LA WATCHDOG--Why haven’t Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson followed up on the recommendation by the LA 2020 Commission to “establish a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?”
Why? Because these two ambitious politicians fear alienating the campaign funding leaders of the City’s unions who do not want a public discussion of the facts surrounding the City’s ever increasing annual contributions to the City’s two massively underfunded pension plans that are forcing the City to scale back on basic services.
Over the last ten years, the City’s contribution to its two pension plans (Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System and the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension System) has tripled to $1.1 billion, up from $350 million in 2005. As a result, pension contributions now chew up 20% of the City’s $5.6 billion budget, up from less than 10% in 2005.
This $750 million increase in pension contributions has forced the City to cut back on basic services such as public safety and the repair and maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, and parks. The City has even resorted to placing an ill-conceived $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot to fund supportive housing for the homeless.
Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse as the City, its pension plans, and their fiscally irresponsible, Garcetti appointed Commissioners are banking on an overly optimistic rate of return of 7½% on the combined investment portfolio of $33 billion.
But the stock and bond markets are not cooperating as demonstrated by this year’s less than 1% return on CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) $300 billion investment portfolio.
If the City’s pension funds earned this meager 1% as compared to the targeted 7½%, it would result in an investment shortfall of an estimated $2.7 billion, an amount equal to about half of the City’s annual budget. This “loss” will increase the unfunded pension liability as of June 30, 2016 to almost $11 billion, representing a funded ratio of an unhealthy 74%.
However, if the investment rate assumption was a more reasonable 6½% as recommended by knowledgeable investors such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, the unfunded pension liability would jump to over $16 billion, representing a dangerously low funded ratio of 66% and almost three times the City’s annual budget.
Over the next five years, the City’s two pension plans will rack up an additional shortfall of over $5 billion if the rate of return on their investment portfolios is 6½%, a much more likely outcome than the targeted return of 7½%.
But rather than recognizing this combined shortfall of $7.9 billion over the next five years, the City has cooked up a scheme to amortize these losses over a 20 year period, reducing the hit to the City’s budget.
Even with this scheme, the City’s pension contribution is expected to increase by more than 50% over the next five years to $1.7 billion, representing 27% of the City’s projected General Fund budget.
Garcetti and Wesson, along with Budget Committee Chair Paul Krekorian and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz, will tell us they made significant reforms to LAFPP in 2011 and LACERS in 2013 and 2015. But these cosmetic amendments are nickels and dimes and did not address the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½% and the unsustainable post-retirement medical benefits.
This pension time bomb is a weapon of mass financial destruction where we will burden the next generation of Angelenos with tens of billions of unsustainable debt. This will destroy their standard of living and their environment.
It is time for Garcetti, Wesson, and the members of the City Council to get off their fat asses, put on their big boy pants, and begin to address this problem by establishing an independent, well-funded Committee for Retirement Security.
Only then will we be able to begin the hard task of developing a solution where the City and its future will not be devoured by the pension monster.
(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.)
SECOND UNIT ALERT!--The City Council is poised to adopt an ordinance that would instantly double the potential density of every single-family residential neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles. The ordinance will give all property owners the ability to build “by right” a second house on their property of up to 1,200 square feet (equal to the size of many homes in Los Angeles) without any discretionary review. Of course, both the primary residence and the second unit houses can be rented. Overnight, every property zoned for one dwelling unit would be upzoned to permit two dwelling units. Amazingly, the City Council has reached this precipice with virtually no public input and with no CEQA analysis. (Photo above: illegal rental unit in Los Angeles.)
This impending decision poses two important questions for individual Council members: Will the City Council put the interests of a few hundred active second dwelling developers ahead of the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have invested in and treasure the character of their single-family neighborhoods? And will the City Council make Los Angeles the first city in California to voluntarily surrender zoning authority over second dwelling development standards and subject itself to the State legislature’s control of those standards?
How did the City Council arrive at this brink? As is often the case at City Hall, it’s a combination of factors: spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, the Planning Department’s determination to shoehorn rental units into single-family neighborhoods, a strategic decision to “fast track” the process to avoid public participation, the failure of City Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to ask serious questions and the “group think” that often afflicts City Hall.
In order to understand the City Council’s impending decision, it is important to review the tortuous history of the City’s regulation of second dwelling units (SDUs):
The City Adopts A Balanced Approach to SDUs--Over 30 years ago, the City adopted a so-called “granny flat” ordinance (LAMC 12.24.W.43 and 12.24.W.44), which limited the floor area of an SDU to 640 square feet required compliance with height, setback and other requirements in the underlying zone, established constraints on a second unit’s visibility from the street, set a minimum lot size, mandated additional on-site parking and required a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The purpose was to balance the desire for SDUs to house a family’s grown children, guests, or elderly parents with reasonable development standards and a CUP process to protect against possible adverse effects on the character of a single-family neighborhood. SDUs were prohibited in designated Hillside areas, equine-keeping areas and on substandard streets due to potential traffic congestion, parking problems and fire hazards.
The City Conforms to AB 1866’s Ministerial Processing Requirements--In 2002, the State legislature adopted AB 1866, which sought to encourage SDUs as a source of affordable rental housing. AB 1866 honored local control and recognized the continuing power of all California cities to establish and enforce their own development standards for SDUs. While AB 1866 prohibited cities from using discretionary CUP procedures and standards to review SDU applications, it made clear that cities were not required to amend their ordinances to rescind CUP requirements or discretionary factors.
Instead, cities could simply ignore those provisions and apply their development standards ministerially -- i.e., without public hearings and without any discretion to deny or mitigate second units and their impacts. If a City failed to adopt its own standards, then it would default to the more lenient State standards - the SDU could be up to 1,200 square feet in area, could be located in the back yard or front yard so long as existing zoning code requirements were met. AB 1866 also mandates that the SDU can be rented.
In 2003, then Chief Zoning Administrator Robert Janovici issued an administrative memorandum confirming that, in order to comply with AB 1866, the Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) would ministerially grant building permits for SDUs that satisfy the City’s previously adopted second unit development standards.
The City’s Neighborhoods Reject Weakening Its SDU Standards--In 2009, the City Council asked the Planning Department to study whether the Zoning Code should be changed to weaken standards for SDUs. The Planning Department conducted extensive outreach to the City’s Neighborhood Councils and neighborhood associations. At hearings and workshops across the City, neighborhood representatives adamantly insisted that the City’s development standards should not be loosened. Then Planning Director Gail Goldberg advised the City Council that there was no support for changing the City’s standards for SDUs.
The City Attorney Gets It Wrong The First Time --In 2010, the City Attorney issued a surprising and incorrect legal opinion: that the City supposedly needed to formally amend its second unit ordinance to delete the discretionary CUP factors and the 2003 Janovici memorandum was legally insufficient to do this. Then-Chief Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande dutifully complied, issuing a new directive (the now infamous ZA Memo 120) decreeing that the Planning Department and LADBS must implement the State’s lenient standards, which included approving any SDU up to 1,200 square feet. The City blindly followed the City Attorney’s bad advice and discarded its carefully developed second unit development standards.
With the post-recession housing recovery going into full swing, savvy Los Angeles developers realized that they could now purchase a single-family house as a rental property and, thanks to ZA Memo 120, receive a bonus: they could build and rent a 1,200 square foot second unit “by right” without any discretionary review! This windfall made speculation in single-family neighborhoods even more profitable: the developer could virtually double the rental income from a property by making a modest investment to build a second dwelling. The investor could now develop, on a “by right” basis, a multifamily rental property smack in the middle of what had been an owner-occupied, single-family neighborhood.
A Neighborhood Fights Back and the Court Agrees--When a property owner began constructing an oversized SDU on street frontage in Cheviot Hills in 2014, outraged neighbors formed an organization called Los Angeles Neighbors in Action, and sued the City to challenge the validity of ZA Memo 120.
In February 2016, the Superior Court agreed with the neighborhood and concluded that ZA Memo 120 was invalid. The Court ruled that the City Attorney was wrong when he concluded that the City must use the State default standards supposedly because the City’s ordinance had not been formally amended to delete the discretionary CUP provisions.
The Court also found that AB 1866 allows the City to continue to use its more stringent standards on a ministerial basis. The Court ordered the City to cease issuing building permits in reliance on ZA Memo 120 and to continue administering its existing development standards (i.e., a maximum 640 square feet and other development standards) on a ministerial basis until it takes further action to comply with AB 1866.
The Court also explained that the City has at least three choices to comply with its ruling. First, it can amend its existing ordinance to formally delete the discretionary CUP requirements and other discretionary factors. Second, by administrative memorandum, it can “sever” the discretionary aspects from the ordinance and apply the City development standards ministerially; i.e., it simply could reissue the 2003 Janovici memo. Finally, the City Council can repeal its SDU ordinance and default to the lenient State standards.
At this point, one might think that the City would want keep its own second unit development standards in place, if only to respect the desires of its neighborhoods that would be negatively affected by more SDUs. But never underestimate the power of bad legal advice in a City Hall that fails to ask tough questions.
The City Attorney Gets it Wrong – Again-- In a second instance of spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, coupled this time with bad policy recommendations from the Planning Department, City Hall determined that, after the Court rulings, the only “feasible” option available to the City would be to repeal the City’s SDU ordinance entirely, thereby subjecting the City to the State's lenient standards -- and potentially doubling the density of the City’s single family neighborhoods overnight!
Following closed door briefings of the City Council by the City Attorney, the Planning Department produced an ordinance in record time proposing to repeal its SDU standards and default to the State standards – becoming the only city in California ever to voluntarily abandon its right to set its own SDU development standards and surrender control to the State legislature. Of course, this means that if the State legislature loosens its default SDU standards further – say increasing the maximum area to 1,500 square feet or eliminating all off-street parking requirements – the relaxed standards will automatically apply throughout Los Angeles.
Shortly after the Court issued its ruling, LADBS put a hold on the hundreds of building permit applications in plan check. Astonishingly, LADBS even put a hold on SDU projects that fully satisfied the City’s existing development standards.
The City Attorney and the Planning Department Create a “Crisis” to Exploit-- Recognizing the adage that “You should never let a serious crisis go to waste,” the Planning Department and the City Attorney have created a crisis promoting the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Their explanation? Several hundred property owners and real estate investors who have SDUs in plan check or under construction must be grandfathered immediately to protect their interests!
