NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--After the releases of the City o Los Angeles Budget Summery on April 20, 2017, we went out into the community to get their perspective on the city's Budget Proposal. But after speaking with several Angelenos, who had a lot say but did not know where to take their concerns I spoke to Gloria Gonzalez a senior resident of the Eastside of Los Angeles. We asked Gloria, What are your thoughts on the Mayor's third proposed Budget? 

"I see the city of Los Angeles make promises to help the residents and increase services in someway year after year but nothing ever gets done and we hear the excuses about lack of funding, etc. I have been a resident of Los Angeles for over 50 years and I have never seen the city in such a state of disarray. The homelessness situation is out of control and waiting in line at any grocery and/or retail store takes hours. The infrastructure of Los Angeles is just deteriorating and I wish the Mayor and City official would do more to increase the value of our city. Los Angeles is starting to look like a 3rd world country, I can't walk down the street without someone asking me for change, someone living on the street or a rogue street vendor trying to sell me something. Every year the Budget Summary mentions something about addressing these issues but nothing is ever done about it." 

Q: So what can the Budget Advocates do to make sure these issues are addressed? 

Whether it's the Budget Advocates or anyone else, someone needs to hold the city responsible for the current state of Los Angeles. Regardless of what is going on behind closed doors in meetings, on boards etc. The city just looks bad and somebody needs to be held accountable. 

I told Gloria to take her concerns to the city council meetings and her local neighborhood council meetings. Go to EmpowerLA to find out when neighborhood councils meet, go to LA City to see a calendar of public meetings where you can voice your concerns.

Be up to date on what's going on in LA … especially your community … and get your questions answered. 

Also check out your the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate meetings twice a month, the first Monday of the month at 7 PM in City Hall and the third Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. to discuss the City's Budget and the City’s finances. 

Make your voice heard! Get Involved! It’s why Neighborhood Councils were created and made a part of the City Charter.

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a member of the NC Budget Advocate Committee.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Despite challenges from two local residents to unseat the current council person, our councilman gets to continue his benign neglect of Venice for another six years.

There is nothing sexy about our issues. None of them will grab any headlines. They are just the mundane; people camping on sidewalks, selling out of cars and on blankets on the sidewalk, Airbnb’s continue to decimate our housing stock, food trucks are parked illegally all day running their compressors and spewing food smells into homes as they pay the ‘rent’ from that rare parking ticket. Enforcement issues continue to pile up — unenforced.

The enforcement issue is very unique in Venice. This couldn’t possibly happen in Brentwood. Their residents wouldn’t put up with the stuff we endure here for a minute. You won’t see a campground on any one of their sidewalks. The scofflaws here are so certain that nothing will happen to them, they continue their creative ways to avoid compliance of city codes, whether it is using property (despite numerous citations) as a moneymaking billboard or a restaurateur determined to avoid compliance with his building permit(s.)

Problems linger and linger. The effort to stop the Bonin-supported land grab of the Sr. Center at Westminster Park for a homeless storage operation continues. Short-term rental syndicates still plunder our housing stock and the ABC is still considering an alcohol license for a so-called ‘bakery’ that slams right up to residences. Alas, the ‘gold rush’ continues. There is so much money being made in Venice now that it is just about blasphemy to speak against our new warlords. 

Many individual groups are working to fix things in this community. Not much progress is being made despite lawyer involvement in a multitude of neighborhood struggles. Residents put in endless hours working to protect our quality of life in this town but they are pretty much on their own.

The big money people get what they want in Venice. Snapchat (photo above) comes to the head of the pack for the antagonism that operation generates. They are like an octopus. Landlords give them other people’s precious parking spaces and they take over entire residential buildings and units for their commercial use. 

Their quasi-military force is now seen all over Venice. Created to protect the “Snapsters” from the unwashed who might hassle them a bit while at the same time, they claim to like our “culture” and love “being part of the community.” You are what you do and the truth is quite the opposite. They demand protection to live and work here. 

Their security force, in the minds of many, represents exactly who our super new rich people are. They are our new elite. We call them our eiliterati. They certainly are not Venetians. They eat our food, drink our wine and throw some money around where it shows for PR purposes. They keep the streets around their venues cleaner. But does Venice need theirs or any private security force patrolling our public streets? 

They are grazing here.

