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GUEST WORDS-Just after the first of the year, the County released its draft set of homeless initiatives and, next week, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve and adopt the recommendations.  

The County Homeless Initiative, a comprehensive plan comprised of 47 recommendations, represents the largest, most coordinated effort ever undertaken in LA to attack the root causes of homelessness and move thousands of individuals and families from the streets to dignity and stability. The County has the funding in this year’s budget to begin to move all 47 strategies forward. Twelve elements of the plan, those believed to have the most immediate and achievable impact, are slated to be implemented before June 30 of this year. 

Of course there will always be some doubters. Lately, I have read news accounts opining that this latest initiative is no more likely to succeed than previous plans. I say, "Not true, for several reasons."

First of all, we have made a new level of financial commitment ($150 million in funds), we have a strong political will, and we are seeing unprecedented cooperation between the County, the City of LA, other cities in the County, and service providers. It is a cross-cutting and innovative approach to homelessness. 

The strategies in the plan are built around four critical areas:

  • prevention and frontline intervention so that people don’t become homeless in the first place
  • outreach and housing navigation so that, once homeless, people are not forced to go from office to office to receive the services and support they need
  • housing and services for those who need on-going support, and
  • expanded employment and income opportunities. 

There are many significant and distinctive elements to the County plan. First, the plan considers realistic ways to reduce the pipelines into homelessness. Many men and women who become homeless have engaged LA County social services before they ever lost their homes. They may be coming out of jail, foster care, or hospitals; others may be the victims of domestic violence. In this plan, we have focused on how we discharge individuals from those systems so that they can be stabilized before they become homeless. 

Second, although the most visible percentage of our homeless population are those on the streets who are often mentally ill, they represent only about 20 percent of our total homeless population. In actuality, most homeless people can be quickly re-housed. The County initiative emphasizes rapid re-housing, a policy innovation with a proven track record in curtailing homelessness. Many people slip into homelessness as a result of an employment or medical crisis, but, if they can be rapidly re-housed, their lives can be stabilized and they can begin to meet monthly rent payments again. Importantly, the County will partner with local cities to implement this strategy in the hope that we can end people's homelessness in the same communities where they first fall out of their homes. 

The County initiative also aims to reduce the many barriers that stand between homeless individuals and families and the services that could help them. This is why those developing the Initiative engaged virtually every County department in the design. I hear people refer to the so-called “service resistant” homeless population, but so many barriers stand between people experiencing homelessness and the help they need, that to call people “service resistant” simply isn’t fair. People experiencing homelessness often don’t feel safe in shelters. Homeless men and women cannot bring their animals to a shelter. Shelters don’t provide places to store people’s belongings so people are at risk of losing the few things they own. And people experiencing homelessness may be reluctant to take the time to stand in line for services that could help them if it means sacrificing a day’s income on the streets. 

The solution to homelessness is not more shelter beds, it's housing and a variety of services. Homelessness is a complex problem, and solving it will require a complex solution. That’s why every one of the 47 strategies outlined in the County plan is important. Our goal is “functional zero” homelessness. This year we will attempt to meet that “functional zero” goal for veterans, that is, we will work to have sufficient permanent and temporary housing so that as veterans become homeless they can be housed right away. The goal of the County’s historic initiative is to bring that to every Angeleno.  

Ten years ago, LA embarked on an effort to end homelessness, but, this year, the circumstances surrounding the new initiative are substantially different than a decade ago. This time, we have the engagement and support of lead nonprofits, philanthropy, business, the city and an unprecedented commitment and will in the County. There is consensus and alignment across these important sectors and that is why I am optimistic about the success of this far-reaching initiative in solving one of the most challenging moral issues facing Los Angeles.  

(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

MUSING WITH MIRISCH--The recent LA Times article which highlighted a ridership slump at Metro has occasioned much hand-wringing, kneejerk blowback and rationalization among self-styled transit hipsters. The article points out how, despite ongoing expenditures of billions of dollars, Metro continues to struggle to get people to use public transportation. While it’s fairly easy to understand where the hand-wringing is coming from, if anything, the article indicates that we in LA County should collectively be cautious before approving another “transit tax” – something that is being proposed by Metro for this November’s ballot. 

For Metro and the transit advocates, many of whom themselves nosh on the taxpayer bounty provided by Measure R (with more noshing to come with the potential successor this November,) it’s all about the money. Focus groups, lobbyists, political advisors are all aimed at answering the question: How can we get the voters of LA County to approve a new tax? “Promise bones” are being thrown in all directions of the county to try to secure endorsements of local politicians in an effort to make sure the future tax measure doesn’t suffer the fate of Measure J, which failed to pass despite massive Transit Establishment support and virtually no funded opposition. 

It’s the wrong question for Metro to be asking. 

The critical question is not how we can get a new tax passed. The question is: How can we best improve mass transit within the County? And if we are going to pass another tax, how can we get the best value for our taxpayer dollars? And are we currently getting the best value for the billions Metro spends each year? And shouldn’t we ensure we are getting the best value-for-money before committing more funding to Metro? Finally, shouldn’t we ensure that the Metro Board proportionally and equitably represents all the residents of the County before the taxpayers of the entire County commit more money to the agency? (In a blatant rejection of the principle “one person, one vote,” the 6 million non-LA residents of the County are currently underrepresented by some 60% on the Metro Board). 

Much of the blowback to the Times article has been from anti-car activist types and their suggestions to increase Metro ridership have, not surprisingly, been punitive actions towards motorists: increase the cost of gas, increase the cost of parking, make parking more difficult by reducing building code parking requirements, end investment in road infrastructure, etc. In a headline in Metro’s “The Source,” Metro’s in-house publicist Steve Hymon questions a contention made in the LA Times article: “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” 

Indeed, the question is somewhat ironic in view of Metro’s own at times almost monomaniacal focus on building rail lines at the expense of bus service. As the Times article points out: “Although buses account for about 75% of Metro's ridership, rail operations and construction receive more money than buses do from Measure R, the county's most recent half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects.” 

A number of transit hipsters have tried to discredit the Times article by pointing out that some of Metro’s expenditures haven’t borne fruit because construction is currently in progress and new lines haven’t opened yet; they have tried to relativize the situation by comparing ridership declines with even steeper dips in other jurisdictions. (However, none of them points out that the County’s population has increased by some 2 million from the height of ridership in 1985.) But no matter how you play with the figures, it’s hard to gainsay what I consider to be the crux of the Times article: 

"There's been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers," said Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies. "Lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes." 

