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CAUGHT IN THE ACT-Show trials aren’t what they used to be. Ask California Coastal Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey, whose hearing this Wednesday in Morro Bay to decide the fate of the Commission’s Executive Director Charles Lester was supposed to be a brief “fake-weighing” of the evidence, followed by a hearty pushing of Dr. Lester into the sea. But instead, it’s ended up as a cause celebre among environmental heavy weights and some not-at-all-grandstanding politicians who think Dr. Lester should be kept on board, if not canonized. 

The truth is that Dr. Lester should not be kept on board. In fact, the public should give Mr. Kinsey a hand when he leans over to push Dr. Lester off the ship of state. And then, once Dr. Lester is safely off the boat and Kinsey still has his back to us, we should push him overboard as well. And after that, Commissioner Wendy Mitchell should also get the heave-ho. That should do it for now. 

Why all the shoving? Because all three of these individuals recently betrayed the public’s trust in a very specific way which, unlike Mr. Kinsey’s “charges” against Dr. Lester, can be clearly detailed and explained as follows:    

Shortly after the Commission approved, on January 9, 2015, the construction of a 75 to 82 foot high automated dry stack boat storage facility with 11,600 square feet of water coverage (i.e. the structure will hang over that many square feet of water) at Basin H in Marina del Rey (permit No. 5- 14-0770), Commissioners Kinsey and Mitchell, along with Dr. Lester -- as well as the rest of the Commission -- were informed that several key representations presented to the Commission in connection with the project application were false. 

The false information could hardly have been more material. In response to a question regarding the logistic feasibility of the proposed automated storage system, the Commission was assured by one of Dr. Lester’s deputies (with Dr. Lester himself observing) that, in effect, the technology was tried and true; specifically, that “other parts of the country use this technology” and so it’s “not unproven.” The falsity of this claim has never been disputed. 

The truth is that there is only one operational fully automated dry stack boat storage facility in the world, and that facility, far from being an argument in favor of the Marina del Rey project, makes it clear why this current project needs to be further vetted by Commissioners. To date, the commissioners have not received full and clear information about what they and their constituents are getting themselves into. 

First, the referenced operational facility (in Port Marina, Florida) doesn’t work for small boats. A wet slip (the most convenient and desirable way to store one’s boat) in the Marina del Rey market costs between $625 and $700 per month for a 34-foot boat, including hookups. Yet the rental fee for the same sized boat at the Port Marina automated facility is approximately double the cost. 

Commissioner Mitchell has stated that her support for the Marina del Rey project was, to a significant extent, based on the belief that it would increase the public’s access to the marina by offering more places for small boats to be stored. But shouldn’t learning that small boats will not be accommodated by the new structure prompt Commissioner Mitchell to ask for some clarifications on all this?   

The public and the Commissioners are owed full and accurate disclosure of what taxpayer dollars are being spent for an invaluable coastal location whose charter requires it to be safeguarded for public recreation. The most efficient way to do that would be to reconsider the item at the Coastal Commission's next meeting so that all the new information could be taken into account by the Commissioners. They would then be free to vote the same way they did the first time if they so chose. This is the kind of due diligence that the law, common sense, and good citizenship require. Chair Kinsey has several times been asked, yet still refuses, to reconsider the item. 

And by, in effect, suppressing important new evidence regarding the boat storage development, Commissioners Kinsey and Mitchell, as well as Dr. Lester, have committed much the same transgression as do lawyers who neglect to inform their clients of a settlement offer. Those lawyers get debarred. 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a teacher who lives in Los Angeles. Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch. ) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

BUDGET DOYENNE-Surely you’ve seen the Mayor’s #SlowJam video announcing the slowdown expected as a result of the closure of the 101 this past weekend? Masterfully executed with original music by talented students of the Theodore Roosevelt High School Jazz Band, Eric Garcetti is the coolest mayor ever. 

TRANSIT LA-Whether it's in preparation for the 2024 Olympics, bringing LA forward into the 21st Century, or just common sense and good old-fashioned house cleaning, LAX is getting a face lift that significantly enhances access and mobility.

While I am increasingly for the proposed City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Integrity Initiative this November that would set limits on out-of-control LA City Planning, I also find attractive the proposed countywide Measure "R-2" that is designed to establish and guarantee more funding for countywide transportation. The LAX/Metro Rail connection is one of my top reasons to vote for it.

But Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is doing its own makeover, with a $5 billion Landside Access Modernization Project (LAMP)  that will establish LAX as a world-class transportation hub.

This effort at LAX is tangentially-related to the recent kick-off of the new tunnel boring machine for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail project, named "Harriet" after Harriet Tubman in honor of Black History Month. It should be noted that another reason to support Measure "R-2" is to extend this light rail line north to the Wilshire Blvd. Subway, thereby establishing this north-south rail line as a key link from LAX to all parts of the City of Los Angeles.

But LAMP is funded by LA World Airports (LAWA), not Metro.

The 2.25 mile Automated People Mover with six stations and trains every three minutes (or less) is also funded by LAWA.

Of course, anyone who can visualize the local geography will wonder how the Crenshaw/LAX Line or the People Mover might all connect to the Rams' upcoming new stadium in Inglewood, but that's a whole other debate and effort to pursue.

When both the LAMP and Crenshaw/LAX Line are completed, motorists can be dropped off either directly in the horseshoe (as it is now), or at one of the two intermodal transportation facilities that will be funded by both LAWA and Metro -- which includes an extra 96th/Aviation station for the Crenshaw/LAX Line that, in addition to the already-planned Crenshaw/Aviation station, establishes a host of local and remote LAX dropoff/access points.

Furthermore, while rail improvements get most of the attention for this and other LAX upgrades, road improvements will also occur and allow motorists and car renters the ability to access LAX, the freeway, and a Consolidated Rental Car Facility that will dramatically change the LAX experience. 

Of course, if quality Metro Rail access is created, remote LAX access all over the Metro Rail system will, at least in theory, occur.

It's also not hard to envision increased emphasis for an eastern Metro Green Line Extension to the Metrolink station in Norwalk, thereby extending rail connections to Disneyland and Ontario Airport.

(Yet another plug from yours truly as to why on earth the proposed Metro Eastside Light Rail Extension doesn't have direct or easy connection to the Metrolink system in that portion of LA County!)

Businesses will have opportunities to help the LAMP project move forward; potential abounds for business parks and malls in the LAX area – which, like the Wilshire Blvd. Corridor and Downtown is as ripe an opportunity and location for development as any in the City of LA.

So while it's not hard to complain and point out the deficiencies -- and possibly the downright corruption -- in the way LA City does business, we do have a beautiful "LAMP" to shine a light on a potential for Los Angeles. It’s possible to do things right in the 21st Century.

And for that, both Mayor Garcetti and Westside Councilmember (and local and regional transportation leader) Mike Bonin deserve a great deal of credit. And our support.

 

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

AT LENGTH-A few weeks ago, a 14-year-old suspect carjacked a black SUV in San Pedro at gunpoint. Within hours, the police had spotted the stolen vehicle and a chase ensued into my neighborhood. The teenager panicked, abandoned the car and ran into a family member’s home. 

The residence was eventually surrounded, while the streets covering several blocks around 11th and Mesa streets were cordoned off with yellow police tape. Police officers stopped and inspected cars traversing through the area at gunpoint in search of the suspect. 

Within those first few hours of this live crime drama, I saw more police officers on the block than I ever imagined were available. 

There were at least 15 patrol cars, if not more. There was a canine unit, a helicopter hovering overhead, and an armored vehicle carrying a squad of SWAT officers. Plain clothes detectives, Port Police and the Los Angeles Fire Department assisted. 

By the end of the standoff, several hours later, the Los Angeles Police Department captain in charge estimated that there were something close to 100 officers involved. To the credit of the police officers on the scene, that 14 year-old carjacker was arrested without being shot. The Jan. 30 “No Excuses” rally calling for “more police” outside of LAPD Harbor Division reminded me of this incident. For those who attended the rally, rising crime stats along with the still shuttered jail was the focal point of their collective anxiety and frustration. 

This mixed bag of concerned citizens included representatives of not one, but two groups using the moniker of “Saving San Pedro” (one that has been most vocal against the homeless and the other, older group, of anti-Rancho LPG activists.) Then, there were the opponents of the current waterfront development at Ports O’Call and some representatives of the newly reorganized NAACP. 

