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Fri, Apr

LA Watchdog

Fuentes & the School Board: Last Minute Grandstanding Designed to Highjack DWP and the Ratepayers

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education engaged in some last minute grandstanding by issuing a press release calling for LAUSD to engage in discussions with the Los Angeles City Council because its DWP bill will be increasing by 27%, or $22.4 million, over the next five years.  

LAUSD is also overreaching by requesting that the City provide it with $11 million of services, financed with a portion of the $267 million Transfer Fee from DWP’s Power System to the City’s General Fund.  These services would include paying for street crossing guards near elementary schools, providing free refuse removal, and performing tree trimming services. 

While LAUSD is a very important governmental entity, the Department of Water and Power and its Ratepayers are not allowed to subsidize its operations, a point that was hammered home by a recent court decision involving the City of San Juan Capistrano and its tiered water rates.   

Nevertheless, the Department has worked with LAUSD, explaining on multiple occasions the reasons for the rate increases.  The Department even agreed in September to invest a staggering $43 million of our money in energy efficiency and water conservation projects which are intended to offset the proposed increases in its power and water rates. 

The Energy and Environment Committee can also expect to hear from Recreation and Parks whose utility bill is expected to double over the next five years to $30 million because of the recent court ruling involving San Juan Capistrano, Proposition 218, the cost of service, and why subsidized rates are illegal.  But again, the Department has been working cooperatively with this large customer, investing millions of Ratepayer money in water conservation and energy efficiency projects.  

The Department also has to contend with lame duck Councilman Felipe Fuentes, the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee.  He is rumored to be considering limiting the rate increase to only three years since the five year proposal will involve rate hearings in 2020, an election year. 

But why is he considering a last minute change when he has known about the five year plan for over a year, especially since he will be leaving the Council in 2017 after only one term? 

Fuentes is also considering holding the much needed rate increases hostage to his plan to reform the governance of the Department.  This would involve the creation of a full time paid Board of Commissioners, a new personnel department free from the City’s civil service rules, and a lower Transfer Fee that would need to be approved by the voters.  

Based on the details in the four page motion (most are only one page), it is probably safe to assume that Fuentes’ proposed ballot measure and the supporting documentation have already been written, most likely ghostwritten under the watchful eye of IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy.  This is a stunt that Fuentes mastered in Sacramento where he was considered “The Worst Legislator in California.” 

But why is Fuentes rushing this already controversial DWP reform plan to the ballot without engaging in a robust and transparent discussion and debate that involves Ratepayer participation?  After all, he needs our votes to approve the necessary charter amendments and $221 million Transfer Fee. 

According to speculation by City Hall insiders, Fuentes is either angling to be a full time, paid Commissioner (would you call that reform!) or a high ranking executive in IBEW Local 18, the DWP’s domineering union, so that he is in line to succeed Union Bo$$ d’Arcy as the union’s highly compensated  Business Manager.  

The issues involving the five year rate increase, deemed “reasonable” by the Ratepayers Advocate in light of the need to repair DWP’s infrastructure and meet unfunded environmental mandates, and its impact on LAUSD, Recreation and Parks, and single family residences deserves a full airing, separate and distinct from Fuentes controversial plan to reform our Department of Water and Power.  

Reform of our Department of Water and Power and its long term implications are too important to be rushed to the ballot. 

(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])

-cw

Herb Wesson … and the Rest of City Hall’s Politicians … May Hold DWP Reform Hostage

LA WATCHDOG--On Saturday, the Neighborhood Council DWP Memorandum of Understanding Oversight Committee unanimously approved the following resolution: 

The DWP Oversight Committee calls on the City Council to follow the recommendation of the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey to form “a committee to examine governance reforms for the Department with the explicit task of reporting its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.” 

Read more ...

LA Cannot Afford Its Convention Center

LA WATCHDOG--The City of Los Angeles is embarking on an ambitious, $470 million plan to modernize and expand the Convention Center so that it can compete with other first tier, West Coast cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim in attracting large scale conventions. This undertaking is expected to be completed by 2020 and is designed to promote tourism, one of the main drivers of our economy, and to stimulate the private development of hotels, restaurants, residences, and office and retail space in the South Park neighborhood and the rest of DTLA. 

This expansion will increase the Convention Center offering to almost 1.25 million square feet, up 43% from the current level of 870,000 square feet.  At the same time, the new and improved Convention Center campus is designed to be an integral part of the community, linking seamlessly with the neighborhood, LA Live, and Staples. 

The City will also encourage the development of several thousand new hotel rooms in DTLA to accommodate highly desired, big spending, out of town conventioneers who will not only stimulate our economy, but will also contribute generously to the City’s coffers through the 14% Transit Occupancy Tax on their hotel bill.  

This also includes a privately financed, upscale Convention Headquarters Hotel of at least 1,000 rooms that will be strategically located on City owned property, most likely near Staples and LA Live on the north end of the campus.    

