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Fri, Apr

Fame: Can We Separate Bowie’s Legacy from His Troubling Past?

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-When rock icon David Bowie died Sunday night following an 18-month battle with cancer, celebs blew up the Twittersphere and just about everyone of a certain age, myself included, posted YouTube links to Space Oddity or Modern Love with such magnitude of tribute that I don’t remember seeing since the death of George Harrison or maybe Michael Jackson. 

Bowie was no doubt a trailblazer in his music and his style. When a friend asked why so many seemed grief-stricken by his passing, I shared I suspected the loss of those who gave us the soundtrack of our youth reminds us of our own mortality.

As with most celeb obits, the accolades were quickly followed by the seamy B-side of fame. Back in the seventies when Bowie was pushing convention with his glittery rock, Sunset Strip’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, the Whiskey, and Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco were the playground of not only luminaries like Bowie and Jimmy Page but also adolescent 12-16 year olds who had garnered some fame of their own as Baby Groupies.

The seventies perhaps epitomized Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n Roll with endless supplies of coke, Quaaludes, and sex partners. This was before HIV and TMZ. Handlers, club managers, and the staff at the Continental Hyatt looked the other way when rock stars and their entourage threw TVs out the window or held orgies with preteens. And the well-established narrative included Bowie, along with a host of other rock stars.

In a November Thrillist interview, Lori Mattix spilled details in I Lost My Virginity to David Bowie: Confessions of a Seventies Groupie. At 15, Mattix was just one of the Baby Groupies who frequented clubs on the Strip while the closest their peers got to a rock star was in a poster on their bedroom walls. Although the age of consent in California has been 18 since 1970, Mattix says she didn’t consider herself as underage.

“I was a model. I was in love. That time my life was so much fun. It was a period in which everything seemed possible. There was no AIDS and the potential consequences seemed to be light. Nobody was afraid of winding up on YouTube or TMZ. Now people are terrified. You can’t even walk out the door without being photographed. It has become a different world.”

Should we look at the past through the filter of heavily drugged rockers who likely saw these adolescents as a perk of fame? Bowie was open about his drug use, telling Cameron Crowe in a 1975 interview, “I’ve had short flirtations with smack and things but it was only for the mystery and the enigma. I like fast drugs. I hate anything that slows me down.”

Of course, drug use doesn’t lead to sex with minors but excesses of any sort were essential to the seventies brand of hedonism. More than a few comment threads about Bowie’s engagement with the Baby Groupies are peppered with “Those were different times.” Still, handlers knew enough to try to keep this behind closed doors.

Others brush off concerns about the age of consent by addressing the groupies’ willingness. After all, what teen wouldn’t swoon from the attention of a musician, whether Sinatra, one of the Beatles, or One Direction.

Legally, enthusiasm or flirtation in a mini-dress doesn’t absolve one from the boundaries of consent. Nor does a haze induced by a binge of coke, ‘ludes,’ or fifths of vodka.

Can we isolate the behaviors from talent? We likely consider that question every time we watch a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film or listen to just about any track from the seventies.

Rebecca Hains, associate professor of media studies at Salem State University, wrote following Bowie’s death, “Calling out artists’ (alleged) abuse of others doesn’t necessarily negate the cultural value of their bodies of work.”

Perhaps we can continue to appreciate an artist’s oeuvre while remembering the abuses as a cautionary tale.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

RIP, St. Louis Rams: A Tough Lesson in the Business of Pro Sports

UPON FURTHER REVIEW--If, as Calvin Coolidge long ago declared, the business of America is business, then there are few businesses more American than the National Football League.

And as with any American business, it can be cold and cruel.

Tuesday was a day for the business of business, the league's 32 owners, a collection of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful entities, approved the plan of Stan Kroenke to move his St. Louis Rams to a palatial stadium he will build on an old horse track in Inglewood, Calif.

It sends the Rams back to Los Angeles, the city they ditched 21 years ago on another day that was bitter or sweet depending on your zip code.

The NFL also gave the San Diego Chargers a year to work out a deal to join the Rams, get a new stadium built back home or go to Plan C, whatever that might entail. If the Chargers don't move to L.A., then the Oakland Raiders will have a shot. The NFL will give each franchise $100 million if they choose to build a stadium in their current towns. The Chargers/Raiders proposed stadium in Carson, Calif., is dead.

Time will tell for those franchises and those communities and those fans bases. For Chargers fans, this tense nightmare continues, a desperation chance to keep the team, yet with the depressing reality that they are working with an owner, Dean Spanos, who would've left them dead and buried if he hadn't lost a knife fight of high-stakes politics.

Spanos can join the Rams in Inglewood, but he'll forfeit the NFL's $100 million pledge and pay out a $550 million relocation fee. Besides, the building is being built by Kroenke, and with each day that goes by the Rams will strengthen their position as the area's top team by wrapping up the best sponsors and partners and most devoted fans. That cements the reality that they'll be the NFL version of the favored Lakers and the Chargers/Raiders will be the second-class Clippers.

Tuesday really was a victory out of Kroenke's wildest dreams.

Meanwhile, it's over for the folks in St. Louis, who are left feeling the worst loss imaginable for a sports fan: abandonment and betrayal, a realization they are just powerless pawns, if even that much.

There is no tomorrow, no next game, no next season when the moving vans come. There is just anger and pointed fingers and shaken fists and faded sweatshirts they feel like fools for wearing in the first place.

Kroenke had the right to make the move. Don't get confused on that. The business of business has been good for this country.

And for two decades Los Angeles sat available for anyone to make the NFL happen. A collection of business titans and powerful politicians tried and failed. With multi-billions of dollars behind him and experience as both a real estate developer and a global sports owner, Kroenke cracked the code.

He acquired nearly 300 acres near LAX, has the money to put $1.86 billion – at least – into a stadium, retail and housing development that will be help transform the area. The centerpiece will be a glass-roofed stadium that can seat capacities of 100,000, capable of hosting not just two NFL tenants, but Final Fours, mega concerts, political conventions, Super Bowls, Olympics, World Cups and everything else.

As a businessman, Kroenke makes things happen. The new place will likely usurp Jerry Jones' AT&T Stadium as the nation's premiere stadium-sized venue. It's long overdue for Southern California. From the broad view, it all makes sense. It all seems smart.

This does nothing for those left behind in Missouri, the ones who loudly and loyally supported the Rams, who embraced the franchise, who made it part of their lives and now are told no one cares. The ones who didn't do anything other than what the team asked them to do back in the 1990s – prove that St. Louis was a viable NFL market.

Kroenke grew up in tiny Mora, Mo., attended the University of Missouri and, along with wife, Ann Walton, Kroenke raised their children in Columbia despite outrageous fortune. He was, ironically, brought into the deal as a local minority owner to the L.A.-based Georgia Frontiere, who inherited the team from the fifth of her six husbands.

Frontiere died in 2008. Kroenke took full ownership, and now it's the local guy who is sending them back to L.A., just one more kick in the shins for the fans who understandably feel betrayed by everyone from Kroenke to local politicians, to the system, to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The argument that a multibillionaire has the right to take what felt like a community institution, even if it never really was, so he can make even more money goes only so far when you're explaining to your kid why it's done and gone.

The Rams will play the next three seasons at the L.A. Coliseum as their stadium is built. Within moments of the vote, NFL.com changed the team name to Los Angeles Rams.

That's how pro sports work, and that's what fans should remember the next time they are marketed to as being part of a "[insert team name] Nation," or told they are the greatest in the world. Everything is negotiable. Loyalty has a price. If an owner can make an extra buck somewhere else, there isn't much anyone can do to stop it.

In 1995, St. Louis spent $280 million in public money on a new stadium, guaranteed $20 million in profits for season tickets and held a raucous downtown rally where thousands chanted "Georgia! Georgia!"

Only Tuesday they could only call into talk radio and rant.

Of all the relocation candidates, St. Louis did the most to keep its team, pledging $400 million in public funds and clearing all sorts of hurdles for a new dome stadium. It didn't matter. Oakland did the least – essentially nothing – yet the Raiders are likely staying put … at least for now.

None of it is "fair." None of it ever was supposed to be, though.

The NFL has detailed and arcane bylaws and processes and committees and so forth. Those are mostly worthless. A panel of owners who analyzed dueling stadium bids voted 5-1 in favor the Chargers/Raiders plan in Carson, Calif. That was ignored.

There is no rhyme to it, no flow, no process to follow. Spanos felt confident he had the necessary nine franchises to block the Rams' plan, only enough of them bailed during a secret ballot. In the end, Kroenke had the most money and the most know-how and all along it was fairly easy to predict that the rest of the league wasn't going to turn its back on that.

Money talks. The Rams walk.

"St. Louis is just out of luck?" Giants co-owner Steve Tisch was asked by reporters after the vote.

"Apparently," Tisch said.

Where once Missourians cheered for the Californian who brought the Rams to them, now Californians will cheer the Missourian who brought them back.

St. Louis will be left trying to lure the Raiders, or maybe even the Chargers, or who knows who is next. The hunted will be back to being the hunter.

Round and round it goes, too many cities desperate for a team, too many fans willing to beg, and the NFL barons cheerily playing musical chairs to sweeten pots.

The regular guy doesn't matter, and never has. It's a bad, brutal day, but no one who matters cares.

This is business, and this is America.

(Dan Wetzel is an author, screenwriter, and national columnist for Yahoo Sports and Yahoo.com … where this column was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

There’s No Place Like Home: Gun Violence, Homelessness, a New Civil Consciousness

AT LENGTH-On the very same day that President Barack Obama grew emotional as he made a passionate call for a national “sense of urgency” to limit gun violence nationwide, the California Legislature passed a $2 billion package to “Prevent and Address Homelessness” in communities within the state. 

This happened during the same week armed men broke into the desolate headquarters of a federally owned wildlife refuge in Oregon and refused to leave, “until the government stops its tyranny.” 

What a week of contrasts to start off the New Year.

I was left asking what took the president so long in taking executive action on gun control; the state legislature to act on homelessness? And just what does Ammon Bundy and his anti-government group, Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, really want?

It’s easy to get cranial whiplash following mainstream reporting of events without any sort of historical context. Why should this year start any differently?

The common thread that connects these three events is that they are attempts to redress long-term, one might say chronic, problems that have been with us forever it seems.

America’s long and storied relationship with guns was established more than 200 years ago with the first shot that was fired at Concord, Connecticut marking the beginning of the American colonies’ uprising against the tyranny of British rule. These colonists, our ancestors, were called “terrorists” as they fought using guerrilla warfare tactics against the regimented lines of the red coats.

We still celebrate our heritage, if not the tradition of resistance against repression in our history, whether it’s the American Revolution, the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion or the War of 1812. Even now, every sporting event begins with a performance of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The line, “The bombs bursting in air…” is not just a patriotic metaphor, it’s a national conviction in opposition to tyranny, whether foreign or domestic.

I could write this entire column on the American love affair with guns going all the way back to duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton (he’s the guy on your $10 bill), in which Hamilton was fatally shot.

The Sandy Hook shooting is what moved Obama to decisively act, without the support of a Republican Congress. The rural uprising in southeast Oregon stands out as the counterpoint to the president’s message. This is a political conundrum that at present seems intractable.

The homeless issue on the other hand seems equally insolvable, yet the grassroots uprising for curing this complicated and chronic epidemic has some new resolve.

Getting our state legislators to act, to pass a $2 billion bond, to do anything at all to deal with a social crisis is astounding at the very least. It does show what can happen when people of good will, social consciousness and political support can accomplish when inspired and motivated.

Yet, the money is just one part of a much bigger problem.

I cannot believe that in a nation that can build the biggest dams to stave off droughts, bend rivers to provide waters to semi-arid regions like Los Angeles, and that has the capacity to place a man on the moon, cannot solve homelessness or control the kinds of senseless massacres we’ve seen across this great land.

What I do see as a possible cure to all of this is a new form of “civility” beginning to rise up against the nativist incivility that has from time to time gripped this nation out of fear of “the others”—particularly in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino.

What I see is a sense of community that embraces people—neighbor to neighbor—across previous boundaries of race, class and religion. That, at its heart, has more to do with a very American creed of life, liberty and justice for all.

This, I believe, is in the very core of our national consciousness and, in the end, will serve us far better than having a militarized state where everyone has to carry a gun and thousands are left without homes.

