PLATKIN ON PLANNING--If you follow social media, like CityWatch or the mainstream media, like the LA Times, then you have probably heard of the recently proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. If not, expect to hear a great deal about it, both pro and con, over the next year. Its sponsor is a new civic organization, the Coalition to Preserve LA, although many other citywide and neighborhood groups will soon line up in support of the initiative. Developers, of course, will dig deep into their pockets to oppose it.
This is because the initiative would comprehensively amend the City of LA’s planning and zoning ordinances. Once adopted, it would quickly take the wind out of the sails of runaway real estate speculation in Los Angeles. Depending on where you live or work, this speculation takes many visible forms that are already impacting your lives, such as mansionization, small lot subdivisions, SB 1818 Density Bonus incentives, and high-rise buildings, especially in Hollywood.
In nearly all of these cases local communities are opposed to projects that not only clash with local character and scale, but also overwhelm LA’s rickety public infrastructure and inadequate public services.
Despite these glaring problems, local communities must nevertheless undertake large-scale local mobilizations to flood Council offices and the Department of City Planning with written comments. At the same time, they must also attend workshops and public hearings in mass to present testimony. In some cases, local communities are forced to hire attorneys to thwart the various slights-of-hand the City undertakes to approve many of these projects, often in cahoots with investors and expediters.
Should City Hall follow its own laws? It is a great irony that the essence of these communications, public testimony, and lawsuits invariably boils down to a basic unifying principle. The City of LA needs to follow the law, both its own municipal ordinances and State of California’s legislation, regulations, and legal precedents.
For those who have lived in Los Angeles for more than a few decades, this situation is hardly new. In the immediate post-WWII period developers quickly turned the small farms of the San Fernando Valley into endless suburban tracts. In the Valley this building boom proceeded so quickly and carelessly that important urban amenities, like sidewalks and rain gutters, were never built. While this cost cutting lined the pockets of the investors, it also left many Valley neighborhoods with permanent, subpar infrastructure.
Later, in the 1960’s other real estate speculators replaced thousands of single-family homes with “ding-bat” apartments. These are those plain, boxy, two and three story wood frame apartments with ground floor parking. As revealed by the 1992 Northridge earthquake, many of the ding-bats are too spindly to withstand serious ground shaking. The City is now requiring them to be seismically upgraded, but no one knows if the Big One will hit before landlords complete this massive job.
Still later, in the 1990s, there was another real estate boom in Los Angeles, this one – still ongoing -- moved from the far reaches of suburbia to older neighborhoods on both sides of the Hollywood Hills. This time, however, after “Sprawl hit the Wall,” many local communities quickly organized and then extracted minor concessions form City Hall. This is one reason why Los Angeles has such a crazy quilt of small overlay districts, such as Specific Plans, Historical Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs), Residential Floor Area Districts (RFAs), and Community Plan Implementation Overlay Districts (CPIOs).
While these and related acronyms may differ, these special zoning districts all have something in common. They are small areas. They address an immediate problem by, essentially, oiling a squeaky wheel. Where real estate speculation is most rampant and where neighbors are most organized, City Hall reluctantly responds with a compact overlay district. Think of it as a band aid for a scraped knee when the underlying problem is a broken leg.
What City Hall does not fix is the actual problem, a planning process that is so low key that City Hall’s major planning activity is site-specific amendments to existing General Plan maps. This is why the City Planning Department has historically had more planners devoted to these project-specific General Plan amendments than to updating General Plan elements or preparing new ones, such as Climate Change.
But, an outdated and overlooked General Plan is only part of the problem. The other part is zoning laws that conflict with the needs of some real estate projects. In LA Building and Safety sends at least 3000 cases per year to City Planning for the underlying zones and/or plan designations to be altered. These all require unique approvals, and this is the bulk of City Planning’s day-to-day work program.
While this approval process can temporarily slow down individual projects, it seldom stops them. This is because LA’s elected and appointed officials approve nearly every project that comes their way. Almost all get a green light, but with a long list of conditions, few of which are enforced until local residents submit multiple complaints of code violations.
Purpose of the Initiative: The purpose of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is to stop these many backdoor processes that undermine LA’s legally adopted plans and zones.
I invite all readers to take a careful look at the initiative. If you agree, then get ready to roll up your sleeves when the initiative goes before the voters because there will be a ferocious campaign against it from the reborn Urban Growth Machine. All of the vested interests whose business model depends of what they self-servingly call “growth,” will pay handsomely to keep the growth machine in motion.
We can count on them to spend millions, spinning their projects as “change,” “progress,” and “infill.” But it will be hard to fool LA’s voters since they can plainly see behind the curtain. They know that gentrification, mansionization, and densification are now pervasive in Los Angeles. Furthermore, they also know that the growth machine only cares about its pet projects, not the public services and infrastructure (e.g., streets) required to support all of those new buildings, along with their tenants, employees, and customers.
To help you, these are the most important provisions of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative:
Section 2 is a four page tour de force itemizing the multiple, overlapping planning and zoning issues facing Los Angeles.
Section 4 only allows the City Council to amend the General Plan for fixed geographical areas, not for individual properties.
Section 5 addresses the City’s need to quickly and systematically update its 37 Community Plans and their implementing zoning ordinances.
Section 6 requires the City to either prepare Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in-house or assign them to contracted firms. Developers would no longer be able to hire firms that prepare their projects’ EIRs.
Section 7 prohibits most building permits for projects depending on General Plan amendments that exceed existing zoning limitations.
Section 8 offers detailed parking requirements.
Win or lose, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative places Los Angeles at a critical juncture:
- Will LA halt or continue its long-term practice of re-zoning and re-planning small, lot-sized sections of Los Angeles at the behest of generous real estate entrepreneurs?
- Will LA update its General Plan, including the Community Plans, and then adhere to them, or will it repeatedly cave in to proposals put forward by well-groomed, beautifully attired representatives of affluent clients?
- Will LA see through the growth machine’s claims that they are the bearer of progress through projects that supposedly benefit everyone, especially the ill-housed and ill-served? Or will the city continue to be bamboozled by thin, self-serving arguments that overlook how the growth machine’s projects make its members even richer?
(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who writes on planning issues for CityWatch. He serves on the Board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and welcomes questions and comments at email@example.com.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
EASTSIDER-All of a sudden, there seems to be an entire spate of articles attacking the DWP Ratepayer Advocate, Fred Pickel. The theme seems to embrace a lot of trigger words like “weak,” “gutless,” “pawn of the industry,” “secret double agent,” “useless,” and so on. As readers of CityWatch should know, I am not a fan of the establishment, but I’m trying to understand: why this sudden criticism? Why now? And of all people, why Fred Pickel?
Here’s why the issue is important. Folks need to turn off their afterburners and slow down for a moment: the position of Ratepayer Advocate, as adopted by the voters in 2011, is, by definition, a very limited position. Those of us who were a part of the Neighborhood Council DWP Committee, LANCC, or who served on Neighborhood Councils at the time, will recall that we were all fed up. We wanted a fire-breathing, rip-roarin’, independent citizen advocate with power and authority to do something about the enormous fraud being perpetrated on us by the Mayor and the City Council by using the DWP as a giant piggy bank for extracting money, as well as a repository to dump the fiscal responsibility for pet projects (and sometimes City employees with their pension obligations).
But as usually happens in LA politics, most of the fire and substance we wanted so badly was gutted in the final language of the 2011 Charter Amendment LA-I: DWP Ratepayer Advocate. Looking at the language, you can see how the political class cleverly eviscerated most of the firepower that was originally intended by the troops. Briefly, it does the following:
● Sets up a Department (Office of Public Accountability) charged with “independent analysis and assessment” regarding water and power rates;
● Sets up an Executive Director for the Department called the Ratepayer Advocate;
● Sets up a Citizens Selection Committee to appoint the Executive Director for a 5-year term, subject to confirmation by the City Council and the Mayor;
● Requires the Executive Director “report to, but not be directed by, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners” (all of whom are appointed by the Mayor);
● Funds the OPA Budget to the tune of 0.025% of DWP’s annual water and electricity revenues (around a million dollars);
● Has the Budget for the OPA established by annual Ordinance, which means that it goes through the usual City Budget process.
Now, pardon me for being cynical, but as a recovering bureaucrat, there are more fixes built into this deal than in a rigged Civil Service Examination (not, of course, that the City would ever do such a thing). Needless to say, once the powers-that-be were content that the Ratepayer Advocate could do no harm, the Amendment passed with over 77% of the less than 12% of registered voters voting.
Further, and just to make absolutely sure that the system was safe, the Council and the Mayor fooled around for almost a year before they finally appointed Dr. Fred Pickel to the position. And in another “only in LA moment,” this just happened to be the same time that the Council voted to approve a rate increase for the DWP. A coincidence, of course. When the Good Doctor reported his circumstances to the DWP Committee, we found that the City had bought themselves another year by failing to get him a real office and delaying his ability to hire any staff.
Fred Pickel more than met the stated criteria for the position. He has a PhD from MIT in Engineering and Economics System Analysis and he ran his own LA company, Wilshire Energy Consulting Group that specialized in the power and gas industries. Therefore, the appointment was safe: he was unlikely to do anything particularly embarrassing (an absolute job requirement under the Charter), and the choice provided someone with extensive technical competence (in my view, a nice but unintended outcome). As to why he even took the job, you’d have to ask Dr. Pickel.
In short, the odds of hiring a real fire-breather to become the Ratepayer Advocate was about as likely as Tom Hayden becoming the Mayor of the City of Los Angeles.
In the first real test of his authority, Dr. Pickel recommended to the DWP Board in 2013 that they hold off on the solar feed-in-tariff program on the grounds that it could double the bills of ratepayers in the next decade. The DWP Board blew him off and went ahead with the program -- just like the Charter says they can.
Keeping in mind the historical context of weakening of the purported power and authority of the Ratepayer Advocate’s job, why the sudden attacks against Dr. Pickel? In truth, as a part of the DWP Committees, I have found him to be very technically competent; he works well within the system to try and affect changes to DWP programs before they go public and end up in the political domain of the one who’s got the votes – the Mayor, of course, since he appoints the entire DWP Board.
While I certainly do not have enough technical expertise in the water and power industries to evaluate Dr. Pickel, as near as I can tell, he is respected by the troops that actually have to run the Department -- as opposed to the politicians who are in charge. And, by the way, those troops are pretty good.
So who led this attack? Well, it seems it was started by a Consumer Watchdog group out of the Republic of Santa Monica who recently wrote a letter to the Mayor and the City Attorney telling them to fire Dr. Pickel.
You will have to excuse me, but when our neighbors to the west suddenly decide to help us poor misguided Angelenos, I generally check to make sure that my wallet’s still there, and then wonder why they are so interested in “helping” us.
Anyhow, the LA Times picked up on the article, and wrote their own; and our own Paul Hatfield weighed in. I’m not quite sure what his article had to do with the Ratepayer, since his key point was: “Pickel would be more effective as an adviser to an advocate who truly knows how to communicate with and engage the public and the media.”
The problem is, the Charter Amendment simply does not provide for any of this, so I think it’s a bit unfair to say Fred Pickel is failing us when, under the terms of the Charter, he’s not even allowed to do what Mr. Hatfield wants him to do. The system, as created in the fine print, is doing just what it was intended to do.
And finally, of course, we have ex-Councilmember Dennis Zine’s article. Mr. Zine want’s the Ratepayer to be more vociferous in beating up on the DWP for its problematic billing system. Again, that role is simply not in the Charter, although in the case of Mr. Zine, I understand the “why” of his article -- anything to deflect anger or criticism away from his shadow employer, Brian D’Arcy of IBEW fame, who’s still sore over outsourcing all that lovely money.
To the point -- with the exception of politicians who are by definition fair game -- political discourse should be about ideas, instead of character assassination, unless someone has done something really naughty. So maybe the next time our friends in the Republic of Santa Monica, the LA Times, and even some of my CityWatch buddies get all revved up and decide to do a hit job on somebody -- just maybe they might consider doing a bit of research … and fact checking before they shoot. I’ve been told that it’s a better way to hit your target.
(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.
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
Tags: Tony Butka, Ratepayer Advocate, DWP, Neighborhood Councils, LA City Council, Dr. Fred Pickel
JUST SAYIN’--One of the old standbys of the Car Cult zealots is the cry that we can’t put in bike lanes, or wider sidewalks, or Complete streets treatments, if they will remove so much as a single curbside parking spot for cars. Likewise, calls for denser development, especially if accompanied by reduced parking requirements, inspire the usual bug-eyed rage and teeth-baring barks of, “Where will all the cars park?”