The Planning Department packaged the repeal of the City’s SDU ordinance with the grandfathering of the pending projects as a single “urgency” ordinance and put it on the “fast track” to City Council approval. Amazingly, the City Attorney and Planning Department have never offered a legal justification or other reason why the repeal ordinance must be considered on an expedited basis, even if the stranded SDU projects deserve an “urgency” ordinance.
Not surprisingly, there is no legal justification for treating the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Of course, due to the Planning Department’s “fast track” approach, few Neighborhood Councils or neighborhood associations have had adequate time to learn about or voice their opinions on the proposed repeal.
What about the other two clear options offered by the Court in its decision? To the first option -- simply amending the City’s SDU ordinance to remove the CUP requirement and delete other discretionary factors -- the Planning Department fabricated an excuse that to do so would supposedly require public outreach and take a year or two, even though the amendment could be easily drafted and processed as quickly as the repeal ordinance.
To the second option -- simply reissuing the 2003 Janovici interpretation -- the Planning Department has pronounced an even weaker reply: the interpretation would somehow be inconsistent with the City’s Housing Element, despite the fact that the Housing Element does not require implementation of the State’s lenient standards.
By tying the repeal ordinance to the grandfathering provisions, the Planning Department has also activated a small but very vocal group to advocate for the repeal of the SDU ordinance: the several hundred homeowners and developers with SDU projects halted by LADBS. In no time, these homeowners and investors began calling Councilmembers demanding that the repeal of the SDU ordinances be expedited so that their projects can move forward!
The City Planning Commission and the PLUM Committee Blindly Follow--Things moved quickly from there. In what amounts to lightning speed for City Hall, the Planning Department produced a staff report and “urgent” repeal ordinance ready for the City Planning Commission on May 12, 2016. Despite the strong objections of the few homeowners associations that had become aware of the situation, the Planning Commissioners failed to ask any hard questions to keep the Planning Department honest and meekly followed the Department’s conclusion that there is no other option to repealing the SDU ordinance.
On June 7, 2016, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee also deferred to the incorrect advice of the Planning Department and City Attorney. To their credit, Councilmembers David Ryu and Nury Martinez presented testimony at the PLUM Committee hearing contending that the City should not abandon its residential neighborhoods and repeal its SDU ordinance. Both Councilmembers followed with letters formally opposing the repeal ordinance. Nevertheless, the PLUM Committee asked the City Attorney to produce a final repeal ordinance for City Council action.
Three weeks later, without any further public testimony or discussion, the PLUM Committee recommended approval of the repeal ordinance.
With the PLUM Committee approval, the final ordinance is teed up and ready for final City Council action as it reconvenes after its summer recess. This could be as soon as the last week in July or the first week in August.
The City Council Prepares to Make a Decision as Major Concerns Persist--The full City Council has not yet focused on the ramifications of its decision. There is still time for the Council to take a deep breath and then take a hard look at how the City Attorney and Planning Department have painted it into this corner. After numerous twists and turns, we have reached the final scene in this drama. Of course, the City Council can follow one of the other Court-recognized options to keep its SDU protections in place.
The following fascinating questions are presented:
- Will the City’s homeowners, neighborhood associations and Neighborhood Councils be able to make their voices heard?
- Will Councilmembers question the advice of the City Attorney and Planning Department that no option other than repeal is “feasible”? Will the City Council decide to pursue another option to maintain its SDU protections?
- Will Councilmembers question the Planning Department’s policy objective to promote the development of large SDUs on a “one size fits all” approach throughout Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods?
- Will the Councilmembers who represent Hillside areas realize that these neighborhoods will have no further meaningful protection from SDUs?
The last 10 years have been hard on Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods. First, the recession crushed housing prices and led to tens of thousands of foreclosures and homes converted to rental properties. The recession caused the City to reduce services to its single-family neighborhoods, as tree trimming, sidewalk replacement, road repaving and street sweeping became a thing of the past. Next came the density bonus for affordable housing, mansionization and the assault of Airbnb and other short-term rentals on otherwise quiet owner-occupied, single family neighborhoods.
The Planning Department’s current effort to promote rental housing in single-family neighborhoods, abetted by terrible ongoing advice from the City Attorney, leaves one wondering whether the City Council even understands the ramifications of its decisions, much less whether it really listens to or cares about its single-family neighborhoods.
But it is not too late for the City Council to step away from the brink. The Council can easily reject the Department’s proposed repeal ordinance and act to protect our single-family neighborhoods. For example, the Council can simply amend the SDU ordinance to keep the current protective standards while removing the discretionary CUP elements. Alternatively, the Council can decouple the grandfathering provisions to protect the reliance interests of property owners whose SDUs were stopped by LADBS and issue a new administrative memorandum that applies the existing SDU protections ministerially.
Anyone who cares about their neighborhood should call or email their Councilmember immediately to stop the repeal ordinance!
(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He also co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)
GUEST WORDS--When looking at the City of Los Angeles’ proposed $1.2 billion bond for homeless housing, residents should look past the obvious question of whether this will really get the 27,000 people living on our sidewalks into housing. Instead they should focus on more fundamental questions:
Is this the City’s responsibility?
Is a new tax really needed?
Will the tax burden be spread fairly?
Is an adequate process in place to avoid mismanagement and corruption?
The answer to all four questions is: No.
Counties* in California - not cities - are the government entities responsible for taking care of mentally incompetent, poor, indigent and incapacitated persons. Yet the County of Los Angeles only provides $221 per month in general relief (which jumps to a grant of $877 from Social Security if a person is totally disabled). As an old saying goes, the only problem with poor people is that they don’t have any money. If the County had regularly indexed the $221 figure to account for decades of inflation, a significant number of the homeless would be able to afford to live in shared apartments and houses.
In the face of the County shirking its duty, the goodhearted folks at City Hall have volunteered to help – as long as someone else pays for it.
Before residents let the City Hall again put its hand into their pocket they might consider that the City Administrative Officer projects that the budget will grow from $5.55 billion to $6.20 billion in just the next four years, about $650 million in new revenues each year by 2020. If the City simply committed 10% of the budget increase over the next twenty years it could easily pay off the $63 million needed each year to service the bond without a tax increase.
If it is adopted in November, the bond’s tax burden will fall unevenly, with most of the cost being covered by those who have more recently purchased property, whether houses and condos, apartments, or commercial and industrial buildings. This is due to the operation of Proposition 13 which reassesses properties to market value upon sale (or new construction). Renters – including those who are quite wealthy - will pay nothing, and those who have owned their property since 1978, when Proposition 13 passed, will pay very little.
While City officials say the average yearly increase would be $44.31 per year for a home assessed at $327,900, the current median in Los Angeles, the tax on the Westside and elsewhere with more expensive real estate will be far higher.
My duplex, purchased in 1989, is assessed at about $800,000. So, I would pay an average over the expected 28 year life of the bond of about $106 a year (on top of the $1,470 I already pay each year to retire school and community college construction bonds.) However, a new buyer of my property, at about a $3.5 million sales price, would pay an average of $473 per year, with a spike in the 11th year to about $800 when all the bonds will have been sold.
These effects play out much differently between apartments and commercial property. The City’s rent control ordinance does not allow apartment owners to pass on property tax increases to renters, so apartment owners will have to absorb all the increase. But commercial property is frequently under a triple net lease, which requires the lessee to pay the property taxes, so lots of mom-and-pop businesses will have to pick up the bill.
With more than a billion dollars at play, the potential is high for mismanagement, favoritism and corruption. However, the oversight committee designed by the City Council has the foxes guarding the hen house. Four are appointed by the Mayor, three by the City Council and there are no qualifications required - such as 10 years or more of multi-million dollar construction management experience or being a certified public accountant. There also is no funding for the committee to hire independent staff or retain experts. Nothing in the bond ordinance prevents the appointment of political cronies or individuals from the affordable housing industry who have a financial interest in which projects are funded.
This all suggests the County, with funding from Sacramento, should finally step up and assume its legal requirement to take care of the homeless. If the City still feels it wants to help, it can fund a housing bond from future revenues. Even without a new tax, strengthening the independence and qualifications of the oversight committee would be prudent.
*WELFARE AND INSTITUTIONS CODE SECTION 17000
Every county and every city and county (i.e.; San Francisco) shall relieve and support all incompetent, poor, indigent persons, and those incapacitated by age, disease, or accident, lawfully resident therein, when such persons are not supported and relieved by their relatives or friends, by their own means, or by state hospitals or other state or private institutions.
(Mark Ryavec is the former Chief Deputy Assessor for Los Angeles County and now serves as president of the non-profit Venice Stakeholders Association.)
VOX POP … VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--Since 2000, billionaire developer Alan Casden and his representatives have spent a whopping $1,396,660 to curry favor from LA politicians, according city Ethics Commission records. Casden is considered a powerhouse developer in Los Angeles -- at one point, he was looking to buy the Dodgers. Just like other shrewd developers, he knew that a key to success would be spreading around lots of cash at City Hall.
Casden, founder of Beverly Hills-based Casden Properties, and his team have shelled out $55,150 in campaign contributions to LA political candidates, according to the Ethics Commission. Also, since 2000, Casden and crew have spent $1,341,510 on politically connected City Hall lobbyists, who then seek favors from LA politicians and bureaucrats. That’s an eye-popping total of $1,396,660.
One of Casden’s most recent projects is Casden West LA, a controversial mega-project located at Pico and Sepulveda boulevards, where gridlock traffic is infamous. Casden came under intense pressure from community groups to downscale the project, which he ultimately did. But the developer still wanted to build more than 595 residential units on the site, and he needed the L.A. City Council to sign off.
In addition, Casden West LA sits next to the 405 Freeway. USC and UCLA researchers have found that housing within 500 feet of a busy freeway can cause a number of serious health problems for children, pregnant women, senior citizens and the infirm. Such freeway-adjacent housing has come to be known as “Black Lung Lofts.”
Regardless of the traffic gridlock and health hazards, LA politicians approved Casden West LA in 2013, though the development has not yet been built.
That’s how things work in LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Shell out big cash in campaign contributions and lobbying fees to win over city politicians and bureaucrats, and then expect very profitable favors in return. Since 2000, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign war chests of LA politicians.
Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the LA City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous neighborhood groups all agree that reform is desperately needed.
Developers and their politician pals will do anything to defeat our reform movement and continue their wrong-headed policies. But together, we, the citizens, can create the change that LA needs!
