20
Thu, Jun

Stern Is Firm in Senate Race; Lopez Challenging the Odds

PERSPECTIVE-Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a debate between two gentlemen in the race to replace termed-out Fran Pavley in the 27th SD. It was sponsored by the American Association of University Women (San Fernando Valley Branch), NOW and the League of Women Voters. Representatives from four West Valley Neighborhood Councils were there. 

Henry Stern (photo above right), who serves on Pavley’s staff, and Steve Fazio, a long-time small businessman in the San Fernando Valley, faced each other at the Westfield Mall, fielding questions from a panel and the audience. 

The civility was refreshing. 

The 27th is not my district. My reason for being there was to hear where the two opponents stood on California’s misguided and bloated high-speed rail project, particularly Mr. Stern’s view. 

I met with him shortly before the primary. We discussed a number of issues, including HSR. I was impressed by his overall pragmatism, especially when it came to transportation priorities. 

He stated then that he was supportive of commuter rail in general, but the HSR project was poorly conceived and planned. 

I was wondering if he would stick to that position, especially when Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom recently flipped his stance. Perhaps Newsom buckled under pressure from the unions and contractors who stand to benefit from this financial debacle on rails, a project that is absorbing critical cap-and-trade funds. 

If anything, Stern doubled down and recommended that the plan be put before the voters again.

He emphasized that HSR was putting the cart before the horse. What good would it be if we did not first develop intra-city transportation? 

To be fair, Fazio also voiced strong opposition. 

But if we are going to kill HSR, it would die a quicker death if there were more Democrats behind the effort to do so. That’s why candidates such as Stern and Patty Lopez, who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District, could further nudge others within their party to stop it before there is too much more money wasted.

+++++

Patty Lopez (photo above left) is engaged in a stalwart campaign, a rematch against party-insider favorite Raul Bocanegra. Despite her solid voting record along party lines, as well as getting several bills important to her constituents passed, the Democratic Party is supporting her opponent. 

It’s all about money. Bocanegra spent lavishly on his colleagues’ campaigns in the 2014 election. He was an ATM for established members of the legislature. You don’t mess around with one of the good old boys, especially when he raises dough. 

Yet, she stands a chance. 

Bocanegra garnered only 44% of the primary vote this time compared to 62% in 2014 – the same year Lopez upset him in the general election. Perhaps money doesn’t buy as many votes these days. A measurable majority of voters did not support him. 

A passage in a San Francisco Chronicle article about Lopez says it all: 

“It’s nice to have an outsider in Sacramento,” said Lea-Ann Tratten, political director for the Consumer Attorneys of California, one of the few interest groups that have donated to Lopez. 

“It’s refreshing. And frankly I think we need more of that. But that’s not how Sacramento works. It’s very much an insider game.”

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Real Planning in Los Angeles: Nothing more than a rickety ‘Development Process’

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Los Angeles may have an aging, out-of-date General Plan, but it, surprisingly, does have a planning process. It might not be the one taught to professional city planners in graduate school, and it might not be the one required by the State of California, as formulated in up-to-date General Plan Guidelines from the Governor’s office of Planning and Research. Nevertheless, it is there, warts and all.  

The real planning process is totally ad hoc, and the best way to understand it is through the metaphor of a football field. At the line of scrimmage – which corresponds to real estate speculation -- are elected officials, for the most part hand picked by one of the teams. On one side of the officials is a team of professional football players, what seasoned observers call the urban growth machine.  On the other side is the junior varsity, which is corresponds to neighborhood and environmental groups. 

As they battle each other to move the line of scrimmage, at City Hall this translates to the permitted size, height, and use of buildings. The professional team usually wins, which means that the elected officials routinely approve their projects. 

Sometimes, though, the scrappy junior varsity pulls off a victory, and it is able to stall or even stop plans, zoning ordinances, and individual projects because they are out-of-scale, out-of-character, or out-of-synch with infrastructure and service systems. With the help of outsiders, such as lawyers, the junior varsity occasionally scores a big win, like AB 283, which puts the planning process back on track for several years.  

