Sun, Sep

LA Watchdog

Krekorian, Koretz: Smarter than Warren Buffett?

LA WATCHDOG--During the last year’s budget hearings, Los Angeles City Council Members Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, and Paul Koretz, the Chair of the Personnel Committee, were pushing to increase the investment rate assumption for the City’s two underfunded pension plans to 8%, up from the current level of 7.5%.  

This would have the dual effect of lowering the then $8 billion unfunded pension liability and decreasing the City’s Annual Required Contribution by an estimated $200 million.  This additional cash would allow the City Council to fund the new budget busting labor contract for the City’s 20,000 civilian workers, begin the repair of our lunar crated streets, or pay for new initiatives or pet projects.    

Both Krekorian and Koretz felt that this increase was reasonable since the five year average return was over 13% for both the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (“LACERS”) and the Los Angeles Fire & Police Pension Plans (“FPP”). In addition, the rate of return for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014 was a bonkers 18%.

Unfortunately, the following year’s rate of return for the two plans averaged 3.3%, resulting in a $400 million increase in the unfunded pension liability.   

But rather than increasing the investment rate assumption, many well respected investors believe that the investment rate assumption should be lowered to 6.5% (or lower).  This would include the legendary Warren Buffett (photo above) of Berkshire Hathaway whose investment returns over the last 40 years are double those of the Standard & Poor’s 500.

For comparison, corporate pension plans rely on a 4% investment rate assumption according to a recent article by Melody Petersen in our Los Angeles Times. 

The Times also disclosed that the $300 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System (otherwise known as CalPERS) is reducing its investment rate assumption to 6.5% from 7.5% over the next 20 years, granted more slowly than the more aggressive schedule advocated by Governor Jerry Brown. 

If the investment rate assumption for City’s two pension plans was 6.5%, the unfunded pension liability at June 30, 2015 would increase to $13.5 billion, up from $8 billion, while the funded ratio would decrease to 71% from 80%. 

(On a relatively positive note, LACERS and FPP have been funding their Other Post-Employment Benefits (read medical) since the late 1980’s.  The County and the State have not funded any of these obligations, resulting in unfunded liabilities of $27 billion and $71 billion, respectively).   

The lower rate would also increase the Annual Required Contribution by an estimated 33% to $1.45 billion, a $350 million increase from the current level of $1.1 billion.  The increased contribution would chew up 27% of the General Fund, up from the current level of 20%.  This compares to 10% in 2005 when Antonio Villaraigosa became our mayor. 

The City’s pension plans have generated considerable controversy over the last decade as they have devoured an ever increasing share of the budget, crowding out other pressing needs such as increased public safety; the repair of our streets, sidewalks, and parks; and affordable housing and homelessness.  And even with the new tiers that were established for recently hired sworn and civilian workers, the pension plans will continue to consume a disproportionate chunk of the City’s budget as they rely on the overly optimistic rate of return of 7.5%.  

One of the key recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission was to “establish a Commission on Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts.”  But this call for action has not seen the light of day as City Council President Herb Wesson, an original sponsor of the LA 2020 Commission and a smiling participant in the press conferences, has buried it deep in the bowels of City Hall. 

Governor Brown, CalPERS, and the $188 billion California State Teachers Retirement System have taken meaningful steps to address the State’s underfunded pension plans and the ever increasing contributions required by state and local governments.  Now is time for the City of Los Angeles to come clean about the facts surrounding its severely underfunded pension plans and develop “concrete recommendations to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.”


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])





Vol 13 Issue 94

Pub: Nov 20, 2015

It Pays to be a Friend of Herb

LA WATCHDOG--“The power to rezone is the power to create great wealth and using that power wrongfully is just as bad as stealing public money.” 

This comment by Superior Court Judge Pearce Young in the 1969 sentencing of Los Angeles City Councilman Thomas Shepard on his conviction for bribery in connection with rezoning of land in the San Fernando Valley still appears to be the operative as members of the City Council have no problem granting special favors in return for campaign contributions and other monetary favors. 

Earlier this year, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee led by Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander, and the Herb Wesson led City Council approved a 27 story luxury high rise in Koreatown.  This political action overturned the unanimous decision of the City Planning Commission to reject this oversized development because it was not compatible with this low rise, densely populated, lower income neighborhood that just happened to be located in Herb Wesson’s Council District. 

This zoning change will provide the Beverly Hills developer, Michael Hakim, with a windfall profit estimated to be in the range of $15 to $20 million.  In return, Hakim will “contribute” $1,000,000 to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $250,000 to a Community Benefits Trust Fund, both of which are controlled by Council President Herb Wesson. 

In February of 2013, Wesson orchestrated a $1 a year lease with the Korean American Museum for a 24,540 square foot parking lot on the southwest corner of Vermont and 6th Street.  This property had been appraised for more than $8 million.  This coincided with several generous contributions to Wesson’s “Yes on Proposition A” slush fund that promoted the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax.  This measure was rejected by 55% of the voters in March of 2013. 

In June of 2015, Wesson introduced a motion that would authorize the Korean American Museum to expand its development from a three story, 45,000 square foot museum to a seven story, 85,000 square foot building consisting of a two story, 28,375 square foot museum and five stories consisting of over 100 market rate apartments. 

While Wesson hailed this as a “creative partnership,” there is an unpleasant aroma surrounding this deal involving a bargain basement long term lease for a very valuable City property to a nonprofit museum that is engaging in a for profit residential development. 

In 2011, just down the street at Vermont and Wilshire, Wesson arranged for $17.5 million in loans from the City and the Community Redevelopment Agency to J.H. Snyder Company, a well-heeled, successful developer, to help finance its $200 million apartment and retail complex.  In less than three years from the date of the loans, Snyder flipped the two towers, pocketing a profit in the range of $75 to $100 million.  This raises the question as to whether these loans were necessary, other to augment Snyder’s return on its equity investment that is estimated to be in excess of 100%.   

Snyder’s strong relationship with Wesson and his reputation as a successful developer allowed him to take over the failed development of the CRA controlled property at 1601 North Vine, strategically located between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.  This deal allows Snyder to buy this 18,208 square foot lot that is permitted for an eight story, 124,000 square foot office building for the bargain basement price of $825,000.  This is considerably less than the City’s cost of $6.5 million.  

Of course, it does not hurt Snyder was a generous contributor to the Wesson’s “Yes on Proposition A” slush fund as well as many other local campaigns. 

The power to rezone properties on a spot basis is poor public policy because residents and their neighborhoods are subject to the whims of the City Council who, despite their protests that they are representing our best interests, are heavily influenced by real estate developers, their lawyers and lobbyists, and their wads of cash.  All we need to do is look at the overdevelopment in Hollywood, DTLA, the Westside, and the Valley that is clogging our streets and making our lives miserable.  

The lack of trust in the Herb Wesson led City Council will result in voters approving “The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,” a proposed ballot measure that will limit the powers of the City Council to spot zone for the benefit of the campaign funding real estate developers.  

More later on this long overdue ballot measure!  


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])






Vol 13 Issue 93

Pub: Nov 17, 2015

LA Olympics Wedding Switcheroo

LA WATCHDOG--City Council President Herb Wesson likens the Los Angeles’ bid to be the Host City for the 2024 Summer Olympics as the “engagement.  It is not the wedding.  And now it’s time to work on the pre-nup.” 

But it is also reminiscent of the family that decides to have their daughter’s wedding at home to save money, but ends up taking out a third mortgage to finance the wedding and the sprucing up of their house. 

The Los Angeles 2024 Bid Committee and its supporters in City Hall tell us that the Olympics will generate a profit of over $150 million on revenue of almost $5 billion. 

This “conservative” profit projection also includes a contingency fee of $400 million as well as a payment to the City of $200 million to reimburse it for expenses such as police, fire, and traffic control. 

But this projection does not include any funds for over $2 billion of capital expenditures needed to construct the Olympic Village and the International Media Center and to renovate the Memorial Coliseum and other sporting venues. This amount may be short by a $1 to $2 billion as the cost for the Olympic Village may be seriously understated according to Zev Yaroslavsky, the former County Supervisor and City Councilman who is respected for his long record of fiscal responsibility. 

