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 EASTSIDER-Looks like the LA City Council has started smokin’ some weed on the assumption that the Marijuana initiative will pass in November. Of course, math was never their forte even without mind altering substances. And as we know, the actual budget process is a closely held secret.  

Here’s the Problem: 

For context, we are living in the best of times if you’re an LA City politician. The developers are buying off elected officials at a record rate, housing and hi-rises are popping up all over like the giant popcorn bags at the movie theater (one refill for free), and as housing prices take off like the booster unit on a space shuttle, the city coffers haven’t seen life this good in years and years. 

So what are these math majors going to do when the economy tanks again? We all know deep in our hearts that the frothy bubble of LA’s housing market is simply unsustainable. If history is a guide, the Council will stick their collective heads in the sand like ostriches, wringing their hands in helpless angst. 

We’ve been here before in Los Angeles with the “great recession” of 2007-08 and it wasn’t pretty. The City Council was impotent and useless in their vain attempts to shift the blame and take fake actions. I see no reason it will be different this time. 

Folks will lose jobs; they will discover what these taxes look like, not to mention property tax assessments on an $800,000 home in places like Echo Park, Silverlake, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock and the other chi chi areas. That 3% interest rate on a bank loan isn’t going to do much good to reduce their property tax bills. 

And yet the Council can’t even balance this year’s budget! As Jack noted regarding the Mayor’s budget message, “on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti characterized his $5.6 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year as a ‘strong spending plan that is balanced and responsible, with a record investment of $138 million to tackle the City’s homelessness crisis.’”  

But “spending” is the operative word since the cumulative deficit over the next four years is expected to exceed $300 million as the growth in expenditures exceeds that of revenues. This compares to last year’s projection of a four year cumulative deficit of “only” $37 million.  

When you discount the typical press conference horse puckey, the City budget doesn’t even balance in these best of times. Remember, to make this turkey fly, the City is proposing significant DWP Rate Increases, a tax to pay for the homeless that they have generated by dumping folks out of their homes to pave the way for new developments, and a tax to fix the City’s sidewalks. Read Jack’s column about Garcetti’s gee whiz speech in what the Mayor didn’t tell us.  

And this litany doesn’t even count the proposed 1/2 cent additional Metro tax for the next 30 years, an LA County storm water tax, and a County parcel tax to fund Parks. All of this is on the November ballot, along with god knows what from the State. 

While a lot of the ballot measures aren’t limited to the City of LA per se, if you add all of the City, County and Special District proposals, we are in for a lot of liability. 

So, here’s a sample of what’s in store for us: 

Rate Increases at LADWP 

LADWP Increases of about 5% a year for five years (not including MWD ‘pass throughs.’) 

While certain core rate increases are really needed to fix infrastructure problems like broken water mains and power outages, there are add-ons built into the transfer money to City Hall that pay for their pet projects. And the Council knows it.  

The problem with the LADWP is that we don’t actually get to vote on any of this stuff -- the Council does all the voting. 

LA City Sidewalk Fix

 

We don’t know exactly how much this will cost, but the City has already entered into a billion dollar plus legal settlement on the issue, while they have only set aside a token of what is needed in this year’s budget. We know they will be back for more money, be it this November or by some sleight of hand. We’ll see if they are bold enough to actually do a tax increase.

 

A Billion Dollars in Bonds for the LA River

 

This was the much-hailed plan where the Mayor went to Washington and allegedly got a whopping $1 billion to fund the project. But most of the money has disappeared, leaving the City holding the bag.

 

So it looks like a Community Redevelopment Agency style bond money coming down the road. Not a direct tax increase, but guess who’s on the hook if the math doesn’t work out? Taxpayers. Remember that LAUSD bond measure we got hit with?

 

And by the way, the reality is that this project is only going to benefit the rich anyhow.

 

Attacking Homelessness

 

A Homeless Plan includes $100 million just for the City -- with no idea where the money will come from.

 

While the City has set aside $30 million this year, although costs will actually be around $100 million just for the City, both the City and County are looking for funding.

 

Maybe a new tax, or a fee, but the bill is going to have to be paid.

 

Metro Tax Increase

 

A Metro 1/2 cent sales tax increase

 

I particularly like this one, since they are essentially doubling down on the existing $9 billion 1/2 cent sales tax that produced a ten percent drop in usage.

 

How About a County Storm Water Tax

 

For those who track political goings on, this is the one that was laughed off the ballot in 2013 when it got tagged with a line to the effect that, “God made the rain, and it took LA County to figure out how to tax it.” Smart money says they will avoid the November ballot and go for it later.

 

The Takeaway

 

What I find galling is that all of these increases will definitely not benefit us middle and lower income folks.

 

Balanced budget? I don’t think so.

 

Here’s a thought -- hold on tight to your money, read the fine print, and don’t believe a word of the massively funded lobbyist campaigns that are going to be launched for the November ballot. AND VOTE! -- preferably for Bernie!

 

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

PLANNING WATCH--First, the bad news. I live in the Beverly Grove neighborhood, and so far we have lost over 75 of our homes, or about 12 percent, to McMansions. The mansionization process was only dampened down recently through a new Residential Floor Area District (RFA), adopted in 2014 after a decade of hard campaigning.  

The good news is that my neighborhood is represented by the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA), a community organization that has steadfastly represented the residents of the greater Fairfax area on land use issues for over 50 years. During the past ten years, the BWHA has also been a leader in citywide efforts to restrict McMansions in Los Angeles neighborhoods because its own neighborhoods, especially Beverly Grove, became the epicenter of mansionization. 

This is why the BWHA strongly supports Councilmember Koretz’s original Council Motion, instructing the Department of City Planning to remove all Baseline Mansionization Ordinance loopholes that promote mansionization, such as the three alternative 20 percent bonuses, as well as the inexplicable exemption for 400 square feet of attached garages.  

This is also why community organizations, such as the BWHA, consider the second version of City Planning’s BMO/HMO amendments to be a major step in the wrong direction. Be reinserting so many prior and new loopholes, City Planning’s draft amendments again ensure that mansionization will continue – despite the City Council’s unanimous and straightforward instructions to finally stop mansionization. City Planning’s job, therefore, could not be simpler: prepare amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance that remove its loopholes. In fact, the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association prepared such a simple draft ordinance, and then submitted it to both City Planning and to Council District 5 over a year ago. 

Furthermore, our neighborhood has learned through the school of hard knocks that LA’s Department of Building and Safety is either incapable or unwilling to enforce existing mansionization ordinances and code violations, such as the consistent failure of contractors to post on-site demolition and building permits. 

It should therefore be no surprise when we predict that Department of Building and Safety will not understand nor reliably implement the complicated mansionization ordinance that City Planning is now unveiling at public hearings. It will be easily gamed by contractors and realtors since they are already emboldened by the City of LA’s current blasé approach to mansionization. 

The other good news is the firm position taken by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and David Ryu in their May 4, 2016, letter to the new Director Of Planning, Vince Bertoni. They implored Mr. Bertoni to stick to the purpose of the City Council’s May 16, 2014, motion: “It is imperative that the Planning Department achieve the intent of protecting residential neighborhoods well before the patchwork of Interim Control Ordinances…expires in March 2017.”  

SPECIFIC CONCERNS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS ABOUT THE DRAFT MANSIONIZATION AMENDMENTS: 

The Councilmembers were, in effect, responding to the express concerns of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and other kindred neighborhood organizations intent on heading off another sham mansionization ordinance at the pass. Their concerns fall into six categories: 

  • The city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BMO/BHO) failed because they contained too many bonus and exemption loopholes.       Despite the adoption of these ordinances, mansionization has relentlessly continued to ruin neighborhoods over the entire city. In this legislative round City Planning therefore needs to draft the new amendments correctly. This means removing all old and new loopholes that promote the construction of McMansions. If the proposed ordinance fails to do this, it will be the sixth bogus attempt to stop mansionization by green lighting over-sized houses through a host of loopholes that undermine the City Council’s intention. 
  • Mansionization eliminates affordable housing in LA’s single-family neighborhoods. As a result, it contributes to the housing crisis that most Angelenos, including elected officials, are painfully aware of. The mansionizers target smaller, affordable houses for demolition.       They then quickly and cheaply replace them with McMansions that are, on average, three times the size and price of these smaller, energy-efficient demolished homes.       These investors and contractors are now eliminating about 2000 such affordable houses per year, and this loss of affordable homes will continue until it is finally stopped through an effective mansionization ordinance, not another phony one. 
  • Attached garages and uncovered or “lattice roof” patios, breezeways, and balconies should be counted as floor space. As evidenced by LA’s existing McMansions, these exempted architectural features are standard McMansions features, and they substantially increase the size of a house. The amended BMO/BHO needs to totally close these loopholes and count attached garages and all patio, deck, and breezeway features as floor space. 
  • All square footage bonuses must be deleted. The City Council directive to City Planning was clear. Any bonus that promotes mansionization should be stricken since these bonuses can add 600 square feet or more to the size of a house. In some isolated cases these additions might be warranted, but all such cases must be treated as discretionary actions. City Planning must send out notices for them and then conduct a public hearing, followed by a written and appealable determination. City Planning must also spell out its reasons for increasing the size of a house through proper legal findings.       