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

-cw  

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016 

US Congress Should Wake Up to the California Political Model

THE GOLDEN STATE--The $171 billion budget proposal released this week by California Gov. Jerry Brown shows how politics can work well in a state with the 8th largest economy in the world. It also offers a clear contrast to the political dysfunction in the budget process in Washington. Long derided for its "fruit-and-nuts" politics, California is leading the way in envisioning a political system that can actually get things done. 

The key to Brown's budget is that it addresses the most pressing needs of California's citizens, from homelessness and education to needed infrastructure improvements, at the same time setting aside a substantial "rainy day fund" to prepare for future economic downturns. While not everybody is happy with the budget and it will clearly by tinkered with -- Democrats want more social spending and Republicans don't like the tax proposals -- it represents governance built on compromise and common sense.

Most importantly, it seeks to restore the trust of the public in the ability of government to set priorities and accomplish realistic goals. Unlike some state governments that are paralyzed by ideology and political polarization, blue-state California has found a more moderate, pragmatic path to governance. Social wedge issues have largely been put aside, with greater focus on the well-being of the citizenry and the health of the economy.

While Gov. Brown's tough and experienced leadership is part of the successful equation, there have been important structural and strategic changes to the political system that laid the groundwork for success. In 2012, the state moved to an "open" primary process for elections. Instead of a handful of activist Democrats or Republicans choosing the nominees in their own primary elections in safe districts, any voter can now vote in the primary. The general election in November is then between the top two vote getters, even if they are from the same party.

In practical terms, these means that candidates must seek votes from all voters -- Democrats, Republicans and independents. So even in a safe Democratic district, for example, a candidate can win by getting more votes from Republicans and independents. Candidates with views that appeal only to the Democratic base may lose if they don't get some votes from non-Democratic voters. The same is true in Republican districts where a candidate appeals only to his or her base. The result is that more moderate candidates are elected on both sides of the aisle -- candidates that more accurately reflect the views of the broader electorate.

Even though both the legislative and executive branches in California are controlled by Democrats, the government has avoided much of the ideological posturing that occurs in other states, particularly those dominated by Republicans. While this is in part due to the open primary system, it is also a result of a more moderate position taken by Republicans in the California legislature. For the most part, California Republicans steer clear of social issues and focus on fiscal responsibility and efficient government. In those areas, the Republicans have found occasional allies in both the governor and moderate Democratic legislators.

The Brown budget is also noteworthy in a couple of other respects. First, it sets clear priorities rather than being a jumble of allotments to special interests or political causes. It adds money for education and health services, but also for corrections and transportation, while it actually reduces spending for environmental protection, one of Brown's pet causes. It also extends a tax on health insurance companies, but sets aside $2 billion for the rainy-day fund. Democrats want more spending on social services instead of the fund set-aside, while Republicans are generally unhappy with the tax proposal. When everybody is a little unhappy, it's probably a sign of good government.

Compare the example of California's reformed political system with the dysfunction in Washington and in many other states. California demonstrates that total victory over the opposing political party or ideology is not only unrealistic, but it is undesirable. Government works best when it sets clear, practical priorities that meet the needs of the broader citizenry. Ideology is never a good guide for government, which is at best a messy, trial-and-error endeavor. If our national government could look to the example of California, we'd all be better off.

(Hoyt Hilsman is an award-winning author, journalist and former candidate for Congress. He has written films and television shows for the major studios and networks. This column was posted earlier at HuffingtonPost.com

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

 

 

Lessons from the Golden State: 80 Years of Immigration Exploitation and the Price the GOP Paid


CALBUZZ-“They keep coming,” the advertisement’s narrator intoned, while the screen showed footage of undocumented immigrants scurrying across a highway. The year was 1994, and the ad was the centerpiece of California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s re-election campaign.

Trailing in the polls after a lackluster first term, Wilson resurrected his prospects by excoriating the Clinton administration for its presumed lack of border enforcement and by backing a ballot measure (Proposition 187) that would deny all public services, including the right to attend K-12 schools, to the undocumented.

Short-term, the strategy worked. Wilson won re-election; Proposition 187 passed handily, though it was soon struck down by the courts. Long term, Wilson’s strategy proved to be a Republican cataclysm—indeed, in a state on track to become “majority minority,” (today, California is 39 percent Latino, 13 percent Asian, 6 percent black and 38 percent non-Hispanic white), a more thorough act of political suicide is hard to imagine. (Editor’s note: Last July, Calbuzz explained how Donald Trump has done for the national GOP what Wilson did for California. Here’s the link

GOP Latino Outreach. In 1996, Latinos began voting in far greater numbers, overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates; in time, as the GOP’s anti-immigrant crusades continued, they were joined by the state’s Asian voters as well. What had been a politically purple state at the time of Wilson’s re-election turned deepest blue.

Today, Democrats hold nearly two-thirds of the seats in the legislature, represent more than 70 percent of the state’s congressional districts, and of the 56 regularly scheduled elections for statewide office that have been held since 1994 (for the eight statewide constitutional officers and the two U.S. senators), Republicans have won exactly one—Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2002 gubernatorial bid.

Wilson Replay. In only slightly modified fashion, updated versions of Wilson’s ad began popping up on TV screens and social media this week. Donald Trump’s very first ad features a narrator proclaiming, “He’ll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for,” over footage showing a mass of people streaming across the border.

Ted Cruz responded with an ad showing people in proper business attire hastening across the border, while Cruz asks if economic elites would be so blasé about immigration if the migrants were a threat to professional, rather than low-wage, jobs—a right-populist twist if ever there was one. (Given America’s changing demographics, of course, Trump and Cruz are likely inflicting the same kind of long-term damage on the national Republican Party that Wilson inflicted on California’s GOP, but candidates and their managers are existentially allergic to thinking long-term.)

The Cruz footage, of course, was staged. But then, the Trump footage, as his campaign belatedly acknowledged, was a video clip not of the U.S.-Mexican border, but of the border between Morocco and the North African Spanish enclave of Melilla. (Mexico, Morocco—sound alike, swarthy people, don’t speak English: What’s the diff?)

Seen this Movie Before. But Republicans have a long tradition of staged border footage. Indeed, the very first political ad ever screened was of dangerous, foreign-accented hordes streaming over the California border. Only, the hordes were really actors, the footage was shot by MGM, and it was presented to the California public not as an ad but as a documentary newsreel that was screened in virtually every movie theater in the state.

The “newsreel” (actually, newsreels—there were three of them) was the linchpin of the GOP’s ultimately successful effort to defeat the 1934 gubernatorial campaign of socialist author and activist Upton Sinclair, who had stunned the state by winning that year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary and who was clearly favored to win the general election until the Republicans launched a multi-million-dollar barrage of falsifications designed to bring Sinclair down.

The barrage included a well-publicized effort to suppress voter turnout by threatening to prosecute and send to prison for up to seven years “fraudulent” voters with no fixed addresses or who had recently moved. (There is little new under the Republican sun.)

But the “newsreels,” which were commissioned by MGM studio chief Irving Thalberg, were the GOP’s pièce de resistance. In answering a question on how he’d follow through on his pledge to create jobs in Depression-wracked California, the somewhat ethereal, political novice Sinclair had said he’d be so successful that the unemployed of other states would flock to California.

Thus inspired, the MGM crew staged footage of unsavory characters with menacingly foreign accents crossing the state line into California, endorsing Sinclair as they came. (Some of the footage was actually outtakes from the William Wellman-Warner Brothers picture Wild Boys of the Road, about Depression-engendered hobos.) One bearded figure with a heavy Yiddish accent said of Sinclair, “Vell, his system vorked vell in Russia; vy can’t it vork here?” (In actuality, Sinclair had a long record of anti-communism, and the Communist Party reviled him during the campaign as a “social fascist.”)

The “newsreels” so enraged Sinclair supporters that arguments broke out in movie theaters across the state, and some chains stopped showing them. They also alarmed many in California’s Jewish community for their blatant use of anti-Semitic stereotypes (much as many Latinos and Muslims are alarmed today by the GOP’s descent into racist and nativist stereotypes.) Some Jewish leaders condemned the studio heads (all of whom opposed Sinclair and all of whom were Jewish) as traitors to their people.

History Repeats Itself. The only real political difference between the 1934, 1994, and 2016 versions of the GOP’s border demagogy is that the 1934 version focused on state lines, not international borders. The opposition of the California right to economic migrants from other states during the Depression was every bit as intense as the Republicans’ opposition to transnational immigrants today, and the stereotyping every bit as vile.

The Oakies who came to California fleeing the Dust Bowl in the years immediately following 1934 were often stopped at the state line and turned back by self-appointed border guards, or subjected to vigilante violence in attacks on migrant farmworker camps. (Such scenes are depicted in both the book and the film of The Grapes of Wrath.) Given the right conditions and sufficient rabble-rousing, even God-fearing white Protestant Americans could be turned into the “other.”

No matter the particulars, the GOP’s determination to exploit and engender anxiety and bigotry for political gain, even, or especially, when it requires blatant and repetitive falsification, has a long and storied pedigree, as more than 80 years of the party’s border propaganda makes sickeningly clear.

(Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American Prospect. This piece originally appeared in CalBuzz.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Alert! Get to Know the Friedrichs Case … It Could Be Labor’s ‘Citizens United’

LABOR VUE--Last July, 2,000 conservatives and Tea Party activists gathered in Las Vegas for the annual FreedomFest, which featured GOP presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. But it was a fourth grade public school teacher from Orange  County named Rebecca Friedrichs (photo) who promised the far right a prize that neither Trump nor Rubio could offer. Friedrichs and nine other California school teachers are part of a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court that could deliver a severe blow to the nation’s public-sector unions. It would radically upend the political power of labor — and also, conservatives hope, of the Democratic Party — across the United States.

Friedrichs’ message last summer was the same as she has told audiences elsewhere: “Supposed [union] benefits are not worth the moral costs.”  

The “moral dilemma,” she claims, is over such union collective bargaining practices as securing pensions and workplace protections for public school teachers, and taking positions on issues like school vouchers, that run contrary to her Christian beliefs.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which is scheduled for oral arguments before the high court today, seeks to invalidate California’s agency shop law that requires all teachers in a union bargaining unit to pay “fair share” fees for collective bargaining, whether or not they are members of the union and disagree with the union’s policies. It also seeks to outlaw a process that requires teachers who don’t want a portion of their fees to go to union political activities to “opt out” of funding those activities. (At present teachers are automatically enrolled in such funding mechanisms, unless they choose to opt out.)

Both fair-share and opt-out policies, plaintiffs maintain, violate the First Amendment rights of  teachers like Rebecca Friedrichs who pay “fair share” fees but no union dues. Should that argument find favor with the court’s conservative majority, the case could go down as organized labor’s Citizens United – decimating membership, crippling the unions’ lobbying efficacy and effectively stifling the collective political voice of public-sector workers.

“It really is about weakening a teacher’s voice to advocate for students,” observed CTA president Eric Heins last Thursday at a media briefing. (Disclosure: CTA is a financial supporter of Capital & Main.) “We’ve seen the disastrous results of that in other states where it’s actually happened. If we look at who’s behind this, the Center for Individual Freedom [is] Koch-funded. They have tried and failed through the ballot box to do this … and now they’re trying to get it through the courts.”

In fact, Friedrichs has been literally tailored to do so and was fast-tracked through the California courts by the plaintiffs’ lawyers who asked judges to rule against them so that they could move the case up more quickly toward the Supreme Court.

“Clearly some justices believe that public-sector collective bargaining is bad,” University of California, Irvine law school professor Catherine Fisk told Capital & Main, “and so I think that Friedrichs was a case delivered by an activist litigation group to provide them the vehicle to hold that all public-sector collective bargaining has to be on a strictly right-to-work basis.”

The case originated with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a rightwing litigation shop that designed Friedrichs in response to an inference in Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Harris v. Quinn, a “dog whistle” ruling widely seen as inviting a First Amendment challenge to fair-share fees.  

CIR had previously won notoriety for its court challenges to affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. The attorney arguing for the plaintiffs today is Michael A. Carvin of the white-shoe law firm Jones Day, a libertarian firebrand best known for twice attempting to get the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Arguing for the unions is David Frederick, an appellate expert from the Washington, D.C. firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel. Separately arguing on the unions’ side is California solicitor general Ed Dumont and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.

The court will be considering two questions today: Whether public-sector agency shop agreements violate the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech and assembly, and whether the First Amendment prohibits requiring public employees to affirmatively opt out of subsidizing non-chargeable speech rather than to affirmatively opt in.