The City will also use the Olympics as a reason to “accelerate” spending on selected infrastructure projects, including extending the Purple Line to Century City and UCLA by 2024 and completing the revitalization of the Los Angeles River, Mayor Garcetti’s pet project. 

While this multibillion dollar construction boom will fuel our local economy, at least temporarily, the City may be on the hook for billions as a result of its agreement to indemnify the International Olympic Committee against any losses. 

For example, if the City was responsible for a $1 billion shortfall, Angelenos would be tagged for $130 million a year for the next ten years.  This would require about a 3% increase in our real estate taxes ($130 for the average home valued at $500,000).  Alternatively, the City could propose to slap us with a parcel tax ($160) or a quarter of a cent increase in our sales tax. 

But why should the Angelenos absorb 100% of the potential losses while 6 million other County residents derive significant benefits from the Olympics?  And why should Angelenos absorb 100% of the risk when any profits would benefit the State’s eight southernmost counties as is the case with LA84 Foundation? And why should the City take on this financial obligation when it cannot eliminate its Structural Deficit, balance its budget, or repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets?  

If the County of Los Angeles were to protect the IOC from a $1 billion loss, Angelenos tax liability would drop by 60%, where the average homeowner’s liability would be decreased to $50, down from $130 a year. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson are eloquent in promoting the City’s bid to be the Host City for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, the City’s track record does not inspire confidence.  

Rather than going it alone, the City should team up with the more efficient and fiscally responsible County.  And while that may limit Eric and Herb’s bragging rights, Angelenos will sleep better knowing that the County is working with the City to oversee the finances and operations of the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

And even though 80% of Angelenos support hosting the Olympics, we still have our doubts when it comes to footing the bill for potential losses. 


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])





Vol 13 Issue 92

Pub: Nov 13, 2015

November 8, 2016: Hold on to Your Wallet

LA WATCHDOG--In 368 days, we will be voting for the next President of the United States.  In very blue California, the outcome is not in doubt.  Nor is the party of our next US Senator.  

On the other hand, the statewide ballot measures will be a donnybrook as special interests with wads of campaign cash are looking to raid our wallets and to prevent citizens from authorizing the issuance of billions in debt on major public works projects. 

The educational establishment, the teachers’ unions, and the building industry have placed a $9 billion general obligation school bond measure on the ballot.  This will end up costing taxpayers an average of $500 million a year for the next 35 years, a total of $17.6 billion, including $8.6 billion in interest.  The proceeds from these bonds will be used for new construction ($3 billion), modernization of K-12 public school facilities ($3 billion), charter schools ($1 billion), and California Community Colleges ($1 billion). 

The “No Blank Checks Initiative” has also qualified for the ballot.  This measure would require a public vote to approve any revenue bonds on state projects that exceed $2 billion.  Unlike general obligation bonds that are serviced with our tax dollars, revenue bonds rely on the cash flow of the particular project which, in turn, relies on the fees paid by the citizens using the services of the particular project.  

The provisions of this constitutional amendment would apply to Governor Brown’s two legacy pet projects, the $68 billion High Speed Rail boondoggle connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco and the $15 billion Twin Tunnels that will convey hundreds of billions of gallons of water every year from the Sacramento River to the California Aqueduct that serves Southern California and to farms in the Central Valley.     

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While No Blank Checks only qualified for the ballot on November 2, the political establishment and business and labor groups are already trashing this initiative that will limit their ability to pick the pockets of the citizens of California unless they have our approval. The opposition to this citizen empowering amendment will no doubt devote huge resources to defeat this measure sponsored by Dean Cortopassi, a Stockton based farmer who opposes the Twin Tunnels. 

We can also expect several other tax measures on the ballot, including efforts by the public sector unions to extend or make permanent the temporary tax increases imposed by Proposition 30 that was approved by 55% of the voters in November of 2012.  This measure increased our sales tax by a quarter of a cent until December 31, 2018 and the marginal tax rate on higher incomes ($250,00 and up) until December 31, 2016.  

Alternatively, State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is considering a proposal to extend the sales tax to include services in order to smooth out the revenue swings of our boom or bust tax system that relies heavily on upper income residents and a good stock market.  But under the guise of reform, Hertzberg wants to raise $10 billion in additional revenue for the State.  Otherwise, to use the $10 Billion Man’s own words, “it’s not worth the effort.”  

But that’s not all folks!!!! 

There is also an effort to increase our gas tax to fund the $59 billion repair bill for our highways as designated funds were diverted by our free spending Legislature to pay for ever increasing personnel costs, including ballooning pension contributions. 

Other political insiders and union leaders are pushing for a “Split Roll” ballot measure where Proposition 13 would not apply to commercial properties, raising an estimated $9 billion for local governments. Of course, these proponents will fail to mention that these additional taxes will be passed along to us through higher prices for goods and services.  

In Los Angeles County, Metro and the Board of Supervisors are preparing to place on the ballot yet another half cent increase in our sales tax to pay for transportation projects.  Mayor Garcetti has endorsed this tax increase, in large part because the Local Return provision will kick back 25% of the tax revenue to our profligate City which, despite huge increases in tax revenues, still has not eliminated its Structural Deficit or made an effort to Live Within Its Means. 

Prepare for barrage of propaganda and a heavily financed assault on our wallets by the fiscally irresponsible politicians, the public sector unions, self-serving special interests, and their ring kissing cronies.  But until the City, County, and State reform their finances and inefficient operations, we need to reject their efforts to pick our pockets.  

After all, we are already one the highest taxed states in the nation, right up there with financial basket cases like New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.  

We are not striving to be Number One.  Just Say No.  


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])





Vol 13 Issue 90

Pub: Nov 6, 2015

Can LA Afford Its High Priced, Inefficient Workforce?

LA WATCHDOG-“Public, Private Sector Wage Gap Heavily Favors Many LA Workers,” a front page article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, marks the beginning of the conversation involving the efficiency of the City’s operations and whether the City should “outsource” a portion of its operations, including the repair and maintenance of our deteriorating streets and broken sidewalks. 

In their 1,300 word article, Peter Jamison and Catherine Saillant detailed how many city workers earn considerably more than their private sector counterparts, with premiums ranging from 40% to over 100%.  

City workers are also entitled to very hefty benefits that far exceed those in the private sector, including a Cadillac healthcare plan, a generous defined benefit pension plan, ample vacation time, 13 paid holidays, and 12 sick days at full pay.   

The City’s operations also appear to be poorly managed, hindered by the lack of management information systems as was detailed in Controller Ron Galperin’s audit of the Bureau of Street Services.  As a result, the Bureau does not have a very good grasp of its performance metrics and overall operation.  

Galperin also revealed that the Bureau has very low direct labor utilization rates (57%) which results in the overstaffing of its work crews.    

The City’s cost structure is also burdened by a bloated, paper pushing bureaucracy which results in excessive department overheads.  This is compounded by unsupported allocations for centralized services and City Hall administrative expenses that are needed, in part, to handle the disruptive interference from members of the City Council, their staffs, and their favor seeking cronies. 

Our cash strapped City can no longer support these inefficient operations that are crowding out the City’s ability to provide basic core services such as the repair and maintenance of streets and sidewalks and the enforcement of traffic laws, planning and zoning rules, building and safety regulations, and local zoning ordinances, all of which impact our quality of life.     

As a first step, the City needs to determine the efficiency of its departments by benchmarking their operations against other governmental entities and private enterprise. While this may be a novel experience for the City, it is standard operating procedure in the private sector.  

The City should also implement a policy of “managed competition” where the City contracts with private contractors for a portion of the work and compares the results with those of City work crews.  

The Department of Water and Power had such a policy to replace selected water mains.  This resulted in a DWP construction work crew incurring 100% cost overruns while at the same time blowing its deadlines.  The private contractors were, for the most part, on time and on budget.  