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
GELFAND’S WORLD--Think of it as a much bigger, real-life version of the movie Jaws. The town sheriff and the nerdy biologist want to warn the people about the menace, but the town fathers don't want to hurt business.
"Maybe it's not that bad."
"But it's a hungry, predatory beast that has already killed!"
"Well, maybe it will go away."
For those of a scientific frame of mind, global warming is the beast. It's the worst risk we face. Until giant bug-eyed monsters from outer space or land sharks invade us, or until we get into a nuclear war, global warming is our supreme risk. Nothing else comes close in terms of the worldwide catastrophic effects likely to occur. That's not only to us humans, but also to pretty much every other life form on the planet.
What's the tie-in to the presidential conventions we will be having? In a word, global warming is potentially still at the stage where we humans can have some effect on the eventual outcome. At least I hope we are still at that stage. But we need to make a mutual decision as a species that we will do our best to prevent the worst. And that's where the politics of this democracy come in. Choices have to be made, and unfortunately, the choice-making process has been perverted.
The choice: To decrease the slope of our descent into a dramatically worsened world, we have to make changes, beginning with our profligate spending of fossil fuels. At some point, we will also have to come to grips with our own population explosion, the root of our other problems. At another point we may choose to deal with ancillary problems such as the number of cattle we raise. These are, every one of them, difficult problems and each linked to solutions that will be painful to somebody.
These next two weeks, we will observe the beginnings of the decision-making process. This week, the Republicans will engage in the first of two propaganda celebrations. Then the Democrats get to do their own rites. Should any of the speakers at either convention bring up the issue of global warming, we can expect diametrically opposed positions. It's as if the orbit of the earth around the sun were still in question, the way the two parties differ on this fundamental question.
For some reason, the leaders of the Republican Party have bought into the mythology that global warming doesn't exist, or if it does exist then it is the result of natural changes, or that if it does exist and humans are partly to blame, then it's too late and too expensive to do anything about it. It's not unlike those arguments about gun control in which the pro-gun side wants to talk about anything but the guns themselves. In the case of global warming, the climate change denialists will talk about the inherent fallibility of scientific data, or raise accusations about the motives of climate scientists, or look desperately for (and even find) a couple of scientists who remain skeptical. But the overall weight of the evidence and the conclusion it implies aren't popular topics in Republican debate.
The problem for climate change denialists is that the scientific data are getting to be pretty close to overwhelming. There is no disputing the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been going up steadily, and there is no disputing the fact that carbon dioxide has an absorbance and emission spectrum that helps our atmosphere to retain heat. That's why we use terms like greenhouse effect. The only remaining part of the argument is whether the plants and animals of planet earth will be incredibly lucky, at least for a while.
At the moment, the official Republican line is that global warming is a hoax. Donald Trump has been going around reciting that position, for example in an interview with the editorial board of the Washington Post. "I'm not a big believer in man-made climate change."
Notice the choice of words: believer
This should be a clue to the overall thought process that goes into such statements. The validity of a physical change affecting the entire surface of planet Earth is treated as if you can decide Yes or No based on your personal political obsessions. The tens of thousands of measurements made by orbiting spacecraft, the historical record found in tree rings and glacial cores, none of these matter if you can force yourself to remain in a strong enough state of denial. It's see no science, hear no science, speak no science.
The Republicans have so far managed to treat global warming not so much as a scientific controversy, but as a political game that it is possible to win.
The week after next, the Democrats will be holding their own convention. The question for mankind isn't whether the convention treats Bernie Sanders kindly, but whether the Democrats will be serious enough about global warming to even mention it. And if they mention it, will they make a serious case for doing serious things?
The Clinton campaign treats global warming as a serious threat. My concern is Clinton's need to marry the concept of global warming to some oh-so standard political cliche mongering. Making America the world's clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge. Hear me out, Hillary: It's the crashing of major ecosystems, the extinction of tens of thousands of species, and a future of misery for much of the world's human population if we don't get going. It's not like adjusting the dollar exchange rate to improve our import/export ration by a couple of percent, or moving farm price supports up a few percent to save Illinois farmers from losing money on next year's crop.
But the Democratic Party's argument is phrased in terms of creating jobs, not saving the world.
I can understand the idea of sugar coating the medicine a bit, as long as we can agree that at some point, we may have to agree that humans need to make some sacrifices in order to save the world. But right now, the Clinton website is basically about the sugar coating, and not much about either the medicine or the problem it is supposed to treat.
Still, the conversion of the American economy to solar power is a useful thing, and potentially decisive in stemming global warming if the rest of the world does the same thing.
By the way, we (and the rest of the world) will probably be better off if Republican convention speakers avoid the topic of global warming. The reasoning behind this statement may seem strained, but the logic works: Right now, Republicans with a bit of intelligence and education have to know that they are on the wrong side of science on the question. They've been gradually shifting their position from "there is no global warming" to the slightly softened "it's getting warm, but we can still drive our cars." They're not quite ready to move even further, to "This is a major emergency, albeit a slowly forming one, and we have to do what it takes, even if it costs."
That would be a decisive statement. It's too bad that the Republicans aren't decisive on global warming the way they pretend to be decisive on middle east wars. But they just aren't there yet. So it's better if they say nothing, because in saying nothing, there is less distance they have to back-peddle when the time comes.
Notice that the Democratic Party position isn't a decisive statement that we need to save the world, whatever the price. It's more like a promise that the next economic stimulus package will include solar installations, and not just new highways and bridges.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com)
DEATH PENALTY POLITICS--When Mike Ramos, the current district attorney for San Bernardino County (and candidate for California Attorney General), pleaded for Californians to send him one million dollars at the end of April -- so he could afford "paid petition gatherers" to collect enough signatures to qualify "the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016" for placement on the November 8 ballot -- he asserted, "the threat, and application, of a working death penalty law in California is law enforcement's strongest tool to keep our communities safe."
Other than the proverbial bridge in Brooklyn, no bigger, more bald-faced balderdash has heretofore been sold to Californian voters.
Eviscerating the myth that the death penalty acts as a valuable deterrent, the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund soberly observed in 2014, that "there's still no evidence that executions deter criminals." Delving into scientific studies done on the subject for Newsweek, including a 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences (comprised of our nation's brightest scientific minds), Stanford Law Professor John Donohue’s assessment of the death penalty's deterrent value at the end of last summer was even bleaker. In a column called, “Does the death penalty deter killers?,” Donohue resoundingly concluded: "There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide."
Instead of continuing such a deeply flawed policy, Donohue wrote: “A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crime.” (Formerly a professor at Yale and Northwestern Law School, Donohue is one of the leading empirical researchers in legal academia.)
The shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is just one of many reasons why “Proposition 66, ‘The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,’ is Fool’s Gold for Californians.”
Savvy, streetwise, sophisticated Californians have a superlatively better, more effective alternative to vote for, called Proposition 62, "The Justice That Works Act of 2016." Proposition 62 would (1) replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole; (2) require death row inmates to work and pay wages to their victims' families; and (3) save taxpayers a projected $150 million dollars a year.
Apart from finally ending California’s ignominious and failed experiment with capital punishment -- making us a standard-bearer for other states where already, “practically speaking, the death penalty is disappearing” – do you know what’s best about Proposition 62?
Unlike Proposition 66, the prospective benefits of Proposition 62 are not illusory, based on a bunch of baloney, glorified ballyhoo, or like death penalty proponents’ deterrence argument – bunk.
(Stephen A. 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.
VOX POP … VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--With a slick website and considerable political clout, Paramount Pictures has been pushing a $700-million plan to modernize its campus at 5555 Melrose Avenue, deemed the “Hollywood Project.” Larchmont residents, though, are justifiably concerned that the massive redo will overwhelm their community. On Thursday, July 14, the city’s planning commission will consider recommended approvals for the project.
In addition to worsening the already traffic-clogged streets around Paramount Pictures, many residents are alarmed by Paramount’s plan to construct a 15-story building along Melrose Avenue and install super-graphic signs touting the studio’s latest blockbusters. The building would tower over the nearby, low-slung, residential neighborhood.
For the project, Paramount Pictures executives seek approvals from the City Council and mayor that include a General Plan amendment and zone change.
In numerous letters to the city’s planning department, residents constantly noted that the 15-story building would destroy neighborhood character.
“A 15-story office building in our neighborhood blocking our view of the hills? Really? Are they nuts? This is not downtown Los Angeles,” wrote resident Teresa August.
She added, “I’m trying to think of a positive here, but am coming up short. It seems all good for Paramount, but all bad for us.”
Resident Kate Corsmeier wrote, “The Paramount lot is beautiful and historically significant, [but] a 15-story building does not blend with the existing buildings, will block views and add to the feeling of an impersonal commercial district rather than a cohesive commercial and residential area.”
Resident Susan Leibowitz noted, “It’s great that Paramount is infusing money [into] the neighborhood. But the building at Gower and Melrose is too tall for our neighborhood. There’s nothing that tall around here. They need to scale it back.”
And Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association president Charles D’Atri wrote:
I have grave concerns about a number of elements contained in the proposal plan… Several of the proposed features, including the 15- and 8-story towers, super signage and proposed new electronic sign district, are inappropriate and completely represent a break with the historical approach to development on this property. Massive 15-story office towers and lively bright electronic signage might be appropriate in a number of areas, however they do not have a place abutting a quiet, residential neighborhood.
Larchmont activists are expected to show up in force at the planning commission hearing at City Hall in room 350 at 8:30 a.m. on July 14, hoping L.A. officials will actively address their concerns.
Rendering of massive Paramount Pictures’ “Hollywood Project”
But Paramount Pictures executives and employees have long been major campaign contributors to L.A. politicians. Since 2000, according to the city’s Ethics Commission, they have given at least $95,400 to local pols. At City Hall, that’s a sizable sum that doesn’t go unnoticed.
In addition, since 2003, Paramount has spent at least $238,187 on City Hall lobbyists, who then curry favor with City Council members and the mayor.
That’s how things work within LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Pay huge sums in campaign contributions and lobbying fees, and win big favors in return.
Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do.
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.)
CITYWATCH ACTION POLL--“I think we should be working toward free tuition. That may sound pretty radical, but that was in the original intention of the CSU system, so lower-income students could afford education without having to break the bank with their family, or not even being able to go because they can’t afford it.” ” Cal Poly SLO student Erica Hudson as quoted in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Make it free! Make it free!
Fearless prediction. The next big fight in California budgeting is coming, and it will be about a student movement to make public universities free. And it could scramble politics and budgeting in the state.