At stake are nearly 40 years of protections the U.S. Supreme Court has provided for fair-share union fees — and countless federal, state and local labor laws tied to them — rooted in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision, which the Burger Court had deemed a reasonable compromise among the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of unions, members and nonmembers.

That landmark ruling established that a public-sector collective bargaining agreement may contain an “agency shop” clause requiring employees who are not union members to financially support the union’s collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance procedures by becoming “fair share payers.”

CTA’s fair-share payers, who include Friedrichs‘ 10 teacher plaintiffs, represent just under 10 percent of the union’s roughly 325,000 members; their fees are translated as payroll deductions of annual fair-share fees amounting to $641, which gets divided among the local union, CTA and its parent organization, the National Education Association. Full union members pay an additional 35 percent that supports the lobbying efforts that give teachers a voice at the education policy table.

Predicting Friedrichs’ chances of prevailing — in spite of the evident antipathy toward unions from Alito and others in the Roberts Court’s conservative faction — turns out to be tied to a tangle of separate strands of First Amendment precedents denying speech rights for government employees that will require contortions of legal logic by the court to create an exception for Friedrichs’ core argument that public school teachers have those rights to begin with.

One strand, Fisk pointed out, leads to Garcetti v. Ceballos, a 2006 case involving the office of former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, in which the Roberts Court unequivocally affirmed that individual government employees have no First Amendment protections for on-the-job speech.

Another strand leads to Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, a 1973 Supreme Court case involving a challenge by Chicago letter carriers to the 1939 Hatch Act, which prohibits federal government employees from engaging in a wide range of off-duty partisan political activity. There the court likewise held that the government can prohibit partisan political activity by government employees — even off-the-job speech — in order to have a nonpolitical civil service.

And though Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is often seen as the swing vote in recent decisions written by the conservative majority, the key vote on Friedrichs, Fisk added, may likely be Antonin G. Scalia, who in a 1991 case, Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, upheld fair-share fees as justified because the law imposes a duty of fair representation on the union to represent everyone, not just its members.

“I think it will be important to see what, if anything, is said about Scalia’s opinion in Lehnert,” Fisk noted. “And I think there is an important issue about what deference do the states get to establish their own labor-relations regimes. … What the petitioners in Friedrichs are asking is to prohibit California from making its own choices, and so how do the [conservative] justices that usually would allow states to do what they want, deal with that issue?”

 If Friedrichs prevails, California — along with the rest of the country — will effectively become a right-to-work state for public employees, one in which their unions will still be required by law to represent fairly every worker without regard to whether they pay fees or not. After Republican Governor Scott Walker pushed through his 2011 anti-union law and stripped most of the state’s public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights, Wisconsin’s state employees union membership plunged by 70 percent. Membership in the National Education Association’s state branch fell by one-third.

But the consequences of a Friedrichs victory don’t end there. Rather, its logic will open the door to questions of whether any union chosen by the majority has the right to bargain on behalf of everybody, or when the union goes to the table and negotiates on behalf of everybody if that violates the First Amendment rights of employees who don’t want to have the union speak on their behalf.

“There are already cases arguing that, pending in lower courts in various states. There’s one in Illinois,” said Fisk. “And so what that is going to argue is that collective bargaining by a union chosen by the majority violates the rights of the dissenter. I think it’s one of the complicating things in Friedrichs, which is, if the money is the problem, why isn’t the underlying speech also the problem?”

Whether or not Abood can withstand this latest challenge remains unclear, but one thing that is certain is that the fate of America’s public-sector labor movement will be determined by the next President, who may get to appoint as many as three Supreme Court justices.

“If the petitioners don’t win this time,” Fisk reflected, “it’s going to depend on who wins the next election — like everything else, you know, whether it’s the Republican or Clinton or Sanders, because the next Supreme Court appointments are going to matter a lot in this area of law as in every other.”

 (Bill Raden is a freelance Los Angeles writer. This article was first posted at  Capital & Main.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

 

The Best Way Up for Minorities

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In presidential election years, it is natural to see our political leaders also as the brokers of our economic salvation. Some, such as columnist Harold Meyerson, long have embraced politics as a primary lever of upward mobility for minorities. He has positively contrasted the rise of Latino politicians in California, and particularly Los Angeles, with the relative dearth of top Latino office-holders in heavily Hispanic Texas. In Los Angeles, he notes, political activism represents the “biggest game in town” while, in Houston, he laments, politics takes second place to business interests and economic growth.

In examining the economic and social mobility of ethnic groups across the country, however, the politics-first strategy has shown limited effectiveness. Latinos, for example, have dramatically increased their elected representatives nationally since the 1990s, particularly in California. But both Latinos and African Americans continue to move to, and appear to do better in, the more free-market, politically conservative states, largely in the South.

Two Paths to Success

Throughout American history, immigrants and minorities have had two primary pathways to success. One, by using the political system, seeks to redirect resources to a particular group and also to protect it from majoritarian discrimination, something particularly necessary in the case of the formerly enslaved African Americans.

The other approach, generally less well-covered, has defined social uplift through such things as education, hard work and familial values. This path was embraced by early African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey. Today, the most successful ethnic groups – Koreans, Middle Easterners, Jews, Greeks and Russians – demonstrate the validity of this method through high levels of both entrepreneurial and educational achievement.

How today’s racial minorities achieve upward mobility has never been more important. Today, Latinos, together with African Americans and Asians, constitute 43 percent of the combined population in the country’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, up from 35 percent in 2000. By 2050, ethnic minorities are expected to constitute close to a majority of the country’s population. As minorities become majorities, too much reliance on racial redress and wealth redistribution will put enormous stress on the economic system and social order.

Temptations of Politics

Conditions vary, and, for some groups, particularly the larger ones, temptation remains to turn growing numbers into political power. African Americans have employed their numbers and political solidarity to achieve considerable electoral success, particularly at the municipal level. The election of Barack Obama as president stands as the supreme achievement of the African American political community.

But has triumph at the top of the political pyramid translated into true gains at the grass-roots level? From 2007-13, African Americans have experienced a 9 percent drop in incomes, far worse than the 6 percent decline for the rest of the population. In 2013, African American unemployment remained twice that of whites, and, according to the Urban League, the black middle class has conceded many of the gains made over the past 30 years.Concentrated urban poverty – on the decline in the booming 1990s – now appears to be growing.

This contradicts the idea that politically achieved generous welfare and subsidy regimeshold the key to ethnic uplift. African Americans, in fact, often do worse in many of the cities – Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago – that have been exemplars of black political power and redistributionist politics.

Conditions are not much better in the generally more prosperous coastal glamour towns, where progressive racial politics remain sacrosanct.Black households in New York have incomes of roughly $43,000, about the same as much as much less-costly Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., and major Texas cities.

One possible explanation lies in economic transitions – accelerated by tough regulations – that have seen the demise of higher-paying blue-collar jobs that provided opportunities in the past. The rapid shift to an economy centered around high-end business services and tech enterprises has left many behind. Silicon Valley’s African Americans and Hispanics make up roughly one-third of the population but are barely 5 percent of employees in top Silicon Valley firms.

The biggest beneficiaries of political success has not been working families but members of President Obama’s heavily African American inner circle, as well as politically adept cliques at the state and local level. Bourgeois African Americans in politics, the arts and media enjoy more influence than ever at the top, but the grass-roots level confronts street level crime, rising levels of black dissatisfaction and white resentment.

Where are things better?

In a recent study for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org), demographer Wendell Cox and I tried to identify the U.S. locales with the best economic conditions for African Americans and other racial minorities. The surprising answer: the old Confederacy. In ranking our top 15 areas for African Americans – based on incomes, homeownership, migration patterns and entrepreneurial activity – 13 were in the South, while the others, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are in historic border areas.

In the Great Migration, from 1910-70, 6 million African Americans moved from the South to the North, notably to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, as well as to California. Now the migration pattern has changed dramatically. From 2000-13, the African American populations of Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Orlando, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, N.C., Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., and San Antonio grew by close to or above 40 percent, or higher, versus an average of 27 percent for the 52 metropolitan areas.

In contrast, the African American population actually dropped in five critically important large metros that once were beacons for black progress: San Francisco-Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit.

Latinos at a crossroad

Like African Americans, Latinos also are moving to places with lower costs and greater opportunities. For Latinos, now the nation’s largest ethnic minority, nine of the top 13 places are cities wholly or partially within the old Confederacy. The majority of newcomers to the South, notes a recent Pew study, are classic first-wave immigrants: young, 57 percent foreign born and not well-educated. “You go where the opportunities are,” explains Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

The contrast is revealing between the two leading Latino megastates: hyperprogressive California and right-leaning Texas. The Lone Star state’s Latino population continues to grow rapidly, expanding since 2000 by 68 percent in Houston, 70 percent in Dallas-Fort Worth and 83 percent in Austin. In contrast, Los Angeles saw a relatively meager 15 percent Latino expansion.

The one place in California that has seen rapid Latino growth combined with the best economic performance is the most Texas-like region in the state: Riverside-San Bernardino, where the Latino population has expanded by 74 percent since 2000.

These migration figures reflect diverging realities. Start with a Latino poverty rate that, adjusted for cost of living, reaches more than 33 percent in California versus 22.7 percent in Texas. Using a host of key social indicators – marriage rate, church attendance and welfare dependency – Latinos also seem to do much better in the Lone Star State than here.

Surprisingly, the educational performance gap between Latino students and whites is much larger in California than in the nation, while significantly lower in Texas, which spends considerably less per pupil.

But perhaps the greatest distinction is found in housing. In cities like Houston, a majority of Latinos and some 40 percent of African Americans own their homes. Those rates are, on average, 25 percent to 30 percent lower in Los Angeles, as well as in deep-blue cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Homeownership, like education, long has been critical to upward mobility. As a recent report by the liberal think tank Demos indicates, much of the “ethnic wealth gap” – white households with wealth more than 10 times their Latino or African American counterparts – comes from differing home ownership rates.

Lesson for minorities?

It may be tempting for minorities in California and other blue regions to continue demanding their “rights” and investing their hopes in transfer payments, housing subsidies, energy credits and affirmative action to improve their day-to-day lives. But this reliance likely won’t turn them into a new upwardly mobile middle class. To rise up, minorities need to demand economic and housing policies that don’t simply alleviate poverty but put more people on the road to overcoming it.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

S.O.S. Means ‘Save Our Sanity’

VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--A funny thing happened on the way to asking Angelenos to pay more taxes while watching the laws of physics, biology, and the City Charter:  they got desperate, felt cornered, and started to rebel. 

Certainly, the venerable efforts of Save Valley Village, and others like it, are being opposed by City Councilmembers who "understand" but disrespect their sentiments by continuously falling back on a "Downtown Group-Think" which justifies every possible excuse to overdevelop at the expense of the lives, environment, health and financial survival of honest, law-abiding City residents. 

Ditto for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, backed by the same grassroots types who want to have more mobility, economic opportunity, and environmental laws supported by the City Council, but instead have to confront and oppose a City Council, Mayor, and Planning Department which prefers to break the law, change the law, and thwart the lives and wills of their tax-paying constituents. 

And did you hear about the awful (gasp!) organization backing the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which merely requires a halt on overdevelopments (which, when they're brought before the courts and neighborhood councils, are routinely opposed and shut down) and an adherence to City Charter and its associated environmental laws and laws of democratic governance? 

It's that pesky, evil Aids Healthcare Foundation sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative! 

And that evil, dangerous United Neighborhoods For Los Angeles - UN4LA which is pushing for it!   

Heaven forbid that smart development should be ... smart. 

Heaven forbid creating affordable housing should actually do it ... and not overdevelop with boatloads of high-priced, market-value projects with an already insufficient water and infrastructure to support what now exists in our City. 

Heaven forbid that those neighborhoods who really want to help the homeless, create more mobility through mass transit and appropriate transportation/planning measures, and ensure a livable environment should be empowered to actually do all that. 

And Heaven forbid that City Hall should allow those of us working ever more to keep what we have, while paying more and more for taxes and utility rates while getting less and less in return for them, should be allowed to economically survive instead of City leaders focusing on the profits of well-connected developers and a few small-but-connected special interests. 