Yet, it happens that most parts of most cities have far too much parking, and that parking helps create traffic congestion (through induced demand, especially when it’s offered at below-market pricing, or even free). It also hurts development, making it too expensive for locally-owned businesses to establish themselves and enhance the health, wealth, and happiness of our communities—something corporate malls and bigbox stores simply cannot do (and don’t even want to).
The Pigeon’s own Josef Bray-Ali wrote an important article on this very matter a few years ago, which was published in the Los Angeles Business Journal. Alas, there it resides behind a paywall; but it’s been excerpted in another article posted by the Natural Resources Defense Council here.
The NIMBYs, of course, want nothing more than fully-subsidized parking everywhere they might want to go—rather the attitude a three-year-old holds towards candy. The rest of us are to pay for the sequestration of that land from more productive use, as well as the costs—financial, social, environmental, and medical—that the resulting sprawl imposes on us all.
In regards to commercial establishments, the cry for more parking! is particularly focused: Black Friday—the day after tomorrow, counting from our publication date—is the day when all the parking lots and structures in America fill to overflowing with cars, “proving” that we need those gigantic asphalt wastelands to be reserved from any other use the other 364 days of the year.
The problem with that rationale is that is is so rarely true: most parking lots and structures, even at the most gargantuan of consumerist swamps, America’s declining malls, simply…don’t fill up.
And so, in response to the untested assumption underlying the NIMBY’s Black Friday battle cry, Strong Towns has for several years organized the Black Friday Parking event.
This is what you do to join in:
1) On Black Friday, go to a mall at peak shopping hour.
2) Wander the parking lot, smartphone or camera in hand.
3) When you see swathes of empty parking space—and odds are that you will—snap a picture.
4) Post said picture to social media with the hashtag #blackfridayparking and (preferably) location info.
That’s all it takes. A little dose of reality to help take the edge off the great American delusion about cars and parking.
(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
GUEST COMMENTARY-For the last 24 years of National Action Network's (NAN) existence, I have utilized Thanksgiving Day to serve and eat with the homeless and seniors at our headquarters in New York City. I chose to turn a day that I have serious problems with, given the history of what was done to Native Americans, into a day of family and community to show that we can extend ourselves beyond our own comfort.
We will continue that tradition this Thursday, but I have also particularly reached out to Muslims to join us in our Harlem headquarters and chapters around the country that follow the Thanksgiving NAN tradition. We hope to set one of the examples of how we must use every opportunity to counter the Islamophobia and fear mongering that some GOP Presidential candidates and others on the right have purposely and blatantly tried to whip up as a result of the recent Paris attacks. It is dangerous, despicable and has no place in our society. People of goodwill must refute such behavior in every way we can. To that end, I say, invite a Muslim to Thanksgiving dinner.
Let me be clear, I detest, despise and find no iota of sympathy for terrorists or terrorism. I lost people I know in the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center in 2001. They were innocents who had nothing to do with foreign policy or any other policy; just victims of vicious people who think human lives are mere props for their terror.
The attacks of ISIL, Boko Haram and other groups whether in Paris, Mali, Nigeria, Kenya or elsewhere must be dealt with and must lead to real ways of protecting and securing the public at home and abroad. But to stigmatize all Muslims as extremists is to become accomplices of hate and terrorism rather than the ones that solve it. Muslims overwhelmingly have denounced acts of terrorism, and are in fact the greatest victims of terrorism around the world. Just as Christians are not responsible for extremist Christians, the same is so for Muslims.
When there is such a climate of hate and scapegoating, it is not enough to just condemn inflammatory statements; we must openly embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters. And we must do so as publicly as we can. Some suggested closing mosques, creating a Muslim registry and other shrill things that reek of hysteria and discrimination. It is not only un-American, but it is nonsensical and outrageous. Our nation's founders purported freedom of religion, and crafted separation of Church and state. Perhaps those uttering hate-filled statements and calling for registries need to study the Constitution.
It's important to remember that we cannot defeat ISIS or Boko Haram, or other terrorist groups without active partnership, support and participation of Muslims everywhere. We cannot change the Middle East without working with and respecting the Muslim community. I therefore raise these points as a pro-American, pro-peace, anti-terror individual -- but also as a Christian clergy who believes firmly in Jesus' teachings of the Good Samaritan.
When I see Syrian refugees who are in many cases children and seniors reaching out for help, it is against my religion to advocate ignoring them based on religion or nationality. You cannot support a ban on refugees, then go to a Church that claims to follow Jesus the next minute. Those two things are simply not compatible. In fact, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees themselves fleeing into Egypt. Had some of our Governors and right-wing candidates been in charge then, I wonder if I would have ever even known my Lord and Savior.
Today, when so many children, elderly, women and families are fleeing the devastation and horror in Syria and elsewhere, we cannot turn our backs on them, nor can we succumb to fear and panic. Let us remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Happy Thanksgiving and in Jesus' name, invite a Muslim to your table if you can.
(Reverend Al Sharpton is the President of the National Action Network (NAN) and one of America’s most-renowned civil rights leaders. This piece was originally posted at Huffington Post. Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
NEW GEOGRAPHY--The rising tech oligarchy, having disrupted everything from hotels and taxis to banking, music and travel, is also taking over the content side of the media business. In the process, we might see the future decline of traditional media, including both news and entertainment, and a huge shift in media power away from both Hollywood and New York and toward the Bay Area and Seattle.
This shift is driven by several forces: the power of Internet-based communications, the massive amounts of money that have accumulated among the oligarchs and, perhaps most important, their growing interest in steering American politics in their preferred direction. In some cases, this is being accomplished by direct acquisition of existing media platforms, alliances with traditional firms and the subsidization of favored news outlets. But the real power of the emerging tech oligarchy lies in its control of the Internet itself, which is rapidly gaining preeminence in the flow of information.
This transition is being driven by the enormous concentration of wealth in a few hands, based mostly in metropolitan Seattle and Silicon Valley. In 2014, the media-tech sector accounted for five of the 10 wealthiest Americans. More important still, virtually all self-made billionaires under age 40 are techies. They are in a unique position to dominate discourse in America for decades to come.
In recent years, like Skynet in the “Terminator” series, the oligarchs have become increasingly aware of their latent power to shape both the news media and the political future. A prospectus for a lobbying group headed up by Mark Zuckerberg’s former Harvard roommate, suggests tech will become “one of the most powerful political forces.” The new group’s “tactical assets” include not only popularity and great wealth but the fact that “we control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals.”
In the past, more hardware-oriented companies provided the “pipelines” through which traditional media disseminated their products. But increasingly these industries are being subsumed by the oligarchs. On the hardware side, they seek to supplant the traditional telecommunications companies with their own series of global digital pipelines; at the same time they are looking to gain control over large parts of the entertainment, news and other media providers.
The transformation of media to online platforms has already precipitated an enormous shift from traditional advertising – largely seen on television, in movies and print media – to Silicon Valley-based companies. By 2013, Google’s ad revenue surpassed that of either newspapers or magazines.
This shift also previews a migration of geographic power from centers such as New York and Los Angeles and to the hubs of tech influence, most notably Silicon Valley-San Francisco and the Puget Sound area. Even as the new software-based media expanded over the past decade, traditional media such as newspapers, music, book and magazine publishing – all concentrated in the New York area – have atrophied. According to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, periodical and newspaper publishing have lost some 250,000 jobs. Over the same time, Internet publishing and portals generated some 70,000 new positions, many of them in the Bay Area or Seattle.
To the new oligarchs, traditional media are holdovers from what one venture capitalist derisively called “the paper economy” that is destined to be swept away by the new digital aristocracy. As relatively young people – even Bill Gates is barely 60 – they will have the money, and the time, to disseminate their views both to the masses and the influential higher echelons.
One way to consolidate such influence – as happened with Gilded Age moguls like William Randolph Hearst – has been to buy up the former bastions of old media. Chris Hughes, a Facebook billionaire and Obama tech guru, has bought the venerable New Republic. Perhaps more importantly, the purchase of the Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now the country’s fourth-richest person, has placed the tech oligarchy at the center of media in the nation’s capital.
Yet, over time, acquiring existing media may prove just a sideshow. Far more critical will be the growth of their own oligarch-controlled news media. Yahoo is the No. 1 news site in the U.S., with 110 million monthly viewers. Google News isn’t far behind, at No. 4, with 65 million users. Facebook, according to Pew, has emerged as the second-largest source of political news, after local television.
The oligarchs are also moving into the culture business, with Amazon, YouTube (owned by Google) and Netflix becoming increasingly influential in Hollywood. And then, there’s Apple TV. The oligarchs may need to source from more established vendors on the East Coast or Hollywood, but they increasingly will control the financial purse strings as well as the critical distribution pipelines.
The intrusion of tech firms into media is likely to become even more pervasive as the millennial generation grows, and the older cohorts die off. Among those over age 50, only 15 percent, according to a Pew report, get their news over the Internet; among those under 30, 65 percent are consumers of online news.
Over time, this trend could help propel the media, already liberal, further toward a lock-step embrace of progressive positions. Once largely apolitical or nonpartisan, firms like Microsoft, Apple and Google now overwhelmingly lean to the Democrats. President Obama has even enlisted several tech titans, including venture capitalist John Doerr, LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla, to help plan his doubtlessly lavish and highly political retirement.
The politics of the oligarchs need to be better understood as they exert more control over our media. An analysis by researcher Gregory Ferenstein found that most Internet company founders are liberal Democrats, favoring increased immigration, with its promise of cheap, more pliable labor for their own operations. Unlike old-style Democrats, they are strongly hostile to unions, dismiss issues of class and believe that most issues can be addressed by digital technology and education. Hey, it worked for them!
This belief system, which Alphabet (Google) chairman Eric Schmidt said is a “kind of religion in and of itself,” assumes technology can address virtually all social problems. They see this happening largely by pushing media in the direction of their own version of progressivism. EBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar has pledged large sums to support a largely left-of-center investigative reporting site, First Look Media. Both Vox Media and Buzzfeed, emerging digital news brands, have received major investment from Silicon Valley firms.
News with a view
Similarly, people associated with major tech firms, notably Google, and major venture capitalists, including such climate-change-oriented titans as John Doerr and Russ Hall, have invested in CALmatters, a journalism nonprofit that provides news to content-starved California media with a distinctly green, progressive spin. Recent coverage of Democrats who dissented from Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change agenda basically portrayed them more or less as oil company stooges. There seems to be less interest in explaining how these lawmakers’ working-class constituents might have problems with ever higher energy prices that cut deeply into their generally modest finances.
Ultimately, tech’s media dominance has the potential to prove more pervasive than any in the past. Many of the leading social networking sites – Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat– have launched initiatives to expand their news operations.
These and other tech applications could give the oligarchs a reach beyond that which the likes of Joseph Pulitzer, Horace Greeley or even Rupert Murdoch could imagine. With media consumers constantly on their phones, looking at their smart watches or logging onto their tablets, the flow of media messaging could become ubiquitous to a degree imagined before only in dystopian science fiction, or in how North Korea attempts to convince its impoverished, often-malnourished citizens through incessant propaganda that they live in an evolving socialist fairyland.
Reflecting a tech world that is ever more dominated by a few players, we may be on the verge of seeing news, culture and analysis concentrated in ever fewer hands. This could allow the oligarchs to become a media power of unprecedented dominance, a ubiquitous Big Brother looming from cyberspace.
(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com, the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His most recent book is “The New Class Conflict” --Telos Publishing: 2014. Joel Kotkin lives in Orange County. This piece first appeared at NewGeography.com.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
PERSPECTIVE--Thanksgiving is here. Let’s eat!
America’s most food-focused holiday traces its roots back to the abundant feast that Pilgrims and Indians enjoyed together in the fall of 1621.
Only half of the Mayflower Pilgrims who’d arrived at Plymouth Rock the previous December survived their first year in the New World. (It was “new,” of course, only to those undocumented immigrants from England — not the locals).
Still, to celebrate and offer thanks for their survival, the newcomers planned a communal meal following the fall harvest. And in appreciation for being taught by the Wampanoag people how to raise corn and gather the region’s seafood, they invited Massasoit, the tribal leader, to join them in what’s now Massachusetts.
He did — and surprised the hosts by arriving with 90 members of his community.
But the Wampanoag party didn’t come empty handed. In fact, they brought much of the fare for what became a three-day banquet featuring a spread that probably included venison, duck, geese, wild turkeys, eels, mussels, lobster, gooseberries, plums, cornmeal pudding, popcorn balls, barley beer, and fortified wine. And you thought youover-ate at Thanksgiving.
This wasn’t the only precursor of our annual November food-a-palooza. Virginians assert that the truly first feast that brought together English settlers and Native Americans took place in their state, at least two years before Massasoit’s show of hospitality. Texans claim that the tradition began near El Paso in 1598, when the Manso and Piro tribes roasted ducks, geese, and fish over an open fire to give sustenance to a lost and bedraggled group of Spanish colonizers.
