UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL--On August 31, 2016, the LA City Council could make a huge mistake that will have lasting impacts on our community.
Once upon a time, the city of Los Angeles created regulations that protected the characteristics of single family home zones.
In essence, some of these regulations prevented homeowners from building big second homes on a single family home property. Makes sense, right? Because that’s what “single family home zone” means.
So, in LA, a wide variety of different neighborhoods are zoned R-01. And these R-01 neighborhoods are really a great place to live, partly because our city’s zoning regulations have helped to keep them that way.
These regulations did allow homeowners in those zones to build another detached home on the property. But that structure had to be small, low profile, and it couldn’t have a separate address. According to LA’s regulations, homeowners were free to build “granny flats” for their relatives to live in. And remember, they are always free to add an addition to their home. That was never in question.
This worked, for the most part, to protect the character of the neighborhood. It guarded against overdevelopment.
But one day, in 2010, the Planning Department made a mistake, based on incorrect legal advice, instructing officials to ignore the City’s standards, and instead, to follow the state standards, which are much more lenient. For the next six years, the City issued about 75 permits each year for second units in these single family home neighborhoods. Almost all of the permits were for structures that exceeded the City’s adopted standards.
Earlier this year, a judge determined that the Planning Department’s “ZA Memo 120” was not legal. Since then, permitting for these structures (even the small ones that would have met the city’s regulations) has been halted.
But instead of amending the City’s regulations, City Council is now considering throwing out the regulations entirely and defaulting to the considerably more lenient state’s standards. In essence, this would mean returning to ZA Memo 120, which a Judge has already revoked.
Why does LA have different zoning standards than the state of California? Because LA has specific needs. Just like every other major metropolitan city in this country, our city has adopted regulations to protect against overdevelopment and against negative impacts on the environment, infrastructure, and the character of neighborhoods.
All of this may seem silly to Angelenos who live on larger parcels of land or in apartment buildings. They might say, what’s the point? If it is your land, you should be allowed to use it any way you want. Right?
I can see why some may think that. But imagine if you lived in my neighborhood:
Welcome to the quintessential San Fernando Valley single family neighborhood. Our houses are very close together. In my cute, quiet little neighborhood known as “Kester Ridge” in Van Nuys, our mostly small houses sit on mostly small lots. Our fences (which cannot exceed eight feet in our backyard) create the barriers which afford us some visual, if not acoustic, privacy.
Our backyards aren’t huge, but they offer a great place to relax; most of them are big enough to accommodate a small pool or a nice little garden. Most of the lots are approximately 50 feet wide and average about 6,000 square feet. Almost every house in the neighborhood is only one story high.
So imagine you've just bought your dream home, right here in this cute little neighborhood. It took every penny you had. But you've worked hard, you turned it into a beautiful home, and you’ve promised yourself that you are finally going to relax and lay out by the pool in your lovely backyard.
A few months later, the property right behind you goes up for sale. And the guy who buys it is a developer. He tells you that he doesn’t have any intention of actually moving to your little neighborhood. His car, an Aston Martin, gives you an idea of where he calls home.
He’s going use the property to generate rental income. His plan is to rent out the main property, and, thanks to ZA Memo 120, he's also going to rent out a second house which he plans to build in the backyard! It’s going to be two stories high with just as much square footage as the main house.
The backyard isn’t very big, so he’s going to have to build as close to your back fence as the law allows. He tells you that he's got properties like this all over LA.
This developer has started an LLC for the property, and between the two homes on a single lot, he will be generating $6,000 a month in rental income. He doesn’t care one bit about the fact that your ability to enjoy your yard (to say nothing of your property value) just went down as a result of his actions.
He says: “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
So, you take a moment. You try to process this: A large, two-story tall, very visible structure in the small backyard -- even though the very concept of a single family neighborhood means that this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen.
But he gets the permit. And no one in the City even notifies you that this was happening. You live right next to the property, well within the 500-foot range. How is this possible? If there had been a particular time to voice your opinion on the matter, no one in the government told you when it was.
You try to talk to your political representative in City Council. They keep calling it a “granny flat.” But it’s not a granny flat. It's huge. It’s a fully functioning second home, with its own house number, mailbox, and soon, a whole bunch of tenants.
You do some research online. Even California’s Legislative Analyst has determined that this type of “urban infill” in single family home zones is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis. In fact, this type of new structure isn’t even going to make a dent in the affordable housing crisis, because there is no requirement to price it affordably. They’ll be renting at market rates. But the politicians keep throwing around the term “affordable housing” when they discuss this issue. Strange, isn't it?
So this developer builds -- full steam ahead. The framing goes up. It’s big. And tall. And man, it’s close! You think, well, maybe we’ll get used to it. And then one day you come home to see the framing for the second story window: it looks right down onto your pool, your yard and into your bedroom!
The building is so close to its own property line that the people living in it won’t be able to see their own yard from the window. But yours? Well, they’ll be thrilled that you've given them such a lovely view. Too bad that you can’t say the same about your new view. (See photo above.)
This is how it happens. And because this unfair and previously illegal thing has happened to you, you decide to sell your dream home. And the winning bidder? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- a developer. If this process continues ad infinitum, say goodbye to the very notion of a single-family neighborhood.
Wealthy developers will have a huge opportunity to make a lot of money for themselves if the SDU ordinance is repealed. They will be able to outbid the average homebuyer and will overdevelop every property they can get their hands on.
I have read a few misinformed articles that frame this issue differently. The politicians who are in favor of the repeal of the SDU Ordinance are likely in the pockets of wealthy developers whose projects have been put on hold. These smart politicians are smart to hold actual, legitimate granny flats hostage: they know all too well that if you create a crisis that arouses public sympathy, you can exploit it.
This is all about greed. It opens the door to rampant overdevelopment…not granny.
Here’s what I’m hoping my City Councilmembers will do:
Investigate the environmental impacts of any possible changes to zoning laws before they make those changes. For instance, more “urban infill” means more concrete, therefore less groundwater is absorbed, making both the drought and the flooding, due to the lack of storm drains in my neighborhood, even worse.
Discuss this issue with the public, and do it in a way that is intellectually honest. Don’t tie this repeal to the creation of affordable housing. And that includes you, Mr. Mayor! California’s Legislative Analyst's Office has determined that urban infill will not solve the affordable housing shortage in Los Angeles. In fact, the LAO has determined that this repeal won't even offer a small supply of "affordable" housing for another twenty-five years. Our politicians need to stop spinning this issue. It's unethical to confuse constituents into submission. We deserve better.
Remember, this isn't about granny flats. While I strongly oppose the repeal, I support the public’s right to build granny flats that are appropriate for the size of one’s immediate community. We just need our politicians to create the right laws -- or common-sense amendments to existing regs -- to make that happen.
Our politicians have a number of potential solutions that don’t involve repealing the Second Dwelling Unit Ordinance, leaving us vulnerable to overdevelopment. They should do their due diligence and behave with integrity. If revisions to the Second Dwelling Unit ordinance are necessary, at the very least they must be considered with adequate public outreach. It is not in LA's best interest to discard our protective local standards.
I repeat: the politicians have several options at their disposal. Those options should not include throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Please contact your LA City Councilmember before Wednesday, August 31 about this important issue. We need a lot more support because the developers have been lobbying the City Council hard for the past six months.
(Dannielle Langlois is film and television actress who lives in Van Nuys, next door to the above “second unit dwelling.”) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
BILLBOARD WATCH--Dear Councilman Englander … At the August 23 meeting of the City Council’s PLUM committee, you publicly accused me of putting out false information in the articles I write about billboard and signage issues. Specifically, in asking a city official for clarification of a point under discussion, you said, “Because I want to make sure that when Mr. Hathaway writes about this, since he gets it wrong most of the time, that he hears it clearly.”
I consider this an attack on my personal integrity, because I always strive to be factually accurate and avoid taking things out of context or otherwise trafficking in misinformation. For example, before writing about PLUM committee meetings I almost always listen to the meeting audio, to make sure that I heard things correctly and that I accurately quote committee members and other speakers. I have a definite point of view about the signage issues the PLUM committee deals with, but that doesn’t mean I believe in using less than ethical and honest means to promote that view.
But your accusation was more than just an attack on me, it was an attack on the very idea that LA residents are entitled to be fully informed on the issues that affect them, in this case issues of billboard and signage regulation. That’s because the large majority of those residents can’t come to PLUM committee meetings to hear the discussion firsthand. Unlike lobbyists, billboard company representatives, and others who are paid to attend these meetings, most community people can’t take time off work, arrange child care, and make the necessary adjustments needed to attend a weekday meeting at City Hall. So, without someone reporting on the details of those meetings, they are denied the knowledge they need and deserve to form opinions and make decisions about the issues at hand.
I’m not paid, either, but I’m fortunate enough to be at a stage of my life that I can devote a significant amount of time to a cause I consider very important to the mental and physical health of communities throughout LA And an important part of that effort is to inform those citizens who want to know what their elected representatives are doing about billboards and signage but don’t have time to attend the many meetings held on the topic or read the many lengthy reports issued at various points in the deliberative process.
Unfortunately, your public statement at the Aug. 24 PLUM committee meeting tells those citizens, in essence, that the information they read online at the BanBillboardBlight [[banbillboardblight.org ]] website or in CityWatch or hear in public service programs on local radio stations is “wrong most of the time.” Doubly unfortunate is the fact that you didn’t specify a single instance of what you considered wrong, so it’s just an accusation put out there, deliberately or otherwise, to create doubt in some people’s minds that what they’re reading and hearing is factually accurate.
I have been writing articles about PLUM committee actions and deliberations, as well as those of the City Planning Commission and other government agencies, for almost nine years. In that time, not a single billboard company lobbyist or billboard company executive or employee has approached me and said that something I wrote was false. Not a single member of the PLUM committee, present or past, has contacted me to make that complaint. Not a single City Councilmember, not a single city planner or member of the city attorney’s staff or any other city official involved with billboard and signage issues has told me that something I wrote was inaccurate.
You surely understand that people come to meetings and otherwise involve themselves in community affairs, not because they are paid to, but because they believe in a vision of a better community and a better city. Those people deserve the respect and even the encouragement of their elected representatives, regardless of where they happen to stand on a particular project or issue. Those people deserve access to as much information as possible, so that they can make the kind of informed decisions that are in important part of the bedrock of a democratic system.
I hope you will take that into consideration before making unsupported accusations against someone who has volunteered his time and energy to disseminate that information as widely as possible and help make the system work the way it was intended.
DEEGAN ON LA-Is it a tactic that will pay off or a “Hail Mary” to breathe a last breath of life into a dire situation? Whichever it turns out to be, it’s smart and that’s what anti-development activists have been showing lately: their smarts. No longer willing to automatically accept developers’ plans for incursions into their neighborhoods, or rely on threats of litigation or lawsuits, activists are “weaponizing” social media to mobilize their communities.
GELFAND’S WORLD--The editor of CityWatch sent me a news clip along with a question, "Is this a column?" Translated, that editorial question refers to whether the story of Israel Stinson provides important public policy questions, the kind that CityWatch covers. Israel Stinson was a two year old boy who had been kept barely alive through life support. Machines kept his lungs moving artificially. At the order of a judge, the life support was disconnected and the boy passed away almost immediately.
The grieving parents are asking why their baby couldn't have been kept alive. The lawyers are asking why the hospital was in such a rush to pull the plug without bringing in the parents for one last visit. Members of the public commenting on internet sites are split as to whether life support should have been continued.
There are numerous public policy questions. There is also a question of simple humanity that doesn't seem to be getting any play. That's because, sadly, it goes against the grieving parents, the pro-life organization that was representing them, and members of the public who donated money.
Israel Stinson was barely two years old when he suffered a serious asthma attack. There are many children who get asthma, but luckily only a few get it badly enough for it to be a risk to life. Israel was one of the unlucky ones. His ability to take in oxygen became so limited that his heart stopped. News stories indicate that doctors worked on him for about an hour, using CPR while trying to get the heart to restart. Eventually the heart restarted, but the question remained, how much damage had been done? In retrospect, he had probably suffered widespread, irreversible brain damage in the first few minutes of his heart stoppage, but the doctors couldn't know this for sure at the time. All they could do is wait and watch.
Faced with an uncertain outcome, the medical profession understands that there is nothing to do but provide supportive care and then just wait and see. So that's what they did. But eventually, after appropriate testing, they recognized that Israel Stinson was truly gone. They could keep his lungs moving and stimulate his heart to beat, but faced with evidence of his widespread, massive loss of brain tissue, they concluded that Israel was brain dead.