In light of this, it’s difficult to reasonably support a new tax (or a tax extension) without some major rethinking, reframing and a healthy dose of common sense, despite the sexiness of “shiny new things.” 

Metro’s new CEO, Phil Washington, has said of Metro’s construction efforts: “We’re not building for today. We’re building for 100 years down the road.” 

Washington’s long-term thinking is to be applauded, especially when the other Washington – and all other levels of government below it down to the local – generally think in vistas which don’t go beyond the next election cycle. But there is also clearly a challenge with spending billions of dollars now for “100 years down the road.” It means we need to make sure that any infrastructure we are building now will not be obsolete; it means we need to build with technological and demographic adaptability in mind. 

In the “Is it really the dream of every bus rider to have a car?” article, Steve Hymon writes: “I like my car (which I often park at a Gold Line Station).” The implication is that a mix of transit options which includes cars can best serve the County’s residents. Hymon drives his car to the Gold Line, then takes public transit. However, this mix would be made more difficult by the anti-car hipsters who want to use punitive measures to force people to use public transit. Neither does Metro itself actually encourage or enable this mix on a consistent basis. The much touted Purple Line, for example, will offer no park-and-ride options, boxing out potential riders like Steve Hymon who would like to leave their cars at transit stations. 

As I wrote last April in The Los Angeles Business Journal, in which I proposed a municipal automated shuttle system for Beverly Hills, driverless vehicle technology offers an exciting solution to first/last mile challenges; getting to and from transit stations (“the first/last mile”) can be a substantial obstacle to potential commuters’ use of public transportation. In addition to hyperlocal transit applications, driverless vehicle technology can be a substantial part of the overall public transit equation, much bigger, in fact, than Metro is currently acknowledging. 

And that, quite frankly, seems to be a major part of the problem with Metro’s tax-and-spend strategy. It’s difficult to be forward-thinking with such an embrace of yesterday’s technology. Because as it currently stands, the next Measure R largely focuses on and plans to spend billions and billions on traditional rail lines and other “shiny new things.” 

Not every bus rider may dream of having a car, but it’s pretty safe to say that almost every transit rider wants to get from Point A to Point B in as efficient and time-saving manner as possible. D’uh. On demand point-to-point public transportation should be any transit agency’s ultimate goal, and while this will likely involve a cocktail of transportation forms, driverless mass transportation can and should play a major role in achieving solutions. 

Driverless vehicle technology, both within the private and public transportation sector has the potential to take significant numbers of vehicles off the streets, as well as to use the streets more efficiently. The irony of the potential of driverless vehicle technology within the public transportation sector should not be lost upon transit advocates who are more concerned with getting people from Point A to Point B than shiny new things and an anti-car bias: the road infrastructure we have developed in LA, much to the dismay of the anti-car crowd, could very well unwittingly prove to be the best “Point A to Point B” infrastructure investment we ever have made with the advent of automated vehicles and automated public transportation. 

A significant investment in driverless vehicle technology, along with an eye towards other kinds of developing technological solutions, perhaps including advanced models of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) should be a major focus of any future tax measure or additional transportation expenditures. 

What is being proposed now is mainly just a form of “same old, same old,” some of which indeed may be necessary, but certainly not to the exclusion of new, developing and future technologies with a 100 year forward-looking vista in mind. In other words, Metro is looking more to cobble together political support to get a new tax passed, rather than providing a forward-thinking vision to solve the actual transportation problems we face in LA County every day. Right now it seems like a case of matter over mind and money over vision, and that’s something we can and must change. 

When the Purple Line was approved, the notion of a municipal automated shuttle system would pretty much have been in the realm of “Beam me up, Scotty.” Now, the technology will be ready for prime-time before the LaCienega/Wilshire station opens. 

In short, a revolutionary end to Metro’s ridership slump is within our grasp, but Metro will have to change its current endgame. Metro should be less concerned with answering the question, “How can we get voters to approve a new tax?” and more concerned with answering the question: “How can we get people from point A to point B in as efficient, cost-effective and convenient a way as possible?” If Metro can use technology to figure out good answers to this question, ridership will naturally and organically increase and traffic will decrease. Rather than simply looking backwards to transportation models of the past hundred years, practical and political solutions should follow a well thought out, forward-looking vision which looks to fully integrate new and developing technologies. This is the clear and logical answer to Metro’s ridership slump. 

The Metro Board now has a historic opportunity to fix Metro’s ridership slump by providing real leadership for the benefit of all the residents in LA County; not surprisingly, it involves more – much more – than simply trying to get us all to pass another transportation tax. 

(John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills; as Mayor, he created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

DEEGAN ON LA-Reform is in the air across the land, and it’s also evident in our city. The mood has been set by an angry national political debate that pits the 99% against the 1%, the haves versus the have-nots, and the far left against the far right. Here in LA, it’s more prosaic where there is a call to reform our out-of-control development plan for the city. People are angry and it’s bubbling up into lawsuits and litigation that have replaced reason. That must change. We must get a grip on land use. 

There’s a ballot measure planned for the November elections asking the voters to weigh in on the land use and development policies in our city. Already, leaked murmurs from City Hall are calling for appeasement and conciliation to prevent this from happening.  

But let’s not negotiate. The people need to speak on this one, not just compromise with politicians. Let’s get the issue out there to be fully vetted by the public; the public deserves to vote. Remember, it’s the people, not the revolving-door politicos, who make up the permanent government. 

Politicos at the root of the land use regulation problem have been served notice: fixing the mess they’ve made may be taken out of their hands if the proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative qualifies to appear on the November 8 ballot. It calls for a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning -- a hiatus for all the winks and nods and special zoning variance favors between the politicos and developers.  

Pro-growth advocates can be expected to do everything possible to halt this proposed ballot measure in its tracks. They are wealthy, enjoying unqualified political support at City Hall from the Mayor and City Councilmembers. This is why it is so crucial for the conversation to be elevated above the heads of the politicos to include the voice of the voters. If there’s a ballot measure in November the people will speak and the politicos will be forced to listen. No wonder the opposition is forming. 

The clock is ticking and the players are scrambling, some to advocate and others to assail. The stakes are as sky high as the developers want their new buildings to be. In the run-up to the November vote, they will face greater scrutiny and city planners will be held more accountable; politicos will no longer be the masters of their districts when it comes to land use decisions – decisions that, until now, have needed only their sign-off on a variance to skirt around any kind of land use rhyme or reason.  

