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NEWGEOGRAPHY--As its economy started to recover in 2010, progressives began to hail California as a kind of Scandinavia on the Pacific — a place where liberal programs also produce prosperity. The state’s recovery has won plaudits from such respected figures as The American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson and the New York Times’ Paul Krugman.

Gov. Jerry Brown, in Bill Maher’s assessment, “took a broken state and fixed it.” There’s a political lesson being injected here, as well, as blue organs like The New Yorker describe California as doing far better economically than nasty red-state Texas.

But if you take a look at long-term economic trends, or drive around the state with your eyes open, the picture is far less convincing. To be sure, since 2010 California’s job growth has outperformed the national average, propelled largely by the tech-driven Bay Area; its 14% employment expansion over the past six years is just a shade below Texas’. But dial back to 2001, and California’s job growth rate is 12%, less than half that of Texas’ 27%. With roughly 10 million fewer residents, Texas has created almost 2.8 million jobs since the turn of the millennium, compared to 2.0 million in California.

Even in the Bay Area, the picture is less than ideal. Since 2001, total employment in the San Francisco area has grown barely 12% compared to 52% in Austin, 37.8% in Dallas-Ft. Worth, 36.5% in Houston and 31.1% in San Antonio. Los Angeles, by far California’s largest metro area, scratched out pedestrian job growth of 10.3%, slightly above the national increase of 9.3% over that time span.

Remarkably, despite the recent tech boom, California’s employment growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields (aka STEM) since 2001 is just 11%, compared to 25% in Texas. Both Austin and San Antonio have increased their STEM employment faster than the Bay Area while Los Angeles, California’s dominant urban region and one-time tech powerhouse, has achieved virtually no growth. This pattern also holds for the largest high-wage sector in the U.S., business and professional services.

Geographic Disparity: Relying On Facebook

“It’s not a California miracle, but really should be called a Silicon Valley miracle,” says Chapman University forecaster Jim Doti. “The rest of the state really isn’t doing well.”

This dependence on one region has its dangers. Silicon Valley has only recently topped its pre-dot-com boom jobs total, confirming the fundamental volatility of the tech sector. And there are clear signs of slowing, with layoffs increasing earlier in the year and more companies looking for space in less expensive, highly regulated areas.

Consolidation and dominance by a few giants like Google, Facebook, Apple threaten to make Silicon Valley less competitive and innovative, as promising start-ups are swallowed at an alarming rate. Even Sergei Brin, a co-founder of Google, recently suggested that start-ups would be better off launching somewhere else.

Housing poses perhaps the most existential threat to the Bay Area, particularly among millennials entering their 30s. Only 13% of San Franciscans could purchase the county’s median home at standard rates and term. For San Mateo, the number is 16%. No surprise that as many as one in three Bay Area residents are now contemplating an exit, according to an opinion poll this past spring.

Outside the Bay Area, where tech is weaker, the situation is much grimmer. In Orange County, the strongest Southern California economy, tech and information employment is lower today than in 2000. In Los Angeles, employment has declined in higher-wage sectors like tech, durable goods manufacturing and construction, to be replaced by lower-wage jobs in hospitality, health and education. A recent analysis by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. predicts this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

Expanding Inequality

Perhaps nothing undermines the narrative of the California “comeback” more than the state’s rising inequality. A recent Pew study found California’s urban areas over-represented among the metro area where the middle class is shrinking most rapidly. California now is home of over 30%  of United States’ welfare recipients, and almost 25% of Californians are in poverty when the cost of living is factored in, the highest rate in the country.

Even in Silicon Valley, the share of the population in the middle class has dropped from 56% of all households to 45.7%, according to a recent report by the California Budget Center. Both the lower and upper income portions grew significantly; today lower-income residents represent 34.8% of the population compared to 19.5% affluent.

Such disparities are, if anything, greater in Los Angeles, where high rents and home prices, coupled with meager income growth, is deepening a potentially disastrous social divide. Renters in the L.A. metro area are paying 48% of their monthly income to keep a roof above their heads, one reason why the Los Angeles area is now the poorest big metro area in the country, according to American Community Survey data. Overall California is home to a remarkable 77 of the country’s 297 most “economically challenged” cities, based on levels of poverty and employment, according to a recent study; altogether these cities have a population of more than 12 million.

One critical sign of failure: As the “boom” has matured, the number of homeless has risen to 115,000, roughly 20% of the national total. They are found not only in infamous encampments such as downtown Los Angeles “skid row” or San Jose’s “the Jungle” but also more traditionally middle class areas as Pacific Palisades and through central parts of Orange County.

The Fiscal Crisis

California’s “comeback” has been bolstered by assertions that the state has returned fiscal health. True, California’s short-term budgetary issues have been somewhat relieved, largely due to soaring capital gains from the tech and high end real estate booms; just 5,745 taxpayers earning $5 million or more generated more than $10 billion of income taxes in 2013, or about 19% of the state’s total, according to state officials.

Most likely this state deficit will balloon once asset inflation deflates. Brown is already forecasting budget deficits as high as $4 billion by the time he leaves office in 2019. The Mercatus Center ranks California 44th out of the 50 states in terms of fiscal condition, 46th in long-run solvency and 47th in terms of cash needed to cover short-run liabilities.

Despite this, the public employee-dominated state government continues to increase spending, with outlays having grown dramatically since the 2011-12 fiscal year, averaging 7.8% per year growth. No surprise that Moody’s ranked California second from the bottom among the states in its preparedness to withstand the next recession. Brown’s own Department of Finance predicts that a recession of “average magnitude” would cut revenues by $55 billion.

The Cost Of The Climate Jihad

Relieved over concerns in the short run budget, the rise in revenues has provided a pretext for Brown to push his campaign to fight climate change to extremes. New legislation backed by the governor would impose more stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, mandating a 40% cut from 1990 levels by 2030.

Brown has no qualms about the economic impact of his policies since he tends to prioritize one sin — greenhouse gas emissions — even above such things as alleviating poverty. Brown’s moves will, by themselves, have no demonstrable impact on climate change given California’s size, temperate climate and loss of industry, as one recent study found. Brown knows this: he’s counting on setting an example that other states and countries will follow. Perhaps less recognized, California’s efforts to reduce emissions may account for naught, since the industry and people who have moved elsewhere have simply taken their carbon footprint elsewhere, usually to places where climate and less stringent regulation allow for greater emissions.

California’s climate policies, however, are succeeding in further damaging the middle and working class. Environmental regulations, particularly a virtual ban on suburban homes, are driving housing prices up; mandates for renewables are doing the same for energy prices. This hits hardest at traditionally higher-paying blue-collar employment in housing, manufacturing, warehousing and even agriculture.

California’s climate agenda has accelerated the state’s continued bifurcation — by region, by race and ethnicity, and even by age. Of course the green non-profit advocacy groups and the media will celebrate California’s comeback as proof that strict regulations and high taxes work. They seem not to recognize that that human societies also need to be sustainable, something that California’s trajectory certainly seems unlikely to accomplish.

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This was first posted at newgeography.com.)

-cw

REDISTRICTING POLITICS--Among California’s great strengths is that our local government offices are nonpartisan, unlike many states where partisan politics dominates at the local level. But once in a while aspects of our Progressive Era reforms come under attack; and that is the case with Senate Bill 958 currently on Gov. Brown’s desk. It is a bill he should veto with vigor.

SB 958 sounds like a good idea, it sets up a 14 person commission to redistrict the five-member Los Angeles Board of Supervisors at the next round of redistricting in 2021. The problem is that it would be done by a partisan panel; the commission the bill establishes would have to reflect the partisan make-up of Los Angeles County.

The commission would thus have to be made up of seven Democrats, reflecting the 52 percent Democratic registration in Los Angeles County, three Republicans, reflecting the 19 percent GOP registration and four non-partisan members for the 29 percent non-partisan and others.