Furthermore, any granted discretionary bonus should be based on the net livable footprint of the first floor, not uninhabited areas, such as garages and storage facilities. Finally, any mansionization procedure that allows the Department of Building and Safety to increase the size of a house through a secret ministerial decision must be eliminated. 

  • Interim Control Ordinances (ICO) now offer short-term protection to approximately 23 neighborhoods heavily impacted by mansionization, with other besieged neighborhoods also clamoring for similar ICO protection. In the event that the adopted BMO/BHO amendments are more restrictive than existing ICO provisions, the more restrictive provisions should prevail. This will prevent the contradictory situation of ICO neighborhoods, such as North Beverly Grove, that now have an ICO that is more permissive than the anticipated citywide mansionization amendments. 
  • Re:code LA should only proceed in residential areas once the City Council adopts simple and straightforward amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and the Hillside Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. Folding citywide re:code zoning provisions, such as “side wall articulation” and “encroachment planes,” into the BMO and BHO amendment process slows down and undercuts the express directions of the City Council: quickly remove the loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. 

CityWatch readers can keep informed about amendments to the City’s two mansionization ordinances through the following website: nomoremcmansionsinlosangeles.org/.  You can also become a friend of the No More McMansions in LA Facebook page, and send an email to mcmansionsurvey@gmail.com to receive periodic updates.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on planning issues for CityWatch. He is also on the Board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and welcomes questions, corrections, and comments at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) 

-cw

MILESTONES AND GRATITUDE--After 15 years of transportation advocacy--and, in particular, for the creation of a modern Southern California rapid transit system--there are times when nothing but "Thank You!" comes to mind.  With the arrival of the Expo Line for operational service to the Westside, this long-overdue light rail has been the result of years of struggle and sacrifice.  To all those who deserve it (and might or might not hear it), Thank You! 

To my wife and teenage son, the biggest Thank You of all is needed.  How many nights, weekends, and daytime meetings were needed for the leadership of Friends4Expo (who were, are, and always will be, truly my friends) to get the Board of Supervisors, and Mayor of LA, and state/federal reps, and the many neighborhood associations, to come together to support this line?   

For any sacrifices involved with having your husband, or your dad, missing in action at "some meeting"...Thank You.  And for my little girl--who was either not yet born, or too young, when the real battles for the Expo Line was fought)--who asked me a few months ago, "Daddy, I heard you had something to do with the Expo Line...right?" I hope my thanks to you as well will always be remembered. 

To a large degree, I'd like to think that the Expo Line was fought by so many Westside and Mid-City private citizens because (for those who remember the LA riots and racial unrest of the 1990's) they wanted a better future for their families, for their neighbors, and for their city and county...and maybe make a small difference for others to emulate to make LA County a world-class city. 

So, a big Thank You! is needed for Darrell Clarke, Kathy and Jim Seal, Julia Maher, Faith and Presley Burroughs, Bob Cheeseboro, Jonathan Weiss, the late Ken Ruben, Cathy Flanigan, Bart Reed and Roger Rudick.  If I forgot to mention any others in the central Friends4Expo leadership community, than my apologies.  You taught me a lot, and I thank you for putting up with me as I did what I could to bring West LA on board with Expo. 

And similarly, the neighborhood associations, the LA Neighborhood Councils, the nonprofit groups of Culver City and Santa Monica also deserve a big Thank You!  Ditto for the Crenshaw/Mid-City groups who--like the Westside--had to put up with and get past the grandstanders, the race-baiters, the racists, the elitists, and the opportunists to make the no-brainer-of-a-line become a reality. 

Thank You! also to those heroes of Metro who hung out with us during the years when no one would touch us with a ten-foot pole--in particular, David Mieger and Tony Loui.  Metro really is an example of "government that listens to, and works with, its constituents"...so don't go blaming them if their political bosses screw up. 

Thank You! To those many government officials and politicians that Friends4Expo (of which I was certainly one of the loudest and most pushy advocates) kept nagging to do the right thing.  Some of you jumped on board right away, and some of you had to be dragged...but it's clear that this was the right thing to do--including those who got into power opposing the line, and then changing their mind when it was obvious something had to change. 

Among those who particularly deserve our thanks are Councilmember Mike Bonin (and his predecessor, the late Bill Rosendahl), House Rep. Ted Lieu, and a host of politicians who now support, and not vigorously fight, for improved transportation as part of our normal budget/operations at a local and federal level.  Thank You! 

Perhaps yet another Thank You! goes to the supportive Mar Vista Community Council and Westside Village Homeowners Association, to say nothing of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, who played key and critical roles in the routing and features of the line.  The innumerable motions and meetings clearly were a series of group efforts.  I can only hope you all realize how grateful I am to you all. 

And to those Friends of the Green Line, a group formed along the lines of the Friends4Expo Transit, which began the increasingly loud advocacy to FINALLY finish the LAX/Metro connection...Thank You!  Bob Leabow, Matthew Hetz, Kent Strumpell, Daniel Walker, Alan Weeks, and a host of other heroes and thought leaders also taught me and the region so much.   

And for those who aren't here to celebrate (the late Bill Rosendahl and Ken Ruben come to mind), I'm hoping you died knowing this would happen...and if there's a Heaven then I'm sure there's celebration for all your exhaustive efforts there, too.  Thank You! 

Finally, for all those friends and family I might have lost touch with while working with so many wonderful people these last 1-2 decades...Thank You! and Sorry!  I hope you can forgive me.  No, I never forgot you--each and every one of you from school, college, work, etc. who I used to hang out with but got caught up with this noble endeavor to advocate for the Expo Line and for greater transportation/planning, in general. 

But...I won't be attending the celebrations this weekend, I'm afraid.  I am taking a day off to teach dermatology to middle students all day Friday, and will be with my son's awesome Boy Scout troop backpacking this weekend. These commitments are as important to me (particularly devoting my life to my family) as was the Expo Line effort which took over my life in 2000-2010, and still does, to some degree. 

To conclude, this piece is really NOT about me (it probably looks that way, but it's NOT).  Think about all the names mentioned here.  Think about your neighborhood association, neighborhood council, non-profit grassroots advocacy group, or other selfless leaders who throw their time, money, and even health at goals that are so much bigger than themselves, and never get thanked. 

So perhaps a Thank You! is in order for that next dogged, devoted, and dedicated volunteer who strives to do something greater than him/herself, and really leave something better for future generations. 

Because one person can, and does, make a difference by being FOR something.  And maybe that one person is YOU.

 

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

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA-The critical mass of frustration, distrust, a general unease about how zoning works, along with some successful lawsuits against building projects, has put “zoning” in the spotlight. Concern about fixing our broken city zoning process is what’s driving two ballot initiatives that may go before the voters in November and March. 

We’ve got to end what Gail Goldberg, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute and a longtime city planner in San Diego and Los Angeles, identifies as “the developer’s mantra,” recited whenever a developer goes to the city planning department: “The councilperson loves my project.” Goldberg adds, “…which is code for it’s going to get adopted, so don’t bother.” 

Two ballot measures may change this. In November, voters will be given a chance to vote for Build Better LA’s loophole allowing “hardship” cases to get zoning variances. In March, voters can weigh in on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative – a measure to put a moratorium on variances. Whichever ballot measure gets the most votes will be the ultimate winner. 

But first, each measure must qualify for the November and March ballots by amassing 65,000 registered voter signatures. Build Better LA, backed by a coalition of labor and housing advocates, just announced they have gathered over 100,000 signatures; they presented their package to the City Clerk on Monday, May 15 for verification in order to qualify for the November 7 ballot. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, led by the Coalition to Preserve LA, is still gathering signatures, but has still has some time before their filing deadline in November for the March 7, 2017 ballot. 

These two initiatives offer different slants on the cause of and proposed remedies to recognized zoning issues. 

The Build Better LA ballot initiative ensures that more people will have access to high-wage construction jobs and to housing that's affordable, according to Rusty Hicks, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and convener of Build Better LA. 

Zoning variances would be allowed on a case-by-case basis following a “hardship” appeal to the relevant Councilmember. If a developer gets a variance, they can either include affordable housing on the project’s site or provide it off site. A developer can also choose to write a check to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  

Said Hicks, "On behalf of the Build Better LA Coalition, we are grateful to the nearly 100,000 Angelenos who signed and have faith that our City can do better. The voters in Los Angeles will soon not only get the opportunity to vote on the future of our country, but they will vote on an initiative that brings housing people can actually afford and good, local jobs they could rely on.” 

The “guts” of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, scheduled for the March election, says Coalition to Preserve LA campaign director Jill Stewart, “is to force them (city council) to update the General Plan. One of the elements that is now fifty years old is infrastructure, and police and fire services that is 60 years old. We need to link these and the housing element together with growth, in the General Plan.” 

Stewart added that the “the moratorium (on variances to the General Plan zoning rules now in effect) is a wake up slap in the face. It will only affect 3-5% of projects in LA.” 

The “moratorium” on variances sought by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative has been widely attacked as a halt to all building. That is both untrue and a sign of how desperate opponents are to derail the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. There are thousands of projects in development that will not be affected because they are “by right,” or otherwise meet zoning requirements without requiring a variance. 