Meanwhile, Floridians insist that the firstest-of-all Thanksgivings in what’s now the United States took place even earlier in 1565, when the Timucuan people shared a stew of salt pork and garbanzo beans with Spanish settlers at St. Augustine.
Ultimately, European settlers and early Americans didn’t repay these natives with much kindness. But these historical tidbits raise an interesting question to ponder this Thanksgiving: What would have happened to those English and Spanish settlers if the Native Americans had taken Donald Trump’s advice to build “a big beautiful wall”?
(Jim Hightower is a columnist for OtherWords as well as a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker and an occasional CityWatch contributor. He’s also the editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, and a member of the Public Citizen board.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
MY TURN-Complaining about pot holes and projected DWP increases seems almost ludicrous in light of what is happening in Europe and the M iddle East. I am certain that many of you have been watching the news and keeping your loved ones a little closer. I have some thoughts on the subject which I would like to share with you.
Of course, this provides an opportunity to try and provoke national hysteria. Republican candidates are outdoing themselves, shouting about restrictions on Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. Democratic candidates, while still trying to give the President support, are anxious to show how they could do things better.
The cable news stations are in their element. Anyone who could...jumped on a plane to Paris to pontificate. Their mixture of news, visuals and interviews runs the gamut…from interesting to painful. We’re getting a rest from the election rhetoric, except from those who think they have immediate solutions. I'm particularly fond of candidates who espouse only allowing Christian Syrian refugees into our country. I guess that excludes Atheists, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and of course Muslims?
I don't agree with John McCain often, but you have to admit the man has class. He showed that clearly during the 2008 election, when a lady in the audience asked him for confirmation that Obama was a Muslim. He stood up to her without hesitation. That exchange was one of the highlights of the campaign.
On Wednesday, he showed his sensitivity to intolerance again when he decried those that were putting religious restrictions on refugees. To paraphrase, McCain said, I am a Christian and I am taught to love my fellow man.
The U.S. does have a history of turning away refugees, like during World War II when we turned away a shipload of Jewish refugees, sending them to certain death. Another black stain on our morality was the rounding up of Japanese Americans (emphasis: Americans,) taking their property and putting them in camps. Donald Trump reminded us of the famous "Operation Wetback" during President Eisenhower's time. I don't see many of the politicians using these events as an example of smart policy.
There is no sugar coating it…the entire situation sucks!
Two bombs killed 43 and wounded 239 people in Beruit last Thursday.
In late October, 224 people were blown to bits on a flight from Egypt to Russia.
Last week, Paris endured six separate attacks, killing 129 people and injuring hundreds more.
Boko Haram blewing up a market place in Nigeria killing 49 and wounding 80.
Calls to put 10,000 American servicemen and women into that quagmire are not met with a great deal of enthusiasm, although a poll this week showed Americans were becoming more receptive to the idea.
The annual veterans Thanksgiving Dinner is coming up next week at the West LA Veterans campus. I challenge you to attend this event…then say you want to send 10,000 more Americans into Iraq and Syria.
Many have asked why the Middle East countries can't put their boots on the ground. It is estimated there are more than 25,000 ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria. I did a little checking as to the military strength of the thirteen Middle East countries.
According to Globalfirepower.com, Israel has the largest force; Iran is second with 545,000 active military; then comes Saudi Arabia with 233,000 active military; and Jordan has 110,000. Add to that Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iraq. And that doesn't include Turkey which has a huge, very advanced military force and is part of NATO.
Excluding Iran and adding the forces from the smaller countries, there is more than enough military personnel and US supplied weaponry to take on ISIL, Al-Qaeda, etc. But Saudi Arabia has been busy bombing Yemen with whom they share a border. And even though they have plenty facilities, they haven't offered to take in one refugee.
I heard that Jeb Bush called for the U.S. military to get involved in the ground fighting. I wonder, will his son volunteer?
I am not professing to be a foreign policy expert and like many of you I have questions for the "experts." But it gets down to a personal level. We can talk about the big picture until the cows come home, but I'll guarantee you the family in Long Beach whose daughter was killed in one of the Parisian cafes, is not looking at the big picture.
During my many years of working in Latin America in the turbulent 80’s, I learned quickly that if someone offers food, along with shoes and an education for their children, people will agree to join up and be called any kind of "ist"-- communist, socialist, capitalist, etc.
For decades, Muslim countries have done an excellent job of disenfranchising the majority of their population. Their respective governments have done very little to advance their people. I don't care what religion you are...you want to be able to take care of your family, have a possibility of advancement…and be safe.
We have seen how the "Arab Spring" started with so much hope and promise, and then turned into an economic and political disaster. We in California have a problem…if the earthquakes don't get us, the terrorists might. So are we willing to give up some of our freedoms to remain safe? Unfortunately, the manufacture of magic wands has been outsourced.
But this is no joking matter. We have a dilemma. There are too many people living in poverty here in Los Angeles and we need billions of dollars to fix our infrastructure. How can we be expected to take on the world's problems?
On the other hand, how can we not? This country has been there for our Allies when needed. We have accepted people from all over the world and we have benefited greatly from their knowledge, culture, music, food and literature.
I don't think we should equate compassion with weakness...or bellicose speech with intelligent planning.
As always, comments welcome …
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 20, 2015
VOICES--The Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments (photo left) were sailing through the process that it takes to become a Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), and the protection from demolition that a HCM carries. That was until Tuesday’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) hearing in Los Angeles City Hall.
This HCM has unanimous approval by the Cultural Heritage Committee (CHC), unanimous support of the local city-certified Neighborhood Council, support from the Office of Historic Resources (OHR), support of hundreds of members of the community, support of the Los Angeles Conservancy, and – most importantly – strong support from Paul Koretz – the Councilperson whose district includes the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments.
With this kind of support it is highly unusual for PLUM not to send the designation through with its recommendation. But apparently when the appellant (in this case the owners) hires a law firm that advertises itself as “A Powerhouse Government and Regulatory Practice”, the rules change.
In November of 2014, a company headed by Matthew Jacobs and Guy Penini bought the nine unit rent-regulated courtyard apartments, that are now known as “The Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments.” In February of this year, the owners served the tenants with Ellis Act evictions requiring them to leave in June. Karen Smalley and I stayed, fighting the eviction in court.
Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Penini are developers in the business of building “Small Lot Subdivisions.” They plan to replace the nine historic affordable apartments with eleven four-story town houses that will sell for well over one million dollars each. Mr. Jacobs recently stepped down as Chair of the CFHA (California Housing Finance Agency), whose mandate is to provide financing and programs for affordable housing, following immense populist pressure over his proposed destruction of these and eight other affordable housing units.
At Tuesday’s PLUM hearing, ten neighbors spoke in support of the nomination, Adrien Scott Fine represented the LA Conservancy, and Noah Muhlstein spoke on behalf of Councilmember Koretz.
The Landlords' case was made by Timothy B. McOsker and Elisa Paster, both attorneys at Glaser Weil. McOsker is particularly well connected politically. Paster is also an investor in the Small Lot Subdivision that was planned for this site. Glaser Weil was started by Matthew Jacobs' father, Gary Jacobs, along with other attorneys.
The owners reached out to Save Beverly Grove to discuss a settlement for the first time last week, and that was a key statement in their rebuttal against the HCM. They said they would work to preserve the buildings but a HCM would get in the way of negotiating.
After everyone spoke, Councilman Englander said –paraphrasing– this looks like a very worthy building and everyone seems to be for the Historic Designation except for one, the appellant. We are going to submit it without recommendations. There was no debate or even talk between Englander, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Felipe Fuentes–the three members of the committee who were present.
Backstory: Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who serves on the PLUM Committee, is also running for LA County Supervisor and is a vigorous fundraiser: Los Angeles County District Supervisor Candidate Mitchell Englander Raises Over $500,000. A quick check shows that employees of Glaser Weil and its predecessor firms have given $115,375. to various politicians in Los Angeles since 1999, Mitchell Englander among them.
Listen to the PLUM hearing … Councilmember Englander’s reasoning starts at about 35 minutes in.
Paul Koretz’s office was taken by surprise at the turn of events. The office assures those involved in saving these buildings that they are fully backing the HCM and sending it to a vote before the full City Council.
(Steven Luftman is a member of the Save Beverly Grove movement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vol 13 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 20, 2014
DOWNTOWN- Earlier this summer, the LA City Council created an ad hoc Homelessness and Poverty committee. Because of the overwhelming need to address homelessness citywide, the committee was soon changed from an ad hoc to a permanent standing committee.
Several months have gone by and it seems that, while Angelenos look to this new committee to provide solutions to homelessness, those of us who can see without rose-colored glasses know that this won’t happen any time soon.
In fact, watching the Homelessness and Poverty committee painfully sift through all the political rhetoric, confusion, and overlapping bureaucracy, it’s clear that what’s truly needed in city government is an all-new department called the Department of Homelessness.
After all, if there can be a Department of Aging…
The General Manager of this new city department will be like the often-referred to “homeless czar,” but without all the pressure. Duties would include being the city’s “point person” on all things related to homelessness, overseeing an initial staff of 10-20 city employees, reporting directly to the Homelessness and Poverty committee and the full City Council, and working directly with both the CLA (Chief Legislative Analyst) and CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) regarding all homeless-related budget items. This would include coordinating with the City’s Operation Healthy Streets, El Nino winter shelter programs and working directly with the Mayor’s Homeless Policy Director to craft new policies and initiatives that address homelessness.
An especially important task for this GM would be to represent the City’s interests regarding the City/County collaboration – the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA.) During last week’s Homelessness and Poverty committee meeting, LAHSA’s Policy Director gave a short report. When committee member CM Mike Bonin asked a clarifying question, the LAHSA policy person replied, essentially, that LAHSA doesn’t actually have any power.
Other than the Homeless Count, which LAHSA will now administer every year instead of every other year, it’s not exactly clear what this government agency with “authority” in its title does besides give millions of dollars to non-profit organizations to fund winter shelter programs for the homeless. This funding continues to go to the same non-profits who, combined, have not helped decrease the number of homeless.
It would be wonderful if this new GM could hold all of these folks accountable by assuming a position as the City’s in-house watchdog. We need to keep a close eye on all the homeless industry “fat cats” who are making off with millions of dollars while homelessness continues to rise at an alarming rate. There are no signs of this trend slowing down and there are no viable solutions that are working to “End Homelessness” -- the main marketing slogan for “poverty pimp campaigns” across America.
When one thinks about it, what motivation does a non-profit organization have to “end homelessness?” If they end it, they will put themselves out of business, meaning no more six-figure salaries for those CEOs and Executive Directors -- no more luxury cars, big homes and wonderful lifestyles for these privileged few who are supposedly caring for extremely poor homeless people.
This new department’s GM would finally give Los Angeles the ability to say, “There’s a new (homeless) sheriff in town.”
Hopefully, they would select someone with the heart of a champion and the undying focus of an infrared laser beam. Apparently, even though the world brags about having many of these types of folks around, homelessness can’t seem to find a single one.
America, who among you is capable of running this new Department of Homelessness? It would be different than running the Department of Homeland Security since it would take a little more compassion to understand the sensitive issues of homelessness.
City of Los Angeles: We need a “Department of Homelessness”… it’s a solution at your door.
(General Jeff is a homeless. And an activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
TALKBACK--(This article was provided CityWatch in response to Erin Aubrey Kaplan’s KCET article, “School Daze: LAUSD Adult School Pushes Back at Encroaching Charter School.”) We are happy that KCET is discussing this important issue. We agree that the current situation regarding school facilities in the Westchester, Playa Vista, and Playa del Rey neighborhoods "illustrates the political complexity" of the relationship between traditional public and charter schools, as observed by Ms. Kaplan.
However, the situation is even more complex than described in Ms. Kaplan’s piece. In fact, a more accurate title for Ms. Kaplan’s piece would be, “LAUSD Adult School and Charter School Displaced Due to Underestimated Growth at Playa Vista.” Because WISH was not consulted before publication of Ms. Kaplan’s piece, this letter provides additional context.
WISH is an independent charter school that was founded by parents looking for inclusive educational options.
They wanted a social justice model where children could be raised in classroom communities that reflect society. A place where highly gifted children, students with various strengths and needs, and children with disabilities could be educated together in natural proportions to what would typically be found in society. A school where siblings and neighbors could learn together and be raised to value differences. A learning environment where kids would in turn grow up to build businesses and communities that include and value all people.
WISH is the only inclusive educational option on the Westside of Los Angeles. Nearly 15% of WISH students have moderate or severe disabilities and 18% of our students are identified as gifted. WISH is a racially diverse school, with approximately 41% white, 22% black, 25% Latino, 3% Asian/Pacific-Islander, and 9% other/two or more races enrollment.
