Wed, Apr

LA Watchdog

Los Angeles: In Pension Denial

LA WATCHDOG--Why are Councilmembers Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee, and Paul Koretz, the Chair of the Personnel Committee, and Mayor Eric Garcetti unwilling to be transparent about the City’s pension crisis that contributes to its never ending Structural Deficit and is crowding out basic services to Angelenos?  

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Dodger Nation: It’s Time to Boycott AT&T

LA WATCHDOG--For the last four seasons, three million Southern California households have been unable to watch the Dodgers in the comfort of their own homes because of a business dispute between two media giants, Charter Communications, the owner of Time Warner Cable now doing business as Spectrum, and Direct TV, a wholly owned subsidiary of AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company with a market capitalization exceeding $200 billion. 

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Sexual Harassment: Is LA City Hall a Safe Work Space for Its Employees?

LA WATCHDOG--Ever since The New York Times broke the story on October 4th about the sexual harassment and rape allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, numerous other victims have surfaced, naming not only Harvey Weinstein, but other Hollywood predators, including filmmaker Brett Ratner, actor Kevin Spacey, and director James Toback. And no doubt there will be others who have used their power and status to prey on those lower down on the food chain.  

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Broken Promises: LA’s Not-So-Transparent Mayor

LA WATCHDOG--On April 20, 2018, Mayor Eric Garcetti will submit his Proposed Budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2018 to the City Council.  Between now and then, the Mayor and the City Council will develop the budget behind closed doors without any input from the public, including the charter authorized Neighborhood Councils. 

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Weinstein: Will Filmdom's CEO of Sex Harassment be Forced to File a BK?

LA WATCHDOG--On Monday, The Weinstein Company (the “Company”) “announced that it has entered into a preliminary agreement with Colony Capital (“Colony”) to provide an immediate capital infusion into the Company. In addition, the Company has entered a negotiating period with Colony Capital for a potential sale of all or a significant portion of the Company's assets.” 

The Weinstein Company Announces Investment from Colony Capital. 

The Weinstein Company has been under siege since early October when The New York Times revealed sexual harassment and rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the Company’s founder, co-chairman, and celebrated rainmaker. 

As a result of Harvey Weinstein’s rampant sexual misconduct, the Company in its current form is essentially out of business.  After all, what self-respecting member of the Hollywood community, whether it be the talent or their agents, would work with (or even talk to) this sexual predator. 

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LACERS Negligent Trustees

LA WATCHDOG--The four Garcetti appointed trustees of the Board of Administration of the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (“LACERS”) have demonstrated that they have placed their personal interests ahead of those of the almost 43,000 members who are dependent on LACERS for their retirement benefits.

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Upcoming Hearings are a Sham, City Budget is Already a Done Deal

LA WATCHDOG--On April 20, slightly less than seven months from now, Mayor Eric Garcetti will submit his proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2018 to the City Council for its consideration.  While the Budget and Finance Committee will hold hearings over the following weeks, the budget is already a done deal, having been negotiated behind closed doors between the Mayor and City Council with input from the leaders of the City’s unions. 

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LA’s Neglected Parks: Another Casualty of the City’s Services Bankruptcy

LA WATCHDOG--On September 13, Controller Ron Galperin released a first ever Report Card for our Department of Recreation and Parks. It was based on interviews by consultants with over 3,700 park using Angelenos and onsite reviews of 40 of our 95 community parks.  (Photo above: Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin announces Rec & Parks Report Card.) 

Overall, these 40 community parks received a grade of B (an 86) based on the equal weighting of 12 measurements.  But this hides the fact that many Angelenos are concerned about their safety in the parks (46%) and the poorly maintained bathrooms (37%), especially in three of the five surveyed areas. 

Of the 40 parks that were surveyed, 16 (40%) received a D on the restroom maintenance.  But that percentage leaped to 57% (16 of the 28 parks) for the East San Fernando Valley, Metropolitan, and South LA / Harbor Areas.  On the other hand, the West San Fernando and Westside Areas had no failing restrooms and had an overall of grade of a B on restrooms. 

One the underlying reasons for the lack of safety and the foul restrooms is that the Department’s budget has been decimated by City Hall. 

Under the City’s “full cost recovery” program that was instituted in 2010 by Mayor Villaraigosa and then City Council President Eric Garcetti, $410 million has been diverted from the operating budget of the Department of Recreation and Parks.  

This year alone, Recreation & Parks is being hit up for $71 million, including $25 million for utilities (water and power), $2 million for refuse collection, and $44 million for “General Fund Reimbursement” to cover pension contributions, human resource benefits, and other related expenses. This represents 38% of the charter mandated appropriation of $186 million.  

As a result, the Department’s headcount has been reduced by almost a third, resulting in less maintenance and even fewer programs and activities. 

But the “full cost recovery” program does not apply to any City department other than the Library, whose appropriations, like those of Recreation and Parks, are mandated by the City Charter.  However, in 2011, 63% of the voters approved Measure L which increased the Library’s charter mandated appropriation by 71%.

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LA Businesses, Landlords Trashed … Mayor and City Council Sending Wrong Message

LA WATCHDOG--The rollout of the City’s Commercial Waste Exclusive Franchise System has caused sticker shock to many businesses, multi-family buildings, and homeowner associations as they have been bushwhacked by rates that in “many instances ….. have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled, with the inclusion of new fee assessments that did not exist under the previous private hauler agreements” according to a letter sent by Councilmember Mike Bonin to Councilwoman Nury Martinez, the Chair of the Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee of the Los Angeles City Council. 