The City should also consider implementing performance based evaluations of its employees while lessening the importance of seniority.  This would provide the City with considerably more operational flexibility to lower its costs and deliver a finished product on time and on budget.  

Together, these three reforms, benchmarking, managed competition, and performance based personnel evaluations, would result in significant savings, freeing up to $200 million (less than 10% of the civilian personnel costs) that would be devoted to eliminating the Structural Deficit, repairing and maintaining our streets and sidewalks, and restoring vital city services that are essential to our quality of life. 

Unfortunately, the Herb Wesson led City Council will reject these reforms because it does not have the courage to stand up to the campaign funding City unions.  Its solution is to continue to play games with the budget by raiding the Reserve Fund and deferring needed expenditures.  At the same time, they are concocting a plan to persuade the City’s skeptical voters to approve a massive increase in our taxes.  

But this rope-a-dope strategy of prioritizing their own personal political goals at our expense is not going to fly as the voters will demand work place and budget reform.  Maybe it is time that City Hall took the advice of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo: 

“It is not government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided.”


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected]



Vol 13 Issue 36

Pub: May 1, 2015

It’s Time for Dodger Baseball

LA WATCHDOG-Comcast’s decision to terminate its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable may be good news for the 3.5 million Southern Californian households that have been deprived of the right to watch the Dodgers from the comfort of their own homes.  

Underlying this blackout of 70% of the market is the unwillingness of DirecTV, Charter, Cox, and other cable companies to pass along the $5 a month subscriber fee associated with TWC’s over-the-top offer to pay the Dodgers $8.35 billion over the next 25 years to distribute SportsNet LA, the Dodgers regional sports network.  Assuming five million subscribers, the public would eventually be tagged for $600 million a year when you factor in the 100% markup that is needed to preserve the distributors’ 50% gross profit margin.  

TWC has been reluctant to lower its price per subscriber because it may trigger a substantial write-off of its investment, probably in the range of $500 million to $1 billion. But TWC has been concerned that this sizeable hit to its financials would have an adverse impact on the market’s perception of its proposed deal with Comcast. 

But now that the deal with Comcast is history due to the opposition of the Federal Government, TWC is in a position where it can write-off not only its costs associated with the failed merger (probably in excess of $100 million), but a portion of the Dodger contract associated with a lower subscriber fee, probably in the range of $1 to $2 per subscriber, or $500 million to $1 billion. 

This write-off, while substantial, represents at most 2% of TWC’s $45 billion market value.  Furthermore, sophisticated investors, including Charter Communications which is interested in buying TWC, will see through the smoke and value the Dodger contract based on more rational assumptions. 

Consequently, it would be in everyone’s best interest for TWC to lower its price to around $3 a subscriber.  Unfortunately, life has become more complicated since early in 2013 when TWC inked its deal with the Dodgers. 

According to several newspaper accounts, the independent distributors may be trying to offset some of the high costs and low ratings associated with the TWC’s 20 year, $3 billion contract with the Lakers by lowering the subscriber fees for the Dodgers.  There may also be efforts to tie the fees of both the Dodgers and Lakers to their performance, thereby increasing TWC’s risk profile. 

The cable and satellite companies are also experiencing the increasing loss of subscribers as consumers are “cutting the cord,” embracing streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon in an attempt to lower their overhead.  This is forcing the distributors to become more cost conscious as can be seen by their reluctance to overpay for the Dodgers.

There is also considerable pressure for distributors to “unbundle” their basic offering which would allow consumers to choose channels on an a la carte basis. This is particularly true of the sports related offerings which comprise an estimated 50% of the cost of the basic cable TV package, but are only viewed by only 25% of the subscribers. 

This effort to “slim” down the basic offering is playing out in a lawsuit as Verizon, the sixth largest pay TV provider, is attempting to offer a basic package without ESPN, contrary to its contractual arrangement with the channel.  As a matter of interest, ESPN, along with its affiliated offerings that are forced upon the distributors, is by far and away the most expensive network.  

TWC is in an interesting predicament of its own making.  

Does it continue to lose $100 to $200 million a year by holding out for a $5 subscriber fee or does it take the $1 billion hit to its financials, recognizing that in its exuberance that it overpaid big time for the Dodgers’ media rights, cut its losses, and lower the subscriber fee to $3? 

If it is worried about its reputation, it is time for Time Warner Cable to take the hit for the home team.  It is time for Dodger baseball. 


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected]



Vol 13 Issue 35

Pub: Apr 28, 2015

LA’s Politicians Long on Promises … Short on Bucks to Pay for Them

LA WATCHDOG-We are entering the Silly Season of LA politics as the candidates for the open City Council seats are promising paved streets, level sidewalks, pension reform, a more efficient work force, restored services, development that is respectful of our neighborhoods, less traffic congestion, lower parking fines, affordable housing, housing for the homeless, a revitalized Los Angeles River, and the phase out of the gross receipts business tax, all without raising our taxes. 

These campaign pledges are nothing but hot air unless the City is able to fund its existing operations and these ambitious programs.  

However, this gives us the opportunity to ask the candidates a series of very simple questions about how they propose to eliminate the City’s projected budget deficits and its $25 to $30 billion mountain of unfunded pension liabilities, deferred maintenance, and existing long term debt. 

For openers, how do you intend to eliminate next year’s projected budget deficit of $165 million and the $425 million cumulative deficit over the next three years? 

The City Administrative Officer is projecting a budget surplus of $24 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year.  It assumes that there will be no raises or cost of living adjustments for City employees and that civilian workers will contribute 10% towards the cost of the City sponsored health plan.  Do you support these assumptions? 

Do you support the unanimous recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances? 

How do you propose to pay for the repair and maintenance of our streets and sidewalks? 

Do you support the LA 2020 Commission’s proposal to form a Committee on Retirement Security that will report its recommendations on how to “achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020” within 120 days? 

Do you support the City’s creation of the new tier of pension benefits for new civilian employees even though the Employee Relations Board questioned its legality?  

What are your plans for pension reform?  

Do you believe that the City’s pension plans should be fully funded within 20 years?  

Do you support the proposal that would allow the City to amend future benefits for existing workers as was supported by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed? 

Do you support the recent lowering of the investment rate assumption by the City’s two pension plans to 7½% even though it increased the City’s annual required contribution?  

Under what conditions would you support the lowering of the investment rate assumption to 6½%, a benchmark recommended by Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame and fortune? 

How do you propose to finance the Mayor Garcetti’s plans for the Los Angeles River, Great Streets, and Sustainability? 

Mayor Garcetti pledged to phase out the $470 million gross receipts business tax? How would you replace the lost revenue? 

Do you support the “benchmarking” of City services to determine their effectiveness and efficiency?  And under what conditions would you support the contracting out of City services?  

Do you support transparent labor negotiations where all proposals and offers must be disclosed within 24 hours and that any proposed agreement be reviewed and analyzed by an independent third party prior to being approved by the City Council? 

Under what conditions would you support a half cent increase in our sales tax to fund the restoration of City services? 

Finally, do you support placing a measure on the ballot where voters would have the opportunity to accept or reject an amendment to reform our charter that would require the City to develop and adhere to a long term financial plan, pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and, over the next twenty years, fully fund the City’s two pension plans and repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure? 

We deserve detailed written answers to all of these basic questions on how the candidates propose to eliminate the sea of red ink and reduce the $25 to $30 billion of liabilities that the current City Council is dumping on the next generation of Angelenos because of its inaction and its unwillingness to make tough decisions.  

Come to think of it, we should demand that Mayor Eric Garcetti, Council President Herb Wesson, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, and all of the other members of the “kick the can down the road” City Council provide us with written answers to these questions. 

After all, it is not only our money they are squandering, but the future of our children and grandchildren. 


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected].) 





Vol 13 Issue 2

Repub: Jan 6, 2015


Stinks Like Measure B

LA WATCHDOG - (Editor’s Note: In light of the online Bloomberg news report on Tuesday, it seemed appropriate to revisit this Jack Humphreville LA Watchdog column from 2009 on the same subject … proving Jack is ahead of his time.)