Parts of our bodies can withstand the loss of oxygen for a substantial period of time. People get freezing injuries, yet somehow not lose all their toes. But the brain is an exception. Brain cells die rather quickly, and as far as medical science knows, once lost they stay lost. The cases where stroke victims recover function are generally attributed to the fact that other parts of the brain can learn to take over where the original tissue has failed. But when there is widespread, massive loss of brain cells, there isn't much to provide recovery.
The case of Israel Stinson, as described in the Los Angeles Times by Erica Evans, establishes the simple facts, and then delves into the competing legal claims. Videos on YouTube provide the pro- and con arguments. There are numerous legal issues that are left hanging. Does a hospital have the duty to provide life support to a person that is brain dead? As the hospital sees it, they are being asked to tend to what is little more than a corpse. To the parents, things are different. They have the opportunity to spend time with their baby, whether or not he is responding in the way they would like. They have memories of his birth and subsequent life. They try to maintain hope.
To the cold blooded rationalist, all hope for Israel was false hope. This may be, but the most cold blooded of rationalists has to concede that the choice being thrust upon the parents was horrifying beyond belief. They desperately wanted to believe that their child would get better, and doctors were telling them that this would never happen. In the meanwhile, they were getting some comfort by visiting with him, hugging him, tickling him to try to evoke some response.
Some people are able to make the decision to pull the plug. Others are not. Sometimes it's because they can't bring themselves to make a decision that is so painful. Other people won't accept the fact that when brain function is irreversibly lost, their loved one is -- for all intents and purposes -- gone. They can see the chest moving in and out, and the occasional twitch, and for some, this is hope.
The parents were advised to take him off life support. This is a polite way of saying that his breathing would no longer be created artificially, and he would almost immediately die, in body as well as brain.
The parents refused. They kept the body of their son alive, going so far as to take him to Guatemala for interim treatment, then bringing him back to California. There is some question as to why the local hospital here in Los Angeles accepted Israel as a patient, but they did. But finally, recognizing his brain dead condition, the hospital petitioned the courts to allow them to pull the plug. The parents had the help of pro bono legal support and won a few days and a little false hope. Then a local judge pulled the plug judicially, and the hospital performed the physical act of turning off life support.
The Los Angeles Times reporter Erica Evans began the account of Israel's last moments by describing him as "angelic-looking." It's true. The pictures look like a sleeping baby. It's only when you see the YouTube videos that you realize that there is almost no response to continued prodding and poking, in spite of the parents' desperate belief that they are seeing something going on.
I am going to make a conjecture here. The parents saw Israel as injured, but somehow still with us. In photos, he looks like a sleeping baby. The parents refer to their strong religious beliefs, and felt (I think sincerely) that God was telling them to keep going. That's how they describe their beliefs on video. Perhaps they hoped that some day, this sleeping baby would awake to some level of normality. In brief, the parents were viewing their baby as comatose, and capable of recovery. It's true that some people in comas eventually wake up, sometimes years later. But they have to have intact brains for this to happen.
These beliefs were opposed by members of the medical profession. There were several neurologists who did the standard, accepted tests, and concluded that brain death had occurred. The news story says that the doctors "declared the boy brain dead," as if it were an arbitrary ruling rather than a careful judgment based on the evidence of physical examination and lab tests.
One YouTube discussion involved the legal definition of death. The attorney pointed out that in some states, death is defined as the cessation of heart beat rather than brain death. It was kind of irrelevant in the context, but it is part of the wider public policy question.
Another public policy question that is of utmost importance but was avoided almost entirely, involves whether there is any obligation for any entity, public or private, to continue providing long term care. Lack of payment in a system which avoids government funded of national health care is just one element in the discussion. The other question is whether an entity, public or private, can be compelled to continue treating a person that is, in their judgment, already dead at the level of the brain. It's a legitimate question.
I'm going to change the subject just a little, and make a serious comment that is not meant to be morbid or rude, but is based on a real life experience. It's a comment that I don't see very often in these debates over heroic measures and prolonged life support.
The context of this comment involves the shooting death of a friend that happened a little more than 19 years ago. I can remember looking down on the body, which had a gunshot wound where his right eye had been just a few minutes earlier. The bullet had obviously gone through the eye and into the brain.
I remember staring for perhaps 15 seconds, watching carefully to make sure that he was really dead. My thought in the stress of the moment was this: Why would anyone want to survive that kind of wound? He would be blind, probably mostly paralyzed, and severely damaged in his ability to form any thoughts. I don't think he would have chosen to survive that level of destruction if he had had any say in the matter.
How could you want anything like that for your friend or spouse or for your own child? Obviously the parents had a different sort of hope. They tried to believe that Israel would come back to life and live normally.
But in trying to keep their child alive, they were also ignoring the fact that getting a little better would be the worst thing that could have happened to their baby, because there wasn't the surviving brain tissue for him to get truly better.
I truly believe that from the moment of his cardiac arrest, Israel felt no pain and endured no suffering. It's not a lot, but it's the best we have.
Addendum: The Epi Pen
Whether Israel Stinson's story is a legitimate part of the national healthcare debate, the Epi Pen scandal certainly is. As almost everyone knows by now, the number of pharmaceutical companies making automatically injectable epinephrin dwindled to one. Given their newfound monopoly status, the company raised rates, and raised them again, and yet again. This is what private companies do when faced with a chance to make serious money.
It's almost amusing to see members of congress complaining. Isn't the congress the organization that refuses to allow Medicare the chance to negotiate drug pricing? Isn't this the organization that could have invented some federal agency to oversee drug pricing, the same way that the state of California has some regulation over automobile insurance rates? They didn't, but they are complaining.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
RANTZ AND RAVEZ--Some readers have commented that I like to Rant a lot and seldom Rave about the positive areas of Los Angeles. While it is true that I focus on unnecessary taxes and fees on a regular basis, I do comment on the positive aspects of Los Angeles when I find them. The problem is that I don’t find them that often.
There are so many social issues facing Los Angeles that the positive Rave issues are lost in the negative concerns impacting L A. I try and find the practical solutions to the problems facing our city using existing funds and not calling for new and or additional taxes and fees. The issue is using current funds to improve the living conditions in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles City has a general operating fund of over $8 BILLION DOLLARS! This does not include Special Funds and other Federal and State dollars that the city uses to operate a variety of programs. Some necessary and many part of the fluff of city government. The money is there….it all depends on how it is spent on projects and programs.
Knowing the City of Los Angeles’ operations for nearly 70 years, I know the issues and solutions to the problems. I have lived with them during my 33 years with the LAPD, two years as an elected member of the Charter Reform Commission and 12 years as a member of the Los Angeles City Council. In addition, I have been a Los Angeles resident my entire life. Born, raised and educated in the City of the Angels.
While the issues that negatively impact our city are continuing to mount day by day, solutions without additional cost in the form of taxes and fees to the residents and business owners are never mentioned by our elected leaders. It appears that the only answer to all of the ills impacting Los Angeles come with increased taxes and fees and any other way of pulling more of your precious dollars to fund this and that and remedy the ills of Los Angeles.
Take for example our gridlock transportation situation. Our local roads and freeways have all become huge parking lots. The 101 freeway holds the title of having the worst traffic congestion in the nation. It usually takes me around two hours to travel from the West Valley to downtown or the Westside of town by car during most times of the day. Saturdays and Sundays are not much better. The political solution is to increase taxes for all of us and all future generations in Los Angeles. Remember that when government raises taxes, they seldom if ever rescind them.
Then there is the EMERGENCY Homeless situation surrounding Los Angeles. While Los Angeles City and County have declared the homeless an emergency, Governor Brown has not joined the bandwagon on this issue. So, no state money is appropriated to the Los Angeles region to address the homeless matter. Again our city leaders have a solution of more taxes, fees or bond measures or any other sort of tactic to take more of your money to address a situation that is without doubt out of control and getting worse.
The DWP established, with a vote of the public, the Rate Payer Advocate position a few years ago. I did not support this measure when I was on the council since I saw it as just another layer in the system that was not working for the people paying their water and power bills. Namely you. The cost of the Rate Payer advocate and his staff is now many millions of dollars annually? This money is coming from your water and power rates. Rates that have already been increased and will continue to increase in future years.
While the ratepayer advocate is a good man, is his position necessary in the big scheme of things?
Now our city leaders want to establish a PAID WATER AND POWER COMMISSION. There is an existing Water and Power Commission that is appointed by the mayor and answers to the mayor. It is a volunteer position and one of the political payoffs for supporting the mayor. It is interesting to note that in Los Angeles when you are selected to sit on a commission, you sign a document announcing your resignation. It is used when your services are no longer necessary and you are being dismissed. Talk about a hammer over your head to have you follow the directions of the Office of the Mayor.
This new paid DWP Commission will cost you more money to run with the staff and other personnel necessary to carry out the new duties. Is it necessary to establish a PAID Water and Power Commission in Los Angeles, I say NO. It will just cost you more in your Water and Power bills.
The city lacks direction and priorities. This has been the case for many years. Everyday is a new day to develop ways to take more of your money with a promise to make it a better run city. Our sidewalks are crumbling along with our streets. When we check, we find that there is no agenda or focus on a continuing basis. Lack of coordination and priority setting has been a long-standing problem in Los Angeles that continues as I prepare this article.
We see crime continuing to increase in our region with little impact by law enforcement. Is it time to exercise your 2nd Amendment Rights and purchase that gun before new restrictions are imposed on you and other Californians? Just saying!
As we approach the November election, I will be providing you with my recommendations and logic on the ballot propositions and certain political offices. Hopefully our population will vote to make things better in Los Angeles, California and America!
I welcome your thoughts and comments.
(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com.)
CORRUPTION WATCH-The reason Hollywood has no Target Store can be summed up in one word: Garcettism. Without the interference by Eric Garcetti, first as councilmember for council district 13, and then as mayor, the Target Store would have been completed and operating several years ago. (see unfinished store above)
I happen to live within walking distance of the Target location and I like Target. I also like the rule of law and I detest corruption. If any member of the Citizens Coalition Los Angeles (CCLA) dislikes Target or does not want a Target store, I have never heard them even hint at such feeling. Everyone I know believes that we need to be a society based upon the law and not on the whim of one politician.
The Zoning for Target Was Brand New
There have been false claims that Hollywood’s zoning is out of date and it was unfair to apply old laws to a new project. The “zoning” law governing this Target Store is called Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan (SNAP) and it went into effect March 1, 2001.
SNAP had been based upon years of study involving every parcel within its 2.2 square mile area and each parcel was designated as fitting into a Subarea. There were five Subareas A through E. The Target proposed to build on a Subarea C parcel. The City and local community had considered whether they wanted retail stores taller than 35 feet and they expressly decided not to permit a retail store to be higher than 35 feet.
“Commercial Only Project. Projects comprised exclusively of commercial uses (not Hospital and Medical Uses) shall not exceed a maximum building height of 35 feet and a maximum FAR of 1.5 ... ” (SNAP page 24)
Target admitted in court that it could have constructed a store which did not violate SNAP’s 35 foot requirement. But in order to construct anything, however, Target needed to obtain a building permit. As CCLA heard from various sources, Councilmember Garcetti wanted a 75 foot Target store. So Target could get City Council’s unanimous approval for a 75 foot store, but no approval for a legal 35 foot store.
If Garcetti had allowed The Target to construct the legal store with its parking underground, as is the parking for the adjacent non-profit Assistance League, then the Target store could have been operational by end of 2009.
As Judge Fruin found in 2014, there was no basis for the Target to claim hardship in order to violate the SNAP ordinance. Thus, Judge Fruin rejected Target’s 75 foot store. (July 17, 2014 Judge Fruin Decision page 5.)
Judge Fruin ordered Target to stop construction on the illegal store – construction that had begun with the blessings of Eric Garcetti. People need to stop and think about the mess Garcetti created by interfering with the construction of a legal Target store in the first place … and then giving Target a permit to build an illegal store.
In July 2014, Target was free to revert to the original 35 foot store, but it was coerced into appealing Judge Fruin’s decision. First, it went to the appeals court to overrule Judge Fruin and allow it to continue building an illegal store.
We need to pause here and look at that utterly ridiculous request. No permit should have been issued for a 75 foot store since that height was more than double the maximum 35 foot height. The trial court had just ruled the obvious: 75 feet is illegal. Based upon a double illegality, Garcetti asked the appeals court to allow the construction to continue. It said No.
Then Garcetti had the City and Target petition the Supreme Court to allow the construction to resume, but the Supreme Court would not even consider the matter.
Thus, Target was a three time loser. So why did it not make the prudent business decision and follow the law? Target has said that it is losing $100 million in sales per year, for each year this Target store is not built.
If the Target could have gotten a permit from the City to construct a legal store staring in 2014, there would be a Target Store operating at the corner of Sunset and Western.