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The San Luis Obispo Tribune offered a detailed story recently about Students for Quality Education, which has chapters at 19 of the 23 CSU campuses, and is ramping up for a big push this fall. They are going to challenge the CSU’s plans for annual increases in tuition tied to inflation – a model that resembles the approach favored by the legislature (and with some departures, by UC).
And they have a great argument. Subsidies to higher education more than pay for themselves; they were the foundation of California’s 20th century success. And tuition and fees have more doubled in the past decade, leaving many students in debt. The state, even in good times, is more interested in throwing money in a complicated rainy day fund than in investing in public higher education. And there are a lot of young Bernie Sanders supporters who need something to do.
Free tuition is it.
And there are many ways the students, and their sympathizers, could draw blood. One target would be Prop 55: the partial extension of Prop 30. They should point out that the measure doesn’t retain a sales tax increase, and is likely to produce less money than the stopgap Prop 30. The question: why doesn’t the state make tax changes that bring in more billions that go to higher education?
The students would also be wise to draft and start circulating a ballot initiative for 2018. It should be simple: bar UC and CSU from charging any fees or tuition to Californians, perhaps with the caveat that fees can be charged to students from families who make $250,000 or more.
That would precipitate a crisis in Sacramento. How to pay for it? How to budget for it? But that would be healthy. Gov. Brown and Sacramento have dodged fundamental questions about the budget and taxation, instead limiting spending and riding the wave of economic growth. The budget system is still dysfunctional, as will become apparent in the next recession. Or when university students demand what ought to be their birthright.
THE GUSS REPORT-Hugo Rossitter, a veteran Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney, is not to be trusted … or so it would seem if you listen to … Hugo Rossitter. Or, consider his dubious documents and websites.
A simple inquiry about inconsistencies on a recent affidavit he filed led to bizarre denials from him about two businesses listed on his Linked-In profile – businesses he claims are not and never have been active despite extensive evidence to the contrary.
The subjects are tied together because, as the phrase goes, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, or, if a witness is lying about one thing, he may be lying about everything.
A few weeks before the 4th of July holiday, I called Rossitter at his City Hall office to ask about the affidavit he wrote to obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) on behalf of Herb Wesson, Los Angeles City Council president, against Wayne Spindler, an Encino immigration attorney, who wrote and drew reprehensible and racist content on a speaker card that he submitted to Wesson.
After validating the affidavit’s authenticity, Rossitter could not explain why he signed it under penalty of perjury on April 27, fifteen days prior to the actual Wesson/Spindler incident on May 11. He similarly lacked explanation on why the Petitioner on related forms is listed as the Office of the City Attorney rather than the City of Los Angeles, since it is a workplace violence matter and Wesson works for the city. (The subsequent use of the boilerplate form, according to another City Attorney staffer, a case where Councilmember Paul Krekorian pro se sought a restraining order against Lee James Jamieson, the Petitioner is correctly listed as the City of Los Angeles).
Rossitter could also not explain why his document said injunction, which is usually Civil Court, as opposed to TRO, which is usually Family Court, or what injunctive relief he sought, though both are technically injunctions.
The next questions caused Rossitter to stop speaking altogether.
Why were Spindler’s criminal and TRO hearings scheduled to take place at the same time in different courthouses? And, given the totality of these inconsistencies, was he engaged in a premeditated SLAPP action against Spindler?
SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a meritless legal entanglement that powerful entities such as governments use to suppress critics by overwhelming their time, freedom and financial resources.
Instead of denying it, Rossitter referred me to Rob Wilcox, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for City Attorney Mike Feuer. Wilcox said the date was due to Rossitter’s “sloppy” work. He could not explain why the Petitioner was listed incorrectly. And he denied that the city ever engages in SLAPPs.
But Wilcox too stopped talking when told of a 2006 Appeals court ruling against Rossitter and his boss Vivienne Swanigan, both working for then-LA City Attorney Rocky “Crash” Delgadillo, in favor of animal activist group Animal Defense League’s anti-SLAPP motion. More on Swanigan further down.
Rossitter’s background is curious. Admitted to the California Bar in 1978, he went on inactive status from 1980 to 1995. After a stint with local television station KCAL-9, he joined the City Attorney’s office in 2002, primarily handling workplace violence issues.
New job notwithstanding, at the same time, Rossitter got a real estate broker’s license and started two legal consulting businesses (See complete screenshots of WVPrevent and Southland Mediation) whose websites have the same mailing address and phone number, which I called twice on the 4th of July. Rossitter answered both with a business-like, “This is Hugo, how can I help you?”
I asked Rossitter why his businesses, which are on his Linked-In page, are not listed with the California Secretary of State, City of Beverly Hills or City of Los Angeles Department of Finance.
“They are not active,” he responded. When asked when they became inactive, he said, “They have never been active.”
In other words, Rossitter would have you believe that two businesses listed on his Linked-In page as active since 2002 and 2003, with functioning multi-page websites, active fax and phone numbers (that he personally answers), email, street and mailing addresses, biographies and photos of him – and only of him – with claims of successes achieved for clients, his fees for those services ($395 per hour with a four-hour minimum), and what it costs to reschedule ($400 for a full day or $200 for a half day) is all just for show.
“I just have those websites in case I want to run businesses like them someday,” he implausibly offered after a long pause.
Told about abundant proof that those businesses are, indeed, functioning, Rossitter replied colorfully when asked whether he pays taxes on revenue from those businesses, takes a home office tax deduction, if he asked for and got permission from the city to have outside earned income, and if he submitted a required Statement of Economic Interest. He again stopped talking when asked whether, if moonlighting as a private attorney, he maintains a client trust account.
Rossitter’s disclosure documents – some approved by Swanigan – provided to me by the Ethics Commission and begrudgingly by a Feuer deputy show dates crossed out and massive gaps, particularly for his WV Prevent enterprise. Their income level claims are inconsistent with success claims on his websites. And his web pages promise “real time” responses that conflict with city policy on using city time and assets for outside employment.
And this is why it matters. Rossitter gets a prosecutor’s unspoken benefit of the doubt in court because most judges are former prosecutors. His credibility impacts the freedom, safety and finances of everyone involved in his cases. His dubious work on TROs, history of proven SLAPP activity and denials that neither business was ever functioning are red flags requiring investigation by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Public Integrity Division and the California Bar Association.
If it is determined the city violated Spindler’s rights (who has filed a $775,000 claim against the city) and caused him economic harm, the taxpayers may end up paying the piper. It would not be the first time the taxpayers did that for outspoken, sometimes boorish, gadflies, either. Rossitter’s credibility will come into question.
A closing thought on that TRO: Wesson’s colleague, LA City Councilmember Curren Price, who is African-American, said Spindler should be made an example of. But days later, Price approached Spindler outside of a committee meeting, shook his hand chuckling “PDQ. That is a good one. You got me.” Is that why criminal charges have not been filed, and might not ever be, against Spindler? And what, if anything, did Rossitter have to do with it?
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. The opinions expressed by Daniel Guss are his own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
RATEPAYERS BEWARE-DWP Charter Reform will be on the November 8th ballot. Voters will do themselves a favor by viewing this initiative with a healthy dose of skepticism. As Shakespeare reminds us, “a rose by any other name….” Just so happens that in this case, the same can be said of reform.
Some folks will be encouraged by the word “Reform” and operate under the correct notion that something needs to change at DWP. What they may not realize is that “something” is Brian D’Arcy’s power and that the proposed “reform” likely originated with D’Arcy himself. As documented by the LA Weekly, D’Arcy’s union Local 18 has made contributions to Councilman Fuentes’ campaign. Fuentes then introduced the D’Arcy measure under the rubric of reform. (The current rumor is that the reason Fuentes is not running for another City Council term is that D’Arcy has promised him a job). (Photo above: Brian D’Arcy.)
At this point, some may ask, “What does the DWP boss get from this?” That’s a good question; and here is the answer: The D’Arcy measure allows for Civil Service standards to be bypassed pursuant to a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This means that a DWP union’s MOU, not the Civil Service standards developed over the last 130 years, will determine how DWP employees are hired and fired. This will provide D’Arcy an embarrassment of riches with regard to political power (and the exact opposite of what needs to be done to reform DWP).
D’Arcy will be able to hand out $200K plus/year jobs (just as he does at JSI/JTI today) as political patronage, and get DWP employees fired that dare challenge him. This type of behavior is a rollback to the 19th century practice of patronage that inspired the creation of Civil Service in 1883 via the Pendleton Act. According to Tony Wilkinson, Chair of the Neighborhood Council DWP MOU Oversight Committee, in a CityWatch article on July 11, 2016, this will make DWP “totally dependent on labor negotiations with its dominant union (Brian D’Arcy’s Local 18) for a solution to its hiring crisis.”
What voters need to know is that real DWP reform starts with curtailing, not enhancing, D’Arcy’s power. A real reform measure would limit the percentage of DWP employees that can belong to any one DWP union, abolish the JSI/JTI slush funds, and ensure that DWP employees that challenge D’Arcy (or any union boss) are protected from retribution. The D’Arcy Charter Reform is not reform, it is a union boss power grab.
The forces supporting this initiative have constructed a Trojan Horse decked out in the livery of reform. Their intent is simple: mine DWP for resources to further their political aspirations. Able to bypass Civil Service, DWP jobs will be handed out as political patronage. Local 18 cash, funded by high salaries fueled by greased rate hikes, will flow into the campaigns of politicians willing to do D’Arcy’s will. What these supporters want is a 21st Century Tammany Hall, financed by DWP cash, with D’Arcy in the role of Boss Tweed.
Those sitting on the fence may ask, “Is there anything good in D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform initiative?” Well, according to Tony Wilkinson’s July 11, 2016 CityWatch article, this initiative does not free DWP from the political meddling of elected officials and does not include the exemptions needed to resolve DWP’s hiring crisis. Wilkinson’s criticism does not stop there. He further states in his article that:
“Inserting into the Charter a requirement that DWP implement monthly billing by January 1, 2020, raises the specter of a three-year (2017, 2018, 2019) forced march to a major billing system software change that can’t be halted if it is not ready. Did we learn anything from the last billing system fiasco?”
Now, why does D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform initiative call for monthly billing (as oppose to the current bi-monthly)? The answer is simple: rate hikes will be less apparent to DWP customers, and rate hikes are required to fund Boss D’Arcy’s 21st Century Tammany Hall.