It's pretty certain that the "true believers" and "density zombies" at Curbed LA and the like, will continue to work with the Mayor to pat us all collectively on the head, give a few tsk-tsk's, and tell us that all this sentiment is understandable but misguided, and make everything worse...and that we're all just a bunch of NIMBY's

It's also pretty certain that those of us who fought (and paid for, and are agonizing over paying more for) to create mass transit and upgrade our infrastructure, and are now being told to swallow ridiculous transit zones of 1/2-mile from train stations, monstrous overdevelopments that destroy and negatively change neighborhoods, and to give up our cars and commute 5-20 or more miles each day on our bicycles and buses... 

...while City leaders and only the wealthy and connected access work through their own cars... 

...will agonize over the decision to pay more for necessary transportation, or say "NO!" even to good transportation measures and its funding just to make a statement to City Hall. 

Finally, the question of taking back City Hall (which was the intent of Mayor Riordan and the Neighborhood Council Initiative) with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also be on our minds if it gets enough signatures to make it on the November ballot. 

So we've got a "S.O.S." to save so much of what we hold dear, and to keep what we fought for while implementing appropriate and fair-minded change: 

1) Let's do what we can to ensure the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative gets on the November ballot 

2) Let's do what we can to ensure a "Measure R-2" for transportation funding on the November ballot, too. 

And let's see what a "S.O.S." can do as ordinary citizens scratch and claw their way to a City that truly represents the will of the citizenry.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   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.) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016-01-11

Politics Before and After Term Limits: Two Different Worlds

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays, I started reminiscing about “back in the day,” something I used to hate in my 20’s when “old people” did it. However… 

I was thinking of a black union leader in LA named Walter Backstrom. He headed up the LA City Sanitation Workers Union for SEIU back in the day, and for some reason, he took a young union hothead under his wing. At the time, I was around twenty-six, working in Watts as a Social Worker and with the Social Workers Union – so proud of my UC Berkeley credentials. 

Both Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley were running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles at the time. After we tired of passing endless resolutions to get out of the Vietnam War, we backed Tom Bradley. After all, he was black and everyone seemed to think he was cool. 

Bradley was cool, even though he was a high ranking police officer with tenuous actual ties to South Central LA. He was not universally perceived by the community as a nice guy. And Walter and Local 347 were backing Sam Yorty. 

Anyhow, we got to talking when I discovered some Yorty backers slapping some pretty nasty bumper stickers on cars in Watts, making it look like Bradley was a black radical.  Morally outraged, I asked Walter “how can this be?” I asked him, “how can you back a racist like Yorty?” I’ll always remember his reply. “Son,” he said, “Tom Bradley doesn’t need any more black support, but Sam Yorty does. I get paid to help my members.” 

Backstrom represented the trash collection workers. They had hard jobs and bad working conditions. They needed all the help they could get, especially from City Hall. 

Yorty went on to win, and I couldn’t help but notice that Local 347 got great contracts -- courtesy of Mayor Sam and wonderful access to City Hall. Walter Backstrom later went on to work for State Senator Bill Green and for Councilman Robert Farrell. We remained friends over the years. Local 347 always got good contracts for trash workers during those times. It was a lesson to me in the “good” RealPolitik

My takeaway is this:  Back then, the politicians were probably no cleaner than they are today, but the system had a network of relationships, built over time, that worked. No one wanted to do anything spectacularly stupid that would jeopardize those relationships -- with a few notable exceptions. It was a time for “grown-ups,” in the sense that everyone was clear about their stake in the game; your handshake really was your bond and most of the real political business got done over cocktails and food or in private meetings. 

In Sacramento, where I did some occasional lobbying work for my union, special interests maintained individual full-time hired lobbyists. The big unions ran tabs at all the bars in town and the eateries like Frank Fats, David’s Brass Rail, and Posey’s. They kept hotel tabs at places like The Senator. While I was there, I never saw a politician pick up a tab or a lobbyist embarrass a politician. Believe me, in the evenings, in the joints with large tables that included the political class and us hangers on, it was the same deal:  your word was your bond. And you didn’t talk or you never came back. 

In those heady, and sometimes corrupt, days in the City and the State, elected officials were basically in for life -- unless they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar or with a seriously underage companion in public.  

There were two plus sides to this system. First, this was a time of direct relationships between the special interests -- sometimes brokered through lobbyists, but often by direct one-on-one meetings. Those relationships lasted over decades. They imposed a degree of personal civility … boundaries that are nonexistent today. 

The other plus side was that everybody had a stake in the game. The politicians tended to gravitate into areas of expertise during their long political careers. Water issues, zoning, taxes, mental health -- you name it -- they found a niche of expertise; they and their staffs became experts.  And that expertise crossed party lines with regularity. Heck, they even read their bills! 

There were characters like Phil Burton and George Moscone and Willie Brown. There were great Republicans like George Milias and Bob Beverly. And they all worked together most of the time. And everyone in the game knew where the practical limits were. 

This worked for the players, even if the public was largely lost in space. The same held true for LA City Hall and the County of Los Angeles, although the County was seriously conservative and secretive compared to the rest of the jurisdictions I dealt with on a continuous basis. 

Then, after a lot of scandals, along came term limits. The thinking was that you couldn’t get an elected official out of office without a crowbar and this was close to true!  As a result, we got a new breed of folks who have no expertise in anything except getting elected to office and making a career out of moving up the rungs of the political ladder. Typically, this occurred at more expense and more to the detriment of the public than under the old system. Talk about unintended consequences!  And today, you still can’t get them out with a crowbar. 

These days, elected officials don’t even read most of the bills they author; votes are pretty much automatic, given the Democratic super majorities. Lost in this process is any pretense of subject matter expertise by these elected officials. It’s all about instant gratification. 

The only relationships that exist are the transitory cash ones between elected officials and the lobbyists, developers, and, yes, the unions who have ponied up the money to keep them in the game.  A handshake is good for a few weeks -- if you’re lucky -- and it’s all about what you are going to do for the incumbent now … now being defined as how what you want fits into their next office … public policy be damned. 

Just look at the LA City Council and the career paths of the majority of these elected officials. Public property, which is theoretically owned by the people of the City of Los Angeles and is held in trust by these public servants, is treated as markers in a monopoly game, while they bounce from job to job. 

My point is not to glamorize the old system or to bring back the good old days of a part-time California Legislature – even though you at least knew who bought who back then. 

I want to encourage some serious thought about how we govern, and how to go about modifying our existing system so that there is some incentive for elected officials to actually know something about the issues they casually shop. 

Land use issues are very complicated if you want to do more than simply sell your vote. Law enforcement issues are likewise very complicated. The second you drill down into the details and set up ‘filtering’ Commissions, it doesn’t seem to do a lot for either the communities we live in or the police themselves. 

The same is true of a host of issues. For instance, water management at the State level. This requires both knowledgeable elected officials who have subject matter expertise, either their own or that of their paid staffs. “Dialing for dollars,” as evidenced in our current system, is not what we need or want. 

So maybe, just maybe, we should take another look at term limits … and their implications.

 

(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.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Mobilizing Mothers: The History of “Mommy” Activists

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-Author E.M. Forster once wrote, “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.” 

Although giving birth might not be a determining factor in the follow-through or even existence of activism, mothers have a longstanding tradition of mobilizing to get the job done. We joke about how a group of mothers can organize the logistics of running the soccer snack shack or a gift wrap drive that pays for those ELMO projectors in the classroom. These days, groups like Moms Demand Action, which has chapters in all fifty states, lobby members of Congress to push expanded background checks for guns. 

The President’s speech laying out the executive order to expand background checks for buyers and close the “gun show loophole” that exempts most small-sellers from keeping formal records of sale referenced the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook, from the introduction by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the school mass shooting to the closing moments of the speech.

Sandy Hook was also a pivotal point for Shannon Watts, (photo above) an Indianapolis mother who started a Facebook page, “One Million Moms for Gun Control,” the day after the mass shooting. The page has grown into a nonpartisan advocacy group. The group’s “We Can End Gun Violence” video features President Obama as well as Julianne Moore, Spike Lee, Amy Schumer, and Michael J. Fox. Last fall just before the third anniversary of Sandy Hook, the organization’s Orange Walks around the country to “honor all the lives taken by gun violence in America and show just how determined we are to end it.” (Moms Demand Action)

The Indianapolis mother has become a leader in the movement to end gun violence, joined by supporters across the country who have started local or statewide chapters. How did Watts turn a personal mission into a national powerhouse?

Watts has stated that she modeled Moms Demand Action after Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD.) Since MADD was incorporated in 1980, the organization has evolved into one of the most influential grassroots-founded nonprofits in the U.S.

Like Moms Demand Action, MADD was founded by a mother. Candy Lightner took action after her 13-year old daughter was killed by a driver who had multiple records of arrest for intoxication and a hit-and-run drunk driving charge less than a week before the fatal accident. Today, drunk driving carries consequences but it hasn’t always been that way. At the time of Cari Lightner’s death, drunk driving was rarely prosecuted. Cari was one of 2,500 alcohol-related traffic fatalities that year in California when her mother lobbied Governor Jerry Brown to set up a task force on drunk driving. Lightner became the first member.

A year later, California had passed a law imposing minimum $375 fines for drunk drivers and mandatory sentences for repeat offenders. President Reagan tapped the California mother to serve on the National Commission on Drunk Driving. The commission recommended raising the drinking age to 21 and revoking licenses for repeat offenders. By 1984, the President had signed a law that reduced federal highway grants to states that had not raised the drinking age to 21 and all states had imposed stronger DUI laws. MADD had about 320 chapters and 600,000 volunteers throughout the country by 1985.

Although Lightner parted ways with the organization she started in 1985, MADD continued to impact DUI laws, waging a successful campaign to lower the national legal blood alcohol level (BAC) from 0.1 percent to 0.08. MADD’s lobbying efforts have led to numerous other laws and practices, including administrative license suspensions and ignition interlock laws. MADD continues to work towards their mission to “end drunk driving, help fight drug driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.”

E.M. Forster may have been right. If mothers like Candy Lightner and Shannon Watts can impact issues like DUI legislation and gun licensing, what other causes can be spearheaded by mothers who make a difference?

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

  

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Power to the People Reaffirmed: CA Supreme Court Says Voters Can Weigh In on Citizens United

WAGING WAR ON BIG MONEY-When it ruled Monday that California lawmakers can ask for voters’ opinions on campaign-spending laws, the state Supreme Court underscored “that the ultimate power of our government is vested in the people,” Common Cause senior vice president Karen Hobert Flynn declared in the wake of the decision.

By upholding the legality of Proposition 49 -- which would ask voters whether Congress should propose an amendment overturning the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United   -- the court spoke “directly to the question we have faced since the Citizens United ruling,” Hobert Flynn continued. “Are we a democracy of, by, and for the people, or are we to be ruled by an elite, moneyed class, where the power of government rests in the hands of a few wealthy special interests?”

The San Jose Mercury News reported on the 6-1 decision:

The California Supreme Court on Monday for the most part upheld the state Legislature’s power to put nonbinding, advisory measures on the ballot -- allowing state politicians to essentially test the waters on issues with voters without actually enacting new laws. The justices left some questions unanswered as to how far the Legislature can go in using such measures in the future.

The unprecedented legal test stems from Proposition 49, a measure removed from the November 2014 ballot by the state’s high court that sought voter views on whether Congress should be asked to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United ruling on unlimited independent campaign spending.

“Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process,” the ruling read in part.

“We see no evidence the drafters of the California Constitution intended to deprive the Legislature of a tool other state legislatures have long used to ensure they are truly speaking on behalf of their states in the federal constitutional amendment process,” Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote for the state’s high court.

The development paves the way for the state legislature to put this issue before voters statewide in 2016. “I certainly expect it to be on the ballot one way or another,” Derek Cressman, who was the campaign manager for the proposition before it was removed from the ballot, told the LA Times. Hundreds of thousands of Californians also have spoken in support of an amendment through local advisory referenda, Common Cause points out.

A similar advisory referendum is slated to appear on the ballot this November in Arkansas. And in Washington state, backers of yet another initiative aimed at overturning Citizens United submitted 330,000 signatures to the secretary of state at the end of December -- more than enough to qualify the measure for the 2016 ballot.

“Coast-to-coast, Americans are determined to break the hold of big money donors on our politics,” said Hobert Flynn, “from city hall and the county courthouse to the national capitol and the White House.”