Garcetti is the Obstacle to the Store’s Construction
Let’s emphasize a crucial point: neither CCLA nor La Mirada filed any appeal to prolong the litigation. CCLA can see no obstacle other than Eric Garcetti to Target having been able to build its store in Hollywood at some time during the past eight years. In our opinion, the fault rests with one person: Eric Garcetti.
Rather than allowing Hollywoodians to have a Target Store, Garcetti had the City Council approve a material change to SNAP by adding a Subarea F which would allow a superstore at the Target location as well as elsewhere in SNAP. A major change to a new Specific Plan to add a Subarea which had been previously rejected requires an EIR. But none was done. Thus, the City Council knew for an absolute fact that its approval of the Subarea F would result in additional litigation. Illegally changing the law is what CCLA calls illegal. This is not a complicated concept.
By the way, did you realize that Target’s store will not be on the ground level, but it will begin on the 3rd floor? So if this plan were to be built, shoppers would have to go up three flights before even reaching the store itself. They call this pedestrian friendly?
More False Propaganda
As soon as the City Council approved the change to SNAP in May 2014, Mitch O’Farrell -- who pretends to be councilmember for CD 13 but who, from what we can ascertain, is in reality only administering the district according to the wishes of Eric Garcetti -- claimed that the construction would soon resume.
Apparently Garcetti believed that the City Council’s decision trumped the court order halting construction. But neither Target’s attorneys nor the City Attorney suffered from such hubris. They knew that Judge Fruin’s order will remain in effect until he or a higher court reverses it.
Thus, Target and the City asked the appeals court to dismiss their appeal so that construction could resume. On August 16, 2016, Division Seven of the Court of Appeals said that Judge Fruin’s stop order remains in effect.
Writing the unanimous decision for the appeals court, Justice Perluss reminded Target and Garcetti that they LOST in trial court. Then, Justice Perluss explained that when one loses, one does not then get to ignore the court order and continue construction.
We should remember that Garcetti has trouble following court orders. After Judge Chalfant had ordered the developer at 5929 Sunset not to demolish the facade of the Spaghetti Factory, Garcetti’s office – or so the story goes – hand walked the demolition permit through Building & Safety so that the facade could be destroyed overnight between Friday and Saturday. As a result, Judge Fruin had occupancy permits from 5929 Sunset pulled and the tenants had to move out.
Target is now at square one – at the same place it was in 2008. Target has probably lost well over $800 million, and Hollywoodians have not had a Target Store for eight years. All this trouble just because Garcetti thought that he could just kick aside the law and do whatever he wanted.
What Will the Future Bring?
Target and Garcetti now have to ask Judge Fruin’s permission to resume construction. No one knows how Judge Fruin will rule. In fact, Judge Fruin himself should not know how he will rule since none of the legal papers with the facts and arguments have been submitted to him.
It seems that one pivotal issue is whether the City can make a drastic change to a new Specific Plan which had previously chosen not to have a Subarea F, without the City first conducting an Environmental Impact Report (EIR.)
That raises another issue for Judge Fruin. Should he allow the construction to resume before the case’s final determination? If he allows a 75 foot store to be built and then he finds that the Subarea F amendment to SNAP required an EIR, he will have encouraged economic waste.
Who knows what weight Judge Fruin will give to the fact that Target can still construct a legal store under the original SNAP ordinance? Since litigation has already taken eight years and future litigation could take an additional eight to twelve years, Target can solve its financial problem right now by constructing the legal store. It is not Judge Fruin’s concern whether or not Garcetti will issue a permit for a legal store.
CCLA has no objection to a legal store and urges Target to ask the court for permission to proceed with a store which is compliant with SNAP as of July 17, 2014. The May 2016 SNAP amendment does not mandate a 75 foot store.
Update: On August 23, 2016, the City and Target went to Judge Fruin and asked that they be allowed to resume construction. Judge Fruin said, “No.” The jurisdiction remains in the appeals court until October 17, 2016, and until then Judge Fruin will not have jurisdiction to do anything.
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch. Full disclosure: The author is a member of Citizens Coalition Los Angeles (CCLA,) one of the two petitioners in the litigation involving the Target Store on the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GUEST COMMENTARY--Transportation politics are in place to make a major disruption to communities by the mistaken belief that light rail can be put into existing boulevards. This is contained in the November ballot Proposition M to increase the sales tax and extend it.
Putting light rail into existing boulevards at grade would kill off miles of businesses for lack of good access, would make greater traffic congestion including CO2 emissions and increase development at destinations that would further imbalance the ratio of travel demand to infrastructure capacity.
Among the supposed political motivations to do this is the belief that less VMT and CO2 emissions will result, BUT THAT IS NOT SO! The real motivation is to add Real Estate to the tax base and please developers. However, the consequences have dire affects for the City and County of LA while conflicting with affordable living and achieving environmental goals.
A profound incompatibility exists in trying to mix vehicular and rail transit modes in the same right of way. The State Public Utility Commission (PUC) requires a physical separation between the two different modes – which create major difficulties in operational and turning movements for vehicles and rail itself when light rail is put in the center of existing boulevards. Among those obstacles are the lack of opportunities to make left turns resulting not only in business failures, increased congestion and CO2 emissions but also with very much increased intrusions of traffic into adjacent residential neighborhoods to make up for the lack of left turn opportunities.
The Metro list of boulevards to have light rail include Lincoln, Sepulveda, Santa Monica, La Brea, Van Nuys Boulevards and a number of others. As seen in the accompanying plan image, this would invalidate much of what Metro would intend to do in the greater LA area.
In the recent EIR of the Westside Mobility Plan study, the impacts for both the centrally located light rail, which was then abandoned due to impacts, and the last alternative with an exclusive bus lane near the curbs were acknowledged as having “significant and unavoidable impacts.” Both of these conditions made more congestion and GHG emissions than not doing the projects at all. That makes such a ½ cent tax increase a waste of taxpayer money and offers sound reasons for not doing the projects. And more to the point of this discussion -- not voting for the tax increase!
The ½ cent sales tax increase has been in the lobbying pipeline for some time, which probably means few politicians had been given truthful disclosure on the matter of these recent revelations in the Westside Mobility Plan study.
The intent, to first use light rail, was to achieve a higher capacity mode to move person trips. The failure is due to the incompatibility of modes which degraded each of the rail and vehicle purposes and abilities. Mixing cars, trucks, buses and light rail becomes a traffic quagmire. Rail is supplemental to the vehicular network. And the ‘low hanging fruit’ of exclusive corridors like the Expo and Orange lines have been picked.
The way to add the desired capacity to remove congestion, and the “CO2e” associated with it, while making truly “rapid bus transit,” is by designing some roadways as continuously flowing traffic facilities and incorporating the quantitative aspects of efficiency through controlled traffic management and the qualitative aspects of urban design concerned with function and experience at the pedestrian scale. Vehicular modes need to be controlled and made efficient; place making for pedestrians and bike riders need appropriate space and protection.
Continuous flowing traffic (CFT) makes better use of the existing boulevard roadways giving the higher capacity that is required to remove those traffic bottleneck and gridlock conditions. The CFT roadway facility is designed to remove obstruction to flowing traffic, would still have cross traffic at grade as is needed in the urban context and would have traffic signals controlled by the LA system called Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system now used in some 4400 applications in locations throughout LA.
A CFT roadway can have community compatibility with low and safe speeds, a constant 30 mph for example, but would provide faster travel time because signals would be timed to ensure green lights on the timed and spaced roadway intersections giving a mile of travel each two minutes any time of the day. Lanes of flowing traffic could have as much as twice the current lane capacities that stop and go traffic operate at and with current technology and driver abilities.
This roadway joins the overall Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) planning strategy to reduce VMT and GHGs while developing sustainable communities in cities of all sizes and fixing many of those existing problems currently in the denser and overdeveloped areas of LA. Rightly so the approach stresses ‘Network Management’ and the transforming of vehicular efficiency with CAFÉ standards (54mpg by 2025) as well as increased use of electric and fuel cell vehicles.
In that, vehicular mileage is comprised of greater than 95% of County travel in the movement of goods and people, and with rail less than 2%, an urban roadway system with capacities between that of a regular boulevard and that of a freeway becomes a needed and timely addition to solving traffic problems in selected corridors. LA County has the Traffic Signal Synchronization Program (TSSP) which is effective on arterials where signals are spaced greater than two miles apart. But now there can be the CFT low cost, compatible urban roadway system at grade that deals with signalization being closer than TSSP.
Existing and future vehicle and traffic management technologies can be added to the basic CFT roadway architecture that comprises the ability to provide “continuous flowing traffic on urban interrupted streets.” The consistency of the system provides a safer driving environment for human drivers and can be combined with the autonomous vehicles of the future.
It is important to acknowledge some of these objectives to reduce VMT and GHG that can be achieved with the following policies: Disperse future growth to within the contained area called LA County to not attract overdevelopment in communities that will then make congested streets and excessive GHG emissions. This is an essential part of the planning strategy to reduce VMT and CO2e by making the length of the “averaged trips” shorter by having more complete and balanced communities dispersed throughout the County which by proximity of destinations will reduce average trip length.
Two things about the implied lack of Metro planning. There first is the fact that it is not feasible to put light rail into existing boulevards successfully eliminating most of their intended plans. Then there is the idea of trying to bring greater land use densities into the already high density areas of the LA Basin which already have congestion and communities in protest to preserve and protect themselves from drastic character change and gentrification. In contrast, it is the suburbs that need the job growth and increased urbanity to foster greater productivity within sustainable communities whose proximity of land uses decrease VMT and GHG emissions.
In the LA Basin you fix the traffic congestion with higher capacity and in the suburbs you structure diverse land use growth with evolving higher capacity in selected growth corridors.
That brings us to the present situation that would fund a political battle and planning disaster. Jack Humphreville says it concisely: “If this measure is approved, it will increase Metro’s tax revenue over the next 40 years by $120 billion to an estimated $300 billion. These funds will be used to subsidize Metro’s money losing operations, fund its pensions, and finance its very ambitious, debt fueled capital expenditure program that will burden future generations of Angelenos.”
I would add that this particular top-down planning not only does not work functionally and does not contain essential citizen participation but would set back real transportation solutions to mobility as well as socio-economic and environmental objectives.
Instead, give existing over-developed communities a break by dispersing a meaningful amount of growth and business creation to the suburbs to drive urbanity and productivity through proximity there also decreases VMT and GHG emissions by a massive amount of shorter vehicular trips. This is how transportation can realistically and affordably structure sustainable communities countywide. It evolves the existing dominant mode of travel into being efficient and making efficient urbane sustainable communities.
Work towards getting the bottom-up community planning that balances the top-down planning which can result in what is needed begins by the first step of voting down the proposed ½ cent tax increase.
(Phil Brown AIA (member, American Institute of Architects,) has invented the CFT roadway system improvement by research and development that has occurred over the last twelve years analyzing the Westside traffic problems and the socio-economic needs of Greater Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Mega-developer Rick Caruso’s proposed 21-story luxury high-rise apartment complex at the intersection of LaCienega and Burton Way is a city planning accident waiting to happen. It also similar to the three nearby Miracle Mile museum projects that I criticized as being oblivious to their surroundings in last week’s CityWatch column. In those cases, I charged that these bizarre museum projects were just plopped into place. They are totally disconnected from the Miracle Mile, and they do nothing to address that historic corridor’s deficient public services and infrastructure and lackluster appearance.
Market-based land use decisions-- Likewise, the 333 S. LaCienega project, which has recently completed its Draft Environmental Impact Report and is now shopping for support among community groups, has the same weaknesses. To begin, at this location -- the former Loehman’s and DWP water treatment site -- this project totally conflicts with adopted zoning and planning ordinances. To be built, the City Council must legally alter the underlying parcel’s zoning and General Plan designation. Until this happens, as designed, this project is dead in the water because it could only be built according to code.
While building to code would totally please surrounding neighborhoods, the developer, Rick Caruso, complains that a smaller building would generate much less profit than a luxury high-rise. He is undoubtedly correct, but reduced future profits are hardly legal grounds to justify spot-zoning and spot-planning. If elected officials cast aside every land use law and adopted General Plan element when investors thought they could make a fatter profit with a more permissive zone and General Plan designation, future accidents would no longer be waiting to happen. They would be happening right now.
Racing against the lock to get approvals-- Sitting in the wings is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. It comes up for a vote in March 2017. If approved, it would stop spot-zoning and spot-planning for good, and that includes many future accidents, like this one. This is why Caruso Affiliated must keep one eye on the calendar. For this project to go forth, it must obtain all of its approvals before the Initiative forces City Hall to take planning seriously. At the same time, Caruso Affiliated must also keep an eye on anxious neighbors and community organizations since many of them see no need for a luxury high-rise at this highly congested location.