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No Bones for LA’s City Employees … the Cupboard is Bare!

LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the four other members of the Executive Employee Relations Committee (Council members Wesson, Englander, Krekorian, and Koretz) are negotiating new contracts with the Coalition of City Unions and the Police Protective League.  The current agreements expire on June 30, 2018. 

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DWP Ratepayers, Grab Your Wallets!

LA WATCHDOG--As part of LA’s Clean Energy Future program, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council and its Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee (formerly known as the Energy and Environment Committee) have called for the Department of Water and Power to study and develop a plan for DWP to generate 100% of its power requirements from renewable energy resources. 

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We Need a Prosperous and Stable Mexico

LA WATCHDOG--President Trump is threatening to trash the 23 year old North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) because he is bent out of shape by our $63 billion trade deficit with Mexico. But that would be a huge error and not in the best interests of the United States and Southern California. 

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LA Faces City Services Bankruptcy: Where Did the Money Go?

LA WATCHDOG--Our streets are some of the worst in the country, hardly worthy of a world class city that will be hosting the 2028 Olympics.  Yet the repair and maintenance of our 28,000 lane miles of residential and arterial streets is not a priority for City Hall.  

Over the last two years, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian have cut the funding from the General Fund to the Pavement Preservation Program by over 50% (from $52.3 million to $25.5 million).  At the same time, General Fund revenues have increased by $435 million. 

Underlying the budget cut for the Pavement Preservation Program is the ever growing expenditures for personnel, ranging from increases in salaries; pension contributions; health, dental, and other benefits; workers’ compensation benefits; and police overtime. 

For this year alone, the $213 million increase in personnel expenditures exceeded the growth in General Fund revenues by $10 million.  This shortfall results in a “service insolvency,” where the City is able to pay its bills (primarily salaries and benefits), but basic services are neglected or “crowded out.”  These services include the maintenance of our streets, sidewalks, parks, urban forest, and the rest of the City’s infrastructure as well as desperately needed investments in computer technology and management information systems.  

Overall, the budget for the Pavement Preservation Program has been cut 17% over the past two years, from $157 million to $131 million.  Sources of revenue other than the General Fund ($25 million) have remained stable, including the Special Gas Tax ($65 million), local return revenues from the Metro related sales taxes ($32 million from Measure R and Proposition C),and the Street Damage Restoration Fee ($9 million).  

The City claims that this cut in the Pavement Preservation Program will not result in a lower level of service.  Through “operational efficiencies and cost effective methods of implementation,” the City will be able to repair 2,400 miles of streets, up from 2,200 in in 2015.  

The Pavement Preservation Program is designed to maintain the condition of our streets in their current average poor condition.  But it does not address the 8,200 miles of failed D and F streets that are in need of very expensive resurfacing or reconstruction.  

The ticket to repair and maintain our failed streets is estimated to be in the range of $3 to $4 billion over the next fifteen to twenty years.  This will require a tax increase of about $250 million a year.  This is the equivalent of a 5% increase in our property taxes, a half cent increase in our sales tax to 10%, or a parcel tax of $320.  

There are ways to eliminate or mitigate this general tax increase.  

The City could allocate a greater share of the $250 million in Local Return revenue from the Metro related sales tax, especially those related to Measure R (2008) and Measure M (2016) to our failed streets.  The same for the local return of an estimated $100 million from the State’s new $5.2 billion a year gas and vehicle tax.  The City could also be more aggressive in collecting the Street Damage Restoration Fee as was recommended by Controller Ron Galperin.  

The City could also allocate a portion of its increased budget revenues to our failed streets.  Over the next four years, revenues are projected to increase by $650 million.  

Alternatively, we would benefit from outsourcing the repair and maintenance of our streets to independent contractors who would not be burdened by the City’s overly restrictive work rules.  They are probably more efficient than the poorly managed Bureau of Street Services that was panned in Controller Galperin’s 2014 audit. 

Before the City considers another massive tax increase, it needs to not only develop a detailed operational plan for the repair and maintenance of our 28,000 miles of streets, but also a comprehensive financial plan for the City that considers alternative sources of financing and eliminates the “service insolvency” that adversely impacts our quality of life.  

Over the last year, Angelenos have been hit with $1.6 billion in new taxes.  This includes our share of the tax increases implemented by the Metro and the County (40%) and the State (10%).  This is the equivalent a 30% increase in our property taxes or a 2½ cent increase in our sales tax. 

Can we afford to be hit with another massive tax by the City? 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  [email protected].)


Herb Wesson’s Latest Pitch: City Owned ‘Bank of Los Angeles’ … Is It  Worth the Risk?

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson made a motion to look into the feasibility of creating the “Bank of Los Angeles” with a vision statement of “financing the building of affordable housing,” making loans to “small business entrepreneurs,” and accommodating the cannabis industry and its banking requirements.

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Days of ‘Trust Us’ are Over …  Affordable Housing Parcel Tax Is Not Affordable

LA WATCHDOG--In an Op-Ed column Tax Land, Not Development last week in the Los Angeles Times, three professors at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs have proposed a “flat tax of $3 per day on every parcel in the City” to fund affordable housing in the City of Los Angeles.  This “small land tax” would replace the proposed linkage fee on new residential and commercial development that would raise “only” $100 million a year, an amount that the three professors deem insufficient to solve the City’s housing problem. 

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Earth to Eric, Get Real

LA WATCHDOG--In his second inaugural speech that would make any upwardly mobile politician proud, Mayor Eric Garcetti took credit for the City’s economic recovery and promised us a glorious and prosperous future. But he was short on the details.  

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