As a small, independent charter school focused on inclusive education, WISH has demonstrated how the District can partner with a charter school to serve diverse students with unique needs, and to develop and disseminate innovative practices throughout the District. Indeed, the Board of Education unanimously approved renewal of WISH's charter for a five-year term last spring.
The assertion that WISH has sought a "takeover" of Emerson Adult Learning Center is false. WISH Elementary School has been co-located with the Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet on the under-enrolled Orville Wright Middle School campus for the past two years, pursuant to prop 39.
Approximately 90% of WISH’s students hail from the 90045 zip code, where Orville Wright Middle School is situated.
This fall, the District approached WISH leadership to inform them that WISH would be losing its space at Orville Wright Middle School to accommodate the massive growth of Playa Vista, where both developers and city officials failed to account for how the vast expansion would impact the schools in the surrounding areas. The District also intends to use space at Orville Wright Middle School for a second neighborhood middle school, to accommodate matriculants of Playa Vista Elementary School and other neighboring schools.
Because the District’s plan would completely dislocate WISH’s elementary school students and leave them with nowhere to go, the District has told WISH that it intends to relocate WISH to Emerson Adult Learning Center, provided that space is viable for use as an elementary school.
As many WISH community members stated when the District announced its plan at a community meeting on November 16, WISH would be happy to continue its co-location with the Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet, and shares concerns raised by the Emerson Adult Learning Center community and other stakeholders about whether the District's plan provides short- and long-term stability for all students and families in the area.
It is not the desire of the WISH community to displace the Emerson Adult Learning Center or to fight political battles over the role of charter schools. However, given a choice of relocating to Emerson Adult Learning Center, or having no space for WISH’s 618 students, many of whom simply cannot be accommodated by other local schools, WISH will accept a solution that allows WISH to continue to serve its students and the Westchester community.
(This piece was provided CityWatch by Ivey Van Allen-Steinberg on behalf of the WISH Charter School leadership.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
THE CORPORATE CONNECTION-The most dangerous mistake being made in dealing with terrorism is thinking that it can be exclusively resolved militarily. Like Antaeus of Greek mythology -- who only got stronger when Hercules fought and slammed him into his mother the earth -- terrorism keeps getting stronger as it is attacked. It’s part of the predictable "collateral damage" sustained by going after terrorists with "shock and awe,” further radicalizing them, enabling them to recruit more and more of the disaffected into their ranks.
Terrorism is nurtured in people who have never been given a stake in their own society or have found their stake is caught in the crossfire between super powers who have supported dictators, their antagonists and a spectrum of other groups in endless not so civil wars against them.
There is yet another more unsolvable problem in confronting the threat of terrorism – something hinted at by our leaders but scrupulously ignored in formulating policy and response. The reality is that, by its nature, post-industrial Western civilization, with its enormous, highly centralized non-agrarian populations, is not self-sufficient. People live packed into cities at the end of long, highly vulnerable supply lines. This makes them easy targets for terrorists who are willing to give up their lives to disrupt what they see as decadent and exploitative cultures responsible for their oppression over centuries.
While normal daily commuter traffic can be completely disrupted by one ill-placed accident or rain storm, imagine the negative effects of a well planned series of attacks on our transportation and energy hubs by a small number of highly organized, motivated terrorists. With recent threats against us targeting Washington D.C. and Times Square, it is clear that terrorists are aware of these options. The question is, even with forewarning, can we really do anything to stop such attacks?
After the recent events in Paris, the French have proposed a three-month suspension of many basic civil rights. This obviates the necessity for us to remember the importance of getting prior judicial authority before infringing on our civil rights because of the Paris attacks. We need to ask whether imposing such measures on American society will ultimately do greater damage to what remains of our already corporate-compromised democracy as we try to protect ourselves from the terrorist threat.
There is a story told in Israel-Palestine of a Palestinian mother who had three sons. Two of them had already blown themselves up on Egged buses, taking a large number of innocent civilians with them. So the question was posed, "What do we do with this woman and her remaining son?" An Israeli journalist came up with a rather counterintuitive solution: "You buy her a house and put her son to work and I think the terrorist acts will come to an end."
So how can terrorism be stopped? I would argue that the answer lies in a variation of the aforementioned suggestion regarding the Palestinian mother and her remaining son. But it needs to be applied on a much larger scale, where the crimes of the West against the Middle East -- going back to the crusades and before -- are finally set right.
In doing this, biblical or koranic advocated violence must finally be put to rest with the realization that we have arrived at a point in human history referred to in these books – a moment when there literally could be heaven on earth. We have the technology necessary to insure that every human being on the earth can live long and prosperously.
In our world today, the real threat to this possibility is the concentration of unusable wealth in the hands of so few while others are allowed to starve -- based on the false belief that there isn't enough wealth in the world for everyone to live well. While this might have been true in the past, it is clearly no longer the case, especially when you consider what we are now capable of technologically.
What I mean by this is that the unimaginable wealth amassed in the hands of a small segment of our population exploits people to the point that they are willing to give their lives committing terrorist acts. It also means that the more wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few, the more diminished the quality of life becomes even for the super-rich. This kind of wealth has long ago reached a point of diminishing returns. And clearly, the feudal option of protecting obscene levels of wealth by building a castle surrounded by a moat is no longer possible given the dissemination of relatively cheap and highly destructive technology.
So what if, instead of spending several trillion dollars fighting endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we spent several trillion dollars raising the standard of living for people living in these Middle East countries and elsewhere…could we not eliminate the main organizing force that drives terrorism?
(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s 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.
Vol 13 Issue 93
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
OPPOSING AFFORDABLE HOUSING-Los Angeles is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis: the city’s renters pay on average nearly half of their disposable income on rent alone. This threatens the city’s social and economic health: you simply cannot have a great city and hollow out its middle class.
But NIMBYs never rest, and in the midst of this crisis have proposed this.
The Coalition to Preserve LA announced plans for a ballot measure, titled the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that would put a moratorium of up to 24 months on development projects that cannot be built without votes from elected officials to increase density.
The proposal also would make it harder for those officials to change the city’s General Plan — the document that spells out the city’s policies on land use and traffic — for individual real estate developments.
The coalition’s announcement comes amid a real estate boom in Los Angeles, with multi-story projects being approved in downtown, Hollywood and elsewhere. Opposition groups have filed lawsuits challenging some of those projects, including the Millennium skyscraper towers in Hollywood.
A key member of the ballot measure coalition is Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is fighting the proposal for two 30-story towers next to the Hollywood Palladium. The project, which goes before the Planning Commission on Thursday, would add 731 homes to the neighborhood. It needs both a zoning change and an amendment to the General Plan, according to city documents.
Note that while the Orwellian-named “Coalition to Preserve LA” claims that it is just about “mega-projects,” it would apply to anything that needs a zone change or a General Plan Amendment to increase density.
It’s better not to call these protests NIMBYism, but rather BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody. Banana Republic might be a decent (if somewhat overpriced) clothing store, but it is no way to run a city.
And observe two more critical points:
1) So much of the protest over development occurs in Hollywood, which is precisely where development should occur, because it is on the Red Line Subway. This is planning 101: put density near transportation infrastructure. The Hollywood Palladium project is two blocks from the Hollywood and Vine subway stop.
2) And of course, slowing residential construction in the City of Los Angeles will mean that people will move to the suburbs. They will then take their cars to work, increasing congestion, VMT, and carbon emissions.
Many NIMBYs and BANANAs cast themselves as environmentalists, arguing that development harms the environment. Not so. It depends upon where development is built, and projects in the city are where development should occur. I hope that the Los Angeles environmental community quickly speaks up and says: Not in Our Name.
(Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He has practiced for at one of Los Angeles’ leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city’s urban park system, and serves on the Boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. This piece was originally posted at LegalPlanet.org.) Prepped for CItyWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
LATINO PERSPECTIVE-A story published earlier this month by the Spanish International News Agency EFE found out that a growing number of female Latino veterans are looking for help from the Los Angeles unit of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which offers support programs to help female Latino veterans reintegrate into civilian life.
"I look at the VA as the absent parents. Many people have parents as their support and for me the VA is like those parents," Mickiela Montoya told EFE on Wednesday, Veterans Day.
At age 16, Montoya took the U.S. Armed Forces entrance exam and one year later she was a member of the National Guard. "I enrolled to get stability," she recalled.
The Latina, who grew up with her grandparents in East Los Angeles, decided to remain in the army for eight years. Montoya served for 545 days in Iraq and in 2010 she returned to civilian life, but the change in routine was not easy.
The first big problem she encountered upon returning to Los Angeles was not having a home of her own. The thing that motivated her to request the benefits to which she was entitled was her daughter. "Once I had my daughter, I said to myself: 'I have to seek those services for the good of my daughter,'" she said.
According to the VA, there are almost 22 million war veterans in the United States, of whom 10 percent are women. California has the second largest number of female veterans, after Texas, with 164,516 female veterans living in our state.
According to Renee Andreassen, Women Veterans Program Manager for the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, the number of female veterans requesting help is growing.
A California VA report says that at least three percent of these former soldiers have been deserted by their spouses or relatives and 60 percent at some time in their lives have reported instability in their home life. The rate of health problems, both physical and mental, linked with unemployment and the lack of a home, is increasing among female vets. In addition, 73 percent of them suffered sexual abuse while serving.
"The biggest step that a veteran can take is accepting that they need help," said Montoya. With the support of the VA, she found a home for herself and her daughter, managed to start her studies and now has a job. She is devoted to promoting the services that the VA provides to veterans, but she doesn't want others to delay in seeking help.
Montoya uses her Latino and immigrant roots to connect with other female vets to help show them the road to get help. "I learned that when you get in via their families, especially with Latinos, we can reach the veteran," she said.
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it. As they come home, we must serve them as well as they’ve served us. That includes giving them the care and the benefits they have earned – which is why we’ve increased annual VA spending every year I’ve been President. And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.”
Let’s make sure that Los Angeles is at the forefront of this effort.
(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 who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: email@example.com) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
GUEST WORDS--Fear is toxic to a democracy. Fear divides. Fear overreacts. Fear discriminates.
It's a lesson we've learned throughout our history, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II to the post-9/11 Patriot Act. And now in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, we're relearning that lesson again as some of our leaders put forth proposals that would undermine our commitment to a free, pluralistic, compassionate, and open society.
Currently 31 governors are on record opposing resettling any Syrian refugees in their states. These efforts to subvert federal policy would be unconstitutional. Only the federal government has the authority to determine who is allowed to enter the country -- the states do not. And once immigrants are admitted, the states cannot restrict them from settling wherever they choose.
The governors say they worry that terrorists may hide among those who are fleeing the Islamic State and the Assad regime. This is a good argument for a rigorous and multi-layered screening process -- but we already have one. The current U.S. refugee screening system includes background checks by multiple agencies, biometric tests, medical screenings, and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials.
But that didn't stop the House of Representatives on Thursday from passing a bill that would bring resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to a grinding halt by adding additional layers of bureaucracy to an already rigorous process. By singling out Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the bill also shamefully discriminates against them based on their national origin, nationality, and religion. If the Senate follows suit and passes the bill, President Obama should veto this callous piece of legislation that will only further fan the flames of Islamophobia inside and outside the country.
Let's remember, too, that most of the Paris attackers were European citizens, and they would not have had to claim to be refugees in order to enter the United States. It makes no sense to close American borders to Syrian and Iraqi refugees -- to deny sanctuary to some of the world's most vulnerable -- because a tiny number of Europeans committed a terrorist attack.
Our country has a long history of sheltering the persecuted. Many of the colonies that eventually became the United States were founded by people who were fleeing religious persecution in Europe. In the late 1970s, we gave refuge to Vietnamese people who fled war in Southeast Asia. In 1980s, we gave refuge to thousands of Cubans who arrived in the United States as part of the Mariel boatlift. In the late 1990s, we gave refuge to those fleeing the Kosovo war. These refugees, and their children, have become Americans. On the whole, this is a history we should be proud of.
Moreover, refugees enrich our society. Our country is stronger because of the energy and talent that millions of refugees have contributed to it. The suggestion that we should deny sanctuary to those who are fleeing persecution loses sight of this.
Current proposals to close our doors to refugees are connected to a deeper undercurrent of prejudice. Some political leaders have called for blanket surveillance of American Muslims, with presidential candidate Donald Trump even going as far as to suggest that American Muslims should be required to carry special cards identifying themselves as Muslims. Trump has also called for renewing government surveillance of mosques inside the United States and has suggested that mosques might be shut down altogether. All of this would be unconstitutional as well as stigmatizing, divisive, and unfair.
