Grid List

TRUTHDIG--Though the 400 to 500 women and men awaiting Bernie Sanders in the parking lot of the American Federation of Musicians in Hollywood represented a fraction of the numbers greeting him during the primary election, the turnout still was impressive—evidence of his continued popularity and support for the cause he was advocating. (Photo above: Sanders campaign headquarters in Los Angeles.)

For me, listening to him and talking to activists in the audience before he spoke was like stepping into a clear, clean lake after wading through the putrid muck of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton. I wondered where all these decent people come from, these folks I never see on television? Was I dreaming?

Sanders was in Hollywood Friday afternoon to speak on behalf of California Proposition 61, which seeks to reduce the exorbitant prices that drug companies are charging for pharmaceuticals. “The pharmacy industry is one of the most powerful forces in Washington,” he said. “They are getting nervous. And you are making them very nervous.” 

His oratorical style was as compelling as it was the last time I heard him. That was in May before a crowd that covered much of the football field at Santa Monica High School.

Those in the audience in the Hollywood parking lot were enthused. Sanders seemed to make them feel as though they were part of an inspiring cause bigger than themselves, just as he did during the campaign. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t have that skill. She is workmanlike, too cautious to dig into her inner self for the words and emotions that would send people away from her appearances ready to crusade.

What Sanders didn’t do was mention Clinton—a notable oversight, whether accidental or deliberate. That doesn’t matter much in California, a solid Clinton state. But hopefully he urges a vote for his former rival when he’s speaking in battleground states, where Trump wants to suppress the Democratic vote. There, Clinton needs a big turnout.

I heard a yearning for Bernie as I walked through the crowd talking to people before his speech. I also found a new willingness to vote for Clinton as a way of voting against Trump.

Mike Wong, a server with day and night jobs at two restaurants, said Sanders’ loss was hard for him to take.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Wong, a Sanders volunteer during the primary. “But it’s heartening to see Bernie endorsing causes and candidates. That’s why I’m here. The primary was painful. You invest so much into something you feel so deeply about.”

Wong, now for Clinton, had not decided what to do until a month after the Democratic National Convention. “I weighed whether to sit it out,” he said. He didn’t think Green candidate Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson was viable, “and I don’t want Trump to be president.” In the end, he said he hopes he and the other Bernie backers “will hold [Clinton] accountable for Bernie’s platform.”

I encountered John Cromshaw, who hosts a program, “Politics or Pedagogy,” on progressive radio station KPFK. “I’ve never been a fan of Hillary,” he said. ”She has corporate sponsors. … I’m concerned about her militarism.” But on the plus side, he said, “she’s a typical politician who can be swayed with people who influence her. Bernie Sanders shows he is someone who can influence the course of politics.”

Not a ringing endorsement, but Cromshaw will be pitching for Clinton and against Trump on his program at the end of October, to be built around the theme “eight days, eight years—eight days to elect Hillary, eight years to keep her responsible.”

Wendi Blankenship and her son Jacob were awaiting Sanders’ arrival. “I was pretty disappointed after the primary,” Jacob said. “A few days after the Democratic convention, after Bernie’s speech [backing Clinton] I decided what he said made sense.”

“I think more people will look into Hillary—I hope,” said his mother. “We’re supporting Hillary now,” said Jacob. “She’s obviously the better candidate.”

Sanders supporter Stanley Chatman, who is African-American, told me, “Trump should not be let near the White House. We cannot have a sexual predator in the White House.”

The main item on the agenda, the drug-price control measure Proposition 61, brought Chatman to the rally. “This is something that will touch everyone you know,” he said.  The drug companies “will make a little less, but they still would be profitable.”

The measure would require the state to pay the same prices for prescription drugs as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, known as the federal government’s hardest bargainer when it comes to buying drugs for its patients.

California state agencies spend an estimated $4.2 billion a year for prescription drugs for the state’s Medi-Cal (Medicaid) patients, retirees and current employees through benefit programs and for prisoners. That’s a small part of the $298 billion spent nationally on prescription drugs, but as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote that “it’s enough to give the state potentially massive influence on drug pricing.” Proposition 61 campaigners say they expect Big Pharma to spend at least $100 million to defeat the measure.

“They can spend all the money they want, but they are a bunch of crooks and we are going to beat them,” Sanders told the crowd. “It is an industry that is extraordinarily greedy and one we must stand up to … enough is enough.” He called 61 the “most significant proposition in the country today. … Brothers and sisters, work hard on this issue. The entire country is looking at California.”

This is part of the revolution he talked about during the campaign, centered on electing progressives around the country and promoting citizen action. Speaking in the musician’s union parking lot, with no national media or presidential campaign-sized crowds, is unglamorous work, spreading a message to a few hundred voters at a time. Hopefully in California, those voters will spend the next three weeks campaigning hard against the drug companies.

It was good to see the old warrior, fiery as ever, spurring them on.

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


WELLS FARGO SCANDAL--As the Wells Fargo scandal unfolded, in the back of my mind was just how the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, enacted in 2002 in response to the Enron and Worldcom debacles, did not protect the investors, general public and the bank’s employees. 

Sarbanes-Oxley is referred to as SOX. It did not create much in the way of new regulations, but it did formalize how publicly traded companies implemented and enforced internal control policies and procedures. It also raised the stakes for key corporate managers – including the Board of Directors, CEO, CFO and in-house attorneys – as far as their individual roles in assuring that the controls governing financial and ethical performance were observed. For example, corporate attorneys must report suspicions of fraudulent acts to their company’s chief legal counsel and CEO. They can go to the audit committee if there appears to be insufficient effort to investigate. 

SOX also created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), or Peekaboo, as it is known by industry finance, auditing and accounting professionals. Peekaboo oversees the external auditors’ work, which had been largely self-regulated. Audit firms are now subject to inspections by the Board. 

Violating any SOX regulation could be worthy of criminal charges, yet few executives have faced charges, much less been convicted, under its umbrella. It is seemingly stupefying considering key executives must sign certifications as to the accuracy of the financial statements, but understandable when CEOs are shielded by sub-certifications their companies make lower-level managers sign, creating buffers. It is reminiscent of a scene from Godfather 2, where a lieutenant of the Corleone Family tells a Senate Committee how the Godfather had layers of people between himself and those who took care of the actual dirty work.

There’s an excellent article which emphasizes how the additional layers obfuscates a CEO’s involvement

But the impact on Wells Fargo’s financial statements was minimal, only $2.4 million. By itself, that would not create any stir on Wall Street, certainly not enough to push the stock price upwards. 

And probably not enough to subject John Stumph (photo right) to criminal charges, much less be convicted, for deliberate misstatement of the financial statements. Just think – the DOJ did not bother pursuing a criminal action against Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo, so why would it start now? 

However, the phony accounts did create an illusion of long-term customer loyalty. One could argue that shareholders would be inclined to hold the stock longer than they otherwise would. Think of it as contrived price support. 

Regardless, it was fraud. 

It is almost certain that some of the sub-certifiers who knew of the scheme would gladly cooperate with the Feds and help prosecutors construct a trail to Stumph and his key people. Call it buffer-busting. 

The DOJ should also look to what SOX refers to as Entity Level controls. Also known as “the tone at the top,” these cover the corporate culture and how it affects the risk of circumventing the activity controls directly related to financial reporting. So, an overly aggressive marketing program, similar to the one used by Wells Fargo, may create an atmosphere of fear among the sales staff and lead to fraudulent actions. A definite red flag which should have caused the SOX auditors to dig deeper at Wells Fargo. 

In the end, why do we have SOX if it is not used to help bring down unscrupulous executives?


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

WHAT KIND OF CALIFORNIA DO WE WANT?--Politicians, housing advocates, planners and developers often blame the NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — lobby for the state’s housing crisis. And it’s true that some locals overreact with unrealistic growth limits that cut off any new housing supply and have blocked reasonable ways to boost supply.

But the biggest impediment to solving our housing crisis lies not principally with neighbors protecting their local neighborhoods, but rather with central governments determined to limit, and make ever more expensive, single-family housing. Economist Issi Romem notes that, based on the past, “failing to expand cities [to allow sprawl] will come at a cost” to the housing market.

A density-only policy tends to raise prices, turning California into the burial ground for the aspirations of the young and minorities. This reflects an utter disregard for most people’s preferences for a single-family home — including millennials, particularly as they enter their 30s.

In California, these policies are pushed as penance for climate change, although analyses from McKinsey & Company and others suggest that the connection between “sprawl” and global warming is dubious at best, and could be could be mitigated much more cost-effectively through increased work at home, tough fuel standards and the dispersion of employment.

Of course, cities and regions should be able to produce high-density housing which appeals to many younger people, particularly before they get married or have children. The small minority who prefer to live that way later in life should be accommodated on a market basis.

But density is not an effective way to reduce housing costs in a metropolitan area. Multifamily urban housing, notes Portland State University economist Gerard Mildner, costs far more to build than single-family homes. For example, the median cost for a room in major metropolitan areas is more than $100 more expensive near the urban core than it is on the periphery.

The case for NIMBYism

When people move to a neighborhood, they essentially make assumptions about its future shape. This can be achieved by zoning, albeit sometimes too strictly, but also in Houston’s more market-oriented system, which allows for neighborhood covenants and has spawned migration to a plethora of planned communities.

This is not a petty concern. For most people, their house remains their most critical asset. Yet, our clerical government pays little attention to the concerns of the middle class, and is all too happy to undermine long-standing local democratic processes on these issues.

Some density advocates suggest that their assault on zoning reflects market-oriented principles but rarely extend this laissez-faire approach to peripheral development, the most effective path to lower land and house prices. Under current circumstances, such limited libertarianism leaves middle-income people no protection against either Gov. Jerry Brown’s “coercive state” or their speculator allies.

In my old neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, few locals looked upon the creation of ever larger apartments in the area a boon, but rather as a source of increased congestion that strained sewers, water mains, roads and other infrastructure. Yet, in Los Angeles, where “infill” developers tend to also fill the coffers of politicians, our neighborhood did not stand a chance of opposing densification schemes.

NIMBYs are generally stronger in wealthy (and often bluish) places such as Beverly Hills, Palo Alto, Davis, Napa and San Rafael. The anti-forced-density campaign is also getting stronger in already dense places like San Francisco and has engendered an anti-density initiative on the ballot next spring in Los Angeles.