But, while the football game is played for control of privately owned land, the stadium itself is wobbly and on the verge of collapse. This means that even when the pros have a winning streak, which is most of the time, the stadium and its surroundings are still in bad shape. Failure, in fact, is only a question of time, as explained below. 

The major steps of this rickety process 

Macro-level Planning: The following is the logical sequence of events, but in Los Angeles many steps are conducted out-of-sequence. For example, the City is now redefining local zoning through re:code LA, prior to any official updates of the General Plan and local Community Plans. In a great sci-fi time-travel plot, City Hall is implementing plans that have not yet been prepared and adopted. 

  • The City Council approves the General Plan, including its mandatory and optional elements. The mandatory elements are stipulated by State Law, while, optional elements, such as the General Plan Framework, are initiated by the City Council. 
  • The General Plan is then implemented by zoning ordinances, municipal budgets, and Capital Improvement Programs. 
  • Public agencies, both municipal and external (LAUSD), engage in their own sectorial planning, budgeting, and work programs in parallel to the General Plan. They each operate in a silo, independent of other City departments and outside agencies, oblivious to the City’s official planning process. 
  • While State law has detailed General Plan monitoring report methodologies and requirements, they are ignored by the City of Los Angeles, which does not systematically monitor its General Plan, departmental and agency sectorial plans, and the City’s five year Capital Improvement Program.  

Micro-level push back against planning: In response to top-down macro level planning, at the level of private land use there are many forces pushing in the opposite direction. 

  • On a lot-by-lot basis developers apply for parcel-level discretionary actions, such as the spot-zones and spot-General Plan Amendments that the Neighborhood Integrity Ordinance intends to stop. 
  • Aggrieved parties, usually neighbors or local civic organizations, appeal these discretionary actions. The adopted discretionary actions then fold in many conditions of approval, most of which are beyond the authority of City Planning and the concern of Building and Safety. 
  • Communities push back against over-development through local zoning overlay ordinances, such as Specific Plans and Historical Preservation Overlay Zones. 
  • Developers also push back against adopted plans and zones with their own pro-development zoning overlay ordinances, such as Transit Neighborhood Plans.  
  • Developers also push back against adopted plans and zones through bootlegged and illegal construction. When residents report these code violations to the Department of Building and Safety, the Department sporadically mails out notices to correct or issues citations. The buck usually stops at this point though since the City Attorney seldom pursues zoning and building code cases. 

One consequence of this convoluted planning process is that the city’s public infrastructure and services -- like the football stadium in our analogy -- are ignored. The Department of City Planning defines their day-to-day planning mission as the efficient processing of developers’ requests for discretionary actions. It is not comprehensive, rigorously monitored planning, but what the executive suite calls the “development process,” and what they publicly define as promoting foreign and domestic investment in quickly approved Los Angeles real estate projects.  

Because this outlook has been regularly shared with Neighborhood Councils and other community groups in recent years, they, too, have gradually accepted this truncated definition of city planning. Rather than holding City Hall’s feet to the fire to make sure that planning includes carefully monitored goals and programs related to air quality, public facilities, parks, streets and sidewalks, mass transit, libraries, climate change, emergency services, and the full spectrum of municipal infrastructure, they too often but unwittingly abet the real estate speculation agenda of the City’s elected officials, especially Mayor Eric Garcetti. 

Luckily, this minimalist approach to municipal governance is now peaking, like it did in the 1980s and 90s, because of public push back. The City not only regularly loses law suits over illegally granted zoning entitlements, but from March 2017 onward, the City’s voters will most likely force City Hall to start planning Los Angeles through the Neighborhood Integrity Ordinance. The era of market forces substituting for the planning process is finally coming to an end, and you can lend a hand to make it happen. 

 

(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles City Planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. Please submit any comments or corrections to [email protected].)

-cw

Putting It Together: After CalPERS’ Board and Staff, Who ‘Runs the Train’?

PLAYING WITH CALPERS (PART 3)--Now that we have examined the who’s who of CalPERS Board and Staff in my previous CityWatch articles, how does the system function? On the one hand, we have Board President Rob Feckner; he chairs the general meeting. This is the guy who fatuously remarked upon Fred Buenstroso’s “retirement,” that “he was talking to us for a while about retiring and seeing about doing something else.” Yeah, like going to jail. 