The City intends to finance this $470 million expansion with debt, which, when combined with existing Convention Center debt of almost $300 million, will total a staggering $770 million. This debt will be serviced by the Convention Center’s 25% share of the Transit Occupancy Tax which is expected to yield the Convention Center $54 million this fiscal year.  By 2020, this tax is projected to increase by over 20% to $261.8 million, resulting in $65 million to service Convention Center debt. 

However, our cash strapped City does not have the financial flexibility to finance this expansion and other immediate worthwhile projects, including the $1 billion to replace its aging and neglected equipment (including police cars, fire engines, and ambulances) without blowing a gaping hole in its Debt Management Policy which limits debt service for Non-Voted Indebtedness to less than 6% of General Fund revenues.  This violation would send the wrong message to the investment community, resulting in a downgrading of the City’s credit rating and higher interest rates.  

The City Administrative Officer has recommended that the City enter into a Public Private Partnership (a “P3”) where the City would select a turnkey development partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the expansion of the Convention Center and the development of the surrounding real estate.  Under this recommended alternative, the 44 year old West Hall would be demolished and rebuilt (not retrofitted as currently envisioned).  The partner would also develop 9 to 14 acres of the 54 acre campus by creating “an integrated mixed-use real estate development” that would help to offset the costs of associated with the Convention Center, a loss leader that cannot even begin to pay the interest on $770 million of debt.  Needless to say, any development plans need to be consistent with the Community Plan.  

A P3 also protects the City from any cost overruns associated with the expansion of the Convention Center and the construction of the Headquarters Hotel and isolates it from any operating losses.  The partner is also responsible for maintaining the campus in excellent condition, a task that the City has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing on a sustained basis. 

While the terms of the P3 need to be worked out, including any “availability service payments” by the City to service the debt, the net result will result in more cash for our City’s deficit prone budget by creating a more vibrant Convention Center, more out of town visitors resulting in higher increased Transit Occupancy Tax revenue, and lower contributions to the Convention Center. 

The expansion of the Convention Center in conjunction with a well-capitalized partner is a win-win for our financially challenged City.  Don’t blow it. 

 

(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])

-cw

DWP Reform: Not So Fast

LA WATCHDOG--On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes “introduced a motion calling for a 2016 ballot measure to reform and restructure” our Department of Water and Power.  

Read more ...

Playing Budget Roulette with LADWP Transfer Tax

LA WATCHDOG--On Tuesday, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved a five year, 21% increase in our power rates that were appropriately deemed “just and reasonable” by the Ratepayers Advocate.  This represents a bump of 4% a year, considerably lower than the 8% that was tossed around a year ago. 

But there was no discussion about how DWP Ratepayers would be hit with $150 million in new taxes as a result of the $770 million increase in revenues over the next five years.  Overall, the City’s haul from the Ratepayers is projected to increase to over $800 million, up from the current level of around $650 million. 

There are two taxes on power system revenues, the City Utility Tax and the 8% Transfer Fee. 

The City Utility Tax is equal to 10% of residential revenues and 12½% of commercial revenues with a blended rate of about 11½%.  Based on projected revenues of $4.22 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, this tax will generate around $485 million for our friends that occupy City Hall. 

The 8% Transfer Fee is equal to 8% of the prior year’s revenue and according to DWP’s projections, it is scheduled to increase to $327 million in 2020, up from $266 million last year.  

But this fee is the subject of a class action lawsuit (Eck v. City of Los Angeles) that alleges that this “fee” is a violation of Proposition 26 (The Supermajority Vote to Pass New Taxes and Fees Act), a ballot measure that was passed by voters of California in November of 2010 that prohibits the collection of “disguised taxes” in the form of fees or rates. 

This issue was addressed in public comment at the Tuesday Board meeting by Walter McNeill, a Redding based attorney who successfully sued the City of Redding and its municipally owned utility in a similar case.  But that was the end of the discussion because the City (and not the Department of Water and Power) is opposing the class action lawsuit. 

But unlike the class action lawsuit involving the Telephone Users Tax (Ardon v. City of Los Angeles) where the City hoodwinked Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue and escaped a billion dollar liability owed to Angelenos for an estimated $25 million plus a very generous $18 million in legal fees, this litigation is higher profile and more clear cut as it concerns easily identifiable payments from DWP to the City and does not directly involve DWP’s 1.4 million Ratepayers. 

If the City were to lose this case, and there is a high likelihood that it will, the revenue stream from the 8% Transfer Tax would come to a screeching halt, blowing an even larger hole in the City’s already unbalanced budget.  Over the next four years, the City’s cumulative deficit will exceed $400 million as a result of the new labor contract with its 20,000 civilian workers.   

The City would also be liable for over $1.5 billion for past transfers.  This would cost the City $150 million a year to service the Judgement Obligation Bond that would be floated to pay this liability.  

Rather than play Russian Roulette with the City’s finances, where there are at least four bullets in the six shooter, the City needs to reach a negotiated settlement with the plaintiffs, the Ratepayers, and the City’s voters that requires the City to reimburse DWP and its Ratepayers, that places a new tax on the ballot to help the City balance its budget and repair its infrastructure, that truly reforms the governance of the DWP, and that requires the City to Live Within its Means. 