What was not generally recognized in this unique pro-police-open-our-jail demonstration is that it was conceived by members of the Community-Police Advisory Board, a public outreach initiative created by the LAPD, managed by the senior lead officers of Harbor Division with pro-police community members as advisors. 

The CPAB does not have elected community membership nor does it have any formally elected representatives from the Harbor Area neighborhood councils or authority to do much more than “advise” the police. 

To the point of the jail being closed, for more than two years the Harbor Area neighborhood councils have lobbied, passed motions and written to Chief Charlie Beck, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Joe Buscaino about staffing this jail, but to no avail. 

The argument is that with the jail closed, every year some 4,000-plus arrestees have to be driven from this area up to the 77th Division, the closest jail in this part of the city, at a loss of 3 to 4 hours for two officers. This equates to the annual loss of some 32,000 patrol hours for what amounts to chauffeuring criminals to a distant location for booking. Perhaps LAPD could use an Uber app or a bus? 

Like most everything in the City of Los Angeles, solutions are never simple and this one involves the city’s budget process, two human resource departments and the hiring and training of more than 29 detention officers before the jail can be opened.

According to LAPD Assistant Chief Jorge A. Villages, head of operations, of the 24 people who were recently in the detention academy, only 13 passed the training. And, the priority for placing those who did pass is to put them at the 77th Division to replace the badged officers who are working there because of the shortage of lessor paid detention officers. However, the Harbor Division jail is the next in line of priorities for staffing as it is the largest of the five LAPD jails that still remain closed. 

The frustration is that after spending $42 million to build a new jail eight years ago, we still have a pristine facility waiting to be used. This, joined with the fact that of the 21 LAPD divisions, the Harbor Area has one of the lowest crime rates in the entire city. Even with the recent rise in crime, Harbor Division is a “low priority” for an increase in officer deployment in the eyes of LAPD command. The demonstrators decry the transfer of some 40 officers out of this division some years ago. 

What few of the “No Excuses” demonstrators at Harbor Division understand is that in the Greater Los Angeles Harbor Area we have no fewer than 16 badged and/or armed police agencies. 

If you start counting, we have more police protection than almost any place except maybe the White House, and yet if you call 911 for anything less than a naked man with a gun shooting his neighbor you’re bound to wait 45 minutes to an hour for a response. This is a customer service issue complicated only by invisible jurisdiction. The LAUSD police, park rangers or Port Police aren’t going to respond to a bicycle theft on 24th Street. 

As aggravating as small property crimes are and as connected they may be to high unemployment among certain age groups and drug use by others, the Harbor historically has been a magnet for much larger crimes. 

For instance, take the nearly a-half million dollars in pistachios that were stolen from Horizon Nut Co. based in Tulare County during the past holiday season. This company learned that the theft could be the work of a sophisticated network of thieves as part of a bigger scheme. 

Who knew that a container full of nuts was worth half a million dollars? It did however end up at the Port of Los Angeles. Half of the nuts had already been shipped to the Persian Gulf before U.S. Customs and the FBI found the remainder. 

Excuse the pun, but nobody around here is going nuts over property crimes. However, in the Central Valley agriculture theft is big business. The question still remains whether the Los Angeles City Council has the nuts to keep the promise made to the Harbor Area residents and pass a budget that will allow them to open the Harbor Division jail. 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com )  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA’S BOYS CLUB--Los Angeles’ city council is the best paid but the least gender-balanced of 15 major U.S. city councils analyzed recently by Pew.   (Photo above: Nury Martinez, only woman on LA’s 15 member City Council.)

The report looks at the average tenure, salary, and percentage of men and women on the city councils of the country’s most populous cities, plus five other cities chosen for their similarity and/or proximity to Philadelphia, where Pew is based.

Compared to 2011, when Pew last examined the makeups of these same councils, average tenure has dropped, share of women has declined and salaries are up, at least modestly, in most cities. 

According to the report, councils in cities with higher costs of living do tend to have higher salaries, but historical pay rates, the council’s level of responsibility and the political mechanism to raise council salaries also play a role.

The report also notes that there is no clear correlation between members’ salaries and their status as full- or part-time employees, or their right to outside employment. Washington, D.C.’s council members are part-time, but have the second-highest salaries. Despite their low wages, San Antonio’s council members are full-time.

Across all councils, average length of term declined from 7.9 years to 6.2. Baltimore’s council members remain in office an average of 14.2 years, the longest in the study. The average Houston council member serves just 2.1 years, the shortest.

In 2011, Philadelphia had the longest-serving membership, with an average tenure of 15.5 years among its 17 members. A confluence of retirements, defeats and resignations dropped that average to 8.2 years currently — still the third longest average tenure in the study. The report notes that membership longevity can be seen as positive, negative or both: Longtime members may be seen as experienced and influential, or as resistant to change.

Men are in the majority on all councils studied, though by a relatively small margin in D.C. (where the council is 46 percent female) and in San Diego, Pittsburgh and Detroit (all 44 percent). With just 7 percent female members, Los Angeles has worst gender imbalance by far. The second most imbalanced council, in San Jose, has an 18 percent female membership.

Because most councils in the study have 17 or fewer seats, the loss or gain of one female member makes a big percentage difference. Overall, the share of women city council members declined from 33 percent in 2010 to 30 percent today.

(Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Satellite Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. See her work at jakinney.com. This piece originated at Next City.

-cw

DEEGAN ON LA-These are profiles in passion: neighbors objecting to the destruction of the Edinburgh Bungalow Court buildings that had been scheduled for demolition, but were granted a stay of execution, pending approval of Historic Cultural Monument status by the City Council in several days. 

This preservation status could result from what the developer Matthew Jacobs calls “an obscure City process” -- albeit one that is routinely used to prevent exactly the type of destruction he wants. He is circulating a petition in the neighborhood urging people to “sign the petition that many of your neighbors are signing that tells the City you oppose historic designation and your support for a new project.” Not since the McMansionization nightmare have such tactics been used in trying to sway public opinion. 

No wonder the debate is so heated: this is a microcosm of a larger citywide conversation about what our architecture should be. Do we want the comfortable, iconic, historic building styles that have come to identify our city for many decades? Or do we want the faceless, overbearing and expensive boxes that lack character but are sprouting up everywhere? Or, is it possible to achieve a hybrid of new buildings modeled on styles that have worked so well for almost 100 years? 

That middle ground beats the ying and yang of total preservation versus total destruction. It may be the type of compromise to settle the nerves of the communities while cause developers less grief. The truth is, some old buildings, however charming, are marginal. And, some new buildings are, in fact, attractive. 

The Cultural Heritage Commission heard the case on November 19, 2015 and voted unanimously to support the pending Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) designation for the Edinburgh Bungalow Court. 

Next up is the vote of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) on February 16 at 2:30 pm, followed the next day by a vote of the full City Council. 

Proponents for preservation Heather Fox, Brian Harris, and Alisha Wainwright have no skin in the game to save the Edinburgh Bungalow Courtyard buildings, except that they love them and want the them around for a lot longer so many others can love them too. Matthew Jacobs has the motive, means and opportunity for profit here, pitting what may be considered an opportunist -- a “flipper” out to cash in -- against a group of altruists.

It seems like an uneven match, but remember, David only needed a pebble to put the eye out of the giant and thus level the playing field. Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5), who supports the preservation of the Edinburgh Bungalow Court, subject to a structural integrity analysis, may just be that pebble. A Koretz spokesperson told CityWatch at press time that, “The Councilmember is continuing to meet with both sides and we're still very much in the process of receiving input.” 

In a rapidly changing city morphing from its traditional Spanish feel into faceless, charmless boxes and rectangles, we could say that these neighbors represent exponentially more than three voices in the ongoing conversation about preservation. People across our city facing the same issues need to know there are ways to fight back. 

Built in 1923, the Edinburgh Bungalow Court is a Multi-Family Residential property, located at 750-756 1/2 N. Edinburgh Avenue, between Fairfax and Crescent Heights, and Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. It was designed and built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style that was emblematic of a Hollywood that is fast disappearing. 

There are, however, two sides to this story. Developer Matthew Jacobs, speaking about the property, has called it “a blight and public safety hazard.” He is as aggressive in his campaign to line up support for demolition as the activists are in rounding up support for preservation. At least three different flyers have been passed out in the neighborhood, supporting demolition. One neighborhood “deep-throat” (who would not speak for attribution) said, “you should check the city’s records, which show citation after citation going back decades.” 

