swept off our feet.

We're in a war of words, a war of paradigms, and a war of math, in the City of the Angels. 

Example #1: Mass transit always leads to overdevelopment and traffic, and/or fighting mass transit prevents overdevelopment and traffic. 

As time and experience allows us to learn the difference between our fears and our realities, we've seen mass transit and freeways through bad neighborhoods not spruce up the housing and traffic, and we've seen mass transit and freeways through good neighborhoods jack up overdevelopment and traffic. 

Which is why our mayor deserves kudos for being a transportation advocate, but also deserves scathing criticism for overdevelopment.  Hollywood needs its Red Line, and a north-south link to the developing Purple Line Subway and Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, but then-Councilmember Eric Garcetti of Hollywood pushed through OVERdevelopment. 

In other words, despite the good that Garcetti has done for Hollywood, he's also done some bad ... and it's OK for us to both praise and scorn him for his good and bad efforts, respectively (and respectfully). 

Similarly, with respect to traffic, those who fought the Expo Line tooth and nail (make it go underground from Overland to Sepulveda, even if it costs $300 million and the LADOT doesn't support it!) also fought the rail bridges.  The LADOT worked with electeds to get the Sepulveda rail bridge (which is beautiful and works well), but now we've got a traffic problem on Overland. 

Good job, anti-Expo NIMBY's, because the Expo Line Authority DID have a plan to elevate the Expo Line at Overland, and the LADOT recommended a rail bridge there, but by insisting that everything be underground, we now have a street level Expo Line crossing at Overland that is the problem everyone knew it would be. 

So let's get over the "mass transit always leads to this, or fighting mass transit leads to that", because common sense comes from all over, and stupidity, greed, and narcissism also comes from all over. 

Example #2: Addressing Affordable Housing always leads to megadevelopment, and we've got to get used to big monster projects. 

Nonsense.  Poppycock.  Garbage.  We've created stupid megadevelopment before mass transit, and we're doing it during mass transit, and if we'd voted down Measure M and voted to end all new mass transit tomorrow, our city leaders and its crony-capitalism developer clique would still advocate for overdevelopment. 

No one but NO ONE has a realistic chance of fighting a big development downtown, or on the Wilshire corridor, or wherever a "downtown" atmosphere/planning zone is SUPPOSED to be, but there's always a fight to avoid making the City into a series of Downtowns and create a new traffic jam all over again. 

And I suppose that uberdeveloper Pamela Day, an acolyte of the "Alan Casden school of overdevelopment" deserves a big "thank you" for her honesty when she spoke her true feelings at a Planning town hall regarding an 80+ foot-tall project in a 30-40-foot-tall corridor about how she thought Mar Vista was a lousy place to live, and insulted Mar Vistans as a whole. 

Fortunately, we've got Councilmember Mike Bonin and his team to remind Ms. Day and her team that 80+ foot-tall projects is still too damned high in the suburbs, and that her financial betterment isn't the driving force as to whether her project should be approved, and that infuriating the neighbors while threatening traffic, parking, and blocking out the sun is probably a bad, bad, BAD idea. 

Similar to signage, there's proper compromise, and then there's urban blight.  And if the public sees a bad idea, then the public's elected leaders should represent them. 

People want HOMES and NOT PROJECTS.  Housing, not beehives.  We could create 2-4 story-tall projects throughout the city (and both north AND south of the I-10 freeway!) to create sustainable, delightful, and happy apartments, condos, and townhomes to address the needs of those who want a place to call "home". 

And when we create tall megadevelopments, they should be located where they make sense, and require lots of mitigation to acknowledge the impacts these megadevelopments have on their taxpaying neighbors (who still, believe it or not, have rights, too). 

Example #3: The sidewalks are too expensive to be fixed, and too challenging a project to fix in 5-7 years. 

One of the main reasons that Angelenos had some misgivings about Measure M was that it didn't fix the sidewalks quick enough, and provide enough rapid funding to address this horrible problem.  But Measure M was one of the best ways to get some funding, and to get the ball rolling for private-public and other funding initiatives, to address our sidewalks.  So it was passed. 

But today, after the bruising and drama-laden election cycle that ended in November 2016, we've got new battles to fight. 

Any and ALL mitigation for new light rail lines and rapid bus lines should involve and include a prioritization of fixing the major commercial corridors adjacent to all major rail and bus stops--and with a timeframe of 3-5 years. 

Street Services, Public Works, the LADOT, Metro, and Neighborhood Councils should derive lists of the most major sidewalk fixes (and ADA-compliant sidewalk carveouts for the handicapped and for bicycles to reach their destinations) with a 3-5 year goal of fixing those problems first. 

And NO development, particularly one with variances, should be allowed to escape or avoid the sidewalk repair mitigation funding requirements needed to resolve a "War on Sidewalk Safety". 

Commercial/business zones, family-friendly neighborhoods, areas fighting urban blight, and mass transit all have something in common:  keep the sidewalks safe, clean, and user-friendly. 

And with spring 2017, with all of its City Council races, and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the ballot, the time is NOW to demand that the right balance of common sense be applied to ensure we build (but don't overbuild) the right Los Angeles for the 21st Century.

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EASTSIDER-Is homelessness a real problem in LA? You betchy. Should we do something about it? Of course. Can the LA City Council handle the problem? So far, indications aren’t good. 

In the run up to passing a $1.2 billion dollar bond measure on November 8, the LA City Council was all over the problem of homelessness. I mean, we had committees, plans, pontification and platitudes galore. Political fodder of the highest order, but what was underneath the rhetoric? 

Speaking as a recovering bureaucrat, I have noticed that public agencies handle their documents in two very different ways. When they are serious and want to do something odious, the documents are usually a black and white memo, full of technical jargon and indecipherable gobbledygook. On the other hand, when they want to sell snow in the wintertime to the public, it’s an entirely different deal. In this case, they write huge full color documents, with pretty color charts and graphs and tons of headings and subheadings which prove that they know what they are doing and so you should trust them. The City’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy is a shining example, and you can find it here.  

Be forewarned, it will take a while to even load the document in your browser, since it is a 300 page piece of dazzling you know what. The glitz starts on page 7 and goes on and on. I found a particularly pretty color flow chart on page 18 that shows all the public and private agencies that work together on this knotty problem. 

For a shorter and even flashier version, check out the Mayor’s summary version of how the Mayor is single handedly transforming LA into the vanguard of homelessness solutions. 

If you look at the fine print, the City of Los Angeles has already pledged allocating $100 million in the budget towards the problem, which they recognized was a drop in the bucket. The Committee working on this was led by no other than Jose Huizar, whose PLUM Committee has created plenty of homelessness by blessing every developer’s dream over the last few years. 

First Reports. 

A key part of the City’s Plan has been to use City owned property to provide quick housing. Indeed, City Controller Ron Galperin has developed a very cool database to map the approximately 9000 city properties which may be underutilized. For a good read on how this came to happen and how it works, check out this article at The Planning Report

After all this, the first public report on the homeless strategy progress was released by the Homeless Strategy Committee on November 7. It’s a good example of a “serious” memo, black and white, full of technical jargon. 

The reason for the report’s awkward language is pretty clear -- the core first steps relating to “crisis response” efforts aren’t going that well. As the LA Times  put it, “Proposals for storage lockers and toilets for street dwellers are stalled, new shelter capacity is being added at a trickle, and the city bureaucracy moving more slowly than some council members expected.” 

Buried in the report is the fact that it was community opposition that derailed storage facilities in Venice and San Pedro, and CD 9’s La Opinion site turned out to be no good “due to the rehabilitation cost.” 

Also, the 9th District Court of Appeals torpedoed the Council’s hot flash vision of a Citywide Safe Parking Program. So back to the drawing board on that one. 

You have to wonder how much use Ron Galperin’s database of city owned properties is going to be in the face of all of this pushback. Using city owned properties was a key element in providing supportive housing for the homeless. 

Speaking of Quick Homeless Housing. 

Part of phase one of the City’s ambitious 300 page Comprehensive Homeless Strategy was to provide quick, permanent supportive homeless housing on some 12 city-owned parcels. A big part of this plan was to establish a list of prequalified developers who could quickly build on those parcels. This list ultimately included 39 developers and recommendations for the disposition of the twelve parcels. 

Well, that didn’t last long. In a mid-November move, the recommendations had suddenly winnowed down to four developers, and the types of housing now magically include “Permanent Supportive Housing, Affordable Multifamily Housing, Mixed-Income Housing, Affordable Homeownership,” and my favorite, “Innovative Methods of Housing.” 