That’s thousands of projects in the pipeline that the labor federation can hopefully fill with their union construction crews to help meet their goal of better paying local jobs for their members. Even if Build Better LA is not passed by the voters in November, they stand to make considerable gains in employment from the building boom underway as the city densifies. Their risk in losing the measure is not jobs – it’s that developers might be unable to plead “hardship” to their councilmembers to get zoning exemptions or variances. 

Controlling exemptions and zoning variances is at the heart of both measures. Build Better LA has a mechanism for obtaining variances if the developer can successfully plead his case to his councilmember that not to have an exemption would cause a “hardship.” The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative says that the 3-5% of projects that are currently out of zoning compliance must be put on hold -- the demonized “moratorium” -- until the General Plan is updated. 

It’s up to the electorate in November and March to understand the stakes. The wild card here is that the Mayor may induce the City Council to resolve the issues in order to pre-empt the ballot box. While they can do that, it could end up being wildly unpopular to remove the public’s voice from such a sensitive issue -- especially coming from the developer-centric Mayor and, with the exception of David Ryu, the developer-dependent city councilmembers. Politically, the Mayor and half the City Council (odd-numbered districts) are up for re-election in March 2017. They will need to face the voters on many development issues. 

Another important voice in the debate is Michael Weinstein, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation leader, who is marking his 50th year as an advocate, dating back to the anti-war protests in the Vietnam era. He is the initial backer of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

His take on Build Better LA is that “The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative supports union labor on projects; it’s not against the drive to get more union representation on job sites, but the problem with their initiative is that it essentially says that if the council decides there is a hardship, they can override the requirements of affordable housing. Such a huge loophole undermines the effort to control exemptions.” 

Weinstein continues, “What’s happening now that’s great in the city is that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative could really help to empower different voices across the city. I see that happening. Individual communities get discouraged until there is strength in numbers

In this campaign there is a consensus that the current system is broken. The Mayor has said so, the LA Times has editorialized. Those are steps in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that the Mayor and City Council put forward the skimpiest of fig leafs for reform of the current system. I’m not impressed at all with that very faint attempt to remedy a problem that we’ve identified. People will not ultimately be fooled by that

The bottom line is that we have recast the issue of development and spot zoning (variances) over the last six months in a way that has a profound impact on dialogue around these issues,” Weinstein emphasized. 

So it looks like the conversation has begun…finally. 

On April 27, UCLA's Ziman Center and the Urban Land Institute sponsored a conference during which several representatives (including Stewart and Hicks) spent 90 minutes in a thoughtful and revealing panel discussion about planning in Los Angeles.

Panelist Zev Yaroslovsky, a former County Supervisor and City Councilmember with decades of experience dealing with land use and development, who is now Director of LA Initiative at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, has not announced a formal position for or against either ballot initiative. However, he did go as far as to say during the panel that the Build Better LA ballot proposition will “weaken zoning laws.” 

Several days later another politico, CM David Ryu (CD4), led the rollback of a development project in his district by saying, “We must work to restore trust in government…what we have before us is the kind of action and the reason why the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is looming over our head. Lack of trust. Lack of transparency.” 

Between now and November when the Build Better LA measure should be on the November 7 ballot, and then between November and March 7 when the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative should appear on the March ballot, there will be many other voices in the conversation. This will be a great start to fixing the planning process and clarifying what we want Los Angeles to be. Do we want to continue our tropical suburban feel or continue on a growth trajectory toward becoming a more urban metropolis? We must decide how we are going to get to either destination.

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Metro’s Expo Line Phase 2 opens this Friday. Though there is a lot of excitement and praise for the line, the Expo extension from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica has also received some criticism. Note that Expo Phase 1 weathered its own criticism, and exceeded expectations.

Some critics are suggesting the line could be “doomed” due to a lack of parking. When Angeleno drivers say “parking” they tend to mean “free parking.”

Here’s an example from Laura Nelson’s Los Angeles Times article The Expo Line is finally coming to the Westside, but limited parking raises concerns:

“So how do I get to the station?” Liesel Friedreich, 64, of Pacific Palisades, asked when she learned the downtown Santa Monica station wouldn’t include dedicated parking for transit riders. “Isn’t the point to get more people with more money to ride the train?”

(Nelson’s article is overall a very good read and overall balanced. She goes on to quote a Metro official stating that “hulking garages and expansive lots can be unsightly, expensive, and ultimately not a tool for encouraging people to stop driving.”)

My first reaction to this quote is that it is just not news. Yes, some people are saying this, but the first question for the reporter is: how valid, applicable, or newsworthy is it? Yes, people who never rode transit and who will probably never ride transit regularly will spout off lots of self-serving rationalizations for why they’re not riding. If it is not the parking, it could be the time, the frequency, the location, the walk, the homeless people, the noise, or the yadda yadda. As a transit rider (cyclist and pedestrian), I hear these excuses all the time, and I don’t think they are news. They are a dog bites man story.

But let’s take a look at the question of how Metro should build parking so “people with more money” will ride the train.

Nelson and Metro call these monied folks “choice riders.” Theoretically this means that there are two big groups of transit riders: poor “captive riders” who have no other transportation choice, and rich “choice riders” who typically drive. Transit expert Jarrett Walker (at minute 26 in this video) calls this false dichotomy the single most destructive fantasy about transit. In real life, people form a broad spectrum, so “When we incrementally improve transit service a little bit – we improve frequency, we get a payoff. We get a ridership improvement.” Walker advises agencies to forget about the mythical “choice rider” and instead focus on the “middle 90 percent.”

Building parking to lure choice riders out of the Palisades is an expensive proposition. Parking spaces run $10,000 to $25,000+ each. Expo Line phase 2 does include quite a few paid Metro parking lots (from The Source): 

  • 17th St./Santa Monica College: 67 spaces,  of which 13 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Bundy: 217 spaces, of which 131 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Sepulveda: 260 spaces, of which 77 are monthly permits.

There are 544 new parking spaces. At a conservative estimate, that is at least a half-million dollars and probably closer to a million dollars’ worth of parking. Drivers who ride Expo regularly will purchase monthly parking permits, and Metro can and should adjust the price to ensure availability.

It is also important to ask: whom does investment in parking serve? According to experts doing Metro’s recent APTA review, investing in park-and-ride serves neither the environment nor low-income riders. From SBLA’s coverage:

APTA panel member Michael Connelley, of the Chicago Transit Authority, responded that easy parking encourages driving that first/last mile, and that it would be better to re-direct parking resources to instead fund convenient, frequent bus service. He also recommended that stations would be better served in the long run if parking were replaced by mini-village transit-oriented development. APTA panel member Brian D. Taylor, of UCLA, further responded that park-and-ride subsidizes higher income riders, decreases transit’s air quality benefits, and that charging [for parking] would help the agency’s bottom line, with revenues available even to build more parking if the demand indicates.

Look closer at the Downtown Santa Monica Station, which the L.A. Times references. There are 7,000 public car parking spaces nearby. They’re not free, and they’re not built by Metro, but they’re well-managed and available to Ms. Friedreich. There are also great Big Blue Bus connections and nearby Breeze bike-share hubs, the Expo bike path, and Santa Monica’s Esplanade walk/bike connection to the pier. In fact, Big Blue Bus in the process of implementing the biggest service realignment in the agency’s seven-decade history specifically to provide better connections for riders to the Expo stations. If these options aren’t enough, there are also taxis and ride-hailing companies, including Lyft and Uber, available and they operate 24-hours a day.

Metro has a limited budget and, in the words of CEO Phil Washington, needs to create a balanced transportation system. Investing heavily in parking would be at the expense of other things, such as bus service, bike-share, or walk or bike facilities. I think Metro has done a good job of balancing its investments in access to the Expo Line. By investing in parking, bus service, bike and walk facilities, Metro is giving Angelenos plenty of great choices.

The Expo Line is not doomed, but will be a great mobility addition for Southern California. Will more work be needed to optimize access to the line? Probably. Will the new line get Pacific Palisades drivers out of their cars? Probably only occasionally. I expect that it will serve tens of thousands of riders, improve Angelenos lives, health, and the environment.

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA. He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village. This report was posted originally at LA Streetsblog)

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GUEST WORDS-As we craft our state’s spending priorities for the next year through the budget process, one proposal deserves special attention: clearing the statewide backlog of rape test kits. 

“Rape test kit” is the term used for the combined hair, tissue and fluid samples collected by medical professionals following reported sexual assaults. This is not a quick process, but an invasive and potentially humiliating process which victims of rape willingly endure in order to assist law enforcement professionals in bringing their attackers to justice. 

Results of rape test kits reveal a tremendous wealth of information about the attacker, including the rapist’s DNA. They provide valuable information and evidence leading to the investigation and arrest of those who rape, as well as their prosecution and appropriate punishment.  

Rape is an absolutely indefensible act that affects victims from all walks of life. Rapists are cowards and bullies who attack without regard to race, class or gender. It is a crime of the depraved. 

Civilized societies have a fundamental obligation to protect the vulnerable, and it is the vulnerable among us who rapists target. It is a primary function of government to perform the jobs which are beyond the scope of the individual. Providing public safety must always be among the top priorities of government. How well we protect the vulnerable is a measure of who we are as a society. It is the crucial test of whether or not we consider ourselves to be a civilized people. 

Los Angeles has been a national leader in addressing the problem of untested rape kits. It wasn’t always this way, but the county has done an admirable job of clearing its own backlog. It’s time for other cities and counties to do the same.