In summary, D’Arcy’s DWP Charter Reform is not reform. It is a vehicle for cronyism, corruption, and rate hikes. And those supporting it need to re-visit this issue in-depth. “A rose by any other name…”
(Los Angeles native Schuyler Colfax is an independent writer and former military officer residing in the beautiful San Fernando Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
ALPERN AT LARGE--Black mayors, police chiefs, political leaders, and even a black President...check. The call to reform law enforcement and promote community-based police...check. Black Lives Matter and the President striking the right balance between being pro-civil rights and pro-law enforcement...well, not so much.
As I stated in a previous CityWatch article, it is up to Black Lives Matter to be an organization that follows in the lead of the revered Martin Luther King, or to follow in the lead of the Black Panthers or Ku Klux Klan as to being a separatist, dividing (and resented) force in American culture.
There are a lot of horror stories in the world, what with ISIS, European acts of terrorism and the economic forces behind the Brexit vote. A senseless police shooting showing either bias or poor police training is something that Americans of all ethnic backgrounds cannot tolerate--but domestic or foreign acts of terrorism cannot be ignored while the issue of police/ethnic relations is being weighed.
We now have not one but two crazed men who clearly had the goal of killing police officers--both in Dallas and Baton Rouge, it was undeniable, unmistakable murder. Arguably, the Dallas shooting was a hate crime in that the shooter clearly wanted to kill white police officers, but in Baton Rouge both black and white officers were targeted.
Particularly scary is that both shooters were American military veterans who were honorably discharged, and who took an oath to defend our nation.
Also particularly scary is that a significant number of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-police supporters are now taking the road of celebrating the deaths of these police officers.
Even more scary altogether are the threats and hopes of some BLM leaders (like activist Shaun King) to stage a coup (or some sort of revolution) similar to that which we saw in the nation of Turkey.
It should be emphasized that Turkey is a very different nation than the United States--but it's not hard to conclude that many Turks, even those who oppose Prime Minister Erdogan, were or are or ever will be OK with a military-supported coup in this modern era. Yet the U.S., like Turkey, will fear and oppose a coup or military action and treat its supporters (even if they claim to be pro-civil rights) with contempt and outrage.
Already there is a petition to label Black Lives Matter as a "terror" group, which the Obama presidency has turned down. It is understandable, even though Black Lives Matter was to a large degree founded on the false narrative of Ferguson, MO criminal Michael Brown being angelic and shot with a "hands up, don't shoot" that never happened, because BLM can, if it chooses, be a uniting force for good.
Black Lives Matter DOES have the ability to establish itself as a force for unity within this nation. When GOP senator Tim Scott of South Carolina described his unfair scrutiny at the hands of police, it's cause for compromise and concern.
But of equal importance is that law enforcement, who defend both black and non-black Americans every day, and are themselves comprised of increasing numbers of black officers, also get their fair share of compromise and concern. The decision of President Obama to not light up the White House blue at the request of police organizations was, in retrospect, a very bad one
It's clear that the Black Lives Matter has the support of the White House, but does law enforcement?
After the Dallas funeral, when the President didn't condemn the murderer enough and was too quick to throw the blame on that event on law enforcement, it clearly led to a reasonable complaint of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of President Obama's support of BOTH sides of the law enforcement debate.
With the Baton Rouge shootings, President Obama will (despite his clear condemnation of the shooter) have a harder time than ever convincing the American people he supports both the police and civil rights alike. Maybe he ought to throw up the blue lights at the White House NOW to show that he isn't taking the side of the more radical elements of BLM over law enforcement.
And the Black Lives Matter movement will (despite the overwhelming majority of America's support for civil rights) have a harder time than ever convincing the American people they support the police, and American society in general, and become a uniting, not dividing force, of the civil rights movement in American culture and American politics.
Because while Black Lives Matter asks the reasonable and timely question of who will protect young black men from untrained and potentially biased police officers, another reasonable and timely question is now that of:
Who will protect the American people, including and especially black Americans, from Black Lives Matter?
(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 email@example.com. 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.)
GOP CONVENTION--As it officially puts Donald Trump atop its ticket this week, the Grand Old Party is rushing headlong toward an unofficial label it is desperately trying to avoid: the White People’s Party.
With his harsh tone toward Mexicans, his proposed ban on Muslims from entering the United States and his seeming tolerance of white nationalist groups, the reality TV star is painting Republicans ever further into a demographic corner that could threaten their viability as a national political organization in the coming decades.
“If we don’t expand our ability to reach voters, particularly Hispanic voters, and the rising tide of Asian voters, we’re going to have a generational wipeout,” said Florida’s Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant and longtime Trump critic.
Trump’s language and positions appear to be translating into dismal poll numbers already, particularly in those states where it could matter most. In Florida, a June poll found Trump receiving 20 percent support from Latino voters compared to 68 percent for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
And in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a Marist College poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released last week actually showed Trump with zero percent support among African-American voters.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way at all. Just three years ago, the Republican National Committee published a report detailing the relentless demographic changes the country was undergoing, and how the party’s very existence was at stake if it failed to expand beyond its traditional base.
“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” wrote the authors of the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” giving the example of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney’s poor showing with Latinos. “If Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”
Many Latino Republicans are already doing so, thanks to Trump. One California delegate said he tried to give away guest passes to the Cleveland convention to Mexican-American friends – longtime GOP donors from the Los Angeles area – as a way to get more black and brown faces in the Quicken Loans Arena. He was unable to find a single taker, he said, on condition of anonymity to speak freely about his party’s nominee. “Not even one,” he said.
But Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the candidate’s appeal would transcend race and ethnicity. “We think that the message that Donald Trump is talking about ― jobs, security, trying to bring law and order to a community with no preference to any particular ethnic group ― we think those messages will resonate,” he said at a Sunday news conference, and then predicted: “We do think that our Hispanic support is growing. ... I expect to do much better that Romney did in 2012 in the Hispanic community.”
Other Republicans remain unpersuaded.
One of the authors of that 2013 report, Ari Fleischer, said Trump’s nomination will at least test the validity of their conclusions. “Certainly Donald Trump has gone in the opposite direction from what we recommended,” said the former top aide to President George W. Bush. “If he loses, he’ll give even more credence to our report.”
At Trump rallies across the country, even in racially diverse communities like San Pedro, California, and Fairfax County, Virginia, black or brown faces are few and far between.
At the Iowa State Fair last summer, two middle-aged white men who had just dropped kernels of corn into Trump’s jar at a makeshift straw poll there discussed how important it was to end both illegal and legal immigration because the newcomers’ children would be American citizens ― and by dint of their ethnicity further change this country. (Neither wanted to share his name with a reporter.)
At a June Trump campaign event in St. Clairsville, Ohio, 62-year-old Brenda Johnson also railed against immigrants, and explained how much it upset her to hear them speak in other languages. “They should speak English in public,” she said. “It’s fine if they want to speak in their own language at home.”
Such attitudes, of course, are not new among voters, and Trump is certainly not the first Republican presidential candidate to use racially tinged language and identity politics.
That began in earnest in 1968, when Richard Nixon took advantage of Southern Democrats’ anger over President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act to make inroads into the Deep South. While openly segregationist George Wallace ran a third-party campaign that year and won five of those states, Nixon’s use of the “Southern Strategy” led to what aide Kevin Phillips called “the beginning of a new Republican era” in his 1969 book The Emerging Republican Majority.
It was a dramatic reversal for a party that was founded to abolish slavery a century earlier, and which through the first half of the 20th century consistently supported civil rights laws for African-Americans. But from 1968 forward, Republican presidential candidates, to varying degrees, used phrases that appealed to working-class white voters who believed that Democrats were, at the expense of poorer white people, favoring blacks and other minorities.
Nixon’s appeal for “law and order,” Ronald Reagan’s story of the Cadillac-driving welfare mom, and George W. Bush’s refusal to condemn South Carolina’s display of the Confederate battle flag from atop its state capitol all spoke to a constituency that delivered Republicans the White House in every election between 1968 and 1988, with the exception of the post-Watergate election in 1976, when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter won narrowly.
But in 1992, California flipped from Republican to Democratic, as Mexican-American voters responded to Republican efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants. Republicans quickly learned that the “Solid South” no longer gave them a lock on the Electoral College.
In the subsequent years, Florida, then Colorado and Virginia, also came into play in presidential elections as their minority populations increased ― to the point where demographics now actually favor a Democrat over a Republican.
Ironically, Trump’s racially polarizing candidacy could actually accelerate that shift. North Carolina, which President Barack Obama narrowly won in 2008 but narrowly lost four years later, currently is leaning slightly toward Clinton. Georgia could also wind up closer than the 8-point win for Mitt Romney in 2012, while traditionally red Arizona, with its large Mexican-American population, could actually break for Clinton.
As it happens, this was exactly the sort of demographic change the party warned about in its 2013 report. Between 2000 and 2012, the Republican presidential candidate got between 87 and 88 percent of his total votes from white people. But as the electorate has gradually become less white, white votes are no longer enough to win. Only once in the past six elections has the GOP candidate won the popular vote: 2004, when George W. Bush took 43 percent of the Hispanic vote. In the 2012 election, Romney won only 27 percent of that vote.
“The nation’s demographic changes add to the urgency of recognizing how precarious our position has become,” the report stated. “According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2050, whites will be 47 percent of the country while Hispanics will grow to 29 percent and Asians to 9 percent.”
North Carolina RNC member Ada Fisher believes Donald Trump will do well with African-American and Latino voters.
At the RNC’s meeting in Boston the summer after the 2012 loss to Obama, party Chairman Reince Priebus fairly scolded Romney for suggesting during the primary season that immigrants living in the country illegally should “self-deport.”
“Using the word ‘self-deportation’ ― I mean, it’s a horrific comment to make,” Priebus said. “It’s not something that has anything to do with our party. But when a candidate makes those comments, obviously it hurts us.”
For party leaders, the need to adapt was not only for the next presidential election, but for the presidential elections in decades to come. Mainstream Republicans got behind a comprehensive immigration overhaul, as the “autopsy” recommended, and watched it pass the Senate only to founder in the House as the party’s disproportionately Southern, disproportionately working-class base revolted.
In perhaps the most ominous sign of where things were headed, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), a co-sponsor of the bill in that chamber, reversed himself and opposed it as he positioned himself for his presidential run.