Also, the 12 parcels are now down to 10, with the staff recommendation that the other two parcels be sold off on the grounds that “there are no recommended proposals for these sites.” The money, of course, will go to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. 

So what we are left with in the initial phases of LA City’s master plan for homelessness are 4 developers who are authorized to build affordable housing or anything “innovative.” Great. 

What Can We Expect for Our $1.2 Billion Bond? 

In a heartwarming, if naive expression of faith, over 76% of the voters approved Measure HHH on November 8, authorizing the sale of $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for about 10,000 units of affordable permanent-supportive housing in the next 10 years. It is the major long-term component of the City’s Comprehensive Homeless Strategy. 

Take a look at KPPC’s article on 10 things you need to know about measure HHH  to see what the promises were in hyping the bond measure, as well as the fears. 

If you contrast the bond measure rhetoric with what the City has actually done so far, the disconnect looms like the Grand Canyon. Affordable housing is not permanent-supportive housing; it’s simply another opportunity for real estate developers to make money building more housing. And if the 12 parcels already identified have shrunk to 10 already, where are all of these 10,000 units going to be built? Furthermore, if you believe the cost per unit for this housing, then I invite you to my lottery for the 6th Street Bridge. 

Don’t misunderstand. Homelessness is really important, but so far, the efforts of the Council don’t seem to be remotely on track to provide the 500 units of supportive housing and key “crisis response” that was promised. As the City stated in the Executive Summary of their very own Comprehensive Homeless Strategy document: 

In the short-term, the City must enhance its existing homeless shelter system and transform shelter beds into bridge housing by including homeless case management and integrating supportive health and social services from the County at appropriate levels of caseload via the CES.” 

Since the ability to sell bonds is not a requirement to sell the bonds, I urge all Angelenos to closely monitor the Mayor/City Council machine as they continue to try and implement their grand design. If they can’t get it right on what they have already promised to do without the bond money, maybe they should not sell bonds at all until and unless they get their act together. 

This should be about our surging homeless population, not politics as usual. 

One can dream...

 

(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.) Photo: Elizabeth Daniels/LA Curbed.

Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS-High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.”  (Photo above: Security agents in front of Trump Tower, New York.)

I was somewhere in between ... and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things -- the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump -- like other developers of the era -- struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.    

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long. 

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag -- the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field.  Here, however, Old Glory flies side by side with slightly tattered black-and-silver Nike swoosh flags waving lazily above the tony storefronts -- Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, Burberry and Chanel -- of Manhattan’s 57th Street, and, of course, Trump Tower-tenant Niketown. 

That I was standing beneath those flags gazing down at luxe retailers evidently proved too much to bear for those who had been not-so-subtly surveilling me.  Soon a fit, heavily armed man clad in black tactical gear -- what looked to my eye like a Kevlar assault suit and ballistic vest -- joined me in the garden.  “How’s it going?” I asked, but he only nodded, muttered something incomprehensible, and proceeded to eyeball me hard for several minutes as I sat down at a table and scrawled away in my black Moleskine notepad.

My new paramilitary pal fit in perfectly with the armed-camp aesthetic that’s blossomed around Trump Tower.  The addition of fences and concrete barriers to already clogged holiday season sidewalks has brought all the joys of the airport security line to Fifth Avenue.  The scores of police officers now stationed around the skyscraper give it the air of a military outpost in a hostile land.  (All at a bargain basement price of $1 million-plus per day for the city of New York.)  Police Commissioner James O’Neill recently reeled off the forces which -- in addition to traffic cops, beat cops, and bomb-sniffing dogs -- now occupy this posh portion of the city: “specialized units, the critical response command, and the strategic response group, as well as plainclothes officers and counter-surveillance teams working hand-in-hand with our intelligence bureau and our partners in the federal government, specifically the Secret Service.”  The armed man in tactical gear who had joined me belonged to the latter agency. 

“You one of the reporters from downstairs?” he finally asked. 

“Yeah, I’m a reporter,” I replied and then filled the silence that followed by saying, “This has got to be a new one, huh, having a second White House to contend with?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he answered, and then assured me that most visitors seemed disappointed by this park.  “I think everyone comes up thinking there’ll be a little more, but it’s like ‘yeah, okay.’” 

Small talk, however, wasn't the agent’s forte, nor did he seem particularly skilled at intimidation, though it was clear enough that he wasn’t thrilled to have this member of the public in this public space.  Luckily for me (and the lost art of conversation), we were soon joined by “Joe.”  An aging bald man of not insignificant girth, Joe appeared to have made it onto the Secret Service’s managerial track.  He didn’t do commando-chic.  He wasn’t decked out in ridiculous SWAT-style regalia, nor did he have myriad accessories affixed to his clothing or a submachine gun strapped to his body.  He wore a nondescript blue suit with a silver and blue pin on his left lapel. 

I introduced myself as he took a seat across from me and, in response, though working for a federal agency, he promptly began a very NYPD-style interrogation with a very NYPD-style accent. 

“What’s going on, Nick?” he inquired.

“Not too much.”

“What are you doing? You’re all by yourself here…”

“Yeah, I’m all by my lonesome.”

“Kinda strange,” he replied in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Robert De Niro eating a salami sandwich.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing? Taking notes?” he asked. 

I had reflexively flipped my notepad to a fresh page as I laid it between us on the table and Joe was doing his best to get a glimpse of what I’d written.      

I explained that I was a reporter. Joe wanted to know for whom I worked, so I reeled off a list of outlets where I’d been published. He followed up by asking where I was from. I told him and asked him the same. Joe said he was from Queens.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked. 

“Secret Service.”

“I was just saying to your friend here that it must be a real experience having a second White House to contend with.”

“Yeah, you could call it that,” he replied, sounding vaguely annoyed. Joe brushed aside my further attempts at small talk in favor of his own ideas about where our conversation should go. 

“You got some ID on you?” he asked. 

“I do,” I replied, offering nothing more than a long silence.

“Can I see it?”

“Do you need to?”

“If you don’t mind,” he said politely. Since I didn’t, I handed him my driver’s license and a business card. Looking at the former, with a photo of a younger man with a much thicker head of hair, Joe asked his most important question yet: “What did you do to your hair?”

“Ah yes,” I replied with a sigh, rubbing my hand over my thinned-out locks. “It’s actually what my hair did to me.” 

He gestured to his own follically challenged head and said, “I remember those days.”

Trump Tower’s Public Private Parts

Joe asked if there was anything he could do for me, so I wasn’t bashful. I told him that I wanted to know what his job was like -- what it takes to protect President-elect Donald Trump and his soon-to-be second White House. “You do different things. Long hours.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably the same as you,” he said. I told him I really doubted that and kept up my reverse interrogation. “Other than talking to me, what did you do today?” I asked. 

“I dunno,” he responded. “Look around. Security. We’re Secret Service.” It was, he assured me, a boring job. 

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a lot of challenges to securing a place like this. You’ve got open public spaces just like this one.”

There are, in fact, more than 500 privately owned public spaces, or POPS, similar to this landscaped terrace, all over the city.  By adding the gardens, atrium, and other amenities way back when, Trump was able to add about 20 extra floors to this building, a deal worth at least $500 million today, according to the New York Times.  And in the post-election era, Trump Tower now boasts a new, one-of-a-kind amenity.  The skies above it have been declared “national defense airspace” by the Federal Aviation Administration.  “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” the agency warned in a recent notice to pilots. 

Back on the fifth floor, a metal plaque mounted on an exterior wall lays out the stipulations of the POPs agreement, namely that this “public garden” is to have nine large trees, four small trees, 148 seats, including 84 moveable chairs, and 21 tables.  None of the trees looked particularly large.  By my count the terrace was also missing three tables -- a type available online starting at $42.99 -- and about 20 chairs, though some were stacked out of view and, of course, just two were needed at the moment since Mr. Tactical Gear remained standing, a short distance away, the whole time.

This tiny secluded park seemed a world away from the circus below, the snarl of barricades outside the building, the tourists taking selfies with the big brassy “Trump Tower” sign in the background, and the heavily armed counterterror cops standing guard near the revolving door entrance.

I remarked on this massive NYPD presence on the streets. “It’s their city,” Joe replied and quickly changed topics, asking, “So business is good?”