This is why it’s so disturbing that we keep hearing reports about backlogs of thousands of untested rape kits throughout California. There are some legitimate reasons why a small percentage of rape kits aren’t tested, such as purported victims recanting accounts of their assault after rape kit samples have been collected.  But more often, law enforcement officials report that budgetary constraints force them to pick and choose among which rape kits are most worthy of being tested. This should never be the case. 

So at the time we shape our state spending plan for the next year, shouldn’t the analysis of back-logged rape test kits be a priority? The decisions we make reveal what we value and who we are as a people. 

The good news is that there’s bipartisan support to test these kits. I also support policies which will stop a backlog of rape test kits from accumulating again. It’s time to close the procedural loopholes which allow local law enforcement officials too much broad discretion when they assume results from rape kit testing will not reveal new evidence. 

Testing of all kits can reveal results that don’t match such assumptions. Moreover, processing this backlog of rape kits can help law enforcement establish a DNA database and see patterns of criminal behavior not evident from a single case. 

Criminal convictions for rape can help validate the suffering of victims and contribute to their emotional recovery. As it is with gratitude, justice not delivered is meaningless. Justice delayed is justice denied. It’s time to clear up the backlog of rape test kits in California. I have requested $10 million to be added to the state budget to clear this backlog. Let’s hope this budget item sees the light of day in the budget and is signed into law in June.

 

(Senator Huff represents the 29th Senate District covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Follow Senator Huff on Twitter @bobhuff99.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

EDITOR’S PICK-- An unexpected medical bill or a dip in the stock market would be all it took to send two-thirds of Americans into financial distress, according to a new poll that finds lingering lack of confidence in the U.S. economy. 

Despite reports of falling unemployment, growing wages, and rising consumer confidence, a full 57 percent of respondents to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey describe the national economy as poor. Only 22 percent of people say the economy has mostly or completely recovered from the Great Recession.

And while 66 percent of Americans describe their current financial situation as "good"—suggesting they are able to pay their regular bills, go out to eat more, and think about buying a new car or house—the picture is decidedly "precarious," as the Associated Press puts it.

"Even though there are signs that the economy has improved in recent years, a lot of people are not feeling that the recovery has reached them,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. "There is evidence of optimism among the more affluent, but two-thirds of Americans would have trouble immediately paying an unanticipated bill of $1,000."

Indeed, according to the AP, "these financial difficulties span all income levels":

Seventy-five percent of people in households making less than $50,000 a year would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill. But when income rose to between $50,000 and $100,000, the difficulty decreased only modestly to 67 percent.

Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.

"The more we learn about the balance sheets of Americans, it becomes quite alarming," Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute focusing on poverty and emergency savings issues, told the AP.

What's more, most employed Americans have not seen a salary increase in recent years; less than a third have confidence they would be able to find equal or better employment if they left their current position; and few workers expect to have enough savings to retire on their own timetable.

"It's just real shaky right now," said Dorothy Mszanski, 60, a former steelworker who had to retire on disability, to the AP. "It's like nobody can figure out what to do."

The People's Budget, released earlier this year by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), spoke directly to this unease, aiming to fix "an economy that, for too long, has failed to provide the opportunities American families need to get ahead."

"Despite their skills and work ethic," the CPC said in a statement at the time, "most American workers and families are so financially strapped from increasing income inequality that their paychecks barely cover basic necessities."

In its analysis of the proposal, the Economic Policy Institute declared: "The People’s Budget aims to improve the economic well-being of low- and middle-income families by finally closing the persistent jobs gap that has plagued the U.S. economy since the Great Recession began."

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams  … where this piece first appeared.)

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SPORTS POLITICS--That’s béisbol. In English or Spanish, that’s baseball, the hallowed institution that serves to remind us of the way we were in those innocent days when George Halas’ Chicago Bears were the Decatur Staleys, named after the local corn-processing magnate in the little Illinois town, population 43,818.

Times have changed in sports and life, but the brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays suggests how slowly change happens in our national pastime. 

Underlying the feud between the teams was a bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista after his three-run homer in the deciding Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division series, a grandiloquent gesture—more so because it was in the postseason on national TV—that was either iconic or will live forever in baseball infamy.

Underlying that is the ongoing and only occasionally acknowledged rift between U.S. and Latino players.

This brawl started between two Latinos only because Rougned Odor, a Venezuelan, was in the path of Bautista, a Dominican, who was hit by a pitch likely ordered up by Texas manager Jeff Bannister, who waited until Bautista’s last at-bat in the teams’ last regular season meeting to get even for last fall’s bat flip. 

The bad feelings with the longstanding Latino-Anglo divide, however, go a lot further back than last fall.

Baseball takes great pride in its history of integration. After decades of being for whites only, the league now presents itself as a social pioneer with an annual Jackie Robinson Day in which everyone dons his No. 42.

Meanwhile, baseball takes little or no cognizance of its current problem.

The problem isn’t that Latinos are being barred. On the contrary, with most Latinos signed outside the draft process, giving the game a steady stream of cheap, dirt-poor, hungry, blue-chip prospects, there are more of them—29 percent of the major league players in 2016.

Acceptance is something else. Latinos are living in a time like African-Americans did in the 1950s and 1960s—after Robinson’s arrival, but before everyone realized there was no other way—and the Red Sox became the last to integrate, with infielder Pumpsie Green in 1959.

What’s in people’s hearts changes at its own pace, and in baseball, it’s a slow one.

Robinson retired in 1956 after the Dodgers, who had been praised as liberal pioneers, traded him to their archrival, the Giants.

Viable as Robinson was commercially—he was hired as a vice president by Chock full o’Nuts—he had no place in baseball until becoming a part-time Montreal Expos broadcaster in 1972.

You can argue whether the divide between U.S. and Latino players is racial or cultural, but there’s no doubt that it’s there.

As chronicled by Matt McCarthy, a pitcher in the Angels system, in his 2009 book, “Odd Man Out,” Latinos dominated on the field and went their own way off it.

“Separate but equal,” was how [teammate] Blake Allen described the team dynamic to me. ... “You’ve got your Dominicans and you’ve got everybody else. You don’t want anything to do with the Dominicans. They’re loud, they have no respect for nobody and for God’s sake, don’t ever go in the shower when they in there.”

The team was in fact divided between the Dominicans (a catchall phrase for Hispanic players) and those of us from the United States. There were a dozen Dominicans on our team from Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama and, yes, the Dominican Republic. And Blake was right. They were loud and didn’t speak English.

Just 17 or 18 years old, many had been snatched out of poverty within the last year and signed to lucrative six-figure contracts. Wearing large smiles, larger gold chains and designer sunglasses, they seemed to be playing life with Monopoly money. ...

“But I tell ya what [Allen told McCarthy], in every goddamn town we go to this year, the Dominicans will have fat white girls waiting for them.”

Anonymous as McCarthy was—his 2002 season in Provo, Utah, was his only one in organized professional baseball, after which he graduated from Harvard Medical School—his story was too nitty-gritty to go down easily with the powers that be.

The New York Times noted McCarthy’s manifold errors of fact, noting that he quotes “people stating incorrect facts about their own lives and tells detailed (and mostly unflattering) stories about teammates who were in fact not on his team at the time.”

The Times went on to ask the publisher, Viking Press, and Sports Illustrated, which ran an excerpt, about its fact-checking lapses.

Nevertheless, as far as the big picture—the disturbing accounts of prejudice—is concerned, the Times article didn’t deal with McCarthy’s credibility or lack thereof.

Actually, the Anglo-Latino divide McCarthy cited dovetails with other accounts.

In a 2014 piece for Bleacher Report, Dirk Hayhurst, who pitched briefly in the majors and was hired as an in-house correspondent by the Blue Jays, quoted an elderly scout, noting, “This team has too many Latinos on it to win. Get too many of them together on a club and they take over.”

You could have heard that one about Latinos in baseball 50 years before.

In 1960, Look Magazine did a cover story about the Giants, the Blue Jays of their day with all their African-American (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey) and Latino (Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou) stars. The handsome Cepeda, known as the Baby Bull, was on the cover, naked from the waist up.

The story, however, was anything but a puff piece. In it, manager Alvin Dark said Cepeda wasn’t the team player that Mays was, claiming Harvey Kuenn and Jim Davenport were more important to the team than Cepeda was.

The deeply religious Dark once stated that God didn’t create everyone equal, insisting that He “gave every race and ethnic group special attributes.”

No manager would dare say such things now. But it’s not necessarily progress, just political correctness.

A 2015 USA Today study showed that 87 percent of the bench-clearing brawls of the previous five seasons started between players of different ethnic backgrounds. Of those, Anglo-Latino square-offs accounted for 66 percent.

Bud Norris, a Padres pitcher—and an Anglo—told USA Today’s Jorge Ortiz that the numbers weren’t coincidental.

“This is America’s game,” Norris said. “This is America’s pastime, and over the last 10-15 years, we’ve seen a very big world influence in this game, which we as a union and as players appreciate. We’re opening this game to everyone that can play. However, if you’re going to come into our country and make our American dollars, you need to respect a game that has been here for over a hundred years, and I think sometimes that can be misconstrued. There are some players that have antics, that have done things over the years that we don’t necessarily agree with.