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, which supports the preservation, “Some of the historical significance is that the Edinburgh Bungalow Court is closely associated with the rise of Hollywood. This type of development expanded significantly during the 1920s and 1930s to accommodate people who worked in the nearby entertainment industry”, adding “the property responded to the need for new housing in Los Angeles as settlement patterns pushed westward, and it reflects high quality workmanship.” 

This comes from the experts who know best: The Los Angeles Conservancy is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that is antithetical to the profit-driven developers who see properties like this and say, as they call out the demolition team, “I can build a better building than that!” The track record of many developers is abysmal; and our character-filled neighborhoods feel the impact of their intrusions. We live with their eyesores. 

Coming off losing his fight against preserving the nearby Los Flores project that he also owns, developer Matthew Jacobs is using a now-familiar template -- the Ellis Act -- to evict tenants, destroying what may be considered a structure with historic value and ultimately erecting an out-of-place box with a sky-high rental or purchase price-tag: another nail in the coffin for our beautiful neighborhoods. 

Developer Jacobs cannot be expected to take back-to-back losses without a fight in what now depends on a political decision to be made by City government. He lost round one and now he has two more chances to prevail in the PLUM and the full City Council. However he sounds like he may be listening to the community, where ironically he actually lives, three buildings away from the Edinburgh Bungalow Court. 

Jacobs has told CityWatch that he has modified his Edinburgh plans. “The old application for a starkly modern project has been withdrawn, and we plan on going back to the drawing board as we received good ideas and informative input from our neighbors and the historic community,” adding, “if a project is developed in the future, it will respect the past, and we are committed to working collaboratively with our neighbors to design something scaled, appropriate and compatible with the neighborhood.” 

However, it’s impossible to know if this is a tactic or a promise. 

While some may dispute his claim of collaboration, Jacobs must be given the benefit of the doubt, even though this will not stop the vigorous campaign against him; his assault on the preservationists is unlikely to stop. 

Councilmember Koretz is taking calls from everyone and can be expected to hear many more voices in the next several days running up to the PLUM and City Council votes. 

While the neighbors continue to want preservation not conversation, the pitch by Jacobs stating that he will work with the community does show a sensitivity that’s been missing. Perhaps it is an example of a developer offering listen to the community instead of just leaning on them. 

How this plays out -- the design, the destruction, the possible preservation, the two upcoming votes -- has become a political hot potato, sitting square in the lap of Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5), whose term ends in 2017. He must be including in his re-election calculus that the winds are blowing strongly against developers right now. 

Recently, there have been successful lawsuits to stop development projects and now there is a prospective ballot measure (the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative) to give land use and development a “time-out.” People who are angry are becoming aggressive activists and are starting to hold politicos accountable. 

In the case of the Edinburgh Bungalow Court, Heather, Brian and Alisha are fighting as hard as they can for preservation. They form an inspired opposition. 

Heather Fox lives a few doors down from the Edinburgh property and says, “the thought of them being destroyed did not sit right with me….I was really moved listening to a dozen neighbors speak out at the neighborhood council land use committee meeting, and hearing the committee criticize the plans of the developer because they did not fit in the neighborhood. There was a mention that bungalow courts are an important architecture type in LA and thats when I got fired up to do something. I essentially became a community advocate.

We set up a lemonade stand on the corner and made friends with neighbors and started spreading the word. We started collecting petition signatures and meeting people involved in other organizations concerned with historic preservation.”

New to the game of advocacy, Heather learned that, “there is so much work to do: Update our Facebook and our email list, try to get people to come and speak up at important meetings, line up architects and structural engineers to help educate us on the details of restoring the bungalows, and attend hearings for other people fighting the same fight because a big part of this movement is supporting others. Making connections and learning from people is a critical piece.” 

The bright spot of her daunting campaign, says Heather, is that, “Part of what makes these bungalows so special is how they have brought our community together. They represent what is possible. Edinburgh Bungalow Court is a small example of what is happening in L.A. right now. Developers with no interest in community integrity or history have taken over the city for profit and people are waking up to it. I've live in L.A. my entire life and I can't stand by and watch it happen anymore. My hope is that when the bungalows are restored, we can celebrate with a block party for the hundreds of neighbors who helped make it happen. I want to win this for our community and for Los Angeles. This is one of the hardest things I've ever done and I'm optimistic that the outcome will be a positive one.” 

Neighbor Brian Harris, who lives adjacent to the property, lays out a similar narrative: “I became involved when my neighbor Gregg's flyer came to my door showing a picture of the new development and encouraging attendance at the Mid City West Planning and Land Use Committee meeting. Being a property owner and adjacent to this development I went to find out more details. This was my first neighborhood council meeting and the room was filled with people, many of them eager to find out about and speak on Edinburgh Bungalow Court.” 

At the neighborhood council land use meeting, according to Brian, “The developer and his architect gave a presentation and then many people spoke from their heart. One such speech was Alisha's. Her experience was raw and emotional and I was immediately made aware of the Ellis Act and how these developments not only wipe away history and rent stabilized apartments but also how that with every apartment lost, there is a person who leaves the neighborhood too.” 

“I had to get involved”, declared Harris. “I started researching for the Historic Cultural Monument application and was connected with Heather Fox who had already begun the process. I began informing neighbors about the issue and what they could do to help raise awareness and support the cause. Going door to door with petitions, hosting lemonade stand Sundays with neighbors for exposure, and pedaling around with my Save LA History bike were things I enjoyed doing for the cause. 

I also talked with my Councilmember Paul Koretz several times. He is doing so much for our CD 5 on the housing front and is a man who really listens to his constituents. Without him, these efforts wouldn't be possible. He's leading the way. 

“Saving 750 Edinburgh is the mission but the bigger picture is to save all of LA’s neighborhoods. Speculation with this latest housing boom is turning the city into a field of luxury generic living for those who can afford it and tent cities for those who can't. It's tragic, it's inhumane, and it's happening. LA is becoming the cliche that everyone outside believes it to be. I have to use my voice to keep that from happening. It's the right thing to do. 

“My expectations are hopeful ones. I expect to either work with the owner on restoration or as he asked at one time, to bring him a purchaser who will pursue that goal. I hope and expect the process to continue it's current path where the designation of this historical resource is based on its merits and recommendations from experts and not in the relationships within government, social, and other various entities. 

“I expect the people to continue to be heard. I also expect to continue to fight for historic resources within and outside my neighborhood, for affordable housing everywhere, and for keeping LA a diverse and amazing place to live and grow. LA is the land of dreams. My dream starts at 750 N. Edinburgh Ave.” 

The emotional heart of the fight may belong to Alisha Wainwright, a tenant at Edinburgh who was evicted by Matthew Jacobs. “It started when I got an Ellis Act notification sometime last April,” said Alisha. “I attended my first neighborhood council meeting back in June just to see what they were planning on doing with the building and, when I did, I was really disappointed. Not only did it not reflect the neighborhood aesthetic, but the community didnt like it. So I spoke about my personal experience, as I do whenever I get a chance to speak about the beauty and simplicity and charm and history that I felt in that apartment. My favorite features of my Edinburgh apartment were the beautiful mantel with unique tile motifs and the original paned windows that let in a lot of natural light. 

“I was so impressed with the work of my neighbors, because they didn't even live in 750 N. Edinburgh, but they saw the potential to make it really beautiful on the outside, like I did. 

“It seems almost everyone except a very select few don't agree on the history and cultural significance of the building. I believe there is a middle ground where historical significance can be honored and the developer can make a profit.” 

Dragnet’s Joe Friday opened each episode by declaring: "This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I work here...I carry a badge”. Heather, Brian, Alisha and hundreds just like them -- maybe even thousands more that may be inspired by them -- are out on our streets saying, "This is the city. Los Angeles, California. I live here...I carry a petition.” There’s no stopping them. And there is lots of room for listening to them. 

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

ISENBERG: A THEORY ON EVERYTHING-Tuning in to the NBC Nightly News the other night I was confronted by stark images of starving Syrian civilian children and adults. Although starving himself, one of them had managed to upload video through the Internet to an NBC reporter using a solar powered camera. Seeing these and other images taken by Russian drones of decimated Syrian cities and humanity, I could not help but remember nearly identical images that emerged over 70 years ago, when, at the end of World War II, allies liberating concentration camps found equally emaciated surviving Jews. Doesn't our species ever learn? 