The neighbors not only have full rights to appeal and litigate this project, but also know that this area already has three regional traffic generators: the Beverly Center, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and the Beverly Connection. They have also realized that City Hall made a colossal error by incrementally turning this area into a regional center through many separate land use actions. Furthermore, with or without Caruso Affiliated’s 333 S. LaCienega high-rise, this section of Los Angels is becoming much busier. The nearby Beverly Connection has been remodeled, while Cedars-Sinai is in a perpetual expansion mode, and the Taubman Corporation’s Beverly Center is undergoing a massive, $500 million renovation.
Despite so much private investment pouring into this area, it does not have nor will it have mass transit. While it has several METRO bus lines, few people who live, shop, or depend on medical care at this location rely on transit. As for the Caruso project, its future tenants only need to pick up the phone and a luxury car and chauffeur will be waiting for them.
While Wilshire Boulevard will eventually have a Purple Line subway station one mile to the south, no one contends that it will reduce traffic congestion in the Beverly Center area. San Vicente, Burton Way, Third Street, and LaCienega will still be a mess when the subway opens for business in 2023, and then for the foreseeable future.
The other disturbing issue is that that if/when the City Council adopts spot-zoning and spot-planning ordinances for this site, the resulting high-rise will be more than twice the height of other nearby buildings, such as Cedars’ new Saperstein wing. Furthermore, its streamlined moderne architectural design is totally at odds with other buildings in this area, except for another Caruso Affiliated luxury project one block away.
Area deficiencies-- But what about this area’s major deficits, other than horrendous traffic congestion? Like most of LA, they are legion, and this building’s proposed Community Benefits deal only scrapes the surface.
To begin, this entire area needs to have its conspicuous and dangerous overhead wires undergrounded. On nearby Third Street, filled with trendy stores and restaurants, they loom over both sides of the streets. This commercial center, like most of Los Angeles, also has broken sidewalks and lacks coherent street furniture, such as light standards, benches, signage, and trash cans.
San Vicente Boulevard is even worse. It is nearly impossible to cross it on foot, and its motley selection of trees includes some that are barely alive. And, since LA welcomes billboards, unlike neighboring Beverly Hills, they are a true blight in this corridor.
At its best, the enormous private investment flowing into 333 S. LaCienega will not fix this area’s many deficits. At its worst, it will exacerbate traffic congestion, if that is possible, and its spot zoning and spot-planning – courtesy of the LA City Council -- sets a dangerous precedent.
Despite disclaimers, it is only time until they are matched with follow-up City Council actions to grant similar requests from other real estate speculators. When this happens, landowners will reap enormous windfalls in increased property values, but none of this instant wealth will trickle down to the local community.
Then, lot by lot, like much of Los Angeles, height and density will increase by spot-zoning, totally sabotaging LA’s besieged planning process. Of course, the necessary supporting infrastructure will still be ignored. Water, electricity, telecommunications, street capacity, waste water, storm drains, pedestrian enhancements, parks, libraries, schools, and much more, will remain after-thoughts.
When this finally happens, though, today’s elected officials will have moved on to cushy consulting jobs, or perhaps they will be winning horseshoe tournaments in their desert hideaways.
What to do? I think one of my neighbors hit the nail on the head in her testimony to a local Neighborhood Council meeting.
She argued that community groups should not bless such projects in exchange for negotiations that produce supposed community benefits.
This is because spot-zoning and sweetheart deals are a slippery slope. They are designed to divide local communities by peeling away shortsighted factions. Their side deals then end up “shredding LA’s zoning code” and destroying entire neighborhoods.
Finally, even when developers have tremendous pull that allows them to usually get what they want, our response should be, “Build to code or don’t build at all.”
(Dick Platkin is a veteran city planner. He reports on local planning issues for CityWatch, and he welcomes comments and questions at email@example.com.)
ALPERN AT LARGE--No need to mince words here: if the state did its job on transportation funding, then Metro wouldn't have to keep raising its county sales tax every few years. Sacramento, when it comes to stealing and misappropriating transportation funding, you stink ... and you ought to be ashamed. And now there's a bill (SB1379) to have Sacramento play a direct role in choosing the Metro Board?!
There's a darned good reason why the Metro Board had to take over the last portions of the 405 widening project through the Sepulveda Pass: Sacramento was broke and spending money on other things ... did you know we spend as much or more on former state workers as current state workers?
But whatever ... no one other than the nerds even read or care about that "pension" thing.
And past governors kept offering and then taking away money for the Expo Line and other major Metro projects--seriously, if we didn't have Measure R passed, it's anyone's guess when we'd have an Expo Line or Crenshaw/LAX line...and there would be nothing left for any other projects.
Freeways really should be under the largesse of the state, and major rail lines (the latter of which, if you think about it, are freeway-alternatives or freeway-supplements) should be a combined state/local project with respect to planning and funding.
Meanwhile, while this governor spends more time shoving a high-speed rail line down the throats of an ambivalent taxpaying public (tens of billions of dollars here, folks) without getting airlines, the private sector, and Amtrak on board, the lion's share of getting the light and heavy rails to our major LA City/County destinations has been the responsibility of the county.
You know, the supes. The five elected kings and queens of LA County. There are four Metro seats for the Mayor, and seats allotted to different geographic regions of the county.
Balance and fighting is always tough when fighting for projects and money, but after years of infighting we passed Measure R, and if we pass Measure M (also known as Measure R-2) this November, we won't have to agonize over freeway and rail access to the ports versus LAX light rail access versus the Wilshire Subway or the Sepulveda Pass Subway versus ...
... you get the idea--freeways in the northern and eastern portions of the county, along with new rail lines, are just as vital as they are in the southern and western portions of the county.
Our past mayor set the groundwork for LAX reconfiguration and getting the light rail to LAX, but it's been Mayor Garcetti and Westside City Councilmember Bonin who've worked with the right people to finish the job while also FIIIIIIIIIINALLY (!) allowing LAX renovation/reconfiguration without smashing into Westchester, and cutting off Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards. as well as future rail line extensions.
Unfortunately, the past mayor also infuriated the southern and eastern portions of the county with respect to Measure R spending, and focused so much on the Wilshire Subway that eastern and southern rail lines appeared to be getting the short end of the stick.
So enter Senate Bill 1379, sponsored by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), which would maintain 4 seats on the Metro Board, but only have two county seats for the Metro Board while replacing the three others with a seat for Long Beach, as well as an appointee by the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the Assembly.
Most of you reading this would want to respond with a "slow jam" of the following: "THE STATE WOULD SUPPLANT COUNTY GOVERNANCE OF A COUNTY ENTITY WITH STATE APPOINTEES".
I'm not sure if the "D" in D-Artesia stands for Democrat, Dum-Dum, or Delusional, but if this is the best that Mr. Mendoza can do to ensure equity between the west and east halves of the county with respect to transportation funding, then maybe he should find a new hobby.
The late Bill Rosendahl felt that Measure R should have been a full penny to get the job done, and that means a Gold Line to the San Bernardino County Line and to the full Eastside, a Green Line to the South Bay, and a light rail line to the Southeast Cities as well as the obvious north/south and east/west rail lines for the LA County urban core and LAX.
Ditto for our roads and freeways, and for operational expenses.
We're getting the job done, Mr. Mendoza, and both the Mayor and the County pols are getting along better than they've gotten along in decades. Washington realizes that LA is a heckuva good partner in transportation spending.
But the same is not true for Sacramento. That entity really owes us tens of billions of dollars for our roads and rails and other transportation needs.
So let's just hope that SB 1379 is just a misguided shot in the dark by a Sacramento that truly has been asleep at the switch for a very, very long time with respect to transportation.
A simple note to Sacramento: don't give us lame, sophomoric governance bills. If you really want to help, spend a few billion a year on city/county directed needs. After all, that really IS the sort of thing that taxpayers expect their state taxes to go to, rather than to have to pay it again to the counties because Sacramento spent transportation money ... somewhere ... else
(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 firstname.lastname@example.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.)
SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT-Venice has been a part of the city of Los Angeles for 90 years, but residents have started a campaign to separate the neighborhood to become ... well, it has to figure that out.
But it's SoCal's own Brexit – Vexit.
"What's best for Venice?" says Nick Antonicello, chair of the new ad hoc committee on city-hood at the Venice Neighborhood Council.
The Council voted in late July to explore how a split could happen.
One option would be to "detach" Venice from LA City to become an unincorporated part of LA County. Another would ask a nearby independent city like Santa Monica to annex it. The last – and most ideal – is to become its own city.
The movement is because Antonicello and others are increasingly frustrated about the lack of attention it gets from City Hall.
"People in Venice like home rule and they like to control their own destiny," he says. "Small municipalities work very well."
Antonicello argues that Venetians are the best decision-makers to tackle local issues like housing, homelessness, gentrification and more.
Plus, he sees that wealthy Venice is putting more tax dollars into the city's coffers without getting much back in return.
But no matter how it tries to break off and why, it will be tough for Venice to go it alone. "All of these situations are handled by something called the Local Agency Formation Commission," says journalist Isaac Simpson who wrote about the rift in Curbed LA.
The Commission will put the city through a financial stress-test to make sure it can afford to exist without LA's help. East Los Angeles has failed that test several times when trying to incorporate.
If a city passes the Commission's test, then the issue has to also pass two separate referendums: one by the neighborhood itself, and the other by the rest of Los Angeles. That's what thwarted the 2002 efforts to secede by Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor Area of San Pedro. All those votes failed.
"Venice would easily pass its own ballot," says Simpson. "In terms of getting the entire city to let them go as a second-most-visited tourist location in Southern California, the likelihood there seems extremely slim."
But if Venice does succeed, there will be a clear loser: Los Angeles.
"Well, it probably gets a lot poorer," says Simpson, noting that the wealthy tax base of Venice won't be a part of LA's budget anymore.
Regardless of which option is taken, it could be weeks or months before the Venice Neighborhood Council decides what its next step will be.
(Take Two, exclusively on 89.3 KPCC, 89.1 KUOR and 90.3 KVLA in southern California, and on 88.9 KNPR in Las Vegas, captures the spirit of the West in a conversational, informal, witty style and examines the cultural issues people are buzzing about.) Graphic credit: LA.Curbed. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
A MILLENNIAL PROJECT VIDEO REPORT—Here is an investigative look at the much covered … and debated … Clinton Foundation. What does it do? How does it work? Is there anything to be worried about?
Presidential candidate Donald Trump calls it corrupt and should be closed down.
Candidate Hillary Clinton says of the Foundation: ‘It's a longstanding strategy when advocating for the rights of a historically underserved or oppressed community — drawing through-lines, showing how what's good for one can be good for all.’
Look at Andrew Davis report. You decide.
‘The Millennial Project’ founder Andrew Davis hosts this unique look inside the Clinton Foundation. This video report … and various other newsworthy videos … originated and are available for viewing at ‘The Millennial Project’.
TOO MUCH IN THE NEWS-That’s right, my fellow Americans, buck up, because, at a minimum, it’ll be four years before Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s shocking hairdos – Trump’s reddish-fox-paprika hued weave and Lochte’s silvery blue-raspberry bubble gum concoction – and equally, their boorish behavior, will finally recede, from both our collective conscience and our national press. Only the most naïve and optimistic citizens can believe otherwise.
No matter how you slice it, Trump and Lochte are in the news, and in the news is where they are going to stay. For how long, many of you viscerally wonder from the depths of your souls? Four more years, I'd say, and, actually, if it’s just four more years, and not interminably longer, that would be good news.
Lochte’s Olympic-sized whopper about being robbed at gunpoint by Brazilian police is just too juicy; for journalists, it’s like how catnip is to most cats (or how cute cat videos are to most people): impossible to resist. This is because, at its rosiest, the true story is that Lochte, the pampered thirty-two-year-old man-child, all decked out in his swanky, super-expensive suede shoes, couldn’t by the end of his all-night partying at the “France House,” hold his liquor or contain his entitled, frat-boy-style antics, much less tell the truth.
Lochte’s boneheaded buffoonery and its collateral shenanigans, characterized by many as a bona fide “international incident,” will undoubtedly surface quickly now (and possibly, and depressingly, forever, or at a minimum, at least until the start of the 2020 Olympic Games) in any extended discussion or commentary about the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This will be so on TV, online, or in good, old-fashioned print – likely around the world – because ultimately, even Usain Bolt can’t outrun a story with the legs and unflattering optics of Lochte’s petulant, now way overly-public pee.
The same is true of Trump’s sewage, and by that, I mean virtually every word that has come out of Trump’s mouth. Sadly, I submit, that Trump’s dump of bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, and otherwise uninformed and unhinged views on life, society, and virtually every other subject of importance and nonimportance, will long stain our public and political discourse – and, will do so much more than Lochte’s gas station tinkle of entitlement.