What kind of California do we want?

Ultimately, the question remains over what urban form we wish to bequeath to future generations. Ours is increasingly dominated by renters shoved into smaller spaces and paying ever more for less. California now has the lowest homeownership rate among the top 10 states for people between the ages of 25 and 34. Not surprisingly, the group leaving the state most is those between 35 and 44, a period that coincides with both family formation and home buying.

Forced densification, and the ban on peripheral building, is particularly harmful to the prospects for minorities. Metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have rates of homeownership among Latinos and African Americans well below the national average, even further below such liberally oriented places as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta.

So why only two cheers for NIMBYs? Anti-density activists still need to come up with an alternative housing agenda. You just can’t say no to everything. Communities should embrace some new alternatives, both on the periphery and by building appropriately dense housing in redundant office parks, warehouses and, most particularly, the growing number of semi-abandoned, older malls. These areas can provide housing without overstressing the roads and other infrastructure.

NIMBYs are not the biggest threat to the California dream. That honor goes to planners and speculators seeking to reshape our state and limit the opportunities for single-family and other family-friendly housing. Until the state Legislature recovers some respect for people’s preferences, NIMBYs remain among the last, if imperfect, bulwarks against a system determined to weaken our future middle class, leaving ample housing the province only of those with similarly ample means.

(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism ( This column was posted most recently at New Geography.) Graphic credit: LA Weekly.


ELECTION 2016--This election cycle has been filled with thrills, chills, and media spills.  Ugh, double ugh, and triple ugh.  If ever there was a time for cynicism and a focus on logic and "what will my candidate/this proposition DO" it's this year, when both major presidential candidates are justifiably feared for their personal character flaws.  And we MUST also ask what each proposition/measure will DO. 

As mentioned in my last CityWatch article a tough assessment of why so many governmental hands are in our face for more money is critical.   

The economy, despite what propaganda that the Pravda/Tass-like media proclaims, or whichever government outlet states, is NOT doing so great, and part-time jobs are too much "the new normal" while the City, County, and State budgets are (like the rest of us) hanging on by their collective fingernails. 

Public sector spending is NOT acceptable because it is NOT sustainable--hence the need for more taxes when we're already more taxed than virtually all other states, and the middle class is under siege.  So here's the big questions for any financial/tax/bond measure or proposition: 

Will the new money be spent well, is it already being spent well and is it a priority? 

To summarize: 

There are a lot of city, county, and state governmental hands in our faces, asking for money, money, and more money!  Our money. 

1) Vote YES on County Measure M--After being on the fence for the past year, it's becoming obvious to most of us that this measure is the most transparent and needed of all we're being asked to vote on.  The biggest complaint is that it doesn't go far enough.  But it pays for transit and freeway and road operations.  This stands out as the one measure that deserves our vote. 

2) Vote NO on County Measure A--I love parks and recreation, but a parcel tax is coming on the heels of many past, current and future parcel taxes.  Everyone should pay into this, and if we keep over-relying on homeowners, we'll see another Proposition 13-style taxpayer revolution.  I admit to being less concerned if this passes than with other measures. 

3) Vote NO (heavens, NO!) on LA Community College District Measure CC--What on earth is this district doing asking us for more money after burning through and misspending on lousy and scandal-plagued work?  Don't give an addict money and expect proper spending. 

4) Vote NO on LA City Measure HHH--This is painful for me to oppose one my personal heroes (Councilmember Mike Bonin).  He is responsible in large part for the aforementioned Measure M...but Metro has developed a reputation for proper oversight, while the city homeless czars have earned quite the opposite reputation.   

Will this $1.2 billion bond measure money be spent well?  Is this our top priority over our aging infrastructure?  We must listen to our neighbors and constituents and NOT let our City be a "homeless magnet"...but efforts to convert the West LA VA Med Ctr to help our vets should be lauded.  I applaud Mr. Bonin for all of his efforts, but I don't trust those spending this money.  

5) Vote NO on Measure JJJ--There are a lot of "feel-good" features, and minimum wage/residency requirements appear good on first glance, but the "Build Better LA" initiative is a cheap, tawdry distraction from the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) which will be voted on this spring.  The NII will demand we obey our City laws and build within long-overdue updated Community Plans. 

6) Vote YES on Measure RRR--It's only modest reform to the LADWP, but it's a good start. 

7) Vote NO on Measure SSS--If our public sector pension is driving the City into bankruptcy, or threatening our financial stability, why would adding to that instability make any sense?  Yes, our LA Airport Police Officers deserve a good pension, but the whole darned police/fire/public sector pension system is...just...not...sustainable.  Let's really FIX the problem, please?  Pretty please? 

So it's now on to the state, with a gazillion propositions.  I don't have the time here to get into all of them, but I'll address the most co$tly ones.  Let's recap and remember: California is NOT doing well economically because the middle class is under siege and/or has fled the state.   

There are NOT enough millionaires to pay for everyone, and if there's another Wall Street decline (it happens, you know!), then the loss of the middle class will be felt more keenly than ever. A guide:  

1) Vote NO on Proposition 51 (heavens, NO!)--Our K-12 population is stable or even decreasing.  Previous K-12 school building bond funds have been hideously, if not criminally, misspent (overpriced iPads come to mind).  See the diatribe above for more community college districts funds (NO on Measure CC).  Even the Governor isn't on board with this.  

2) Vote NO on Proposition 52--This measure is too opaque and vague, and too fraught with the likelihood of ill-advised spending/benefits for wealthy hospital CEO's, for a yes vote.  Do our hospitals need our support?  Yes--but this proposition is too vague without a more careful measure of how the money will be spent. 

3) Vote YES on Proposition 53--Requiring the voters/taxpayers to be able to vote on bond measures that cost over $2 billion is a no-brainer.  We've the right to deny Sacramento a blank check. And YES, our fellow voters/taxpayers can be entrusted to do the right thing and invest in our future. 

4) Vote YES on Proposition 54--Posting all Legislature bills on the Internet, changes and all, before it could vote on these bills is entirely consistent with the Brown Act and all "sunshine" acts. As with Proposition 53, this is a no-brainer.  It's called "transparent, good government". This is long overdue! 

5) Vote NO on Proposition 55--We were TOLD that the temporary tax hike on those making over $250,000 would be just that...temporary.  Folks making over $250,000 in THIS state are hardly poor, but they sure as heck aren't rich.  Furthermore, all the claims of "the schools need the money" should be answered with: 

a) Will this money be spent well?  Has the previous money been spent well?   

b) Is this a blank check?  Can the Legislature take this same amount of revenue and backfill it into our ever-growing maw of the pension crisis and/or special interests and/or prevent it from truly helping our schools, our poor, etc.?   

c) Will this further drive small business owners and retirees out of this state?   

d) Stop with the class envy!  If we're going to tax higher-income earners, can we at least allow for transparency in how it will be spent? 

6) Vote NO on Proposition 56--I very much USED to favor cigarette taxes, but these have gone up so high that it's amazing there's not more of an illegal cigarette industry than there already is.  There are fewer smokers than ever.  Choose a "better" sin tax, California!  And again...will the money be spent well??? 

7) The "moral" or "law and order" initiatives have to be addressed in a future CityWatch article, but PLEASE consider what the police have to say about them.  Laws and punishment have their roles, and throwing away the laws just to give us all a warm, fuzzy feeling inside ignores the rising crime trends that are occurring in our state.  LISTEN to the cops--they're trying to protect us! 

And please take the time to vote November 8, ya hear?


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)



TRANSPORTATION POLITICS-Proposition M brings out many conflicting views held in the LA Basin communities and in many suburban areas -- viewpoints of what is needed in the towns, cities and communities regionally. Citizens are demanding better and more representative planning. 

This is important because Prop M is now asking for hundreds of billions in tax dollars that will set a course for spending for decades. Much of the conflict is related to the proposed commuter rail. Due to that extensive and expensive influence, there could be a lifestyle and economic impact for many affected citizens. 

This issue is critical because Proposition M does not work physically (can’t put rail in existing boulevards), socially (because of inequity and lack of social mobility options for many), or economically (excessive costs of new corridor impact mitigations). It will lead to over concentration of density (leading to even higher land and housing costs for the majority) and will require a behavior modification for many who would prefer a more convenient and direct means of mobility. 

Furthermore, Metro has proposed unworkable and infeasible additions to the transportation system that can’t achieve goals for better mobility or bring about a sufficient reduction in VMT and reduced GHG emissions as required by SB32; it also creates some rail redundancy that puts the whole system in potential jeopardy. 

Prop M is being rejected by citizens because of these conflicts and deficiencies. Everyone should take note because there are much better alternatives that do not require such excessive spending and actually are the technological future of transportation in greater Los Angeles. 

However, a basic regional commuter rail network and Metrolink are being constructed now, paid for by the existing Measure R and Props A and C. This is what Downtown LA wants and they are on their way to getting it – a DONE DEAL. By purchasing previous rail corridors at low cost, Metro has brought the basic network together along with Metrolink, which is good. The low hanging fruit is being picked. 

From here, however, there is a lack of available low cost corridors for urban commuter rail transit. The impacts of forcing such corridors through communities makes it necessary to re-think what is the best way to improve both mobility and the socio-economic circumstances for livability in our communities and region. 

Thankfully, there are vehicular innovations emerging for cars and trucks, as well as buses – innovations that can make Bus Rapid Transit truly rapid and with an extensive and very affordable network. These improvements support existing development; and it’s integral, not like old RR lines that were built away from existing suburban towns and city development. 

Prop M should be turned down and better planning should be prepared. It may also mean that no such future sales tax increase is needed. Both the presidential candidates and the government in general want to begin increasing Federal spending for infrastructure, so it is very likely the LA County taxpayers do not need to be hit so hard and long as they would be with the Prop M two cent out of every dollar “forever tax.” Federal contributions and better planning can make that possible. 

This needed better planning is consistent with not having over-development in the LA Basin communities. It would also turn towards making more urbanizing growth in existing suburbs, bringing sustainability and becoming a way to help achieve climate change goals.