As NBC anchor Lester Holt cut to commercial and the next mundane story, I thought about what seems to be a recurring historical theme featuring a pervasive human tribal mentality that results in perceiving “the other” with a lack of empathy...or at least not enough empathy to prompt action.

Maybe it’s due to a misguided self-protective mechanism, but most of us think we will remain safe as long as we stay aloof from the plight and terror of others. Sadly, this indifference is what could assure the next human holocaust. 

It occurred to me that this time there might just be a way of changing what seems to be such detached indifference to human suffering in the world. 

So I called the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. and talked to someone in the press department. I pointed out that the very existence of the State of Israel as a militarily strong and self-sufficient state -- that receives a disproportionate amount of aid from the Americans – depends on the foundational Zionist idea that “never again” would Jews be allowed to be slaughtered in silence while nobody did anything to stop it. 

Was I alone in my outrage or could Israelis in 2016 retain enough historical consciousness to see that present-day Syrians desperately need their own equivalent of Zionism? Or has Israel so "evolved" that they too can now avoid the issue, viewing the Syrians as modern-day untermenschen,    completely unrelated to their own not so distant past? 

I pointed out to the Israeli on the other end of the phone, that, even if he wasn't convinced by my argument, given its 68 year history of living in a constant state of war, Israel might be curious as to how the Arab world would respond if Israeli planes would drop relief supplies of food and medicine to help the innocent civilian populations caught between warring factions in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East. How could such an unequivocal act of caring be explained away? 

If the desire for peace, as expressed by the Arabic salaam or the Hebrew shalom, was to be anything more than empty rhetoric, perhaps Israel could discover a “third way” to take action, one in which all human life is valued. This could give pause to even Israel’s most virulent enemies. 

Given the relatively small cost of implementing such a relief program, it should be tried by Israel and any other parties seeking to end the senseless carnage. But will it work? I don't know, but as my Jewish grandmother used to say, "It couldn't hurt." 

By the way, the number of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. is: (202) 364-5500.

 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at Lenny@perdaily.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Is California being governed by apocalyptic French philosophy?

Oui. But it’s not the end of the world.

Indeed, apocalyptic French philosophy may finally provide clarity for those of us long puzzled by that great California mystery: What is the meaning of Jerry Brown?

In recent years, our governor’s statements have taken an end-of-days turn, Jerry channeling Jeremiah. The governor has warned of nuclear holocaust, wildfires consuming the entire state, the demise of Silicon Valley if his water plans aren’t adopted, and the apocalypse if we don’t curb carbon emissions. Last month, the governor went to Palo Alto for the latest of unveiling of the Doomsday Clock, a timekeeper for the annihilation of mankind. (It’s just three minutes to midnight, humans.)

Where is he getting all this angst? Here’s one answer: Brown is a longtime friend of the French techno-philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, who practices what is called “enlightened doomsaying” from academic perches at Stanford and Paris’ École Polytechnique.

Dupuy’s long-running conversations with Brown have become more high-profile lately, with Dupuy joining him at events in Paris during December’s climate change talks.

I am neither French nor a philosopher. And I’m no fan of Brown, whose governorship I’ve criticized as too small and cautious, given the size of California’s challenges. But before Christmas, I started reading everything I could find that Dupuy has published in English. And I’m very glad I did.

Dupuy’s work not only provides reassurance that there is a coherent philosophy behind our governor’s ramblings. The work itself is irresistibly thought-provoking, connecting history, science, religion, economics, and art in an open (and sometimes bitterly funny) spirit little seen in scholarship. I’d go so far as to recommend that Californians—as citizens of a global hub for both apocalyptic and utopian thinking—read his most accessible book, The Mark of the Sacred. It should be required for anyone who works in or around state government.

Here is my best attempt to summarize Dupuy’s argument: Humanity is doomed to destroy itself because we have lost our sense of the sacred. We no longer recognize the way our sacred origins—not just faith and religion, but other rituals and traditions that remind us how many things are beyond human control—shape us and all our modes of thought, even reason and science.

This hubris creates two problems. First, we no longer understand our own limits, and recklessly reshape the world without anticipating the consequences of our own inventions. Second, without sufficient respect for the sacred, we can’t convert our knowledge about the threats to our existence—from nuclear weapons to climate change—into the visceral belief necessary to galvanize humanity to save itself.

“It is my profound belief that humanity is on a suicidal course, headed straight for catastrophe,” Dupuy writes. “I speak of catastrophe in the singular, not to designate a single event, but a whole system of disruptions, discontinuities, and basic structural changes that are the consequence of exceeding critical thresholds.”

Dupuy’s solution: a new metaphysics called “enlightened doomsaying.” We must try to imagine ourselves in the unthinkable future, to peer into the black hole of nonexistence so that we might understand our limits and sacred origins. “To believe in fate is to prevent it from happening,” he writes.

That may sound awfully French, but he grounds his philosophy in a classic California story: Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, a tale of humans falling all over Northern California, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Mission San Juan Bautista. Dupuy calls the film “the womb from which I am issued,” and sees humanity’s rush into Armageddon in the fictions within that movie’s fictions, particularly Jimmy Stewart’s attempts to impose a false reality on Kim Novak’s character.

So now—at the risk of repeating Jimmy Stewart’s mistake—I am compelled to read Dupuy onto Governor Brown.

Brown’s famous skepticism of great plans and new programs makes sense if you believe, as Dupuy argues, that man has become blind to the consequences of his own belief in progress. Brown’s focus on avoiding catastrophes—the strategy linking his budget rainy day fund to his prioritization of climate change—reflects Dupuy’s “prophet-of-doom” calls to focus on postponing the apocalypse.

Brown, like Dupuy, holds deep respect for the sacred—he quotes from various religious traditions and invokes his time in Jesuit seminary, without embracing any particular religion. And just as Dupuy mourns the “loss of difference between levels that characterize hierarchy,” Brown has sought to reestablish hierarchy, removing himself from many daily debates, relying on powerful elder wise men to pursue policies from water to high-speed rail, while keeping an unusually small staff.

Some of Brown’s most puzzling statements—his criticism of “desire” and consumerism—echo Dupuy. The French philosopher argues that as we lose our sense of the sacred, we fill the void with our own desires—and that creates envy that leads to conflict. Here’s Brown, speaking at the Doomsday Clock: “California is so full of low-priority needs. In fact, I have to tell you something about needs, because needs are the whole issue. What I have found is, and I have developed a hierarchy: First we get a desire; and then the desire is transmogrified into a need; and then we get a law; and then we get a right; and then we get a lawsuit.”

Of course, Dupuy, as philosopher, poses questions you’ll never hear on the stump in Stockton: Has Christianity preserved the sacred—or obliterated it by replacing so many traditional religions and rituals? What are the virtues of scapegoating? And which would be worse: the annihilation of the human race, or the eco-totalitarianism that might be instituted to prevent said annihilation?

There are obvious objections to Brown, and to Dupuy. There is a dissonance between the care with which governor and philosopher advise respect for the unknown and the certainty with which they predict Armageddon. I find it unsettling to be governed by someone so focused on the apocalypse. (Of course, my anxiety may be the reaction doomsayers want.) Reading Dupuy, I felt relief that Brown, for all his virtues, will never be president and have access to the nuclear launch codes.

But we also should be comforted that our governor’s aphorisms and warnings lean so heavily on such deep thinking. Dupuy suggests in his writings that we think in the “future perfect” tense—as in, by tomorrow, the apocalypse will have happened. From there, we work backward, as if the end of our existence were already fated, to find the limits that might save us.

To govern is to choose, and to prepare for the future. And while there are certainly happier ways to confront the dangers ahead, there may not be a smarter one.

(Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It [UC Press, 2010]. This column was posted first at Zocalo Public Square)

-cw

EDITOR’S PICK--The biggest story this election season is not Donald Trump or the fortunes of the two winners in Iowa, the unattractive tag team of Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. For all their attempts to seem current and contemporary, these candidates – and Trump as well – represent older, more established elements in American life, such as evangelicals, nativists and, in Hillary’s case, the ranks of middle-age women, seniors and public-sector unions.

The biggest and most important development has been the massive support among the new generation of voters for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his open embrace of socialism. In Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, which ended with Clinton and Sanders in a virtual tie, young people opted for Sanders at an almost inconceivable rate of 84-14. In 2008, Barack Obama won this segment, claiming only a 57 percent majority.

So we are seeing the embrace of an openly socialist septuagenarian by a generation that, within a decade, will dominate our electorate and outnumber baby boomers as soon as 2020. That should put more conventional politicians, and business, on notice. Whether you are a Republican, a free-marketer or, even a Democratic-leaning crony capitalist, be afraid – be very afraid.