But local government interests are not measured in partisan terms. In the 1990s a court case required Los Angeles to draw supervisor districts to unite its Latino neighborhoods, and that district is now represented by Latina Supervisor Hilda Solis. Los Angeles has an historical black district, represented by Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas that acknowledges the long African American role Los Angeles politics – California’s first black legislator was elected from South Central Los Angeles in 1918.

Two of the other districts are basically suburban, and the fifth district is centered in the many communities of West Los Angeles. This formula has worked well, and Los Angeles redistricting has not been a big issue in the past two redistrictings.

So SB 958 is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist, as the Los Angeles Supervisors pointed out to Gov. Brown in their letter asking him for a veto. The bill is also opposed by the Board of Supervisors in Kern and Riverside Counties, the Urban Counties of California, and the California State Association of Counties. Among the reasons for opposition from these local government bodies is that this bill is a camel’s nose under the tent to inject partisan politics into California local government, which thankfully has been free of it.

Partisan politics at the local level has historically been the source of political corruption, from Tammany Hall to the Chicago machine. Many political scientists believe partisan local races are a terrible idea, as the Texas experience shows.

More than a century ago, Texas developed what was called the “White Primary,” a primary election system where only white voters could participate. Texas justified this system by insisting the primary election was “private affair”, just simply nominating candidates of a political party.   In order for that to work, every election in Texas had to be run through a partisan primary.

Although the courts years ago threw out the White Primary as obviously discriminatory, the partisan primary structure has survived to this day. Republicans now totally control the state of Texas so all of its state and local office holders – including all justices to the Texas Supreme Court – must first be nominated in the Republican primary. Since 1994, the general election has been perfunctory; winning the Republican primary has been everything.

Judges and local government officials thus have every reason to fear they might lose the party primary, and this year a Supreme Court justice was opposed in the Republican primary as being “not Christian enough.”

Do we want this kind of a system in California? Of course not. Our politics have stayed cleaner than most states because we keep partisan politics out of local and judicial offices. SB 958 would interject partisan politics where it does not belong, and for no good reason. It should be vetoed.

 

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA-Californians may think we have a system of public education. But what we really have is a state system for rationing public education. 

I got a personal taste of this in the spring, when I took my five-year-old son to our local school district offices to determine his educational future. This being California, the determination was made not by a test of his abilities or an assessment of his educational needs. Instead, it was a lottery. A school administrator pulled names out of the hat to determine whether he would get one of 24 coveted spots in our elementary school’s new Mandarin language program. 

The month of September, early in a fresh academic calendar, is the time of year when we hear fine speeches and noble promises about how our state and its school districts are committed to doing the very best for every child. School superintendents and politicians often point to our state constitution’s commitment to universal education, which includes a funding requirement to deliver on that commitment. But when you experience how our schools operate, you learn quickly that such lofty, sweet sentiments and guarantees are so much Fang pi (a Mandarin approximation for cow dung). 

In California, when it comes down to who gets precious educational resources, schools as a matter of policy and law leave much to chance. 

We do this for two reasons: scarcity and avoidance. Educational resources here are scarce—there is simply more demand for schooling than the state’s wobbly budget system can accommodate. And so we’ve come to use lotteries and formulas, so that our officials can avoid the work of deciding who deserves resources, and so that the rest of us Californians can avoid reckoning with our collective failure to support public education. 

Yes, it’s true that K-12 (and community college) education is the top spending item in the state budget, but there is no area in which our school spending—which remains below the national average despite recent increases—meets education needs. 

In California, when it comes down to who gets precious educational resources, schools as a matter of policy and law leave much to chance. 

By all reliable accounts, there aren’t nearly enough good, experienced teachers in our schools. The state offers only 180 days of instruction (when research suggests there should be more than 200 days and more hours of instruction), and only provides half-day kindergarten. And the inadequacy of newer programs and schools offered by some districts in the name of educational choice only underscore the ongoing scarcity. There are simply not enough Advanced Placement classes, career-readiness programs, charters, magnets, or language immersions to meet the demand for high-quality options. 

There’s little hope of trying to do more to meet those needs. California long ago decoupled school funding from educational needs. Our school funding formulas, known collectively as Prop 98, are baked into the state constitution, and are driven by tax revenues, the budget, and income growth, not academic needs. Effectively, Prop 98 guarantees only a portion—you might say a ration—of the state budget to schools. (Tellingly, that money is supplemented by a small amount—usually $1 billion or less than 2 percent of annual education funding—from the state lottery.) 

So in the absence of funds to meet all our students’ needs, we turn to education’s version of lotteries to allot scarce resources. State law (mirroring federal guidance) directs school districts to use a lottery system for charter school admissions once the number of pupils who want to enroll exceeds the number of spaces. Districts with magnet programs do the same. Many of these lotteries have complicated rules and exclusions, often to help kids go to schools in their own neighborhoods, keep siblings together in the same school, or to make sure campuses are diverse. L.A. Unified has a system of points to govern its lottery for magnet school placement so complicated that a cottage industry (check out “Ask a Magnet Yenta”) has sprung up to help parents navigate it. 

Of course, such lotteries are not all that fair. The winners in lotteries are more likely to be the children of parents who have the time and resources to investigate their local educational possibilities, sign their children up for the lotteries and, in some cases, write letters or pursue strategies to help their chances. 

And the lotteries raise a bigger question, now being debated in California’s courts. Does “random” allocation of educational resources really represent justice? 

Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court showed itself to be divided on the question. A 4-3 majority of justices refused to hear challenges to the state’s systems of hiring and firing public schoolteachers and funding schools. The challengers said that those systems were violating the rights of students, because they didn’t produce enough money and qualified teachers to meet the state constitution’s guarantees of education for all. But the Supreme Court majority, in declining to hear the challenges, endorsed the position that while there might be problems with funding and teachers, these weren’t constitutional problems—because the impact of bad policies was random and arbitrary, and not felt by any particular group of students. 

Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuellar, a young associate justice of the Supreme Court, dissented powerfully from that logic. Curtailing access to educational opportunity, the justice argued, doesn’t become justifiable simply because it’s done arbitrarily. 

“Arbitrary selection has at times been considered a means of rendering a governmental decision legitimate,” he wrote. “But where an appreciable burden results—thereby infringing a fundamental right [like the right to an education]—arbitrariness seems a poor foundation on which to buttress the argument that the resulting situation is one that should not substantially concern us.” 

The brilliantly cynical filmmaker Orson Welles once said, “Nobody gets justice. People only get good luck or bad luck.” He wasn’t wrong—our parents, where and when we were born, the people we happen to meet, all influence the direction our lives take, through no fault or deed of our own. 

My own son was lucky. His name was pulled 16th out of the hat, giving him a place he now enjoys in that Mandarin immersion kindergarten. His own luck will transfer to his younger brother, who is automatically eligible to join the program when he reaches kindergarten age. 

But California is not as fortunate in leaning its educational system so heavily on luck. Our schools are supposed to be equalizers, helping counter the lottery of life. Instead, they are emulating it.

 

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square … where this column was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ALPERN AT LARGE--The doctor is IN, folks!  Yes, I very much DO care about your sanity, and about your health.  I care about your mental health, and your financial health (and that of the City and County of LA, as well as that of Sacramento).  So while some of you may scream at this article, "Stick to dermatology, Doc!" I still aim to please, and to help you figure out how to address all the November tax proposals. 

It comes down to these two questions, in terms of whether or not to raise taxes: 

1) Does the tax address a problem or priority we've underfunded? 

2) Will the tax money be spent well? 

I've quoted it before, but it bears repeating that "Alpern's Law of Taxes" (while not really MY law, because it's just common sense) states that taxpayers will only get upset by one thing more than the amount of taxes they're being asked to pay:  the perception of how the taxes will be spent. 

In a nutshell, here is my recommendation: definitely vote YES on LA County Proposition M, maybe vote YES on the LA county parcel tax to fund its parks, and definitely vote NO on everything else. 

This is with the understanding that we've misspent most of our past and present state budgets on pensions, which the LA Times has only now begun to confront, to the point where it's not an issue of whether we love and respect firefighters, police officers, and government workers:  it's just not sustainable when we're spending more on retired workers than current workers. 