“No, business is not too good. I should have picked a different profession,” I responded and asked if the Secret Service was hiring. Joe told me they were and explained what they looked for in an agent: a clean record, college degree, “law experience.” It made me reflect upon the not-so-clean record of that agency in the Obama years, a period during which its agents were repeatedly cited for gaffes, as when a fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, and outrageous behavior, including a prostitution scandal involving agents preparing the way for a presidential visit to Colombia. 

“What did you do before the Secret Service?” I inquired. Joe told me that he’d been a cop. At that point, he gave his black-clad compatriot the high sign and the younger man left the garden. 

“See, I’m no threat,” I assured him. Joe nodded and said he now understood the allure of the tiny park. Sensing that he was eager to end the interrogation I had turned on its head, I began peppering him with another round of questions. 

Instead of answering, he said, “Yeah, so anyway, Nick, I’ll leave you here,” and then offered me a piece of parting advice -- perhaps one that no Secret Service agent protecting a past president-elect has ever had occasion to utter, perhaps one that suggests he’s on the same wavelength as the incoming commander-in-chief, a man with a penchant for ogling women (to say nothing of bragging about sexually assaulting them). “You should come downstairs,” Joe advised, his eyes widening, a large grin spreading across his face as his voice grew animated for the first time. “There was a lady in a bikini with a painted body!”

Joe walked off and, just like that, I was alone again, listening to the dull hum of the HVAC, seated in the dying light of the late afternoon.  A short time later, on my way out of the park, I passed the Secret Service agent in tactical gear. “I think you’re the one that found the most entertainment out here all day,” he said, clearly trying to make sense of why anyone would spend his time sitting in an empty park, scribbling in a notebook. I mentioned something about sketching out the scene, but more than that, I was attempting to soak in the atmosphere, capture a feeling, grapple with the uncertain future taking shape on the chaotic avenue below and high above our heads in Manhattan’s very own gilt White House.  I was seeking a preview, you might say, of Donald Trump’s America.    

Descending the switchback escalators, I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess.  Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can.  Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street.  I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower -- and soon.

(Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, … where this piece was first posted … a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.) 

-cw

STANDING ROCK STAND-OFF-(Editor’s Note: This is a update on Jennifer Caldwell’s earlier CityWatch article, “Thanksgiving 2016: The Worst in Seven Generation”.)In a remote, windswept corner of North Dakota, a seven-month standoff continues without an end in sight. Thirty miles south of Bismarck, where eroded buttes rise from grassland and corn fields, the Oceti Sakowin camp appears along the winding girth of the Missouri River. Here, a story of protection, protest and cultural conflict unfolds against the desolate prairie. 

At issue is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL); an “energy transfer” project that would pipe approximately 470,000 barrels of oil per day from the Bakken Oil Fields through South Dakota and Iowa, to refining facilities in Illinois. The pipeline is a 1,172 mile, 30-inch artery that is touted by its progenitor, Energy Transfer Partners, as necessary to transport light sweet crude in a “more direct, cost-effective, safer and responsible manner.” 

At the juncture of the Missouri River and Fort Yates, along the northeastern edge of the Lakota Sioux Standing Rock Reservation, the project slowly churns its way toward a hotly disputed patch of land. Several hundred yards north of the camp, a lone bridge has come to define the front line of this conflict. On one side, the West Dakota SWAT Team stands watch over the DAPL’s border. On the other, two young Lakota men are charged with maintaining order among the camp’s curious and defiant. In between rest the carcasses of burned-out trucks, which several tribal “water protectors” torched in response to the past few days of skirmishes that had culminated in a volley of tear gas and rubber-bullets. A concrete barrier topped with barbed wire and decorated with vulgar graffiti exemplifies the air of tension. 

The stand-off has given way to violence and threats of violence, here and well beyond the borders of the Standing Rock Reservation. While law enforcement and the water protectors engage in a guarded choreography, fear strikes in the vulnerable hamlets that dot the plains. Across the prairie, the pipeline dispute has resurrected age-old enmity between the native peoples and those they perceive to have permanently occupied the territory of native birthright. 

Normally, by mid-November the ground here would be frozen with knee-deep drifts of Midwest snow. Today, however, the temperature will rise into the mid-60s with almost balmy comfort. 

“This is what I call the upside of global warming,” jokes Ken Many Wounds. “Or, perhaps Great Spirit is looking out for us.” A member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux, Ken is an organizer and the camp’s communications director. His authority is confirmed by the company he keeps with the core leaders of the action. Ken is an imposing figure. He has rugged features and strides with a cowboy’s gait as his long wiry ponytail flows from beneath a baseball cap. Ken bristles at the term “protesters” and admonishes that those opposing the DAPL are “water protectors.” 

Versed in the complex history of Sioux land disputes, Ken explains the intricacies of treaties, land grabs and the exceptions within exceptions that have chipped away at the territory of the Sioux Nation for over 150 years. “Where we stand is Sioux land, according to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851,” he says, adding that the subsequent Sioux Treaty of 1868, which the Sioux allege to have never been properly ratified, illegally redefined the borders of Sioux territory. At best, the state of ownership and land rights is nothing short of confused. 

Indians and non-Indians mill around nearby, executing various tasks in the maintenance of the protest camp’s daily life. The aroma of wood fires and beef stewing in cast iron kettles fills the air. The setting sun casts a shadowy skyline of tents, tepees and converted buses, all gathered to push back at the slow, oncoming creep of the pipeline. The camp ebbs and flows in population, retaining about 6,000 inhabitants, and pushing hundreds of yards to the swampy tributaries flowing into the Missouri. 

In the distance, a drilling pad pushes closer to the river with the ultimate goal of tunneling beneath it. In the process, the excavation will cut through burial grounds. Distrust of the project has intensified over allegations that non-Indian archaeologists from the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office have been exclusively charged with identifying native graves. Equally, there is concern as to what will occur should the pipeline breach below the Missouri’s pristine waters. 

On these two issues, there is an odd chorus of consensus bridging what is otherwise a de facto apartheid in this small corner of the world. On and off the reservation, the welfare of the Missouri River provokes ready conversation. 

“We don’t want that pipeline coming through here,” explains a woman named Terrie in Mandan, a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants just west of Bismarck and 30 miles north of the standing Rock Reservation. Her youthful face softens as her distrust of me thaws. “If that pipeline ruptures, it will be the end of the Missouri. That’s going to affect millions of people down-river.” 

But, just as quickly as Terrie is to condemn the pipeline, her teenage daughter shows me photos of vandalism in the nearby veteran’s graveyard. The agitated teen exclaims, “Look! Look at this. These pipeline protesters went and put a Tonka truck in the veteran’s graveyard with a sign that says ‘Let’s start drilling here’!” 

Terrie is angry. “Leave our veterans alone,” she says. “Why would you desecrate their graves? They have nothing to do with this.” 

It’s hard not to be taken in by the women’s congenial earthiness. On the other hand, the irony of their sensitivity to a distasteful prank, and the simultaneous indifference to the impact on Native American burial grounds, is inescapable. Here, the contempt for Native Americans is palpable and ubiquitous. “They get handouts and they are taken care of by the government,” Terrie adds. “They don’t have to work for any of it.” 

As much as there is division between races, there is also dissent within. Earlier in the day, a group from Standing Rock led a march to Mandan’s municipal offices. Working on a theme of forgiveness, love and peace, the group prayed for a cleansing of what they claim are the hatred and offenses of both sides of the conflict that occurred in the preceding weeks. Those actions led to the arrest and detention of Lakota Sioux who continued to languish in the Morton County Correctional Center in Mandan. 

The march was in stark contrast to the more extreme “direct action” principles undertaken by elements within the camp. In silence, the demonstrators encircled the jail and courthouse and pleaded for the release of their brethren. It was a display of the diverse beliefs and tactics emerging from the reservation; the hawks and the doves form a division so easily overlooked on the erroneous assumption of a monolithic Lakota Sioux culture and a unified stance in the face of adversity. 

On my way back to Standing Rock, I stop at Rusty’s Saloon in St. Anthony, a village half way between Mandan and the reservation. It is a clean and orderly establishment constructed as a lodge, and decorated with “taxidermied” wildlife. The place is awash in camos and blaze orange as hunters gather for lunch. I take a seat alongside a regular who eyes me with suspicion. Lori, the barmaid, senses my apprehension and relaxes the atmosphere with some easy talk. I oblige and the conversation soon deepens. 

Before long, she voices concern about threats to local farmers, the killing of livestock and a plethora of fires and vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by Indians. According to Lori, the acts are the product of a native reawakening of land rights and a history of intrusion. “Our children had to have an armed escort to school because of the threats over this pipeline,” Lori adds. “People here are just plain scared.” 