Of all the players, the 15 councilmembers stand the most to lose. Financial support from developers is the high octane fuel powering the engines of many council offices and campaigns. Only one councilmember, David Ryu (CD4,) has a website showing the transparency of his dealings with developers who do business in his district. Knocked as a naive newcomer, Ryu may be the last man standing if the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is passed by the voters on November 8. He looks even better because the others look so bad. 

Anti-development sentiment is widespread but fractured. Each neighborhood seems to form its own splinter group with its own take on what’s good for them. Many have been tarred as NIMBY’s -- a stigma that needs to change. A good start toward changing this perception has been launched by the Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) and its Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a grassroots-driven ballot measure seeking to rein in “mega” development in Los Angeles over the next few years. 

According to CPLA’s Campaign Director Jill Stewart, "The November ballot measure will put a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning, and will force the City Council into a public process during that moratorium, to rewrite the 1980s-era General Plan. Most planning is spot rezoning that is done in back rooms then presented as a near-inevitability. We're seeing a huge number of older, affordable housing units destroyed to make way for luxury units, and destruction of neighborhood character, not to mention significantly worse surface street congestion.” 

The developers’ mantra seems to be “let’s make a deal,” and it’s the politicos who are brokering those deals. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative says, “let’s deal the people in -- all of the communities and neighborhoods that are being drastically affected by your back-room moves. Let them tell us what they want by voting “yes” or “no” on the ballot measure.” 

Paving the way for the ballot measure signature drive is the start of the “Stop Manhattanwood” campaign that, says the campaign’s newly launched website, “is a new awareness and advocacy campaign featuring billboards and online elements to educate concerned citizens in Los Angeles and elsewhere about the impact that tremendous growth and overdevelopment in Los Angeles—particularly in the Greater Hollywood area—is having on the overall quality of life in the city”.  

For once, there is no Hollywood dream-factory hyperbole or political overstatement to this sobering fact: the land use policies of the city are a mess-- physical Hollywood is the epicenter -- though not the only area of concern. 

So who are the known principal players right now in the battle that is shaping up? 

There’s Mayor Eric Garcetti,who has a history being at the eye of the Hollywood overdevelopment storm starting as councilmember in CD13 when the wrecking ball started rolling, followed by his tenure as President of the City Council, and now as Mayor. Some say a run for Governor or Senator may be next for him. He has motive, means and opportunity to get the land use mess cleaned up – and maybe put smiles on the faces of voters. 

Next up from the city is Garcetti’s newly appointed head of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP) Vince Bertoni, who brings more than 25 years of planning experience – including a previous stint at LADCP. When Bertoni was Deputy Planning Director in Los Angeles he oversaw the adoption of 16 historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZ) and a Hollywood community plan. 

Nobody has stood up to say he or she is “for the status quo, for uncontrolled development,” and willing to take that side of the argument. It’s no wonder. Although an opposition is forming to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the fight will eventually be joined. 

So far there is no announced opposition, creating a vacuum allowing the advocates of reform to set the agenda and step into the empty space, claiming as much ground as possible before an opposition organizes and gets funded. The ballot measure team is off to a good start this week with twin programming launches -- both billboards and ballot measure awareness outreach. 

Leading advocates include the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein and Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) Campaign Director Jill Stewart. This is a tough and determined team involving an organization renowned for advocacy, inended on educating area residents about the growing problem in the city and region, and particularly in the Greater Hollywood area. 

An ad campaign using “Stop Manhattanwood” billboards has begun and can be seen at major intersections like Vine and Santa Monica; Cahuenga, north of Sunset (above the Jack in the Box); Sunset and Van Ness (near Denny’s); Melrose, west of La Brea; and at Western and Lexington Avenues. The campaign will run for three months, a prime time for gathering signatures for the ballot measure. 

Synchronized to this effort is the Coalition to Preserve L.A.’s Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, supported by a grassroots group that will be gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot. They must amass 61,486 signatures to qualify its measure for the November 8 ballot. A few days ago, the Los Angeles City Clerk informed the backers that they may begin circulating petitions.  

The Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) will soon start the ballot signature process to qualify the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for the November election. They will visit groups citywide to discuss the ballot measure and solicit citywide buy-in from individuals for the fight. Their aim is to build a volunteer corps trained in workshops that will help get out the message, to spread the word to neighbors. It’s like a political campaign.  

So, the race is on. Nearly 100 years ago, when New York City was only a village, Rogers and Hart wrote the classic, “I’ll Take Manhattan, a song that has become part of  “The Great American Songbook.” A century later, people in our sunny city are singing a different tune – “I’ll Take Manhattan? No, you can have it!” 

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

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--When investors decide to plunk their own money -- or more likely someone else’s money – into high-rise buildings, usually with luxury apartments or condos, their motivation is to turn a handsome profit. 

Despite their public persona, their investment decisions have nothing to do with self-serving claims about LA’s housing crisis, demographic trends, transit use, or land use policies promoting Transit Oriented Development. 

Developers invoke these arguments, especially proximity to transit, when they happen to coincide with their projects. This is why the same high-rise, luxury buildings shoot up in many neighborhoods where the only transit service is a bus line. Examples of these luxury buildings can be found in many LA areas, such as Warner Center and Century City, where the entire built environment is based on cars. 

In fact, in Century City a new 40-story luxury high-rise apartment building is soon opening, and it will be totally oriented toward automobile driving. It not only caters to the tiny percent of tenants who can afford its lavish apartments, but its full range of tenant services conspicuously includes on-call chauffeurs for its fleet of luxury cars. In addition to these and related amenities, it also offers Mayor Garcetti an opportunity to include its 283 rental units in his construction goal of 100,000 desperately needed new residential units in Los Angeles.  

For a precedent, the same LA Times article examines a new San Vicente Boulevard apartment building on the border of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles – not far from Century City. Already open, it offers concierge service for all possible needs, consciously mimicking the services provided by a five star hotel, including attendant parking and fully stocked pantries in each unit. If this luxury life style appeals you, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets. The typical apartment rents for $12,000 per month, and a penthouse unit is slightly pricier: $40,000 per month. 

To put this rent structure into perspective, once LA’s minimum wage reaches $15/hour and if you devoted half of your salary to rent, you would need at least 13 full time jobs to sign a lease for the basic units. The penthouse, in contrast, would require you to simultaneously work around 42 full time jobs. 