Already there are protests from LA Basin communities about over-development and traffic congestion, a conflict that would increase with new rail-induced development. More rail and associated Transit Oriented Development, especially regional office and commercial land uses, would increase vehicular traffic and the intrusion of cutting through neighborhoods. This is especially so when rail is put into existing boulevards such as Lincoln, Sepulveda, Santa Monica, La Brea, Van Nuys and others, as has been referenced in Prop M. Such a tactic has been identified by the recent Westside Mobility Plan studies as resulting in “unavoidable impacts and increased congestion” plus intrusions into neighborhoods. Neighborhood traffic impacts and social equity impacts would increase. All of that would occur while VMT and GHG emissions are not being reduced. 

Fixing LA Basin congestion so there are not excessive GHG emissions as well as reducing the average length of trips in the suburbs with the proximity of urbanizing land use, is a strategy that can massively reduce GHG emissions countywide. It gets the County on the path to the transportation share of reduced emissions to meet SB32 goals. This is meaningful because Prop M will not achieve the necessary reductions in GHG emissions. 

As it stands, suburban towns, small cities and communities would not have enough funds to develop transportation improvements that work best for their communities in order to improve the function, livelihood and livability that is needed. 

So now we are at the point where community-scaled planning concerns and multi-community connections require a transportation improvement method. Since rail impacts the community scale and brings more congestion, a more integral mode for fixing LA Basin congestion corridors and helping to structure future growth to the suburbs is needed. That kind of innovation is emerging in transportation technologies in both vehicular and innovative roadway use, as we now read about in the media every day. 

GHG EMISSION EXAMPLE: If the LA Basin congestion were fixed in the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor and 405 corridor on the Westside, it would be equivalent to the Measure R rail GHG savings of gasoline. The Measure R rail program is taking almost 40 years to be built and more than $20 billion in costs. Fixing the Santa Monica and 405 corridors would achieve the same reductions in gasoline used, would be about one twentieth as much in cost, and would take about 4 years. 

By combining advanced vehicular improvements with advanced roadway architecture in selected urban corridors, car, bus and truck modalities are given improved function and become part of the general solution which reduces GHG emissions and VMT growth. 

It is evident that the suburbs and dispersed cities of the County want and need to plan for their own growth and sustainability, instead of looking to the LA Basin for job security. In that case, it means evolving existing streets into advanced roadways that support and structure community growth in a timely process, according to their internal needs for growth. 

Combined with the envisioned dispersed growth is the objective of reducing VMT by reducing average trip length, due to the proximity of needed land use functions as each community, town and city becomes more self-sufficient. 

If you have kept up with transportation strategies of reducing GHG in significant amounts, this will occur by increasing, each year, the CAFE standards of greater mpg for vehicles. This massive reduction in GHG emissions is now in process. 

The County TSSP traffic signal program for suburban streets, where signals are spaced greater than two miles apart, is very “cost effective” at reducing GHGs. In the TSSP program, along 220 miles of streets, this is equivalent to reducing 3.74 times the amount that Measure R will reduce -- and at 1/1,000th the cost. Another way of describing the cost efficiency is that $1 of signal synchronization is worth $4,125 put into rail development, as is proposed in Measure R. And more areas of the County can use TSSP.

In the LA Basin, already congested communities can eliminate congestion because “advanced roadways and advanced vehicles” can now come to our streets combined as digital systems. 

For this more urban context, where signals are close together, a new innovative roadway architecture can allow continuous flowing traffic, essentially doubling the capacity of normal street lanes that presently have stop-and-go driving. The LA Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system gives the necessary signal timing and brings integration with other related existing areas of the street network. What would be taking place is the “digitization of roadways” in selected portions of the vehicular network, with the new roadway architecture facilitating “continuous flowing traffic” (CFT). 

An example of improvement with CFT would be the elimination of the 5 mph traffic congestion on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Today’s failing 5 mph peak period stop-and-go speed has a capacity of around 300 vehicles/lane/hour and is emitting GHGs at about 2.5 times the amount as when traffic flows at 30 mph. A managed speed of 30 mph (not allowing slower or faster traffic,) provides CFT capacity at about 1200 vehicles/lane/hour -- four times as much than the 5 mph failing traffic flow. This solves traffic congestion and GHGe. 

In the I-405 corridor and its related cross streets from Sunset to Pico Boulevards, the area encompasses a daily traffic volume of around 680,000 trips per day. It’s a problem that a tunnel for vehicles or a single line of rail transit, however configured, cannot address. The congestion is inherently a vehicular problem where traffic to the Westside is widely dispersed north, south, east and west in the morning and collected again in the PM. So the congestion solution lies with advanced vehicles and roadways with high capacity. 

Metro talks about a “rail tunnel” going through the Sepulveda Pass, making a light rail line connection between the Valley and LAX. That would be one expensive line! First, finding a corridor from LAX to WLA, then the tunnel, probably under the 405 from the I-10 to Sherman Oaks or further, would involve enumerable problems. The rationale is flawed in that the through-travel demand is just 42,000 person-trips/day. Given the possible 40% attraction to a rail tunnel being just 17,000 person-trips/day, this would become way too low of a ridership to justify such a construction expenditure. 

A much better use of a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass is for extending the Purple Line Subway to the Valley. That connection has the ability to attract as much as 54,000 person-trips/day ridership (70% of 76,000 travel demand,) in that it not only connects to Westwood and UCLA but goes on to Century City, Beverly Hills and the Wilshire corridor -- all the way to Downtown. 

A Boston Consulting Group ( report warns about costly low ridership rail lines: “Rail companies may even end up in a downward (economic) spiral with reduced overall ridership. Rail companies’ overall unit costs for all remaining passengers will escalate because of the inherently high proportion of fixed costs in operating a train network. This could trigger price increases or reduced schedules, which would result in a further reduction in ridership.” 

Segments that include a costly “rail tunnel” with low ridership, too many low ridership commuter lines and forcing rail into boulevards (where mitigation is costly and there is vehicular competition,) would incur losses threatening to consume the entire rail system with costs -- setting a downward spiral for all of the County system. And the taxpayers would be required to pick up the cost of such losses. 

This is why better planning is required in all areas of the County. More citizen participation is needed to define exactly what communities, towns and cities should be. Greater attention must be paid to all the economic costs and benefits. 

Citizens, Prop M has the ingredients for creating a rail transit and real estate bubble which would collapse, leaving the County with bankruptcies. VOTE NO ON M!


(Phil Brown AIA, has invented the CFT roadway system improvement by research and development that has occurred over the last twelve years analyzing the Westside traffic problems and the socio-economic needs of Greater Los Angeles. Contact is available through the website as well as postings of his previous recent CityWatch articles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


VOX POP--On October 11, at a Los Angeles City Council meeting, Christopher Thornberg, the founding partner of Beacon Economics and a popular talking head, chose not to reveal a little known, yet important fact — he’s a paid campaign consultant for the developer-funded campaign that seeks to kill the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and stop reform of LA’s rigged development approval process.

You see, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a March 2017 ballot measure that’s sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, seeks a much-needed fix of LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Even Mayor Eric Garcetti agrees it should be revamped.

But the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs, the misleadingly named campaign that’s funded by billionaire developers and LA business interests, is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo for developers, smashing anything that gets in the way of huge profits. Miami-based Crescent Heights and Australia-based Westfield are major funders of that anti-reform campaign.

Enter Christopher Thornberg (photo above), who’s often quoted by the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets and a founder of the LA-based research firm Beacon Economics.

According to the city’s Ethics Commission, Beacon Economics and Thornberg have been hired by the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs as a high-priced campaign consultant. So far, Beacon Economics has incurred $11,400 in fees.

Now cut to October 11 at LA City Hall inside Council chambers. An articulate, glad-handing Thornberg shows up in front of the LA City Council to deliver a presentation about the economic health of LA.

“It’s nice to be back today,” says Thornberg, “particularly to present all sorts of wonderfully good news.”

He makes a strong sell for more development in LA — and says that the reforms in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative must be stopped.

“We know the propositions that are coming up,” he says. “We know the rules that people are trying to put into place…My only last message to you is: Please, don’t allow them to win.”

Thornberg adds, “You are seeing a growing interest in urbanization…it’s the dense, urban cities that are growing. And that’s a wonderful opportunity for the city to capitalize on.”

Defeating the reform movement that’s the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and building more luxury development will also help wealthy developers — the people who are paying Thornberg’s bills — reap millions upon millions in profits. And often at the expense of lower-income and middle-class Angelenos.

But does Thornberg disclose to citizens who are watching the Council meeting that he’s a paid consultant for the anti-reform campaign funded by billionaire developers? Nope. Never.

That’s how things work at City Hall, where lack of transparency, backroom deals and soft corruption are the norm. And that’s why citizens across LA are joining the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement.

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for Preserve LA. Read more news and find out how you can participate: 


VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--For most of 2016, American politics could best be described as caught in a populist moment. Populism has always come in two variations, and we’ve seen both this year. The most familiar form, ably represented in all its raw madness-of-crowds by Donald Trump, is based on resentment of immigrants and other non-majority identities (racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious most prominently), and rancor directed at political elites for their perceived role in changing social norms. This is the populism familiar from historian Richard Hofstadter’s “status anxiety” explanation of late 19th Century populism, or, in more recent history, the presidential campaigns of George Wallace.

The other version of populism is built around policies that would support working and low-income families, often coupled with a sharp critique of economic elites—“the 99 percent” versus “the 1 percent.” This was the populism that Bernie Sanders rode during a surprisingly successful challenge to the anointed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that mobilized younger voters almost as powerfully as Barack Obama had eight years earlier.

It would be a mistake to treat these two populisms as flip sides of the same coin. The white cultural resentment generated by Trump—particularly because it represents a distinct minority defined by identity rather than ideology—is a profound challenge to the Republican Party and to mainstream conservatism, just as Wallace’s was to the Democratic Party in another era. The policy differences between populist Democrats like Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren and their mainstream counterparts such as Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, however, are subtle. Sanders’ proposals, for example, flowed easily enough into the party platform and the vision of its nominee Hillary Clinton.