It's just not sustainable, and our taxes (city, county and state) are already among the highest in the nation. 

Yes, I am a transportation advocate (so I am biased), but I am also aware of where transportation funding is in our city and county--we're still in need for funding projects and transportation-related infrastructure that should have been built 50-100 years ago.   

Measure M is transparent, funds the long-overdue Subway to the Sea and the north-south Valley to LAX railway.  It also funds a host of countywide freeway and rail projects, and gives both new funding for roads and rail operations and allows for long-overdue maintenance. 

Am I infuriated that the sidewalks and roads aren't included for the amount/portion of Measure M that goes to the City of LA?  Yes, but that is a battle for another day, and one that can be helped by altering what we budget at Downtown and what we DEMAND of developers asking for variants. 

So for now, Measure M is a solid YES...despite the higher taxes, and despite the fact that City and County Planning needs to be brought to bear--voting YES on Measure M is NOT the same as voting yes on overplanning. 

As for our parks, the question must go out--do we spend enough on them?  Are our county parks funds spent well...because we DO need more parks.  Hence my tentative "yes" suggestion, but I'd like to see more info on that. 

But let's make this quick and easy for the other tax propositions:  VOTE NO!!! 

Do we spend well, or spend enough, on K-12 and community colleges?  Yes, we've spent plenty, and the funds are hideously unaccounted for and misspent.  Just vote no--these priorities will be better funded by appropriate accounting and budgeting, not by more money that would be akin to giving a drug addict a new bank account on which that person would inevitably just get high. 

As for water/electricity-related funds, our rates and taxes are already going up.  End of story--no need to throw more money this November. 

Do you really want retirees and professionals to flee the City or County of LA, or even the state, more than the phenomenon already under way?  I doubt it. 

So let's vote "YES" on LA County Measure M, keep an open mind on the county parks measure, and vote "NO" on everything else. 

That wasn't so hard now, was it?

 

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

-cw

 

@THEGUSSREPORT-Herb Wesson, the current LA City Council president (and former Speaker of the California State Assembly), forgot the adage always tell the truth because it’s the easiest thing to remember. 

This much we know. Herb Wesson lied repeatedly about where he lived. He voted where he should not have voted, went out of his way to do so, may have illegally run for office where he did not reside, and he did it for personal gain. And many if not most of these lies may have been committed under the penalty of perjury.

We already know that Wesson is inclined to mislead the public about his recently exposed financial and housing problems. In the LA Times’ August 17 follow-up to my August 9 CityWatch article, Wesson (through his media flack) falsely stated that his personal problems date back to the 2007 purchase of his current home, which cost $759,999. As subsequently exposed, Wesson’s problems date back to the 1980s. And that house cost 25% more than he said: $950,000, according to public records, a pointless lie unless it was done to protect a bruised ego.

So on to Wesson’s purposeful lies. 

Wesson had three curious real estate transactions on the same day, November 24, 1993. On that Wednesday, he and his wife Fabian purchased a $425,000 house in Ladera Heights, an unincorporated section of Los Angeles County. The Wessons also defaulted on their then-residence in Culver City which sold that day at a tremendous loss to them. They purchased it in the late 1980s for $153,000, sold it for just $60,000 (a 61% loss) and the buyer walked away with a hefty payday a little more than a year later after selling it for $168,500 (a 180% profit). 

Exactly how the Wessons defaulted on a mortgage on the same day they bought a house that cost 700% more is anyone’s guess and might be revealed on their loan documents. But only the District Attorney or FBI can access those records, and they should. 

What matters just as much is who bought that Culver City house, and Wesson’s ongoing relationship to that address from that date in 1993 all the way to June 14, 2005 when his voter registration changed, because Wesson continued to certify under penalty of perjury that the Culver City house was his legal residence during that entire time. This span encompasses his six years in the California Assembly, including two as its Speaker. If anyone in the state is familiar with the nuances of voting districts, it is the Speaker, and there is zero chance that Wesson did not know he was voting where he did not live, and that doing so is a crime. 

If Wesson were to claim that he sold the Culver City house but remained there as a tenant, it would mean that he lived apart from his wife and young sons for those 11 years, 6 months and 21 days when his voter registration changed on June 14, 2005. 

But if Wesson were to make such a claim, he would be lying again. 

After the Wessons sold their Culver City house, Fabian soon changed her voter registration to the address of their newly purchase home in Ladera Heights. She was registered there, as were two of their sons (their other two sons do not appear to have ever registered to vote in LA County) while her husband remained registered to vote at the house in Culver City. Since both are affidavits, they are signed as follows: “I certify under penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California, that the information on this affidavit is true and correct. WARNING: Perjury is punishable by imprisonment in state prison for two, three or four years.” 

The Wesson who committed perjury was not Fabian. It was Herb.

On Wesson’s subsequent voter registration affidavit, signed by him June 2, 2005 (made official on June 14,) in the section where he stated his previous address, Herb Wesson asserted that his previous address was the house they bought in Ladera Heights on that date in 1993….an address at which he never registered to vote. In writing that, Wesson confirmed that he falsely and deliberately continued to vote using the Culver City address that he sold 11½ years earlier. 

Unless you believe that the Speaker of the California Assembly did not know he was voting using an address that was different than that to which his wife was registered, he broke the law each and every election in which he voted. 

Wesson also utilized a post office box in Culver City during his campaign for the Assembly. What the District Attorney and FBI may want to explore is what is the physical address listed on the USPS box card for it because putting false information there would be a big federal problem, as well. 

When I reached out to the Press Office of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for the definition of residency, they responded quickly with it. But they ceased all communication with me when I subsequently requested copies of Wesson’s Assembly campaign documents and certification on whether Wesson’s Culver City or Ladera Heights addresses were redistricted out of the territory Wesson represented and, in particular, just prior to his Speaker ascendency. (Padilla is part of the LA City Council presidency clique. He served in that capacity from 2001 to 2006, preceding Eric Garcetti who held that position from 2006 to 2012, when Wesson took it over, holding it to this day.)

None of these residency shenanigans come as a surprise. Wesson’s former colleagues, California Assemblyman Roderick Wright, LA City Councilmember Richard Alarcon and his former bosses LA County Supervisor Yvonne Burke and LA City Councilmember Nate Holden all found themselves in varying degrees of hot water and/or legal jeopardy for allegedly living outside of the area each represented.

And this was not the only time Wesson played a curious shell game with his residency. 

In 2005 when LA City Councilmember Martin Ludlow shockingly left that job after only two years into his first term (and soon thereafter became a felon) Wesson needed to quickly establish residency within the City of Los Angeles and its Council District 10. 

And did he ever scramble…. 

To be continued.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatch, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/ . Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Views he expresses here are not necessarily those of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

PERSPECTIVE-Through the efforts of Valley Village Homeowners Association and Neighborhood Council Valley Village, a homeless encampment along the 170 embankment, adjacent to Valley Village Park, was cleared. 

Since the camp was on Cal Trans property, we asked for and received support from our State Assembly Member. The CHP posted warnings before arranging for the removal of the personal items and trash – there was a considerable amount of the latter. 

I was not around to witness the intervention, but there is every reason to believe it was handled as responsibly as possible. No complaints were filed; no reports of violence or excessive force.

The North Hollywood side of the 170 has a homeless problem of its own, too, especially along Tujunga Avenue, where a dozen or so RVs and vans have become permanent fixtures, and homeless prowl the grounds of the Amelia Earhart Regional Library. 

While I am pleased by the removal of the Valley Village Park camp, I acknowledge society’s failure in dealing with the underlying problem. 

The knee-jerk reaction would be to cast a vote for the city’s proposed $1.2 billion bond measure, the objective of which is to acquire land and construct housing. It is certainly preferable over a parcel tax, but the cost ultimately still flows through our property tax bills. 

But I am not ready to support handing the City Council (or the County Supervisors, for that matter) massive amounts of money when there is no outline or plan to organize, manage and, most importantly, perform timely audits of effectiveness. I would feel a little optimistic if the activities were supervised by financially responsible officials – competent individuals, say someone comparable to City Controller Ron Galperin. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of Ron to go around. 