Timing right?

For the first time since labor leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs in the early 20th century, Americans are flocking in big numbers to a politician who rejects the efficacy of capitalism and seeks to create a new, notionally fairer, system. Now, as then, the reason to support socialist ideas – some of which were implemented during the New Deal – lies with the palpable failures of capitalism. Polls of millennials show consistently that economic issues, such as jobs and college debt, are their dominant concerns.

The new generation’s lurch toward socialism would have been unimaginable at any previous moment in the past half century. A recent yougov.com poll found some 36 percent of people ages 18-29 favor socialism compared with barely 39 percent support for capitalism. Support for socialism drops precipitously, to 26 percent, among people ages 30-44, tumbles to 24 percent support among those ages 45 to 64 and hits 15 percent among those over 65.

Another poll, this one from Pew, finds that 43 percent of millennials have positive connotations about the word “socialism,” compared with less than half that level among people over 50.

Perhaps one reason for this divergence lies in memory, or lack of it. Few millennials remember the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “evil empire,” which occurred when the oldest of them were barely out of diapers. In contrast to older generations, who reacted against Soviet-style politics, millennials seem to make little distinction between liberal progressivism and socialism.

Conservative academics, a small but sometimes hardy band, place blame on a lack of teaching about the realities of socialism by generally left-leaning instructors at universities or high schools. Certainly from what I see, at least, few students seem to know about Stalinist and Maoist purges, famines and thought control.

Yet it’s not just ignorance at work here. Millennials are coming up in a very tough economy where opportunity is limited, even for college graduates, with diminishing returns accompanying soaring tuition. Millennials are finding everything harder than their parents did – leaving a record number living at home into their late 20s and earlier 30s, or sheltering with their friends in apartments. Record levels of student debt, twice the average two decades ago, are slowing economic progress. Relieving this indebtedness is one element of Sanders’ appeal.

At the same time, relatively few young people are starting businesses. Being in debt and asset-free does not augur well for the prospect of nurturing appreciation for the creative power of capitalism in the next generation.

A party divided

The rise of support for socialism among millennials is having an immediate impact on the Democratic Party. Many left-leaning Democrats rightfully detest the kind of modulated crony capitalism epitomized by Hillary Clinton. This could precipitate a civil war among major Democratic donors – notably in Silicon Valley – who may embrace progressive views on cultural and environmental issues, but have little interest in having their massive wealth threatened by regulations or hypertaxation.

“They don’t like [Bernie] Sanders at all,” notes San Francisco-based researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling Internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution and protecting union privileges and pensions violates the favorite notions of the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “these people are tech liberals. Equality is a nonissue in Silicon Valley.”

Although maybe not an issue among the tech oligarchs, class and inequality are not “nonissues” for many progressives of all ages. In blue bastions like San Francisco, grass-roots progressives regard tech billionaires, and their employees, with about the same regard evangelicals have for abortionists. To many old-line Bay Area liberals, the tech moguls – with their tax breaks, special employee buses and expensive tastes – are transforming their once-diverse city into an unconscionably expensive, class-ridden enclave. In many ways, as the Who sang, “the new boss” turns out to be as remarkably oppressive as the “old boss.”

This division will become clearer as the Clinton machine, and its media apparatus, go after Sanders. The Vermont senator was better treated before he posed a serious threat. Now that he is challenging the gentry liberal consensus, the mainstream media, increasingly under the sway of tech oligarchs, are mounting increasingly strident attacks on Sanders. These attacks have been led by the Washington Post, owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, whose fortune and sometimes brutal business practices would fare far better under Clinton than Sanders.

Indeed, the defense of crony capitalism is implicit in the Clinton appeal. After all, she is running with funds collected from financial, technology and other crony industries. Some of these same people have also been quite generous toward the Clinton Foundation, Bill and Hillary’s ethically challenged holding company.

Future of capitalism

Some conservatives – particularly given the chaos of the Republican race – might be tempted to revel in the new Democratic lurch to the left, which conceivably could drive the party too far from the mainstream, at least for older generations. But millennials are the future, and, if the GOP retains its reactionary ideas on key social issues – notably the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants, legalizing marijuana and gay marriage – its chances of reaching millennial voters may be minimal.

Ultimately, the future of capitalism depends on making the system work for the majority of people, including millennials. The current system, frankly, is producing few benefits for the vast majority of Americans, giving the free market a bad name and turning off millennials. Fully half of them, notes a recent Harvard study, already believe the “American Dream” is dead. More than 10 million millennials are outside the system, neither employed nor in education or training, a population that seems ripe for leftist agitation.

Simply put, to change millennial views, capitalism also needs to change from its current trajectory. The predominant system of crony capitalism, most ensconced in blue states like California, clearly favors the already affluent. At the same time, nonsocialists need to do a better job of explaining the past failures of state control; most millennials, as the Reason Foundation has pointed out, do not even associate socialism with a state-centered economy, which most of them say they would strongly oppose.

And, to be sure, there are elements of millennial attitudes that push back against socialist practices. Millennials, for example, tend to distrust all institutions, including government, according to Pew, and half consider themselves independents, far more than in any other generation. They may be alienated from large financial and corporate institutions but may not remain permanently in the tank for ever more intrusive government.

Ultimately, reality, not knowledge, changes attitudes. Until capitalists focus more on jobs and upward mobility, and less on asset inflation, young people have little reason to change their minds. Unless capitalism or its crony offshoots can create a credible future for the young, there’s little reason to expect that this generation will abandon their determination to change the system that, for all its faults, has created more prosperity over time for more people than any other.

(Joel Kotkin is R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. He is executive editor of www.newgeography.com … where this piece originated and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.)

-cw

WHY WE MUST TRY--Instead of “Yes we can,” many Democrats have adopted a new slogan this election year: “We shouldn’t even try.”

We shouldn’t try for single-payer system, they say. We’ll be lucky if we prevent Republicans from repealing Obamacare.

We shouldn’t try for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The best we can do is $12 an hour.

We shouldn’t try to restore the Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment and commercial banking, or bust up the biggest banks. We’ll be lucky to stop Republicans from repealing Dodd-Frank.

We shouldn’t try for free public higher education. As it is, Republicans are out to cut all federal education spending.

We shouldn’t try to tax carbon or speculative trades on Wall Street, or raise taxes on the wealthy. We’ll be fortunate to just maintain the taxes already in place.

Most of all, we shouldn’t even try to get big money out of politics. We’ll be lucky to round up enough wealthy people to back Democratic candidates.  

“We-shouldn’t-even-try” Democrats think it’s foolish to aim for fundamental change – pie-in-the-sky, impractical, silly, naïve, quixotic. Not in the cards. No way we can.

I understand their defeatism. After eight years of Republican intransigence and six years of congressional gridlock, many Democrats are desperate just to hold on to what we have.

And ever since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the political floodgates to big corporations, Wall Street, and right-wing billionaires, many Democrats have concluded that bold ideas are unachievable.

In addition, some establishment Democrats – Washington lobbyists, editorial writers, inside-the-beltway operatives, party leaders, and big contributors – have grown comfortable with the way things are. They’d rather not rock the boat they’re safely in.

I get it, but here’s the problem. There’s no way to reform the system without rocking the boat. There’s no way to get to where America should be without aiming high.

Progressive change has never happened without bold ideas championed by bold idealists.

Some thought it was quixotic to try for civil rights and voting rights. Some viewed it as naïve to think we could end the Vietnam War. Some said it was unrealistic to push for the Environmental Protection Act.

But time and again we’ve learned that important public goals can be achieved – if the public is mobilized behind them. And time and again such mobilization has depended on the energies and enthusiasm of young people combined with the determination and tenacity of the rest. 

If we don’t aim high we have no chance of hitting the target, and no hope of mobilizing that enthusiasm and determination. 

The situation we’re in now demands such mobilization. Wealth and income are more concentrated at the top than in over a century. And that wealth has translated into political power.

The result is an economy rigged in favor of those at the top – which further compounds wealth and power at the top, in a vicious cycle that will only get worse unless reversed.

Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of any other advanced nation, for example. We also pay more for Internet service. And far more for health care.

We pay high prices for airline tickets even though fuel costs have tumbled. And high prices for food even though crop prices have declined.

That’s because giant companies have accumulated vast market power. Yet the nation’s antitrust laws are barely enforced.  