Remaining policy differences between the two camps are relatively minor, such as those between “free college” and “debt-free college,” or between a restoration of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall banking regulations repealed in 1998 and a proposed new regulatory regime. These are still differences of ideology, but modest ones; and the differences in identity between the Sanders and Clinton camps, other than on matters of age and style, are hard to find. Instead, the left’s version of populism can seem more like a fresh coat of paint, or a sharper argument for otherwise standard liberal policies.

Nonetheless, the distinction between left populism and mainstream progressive politics does diverge in one significant way: Sanders and Warren want to name names. Their narrative, like Trump’s, is one of “heroes and villains”—the villains being not immigrants, but the “millionaire and billionaire class” or big political donors. Warren, for example, has been relentlessly focused on personnel, more insistent on limiting the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street and going after the Obama administration acolytes of former Citigroup chairman and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (whom she blames for the tame treatment of executives during the financial crisis) than on any other particular policy.

In Hillary Clinton’s view of the world, though, there are few villains, and when they are named it is with legalistic care. (Trump himself is a villain, but carefully distinguished from other Republicans, even those who support him.) Politics, in this view, is a matter of problems, to be fixed, often by elites wielding dispassionate expertise.

So one of the central questions of our era has become: Does successful American politics need villains? Since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, left populists have imagined that the politics of resentment that motivates the right can be coopted or converted to the left, redirected toward corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy. While Trump attacks the “corruption” that leads to, in his view, bad trade deals, an ill-fated embrace of immigration and diversity, and American failure, left populists seem to be betting that an attack on “corruption” that names alternative targets betraying the American ideal—the Citizens United decision, middle-class wage stagnation, or the cost of college—will hook voters in the same way.

But there are major flaws in this thinking. The bonds of right populism are not so easily broken and reformed. The “heroes and villains” of Trump’s narrative (he is the only hero) are not forged by policy positions but by deep ties of cultural identity and affinity. Put more bluntly, white Trump and Tea Party supporters are not interested in a populism that involves an alliance with non-white, younger, culturally diverse voters. Meanwhile, the relentless attack on “corruption” from populists on both sides has led to the strange paradox that voters still view Hillary Clinton, merely a lifelong denizen of the existing political system, as more corrupt than the genuinely venal Trump, a master of tax scams, direct-marketing scams, and charity scams. Politics based on resentment and attacks on “corruption” have merely deepened mistrust of government, which is in itself a barrier to the policies that left populists favor.

Instead, perhaps what American politics really needs is a third kind of populism. Instead of the “them” populism of left and right, we should look to the tradition of “us” populism—one in which citizens work together, from local to national levels of government, to define and solve problems. A politics in which citizens are not just engaged as angry protestors calling on the system to change, but as part of the system itself.

America has had a populism like this before, as described in historian Lawrence Goodwyn’s portraits of the rise of late 19th century agrarian alliances, in Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America, and several other books. Where Hofstadter saw only resentment and status anxiety, Goodwyn saw millions of people who had been quiescent suddenly becoming engaged, participating fully through unions, farmers alliances, and new political movements to redesign the economic structures of a fast-growing country. He celebrated the cross-racial alliances forged in the South and the transformations of political consciousness experienced by individuals participating in this democratic renascence.

Our democracy would benefit from an investment in this kind of “us” populism, especially its ideas about refining existing institutions to strengthen citizen voices and public trust, and creating new mechanisms for public engagement and deliberation. This might include steps such as setting up participatory budgeting or seeing labor unions, community organizations, and similar associations as civil society institutions—rather than just economic claimants.

This new populism can’t simply be conjured into existence. It has to rise up from the lived experience of millions of individuals. But we have tools, including new technologies and new techniques of organizing, that can help. There are signs of a more meaningful and participatory democracy emerging in many American cities. Perhaps by the next presidential election, this budding “us” populism can compete with the populism of resentment that dominated in 2016.

(Mark Schmitt is the director of the Political Reform Program at New America. This piece originated at Zocalo Public Square.)



GELFAND’S WORLD--It would be a mistake to jail Dick Cheney just as it would be a mistake to jail Hillary Clinton 

The other night, Donald Trump said that if elected, he would throw Hillary Clinton in a dungeon. OK, I exaggerate a bit. He said that he would appoint a special prosecutor whose job it would be to send Hillary to jail. But actually, the two accounts are not all that different, since the desired outcome is essentially the same and the underlying attitude is essentially feudal. 

There are powerful historical and social reasons for opposing this approach to government and, curiously enough, they are exactly the same reasons why it would have been wrong for the Obama administration to try to prosecute George W. Bush or his vice president for war crimes. 

In stating this assertion, I oppose positions stated emphatically on the one hand by some American liberals and on the other hand by some American conservatives. The one group wanted Dick Cheney sent to prison, and the other group is now calling to have Hillary jailed. 

Those who fail to understand why both sides are wrong are failing to understand the fragility of democratic governance. 

Consider: We take for granted that there will be a presidential election every four years and that there will be a new president every four or eight years. This hope is actually one extreme on a continuum. It is optimistic in the sense that we have a national tradition -- presidential elections -- that has never been broken, but perhaps under the wrong circumstances could be. 

If we are to recognize that maintaining this tradition for over 220 years has at least partly been a lucky break for us, then there is a corollary: We should be careful about not taking democracy for granted, and we should be especially careful about doing what it takes to maintain the democratic tradition. 

There is of course an opposing, more pessimistic point of view: In one form, it is the claim that the current president intends to postpone or cancel the next election. I think I first heard people making that statement as far back as the Nixon administration, and the claim seems to get reborn with each new presidency. When you look at this claim carefully, it becomes apparent that it's opposite in one critical way from the throw her in jail trope. The throw her in jail view, although malicious, takes the continuation of our democracy for granted, while the assertion that the president plans to carry out a coup by cancelling elections assumes that our democracy is illusory. After all, if the president can crown himself king or declare himself dictator then it isn't much of a democracy. 

Historians tell us that we've had moments in our history when presidents took extraordinary powers. Lincoln negated the right of habeus corpus at one point in his presidency. Nixon in effect took the U.S. off the gold standard. George W Bush allowed the use of torture. Obama is accused (true or not) of violating the Constitution. 

Many of these allegations are demonstrably true, and others are matters of opinion. So if it is possible for an American president to act like a dictator, then what sort of democracy do we actually have? 

One obvious answer is that no president gets to be a complete dictator. Presidents sometimes push the envelope, but none has so far managed to collect a crown and royal scepter. There is plenty of balance in our system of checks and balances. 

But the most important element of this presidential system of ours is that new presidents come in and old presidents go out. The ultimate solution to presidential overreach is to elect a different one. The solution to political party overreach is the same. Routine elections are the answer. 

It's how we get rid of dictatorial behavior on the part of our leadership. Presidents stay as long as their electoral terms last, and no longer. It's almost the definition of true democracy vs. faux democracy. Any country in which the leader can cancel the upcoming elections (or never has elections) is not a true democracy. 

I'd like to think that there is a reason for why we have been able to maintain our tradition of 8 years and out. Part of that reason is that our government involves the participation of multiple actors, from presidents to senators to congressmen, and they have one thing in common. They are all players in a political game with defined rules of winning (getting more votes) and losing (getting fewer votes). It's not just a game of taking power as in a feudal monarchy, but a game of winning power according to a particular type of conflict. 

You might therefore treat our electoral system as having certain features analogous to chivalry. There is a cultural system with its own norms. Rather than the loyalty of the knight to his duke, we have a certain level of loyalty to a system as a whole. You can call it fealty to Constitutional law, or you can just say that this is the way that things are done. In either case, there were a lot of Republicans who chose loyalty to the system over their loyalty to Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis. We can see some of the same reaction from Republicans who are deserting Trump. 

Now let's imagine for a moment that when Obama ascended to the presidency, he didn't give George W Bush that well-photographed hand clasp, but instead acted to prosecute Bush and Cheney for war crimes. What message would this send? 

If you have any sense of history, you would immediately recognize that this would be a recipe for any future Republican president to find some reason to prosecute his predecessor. Allow me to remind you that a lot of Republicans carried decades-long grudges over the forced resignation of Richard Nixon. "He was hounded from office" was their claim. It took a while, but they finally got even (rightly or wrongly) through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. 

The effect of a current president taking legal action against a former president would create a dangerous incentive. Any current president would understand the risk inherent in becoming a former president. It could get him or her thrown in prison. One way of avoiding becoming a former president is to find some excuse for cancelling elections. 

In other words, our democratic system depends on a tradition, and we don't know whether that tradition is strong enough to stand up to presidents prosecuting their opponents. There's a reason that the authors of the Constitution limited removal of the president to a specific series of actions that require both houses of congress, and leave the sitting president out of the process other than as the person facing trial. The founders even required a supermajority in the Senate to complete the act of removing a president from office. Notice by the way that there have only been two impeachment trials in the history of our republic, and both failed to achieve a guilty verdict. 

Viewed in this way, Donald Trump's threat to jail Hillary Clinton is more feudal than modern. It is the idea that kings battle against other kings, with the winner taking all. America rejects that culture, replacing it with written rules that define how authority is gained, and how it is shared among competing arms of government. It's true that there have been occasional lapses, as when a member of congress beat another member in response to a difference of opinion over slavery, or when Alexander Hamilton died in a duel. But our culture does not exult Aaron Burr the way feudal culture exulted conquest and assassination. We make changes in executive power by electing new presidents, not by a process in which presidents imprison their opponents. 

While preparing this column, I came across a piece by Garrison Keillor.  It says some of what is said here (at least I'd like to think that) but in the unique Garrison Keillor style. It's worth a read, particularly where Keillor, referring to Trump's views, says, "The government is not a disaster; it is a culture of process and law and organization that is alien to him." 

One more brief story. A few years ago, I attended a scientific meeting in an eastern city. I shared a cab to the airport with a fellow scientist from one of the remaining dictatorships. He asked me a little about the American system, and as we passed various monuments, I tried to explain: "What made George Washington great was that he gave up power." There have been many military leaders, but not many national leaders have established a tradition of the peaceful transition of power. My fellow scientist looked a little surprised at this answer, as it was not something that his world included. 