(Deirdre Fulton writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted.) Photo: The Earl Warren Building in San Francisco -- Sanfranman59, licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

Diagnosing 2016 … Without a Crystal Ball

MY TURN-At the end of 2014, I wrote my “year-end” with a few disclaimers. I didn't write one for 2015 because I was literally unplugged -- on the high seas without internet connection! 

The first couple of days of withdrawal were painful, glancing at my digital appliances when nothing was there. Amazingly enough, by the third day it was only a minor inconvenience and for the rest of the fourteen days ... I really didn't care! I heartily recommend this "cold turkey" treatment to you all. It's amazing what one can do with the time not devoted to our digital addictions. 

I utilized my time well by riding a camel in Cabo San Lucas (an oxymoron if there ever was one, but have the picture to prove it,) went zip-lining in Costa Rica and, among other things, managed to read eight books. 

And, oh yes ... I pondered what I would write about for CityWatch. Now that I’m plugged in again, I have taken a look at what I wrote in 2014. I could have just re-run it here, but unfortunately, things in both the world and locally are worse. 

A macro look at the U.S. in 2014 showed the stock market, GNP, unemployment and healthcare coverage had accomplished great gains. We were better off than most of the other parts of the world. 

However, in 2015 we saw violence increase ten-fold -- finishing here in San Bernardino with a terrorist mass shooting. The stock market closed down 2% for the year...the worst loss since 2008. Unemployment did drop, but wages stagnated most of the year.  Interest rates were raised by .25% after almost a decade of no increases. Healthcare saw big jumps in pharmaceutical prices that forced premiums to rise; it’s still better than before the Affordable Care Act, but not as good as it could be.  

Los Angeles managed to cut its water consumption as dire predictions about El Nino starting in January came true. Our City Council talked a great game but accomplished very little. Crime increased significantly, although that could have been due to the fact that we received false statistics in prior years.  

The honeymoon with Mayor Garcetti is over and the actual living together has had some bumps. The Porter Ranch gas leak has uprooted and sickened thousands of families in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley and might not be fixed until March. And our other favorite utility to hate -- the DWP -- is focused on increasing rates, allegedly to rebuild our aging infrastructure. My CW colleague, Jack Humphreville, has detailed the DWP saga very well. Take a look back at his articles in CW. 

After five months of searching we still don't have a Superintendent of Education. The School Board assures us that we should have one by the end of the month. In the meantime, antagonism caused by the debate over public and charter schools continues to fester. 

At the end of last year, I also listed the baggage we were carrying into 2015. Let's see if any of that has gone from being “checked” to becoming a lighter carry on. 

Italics here are my 2015-2016 update: 

1)     Economic Inequity. The ramifications for this continued and growing gap between the top echelon and the rest of the working population could eventually destroy our way of life. Remember Marie Antoinette and her immortal “Let them eat cake?”  It is also a root cause for many of the other challenges we face. 

That hasn't changed to any great degree. Yes, minimum wage has gone up but one still can't live on a 40 hour a week minimum wage salary and feed a family. 

2)  The  Police Force in Minority Communities. Perception becomes a reality and the tension and resentment between the two in many communities must be altered.  There is blame on both sides. Where are the community leaders advocating for kids to stay in school, respect their teachers and each other and, probably most important, where is the parental influence? 

On the other side there is a huge gap between minority and white communities in both arrests and “stop and frisk.” That must change if we are to progress as a society. Are there bullies in the Police Force? Of course there are… as there are in all parts of our society. 

We saw even more of that this past year. Police-involved fatalities were too frequent. The City Council endorsed "body cameras" but Police Chief Beck decreed that in the case of police-involved incidents, the police officers would have access to the video BEFORE writing their reports. Also, the public would have to go through the courts in order to view the videos.  

Doesn't sound too transparent to me. 

3)  Education. I don’t know if the “Core” program is the answer, but with all of the smart people working in the educational sector, there have to be solutions. We as a society can’t afford to have an illiterate population. There are so many inspiring teachers involved in successful programs across the nation. Maybe using them to develop curriculum, instead of having administrators make the decisions, might be an answer. It couldn’t hurt! 

Higher education should be available to all and it shouldn’t be a strictly academic program. It means acquiring advanced training in those areas that the individual can master…whether it be plumbing or nuclear science. This helps grow our economy and makes life easier for all of us. 

"No child Left Behind" was allowed to fade away and new approaches are being discussed. It’s true that LA schools win academic decathlons, but there are still way too many dropouts as well as kids who can't read. 

4) World Conflicts. Personally, I don’t think the U.S. can solve the world’s problems. I also don’t think that we can remake the world in our own image. At the same time, we also CANNOT allow genocide to occur. So many people profess to have answers to all of the world’s conflicts, but I am not one of them! I do agree with some of the experts that what we are experiencing now is, sadly, the “new normal.” This is baggage that is not likely to be checked in my lifetime. 

It was a horribly violent year. We had the Paris Attacks, the immigration exodus, Saudi Arabia and Iran are now facing off, and in this first week of 2016, North Korea is boasting about its hydrogen bomb. If it can be made to fit on the end of a long range missile, it could hit the West Coast. 

Nowhere feels safe. For a week we were able to relax about a nuclear Iran when it agreed to some strong terms, but now that looks "iffy" even though they just got rid of 25,000 lbs. of uranium. 

We did restore relations with Cuba but Congress has not lifted the sanctions. 

5) Leadership. We as a nation do not encourage great leaders. By the time they are elected to leadership roles they have had to compromise on so many things. The combination of mediocrity and masses amounts of money is what wins elections. One may have a great message, but if there aren’t sufficient finances to get the message out…it does no good. Where will our future leaders come from? 

Reams have been written on this. We are the only country that starts an electoral campaign two years before the actual vote takes place. We and, unfortunately, the rest of the world have witnessed some of the most embarrassing and hateful rhetoric in modern history. Ironically, the only bright spot here is that we’ve seen evidence proving that it isn't the one who spends the most money who gets the most attention! 

My prediction is two-fold: This will either spur a huge turnout at the polls or, by the time November rolls around, a large percentage of the country will be so turned off they won't vote. 

Since “all politics is local,” last year, I listed the carryover baggage from 2014: 

City Pension growth

Earthquake Retrofitting

Water distribution and Conservation

Transportation Issues

Infrastructure Fixes

Uncompetitive Business Ordinances

Education Conflicts

Minority Community Police Conflicts

Apathetic Voters 

Add to that the homelessness problem and the plight of our Veterans and nothing has really changed. In many cases, it has gotten worse. 

Now the State is stepping in and this week we hear comments about the lack of a concise plan from Los Angeles. This I don't understand! The Mayor formed a crisis committee in June. We have some brilliant people in this City, who, if they were all locked in a room, could come up with some creative and practical ideas. Obviously our City government is not part of that group. 

I am sure you will let me know what else I should add to the list. 

Will we find solutions to all of this in 2016? Not a chance! We can only hope to make some progress, and I am more pessimistic about that than I was this time last year. 

Last year I said:  

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our Neighborhood Council System (NCs). I have been both an observer and an activist in this movement and have seen that its potential to help our City is still enormous. 

Neighborhood Councils face a real challenge going into the future. They are poised at a fork in the road…either rising to a higher, stronger position in the City or gradually dying out. The biggest weakness, in my opinion, is the lack of new leadership. There is no mechanism to encourage young people to participate. There are too many NCs in which the leadership rotates among the same group of people and for too many, it is a “power trip.” 

2016 is an election year for the NC's. Thirty-five out of the ninety-six have opted for online voting. It is a very good way to test the results and see if it would work for our citywide elections. 

There have been some positive changes at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA). They were able to increase staff. But, of course, without the thousands of volunteers, they would literally be out of business. 

On the other hand, I have a feeling that there are several City Councilmembers who are doing everything they can to undermine the influence of the Neighborhood Council system. They don't want their actions to be scrutinized by their constituents. However, they are up against a passionate and better organized group. Some of them will suffer the errors of their ways come the next election. 

I do want to express my appreciation to all of you who have allowed me to vent my frustrations and to those who have shared with me the positive things that everyday people do for their neighbors. I hope I have stirred the pot a little by discussing issues that affect all of us living in this imperfect but wonderful City. 

And, as always, my gratitude to CW Editor Ken Draper for his years of dedication to the betterment of Los Angeles, his vision and his relentless search for multiple opinions on the news. 

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)

BOOK WATCH-Social progress occurs because liberal-minded reformers defeat conservative resistance.

That’s how slavery ended – and women gained the right to vote – and couples won a right to use birth control – and Social Security pensions were afforded to retirees – and labor was allowed to organize – and Prohibition was reversed – and blacks overcame Jim Crow segregation – and gay sex was decriminalized – and Medicare and Medicaid were established – and Sabbath “blue laws” were abolished – and censorship of movies and books ended – and health coverage was expanded under the Affordable Care Act – and pollution controls were enforced – and gays gained a right to marry – and many other humane advances occurred.

This week, Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero will release his book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections). He says conservatives often feel society shifting away from their cherished privileges and prejudices – for example; they feel “anxiety about the demise of the patriarchal family or Anglo-American dominance or ‘Christian America.’” Too late, they raise an outcry and fight a furious resistance, but the trend can’t be stopped.

“In almost every case since the founding of the republic,” Prothero wrote, “conservatives have fired the first shots in our culture wars. Equally often, liberals have won… [and] a liberal win becomes part of the new status quo and eventually fades from our collective memory. No conservative today wants to disenfranchise Mormons or outlaw five o’clock cocktails. So these victories no longer even appear to be ‘liberal.’ They are simply part of what it means to be an American.”

The professor added:

“America’s culture wars are won by liberals … Gays and lesbians get marriage. An ‘infidel’ (Jefferson) and then a ‘papist’ (Kennedy) get the White House. Nearly as predictably as night follows day, those who declare war on ‘infidels’ or Catholics or the sins of the 1920s or the abominations of the 1960s go down in defeat. Liberals win because they typically have the force of American traditions on their side, not least the force of the Bill of Rights itself, which on any fair reading protects the rights of minorities against the impositions of majorities. Liberals also win because the causes conservatives pick to rev up their supporters are, surprisingly, lost from the start.”

Prothero spotlights five religious-racial-moral battles in America to prove his point. The first battle was a showdown in the 1790s when conservative churchmen branded Thomas Jefferson a “howling atheist” in league with violent radicals of the French Revolution. The struggle involved dispute over whether America was “a Christian nation.”

Elections of 1796 and 1800 “turned into a cosmic battle between God and the devil, and America’s first culture war was on,” Prothero wrote. Alexander Hamilton called Jefferson “an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics.” Amid the tumult, “conservatives scapegoated immigrants as ‘hordes of ruffians’ and ‘revolutionary vermin’” (somewhat like today’s Republican denunciations of Hispanics and Muslims).

In the end, Jefferson triumphed, and America became more inclusive of unorthodox people.

The second culture war involved a wave of violent “nativist” Protestant attacks on Catholics around America. In 1844, Catholic-Protestant hatred triggered a cannon battle in the streets of Philadelphia, killing dozens. Anti-Catholic riots and church burning ensued into the 1850s, spawning the “America for Americans” Know-Nothing Party, which won 75 seats in Congress in 1854. Gradually, hatred of Catholics receded, but Protestant prejudice lingered until Kennedy won the presidency in 1960.

The third culture war was hostility and violence toward Mormons and their polygamy practice. Latter-Day Saints founder Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered by an anti-Mormon mob in Illinois in 1844. Also, “Mormon leaders would be sued, jailed, beaten, stripped naked, tarred and feathered, and murdered,” the professor wrote. But this wave eventually faded.

The fourth culture war was Prohibition in the 1920s after evangelists and fundamentalists succeeded in banning alcohol. The struggle included conservative alarms over flappers, jazz, race-mixing, smoking, cosmetics, hair-bobbing, Sunday golf – and even evolution, as crystallized by the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Government-enforced sobriety bred bootleggers, organized crime, and bribery of police and prosecutors. In the end, liberals won the right for Americans to drink if they wished. Conservative churches were defeated, and Prohibition ended.

The current culture war arose as a backlash against the tumultuous 1960s when young Americans loosed the sexual revolution and war-denouncing counterculture. Racial desegregation, women’s right to choose abortion, and the banning of government-led school prayer have further outraged conservatives. The right wing “[has seen] American society drifting away from them, erasing forms of culture they held dear.”