Whatever the plan, if it does not recognize the distinct challenges posed by the two major component groups of the homeless population – economic victims and those afflicted by mental illness or substance abuse – it is doomed to fail. The plan must allow for triage: the chances of helping the former group are far greater than the latter. $1.2 billion may sound like a lot, but it is less than $50K for each of the estimated 26,000 homeless. How much housing and services can $50K buy? 

We need to focus, then, on making the maximum impact and accept the fact there will be many who are beyond assistance. I am referring to the persons who require institutionalization. Sadly, our laws prevent involuntary medical intervention. 

Progress has its own issues, too. There is truth to the line from the film Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” Even if we achieve a degree of success, there is a risk: we will create a magnet for new waves of homeless persons from other regions, which would offset, if not overwhelm, our capacity to deal with the problem. 

Triage is the practical approach, then. Help the homeless in manageable increments. Also, a one-size-fits-all style of housing will not work. Everything from dormitories to well-organized, military-type camps must be considered. Experimentation will be required. We should not hand over a billion dollars until officials can provide evidence of success on a limited scale first. 

Lastly, we must not dig ourselves a deeper hole. It is absolute insanity to encourage the destruction of serviceable, affordable housing units, as the city presently does. I was heartened to hear the news that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative received many more signatures than necessary to qualify for the March 2017 ballot. Without it, our elected officials would be content to create the next generation of homeless in exchange for campaign contributions from developers. 

And you are unlikely to find a homeless politician in this city or any other.

 

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

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Here in the United States September is Hispanic Heritage month, and I like to talk about what it means to be Hispanic or Latino in America. This subject is something that growing up in Mexico City I never really thought much about. 

In Mexico when it comes to identifying yourself in official government forms like the passport they don’t ask you whether you are Hispanic or not, they just ask what kind of skin shade or tone do you have. So it was either tez blanca or tez morena meaning white tone or brown tone or shade, none of these Hispanic, or white non- Hispanic classifications. 

Unlike America, Mexico is a very homogeneous country, and they don’t collect census data on ethnicity. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook Mexico is composed of mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 62%, predominantly Amerindian 21%, Amerindian 7%, other 10% (mostly European). You will never see forms asking you whether you are Latino or Hispanic, in Mexico that is irrelevant. 

However, here in the United States it is important being that our country is very diverse. So which is it? Hispanic or Latino? What are we? What does it mean to be Latino? Or, Hispanic in America? – The answer to this question depends on who you ask. The two words are most of the time used interchangeably. So which word to use? Ever since I started college at USC I have been asking myself this question, and here we are many years later still trying to figure this out. 

I did a little research online and I think I finally found a definition that I can settle with, and of all places I found it in The Tennessean, this paper is part of the USA Today Network and their Education reporter Jason Gonzales explained it very well when he said that “for those of For those of Spanish or Latin American origin, the terms describe a shared experience in the United States and by their definition includes a broad category of people with different cultures and heritage. Both words are to be celebrated because they represent our many differences.” 

He added “Latino means those from Latin America and includes Brazil, while Hispanic means those of Spanish-speaking origin and includes Spain.  The term Hispanic was first used by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to describe the numerous Spanish speakers in the United States. And Latino was adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 2000 count. Neither word specifies a certain ethnicity, but speaks more to a broader group of people.” 

A broader group of people who share the same experience of being Americans of Latin decent. The word Latin and Hispanic unites us in a common bond that in many ways is, ironically uniquely American. 

Let’s celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by remembering that we are Hispanics, we’re Latinos, and we are Americans. Whichever word you use to describe yourself be proud of it, and always keep in mind that no matter where we came from, or what’s our cultural heritage Latinos, Hispanics have made, and continue to make America great. Happy Hispanic Heritage month to all.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com.)

-cw

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-There’s been a fierce debate about presidential debates. The debate is whether they really do make or break a presidential candidate. This starts it all over again in the run-up to the three scheduled debates between GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The hard political reality is that unless a candidate makes a whopper of a misstatement, looks blurry and bleary on stage, or is simply flat-footed, and grossly unprepared with his or her answers, they don’t mean much in deciding who ultimately bags the White House. 

Most voters cling to their party affiliations, political beliefs, and personal likes and dislikes of candidates no matter what the candidates say on the issues. The mass of voters just aren’t swayed by a candidate’s verbosity, good looks, or seeming erudition on the issues. 

However, this go around, the debates do have real significance because Trump and Clinton have a lot to prove to a lot of voters who don’t like either one of them, and are deeply uneasy about the prospect of either one of them in the White House. 

Trump’s high mountain to scale starts with Trump. He’s loathed by millions as little short of a stupendously unqualified carnival barker pitchman who parlayed wild and deliberately inflammatory “birtherism” and racist- immigrant- Muslim- and Obama- bashing into the top GOP spot. 

The added knock is that he got where he did in great part because of a slavish media that at times has acted as his unofficial PR team in shoving him down the public’s throats. His job is to try to undo, soften, or instill collective amnesia about his dubious history and ploys to get attention. His management team has already given a big hint at how he’ll try to pull off this Houdini trick. 

He palavered with the Mexican President. He went to two black churches. He went to Flint, Michigan. He talked about jobs and police abuse both places. He pithily back-pedaled from birtherism vis-à-vis Obama. He laid out a detailed policy position on child care, promised to lay out even more detailed positions on tax reform, foreign policy, health care and social security. He’s trying mightily to take off the table that he’s little more than a Klansman in a suit, has a zero policy program, less than zero ability to govern, and is totally incapable of being anything other than an arrogant, know-it-all blowhard. 

The charm image he’ll try to project is Trump the reasoned, thoughtful, stick to the script, disciplined, play by the established political rules candidate with the right temperament to work with Democrats, make sound political decisions, and show cool judgment on the thorny and at times crisis issues that confront all presidents. 

It’s a tall order. But in the debates and everything surrounding them, Trump must convince the independent conservatives and moderates in the handful of swing states that will decide the White House -- who don’t think much of Clinton, but just can’t bring themselves to pull the lever for a guy who they see as an overt racist and an egomaniacal political neophyte -- that he is neither one. 

Clinton has a high mountain to scale too. It also starts with Clinton. In the early going, the election seemed almost a forgone conclusion for an easy Clinton win given the trainload of baggage Trump dumped on the political platform. But the continued pulverizing of her over the emails, the Clinton Foundation doings, and now health questions all of sudden have turned a seeming rout into a real dogfight. 

Clinton’s bigger problem is the nagging perception that is shown in the polls, and that is that millions see her as everything from a congenital liar to a crook. The most charitable in all of this negative voter perception of Clinton is that she’s untrustworthy. 

Clinton must undo, offset, or instill collective amnesia about these negatives. She must play hard on her strengths, dependability, experience, and her cast iron grasp of the big ticket policy issues from the economy to foreign policy. 

She must tie herself to the Obama positives where needed and project a people friendly-no academic think tank policy wonk-plain English speaking demeanor when answering debate questions. When the inevitable questions come up about the emails and the foundation and her health, she’ll have to act and show physical vigor, look directly into the cameras, admit that she made mistakes with the emails, learned from the mistakes, and it will never happen again. 

And, while the foundation has done phenomenal work and improved conditions for legions globally, say that she’ll be completely out of the Clinton Foundation business, and that includes Bill and Chelsea too. 

There’s little margin of error for Trump and Clinton in the debates. Both have a lot of hard work to do to try to turn their mountain high pile of negatives into some semblance of positives. Millions will be watching to see if they can do that. This time the debates really do mean something.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let’s Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism, (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

ANIMAL WATCH-California is one of the states with the highest percentage of surplus wild horses and burros; yet, little public or political attention has focused on this. Because of the projected wild-equine population increase, it is a humane issue that is becoming critical from both an ethical and financial standpoint and has gained heightened importance after a recent recommendation by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board for disposing of these animals. 