Why is the City Council hell bent on approving the huge five year wage package for IBEW workers at the Department of Water and Power without adequate hearings and transparency?

Read more ...

LA’s $20 Billion Black Hole

LA WATCHDOG - Over the last six years, Los Angeles City payroll and related benefits have increased by $720 million, a 24% bump, as average salaries have increased to $82,000 a year, not including very generous benefits. And contributions to the City’s two pension plans have increased by $540 million (over 150%) as pension liabilities ballooned by almost $10 billion, a 40% increase.

So what is the source of all the cash that is needed to fund these out of control personnel costs?

One source of ready cash was the money needed to maintain and repair our infrastructure: our streets and bridges (ranked the worst in the nation), sidewalks, parks, stormwater drains, street lights, and buildings.  The City has also short changed its motor vehicle fleet such as police cars, fire engines, and garbage trucks and has neglected to modernize our Stone Age computer systems and hardware.

Read more ...

Ratepayers Advocate: Now the Work Begins

LA WATCHDOG - Hallelujah.  We have a Ratepayers Advocate.

But now the heavy lifting begins as the newly appointed Ratepayers Advocate, Dr. Frederick H. Pickel, must review and analyze the proposed three year increases of 22% and 25% in our water and power rates, respectively.And it appears we have a winner in Dr. Pickel, the unanimous selection of the Citizens Committee.  

Beginning in early December, this volunteer Committee, along with Heather Renschler of the executive search firm of Ralph Anderson & Associates, did yeoman’s work, screening over 60 qualifying resumes and conducting two rounds of in person interviews, including the final in depth interviews that required the four finalists to review and analyze reams of information about our Department of Water and Power and the proposed rate increases.

Read more ...

Structural Deficit Demands Structural Change

LA'S BUDGET CRISIS - The Mayor and his staff have developed a very good Budget Survey that addresses the issues and choices concerning next year’s budget deficit that is estimated by the City Administrative Officer to be in the range of $200 million to $250 million.

The survey questions involve Budget Priorities, Potential Service Reductions, a Sustainable Workforce, Revenue Opportunities, Public Private Partnerships, and Improved Financial Management Tools. There is also the opportunity to provide ample comment.

Read more ...

LA’s Budget Deficit Soars to $712 Million If …

LA WATCHDOG - IF the proposed $254 million Transfer Fee from the Power System of the Department of Water and Power to the City’s General Fund is not permitted pursuant to the recently passed Proposition 26 (Super Majority Vote Required to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act), then the City’s projected deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2011 will soar to $712 million, a 55% increase over the current projection of $458 million.  (Link)

The less than transparent Transfer Fee, equal to 8% of the Power System’s prior year retail revenues, is one of the largest sources of cash for the City’s General Fund, representing 5.8% of the $4.38 billion of General Receipts. The Transfer Fee is typically paid in four installments, beginning in March when about 60% is put on the Money Train to City Hall.

However, the Transfer Fee may be illegal based on the provisions of Proposition 26 which was passed by 53% of the voters in November 2010.  Prop 26 requires a two-thirds vote of the electorate to pass fees that are not related to the actual costs of the services provided.

As a result, on February 4, the City of Redding was sued in Superior Court to prevent the Redding Electric Utility, a city department like DWP, from imposing a “Payment In-Lieu of Taxes” of almost $6 million on the Ratepayers. 

LA’s General Fund loss of the $254 million Transfer Fee from the DWP Power System will throw a monkey wrench into the current budget negotiations. 

As it is, the City is having a difficult time closing the projected $458 million General Fund Deficit, relying on yet to be negotiated savings from the most sacred of all cows, the Police Department and its very police protective league, the Fire Department and its obstreperous union, and the unionized Civilian Workforce.  There are also over $100 million of “Reductions and Efficiencies” which need to be implemented.

There are also a few more gimmicks that involve dumping unfunded mandates on Special Revenue departments and issuing commercial paper to pay off existing Convention Center debt and to fund pension fund payments related to the fiscally irresponsible Early Retirement Inventive Plan that added over $200 million to the unfunded pension liability of the 60% funded Los Angeles City Employee Retirement System. 

This is the equivalent of paying your second or third mortgage with a credit card that has a low teaser rate.

And remember, the current budget does not provide for the adequate repair and maintenance of our infrastructure (such as our lunar crater streets, sidewalks, and parks) or the proper funding of the $11.7 billion unfunded pension liability, including about $6 billion of the 68% funded Fire and Police Pension Plans. 

And these “devastating” reductions do not even address the projected deficit of $281 million for the following fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012. 

Needless to say, The Mayor Who Broke LA will go into high gear, denouncing Prop 26 and saying it does not apply to the 8% Transfer Fee.  But that will be for the courts to decide. 

In the meantime, the municipal bond investment community, including the influential credit rating agencies, will be making their own judgments on the merits of the City’s June offering of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes that are required to fund the City’s operations for the first half of the fiscal year. 

But who would buy the very risky Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes?

Individual retail investors who are focused on the preservation of capital would pass because of the high level of risk.

The most likely buyers would be large mutual funds who are stretching for yield. But these are the same mutual funds that conservative investors buy. But who are these mutual funds that are rolling the dice with investor money?  More than likely the large mutual fund complexes and banks such as Fidelity, Vanguard, Wells Fargo, T Rowe Price, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Schwab, Northern Trust, and a host of other gambling investment funds.

But even if the yield hogs invested in this highly speculative junk paper, they would focus on the shorter maturities that mature within seven months, not like the current issue that has maturities of over $600 million in May and June.

To insure a successful offering of Notes that will provide the cash to fund the City’s operations, the City needs to address the $712 million budget deficit in a manner that is acceptable to the investment community.  And the City needs to brace itself for very high interest rates.  Otherwise, the City will run out of cash.

One alternative is for the City to ask the voters to approve the 8% Transfer Fee.  But what is the likelihood that voters would approve such a tax or a fee given the electorate’s lack of trust and confidence in the Mayor, City Hall, and the campaign funding leadership of City’s unions?

At the same time, DWP, which has its own set of trust issues, is asking for another significant increase in our water and power base rates.

But if our Elected Elite placed the 8% Transfer Fee on the ballot, what would the Citizens of Los Angeles demand in return?

The City must address the need for true structural reform, including the development and implementation of a long term solvency plan that addresses the repair of our infrastructure; true pension reform as suggested by The Little Hoover Commission; work place reform that focuses on the efficient delivery of core services and the rationalization of the compensation, benefit, and seniority arrangements; and a complete reform of the collective bargaining process.

As an incentive to Ratepayers, the Transfer Fee also needs to be restructured whereby the transfer is equal to 5% of the Power System’s revenues, provided that it is not lower than the current level of $254 million, adjusted for inflation. 

The City must also establish a Citizens Advocate, consisting of non political independent grownups, which has the right to review and oversee the operations and finances of the City and its related entities, not dissimilar to the New York City’s Emergency Financial Control Board that was established in 1975 when the Big Apple almost tanked. 

While the loss of the $254 million Transfer Fee has draconian implications, it will force our Mayor Villaraigosa, Controller Wendy Greuel, City Council President Eric Garcetti and the rest of our Elected Elite to address its structural deficit and make the necessary and reasonable financial and work place reforms that will be demanded by the electorate. 

And who knows, the inability of DWP to put the Transfer Fee on the Money Train to City Hall may offset the proposed increase in our electricity rates. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com . He can be reached at:    [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 38
Pub: May 13, 2011

Parking Vultures Want Closed Door Meetings

CITY HALL MEMO: GARAGE SALE IS ON AGAIN? - In February, the City Council voted unanimously to kill the fiscally irresponsible fire sale of nine of the City’s parking garages and their over 8,200 parking spaces. This was contrary to the consequences-be-damned Mayor’s strong support of the sale, otherwise known as the Public Private Partnership. (Link)

But once again, the issue of the sale of our parking garages has surfaced as the result of inquiries from fee grubbing investment banks and private equity firms trying to take advantage of the City’s financial distress by offering our Elected Elite upfront cash, cash being the most powerful aphrodisiac known to politicians.