And though there's never a time for such irresponsible and inaccurate rhetoric, it is particularly dangerous now. On Monday, the FBI released its 2014 report on hate crimes, which found that the number of incidents fell in every victim group except one: Muslims. Calls for discriminatory surveillance and religious profiling will only increase the vulnerability of our American Muslim neighbors and friends. We should not help ISIS drive a wedge between Muslims in the West and the democratic societies they call home. Many first-generation American Muslims, it should be noted, came to America precisely because of the freedoms that some politicians now want to curtail. And Muslims have been part of this nation's fabric since its founding.
It isn't difficult to stand for freedom, compassion, and tolerance in times of relative peace and security. These basic tenets of the American civic faith aren't tested until times like these. But we don't have to give in to hate and fear. We don't have to compromise our beliefs in freedom and equality. Principle can defeat prejudice if we don't lose sight of what matters most: protecting the very values and rights that make us Americans, especially in the most trying of times.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
RELIGION POLITICS-Here is a question that since November 3, 2015, is being asked by (a) children under 18 years of age who want to be baptized as Mormons but are living with parents in a same-gender relationship and (b) Mormons who are in same-gender relationships and fear excommunication because of the rule change: is it necessary to address the issue now or can it be addressed after death? The reason for the recent interest in this comes about because of changes to LDS Handbook 1 Document 2 that were promulgated on November 3, 2015.
The Handbook adds a paragraph 16.13 that says a “natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.” (A name is bestowed through baptism.) The prohibition may be removed when the child attains “legal age,” commits to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage and doesn’t live with a parent who “has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”
The Handbook has also been amended to describe what sorts of serious transgressions may result in the convening of a disciplinary council that can, among other things, excommunicate a church member. Serious transgressions include “attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse . . . homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation,) deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities …”
The new rule goes on to say that a disciplinary council is mandatory in cases of “apostasy” and “apostasy” includes being in a “same-gender marriage.” (It will probably surprise some same sex couples to learn that their misconduct is on the same level as forcible rape and other enumerated offenses.) The good news for those who wonder whether these new rules will affect them permanently is, they needn’t worry. Here’s why.
In 1994 the world learned that the Mormons posthumously baptized, among others, 380,000 victims of the holocaust together with Adolph Hitler, the man responsible for the 380,000 being eligible for posthumous baptisms. The baptisms occurred in a ceremony known as the “Baptism of the Dead.” During that ceremony people who are not dead, known as “proxies”, stand in for people who are dead.
The proxies give the dead folk the opportunity to become what might be called “late blooming Mormons” although that is my description and not the church’s. They are baptized posthumously and as a result, if they are already in heaven when the ceremony is concluded, they can presumably check out the accommodations and decide if the Mormon digs are better than the digs they were in before being made members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Among the folks who have been beneficiaries of this practice, in addition to Adolph Hitler, are Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud and David Ben-Gurion, together with hundreds of thousands of non-Jews.
It is obvious that those acting as proxies for the dead in hundreds of thousands of posthumous baptisms, have no way of determining whether or not the dead people being baptized were openly and gaily married or were children of gay parents who refused to disavow their parents’ life styles.
These people will certainly be baptized posthumously along with thousands of others and will enjoy the same heavenly benefits as those who were baptized while alive. For readers who do not take comfort in that thought, however, there is another reason they should not be completely despondent.
It is found in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.
For the first 148 years of the church’s existence, black males were banned from the priesthood because they were black. That all changed in 1978. It was then that a letter was sent to all Mormons from the president of the Church in which he stated that “we [the first Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance. He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church [irrespective of race or color] may receive the priesthood…”
Although it is too soon to hope that God will decide it’s OK for gay people to marry or enjoy same sex relationships since he just told the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that it was not, I have confidence that He will, upon sober reflection, realize that He made a mistake when talking to the First Presidency and the Quorum since it makes Him look really silly.
It was He, after all, who made gay people gay. He would not have done so had He not wanted them to enjoy life’s pleasures as fully as heterosexuals. Nonetheless, until God realizes He made a mistake and lets the higher ups in the church know, deciding not to worry about the present but to await the benefits bestowed by posthumous baptism seems to be the best bet for gay Mormons and children of gay Mormon parents.
Either that or join a church that believes in both God and tolerance.
(Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com. This piece was first posted at CommonDreams. Photo: AP Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE--It’s election season. One side promises incremental reforms without a plan for how they would get an agenda passed through a gridlocked Congress. The other side uses thinly-veiled racist language about immigrants to talk about plans to bring our country back to a fictionalized, lily-white version of our nation’s history.
Too often, both parties put the demands of big money over the hopes of real people. Despite the campaign rhetoric and the noise of the 24-hour news cycle, most Americans will tell you that they think our political system is broken. 83 percent of young people say they have no faith in Congress.
Today we face a true crisis of democracy: the will of the people is no longer the priority of our political system. Our government is failing us. Democrats keep letting us down. Republicans are terrifying. Politicians continue to blame each other, failing to act on the most pressing issues of our time.
It’s no surprise why: from every side, we see cynical pitches to Americans’ worst instincts and modest solutions proposed to big problems. Common sense measures on immigration, student debt, gun safety, incarceration, policing, and climate change have no chance of passing our broken system.
Any visionary piece of legislation is threatened by a small number of Tea Party members refusing to pass any laws or gets stuck for years bouncing back and forth between closed-door committee hearings. As democracy is thrown to the wayside, we have ended up with the clearest signs of plutocracy: government by and for the wealthy determined to preserve the status quo and emboldened by procedural gridlock.
Meanwhile, politicians continue to throw away billions of dollars incarcerating people, deporting mothers and fathers, and polluting our people and our planet. They continue to saddle us with student debt. They aren’t helping create real jobs that can sustain us. They stand by as many of our friends live in daily fear of police and immigration enforcement. And they continue subsidizing polluting fossil fuel companies who destroy the land we live on and the air we breathe.
We are running out of patience. After years of political inaction and failure, young people are taking these crises into their own hands. The Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, the climate justice movement, the immigrant rights movement, Moral Mondays led by people of faith, and fast food workers on strike have captured the attention of the American people, but not of Congress. Now our movements are starting to come together to begin to speak with one voice.
On November 9, one year ahead of the presidential election, hundreds of young people will take part in the largest-ever civil disobedience for racial, climate, and immigrant justice. The choice is clear: politicians are failing to take our country to where it needs to go, so a movement of young people will lead us there. While politicians and the media continue to talk about left versus right, the Millennial Movements are talking about a different direction: forward.
We are not talking about some sort of beltway consensus between the parties and big business where the interests of the American people are compromised. We are talking about something completely outside the current confines of political debate.
It takes courage and dramatic action from ordinary people to do that. As politicians risk away our lives, we risk jail time to inspire urgency and courage from our elected leaders. We are taking to the streets of Washington, D.C. to demand that we keep fossil fuels in the ground; protect and respect the dignity and lives of immigrants, and black, brown, and poor communities; reinvest in healthy jobs, renewable energy, and an economy that works for all of us.
Politicians aren’t the only voices with power. We have power, too. And we have more power when we act together. Young people don’t live single-issue lives. We live at the intersection of the most pressing problems today. Our movements are connected and our purpose is huge. Martin Luther King described the civil rights movement as a time when the “people moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people.” If enough of us push together toward a new vision, the world will begin to move.
Young people aren’t just the future — we are the present. We are at the forefront of the fight for a more just, equitable, and stable world. Throughout history, a country founded to maintain the wealth and privilege of a few has been transformed by powerful movements that have expanded the meaning and practice of the “we” in “we the people.” Now, it is our turn.
The average age of a Senator is 62. Today’s Congress is the most diverse it has ever been: 80% white, 80% male, 92% Christian. But a coalition of millennials, people of color, unmarried women, immigrants, queer and trans people will make up a majority of voters for the first time in 2016. Young people are at the forefront of movements for social change, and are becoming increasingly engaged in the political process. And we are already winning. After years of action, our issues were at the forefront of the first Democratic debate. Candidates now have to speak on their plans to take on climate change, racial injustice, mass deportations, and economic inequality.
But shifting the debate won’t be enough. If politicians won’t lead this country forward from an economy in crisis to a society that works for all people, then we will. We take action to tell the American people: let’s get it done together. Our generation. Our choice.
(Yong Jung Cho is the Campaign Coordinator for 350.org, a global climate action organization. Also contributing to this article: Waleed Shahid is the Political Director of PA Working Families Party and a movement-building trainer with Momentum. Devontae Torriente is the campus organizer of Million Hoodies, a national racial justice network, at American University in Washington D.C. Sara Blazevic is the campaign coordinator for the Fossil Fuel Student Divestment Network. This piece was posted first at Common Dreams.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
URBAN PERSPECTIVE-The recent finding by the Public Religion Research Institute confirmed what we know about how GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump got to be the front runner, and why he has stayed the frontrunner far longer than thought humanly possible.
He got there and stays there because so many middle-aged white blue collar workers are enraptured with him. They love his willingness to say whatever pejorative thought jumps into his skull about President Obama, immigrants, Muslims, Hispanics, and women. A majority of Trump backers are reconstructed and unreconstructed bigots.
They have told pollsters they were enraged over the rising number of immigrants, thought whites were just as discriminated against as blacks, and saw nothing wrong with waving the Confederate flag.
There is another reason that they toot Trump’s horn. More of them are on welfare and use food stamps and public health services than are blacks and Latinos. More whites rely on social security, Medicare, and farm supports statistically and proportionally than blacks or Latinos. In Mississippi and Alabama the poverty and unemployment rate among whites is among the highest in the nation.
They gleefully and predictably rage at a government they fervently believe is in the business of giving away the company store to the minority poor. Government spending and programs to many are tantamount to hand-outs to undeserving blacks and the poor -- and that in turn equals money snatched from the pockets of hard working whites.
Yet, in the poll they also raged that the government is controlled by the wealthy, corporate, and Wall Street interests, that elections are bought and paid for by the rich, and that trade policies benefit mega multi-national corporations at the expense of the middle and working class.
This reflects a profound and deep sense that workers, white workers, are losing ground. The angry white male syndrome, much touted in times past, is not new. The trend toward white male poverty and alienation became more evident in the early 1980s when nearly 10 million Americans were added to the poverty rolls, more than half from white, male-headed families. Three decades later, the number of white men in poverty has continued to expand.
Hate groups, anti-Obama websites and bloggers, and radio talk jocks craft this as the prime reason for the anger and alienation that many white males feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama while convincing themselves and the public that this has nothing to do with race. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.
Rightwing populism, with its mix of xenophobia, loathing of government as too liberal, too tax-and-spend and too permissive, and a killer of personal freedom, has been a powerful political engine for the GOP.
Nixon stirred the fury of blue collar, white ethnic, rural voters with his slam of the Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and fostering a culture of 'anything goes' permissiveness, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor. The crude thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey. The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack play book for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush all used it to ease their path to the White House.
In the mid-1990s, then House speaker Newt Gingrich and ultra conservatives recycled the strategy to seize Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax and spend Democrats, and soft on crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. In addition, scores of GOP governors, senators and members of congress have used wedge issues to win office and maintain political dominance. The GOP grassroots brand of populism has stirred millions operating outside the confines of the mainstream Republican Party. This happened long before Trump appeared on the scene.
The fallacious belief that big government and the undeserving, the crime prone, the poor and minorities are all the cause of national decline, has been repeatedly twisted into a patented formula to win the allegiance of many whites -- no matter how poor, no matter how needy, and no matter how dependent they are on the very programs that the GOP candidates will hack up or eliminate if and when elected.
While Trump plays on the real and imagined fears of blue collar workers, he also seems to talk and act differently than other GOP presidential candidates, past and present. He doesn’t have to lay out a coherent program or wonky policy statements on any of the major issues. Just keep blasting away at the array of straw man enemies, big government, crony capitalism, rigged party structures, the erosion of workers and the middle class living standards.
As long as Trump comes off as the man on the white horse who will make things right for put upon white workers, this will keep their applause coming for him and his poll numbers up.
(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Photo: Getty images. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
POLITICS OF SAVING LIVES-The plight of refugees fleeing from the Islamic State in Syria has been transformed into a politicized battle on the national, state, and even local fronts.
On the national stage last week, the House passed H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, the strictest ever vetting process for people fleeing from a war-torn nation, requiring the Director of the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to unanimously certify that a particular refugee does not pose security threats.
The SAFE Act passed by a vote of 289-137. Out of the representatives from districts representing LA, only two, U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (CA 44th) and U.S. Rep. Pete Alguilar (CA 31st) voted to support the bill’s passage.
House Resolution 4038 will go to the Senate following the Thanksgiving break, perhaps opening a discussion of an alternative proposal co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) that would place restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, which many experts believe may pose a more plausible threat to security than refugee resettlement.