Over time, most Americans have accepted liberal victories, but today Tea Party hard-liners still sound right-wing trumpets. Will culture wars continue forever? Will progressives keep pushing for more personal freedoms? Dr. Prothero concludes:

Liberals can take comfort in the fact that they almost always win our cultural battles – that the arc of American cultural politics bends toward more liberty, not less.”

(James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail and is provided to CityWatch by Peace Voice) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 3, 2016

Mayor Garcetti Looking to Compromise with NIMBYs on Anti-Development Ballot Measure

GUEST WORDS-Development has been booming in Los Angeles since the end of the Great Recession -- Angelenos need housing and developers are pumping out bigger and bigger mixed-users to take advantage of this. But not everyone is a fan. 

A ragtag group of Hollywood NIMBYs who call themselves the Coalition to Preserve LA believes the rapid development of Los Angeles is something along the lines of a "Manhattanization" of their beloved city, citing already-dense, development-crazy Hollywood as their exhibit A. Emboldened by their public fight with the Palladium Residences, (photo above) and frustrated by a lack of consistency in the city's zoning practices, the CPLA wants to put an end to the city's practice of using piecemeal amendments to city codes to allow real estate developers to build stuff not normally allowed by LA's extremely outdated zoning code.  To that end, the CPLA has proposed a ballot measure they call the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that locks developers into iron-clad (and often outdated) density restrictions. 

On the flip side, City Hall is looking to build a lot of housing and fast to meet the needs of residents -- 100,000 units by 2021-- so this ballot measure is triggering fears of red tape that could stifle LA's ability to build its way out of an epic housing crunch. The fear of NIMBYs is real. According to the LA Daily News, Mayor Garcetti is hoping to meet with the CPLA to hammer out some kind of compromise before the initiative can make it on to the November ballot. 

The NII ballot measure would stop all amendments to the city's General Plan, increase oversight from city planning officials, and stop construction on all projects not in compliance with the city's General Plan for up to two years, until their impacts on the community could be reviewed. The CPLA believes this would put a stop to mega developments skirting the zoning codes through what they call "unlawful favoritism" from the city. (NIMBYs sued in the past to prevent a more modern update to the planning guidelines in Hollywood.) 

LA is rapidly approaching a point where outdated city planning guidelines clash with a modern metropolis that has outgrown the concept of sprawl. City officials, worried they could be handcuffed to antiquated zoning laws, are beginning to publicly voice their displeasure with the proposed initiative. 

Last month, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell said the initiative was "bad for LA" and bad for the city's economy. Garcetti says he agrees with the initiative's "sentiment" of decreasing spot zoning and variances to the city code, but a ballot measure is not the way to accomplish the goal, adding that it would have "unintended consequences," such as rising rents and a decrease in available housing during a housing crisis.” The mayor would like to meet with the CPLA to discuss a compromise that would "get to the heart" of the CPLA's complaints without going to the voters in November. 

CPLA leader Michael Weinstein says he's willing to meet with the mayor, but doesn't show any signs of wavering in his push for the measure. He says in order for CPLA to agree to a compromise, the LA City Council would have to pass severe limits to the granting of exemptions, and commit to "doing a new general plan or community plan on a set timeline." Until then, the CPLA is going ahead with their ballot measure. They even have a PR campaign planned to help gather the 65,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot. And in the next few weeks, they will erect billboards pleading for LA to "Stop Manhattanwood." 

(Jeff Wattenhofer writes for Curbed LA, where this perspective was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

Mayor Offers LA’s Planning Director Job to the Boy Next Door

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--The simultaneous announcements from the Mayor’s Office that the current Director of City Planning, Michael LoGrande, has resigned, and his successor will be – pending confirmation -- Vince Bertoni, currently Pasadena’s Planning Director, speaks volumes.   

For one thing, there clearly was no national search for a new Director of Planning for the second largest city in the United States.  No job announcements in professional planning magazines.  No interviews of short-listed candidates before the City Planning Commission or the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.  Just an uncharacteristically quick and decisive executive decision by Mayor Eric Garcetti.   

It indicates that LA now functions like a small town in which everyone knows each other since prior to Pasadena Vince Bertoni was a former Deputy Director of Planning in Los Angeles. City Hall no longer has an interest in tapping professional planning expertise from other metropolitan areas, such as Indianapolis (Cal Hamilton), New York City (Conn Howe), San Bernardino County (Ken Topping), or San Diego (Gail Goldberg).   

To be clear this lack of a national search is not because City Planning staff is so knowledgeable that there is no need to look elsewhere.  Rather, City Hall’s pro-development institutional culture is so in-grained that hiring professional planning from the outside could gum up the urban growth machine.  Better to tap a familiar face and hope that new Director of Planning can somehow placate two forces closely at odds with each other.  

On one side are the investors, contractors, realtors, and their ilk hard at work hustling permits and entitlements for everything from McMansions to skyscrapers.  

On the other side are the community groups that turn to publications like City Watch to make it clear that LA is in the midst of a speculative real estate bubble in which character, scale, environmental impacts, and infrastructure capacity barely factor into permitting decisions.  In fact, it is this “approve everything” attitude that gave rise to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that may have fueled Michael LoGrande’s unexpected departure. 

Presumably, the City Hall rumor mill will eventually leak the particulars of this revolving door, but until then speculation rules.  Did the City lose too many planning-related lawsuits, especially in Hollywood?  Did some City Hall insider not get the goods delivered in time?  Is the public being thrown a bone to undermine the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative?  At this point the public simply does not know, which is why rumors fly so easily. 

But regardless of the reasons, Vince Bertoni (photo left) clearly must have some mixed emotions about his new position.   He will inherit a department that is finally well staffed with over 400 employees, but the bulk of them are new hires because around 75 or more veteran planners left the Planning Department over the past decade through a golden hand shake or induced retirements.  

Their institutional memory and knowledge about planning and the particularities of Los Angeles walked out the door with them.  While the drive and ambition of recent hires can fill some of this vacuum, it also means that there will be avoidable mistakes and duplicated work. 

Since Vince Bertoni is a planning professional, he will quickly realize, if he does not already know it, that the planning function of LA City Planning is the runt of the litter.  Most of those 400 employees are dealing with zoning entitlements for specific projects, not planning Los Angeles.  Moreover, many of these entitlement projects require amendment to the General Plan, a clear indicator that market forces, not adopted plans, are shaping the Los Angeles of the future. 

The remedy for this situation is no easy task, and hundreds of zoning technicians cannot be quickly retooled to update, implement, and monitor the different elements of LA’s General Plan.  Only two of these elements are up-to-date:  Housing and Transportation (Mobility), and the latter is subject to a lawsuit.  One other optional element, Health, was recently adopted, but the other General Plan elements are seriously out-of-date and in need an urgent update.  

Foremost among those elements requiring an immediate update is the optional General Plan Framework Element.  It ties together the entire General Plan but is based on 1990 Census data.  It population forecast for 2010 overshot the 2010 census by nearly 500,000 people.   Another optional element, Infrastructure, dates back to the Calvin Hamilton era, and is now 50 years old. 

Furthermore, Los Angeles urgently needs two other optional General Plan elements.  One is Economic Development, a perennial issue in Los Angeles because employment levels have been stagnant for over two decades. 

The other optional element is Climate Change.  Many cities have already prepared a Climate Change Element, and the State of California has prepared detailed guidelines to assist cities in preparing this new element.  Instead, both Mayors Villaraigosa and Garcetti had their staff prepare Climate Action Plans.  In effect, the implementation program is there, but not the policies to guide and monitor it. 

In the case of the adopted General Plan elements, the situation is the reverse.  The policies are there, but their implementation is haphazard because there is no linkage whatsoever between the City’s planning process and its budgeting process, including the Capital Improvement Program.  Like each city Departments’ work program, they exist in parallel universes. 

Finally, all of the General Plan elements need to be carefully monitored, and the General Plan Framework mandates exactly what this monitoring entails.  But, the monitoring program does not exist, and City Planning has only produced one highly incomplete monitoring report in the past 16 years.  Public law suits have attempted to correct this enormous flaw, but the response of the Planning Department and the City Attorney was to fight the lawsuits, not to finally establish the monitoring program and produce the annual monitoring reports carefully delineated in the General Plan Framework. 

This tension between planning and zoning will not go away on its own in Los Angeles, and it is the job of a strong Director of Planning to make sure they are on an equal footing.  For this to happen, Vince Bertoni clearly has his work cutout for him.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on planning issues for CityWatch.  He also serves on the boards of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and Planning Committee of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. Please direct any comments or corrections to [email protected]. )

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Not Another White Oscars

WHO WE ARE--The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that’s the group that picks the Oscar nominees and winners, faces its first big test on January 14. That’s the day that it will announce who its members nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.

It’s a big test for a good reason. A year ago the Academy was publicly embarrassed, almost humiliated, by the avalanche of bad press, and threats from civil rights leaders to picket and boycott the awards ceremony, it got. It was under withering fire for having a near unbroken parade of white men and women troop to the stage to snare Oscars. It was the whitest Academy Awards in nearly two decades. It was so white that Award ceremony host Neil Patrick Harris (photo below) got grim faced laughs when he cracked, “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”

The Hollywood industry shot callers did not want a repeat of that image fiasco. They solemnly promised to do everything in their power to do better with the Oscars. They promised to do due diligence in breaking up the clubby, chummy nearly all white, mostly male membership of the Academy. That meant encouraging more minorities in the industry to apply for membership.

They announced that they would launch a new initiative to get more minorities on the Academy staff. They would encourage the studios and independents to scour the woods for more black, Hispanic, Asian and female filmmakers and performers to bring into the industry establishment. They repeatedly pointed out that the film industry moguls meant business in their pledge to do more to break up the good ole’ white guy club. The proof of that offered to bolster their claim to do more to make a racial and gender make-over was that the Academy’s own president was an African-American woman.

The debate over what Hollywood should or shouldn’t do to make the film business more ethnically and gender representative of the country and the film-going audience has raged for decades. The paltry number of black, Hispanic, Asian screen performers, directors and behind the camera talent who has been nominated, let alone who have won Oscars, has been endlessly cited. The landmark 2002 Academy Awards in which blacks won the best actor and actress award, or the even more landmark 2005 Awards in which five out of the 20 nominations of black actors, now seems like ancient history. The Academy has sped backward since those heady days.

The push to get Hollywood to open its doors wide to minorities and women up and down the filmmaking food chain is not academic. Minority and women filmgoers yearly pony up tens of millions to help bolster the film business.

What’s presented on the big and little screen represents America’s cultural face of what the industry and the country is supposed to look like. It’s not just about a glitzy on screen image it’s about transforming an industry whose business is to entertains into a business that reflects and fairly represents its clientele, that’s the ticket buying public, and provides real opportunities for a part of that clientele to work and rise to the top in that industry.

This goes far beyond ladling out a statute on the podium to a handful of hand-picked select and elite film talent every year. Still, it’s the glitter and glamor of that ceremony and those awards that millions on ritual cue tune their TV sets into every year. They sit for hours watching, and along the way identify with and revel in the mirth, ecstasy and fantasy of the Oscar winners.

The Academy is, of course, from its words and promises and the embarrassment of a year ago, is well aware of the industry’s mass power and allure, and even its responsibility to literally put a better and different face on its business. The problem though is how to get those faces in its inner sanctum. 

It’s a high bar to scale. A prospective member has to be sponsored by two current members of the Academy. Or, they must have been nominated for an Oscar. There’s more. If they can get over that bar they have to pass muster by the Academy’s Board of Governors who have the final say so over who gets in. The Academy hasn’t given any indication that it will loosen its admission standards anytime soon, if ever. 

Hollywood’s business is what it has been from the day in 1929 when it held its first Academy Awards ceremony and that’s to entertain and not crusade for racial and gender diversity. That won’t change. But what can and should is the face of those who receive its awards for entertaining.

In 2015, all eyes watched an Oscars ceremony that was a mostly white guy’s show. All eyes will again be on the Oscars to see what’s changed. The message then is not another white Oscars.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more of Hutchinson insight.) 

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

 

 

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A Deceptive Attack on Organized Labor

VOICES--The United States Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), a lawsuit with major implications for the future of organized labor. While it purports to be about free speech rights, Friedrichs is actually a deceptive attack on unions. 

Many California public school teachers working in traditional school districts are CTA members by default. CTA collects dues from members, some of which are "chargeable" -- that is, applied to the costs of collective bargaining and classified as apolitical -- and the rest of which are "nonchargeable," or classified as political.