Rob’s latest (August 3, 2016) has been a couple of videos and a PR piece entitled, “CalPERS is Well-Prepared for Market’s Ups and Downs.” Sure they are. His written commentary was printed in the Sacramento Bee in response to getting hammered in the press over a 1% return for last year, as well as questions about future returns. 

Clearly Mr. Feckner is either living under a rock or he simply functions as a front for the CalPERS staff. I vote for the latter, and that was the reason for my last article on the Executive Staff team structure and the staffing that Ann Stausboll created during her tenure. 

There are serious questions as to whether or not the CIO, Ted Eliopoulos, and his Private Equity staffer, Real Desrochers, are up to the job. My favorite blog, Naked Capitalism, has been calling them out for years. Check out this article from Fortune Magazine

Equally, there are substantive questions as to the legal advice given to the Board by their General Counsel, Matthew Jacobs. At a recent Investment Committee meeting, he gave seriously flawed legal advice about limiting public comment and whether or not it has to be allowed for each agenda item. 

The subject matter prompting the bogus advice couldn’t be more important -- dealing with the pitiful rate of return on CalPERS investments, which has formed the core basis of naysayers’ attacks on the pension system. To read about those into details, Naked Capitalism called him out on it in a lengthy and damning piece. 

Next, as I wrote some time ago in CityWatch, the hiring process that CalPERS followed in obtaining outside fiduciary counsel for the Board smelled to high heaven and resulted in the Board hiring a sleazeball Florida lawyer named Robert Klausner. He, by the way, isn’t even licensed in the State of California as an attorney, even though he’s been giving the Board legal advice! 

It was within this context that I raised the question at the end of last week’s article, as to why CEO Ann Stausboll would suddenly retire at age 59 1/2 -- with the caveat that I am not a part of the 1%, so I don’t know what goes on in the minds of CEO’s making $300,000 per year or above. However, unless you are a safety employee, whose pensions are mostly based on a retirement age of 50, few people in CalPERS or any other California public sector pension plan retire at age 59 1/2. The trade-offs between age and benefit amount are simply too high. The “sweet spot” is usually age 62 and the 100% gold standard is age 65. 

Finally, and we won’t know the answer to this question for some time, there is the fact that as her last major act prior to announcing her retirement, Stausboll brokered a real estate deal in New York City; a 51-story office building at 787 Seventh Avenue, to the tune of $1.9 billion. This in a frothy market. 

RIABiz, a financial services advisory industry blog, evaluated her tenure at CalPERS with a big question mark. 

Cracks and Attacks on CalPERS and Defined Benefit Plans in General 

Quite aside from CalPERS’ ability to shoot itself in its collective foot, there are fundamental issues here that go to the core of our society and public service. 

Remember, the cratering of our economy in 2007/08 by the financial services industry was not a one-off. If it were not for our government and the central bank (The Fed) handing out money at 0% like candy corn, and buying up most of their toxic assets, most of the financial services industry would have gone broke. And they are still being propped up by the Fed and our government, which has failed to jail a single one of the crooks that caused this catastrophe. 

Imagine if you and I had access to 0% interest “we don’t care about credit scores” money, and the government would buy up every one of our toxic loans. Wow! Never happen, of course. 

So the same forces that tanked our economy have to look around for targets other than themselves to blame. Otherwise, a lot of us might start asking why our 401-k plans that were for “retirement” suddenly lost half their value and were suddenly declared “not a retirement plan,” – so much so that a lot of people may never get to retire. 

Well, the last places that actually have tangible assets to strip away are the public sector defined benefit pension plans. So once they stopped playing with hedge funds and private equity scam artists, the relentless move to do away with them really began in earnest. 

Of course the end game is not pretty. First, you make these systems subject to ordinary bankruptcy processes. Then you go in, declare them insolvent, strip out the assets, and leave the empty shell and the troops to fend for themselves. After all, bonuses are once a year for the top of the food chain. 