For how long will we continue to be sullied by Trump and all related Trumpisms (many of you plaintively cry out)? Like Lochte’s lunacy, at least four more years, I’d say, and I pray to God that it’s not even longer. Because come November 9, when Trump’s reality TV style candidacy for presidency confronts reality, no one rightfully and genuinely believes that we’ll stop hearing about Trump – or from him.
Even when Trump embarks on his promised “very, very nice long vacation,” returning “back to a very good way of life,” he’ll tweet, he’ll call-in to radio and TV shows (perhaps even as he unwinds with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on his twenty-four carat embossed “Trump Force One”). Trump can't resist a chance to opine, without any information or knowledge, on the current news and issues of the day, and, of course, to complain how the system is so “rigged.”
Lochte and Trump are like two peas in a pod of putrid press: Expect to read and hear much more about them again. And, again and again.
(Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--The Republican, white-nationalist Donald Trump slanders and insults Latinos, Muslims and women. He promotes violence. He mocks the disabled. He refers to himself as brilliant, citing his fortune—obscenely accumulated over decades of predatory business practices that cheat workers and consumers—as “proof.”
He feuds with the gold star parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, claiming that he too has “sacrificed” (like the dead soldier and his parents) by employing “thousands and thousands of people.” It was a remarkable comment: Being born into wealth and in a position to hire a large number of people is not a “sacrifice.” If Trump isn’t reaping profits from all those workers under his command, he must not really be the brilliant, capitalist businessman he claims to be.
A military veteran gives the Republican presidential candidate his Purple Heart medal, bestowed on soldiers injured in battle. Trump quips, “I always wanted a Purple Heart. This was a lot easier.” Unreal. Donald Trump, Mr. Sacrifice, used college deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War.
How is this noxious candidate even within shouting distance of Hillary Clinton? Let’s separate the fact from the fiction.
The Donald and the White Working Class
One easy, elite answer is to blame the supposedly stupid and racist white working class. It is common to hear mainstream (corporate) media talking heads proclaim that Trump is the candidate of the white working class and “low-income whites”—those that The Wall Street Journal and Trump himself like to call “the forgotten Americans.” These are who Barack Obama described in 2008 as people who “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
How accurate is this narrative? According to exit polls, the median household income of Trump’s primary voters was $72,000, $11,000 higher than the corresponding figure for Bernie Sanders’ and Clinton’s primary voters.
In his analysis of survey data gathered from more than 70,000 interviews in June and July, Gallup economist Jonathan Rothwell found that Americans who favor Trump have incomes that are 6 percent higher than that of nonsupporters.
Trump is less popular with the white working class than Mitt Romney was four years ago. In 2012, Romney garnered 62 percent of votes by “non-college-educated whites” (researchers’ and journalists’ longstanding, if imperfect, stand-in term for the white working class). According to the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Trump isn’t even backed by a majority of this group, with just 49 percent on his side. Earlier this summer, his support among these whites hovered around 60 percent, suggesting that they are capable of processing information on his toxicity.
When you consider that the nation’s abysmally low voter-turnout rate falls the further one moves down the U.S. income scale, it seems highly improbable that Trump—currently behind Clinton in national polls—will ride some great wave of white-proletarian, Brexit-like sentiment to victory in November.
Still, Trump is doing better than Clinton with working-class whites. In the aforementioned NBC-WSJ survey, she trails him by 13 percentage points among whites without a college education and by 21 points among men in that group. In former union strongholds and deindustrialized, white working-class enclaves like Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County and Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, Arun Gupta recently reported on teleSUR English that voters are “flocking” to Trump.
Where did Trump do best in the primaries? A New York Times analysis found that his strongest base was in predominantly white areas where a proportion of workers toil in jobs that involve “working with one’s hands, especially manufacturing”; a big share of working-age adults are jobless; an unusually high number of people live in mobile homes; and all but a few residents told the U.S. Census Bureau that their ancestors were “American.”
Jon Flanders, a retired railroad machinist and former union leader, told me that he recently “asked a question about who the union workers in the railroad shops predominately supported. The question was asked on a Facebook page with about 1,000 members. The answer? Trump, overwhelmingly.”
Rothwell, the Gallup economist, determined that “the prototypical Trump supporter” is white, male, Christian (but not Mormon), heterosexual and without a college degree. He found Trump supporters significantly correlated with low intergenerational mobility, weak income growth and employment in “blue-collar occupations that have been exposed to competition with immigrants and foreign workers.”
The higher-income figures of Trump supporters relative to Democratic primary voters and non-Trump supporters is largely explained by race. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to be white, and whites receive considerably higher average incomes than nonwhites.
The Elite Liberal Thesis
So what’s this white working-class preference for the bombastic Trump all about? It might seem counterintuitive, even absurd, that a vicious, opulence-flouting, uber-narcissistic plutocrat and Republican like Trump garners more support than a Democrat from working-class people of any race. We can be sure that many residents of affluent, liberal enclaves nodded their heads in approval when Obama said this about Trump at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia: “Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his 70 years on this earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion? Your voice? ... If so, you should vote for him. But if you’re someone who’s truly concerned about paying your bills, if you’re really concerned about pocketbook issues and … creating more opportunity for everybody, then the choice isn’t even close. … You should vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Then why are so many white workers failing to vote in accord with their purported obvious economic interests, Mr. President? How do we explain this great anomaly? When it isn’t simply writing non-college-educated whites off as irredeemably racist, the standard, elite, liberal-Democratic, campus-town line is that all those poor, pitiful, xenophobic, gun-clinging white proles have been tricked into foolishly “voting against their own pocketbook interests” by clever Republican strategists who divert white workers with convenient scapegoats and social issues—inner-city black criminals and “welfare cheats,” Mexican immigrants, guns, gay rights, abortion and religion. All these ugly cards are played to prevent the white working class from fighting the selfish billionaires who profit from the plutocratic agenda of the Republicans, “the party of big business.”
There’s some truth in this venerable, liberal trope, of course. The divide-and-conquer Machiavellianism this “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (WTMWK) narrative points to has helped Republicans win white working-class votes since the days of Archie Bunker (at whom much of Trump’s rhetoric seems aimed) and through the age of blue-collar Reaganites and “Joe the Plumber.”
What’s the Matter With the Limousine-(Neo)Liberal Democrats?
Still, the prevailing, liberal, WTMWK narrative is plagued by four basic difficulties. The first and most obvious problem is that post-New Deal era, neoliberal Democrats are no less captive to the 1 percent than the GOP. Like the Bill Clinton and Obama presidencies, the likely presidency of the heavily Wall Street-backed Hillary Clinton will be loaded down with economic elites linked to the top financial institutions and transnationally oriented corporations and to elite corporate policy-planning bodies like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for American Progress and the Brookings Institution.
It’s true that the Sanders challenge and the broadly populist mood of U.S. voters in the current New Gilded Age of extreme inequality pushed Clinton’s rhetoric to the progressive-sounding left during the primary campaign. But this is just another example of what Christopher Hitchens once described, in his bitter and acerbic study of the Clintons, as “the essence of American politics”—“the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Clinton’s Wall Street backers have never been concerned about the populace-pleasing rhetoric she’s had little choice but to wield in chasing middle-, working- and lower-class votes. They know “it’s just politics.” They expect a President Hillary Clinton to drop her current opposition to the arch-corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as soon as possible.
Look at her first major action after locking down the Democratic nomination: She selected Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine is a financial-sector darling who backed fast-tracking the TPP and supported his state’s anti-union, right-to-work laws.
It is little wonder that top Wall Street operatives flocked to the Democratic National Convention after the Sanders specter advance-surrendered and Kaine was tapped. The large, socially liberal and economically neoliberal wing of the elite financial sector was pining to reunite with the more functional and effective of the nation’s two reigning state-capitalist political parties.
But the Democrats abandoned the working class and embraced the economic elite, including the professional elite (more on that below) long ago (as journalist Thomas Frank noted in his book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”). And Democrats of the neoliberal era are no less adept than Republicans at deploying the politics of identity to hide their captivity to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money. They just play the other, more multicultural, side of the same identity-politics game. Both parties make sure that, in Chris Hedges’ words, “Goldman Sachs always wins,” since “there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.”
Is it really all that clear that workers of any race have obvious and rational “pocketbook interests” in the presidential ascendancy of yet another identity-politics-wielding, hedge-fund Democrat like Hillary Clinton?
A Beast of a Different Sort
Second, Trump has hardly restricted his appeal to the white working class by pushing racist, sexist, nationalist, religious, gun-toting and nativist buttons. Making repeated overtures to Sanders supporters, he has mimicked the language of Franklin Roosevelt with denunciations of “big business” and its corruption of government and politics. He’s denounced the North American Free Trade Agreement and “free trade” more broadly, blaming multinational corporations for abandoning working people. He altered the Republican platform to include a plank calling for the breakup of big banks via the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act. He’s dropped standard Republican assaults on social-democratic “entitlements.” He’s attacked the globalism of the corporate elite and criticized related imperial entanglements the GOP has joined top Democrats in advancing for more than six decades.
Sincerely or not (his profile of advisers and top funders and his most recent economic policy addresses certainly suggest the latter), Trump has tacked further to the liberal-populist-social-democratic-sounding left on economic policy than any Republican presidential candidate in history. This is something the Democrats in Philadelphia seemed not to understand. In one Democratic convention speech after another, they depicted Trump as little more than the usual Republican monster spouting ugly, nativist, racist and patriarchal narratives to hide his allegiance to the wealthy Few. They showed little understanding that Trump is a different type of Republican beast.
Labor-Market Economics 101
Third, it is misleading to draw too firm a line between workers’ “pocketbook” concerns and nativist calls for immigration restriction. It doesn’t take an advanced academic degree to realize that the movement of poor and desperate workers from one part of the world capitalist system to another poses threats to the working and living standards of working people who are in the receiving nation. Of course, white workers have rational economic reasons to want to restrict the size of the “reserve army of labor” that employers can use against the working class in the “homeland.”
In a similar vein, it’s a mistake to think that white workers in, say, West Virginia coal territory or the North Dakota oil fields have no cogent pocketbook reasons to feel threatened by Democrats’ claim (more progressive fluff than serious environmentalist reality) that they will address climate change by cutting back on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.
Those who find such proletarian pocketbook calculations ethically horrifying might want to recall one of Bertolt Brecht’s more cutting lines: “Grub first, then ethics.” Times are desperate indeed in the burned-out coal fields of Appalachia and the ever more opiate-addicted and suicide-plagued provinces of deindustrialized, post-family-farmland, white America. The “forgotten” counties where Trump did best in the GOP primaries are the same counties in which middle-aged, working-class whites have been experiencing high death rates.
We Are Not the 99 Percent: Between Labor and Capital
Fourth, liberals making the WTMWK argument often seem to operate with a simplistic, two-class model dividing the U.S. into the superrich (let’s call them the 1 percent), linked naturally to the Republicans, and everybody else (the 99 percent), linked naturally to the Democrats. Besides deleting the Democrats’ captivity to the wealthy corporate and financial Few (really the 0.1 percent or even the 0.01 percent), this dichotomy provides undue privilege-cloaking cover to “lesser” elites—professionals, managers, administrators and other “coordinator-class” Americans in the nation’s top 20 percent.
The privilege and power of the professional and managerial elite is no less “true,” “real,” substantive or vital to contemporary hierarchy than that of the financial super-elite. In the U.S.—as across the world capitalist system and even in non- and anti-capitalist workplaces and bureaucracies—ordinary working people suffer not just from the private, profit-seeking, capitalist domination of workplace and society. They also regularly confront what longtime left economist and activist Mike Albert calls the “corporate division of labor”—an alienating, dehumanizing and hierarchical subdivision of tasks “in which a few workers have excellent conditions and empowering circumstances, many fall well below that, and most workers have essentially no power at all.”
It is through regular subordinate and often humiliating contact with the professional and managerial, or “coordinator class” (Albert’s and his fellow radical economist Robin Hahnel’s term), not the 1 percent, that the working class experiences class inequality and oppression in America.
I talked earlier this summer to “Big Frank,” a 40-something, white, graveyard-shift, parking ramp and parking lot cleaner at the University of Iowa. He doesn’t like “rich bastards” like Trump, but it’s not the financial and corporate elite he deals with daily. He sees Trump and other rich and famous Americans like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on television. He carries out “ridiculous orders” and receives “idiotic” reprimands from well-paid, “know-it-all pencil-pushers who don’t give a flying fuck about regular working guys like me.” Frank is voting for Trump “just to piss off all the big-shot [professional-class] liberals” he perceives as constantly disrespecting and pushing him around.
Listen to Green Party leader Howie Hawkins, the Teamster union activist who got 5 percent of the vote in New York’s last gubernatorial election. “The Democratic Party ideology is the ideology of the professional class,” he says. “Meritocratic competition. Do well in school, get well-rewarded.” Unfortunately, perhaps, his comment reminds me of the bumper sticker I’ve seen on the back of more than a few beat-up cars in factory parking lots and trailer parks over the years: “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.”