These and other conversations reveal that, while there is agreement as to issues between those on and off the reservation, opinions are very much in cadence with peer allegiances and along the cultural divide. 

The dialogue of race is different here. In contrast to the low rumble of urban settings, race-based hatred in rural North Dakota is immediately explosive. The conversations with non-Indians are rife with animus toward Indians and outsiders. Likewise, the indigenous population, on and off the reservation, offers little more warmth. There is a noticeable lack of eye contact with non-Indians and the almost obligatory dirty looks cast at the “was’ichu,” (the somewhat derogatory Lakota word for “white” and non-Indian). The culture is understandably steeped in historic distrust. 

Back at the camp, three young people bide their time waiting for a march to the front lines. Today, the Standing Rock Youth Council will take an offering to those manning the SWAT vehicles. The Youth Council is a contingent of the reservation’s younger generation that is guided by the mantra of “removing the invisible barriers that prevent our native youth from succeeding.” They are steadfast in support of the water protection action. Today, they will push to the front lines in peaceful offering to the men bearing arms and armor just beyond the barbed wire. 

I am confronted by the stoicism of two visiting tribal members from Michigan, and of Maria, a young woman affiliated with several North Dakota tribes. “This is not a conflict zone,” Maria explains. “It’s not a war zone. We don’t want it to be seen that way.” 

Maria is correct. While tear gas and rubber bullets have been unleashed in the course of the DAPL conflict, the people of Standing Rock show no interest in having their actions seen as being at war with the outside world. This erroneous characterization, spawned by the mainstream media, has drawn an array of characters to Standing Rock — Indian and non-Indian, each seeking to make the action their own. I find myself having to fight my way through throngs of posers and protesters to get to the core Native American water protectors who are truly sincere in their actions. 

Likewise, within the Indian community, as in any community, I discover a great variance of identity and adherence to the mores of Indian culture. Maria points to her companion, “Me Shet Nagle,” a visiting member of the Blackfeet Nation, and chides, “He doesn’t even know what his name means! For all he knows, he could be named after a sock!” 

Me Shet Nagle meets Maria’s playful contempt with a sheepish grin. I jokingly assure that they will be portrayed in the most stereotypical manner possible. They get the humor. We all get it; the revelation of the Native American as a diverse culture with all of the beauty, humor, internal conflict and struggle for identity as any other. 

Tension builds as the time to march draws near. Dozens of water protectors assemble across the bridge from the barricade. Members of the SWAT team can be seen readying themselves in the distance. The bridge is disputed territory. Leaders from the Youth Council cradle a sacred pipe and carry an offering of the life-giving water that is threatened by the DAPL. In silence, dozens march on toward the front line. 

Within yards of the barricade, the council motions for all marchers to be seated. People pray. Some look woefully onward, expecting plumes of tear gas. Cameras click away over the crowd. Among this throng, a young woman carries an infant wrapped in a thick wool blanket. The group is completely vulnerable. I glance over the edge of the bridge and quickly calculate a two-story drop to the freezing water of unknown depth. If things went as they have before, pandemonium could break out with any incoming projectiles. 

The leaders of the Youth Council disappear behind the burned-out trucks. A number of heavily armored police and military appear from behind the barricade to take stock of the crowd. They peer from behind dark goggles beneath Kevlar helmets, adorned in heavy flak vests, with weapons slung at the ready. 

The moments linger. 

Finally, the Youth Council members emerge. They slowly walk to the crowd and command that everyone rise and move forward. In unified mass movement, the marchers close another 10 yards toward the barricade and the tension heightens. The council leaders sternly motion directions and, again, everyone is seated. The marchers are entirely under the Youth Council’s control. 

“We offered them water,” one leader reports as he raise a mason jar. “They would not drink from it!” A murmur spreads across the crowd. “However,” the leader continues, “they prayed with us.” His words are slow and punctuated with the tension of the moment. “We prayed together and, while they would not drink the water, the men did accept our water and rubbed it about their uniforms in a showing of respect and solidarity.” 

After a long pause, a Lakota woman seated before me raises a rattle in the air and shakes it with a cry of approval. One by one, hands rise and a cheer of praise breaks the quiet. The armed troops’ act of personal solidarity and sensitivity was all they asked for. In modest triumph, the marchers make their way back across the bridge in humble silence and with a renewed hope. 

In the distance, the machines churn on. 

Recently, North Dakota law enforcement authorities, reacting to what they labeled a riot, turned a water cannon on hundreds of protesters and Indian “water protectors” opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline (DAPL). Tony Zinnanti’s story describes life on and around the Standing Rock Reservation in the days leading up to the assault on the protest encampment.

 

(Tony Zinnanti is a lawyer, freelance journalist and photographer from Los Angeles. His legal work has included defense of activists John Quigley and Ted Hayes, and representation of members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. This piece first appeared in Capital and Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GUEST WORDS--I came out as bisexual to more than 43,300 people last year in a Daily Bruin column. But my parents weren’t among them. 

It may be 2016, but it can still be risky for someone to publicly identify as LGBTQ, undocumented or as part of any other marginalized group. And the holidays may be especially difficult for closeted individuals. Even someone who is out to her siblings, but not her parents or the other adults in her life, like me, can struggle.

My internal monologue is always running at family gatherings. I am constantly eyeing everyone in suspicion and worrying that someone might expose my identity. And it doesn’t help that the holidays are painted as a time when families lovingly gather in peace and harmony.

Despite coming out to the UCLA community and receiving support on campus, it is difficult to translate that same support at home. UCLA is a progressive bubble. It is not reflective of the rest of the world, and certainly not reflective of my family.

But it’s precisely this difference in thought we students have to embrace and face. Simply dismissing the other side inflames tensions. And what better time to reach out than the holidays? This is the one time of the year when you are with family and everyone is taking a break from the daily responsibilities of school and work.

This month’s events have brought to the forefront issues of racism, sexism and homophobia that have been quietly simmering. They inflame the hurt of being rejected or only partly tolerated rather than fully accepted by my family. But while we are able to create our own online echo chambers free of triggering ideas from the other side, unfriending your racist and homophobic uncle on Facebook is not likely to keep him away from the Thanksgiving dinner table back home.

Since the first time my tongue slipped and called UCLA “home,” I realized the stark contrast between the definition of the word and the place it represents. Home is a feeling of comfort and acceptance, whereas being home may not elicit those same emotions.

I, like many first-generation students of color, grew up in a pivotal position for an immigrant family. My parents grew up on small ranches in Mexico. They raised cattle and chickens and grew corn to make bread and tortillas. Their life was simplified to homemaking and cleaning for the women, and yard and paid labor work for the men until they each met a partner to have their own children with. This lifestyle they grew up with did not leave much room for experimenting alternative lifestyles, let alone deviating from the patriarchal and heteronormative culture.

My parents never studied past sixth grade. They never went to a university to learn about the things they do not know and they did not have the opportunity to socialize with the diverse set of individuals that colleges bring together. But with the growing visibility of the LGBTQ community, they engage the only way they can: making homophobic jokes – sometimes in front of me.

But this difference in viewpoints is natural. I have met many diverse people, heard from a wide array of speakers and read books that my parents have not. I, like every other Bruin, have been exposed to these differences in thought and have had the had the chance to analyze both sides of the ideological spectrum in a classroom setting. But my parents – and many other students’ – aren’t currently participating in these kinds of discussions, so it’s expected we diverge in opinion.

UCLA is a world all its own, but very few will call it home forever. As students of the country’s most applied-to university, we are put on a pedestal as examples of progressive citizens. And despite how diverse a picture UCLA paints on its brochures, the real test begins the moment you leave campus. The college bubble will eventually give way to the real world full of differing opinions – good and bad – and we need to confront and accept these differences if we are to pay homage to our education.

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, you’ll meet other people with different opinions from yours. And when you graduate, you will continue to be tested on what you have learned at one of the top public universities in the world.

For me, not confronting ideological disagreement with family members would cause them to reject me and my identity. And it’s no surprise that in return, I would reject them, despite my familial ties and everything I learned at UCLA about being a leader. You cannot reject your family during the holidays because of different viewpoints because your family ties and environment are likely to bring you together.

Confrontation does not burn bridges, avoiding it does.

Moral and social progress is not linear or inevitable. It is difficult and daunting. You cannot, and should not, reject those with whom you disagree.

So open up, listen and agree to disagree. ‘Tis the season for family and love, after all.