We need to mention our latest newcomer: Adidas is moving into the old Hal’s restaurant space… they announced their arrival on the front of the building with signs that proclaimed they will be “defining Venice.” Adidas heard the very loud cries of community outrage and quickly removed the signs. Not much more can be said about that huge display of corporate hubris — especially while authentically Venice-grungy Abbot’s Habit is in its final countdown to make room for the next new soulless shiny object.

In the meantime, all that fairy dust will continue to float on our ocean breezes. When it floats out to sea and stays there, what will Venice be left with beside lots of vacant buildings and apartments?

Maybe that will be a good thing.

 

(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are Co-founders of ImagineVenice)

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NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) California is now the sixth-largest economy in the world, surpassing France, thanks to the healthy state economy. This claim to fame dims when looking over Los Angeles city finances. 

According to the white paper released by the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates on March 8, the City's revenues have increased by $1 billion (22%) over the last four years but the City has made little progress in addressing the financial issues that have historically impacted its budget for the last four years. The City continues to have a Structural Deficit. A structural deficit occurs when expenditures such as salaries, benefits, and pension contributions increase faster than revenues. 

In January 2017 the City Administrative Office (CAO) Stated Los Angeles has a $224-million budget deficit heading into this 2017-18 fiscal year. Due to the recent labor agreements, high dollar court settlements and funding for housing/homeless services piling up expenses. This deficit jeopardizes expansion of city services in the future, the CAO report suggests. Several Los Angeles city departments could also be impacted by projected $245 million deficit. 

The city's deficits comes from lawsuit payouts, including a $210 million settlement to resolve a 2012 case in which advocacy groups made claims that required accessibility features for disabled residents were not included in housing that received public funding. 

In 2016 the city controller's office issued two reports showing a projected budget deficit of $170 million, from "property tax in-lieu of sales tax" receipts, a bond repayment mechanism known as Proposition 57, a ballot initiative passed 13 years ago. 

In 2014, the city reported being $95 million in the red due to overtime wages. The deficit needs to be addressed directly and in the 2017 white paper the NCBALA suggested implementing a Back to Basics Plan. The Budget Advocates urge the Mayor and the City Council to develop and implement a "Back to Basics" ordinance. The resulting increase in transparency and accountability will begin to restore Angelenos' trust and confidence in City Hall. This Back to Basics Plan should include, but not be limited to, the following: 

  • Create an independent "Office of Transparency and Accountability" to analyze and report on the City's budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability. 
  • Adopt a "Truth in Budgeting" ordinance that requires the City to develop a three-year budget and a three-year baseline budget with the goal of understanding the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. (Council File 14-1184-S2) 
  • Establish a "Commission for Retirement Security" to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts and develop concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs within five years. This Commission will also address the Buffett Rule and the investment rate assumptions of the pension plans. 

For more detailed information on the White Paper and NC Budget Adovcates: NCBLA.com  

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: A.Edwards@NCBALA.com.) [[hotlink]

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NEIGHBOROOD COUNCILS BUDGET ADVOCATES--Do you want to get more involved? Are you already advocating for your community? Come be a part of Democracy in Action: Budget Day 2017. 

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have invited citizens of Los Angeles to make your voice heard on local City Services, the city’s fiscal budget and how your money is spent. Every community is different and every community has their own set of problem areas. Here is your chance to let the Mayor’s office, Los Angeles City Council and the City Hall Departments know exactly what matters to you the most! 

As elected officials to the City of Los Angeles, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates represent each and every stakeholder in the City of Los Angeles. We invite you to come work side by side with the Budget Advocate to help pinpoint the problem areas in our city as well as highlight the areas that are successful. 

The 36 Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, representing 12 regions throughout the City, will be in attendance. Make your voice heard and follow our progress throughout the year. 

The NCBAs meet twice a month, the first Monday of the month at 7 PM and the third Saturday of the month at 10 AM to discuss the City’s Budget and finances. The NCBAs also meet with most of the departments and issue departmental reports throughout the year. The NCBAs also issue an annual White Paper, usually in March, that contains their recommendations regarding the departments and the Budget. The departmental reports are part of the White Paper. 

For more information and to check out the 2017 white paper, visit NCBALA.com

Please register for this free event:

 

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: A.Edwards@NCBALA.com.)

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ENOUGH ALREADY--Neighborhood Councils are being asked by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to weigh in on the elections starting in 2018. This is necessitated by the City Clerk’s inability to conduct the NC elections in 2020, which requires a shift to odd numbered years starting with 2019. 