“The biggest threat to the Democrats isn’t losing votes to the Greens,” Hawkins says. It is losing votes to Trump, who “sounds like he’s mad at the system. So they throw a protest vote to him.”
It doesn’t help that the professional and managerial class is largely aligned with both the politically correct, pro-immigrant multiculturalism and environmentalism that many white workers have genuine economic (and other) reasons to see as threats to their well-being, living standards and status.
Members of this privileged class beneath the 1 percent may not ride in limousines, but they also don’t go around in the beat-up pickup trucks that “Big Frank” drives both on and off the job. We might designate some of its more liberal members as “Prius Progressives.”
A Trump victory in November seems ever more unlikely. The gaffe-prone and highly unprofessional nature of the candidate, the vastly superior ruling- and professional-class resources being marshaled around the de facto, moderate-Republican Clinton, the racial and ethnic demographics of the national electoral map, and the relative weakness and likely low turnout of his supposed “white working-class base”—all this and more points to a major defeat for “the Donald.”
Progressives should view the alleged threat of a great wave of racist, nativist, white, working-class anger ready to “Brexit” the toxic Trump into the White House with a healthy dose of skepticism. Trump’s white proletarian base is not big or energized enough to make that happen. The notion that it is seems calculated to scare left-leaning progressives into voting for the Wall Street-favored, right-wing Democrat, war hawk Clinton and to reinforce the very neoliberal and identity-obsessed politics that helps explain the existence of such white working-class Republicanism in the first place.
(Paul Street is an independent researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City and Chicago. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.)
FIRST PERSON REPORT--When the music comes on at a rave, a synergetic feeling of mass escape and euphoria runs through the crowd. But this unparalleled collective high has come at a cost.
In July, three people were found dead at the Hard Summer Music Festival near Los Angeles. During the two-day festival, which drew a record 147,000 attendees, an additional six people were hospitalized. Prior to these deaths, the Los Angeles Times counted 26 rave-related fatalities in the American Southwest since 2006. That doesn’t include non-fatal overdoses, a number which could easily reach triple digits if tallied across the country.
The reaction by lawmakers in cities like Los Angeles has been to clamp down on the events themselves, either banning them entirely or demanding strict control over the crowds. Promoters have instituted stricter security policies, while contending that at such large-scale events, drug use is inevitable. But the recent deaths suggest that these “solutions” haven’t solved anything.
Even though this latest tragedy is fresh, the problem is so familiar—and so unchanged—that a Los Angeles Times write-up of the Hard Summer deaths didn’t even bother to find a new doctor to talk to. They just recycled a quote from last year, in which a doctor frets that “there’s something about these events that leads to this rampant drug abuse,” but is unable to put his finger on why.
I’ve been going to raves for six years, and I don’t find the current approach to addressing the problem convincing. What I am convinced of is that it’s possible to have raves without any deaths at all.
Why has it been so hard to “fix” raves? Because we have not accurately identified the problem, which to my mind does not stem from kids disregarding their own lives, but rather from the fact that they never learned how to handle the spectacular, seductive freedom offered by raves.
The way I see it, the danger presented at raves stems from the fact that more than a few attendees are the products of our culture of over-protective parents. These ravers grew up highly supervised without the chance to be left to their own devices. Add to that the subtly influencing hand of teenage hormones and it’s almost surprising that there aren’t more tragedies.
Our society has become increasingly afraid of letting children run wild, and young kids today don’t have the same opportunities as previous generations to venture out into the world on their own, to learn how to handle the small freedoms of youth, to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Instead, children are funneled from an early age into a myriad of adult-monitored activities such as team sports, school dances, and summer camps.
As teenagers, these hothouse kids begin to break out of their confinement. Raves are the perfect venue for youthful experimentation. Even the word “rave” sounds new and different from the “concerts” or “shows” of which adults hold fond memories.
Rave culture has always celebrated the illicit. The very definition of the word “rave,” meaning “to talk wildly or incoherently, as if one were delirious or insane” conjures intoxication. The first raves were born as a mutation of 1970s and ‘80s discotheques, the distinction being that raves were held in basements, lofts, and abandoned warehouses, rather than established venues. These parties often lasted for upwards of 10 straight hours, and people could bring in their own substances hassle free.
At raves, kids are given a shot at unmonitored social interaction, and the chance to finally partake in all sorts of risk-taking away from hovering parents. Unfortunately, these are not the baby-step risks of younger years. And without past lessons to guide them, it’s easy for bad choices to escalate without anyone realizing.
The question of rave safety is not a narrow one. In the past few years, the American electronic dance music (or EDM) scene has exploded, with longer, multi-day festival events routinely pulling in crowds of over 100,000 people. EDM has penetrated the heart of the musical world; it has its own category at the Grammys, and heavily influences the sound of contemporary pop music.
When I got into raving in 2010, I had always felt like a social outcast, but raves connected me with a group of likeminded people who I would never have met otherwise. It wasn’t long before I started going out more, getting into trouble with my parents, and having more fun than ever before.
Regardless of what the law says, the youth will continue to party on. The best thing we can do is to ensure the spaces they party in are as safe and nurturing as possible.
Since then, the rave scene has become firmly cemented in the realm of popular culture. But that didn’t mean the end of drugs or danger. Even as security checks have gotten stricter, drugs have been present at every rave I’ve ever been to. And security checks haven’t prevented deaths.
The good news is that thoughtful alternative approaches have emerged. Some raves are starting to protect their attendees, often by bringing together people who understand how raves work and getting them to work together in the crowds.
The Bunk Police, a group now a few years old, built a strategy on the insight that most overdoes happen after kids at raves take mystery drugs they bought from strangers. Many of these drugs are actually harmful chemicals masquerading as popular club drugs.
The Bunk Police show up at events armed with tests kits that can tell whether a bag of powder is real MDMA, or one of the countless synthetic chemicals that have flooded the rave scene since the popularization of online drug dealing websites, such as the fabled “bath salts” scare of years past. Since their existence acknowledges the presence of drug use, festivals have tried to ban groups like The Bunk Police. Despite this, members hop fences, bribe security guards and risk jail time so that they can keep other people safe.
At Steez Promo’s Moonrise Festival in Baltimore, Maryland, volunteers make sure attendees stay safe while they’re partying. They check on people who look sick or zoned out, and hand out gum, water, and fruit. The best thing about the volunteers is that they’re also ravers, and can be considerably less intimidating than the security staff. In the event of an emergency, a volunteer can help you feel better, whereas a security guard might just detain you. When things get too rough for volunteers, Moonrise is also equipped with two medical tents near high traffic areas, staffed by a team of emergency medical technicians.
While unsupervised spaces like raves inevitably invite dangerous activity, they also provide a place for youths to grow, experiment, and flourish, free to make mistakes away from the judging eyes of adult society. Regardless of what the law says, the youth will continue to party on. The best thing we can do is to ensure the spaces they party in are as safe and nurturing as possible.
(Louis Patterson is a senior at Occidental College studying English, and a summer fellow at Zócalo Public Square … where this perspective was first posted.)
POT POLITICS--An appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice can’t prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers for violating federal cannabis law as long as those individuals are in full compliance with state laws legalizing medical marijuana.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held unanimously that a 2014 budget measure “prohibits DOJ from spending funds” to go after such people.
That’s bad news for the Justice Department’s increasingly controversial war on marijuana. Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for medical purposes.
In the 10 cases from California and Washington state before the court, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Justice Department must show that the defendants were in violation of their state marijuana laws before proceeding with the federal criminal prosecutions. The appeals court sent all 10 cases back to the trial courts to make such determinations.
But Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the court, pointed out the precarious nature of the federal block on these prosecutions. In a footnote, he said that “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”
The judge also noted that the next administration may “shift enforcement priorities” and place a greater emphasis on prosecution of federal marijuana crimes.
Nonetheless, “this really is a big deal,” said Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation.
“It’s an assertion by a court ― the largest federal circuit ― that federal prosecutors cannot enforce the Controlled Substances Act against those in compliance with state medical marijuana provisions,” he explained. “It’s not forever ... but it’s a lot more protection than was in place prior to the ruling.”
Kamin added that the panel’s unanimity shouldn’t give the Obama administration “much reason for optimism,” should it choose to appeal.
Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, was similarly exuberant.
“If the Obama administration is smart, they’ll drop this fight right now rather than risk an even more embarrassing defeat on appeal,” he told HuffPost.
DOJ spokesman Peter Carr told HuffPost that the department was reviewing the decision and declined further comment.
The defendants in the 10 cases had argued that the charges should be dismissed because of a bipartisan budget measure, passed in December 2014, that bars the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent states from “implementing” their own laws authorizing the “use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Last year, another Justice Department spokesman said it interpreted that provision as blocking prosecutors from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” but not from charging medical marijuana patients and businesses that violate federal marijuana laws. The measure’s sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.) expressed their profound disagreement at the time.
The 9th Circuit is not the first federal court to say the Justice Department got it wrong. Last year a federal judge in an unrelated case ruled that the department can’t prosecute state-legal providers of medical marijuana and said that its interpretation “tortures the plain meaning of the statute.”
Besides the 25 states and D.C. that have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes, voters in nine other states are expected to consider some form of marijuana legalization this year.
Still, the plant remains banned under federal law. States’ efforts to legalize the drug in some form or another have worked only because of guidance from top DOJ officials urging frontline federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.
“I applaud the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for proclaiming the law as it has been intended by congressional legislation,” Rohrabacher said in an emailed statement to HuffPost. He called the court’s decision a victory for states’ rights, medical marijuana patients and “the constitutional process of establishing law.”
The Justice Department, Rohrabacher said, should “go on notice that there should be no more prosecutions and raiding of dispensaries in those states where the state government has legalized medical marijuana.”
And Farr told HuffPost, “California and many other states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes yet the federal government still considers it as dangerous as heroin. While I’m pleased to see the amendment that I worked on with my colleagues being interpreted by the courts correctly, there needs to be a permanent change to federal policy to ensure medical marijuana patients aren’t criminalized in states that allow it.”
(Matt Ferner is a national reporter for Huffington Post [[huffingtonpost.com]] … where this piece was originally posted.)
CORRUPTION WATCH-Back in the days of yore, when we Baby Boomers were coming on the scene, we were nurtured on values from comic books and TV. We all knew about “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” In grade school, we also heard about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” I always thought that “the American Way” meant “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So I and my fellow baby boomers blissfully grew up with a vision of America where no wrong went un-righted and happiness was our birthright.
Just as we had picked up other phrases like, “Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies…we all fall down,’” we proudly repeated, “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” After all, it opened every episode of Superman. In our minds, the Man of Steel was always on the side of right and that’s how we believed the world to be.
Many of us have never shaken ourselves free from the childish belief that, in America, truth and justice were The Way, and we all had the right to Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Oh, yes, the pursuit of happiness was very important as we became teenagers. Then, the deaths in Southeast Asia entered our world. In our minds, we could still hear the end of the rhyme, “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” … dead. We heard that it referred to the Black Plague which had wiped out millions. That was an interpretation that fit the times. Rather than Happiness, Death awaited us.
And, then The War was over and Nixon was gone and we could continue with the American Way.
Decades later, as Baby Boomers, we enter retirement and look back to see our legacy catching up to us. We had been lulled into complacency and now we realize that our children will be the first American generation likely to do worse than their parents. Productivity increases have stopped going to those who produced them. Instead, 90% of all productivity gains since Obama took office have gone to the top 1%. Private pensions are following the path of the passenger pigeon and public pensions are purposefully under-funded.
In 2016, we no longer see Truth Justice and the American Way. Rather, we see “Corruptionism.” The alliance of the wealthy and their pawns in Congress and elsewhere has departed from the path of truth and justice. In its wake, we see a string of multi-billion dollar thefts. Worse, there is no Superman to right the wrongs.
First, there was the piddling Equity Funding Scandal in 1970. Then we had the significant Savings and Loans Scandals where millions of elderly Americans were fleeced of their life savings. Back in the 1980s, some efforts were made to hold the thieves accountable, and so the world of finance learned about Accounting Control Fraud.
Later, we had the Dot Com Crash in 2000, followed by the Enron Bankruptcy in 2001. So, in 2004, we sent Martha Stewart to prison. Really, Martha? At least, there was a diluted notion of some type of justice, weird as it was to seize upon Martha Stewart.
Then, we entered the world in which Rampant Criminality replaced Truth and Justice as the American Way. We got the Crash of 2008 which was due to the massive trillion dollar Credit Default Swap frauds of Wall Street executives. Gone was all pretense of holding the guilty parties liable. The government claimed that Wall Street executives had been merely careless, that nothing criminal happened. How does one carelessly bribe a rating agency to give top ratings to junk bonds?