Lest you think I am joking, look at private sector defined benefit plans from the big companies back in the 60s and 70s. Corporate raiders like Carl Icahn would go in with their Mergers and Acquisitions buddies, would use borrowed money to buy the companies, then strip the pension plans to pay for the deal, leaving the carcass to rot. Net result: no mas defined benefit plans in the private sector and no pushback from the U.S. government. 

Fueling the Attacks 

To be fair, public employees and public sector management bear a good chunk of the blame for inviting the demise of one of the last decent pension plans in the U.S. I posit two specific areas which offer free low hanging fruit for those who want to go after CalPERS. 

First, take the case of the “3@50” pension plan for public safety members -- essentially, police and firefighters. The formula provides that at age 50, these employees can retire with a pension based on taking 3% of their highest years’ earnings, and multiplying it by the number of years of service. With the minimum 10 years of vesting required for full benefits, and 50 years of age, that would mean that the officer/firefighter would receive 30% of highest year’s salary. If you were 20 when you hired on and had worked for 30 years at age 50, that percentage would rise to 90% of your highest years’ earnings for life. 

By a couple of other mechanisms, referred to as “pension spiking” and playing with what hours of “work” count towards salary, the dollar amounts for some individuals have reached fairly irrational levels. Take the police officer who suddenly gets “promoted” to Sergeant, or the firefighter who suddenly gets “promoted” to Battalion Chief, each a little more than a year before he or she retires. It all counts in their final compensation number for calculating the retirement amount. 

The articulated premise behind the “3@50” formula was that these are very arduous professions, and employees are just plain physically worn out by age 50. Of course, you could make the same argument for hard physical labor like construction or assembly line plant workers. 

Some individuals who have really gamed the system offer terrific photo opportunities to attack the entire CalPERS system, even though the average pension for the average employee is more like $3000/month at age 65. And, by the way, many of these employees do not receive Social Security benefits at all, for reasons too complicated for this article. 

My second example of low hanging fruit for the naysayers has to do with high level public sector managers. It is not unusual these days for the City Manager of a small city to make something like $300,000 per year or more. And that doesn’t count the brazen crooks like Robert Rizzo, the former City Manager of Bell, now sitting in jail for 12 years in a massive corruption scheme. 

When managers start to get paid like CEOs of large corporations, ordinary folks start wondering what the heck is happening to the concept of “public service,” and they have a point. Add to that a spate of corruption charges against high level public managers, and you once again have wonderful photo ops for those interested in taking the system down. 

The LA Times Series 

I truly believe that the Times series is ideologically based. Take a look at a revealing section of the first article on The Pension Gap:  

“In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, persuaded the legislature to raise the retirement age for new employees and reduce their benefits slightly. That will save money decades from now, when those employees retire, but it will not reduce the cost of benefits already locked in for active and retired workers.” (emphasis added) 

Similar loaded comments abound in the other pieces. For example, in the one called A CalPERS Primer, we have the ominous header, “Has anyone tried to dilute labor’s influence?” Gee, guess the answer. 

And finally, at least until further installments, there is a piece about how CalPERS is faring in the court system, with a clear message that the courts have a duty to reverse existing case law and break the promises made to existing beneficiaries. Read between the lines; what they are really talking about is the ability to reduce the cost of benefits already locked in for active and retired workers. This includes, one presumes, the ability for court ordered bankruptcy and the abrogation of all kinds of things. 

What Can Be Done 

Believe it or not, there are a couple of things that can be done to slightly modify the current system and allow these plans to survive on a go forward basis. In the last of my CalPERS article next week, I will provide some details and give my reasoning.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Propositions, Measures, Referenda, Annoying … Call Them What You Want, It’s How Citizens Make Laws in California

THE EPPERHART REPORT--Propositions, initiatives, measures, referenda, annoying – call them what you will, but they have been an integral part of California democracy for more than a hundred years. More than any other state, California relies on its citizens to propose and make law. 

It all started when Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican, was elected governor in 1910. He crisscrossed the state in an automobile railing against the power of corporations, particularly the Southern Pacific Railroad. Big money determined who would run for office, who would win, and how they would vote once they got to Sacramento. 

Johnson won his election and pushed through a number of reforms reducing the power and influence of corporations in the Golden State. Most notably, in 1911, the people got the right to introduce legislation in the form of ballot initiatives and decide at the polling place whether or not they would become law. 