For moderate luxury units -- $2000 per month or more for a small single -- such as the many new, transit-adjacent apartments on the Miracle Mile, you would only need two full-time minimum wage jobs to make your rent. It is almost affordable in comparison to the San Vicente Boulevard project. To be fair though, you would have a Spartan life style if you had dependents or chose to spend less than half of your take home pay on rent in order to indulge yourself in a sumptuous life style, perhaps a full breakfast at the nearby International House of Pancakes. But, either way, in 2023 you would have walkable access to a future subway station, and you also could help the Mayor reach his goal of 100,000 new housing units for Los Angeles. 

When these high-rise, high-rent apartment buildings HAPPEN to be in Hollywood or on Wilshire Boulevard and similar places served by transit, they are only transit adjacent, not transit oriented. This is why we should not take the investors, builder, realtors, and their slick or naïve boosters at their word when they flaunt buzzwords like housing crisis, transit, elegant density, and transit-oriented development. They are just being opportunists who know little and could care less about affordable housing, transit, transit-oriented development, and sustainable city planning.  

If they truly believed in sustainable city planning – what I call the successful density of New York City versus the poorly performing density of Los Angeles -- they would insist that METRO engage in the same land use planning it once pursued through contracts with LA City Planning -- when they planned and built the original MetroRail subway in the 1980s. When done right, this planning should include heavily subsidized affordable housing projects at transit stations. 

This planning also needs to address the critical barrier to transit use, the first and last mile (i.e. getting people to the transit station). And, METRO and the City of LA need to make sure that all transit stations have a full range of standard amenities, such as snack bars, news stands and newspaper racks, dry cleaners, small grocery stores, bathrooms, and ATMs, as well as park ‘n ride, kiss ‘n ride, bus stops, cab stands, bicycle parking, and pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks radiating out in all directions from transit stations. 

Furthermore, all of this should be built during mass transit construction, not ignored forever (Purple Line Extension) or only addressed several decades after the transit lines became operational (Blue Line and Green Line). 

The bottom line is that the real estate speculators, the City of LA, and METRO have yet to demonstrate any interest in the planning and construction that turns Transit Adjacent buildings into an important component of Transit Oriented Communities. If this is changing, then I hope diligent CityWatch readers can share the evidence. Until then, however, any claims that these projects are sustainable should be dismissed as phony baloney. They are nothing but super-sized buildings for super-well off people with super-sized cars.  

There is one thing, however, that is sustainable about these projects: their marketing campaigns.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections at rhplatkin@gmail.com.)

-cw

NEW GEOGRAPHY-Now that I have your attention, just how would California qualify as a beacon of conservatism? It depends how you define the term. 

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan, most conservatives have defined themselves by pledging loyalty to market capitalism, supporting national defense and defending sometimes vague “traditional” social values. Yet in the Middle Ages, and throughout much of Europe, conservatism meant something very different: a focus primarily on maintaining comfortable places for the gentry, built around a strong commitment to hierarchy, authority and a singular moral order. 

Until recently, modern California has not embraced this static form of conservatism. The biggest difference between a Pat Brown or a Reagan was not their goals – greater upward mobility and technical progress – but how they might be best advanced, whether through the state, the private sector or something in-between. Under both leaders, California evolved into a remarkable geography of opportunity. 

In contrast, California’s new conservatism, often misleadingly called progressivism, seeks to prevent change by discouraging everything – from the construction of new job-generating infrastructure to virtually any kind of family-friendly housing. The resulting ill-effects on the state’s enormous population of poor and near-poor – roughly-one third of households – have been profound, although widely celebrated by the state’s gentry class. 

Demographics of a new feudalism

One factor that made California such a disruptive economic, cultural and political force was its large percentage of people hailing from elsewhere. Yet as California’s basic costs, notably for housing, have risen to well above the national average, even adjusted for incomes, the state has become ever more dependent on those born here and far less on obstreperous outsiders. 

In the 1930s, barely a third of Californians were born in the state, and the share remained less than half until about 2000. Today more than 55 percent of state residents are natives. This trend will become more pronounced in the next generation, as more than 70 percent of teens and young adults in California were born in-state, up from barely half in 1990. At the same time, more domestic inward migration has dropped; since 2000 the state has lost a net 1.7 million domestic migrants. 

Even immigration, long a major source of new energy for the state, has been trending down. The foreign-born population is no longer growing rapidly and, as a recent USC report suggests, the next generation will be largely homegrown: over 90 percent of children in California are homegrown. 

The USC researchers label this shift “the homegrown revolution.” On the positive side, they argue, this shift to the native population could provide greater stability in a state that has generally lacked that characteristic. But societies dominated by the native-born – think of the Deep South traditionally, the Midwest or much of Europe outside the large cities – also tend to be conservative in their nature, often more interested in preservation of status quo – whatever that might be – than shaking things up. 

At a time when twentysomething billionaires are being minted, largely in the Bay Area, California’s middle class is being hammered. The state now ranks third from the bottom, ahead of only New York and the District of Columbia, for the lowest homeownership rate, some 54 percent, a number that since 2009 has declined 5 percent more than the national average. The peasants, it appears, are expected to remain landless much longer, or be forced to leave the state. 

Rather than a land of opportunity, our “new” California increasingly resembles a class-bound medieval society. The proportion of aggregate income taken by the top 1 percent is greatest in a couple of Californian metros, San Francisco and San Jose, as well as New York. California is the most unequal state when it comes to well-being, according to the report by Measure of America, which is a project of the Social Science Research Council. 

These inequities clearly aren’t changing the state’s policy direction. Gov. Jerry Brown explains the state’s leading poverty rate as simply a reflection of how grand things are and California’s natural attractiveness. Poverty, he says, is “really the flip side of California’s incredible attractiveness and prosperity.” It’s a view not far from the old excuse espoused by the British tories, that “the poor will always be with us.” 

This inequality is being justified – and made worse – by attempts to turn California into a mecca for the most extreme measures to reduce greenhouse gases. Like a good medievalist, Brown blames this one phenomenon for virtually everything, from wildfires to the drought and mass migrations. Like a medieval cleric railing against sin, Brown seems somewhat unconcerned that his beloved “coercive power of the state” is also largely responsible for California’s high electricity prices, regulation-driven spikes in home values and the highest oil prices in the continental United States. 