The peaceful transition of power signified by the presidential inauguration is a continuing miracle in a world that has only slowly been adopting such traditions. It is this peaceful transition of power that Trump mocks in his threats to jail his opponent.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at 


MY TURN-I literally have spent the last week trying to figure out why there is such fear and loathing expressed when it comes to Hillary Clinton. I have read so many outlandish "facts" from friends and neighbors on Facebook and other sites that baffle me beyond description. 

Some are people I have known for forty or more years. We carpooled together...our kids grew up together...we celebrated and commiserated together. How these honest, and in most cases, bright people could not only swallow but repeat these outlandish stories is beyond me. 

I have stayed away from writing about the Presidential election. I have never been a partisan voter, even though I identify more with the Democratic platform than with the Republican. I vote according to my considered preference, whether it comes to politicians or initiatives. 

When I discussed the content of this article with CityWatch publisher Ken Draper, it was supposed to be ready for last week. I wrote it, then let it sit for a day; then I decided I came off almost as strident and emotional as the people I was accusing. 

So I decided to start all over again. Believe it or not, this now represents a far more gentle approach. Now is a good time to reflect with so many "news" programs have lavished opinions and from all sides. Unfortunately, it was too early to start drinking so I doubled my usual caffeine intake. 

Many pundits trace the "Hate Hillary" phenomenon to 1992 when Governor Jerry Brown was running for President against Bill Clinton. Brown accused the former Governor of Arkansas of helping his wife’s law practice while he was in office -- an accusation that was never substantiated, like many of the Hillary tales. 

Hillary fired back via the press with a sentence that roiled traditionalists who were already fired up by the era’s culture wars: 

“I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” she said. Most of the media outlets neglected to report her complete quote that went on to say, “The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed…to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.” 

Go back to the eighties and nineties. Women were going through their own evolutionary process. Gloria Steinem was accused of starting a gender war. Women had started to join the workforce but in mostly non-decision making positions. 

When Bill Clinton appointed Madelyn Albright as Secretary of State it was a huge achievement for women. I must admit, when I first heard Hillary talk about baking cookies I could relate to this because I felt the same way. My children will never have the memory of smelling freshly baked cookies emanating from their mother’s kitchen. To this day, I still burn the garlic bread. 

Intellectually, one can understand why men would have resented Hillary in those days. She was not the kind of role model they wanted their wives and daughters to emulate. And they were starting to resent the changes occurring to the traditional "Father Knows Best" male roles. Unfortunately, men in Trump's age group were the first to experience these vast social changes. 

Why do women hate her so much? I think it’s been partly due to jealousy; she’s always been doing important things perhaps while some have remained in traditional roles. However, over the years, she has served as a role model to more and more women, millions of whom have since discovered they have options too. 

We should differentiate between what is true and what is urban myth. I don't remember any hue and cry when Ronald Regan accepted a two week, two million dollar fee plus the usual travel/staff perks from Japan shortly after he left the Presidency. At that time, Japan was one of our main trade competitors. Of course, he was a man and was “worthy” of such an expense. A woman receiving $250,000 for a speech was unheard of.   

There was no investigation of the private RNC email server President George W. Bush used and where 55 million emails were "lost," even though they are supposed to be retained. There were no investigations of Condoleezza Rice when we had more than five terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies and military bases during her tenure. 

The fact is, Jason Chafitz, Utah Congressman and Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, turned down the request for extra money the State Department requested to beef up security at embassies and consulates in dangerous areas. This was before Benghazi. 

As a journalist, I have learned to check what are called "facts." Even the Investment Service Motley Fool, known as one of the most reliable Investment companies in the industry, recently included a list of the "Hillary Myths."  They certainly do not have anything to gain and I don't see them on the list of Hillary donors. 

Trump also blames Hillary for her husband of signing NAFTA, calling it the worst trade deal ever negotiated on the part of the United States. The initial beginnings for NAFTA were under President Reagan, who originally wanted a free trade agreement with Mexico. The famous Conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, helped draft it and the first President Bush signed it. 

While NAFTA was being negotiated, there was a lot of talk about a future extension -- eventually having a “Common Market” for the Americas. It was thought then to be a smart move to compete with the European Union. 

One more thing that irritates me: Everyone refers to Trump as "Mr. Trump.” His surrogates, news reporters, employees and even his critics have given him this "Mr." title, which infers he is above everyone else. Hillary refers to him as "Donald," which I am sure, in his world, is a breach of etiquette. On the other hand, most of the time she is referred to by her first name. 

The tapes that have been released as of this writing have featured ten women who tell Trump groping stories. He and I are from the same vintage and I will bet almost every woman over fifty who was in business or in the work force has been subjected to verbal and physical sexual overtures. (I can recall almost every incident that I ever experienced.) We didn't say anything because, 1) we would lose our jobs 2) we would lose the client 3) or we would upset our husbands, who might have thought we encouraged this kind of behavior, or worse, would threaten violence against the perpetrator. 

I developed some pretty smart responses to those overtures to ensure that a man wouldn't feel resentful and would want to continue our business relationship. I also developed a pretty good right hook. That brings up another couple of points. 

The complaint that Hillary said she has a public position and a private position is not a cardinal sin. Anyone in business faces the same situation.  

Lastly, appointed Cabinet officials "serve at the pleasure of the President.” As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s responsibility was to carry out the wishes of President Obama, whether she agreed with him or not. Similarly, the job of Trump's surrogates is also to defend his behavior and policies, whether they agree with him or not. 

Those of you who have a supervisor or a "boss" do the same. 

I think we can all agree that this election is like no other in our lifetimes. The outcome has not been determined and, in spite of the Trump rhetoric, it is not a rigged system. What frightens many of us is the consequences of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being elected as the 45th President of the United States. It is going to be an interminable three weeks. 

My personal opinion is that Hillary Clinton is being subjected to a double standard and is definitely encountering gender bias. 

Before you resend an inflammatory email or tweet, check with the professional non-biased fact checkers. Do not add to the very tense and dangerous atmosphere we are encountering. All of the facts I have discussed have been substantiated and are available online. 

As always comments welcome.


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

WORKING AND WAITING FOR CHANGE-In these dismal days of climate change, imperial decline, endless war, and in my city, a hapless football team, I seem to be experiencing a strange and unaccustomed emotion: hope. How can that be? Maybe it’s because, like my poor San Francisco 49ers who have been “rebuilding” for the last two decades, I’m fortunate enough to be able to play the long game. 

But what exactly is making me feel hopeful at the moment? 

For one thing, we seem to have finally reached Peak Trump, and the reason why is important. 

Calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers didn’t do it. Promising to bring back waterboarding and commit assorted other war crimes didn’t do it. Flirting with the white supremacist crowd and their little friend Pepe the Frog didn't do it. But an 11-year-old video tape of Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” seems to have been the drop of water that finally cracked the dam and sent even stalwart Republican leaders fleeing a flood of public revulsion. 

In the midst of the most frightening and depressing presidential election of my life, the reactions to this latest glimpse into the Mind of Trump have actually lifted my spirits. Not that many years ago, an exchange like the one between Donald Trump and Billy Bush would hardly have been news. Sexual harassment was an expected part of the lives of working women -- par for a Trump golf course. I remember, for instance, paging through my family’s New Yorker magazines and coming across a Whitney Darrow cartoon about a lesson at a secretarial school. A businessman is chasing a woman around a desk as the teacher explains, “Notice, class, how Angela circles, always keeping the desk between them...” 

There you have it: the devaluation of women’s work (secretarial skills reduced to techniques for evading the boss’s advances), the trivialization of sexual predation, and in Angela’s knowing smile, admiration for the woman who keeps her sense of humor while defending her virtue. 

What’s most surprising about the response to Trump’s hot-mic moment is the apparent national consensus that speaking -- or even thinking -- about sexual assault the way Trump did on this video is neither normal nor amusing. This shared assumption that women are not trophies for the taking marks an advance toward full personhood that we have achieved only in my lifetime. When you stop to think about it, it’s an extraordinary cultural shift. And once people figure out that women are, after all, human, it’s pretty hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle. 

Of course, there are still a lot of men who have a hard time with the woman-human being equation. Paul Ryan, for example, responded to the Trump video release by opining that “Women are to be championed and revered” -- a view that suggests we are either helpless creatures to be saved by a “champion” or other-than-human creatures belonging on some Victorian pedestal. 

Then There’s Hillary 

In her first debate with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton actually said the words “systemic racism.” Never in our history has a mainstream presidential candidate described our country’s racial institutions in that kind of language. Indeed, one of the biggest political problems the movement for racial justice has faced in the post-Civil Rights era has been how to account for the fact that, absent legal segregation, people of color, and especially African Americans, remain disproportionately represented among the poor, the unhoused, and the incarcerated. Institutional, or systemic, racism describes the mechanism at play. 

Here’s what Clinton said in that debate: 

“And it’s just a fact that if you're a young African-American man and you do the same thing as a young white man, you are more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, and incarcerated. So we've got to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.” 

She’s right of course. And she deserves credit for saying it, but it’s the analysis of groups like RaceForward, the organizing skills of the young activists of Black Lives Matter, and the moral voice of older leaders like the Reverend William Barber II of the North Carolina NAACP who created the atmosphere in which she had to say it. 

We are, in other words, witnessing a sea change in how people in mainstream politics talk about racism. Of course, there’s been pushback against Clinton’s rhetoric, but the idea that actual institutional structures exist that deeply constrain the lives of African Americans has now been admitted to the grown-ups’ table. 

Black communities have long known that they, and especially their young men, are at risk of police violence. That’s why sooner or later so many black parents of every economic class have “the talk” with their children about how to try to stay safe (or at least safer). But in the two years since the murder of Trayvon Martin by a self-styled vigilante, Black Lives Matter has focused national attention for the first time on the repeated deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve. Now, even the mainstream media no longer treat such deaths as isolated incidents unworthy of coverage. Instead, it is recognized that they form a systemic pattern, and even presidential candidates have to respond to that pattern. That is a victory and it was almost beyond imagination even a few years ago. Of course, the real victory will come when police stop shooting unarmed people, but at least now the country generally admits that it happens. 

Similarly, many of us on the left have long known that wages in this country began to stagnate in the mid-1970s. We’ve watched the minimum wage (once intended to be for a family’s “breadwinner”) shrink to a poverty stipend. We’ve seen income and wealth inequality swell to the greatest levels since the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. But it took the Occupy movement to remind us that the 99% could reclaim political power. It took organizations like OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, lifted by Bernie Sanders’s run for the Democratic nomination, to bring that discussion into the mainstream. 