Meanwhile, the biggest Wall Street banks have more of the nation’s banking assets than they did in 2008, when they were judged too big to fail.

Hedge-fund partners get tax loopholes, oil companies get tax subsidies, and big agriculture gets paid off.

Bankruptcy laws protect the fortunes of billionaires like Donald Trump but not the homes of underwater homeowners or the savings of graduates burdened with student loans.

A low minimum wage enhances the profits of big-box retailers like Walmart, but requires the rest of us provide its employees and their families with food stamps and Medicaid in order to avoid poverty – an indirect subsidy of Walmart. 

Trade treaties protect the assets and intellectual property of big corporations but not the jobs and wages of ordinary workers.

At the same time, countervailing power is disappearing. Labor union membership has plummeted from a third of all private-sector workers in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today. Small banks have been absorbed into global financial behemoths. Small retailers don’t stand a chance against Walmart and Amazon.

And the pay of top corporate executives continues to skyrocket, even as most peoples’ real wages drop and their job security vanishes.

This system is not sustainable.

We must get big money out of our democracy, end crony capitalism, and make our economy and democracy work for the many, not just the few.

But change on this scale requires political mobilization.

It won’t be easy. It has never been easy. As before, it will require the energies and commitments of large numbers of Americans.

Which is why you shouldn’t listen to the “we-must-not-try” brigade. They’ve lost faith in the rest of us.

We must try.  We have no choice.

EDITOR’S PICK--The New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner and rally goes on steroids in presidential years. Invariably scheduled for the weekend before the presidential primary, the dinner is held in a far larger venue than is customary: The national (and global) press corps swarms in, and, above all, the Democratic presidential candidates and their supporters turn out in force. 

On Friday night, February 5, the party repaired to the Verizon Wireless Center in the heart of Manchester. The ice hockey arena featured the standard shell-out-the-bucks tables of ten festooning the floor where the ice normally sits. The presidential partisans and party faithful filled the thousands of low-dollar spectator seats: Hillary supporters on one side of the arena and the Bernie backers on the other. 

The evening held potential, then, for an ugly clash. In essence, two separate candidate rallies would be held in a venue filled with supporters of both candidates. Clinton partisans plainly feared that the Sanders kids might boo, heckle, and Lord knows what else, when Clinton spoke. Introducing her, New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen adjured the crowd, saying, “I hope everyone here will be respectful of whatever choice we make” in this election. 

Then Clinton came out to give her speech and -- everything was fine. No heckling. No booing. The kids were alright. 

More than that, the event demonstrated that the divisions that have appeared in the party this year aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. More precisely, in a year when the Democrats are said to be divided by an ideological chasm, the evening showed that that chasm isn’t nearly as wide as it may appear from afar. 

Indeed, the evening’s program presented a kind of real-time, visual poll that revealed more consensus than discord. It was easy enough to see what the Bernie brigade supported: They came armed with “thundersticks,” orange plastic cylinders that they hoisted and banged together to great noise-making effect. Likewise, on the opposite side of the arena, the Hillary hordes brandished thundersticks of their own, with glowing lights at the tip, like some kind of Jedi lightsaber which they, too, raised and waved around when sufficiently thrilled by a speaker’s comment. 

The response to Sanders’s speech was a revelation. Even as the Bernie kids erupted in a thunderstick-banging cacophony while Sanders emphatically delivered one progressive pledge after another, so, too, did the Hillary backers raise theirs and wave them about as Bernie unveiled his platform. Raise the minimum wage to $15, Sanders said. Up went the lightsabers (though Clinton’s preferred level is $12.) Lift the cap on the payroll tax to increase Social Security benefits, he bellowed. Lightsabers up! Health coverage is a right not a privilege -- lightsabers galore! Voted against the Iraq War resolution: lightsaber madness! 

To be sure, Sanders has modified his stump speech to make clear he’s not the all-or-nothing guy depicted by the Clinton campaign. “The Affordable Care Act has done extraordinarily good things,” he said, before vowing to go beyond the ACA with Medicare for all. Speaking before a crowd that included the entire state Democratic establishment, he was clearly not at his most confrontational. Nonetheless, when he spelled out positions that were at odds with Clinton’s -- not pointing out they were at odds, but before a crowd that knew they were -- the Clinton backers responded rapturously to most of them. 

One prominent former party leader (who asked his name not be used because he’s a sitting judge) explained the enthusiasm to me this way on his way into the arena: “Bernie says all the right things. His program appeals to me very much, appeals to most of us. But I’m voting for Hillary. If Bernie wins [the nomination], he’ll get clobbered in November.” 

The judge’s response is not a surprising, but helps illuminate what the entire evening made clear: While there are real divisions among Democrats this year, they are not chiefly ideological or programmatic. Taken by themselves, Sanders’s positions, even those that are not Hillary’s -- the $15 wage, free tuition, lifting the cap to increase Social Security payments -- are widely popular across Democratic ranks. 

To the extent that there is a division on ideology, it probably comes when Sanders’s proposals are considered in aggregate, which means that the total amount of taxing and spending that his program would entail is indeed a likely point of division. To that extent, some of his Democratic opponents fit the description that political scientists have given the American people more generally: Philosophically conservative (or in this case, centrist), programmatically liberal. 

There was one other kind of division on display in the arena on Friday night: The Sanderistas are not, or not yet, party people. This distinction began at the top: While both candidates opened their remarks by acknowledging their institutional supporters (unions, progressive groups, and so on), Hillary also went on to give shout-outs to various New Hampshire Democratic leaders and party activists. Sanders did none of that. 

That’s partly because the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire party leaders and activists are backing Clinton, and because the Clintons have deep relationships in New Hampshire dating back to 1992. But it’s also because Sanders has not been a party guy at the state level, though he is functionally that in Congress.   

As with the candidates, so with their supporters: Some of the older Bernie backers have certainly been party people, and cheered when notable state party workers and local elected officials were acknowledged (which is a required rite at any state party’s annual do). Most of Bernie’s backers, however, had no idea who those people were, and the kids who’d come from out of state to precinct walk for the final weekend were thoroughly and understandably uninterested. 

(They reminded me of an 18-year-old staffer on Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 insurgent presidential campaign – me -- who sat through such events in several states with an equivalent lack of interest in the roll call of local notables.) 

But in talking with a group of students from Hartwick College, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, who’d crossed the Adirondacks to walk for Bernie and who’d been among the loudest noise-makers during Sanders’s talk that night (and who sat respectfully, if not enthusiastically through Clinton’s), I got the clear impression that, like the kids who’d once volunteered for McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, and George McGovern, they’d stick around, reshape, and take over the Democratic Party in years to come. 

The three students -- all political science majors -- understood that the Sanders “revolution” was many years in the making, not the product of just of one campaign, and that with or without Bernie in years to come, as one said, “we’ll be inspired to carry on his ideals.” “This is a learning experience,” said another. “We’re learning how the system works.” 

American socialists, as the great sociologist Daniel Bell once observed, failed to understand that with power came the necessity of compromise; they were, in his famous phrase, “in but not of the world.” Bernie’s kids are in but not of the party, in but not of the system -- which, in American politics, means they’re on track to somewhat alter and eventually take over both the party and the system, too. 

(Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American Prospect ... where this piece originated.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Super Bowl sucked. It was 4 hours of mediocrity, two quarterbacks who couldn't get the job done, and offensive lines who wouldn't think of giving offense. Everybody knew that Peyton Manning was at the end of his road. He plays like a guy with multiple long-term injuries, but still knows enough to throw the ball away half the time. The bigger story was the failure of Cam Newton to dominate the game. A team with 15 wins and 1 loss should have some ability to score, even against a good defense. Perhaps there should have been a least valuable player award given to the Carolina offensive line. 

Things have changed. The league and the CBS television network hyped the fact that this was Super Bowl 50. We were shown a few clips of the first such game. At the time (1967), it was actually a football game rather than a multiweek spectacle. Tickets were offered to the public at reasonable rates, that being a time when the NFL was one entertainment medium competing among others. 

But one thing hasn't changed. It's the insatiable NFL greed that causes it to go overboard whether it is the first or the fiftieth. The first interleague championship game now known as the Super Bowl (but called something different at the time) was played at the Coliseum here in Los Angeles. The NFL enforced its television blackout rule, which forbade local television if a game wasn't sold out. In a town that was used to seeing the Rose Bowl and to viewing USC vs. UCLA, this was not only a surprise, it was taken as an insult. 