“I understand you want to say it’s a cultural thing or an upbringing thing. But by the time you get to the big leagues, you better have a pretty good understanding of what this league is and how long it’s been around.”

If this fire has smoldered for decades, Bautista’s bat flip was like hooking up a gasoline pipeline to it.

Hidebound intolerance came out of the shadows in reaction, taking the form of a defense of the game’s cultural norms.

“Bautista is a f—-ing disgrace to the game,” Goose Gossage, the ’80s reliever with the menacing Fu Manchu moustache, told ESPN in March at the Yankees’ camp where he was an instructor.

“He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. Yoenis Cespedes [of the Mets], same thing.”

Showing how deep feelings ran, Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, a traditionalist but one a good deal calmer than Gossage, said it showed “flagrant disrespect for the game.”

Gossage, an equal-opportunity hater, also ripped Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.

“The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it,” said Gossage. “I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the f—- they went, and they thought they figured the f—-ing game out. They don’t know s—-.”

You may notice there’s a lot of anger in baseball, which asserts itself in defense of The Code, an all-but-biblical summary of what a player can’t do without “Disrespecting the Game,” and what happens if he does.

To encapsulate it:

If you’re winning by a lot, you had better not do anything to upset the other team, like stealing a base or even taking too big a swing, let alone getting a big hit in a close game and making the opponent feel even worse by celebrating the wrong way.

The whole thing is a joke. Everyone talks as if Moses came down from Mount Sinai with The Code engraved on stone tablets.

Unfortunately, no two teams can agree on what The Code is from day to day, leading to beaucoup disagreements in the form of brawls, beanballs, near beanballs, takeout slides, et al.

Players don’t talk about a code in the National Football League and the National Hockey League, which are more violent, or the National Basketball Association, where huge players could do major damage to each other if so inclined.

NBA players used to brawl, but do so no longer, barred by then-commissioner David Stern after the 2004 Auburn Hills riot. As much as fans in all sports like a little discreet violence, the NBA has gotten on nicely without it.

If that’s the enlightened approach, baseball differs by 180 degrees.

Bautista’s flip triggered such an outcry, commissioner Manfred was obliged to comment.

Manfred, a graduate of Harvard Law like those other nerds Gossage cited, noted:

“If I were a player I wouldn’t do that. What [Bautista] did did not offend me. It was a very, very exciting moment at a point in time of great excitement for that particular franchise, one that hadn’t been a great team for a long time. You know, it’s one of those moments that happens, and it’s exciting, people liked it, and probably on balance, it’s good for the game.”

Unfortunately for Manfred, there isn’t much he can do, even if he wanted to. The baseball commissioner is the weakest of the four commissioners in the major U.S. leagues. The game has been run at the pleasure of the players’ union since then-commissioner Bud Selig called its bluff and had to cancel the 1994 World Series.

Not that it takes much to touch off a spark among baseball players who tend to be angry and, when crossed, menacing.

Having covered all four major sports, I thought of my time on baseball as sport journalism’s version of Hunter Thompson going out to cover the Hell’s Angels.

Despite their immense size, NFL players are well mannered in comparison, members of a rigidly hierarchical system. NBA players are flashy and a delight, with no problem if rivals show off to their heart’s content. NHL players are as unpretentious as your next-door neighbor.

Happily for baseball, that suggests its problems with Latinos are, indeed, cultural rather than racial. If there were no Latinos in the game, the Anglos would just get mad about something else, as they did when Ty Cobb was honing his spikes long before players of color arrived.

Unhappily for baseball, the rift is deeply cultural, attitudinal and, in the absence of acknowledgment that the game has a problem, not going away.

(Mark Heisler is a former NBA at large reporter for the LA Times and Tribune chain. He blogs at truthdig.com where this article was first posted. Check out TruthDig.com for other writers and thinkers, Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Bill Boyarsky among them.)
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GUEST WORDS--Because advertising is a barometer that often accurately measures America’s psychological atmosphere, attention must be paid to this: From May 23 through the presidential election, Budweiser beer will bear a different name. Eager to do its bit to make America great again, the brewer will replace the name “Budweiser” with “America” on its 12-ounce bottles and cans. 

The Financial Times says this is “a bid to capitalize on U.S. election fever.” (Before the Chicago Cubs bestrode the world like a colossus, T-shirts proclaimed “Cubs Fever: Catch it — and die.”) A beer bottle metaphysician at the brewer of soon-to-be America says, “We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen.” This refers to the once-in-a-generation, light-the-sparklers opportunity to choose between two presidential candidates roundly disliked by American majorities. It is enough to drive one to drink something stronger than beer. 

Budweiser’s name change is part of an advertising campaign featuring the slogan “America is in your hands.” The brewer says this will “remind people … to embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built.” So, between now and Nov. 8, whenever you belly up to a bar, do your patriot duty by ordering a foamy mug of America. Nothing says “It’s morning in an America that is back and standing tall” quite like beer cans festooned with Americana by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a firm based in Leuven, Belgium, and run by a Brazilian. 

The beer brands most familiar to Americans — Budweiser, Miller, Coors — are foreign-owned. Want to win a round of cold Americans this summer? Wager that no one in the saloon can identify the American-owned brewer with the largest market share and say what that share is. The answer is: D.G. Yuengling & Son with just 1.4 percent of the market, slightly more than Boston Beer Co., which makes the Sam Adams brand. 

Years ago, historian Daniel Boorstin said that whereas Europeans went to market to get what they want, Americans go to discover what they want. Nowadays the market comes to customers everywhere via ubiquitous advertising, precious little of which is designed to create desires for new products. 

Beer commercials are not supposed to make viewers thirsty or to prompt them to buy beer rather than Buicks. Rather, the commercials’ primary purpose is to defend and expand a brand’s market share. They do this by giving particular beers distinctive personalities. By doing so, they stroke consumers’ psyches, drawing beer drinkers into what Boorstin called “consumption communities.” Consumers are moved to covet a product less for its intrinsic qualities than its manufactured meaning. Advertising does this by reducing its information content and increasing its emotional appeals. 

Budweiser is the “king of beers” — we know it is because Budweiser says it is — but will not be saying so during this advertising campaign. The slogan will be replaced by “E Pluribus Unum.” This is Latin for “Perhaps a gusher of patriotic kitsch will stanch the leakage of our market share to pestilential craft breweries.” 

America has more than 4,000 craft breweries. Most American adults — 235 million of them — live within 10 miles of a local brewery. And more than 40 percent of Americans 21-to-27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 million barrels a year; Budweiser shipped 16 million in 2013, down from 50 million in 1988), which perhaps explains Budweiser’s current weirdly truculent commercials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. … It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting. … Beer brewed the hard way. 

Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not imported.” Not cheerful. 

Last year, craft brewers, which are increasing at a rate of almost two a day, won 12.8 percent of the $105.9 billion beer market. And 2015 was the sixth consecutive year, and the 12th time in 15 years, in which beer’s portion of the nation’s alcohol revenue declined as more Americans drink cocktails like the characters on “Mad Men.” 

If, however, these aspiring Don Drapers hoist an America, they will have in their hands bottles and cans adorned with snippets of American Scripture — the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” The psalmist said that joy cometh in the morning. Fat lot the psalmist knew. Joy cometh in the evening when you crack a cold can of America and anticipate the thrills of the looming “patriotic summer.” Go ahead. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

 

(George Will is a national political columnist. His work appears regularly at Freedoms Back  … as did this piece.)

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GUEST WORDS--Donald Trump is a serial liar. Okay, to be a bit less Trumpian about it, he has trouble with the truth. If you look at Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site that examines candidates’ pronouncements for accuracy, 76 percent of Trump’s statements are rated either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire,” which is to say off-the-charts false. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s total is 29 percent.

But if Trump doesn’t cotton much to the truth, he doesn’t seem to cotton much to his own ideas, either. He waffles, flip-flops and obfuscates, sometimes changing positions from one press appearance to the next, as Peter Alexander reported on NBC Nightly News this past Monday — a rare television news critique of Trump.

I say “rare” because most of the time, as Glenn Kessler noted in The Washington Post this week, MSM — the mainstream media —  just sit back and let Trump unleash his whoppers without any pushback, even as they criticize his manners and attitude.

In an ordinary political season, perhaps Trump would be under fire for his habitual untruths, like the one that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. This time around, though, neither the media nor the public — least of all his supporters — seem to care. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that these days, as far as our political discourse goes, truth, logic, reason and consistency don’t seem to count for very much.

The question is why.

One simple explanation is that Trump has changed the rules. He is not a politician but a provocateur, and he isn’t held to the same standards as Clinton or Bernie Sanders or even Cruz, all of whom actually have policies. For Trump, policies are beside the point.

Another explanation is that long before Trump, social scientists observed that truth matters less to people than reinforcement, and that most of us have the ability to reformulate misstatements into truth so long as they conform to our own biases. We believe what we believe, and we are not changing even in the face of opposing facts (without this capacity for self-deception there would be no Fox News).

There is, however, another and even more terrifying explanation as to why the truth doesn’t seem to matter. It has less to do with Trump or our own proclivities to reshape reality than it has to do with infotainment — with the idea that a lot of information isn’t primarily about education or elevation, where truth matters, but entertainment, where it doesn’t. You might call it “the Winchell Effect.”