Otherwise, the City, true to form, will continue to “kick the can down the road” until the spaghetti and meatballs really hit the fan.

 

(Note: On Friday, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes will introduce a motion to the City Council that will have recommendations on how to reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power.  But any reform must include significant input and buy in from the Ratepayers who do not trust the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti who view Ratepayers as their dedicated ATM.  See DWP Reform: Set for Yet Another Burial.”)  

 

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Palladium, the Money, and the Myths

LA WATCHDOG--At its December 10 meeting, the Garcetti appointed City Planning Commission unanimously approved the “up zoning” of the Palladium Residences (photo: proposed) to allow the development of two thirty story towers that will house 731 luxury rental apartments.  The doubling of this project’s density will result in additional profits of at least $50 million for Crescent Heights, the Miami based developer. 

This mixed use development will also include a mere 24,000 square feet of retail space and restaurants and also includes improvements to the 63,000 square foot Palladium, the 1940 Art Deco venue located in the heart of Hollywood, one block east of Sunset and Vine. 

The supporters of this $500 million project claim that it will help alleviate the City’s housing crisis.  But the rents in these luxury apartments are not affordable unless you are making north of $100,000 a year.  This is double the City’s median household income of less than $50,000 a year. 

Nor are these apartments family friendly unless there is a household income in excess of $200,000 a year.  

The developer and its bought and paid for supporters in City Hall are touting that 5% of the apartments are being reserved for working class Angelenos who make no more than 120% of the median income. But that will result in a modest decrease in revenues of less than 2%, or $600,000 a year, a small price to pay for at least $50 million in additional profits.  

To put the 5% set aside in perspective, New York City is demanding that 25% of the units in an up zoned building be reserved for affordable housing. 

The Planning Commission was also impressed that this “elegant density” project was in an area served by the Metro Red Line and numerous bus routes.  But most of the residents in these two luxury high rises will not be schlepping to work on the subway or bus, but rather tooling to their offices in high powered BMWs.  

This will lead to increased gridlock at Sunset and Vine and Hollywood and Vine, two of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians in the City.  And this does not include the impact of Millennium Hollywood and many of the other projects in the surrounding area that will add thousands of new residents and cars to the already stressed street and freeway infrastructure. 

Real estate speculators and developers and their cronies argue that this “up zoned” project is good for the economy.  While that can be argued, the need for high end apartments is questionable as the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department reported that there is a 12% vacancy rate for apartments built in the last ten years.  Furthermore, there are many other development opportunities in Hollywood and throughout the City that will not destroy our neighborhoods, be less stressful on the infrastructure and public safety, and most importantly, provide affordable housing to thousands of hard working Angelenos. 

The Palladium Residences is just another poster child in a long list of developments where City Hall has sold out to campaign funding real estate speculators and developers who could care less about ordinary Angelenos. 

So it is not surprising that former Mayor Richard Riordan has endorsed the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would eliminate “spot zoning” of mega projects if it is approved by the voters in November. 

While a recent poll indicated that 72% of the voters approved of the Initiative, Riordan’s game changing endorsement has put City Hall and Mayor Eric Garcetti on the defensive.  As Riordan said, Garcetti “isn’t doing anything for the poor but helping the rich get richer -- through these zoning deals on land development.”

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

DWP Reform: Set For Yet another Burial?

LA WATCHDOG--In April of 2014, the LA 2020 Commission recommended that our City establish the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations our Department of Water and Power, set policy, appoint the General Manager, and set utility rates. 

But City Council President Herb Wesson buried this constructive measure in the bowels of City Hall, never to be discussed again, including by Mayor Eric Garcetti who promised us that he would reform DWP.  

In December of 2015, the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey recommended reforming the governance of DWP to limit the political interference by City Hall in its operations, management, and finances.  But Navigant, the consulting firm that was retained by the Controller, the Mayor, and the Herb Wesson led City Council, did not outline any specific reforms other than to form a “committee to examine governance reforms for the LADWP, with the explicit task of reporting on its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.” 

Unfortunately, this Governance Committee will consist of City Hall insiders, including “representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council Energy & Environment Committee, CAO, CLA, Controller, City Attorney, Office of Public Accountability, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, the general manager of LADWP, and a representative from labor.”  

But who is representing the Ratepayers, the “working slobs” who are paying the bills and being fleeced for over $1 billion a year by City Hall and its cronies? 

While the Governance Committee that consists of City Hall insiders will claim to be working in the best interests of the Ratepayers, rest assured that our Elected Elite will try to game the new system of governance to their advantage at our expense, especially when it comes to using us as an ATM. 

However, Ratepayers need to be an integral part of this process if the findings of the Governance Committee are to have any credibility with Angelenos who do not trust the Department and the hot air know-it-alls at City Hall.  Furthermore, the Governance Committee needs to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner and not behind closed doors as is so often the case at City Hall, especially when it comes to issues involving our wallets. 