Even now, 105 years later, Proposition 59, asks voters to urge legislators to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case and allow restrictions on campaign contributions and spending. Some things never change. 

Perhaps the greatest impact made by a ballot initiative occurred in 1978 when, by an overwhelming majority, Californians adopted Proposition 13. It rolled back property tax rates and capped annual increases. It also required a two-thirds vote to approve certain tax increases. In the years since, despite ongoing criticism, the impact of Prop. 13 has only been expanded and never reduced. It is known as the “third rail” of California politics. Touch it and you die. 

In 1994, Proposition 187 called for denying government services to undocumented aliens. Despite passage with 60 percent approval, it was never implemented due to a court injunction that stands to this day. What’s notable is not the measure, but the effects of the campaign supporting it. The pro-187 advertising run by the Republicans was viewed by many as racist and is considered to have triggered a mass movement of Hispanic voters to the Democrats. 

In 1998, voters passed a law, Prop. 227, to outlaw bilingual education in public schools. This year, Prop. 58 would repeal most of that ban. If it passes, it will be a clear demonstration of the demographic shift in California’s electorate.

++++++

If adopted, two initiatives may have the most far-reaching consequences. 

The first, Proposition 62, proposes abolishing the death penalty in California. Currently, there are 741 prisoners awaiting execution, more than any other state. There have been 13 executions in California in the last 40 years. The reality is that a death row inmate is more likely to die of old age than lethal injection. (Another measure, Prop. 66, seeks to speed up the appeals process in an effort to ratchet up the number of executions.) 

The second, Proposition 64, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. It many ways, it merely recognizes what is already a fact of life. But, acknowledging that fact legally and normalizing its use in the same manner as tobacco and alcohol is a big step for government. 

Finally, the state Democratic and Republican parties disagree on just about every measure. However, they both recommend a no vote on Proposition 60, which would require the use of condoms in adult films. In this time of political polarization, it’s good to know there’s something that can unite us.

 

(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and former Board of Neighborhood Commissioners commissioner. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Jobs and the Economy: Can California Catch the Next Tech Wave?

NEW GEOGRAPHY--The consumer technology boom, largely responsible for a resurgence in California’s economy after the tech wreck of 2001, seems to be coming to an end. The signs are widespread: slowing employment, layoffs from bell-weather social media companies, the almost embarrassing difficulty of finding buyers for Twitter, the absorption of Yahoo by Verizon and the acquisition by Microsoft of LinkedIn.

This is not to minimize the great things which have been accomplished over 15 years of massive investment in these technologies. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004, and is now worth some $55 billion, up $15 billion from last year. In 2015, more than 1 billion people globally used Facebook applications every single day. The “app economy” created by Steve Jobs and Apple is equally impressive. What would we have done with our free time if it were not for Farmville, Angry Birds and Pokemon Go?

The tech boom has changed the face of wealth in America. Tech oligarchs, mostly clustered in the Bay Area, which dominates some 40 percent of employment in search and web publishing, now account for one quarter of the wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans. This tilting of wealth is not going away, and may shape the business world for a generation.

Concentration and contraction

Overall though, the economic impact of these technologies has been limited. Google’s Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. together employ fewer than 75,000 people, one-third fewer than Microsoft, worth only a fraction its value. Snapchat, the star of Silicon Beach, employs several hundred people, hardly enough to reverse a long-term decline in Southern California tech employment.

More troubling still are changes in the Bay Area tech culture. In its 1980s heyday, Silicon Valley was a Wild West of start-ups, new companies and ideas, and lots of jobs. Today, it resembles increasingly the cozy and fundamentally uncompetitive world of Detroit’s Big Three — Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The Valley is increasingly dominated by a handful of companies — Google, Facebook and Apple — while conditions for startups, even well-funded ones, have deteriorated markedly.

Despite the hype surrounding the possible IPO for Snapchat, new firms raised $15 billion in venture capital during the third quarter of 2016 — ending in September — down 28.6 percent from $21 billion for the same period one year ago. The third quarter of 2016 marked the fifth straight quarterly decline in completed financings and the lowest number recorded by PitchBook since the fourth quarter of 2010, signaling that investors are writing bigger checks for fewer deals.