Once the beacon of opportunity, California is becoming a graveyard for middle-class aspiration, particularly among the young. In a recent survey of states where “the middle class is dying,” based on earning trajectories for middle-income cohorts, Business Insider ranked California first, with shrinking middle-class earnings and the third-highest proportion of wealth concentrated in the top 20 percent of residents. 

New theology emerges

How can this approach be sold to the masses? The climate religion is key, since it implies that people’s suffering is endured for a greater cause. And, in classic medieval fashion, those who disagree can expect to be silenced and even subjected to criminal penalties. “God,” Gov. Brown recently suggested, “is not mocked.” 

The new religion had better be strong, given what it will ask of the masses. Increasingly, the honest green answer – as opposed to the “green jobs” chimera sold by well-financed environmental publicists – is to move our society away from the competitive, capitalistic system which, for all its flaws, has created unprecedented global wealth. One popular idea, particularly in Europe, is to embrace the idea of “de-growth,” which even calls for removing such measures as GDP from consideration. 

This approach has been bolstered by the entry into the fray of Brown’s former colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church, under Pope Francis. Brown, meanwhile, increasingly speaks of climate change in theological terms. Although it’s hardly the stuff of political campaigns, Brown embraces Francis’ opposition to increased “creature comforts” – like air conditioning – as part of a general move toward achieving the desired “level of enlightenment.” 

Medievalism: A New Model? 

For the past 170 years, California has stood at the apogee of rapid change, often using engineering – most notably with water and electricity – to build its economic power. Yet, just as the citizens of the declining Roman Empire began to lose faith in its systems, our leadership, both public and private, seems to have decided that most growth, except that what raises asset prices, is bad because of its inevitable effects on climate change. 

This belief makes a certain amount of sense, particularly for those, notably public-sector workers, tech millionaires and affluent retired homeowners, who actually may benefit from stagnation. Widespread, broad-based growth and change is not necessary if your key goal is to pick up a comfy pension, or use regulations to up the value of your old single-family house. In contrast, the losers in this arrangement are the ascendant working class, young families and other newcomers. 

For many who, in other times, might have come to California, coming here now, as Dartmouth College economist William Fischel has shown, means trying to enter “exclusionary regions.” Due to their often unattainable costs, the state’s most desirable urban centers – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, West Los Angeles, coastal Orange County and San Diego – seem destined to become enclaves primarily for the old, who bought homes during less-expensive times, the children of the rich, a transient young population and – of course – lots of low-paid service workers. 

Meanwhile, the fastest growth in the ranks of college-educated millennials in recent years has been in such lower-cost regions as the four large Texas cities (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin), Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, as well as such “rust belt” cities as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Families also are settling in small, relatively inexpensive metropolitan areas, such as Fayetteville in Arkansas and Missouri; Cape Coral and Melbourne in Florida; Columbia, S.C.; Colorado Springs and Boise, Idaho. 

With California’s economy now largely tied to abstract reasoning and serving those with accumulated wealth, there may be little chance here for advancement by those whose talents lay with their hands or by grass-roots entrepreneurial guile. Once the land of opportunity, the Golden State, indeed, is devolving into something very fundamentally conservative: class-bound, dominated by natives and lacking in opportunities for all but a few. Our state leaders are building a future that boosts their senses of self-worth, while consigning much of our population to permanent status as serfs or struggling commoners. 

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

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--I couldn't help but get a massive case of deja vu when I read the Times-reported decrease in transit ridership, and an excellent response by transit advocate Ethan Elkind

My advice, if you want to learn the whole picture, is to click on both links above.  No worries, I'll wait ... 

... I think it's important to appreciate both points of view yet scrutinize them carefully.  Ignore them at your peril, but don't take either approach as "gospel".  I think that the Times writers are doing their jobs, and very much enjoy reading the work of both Ms. Laura Nelson and Mr. Dan Weikel, but feel obliged to mention that I've seen an anti-transit bias from Dan Weikel of the Times for as long as I've read him. 

Yet while I also respect and appreciate Mr. Elkind's work and opinions, I think that he, too, has his own bias that should be understood, noted, and appreciated. 

And, of course, I have my own bias--yet I have striven mightily over the years to be a "transportation" advocate and not merely a "transit" advocate.  Which means that I am as bullish about smoothing out the 101 freeway for smoother flow, and widening the I-5 freeway to enhance mobility, as I am creating an Expo Line, a Downtown Connector, a LAX/Metro Rail connection, etc. 

I am also into innovative Uber/Lyft and telecommuting as I am major works projects such as the aforementioned freeway and rail projects.  Ditto for DASH and bus operations funding while wanting to create more parking, bicycle and other access to transit. 

But it's not about me ... it's about YOU.  Is transit for YOU? 

There are those who think that mass transit is something to be worshiped, with the car being the transportation anti-Christ.  There are those who think that mass transit is a form of wicked socialism that prevents us from being free. 

And then there are the rest of us who just want a choice and a cheap, easy way to get from here to there, and who really wonder about the above two groups.We want affordable mobility that's not too tough on the environment, and which allows us to live our lives and make a few bucks to get by. 

Transit being "free" is like health care or college being "free"...unless there are volunteers involved, somebody is paying for it.  Which isn't a concept too tough for most adults to grasp, unless some of us want it for free and demand that others pay for things for which we benefit.  That demand doesn't sit well with most Americans, although economic stresses are probably making enough of us frustrated enough to insist on a break. 

Hence the desire of transit advocates for higher gas costs (to "force people out of their cars") is probably the last thing we need to encourage more transit spending: 

1) If the price of gas goes down, then we lose transit riders--and the Times writers have their case proven in that people DON'T really want to ride transit. 

2) No one likes to be "forced" to do ANYTHING. 

So for any transit advocate or planner or transportation expert who bemoans the recent falling of gas prices, perhaps a good self-administered slap in the face (and I mean so hard that it stings for five minutes afterwards) is in order. 

Cheap gas means cheaper food, cheaper industrial costs, cheaper transit operations, cheaper airline costs, and a host of secondary benefits.  Wanting gas and food and other economic costs to go up is misanthropic--and if you hate people, then fine...but don't be surprised if they'll hate you right back. 

Or at least ignore you. 

I think that both Nelson and Weikel on one hand, and Elkind on the other hand, do us all a good service.  We need to confront why many of us either don't want to, or cannot use transit if there are other ways to achieve mobility.  Lousy service, fears of our physical safety, convenience, etc. are all valid reasons and must NOT be ignored. 