The result was that lots of Angelenos stayed away. It wasn't quite a formal boycott, but it was a well recognized expression of municipal disgust. There was just a hint of this historical reality allowed to come through on Sunday, when one veteran mentioned the first Super Bowl game being played in a half-empty Coliseum. Records show that the Coliseum was actually one-third empty, at 61,000 attendance. The first Super Bowl game couldn't outdraw USC vs. UCLA. 

This year's game didn't suffer from any lack of greed. On the few occasions in which one team scored (typically a field goal), the network went to commercials. That's commercials in the plural. Then we saw a kickoff. Then the network went to more commercials. It's not all that excessive to point out that scoring in modern American football is one play surrounded by ten commercials. 

There's one more little irritant that the modern television networks have foisted upon us. We used to hear comments and statistics by announcers. Vin Scully has built a whole career on making baseball fascinating by providing interesting stats. We used to get something of the same thing in televised football. But now, every microscopic element has a commercial sponsor. To give you an idea of how excessive this has become, we had statistics presented by Mercedes. We had a half time show presented by Hyundai (I think it was Hyundai -- feel free to set me straight here, because I couldn't keep up with the deluge of corporate names) and Toyota got in there somewhere, maybe for the postgame show. 

And then there were the much-hyped commercials. Last week, CBS went as far as to do a tv special on commercials from previous Super Bowls. There was a countdown to number 1, which was about a man and a horse. Other top-50 commercials included puppies and more horses. 

When it came to Super 2016, the commercials didn't seem to come up to snuff. They were just plentiful, not moving. I would go so far as to say that they weren't even sappy, which is at least some kind of emotion. We had cars, cars, and more cars. 

I watched the pregame show at a local restaurant. Everything seemed to go in slow motion, as we were introduced to 4 dozen previous MVP's, a combined chorus that sang America, and a pop singer (Lady Gaga) who sang the national anthem. By the time we got to home of the brave, a woman at an adjoining table remarked, "I could have had a hysterectomy in less time." 

That remark certainly beat anything said over the next 4 hours by the retired jocks who cover as football announcers. 

I wonder if I'm alone in guessing that professional football has hit its peak. This year's Super Bowl is the best evidence yet. There just isn't anything more to add in terms of pregame hype or biographical sketches of the participants, and adding a lot more commercials would be noticed even by football addicts. 

The CBS television network did everything possible to bring in the viewers, but what actually showed up on our screens was boring. It wasn't even shocking or offensive. The game was just sullenly, dully boring. You might say that it was merely boring. 

Mind you, this boredom wasn't for lack of trying on the part of the network. The television directors used a dizzying series of shots for almost every down. In the old days, there would be a camera which was stationed along the sideline and which showed the play from beginning to end. Television directors also had the use of one or two other camera positions so they could show a replay from a different angle and thereby add a little spice to the mix. But nowadays, from the moment the whistle blows on one play, we are subjected to a rapid series of camera angles and moving shots presented in frantic succession. 

When I see this kind of technical and reportorial overkill, I always suspect that the network executives and directors don't trust the audience to maintain interest in the sport itself. They realize that they need to add a lot of filler and a lot of tricky editing in fear that the modern audience couldn't sit still for a televised showing of the game itself. 

Perhaps the game itself is just too dull to hold the attention of a modern television audience. After all, if the game were fascinating by itself, the extraneous stuff would be an irritation. 

Someone might choose to argue that this is just the condition of the modern generation. But all you have to do is take a look at a couple of counterexamples. NBA Basketball seems to do pretty well without all the extra bells and whistles. Even college basketball manages. At a different level, we have the television show Jeopardy, which has added a few technical gimmicks over its half-century run, but is basically the same show. 

There was one new element that spoke ominously to current football audiences. The announcer explained that one player was staying out because he had failed the concussion examination. The audience members who happen to be parents and future parents might think about this. They might usefully consider that perhaps half of the players they were watching will end up with long-term brain dysfunction. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net) 

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Saturday, the Neighborhood Council DWP Memorandum of Understanding Oversight Committee unanimously approved the following resolution: 

The DWP Oversight Committee calls on the City Council to follow the recommendation of the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey to form “a committee to examine governance reforms for the Department with the explicit task of reporting its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.” 

LA WATCHDOG--The City of Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious, $470 million plan to modernize and expand the Convention Center so that it can compete with other first tier, West Coast cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim in attracting large scale conventions. This undertaking is expected to be completed by 2020 and is designed to promote tourism, one of the main drivers of our economy, and to stimulate the private development of hotels, restaurants, residences, and office and retail space in the South Park neighborhood and the rest of DTLA. 

This expansion will increase the Convention Center offering to almost 1.25 million square feet, up 43% from the current level of 870,000 square feet.  At the same time, the new and improved Convention Center campus is designed to be an integral part of the community, linking seamlessly with the neighborhood, LA Live, and Staples. 

The City will also encourage the development of several thousand new hotel rooms in DTLA to accommodate highly desired, big spending, out of town conventioneers who will not only stimulate our economy, but will also contribute generously to the City’s coffers through the 14% Transit Occupancy Tax on their hotel bill.  

This also includes a privately financed, upscale Convention Headquarters Hotel of at least 1,000 rooms that will be strategically located on City owned property, most likely near Staples and LA Live on the north end of the campus.    

The City intends to finance this $470 million expansion with debt, which, when combined with existing Convention Center debt of almost $300 million, will total a staggering $770 million. This debt will be serviced by the Convention Center’s 25% share of the Transit Occupancy Tax which is expected to yield the Convention Center $54 million this fiscal year.  By 2020, this tax is projected to increase by over 20% to $261.8 million, resulting in $65 million to service Convention Center debt. 

However, our cash strapped City does not have the financial flexibility to finance this expansion and other immediate worthwhile projects, including the $1 billion to replace its aging and neglected equipment (including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances) without blowing a gaping hole in its Debt Management Policy which limits debt service for Non-Voted Indebtedness to less than 6% of General Fund revenues.  This violation would send the wrong message to the investment community, resulting in a downgrading of the City’s credit rating and higher interest rates.  

The City Administrative Officer has recommended that the City enter into a Public Private Partnership (a “P3”) where the City would select a turnkey development partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the expansion of the Convention Center and the development of the surrounding real estate.  Under this recommended alternative, the 44 year old West Hall would be demolished and rebuilt (not retrofitted as currently envisioned).  The partner would also develop 9 to 14 acres of the 54 acre campus by creating “an integrated mixed-use real estate development” that would help to offset the costs of associated with the Convention Center, a loss leader that cannot even begin to pay the interest on $770 million of debt.  Needless to say, any development plans need to be consistent with the Community Plan.  

A P3 also protects the City from any cost overruns associated with the expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of the Headquarters Hotel and isolates it from any operating losses.  The partner is also responsible for maintaining the campus in excellent condition, a task that the City has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing on a sustained basis. 

While the terms of the P3 need to be worked out, including any “availability service payments” by the City to service the debt, the net result will result in more cash for our City’s deficit prone budget by creating a more vibrant Convention Center, more out of town visitors resulting in higher increased Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, and lower contributions to the Convention Center. 

The expansion of the Convention Center in conjunction with a well-capitalized partner is a win-win for our financially challenged City.  Don’t blow it. 

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes “introduced a motion calling for a 2016 ballot measure to reform and restructure” our Department of Water and Power.  

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved a five year, 21% increase in our power rates that were appropriately deemed “just and reasonable” by the Ratepayers Advocate.  This represents a bump of 4% a year, considerably lower than the 8% that was tossed around a year ago. 

But there was no discussion about how DWP Ratepayers would be hit with $150 million in new taxes as a result of the $770 million increase in revenues over the next five years.  Overall, the City’s haul from the Ratepayers is projected to increase to over $800 million, up from the current level of around $650 million. 

There are two taxes on power system revenues, the City Utility Tax and the 8% Transfer Fee. 

The City Utility Tax is equal to 10% of residential revenues and 12½% of commercial revenues with a blended rate of about 11½%.  Based on projected revenues of $4.22 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, this tax will generate around $485 million for our friends that occupy City Hall. 

The 8% Transfer Fee is equal to 8% of the prior year’s revenue and according to DWP’s projections, it is scheduled to increase to $327 million in 2020, up from $266 million last year.  