The VWP permits citizens of participating countries (which includes many EU countries) to travel to the U.S. for 90 days or less without a visa if they meet certain requirements. For example, the purpose of the visit must fall within certain tourism or business restrictions and the travelers must have a valid pre-approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization approval.
The Feinstein-Flake bill would ban Europeans who have traveled to Iraq or Syria in the past five years from entering the U.S. through the VWP.
Since the Paris attacks, a majority of U.S. governors and a number of mayors have vowed to not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states, which seems to be more of a political move, as immigration and refugee resettlement fall under federal jurisdiction, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2012.
Furthermore, the 14th Amendment and equal protection laws in individual states prevent states from using nationality as a factor to bar entry to people.
Despite what appears to be more of a symbolic gesture by these public officials, both Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Eric Garcetti have vowed their support for refugees.
Last week, Brown told reporters, “I intend to work closely with the President so that he can both uphold America’s traditional role as a place of asylum, but also ensure that anyone seeking refuge in America is fully vetted in a sophisticated and utterly reliable way. You can be sure that we will do everything in our power to protect the people of our state.”
In September, Garcetti joined 18 mayors including Bill deBlasio (New York City) and Rahm Emanuel (Chicago) who wrote to the president as part of the Cities United for Immigration Action coalition to express their support for welcoming Syrian families to “make homes and new lives” in their cities.
The refugee crisis has prompted misinformation about the resettlement process and even statistics of who these refugees are. According to the independent political fact checking site PolitiFact, just over 1,800 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war. During the first three years, the number of Syrian refugees amounted to about 30 per year. In comparison, Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrian refugees and Canada has accepted 36,300 since 2013.
Are these refugees all “single fighting-age young men?” Half of Syrian refugees admitted thus far have been children. Only about two percent of refugees have been single men of combat age.
Yet another point of contention rests in the rigor of the vetting process. Though the House bill would impose a few more steps, refugees already face a pretty grueling two to three year process before being granted permission to enter the U.S.
Even before they face U.S. screening, refugees must have a referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Occasionally, the referral may come from the U.S. Embassy or another NGO. About one percent of refugee candidates end up being referred by the UN process, which takes four to ten months. The process not only decides which refugees to accept but also if they will require resettlement and which countries might accept them.
Refugees passed along to the United States then face additional security clearances with names, fingerprints, and biographical information run through both federal terrorism and criminal databases. The refugees are interviewed by Homeland Security and if approved, go through medical screening, a match with sponsor agencies, cultural orientation, and a final security clearance.
Syrian refugees face additional security clearances with documents placed under extra scrutiny and cross-referenced with classified and unclassified information, a process that typically takes an additional year or two before they set foot in the United States.
The majority of refugees from Syria and Iraq will not settle in the U.S. because of proximity and other issues. Turning away people who are tortured in their home countries is not a guarantee of safety but a knee jerk reaction to garner political support among constituents during uncertain times. We are better than that.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Photo: Newsweek Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
MERGER PAIN--Big Pharma just became Huge Pharma.
Creating the world's largest drugmaker—and paving the way for higher pharmaceutical prices—Viagra-maker Pfizer Inc. and Allergan PLC, which manufactures Botox, said Monday that they would merge in a so-called inversion deal worth up to about $155 billion.
The takeover "would be the largest inversion ever," according to the Wall Street Journal, allowing Pfizer to profit from a lower corporate tax rate in Allergan's home country of Ireland.
The LA Times reported that the deal "is likely to fuel critics' concerns that consumers would pay even more for drugs as competition declines among manufacturers, insurers and retailers."
As Gustav Ando, research director for the business information and consulting company IHS Life Sciences, told the Washington Post: "This merger isn’t meant to benefit patients, it isn't meant to innovate in any kind of way...and certainly the benefits won’t be passed on to consumers."
Addressing this aspect of the deal, presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Monday that the merger "would be a disaster for American consumers who already pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs."
What's more, Sanders added, "[i]t also would allow another major American corporation to hide its profits overseas."
While Pfizer cried poor in an effort to justify the merger—saying the U.S. corporate tax regime was forcing it to compete against foreign rivals "with one hand tied behind our back"—the coalition Americans for Tax Fairness showed earlier this month that the company had in fact "dramatically overstated its corporate tax rates" and was already enjoying a significant competitive advantage over those who pay their fair share.
And a Citizens for Tax Justice report released last month found that Pfizer has a stunning 151 subsidiaries in known foreign tax havens—more than all but five other Fortune 500 corporations.
As U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said in a speech on corporate tax reform last week, "Only one problem with the over-taxation story: It's not true. There is a problem with the corporate tax code, but that isn't it. It's not that taxes are far too high for giant corporations, as the lobbyists claim. No, the problem is that the revenue generated from corporate taxes is far too low."
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled new rules aiming to curb tax-lowering inversion deals. But even at the time, analysts said "there was scarce evidence they would stop the biggest inversion of them all, between Pfizer Inc and Allergan Plc." The Obama administration has said Congressional action is necessary to eliminate corporate inversions for good.
(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this article originalted.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
GETTING THERE FROM HERE--As we descend into the holiday mode that begins with Thanksgiving and proceeds through New Year’s Day, it appears that we'll actually see a Metro rail line that accesses LAX. However, it's not what many of us thought it would be--yet it's much more in line with what transportation planners always anticipated: a north-south Metro Rail light rail line to the east of LAX, connected to the central airport terminals via an Automated People Mover.
As illustrated in Curbed LA, the People Mover trains will arrive every two minutes to take people back and forth from the Consolidated Rental Car Facility at its eastern terminus, to the LAX Intermodal Transit Facility, and arrive at the Central Airline Terminals at the western terminus along a "spine" configuration in the center of the LAX horseshoe to 3-4 stations, and back again.
The stations will connect to the actual terminals via moving walkways, including one that goes by the old Theme Restaurant in the iconic structure at the center of LAX (sorry, folks, that neat but expensive restaurant is now closed...but that's capitalism, for you.) The walkways will be fairly rapid, and will be wide enough for those needing to move fast to access the left portion of the walkways and walk/run past the slowpokes on the right.
The walkways will also be enclosed from the elements but with surrounding glass windows to create an open sensation to those using them...except without all the exhaust and noise that occurs for those pedestrians brave (and unlucky) enough to now walk from one airline terminal to another.
Having observed and heard from many who wanted a different configuration, or perhaps the Green/Crenshaw Lines (which will connect to each other along the north-south rail right-of-way east of LAX along Aviation Blvd.) to be dug underground to swerve underneath the airport...or perhaps a People Mover that was located above the road horseshoe that currently exists...there's no doubt many will be unhappy with this configuration.
But if it's any small consolation, every possibility was thoroughly and repeatedly evaluated and vetted over the past twenty-five years.
Going underground was an environmental and fiscal nightmare, and any swerving away from the straight-shot, north-south rail right-of-way was deemed unfair to Metro commuters not wishing to access the airport. Furthermore, the LAX horseshoe is a lot tighter than its counterpart in Dallas, where the distance between the terminals is much, much greater.
So for operational, environmental, security and (to be certain) fiscal reasons, the above "spine" configuration of a People Mover (which was just approved as part of the $5 billion LAX Landside Access Modernization Program) was chosen, with a new Metro connecting station at 96th/Aviation to interface between Metro Rail and the People Mover.
Motorists, taxis, and buses will be able to access and/or drop off passengers (and, of course, to pick them up) anywhere from the Central Airline Terminals to the LAX Intermodal Transit Facility to the 96th/Aviation Metro Station to the Consolidated Rental Car Facility to any station that is part of the Metro Rail network. Presumably, this would allow a variety of adjacent and remote access points to and from LAX.
With this green-lighted and approved Automated People Mover, one can only hope that the multi-agency effort to make this connection a reality (requiring compromise and coordination from LA World Airports, Metro, the City of Los Angeles, and the Federal Aviation Administration) bodes well for the citizens of Los Angeles, who want better mobility...and perhaps a 2024 Olympics, to boot.
Speaking of which, the anticipated project completion date for the People Mover is 2023, with the adjacent Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines to connect east of LAX a few years before that. And it's probably the 2024 Olympics that will be as much of a driving force as any to get this decades-overdue project done.
So while many will breathe a sigh of relief that SOMEDAY we'll see Metro connect to the airport, and many others will gnash their teeth over their complaints about this proposed plan, it does look like maybe...more like probably...LAX will catch up to the rest of the world and link ground and air transportation where it's most needed.
(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 does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and 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.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING--I sometimes dream about a different Los Angeles; not the sprawling congested city, but an L.A. that is a series of walkable villages, like for example Santa Monica. They would be full of life and economic vitality, with corner stores, markets, coffee shops, plazas and parks.
And they would all be connected by rail lines; streetcars that can whisk us away to anywhere we want to be, with no delays, traffic jams, etc. As we look out the streetcar’s window on our way to the next village, we’d notice the city changing… The higher central city with shops and apartment buildings becomes a more quiet residential area, with smaller apartment blocks, then row-houses, then duplexes, then single family houses, and then the streetcar goes through a park, with gardens and fields!
On the way back, the reverse happens. Along the way, we have seen people walking, chatting in the streets, kids playing in the park, people gardening, bicycling – and even some people driving.
This is not the way many perceive LA. But it is probably not too different an experience one might have had in LA a couple generations ago. (Read the rest)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING --Tunneling a subway beneath the site of Beverly Hills High School continues to be a dispute among the school district, the city and Metro as legal fees grow.
Half a decade and $10 million into a turf war with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), nerves are beginning to fray in Beverly Hills.
Outside its borders, the fight has cemented the city’s reputation as a player with too much money to spend on a game of “not-in-my-backyard.” But inside Beverly Hills, the board of education is facing the opposite charge — that the fight against Metro is an expensive folly, draining money that ultimately should go to kids.
Since 2010, the city’s board of education has spent prodigiously from a construction bond on an array of geologists, consultants and lawyers attempting to block Metro’s Purple Line from tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.
But the board’s decision to use funds from that bond has become increasingly controversial, as have the suits themselves. (Read the rest.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
HEALTH POLITICS--Within the next few months, SB-493, a California law passed in 2013, will go into effect across the state, allowing the state’s licensed pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills and other hormonal contraception directly to patients without a doctor visit.
While access to birth control through the Affordable Care Act has been a heated topic, pharmacist-prescribed birth control seems to be less controversial, except for some resistance from the Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists -- but not for the reasons you might suspect.
The ACOG supports over-the-counter hormonal birth control. “My basic tenet is there should be nobody between the patient and the pill,” says Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of the organization. “I’m afraid we’re going to create a new model that becomes a barrier between that and over-the-counter. I worry that it’s going to derail the over-the-counter movement.”
Certainly, there’s a pressing need to provide easier access to birth control; statistics cited in the New York Times and other sources indicate the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. and Canada is higher than the rate in most European countries.
An ill-timed pregnancy can present lifetime economic and educational consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, the live birth rate for teens aged 15-19 is substantially higher in the U.S. than in other western industrialized countries. Though teen pregnancy rates have been dropping, just five years ago, teen pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers at least $9.4 million, including increased health care and foster care, increased incarceration among teen parents, and lost tax revenue due to lack of educational attainment and income.
Only fifty percent of teenaged mothers go on to earn a high school diploma by 19 years old, compared to ninety percent of women who did not give birth during their teen years. The long-term impact on earnings remains, even after adjusting for poverty, high school dropout rate of the teen’s parents and poor school performance.
Regardless of a woman’s age, an unplanned pregnancy can result in economic, professional, and other challenges. Easing the path to effective birth control seems prudent, but what about prescription by pharmacist as compared to the over-the-counter option?
All licensed pharmacists in California hold a doctorate degree, which confers expert knowledge of prescription medications as well as the ability to counsel patients on the proper use of drugs. Pharmacists will undergo additional training before being able to prescribe hormonal birth control.
The FDA “OTC Switch List” includes a number of previously prescribed medications that are now available over-the-counter, most of which treat allergy or acid reflux/heartburn symptoms. However, many of these OTC variations are in lower dosages than their prescribed counterparts and the labels still advise consulting a physician.
Warning labels are not a substitute for medical advice and pharmacists are often the first line of defense against potential drug interactions. Hormonal birth control pills become less effective when taken with antibiotics and some other medications, or even some herbal supplements. Purchasing birth control pills or rings without any professional oversight seems to be a risky proposition.
Women with certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure and certain cancers, or behaviors such as smoking, are advised against using hormonal contraception. In order to receive a prescription from the pharmacist, the patient must first complete a questionnaire about her health and medical history in order for the pharmacist to be authorized. This step would not be required with OTC hormonal birth control.
In addition, pharmacist-prescribed contraceptives will be covered by insurance, unlike OTC medications -- a slippery loophole that provides a free pass to insurers. The Affordable Care Act does not require plans to cover OTC medication so a switch would likely hit women in the pocketbook, costing hundreds per year instead of obtaining the pill or ring for free with a prescription.