Yet until we have a completed Expo Line, and a Foothill Gold Line, we won't have Metro Rail (with all of the linking bus lines) reaching the western and eastern ends of the county.  And to be honest, until we get a Downtown Light Rail Connector and a LAX/Metro Rail connection, we will have a disjointed rail system as inconvenient our freeway system would be without the I-10 or I-110. 

So some hard lessons learned, and the ability to really LISTEN to both sides, are good for us all. 

Problems with transit DO exist, and yet our Metro Rail system DOES have a brilliant future.   

But everything from parking to buses to bicycle amenities will be needed for transit to work. 

(And why in Heaven's name is the Eastside Light Rail Extension not sufficiently linking up to Metrolink, now?) 

The Expo and Eastside/Foothill Gold Lines are alternatives to the freeways in which they parallel, so WHY is there insufficient parking for those driving long distances to get out of their cars to access the trains? 

Why are we using rail projects an an excuse for overdeveloping?  Why are we using freeway expansions for overdeveloping? 

And why are we overdeveloping at all, if it will undo the mobility established by any new transportation project. That phenomenon is as smart as spending 25% more after a 10% raise. 

So maybe transit is for you.  And maybe transit isn't for you.  And maybe transit is for you when it comes to some needs, but not for others. 

But let's keep theology out of this.  Neither cars, buses, nor trains have the numbers "666" engraved under them, and those who advocate for either of those forms of transit should use common sense and common decency in making their case. 

And I'll let YOU figure out whether you like my idea or not:  I am a "transportation" advocate, a "mobility" advocate, and an "economic opportunity" advocate.  I like ANY form of transportation that is smart, cost-effective, attractive, and something that enhances our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life. 

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

-cw

GUEST COMMENTARY-Just eighteen months prior to handing over (in a below-market private sale) the keys to an old firehouse (photo above) bordering Richard Weintraub’s proposed development site for Sportsmen’s Landing, the City slapped Mr. Weintraub with a $1.6 million lawsuit to recover several years’ worth of taxes that he, as a hotel owner, was required to but did not pay.  

Mr. Weintraub was quite effective at enforcing the first part of the law (requiring guests to pay the tax,) but when it came to turning the tax money over to the City, he was considerably more lax. No worries, though. On a motion from Councilmember Krekorian, the City agreed to Weintraub’s low-ball settlement offer—a 37% discount from what the City originally sued for.  

Apparently, that wasn’t enough special treatment for Mr. Weintraub, who, on July 15, 2015, told a group of Studio City residents that “in thirty years of doing this, this has been the least pleasant project I've had to deal with, and the least pleasant group of people, I've had to deal with.” 

No comment -- except to say that it’s time for the City to 1) close the loophole practice of selling City surplus property in “private sales” instead of public auctions and 2) put a shorter leash on the City Council’s power to hand-out amnesty-like lawsuit settlements to “well-connected” but law-breaking individuals.  

Meanwhile, things just keep getting worse. Last week a formal complaint I filed with the City Attorney protesting the City Council’s blocking of testimony from residents opposed to the Sportsmen’s Landing development was rejected without coherent rationale. 

Trust me…it won’t be the last word.

 

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.) Photo: CBS News LA. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

DEALING IN DEVELOPERS-Here’s a question for you: Does campaign money affect the actions of government officials? You may be laughing, but it’s a deadly serious question. About 2,500 families have been relocated from their homes in Porter Ranch and over 1,400 more have asked to be moved. They have been sickened by the catastrophic natural gas leak from a well about a mile from their front doors. 

The story of how those front doors ended up so close to a working natural gas storage facility begins with $245,000 in campaign donations. That’s how much the Porter Ranch Development Co. gave L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the LA City Council between 1982 and 1989, when the 1,300-acre project was under consideration. 

The mayor gave his approval to the Porter Ranch development late in 1989, and the council followed, unanimously, in mid-1990. 

Yet somehow, none of the city officials remembered to tell the public that just north of the proposed residential and commercial development, there was a massive underground natural gas storage facility, and right next to that, a working oil field. 

It’s instructive to view the timeline for the Aliso Canyon oil and gas facilities above Porter Ranch: 

  • 1938 – Oil is discovered in Aliso Canyon
  • 1972 – Sempra Energy (parent of SoCalGas) turns a depleted oil field into an underground storage facility for natural gas. The company buys gas in the summer and stores it at Aliso Canyon so it can be delivered through pipelines to local customers in the winter.
  • 1982 to 1989 – The Porter Ranch Development Co. donates over $245,000 to LA City Council members and Mayor Tom Bradley.
  • 1989 – The Termo Co. of Long Beach buys the North Aliso Canyon oil field and develops it into an active drilling site, which it remains today.
  • 1989 – Mayor Bradley gives his approval to the Porter Ranch development after reaching an agreement with Councilman Hal Bernson, an advocate for the project, to have the developer provide affordable housing and new freeway ramps.
  • 1990 – The City Council votes 14-0 to approve the development after listening to three hours of comments from local residents about trash, traffic and sewage.
  • Oct. 23, 2015 -- SoCalGas discovers a leak at one of its injection and withdrawal wells, SS-25, at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch. The company is unable to stop the leak despite seven attempts to plug the well by pumping fluids down the well shaft.
  • Jan. 6, 2016 -- Gov. Jerry Brown declares an emergency and directs state agencies to implement tough new regulations to verify the safety and condition of all gas storage facilities. He asks for daily inspections of well heads, pressure measurements, and regular testing of safety valves. Meanwhile, a quartet of bills is introduced in the state legislature to toughen oversight. 

The crisis might have been prevented if the same safety regulations now being rushed into effect had been thoughtfully implemented in 1990, before thousands of Porter Ranch homebuyers closed escrow. 

It’s fair to ask: Why didn’t that happen? 

Would you like to guess how much money Sempra Energy has donated to state candidates and campaign committees in California just since 2001? 

More than $12 million. And that doesn’t count local candidates, like city councilmembers and county supervisors. 

Governor Brown was one of the candidates who accepted generous donations -- $79,200 between 2010 and 2014 -- from Sempra. Were his decisions ever influenced by that financial support? Maybe not, but last year Governor Brown vetoed six bills -- passed unanimously by the Legislature -- that would have reformed the California Public Utilities Commission by making it harder for the commissioners to be cozy with the utilities they regulate. 

One of the utilities regulated by the sometimes-cozy commissioners is Sempra’s SoCalGas.