(Jasmine Aquino posts at The Daily Bruin … where this perspective was first published.)

-cw

@THE GUSS REPORT-In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created a framework of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While her book was essentially about grieving the loss of human life, it could also apply to the loss of a marriage, a pet or even an election. 

Denial was exemplified by Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta telling her supporters late on election night that “there are a lot more votes to be counted,” as the reason why she did not come to speak to the crowd even though President Obama simultaneously urged her to concede. Anger was demonstrated by the violent protests that broke-out in major American cities over the subsequent days. Now the talk of vote recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania (states formerly known as part of Clinton’s “Blue Wall” that the Democrats never imagined losing to Trump, but did) are what might be described as the Bargaining phase of grieving. We need to take a second look at the votes in these states to make sure that they are legitimate. 

The problem for the Green Party and its presidential nominee Jill Stein, now that they quickly raised millions of dollars late last week for those recounts, is that people expect them to actually move forward and do them. But that is no sure thing. 

What the Green Party and Stein may have done was inadvertently shoot themselves in their feet.

In Pennsylvania, one cannot simply demand a vote recount and fork over a pile of cash to have it done. The Green Party and Stein (who were joined in the recall effort over the weekend by the DNC and Clinton campaign) must show evidence of voter fraud. A judge will then decide whether a Pennsylvania recount is warranted. And since Stein already acknowledged that there is no evidence of voter fraud, the effort is likely to hit a brick wall right there because even if flagrant, out-of-control voter fraud were discovered in Wisconsin and Michigan, it won’t be worth a hill of beans if they are shut out from doing a recount in Pennsylvania. 

The Green Party and Stein originally set a fundraising goal of $2.5 million, which was raised to $7 million once the original goal was quickly surpassed. But that also raises expectations that recounts will be done. If they are not done, donors may be disillusioned to learn that their money will not be refunded to them, but instead go to other voter confidence initiatives. Stein’s website says: “We cannot guarantee a recount will happen in any of these states we are targeting. We can only pledge we will demand recounts in WI and MI and support the voter-initiated effort in PA.” 

By rooking donors out of millions of dollars, and not delivering those recounts, if that is what eventually happens, the Green Party will do more harm to itself than it ever imagined. That is when the fourth stage of grieving, Depression, will sink in for many.

While the Green Party and Libertarian Party, which nominated former New Mexico Governor Gary “And what is Aleppo?” Johnson, have plenty of worthwhile positions for people to embrace, here are some sobering thoughts: 

In Pennsylvania, Trump beat Clinton by 68,236 votes. Together, Stein and Johnson siphoned 191,565 votes. 

In Wisconsin, Trump beat Clinton by 27,257 votes. In that state, Stein and Johnson got a combined 137,422 votes. 

In Michigan, Trump beat Clinton by 11,612 votes. Stein and Johnson collectively raked in 223,757 votes. 

Talk about depressing for the Anyone-But-Trump crowd! Trump is going to have the power of incumbency and Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. Then again, so did Barack Obama in 2008, so things do tend to even out eventually. 

The weeks between now and Trump’s inauguration will no doubt see people slipping back and forth between the Anger and Depression phrases, and perhaps by late January they will acquiesce to Acceptance, because there is simply nowhere else for them to go. 

By then, spring will be around the corner. We will get the hour of daylight back. And the 2018 mid-term elections will be not all that far off. The problem for those with 2016 “election regret” is that, Congressional redistricting being what it is, the Democrat presence on Capitol Hill and in state houses across the country is likely to get weaker before it gets stronger. 

The good news is that this might finally get people to start taking their votes, the candidates and the issues more seriously, and to spend less time blindly trusting what they see in political polls, the mainstream media and on social media. The candidates will, no doubt, continue to take all of us for granted.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ALPERN AT LARGE--If ever there was a justification for the mortality of a man, it would be the frightening example of Fidel Castro.  Two other examples would be Josef Stalin and Mao Tze-Tung.

(Photo above: President Kennedy silhouetted in his office during the Cuban Missile Crisis.) 

There are those who would lionize Fidel, his revolutionary export of Che Guevara and the bloodletting Guevara caused and their fight for the "people", and their revolutionary zeal against the excesses of capitalism...but while they lived most of their lives in luxury, millions suffered, were tortured, were starved, were unfairly imprisoned and were slain as a result of their "enlightened" cause. 

So with the understanding that Millennials, much to the horror of their parents, often graduate high school (and college) with an understanding of U.S. History that stops at the American Civil War, I have and will continue to throw out occasional quizzes of the 20th Century and of history/civics-related issues.  Because the 20th Century ... and all of its painful lessons ... DID happen. 

THE ALPERN 20TH CENTURY QUIZ—HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW/REMEMBER?

(Correct answers at bottom of this column) 

1) Fidel Castro allowed which nation to place nuclear missiles on its territory, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was responded to by which President in what was arguably the closest thing to World War III that ever occurred during the Cold War: 

  1. a) North Korea/Ronald Reagan
  2. b) China/Richard Nixon
  3. c) The Soviet Union/John F. Kennedy
  4. d) The Soviet Union/Dwight Eisenhower 

2) Fidel Castro vigorously opposed what he referred to as American Imperialism, and sent Cuban soldiers to unsuccessfully fight wars or to establish Marxist governments that were subsequently either overthrown or defeated by his opponents EXCEPT: 

  1. a) Israel (during the Yom Kippur War)
  2. b) Nicaragua (during the Nicaraguan Civil War)
  3. c) Venezuela (during the Venezuelan Civil War)
  4. d) Granada (subsequently overthrown by U.S. Forces) 

3) Fidel Castro, after almost succumbing to a gastrointestinal ailment (possibly diverticulitis with bleeding) in 2008, handed over the reigns of power in Cuba to: 

  1. a) Hugo Chavez
  2. b) Che Guevara
  3. c) Raul Castro
  4. d) Evo Morales 

4) The unsuccessful U.S.-backed attempt to militarily overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961 was called, and was supported by which U.S. President: 

  1. a) The Bay of Pigs/John F. Kennedy
  2. b) The Crimson Tide/Richard Nixon
  3. c) The Freedom Flotila/Jimmy Carter
  4. d) The War of Liberation/Harry Truman 

5) Prison work camps known as "Military Units to Aid Production" were created by Fidel Castro's younger brother Raul, and those sent there without trial for torture and threatened execution included: 

  1. a) Businessmen and those believed to be U.S. spies
  2. b) Individuals believed to be connected to former-elected Cuban President and later dictator Batista
  3. c) Counter-revolutionaries and criminals
  4. d) Homosexuals, men believed to be homosexuals or effeminate, and Jehovah's Witnesses 

6) The late communist dictator Mao Tse-Tung is credited with the deaths of approximately how many Chinese through execution, war, forced or war-associated starvation, or imprisonment? 

  1. a) 10,000
  2. b) 10 million
  3. c) 35 million
  4. d) 65 million 

7) Which of the following socialist/communist nations allowed/allows freedom of religion? 

  1. a) The former Soviet Union
  2. b) Maoist China
  3. c) Cuba
  4. d) North Korea
  5. e) None of the Above 

8) The late communist dictator Josef Stalin is credited with the deaths of approximately how many Russians and other Soviets through execution, war, forced or war-associated starvation, or imprisonment? 

  1. a) 100,000
  2. b) 10-20 million
  3. c) 35-45 million
  4. d) 55-65 million 

9) The English translation of the former Nazi Party of Germany before and during World War II is: 

  1. a) Nationalistic Zionist Party
  2. b) National Zeig Hail Party
  3. c) National Socialist Party
  4. d) Non-Associated Socialist Party 

10) Che Guevara, who is believed to have personally or indirectly killed thousands of men, women and children both in Cuba and in nations throughout Latin America and Africa, was executed in which nation? 

  1. a) The United States
  2. b) Cuba
  3. c) Bolivia
  4. d) Grenada 

It's likely that many, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio (Republican, of Cuban descent) are noting that Fidel Castro is finally meeting his maker, and are wondering if his soul now suffers the same fate as his soon-to-be-cremated body (after the week or more of "mandatory mourning" of course). 

It's also likely that New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat, of Cuban descent) isn't the only one wondering if Raul Castro will be any better than his older brother, now that he is control, with respect to human rights, civil liberties, and democracy in Cuba. 

But one thing is truly likely:  if anyone wants to throw around the idea, or wear a Che or Fidel t-shirt, espousing the wonderful "revolution" of Cuban socialism in front of a person of Cuban descent whose family fled Cuba, and braved death and overcame persecution in order to do it, then that person should expect a verbal rebuke of the harshest sort, or maybe even a punch in the nose. 