The government declared that the executives’ foolish risks were so huge that we had to give them back all the money they lost in the Crash, plus a few trillion more. Notice…the money went to the crooks and thieves who had crashed the entire economy, while the average Joe lost his home, lost his pension and ended up divorced, with his kids homeless. Yet the Administration continued to shovel trillions of dollars into the pockets of Wall Street thieves. Let’s remember…the Crash of 2008 began with criminality right here in Southern California with Countrywide and our courts choosing to look the other way.
To make certain that Truth, Justice and the American Way were dead forever, Obama invented, “Too Important to Prosecute.” That’s right, Lex Luther and his minions are too important to Metropolis. Rather than let Superman imprison them in an ice cave, they became Los Angeles’ mayor and city councilmembers.
And that brings us to the Los Angeles City Council and its criminal voting trading pact. Surely, a criminal enterprise that fleeces the city of billions of dollars is contrary to “Truth, Justice American Way.” If Mayor Luther wants anything, he takes it and all his City Council buddies agree to unanimously agree 100% of the time: “Yeah, we should tear down the homes of the poor people. Whadda ya gonna do about it?”
Truth, Justice and the American Way no longer exist. Penal Code § 86, which forbids all vote trading on a city council, is apparently unenforceable unless all the city councilmembers write out their vote trading agreement in blood and post it on the front door of City Hall. Even then, could we ever find a judge who could figure out that 1,000 consecutive unanimous votes is indicative of a vote trading pact? Oh no, nothing amiss here…must be a coincidence or maybe the unanimity reflects how well the city is run?
If the people who live in the Hills near Lake Hollywood do not find the nerve to reject Boss Garcetti’s choice for CD 4 councilmember, then watch for the resulting increase of tourism in the Hills. Don’t worry about the fire danger and the fact that tourists who are totally unaware of the extreme fire danger will toss cigarette butts into the underbrush. Let’s pretend the fires won’t occur. Let’s ignore the car crashes on the too narrow streets -- and the people who die because the paramedics cannot reach them in time in the too-congested hills. There’s a price to pay for crossing Boss Garcetti. For the people above Lake Hollywood, it’s the ever increasing danger of losing their homes and lives to fire.
When the City Council votes unanimously 99.9% of the time, you know it is a criminal enterprise, but when Lex Luther’s niece is the DA, you won’t see any action. Don’t expect any Justice from the courts. In modern day Los Angeles, Justice, along with Truth and Superman, is in exile.
(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: Rickleeabrams@Gmail.com. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
LA WATCHDOG--David Wright (photo above on left front with Mayor Garcetti) is an excellent choice to be the permanent General Manager of our Department of Water and Power. But you have to wonder why we would endorse Wright as he has to have a screw or two loose if he is willing to take a position that is the toughest job in the City.
He will be caught in a crossfire between skeptical Ratepayers who are concerned about ever increasing rates, the environmental lobby where money is no object, a domineering union and its rich contract and overly restrictive work rules, the media who loves to put DWP on the front page, the public’s demand for increased transparency, the Mayor and the City Council who view the Department as an ATM, and the credit rating agencies.
At the same time, he and his management team are responsible for leading a complex enterprise with 9,000 employees, $5 billion in annual revenues, and a five year capital budget of over $13 billion that is designed to finance numerous unfunded mandates and regulations and update the Department’s water and power infrastructure.
He has to be crazy.
Nevertheless, Tony Wilkinson (Chair of the Neighborhood Council DWP Memorandum of Understanding Oversight Committee and an active participant in developing the November ballot measure to reform certain aspects of Department) and I sent the following letter to City Council President Herb Wesson endorsing Wright as our next General Manager.
City Council President Herb Wesson
Los Angeles City Hall
Appointment of David Wright as LADWP General Manager
This is a critical time for the Department of Water and Power which is why we support naming David Wright as its permanent General Manager.
The City has placed on the November ballot a measure to reform the Department of Water and Power. This reform will also require additional legislation by the City Council. However, it appears that the City’s unions and other organizations are preparing to oppose this reform as they are putting their own interests ahead of those of the Ratepayers and the City.
The Department is also in the midst of a major capital expenditure program to update its infrastructure, to repower its generating capacity so that 33% of our energy will be from renewable resources by 2020, and to meet numerous clean water requirements.
The Department is also engaged in many internal reforms, including the establishment of the Administrative System Services unit to replace the “Joint Services” operation. This new division will focus on improving customer service and the billing systems, establishing a more efficient personnel department, modernizing information technology and computer systems, enhancing physical and cyber security, and creating a more efficient procurement and contracting operation.
Over the last five years, under the management of knowledgeable industry executives, the Department has made considerable progress in meeting its goals. As such, it makes sense to continue with our existing management team and avoid the risk of bringing in an outside General Manager who does not have a working knowledge of the Department, its people, its goals, its Ratepayers, the City Council, and the Mayor.
We are fortunate to have David Wright, the Interim General Manager who has been the Department’s Chief Operating Officer for the past year. He has a strong industry background and is knowledgeable about the Department and its operations. He also has had considerable experience with other organizations, which will allow him to introduce new ideas to the Department.
Importantly, Marcie Edwards has endorsed David, in large part because of the excellent job he has done in addressing the billing fiasco caused by a flawed Customer Information System. He has made considerable progress in reorganizing and rationalizing Joint Services, a thankless but important job that nobody was willing or able to tackle.
As Ratepayers, we were impressed with Wright’s August 6 presentation to the Neighborhood Council DWP MOU Oversight Committee where he emphasized the need for excellent customer service which in turn will improve the Department’s reputation.
We strongly believe that selection of a new General Manager cannot wait until a year from now, when an entirely new and lengthy selection process may be in place. DWP needs a firm hand today. It needs a General Manager who is not handicapped by the term Interim in his title.
We urge you to make this process easy, put this task behind you, and name David Wright as the permanent General Manager of the Department of Water and Power.
NC DWP MOU Oversight Committee
DWP (Advocacy) Committee
PS: We also recommend that the Department, the Board of Commissioners, the City Council, and the Mayor retain the services of Marcie Edwards for the next six months to facilitate an orderly transition, to assist the Department in analyzing pending legislation and regulations, and to protect DWP’s assets from regionalization.
(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: email@example.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Gannett, the nation’s largest publisher of newspapers, has sweetened its offer to purchase Tribune Publishing* (“Tribune” or the “Company”), the owner of the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and six other daily newspapers around the country. (Note: Tribune Publishing changed its name to “tronc,” which was derived from TRibune ONline Content.)
While the terms of this overture were not disclosed, it is most likely north of the all cash $15 a share offer that was rejected out of hand by Tribune’s Board of Directors in late May. But this unilateral action of the Board was not appreciated by many of the other shareholders who believed that this offer, double the price of the stock when Gannett made it first offer in April, represented an excellent price for Tribune.
The back story of this rejection of Gannett’s very generous offer started in February with the private sale of 15% of Tribune’s stock at a below market price to Michael Ferro, a Chicago based internet entrepreneur, in a back room deal most likely orchestrated by Eddy Hartenstein, the then Chairman of the Board and the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Hartenstein, not to his credit, was an associate of Sam Zell, the controversial Chicago based financial wizard who was responsible for the 2008 bankruptcy of the Tribune Company, the former parent of the Company, that was saddled with $13 billion of leveraged buyout debt.
Within two months, Ferro had fired the Chief Executive Officer, replaced him with one of his long time henchman, and reconstituted the Board of Directors, leaving him with absolute control of Tribune. Today, Hartenstein is one of the two remaining directors.
In May, subsequent to Gannett’s offer of $15 a share, Ferro engineered the private sale of 5 million shares at $15 a share (a total of $75 million) to Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Westside medical entrepreneur who is reputedly the wealthiest person in Los Angeles. (He also owns a minority interest in the Los Angeles Lakers which he purchased from Magic Johnson.) Combined, Ferro and Soon-Shiong, now the Vice Chairman of Tribune, own 28% of the stock and control the Board of Directors.
But the other 72% of the shareholders, many of which are sophisticated institutional investors and hedge funds, will not be happy campers if Tribune rejects another very generous offer from Gannett. And this time, it will result in litigation.
On June 13, Oaktree Capital Management, a well-respected Los Angeles based investment firm and the owner of 13% of Tribune stock (18% prior to the diluting sales to Ferro and Song-Shiong), sent a five page letter to Tribune asserting its right under Delaware Law to inspect the books and records of the Company. Of particular interest are the shenanigans associated with the February below market sale of over 5 million shares to Ferro and the subsequent actions that allowed Ferro to seize control of the Company without paying a premium price.
Other institutional investors have also indicated their displeasure at the cavalier rejection of Gannett’s offer, calling for the Board to retain an independent financial advisor to determine the fairness of the Gannett offer and to enter into negotiations with Gannett.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Tribune is expected to respond to the new offer by the end of the week. At that time, we will know if the Company has entered into a $1 billion deal with Gannett (this includes almost $400 million in debt). Tribune’s Board may also decide to enter into negotiations with Gannett with the desire to increase the offer or to entertain offers from other potential purchasers, including News Corporation, a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
If the Board of Directors rejects Gannett’s generous offer, the outside shareholders will no doubt haul the Company and its directors into court in an attempt to force the Tribune to sell the Company.
Alternatively, Gannett may bide its time and launch, with the support of the outside investors, a proxy contest to oust the current directors at next year’s annual meeting.
In any case, stay tuned.
(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: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--Of the 24 ballot measures* on our November ballot, the least controversial is Proposition 54, the California Transparency Act, unless, of course, you are a Sacramento insider who likes the cover of the dead of night.
This initiated Constitutional amendment will prohibit the State Legislature from “passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the internet for at least 72 hours before the vote, except in the case of public emergency.”
This straight forward, easy to understand provision would eliminate the “gut and amend” maneuver where “legislative leaders hollow out innocuous bills and insert new language on unrelated but often controversial issues, then ram the bills through in the final hours of a legislative session.”
If approved by a majority of the voters, we will have a more transparent legislature as the media and the voters will have the opportunity to review, analyze, and comment on any last minute changes made by the politicians and their cronies. This contrasts with the past practice where numerous state budgets and spending bills were ram rodded through the Legislature at the last minute, benefitting special interests and often times much to our detriment.
Proposition 54 also requires the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of its public meetings in their entirety and post them on the internet within 24 hours. These recordings must be available to the public through the internet for at least 20 years.
We will also have the right to record by audio or video any public meeting which recordings may be posted on the internet and used for any “legitimate” purpose without having to pay any fees.
Wouldn’t it be fun to catch a legislator catching a few zzzz’s or playing internet games while the Assembly or Senate was in session!
The opponents have claimed that this Constitutional amendment will result in “unnecessary and costly delays” that will cost “millions of dollars – funds that could be used to improve education, lower tuition costs, or help create jobs.” But the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance estimate the initial cost to be $2 million and the annual cost to be about $1 million, not even budget dust compared to the State’s annual budget that is rapidly approaching $200 billion.
The opponents of the California Legislature Transparency Act will also take shots at its backer, Charles T. Munger, Jr., claiming that this son of a philanthropic billionaire has his own political agenda. To the contrary, Munger’s stated goal is “to take power from narrow factions and return it to ordinary Californians.”
This initiative has broad bipartisan support which is already having an impact as the Legislature is on good behavior knowing that any last minute “gut and amend” shenanigans will be used to promote Proposition 54.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, or a Libertarian or a Green, this common sense initiative is a no brainer.
Vote YES on Proposition 54, the California Legislature Transparency Act.
NEED TO KNOW
The following is the ballot language:
Prohibits Legislature from passing any bill unless it has been in print and published on the Internet for at least 72 hours before the vote, except in cases of public emergency. Requires the Legislature to make audiovisual recordings of all its proceedings, except closed session proceedings, and post them on the Internet. Authorizes any person to record legislative proceedings by audio or video means, except closed session proceedings. Allows recordings of legislative proceedings to be used for any legitimate purpose, without payment of any fee to the State.
*There are 24 ballot measures: 17 State measures, 2 County measures, 4 City measures, and a last minute $3.3 billion bond measure sponsored by the Los Angeles Community College District.
Yes on Prop 54: Voters First, Not Special Interests: www.YesProp54.org
Vote No on Prop 54, Stop the Special Interest Power Grab: www.NoOnProposition54.com
(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: email@example.com.)
LA WATCHDOG--Saturday’s scoop by David Zahniser of the Los Angeles Times that Marcie Edwards (photo above), the respected General Manager of our Department of Water and Power, has been in discussions with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office about retiring, but only after an orderly transition. But what was not disclosed is that these discussions have been going on for several months and that Mayor and his office were unable to make a timely decision on how to transition from Edwards to a new General Manager.