The choices being offered by DONE are: 

(1) Conduct the 2018 elections as scheduled. Board members elected would have a three year term. 

(2) Extend the current board term for one year and conduct the elections in 2019 

(3) Conduct the 2018 elections for a one year term and then have another election in 2019. 

Option Number 2 should not be considered. What publically elected official/governing body can vote to extend their term after an election? It is self-serving for NC Board Members to be asked to vote on their own term extension. The NC Stakeholders should be a major part of this decision. As Stakeholders, we feel totally disenfranchised by this unfair option. 

Options 1 or 3 are acceptable, as neither of them changes the rules after-the-fact. These should be the only options under consideration. 

Where is the Outreach to the Stakeholders? Shouldn’t they be engaged in the decision that affects the terms of their NC Board Members? When the Stakeholders voted in the 2016 election they were told it was for two year terms (with the exception of the few NCs with four year terms). 

The unspent NC funding allocations from 2016 (estimated at $2.4 million) should be carried over exclusively for the 2018 Election Outreach. This is a more meaningful use of these dollars, as it promotes more civic engagement on a local level. Outreach was always the primary purpose in the Charter for the use of the NC funding. It is time to get back to the basics. 

We respectfully urge that there be no extension of terms and funding allocations remain with the NCs for the 2018 Election Outreach.

 

(Judy Price Valley Glen community activist.  Lisa Sarkin Studio City community activist.)

 

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NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (NCBAs) are in the throes of "Budget Season". Budget season begun last year on September 28 when Mayor Garcetti released his 2017-18 Budget Policy and Goals to the General Managers of all City Departments other than the three Proprietary Departments (DWP, Harbor, LAX), and the two pension plans, LACERS, and Fire & Police Pensions. In October, the NCBAs issued a Preliminary White Paper where they urged the City Council and Mayor to implement the following budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission, a blue ribbon panel formed at the request of City Council President Herb Wesson: 

  • Create an independent “Office of Transparency and Accountability” to analyze and report on the City’s budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability. 
  • Adopt a “Truth in Budgeting” ordinance that requires the City develop a three-year budget and a three-year baseline budget with the goal to understand the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. 
  • Be honest about the cost of future promises by adopting a discount rate and pension earnings assumptions similar to those used by Warren Buffett. 
  • Establish a “Commission for Retirement Security” to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts. 

Then In November, the city of Los Angeles departments submitted their budget requests to the Mayor and the City Administrative Officer (“CAO”) as well. 

On March 1, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin released the City's annual revenue forecast. The Controller’s report highlighted increases in City revenues that fail to keep up with increases in City spending and the need to exercise caution in new spending both for the current fiscal year and for the Mayor's soon-to-be proposed budget for 2017-18. 

A week later, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates met with Mayor Garcetti to present the White Paper, "Back to Basics". The 88 page white paper was submitted to the Mayor and other city officials with several recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year. 

On April 20, the Mayor released his Proposed Budget to the City Council. The Mayors Budget highlighted Key investments in the FY16-17 proposed budget supporting the Mayor’s long-term budget priorities of A safe city: By Strengthening our public safety workforce, PROSPEROUS CITY: By addressing the homeless crisis and quality housing at all levels, A LIVABLE AND SUSTAINABLE CITY: Restoring the condition of the public realm and the quality of our environment, A WELL-RUN CITY: Building a customer-focused City workforce and upgrading technology. 

Now it's crunch time, the Budget and Finance committee will begin meeting to consider the Mayor’s budget on Wednesday. Within two weeks, the Adopted Budget is approved by the Mayor and the City Council and July 1, 2017 is the beginning of the new fiscal year. 

The Budget Advocates will engage in further discussion about the contents of the White Paper with the City Council Budget & Finance Committee and will be making a presentation at Budget and Finance meeting on May 1st in the early afternoon. If you as a Los Angeles resident would like to weigh in on the white paper or add your suggestions, please contact the NCBA's Co-Chairs Liz Amsden at LizAmsden@hotmail.com or Jay Handal at sgrest@aol.com.  #NCBALA 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: A.Edwards@NCBALA.com.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The Donald Trump administration may be committed to rolling back regulations that protect the environment, but Harbor Area and South Bay residents are ready to fight. The action at the South Coast Air Quality Management District meeting on April 1 regarding the PBF Energy Refinery in Torrance, is just the latest example.