For the first time in years, the words “working class” have slipped back into public discourse. CNN now runs stories with headlines like “Working class white men make less than they did in 1996.” A few years ago, as far as anyone could tell from the mainstream media, we lived in a country populated by a vast, undifferentiated “middle class,” and a few wealthy or impoverished outliers. Now, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have found that they must address the pain of working people. We may not agree with their proposed solutions, but they have to talk about it. That, too, is a change and a victory of sorts. 

Wait! You Mean We Won Something? 

For many years I’ve noticed that my corner of the political world, roughly the American left, has had a very hard time recognizing and claiming our victories. Maybe that’s because it’s cost us so much to understand all the ways in which the standard American narrative is a lie, to grasp how little the American Way -- whatever Superman may have believed -- has had to do with truth and justice. 

From birth, Americans normally swim in an ocean of heroic mythology about American exceptionalism, and for many of us it’s been difficult to make our way out of its riptides. So our knowledge has been hard-won. Figuring out that the United States is not the international defender of liberty we learned about in school wasn’t easy. 

It took work to realize and accept, for instance, that our country routinely supported dictators and torturers. We opposed U.S. efforts to prop up strongmen like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and called out the hypocrisy when the U.S. government was shocked(!), shocked(!) to discover what they actually were. 

Having invested so much effort in recognizing the lies of the American exceptionalist narrative, we find it difficult to acknowledge when our government does something right. 

The Paris Agreement on climate, signed by 190 countries, comes into effect this November 4th. That’s because on October 5th, the world met two key criteria: ratification by at least 55 of the signatory countries, and ratification by countries responsible for producing 55% of the planet’s greenhouse gases. It’s fair to say that, without the Obama administration, this agreement to confront the extinction-level threat that climate change represents would not have come into being. Like any compromise, it’s by no means a perfect accord, but it’s the best chance we’ve seen in a long time that the Earth will remain the habitable and welcoming place for human beings (among many other species) that it’s been these last tens of thousands of years. This victory belongs to environmental activists around the world, and we should claim it! 

It’s almost as if, having worked so hard to understand the role and power of the United States on the world stage and of a ruling elite at home, we’ve imagined this country as a far greater powerhouse than it is.  It’s almost as if recognizing any cracks in the edifice of American power might endanger that hard-won worldview. It’s almost as if the possibility that we can sometimes push our country to do something right, that our side can sometimes win, seems to rattle us. Faced with that disorienting possibility, I suspect it’s sometimes easier to believe that, while we must always fight the good fight, our adversary is too strong for us ever to expect victories. 

On the domestic front many of us, both people of color and white Americans, have struggled to recognize our personal implicit racial biases. We’ve likewise taken the time and effort to reexamine what we were taught about U.S. history so that we could grasp the enduring and shape-shifting longevity of systemic racism. Knowing this history so well seems to make it harder for some of us to recognize and claim victories when they come. When, in front of 80 million Americans, Hillary Clinton says that “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just [the] police,” that is a victory, and we should take it in and savor it. 

When President Obama responds to mass incarceration by commuting the sentences of federal drug offenders, that is a victory, however modest. It took half a decade for the ideas in Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow to penetrate to a mass audience. Now, the country has finally begun to recognize what prison activists have been saying for years: there is something very wrong when the “leader of the free world” has the largest prison population on the planet. An outrage that, a decade ago, was invisible to just about everyone except the affected communities and a small number of activists is now known to all. Our prisons are a national and international scandal and the spread of that knowledge -- and the urge to do something about it -- is also a victory, one worth celebrating, however provisionally. 

Who’s Most Likely to Be Hopeful? 

In the 1980s, I spent six months in Nicaragua’s war zones at a time when my government, the Reagan administration, was supporting the Contra armies against the Sandinista government. Together with many sectors of Nicaraguan society, the Sandinistas had thrown out the U.S.-supported dictator, Anastasio Somoza. Over and over I was struck by how living in the midst of war was like being stretched between two temporal realities. 

In the morning, a Nicaraguan in the town of Jalapa might help dig a communal refugio to shelter children from airplane attacks. In the afternoon, she might risk attack or kidnapping by the U.S.-backed Contras to plant trees that would take years to mature on mountains that had been clear-cut by American lumber companies during the Somoza dictatorship. You always had one eye on the present and the other on a better future. 

The Nicaraguans I knew seemed eternally ready for a party under the worst conditions imaginable. One day, in the city of Estelí, I remember running into an American friend who told me this story: she’d been feeling bummed recently because the Contras had attacked a little town near where she was living and killed seven children. It seemed to her as if this miserable war would never end. The family with whom she was staying was going to a fiesta that night and asked her along.

“I don’t feel like it,” she said. “I’m too depressed.” 

You can afford to be depressed,” they told her, “because you’re going home soon. We are the ones who will still be stuck in the war, so we have to have hope for the future. We have to dance. Now, get dressed, we’re going to a party.” 

What group in the United States is most optimistic about the future? Surprisingly, according to a recent Gallup Healthways poll, it’s not the billionaires among us, but poor African Americans. A Brookings report on the poll suggests a number of reasons for this, and adds:

“[T]he optimism of black Americans -- especially the poorest -- is a reason to be a little more hopeful. The second term of our first black President is nearing its end, but a renegade political candidate with open disdain for minority groups is enjoying rising support. At such a moment in history, it is noteworthy that it is black Americans who seem to be keeping faith with the American Dream.” 

Another poll, commissioned in 2015 by the Atlantic, found that “African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be optimistic than their white counterparts, both about their personal station in life and the future of the country more broadly.” 

Such people are anything but stupid. They know that their communities are confronting terrible challenges, but they know, too, how important it is not to forget to dance. 

Why Doing Politics Is Like Surfing 

How do outrageous ideas -- for example, that women are human beings, or that the U.S. locks up way too many people, or even that gay people should be able to get married if they want to -- suddenly morph into everyday commonsense? It’s rarely an accident. It almost always involves dedicated people working away for years on an issue, often unnoticed, before it seems suddenly to surge into general awareness. 

Sometimes I think the politically engaged life is like surfing. You expend an enormous effort paddling past the breaking surf. Then you sit on your board breathing hard, scanning the horizon for the wave. Sometimes you sit out there for a long, long time, but when that wave comes, you have to be ready to grab it -- and enjoy it. 

Even when the wave looks like a sinking Donald J. Trump.


(Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


AN AMERICAN IS CRIMINALIZED EVERY 25 SECONDS--Two prominent human and civil rights organizations are calling on the U.S. government to decriminalize all drug use and possession in a new report which finds that the so-called war on drugs has caused “devastating harm.”

The joint report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that there were 574,640 arrests for marijuana possession nationwide in 2015, outnumbering arrests for all violent crimes combined, and that the massive enforcement of drug laws takes a toll at every level, from the individual to the institutional—ruining lives and pulling families apart, discriminating against people of color, and undermining public health.

In fact, the groups found, in the U.S., someone is arrested for low-level drug offenses every 25 seconds

“Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use,” said the report’s author and HRW/ACLU Aryeh Neier fellow Tess Borden. “These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence.”

The long-term impacts of drug law enforcement range from the separation of families to lifelong discrimination, the report states. People arrested for drug use can be excluded from employment opportunities, housing and welfare assistance, and the right to vote, among other things. The organizations interviewed hundreds of drug users, family members of those prosecuted, government officials, defense attorneys, activists, and service providers, and analyzed data from Texas, Florida, New York, and the FBI.

One woman interviewed in the report, “Nicole,” whose name was changed for privacy, was held pretrial for months in Houston, Texas away from her three children and eventually pled guilty to her first felony—possessing an empty baggie with heroin residue. The conviction cost her student financial aid, employment opportunities, and the food stamps she used to feed her children.

“The felony conviction is going to ruin my life…I’ll pay for it for[ever]. Because of my record, I don’t know how or where I’ll start rebuilding my life: school, job, government benefits are now all off the table for me,” she states in the report. “Besides the punishment even [of prison]...It’s my whole future.”

The report also found that while black adults do not use drugs more than white adults, they are over two-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested for possession. When looking just at marijuana possession, they are almost four times as likely to be arrested.

“Under international human rights law, prohibited racial discrimination occurs where there is an unjustifiable disparate impact on a racial or ethnic group, regardless of whether there is any intent to discriminate against that group,” the report states. “Enforcement of drug possession laws in the U.S. reveals stark racial disparities that cannot be justified by disparities in rates of use.”

As the organizations point out, since the war on drugs was formally declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, use has not significantly declined—and criminalization, coupled with a lack of treatment for addicts, forces users to go “underground,” exposing them to increased risk of disease, overdoses, and other dangers, while making it less likely that they will recover.

“While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer,” Borden continued. “Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment.”

The report concludes by calling on state legislatures and U.S. Congress to decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs, and invest in risk reduction and voluntary treatment programs.

“Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources,” Borden said. “If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead.”


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



PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, ROUND 2--The second presidential debate arrived, and if this were another year and a different set of candidates, we would probably be reading that Trump came back from his earlier defeat due to a stronger performance this time. After all, he didn't melt down into a pool of slag or run pouting from the stage. He stood his ground and exchanged punch for punch, accusation for accusation. Some commenters will score this one as a draw or even a modest Trump victory. But it's not a different year or a different Republican candidate, and this debate took place under circumstances that were not only bizarre, they appear to be rebounding against Trump. 

The following episodes are historically unprecedented but as we shall see, they have something in common. 

Trump came into the day of the second debate facing a situation in which a significant number of Republican leaders were pulling their support from him due to his comments about groping women. When you lose John McCain and others of his stature, you are pushing the envelope pretty hard. Trump got off a sort-of-apology for his comments, but he tried to make it sound as if it was just a boyish phase he was going through. After all, he was only 59 years old at the time. 

But what defines Trump as a political phenomenon is that he does things that others won't. In this case, it was his press conference held on the same day as the debate, in which he introduced women who had all accused Bill Clinton of doing something bad. The subtext was "if I did something wrong, the Clintons have done worse." The fact that his opponent is Hillary Clinton, not Bill, is obvious, but this was a play to Clinton haters of all stripes. 