And that person will have richly deserved and earned that rebuke or punch in the nose. 

Because the Twentieth Century, and all of its horrific disasters (most especially Socialism) DID happen.

 

QUIZ ANSWERS 

1) c

2) c

3) c

4) a

5) d

6) d

7) e

8) d

9) c

10) c

 

(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  alpern@marvista.org. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)

-cw

MEDIA WATCH--On Monday, some of the biggest names in TV news trooped into Trump Tower for an off-the-record meeting with the president-elect.

It was an all-star cast. Not just on-air stars like Lester Holt, Wolf Blitzer and George Stephanopoulos, but their bosses were also summoned before the Potentate of Fifth Avenue.

The meeting was a huge success — for Donald Trump.

LA WATCHDOG--Our Enlightened Elite who occupy Los Angeles City Hall tell us that pension reform is not necessary.  After all, the recent actuarial report for the Fire and Police Pension Plan indicated that its $19 billion retirement plan was 94% funded as of June 30, 2016.  

But as we all know, figures never lie, but liars figure, especially when it involves the finances of the City of Los Angeles. 

The City will say that a pension plan that has assets equal to 80% of its future pension obligations is in good shape.  Baloney!  Pension plans should aim to be 100% funded, especially in down markets.  And in today’s bull market, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average is hitting record highs, the pension plan should be 120% funded so that it can withstand another bear market. 

Even at the 94% funded ratio, the unfunded pension liability for the retirement plan is pushing $1.2 billion, not exactly chump change when compared to the projected payroll of $1.4 billion for the 12,800 active cops and firefighters. 

But there is more bad news that is buried in the opaque actuarial reports that, when pieced together and analyzed, reveals that the overall Fire and Police Pension Plan is over $6 billion in the red and that only 75% of its future obligations are funded.  

The Fire and Police Pension Plans are also responsible for Other Postemployment Benefits (“OPEB”) which covers medical benefits for retirees.  But the $3 billion of OPEB obligations are less than 50% funded, resulting in an additional $1.6 billion in unfunded liabilities. 

The City is also cooking the books by “smoothing” the actual gains and losses in its investment portfolio over a seven year period.  This little trick is covering up a $600 million hit to its investment portfolio. 

Finally, if the newly calculated liability (that includes adjustments for OPEB and smoothing) of $3.4 billion (85% funded) is adjusted to reflect the more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.5% (as recommended by Warren Buffett), the unfunded pension liability soars to $6.25 billion and the funded ratio plummets to 75%.  

When combined with the $9 billion liability of the Los Angeles Employees’ Retirement System, the City’s total unfunded pension liability exceeds $15 billion.  And this liability is expected to double over the next ten years based on realistic rates of return that are in the range of 6% to 6.5%.  

But what are Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council President Herb Wesson, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz doing to address the single most important financial issue facing the City? 

Nothing! Absolutely nothing other than put their heads in a potato sack and hope that a robust stock market will make the $15 billion problem go away.  

They have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to form a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the City’s two pension plans and develop proposals to “achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.” 

Krekorian and Koretz made the bone headed suggestion to raise the investment rate assumption to 8% so that the City would be able to lower its annual required pension contributions to the underfunded pension plans, allowing more money for union raises.  

Wesson has not even created a Council File for the pension and budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. 

But the real culprit is Garcetti who has refused to address the pension mess that will eventually become a crisis.  He has not asked his political appointees on the two pension boards to initiate a study of the pension plans and the City’s ever increasing contributions that now devour 20% of the City’s General Fund budget.  He has refused to contest the State’s Supreme Court “California Rule” which does not allow the City to reform the pension plans by lowering future, yet to be earned benefits.  

Rather than look out for the best interests of the City and all Angelenos, he continues to kiss the rings of the campaign funding union leaders who are vital to his political ambitions. 

The City’s lack of openness and transparency and its unwillingness to address its ever growing, unsustainable $15 billion pension liability can only be categorized as a major league cover up that should be front and center in the upcoming March election.  

Where’s Eric?

 

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

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LA WATCHDOG--The County of Los Angeles has prided itself on being better managed than the City of Los Angeles.   

In 2007, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council approved a five year labor contract that granted the City’s civilian employees a 25% raise.  While this contract was based on wishful thinking from the beginning, it turned into an unmitigated mess when the recession smacked the City’s unrealistic revenue projections, resulting in huge budget deficits.  To balance its budget, the City reduced services, furloughed workers, dumped over 1,600 employees (and their unfunded pension liabilities) on our Department of Water and Power, laid off almost 500 employees, and implemented the $600 million Early Retirement Incentive Program for 2,400 senior employees. 

The County, on the other hand, did not grant any meaningful raises during this period, and, as a result, did not have to cut services or furlough or layoff its employees in order to balance its budget. 

The Supervisors also believe that the County’s pension plan, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, is in better shape than the City’s two pension plans, the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans.

On the surface, this appears to be the case.  

As of June 30, 2016, preliminary estimates (using the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%) indicate that the County’s $58 billion plan is 83% funded with a shortfall of $10 billion.  On the other hand, the City’s $43 billion of future obligations are only 77% funded, resulting in an unfunded liability of $10 billion.  

At the same time, the County pension plan has 94,000 active members, 2½ times the 37,000 active members under the City’s much more generous plans.  

However, when the County’s $31 billion of unfunded liability for Other Post-Employment Benefits (primarily retiree medical benefits) (“OPEB”) are considered, the County’s unfunded liability soars to over $40 billion, resulting in a funded ratio of a very unhealthy 55%.  This is significantly lower than the City’s 77% funded ratio which includes its OPEB obligations. 

Over the years, the County has failed to set aside any real money to fund its OPEB obligations, resulting in a funded ratio of less than 2%.  On the other hand, the City, to its credit, has been making its annual required contributions since the late 1980’s, resulting in unfunded OPEB liability of “only” $2.1 billion and a funded ratio north of 60%. 

[Note: Few governments have funded any of their Other Post-Employment Benefits, including the State of California which has an unfunded OPEB liability of a whopping $71 billion.] 

If the Supervisors were to properly fund its Other Post-Employment Benefits, the annual required contribution will be in excess of $2.1 billion.  But by ignoring this very real, snowballing obligation, the Supervisors are using these false “savings” to fund the County’s bloated bureaucracy, increases in salaries and employee benefits, additional social services, and to meet the demands of the campaign funding leaders of the County’s public unions. 

When the unfunded pension liability is adjusted to reflect a more realistic investment rate assumption, the County has a $50 billion liability that has the potential to crowd out essential services. 

But will the Supervisors address this $50 billion mess where the facts, issues, and recommendations for financial sustainability are discussed in an open and transparent manner?  Or will they follow the example of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council who have ignored the excellent recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission and who continue to kick the $16 billion can down our lunar cratered streets? 

[Note: For each of the 4 million Angelenos, the total pension liability is $9,000, $5,000 for the County and $4,000 for the City. This does not include LAUSD or the State.]

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--According to the opaque actuarial report for the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (“LACERS”), 2016 was a good year.  The return on its investment portfolio was 7%, the unfunded pension liability of $5.5 billion was $200 million lower than the previous year, the funded ratio “improved” to 72.6% from 70.7%, and the City’s 2017-18 Annual Required Contribution (“ARC”) to LACERS may be lower than this year’s payment.  

But a more realistic analysis reveals that the City is “cooking the books,” relying on a set of false assumptions and policies that cover up the severity of the pension crisis.  

In the real world, the return on investment was breakeven, the unfunded pension liability increased to almost $9 billion, the funded ratio decreased to a unhealthy 61%, and the ARC is understated by at least $300 million. 

There are two policies adopted by the City that allows it to pull the wool over our eyes: “smoothing” where gains and losses compared to the targeted rate of return of 7.5% are amortized over a seven year period and two, the reliance on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%. 

Smoothing was designed to even out the City’s pension contributions so they would not bounce around in an unpredictable manner based on the ups and downs of the stock market.  But this has resulted in an understatement of the unfunded pension liability of $750 million as the cooked up actuarial value of its assets exceeds their market value by the same $750 million. 

Smoothing also resulted in LACERS showing a 7% return on its investments.  But in the real world, the ROI was breakeven (+0.05%) for the year, which, when compared to the targeted rate of return of 7.5%, resulted in an increase in the unfunded liability of almost $800 million, not a $200 million decrease as advertised by the actuaries. 