But this fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit (Eck v. City of Los Angeles) that alleges that this “fee” is a violation of Proposition 26 (The Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act), a ballot measure that was passed by voters of California in November of 2010 that prohibits the collection of “disguised taxes” in the form of fees or rates. 

This issue was addressed in public comment at the Tuesday Board meeting by Walter McNeill, a Redding based attorney who successfully sued the City of Redding and its municipally owned utility in a similar case.  But that was the end of the discussion because the City (and not the Department of Water and Power) is opposing the class action lawsuit. 

But unlike the class action lawsuit involving the Telephone Users Tax (Ardon v. City of Los Angeles) where the City hoodwinked Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue and escaped a billion dollar liability owed to Angelenos for an estimated $25 million plus a very generous $18 million in legal fees, this litigation is higher profile and more clear cut as it concerns easily identifiable payments from DWP to the City and does not directly involve DWP’s 1.4 million Ratepayers. 

If the City were to lose this case, and there is a high likelihood that it will, the revenue stream from the 8% Transfer Tax would come to a screeching halt, blowing an even larger hole in the City’s already unbalanced budget.  Over the next four years, the City’s cumulative deficit will exceed $400 million as a result of the new labor contract with its 20,000 civilian workers.   

The City would also be liable for over $1.5 billion for past transfers.  This would cost the City $150 million a year to service the Judgement Obligation Bond that would be floated to pay this liability.  

Rather than play Russian Roulette with the City’s finances, where there are at least four bullets in the six shooter, the City needs to reach a negotiated settlement with the plaintiffs, the Ratepayers, and the City’s voters that requires the City to reimburse DWP and its Ratepayers, that places a new tax on the ballot to help the City balance its budget and repair its infrastructure, that truly reforms the governance of the DWP, and that requires the City to Live Within its Means. 

Otherwise, the City, true to form, will continue to “kick the can down the road” until the spaghetti and meatballs really hit the fan.

 

(Note: On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes will introduce a motion to the City Council that will have recommendations on how to reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power.  But any reform must include significant input and buy in from the Ratepayers who do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti who view Ratepayers as their dedicated ATM.  See DWP Reform: Set for Yet Another Burial.”)  

 

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LA WATCHDOG--At its December 10 meeting, the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission unanimously approved the “up zoning” of the Palladium Residences (photo: proposed) to allow the development of two thirty story towers that will house 731 luxury rental apartments.  The doubling of this project’s density will result in additional profits of at least $50 million for Crescent Heights, the Miami based developer. 

This mixed use development will also include a mere 24,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants and also includes improvements to the 63,000 square foot Palladium, the 1940 Art Deco venue located in the heart of Hollywood, one block east of Sunset and Vine. 

The supporters of this $500 million project claim that it will help alleviate the City’s housing crisis.  But the rents in these luxury apartments are not affordable unless you are making north of $100,000 a year.  This is double the City’s median household income of less than $50,000 a year. 

Nor are these apartments family friendly unless there is a household income in excess of $200,000 a year.  

The developer and its bought and paid for supporters in City Hall are touting that 5% of the apartments are being reserved for working class Angelenos who make no more than 120% of the median income. But that will result in a modest decrease in revenues of less than 2%, or $600,000 a year, a small price to pay for at least $50 million in additional profits.  

To put the 5% set aside in perspective, New York City is demanding that 25% of the units in an up zoned building be reserved for affordable housing. 

The Planning Commission was also impressed that this “elegant density” project was in an area served by the Metro Red Line and numerous bus routes.  But most of the residents in these two luxury high rises will not be schlepping to work on the subway or bus, but rather tooling to their offices in high powered BMWs.  

This will lead to increased gridlock at Sunset and Vine and Hollywood and Vine, two of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the City.  And this does not include the impact of Millennium Hollywood and many of the other projects in the surrounding area that will add thousands of new residents and cars to the already stressed street and freeway infrastructure. 

Real estate speculators and developers and their cronies argue that this “up zoned” project is good for the economy.  While that can be argued, the need for high end apartments is questionable as the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department reported that there is a 12% vacancy rate for apartments built in the last ten years.  Furthermore, there are many other development opportunities in Hollywood and throughout the City that will not destroy our neighborhoods, be less stressful on the infrastructure and public safety, and most importantly, provide affordable housing to thousands of hard working Angelenos. 

The Palladium Residences is just another poster child in a long list of developments where City Hall has sold out to campaign funding real estate speculators and developers who could care less about ordinary Angelenos. 

So it is not surprising that former Mayor Richard Riordan has endorsed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would eliminate “spot zoning” of mega projects if it is approved by the voters in November. 

While a recent poll indicated that 72% of the voters approved of the Initiative, Riordan’s game changing endorsement has put City Hall and Mayor Eric Garcetti on the defensive.  As Riordan said, Garcetti “isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer -- through these zoning deals on land development.”

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

LA WATCHDOG--In April of 2014, the LA 2020 Commission recommended that our City establish the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations our Department of Water and Power, set policy, appoint the General Manager, and set utility rates. 

But City Council President Herb Wesson buried this constructive measure in the bowels of City Hall, never to be discussed again, including by Mayor Eric Garcetti who promised us that he would reform DWP.  

In December of 2015, the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey recommended reforming the governance of DWP to limit the political interference by City Hall in its operations, management, and finances.  But Navigant, the consulting firm that was retained by the Controller, the Mayor, and the Herb Wesson led City Council, did not outline any specific reforms other than to form a “committee to examine governance reforms for the LADWP, with the explicit task of reporting on its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.” 

Unfortunately, this Governance Committee will consist of City Hall insiders, including “representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council Energy & Environment Committee, CAO, CLA, Controller, City Attorney, Office of Public Accountability, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, the general manager of LADWP, and a representative from labor.”  

But who is representing the Ratepayers, the “working slobs” who are paying the bills and being fleeced for over $1 billion a year by City Hall and its cronies? 

While the Governance Committee that consists of City Hall insiders will claim to be working in the best interests of the Ratepayers, rest assured that our Elected Elite will try to game the new system of governance to their advantage at our expense, especially when it comes to using us as an ATM. 

However, Ratepayers need to be an integral part of this process if the findings of the Governance Committee are to have any credibility with Angelenos who do not trust the Department and the hot air know-it-alls at City Hall.  Furthermore, the Governance Committee needs to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner and not behind closed doors as is so often the case at City Hall, especially when it comes to issues involving our wallets. 

Any recommendation by the Governance Committee must also include a requirement that the Department provide Ratepayers with timely information that is consistent with investor owned utilities such as Southern California Edison.  This would include not only financial information and operating statistics, but a comprehensive letter written to Ratepayers discussing the Department’s operations and financials. 

Ratepayers must also insist on transparency on all discussions between City Hall and the Department.  This would require that all conversations and meetings be documented in writing and agreed to by both parties, subject to the penalty of perjury, and be made available to the public on the web within 48 hours.  These “ex parte” rules would also apply to any conversations between City Hall and the IBEW, the Department’s domineering union.  

The Governance Committee needs to allow the DWP to establish its own Personnel Department and rules, freeing it from the City and its overly restrictive civil service regulations that do not give this 9,000 person organization with almost $5 billion in annual revenues the necessary flexibility to operate in an efficient manner. 

The Governance Committee should support a more robust and independent Ratepayers Advocate that has the resources to analyze the operations and finances of the Department on a timely basis to make sure DWP is hitting its operating and financial metrics.  The Ratepayers Advocate must also have the resources to improve its outreach to the Ratepayers and other DWP stakeholders, including those who occupy City Hall. 

The Governance Committee should also consider direct Ratepayer participation.  This would include allowing Ratepayers to vote on any rate increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and/or permitting the Ratepayers to elect the Board of Directors as is the case with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. 

One of City Hall’s major goals would be to legitimize the 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System that is currently the subject of a viable class action lawsuit.  This year, it is expected to be in the range of $275 million.  But rather than agree to continue this less than transparent tax, Ratepayers should approve its gradual phase out over a ten year period. 

Over the next five years, DWP is anticipating spending between $15 and $20 billion transforming the Department.  This includes getting off coal, developing sources of local water, meeting numerous unfunded environmental mandates, and repairing and maintaining its aging water and power infrastructure. 

The key to this successful transition is excellent management that is allowed to operate an efficient, well-funded, flexible organization without undue interference from City Hall. 

We cannot afford to have the politically ambitious duo of Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson bury the reform of our Department of Water and Power in the bowels of City Hall yet again.

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

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