In a May 4 Inter-Departmental memo (see below) to the Budget and Finance Committee of the City Council, Miguel Santana, the City Administrative Officer, indicated that his office had received several “unsolicited offers” with respect to the nine parking garages.

These offers included a proposal to sell the parking garages for an upfront payment of over $200 million, similar to the proposals that were rejected by the City Council.  There are also convoluted Lease-Leaseback transactions that involve considerable financial engineering.  But again, they all appear to involve upfront cash in return for the ability to operate the parking garages.

But such offers are hardly unsolicited.  More than likely, there have been many back channel, off the record, not for attribution, back and forth conversations involving investment bankers, lawyers, consultants, city officials, Council Members, the Mayor, and their staffs and campaign consultants.

Santana also suggested that the City consider a management contract with an experienced private company to operate and manage the garages, accompanied by an upfront payment to pay off the parking related debt and upgrade the systems and technology.

As part of his recommendation, the City Administrative Officer suggested that the City Council address this issue in a CLOSED SESSION, in part because one the investment banks believed its offer contained proprietary and confidential information.

But closed sessions are totally unacceptable to the public, in large part because Angelenos do not trust City Hall to do what is in the best interests of the City or the impacted communities such as Hollywood, Downtown, and Westwood. 

However, since February, there has been considerable progress, especially as it relates to including the local impacted communities in the discussions and decision making.

In Westwood, there have been constructive conversations between the Westwood community and its Council Member, Paul Koretz, to develop a “fair and productive parking rate plan and parking district.”  It also includes the possible introduction of diagonal parking. 

And according to Eric Garcetti, Hollywood is working on the idea of a parking district.

Garcetti also indicated that a transaction involving the parking garages is not true structural reform, but rather a “short-sighted, one-off idea” that is not in the best interests of our neighborhoods.

As we have recommended in the past, the City should retain an experienced and well capitalized management company to oversee the management of the parking garages; assist in the collection of the 10% Parking Tax from private operators; develop an operating, rate, technology, and capital investment plan for each facility; and assist in the refinancing of the garages and the Parking Fund.

This concept should also be expanded to include the City’s 38,000 on-street parking meters. (Link)

And most importantly, there should be no more closed sessions.  We need an open and transparent process where the impacted communities and other citizens groups are intimately involved in the development of local plans for both the parking garages and on-street parking. 

As for the memo to the Budget and Finance Committee, the City Council spoke in February against the fire sale of our parking garages.  As such, the City Administrative Officer should dismiss these vulture investors and investment bankers and focus on working with the local communities to develop viable parking strategies and alternatives.    

Insider City Hall Memo

Memo 113

May 4, 2011
To:       Budget and Finance Committee
From:   Miguel A. Santana, City Administrative Officer


Since the Council took action to terminate the Public-Private Partnership (P3) for certain City parking structures in February 2011, this Office has received several unsolicited offers with respect to these assets. The following is a summary of those proposals.

Public-Private Partnership (P3) for Parking Revenue to City: over $200 million

We received a proposal from an investment bank offering an upfront payment of over $200 million in exchange for a long-term concession and lease agreement for the nine parking structures previously contemplated under the P3 parking project. The bank, in partnership with an experienced operator, would assume management and operation of the facilities, including technological and capital investments for a period of 50 years.

The City Attorney has advised that we cannot release the offer, absent explicit consent by the proposer, because the proposer has requested that it be kept proprietary and confidential. The proposer seeks to maintain its competitive position by keeping the offer confidential. If the Council wants to pursue further, instructions must be provided to schedule this item for closed session so the Council can provide this Office with negotiation instructions.

Lease-Leaseback Revenue to City: TBD

We received two offers for a lease-leaseback transaction. One proposal by an investment firm in partnership with an experienced operator specified a term of 20 to 35 years and provided that the City would retain operational control, including rate setting authority and usage. The firm would make an upfront lease payment in exchange for annual lease payments by City over the term of the agreement. The City would retain revenues in excess ·of lease payments.

The second proposal by an infrastructure firm specified a term of 15 to 30 years and provides that the firm purchases the buildings, but the City retains ownership of the land, with the title reverting to the City at the end of the term. The firm would lease the facility back to the City based on tax-exempt bond rates.

Lease-Leaseback Alternative Revenue to City: TBD

We received another offer for a transaction similar to a lease-leaseback transaction wherein the firm would pay the City an up-front inducement fee structured as debt and the City would make payment to the firm for management fees and debt service over a 25 year term. Revenues would be split 95 percent to the City, 5 percent to the firm. An experienced operator would be retained to manage and operate the structures.

The issue of currently outstanding debt and associated restrictions would need to be taken into consideration and may present obstacles that cannot be satisfactorily mitigated by some of these proposed transactions. Additional discussions would be needed to explore and further refine the terms and conditions of these proposed transactions, if the Council wishes to further pursue these offers. These offers would also be subject to a competitive bid process.

Management Contract Revenue to City: TBD

Another option would be a management contract for the City's parking structures. The City would contract with a Private Parking Operator to operate and manage all of the City's parking structures with either an upfront payment to payoff the debt, revenue sharing or a combination of both. Also contemplated is having this Operator upgrade the capital equipment with more efficient payment technology to reduce costs and increase revenue collection. This contract could also include meters and/or parking lots.


Additional investigation and negotiations would be required in order to further assess the financial impacts of these offers.


If the Council determines that one of these proposals aligns with the Council's goals for optimizing the City's parking structures, direct the City Clerk to schedule a closed session hearing so that Council can provide the City Administrative Officer negotiation instructions.


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:   [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 37
Pub: May 10, 2011

Owner Broker than Broke

DODGER DOLLAR DILEMMA - The Dodgers once again do not have enough money to meet their $8.25 million payroll at the end of May, according to Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times, the leading voice on the financial woes of the Dodgers and their beleaguered 50% owner, Frank McCourt, the “irresponsible” Boston Parking Lot Attendant. (Link)

This crunch is after Frank borrowed $30 million from Fox Sports last month to meet the two April payrolls and the first payroll in May. The Fox Sports loan was after his family’s Boston based business, McCourt Construction (www.McCourtConstruction.com), prudently refused to extend credit to its wayward son.

But why are the Dodgers short of cash, especially now that the season has started and the cash is rolling in from attendance, concessions, and parking? For the first 18 games, while attendance is down 15.5%, the 650,000 fans generated revenues in excess of $25 million.

There is a very simple answer.  Frank has squandered all of the money received in advance from the season ticket sales to pay interest and principal on over $425 million in debt and support his Big Dog lifestyle.  And more than likely, he has also spent any advances related to broadcast rights and advertising sales.

To give you an idea of how much money Frank blew, if the Dodgers sold 20,000 season tickets for 81 home games at $20 per game, the team would have received over $32 million before the start of spring training. 

The parking revenues are not available since they are already pledged to secure borrowings on the Chavez Ravine land, which borrowings were part of the over $100 million that Frank looted from the Dodgers.

But what is truly amazing is that Frank has the audacity to question why the Commissioner of Baseball inserted Tom Schieffer to monitor the business and financial affairs of the Dodgers and its related assets.

But there is some good news for Dodger fans.  Now that Frank has depleted the Dodgers’ treasury of money that it is needed to pay tomorrow’s payroll and expenses, money that it has not “earned,” this trustee of Georgetown University has demonstrated to the world that he is morally and fiscally bankrupt, does not deserve the trust of Major League Baseball, is “not in the best interest of the game,” and is unfit to own the City’s beloved Dodgers. 

But as Frank knows, life is full of second chances.  It is the American way. So if life gets really tough for The Boston Parking Lot Attendant, he can still hang out with the Big Dogs, parking their cars at Dodger Stadium, or even better, at Fenway Park.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 36
Pub: May 6, 2011

Where Is Our Ratepayer Advocate?

DWP RATES ARE GOING UP BUT …  - At the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power, General Manager Ron Nichols informed the Board that the DWP intended to increase our water and power rates. 