The plaintiffs in Friedrichs seek to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which in 1977 established that, while public sector unions could not require member contributions to nonchargeable spending, they could charge all employees for chargeable spending (activities related to "collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes").

The plaintiffs' argument boils down to the following: All spending by the union is inherently political. Mandatory employee contributions to it thus constitute "compelled speech," which is generally prohibited by the first amendment. According to the plaintiffs, the Supreme Court was wrong in Abood when it asserted that the importance of promoting "labor peace" and preventing "free rides" justifies making chargeable dues mandatory.

This argument is deeply flawed on several levels. First, chargeable dues contributions are a condition of a specific type of employment -- they aren't "compelled" by any reasonable definition of the word. Teachers who dislike this employment condition are perfectly free to seek employment at a non-unionized school. Unless the plaintiffs consider all conditions of employment in any profession to be "compelled," which I doubt they do, they can't logically argue that chargeable dues contributions are.

Second, there are also numerous other circumstances in which some form of membership dues is required. I, for example, support very little of our government's defense spending, but I still have to pay the portion of my taxes that fund it. Or, as Gordon Lafer explains, consider that lawyers must pay mandatory fees to practice law and condominium owners are required to pay association fees.

Third, while the distinction between political and nonpolitical activity is undoubtedly fuzzy, we draw seemingly arbitrary lines between the two all the time. For example, many large corporations have lobbyists who fight against unions and labor standards, charitable arms that donate to organizations that undermine unions and labor standards, and managers who discourage unionization (both legally and illegally) at their stores -- each of these activities is overlapping and affects the public interest, but only the first is typically classified as political. For this reason, the plaintiffs' arguments, if accepted, could potentially invalidate a whole lot of other rules that differentiate political from nonpolitical activity.

Fourth, the prevention of free rides (when someone benefits from collective bargaining without paying for it) is a compelling justification for requiring dues from union members. Unions in states that have restricted collective bargaining are already reeling; in Wisconsin, for example, where Governor Scott Walker initiated an anti-union crusade in 2011, compensation has fallen by 10 percent for members of the Wisconsin State Employees' Union, while NEA membership in the state has fallen by a third and AFT membership by half. Allowing free rides and making it more difficult for unions to negotiate reduces the bargaining power -- and hence the likelihood of securing adequate compensation and good working conditions -- for all members.

The organization behind Friedrichs, the Center for Individual Rights, has strong ties to individuals and groups, like the Koch Brothers and ALEC, that routinely fight against workers' rights. This lawsuit is part of those efforts; it isn't actually about free speech or constructing sensible policy. Instead, it's about undermining organized labor and further diminishing union strength and worker bargaining power.

For wealthy interests who benefit when workers lose and those congenitally opposed to teachers unions, Friedrichs may thus be welcome. But those who care about workers' rights and are interested in the facts would do well to oppose it.

Note: A deeper dive into Friedrichs and a related lawsuit can be found here.   

(Ben Spielberg is 34Justice co-founder and blogger. This piece was posted first at Huffington Post

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2015

When California Sterilized 20,000 Citizens

WHO WE ARE--Not too long ago, more than 60,000 people were sterilized in the United States based on eugenic laws. Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” 

In the early 20th century across the country, medical superintendents, legislators, and social reformers affiliated with an emerging eugenics movement joined forces to put sterilization laws on the books. Such legislation was motivated by crude theories of human heredity that posited the wholesale inheritance of traits associated with a panoply of feared conditions such as criminality, feeblemindedness, and sexual deviance. 

Many sterilization advocates viewed reproductive surgery as a necessary public health intervention that would protect society from deleterious genes and the social and economic costs of managing “degenerate stock.” From today’s vantage point, compulsory sterilization looks patently like reproductive coercion and unethical medical practice.

At the time, however, sterilization both was countenanced by the U.S. Supreme Court (in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case) and supported by many scientists, reformers, and law-makers as one prong of a larger strategy to improve society by encouraging the reproduction of the “fit” and restricting the procreation of the “unfit.” In total, 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and 1937, and surgeries reached their highest numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures began to repeal these laws, finding them antiquated and discriminatory, particularly towards people with disabilities.

Of the 60,000 sterilizations in the United States, California performed one-third, or 20,000, of them, making the Golden State the most aggressive sterilizer in the nation. Ten years ago, I published a book that explores the history of eugenics and sterilization in California, but I was frustrated that my research had yielded so little information about the state’s extensive sterilization program. I knew next to nothing about the thousands of Californians sterilized in institutions such as Sonoma (photo above), Mendocino, and Patton, all located in rural, remote parts of the state.

Who were these people? Why were they committed to institutions and then deprived of their reproductive autonomy? What was the demographic composition of those sterilized? Were certain groups of people disproportionately targeted? What about their families, interests, and lives, in and outside of the institution?

In 2007, I finally found crucial pieces of the historical puzzle. At the administrative offices of the state’s Department of Mental Health (now Department of State Hospitals), which had directed the state’s sterilization program decades earlier, a secretary pointed me to a standard-issue gray metal filing cabinet. Inside, I found a box with some microfilm reels. Squinting at the small dark font on the negative strips, I could make out the words “Sterilization Recommendation.”

In total, I located 19 microfilm reels containing thousands of documents dating from 1919 to 1952 (the most active years of sterilization), which had been preserved in the 1970s when the paper files were discarded. Several years ago, I was able to launch a project with a team of students and researchers at my institution, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to create a dataset that contains all these records in de-identified and coded form. Data entry has been a protracted and demanding process, taking nearly three years, but ultimately we created a dataset containing 19,995 patient records.

Our dataset reveals that those sterilized in state institutions often were young women pronounced promiscuous; the sons and daughters of Mexican, Italian, and Japanese immigrants, frequently with parents too destitute to care for them; and men and women who transgressed sexual norms.

Preliminary statistical analysis demonstrates that during the peak decade of operations from 1935 to 1944 Spanish-surnamed patients were 3.5 times more likely to be sterilized than patients in the general institutional population.

Laws that govern the use of medical records require that we redact personal information to protect patient privacy. Even though we will never be able to divulge the real names or precise circumstances of the 20,000 people sterilized in California, we can still see the ugly underside of medical paternalism and how authorities treated Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, immigrant groups, and people with disabilities and mental illnesses in 20th-century America.

Consider the following stories:

In 1943, a 15-year-old Mexican-American boy we will call Roberto was committed to the Sonoma State Home, an institution for the “feebleminded” in Northern California. Roberto’s journey to Sonoma began the previous year when he was picked up by the Santa Barbara Police for a string of infractions that included intoxication, a knife fight, and involvement with a “local gang of marauding Mexicans.” Citing his record of delinquency and “borderline” IQ score of 75, the officials at Sonoma recommended that Roberto be sterilized.

Roberto’s father adamantly, and unsuccessfully, opposed his son’s sterilization, and went so far as to secure a priest to protest the operation. Again and again, the records reveal that many Mexican-American families like Roberto’s resisted compulsory sterilization, seeking support from the Catholic Church, the Mexican Consulate, and legal aid societies. On occasion, family members were able to stop or forestall the operation; in most cases, however, medical superintendents would simply override such protestations and proceed with surgery.

Four years later, the relatives of Hortencia, a young African-American woman held in Pacific Colony in Spadra, California, contacted the NAACP to make a strong case against her sterilization. They halted the surgery with threats of high-profile legal action, even though this meant Hortencia was not permitted to leave the institution.

At the same time, we found that many parents and guardians consented to the sterilization of their loved ones. Silvia, a Mexican-American mother of a toddler, was 20 years old when she was placed in Pacific Colony in 1950. (photo above: image used in accordance with the California Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects Protocol ID 13-08-1310 and the University of Michigan Biomedical IRB HUM00084931.)  She was assessed with an “imbecile” IQ of 35 and reportedly had been raised in a violent home. Silvia’s mother ostensibly could not control her daughter and approved her sterilization.

Fifteen years earlier, Timothy, a white 25-year old placed in Stockton because of same-sex encounters since boyhood and a psychiatric diagnosis of “dementia praecox, hebephrenic type,” consented to his own reproductive surgery, perhaps because he knew that it was a potential ticket out of the facility or because he felt it would help him control his pathologized sexual desires.

In contrast, Mark, a white clergyman committed to Patton (a hospital for the “mentally ill”) for “dementia praecox, catatonic type,” wrote to officials in Sacramento in 1947 that he was “religiously opposed” to his own vasectomy. Records indicate that by speaking up for himself Mark persuaded authorities against the recommended vasectomy.

(Photo: Postcard c.1910s of Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino.)  Patton, Southern California’s primary mental hospital for many years, was the largest sterilizer of the mentally ill in California and second highest sterilizer overall in the state. 

Taken together, these experiences illuminate, often in poignant detail, an era when health officials controlled with impunity the reproductive bodies of people committed to institutions. Superintendents wielded great power and proceeded with little accountability, behaving in a fashion that today would be judged as wholly unprofessional, unethical, and potentially criminal. We hope our project can restore the dignity and individuality of people such as Roberto, Hortencia, and Mark, who were subjected to this kind of dehumanization.

This history remains relevant, considering a more contemporary episode of sterilization abuse, again in California’s public institutions. Although the state’s eugenic sterilization law was repealed in 1979, existing legislation provided leeway for operations in state prisons pursuant to a strict set of criteria. Between 2006 and 2010, 146 female inmates in two of California’s women’s prisons received tubal ligations that ran afoul of these criteria; at least three dozen of these unauthorized procedures directly violated the state’s own informed consent process.

The majority of these female inmates were first-time offenders, African-American or Latina. Echoing the rationale of the eugenicists who championed sterilization in the 1930s, the physician responsible for many of these operations blithely explained they would save the state a great deal of money “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children -- as they procreated more.” In 2013, an intrepid journalist at the Center for Investigative Reporting broke this story and it eventually led to the passage of a bill banning sterilization in California state prisons.

These revelations demonstrate that, even in our age of bioethics and awareness of the wrongs of medical experimentation, we are not immune from the conditions that facilitated compulsory sterilization in the mid-20th century: lack of institutional oversight, presumptions that certain members of society are not “fit” to reproduce, and overzealous and biased physicians. The documents we found certainly contain historical lessons for the present and starkly remind us that we should never forget the past.

(Alexandra Minna Stern is professor of American culture, obstetrics and gynecology, women’s studies, and history at the University of Michigan. A new edition of her book Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in America was published in December 2015. This piece first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Let’s Face It, California Is Nuts

GOLDEN STATE DEFIES COMMON SENSE--My fellow Californians, the state of our state is nuttier than ever.

In saying that, I do not meant to judge the sanity of individual Californians—to the contrary, national surveys show we have lower rates of mental illness than the country as a whole. And, to be clear, I am referring to more than the agricultural fact that our state’s almond and walnut production has increased even during this drought.

I know you will hear other, more conventional assessments of the state of things in the coming weeks. The beginning of a new year is the high season for our elected officials to offer addresses on how our state is faring—overviews of California’s cities and counties and school districts. Since these are good, if anxious, times, they will offer optimistic talk of state and local comebacks from recession and budget cuts, of digitally infused growth, of their plans for new programs. They will try to offer narratives that make sense of this place.

That is an understandable impulse, but we all know in our hearts there is no making sense of California.

For better and for worse, we are too nutty for that.

I offer my assessment of our essential nuttiness as a starting point for a year in which we will debate and cast votes on our taxes, our drug laws, our schools, our roads, our rails, our environment, our water, our future. As we figure things out, let us not lean too heavily on reason, or appeal too often to common sense.

After all, this has never been a particularly reasonable or sensible state—even as it has become one of the world’s wealthiest and most attractive places. Our nuttiness and our success stem from the same history: From its very beginnings, California has been reshaped so rapidly and often by so many different people from so many different places that only fools and columnists would dare generalize about the place.

So when things make no sense in the coming year, take comfort in the words of the writer and anarchist Edward Abbey: “There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”

We have been so singular for so long that California has become obsessed with singularity—and even afraid of “the singularity,” the idea that artificial intelligences will eventually surpass our own, and acquire a life of their own, thus dooming humanity. When Gov. Brown gives his own State of the State address, there likely will be a predictable list of California singular-status boasts: as a leader in renewable energy, in pursuing the nation’s only high-speed rail system, in protecting undocumented immigrants, in finding smarter ways to use water, in fighting climate change.