Any recommendation by the Governance Committee must also include a requirement that the Department provide Ratepayers with timely information that is consistent with investor owned utilities such as Southern California Edison.  This would include not only financial information and operating statistics, but a comprehensive letter written to Ratepayers discussing the Department’s operations and financials. 

Ratepayers must also insist on transparency on all discussions between City Hall and the Department.  This would require that all conversations and meetings be documented in writing and agreed to by both parties, subject to the penalty of perjury, and be made available to the public on the web within 48 hours.  These “ex parte” rules would also apply to any conversations between City Hall and the IBEW, the Department’s domineering union.  

The Governance Committee needs to allow the DWP to establish its own Personnel Department and rules, freeing it from the City and its overly restrictive civil service regulations that do not give this 9,000 person organization with almost $5 billion in annual revenues the necessary flexibility to operate in an efficient manner. 

The Governance Committee should support a more robust and independent Ratepayers Advocate that has the resources to analyze the operations and finances of the Department on a timely basis to make sure DWP is hitting its operating and financial metrics.  The Ratepayers Advocate must also have the resources to improve its outreach to the Ratepayers and other DWP stakeholders, including those who occupy City Hall. 

The Governance Committee should also consider direct Ratepayer participation.  This would include allowing Ratepayers to vote on any rate increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and/or permitting the Ratepayers to elect the Board of Directors as is the case with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. 

One of City Hall’s major goals would be to legitimize the 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System that is currently the subject of a viable class action lawsuit.  This year, it is expected to be in the range of $275 million.  But rather than agree to continue this less than transparent tax, Ratepayers should approve its gradual phase out over a ten year period. 

Over the next five years, DWP is anticipating spending between $15 and $20 billion transforming the Department.  This includes getting off coal, developing sources of local water, meeting numerous unfunded environmental mandates, and repairing and maintaining its aging water and power infrastructure. 

The key to this successful transition is excellent management that is allowed to operate an efficient, well-funded, flexible organization without undue interference from City Hall. 

We cannot afford to have the politically ambitious duo of Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson bury the reform of our Department of Water and Power in the bowels of City Hall yet again.

(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])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Mayor Garcetti Remembers 2015 Los Angeles through Rose Colored Glasses

LA WATCHDOG--According to a December 31 Facebook posting by Mayor Eric Garcetti, “2015 was a big year. We laughed together, cried together and worked together to make our city better. Just in time for the New Year, check out this short video we made to celebrate all that Los Angeles has accomplished over the last 12 months. Can't wait to see how we'll outdo ourselves in 2016!” 

But rather than go through the 21 modest accomplishments (see below) presented in “Looking Back at the Past Year in LA,” we should review what was not highlighted in this professionally produced two minute video. 

There was no substantive discussion about our Department of Water and Power and the massive $1.4 billion, 30% increase in our utility rates over the next five years.   

There was no mention of reforming DWP’s chaotic governance despite Garcetti’s 2013 campaign pledge and the recommendations of both the LA 2020 Commission and the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Industrial Survey.  

Nor was our cash strapped City’s budget a topic of conversation even though the City is expected to have a budget deficit of more than $400 million over the next four years.  

Nor was the budget busting new labor contract for the City’s civilian workforce mentioned even though it will add over $125 million in annual costs and roll back pension reform.  It will also make it more difficult for the City to outsource work (such as road repairs) to more efficient, better managed private contractors. 

Nor was the $13.5 billion unfunded pension liability (71% funded) of the City’s two pension plans discussed or that pension contributions are devouring over 20% of the General Fund budget.  

Nor was the state of our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our deteriorating infrastructure mentioned.  

But rather than dwelling on 2015, we need a better understanding of what Garcetti is planning for 2016 and beyond.  And this does not mean platitudes and aspirations, but definitive policies and goals so that we can render a judgment on his leadership when he is up for reelection in 2017. 

Will Garcetti pursue the recommendation of the LA 2020 Commission to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our City’s strained finances and its budget shenanigans? 

Will Garcetti follow the blue ribbon Commission’s advice to form a Committee for Retirement Security to review the City’s retirement obligations and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020?” 

Will Garcetti lead the reform the governance of our Department of Water and Power as was recommended by both the LA 2020 Commission and the Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey? 

Will Garcetti follow up on the LA 2020 Commission’s recommendation to update the City’s Community Plans “to enhance neighborhood input and establish a thoughtful growth strategy?”  

Will Garcetti develop an operational and financial plan to repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets, our broken sidewalks, and the rest of our failing infrastructure? 

There are many other issues that need to be addressed, including, but certainly not limited to, balancing the budget without raiding the Reserve Fund, fixing the City’s poorly managed and inefficient work force, updating its management information systems, and funding the Los Angeles River and the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

Eric, Angelenos elected you to lead the City, not to kick the can down the road.  And to judge your leadership, we need results and not a lot of political hot air.  Otherwise, how can you expect us to vote for you when you are up for reelection in March of 2017 or when you run for higher office in 2018?