Rather than the Wild West, we are seeing consolidation in social media, which depends largely on advertising revenue. Google and Facebook claimed 64 percent of that revenue, according to Pivotal Research. Google scooped up $30 billion and Facebook gathered $8 billion, while other smaller companies have lost market share over the last five years.

As promising start-ups are swallowed up at an alarming rate, the likely scenario, as we have seen in other industries, may be secular stagnation. With less competition and innovation, the track record of oligarchies, particularly regionally incestuous ones, is not a great one, as anyone who deals with new Microsoft or Apple operating systems, can attest. Even Sergei Brin, a co-founder of Google, recently suggested that start-ups would be better off launching somewhere else.

One door closes, another opens

The preponderance of evidence is pointing to the end of the boom era in social media growth. Already, there are clear signs of slowing, with layoffs growing rapidly and more companies looking for space in less expensive, less highly regulated areas.

Yet this shift from social media may prove a long-term benefit both to the national economy and California. The sad truth is that for all the billions earned in stock market value, social media, unlike past tech booms, has done precious little to boost economic productivity. According to the Pew Center for Internet, Science and Tech, 56 percent of workers who use social media platforms for work-related purposes agree that social media distracts from the work they need to do, with 30 percent agreeing strongly.

Rather than thrilling tweens with their first Tweets, technology companies may be shifting to far more important callings. In the Bay Area and elsewhere, firms are delving into promising fields including autonomous vehicles, machine learning, artificial intelligence, financial technology, biomedical research and even space exploration. These endeavors do more than simply keep people entertained and informed about their friends. They may create the basis for longer-lasting growth in the productive economy, not only here in California, but around the nation.

Will California be able to maintain its innovation dominance in this next tech cycle? The Golden State faces the twin headwinds of high housing prices and restrictive regulations. These growing technologies require interfacing with the analog (aka real) world, relying more on 30-something, experienced engineers and data scientists than the millennial hipsters and coders who have fueled social media and casual gaming. California needs to make housing affordable and lessen regulatory burden for business if it plans to lead the next wave.

(Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Marshall Toplansky is senior advisor to Chapman University in the area of Data & Analytics, as well as an adjunct faculty member at the Argyros School of Business and Economics. This piece appeared most recently at New Geography.

-cw

How Feudalism has Bred Corruption in LA

CORRUPTION WATCH-While we know that Lord Acton was correct in 1887 when he said power tends to corrupt and we also acknowledge that corruption tends to destroy, we seldom trace out exactly the relationship between excessive power, corruption, and destruction. We now have a case example with the Urban Blox project in Valley Village, called the Hermitage Project. 

But first, let’s remember that Lord Acton was not the first to complain about the corruption which comes with power. In fact, the Founding Fathers tried to work out this problem, which is how we ended up with a government of checks and balances. A monarchy proved to concentrate too much power into one person’s hands. In the 1770's, everyone was familiar with feudal life and how the aristocracy ruled over its serfs. Each feudal lord had absolute control over his fiefdom so long as he pleased the Prince above him. 

America rejected the feudal form of government so it’s notable that in 2006 it was resurrected by Eric Garcetti in our own City Council with the “Voting Trading Pact.” Under the City’s government, each council district is a fiefdom, subject to the absolute rule of the councilmember. That control is rooted in the pact to never Vote No on any project in another’s district. Thus, each councilmember is guaranteed that, no matter what atrocious behind-the-scenes deal he makes with a developer, the LA City Council will unanimously approve the deal.   

This is why the City Council unanimously approves each agenda item over 99.9% of the time. The power of each CM to be able to guarantee a developer that his project will be unanimously approved by the City Council -- no matter how many laws he violates -- is huge. It also closes all the serfs (formerly known as “constituents”) out of the political process. If a councilmember wants to construct an illegal project that will be very harmful to his own district and to surrounding districts, it will pass unanimously. 

The City does not care that “Vote Trading” is a form of bribery which was criminalized by Penal Code 86. Buying a vote with a return vote is bribery just like buying a vote for cash is bribery. There is, however, no way that these councilmembers will relinquish the power to do whatever they want within their own districts. 