Such policies are to be celebrated. They also are the fruits of our perceived nuttiness—other states have rejected high-speed rail and immigrant protection and cap-and-trade for greenhouse gas emissions as irretrievably wacky ideas.

You won’t hear this month’s official speechmakers talk about the other half of the nut—the way our nuttiness can turn on itself.

Ours is a state of creative communities and people that we allow to be ruled from Sacramento via the most centralized regime of regulation and taxation in the United States.

California is home to more than 100 billionaires. It also has the highest percentage of its population living in poverty of any state in the country, according to statistics that control for cost of living and public assistance. Despite all those poor people, our leaders have pursued policies that add to the cost of living. And so we have the most expensive electricity, gas, water, and—most notoriously—housing. And do we build more? No—we are busy making it harder and more expensive to build additional housing.

We embrace freedom and restrict our liberties in the same breath, without realizing it. Californians are well on their way to legalizing marijuana—but good luck finding a place in the state where you can smoke it, or a cigarette. The state is pioneering technologies and rules for self-driving cars—even as we let our roads deteriorate into impassable messes.

We’ve led the way in expanding health insurance for poor people—nearly half of our children are now on Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid—but at the same time, we’ve made it harder for people to see a doctor and get treatment. California desperately needs more college graduates—we’ll be short a million skilled workers by the middle of the next decade—so, naturally, we’ve been under-funding public higher education and limiting enrollment in our colleges.

Nothing is nuttier than California education policy. Our K-12 schools still aren’t funded at the national per-pupil average, but the state uses them as a piggybank, borrowing money from school districts in bad times. And even as the state has revamped its rainy day fund, it has prevented local school districts from saving money for a rainy day, potentially undermining their credit-worthiness. And California has led the way in restricting parents and the public from obtaining information on how schools are doing; the state has stopped issuing the Academic Performance Index, which rated schools, and has yet to replace it with any other measure.

We Californians also have a nutty weakness for empty and extravagant promises. We spend years on Elon Musk’s waiting lists for Teslas he never seems to deliver in the promised numbers. We invest billions in the trivial—how many online coupon companies and photo-sharing apps does one state need? And we overdo it. CalPERS thinks it can guarantee 6.5 percent investment returns (just a year after it said it could guarantee 7.5 percent). Our governments are still offering billions in retiree health care—without setting aside money to fund it—even in an age when Medicare and Obamacare should cover all.

This year, you’ll hear big talk about how we’ll reform our crazily complicated criminal justice and tax systems. We should reform, though we probably won’t. A place as nutty as this needs simpler rules, not 5,000 separate criminal provisions and over 400 penalty enhancements.

I could go on—take note that I’ve gone this far in a column about California nuttiness without once mentioning San Francisco—but what’s the point? While our nuttiness has its costs, California will survive. And we’ll cope, as we always do, by celebrating how crazily creative we are.

As Compton’s Kendrick Lamar will rap at this new year’s Grammys when he wins a boatload of awards, “We gon’ be alright. Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.”

 

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.)

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

California: Life in the Corporate State

GELFAND’S WORLD--How is the Affordable Care Act doing here in California? One recent newcomer to the system informs us that the state agency known as Covered California is doing just fine. It's only when you have to deal with the insurance company itself that things can get sticky. Perhaps sticky is too polite a word for it. Here is her story. 

The subject of our account spent a little more than a year working in another state. When she came back to California, it was coincidentally at a time that was the beginning of the open enrollment period. She called Covered California and was presented with a list of options. She chose to sign up with Healthnet. She dutifully made her first payment well in advance for a December 1 start date. All was fine, or so she thought. 

But all was not fine. For reasons known only to the insurance deities, Healthnet fumbled this particular ball. Instead of signing her up for the first of December as promised, she was signed up for January of 2016. This would have left her without health insurance for all of December. She discovered this mistake well before the first of December (and well after her payment cleared). Thus began the long and difficult process of trying to resolve the problem. 

Let me give you a hint. Healthnet never got the problem solved. 

Healthnet made lots of promises, but never actually got anything fixed. In looking over her notes, our customer found that she had talked to at least 17 people on at least 2 continents. Pretty much everybody she talked to said that her problem was fixable, but could not be fixed right then. The first several conversations, she was told that it would take 5 to 7 days, and then the mistake would be rectified. 

Several of those 5 to 7 day intervals ensued, but Healthnet never got her signed on for the December 1 start date. It was always listed as pending, or the fully paid premium was somehow still due. 

Here is what she discovered. The company mistakenly took the original payment for the 2015 coverage and applied it to coverage under a different account number that would only have started after the New Year. In further conversations with additional Healthnet representatives and eventually with Covered California, she found out that Healthnet was suffering from an administrative glitch that probably has affected a substantial number of would-be customers. She apparently was not the only person to have her insurance payment credited to the wrong month and the wrong account number. 

Each time she talked to Covered California, she got prompt and courteous service. Each time, she was told by staff that something about her application was still pending. Additional conversations with Healthnet representatives led to promises, including the assertion that her insurance card was in the mail. 

Yep, it was in the mail, as the old joke has it. It was in the mail in the same way that your check from the Euro Lottery scam is in the mail. 

Early in January, she received a card from a Healthnet return address with some kind of discount offer for a drugstore chain. But still no insurance card. 

When it got to be the year 2016, our intrepid consumer called Covered California one more time, and asked them to get her out of Healthnet and into a different company. By then, she had become assertive enough to ask that the change be accomplished that same day. Covered California had to do a supervisory override on some administrative rule, but they accomplished the requested task in that one phone call. 

In summary, the state of California has kept its pledge. Its service organization Covered California picks up the phone when you call, and real live people talk to you. They even do what they can to help. 

Here is a curious question: What advantage accrues to Healthnet in providing such lousy service? We might consider the answer, if there is one, by considering the possibilities. 

The first is the simplest. Maybe Healthnet is just being cheap. Maybe it's just saving a few bucks on customer service. It outsources as much as it can to overseas contractors, and only provides domestic representatives when customers get demanding. There are two effects stemming from this policy. The first is that the first representative the customer deals with can't just walk down the hall and talk to a higher ranking administrator. The representative is half a world away, and can only follow what is essentially a narrowly tailored script. 

The other problem is this: The first level representative does not have the tools or the authority to actually fix the problem. All he can do is pass the buck. Presumably that representative is just  typing the complaint into a computer and pushing the send key. Somebody who is somewhere else will have to solve the problem. 

That's presumably why the promises always involve that 5 to 7 day wait. It's not really a good faith promis. It's just a rote reply to each frustrated customer. 

The other advantage for the insurance company is that the customer doesn't actually get to make use of services during the waiting period. Prescriptions don't get covered, and doctor's appointments won't get made -- not unless the customer is willing to risk having to pay in cash at the front desk. 

It's not obvious which of these reasons is the true one. Maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe Healthnet was saving money on its computer support staff and has been suffering from some giant computer glitch. That could also explain this fiasco. Only if that were the case, wouldn't it be helpful for the company to explain the problem to its anxious customers? That would have been the obvious approach. 

The other possible explanation is that Healthnet is being difficult to new customers coming into the individual (rather than group) health insurance market. That gives Healthnet a slight advantage in ridding itself of people who are a little more statistically likely to have some preexisting condition. 

In any case, the company still has the money they received from this customer. It's money that was paid for coverage that was never actually received. 

Why aren't I surprised?

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

Nun Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver … or, Why the LAPD Needs to Step up Enforcement

JUST THE FACTS-Once again, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Traffic Division Detectives are asking for the public’s help in providing information that would lead to the identification and arrest of a suspect involved in a hit and run collision that killed an innocent pedestrian. 

According to the LAPD, on December 13, 2015, around 5:20pm, 70-year-old Sister Raquel Diaz (photo) was in the crosswalk at Winter Street and North Evergreen Avenue. A vehicle traveling southbound on North Evergreen Avenue struck Sister Diaz and continued southbound. The driver did not stop to render aid as required by law. Paramedics responded and transported the Catholic Nun to a local hospital in critical condition where she died a week later. The victim of this deadly hit and run was a Sister with the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese. She was the Director of Religious Education at the Church of Assumption on Blanchard Street and worked as a Sister helping others for more than fifty years. 

While the Los Angeles City Council recently amended the Los Angeles Administrative Code and created a Hit and Run Reward Program Trust Fund, making a reward of up to $25,000 available to community members who provide information leading to the offender's identification, apprehension, and conviction, the missing component is enforcement by the LAPD. 

In 2012, the LAPD implemented a controversial policy on impoundment of vehicles of unlicensed drivers. The Department created “Special Order 7” which limits circumstances under which officers may impound a vehicle being driven by a person lacking a driver’s license.

The Chief, with full support of the Police Commission, issued the order in 2012, based on a conclusion that a disproportionate number of vehicles being impounded for up to 30 days were driven by undocumented immigrants who needed those vehicles to get to and from work. At the time, state law did not permit persons in the country unlawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.  That state law has changed with the Assembly Bill 60 which now allows everyone, including undocumented immigrants to test and obtain a driver’s license.

This week, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials released Assembly Bill 60 statistics for the month of November, as well as totals since the program was implemented on January 2, 2015. The program has been very successful. In November alone, 26,000 AB 60 driver licenses were issued. And from January 2 to November 30, 574,000 AB 60 driver licenses have been issued. A license is not issued until the applicant proves identity and residency with qualifying documents or through secondary review, passes a written knowledge exam, and completes a behind-the-wheel drive exam.

Current Law

Current law states that if a driver is unable to produce a valid driver’s license on the demand of a peace officer enforcing the provisions of this code, “the vehicle shall be impounded regardless of ownership, unless the peace officer is reasonably able, by other means, to verify that the driver is properly licensed.” In addition, the law provides that where a driver is found to be unlicensed, a law enforcement officer may “immediately arrest that person and cause the removal and seizure of that vehicle.”

Under LAPD’s policy, however, a vehicle may not be impounded. That needs to change now that everyone is able to get a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. 

Legislative History

I was personally involved in the creation of the impound law when I was an LAPD motorcycle Sergeant in 1994, as a result of taking former Assemblymember Richard Katz on a ride-along.   

In 1994, the California legislature passed two bills allowing vehicle impoundment and forfeiture of vehicles operated by motorists driving while unlicensed or with a suspended license. The first bill, Senate Bill 1758, allowed peace officers to seize and impound for 30 days vehicles driven by a person whose license had been suspended or revoked, or by a person who had never been issued a license. Police could impound the vehicle whether the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle or not.  

The law that created the 30-day impound policy was drafted by Richard Katz who articulated the need for the public safety measure in a Los Angeles Times op-ed

Public Safety

Unlicensed drivers have either not proven they know how to operate a motor vehicle safely, or were previously licensed drivers who had their driving privileges revoked because of moving violations or DUI Violations. Allowing unlicensed drivers to have a vehicle returned to them or not impounding them at all which is currently occurring in the LAPD and only encourages unlicensed drivers to continue driving, increasing the danger for others on our roadways.

The LAPD and the LA City Council have acknowledged that we have a hit and run crisis. Hit and run accidents are four times the national average in Los Angeles. While nationally, 11 percent of all police reported crashes involve a hit-and-run collision, in Los Angeles, nearly 45 percent of all traffic collisions are due to hit-and-runs, according LAPD data that has been analyzed. On average, there are over 21,000 collisions that are hit-and-run in Los Angeles.

An AAA study found that one in five fatal crashes in Los Angeles involve an unlicensed driver. According to the LA Times, unlicensed drivers are a serious threat to public safety and contribute to the spike in hit-and-runs accidents. The AAA study showed that “excluding drivers who were incapacitated or killed and thus could not have fled, an estimated 32.4% of fatal-crash involved drivers who lacked a valid license left the scene of the crash; and an estimated 51.2% of all drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash lacked a valid license.”  

We have ample evidence that unlicensed drivers or people who do not bother to get their vehicles licensed are a threat to public safety.  Now that everyone, regardless of their immigration status can obtain a driver’s license, the City no longer needs a policy barring LAPD officers from impounding vehicles of drivers who never had a valid California license

We may never know if the person who hit and killed Sister Raquel Diaz was licensed or not. However, statistics indicate that the person was likely unlicensed. It is time for the LAPD to reexamine its enforcement policies to reduce crashes, serious injuries, and fatalities. The police are there to protect all of us. They need a policy that permits them to do their job of “Protecting and Serving” all the people of Los Angeles.

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

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