According to the timetable, the unspecified rate increases would take effect in November, but only after a thorough public and transparent review that would begin May 23.  This would include “stakeholder workshops and briefings” as well as working with the City Council and its Energy and Environment Committee.

This public review will need to include a thorough analysis of the DWP’s Strategic Plan which calls for outlays of $60 billion over the next 10 years, $45 billion for the Power System and $15 billion for the Water System.  We will also need to get a better understanding of the Integrated Resources Plan and the Urban Water Management Plan and the impact on rates and the credit ratings of both the Water and Power Systems.

Ratepayers understand all too well that water and power rates are going to increase, in large part because of the call for renewable energy, the increased regulatory requirements, and the need to repair and maintain the DWP’s infrastructure.

At the same time, Ratepayers must be assured that their money is being used efficiently.  The recent announcement by General Manager Nichols that DWP is reducing operating costs by $440 million over the next three years is obviously a step in the right direction. 

But Ratepayers need further assurances.  DWP needs to benchmark its operations and compare them to other regional utilities, both investor and municipally owned, and to other comparable city workers.  And Ratepayers need to get a better understanding of the IBEW Labor Premium, estimated to be over $250 million a year.

We also need a better understanding of the relationship between the DWP and the City, the pricing of any services, and the impact of Proposition 26 that requires the two-thirds approval of the voters for certain fees and taxes. 

And, we also need a better understanding of the DWP’s pension plan and its unfunded liability.  While the actuarial unfunded liability is $1.6 billion (81% funded), the unfunded liability based on the market value of the assets is $2.6 billion (70% funded).  This assumes an Investment Rate Assumption of 7.75%, considerably higher than the 6% and 6.5% recommended by Warren Buffett and Wilshire Associates.

An integral part of the process will be the Energy and Environment Committee of the City Council.  Fortunately, the City Council has retained PA Consulting to provide an independent review of the proposed increases in our water and power rates.

PA Consulting is very familiar with DWP, having completed the Charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey in February 2009.  More importantly, PA Consulting did a first class job in analyzing the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor in February 2010 and then working with the City Council throughout the Mayor induced ECAF Fiasco.

But where are the Ratepayer Advocate and the Office of Public Accountability?

On March 8, almost 80% of the voters approved Measure I that authorized the Office of Public Accountability and the Ratepayer Advocate, to be effective July 1.  But during the last two months, little progress has been made other than a six page memo dated April 25. Compare this to the three weeks that it took the City Council to approve Measure B, the $4 billion plus Solar Initiative boondoggle that was a payback to Union Bo$$ Brian D’Arcy, the campaign funding, public be damned business manager of the IBEW, the DWP’s domineering union.

This is the same Union Bo$$ D’Arcy who pressured the IBEW Eight (Garcetti, Hahn, Zine, Wesson, Alarcon, Reyes, Huizar, and LaBonge) to water down Measure I and veto the ballot measure that would have allowed the City Council to remove the DWP General Manager or any Commissioner with a two-thirds vote.

While DWP customers understand that rates are going to go up, the Ratepayer Advocate needs to represent the underrepresented and underfunded Ratepayers to make sure that their interests are duly considered and that they are not going to be shafted. 

On the other hand, environmentalists have well funded organizations that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars of year in revenue to employ their paid advocates.  And the IBEW is certainly well represented at City Hall, especially since the IBEW was the major contributor to Mayor Villaraigosa and Controller Wendy Greuel.

Before approving any rate increases, the Office of Public Accountability and the Ratepayer Advocate must be established in a proper manner so that they can duly represent the Ratepayers. The DWP needs the trust and confidence of the Ratepayers and all Angelenos.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 36
Pub: May 6, 2011

The Boston Parking Lot Attendant Will Say Anything

DODGER DOG MOSTLY BALONEY - The impeding cash crisis of the Dodgers is avoidable according to Frank McCourt (“The Boston Parking Lot Attendant”) if only Bud Selig, the consensus building Commissioner of Baseball, would approve the Dodgers $3 billion, 17 year media rights deal with Fox Sports.  As part of this transaction, Fox Sports will advance the Dodgers $285 million, all of which Frank pledged to invest in the Dodgers.

But the Commissioner is right to defer judgment on the Fox Sports media rights deal until he has a better understanding of why there is a cash crisis. 

In his announcement appointing a Monitor to oversee the business and the finances of the Dodgers, the Commissioner said that his office “will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt’s ownership.”

This investigation should include not only past dealings and promises, but detailed financial projections for the next five to ten years.  It should also include a thorough analysis of all the debt of the Dodgers and related entities, including those related to Chavez Ravine and the already pledged parking revenues.  This would include any debt and personal guarantees of the McCourt family and related entities, including the Los Angeles Marathon.  Such analysis would include the nature of the debt, the interest rates, the maturities, and any related covenants.

Needless to say, this investigation will be very revealing as to how Frank and Jamie essentially looted the Dodgers for over $100 million to support their billionaire life style, depriving the Dodgers of two or three key players.

The Commissioner would also be prudent to wait until the ownership of the Dodgers is settled, especially after the recent court decision that ruled that the agreement supporting Frank’s sole ownership claim was invalid.

The Commissioner also needs to get a better understanding of the rumored interest of the Internal Revenue Service in the tax returns of the Dodgers and the battling McCourts. 

The Commissioner must also analyze the media rights agreement and any other related agreements, such as Frank’s 35% interest in Fox’s Prime Ticket regional sports network.

Of particular interest is the use of the $285 million that Fox Sports is advancing to the Dodgers at the signing of the contract.  While Frank says that it will all be invested in the Dodgers, he has also said that this contract would pay for his divorce settlement with Jamie.  The rumored settlement of $150 million to $200 million is hardly an investment in the Dodgers.

This would essentially increase the Dodgers debt to around $600 million since this advance is the equivalent of debt.

Furthermore, the current lenders who are owed anywhere from $425 million to $500 million will have their hands out since their approval of the media rights deal is more than likely required, especially since the Dodgers are in default on their current indebtedness. 

And given the current banking environment and higher level of scrutiny by bank regulators, the existing lenders will more than likely require that a significant portion of the continuing media rights payments be directed towards repayment, not the team.

In addition, the Dodgers are Frank’s major source of cash.  And he needs this money to pay his high priced lawyers, to maintain his Big Dog lifestyle of multiple estates and private planes, and to repay any personal debts, such as the $30 million personal loan from Fox Sports which he used to meet payroll.

So, at the end of the day, how much is going to be invested in the Dodgers?  Not much.

Ever since the Commissioner announced that he was appointing an overseer of the Dodgers, Frank has suddenly become more visible and vocal, providing some great sound bites for the media, including that the Commissioner’s actions were un-American.  These comments, and those of Steve Soboroff who called the appointment of a Monitor “irresponsible,” only infuriated the Commissioner and a number of the owners.

But this past week, The Boston Parking Lot Attendant had gone to charm school, apologizing to the Dodger fans for his embarrassing behavior, saying in an interview with Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times that he has learned his lesson and deserves a second chance. (Link

But that is all baloney. Frank will say anything to get his hands on the cash, regardless of the consequences.  This is not dissimilar to our corrupt Mayor Villaraigosa who has short changed the underfunded pension plans and failed to fund the maintenance and repair of our lunar crater streets.

Frank is not to be trusted.  The evidence is overwhelming: the Fox Sports media rights transaction, the $285 million advance, the $30 million personal loan where he failed to consult with the Commissioner, the looting of the Dodgers to support his billionaire life style, and his litigious and less than ethical business dealings back in Boston. And if that is not enough, just look at the way he treated Jamie, his wife of over 30 years and the mother of their four sons.

The Commissioner is right not to approve the Fox Sports media rights deal until he has a better understanding of The Boston Parking Lots Attendant’s long term operational and financial plans that provide for continuing investment in the team and a sizable investment of new equity to pay down debt and buy out either Jamie or Frank. 

The alternative is to encourage the sale of the Dodgers and their related assets to a well capitalized ownership group with a long term investment horizon that will be able to field a championship team and win back the support of the True Blue Dodger fans.