The rejection of the party’s received wisdom was complete when Trump in his announcement speech called undocumented immigrants from Mexico “rapists” (although he allowed that some might be good people) and promised to build a wall along the southern border. In the coming months, he vowed to ban Muslims from entering the United States as a response to terrorist attacks, declined at first to criticize former KKK leader David Duke, and most recently defended the use of an image that resembled the Star of David badge that Nazis forced Jews to wear in Hitler’s Germany before they systematically rounded them up and murdered them.
Even this week, when offered the opportunity to speak at the NAACP conference in Cincinnati ― a mere 30 minutes away on his 757 jet ― Trump declined, even though he was afforded the flexibility to speak at the time and day of his choosing. Every recent GOP nominee has spoken at the conference, going back to George W. Bush in 2000.
The promise to “take our country back” and “make America great again” appeals to lesser-educated whites who wish for a return to an era when a college degree was not necessary to earn a middle-class living and the population was overwhelmingly white, said Alan Abramowitz, a demographer at Emory University. “He’s trying to appeal to a sense of displacement, a sense of being left out, of being left behind,” he said. “Elect me and we’ll finally have a leader who will undo all these terribles.”
Priebus, in the wake of a new poll showing Trump’s overall standing with Latinos down to 14 percent, told Fox News on Sunday that Trump appreciates the need to do better.
“I know Donald Trump’s going to be doing a Hispanic engagement tour coming up soon,” Priebus said. “He understands we need to grow the party ― it’s the party of the open door, tone, rhetoric, spirit ― all those things matter when communicating to the American people.”
That statement, though, is somewhat of a departure from the party’s typical response since Trump became the presumptive nominee, which is to ignore the Growth and Opportunity Project report and the long-term strategy behind it. Instead, they focus on the tactics for this coming election, and how, despite everything, Trump can still triumph by winning big among white working-class voters in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Wisconsin.
RNC members and officials, in fact, even insist that Trump will exceed expectations among Latino and African-American voters, his rhetoric to date and current polling notwithstanding.
Helen Aguirre Ferre, who took over as head of Hispanic communications after the previous director quit because of her distaste for Trump, said Latino voters are interested in more than just immigration, and that many will be receptive to his message on jobs and national security.
Even in her hometown of Miami, where two of the three Cuban-American members of Congress have disavowed Trump, Ferre said Trump has the potential to do well. She pointed to his 22 percent showing in Miami-Dade County, Rubio’s home, in the March 15 primary. “I think that speaks volumes,” she said, adding that Trump’s campaign will work hard to win over those Latino voters in November. “I think they’re waiting to be courted.”
And North Carolina’s Ada Fisher, one of only a handful of African-American RNC members, said Trump will exceed expectations with black voters, too. “I think Trump will do quite fine. I think he will do great things,” she said, showing off the “Make America Great Again” hat his campaign had given her. “I’ve been a supporter of Donald Trump since the beginning.”
To Florida consultant Wilson, the official party line on Trump ― from the idea that he will do well with minorities to the hope that he can drive up working-class white voter turnout enough to win ― is just plain silly, especially with Trump’s weakness with college-educated white voters and women voters generally.
“This is them trying to whistle past the graveyard, pretending like Donald Trump isn’t happening,” he said. “Math is math, it doesn’t negotiate.”
(S.V. Date is Senior Political Correspondent for Huffington Post … where this piece was first posted.)
GUEST WORDS--I have a lot of respect for journalist Farhad Manjoo, who currently writes a tech column for the New York Times. But a few things struck me from his recent piece on Alvin Toffler (photo above), the writer of the six-million copy bestseller “Future Shock” (1970) who died recently at the age of 87. Manjoo captured Toffler well, but drew the case for a world overwhelmed by technological advancements much too starkly:
“…in rereading [the] book, as I did last week, it seems clear that his diagnosis (of ‘future shock’) has largely panned out, with local and global crises arising daily from our collective inability to deal with ever-faster change.”
Really? We are now to lay all societal and political ills, both foreign and domestic, at the feet of tech advancements? Manjoo, who is just 38 years old, sounds co-opted by digital elder-think, the affliction of many people over 50 who project onto everyone else their clumsiness and resistance to the firehose stream of messages and notices brought to us daily through our mobile devices.
I have two millennial kids in their early and mid-twenties who seem to be adapting quite capably. They’re not much different than their peers. Their brains and social mythos may not resemble my older brain and views, but I have confidence that their grit and inventive powers remain undiminished. I put stock in those powers, as I believe we all should for the better part of the reasonably smart, reasonably stable kids stepping up to fill our shoes.
“Millennials are going to save our asses!” roared a thoughtful boomer friend a few evenings ago when a group of us got together. Between us we have collectively parented at least a score of kids, all now aged between 20 and 32 years old. His was a frustrated rebut to our lamenting over the polarized state of American politics, and I believe his pronouncement approaches a ground truth. Let’s give the rising generation of young people all due credit for absorptive capacities either absent or anemic in we aging but still quite sentient products of a slower time.
Manjoo’s column also reminded me of something I heard said by David Matthews, President and CEO of Kettering Foundation, at a conference in the early 2000s. When asked how what was then a new world of digital technology would influence politics, civics and society in general, Matthews gave a classic Matthews response in his slow Alabama drawl: “Willy. Nilly.” Which he pronounced “Willah. Nillah.” to our appreciative laughter. By that, he meant that technology’s effects would fall unevenly across people of the globe -- more like the way rainfall varies across vast and differing landscapes than like a tsunami pouring a devastating wall of water over us all.
Finally, I think it’s inaccurate to suggest that because of the demise of knowledge centers like the Carter Administration’s Office of Technology Assessment the public sector is now at a complete loss for predictive perspectives on the future. We’ve still got the U.S. Defense Department’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program and dozens of private and public institutes and universities that contract with government on research ventures of all kinds.
We’re a country that builds hybrid institutional collaborations – public, private, nonprofit and combinations thereof – that don’t have distinction or the classic jurisdictional mandates of permanent governmental institutions. But they still manage to effectively elevate ideas and productive thinking into public discourse through other means and mechanisms. We do that because we have a history of not trusting public institutions too, too much for innovation, even as much as we rely and count on them to step in and help us with large-scale services and resources when things go haywire in giant ways.
I picture Alvin Toffler going to his grave not at all a pessimist but rather as what I like to think of as an “awesome-ist,” struck dumb at times by the sheer wonder of how resilient humanity can be. He had an appreciation few people can grasp for the astonishing disruption that new tools and discoveries can unleash.
Toffler clued us in with “Future Shock” to what he rightly foresaw as some dire consequences of rapid technological change. But he had a child, too, who, very sadly, died at about the same age Farhad Manjoo is today.
At least for the time Karen Toffler was alive, I bet her father regarded the planet and its people with a measure of abiding hope, even fervent optimism, that the flesh and the ideas he spawned would throw into the common enterprise and blaze the way ahead. Not always perfectly, by any means, but amazingly well.
(Paul Vandeventer is President and CEO of Community Partners. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
EDITOR’S PICK--Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, the U.S. has obsessed over how and when to fill his sizable void on the Supreme Court. Much is at stake. Whether it is one of President Obama’s last significant acts or a major early decision by our next president, the new appointment will break the deadlock on a Supreme Court currently divided four-to-four between liberal and conservative justices.
GELFAND’S WORLD--Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton, and a bunch of people instantly lost their minds. We're seeing pleas to support a minor party such as the Greens, or simply not to vote. The argument is all dressed up in the language of rejecting having to choose between the "lesser of two evils," but it's ultimately a version of political narcissism. Rather than support Clinton, a candidate who is viewed as too imperfect to be worthy of anything but scorn, we are being asked to join a revolution of the small minority in the hope that it will explode into a majority, even if nothing like that has happened since 1789. Well, in the spirit of ultimate irony, this is coming to a head on Bastille Day, even if it's 2016.
Permit me to remind you that the last time something like this whole formulation succeeded, we got George W. Bush as president for eight years. We got a forever war and a devastated economy. We're still recovering from the Bush recession after nearly eight years, and we're still at war. Was getting revenge for not having Ralph Nader on the Democratic Party ticket really worth it?
Because this self-defined progressive group views Hillary Clinton as no better than any other politician, we are being asked to commit a giant act of political vandalism, taking a chance that we will get something (and someone) truly evil. The strategy relies on the off chance that the people who will suffer most -- the poor and the working class -- will react to their upcoming misery by rewarding the folks who put them into it. Yeah, sure, after eight years of Bush, the one thing I wanted most was to put Nader in control. Not.
The rejectionist argument seems to be that if enough people say No to politics as usual, then the political parties will eventually get the right idea. There are multiple problems with this logic, not the least of which is its profound distain for democracy. But that's just one little quirk. The main problem is substituting a utopian fantasy for making incremental progress. It's a perfect case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. And I'm not all that sure that the aspirations of the Bernie or Bust clan are all that perfect anyway.
The core of the argument comes down to one thing. It's whether or not we accept the fact that even modest improvements take time and struggle. The corollary is that the improvements we get are not going to feel entirely adequate. The reason is that there is a substantial bloc of voters who disagree with the liberal notion of public good. They will fight us all the way. They have always fought against progress.
Nevertheless, we won a partial victory in Obamacare. One commenter referred to Obamacare as the biggest Democratic innovation since the days of Lyndon Johnson. It's what has allowed some of the people I know to get health insurance and to have a doctor.
Just the other day, the National Labor Relations Board voted to improve the rights of people who work for large companies as chronic temporary employees. It's a huge deal, because they get less pay and worse benefits for doing the same jobs. The reform has been a long time coming, but it's here. And it would be in grave peril of being reversed should Clinton not be elected president.
As an aside, I would like to bring up one question for all the people who are so devoted to Bernie Sanders. If you are so trusting of him and his judgment, then why are you rejecting his judgment in this one thing, the endorsement of Hillary Clinton? The endorsement comes from the real, flesh-and-blood Bernie Sanders. What you seem to want is the plastic-idol version, an idealized Bernie Sanders who will stand atop the ramparts in an act of civil defiance.
No such luck. Sanders has been a politician most of his life. He understands how the Senate works, and by extension, he knows how political progress develops in the United States. In other words, the real Bernie is not the guy you're demanding.