Public trust is a fragile thing. As the emergency in Porter Ranch continues, investigations are underway into what happened, who is at fault, and how similar incidents can be prevented in the future. 

A lot is riding on every decision. 

When a catastrophic event puts public health at risk, no one should have to wonder whether government officials are acting in the best interest of the public, or whether they’re molding their decisions to help a campaign donor. 

There’s only one way to be sure. 

Everyone in California who holds a public office or is currently running for one, or both, should immediately stop accepting campaign contributions from Sempra Energy. 

The clean-up in Porter Ranch starts now.

 

(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece originally appeared in Fox and Hounds.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

EDITOR’S PICK--We’re not against the police. We’re not against the police department, but we are against police who commit misconduct (and those who help cover it up). 

Last week we had one Los Angeles Police Department detective arrested for intimidating a witness and for false imprisonment after she claimed her boyfriend had sexually assaulted her. That was followed with the news that another LAPD officer was going to jail and this time for attempting to commit a lewd act with a 12-year-old girl and indecently exposing himself to five female victims in Huntington Beach. 

And while I can always depend on the news media to bring you those types of LAPD shenanigans, today we’re going to discuss crimes committed by LAPD officers that the news media isn’t telling you about but are happening just the same. 

So gather around folks for the latest installment of Newtongate and it’s a doozy. 

When last we spoke about Newtongate I described in great detail how then Captain Ed Prokop (photo: standing right above) replaced then Captain Jorge Rodriguez who was demoted and shipped off to Foothill for his alleged participation in Hoopesgate. Still with me? (Read the rest.

-cw

ANIMAL WATCH-Was it an oversight or intentional that the new nonprofit proposed by General Manager Brenda Barnette to solicit funds for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services was incorporated as “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation?” 

At the January 12, 2016 meeting of the Animal Services Commission, GM Brenda Barnette urged approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Los Angeles Animal Services and “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation, Inc.”, incorporated by former Villaraigosa-appointed Commissioner Maggie Neilson, CEO of Global Philanthropy.   

Brenda Barnette claims that the purpose is “…to support the work of the Department much the way the LAPD Foundation, the LAFD Foundation, the Library Foundation and others support the work of City Departments.” 

However, other city-department “supporting foundations” clearly mention in their name the agency for which they are soliciting funds. 

So why wasn’t “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” incorporated as “Los Angeles Animal Services Foundation” or “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Services?” Both are available according to the CA Secretary of State.   

Ms. Neilson’s glib response to the Commission after that question was posed in public comment, was that “they” can change the name later. She didn’t explain why a compatible name was not used at the outset. 

Whether it is a lack of experience or perhaps being advised not to create any roadblocks for Brenda Barnette, none of the three attorneys on the Commission asked any probing questions about the blank spaces in the MOU or about a business plan, goals or officers. They were effusive over approving essentially a “blank check.” 

This was the first meeting after the resignation of Commissioner Jennifer Brent -- a tremendous loss, because she was the only Commissioner with actual animal sheltering and nonprofit management experience. 

Another obvious incongruence clouds the transparency of this proposed financial-support agreement: 

The MOU states:

“… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…;” 

The Articles of Incorporation for the Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation state:  

“The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and   that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

But the official mandated Mission Statement of the Department of Animal Services is clear:

        “To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel reportedly helped develop this MOU. Why would a nonprofit charity be set up with a statement of purpose not closely related to the Mission Statement of the agency for which it purports to raise funds? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency, such as L.A. Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after an owner relinquishes them or fails to claim them from the shelter. 

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money is spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? 

Annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” will be provided only to Brenda Barnette, the Department’s senior accountant, and the Commission. And, any other financial data or list of officers and/or employees will be provided only to the Department upon request, according to the MOU. 

One expert explained, “When a governmental agency, such as L.A. Animal Services, joins with an allied nonprofit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests.” 

L.A. Animal Services is definitely not cash-strapped or lacking in charitable funding. Although General Manager Brenda Barnette frequently claims she is hampered by a lack of funds, donors give generously and leave sizable bequests to support the homeless animals impounded at City shelters. 

According to GM Barnette’s report on January 26, 2016, there is a current balance of $2,288,560.00 in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF), which is a carefully monitored and controlled charitable fund to assist the Department. (In fact, in late 2014, the balance was so high that Barnette was instructed by the Commission to spend $500,000.) 

The unrestricted current donations, which can be used for any existing program for the welfare of animals except spay/neuter, total $1,206,992.75.

The Animal Sterilization (Spay/Neuter) Fund shows a cash balance of $4,684,103.47 (as of 12/31/2015) from donations, grants, pet-adoption deposits, fees, and General Fund subsidy. 

In addition, the Department of Animal Services has a tax-funded 2015-16 operating budget of $43,950,107. 

The “Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” is actually Brenda’s third (known) attempt to form a nonprofit. 

An August 13, 2014, report by Barnette to Mayor Garcetti regarding the creation of an Animal Foundation with former-Commissioner Maggie Neilson, is marked “Note and File.” 

It identifies that, “The General Manager is working with former Animal Services Commissioner Maggie Neilson, Partner and CEO of Global Philanthropy, to form "The Foundation," a public nonprofit to help support the work of Animal Services.” 

Then it took a strange turn -- proposing that “Part of The Foundation would use the abandoned South L.A. shelter as a job training location for community members…” Concluding, “Animal Services is working with Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals…” 

This is visionary; but, it is hard to grasp the nexus to raising money for an animal shelter. 

Former-Commissioner, Terri Marcellaro and GM Brenda Barnette were involved in forming the 2011 nonprofit, called “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Shelters” to solicit funds in the name of L.A. City shelter animals. Donor packages of up to $50,000 were planned to be offered by the Friends of LA Animal Shelters, according to their documents. 

Mr. Barnette was not entirely forthcoming in her report to the Commission about her involvement with this group.

Dov Lesel of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Administrative Office denied knowledge of an MOU or contract, in response to my inquiries; however, 187 pages of e-mails and other documents were obtained through CPRA requests.

A visit to the Friends of LA Animal Shelters website on November 14, 2012, showed under “Donate”: 

"Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters is the fundraising arm of the city shelters. If you give directly to the city, there is no guarantee your money will reach the animals. Any money donated to us is guaranteed to go directly to the animals."  (Note: This wording was changed soon after my CPRA was received by the City.) 