The major culprit is the reliance on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7.5%.  Professional investors such as Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway state that 6.5% is a more realistic rate of return, and even that rate may be optimistic. 

If the investment rate assumption of 6.5% is used, LACERS’ unfunded liability based on market values will soar to almost $9 billion and the funding ratio will plummet to 61%.  This is a far cry from the advertised $5.5 billion shortfall and a funded ratio of 72.6%. 

The use of the more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.5% will also cause the Annual Required Contribution to increase by over $300 million, putting an even bigger dent in the City’s budget. 

And this does not include the higher Annual Required Contribution for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans that cover 26,000 active and retired firefighters and cops. 

Together, the combined unfunded pension liability will soar to over $15 billion.   

Despite this looming crisis, Mayor Eric Garcetti is unwilling to address real pension reform for fear of antagonizing the campaign financing leadership of the City’s public unions.  Rather, he continues to support this shell game, this Ponzi scheme, burying his head in the sand, pretending there is no crisis, hoping beyond hope that the stock market will bail the City out, even though it will dump tens of billions of unfunded pension liabilities on the next two generations of Angelenos.  

Rather than continuing down this path that will result in massive increases in our taxes, Mayor Garcetti needs to stop “waffling.”  He should implement the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission and the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates to establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts (transparency) and to develop concrete recommendations on how to achieve an equilibrium by 2020. 

Without real pension reform, the next two generations of Angelenos will be short changed as escalating pension contributions will crowd out basic services while, at the same time, they will be paying more taxes to fund the past financial follies of the overly ambitious Eric Garcetti. 

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

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG--Pay-to-play is alive and well in Los Angeles as our Elected Elite continue to sell us out for cash campaign contributions, the ultimate aphrodisiac for Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the City Council. 

In an excellent piece of investigative reporting, David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes detailed how a sleazy real estate speculator / developer illegally funneled more than $600,000 through a network of questionable donors to selected members of the City Council and Mayor Garcetti.  These contributions were part of a full court press to override the findings and recommendations of the City Planning Department and the City Planning Commission in the spring of 2014 that denied zoning changes and variances for Sea Breeze, a $72 million development of a 352 unit apartment building on land intended for industrial use in the Harbor Gateway area of the City. 

[See A $72-million apartment project. Top politicians. Unlikely donors.  Who wrote the checks to elected officials weighing approval? ] 

But the $600,000 in campaign contributions was an excellent investment as the Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the City Council (“PLUM”), the City Council, and Mayor Garcetti approved the controversial zoning changes in early 2015, resulting in an estimated windfall profit well in excess of $10 million for the ethically challenged speculator. 

Assisting with these zoning changes and variances benefited former Council Member Janice Hahn to the tune of $203,500 in campaign contributions.  After she departed for Congress in late 2011, Joe Buscaino, the new Council Member for Harbor Gateway, “earned” $94,700 by ushering the developer’s appeal through the Planning and Land Use Management Committee.  And as we all know, professional courtesy dictates that the local Council Member rules supreme in his district, no matter how bad the rotten Harbor fish stink. 

The developer was not taking any chances as he also greased the palms of Jose Huizar, the Chair of PLUM, and the two other committee members, Mitch Englander and Gil Cedillo, with over $100,000 in contributions from a number of suspicious donors. 

And that was topped off by multiple contributions totaling $60,000 to an independent campaign committee that supported Garcetti. 

But this is well documented deal is not an isolated event as the pay-to-play game is taking place all over the City.  

There is the NoHo West development in North Hollywood; the development  the Martin Cadillac site on the congested Westside; the 27 story residential skyscraper in low rise Koreatown; the Cumulus monstrosity at the F rated intersection at La Cienega and Jefferson in South LA, the 1.6 million square foot Reef development in South Central, just south of DTLA; the Rocketdyne development in Warner Center section of Woodland Hills; and the Caruso luxury high rise apartment building near the already clogged intersections surrounding the Beverly Center. 

And no doubt, other congestion causing monstrosities will be sprouting up all around town, especially in those parts of our City that are undergoing rapid gentrification like Boyle Heights, Echo Park, and Highland Park.  

The corruption associated with the Sea Breeze development must be investigated by the City’s deliberately underfunded Ethics Department and Jackie Lacey, the County’s District Attorney, focusing not only on the sleazy developer and his partners in crime, but on all the beneficiaries of these illegal contributions. 

At the same time, the City Council needs to adopt a rule that requires the real time disclosure of all campaign contributions (and behests) by any party affiliated with a council related action, including lobbyists and lawyers.  This policy would also require our elected officials to sign off on these disclosures, with the requirement that they “know” their donors.  This new rule has been labeled the “Political Donation Impact Review” by a neighbor to a mega-project that will cause ungodly amounts of congestion on surface streets and the adjoining freeway.  

We also have the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that has qualified for the March ballot.  This reform measure calls for the City to plan for the City’s future, a task that has been neglected because it interferes with the fund raising activities of the City Council.  The Initiative will require the City to update its General Plan and its 37 Community Plans.  It will eliminate “spot zoning” where the City Council, under the leadership of the local Councilmember, will be able to create massive value for the developer by “up zoning” a specific property.  It will also require the City to control the Environmental Impact Reviews, taking that responsibility away from the self-serving developers.  

As an enforcement mechanism, the Initiative places a 24 month moratorium on “up zoned” projects.  But contrary to the propaganda put out by its developer funded opponents, the Initiative does not place any restrictions on projects that are consistent with existing zoning regulations. 

Reform of the City’s planning process has been made more complicated by the approval by the voters of JJJ, the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Act, that requires inclusionary zoning and the equivalent of a project labor agreement on residential projects seeking zoning changes for projects of more than 10 units.  However, with all the financial constraints imposed by JJJ and its numerous loopholes, the new law will lead to even greater corruption as it gives the City Council more power over residential developments. 

In the next four months prior to the March election, we will have a raucous debate involving  City Planning, the General Plan, the Community Plans, congestion, increased density, the allocation of the necessary resources to the Planning Department, and the absolute requirement for greater transparency into the impact of development on our local communities.  

This process will also provide us with insight to the rigged system where real estate developers and the City Council are in cahoots with each other in ways that work against our best interests and those of our residential communities. 

Sea Breeze is not an isolated deal.  It is just the tip of the iceberg. 

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--We have 24 ballot measures to contend with on Tuesday, four of which involve the City; one each for Metro, the County, and the Los Angeles Community College District; and 17 for the State of California. 

When deciding how to vote on the following seven local ballot measures and six state measures that involve our wallets, we need to consider whether we trust our politicians with our hard earned money and whether our Elected Elite are working in our best interests or those of their campaign funding cronies, real estate developers, and union leaders.   

The City of Los Angeles is corrupt enterprise where pay-to-play is standard operating procedure.  On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page expose detailing how $600,000 in illegal campaign contributions paved the way for the City Council and Mayor Garcetti to approve the $72 million Sea Breeze development in Harbor City despite being rejected by the City Planning Commission and the local Neighborhood Council. 

The City is fiscally irresponsible.  Over the last four years, revenues have increased by $1 billion and yet the City is projecting a budget deficit next year of $100 million.     

Despite rivers of red ink and $15 billion of unfunded pension liabilities, Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council have refused to consider the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. 

The City continues to use our Department of Water and Power as an ATM.  In October, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners (with one dissenting vote) approved an incestuous $41 million, 10 year lease for 4 floors of Figueroa Plaza, a poorly maintained, out of the way complex owned by the City.  Ratepayers are being taken for over $20 million.  

Taxpayers are under attack.  If all the State and local ballot measures are approved, Angelenos proportionate share is $1.6 billion.  This equates to $400 a person or $1,600 for a family of four.  $1.6 billion will increase our sales tax to 11.7% or require a 32% bump in our property taxes.  There is another $2 billion in the pipeline.  And this does not include funding for the hundreds of billions of unfunded pension liabilities.     

Ask yourself, do you trust Mayor Garcetti, the Herb Wesson led City Council, or the reconstituted Board of Supervisors to act in the best interests of its hard working residents?   

City Ballot Measures 

Measure HHH – NO - $1.2 Billion Homeless Bond 

This is a reward for bad behavior.  Mayor Garcetti and the City Council tell us that homelessness is a priority, but it is not a budget priority despite a $1 billion increase in General Fund revenues over the last four years.  Revenues are projected to increase another $600 million over the next four years.  The alternative to this measure is a general obligation bond paid for by the General Fund, not through an increase in our property taxes.     