The pre-debate press conference caused the MSNBC commenters to be all aflutter, with worried prognostications that Trump might call Bill Clinton a rapist during the debate itself. The story must have played out interestingly in foreign markets. 

During the debate, in response to Hillary Clinton's suggestion that Trump has avoided paying income taxes, Trump responded with dreary repetitions that a couple of other billionaires -- Warren Buffet and George Soros, alleged to be Hillary's friends -- also use available tax deductions. Once again, it was the argument that whatever Trump does, some liberal does it worse. 

When you look at these Trumpian games, it eventually becomes obvious that Trump is engaging in a technique that the American right wing has developed into a fine art: Whatever you are most guilty of, accuse your opponent of the same thing. When George W. Bush was facing a real war hero in the person of John Kerry during the 2004 reelection campaign, his side brought out the Swift Boaters. All of a sudden, Bush's failure to serve was balanced by a concerted attack on Kerry's battlefield performance. 

It's like the psychological concept of projection, except that instead of unconscious thoughts being painted onto other people, the political technique is to recognize your own defects at the conscious level and then to defend your own vulnerability by accusing the opposition of the same thing. 

In the case of Sunday night's debate, Trump took this technique to the extreme. Here is an excerpt from 

Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.

"If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation," Trump said, "because there has never been so many lies, so much deception."

Trump's threat -- which he has made before on the campaign trail -- is extraordinary even by the standard of the vitriolic 2016 campaign. 

The comment is remarkable for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how it forced Trump's campaign workers to scramble in the aftermath. His latest adviser explained this remark as Trump channeling the strong feelings of his followers. That reacting at this level to mob sentiment is the opposite of leadership didn't seem to occur to this spokesperson. The irony is rich indeed. 

But we should also notice that Trump's remark is another example of Trump doing a little conscious projection. He is the one who is under attack over the Trump University fraud as well as other scandals. He may not be at the level of criminal prosecution, but the trial over the Trump University case is approaching. 

So Trump threw the first punch. Now it happens to be true that the argument about jailing Hillary is not new. It's been going around since the early days of Trump's campaign. But this was a new element for a presidential debate. Those of an age to remember the Nixon-Kennedy and subsequent debates will recognize how weird this was. 

So Trump took out a little insurance against his own potential prosecution in the event that he does not win the presidency. He got in the first punch. But his threat is so out of bounds that even Ari Fleischer objected. You can read his remark in the CNN story quoted above. 

As for Hillary Clinton, she held her own on substantive points, but that wasn't what this debate was all about. She was forced to repeat the approach she took in the first debate, namely:

1) Point out that it is hard to fact-check Donald Trump during the debate itself, so the viewers should check out her website. 

2) Point out that what you just heard wasn't true, and that Donald lives in his own reality. 

These were useful stratagems during the first debate, but they weren't delivered with quite the oomph this time around. They sounded like something that Hillary was reminding herself to say, and didn't get the follow-up they could have profited by. 

On the other hand, Hillary did an effective job explaining that Trump is not fit for the job of president. She also got a boost from the moderators when Trump was asked to stop interrupting. 

There is one major difference in their competing personas. Over the course of their nomination acceptance speeches and two debates, the difference became clear. Trump presents himself as perpetually angry, outraged, and pessimistic. It's worked for him during the primary process, but it remains to be seen how well it will work for him in a general election. Hillary has taken the more optimistic approach. 

In one way this was forced on her, because it was necessitated by Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again." How do you compete with that, other than to say that America is great already? She is also trying to ride the Obama coattails, so she has to claim that things are improving. It's been a tightrope for Hillary to walk, but she seems to be doing about as well as she can. Historically, presidential candidates who present a positive message seem to have an advantage, as Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama showed. 


As of this writing a few hours after the second debate, snap polls show Hillary Clinton as the winner. Interestingly, she won big in the category of appearing more presidential. Perhaps this can be explained by Hillary's ability to maintain a straight face in response to Trump's attacks. Compare that to Trump's constant grimacing and frowning when attacked. Perhaps future historians will conclude that Hillary turned out to be the better actor, in spite of Trump's television experience. Or perhaps it was a mistake for Trump to adopt his television persona during his presidential campaign. Alternatively, it may be that the majority of the public found Trump's aggression distasteful and for that reason, found him to be less presidential. 

One question: Does Trump always know that he is going over the line? Admittedly a lot of his performance is contrived, a vaudevillian shtick. But perhaps that anger he presents is the real Trump, and what we are hearing is that anger spilling over. What presidential candidate would fail to know that threatening to jail your opponent is off limits in the American political tradition? At the extreme level, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were not thrown in prison by the victorious side. Perhaps Trump's followers should remind him.


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


LA WATCHDOG--Of the 24 ballot measures on the November ballot, only four are specific to the City of Los Angeles. And of these four, only one deserves a YES vote (RRR - DWP Reform), two deserve a NO vote (HHH - the $1.2 billion homeless bond and SSS – Fire and Police Pension Plans), and one deserves a HELL NO vote (JJJ - Build Better LA). (See Ballot Summaries below.) 

When determining how to vote, the first and most important question is whether you trust the proponents of the ballot measure.  And in the case of the City of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council have not earned our trust and confidence as they have not embraced the reform of our City’s finances.  They have ignored the excellent budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission, have refused to address the Structural Deficit where the increase in personnel expenditures (salaries, pensions, and medical benefits) exceed the growth in tax revenues, have passed on reforming the City’s two pension plans which are $15 billion in the hole, have failed to develop a plan to repair our streets and the rest of our failing infrastructure, and continue to bow to the wishes of real estate developers and billboard operators. 

NO on Proposition HHH, the $1.2 Billion Homeless Bond 

While our Enlightened Elite who occupy City Hall have told us that addressing homelessness is a priority, they have failed to make the average payment of $65 million a year a budget priority despite a $1 billion increase in City revenues over the last four years and another $600 million over the next four years.  Rather than continue with this $2 billion revenue grab over the next 30 years (including interest payments) through an increase in our property taxes, the City has the capacity to pay for the homeless bonds by eliminating their discretionary slush funds, reduce their bloated staffs, and discontinue the hundreds of millions in “giveaways” to international hotel operators and mall operators such as Westfield.  

The City has not developed a credible financial plan to fund the $2.8 billion gap between the $4 billion cost of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing and the $1.2 billion in bond proceeds.  Nor has it addressed the over the top cost of $400,000 a unit.  Nor has it entered into a definitive agreement with the County which is considering a quarter cent increase in our sales tax ($350 million) to fund its service to the homeless. 

The concept of throwing cash at the homeless problem without a financial and operational plan does not pass muster, especially given the lack of meaningful oversight.  

For more information, see the CityWatch article, Los Angeles Must Resolve Its Homeless Crisis … This $1.2 Billion Taxpayer Ripoff is Not the Way to Do It.  

NO on Charter Amendment SSS, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans 

If approved by a majority of the voters, Airport Police officers will be eligible to participate in the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Plans (“LAFPP”) instead of the less generous Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (“LACERS”) plan.  But without real pension reform that addresses the billions of unfunded liabilities of both LACERS and LAFPP, this ballot measure does not deserve our support.   This scheme will also result in significantly higher pension contributions by the Airport and eventually its airline tenants.  

The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote. Police Pension Measure SSS Raises Too Much Doubt to Support. 

HELL NO on Initiative Ordinance JJJ / Build Better LA Initiative 

The Build Better LA Initiative is a crude attempt by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to take advantage of the affordable housing shortage in the City of Los Angeles.  It would require real estate developers who request a zoning change or variance to include units of affordable housing in the development and to agree to the equivalent of a Project Labor Agreement.  While there has not been any detailed analysis of the financial impact of this measure on housing costs, preliminary estimates indicate that it would drive up costs by 30% to 40%.  This added expense will result in a transfer of money intended for affordable housing into the pockets of construction workers and their unions. 

This misleading, self-serving ballot measure will make affordable housing more unaffordable.  

The Los Angeles Times urges a NO vote.  Measure JJJ Could Make LA’s Housing Crisis Even Worse.   

For additional information, see the CityWatch article, Build Better LA Initiative: Affordable Housing Made More Unaffordable  

YES on Charter Amendment RRR, DWP Reform 

The major problem with our Department of Water and Power is City Hall.  Unfortunately, this charter amendment does not address the issue of Ratepayers being used as an ATM by Mayor Garcetti and the City Council.  Nor are there any major changes in the governance of the Department.  But it does allow for more efficient procurement and contracting, increased oversight by the Ratepayers Advocate and a newly created Water & Power Analyst that reports directly to the Board of Commissioner, and a more transparent process of appointing a new General Manager. It also requires the Department and the Board of Commissioners to prepare a Four Year Strategic Plan beginning in 2020 for consideration by the City Council and the Mayor. 

The major source of controversy is that this charter amendment begins the process that may lead to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department for its 9,000 employees that is separate and distinct from the City’s Personnel Department and remove the Department from the City’s cumbersome civil service rules and regulations.  The City’s civilian unions are labeling this as a “power grab” because it would lessen their influence over the affairs of the Department and limit the transfer of City employees to better paying jobs at DWP.  But any major changes would require Council approval which would “undoubtedly prompt an epic political battle.” 

While this ballot measure is not the answer to our prayers, it is a step in the right direction. 

As a side note, City Council President deserves a pat on the back for ushering this ballot measure through the City Council.  And with his leadership, hopefully other meaningful changes will be implemented by the City Council. 

The Los Angeles Times in a very good editorial urges a YES vote.  




Ballot Summary / Question 


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


Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) enroll new Airport peace officers into Tier 6 of the Fire and Police Pensions System; (2) allow current Airport peace officers to transfer into Tier 6 from the City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) at their own expense; and (3) permit new Airport Police Chiefs to enroll in LACERS? 


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


Shall the Charter be amended to: (1) add qualification requirements, stipends and removal protections for DWP Board; (2) expand Board to seven members; (3) require DWP prepare four-year Strategic Plans for Council and Mayoral approval; (4) modify DWP’s contracting, rate-setting and other authority; (5) permit future alternatives to existing civil service standards for DWP employees through collective bargaining; and (6) require monthly billing?