There is also democracy itself to think about. More voters supported Hillary than Clinton. It's a fact. Bernie's supporters (and the Sanders campaign itself) have complained bitterly about the Democratic National Committee, claiming that they rigged the primary calendar to limit the number of debates and schedule them at awkward times. There may very well be truth to this, but let's remember that during the last couple of months of the primary season -- when Bernie Sanders was getting maximum exposure and news coverage -- that's when Hillary did the best in states like our own California. Losers can blame the process, often with some truth, but the last few months of the Democratic primary season did not merit such critiques. The voters had plenty of information available to them, and they made their choices.
There is a difference between believing in democracy as it is, and in hoping that some day, democracy will go your way.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
POLITICS--I’ll save you the guesswork. On July 21, Donald Trump will become the Republican nominee for president of the United States. On July 28, Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic nominee.
Trump’s pending coronation is unsettling many Republican leaders – prompting Republican national chairman, Reince Priebus, to warn them that “if we don’t stick together as a party and stop her, then the only alternative is to get comfortable with the phrase President Hillary Clinton.”
That’s about as enthusiastic an endorsement Trump is likely to get from the Republican establishment.
It’s also unsettling many other Americans, some of whom will be demonstrating in downtown Cleveland to protest the nomination of a man who has gone out of his way to denigrate Latinos, blacks, Muslims and immigrants.
But barring a miracle, Trump will be nominated anyway.
So will Clinton, whose nomination isn’t going down easily with many of Bernie Sanders’s supporters, even after his endorsement of her.
So why have the conventions at all?
First, because they’re perks awarded to people who worked hard for candidates during the primaries — just as top sales reps in companies are awarded trips to national sales conventions. Delegates will have fun and spend money, which hotels and restaurants in downtown Cleveland and Philadelphia will sop up like dry sponges.
They’ll enjoy circulating on the convention floors for five or six hours each night exchanging gossip and business cards, hugging old friends and meeting new ones, and taking selfies.
And they’ll feel important when they hear party leaders, heads of state delegations, members of Congress and occasional celebrities tell them how critical it is to defeat the opposing party in November, how strong their nominee will be, and what makes America great.
Second, the conventions generate prime-time TV infomercials featuring celebrities, heroes and former presidents (Bush 1 and 2 say they won’t appear at the Republican one) and, most importantly, the nominee on the last night.
All will speak about the same three themes, although Trump will talk mainly about himself. These segments will be produced and directed by Hollywood professionals and marketing specialists whose goal is to get the major networks (or at least CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) to project stirring images into the living rooms of swing voters.
The third reason for these conventions will be hidden far away from the delegates and the prime-time performers: It’s to ingratiate the big funders — corporate executives, Wall Street investment bankers, partners in major law firms, top Washington lawyers and lobbyists, and billionaires.
The big funders are undermining our democracy but they’ll have the best views in the house. They’ll fill the skyboxes of the convention centers – just above where the media position their cameras and anchors and high above the din of the delegates. And they’ll feast on shrimp, lobster tails, and caviar.
Each party will try to make these big funders feel like the VIPs they’ve paid to be,letting them shake hands with congressional leaders, Cabinet officers and the nominee’s closest advisers, who will be circulating through the skyboxes like visiting dignitaries. If they’re lucky, the big funders will have a chance to clench the hand of the nominee himself or herself.
The three conventions — for delegates, for prime-time audiences at home and for big funders — will occur simultaneously, but they will occupy different dimensions of reality.
Our two major political parties no longer nominate people to be president. Candidates choose themselves, they run in primaries, and the winners of the primaries become the parties’ nominees.
The parties have instead become giant machines for producing infomercials, raising big money and rewarding top sales reps with big bashes every four years.
That Donald Trump, the most unqualified and divisive person ever to become a major party’s nominee, and Hillary Clinton, among the most qualified yet also among the least trusted ever to become a major party’s nominee, will emerge from the conventions to take each other on in the general election of 2016 is almost beside the point.
(Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley and the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.)
LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, July 5, the County Board of Supervisors voted to place on the November ballot a $95 million parcel tax to benefit the County’s parks.
Unlike a traditional parcel tax of $40 on each of the County’s 2.4 million parcels, this new parcel tax will be based on the square footage of improved property in the county (6.4 billion square feet) times 1.5 cents per square foot, an amount that may be adjusted upward based on the Western Urban Consumer Price Index. Over the next 35 years, this tax will raise almost $6 billion based on reasonable assumptions for inflation and growth as compared to $4 billion under the traditional parcel tax.
This new levy will replace two parcel taxes totaling $81 million that were approved by the voters in 1992 and 1996, one of which expired in 2015 ($52 million) while the second parcel tax ($29 million) will expire in 2019.
In drafting the final, 8,700 word ballot measure, the Supervisors listened to the public (and their polls) and lowered the proposed tax to $95 million from the $200 to $300 million level that was discussed in its May 3 meeting.
While this proposed increase (including the cost of living adjustment) is reasonable, especially given inflation since 1992, getting the approval of two-thirds of the voters will be a tough sell.
The Supervisors may snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by approving Sheila Kuehl’s motion to make this parcel tax a permanent tax, eliminating the 35 year sunset provision.
In 2013, 55% of voters in the City of Los Angeles rejected Proposition A, in part because many Angelenos were turned off by the permanent nature of the half cent increase in our sales tax to a whopping 9 ½ %. This may also apply to the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax that is being proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“Metro”) for the November ballot.
Another contentious issue is the allocation of the tax revenues. The Valley and the other parts of the County believe that they are not getting their fair share as the Supervisors are favoring the districts represented by Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas based on the Needs Assessment Report that called for revenues to be spent disproportionately in underparked areas of the County.
There are other issues that are of concern, including the lack of independent oversight, the lack of a maintenance plan for the County’s existing parks, shifting the burden to the owners of commercial real estate, and the potential for the new Board of Supervisors to burden the next generation with mountains of debt secured by this new parcel tax.
But the real kiss of death may be “voter fatigue” where the overwhelmed and mad as hell voters reject all of ballot measures trying to pick our pockets.
At the State level, we are being asked to approve $9 billion in general obligation bonds to finance K-12 and Community College facilities (Proposition 51), a $1 billion cigarette tax (Proposition 56), and the 12 year extension of the Governor Brown’s “temporary” income tax surcharge that is expected to yield $5 to $11 billion a year (Proposition 55, also known as the Pension Tax as these revenues will eventually fund the massive pension liabilities of CalPERS and CalSTRS).
The County is also proposing a $130 million marijuana tax to finance its homeless efforts.
Metro is proposing to nick us for an additional $850 million a year by permanently increasing our sales tax by a half cent, resulting in a sales tax of mind boggling 9 ½ %. This, along with the other related taxes, will result in tax revenue of $3.5 billion a year for Metro.
Finally, our City has placed on the ballot a measure to allow the City to issue up to $1.2 billion in bonds to fund, along with private real estate developers and other government entities, an estimated $3 to $4 billion of supportive housing.
And this assault on our wallets does not include the $150 million tax increase associated with the recent $1 billion increase in our DWP water and power rates, a street tax that was pushed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2014, or any taxes to fund the County’s $20 billion stormwater plan.
Maybe it is time for us to send our Elected Elites (and their cronies) in Sacramento, the County, and the City a loud and clear message that we are sick and tired of being their ATM by voting NO on all of these ballot measures.
Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, Rivers Protection, and Water Conservation Measure
To replace expiring local funding for safe, clean neighborhood/ city/ county parks; increase safe playgrounds, reduce gang activity; keep neighborhood recreation/ senior centers, drinking water safe; protect beaches, rivers, water resources, remaining natural areas/ open space; shall 1.5 cents be levied annually per square foot of improved property in Los Angeles County, with bond authority, requiring citizen oversight, independent audits, and funds used locally?
(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--“Need now means wanting someone else's money. Greed means wanting to keep your own. Compassion is when a politician arranges the transfer.”
Once again it is silly season in Los Angeles as our Enlightened Elite will be blowing smoke in our face, urging us to approve the proposed offering of up to $1.2 billion bonds over the next ten years. These funds, along with billions from real estate developers and other governmental entities, will finance the construction of an estimated 10,000 units of supportive housing for LA’s homeless population.
But this well intentioned measure that will be on the November ballot does not deserve our support.
For openers, the City does not have the necessary management expertise, organizational capabilities, or experienced personnel to manage such a complex program. This is because social services are the responsibility of the County which has dropped the ball in caring for the homeless population that numbers around 45,000 persons (less than 0.5% of the County’s population).
Furthermore, the City does not have a well thought out plan to implement this ambitious multi-billion dollar endeavor. How does the City propose to work with real estate developers and other government entities to raise billions needed to complete the build out of 10,000 housing units? How does the City intend to work with County and the State, each of whom have their own ideas about how to address the homeless issue? How does the City propose to pay for the necessary services that the homeless require since the City is prohibited by law from financing these day to day expenses with bond money? And how will the City develop a team of qualified individuals to implement this program in an efficient manner?
There is also inadequate oversight of this multi-billion dollar build out that involves numerous real estate developers, many of whom already have close relationships with our elected officials. The City is proposing to establish by ordinance a Citizens Oversight Committee where its seven members will be appointed by the Mayor and City Council. But will this Committee be independent of the Mayor and the City Council? And will it have the necessary expertise, resources, and authority to monitor and control the effectiveness of this program?
In developing this $1.2 billion bond measure, the City Council failed to solicit input from the Neighborhood Councils and the public, unlike the process involving the reform of Department of Water and Power that will be on the November ballot and DWP’s $1 billion rate increase. Rather, it is a top down process, where the all-knowing City Hall apparatchiks dictate policy to the City’s proletariats.
The City proposes to service the $1.2 billion of bonds by imposing a new tax on our property. But this tax, which starts off at $6 million a year and peaks at $100 million in 2028, is not necessary because the debt service (principal and interest) may be financed by a small percentage of the projected increase in the City’s General Fund revenues.
Over the next 30 years, the average annual debt service is $60 million and equals 3.5% of the increase in the City’s tax revenues.
This leads to the question that if the Mayor and City Council believe that the homeless issue is so important, why not make it a budget priority? This contrasts with the City authorizing a $200 million giveaway for the Grand Avenue Hotel or approving a $125 million a year wage and benefit increase for the City’s civilian unions.
The City has also refused to address its Structural Deficit, its annual budget, and its finances. The Mayor and City Council have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances, to develop a multiyear budget, and to form a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s seriously underfunded pension plans. It has also not developed a plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or to benchmark the efficiency of the City’s operations.