Measure JJJ – HELL NO / Affordable Housing and Labor Standards 

This ballot measure was cooked up by the County Federation of Labor.  It calls for inclusionary housing, prevailing wages (a 100% premium to market wages), and the equivalent of a project labor agreement.  But the numbers do not work.  Affordable housing becomes more unaffordable as money is diverted to well-paid construction workers and their unions. 

RRR – YES – DWP Reform 

This is a step in the right direction.  Additional ordinances will be needed for DWP to establish its own Human Resources Department, free from the City’s Personnel Department and its overly restrictive work rules.  Management and the Board will have more flexibility provided they abide by the newly mandated strategic plan.  The only power grab is by the City’s civilian unions.   

SSS – NO – Airport Police Eligible for Fire and Police Pension Plans 

We need to have increased transparency and pension reform before there are any changes to the existing pension plans. This proposal is more expensive than the existing arrangement with LACERS (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System).   

Metropolitan Transportation Authority 

Measure M – NO - Metro / Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan 

A 9½% sales tax is regressive.  It is one of the highest rates in the country. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a record of cost overruns (billions) and multiyear delays. The inefficient MTA is unable to manage its current infusion of $2.6 billion in taxpayer money.  It does not deserve a 33% raise to $3.4 billion or another $75 billion over the next 40 years.  It is a “forever” tax with no independent oversight.  A $10 million campaign war chest supporting this new tax is being funded by crony capitalists looking to feast on our tax dollars.  Do you trust the 13 politicians on the MTA Board?  

County of Los Angeles 

Measure A – NO – Parks Parcel Tax 

This is another “forever” tax where the money is directed to pet projects.  There is no plan to address deferred maintenance of $21 billion.  Oversight by political appointees is inadequate: reactive as opposed to proactive. Come back with a 25 year, well thought out plan that includes deferred maintenance and real independent oversight.   

Los Angeles Community College District 

Measure CC – NO - $3.3 Billion Facilities Bond 

CC was placed on the ballot without limited community input.  This poorly run district is overreaching.  $3.3 billion is too damn much for this enterprise with a record of squandering billions from previous bonds.  Cut the amount in half, develop controls to manage the District, create an independent oversight body with real power, conduct community outreach, and then place a measure on the ballot.  

State of California 

Proposition 51 – NO - $9 Billion School Facilities Bond 

An initiative cooked up by home builders, construction companies, realtors, unions, and their cronies.  Keep Sacramento out of the local school systems.  Governor Jerry Brown opposes Prop 51.  

Proposition 53 – YES – No Blank Checks 

No Blank Checks requires voter approval of State revenue bonds of more than $2 billion. It increases transparency and accountability. It may impact Jerry Brown’s two pet projects, the not so High Speed Railroad ($68 billion) and the controversial Twin Tunnels ($15 billion).  A no brainer.  

Proposition 54 – YES – Voters First, Not Special Interests 

The State Legislature cannot pass any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours before the vote.  Prop 54 is a no brainer unless you are a backroom politician.  

Proposition 55 – NO – Soak the Rich Income Tax Surcharge 

Prop 55 extends the temporary income tax surcharge on higher incomes for another 12 years.  Yet State revenues are up $50 billion (over 40%) since the surcharge was approved by the voters in 2012.  The surcharge increases the reliance on the volatile stock market and the income tax, increasing the prospect of huge budget deficits when the market tanks.  This is compounded by Sacramento’s spending spree.  There are unintended consequences of having the highest income tax rate in the country.  The unions and other special interests funding this initiative to the tune of $57 million have produced many misleading, scare tactic ads.   

Proposition 56 – YES - Cigarette Tax 

An additional $2 a pack tax will deter smoking, save lives, and lower healthcare costs. The tobacco industry has spent over $70 million opposing this proposition.   

Proposition 61 – YES – Prescription Drug Pricing 

This proposition is the result of the Legislature’s failure to address the escalating cost of prescription drugs.  Big Pharma is spending over $100 million to defeat this measure. 

Conclusion 

Ballot measures HHH (the $1.2 billion homeless bond), Measure M (the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s “forever” permanent half cent increase in our already regressive sales tax), and Measure A (the County’s “forever” parcel tax for parks) were placed on the ballot by our elected politicians.  

By voting NO on these three measures, we can send a message to Mayor Garcetti, the Herb Wesson-led City Council, and the reconstituted County Board of Supervisors that we demand increased transparency and accountability, long range planning and multiyear budgeting, pension transparency and reform, and that the City, as well as the County, “Live Within Its Means.”  

And most importantly, they need to understand that we are not their ATM.

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--Crony capitalism and pay to play are alive and well in Los Angeles.   

In a well-researched front page story, Los Angeles Times reporters David Zahniser and Emily Alpert Reyes detailed how a sleazy real estate developer illegally funneled more than $600,000 to City politicians. As a result of this play to pay scheme, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council “up zoned” Sea Breeze, his $72 million residential apartment building on industrially zoned land in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood that had been turned down by the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission and the local neighborhood council. 

Of course, the offending politicians (including Janice Hahn, a candidate for County Supervisor, who received over $200,000) are quick to deny that their favorable vote was influenced by campaign contributions. But we all know that our smooth talking Elected Elite never met a campaign contribution they did not like, the same as it is with tax increases, DWP rate hikes, and budget busting labor contracts. 

But this is chump change compared to the $10 million campaign led by Mayor Garcetti to brow beat us into approving Measure M, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to a staggering 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.  This tax is designed to raise an additional $850 million a year for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, increasing its annual haul from the County’s taxpayers by 33% to an astronomical $3.4 billion. 

But who is financing this $10 million campaign that is equivalent on a per capita basis to the tobacco industry’s efforts to defeat Proposition 56, the state ballot measure to increase the tax on cigarettes by $2.00 a pack.  And more importantly, what do they want in return? 

The underwriters of Yes on Measure M Committee (a Coalition of Mayor Eric Garcetti, concerned citizens, labor organizations, businesses, and non-profits) include a large cast of cronies who want to feast at our expense on MTA contracts. 

These vampires include unions (the Operating Engineers, the ILWU, IBEW Local 11, and the Carpenters & Joiners) who want high wages and numerous jobs; construction and engineering firms (Skanska, AECOM, and Parsons) who want big fat contracts; real estate developers (Westfield) and corporations (Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal) who want special treatment from Garcetti, the City Council, and the County Board of Supervisors; and concerned citizens (Eli Broad, Jerry Perenchio, and Haim Saban) who have their own special agendas.  

We are going to be pounded with slick ads promoting Measure M, the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan, promising improved mobility, less time in traffic, great middle class jobs, and the repair of our local streets.  But outlandish campaign promises are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to politicians eyeing our hard earned cash. 

The MTA does not deserve a 33% increase in funding from the taxpayers.  It is an inefficient organization whose projects are billions over budget and years behind schedule.  Its operations are experiencing lower ridership.  And it does not have the management, the engineering staff, the project managers, or the systems to be able handle its existing funding ($2.6 billion) and projects, to say nothing of the pipedreams envisioned by Mayor Garcetti.    

The MTA is also a rogue organization that lacks adequate oversight as it Board of Directors consists of 13 politicians, including nine from the City and County, who have no clue how to manage or oversee a sprawling enterprise with 9,000 employees and an operating loss of $1 billion a year.  

The City also does not deserve an increase in Local Return funds that would accompany this new tax.  It already receives $200 million a year in Local Return funds from the three previously approved sales tax levies, but has failed to develop a plan to repair our streets, some of the worst in the nation.  Which leads to the question: where the hell has all this Local Return money gone?   

Our City has also failed to reform its finances, refusing to even consider the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.  As a result, the fiscally irresponsible Garcetti now faces a $100 million deficit next year despite an increase in revenues of $1 billion over the last four years.   

Finally, if all of the tax increases on the November ballot were approved by the voters, Angelenos proportionate share will be $1.6 billion, or $400 for every resident.  Lumped together into a single tax, this increase will increase our sales tax to 11.7% or require a 30% bump in our property taxes.  

We cannot afford an increase in our sales tax to a breathtaking 9½% to say nothing about the other ballot measures for the City, County, Community College, and State.   

Measure M is just another example of Crony Capitalism, but this time on steroids as we are being asked to approve a forever tax that will raise $75 billion over the next 40 years.  It is time to tell Eric Garcetti and his cronies that we are not their ATM. 

Vote NO on Measure M. After all, it is your money. 

 

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

 

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