●●●●●

Looking Back at the Past Year in LA

 

1.  Mayor Garcetti signs LA’s first-ever Sustainability City pLAn.

 

2.  Angelenos work together to Save a Drop and conserve water.

 

3.  Shadeballs help conserve and preserve water quality in our reservoirs.

 

4.  CicLAvia turns 5.

 

5.  LA commits to acquiring the largest Electric Vehicle Fleet in the country.

 

6.  The US Army Corps of Engineers signs off on a plan to restore the Los Angeles River.

 

7.  Los Angeles hosts first-ever US-China Climate Leaders Summit.

 

8.  Mayor Garcetti represents Angelenos and Climate Mayors at UN Climate Conference in Paris.

 

9.  Los Angeles becomes the host city for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

 

10. Los Angeles becomes the official US bid City to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

 

11. Mayor Garcetti signs historic minimum wage increase into law.

 

12. An $8.5 billion modernization and a record number of passengers at LAX.

 

13. California new Film Tax generates an estimated $1.07 billion in economic activity.

 

14. LA makes new investments in smart infrastructure, including ultra-high speed internet, smart poles, and solar powered small benches and bus stops.

 

15. City and County leaders begin an unprecedented collaboration to combat homelessness in Los Angeles.

 

16. #HomesforHeroes helps house homeless veterans and their families.

 

17. Mayor Garcetti signs a groundbreaking seismic retrofit bill into law.

 

18. Los Angeles prepares for El Nino.

 

19. LA first responders adopt new tactics to reduce emergency response time.

 

20. Metro’s Silver Line Express expands to San Pedro.

 

21. Construction on the new Crenshaw line and expansion of Metro’s Gold and Expo lines will transform LA’s transportation network in the coming year.

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 2

Pub: Jan 5, 2016

2015: Another Year of Kicking the Can Down the Road

LA WATCHDOG--On April 9, 2014, the LA 2020 Commission endorsed a series of actionable recommendations designed to “enhance transparency and accountability in City Hall, put the City on a path to fiscal stability, and renew job creation in Los Angeles.”   

In January of 2015, City Council President Herb Wesson buried the Commission’s report, including the recommendations involving the our City’s finances, its pension plans, the governance of our Department of Water and Power, and the updating of the City’s Community Plans. 

LA 2020 called for the creation of the Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our cash strapped City’s finances.  But Paul Krekorian, the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, tells us that the city’s budget is balanced, despite the fact that there is no plan or money to repair our lunar cratered streets and that the City raided its rainy day Reserve Fund for $150 million despite record tax revenues. 

The Commission also called for the establishment of a “Commission on Retirement Security” to “review the City’s retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts” and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.”  This is a reasonable suggestion as the City’s two pension plans are underfunded by $13.5 billion (assuming a more realistic investment rate assumption of 6½%), representing a funded ratio of only 71%. 

The city is also underfunding its pension plans by at least $400 million a year by relying on the overly optimistic 7½% investment rate assumption, a rate that Paul Koretz, the chair of the Personnel Committee believes is too low since he is smarter than Warren Buffett who recommended a rate of 6½%. 

This twelve member blue ribbon commission, including IBEW Union Bo$$ Brian d’Arcy, called for the establishment of an independent, professionally staffed Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission that would appoint the General Manager and set rates with the intent of limiting the interference in the operations and finances of DWP by City Hall. To the surprise of no one, Felipe Fuentes, the chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, ignored this reform as the City continues to use DWP and its Ratepayers as an ATM. 

The LA 2020 Commission also called on the City to update its 35 Community Plans every five years.  This would allow residents, businesses, investors, and City Hall to have a clearer understanding of the zoning rules and regulations so that they are not “subject to the whims of special interests, nimbyism, and individual elected officials.”  However, reform has been rejected by Jose Huizar, the chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, as the real estate speculators and developers, their lobbyists and lawyers, contractors, and their cronies has been a major source of campaign cash. 

While Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Herb Wesson (photo right) led City Council will close out 2015 with high fives knowing that they snookered us for yet another year, 2016 has the potential to be very different. 

The City’s finances are under pressure as this year’s budget is already $100 million in the red because of excessive legal settlements.  Next year, the City will have to finance its new labor agreement with the City’s civilian workers that will end up costing us over $100 million beginning in 2017.  Pension contributions will increase as the return on the pension plans’ investment portfolios are significantly below the overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%. 

DWP will be front and center because of the five year, 30%, $1.4 billion increase in our utility rates.  And the pressure for reform has increased as the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative - overseen by Controller Ron Galperin, Garcetti, and Wesson - has called for a change in the governance of the inefficient DWP because there are no clear lines of authority.  

Wesson and Garcetti may tell us to buzz off once again.  But the need for our votes in the November election will provide us mushrooms (in the dark covered with manure) with considerable leverage. 

In November, we will have the opportunity to approve the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that will require the City to do “real planning,” eliminating the right of the local councilmember to “up-zone” gridlocking developments that are inconsistent with our neighborhoods.  This initiative will be opposed by our Elected Elite who are addicted to the campaign cash they receive from the real estate “gang.”    