Walter Winchell, about whom I wrote a 1994 biography, was a hugely popular New York-based gossip columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain and an equally popular radio personality, although saying that is a little like saying that Michael Jordan was a basketball player. Winchell was the gossip columnist, with an estimated daily audience of 50 million. He practically invented the form, and the form was a long chain of snippets — rumor, prediction, innuendo — racing down the page, separated by ellipses.

Some of these snippets were scarcely more than a noun, a verb and an object: Mr. So-and-so is “that way” about Miss So-and-so. Does her husband know? In this way, Winchell became not only the minimalist master of gossip but also, quite possibly, the first tweeter – before Twitter.

If you are wondering how this is relevant to the 2016 campaign, in time Winchell turned his roving eye from entertainment to politics, deploying exactly the same arsenal to the latter as he had to the former. Thus did gossip leap the tracks from Hollywood and Broadway to Washington. In this, Winchell’s approach was a precursor of modern election coverage. He was obsessed with letting readers in on what was going to happen — the clairvoyance of rumor — rather than with what was happening or what it actually meant. That is, he was a horse-race handicapper long before horse-race coverage became the dominant form of political journalism.

One prominent example: At the behest of the White House, Winchell spent months floating trial balloons for Franklin D. Roosevelt and his ambitions for a third term. Basically, it was presidentially endorsed gossip.

But Winchell’s influence didn’t stop at conflating entertainment with politics — and this is where the indifference to truth comes in. Winchell reported dozens of tidbits of gossip each day. Presumably, that’s why people read him or listened to him on the radio; they wanted to be ahead of the curve. But the vast majority of these tidbits were unverifiable, and nearly half of the flashes that were verifiable turned out to be false, according to a survey conducted for a six-part New Yorker profile of Winchell by St. Clair McKelway. Since there was always a passel of new scoops every day, no one seemed to notice — or care — that he was usually wrong.

One can only assume this was because readers seemed to relish the excitement of the “news” more than they desired its accuracy. Or, to put it another way, gossip was entertainment, not information. Thus the Winchell Effect.

The Winchell Effect is alive and well in today’s politics in two respects. First, candidates can get away with saying pretty much anything they want without being held accountable so long as what they say is entertaining and so long as they keep the comments coming. Trump has been the major beneficiary of this disinclination by the MSM to examine statements. The blast of his utterances always supersedes their substance. And the MSM plays along.

To wit: Trump announced his tax plan way back in September 2015. With kudos to the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, which did look at his plan, it is just this week that most of the MSM are getting around to examining it — even as he changes it. (I may have missed it, but I still have yet to see a single story delving into Trump’s tax policies on the network news.)

Perhaps better late than never, but the fact that he could throw out wild schemes involving trillions of dollars without the media feeling the need to vet them means that primary voters had no way to understand his tax plan and see its flaws. Of course, from the MSM’s perspective, analyzing a plan would be tackling policy, not providing entertainment. And make no mistake, the candidate and the mainstream media are in the entertainment business.

And that is the second way in which the Winchell Effect changes our politics. If candidates are not accountable, neither are the political media. Like Winchell, they are not only besotted with strategies, polls, predictions, and — in the case of a few cable networks — wild, unverifiable charges, they are, like Winchell, seldom challenged when they get it all wrong.

They were wrong about Trump not being a serious candidate. They were wrong about Jeb Bush’s and Marco Rubio’s chances to get the nomination. They were wrong about the likelihood of a contested GOP convention. Since they won’t call one another out, no one calls them out. In effect, they are implicated in the Winchell Effect as much as Trump is, which may be one reason why they don’t challenge him. Neither Trump nor the press has to be right. They just have to keep ginning up the excitement.

What this means is that our politics is no longer politics in the traditional sense of policy and governance. It is, as most of us realize, a show, a game, an ongoing reality TV saga. This is nothing new. The media have been bored with policy for a long time and have been pressing the horse-race narrative over real reporting for just as long. And when they do discuss policy, as The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins observed, in a typically smart piece, they are likely to prefer the windy, absurd generalities of a Trump to the wonky policies of a Clinton. It makes better copy, and it has the added benefit that it doesn’t require any fact-checking.

Trump is the fullest flower of a non-political politics and the fullest product of the Winchell Effect. With their mutual lack of interest in the truth, Trump and the MSM deserve one another — a synergy of the showman and the gossip columnists. But do we deserve them? Only if we allow our politics to become a way of amusing ourselves rather than the way to select a leader.

Meanwhile, Trump and the MSM will keep the misinformation coming, on the sadly correct assumption that many of us don’t really care about facts so long as we are being titillated.

(Neil Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine's non-fiction book of the year, USA Today's biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy. This piece was posted first at Bill Moyers blog.) 

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VOICES-Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman recently wrote about Donald Trump, expressing the view of most educated people from the Right, Left, or Middle of the political spectrum. Krugman puts the matter directly: "Donald Trump is an ignoramus.” 

University educator Arthur Camins’ article in Huffpost says that perhaps the Trump candidacy has come about due to the fact that schools fail at teaching Citizenship Development. As an educator of public policy and an educational researcher for many decades, I agree. A great failure of public education is the sparse teaching and learning about citizenship and what it means to live in a nation of laws. 

The operant question seems to be, why are so many Americans willing to support Trump, a man who seems to be a distorted and uninformed clown, a showman and greed merchant who is proud of his ignorance and is so egocentric that he does not even want to learn?   

This group of voters presents a frightening prospect for our society. For example, on Thursday, Mother Jones magazine’s David Corn reported  that Anthony Senecal, who served as Trump’s butler for 17 years before becoming the real estate mogul’s in-house “historian” at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, has been taking to Facebook to rant about how the current president should be hanged. “Looks like that sleezey bastard zero (O) is trying to out maneuver Congress again, if the truth be known this prick needs to be hung for treason!!!” Senecal declared on his Facebook page on April 21, 2015. 

The work of William Shirer from the early 1960s, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” rings alarms that resonate today as we see fellow citizens rushing into the arms of this potential despot – one who could possibly create a nuclear holocaust with his hand on the red phone. This theme is the core message of Ionesco's remarkable play, “Rhinoceros,” depicting those who rushed to join the Anschluss in Germany and throughout Europe before WW II. Many people today feel safe to express their hate for others of different nationalities, different religions, different skin colors; and Trump offers them permission to divide Americans and incite violence. 

Are all these American voters virulent bigots who are against immigrants, Jews, Muslims, the educated, teachers, and almost everyone else in the main stream in the US? Will they be rushing to turn in their neighbors who may then be hauled away to 21st century gas chambers? Will they be standing by to steal all their land and worldly goods, as happened under the Nazis? 

Are these voters striving to somehow be seen as billionaire wannabes? Or are they poor, uneducated and easily taken in by a snake oil salesman who wants to "Make America Great Again?” 

Do these “know-nothings” follow the lead of “The Turner Diaries,” wanting only to have a White Christian country where people are able to string up from the light poles all people of color and people of other religions, as depicted in this hate-filled book? 

This is the moment to figure out who the “Trump voters” are and why they exist…and then, what we can do as a community to fix the problem. 

Is John Dewey somehow responsible for this frightening turn of events? Is it what has been taught (or not taught) in our public schools over the past 60 years that has created a society that is no longer a marketplace of ideas? Have we devolved into a “march of the marionettes,” willing to follow Trump toward national, and possibly planetary, destruction? 

Or is it more reasonable to look at post-World War II American economics and culture to find an answer? 

The stream of recent history, from the era of Bundles for Britain and Rosie the Riveter to today, is marked with the upsurge of contemporary robber barons who idolize and idealize Wall Street and the Free Market. The confluence of universal education and the union movement after WWII built the strongest middle class that history has ever known. But then came the 180 degree turnabout with the rise of the Reagan Revolution. Eventually, this led to 2008: worldwide bank scams and the bundling of credit default swaps and collateral debt obligations, all of which destroyed the economy and broke the middle class.

The downfall of the middle class can be traced from the banks that are “too big to fail” (the ones that are now able to take endless risks on the public dole, like using public cash in the form of FDIC guarantees to banksters who reap the rewards) to the redistribution of wealth to the 1%, to the rise of the entertainment industry that includes Faux (Fox) News, a pop music industry that urges you to “do your own thing” (i.e. cop killing or rape) and the endless murder that is shown in films, cartoons, and television.  

How mind bending and inculcating is it to have tiny children watching iPads and TV screens, seeing and hearing the devolution of an orderly respectful society of laws? In its place, we have “heroes” that are tattooed and pierced gangster-types who beat and kill others for unleashed super powers?  

And now in the 21st Century, the billionaire class led by Eli Broad, the Waltons, Rupert Murdoch, Pete Peterson, Michael Milken, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and their ilk, is fighting to do away with public education. They want to privatize all public schools for profit, undermining universal free education and critical thinking. They want to create unquestioning cogs to fit their corporate needs, while attempting to kill off the entire union movement. Keep 'em poor and dumb and manageable. That seems to be the goal. 