In the meantime, we are fortunate to have an experienced baseball and trustworthy executive as the Monitor to oversee the operations and finances of the Dodgers and protect the team and its fans from the un-American and irresponsible con artist from Boston.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com .   He can be reached at:    l[email protected])    -cw

Vol 9 Issue 35
Pub: May 3, 2011

DWP Ratepayers and Janice Hahn: Where’s the Love?

LA WATCHDOG - Janice Hahn, a candidate for the Congressional seat recently vacated by Jane Harman, is not a friend of the Ratepayers of our Department of Water and Power. 

Just this last fall, Hahn was a member of the IBEW Eight (which includes LA City Councilmembers Wesson, Alarcon, Reyes, wannabe Controller Zine, Garcetti, and Huizar) that watered down the Ratepayers Advocate ballot measure in response to Union Bo$$ Brian D’Arcy’s fear of increased transparency and accountability in the operations and finances of DWP. 

Yet, during the citywide forums on the proposed ballot measures, Hahn supported the Ratepayers Advocate Term Sheet that called for a well funded, empowered, and truly independent Ratepayers Advocate to oversee the operations, finances, and management of DWP on a timely and continuous basis.

Hahn and the other members of the IBEW Eight also supported Mayor Villaraigosa and Union Bo$$ D’Arcy by voting not to place on the ballot a measure that would have permitted the City Council to remove the DWP General Manager or a Commissioner with a two-thirds vote.

In the spring of 2010, Hahn was closely involved in Mayor Villaraigosa’s effort to increase our electricity rates by a breath taking 28%. She and Alarcon were the only Council Members to vote against the City Council asserting jurisdiction over the DWP Board of Commissioners action to implement these massive rate increases. 

She and her co-conspirator Richard Alarcon, with the support of Mayor Villaraigosa, also introduced a poorly conceived motion that called for affirming the 28% increase and a “Compromise Plan” that would have increased the exposure of Ratepayers to the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor.  This motion received only two votes.

As a result, the Mayor created the ECAF Fiasco as he tried to extort the City Council into approving the 28% increase by threatening to withhold $73.5 million of the DWP transfer to the City’s cash starved General Fund.

In 2009, Hahn was also one of the leading proponents of Measure B, the Solar Initiative that was a payback to campaign funding Union Bo$$ D’Arcy, the public-be-damned business manager of the IBEW, the DWP’s dominant union. But the blonde Hahn was clueless as to the financial impact of this Solar Initiative on Ratepayers.

Hahn was also a leading proponent of the 2008 increases in our water and power base rates, once again not understanding the impact on ratepayers. She was a strong supporter of the Power System’s Rate Restructuring Plan and the Water System’s Shortage Year Water Rates, both of which resulted in huge increases in the bimonthly bills of homeowners.

Hahn has also demonstrated that she is unwilling to make the tough decisions that are needed to solve the City’s structural budget deficit.  While she is good at giving lip service to balancing the budget, she is unwilling to take the necessary actions out of fear of offending her campaign funding Partners in Labor, putting her own political interests and those of the City Family ahead of the fiscal integrity of the City and the best interests of Citizens of Los Angeles.

On May 17, many Ratepayers will have the opportunity to vote for their next Congressional representative.  And in making that decision, Ratepayers may want to consider Hahn’s failure to watch out for their wallets. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 35
Pub: May 3, 2011

LA Is Overrated

LA WATCHDOG - Standard & Poor’s, one of the major bond rating companies, cut its outlook for US Treasury paper to “negative” from “stable” because of Washington’s mounting budget deficits.  There is a 1-in-3 chance that Government will lose its AAA (Triple A) credit rating.

This potential downgrading of the credit of the US Treasury will impact the City of Los Angeles, its credit rating, and the maturity and interest rate of any offerings, including the June offering of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes that are needed to fund the City’s operations for the first half of the fiscal year.

As a result, investors are going to be focused on credit quality, and that is not good for the City.

While the Los Angeles’ credit rating is a AA- (Double A minus), the Mayor’s proposed 2011-12 Budget financials would indicate a credit rating approaching junk (non investment grade) status.

The Mayor’s new budget is projecting to cure a budget deficit of $463 million.  But this is based on numerous one time gimmicks and fails to make few, if any, structural changes to address the chronic budget deficits related to out of control employee costs.

This year, The Major Who Broke LA and his crack financial staff propose to “balance” the budget by extracting $151 million from the notoriously obstinate LAPD and LAFD and $115 million of furloughs yet to be negotiated from Coalition and other Civilian employees. 

An additional $101 million comes from the elimination of positions and the consolidations of departments. 

Another $40 million of savings is from dumping unfunded mandates onto special revenue departments and another $44 million is from fishy financial engineering related to the Convention Center and Early Retirement Incentive Plan.

Finally, the Mayor proposes to defer $48 million of necessary capital expenditures.

But the Mayor’s “non budget” does not address the $281 million deficit for the next fiscal year (2012-13), the result of the $296 million increase in employee related costs (compensation, pensions, health, and workmen’s compensation).

Nor does the Mayor’s “non budget” address the failure to fund the repair and maintenance of our lunar cratered streets, our sidewalks, street lamps, and parks despite claims to the contrary in his budget message. 

Nor does the Mayor’s “non budget” address the proper funding of the $11.7 billion unfunded pension liabilities associated with the Los Angeles City Employee Retirement System and the Fire and Police Pension Plans.

Overall, the City has a budget deficit north of $1 billion before the smoke and mirror savings and unspecified reductions in City services.

A key component to City’s financial plan is the offering of Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes to finance the operations of the City prior to the December and January receipt of real estate taxes.  The last offering of these short term notes are scheduled to be outstanding for 357 days compared to 314 days in the previous year.  This allows the City to roll over the previous year’s deficit. 

The City is also playing the “float.” To use Wall Street lingo, the average life of the current offering of notes is about 10.5 months (there are four repayments at the end of March, April, May, and June) compared to 5.5 months if the notes were amortized based on the receipt of the real estate taxes in December and January and the amortization of the pension payments over a 12 month period.

But there is little that the Citizens of Los Angeles can do to force the City to truly balance the budget.  Our Elected Elite, led by the Little Three (Villaraigosa, Greuel, and Garcetti), have not even developed a long term solvency plan.  Nor are The Little Three willing to address the necessary structural changes in the City’s operations because of the fear of offending their campaign funding Partners in Labor and the City Family.

The only way that The Little Three will adopt a truly balanced budget and develop and implement a long term solvency plan is that they are required to by the investors, not dissimilar to what happened in New York City in 1975.

This will require the bond rating companies (S & P, Moody’s, and Fitch) to open their eyes to the financial shenanigans at City Hall and downgrade the City’s credit rating.  And investors also need to do their homework, not only with regards to the junk status of the City’s notes, but the risks associated with buying paper with maturities in April, May and June.

Even if the City is able to sell the Notes, the yield hogs will demand substantially higher rates than last year to compensate for the increased risk.

Of course, this assumes that the City is able to come up with $316 million at the end of May and almost $300 million at the end of June to pay off the outstanding Notes.

If S & P is willing take the political heat from President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner when they lowered the outlook for credit rating of the United States to “negative,” then the rating agencies should not have any problem taking on the fiscally irresponsible Little Three and the other City Hall politicians who are willing to ignore the best interests of the Citizens of Los Angeles to further their own political careers.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:   [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 29, 2011

The Bum Is Broke

DODGER FINANCES ON THE ROCKS - Frank McCourt, affectionately known as The Boston Parking Lot Attendant on a good day, will eventually be spending a considerable amount of time in bankruptcy court.   

We all know that Frank is a riverboat gambler, loves deals, and has the stomach for living with heart wrenching amounts of debt that would not allow a corporate raider to sleep at night. 

No one knows this better than Jamie McCourt, his ex wife and former business partner, whose desire for financial security was one of the major issues that prompted their tabloid divorce war. 