There will also be several ballot measures to increase our taxes, despite the fact that we are one of the highest taxed states in the country with one of the lowest growth rates.  This includes a new half cent increase in our sales tax to finance transportation projects, of which 25% is returned to the City.  

In March of 2013, 55% of the voters rejected a half cent increase in our sales tax as we did not trust City Hall which refused to reform its finances and Live Within Its Means.  This was in spite of massive campaign contributions by the real estate community to Herb Wesson’s campaign slush fund in support of Proposition A.  

In November, we will be able to send a clear message by voting NO on the proposed tax increases and YES on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

In 2015, Garcetti, Wesson, and the City Hall gang kicked the can down the road.  In 2016, we can kick them in the can. 

 

(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])

-cw

 

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

 

 

 

Legal Settlements Eating the City’s Lunch

LA WATCHDOG--The City is projecting a year-end budget deficit of almost $100 million according to the Second Financial Status Report dated December 4, 2015. 

This shortfall is primarily the result of the City Attorney’s projection that liability claims associated with legal judgements and settlements will soar to $138 million for the year ending June 30, 2016, an $84 million increase from the budgeted $54 million. 

While the specifics of this 155% increase have not been disclosed, “much of the shortfall is attributable to a small number of extremely significant cases arising from incidents or conduct which occurred many years ago.”  More than likely, however, the Los Angeles Police Department is responsible for a good chunk of this increase as the LAPD has been responsible for almost 60% of the $272 million in payouts over the last five years.

But how does the City intend to cover this projected $100 million budget deficit?

One alternative would be to raid the $375 million Reserve Fund.  But this would deplete this rainy day fund to a level of 5% of the $5.4 billion General Fund, an amount $50 million short of the 6% target recommended by the City Administrative Officer and $266 million below the 10% level suggested by many public finance experts.

Besides, in preparing the Budget eight months ago, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Budget and Finance Committee chaired by Paul Krekorian, and the Herb Wesson led City Council already raided the Reserve Fund for $130 million.

The City also has the option to issue $100 million of Judgment Obligation Bonds to cover this projected deficit.  In City speak, this would “save” the City $100 million.  In reality, this bond offering would be dumping the sins of the past onto a future generation of Angelenos who would be burdened with annual debt service payments of $13 million for the next ten years.

The third (and preferred) alternative would be to allocate the $138 million in liability claims to the responsible departments who would then have to determine how to pay for the messes they created.  This would also have the added benefit of increasing the accountability of the Police Chief and other department managers as they would be responsible for the actions of their employees and the impact on their budgets.

Certain members of the City Council believe the City will be bailed out as revenues will exceed the budgeted General Fund receipts of $5.4 billion. But this opinion may be wishful thinking as budget revenues already represent a hefty 5% increase from the previous year.  Furthermore, revenues through the first four months of the fiscal year are off by $40 million because of lower property tax collections and lower revenues from the City Utility Tax levied on DWP Ratepayers.

This $100 million deficit does not include any real money for the City’s homeless initiatives or any appropriations or reserves related to the havoc from the El Nino storms that are expected to drench California this winter.

The Second Financial Status Report highlights the fact that the City, like many of its businesses and employers, is a victim of California’s legal system that is consistently ranked as the top “Judicial Hellhole” in the country.  This will result in cutbacks to an already tight City budget and should result in calls to reform our civil justice system, a move that will alienate the campaign funding plaintiff’s bar.   

For example, the $84 million hit for liability claims would fund the City’s homeless initiative, repair miles and miles of our lunar cratered streets, or allow the Planning Department to update the City’s outdated Community Plans. 

It also puts the Mayor and the Herb Wesson led City Council on notice that the City does not have the financial flexibility to introduce new initiatives unless it is willing to reallocate revenues, a painful process that will result in significant pushback from the targeted departments, or to outsource operations to more efficient service providers, a move that would cause the City’s unions to go ballistic. 

Over the next four months, the Mayor, the City Council, and the City’s budget mavens will be working on next year’s budget behind closed doors.  How will they cover the $100 million deficit and fund existing programs and new initiatives? How will they pay for higher pension contributions; the repair of streets, sidewalks, and parks; and its new labor contract?

Stay tuned.  2016 is already shaping up to be an interesting year.

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

Multiple Reports, Same Conclusion: It’s Time to Bring DWP Into the 21st Century

LA WATCHDOG--In April of 2014, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission recommended the establishment of the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations and finances of our Department of Water and Power, determine our utility rates in an objective manner, and appoint the General Manager. 

But this attempt to eliminate or minimize the “political interference” from City Hall, the Mayor, and their cronies never saw the light of day as City Council President Herb Wesson and Energy and Environment Chair Felipe Fuentes buried this recommendation deep in the bowels of City Hall.  

Two other excellent measures posed by Mickey Kantor’s LA 2020 Commission were also deep sixed by Wesson.  These included the formation of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to monitor the finances of our cash strapped City and the establishment of the Commission for Retirement Security to review the City’s seriously underfunded pension plans and to make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.” 