As a result of Zahniser’s article, Mayor Garcetti reacted by announcing on Monday afternoon that Edwards will retire on August 16 and that David Wright, the Department’s Chief Operating Officer and Edwards’ choice as her successor, will be appointed as DWP’s Interim General Manager. (See the press release below.)
Edwards, who was appointed General Manager in February of 2014, has done a very credible job. Most importantly, she developed a strong management team that allowed the Department to address a number of politically sensitive controversies. These include the brouhaha over the Joint Training and Safety Institutes and the questionable use of $40 million of Ratepayer money and the flawed Customer Information System that resulted in a large number of highly publicized billing mistakes.
She also built on the legacy of Ron Nichols, the previous General Manger (January 2011 to January 2014), by establishing credible relationships with the Ratepayers, the environmental community, and the City Council. These relationships, coupled with numerous meetings throughout the City, allowed the Department to implement a five year, $1 billion rate increase without the usual controversy.
David Wright (left), the Interim General Manager, is a relatively new addition to the Department’s management ranks, but has had considerable utility experience, including as General Manager of Riverside Public Utilities. As the Chief Operating Officer, he also has an understanding of DWP, its management, its strengths and weaknesses, and its highly politicized environment.
He also has a strong working knowledge of the proposed charter amendment involving the partial reform of DWP’s governance and contracting and procurement policies as well as the follow up ordinances that have been considered by the City Council Rules Committee.
Over the next three months, Garcetti will need to focus on who will be the next General Manager of our Department of Water and Power. The new full time General Manager, which may well be Wright, must have considerable management experience in the utility industry and be able to develop a strong and deep management team and to establish strong relationships with the members of the City Council, Ratepayers, and other outside constituencies.
However, if the DWP Charter amendments are approved by the voters in November, the process for selecting the General Manager will be changed to follow the more elaborate process used in selecting the Police Chief.
In any case, the appointment of the General Manager is the most important decision that the Mayor makes involving our Department of Water and Power and that is why the Ratepayers need to be an integral part of the decision making process.
The following is Garcetti’s press release.
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI
CITY OF LOS ANGELES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 1, 2016
MAYOR GARCETTI ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT OF LADWP GENERAL MANAGER MARCIE EDWARDS, NAMES DAVID WRIGHT AS UTILITY’S INTERIM LEADER
LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) General Manager Marcie Edwards will step down after more than two decades of service to the utility, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today. She retires as the first woman ever to lead LADWP in its 114-year history.
Concurrently, Mayor Garcetti named the Department’s current Chief Operating Officer, David Wright, a 27-year public utility veteran with a strong background in reliability, infrastructure development and customer service, to serve as Interim General Manager.
During Edwards’ more than two years of service as LADWP’s General Manager, she guided and stabilized the utility through a critical moment in its history. As punishing drought conditions strained local water supplies, she led the push to cut LA water use by 20 percent in just one year.
At the same time, she effectively navigated LADWP through significant unforeseen issues with its billing system, and built widespread consensus for a sensible rate increase plan to enable critical future investments in sustainable water and power infrastructure, maintaining LADWP’s exemplary reliability track record and completely getting off coal.
“When I took office, LADWP was facing difficult challenges -- we needed a visionary leader to put our utility back on track, and that’s exactly what Marcie Edwards has done,” said Mayor Garcetti. “She has left an indelible mark on our city, and I am deeply grateful for her service.”
Wright has been at DWP since early 2015 focusing on fixing the billing system and improving customer service after spending nearly a decade as General Manager of Riverside Public Utilities, earning consistent praise for his success in improving service to his customers. He has also served as Chief Financial Officer for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Silver State Energy Association, overseeing a nearly $1 billion budget for the three water and electric organizations.
At Riverside Public Utilities, Wright led a complete overhaul of the customer service system, an upgrade that provided customer satisfaction levels that were at the top of the industry. The effort was so successful the City of Riverside later adopted the platform to handle all of its constituent services through their 311 call center. As one of his first tasks, Mayor Garcetti has asked Wright to develop and implement a “customer bill of rights” to provide specific service level guarantees for the utility’s ratepayers.
“LADWP exists to serve the people of Los Angeles -- its leader should be someone who has a proven customer service track record,” said Mayor Garcetti. “David Wright has spent his career making public utilities work better for the people they serve, and I’m proud to appoint him as LADWP’s next Interim General Manager.”
Edwards will step down as General Manager on August 16, 2016. She will assist with an orderly transition and serve as special advisor to the Mayor, LADWP Board and Mr. Wright, the interim General Manager, through Dec. 31.
“It’s been a privilege to lead LADWP through both difficult challenges and transformative efforts to build a sustainable future for Los Angeles,” Edwards said. “I am grateful to Mayor Garcetti for the opportunity to serve my city.”
“I am deeply honored that Mayor Garcetti has chosen me to lead LADWP during such an important period for the utility,” Wright said. “I will do everything I can to make LADWP a utility that not only focuses on infrastructure, reliability and sustainability, but that strongly focuses on improving service levels to our customers to significantly higher levels. It’s important that LADWP makes it easy to do business with us by working better and more efficiently for our customers than ever before.”
LA WATCHDOG--How does Metro expect us to understand its 27 page, 12,000 word ballot measure that would increase our sales tax by half a cent to a whopping 9½%, one of the highest rates in the county?
Or should we just trust Metro’s Board of Directors led by Mayor Eric Garcetti, his three appointees, and the four County Supervisors who voted to place this ill-conceived measure on the November ballot?
But there is much more than a plain old multibillion dollar tax increase buried in these 27 pages of mumbo jumbo that will make the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Board of Directors less accountable to the voters.
If the proposed half a cent increase in our sales tax is approved by two-thirds of the voters, Metro will collect an additional $860 million in the first year, bringing the total haul from the four voter approved sales taxes to $3.5 billion in 2018.
However, unlike the 2008 voter approved Measure R half cent increase that was to expire in 30 years (2039), this tax does not have a sunset provision unlike the March version of this ballot measure. Furthermore, this measure proposes to make the Measure R half cent tax permanent.
As a result, Metro will be able to incur substantially higher levels of debt that will burden the next generation of Angelenos who will not have the opportunity to say “No More Debt” at the polls.
There are also serious questions about Metro’s management and organization and whether it has the ability to manage its daily operations, increase ridership and fares, properly maintain its aging infrastructure, and execute its ambitious expansion plans on time and on budget, especially given recent problems with the widening of 405 through the Sepulveda Pass and the Regional Connector.
Metro claims that there will be enhanced level of accountability for expenditures. But how is it possible for seven politically appointed members of the Independent Oversight Committee to oversee a sprawling enterprise with over 9,000 employees, $2 billion in annual expenditures, a $750 million operating loss, $15 billion in assets, and a multibillion capital expenditure program?
There are also a number of pet projects in the measure’s Expenditure Plan, including $1.1 billion for the bike path along the LA River, the “LA Street Enhancement & Great Streets Program,” and Jose Huizar’s Historic Downtown Street Car. And needless to say, there are other stinkers buried in the $120 billion Expenditure Plan.
Metro has been actively promoting the Los Angeles County Transportation Improvement Plan, assisted by Garcetti, the Board of Supervisors, and all the special interests who will benefit from the increased revenue and the proceeds the billions in new debt. But this measure is going to be a tough sell.
In 2014, Measure J, the thirty year extension of the Measure R half cent tax, received only 66% of the vote, just short of the two thirds needed for approval. But this ballot measure is more complicated as Metro is asking us to pony up an additional $860 million a year and $120 billion over the next 40 years.
The voters of the City of Los Angeles are also frustrated with City Hall. For example, our City does not have a plan to repair our lunar cratered streets despite the fact that the City is entitled to more than 8% of the sales tax revenue generated from the four voter approved sales taxes. As of now, the City is expected to receive over $18 billion from this Local Return program over the next 40 years.
Furthermore, Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council have refused to reform its finances, refusing to Live Within Its Means and ignoring the common sense, easy to implement recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission. These include multiyear budgeting, the establishment of an Office of the Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and the creation a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s unsustainable pension plans.
And finally, we, the voters, are being overwhelmed by numerous ballot measures (see the note below) that will funnel billions of our hard earned money to our inefficient, bloated State, County, and City governments which are controlled by self-serving politicians and their cronies.
Metro does not deserve a $120 billion blank check.
The ballot measure shall read as follows:
Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan. To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ cent sales tax and continue the existing ½ cent traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?
Note: In addition to Metro’s permanent $850 million increase in the county’s sales tax, voters are being bombarded by the City’s $1.2 billion bond measure to fund supportive housing for the homeless and the County’s evergreen $95 million parcel tax for its parks. The Los Angeles Community College District announced a $3.3 billion bond measure. And the state ballot has a $1 billion cigarette tax, a 12 year extension of the $10 billion of “temporary” soak-the-rich income tax, and a measure authorizing $9 billion in school construction bonds,
Other taxes that are waiting in the wings are a $4.5 billion bond measure to repair the City’s streets and sidewalks, a homeless tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives, a tax to fund the City and County’s $20 billion stormwater / urban runoff program, and an increase in the State’s gas tax. There is also the issue of how to fund the unfunded pension liabilities of the City and County that exceed $65 billion (about $10,000 for each of the City’s 4 million residents).
Earlier this year, we were also hit with an additional tax of $150 million associated with DWP’s $1 billion rate increase.
LA WATCHDOG--On June 23, the politicians on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Board voted to place on the November ballot the “Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan” which, if approved by two-thirds of the voters, will increase our sales tax by a half cent to 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.
The Supervisors also decided to make this a permanent increase, eliminating the 40 year time horizon that was an integral part of the previous proposal in March.
This ballot measure will also make permanent the Measure R half cent tax increase that County voters approved in 2008, eliminating the 2039 sunset provision. Interestingly, in 2012, the County’s voters did not approve extending this tax for another 30 years until 2069.
If this measure is approved, it will increase Metro’s tax revenue over the next 40 years by $120 billion to an estimated $300 billion. These funds will be used to subsidize Metro’s money losing operations, fund its pensions, and finance its very ambitious, debt fueled capital expenditure program that will burden future generations of Angelenos.
But this appears to be just the beginning of our Enlighten Elite’s efforts to raise our taxes to astronomical levels.
In all likelihood, once Janice Hahn (who never met a tax or rate increase she did not like) is elected to the Board, the Supervisors will approve placing on the ballot a quarter of cent increase in the sales tax to fund the County’s homeless initiatives.
Of course, our Elected Elite will tell us that this new homeless tax will be offset by the expiration on December 31, 2016 of the quarter of a cent sales tax under the terms of Proposition 30 that was approved by 55% of California voters in November 2012.
Our City is also on the sales tax bandwagon.
In 2013, the Herb Wesson led City Council placed on the ballot Proposition A, a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to finance City services. Despite City Hall’s well-financed campaign and threats by Mayor Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck to lay off cops, 55% of the voters rejected this tax increase.
Interestingly, mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti opposed Proposition A because he said that Angelenos were already paying their fair share and could not afford another hit to their wallets. Yet now, as Mayor and a member of the Metro Board, Eric is an enthusiastic backer of this new tax that will cost County taxpayers an estimated $850 million next year.
In 2014, the City considered placing on the November ballot another half cent bump in the sales tax to finance the $4.5 billion plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets. But the Save Our Streets – LA proposal never made it to the ballot because City Hall realized that skeptical voters would have trashed this measure, especially after they were made privy to Controller Ron Galperin’s critical audit of the Department of Street Services.
Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council are cooking up numerous schemes to raise taxes so they can throw money at problems rather than figuring out how they can make the City operations more efficient.
We are hearing chatter about the City’s infrastructure needs, ranging from streets and sidewalks to stormwater and urban runoff. There are discussions about budget busting increases in the size of the City’s work force by hiring 5,000 new civilian employees. And the City and the County need to address their unsustainable pension plans that have a combined unfunded pension liability of at least $70 billion (almost $10,000 for every Angeleno).
With all of these “needs,” a 10% sales tax might be considered a bargain by our elected officials.
Before we consider approving the Metro’s half cent increase in our sales tax, the City $1.2 billion bond issue for the homeless, and the County $100 million parcel tax for its parks, we must demand that the City and the County develop a long range operational and financial plan that outlines the total burden they want us to bear. The City should also implement the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to implement multiyear budgeting, to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s fragile finances, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to develop information and solutions to our unsustainable pensions.
Until then, these ballot measures deserve a NO vote.
And this Note: These City and County tax proposals are in addition to the State ballot measures involving the issuance of $9 billion in school construction bonds, an additional $1 billion tax on cigarettes, and the 12 year extension of Proposition 30’s “temporary” multibillion dollar “soak the rich” income tax.