A bill introduced in Congress last May by Republican senators would fast-track the process by which contraceptive manufacturers apply to the FDA for OTC approval. House Democrats responded with a bill of their own that would stipulate coverage of OTC contraceptives, should the Republican-sponsored bill pass.
CA Senate Bill 493 and a similar bill in Oregon are extensions of collaborative practice laws in most states that allow pharmacists to administer vaccines like flu shots or to prescribe certain medications. One issue at stake is how insurers will handle charges for pharmacists to review questionnaires or to evaluate options, as well as blood-pressure screening usually required for estrogen-containing medications.
Allowing trained and licensed pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills and rings after evaluating health and medical history seems to be an effective way to ease access to women who might not otherwise see a physician.
Placing hormonal medications on the shelves in the “family planning” aisle of your local CVS or Rite-Aid seems to be a costly and risky measure.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
EDUCATION REFORM-A new study out Monday from UCLA's Civil Rights Project shows that districts in the Golden State sharply reduced the number of suspensions given to kids between 2011 and 2014. At the same time that suspension rates went down in many areas, academic achievement improved -- suggesting that the move away from harsh discipline practices benefitted schools.
The study comes at a time when schools are facing increased scrutiny for perpetuating the so-called school-to-prison pipeline by employing tactics that push students out of school and make them more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. The school-to-prison pipeline especially impacts youth of color, who typically face higher suspension and expulsion rates.
The UCLA study -- which analyzes district and state-level data -- found that suspension rates declined as districts became less likely to punish students for "disruption or willful defiance," a category used to describe more minor, nonviolent offenses. In 2014, a California law banned school suspensions based on disruption or willful defiance for students in kindergarten through third grade, although data used in this study came before the ban.
Overall, the number of suspensions dropped from 709,580 in the 2011-2012 school year to 503,101 in 2013-2014. The biggest drop in suspensions came for black students, although they are still significantly more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. In 2011-2012, there were 33 suspensions for every 100 black students, but by 2013-2014, this number dropped to 25.6 suspensions per 100 students.
"There's been a general movement across the nation [to reduce suspensions] and California has been among the leaders," said Daniel Losen, author of the study and director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies.
When districts reduced suspension rates, black students also saw the largest academic gains, according to UCLA researchers. Researchers found that lower suspension rates were related to higher scores on the California Academic Performance Index, but did not claim causation. Still, "we do know from other research that efforts to improve achievement could be consistent with efforts to reduce suspensions," the study notes.
The data "pushes back on the assumption that if you lower suspension rates bad things are going to happen," Losen said. "Where you tend to find higher-than-average achievement, you also find lower-than-average suspension rates -- especially for black kids."
The data reflects the efforts of major districts like Los Angeles, which barred the use of suspensions in response to willful defiance before the statewide ban went into effect. However, recent reports out of Los Angeles paint a more negative picture of these policies. Some teachers say that they have not been provided with enough training or resources to deal with conflict or misbehavior in lieu of suspensions, and that classrooms have become more unruly as a result.
Losen agrees that while teachers need to be provided with adequate support and resources to keep their classrooms safe, that doesn't mean districts should slow progress in reducing suspensions.
"My take is: We agree teachers need support but it shouldn’t be either/or," said Losen. "Right now, when you suspend a student, especially out of school for a minor offense, there is no research to support that. That’s just bad practice. It's not educationally sound. That needs to stop."
He continued: "We shouldn’t say, 'Oh, let's put up with something harmful to kids until teachers are trained.'"
The report recommends that districts provide supports to increase student engagement and that state and district policymakers consider eliminating suspensions for minor offenses for all grades.
"We’re on the cusp of more meaningful change if we continue to pursue things," Losen said.
(Rebecca Klein, education editor for the Huffington Post, covers the challenges faced in school discipline, school segregation, and the achievement gap in K-12 education. Email Rebecca.Klein@huffingtonpost.com. This piece first appeared at Huffington Post.) Photo: Justin Lewis via Getty Images. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
Tags: Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post, LAUSD, school discipline
ARTS POLITICS--Bad enough that the climate is changing and humans are causing it; worse, most of us don’t even want to talk about it.
“Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” asked author and climate activist Bill McKibben a decade ago on Grist, comparing the climate crisis to the AIDS epidemic, which, McKibben noted, produced “a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”
To be fair, that has started to change: Authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi (The Water Knife) and filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) have begun to address environmental catastrophe in their works. But it’s likely that other authors, artists and goddamn opera writers have assumed that their climate-focused work would struggle for an audience: A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 42 percent of U.S. citizens consider rising seas and global temperatures disturbing. (Europeans are more worried about Russia; Russians are worried about money.)
Writer-director Guy Zimmerman, the longtime artistic director of the Padua Playwrights group, remembers hearing a group of scientists talk about the climate’s public relations problem at a conference a few years ago.
“They were so demoralized,” Zimmerman tells Capital & Main. “They said they’d been saying the same things for 20 years and no one was listening.” It struck him that humans were due for a shift in the “narrative paradigm.” Instead of presenting the climate crisis as an apocalyptic fiat over which the ordinary human has no control, he wondered, why not see it as an opportunity?
“It seemed to me that missing from the narrative was, ‘What’s the better world that we can create? How can we use the climate crisis as a way to change fundamental social relationships?’” They are questions, he says, that artists are uniquely equipped to ask. “When something terrifies you, you cling to what you know, you shut down,” he says. “Art has a way of breaking the spell of fear.”
It was with spell-breaking in mind that Zimmerman and writer-producer Cheryl Slean put together VisionLA ’15, a citywide festival to coincide with the United Nations’ annual climate conference, held this year in Paris from November 30 until December 11. The LA event includes films, performances, talks and art exhibits in venues from the Westside to downtown, from the University of Southern California campus to the San Fernando Valley. There are even occasional podcasts by story performer Heather Woodbury that will conclude during the festival’s two weeks.
“We didn’t curate,” says Slean, who came up with the idea in May while working on ways for the climate-activist group SoCal 350 Climate Action to participate in the Paris talks.
“We just brought in advisors and said, ‘Go! Spread the word, open the door. Let’s take it all.’”
The response astonished her. Almost as soon as Slean put the word out, Santa Cruz Film Festival founder Jane Sullivan stepped up to put together a film series, and “we went from having four films to 20,” Slean says.
The managers of several venues, including the Helms Design Center in Culver City and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, offered space. “They said, ‘Look, we’re open these days with nothing scheduled — just program what you want, you can use us for free.” Two downtown-based art curators, Dale Youngman and Lilli Muller, assembled a dedicated exhibition, “Art Makes Change,” to present at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station for the duration of the festival.
“For me it was completely an experiment in how systems work,” Slean says. “It’s the perfect ‘beginner’s mind.’”
Other festival highlights include a talk along the LA River with artists, scientists and educators (December 6); a found-object assemblage workshop with artist Dominique Moody (December 5); and “Words to Save the World,” where a group of writers and poets will gather at Beyond Baroque in Venice to present work on environmental topics.
Still more events around the city will happen concurrently, in partnership with the festival: Timothy Watkins from the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, for instance, has collaborated with students at Cal State Dominguez Hills to present photography documenting the environmental degradation going on in South Central. The exhibit isn’t precisely climate-related, but it fits.
“They’ve had 100 years of being the front line of industrial toxic pollution,” Slean says. “People who live there are affected, from generation to generation.”
There will be music, too: On December 9, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Vicki Ray will premiere her piano piece, “Disappearing Waters,” with the Mothers of Invention’s Don Preston on organ at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Other LA Phil members will play at jails and in homeless shelters during the event. If that moves you to wonder what music has to do with the climate, the church’s Dr. R. Scott Colglazier will moderate a post-concert panel on precisely that topic.
Slean and Zimmerman both hope VisionLA becomes a repeated event tied to the annual climate talks — only next year, with more resources.
“This year we had no money and no time,” Slean says, “which means we’ve relied on long hours from volunteers.” On the plus side, “we have no corporate logos.”
The festival’s almost magical random self-organizing is “an example,” Slean says, “of what can be done with intention.” It’s also a metaphor: “It proves we can make change — we just need to step up and do it. And find the community that can help us do it.”
A full schedule of performances, with maps to venues, is online at Visionlafest.org.
All festival images on this page courtesy of the artists.
(Judith Lewis Mernit is a contributing editor at High Country News. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Sierra, and the Los Angeles Times. This piece was posted earlier at Capital and Main.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
WHO WE ARE--Paris. Ferguson. Syria. Baltimore. Libya. It seems like there's a lot to be fearful of and it's hard at times to ignore the domestic and foreign strife that forebodes both a bruising and divisive election year in 2016 ... and maybe even a world that is bent on World War III. But to be honest and thorough, we've got a lot to be thankful for:
1) For one thing, we've got an Internet that can unearth most of which charities are worth donating to...and which charities are not worth donating to. For example, the Salvation Army has incredibly low overhead and donates most of its proceeds to charity--the United Way, UNICEF, and the Red Cross...not so much.
2) Despite our agony and angst about "the left wing media" and "the right wing talk show circuit", we've got plenty of alternative media perspectives to both demonize and canonize both the Left and the Right. Whether it's decrying the Republican Party or promoting the unexpected rise of Donald Trump, there's something for everyone...and no one has a monopoly on the printed word anymore.
3) And getting back to the world of politics, have you SEEN the viewership of the debates? Inasmuch as there's lot of apathy to decry in our nation, it does appear that the voters and viewers of these debates are numerous and focused on who will be our next leader after next year's elections. And that can only be a good thing.
4) Similarly, we can take satisfaction that--regardless of where one stands on the "Black Lives Matter" movement--police officers who use deadly force indiscriminately will go to jail. However, it remains to be seen whether or not we'll ever find national outrage to decry the violence committed in black neighborhoods by those who live there...because black lives do matter. Or at least they should matter.
5) We can study and shine the light on Los Angeles' traffic problems...while also noting that Los Angeles has among the vigorous public works projects in the nation, with renewed efforts to rebuild our infrastructure and create a city/county mass transit network.
6) Whether we find it enthralling or repugnant, the ability of each and every American with Internet access to debate the big (and not so big) issues on Facebook and other social media websites allows both cheap entertainment and education to be more accessible to all of us...although one should be warned that a person gets what he/she pays for with that "free" stuff often being risky, untrue, and inappropriately biased.
7) Relatively speaking, we live in a nation awash in wealth. Most of our less affluent households have televisions, microwave ovens, cell phones and modern appliances that are fit for a king compared to what the rest of the world has. We may not eat so well...but, by and large, we do at least eat.
8) Thanks to websites/blogs such as CityWatchLA, we can debate issues ranging from overdevelopment and City of LA corruption and our burgeoning homelessness problem without having to resort to violence. And it's free.
9) We can be thankful to the hordes of volunteers who do endless labor and toil on our behalf, and they range from those feeding the homeless to the Neighborhood Council volunteers who fight for our rights and our neighborhoods. Los Angeles really is the City of the Angels...even if those angels are not always recognized and appreciated.
10) Finally, we can be thankful for our families and friends. After yet another year of work and challenges, they're still there for us...and maybe over the next month or so we can and should spend a little more time with them. Because without them to define us, and to shape and mold us to the final products that we are today, our lives would be virtually without meaning.
To each and every one of you, Happy Thanksgiving!
(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 does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and 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.)
Vol 13 Issue 96
Pub: Nov 26, 2015
FOLLOW THE MONEY--In June of this year, Clear Channel Outdoor donated $1,500 to LA City Councilman Mitchell Englander’s campaign for County Board of Supervisors in the 2016 election. That same month, a lobbying firm that represents the company donated the same amount, the maximum allowed, although such a contribution would have been illegal if Englander was running for a city rather than county office. (Photo: Lobbyist John Ek with Councilman Englander, right.)
Those donations are among a total of more than $20,000 given to the Englander campaign by outdoor advertising companies and lobbying firms and their executives in the first six months of 2015. A number of those lobbying firms represent Clear Channel and other companies that have been pushing for amnesty for unpermitted and out-of-compliance billboards and legislation to allow new digital billboards on LA’s commercial streets.
Englander, a member of the City Council’s PLUM committee that has been dealing with contentious billboard issues, proposed the billboard amnesty last year. He has also opposed restricting digital billboards to sign districts, a restriction that dates all the way back to 2002 when the city approved a ban on new billboards and modifications to existing ones.
The latest version of a citywide sign ordinance approved by the City Planning Commission last month maintains that ban and the sign district restrictions, and will be coming before the five-member PLUM committee, although a date hasn’t been scheduled. The commission also rejected an earlier PLUM committee recommendation that the billboard amnesty proposed by Englander be included in the ordinance.