However, last week, Controller Ron Galperin, in collaboration with the Mayor and City Council, released the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey covering DWP that called for, among other things, the reform of the Department’s governance. According to this 581 page report, the current system is plagued by too many cooks in the kitchen, where no one entity is responsible for the Department’s operations and where our all-knowing Elected Elite are second guessing management, developing unrealistic policies and goals, and have no respect for the wallets of the Ratepayers.  This is compounded by the overall lack of transparency, flawed management information systems, unclear lines of authority, and a general distrust of the Department and the City’s meddling politicians.  

Navigant Consulting, the well regarded firm that prepared the IEA Survey, called for a hybrid committee of City Hall insiders to develop a consensus on a solution that would then be placed on the 2017 ballot.  

But this recommendation is flawed because it does not include input from the Ratepayers and the Neighborhood Councils.  

The Ratepayer Advocate and its consultant, Navigant, are also calling for “Performance Reporting” to be included in the ordinance authorizing the increase in our utility rates.  This would require management to provide the Ratepayers Advocate and the Board of Commissioners with periodic reports identifying performance metrics and goals and comparing them to actual results.  This would result in increased transparency, especially if this information was made available to the Ratepayers.  

The Ratepayers Advocate also indicated that the Water System’s proposed five year rate increase of 25% to 30%, or about 5% a year, was “reasonable.” Unfortunately, he found that the rate increase was less than what is needed to repair its aging pipes, valves, and water mains, but this was justifiable because DWP does not currently have the capacity to meet the desired long-run replacement cycle because of constraints on outsourcing and anticipated retirements. 

Navigant’s report indicated that the Department does a good job of keeping the water flowing and the lights on, but that to meet the future operational, organizational, and financial challenges, it is necessary to reform its current system of governance in order to be a dependable and efficient provider of water and power. 

And while this reform has met some resistance by Mayor Garcetti and certain members of the City Council who want to treat Ratepayers as mushrooms (in the dark and topped with manure) and as an ATM, now is the time to address change and bring the Department into the 21st Century.  With, of course, input from the Ratepayers. 

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

LA Can’t Afford Its Workforce

LA WATCHDOG--The new, four year labor agreement covering the City’s civilian workforce is a huge success according to Paul Krekorian, the Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, and Paul Koretz, the Chair of the Personnel Committee.  

The contract provides for no salary increases for the three year period ending June 25, 2017 and then only a 2% increase in the last year of the contract.  Of course, this is after a budget busting 25% increase that was agreed to by Mayor Villaraigosa and the Eric Garcetti led City Council in 2007.  

The City was also able to modify the automatic salary hikes under the step increase program, resulting in major savings over the next thirty years.  

The City also agreed to establish a Strategic Workforce Development Task Force with the goal of hiring 5,000 new employees by the end of the contract on June 30, 2018.  This would include replacing retiring employees, resulting in a net increase of an estimated 3,000 workers. 

The City also agreed to establish a pension plan (Tier 3) for new civilian employees to replace the previous pension plan (Tier 2) that was unilaterally imposed by the City in 2012.  While the savings related to the new Tier 3 plan are $1.7 billion less over the next thirty years compared to Tier 2, the Tier 3 savings over thirty years compared to the current Tier 1 plan amounts to $5.2 billion. 

[Note: The present value of the $5.2 billion in savings is $1.2 billion.  This is equal to 15% of the unfunded pension liability for the City’s two pension plans of $8 billion assuming a 7.5% investment rate assumption, but only 9% of the $13.5 billion unfunded liability assuming a Warren Buffett’s recommended 6.5% investment rate assumption.] 

The new labor agreement also provides for a settlement agreement between the City and the unions over the acrimonious Tier 2 pension squabble.  

Unfortunately, the City was unable to achieve its goal of having City employees contribute 10% of the cost of their Cadillac healthcare plan. 

While Krekorian and Koretz were bubbling over about the new contract, the lower salary schedule, and the massive savings associated with the new pension tier for newly hired employees, they failed to consider the impact of this labor agreement on the City’s annual budget and its Structural Deficit. 

According to the City Administrative Officer’s budget outlook, the City was projecting a surplus of $36 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019.  But this new contract will eliminate that surplus. 

Over the next four years (Fiscal Years 2017-2020), the CAO was projecting a budget gap of $37 million.  As a result of the new labor agreement, this deficit is estimated to balloon to between $300 and $400 million.  This also assumes the unlikely outcome that there will be no raises or increased benefits for sworn and civilian workers when their contracts expire on June 30, 2018.  

And this does not take into consideration the recent revelation that this year’s City budget is about $100 million in the hole because of larger than expected legal settlements and judgements. 

With these projected deficits, how will the City be able to afford to hire 3,000 new employees?  And this also raises the question whether the City has the management resources and information systems to effectively utilize its work force.  This concern is justified given Controller Ron Galperin’s damning audits of Street Services, Transportation, and Recreation and Parks. 