An estimated 67,027 wild horses and burros roam 31 million acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in the Western U.S. The agency’s recommended total sustainable population for this space is 26,715. This means the number of animals now exceeds the maximum appropriate level by more than 40,000; and, it is increasing at a rate of 15 to 18 percent annually. The BLM's historical finding is that both wild horse and burro herds double in size about every four years.

Additionally, in August 2016 the BLM reports that the number of off-range -- unadopted or unsold -- wild horses and burros maintained in holding facilities called Herd Management Areas (MHA's) from California to Illinois was over 45,000.

The federal Bureau of Land Management is mandated to manage, protect and control wild horses and burros under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This law also authorizes the BLM to remove excess wild horses and burros, which have no significant natural predators, from the range to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for multiple uses, in accordance with the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act. 

Each year, an inventory is required of the number of wild horses and burros roaming BLM-managed lands. From this, the Appropriate Management Level (AML) is determined. This is the number of animals that can thrive in balance with other public land resources and uses. The AML for California is estimated at 2,200. However, the Golden State's wild equine population is now at 4,925 horses, plus an additional 3,391 burros, for a total of 8,316. 

In neighboring Nevada, an epic number of 34,531 wild horses and burros inhabit the federal rangelands -- nearly three times the AML 12,811 figure the BLM says the state can support. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) announced in April he will take legal action to force the federal government to fund the management of Nevada’s wild horse population at appropriate levels because of the impact on the state's economy.

The BLM has been rounding up and relocating wild horses and burros to its holding facilities so that privately owned cattle could graze on the land, critics contend. The cost of maintaining almost 46,000 horses in these overcrowded facilities reached $49 million in 2015. 

Director Neil Kornze says it can cost about $50,000 per animal to feed and care for wild horses sitting in corrals and pastures over their lifetime and that cost has doubled over the last seven years. He predicts that if the BLM cannot adopt out and/or transfer a significant number of the wild horses and burros being held to other government agencies upon request (such as, the Border Patrol), the cost of feeding and caring for them during their lifetime could rise to $1 billion. 

On September 9, in an effort to curb the increasing overpopulation West-wide, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which suggests policy for the Bureau of Land Management, proposed a program that would either euthanize (which means shoot) or sell without limitation “all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable.” 

Cries of outrage by animal activists accused the government of squandering its very limited resources in rounding up and holding the animals instead of launching a wide-scale birth-control effort. 

A petition to the United States Congress claiming that not enough had been done to have the horses adopted was posted by Protect Mustangs  on September 12, declaring, “The public is outraged. Wild horses and burros are living symbols of freedom and the pioneering spirit of the American West.”

Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation, a wild horse advocacy group based in Colorado, stated the BLM should advance the use of fertility control vaccines that keep populations in check but allow horses and burros to remain free on the range. 

In a chart titled, Population Growth-Suppression Treatments, the BLM explains that the currently available fertility control vaccine (PZP) is limited to a one-year period of effectiveness (initially assumed to be 22 months) and must be hand-injected into a captured wild horse." If deployed via ground-darting, PZP has the same duration but is very difficult to deliver to an animal which avoids human contact and the sizes of the herds makes it difficult to locate or track individual animals. 

Kathrens told the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands earlier this year that. “Current management practices of round-up, removal and warehousing … cause compensatory reproduction – an increase in populations as a result of decreased competition for forage.” 

"In other words, there would not be a surge in wild horses if the BLM hadn’t removed most of them from their land in the first place," summarizes Inhabitat. 

Director Neil Kornze advised Congress in his 2017 budget request that the BLM is "overwhelmed" and sees no slowdown in population of these animals. BLM is requesting the establishment of a congressionally chartered foundation that would help fund and support efforts to adopt horses that have been rounded up.

Kornze told a House Appropriations subcommittee in March that the growing herds are causing environmental harm to vast swaths of rangeland. Among other things, he asked Congress to help by authorizing tax credits to "incentivize adoption" of wild horses (E&E Daily, March 4.) 

Skeptics pointed to the Washington Times article on October 24, 2015, confirming a report by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General that between 2009 and 2012, the BLM sold 1,794 federally protected wild horses to a Colorado rancher who admitted that most of the horses that he purchased through the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program went to slaughter. The Times also reports that taxpayers footed the $140,000 cost of delivery of the animals. 

On September 15, BLM spokesman Jason Lutterman issued a rapid response that the agency will NOT institute the controversial proposal by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. “The BLM will not euthanize or sell without limitation any healthy animals. We’re going to continue caring for and seeking good homes for the un-adopted animals in our off-range corrals and pastures.” 

To sell the animals “without limitation" essentially removes protocols established in a BLM 2013 policy aimed at ensuring they won’t be slaughtered and includes other provisions to assure that these protected animals are not resold or do not fall into the hands of abusers. 

BLM Director Kornze also asked Congress to help by authorizing tax credits to "incentivize adoption" of wild horses (E&E Daily, March 4.) 

However, The Verge points out, adoptions are only $125 apiece, and even purchasing all 45,000 equines for $5,625,000 would do little to offset the $49 million that the BLM spent on them just last year.

Now we have more facts, but resolution still seems to be at an impasse. How would Californians react to the possibility that -- without progress in management -- thousands of the Golden State's wild horses and burros could face euthanasia?

                                                                                   

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.  

INFORMED COMMENT--A Brown University political scientist estimates that as of 2016, The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost the American taxpayers $5 trillion. That number isn’t important when we consider the human cost: Some 7,000 US troops dead, 52,000 wounded in action; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead who wouldn’t otherwise be, 4 million displaced and made homeless, etc.

Just to put that $5 trillion in perspective. Let’s say you chose five individuals.  Each of the five will spend $10 million a day.  That’s the cost of Heidi Klum’s mansion.  They’d be buying the equivalent of five of those each day.

They’ll do that every day of their lives.  All five of them.  And then each of them will be succeeded by one their children, who will spend $10 million dollars a day, and one of their grandchildren, and one of their great-grandchildren, until 270 years have passed and it is the year 2286.  That’s the equivalent of a stardate for Captain Picard of the Enterprise. 

Neta Crawford, a professor of Political Science at Brown University published the study for Brown University’s Watson Institute. 

Professor Crawford writes:

“As of August 2016, the US has already appropriated, spent, or taken on obligations to spend more than $ 3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria and o n Homeland Security (2001 through fiscal year 2016). To this total should be added the approximately $6 5 billion in dedicated war spending the Department of Defense and State Department have requested for the next fiscal year, 2017, along with an additional nearly $3 2 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, and estimated spending on veterans in future years. When those are included, the total US budgetary cost of the wars reaches $4.79 trillion.”

The US has spent $1.7 billion for combat and reconstruction.  I have a sinking feeling that first they spent half of it on destroying things and then they spent the other half on rebuilding them.

Through 2053, the US government owes the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans $1 trillion in medical and disability payments along with the money to administer all that.

Crawford adds:

“Interest costs for overseas contingency operations spending alone are projected to add more than $1 trillion dollars to the national debt by 2023. By 2053, interest costs will be at least $7.9 trillion unless the US changes the way it pays for the wars.”

Of 2.7 million military personnel who served in those two theaters, 2 million have now left the military and have entered the Veterans Administration system.  Some 52,000 of them were wounded in action and many need care.

Because the Bush administration borrowed money to pay for the wars, we’ve paid half a trillion dollars in interest alone.

At least al-Qaeda had been based in Afghanistan.  Iraq had had nothing to do with September 11.  It was Bush’s invasion that brought al-Qaeda there, which later morphed into ISIL.

We were lied into that war, and it has weakened our economy.  If anyone can tell me what benefits that war brought the average American, I’d like to hear it.

The Iraq War was a government-led Ponzi scheme and as usual the little people are the ones who took a bath.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia.  He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years and speaks Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)  

-cw

EASTSIDER-Full disclosure: I’ve always been a news junkie. Until lately, when I stopped watching for a week because it was all the same stuff and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been channel surfing, and trying to figure out why all 200 news media outlets have the same 10 stories every day, like synchronized swimming. It used to be that local stations actually did local news, newspapers did investigative journalism, and it was only the one or two big national news items that got any system-wide attention. 