But this time Frank went too far when he violated Bud Selig’s trust by obtaining a personal loan for $30 million to meet the Dodgers’ operating expenses without consulting with the Commissioner’s office in advance.  As a result, the Commissioner has appointed Tom Schieffer, the former President of the Texas Rangers (1991-1998), to be the Monitor of the Los Angeles Dodgers to “oversee the day to day operations, business, and finances of the Dodgers and all of the franchise’s related entities.”

Schieffer’s first action will be to control the check book of the Dodgers and franchise related assets, including Frank’s parking lot revenues.  This means that the Dodgers are no longer Frank’s personal piggy bank.  And without the Dodgers cash, Frank will not have the resources to meet his many financial obligations, both personal and corporate.

While the extent of Frank’s personal and corporate obligations are not known, we know that he is strapped for cash and has few assets that are not mortgaged.  The only collateral for the $30 million personal loan from Fox Sports is the net proceeds from the potential litigation against Bingham McCutchen, the law firm that bungled the ownership agreement between Frank and Jamie.  But that will be a long time in coming, if at all, since Bingham preempted Frank and filed a law suit in its hometown of Boston.

So how is The Boston Parking Lot Attendant going to pay his alimony?  Or the taxes, mortgage payments, and upkeep on his $100 million of residential real estate?  Or service the $30 million personal loan from Fox Sports?  

Frank also has obligations on other ventures, such as the Los Angeles Marathon that he purchased in September 2008.

We also know that the Dodgers are in default on their loans to the banks.  And this no doubt includes Frank since more than likely he cosigned the notes. 

In addition, there will be considerable pressure on McCourt to service the defaulted loans on the Dodgers “related assets” such as Dodger Stadium and the Chavez Ravine real estate that is not owned by the Dodgers, but by McCourt in separate entities.

And how will Frank pay his many high priced lawyers?  His and her divorce lawyers will continue to cost a fortune as will lawyers to fight the Commissioner and the Bingham McCutchen law firm.  Plus, he is on the hook to pay the lawyers of his lenders as they try to remedy his defaulted loans.

Compounding the massive amounts of debt and his total lack of liquidity and financial flexibility is a very complicated corporate structure with multiple guarantees and the cross collateralization of assets.  And more than likely, there will be some nasty surprises that will further alienate the lenders and the Commissioner.

At the same time, the Dodgers may lose money this year because attendance is in the tank, off 25% over the last eight games.

Frank is a fighter.  But in this case, the deck is stacked against him.  The Dodgers are in default on their loans and may lose money this year.  The team is having trouble making payroll.  He is in default on numerous loans that are collateralized by the franchise, the stadium, and the land.  And fighting the Commissioner has not been successful in the past.

The only viable alternative for Frank to protect the value of his assets is bankruptcy court where he and his creditors can restructure of his debts and assets in an orderly manner, including his ownership interest in the Dodgers, the franchise related assets, and the multiyear contract with Fox Sports.

About the only good news is that the Commissioner of Baseball has appointed a well respected baseball executive with an excellent record of public service to protect the Dodgers from McCourt and its lenders.

Hopefully, we will have a new, well capitalized owner that will provide a safe environment for a winning team.  And maybe if we let our fantasies run wild, we might have the same problem that the Texas Rangers had last year when they were under the supervision of the Commissioner: a trip to the World Series. 

Other commentaries on the MLB takeover of the LA Dodgers

● D J Waldie- “Take Them Out of the Ballgame” 
● Glenn Rothner- “Do We Want Another Rich Man’s Plaything or a Community Asset?” 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:   [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 29, 2011

The Ring Kissers Fund Villaraigosa’s Corruption

TICKETGATE - No sooner than the ink was dry on the April 1 Settlement Agreement where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa essentially pleaded guilty to corruption in connection with his illegal use of over $200,000 of free tickets to prime time events such as the Lakers, Oscars and Emmys, he and his political operatives were hitting up the usual suspects of City Hall supplicants and ring kissers to fund the slap-on-the-wrist fine of $42,000 and the related legal expenses.

To facilitate the fund raising effort, our Ever So Clever Mayor has established three Legal Defense Funds: one for the City Ethics Commission and another for the California Fair Practices Political Commission.  However, the third Legal Defense Fund relates to the inquiry by the District Attorney who does not appear to be a party to the Settlement Agreement.

And not one to miss an opportunity to tap those ring kissers who can benefit from a well placed friend at City Hall, the Mayor is also soliciting “donations” to his Officeholder Account, essentially his personal slush fund.

For those of you who are interested, contributions are limited to $4,000 per person, $1,000 for each of the four accounts, or $8,000 per couple.

As we all know, lobbyists, lobbying firms, and MTA contractors are unable to make donations.  However, as is blatantly evident in the solicitation letter below, our ethically challenged Mayor and his cronies have no shame.  They are asking the lobbying and contractor communities to be “bundlers” by raising funds from “other sources.” 

The whole ticket scandal is a disgrace, beginning in late May when John Schwada of Fox 11 and Phil Willon of The Los Angeles Times blew the whistle on the Mayor’s ticket escapade. Initially, our ubiquitous Mayor said his attendance at these high profile events was part of his official duties.  But this lame excuse did not stand the light of day as it was apparent that the Mayor and his office devised ways to skirt the law and its intent.

Then the Mayor and his staff, aided by high priced outside lawyers and advisors that probably cost more than $100,000, spent 10 long months negotiating a well crafted Settlement Agreement which praised the Mayor for his cooperation and candor. Please!  He had no choice.  He was caught with both his hands in the cookie jar.  

And finally, the Settlement Agreement imposed a nickel dime fine relative to the value of the tickets, and then compounded that slap on the wrist by not having Villaraigosa pay the fine personally.  

Importantly, neither the City Ethics Commission nor the California Fair Practices Political Commission investigated how Mayor Villaraigosa manages to support his millionaire lifestyle on a mere $225,000 a year, despite ample anecdotal evidence that he is living way beyond his means.  Perhaps a visit by the Internal Revenue System would be appropriate.  

The failure of the politically appointed City Ethics Commission to vigorously enforce the law, compounded by its turning a blind eye to Villaraigosa’s finances and man about town life style, confirms that our insolvent City is for sale to those that are willing to grease the Mayor’s palm.

And if you have any doubts, read the following e mail that was sent out by one of the Mayor’s lobbyist buddies.


April 5, 2011

Dear [Jack],

Last week, the Fair Political Practices Commission released a copy of an agreement between that agency, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, and Major Villaraigosa resolving an investigation into the Mayor’s acceptance of free tickets to important entertainment industry events such as the Oscars, Emmy’s, and Grammy’s, sporting events, and concerts.  The agreement acknowledges that the Mayor attended these events in his “official capacity” to serve “an official purpose,” and that the Mayor had a “good faith and reasonable belief that he had no obligation to report his attendance” at these events on his annual gift reporting form “because he believed they fell within the exceptions” to the reporting requirements.

Nevertheless, the agencies determined that 34 of the 3,000 events attended by the Mayor did not fall within the exceptions, and imposed a combined agreed upon administrative penalty of approximately $42,000.  The agencies explained that the penalty is quite modest when compared to the possible maximum for a number of reasons, including the fact that the violation was “unintentional,” and caused by the Mayor’s “mistaken understanding” of his reporting requirements.  The Mayor’s “full cooperation,” “candor,” and lack of prior violations also helped lower the penalties.

We opened legal defense funds on behalf of the Mayor to pay the penalties and his legal bills.  Of course, we cannot accept donations from lobbyists or lobbying firms registered with the City, or from MTA contractors.  But I was hoping that you might help us raise funds from other sources.  The maximum contribution for an individual or entity is $4,000 (that breaks down to $3,000 for the legal defense funds and $1,000 for the Mayor’s “Officeholder Account.”)  A couple with a joint account can double that an amount if both people sign the form.

Here’s the hard part: we need to raise the $42,000 by the end of the week.

Contribution forms and additional information are attached.

Thank you and all the best.  Let’s talk soon.


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com.  He can be reached at:  [email protected])             -cw

Vol 9 Issue 33
Pub: Apr 26, 2011

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