In addition to Clear Channel, records show donations from billboard companies Summit Media and Outdoor Dimensions, and J. Keith Stephens, a billboard company owner who is currently suing the city over an allegedly illegal billboard. Others donating to Englander’s campaign are Martin Outdoor, the company that holds the city’s bus bench advertising contract, and the California Sign Association, which is fighting the city’s proposed moratorium on digital business signs.
And with a year to go before the election, much more money could be on the way.
Lobbying firms and individual lobbyists registered with the city of LA are prohibited by law from making donations to campaigns for city office. Registered lobbyists can hold fundraisers for candidates, and “deliver” contributions from their clients or others.
Lobbyists are required to report those activities on behalf of candidates, but the city ethics law says nothing about an elected official like Englander getting lobbyist campaign contributions while seeking an elective office outside the city.
Which raises the following question: If the intent of the city’s ban on lobbyist campaign contributions is to limit undue influence or an appearance of “pay to play” once the candidate is in office, doesn’t it also apply to a candidate like Englander who will be on the City Council for at least another year and ostensibly voting on billboard-related legislation?
Some facts about Englander’s relationship with Clear Channel and his promotion of items on the outdoor advertising industry’s LA wish list have been detailed here. The county campaign finance reports show the extent to which industry lobbyists are supporting his campaign while he sits on the committee which will decide whether or not those items will get the committee’s blessing and move on to the full City Council.
One registered lobbying firm, Urban Solutions, donated the maximum $1,500 to the Englander campaign for county supervisor. One of the firm’s major clients is Clear Channel, which paid it $110,000 for lobbying services in the first six months of 2015, according to city Ethics Commission records.
Jimmy Blackman & Associates, another firm donating $1,500 to Englander, represents Lamar Advertising, which paid $27,000 for lobbying services and is also suing the city for the right to put up 45 new digital billboards. A partner in the lobbying firm, Sage Strategic Advisors, which represents Regency Outdoor, and a director in another firm, Ek & Ek, donated $1,500 each to the Englander campaign. And the wife of the head of Arnie Berghoff & Associates, one of the five lobbying firms representing Clear Channel, donated $1,500 to the campaign.
And as a point of information, another six registered lobbying firms and lobbyists that don’t have billboard company clients contributed money to Englander, although they would have been prohibited from doing so if he was campaigning for a city rather than county office.
Lobbyist campaign contributions have recently created controversy in a contest for a California state senate seat between two men currently working as senior aides to LA City Council members. Those donations, which again would be illegal if the men were running for city offices, were seen by many as direct attempts to gain improper influence on council members.
An attorney representing a community group that raised the issue of the donations was quoted in a Daily News article as calling for the city to “bar such donations to council members or their staffers who run for office while a donor has a stake in a City Hall outcome.”
In the case of Clear Channel and other donors to Englander’s county supervisor campaign, it’s obvious that they have a very significant stake in the way Englander votes on the PLUM committee and the City Council. And after next year’s June 7, primary election, those companies that have already donated can do so again if Englander is one of the top two vote-getters and moves on to the Nov. 8 general election.
The City Ethics Commission is currently taking public comment on changes that should be made to the city ordinance regulating lobbying activity. If you think restricting campaign contributions to sitting council members should be considered, you can let them know by clicking here.
Vol 13 Issue 94
Pub: Nov 20, 2015
LA WATCHDOG--The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that was recently filed with the City Attorney is the start of a battle that will pit real estate speculators and developers and their bought and paid for pals on the Herb Wesson led City Council against the beleaguered residents of Los Angeles who are rightfully concerned about overdevelopment and the impact on our already congested lunar cratered streets, our residential neighborhoods, and our quality of life.
Very simply, this initiative, sponsored by Hollywood based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (“AHF”), is designed to eliminate “spot zoning” where the City Council “up-zones” a specific property by increasing its density and/or height without regard to the surrounding neighborhood or the area’s community plan.
For example, spot zoning permitted the Millennium Hollywood to essentially double the density of its development, allowing it to build a 1.2 million square foot project with 500 luxury condominiums; a five star, 200 room hotel; 250,000 square feet of office space; 100,000 square feet of retail space; a high end sports club; and an upscale, tourist oriented restaurant. If this project is given the go ahead by the courts, the New York City developer will be $300 million richer while we are stuck with increased gridlock at the already congested intersection at Hollywood and Vine.
This favorable decision by the City Council was facilitated by the Millennium Hollywood developer spreading $4.5 million around Council District 13 to grease the skids, including generous contributions to then Councilman Eric Garcetti, current Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, and their cronies.
AHF was spurred to action by the proposed 927,000 square foot development involving the Hollywood Palladium that will adversely impact their operations, their Hollywood locations, and their local patients. This project, consisting of two 30 story erections with 731 luxury apartments, will result in unacceptable levels of traffic in the already congested Sunset corridor, less than a half mile from Hollywood and Vine.
But this traffic mess does not worry the developer who will pocket an additional $35 to $50 million because of the favorable up-zoning.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will level the playing field between developers and the residents of Hollywood who are under siege by more than 70 individual projects. This will result over 10,000 high end apartments and condominiums, 2,500 hotel rooms, 3 million square feet of offices, and 1 million square feet of retail space, a certain recipe for gridlock.
The initiative will require the City to update its 37 Community Plans so that they are consistent with the City’s General Plan, eliminating the ability of the City Council to up-zone individual projects on a one off basis. City employees will also be in charge of the preparation of Environment Impact Reviews, limiting a developer’s ability to jerry rig the report’s findings and conclusions. Finally, the initiative would place a 24 month moratorium on projects approved by the City that increased their density.
Importantly, this does not prohibit developments that comply with existing regulations.
Once the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is cleared by the City Attorney, AHF and other activists will have to collect over 60,000 valid signatures in order to qualify the measure for the ballot.
If the initiative qualifies for the ballot, it will be placed on the November 2016 ballot unless there is a costly special election. The City Council can also vote to adopt the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, thereby eliminating the need for a costly ballot measure.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will be controversial as the real estate industry and their lawyers and lobbyists will view it as an attack on their prerogative to up-zone properties for personal gain. This initiative will also limit the power of the City Council to dispense favors in return for generous campaign contributions and other favors.
On the other hand, residents of impacted neighborhoods throughout the city, including not only Hollywood, but the Valley, Koreatown, the Eastside and the Westside, the Arts District, and the North Valley, are all impacted by self-serving developers who could care less about our neighborhoods and quality of life.
This initiative will most likely qualify for the ballot given AHF’s past successes in qualifying previous measures for the City, County, and State ballots. And despite concerns about Ballot Box Legislation, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will be approved by the voters who are concerned about overdevelopment and increased congestion and do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council.
Now is the time for the City Council to address the issue of overdevelopment and spot zoning by engaging AHF and other interested parties who are in interested developing Community Plans that serve the City’s residents, not the real estate developers.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015
ANIMAL WATCH--At the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee meeting on Wednesday, November 18, Councilman Paul Koretz made an abrupt adjustment to wording of a motion that could crush the rights of residential landlords who maintain pet-free buildings in Los Angeles.
Although the action element of the motion was rephrased—possibly based upon letters of opposition or concerns by other members of the committee--there is no indication that Koretz has amended his mindset that landlords are obligated to help the city reach a mythical “no kill.”
The preamble to the motion still indicates that ‘mechanisms’ are justified, and Koretz apparently still feels it is his job to determine if provisions in other cities should be considered to develop “…approaches applicable in the City of Los Angeles” (CF 15-0843.)
L.A. property and business owners cannot ignore Koretz’ history of relentless crusades to empty animal shelters into residential and commercial communities.
The premise that, “…West Hollywood and New York City have adopted laws which help to facilitate the adoption of pets by rental tenants,” also still appears in the motion. And Koretz concludes such programs and concepts in other cities should be considered as a basis for developing approaches applicable to the Los Angeles.
So, the Koretz/O’Farrell motion clearly approves enacting laws to “force” landlords to increase animals in rentals--which may not be adopted pets, but could be obtained from breeders. A 2012 survey by the American Humane Association found the source of pet dogs is: Family/friends (38%), Shelter/Rescue Organization (22%), and Breeder (16%).
Under the guise of "striving to achieve ‘no kill’ status,” Koretz is joined by at least two of Mayor Eric Garcetti's newly appointed Commissioners to force (or fool) landlords into renting to tenants with pets.
Accepting pets in rentals is definitely to be encouraged, but it cannot—and should not--be legislated. The rights of those who choose to, or must live in a pet-free environment for health reasons, are of equal importance.
New committee members David Ryu and Marqueece Harris-Dawson will, hopefully, along with other Council members, demand that alternatives are studied, including financial-incentive programs to help more landlords voluntarily accept pets.
Government has already imposed more than enough regulations on rental-property owners in Los Angeles. The Council needs to consider that costs of additional laws will merely cause more local owners to sell their properties to developers (whose inquiries fill mailboxes) and further decrease the number of units available to low-income residents.
Apparently Councilman Koretz has not read, or isn’t sharing with his colleagues, the LA Times report on August 12, 2014, that, “More than 70% of apartment renters reported owning pets…, according to a survey by Apartments.com.” That means landlords are already providing homes for this 70% without being compelled to do so.
In fact, many newer complexes in L.A. now have amenities for pets in their design; such as, pet exercise areas and grooming facilities. Apartments.com tells us the rental industry, “…is moving toward accommodating the needs of this important and growing segment of renters.”
PetFinders.org, the nation’s leading on-line list of pets in shelters, states in its current Top Ten Reasons for Relinquishments that the number of dogs and cats impounded because of “Landlord Not Allowing Pet” is only 6%.
Paralleling Koretz desire to remove the choice for landlords to provide, and tenants to choose, a pet-free building, two of Mayor Garcetti’s newest appointees to the L.A. Animal Services Commission--Larry Gross, a tenants’ rights advocate; and Roger Wolfson, a television writer--have demonstrated at public meetings an inappropriate antagonism toward landlords.
Neither Gross nor Wolfson has any noted expertise in the field of animal welfare or property management. (Gross stated that owning rental property is “not his thing.”) Both are reportedly attorneys.
Wolfson stated at two recent meetings that he wants the Commission to consider a policy of LAAS not entering the breed identification of dogs on kennel cards or paperwork; so that, if tenants adopt from the shelter, landlords cannot refuse “certain” shelter dogs (mainly, Pit Bulls) because of their reputation.
In other words, Commissioner Wolfson proposes that, if breeds are not identified, landlords could be “fooled” or forced into accepting a dog they might otherwise reject because of liability (some insurance companies don’t cover certain breeds) or because of safety concerns or the comfort of other tenants.
Larry Gross, who is Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, posted on Facebook that, “If we are to achieve our goal of making L.A. a “No Kill” city, finding homes for our shelter animals will mean that many must be placed in apartments.” [Emphasis added.] The dictionary defines “must” as ‘have to,’ ‘be required to,” or be “compelled” by a rule or law.
At a recent Commission meeting, animal activist Daniel Guss removed the stack of flyers advertising the “Pets in Rental Housing” meetings, purportedly organized by Gross to teach tenants’ their rights to have pets in rental housing and landlords’ rights and responsibilities. The flyers are displayed prominently with the official copies of the agenda/reports at Commission meetings.
Although Gross’ name is not shown, Guss stated that inviting the public during official city meetings to attend these “workshops” and conducting an activity which could benefit him professionally by increasing his access to potential clients for his advocacy services is a potential conflict of interest. However, the flyers appeared again at the next Commission meeting.
Gross recently contended that L.A. tenants could not even afford a $1 a month raise (in regard to the $75 pass-through of earthquake retrofitting costs), yet he invites them to the shelter to take home their “new best friend.” Apparently Mr. Gross has not paid a veterinary bill lately.
Gross’ past writings and quotes show no mention of pets or “no kill.” Is it possible that shelter animals have just become the latest boon to tenants’ rights advocacy?
Many landlords attended the November 9 “workshop” to discuss serious problems with bad pet owners in their rentals and expressed serious concerns for the animal’s welfare. They should have been advised to consult an attorney for advice or to contact an organization such as Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) or Apartment Owners Association (AOA), rather than receiving legal advice at a public meeting.
Renting to pets must be a personal choice, involving the desire and ability of a landlord to provide a comfortable and safe environment, free of excess noise and sanitation conflicts, and where there will be harmony in common areas. The tragic fatal dog attack on Diane Whipple in a San Francisco elevator at her apartment building emphasizes this need.
No matter how much a landlord personally loves animals, renting to pet owners—especially in properties limited by the constraints of rent control--must be a sound business decision, based upon a realistic assessment of benefits vs. liability and whether the property owner can assure safety for both the animals and humans. It is not a decision for the City Council.
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.)
Vol 13 Issue 95
Pub: Nov 24, 2015