That’s all changed in the last decade. There are no real reporters anymore, because they all got fired to save money. Heck, even the old wire services like the AP, UPI & Reuters are going down fast. For those of you who don’t recognize any of these names, they are havens for journalists to sell their news stories to whomever is willing to buy them. They are great for avoiding the cost of having to pay employees to cover overseas events, with all that payroll overhead. You can read more about them here.  

One way to look at wire services is that they were the harbinger of the new cost cutting measures to provide no news at all. If you think about it, those brave wire service men and women were the first wave of our new “gig”, or “sharing” economy, where there are really no employers as such, hence no nasty overhead costs or liability for the big corporations who pipe out the news. 

Kinda’ like the Los Angeles Times of Chicago we have now, with under 400,000 subscribers and one centralized source of non-content. Leavened by a few casual help. Or the local television stations and cable networks, where all the money goes to the few talking heads, who have to fix their teeth and regularly visit the plastic surgeon to look just like their employers want, and spend hours just getting through makeup so we can adore them on air. 

So what happened to the news? Now we have the same formula across the 200 or so media outlets. Ninety percent of this “news” is the same identical regurgitation of every single shooting, mass protest, car chase or international terrorism event in the universe, plus a couple of the same national political events. This pablum is then bookended by stories about Tech and Social Media. 

The only way we can tell the difference between a national and a “local” show, is that the local news has traffic and weather. 

So what’s the new source of news? 

After a week away from the news, I tried again, and Eureka! I suddenly understood what’s replaced reporting. We now have TWEETS! It finally occurred to me that over time, all the faces we see on television have been paying more and more attention to their iPhones and tablets and laptops. They have shifted to tweets for their news to share with the masses who tune in with bated breath, albeit in fewer numbers. 

Tweets are perfect for the new news. They are cheap (free), mindless (at 140 characters or less, they can’t really convey much detail,) and by concentrating on what’s “trending,” you can leverage the burned out attention span of the masses to the folks who have zillions of followers. Yes sir, what’s trending now is the new mantra of the people who don’t want us actually thinking about the decline of our country by the corrupt politicians, their political parties, and the billionaires who own it all. 

In short, it’s the absolutely perfect environment for Donald Trump. Think about it. He’s all flamboyancy, tweets instead of talks, he has tons of followers, gets off on controversy and creates all kinds of groovy stuff that the mindless talking heads can riff off of everyday. Wow, in our 24-hour endless news cycle, he is the perfect tool to increase audience share. Heck, sometimes he even tweets a bunch and then we get updated news flash tweets. 

What a brilliant news concept. No cost here -- tweets are free. Even better, the personalities who inhabit the 200 news outlets don’t have to do any research, much less think. Just report the tweet, pump up the controversy and wait for the outrage. 

Perfect. The twits who give us the news can handle tweets. No danger of substance there. No nasty facts. Revenues up. The owners of the outlets are happy. More advertisers. 

Hillary Clinton doesn’t stand a chance. Character defects aside, the shortest sentence she knows is a paragraph. Face it, she’s a policy wonk at heart. She knows that this President stuff is complicated, darn it, and she is determined to share her expertise with us whether we want it or not. 

So even as they go say “oh my goodness, see what Donald has done now,” the media love him – he’s the absolute paragon of tweets for twits like them. Hillary is boring. Unless, of course, she gets sick or has the two hundredth “new” report come out about her email server. Then it’s hot news, at least as a soundbite. 

After all, the captains of industry who own the news media don’t really want to spend too much time talking about how she’s a member of the billionaire club. Not on air. After all, club members don’t rat each other out when it comes to money. 

Now I am not saying that all news media personalities are twits. Some are probably smart – smart enough to swap millions of dollars a year in their personal services contracts in exchange for being a professional twit. And increasingly, they have their own twitter handles, so that people can follow them as they follow .... 

Partly as a result of all of this pablum, and the shift away from print media, more people use smartphones than desktop computers these days. Recent studies would indicate that all this is simply increasing the gap between the haves and have nots when it comes to news.

­

These information shifts create all kinds of problems in terms of learning about what is really going on in the world that affects our lives and our money. People with crummy internet access, or none at all – something that is particularly prevalent in rural and low socioeconomic areas -- aren’t getting much real news at all. And the news that the rest of us get on our smartphones tends to be soundbite news -- most folks aren’t reading long articles on their phone. 

So, how do we get informed? 

The most important way to get informed is to have a population that has learned to learn and think for itself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be a big goal of the current educational system, which focuses on career choices and specific occupations, even though most of the jobs that this produces won’t be around in a decade. 

On the other hand, most people I know are pretty pragmatic and have at least developed a solid BS meter as they grow up. So let me share with you how I find the news. 

Reading CityWatch is a great beginning. You will get more truth here about the machinations of our local political elite and their lords and masters than you will ever find in commercial media outlets. At least until Ken Draper makes a bundle of money and sells the website to MSNBC or Fox News. 

More generally, given that we’re all time challenged, I use a news aggregator called Feedly.com, although there are lots of other web based sites that do the same thing. You take all the online information sources that you want to know about and these web apps deliver the summary content of each. That way I can look through the headers to choose which full articles to read. I also subscribe to the electronic editions of the LA Times (sigh) and the Sacramento Bee. Told you I’m a news junkie. 

This system allows me to skim the posts for issues I’m interested in to get different points of view. Instantly. It’s a handy way to sort the crud from solid information. Otherwise, the temptation for us is to only get information that simply reinforces our existing beliefs. I believe the growth of this kind of niche media marketing is how we got to the place where people are challenged to have a civil conversation about matters political. Everyone reinforces his or her own belief system. 

Honestly, to find out real information has never been easier. Even though we are all stressed with the realities of our everyday life -- making rent/mortgage/bills, trying to get/keep a job or series of gigs, kids and all that entails, figuring out health insurance, and a pension or anything that will allow us to retire – it’s important to take time to figure out the who, what and why of how we got into this mess. So that we don’t get surprised by the next financial meltdown, or at least get some notice to do our best to survive. 

We all know that politicians won’t suddenly take the pledge and get honest, and that the icons of the financial services industry and corporate CEOs who control the entire global economy aren’t going to suddenly get religion and start paying the taxes on what they’ve been hiding overseas. We need to get smart and learn how to see who’s doing what to whom for ourselves. 

Otherwise, it’s tweets, twits, and mindless mainstream media.

 

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

URBAN PERSPECTIVE-Let’s get one thing out of the way. When I ask Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos: Why Amazon is still listing on its site for sale Agatha Christie’s classic crime who-done-it, with its original racially offensive name, Ten Little Niggers, it’s not yet another PC screech for censorship of a beloved crime classic. In fact, I resolutely opposed the demand a few years back to get rid of Mark Twain’s timeless classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because it uses the word nigger countless times and one of its principal characters is “Nigger Jim.” 

I said then that it was much ado about nothing because Twain was not a racist. The goal in the book was to show the ugliness and evilness of slavery and to do that he had to use the rawest racist language of his day. Huck Finn reflected not only the times but was a beautiful poetic, literary gem that readers young and old could learn from and admire for its historic and artistic content and quality. And, in any case, to pull it from libraries and curriculum was censorship in its rawest and ugliest form. 

Christie’s Ten Little Niggers and Amazon’s sale of it, though, is a horse of a totally different color. The “n word” is not buried in the novel for added literary effect. It’s the cover title in bold letters. In some editions, in case the intent is missed, there’s a picture of an upper crust white couple with a look of fear and revulsion staring at a semi-naked black boy on a pedestal. In others there’s a circle of Sambo-caricatured blacks dancing around in a circle. Christie based the title on a racist poem with this ditty: 

“Ten little nigger boys went out to dine; 
One choked his little self and then there were Nine…

Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun; 
One got frizzled up and then there was One. 
One little nigger boy left all alone; 
He went out and hanged himself and then there were None.”
 