Simply stated, Mayor Garcetti and the Herb Wesson led City Council do not want our City to Live Within Its Means.
The proposed $1.2 billion bond proposal is just another attempt by our Elected Elite to throw money at a problem based on the premise that we, the voters, should trust them to spend our hard earned dough efficiently.
But with no organization and management, no plan, no oversight, no outreach, no respect for our wallets, and no budget reform, the measure to authorize $1.2 billion in bonds to fund the City’s homeless initiative deserves a NO vote in November.
The following is the proposed ballot language.
HOMELESSNESS REDUCTION AND PREVENTION, HOUSING, AND FACILITIES BOND.
To provide safe, clean affordable housing for the homeless and for those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors, foster youth, and the disabled; and provide facilities to increase access to mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, and other services; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,200,000,000 in general obligation bonds, with citizen oversight and annual financial audits?
(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--At its meeting last Tuesday, the politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power postponed its consideration of DWP’s proposed ten year, $63 million lease of 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex, because a CityWatch article suggested that the Department may be overpaying by $20 million.
This overpayment is part of the City’s scheme to stick the Department and its Ratepayers with almost $15 million of tenant improvements, an expense normally the responsibility of the landlord, in this case the City of Los Angeles.
The City is also attempting to extract an additional $5 million through higher than market rents.
However, it appears that DWP is being slammed for an additional $20 million as market professionals and several DWP employees have indicated that the Department needs only half the contracted space to house the 550 employees who are scheduled to occupy Figueroa Plaza. This would require DWP to adopt space planning techniques similar to those used in the private sector.
Of course, if DWP had adopted proper space planning techniques for its 1.6 million square foot headquarters building, then this ten year, $63 million lease would not be necessary. But past attempts by DWP to modernize its historic 50 year old headquarters building were shot down by the previous mayor and the Garcetti led City Council.
By the way, the concept of proper space planning also applies to the City and its more than 32,000 employees. And just imagine how the tens of millions in annual savings could be used to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets or house the homeless, alleviating the need for an increase in our taxes.
This ten year, $63 million lease for 124,250 square feet of City owned office space was the creation of the Municipal Facilities Committee and its members, the City Administrative Officer, the Chief Legislative Analyst, and Mayor Eric Garcetti, as it was looking to off load the expense of this office space that was vacated by the Lewis Brisbois law firm as a result of the DaVinci Fire on December 8, 2014.
In November of 2015, the City was prepared to move the Housing and Community Investment Department (“HCID”) and its 600 employees into this office space. It intended to finance the tenant improvements and relocation from the leased Garland Building by issuing debt and recouping any debt, operating, and maintenance expenses by hitting up HCID’s special funds.
But the HCID relocation plan was scrapped when Garcetti’s office realized that it would be easier to dump the surplus office space and the cost of the tenant improvements onto DWP and its Ratepayers, “saving” the City and its General Fund $63 million over the next ten years. This was despite pushback from DWP’s management.
The terms of this unfavorable lease need to be reviewed and analyzed by an independent third party in conjunction with the Ratepayers Advocate. Any opinions and findings, along with all backup material, must be shared in a timely manner with the Ratepayers and the public before the lease is discussed by the politically appointed Board of Commissioners.
This deal also serves as a call to reform the relationship between DWP and the City. This would require an ordinance that requires that any transaction between the Department and the City be subject to a thorough analysis by the City, the Department, and the Ratepayers Advocate. This analysis would also be shared with the Ratepayers and the public.
Of course, this uneconomic deal that further soils the reputation of our Elected Elite raises the question of how many other stinkers have been approved by the Mayor, the City Council, and the politically appointed Board of Commissioners that are not in the best interest of the Ratepayers.
LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting on Tuesday, the Garcetti appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power will consider the adoption of a ten year, $63 million lease for 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex located at 201-221 North Figueroa Street in DTLA.
This 25 year old property, purchased by the City in 2007 for $219 million, consists of two 16 story towers comprising 615,000 of office space and is located north of the Central Business District and about a quarter of a mile west of DWP’s headquarters on North Hope Street.
LA WATCHDOG--The politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power recently approved two money losing water recycling projects that will result in DWP blowing $93 million of Ratepayer money. This amount represents about a quarter to a third of the recently approved five year, 25% increase in our water rates.
These Board decisions (with only one the five Commissioners voting NO on both deals) were made without relying on any financial analysis prepared by the Department. Nor were these two projects compared to other alternative water saving investments that may have higher rates of return. To the contrary, I supplied the Commissioners and DWP management with a cash flow analysis (based on the Department’s assumptions) for both recycling projects that showed that these two uneconomic water recycling projects were stinkers.
But the politically appointed Commissioners were only following the wishes (orders) of Mayor Eric Garcetti (photo above) who, through his Executive Directive No. 5 (Emergency Drought Response – Creating a Water Wise City) dated October 14, 2014, established a goal of reducing the purchase of imported water by 50% by 2024. This will require increases in local supplies through conservation, the remediation and replenishment of our aquifers, and increases in our local supplies through the recycling of wastewater and storm water.
Unfortunately, this aspirational, politically inspired Executive Directive was not accompanied by any operational or financial analysis, putting the Department in a very difficult and awkward position.
The first project, the $20 million Griffith Park South Water Recycling Project, is located within the nation’s largest urban park and will supply 477 acre feet (156 million gallons) of recycled water a year to the Roosevelt Golf Course and the surrounding area. Based on the Department’s assumptions for the purchase price of treated water from the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”), this project does not recoup its investment until 2040 (23 years).
Alternatively, it would take over 40 years for this debt financed project to repay a loan that had an interest rate of 5%.
Furthermore, this deal is double stinker as it is a pet project of former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and the responsibility of the Department of Recreation and Parks, not DWP and its Ratepayers, since it located entirely within Griffith Park.
The second water recycling project, the $73 million Elysian Park Downtown Water Recycling Project, will supply 2,561 acre feet (835 million gallons) of recycled water a year to Elysian Park, DTLA, Exposition Park, Boyle Heights, and other adjacent areas, once again reducing the need for potable (drinkable) water. But like the Griffith Park pet project, the DWP does not recoup its investment until 2040 and would not be able to repay the loan until 2057.
The economics of these two projects assume that they will have a life of 30 to 50 years. However, this may be a bogus assumption if the recycled water from the LA-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant can be processed into potable water (direct potable reuse or better known as toilet to tap) that can be introduced directly into our water system. This would result in a “stranded” asset, resulting in an even greater hit to the Ratepayers.
The debt laden Water System does not have the flexibility to sink cash into money losing projects as its ambitious $5.5 billion capital expenditure budget is already causing its long term debt and debt ratios to balloon to levels where it will endanger its coveted bond rating.
While the aspirational goal of reducing our dependence on purchased water from Northern California and the Colorado River is worthy target, it must also be accompanied by a rigorous operational and financial analysis that results in the Department investing in projects that have positive rates of return and at the same time discarding the dogs. Otherwise, Garcetti’s green policies will result in considerably less green in our wallets.
[Note: On Wednesday, MWD, the major supplier of water to our City, issued a press release stating that its “stress test” showed that it had sufficient water supplies to meet the demands of its customers for the next three years.]
LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the Herb Wesson led City Council must think we are absolute fools if they believe that we will vote to approve massive tax increases in November while they continue to neglect our City and trash our quality of life.
On Friday, the Rules Committee of the City Council will consider placing on the ballot a measure to authorize the issuance of $1 billion of bonds. This money will be used to finance the building of more housing for the homeless.
The County is also considering a yet to be determined $250 million tax to help fund its homeless initiatives, including, subject to Sacramento’s approval, a controversial “millionaire’s tax” of 0.5% on incomes north of $1 million.
The County is also contemplating a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County, especially in underserved areas.
At the same time, Metro will place on the ballot a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to fund transportation related projects and operations. This will increase our sales tax to a whopping 9½%.
Over the next 40 years, this new Metro tax, along with the existing transportation taxes, will raise almost $300 billion, of which almost $25 billion will be kicked back to City Hall as part of the Local Return program.
Despite a kickback from Metro of over $200 million this year, City Hall does not have a comprehensive plan to repair our lunar cratered streets and alleys, some of the worst in the country.
Nor does City Hall have a detailed plan to repair our residential sidewalks in a timely manner. Rather, homeowners may have to wait up to 30 years pursuant to the court mandated Sidewalk Repair Program unless residents are prepared to pony up their own dough to pay for a substantial portion of the cost to fix their broken sidewalks and replant their trees.
City Hall is also starving our Department of Recreation and Parks by hitting it up for almost $60 million a year as part of its “full recovery cost” program. This represents a third of its General Fund charter mandated allocation. As a result, our parks have deteriorated and the Department has embarked on an unpopular program to commercialize our parks.
The City Council and the Jose Huizar led Planning and Land Use Management Committee are preparing to allow the campaign funding billboard industry to install intrusive digital billboards in many areas outside the designated sign districts. But the light blight from these highly profitable digital billboards is an assault on our quality of life.
The Mayor and the City Council are also selling us out to real estate speculators and developers by approving zoning variances for luxury residential skyscrapers that will result in increased congestion on our already clogged streets.
There are also hot button issues involving small lot subdivisions, short term rentals (AirBnb), granny flats, mansionization, and the hillside communities that have inflamed the impacted residents.
At the same time that the City is neglecting our infrastructure and failing to protect our neighborhoods, City Hall has no problem entering into a new contract with the City’s civilian unions that will eventually cost an extra $125 million a year. This will result in a structural deficit of over $100 million for the fiscal year ending 2020 as opposed to a previously anticipated surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.
And this does not include the impact of the “goal” of hiring 5,000 new City employees or the underfunding of the City’s two pension plans by at least $400 million a year as the City relies on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%.
The three ballot measures all have fatal flaws that will make it difficult for them to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters. They are also the beginning of an onslaught of new taxes (including DWP, stormwater, and streets and sidewalks) that will have the cumulative impact of raising our taxes by at least $1.5 billion. This is the equivalent of a 30% increase in our real estate taxes or a 3% increase in our sales tax to 12%.
City Hall will put on a full court press to convince us to approve these taxes. But City Hall’s reputation for neglecting our streets, sidewalks, and parks; for not respecting our quality of life; for selling out to the real estate and billboard industries; for its kowtowing to the City’s civilian unions; and for its unwillingness to really balance the budget will doom these ballot measures to failure.
Who are the fools now?