The Urban Blox-Councilmember Krekorian Project in Valley Village 

We see the lawlessness that is visited upon Angelenos in the case of Urban Blox’s Hermitage Project in Valley Village where it wants to demolish rent-controlled cottages in order to construct high-end units. 

Urban Blox dispensed with the need to own the property. With the backing of Councilmember Krekorian, Urban Blox decided that it would simply coerce, deceive, and cajole people into handing over their properties. CityWatch has previously written about this project.    

Basically, Urban Blox wanted to tie together three pieces of property along Hermitage Avenue in Valley Village containing only rent-controlled units. Councilmember Krekorian knew that pretending to care about poor people was only political posturing and demolishing these homes so that a developer could make a few million bucks while savaging what is left of the quaintness of Valley Village was far more important to him. After all, Krekorian’s the one who engineered the destruction of Marilyn Monroe’s Valley Village home so that it could not be moved to a safe location. Naturally, the City Council unanimously approved that demolition since there was nothing in the world more important than building five more high-end condos in the San Fernando Valley. (Yes, that was attempted sarcasm.) 

The Urban Blox Hermitage project is right across the street from where Krekorian had Marilyn’s home needlessly destroyed. 

The problem is that Urban Blox does not own the property where it wants to demolish the rent-controlled cottages. In fact, the developer is suing the property owners to compel them to sell the property. It takes a very corrupt City Hall to pretend that a developer has Site Control when he is suing the property owners to force them to sell to him. 

The City Attorney’s Office has known about this game stopper for months but told the Planning Commission to just ignore it. When a councilmember wants to push a project, he’s got the power to tell City departments what to do. Also, Planning has never checked to see if Ellis Act payments were made to the renters. Planning’s excuse for skipping this step was, “We relied on the professionalism of the housing department.” In other words, as far as Planning knows, none of the Ellis Act payments were made. Why should the developer follow the Ellis Act in a lawless society where no violation will ever deprive the developer of unanimous approval? 

After Urban Blox sued the property owners, it decided to sue another entity with claim to the property. That’s how the public found out that Urban Blox has no enforceable right to the property! This is what happens in a society where anyone can do anything and still get unanimous approval. Urban Blox never had any contract with the property owners to buy the land. But, why should Urban Blox follow basic law when it has a city council which always approves everything anyway, no matter what? 

It turns out that a non-registered LLC purported to buy the property, but non-registered LLCs are forbidden from doing business. A contract with a non-registered LLC is a contract with no one. Since Urban Blox based its rights upon nothing, it has no rights to enforce. 

But wait, it gets worse. Since Urban Blox has no rights to the property, it has no Site Control and there is no basis to have Weddington Street vacated and given to the developer. Assemblywoman Patty Lopez has been questioning the propriety of this entire deal for a few months, but Councilmember Krekorian has been blowing her off. Had Krekorian shown elementary courtesy to the State Assembly, this huge defect would have been brought into the light months ago. Instead of following the law, though, Councilmember Krekorian and Urban Blox chose to press ahead, relying on the fact that unanimous city council approval was guaranteed. So, now it seems that Urban Blox owns only one third of the property. But the rights of other people count for naught. 

People wonder, “How did the top 1% end up owning so much wealth, while the rest of us are struggling to survive?” Corruptionism based on the criminal vote trading system at City Hall is part of the answer. 

If the councilmembers knew that they had to justify their actions in order to get a majority vote on the City Council, then they would not feel secure about trampling the law to death. Would Krekorian have wantonly destroyed Marilyn Monroe’s home if he had known that he would have to justify its destruction in front of the entire city council? Probably not. Would Krekorian be trying to push through the destruction of all these rent-controlled units while pretending to be a friend of the homeless? Probably not.   

The criminal vote trading in the LA City Council gives each councilmember way too much power. It means he or she can evade and break any law and still get everything he or she desires. There is no accountability for the tens of thousands of people who have and are being thrown out of their homes and onto the streets so that millionaire developers can build luxury units. And now, the City Council has the nerve to ask the tax payers to give these same developers $1.2 billion under City Measure HHH to build “affordable housing.” 