The City Council is expected to approve this new labor agreement on January 12, 2016. In the meantime, the Herb Wesson led City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti need to address the impact of this new agreement on the City’s budget and its Structural Deficit.  

The City should also consider implementing two recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission that was established at the urging of Herb Wesson. 

The first is to establish an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances.  

The second is to form a Commission for Retirement Security to analyze the City’s pension plans and make “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.”  This would help justify the claims of $16 billion in savings over the next thirty years from this new agreement (an average of over $500 million a year!) as well as shed light on the impact of reducing the investment rate assumption to 6.5% as recommended by Warren Buffett. 

Angelenos deserve to know what the hell is going on with the City’s budget and whether we can afford this new labor contract.  And without transparency, the City’s (and the County’s) efforts to increase our taxes will be met with a resounding NO WAY. 

(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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

Ratepayer Advocate on the Hot Seat: The Time for Action

LA WATCHDOG--In early July, our Department of Water and Power proposed $1.4 billion increase in our utility rates over the next five years.  This bump of over 30% is subject to the review and analysis by the Ratepayers Advocate prior to the approval of the politically appointed DWP Board of Commissioners, the Energy and Environment Committee, the City Council, and the Mayor. 

But after five months, we still do not have any report, in large part because the Department has not provided the Ratepayers Advocate and its expert consultants with definitive financial information detailing the rate case.  The City Attorney has also not produced the final ordinance that spells out the very important (as the devil is in) details of this complex rate increase. 

Fred Pickel, the Ratepayers Advocate, and his staff expect to issue their reports on the water rate increase, the power rate increase, and the Department’s compensation polices within the next two weeks, assuming they receive the necessary information from DWP and the City Attorney.  This will begin the political process to approve this unprecedented rate hike which is expected to be finalized by April 1, 2016.  However, the rate increase will be backdated to July 1, 2015, meaning that Ratepayers will be hit with a two year increase during the first year. 

While the Ratepayers Advocate’s report will analyze the proposed rate increases, it will also need to address the transparency of DWP’s operations.  This would involve detailing the Department’s financial relationship with the City and all of its departments, including the Port, Los Angeles International Airport, and Public Works and its Bureau of Sanitation.  

For example, there has been some scuttlebutt from Port employees about the high cost of the power generated by solar panels installed by inefficient DWP work crews. There are also rumors that the Port has failed to pay its DWP bill on a timely basis, meaning that the Ratepayers will have to make up this unacceptable shortfall. 

The report will also need to analyze the DWP’s multibillion dollar utility built solar program and whether it makes sense to outsource this very ambitious endeavor to more efficient, independent contractors.     

The Ratepayers Advocate will also need to review the Department’s involvement with the City’s One Water LA 2040 Plan to ensure that DWP is not getting soaked for very expensive (as in billions) stormwater projects that are the responsibility of the Bureau of Sanitation and other City departments. 

There also needs to be full disclosure on all “pet projects” that are not related to the core mission of the Department as well as all below market leases of DWP property to other City departments and favored nonprofit organizations.  This disclosure also includes “Special City Services” and how these costs are determined, especially as it relates to the massive overhead charges imposed by the City on such services as the inspection of fire hydrants by the Los Angeles Fire Department.    

Interestingly, the Ratepayers Advocate has commissioned a study of DWP’s compensation arrangements, including benefits, compared to other regional utilities.  This analysis, along with the benchmarking efforts of the Department, will be very controversial.  

No study would be complete without the discussion of the legality of the $273 million, 8% Transfer Fee given the recent class action lawsuits.  One interesting suggestion by Richard Moss, a former DWP Commissioner, and Gregory Lippe, a former chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, is to freeze all payments, including the Transfer and the City Utility Tax, from DWP to the City at its current level of around $650 million and invest the five year, $500 million surplus in DWP’s operations.   

The Ratepayers Advocate and DWP’s management must also outline the Department’s goals over the next five years and determine a process to monitor its progress.  One idea would be for the General Manager to publish a quarterly report within 60 days of the quarter’s end similar to one that is required by a public company.     

Over the last three years, the Ratepayers Advocate has been an excellent investment.  Pickel and his understaffed office have produced strong analytical work.  He has also developed a working relationship with the Department and City Hall which has allowed him to temper the proposed rate increase.  

This positive review is in spite of the unfounded, self-serving claims by the publicity hungry Santa Monica based Consumer Watchdog regarding the settlement of the class action lawsuit involving the botched introduction of the Customer Information System.

The major complaint involving the Ratepayers Advocate is the lack of outreach and his failure to use his position as a bully pulpit to protect our wallets.  On the other hand, it was and is important to preserve his relationship with the Department’s management and the politicians and bureaucrats that occupy City Hall.  

But now is the time for Fred Pickel, the Ratepayers Advocate, and his staff to sound off as they go to bat for the us, the Ratepayers, and our wallets. 

 

(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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

 

 

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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

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])

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

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])

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

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]
-cw

 

CityWatch

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]
-cw

  

CityWatch

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].) 
-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

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?

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