Oligarchic profiteering, paired with keeping the populace ignorant through a managed media, is leading America into arms of Donald Trump and David Duke -- and straight to fascism. The rush to make big bucks by devaluing our society of laws and universal free education, the glorifying of infotainment news (owned mainly by Murdoch) that skims facts with a quick rush to judgement about how the world works, has led too many to demand, buy, keep, and use their guns, including automatic mass killing weapons. These people want easy answers to complex situations, want only what pleases them, and exhibit a selfishness that shows up as freeway rage, gang wars, racist clashes, mass murder, and finally … voting for a Know Nothing like Donald Trump. 

Is America finished as a democratic republic? Are we now to become a nation of roaming mobs intent on killing, beating and stealing from others who do not agree with us?  

I see little connection to public school education, but rather a strong correlation to the overarching greed of the billionaire class which insulates itself from harm as it instigates internecine warfare in America.

 

(Ellen Lubic, Director of Joining Forces for Education is a Public Policy educator/writer. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of CityWatch or its ownership.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

-cw

FRIEDMAN, MCGOVERN MAKING A COMEBACK--Imagine a world where you get a check each month that allows you to cover your basic costs — but don’t have to work to earn it. 

It’s called the Universal Basic Income and free-market economist Milton Friedman loved a version of the idea, as did liberal presidential candidate George McGovern. 

Some of the globe’s top economic thinkers gathered last week in Zurich to discuss the future of UBI, as it is known, prompted by the prospect of mass job displacement as technology makes more workers obsolete. The conference was timely: Next month Swiss voters will decide in a referendum whether to approve the first national basic income. If it passes, every adult will receive about $2,500 a month, while all kids will get $625. 

UBI will also be tested soon in parts of Finland and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, in the U.S., tech investors like Sam Altman are working on American corollaries. 

Capital & Main spoke to Rick Wartzman, senior advisor to the Drucker Institute and former business editor of the Los Angeles Times, about UBI. Wartzman, who addressed the Zurich conference, is the author of a forthcoming book on the changing nature of employer-employee relationships. He is also a board member of Capital & Main. 

What is driving the conversation now on Universal Basic Income? 

The real reason is because of great concern that the exponential advance of technology is poised to wipe out so many jobs so rapidly. There is a lot of fear that this could happen in the not too distant future—in our kids’ lifetimes. There’s a fear that technology could for the first time in history destroy more jobs than it will create. The impact will be felt because of everything from driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will erode white-collar professions. 

Is it true that UBI is being embraced by both the left and right? 

There is a long history of UBI being embraced by the left and the right. At the conference in Zurich, you had everyone from the Roosevelt Institute and Bob Reich endorsing UBI, to people from the Cato Institute who were also speaking in its favor. 

For the left, this is another mechanism to advance social justice and better take care of people who, especially in an era of massive jobs loss, might really suffer. What’s appealing to those on the right is this is an efficient and nonintrusive way for government to take care of those most in need. As they see it—and here’s where the left and right don’t necessarily agree—the UBI would replace most, if not all other, social welfare programs.

How do you pay for UBI? 

There is no shortage of potential financing mechanisms. At the conference, I heard about the possibility of a broad-based consumption tax, a financial-transactions tax and more. The bigger thing, perhaps, is that UBI would require a mind shift of handing everyone a check and they decide what to do with it. They can work or not work—or at least work less in a regular job than they do now. The feeling is most people will still do something productive, whether it’s making art or music or volunteering, because they get a sense of purpose from contributing to the world. This may expand our concept of what work is. 

Is it means tested? 

Not, it’s universal and unconditional — everybody would get it. Even Donald Trump would get it.

How does labor view UBI — is it seen as a threat to organizing efforts?

I have heard that there are a number of labor leaders who don’t like it because it kind of undercuts their raison d’etre. I don’t know if that’s universally true, and the great exception for sure is Andy Stern — he has a book coming out on the case for Universal Basic Income. 

What would have to change in American political culture for UBI to have a chance? 

The best hope for it is to start locally, maybe in some cities, and to start with pilots. Pilots are smart — you learn things, and if it really is a good policy that may begin to build some momentum.  

He talked about who holds power and inequality being a problem. He asserts—and I agree—that we are living in a world of abundance. The problem is it’s not being distributed fairly. If you look now at the platform economy — Uber, Airbnb — the platform owners are extracting huge amounts of wealth, and the networks that create the wealth — the people driving their cars or renting out their homes — are getting scraps. It’s really disproportionate. There is a feeling that UBI is a way to help even out the pie. 

Reich also talked about how important it is, if we’re going to sustain the health of our economy, to create enough aggregate demand. Currently, there is not enough dough in consumers’ pockets to keep the machine humming. When wealth is concentrated, it’s a problem for expanding GDP and creating jobs. The aggregate demand problem is very real. 

What is your interest in UBI? 

My main interest is in how this ties into people’s sense of how work is changing. Will tech destroy more jobs than it creates? How will people make their living in the future? How will we define work and the workplace? 

(Danny Feingold is the publisher of Capital & Main, and previously led the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy's communications efforts for more than a decade. Prior to that, Danny worked as a journalist for the LA Times. This piece was posted first at Capital and Main.

-cw

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

+++

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

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG & POLL--More than likely, our Los Angeles Times will have a new owner as Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and the largest newspaper publisher in the country, has offered to buy Tribune, the owner of The Times and the Chicago Tribune, in an all cash deal for $15 a share, double the price of Tribune’s stock prior to the publication of Gannett’s initial offer of $12.25 a share on April 25.  

While Tribune’s newly installed, self-centered management and clueless directors may resist this very generous offer, most investors will be standing in line to sell their shares at this bonkers price.  At the same time, while Gannett is not an eleemosynary institution, our Los Angeles Times will be better off being free of Chicago based Tribune which has mismanaged The Times ever since Tribune acquired Times Mirror Corporation, the owner of our hometown paper, in 2000 for over $8 billion (including debt). 

It has been downhill ever since for The Times as the ivory tower know-it-alls from Chicago, armed with their MBAs and little else, dictated policy and cut costs, resulting in a LA Times that lost touch with Angelenos.  In 2007, the financial wizards that were running Tribune concocted a complicated leveraged buyout deal led by Sam Zell, a real estate magnate with a questionable reputation, which left Tribune with $13 billion in debt.  A year later, in December of 2008, an overleveraged Tribune filed for bankruptcy.  

Tribune emerged from a contentious bankruptcy in December of 2012, controlled by vulture capitalists whose wheeling and dealing resulted in the August of 2014 tax free spinoff of the Tribune Publishing, a newspaper company with dim prospects and almost $400 million in debt, from Tribune Media, a very profitable broadcasting company.  

At around the same time, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Gannett spun off their newspaper assets into publicly traded, debt free companies that were better able to transition from print publications to a more competitive digital world.  

About the only good news was that Tribune appointed Austin Beutner as Publisher of The Times in August of 2014.  His vision was local, to focus on the City, the County, and Southern California which included the synergistic acquisition of the San Diego Union Tribune.  But Beutner was canned in September of 2015 by Jack Griffin, Tribune’s power hungry CEO, who was unwilling to invest in local content or in developing a strong digital product. 

Beutner and other Angelenos made a run at returning The Times to local ownership, but they were rebuffed by Griffin and the Tribune Board of Directors. 

The LA Times needs a new owner, do you agree?
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In February, 2016, Jack Griffin and the Tribune sold 5.2 million shares to Michael Ferro, a Chicago internet entrepreneur, for $8.50 a share.  This $44 million investment resulted in Ferro owning 16% of the Company.  Less than three weeks later, he canned Jack Griffin and took control of Tribune.  

[Note: If Ferro sells his shares at $15, he will have a profit of $34 million, a return on investment of 75% in less than 6 months.] 

Since Ferro seized control of Tribune, he attended the Oscars, snagging tickets meant for the news staff, and blew the synergistic acquisitions of the Orange County Register and the Press Enterprise in Riverside because he was the smartest guy in the room and was unwilling to listen to experienced advisors who knew how to navigate the antitrust issues.  

This transaction makes sense for Gannett, even if it is a high price given the poor business outlook for the newspaper industry.  Gannett, a publisher of daily newspapers for the most part in small and midsized markets, will acquire the papers in LA and Chicago, two of the three largest markets in the country, as well as papers serving Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore, and Hartford.  

We need strong local coverage, because without it, “we’re gonna have corruption at a level we never experienced,” according to Bob Schieffer, the trusted TV journalist who was the moderator of Face the Nation (CBS) for 23 years.  And we all know that we cannot trust City Hall whose occupiers and their cronies are more than willing to sell us out to the real estate speculators and developers and the leaders of the City’s unions.  

We need to make a deal with Gannett, that in return for subscribing to the paper and its web site and supporting its advertisers, it will provide us with strong local coverage.  This support may also involve setting up charitable entities to sponsor journalists covering the City and its proprietary departments (DWP, LAX, and the Port), the County, LAUSD, our failing infrastructure, and underfunded pension plans. 

We need a vibrant Los Angeles Times, one with an institutional memory, properly staffed with inquiring journalists who are willing to spend the time protecting our interests from predatory politicians who have no respect for our wallets.  At the same time, the Times needs our support and our money. 

While we may not agree with The Times on all issues, the paper has helped defeat ballot measures that would have nicked us for billions.  These include its opposition to Measure B, Mayor Villaraigosa’s 2009 solar plan that was a payback for IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s generous campaign contributions, or the ill-conceived effort in 2013 to increase our sales tax by a half cent to a mind boggling 9½%. 