(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 --  He can be reached at:

– cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease of four vacant floors of subpar office space at Figueroa Plaza, a 615,000 square foot, City owned office complex located north of the downtown Central Business District.  

LA WATCHDOG--On September 28, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his Fiscal Year 2017-18 Budget Policy and Goals to all of the General Managers of All City Departments. The goals include closing a projected $85 million deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, identifying over $40 million in new general funds to maintain the City’s current commitment to the homeless, and hiring 5,000 new employees by June 30, 2018 to restore services and replace retiring workers.   

This missive is focused on next year’s budget and does not address the long term reforms that are desperately needed to tackle the City’s Structural Deficit (where the growth in personnel costs exceeds the increase in revenues), the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans (estimated to be in the range of $15 billion based on a more realistic investment rate assumption), and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure (estimated to be north of $10 billion). 

On October 4, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (“NCBAs”)* delivered the following recommendation to Mayor Garcetti and the City Council.


Early White Paper Recommendation

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (the “NCBAs”) urge the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to implement the following recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission as part of its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year: 

  • Create an independent “Office of Transparency and Accountability” to analyze and report on the City’s budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability. 
  • Adopt a “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance that requires the City to develop a three year budget and a three year baseline budget with the goal to understand the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. (Council File 14-1184-S2)  
  • Be honest about the cost of future promises by adopting a discount rate and pension earnings assumptions similar to those used by Warren Buffett.   
  • Establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts. 

We request that the Budget and Finance Committee assign a Council File for each of the recommendations and agendize each of these items for its next meeting on October 17, 2016.  

The implementation of these recommendations will be the first step in addressing the City’s Structural Deficit, the massive unfunded liabilities of its two unsustainable pension plans, and the deferred maintenance on its infrastructure.  

The adoption of the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission will result in increased transparency into the City’s complex operations and finances and begin the process of restoring Angelenos’ trust and confidence in City Hall and its elected officials.  

The NCBAs are making these recommendations prior to the 2017 Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates White Paper so that they will be an integral part of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget process.  

The NCBAs look forward to a timely response.



Stay tuned to see if Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are willing to implement meaningful reform or will it be business as usual, kicking the can down the road and dumping tens of billions in unfunded obligations on the next generation of Angelenos. 




*The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates are the elected to represent the charter authorized Neighborhood Councils.  Their role is to explore, research, study, seek input, prepare and present the concerns and interests of the communities of the City of Los Angeles ("City") about the use of City funds, City revenue collection, City budget and budget allocations, efficiency of City government, City finances, City financial obligations and other such concerns and related to financial matters of the City to the Mayor and City Council.  

Join the discussion: 


(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 --  He can be reached at: – cw


LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and his budget team are putting a full court press on the Board of Water and Power Commissioners to approve an above market, 10 year, $41 million lease for four vacant floors of office space at Figueroa Plaza, a two tower, 615,000 square foot City owned complex located north of the Central Business District in DTLA.  (Photo above: Sculpture by Terry Allen. The bronze statue is located in Downtown L.A. at 7+FIG Plaza, on the corner of 7th and Figueroa Street, outside the corporate offices of Ernst Young) 

But this deal, like the previous 10 year, $63 million lease for six vacant floors that was proposed in June, does not pass the smell test because this above market lease is not in the best interests of the Department of Water and Power or its Ratepayers. 

Which leads us to the question of whether the five Commissioners, led by President Mel Levine and Vice President Bill Funderburk, will stand up for the interests of the Department and the Ratepayers or will they bow to the pressure from Mayor Garcetti and his budget team who are looking to balance the City’s budget on the backs of the Ratepayers? 

Figueroa Plaza is not considered a desirable location for law firms, investment banks, commercial banks, consulting firms, or other professional organizations that occupy Class A space because of its poor location north of the Central Business District.  In addition to being out of the way, this older building has a poor reputation for maintenance, services, and amenities.  This is not helped by rent roll dominated by government employees.  

Yet the City wants our Department of Water and Power to pay Central Business District Class A rents for this subprime space.  At the same time, the City wants DWP to pony up $9 million for tenant improvements, an expense that is usually born by the landlord, in this case, the City of Los Angeles.  

From the Mayor’s perspective, in the first year of the lease, the City will receive $3 million in rent and “save” $9 million in tenant improvements.  This $12 million swing will help the City close its projected $85 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.  

The Department maintains that it needs this additional space to accommodate 700 new employees.  But without a well thought out Space Utilization Plan for its 9,576 employees, an 8 to 10 year lease is inappropriate, especially given its above market cost.  

Any space plan would need to address the updating of DWP’s 50 year old historic headquarters building located across from the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.  But this is problematic as IBEW Local 18, DWP’s domineering union, will assert jurisdiction over all the work at overtime rates, doubling the cost and the time to completion.  This will cost Ratepayers an additional $150 to $200 million.  

The question has also been raised whether the IBEW and Union Bo$$ d’Arcy would claim jurisdiction over the work at Figueroa Plaza.  

At its meeting on September 20, the Board of Commissioners discussed the proposed $41 million lease in closed session.  When the $63 million lease was on the agenda in June, the Board deferred the matter until a later time.  As a result, there has not been a public discussion or any outreach involving this controversial lease whose main beneficiary appears to be the City, not DWP or the Ratepayers. 

The Department has prepared a 229 page memo outlining this transaction. This includes a 161 page report that justifies the lease. But several experts, including potential tenants and their representatives, have discounted this report stating it was “made as indicated” and does not reflect the real rental market. 

Will the Commissioners conduct an open hearing on this above market lease?  Will the Commissioners demand that DWP prepare a Space Utilization Plan before entering into this above market lease?  Will this study include many different alternatives, including selling the DWP headquarters and moving to an area that would benefit from the economic development?  Will the Commissioners demand that the Department update its Personnel Plan to reflect the addition of 700 new employees?  

In other words, will the Commissioners act in the best interests of the Department and the Ratepayers and tell the Mayor and his budget team to buzz off?

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

  • See also:

DWP Deserves ‘Free’ Rent at Fig Plaza

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

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



LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are using the homeless issue to pick our pockets for almost $2 billion over the next 30 years in an effort to cover up their abject failure to make this unfortunate situation a priority in the City’s budget over the last four years. 

If Proposition HHH (Homeless Reduction and Prevention, Housing, and Facilities Bond) is approved by two-thirds of the voters, the City will issue $1.2 billion of bonds over the next ten years.  These funds, along with billions from politically wired real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing for LA’s homeless population at a cost as high as $4 billion.  

LA WATCHDOG--Many believe that California would be better off if we sent Attorney General Kamala Harris to Washington to succeed Barbara Boxer, the 75 year old “junior” senator from California.  But then again, is it fair to the rest of the country to stick the nation with the highly partisan Kamala Harris when Loretta Sanchez is the more qualified candidate? 

Kamala Harris’ fatal flaw is that she is a staunch opponent of pension reform.  

During the last two years, she has authored unfavorable and biased summaries for two bipartisan ballot measures that would have reformed California’s unsustainable pension plans.  Pension reform is the most important financial issue facing all levels of government as ever increasing pension contributions are required to cover the estimated unfunded liability of up to $500 billion. But these growing contributions are crowding out basic services such as public safety and the repair of our infrastructure as well as progressive initiatives involving education, affordable housing, and services to the homeless. 

This has resulted in numerous ballot measures for new taxes which, despite their stated use, are really going to fund the upside down pension plans.  

But rather than endorsing pension reform, Harris sold out to the campaign funding leadership of the public unions who are vehemently opposed to any reform of the very generous pension plans.  As a result, Harris has benefitted from significant cash contributions to her campaign war chest.   

Obviously, Harris did not get the memo from Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo that “you can’t be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform.” 

Ever since Harris was elected Attorney General in 2010, she has used her office as a stepping stone for higher office.  Over the years, she has been gallivanting around the country, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on first class travel, five star hotels, and limousines and hitting up the usual out of state suspects for campaign donations. 

She has also used her office to reward her campaign contributors.   In 2015, Harris placed so many conditions on Prime Healthcare’s acquisition of the money losing hospitals owned by the Daughters of Charity that the buyer walked away from the transaction.  According to subsequent litigation, it was alleged that Harris was doing the bidding of the SEIU which was in a labor dispute with Prime Healthcare.  

No wonder the SEIU has been so generous to Harris’ campaign war chest.  

Harris has been so busy running around the country raising money and planning her next campaign that her office has suffered from the lack of organization and leadership and high turnover.  Her office has failed to implement or follow through on numerous initiatives such as gun control and criminal justice. But that has not stopped her from claiming credit for the work of others as was the case with the national mortgage settlement that was spearheaded by the Attorney Generals in New York and Delaware.  

Sanchez, on the other hand, has developed a reputation over her twenty years in House of Representatives as a legislator who can work in a bipartisan manner, much like Senator Diane Feinstein who has been an effective proponent for California. She has the endorsement of 17 of the State’s Democratic Congressional representatives, almost double the number that are supporting Harris.  

Sanchez also has a strong working knowledge of immigration, a very important issue to Californians, as she is the co-chair of the Immigration Task Force, a member of the Hispanic Caucus, and the daughter of hard working immigrants who achieved the American Dream. 

She has an excellent understanding of the water issues facing the State, having worked on matters involving conservation, groundwater, the Salton Sea, and other complex problems facing Orange County and Southern California. 

She is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, but voted against the Iraq War, and the House Homeland Security Committee.  

Without doubt, Sanchez, an MBA and a financial analyst in the private sector before she upset B1 Bob Dornan in the 1996 election, is familiar with the federal budget, a complex issue that impacts all Californians. 

While Sanchez and Harris are both Democrats, we have the choice between Harris, a San Francisco ideologue who has derailed pension reform in return for union campaign cash, or Sanchez, a Southern Californian and a seasoned legislator with private sector experience who has demonstrated that she can work in a bipartisan manner to get things done. 

While Harris is leading in the polls, Sanchez has the unique opportunity to upset Harris by putting together a coalition of Hispanics, moderate Democrats, independents, and Republicans. 

Viva Sanchez.  

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


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