About 50 of the 300 people in the room resolutely waved “Ban Toxic MFH” signs whenever MHF was mentioned by the board or speakers.

This meeting took place partly as a result of Torrance residents that became active following the former Exxon Mobil refinery explosion two years before PBF Energy took it over. In February, about 100 people marched in the rain to protest the refinery’s continued use of the alkylation catalyst, modified hydrofluoric acid or MHF. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and PBF Energy gave reports at the hearing. The main topics were the refinery’s MHF, and public opinion on the chemical.

Speakers explained that in 2015, shrapnel from the explosion nearly pierced a tank containing MHF; a rupture or explosion of the tank would have released gaseous MHF that could have affected 30,000 people.

“MHF not only burns because it is an acid, it is a systematic poison,” said Sally Hayati, panelist at the hearing and president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance.

Fluoride ions from hydrofluoric acid easily absorb into human skin. They then bond with calcium in human bodies, making it unavailable; without calcium, cardiac arrest can result. Lungs can also fill with blood and water.

Laboratory scientists consider hydrofluoric acid to be one of the most dangerous chemicals to handle. Using EPA guidelines, Hayati and a team of other scientists determined that the worst case scenario from an MHF release would be lethal exposure.

Since the explosion two years ago, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance has informed the community of MHF’s potential danger as a refinery catalyst. Their campaign has been successful, prompting government officials to respond to the will of the people.

“My No. 1 priority is to make the people safer,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance. “I have introduced a plan to the Assembly to not just make [the PBF refinery] safer but all refineries. That includes a ban on MHF.”

Muratsuchi’s plan consists of five Assembly bills: AB 1645, AB 1646, AB 1647, AB 1648 and AB 1649. In addition to banning MHF, the other bills would call for real time air quality monitoring, a community alert system, more refinery inspectors and codification of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Interagency Refinery Task Force.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who was also present at the SCAQMD hearing, supports Muratsuchi’s bills.

“This is personal for me … it involves the safety of my constituents,” said Hahn. “It’s a common sense plan.”

Elected officials from Torrance, including the mayor, were in attendance as well. On March 28, the city council voted against a phase out of MHF. However, Mayor Patrick Furey told SCAQMD board members and the audience about two resolutions the council adopted. One encourages the refinery to adopt safety measures. The other supports regulations that include a safer catalyst than MHF.

Safer catalysts include sulfuric acid and solid acid.  Laki Tisopulos, an engineer with the SCAQMD, and Glyn Jenkins, a consultant with Bastleford Engineering and Consultancy, discussed each catalyst and its potential to replace MHF.

They said that sulfuric acid has been used instead of MHF to refine fossil fuels for decades. Out of the 18 refineries in the state of California, 16 use sulfuric acid. Converting the PBF refinery would cost between $100 million and $200 million.

Solid acid technology is newer. But Jenkins said that there is a refinery in the United Kingdom that successfully refines fossil fuels with it. The same refinery switched away from MHF because it was considered too risky. Like the name suggests, the solid acid process uses a solid catalyst. No acid clouds would result from an explosion, making it safer than either the gaseous MHF or sulfuric acid.

Tisopulos estimated that converting the PBF refinery to use solid acid would cost $120 million initially. Additional costs would come whenever the catalyst had to be replaced.

PBF Energy has not embraced the idea of switching catalysts. In an advertisement in the Daily Breeze, the company stated, “We are confident that the many layers of protection, mitigation steps, and safety systems we have in place allow us to operate the MHF Alkylation Unit safely…”

Their own estimate for converting to another catalyst was around $500 million.

“The discourse [between PBF Energy and the community] has been if the chemical is changed, we lose jobs,” Torrance Councilman Tim Goodrich said.

Fearing any potential job loss, various refinery workers and union members stood up during the hearing’s public comment section and said that they support the status quo. They feel the refinery is safe enough and that the explosion this past year was a fluke.

“…[T]here is no reason why MHF can’t be phased out while jobs are protected,” Hahn responded. “I believe the switch will accelerate newer and safer alternatives, innovation,  and lead to better jobs.”

Muratsuchi agreed. He said he doesn’t want to see the refinery shut down, but it should be safer.

In November 2016, the EPA inspected the safety of the PBF Energy refinery.

“They were not following their own safety procedures,” said Dan Meer, assistant director of the Superfund Division of the EPA.