Put another way, a few bucks here and there for The Times will save us billions if the Mayor, City Hall, and the newly constituted Board of Supervisors were to have its way.

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--Our Mayor’s pet project is the revitalization of an 11 mile segment of the Los Angeles River, stretching from Griffith Park to Downtown Los Angeles.  And what is not to like about new open recreational space in the park poor City of Los Angeles other than the not so minor fact that our cash strapped City needs to pony up more than $1 billion over the next ten to twenty years to pay for its share of this $1.4 billion river revitalization project. 

This is considerably more than the $500 million that was originally advertised as our City’s share.  Unfortunately, a more detailed analysis showed the total cost ballooning from an estimated $1 billion to $1.4 billion at the same time that the US Army Corps of Engineers cut its contribution from $500 million to $200 to $300 million.

At this time, our City and its leaders do not have a plan to finance this the ambitious infrastructure project.  Rather, it is scrounging for money, financing bits and pieces from here and there.

For example, buried in the City’s 440 page budget, there is one mention – a line item - for the $60 million purchase of the Taylor Yard G2 parcel that is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.  This river fronting, 40 acre rectangular parcel that lies between the River and the State’s Rio de Los Angeles Park in Cypress Park is considered vital to the rehabilitation of the River.

While this purchase will be financed with debt (and possibly with the proceeds of bond offerings or State grants), is this the best use of the City’s scarce financial resources or debt capacity?  Or should this money be used to finance the repair of our streets and sidewalks, the redo of Pershing Square, the expansion of the Convention Center, or housing for the homeless?

The City has also managed to convince the Metropolitan Transit Authority to set aside $425 million for a 51 mile bike path along the length of the River, from its headwaters in Canoga Park all the way to Long Beach.  But this $8 million a mile earmark for the Mayor’s pet project is over the top excessive, leading one to speculate how many other pet projects will be financed by Metro’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax to 9½%.    

The City is also considering the establishment of an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (“EFID”) that will allow the City to skim off its portion of the increased tax revenues from a boat load of high end real estate developments that border the River and the surrounding communities, much like the old Community Redevelopment Agency that was viewed by many as a corrupt political organization. These EFID funds will then be reinvested in the local community, most likely for streets and transportation projects to serve the more densely populated area that is not served by mass transit. 

But these non-affordable developments are not subject to a long range plan that respects the existing communities and neighborhoods.  Rather, it is the Wild West, a land grab by rapacious real estate speculators. 

Before the City proceeds with the $60 purchase and problematic remediation of the 40 acre Taylor Yard G2 parcel from the Union Pacific, the Mayor and the City Council need to have an open and transparent conversation about whether this expenditure is the best use of our cash strapped City’s scarce resources. 

The City also needs to devote the resources to develop a well thought out, long range plan for the Los Angeles River.  This includes identifying the sources for over $1 billion in cash needed to complete this important initiative.  Most importantly, this plan must respect the surrounding communities who are well aware of the impacts of unplanned development throughout the City where campaign funding real estate speculators have successfully manipulated the Mayor and the members of the City Council.

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting on Tuesday, May 3, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors instructed its Department of Parks and Recreation “to report back to the Board on June 21, 2016 with a final draft of the Park and Recreation Funding Measure so that the Board may consider its adoption and placement on the November 8 ballot.”  

But the likelihood of this proposed ballot measure that would raise between $200 and $300 million to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County being approved by the two-thirds of the voters is unlikely unless it undergoes major revisions.  And even then, it will a tough slog given all the competing tax measures that are expected to be on the November and March ballots. 

The Supervisors are considering a parcel tax of 3 to 5 cents on each of the 6.4 billion square feet of developed real estate in the County.  At 3 cents a square foot, this would produce revenues of almost $200 million a year for the Los Angeles County Regional Parks and Open Space District, a jump of 150% from the $80 million received in 2015.  This 3 cent levy would also increase based on the Consumer Price Index while the total haul would benefit from the growth in the developed real estate.

Over the 35 year life of this tax, the total revenue is projected to be in excess of $15 billion. 

But slamming the taxpayers with a 150% increase in the parks parcel tax is not going to be very popular with the voting public.  

One alternative would be to have the County put its money where its mouth is as the Supervisors have been very eloquent about the vital importance of parks and open space.  This plan will involve a hefty 25% bump in the parcel tax from $80 million to $100 million (1.5 cents per square foot or $42 for each of the 2.4 million parcels) accompanied by an annual $100 million contribution from the County’s $22 billion General Fund to its Regional Parks and Open Space District.  At the same time, the County will also be required to allocate adequate resources to its Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Another hot button issue is the allocation of this pot of gold by the Supervisors.  According to the carefully orchestrated Needs Assessment Report, a disproportionate amount of the money will be directed to “under parked’ urban areas of the County.  However, this will result in pushback from suburban voters and open space advocates who believe they will not be getting their fair share.  This may result in many voters rejecting this ballot measure. 

As such, the Supervisors will need to disclose the allocation of funds in the ballot measure that balances the goals of urban dwellers, suburban taxpayers, and open space advocates.  

The Supervisors will also need to provide independent oversight of the Regional Park and Open Space District and the Department of Parks and Recreation by establishing a Citizens Oversight Advisory Board that has the resources to conduct an objective, critical, and constructive review and analysis of the operations, finances, and management of these two entities.  This is critically important now that the fiscally prudent Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina have been replaced by two Supervisors not necessary known to be respectful of our wallets.   

This ballot measure already starts out with one strike against it as two-thirds of the voters did not approve Proposition P, a modest $50 million parks parcel tax to replace an expiring parcel tax, in November of 2014.  

This ballot measure has also received a second strike from “voter fatigue” as our tolerance will be exhausted by City and County tax initiatives totaling $1.8 billion over the next year or two. Think Metro, Stormwater, Homelessness (both City and County), Streets and Sidewalks, DWP, and Parks.  And this not include any new State taxes.  

These assaults on our wallets are the equivalent of a 37% hike in our real estate taxes or a three cent bump in our sales tax to 12%. 

If the Supervisors decide to proceed with this Parks Parcel Tax, it must be carefully orchestrated where the County limits the impact on property owners and steps up to the plate and contributes 50% of the needed funds.  At the same time, the City and the County will need to disclose their long term plans to increase our taxes and demonstrate that they are using our money efficiently and in our best interests.  

Otherwise, it’s three strikes and you’re out, game over for not only the Parks Parcel Tax, but for Metro’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax that will cost us $120 billion over the next 40 years.

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

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will discuss a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County.

LA WATCHDOG--While the combined budgets for the City Council and the Mayor are projected to be $100 million next year, will Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, conduct an open and transparent discussion of the individual line items of each budget so that Angelenos will have a better understanding as to how and where their money is being spent? 

For example, there has not been an open and transparent discussion about the Councilmembers’ discretionary funds that are reputed to haul in over $20 million a year, money that could be used to repair our streets or fund a portion of the City’s homeless initiative.  

Sources of cash for these slush funds include the Street Furniture Fund (advertising revenues from bus shelters), Oil Pipeline Franchise Fees, the Real Property Trust Fund (50% of the sale of surplus property in a Council District), and AB 1290 Funds (tax increment funds associated with the dissolution of the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency).  There are also fees from Lopez Canyon Landfill, Sunshine Canyon Landfill, and the Central LA Recycling and Transfer Station that never see the light of day. 

Where the discretionary cash goes is also not very transparent unless you are willing to hire a team of forensic accountants.  Reportedly, Councilmembers use a portion of these slush funds to fund members of their bloated staffs. 

There are discrepancies between the number of positions listed in the budget for the Mayor (94) and the City Council (108) and internal rosters, telephone directories, and web sites which indicate over 450 employees.  Naturally, this gives rise to the question of how are all these staffers being paid and what is the source of the cash to fund the extra salaries, pensions, and benefits.  

This headcount does not include numerous City employees who are on “loan” to the Mayor’s office to work on special projects and initiatives or the many employees throughout the City who are on call to answer the many time consuming inquiries from the offices of the Mayor and the Councilmembers. 

The Mayor’s budget also includes a line item of $36 million for Non-Departmental Allocations that comprises two-thirds of his $54 million fully loaded budget.  But there are no details about how and where this money will be spent in the over 1,700 pages covering the budget.  

Nor is there any information about how last year’s $38 million of Non-Departmental Allocations was disbursed.  

The City Council has also budgeted $6 million for Non-Departmental Allocations.  While this represents only an eighth of its $47 million budget, again there is no information on where this cash is going.  

Tellingly, the budgets for the City Council and the Mayor were the only departments that did not have the Supporting Data that outlines the distribution of 2016-17 total cost of their programs.  This includes pensions and human resource benefits (equal 30% of total salaries for the combined departments) and other departmental expenses.  

The unwillingness of the Budget and Finance Committee to demand transparency from the Mayor and its own City Council is justification as to why the City should implement the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an independent Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the finances of our cash strapped City, whose elected officials appear to be allergic to the sunshine demanded by skeptical Angelenos. 

●●●

The Budget and Finance Committee should also consider another recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission by creating a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the City’s two underfunded pension plans, especially in light of the projected $101 million deficit in 2020 caused by an increase of over $180 million in pension contributions, wiping out the $68 million surplus that was projected last year. 

 

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

-cw

 

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