There was not then, and appears still not to be, an MOU or formal agreement with the City, although shelter animals are delivered daily (except Tuesday) to the Friends’ L.A. Love and Leashes adoption location at 1011 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica by L.A. City employees, using city vehicles, and picked up by 7:00 p.m.

There is no indication donated funds to these groups is given to L.A. Animal Services although they claim they are supporting the shelters. Nor do any of Ms. Barnette’s reports on the Animal Welfare Trust Fund mention donations from either group. 

Several questions need answers:

  • Was an MOU or formal contract ever entered into for this transport and/or adoption activity and to relieve the City of liability while the animals are at this location?
  • How many animals are actually being adopted at Loves and Leashes, since the City is investing a substantial amount of employee time and resources?
  • Under what authority is City property (animals) transferred to a new owner in an adoption processed in Santa Monica by other than a Los Angeles City employee? 

There is much discontent being expressed and questions arising about Ms. Barnette’s management performance and treatment of her employees. This is a time for her to either dispel the untruths or improve the issues that are creating discomfort for the Mayor. 

There are growing concerns among members of the City Council and the public about strays, animal protection and the condition of animals in the shelters. There is unpardonably slow response to calls for humane investigations of suffering, starving and abused animals. 

This is the time for Brenda Barnette to devote her attention to her duties and fulfill her obligations to the animals and residents of Los Angeles. Fundraising should be last on her list.                                                                       

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

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-It’s not a coincidence that the Obama administration has chosen Los Angeles as the first city to support the President’s effort to encourage qualified permanent residents to become U.S. citizens. 

Obama administration officials met here this past Friday with Mayor Eric Garcetti, local nonprofits and business owners to discuss ways to make this happen. 

The meeting was part of a multi-city tour by the White House’s Task Force on New Americans, that the administration previewed in a call with reporters Thursday. 

“To launch forward we must return to our core values as Americans and even in these tough times strive to embrace our role as a nation of immigrants, a nation of dreamers, a nation of hope,” Mayor Garcetti said on Twitter about the meeting, which was closed to the public. 

In recent years, California has moved repeatedly to provide rights, benefits and protections to immigrants in the country illegally, including in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, rules to limit deportations and state-funded healthcare for children. 

Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have signed on to participate in the task force, as have cities in 25 other states. 

Senior Deputy Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the meeting will allow federal officials and members of Garcetti’s staff to coordinate with local leaders in business, nonprofit and community organizations. It also focused on how the federal government can make it easier for new citizens to integrate into life as Americans, according to the White House.

“Starting in California is a perfect kickoff from our perspective,” Chavez said. 

Chavez also praised several California efforts, including the partnership between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Los Angeles Public Library system to create “citizenship corners” at every branch and hold citizenship classes, increased funding for citizenship and naturalization services by the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and targeting of individuals eligible for naturalization and connecting them with resources in San Francisco. 

Garcetti said that Step Forward LA, a program created in 2015 that helps people determine whether they are eligible to become citizens and prepares them for the citizenship test, has helped 45,000 people. 

There are an estimated 350,000 legal permanent residents in Los Angeles alone who are eligible to apply for citizenship but haven’t. In the greater area, the number soars to 750,000. “This isn’t an abstraction for us. It isn’t an abstraction for me,” Garcetti said. The biggest hurdle is the cost; currently the application fee is $595 (Add to that a $85 biometric fee for a total of $680.

Joining the White House’s effort is former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (photo above), who became a U.S. citizen in July. He said he wants people to know there are resources available to assist people starting the process and to help integrate new citizens. “I am excited to vote in my first presidential election,” he said.

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com) Photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

HUMAN TRAFFICKING LA STYLE--As the FBI mobilizes to crack down on Bay Area sex trafficking in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, community leaders met at California State University Northridge last week to tackle sex trafficking in the Valley. Just hours after the event, the Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force apprehended and arrested several suspects now charged with pimping and pandering. LA Council Member Nury Martinez joined LAPD and federal investigators on the undercover sting operation in Van Nuys that led to the arrests. Martinez was present in the sting’s final hours and during the arrest and investigation. 

Late last year, the LA City Council led by Martinez created the Valley Bureau of Human Trafficking Task Force to end decades of prostitution and trafficking along the Sepulveda and Lankershim corridors. “With the help of law enforcement and many resources within LAPD, we were able to dismantle a large and complex prostitution ring,” said Lieutenant Marc Evans of the Operations Valley Bureau and head of the task force. 

The task force worked with LAPD Major Crimes, Foothill Vice, Detective Support and Vice Division, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the investigation and arrest.   

“Valley residents are fed up with seeing young women put up for sale on our street corners,” said Councilwoman Martinez.  “As the only woman on the LA City Council, I take it very seriously and personally that I be the voice for these young girls and all women who are victims of human trafficking.” 

Thursday’s arrests were the result of the exceptional coordination of both local and federal law enforcement agencies.  The investigation focused on a brothel that had four locations.  Search warrants were served at those four locations throughout the valley on Thursday evening, including two in the Sixth District that is represented by the council member. 

According to Kim Roth, executive director of Strength United, California has emerged as a magnet for sex trafficking of children. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas identified by the FBI. 

Up north, the FBI opened a Human Trafficking Operation Center last week, coinciding with the start of Super Bowl week. A trial run in October resulted in the rescues of six children in the Bay Area, the youngest victim at 12 years old. 

High-profile events like the Super Bowl are lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers and criminal activity, according to Michele Ernst, a spokesperson for the FBI. “It’s market and demand,” she says. 

Betty Ann Boeving, the executive director and founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition estimates that less than 10 percent of those in the sex industry choose to participate. “Most are being forced against their will. Many are underage girls. This is the business of rape for profit,” she says. 

“I’m looking forward to shining a light on human trafficking in the Valley,” said Councilwoman Martinez. “We will raise awareness on all possible solutions going forward.  I’m committed to fighting human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley.” 

The efforts led by Martinez and others will hopefully continue to expose the problem of human trafficking in the Valley, as well as on a national and global scale.  

ACTION INFO--Strength United is a comprehensive social service organization that operates through CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.  It provides 24/7 support and crisis intervention, along with long-term counseling, victim advocacy and prevention-education programs to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, child maltreatment and other crimes 

Compton’s STAR (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience) Court, which provides referrals to specialized services for underage victims of sex trafficking.  

Journey Out works with survivors of human trafficking.   

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.)

-cw

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