The EPA released a preliminary report on the inspection in March.

“There are issues the refinery needs to address,” Meer said. “If I had to a rate the current risk, with 10 being an emergency situation, [PBF] would be somewhere between a 5 and 7.”

Meer went on to explain that PBF did not have permits to store certain chemicals it has on site. Management is also not effectively communicating with workers, which could be dangerous in an emergency situation. PBF has until the end of April to respond to the EPA and make changes. Otherwise, the EPA will take administrative and legal action.

“This is an urgent public safety risk,” Hayati said. “The refinery should not be in operation at least until the EPA verifies that procedures are being followed.”

Although the local United Steelworkers don’t want to change the catalyst, the steelworkers at the international level feel differently. A study completed by United Steelworkers found 131 HF releases or near misses and hundreds of refinery violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

“The industry has the technology and expertise [to eliminate MHF and HF],” the report stated. “It certainly has the money. It lacks only the will.  And, if it cannot find the will voluntarily, it must be forced by government action.”

Los Angeles Harbor

The SCAQMD has plans to release an environmental impact report on the Tesoro Corporation’s desire to combine its Wilmington refinery with the former British Petroleum refinery in Carson. Environmental organizations view the report as flawed and will call attention to Tesoro’s plans at the Los Angeles People’s Climate March on April 29.

In 2012, Tesoro purchased the refinery in Carson. Tesoro’s expansion into that site would include adding storage tanks to hold 3.4 million barrels of oil.

Communities for a Better Environment and other climate advocates oppose the expansion. But the focus of the march will be to inform the people about Tesoro’s lack of accuracy and transparency in detailing the project’s impacts to the SCAQMD.

“Tesoro has said that this project is going to reduce emissions and will be ‘cleaner,’ but they admitted to their investors that they are switching to a dirtier crude,” said Alicia Rivera, a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

In a presentation to investors, Tesoro called the type of crude oil, “advantaged crude.” The advantage is that it is cheaper than standard crude. The new type of crude will originate from the Canadian Tar Sands and the Midwest’s Bakken Formation. (About 75 percent will come from North Dakota and 25 percent will come from Canada.)

“These fuels have different characteristics than what Tesoro is refining [in Wilmington] now,” said Julie May, senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. “They behave more like gasoline. They contain more benzene, which is a volatile organic compound that causes leukemia.”

The draft environmental impact report that Tesoro submitted to the SCAQMD does not clearly mention a crude oil switch. In a comment letter to the SCAQMD, May explained that this failure does not meet the California Environmental Air Quality Act’s project description requirements. Consequently, no one can properly analyze the switches’ impacts, environmental effects and risks to community and worker health and safety.

Another major reason Communities for a Better Environment wants to march against Tesoro is the corporation’s failure to properly evaluate the scope of the project. If the environmental impact report is approved, the refinery will receive fuel via ships traveling from Vancouver, Wash. Vancouver is the site of a rail-to-oil tanker terminal in which Tesoro and Savage Energy invested.

“That [terminal] is the bridge to bring dirty crudes from North Dakota and Canada,” Rivera said. “We call the rail cars that transport the fuel ‘bomb trains’ because some have derailed and exploded.”

Refineries and projects like this undoubtedly have an impact on Harbor Area residents. The challenge now for Communities for a Better Environment is getting residents to come out to the march. Rivera and other Communities for a Better Environment members acknowledged that many of residents are immigrants or working class people; for them, climate change is not always a tangible concept nor an immediate concern.

But Communities for a Better Environment is determined.

“We have youth members going to elementary and middle schools and colleges,” Rivera said. “We are pamphleting markets and Catholic churches. When we inform [people] about this project, they want the expansion to stop.”

On the day of the march, Communities for a Better Environment will circulate a petition to marchers.  Its purpose is to pressure the SCAQMD to take Tesoro’s EIR back to a draft stage. Then it can properly detail the project and allow for public input.

The SCAQMD has the authority to finalize the EIR before the march. But that won’t stop Communities for a Better Environment from trying to get the community engaged.

“We need to bring attention to local industries trying to expand in a time when they should be cutting down their emissions,” Rivera said. “Tesoro’s Los Angeles refinery is the highest greenhouse polluter in the state. If the project goes forward, it will be the largest refinery on the West Coast.”

 

(Christian L. Guzman is community reporter at Random Lengths … where this report originated.)

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