The title was clearly meant to shock and pander to the prevailing racist sentiment of the day. It had absolutely no relation to the story line of the novel. 

Christie’s unabashed racist views read like a “what’s what” of racial stereotypes, vilification, and condescension in her mystery novels when there’s even the faintest mention of blacks and other non-white characters. She seemed to have a special fascination with their hair, eyes, or other physical characteristics that she found odd, different and always disgusting. 

Now there’s Amazon. Amazon clearly states that it takes a close look at the appropriateness of items sold on its site that may “offend cultural differences and sensitivities.” It has pulled, or flagged, several items from its site -- from racially offensive DVDs to the Confederate Flag. To call for Amazon to pull Ten Little Niggers then is hardly a case of censorship, but purely a call for the world’s largest online buying and selling commercial product site to cease profiting off the sale of a horrid racially demeaning title. 

It’s also a case of a company doing what legions of other companies have done that have had to come square with the fact they were selling and thereby profiting off of a racially, sexually or environmentally degrading product -- and that’s to pull it. In doing that, they have simply done more than pay lip service to their oft-time stated pledge to be a good corporate citizen. The removal of Ten Little Niggers from Amazon would in no way prevent buyers and collectors of the work with this offensive title from buying it. There’s a plethora of online book sellers and sites that sell the book, and they’re readily accessible to one and all. 

Twain could not have conveyed the sentiment of the evil of slavery and racial bigotry that’s a part of America’s shameful racial legacy by sugar coating the language or guarding his vocabulary against racial epithets. Huck Finn, with all of its racial crudities, provided then and now an insight into a time and place in America that should not be forgotten. Nothing of the sort can be said of Christie’s Ten Little Niggers. There’s no redeeming literary value in the title -- a title that has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with pandering to crude and vicious racial stereotypes. By continuing to sell the book, Amazon is doing the same as Christie did, for profit and nothing more.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Let’s Stop Denying Made in America Terrorism, (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA WATCHDOG--We need to send a loud and clear message to Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Herb Wesson led City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Community College District, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Governor Jerry Brown, and our representatives in Sacramento that we are not their ATM. 

LA WATCHDOG--In the 2013 Mayoral race, Candidate Eric Garcetti opposed Proposition A, the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax that would have raised our already regressive sales tax to a staggering 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country. 

LA WATCHDOG--In her ten years on the Los Angeles City Council (2001-2011), Janice Hahn never met a wage increase, rate increase, or tax increase she did not like.  She was also opposed to increased transparency into the operations, finances, and management of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

In 2007, Hahn was a major supporter of the 5 year, 25% wage increase for the City’s civilian workers.  While the economics of this deal were questionable even under favorable economic conditions, it turned out to be a disaster when the economy tanked and the City’s finances were turned upside down.  

Even with this river of red ink, Hahn was unwilling to support the hard decisions to balance the budget because she did not want to antagonize the leaders of the City’s unions who had snookered Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council President Eric Garcetti with promises to bargain in good faith if the City’s financial condition changed.  

The City eventually balanced the budget, but only after it dumped 1,600 employees onto the DWP payroll (along with $175 million in unfunded pension liabilities) and enticed 2,400 senior employees to retire through the Early Retirement Incentive Program that stuck the City’s underfunded civilian employee pension plan with an additional $600 million liability. 

In 2008, Hahn was a sponsor of the Proposition A (the City of Los Angeles Special Gang and Youth Violence Prevention, After-School and Job Training Programs Tax), a $36 parcel tax designed to raise about $30 million a year.  But this ballot measure failed to receive the necessary two thirds vote, in large part because the ballot measure did not win the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times.  

In 2008 and 2010, Hahn supported two hefty rate increases in our water and power rates while, at the same time, putting on a show where she pretended to sympathize with the downtrodden Ratepayers.  After all, she wanted the continued support of DWP’s domineering union, IBEW Local 18, and Union Bo$$ d’Arcy, its politically powerful business manager.  

In 2010, she and her partner in crime Richard Alarcon sided with Mayor Villaraigosa in his scheme to have DWP withhold $73.5 million from the City’s General Fund unless the City Council agreed to an even higher rate increase. But this effort failed when the 13 other members of the City Council refused to go along with hare brained stunt that was not in the best interests of the City and the DWP Ratepayers.  

In late 2010, Hahn was also one of the opponents of the placing on the ballot the charter amendment to create the Ratepayers Advocate to oversee the operations, finances, and management of the Department.  And even after 78% of the voters approved this ballot measure in March of 2011, Hahn continued her efforts to water down the powers of the Ratepayers Advocate because Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s concern about increased transparency and accountability into the operations and finances of our Department of Water and Power. 

While Hahn was on the City Council, Hahn gave lip service to pension reform.  But when push came to shove, Hahn was MIA because once again she was unwilling to alienate the leaders of the City’s civilian unions who refused to negotiate in good faith to reform our seriously underfunded pension plans.  

The County Board of Supervisors has undergone a significant change as the fiscally responsible Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina have been replaced by Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, both of whom are not known for their budget balancing prowess.  Adding the fiscally irresponsible and inexperienced Janice Hahn to the Board of Supervisors that has a budget of $28 billion and pension liabilities exceeding $50 billion is only asking for trouble, especially if the economy experiences a downturn. 

A vote for Janice Hahn will be a vote for budget shenanigans, a vote against pension reform, a vote against transparency, a vote for the self-serving leaders of the County’s public unions, and a vote for increased taxes on the hard working citizens of Los Angeles County. 

(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--The Build Better LA Initiative is the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s attempt to increase affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles by requiring real estate developers who want a zoning change or General Plan amendment to include low income housing in their developments.  It also provides for increased density in Transit Oriented Communities in return for affordable units. 

But this November ballot initiative (officially the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning Initiative Ordinance JJJ) is over 10,000 words and very difficult for planning gurus to understand to say nothing of us mere mortals.  But maybe this obfuscation is part of County Fed’s strategy.  

The proponents of the initiative are playing up the lack of affordable housing in the City.  But County Fed’s underlying goal is to establish the equivalent of “project labor agreements” on all developments of ten or more units that are granted General Plan amendments that allow for increased residential space, density, or height.  

Notably lacking is any discussion about the economics associated with this ballot measure.  But according to several sources, this initiative will increase construction costs by about 30% to 40%, in large part because of the onerous hiring requirements (see below) contained in the initiative. 

There has not been any discussion or analysis of the impact this initiative would have on our streets, especially in areas such as Hollywood and DTLA where congestion is already a major league problem. More than likely, these supersized skyscrapers will require many more luxury apartments to pay for the affordable units, resulting in massive increases in traffic as the upper income tenants will not rely on the bus or subway, but will tool to work in their gas guzzling BMWs. 

There are also no specific provisions that require the City to update its General Plan or its 37 Community Plans.  Rather, it appears that “up zoning” and “spot zoning” will continue to be business as usual, only this time on steroids, all to the detriment of our family oriented neighborhoods and streets.  

This initiative also gives extraordinary power to the City Council as it will have the ability to adjust the affordable housing requirements of a particular project “upon a showing of substantial evidence that such adjustments are necessary to maximize affordable housing while ensuring a reasonable return on investment for Developers.” 

Talk about an invitation for corruption! 

Union sponsored Initiative JJJ is not ready for prime time.  It adds significantly to the cost of construction.  There is no planning.  It is overdevelopment of steroids.  It does not respect our neighborhoods.  It grants the City Council too much power.  And it is an invitation for corruption. 

Vote NO on JJJ.  There are better ways to build LA.

 

●●

 

Ballot Language 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND LABOR STANDARDS RELATED TO CITY PLANNING. INITIATIVE ORDINANCE RRR 

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

Hiring Requirements 

All building and construction work on the project will be performed at all tiers by contractors which

(a) are licensed by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(b) shall make a good-faith effort to ensure that at least 30% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by permanent residents of the City of Los Angeles of which at least 10% of all their respective workforces’ construction workers’ hours of Project Work shall be performed by Transitional Workers whose primary place of residence is within a 5-mile radius of the covered project;

(c) employ only construction workers which possess all licenses and certifications required by the State of California and the City of Los Angeles;

(d) pay their construction workers performing project work the wages prevailing in the project area determined pursuant to California Labor Code § 1770; and

(e) have at least 60% of their respective construction workforces on the project from: (1) workers who have graduated from a Joint Labor Management apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California, or have at least as many hours of on-the-job experience in the applicable craft which would be required to graduate from such a state-approved apprenticeship training program, and (2) registered apprentices in an apprenticeship training program approved by the State of California or an out-of-state, federally-approved apprenticeship program.

●●

 

(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--In November, we will be asked to reject or approve “The California Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016.” If approved by a majority of the voters, this ballot measure, Proposition 55, will extend to December 31, 2030 the “temporary” income tax surcharges on upper income Californians that were authorized in November of 2012 when 55% of the voters approved Proposition 30. 

Prop 30 was designed to prevent “devastating” cuts to the State’s educational budget by establishing a seven year “soak the rich” income tax surcharge (2012 to 2018) and a four year quarter of a cent increase in our sales tax (2013 to 2016).  

According to Legislative Analyst, this 12 year extension of the ‘temporary” income surcharges will increase state revenues by $4 billion to $9 billion a year from 2019 through 2030, depending on the economy and, importantly, the stock market.  This year’s budget assumed $7 billion from these income tax surcharges. 

But this is not the only “revenue enhancement” scheme that is being cooked up by our friends in Sacramento and the campaign funding leadership of the public sector unions. 

State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is pushing to extend the sales tax to include services.  This so called “reform” would generate “roughly $10 billion in its first year and increasing amounts thereafter.”  According to a chart prepared by the California Board of Equalization, the State has identified 15 industries and 487,000 firms that have the potential to generate $111 billion in sales tax revenue.  This includes lawyers, accountants, and other value added service providers. 

According to a report by State Controller Betty Yee and her Council of Economic Advisors on Tax Reform, another revenue enhancement is the “split roll” where commercial and industrial properties would be assessed at their fair market value.  At a 1% property tax rate, annual “revenue gains would likely surpass $5 billion and may add up to more than $10.2 billion.”  However, the split roll will require the approval of the voters since it involves amending Proposition 13, the third rail of California politics. 

The folks in Sacramento and their cronies in the transportation lobby are also beating the drums for an increase our gas tax, already the highest in the nation when you factor in the impact of the “cap & trade” fees.  This proposed increase is estimated to be in the range of $2 billion to $4 billion a year.  This money would help fund efforts of the California Department of Transportation to repair the State’s highways, roads, bridges, and other related infrastructure.  

At the same time, the State is swiping $1 billion a year from CalTrans, a bloated agency where 3,500 surplus employees are costing the State, its taxpayers, and our roads over $500 million a year. 

Our good friend Hertzberg is also pushing a bill (SB 1298) that would allow stormwater / urban runoff to be considered as wastewater, thereby allowing the County of Los Angeles to levy $20 billion in fees without the approval of the voters.  This would result in an increase in our real estate taxes of 8%.  

Proposition 30 has done an admirable job of making up revenue shortfall over the last five years.  Since 2012, the State’s General Fund revenues have increased by almost $34 billion (39%) while overall revenues, including special funds, has increased to almost $171 billion, a bump of more than 40%. 

Now that income and sales tax revenues have rebounded to record levels, Proposition 55 and the 12 year extension of the “temporary” income tax surcharges represents just another revenue grab by the State, the California Teachers Association, the hospital lobby, and the SEIU (Service International Employees Union) that deserves to be rejected by the voters in November. 

And while a “soak the rich” tax has a certain appeal, we need to be careful not to kill the golden goose.  If only a small percentage of the upper income taxpayers and their profitable corporations and the small businesses they control decide to relocate or not invest in our economy, many of our fellow citizens will be without good manufacturing or value added service oriented jobs.  

We need to send a message to the fiscally irresponsible scoundrels in Sacramento, their cronies, and the campaign funding leaders of the public sector unions that we are not their ATM.  After all, we are doing more than our fair share as we have the highest income tax rate, the highest sales tax, and the highest gas prices in the country.  

Vote NO on Proposition 55.

(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--David Wright (photo above on left front with Mayor Garcetti) is an excellent choice to be the permanent General Manager of our Department of Water and Power. But you have to wonder why we would endorse Wright as he has to have a screw or two loose if he is willing to take a position that is the toughest job in the City.  

He will be caught in a crossfire between skeptical Ratepayers who are concerned about ever increasing rates, the environmental lobby where money is no object, a domineering union and its rich contract and overly restrictive work rules, the media who loves to put DWP on the front page, the public’s demand for increased transparency, the Mayor and the City Council who view the Department as an ATM, and the credit rating agencies.  

At the same time, he and his management team are responsible for leading a complex enterprise with 9,000 employees, $5 billion in annual revenues, and a five year capital budget of over $13 billion that is designed to finance numerous unfunded mandates and regulations and update the Department’s water and power infrastructure. 

He has to be crazy. 

Nevertheless, Tony Wilkinson (Chair of the Neighborhood Council DWP Memorandum of Understanding Oversight Committee and an active participant in developing the November ballot measure to reform certain aspects of Department) and I sent the following letter to City Council President Herb Wesson endorsing Wright as our next General Manager.  

●● 

City Council President Herb Wesson

Los Angeles City Hall 

Appointment of David Wright as LADWP General Manager  

Dear Herb, 

This is a critical time for the Department of Water and Power which is why we support naming David Wright as its permanent General Manager.  

The City has placed on the November ballot a measure to reform the Department of Water and Power.  This reform will also require additional legislation by the City Council.  However, it appears that the City’s unions and other organizations are preparing to oppose this reform as they are putting their own interests ahead of those of the Ratepayers and the City.  

The Department is also in the midst of a major capital expenditure program to update its infrastructure, to repower its generating capacity so that 33% of our energy will be from renewable resources by 2020, and to meet numerous clean water requirements. 

The Department is also engaged in many internal reforms, including the establishment of the Administrative System Services unit to replace the “Joint Services” operation.  This new division will focus on improving customer service and the billing systems, establishing a more efficient personnel department, modernizing information technology and computer systems, enhancing physical and cyber security, and creating a more efficient procurement and contracting operation. 

Over the last five years, under the management of knowledgeable industry executives, the Department has made considerable progress in meeting its goals.  As such, it makes sense to continue with our existing management team and avoid the risk of bringing in an outside General Manager who does not have a working knowledge of the Department, its people, its goals, its Ratepayers, the City Council, and the Mayor.  

We are fortunate to have David Wright, the Interim General Manager who has been the Department’s Chief Operating Officer for the past year. He has a strong industry background and is knowledgeable about the Department and its operations.  He also has had considerable experience with other organizations, which will allow him to introduce new ideas to the Department. 

Importantly, Marcie Edwards has endorsed David, in large part because of the excellent job he has done in addressing the billing fiasco caused by a flawed Customer Information System.  He has made considerable progress in reorganizing and rationalizing Joint Services, a thankless but important job that nobody was willing or able to tackle.  

As Ratepayers, we were impressed with Wright’s August 6 presentation to the Neighborhood Council DWP MOU Oversight Committee where he emphasized the need for excellent customer service which in turn will improve the Department’s reputation.     

We strongly believe that selection of a new General Manager cannot wait until a year from now, when an entirely new and lengthy selection process may be in place. DWP needs a firm hand today. It needs a General Manager who is not handicapped by the term Interim in his title. 

We urge you to make this process easy, put this task behind you, and name David Wright as the permanent General Manager of the Department of Water and Power.  

Tony Wilkinson

NC DWP MOU Oversight Committee 

Jack Humphreville

DWP (Advocacy) Committee 

PS: We also recommend that the Department, the Board of Commissioners, the City Council, and the Mayor retain the services of Marcie Edwards for the next six months to facilitate an orderly transition, to assist the Department in analyzing pending legislation and regulations, and to protect DWP’s assets from regionalization. 

●●

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

-cw 

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