Krekorian’s and Urban Blox’s attempt to destroy the homes of poor people in Valley Village is sufficient reason to vote “No” on City Measure HHH this November 8. There is something immoral about demolishing the homes of poor people and then using their homelessness as justification for tax increases that, in turn, will end up giving those same developers billions of dollars.

 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Prison Sentences Don’t Work … Now Is the Time to Change the Rules I Helped Make

PROP 57 … RESTORING DISCRETION IN SENTENCING-Just how much discretion should we give to officialdom when sentencing people to prison for crimes? It’s a hard question, and, as I’ve learned firsthand, the answer can change through time. Forty years ago, I was a principal proponent of the determinate sentencing law (DSL), which made felony sentencing more predictable, thus reducing the discretion of judges and parole officials. Today, I’m supporting a state ballot initiative -- Proposition 57 -- to modify that legislation and restore some discretion to sentencing. 

And I’m hardly alone in seeing this issue change across time. The leading backer of that 40-year-old law, and of today’s ballot initiative to change it, is the same person: Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Back in 2003, Brown, by then the mayor of Oakland, testified before a state commission that DSL was an “abysmal failure” for which he shared responsibility. In this regard, I also share responsibility. But I think the governor is being too hard on himself. To his credit, he has stuck with the issue and is leading (and largely funding) this year’s campaign for Prop 57, a ballot initiative to ameliorate some of the problems of the last 40 years. I don’t think we were totally wrong in the 1970s. The context was just different, which a brief history demonstrates. 

The 1970s was a decade of tremendous social unrest, especially in prisons. In 1975, legislative hearings concluded a major cause of prison unrest was the “indeterminate” sentence law (ISL) then in place. The ISL prescribed broad sentences (such as five years to life) and gave enormous discretion to the parole board, operating with few rules or regulations. This board had the power to determine the specific sentence by granting parole, including the ability to release a prisoner before the prescribed “minimum” sentence. A prisoner granted a hearing sat before one of multiple parole board panels. If denied parole, a prisoner waited for the next parole hearing, conducted by a different panel, reflecting the whims of the new panel’s members. As a consequence, a prisoner often received contradictory advice from one panel to the other on how to “earn a release date” (learn a trade, gain insight about behavior, earn a GED, get religion, etc.). This experience was problematic for the prisoner, their families, and planning a future. 

The ISL had another feature: It gave the governor control over prison population. Whenever prisons became overcrowded, the governor would quietly issue a “relax release decisions” directive to the parole board to reduce the number of prisoners. Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown’s predecessor, once reduced the prison population by over 25 percent virtually overnight. The arbitrariness of this opaque practice resulted in uncertainty and disrespect for a process intended to “rehabilitate,” the stated goal of the ISL. 

In 1975, Brown, then newly elected as governor, decided he wanted to stop using this sleight of hand and change the law rather than kick the can down the road, while addressing any concerns of Republicans and law enforcement. 

I participated in the negotiations with the Governor’s staff and interest groups. The DSL was passed in 1976. Its sentences were based on median time served for crimes under the ISL. It made sentencing predictable and limited discretion. The judge could add or subtract a year based on the circumstances of the crime. The DSL was initially touted as a historic reform and praised by correctional experts. 

What went wrong? By increasing transparency around sentencing, the DSL also added to public awareness of the actual lengths of prison sentences. Soon, outrage flared when a heinous crime was considered too lightly punished, and the legislature responded by prescribing ever-longer sentences. 

The prison guards, who gained power, became organized and advocated for longer sentences and more prison (it was good for their business.) And the voters, in their public request for retribution for crimes, adopted initiative measures to add to sentences -- most notably the prison industry-funded “Three Strikes.” Under that measure, a person convicted of shoplifting a package of cheese as a third strike was given a life sentence. 

Today, the number of prisoners serving Three-Strike sentences rivals the total number of prisoners incarcerated in 1976. Indeed, before DSL, California had nine prisons holding approximately 30,000 prisoners. Those numbers eventually increased to 33 prisons with a population at times exceeding 150,000. 

This rising prison population resulted in growing expenses and significant overcrowding, which in turn led the federal courts to intervene and demand a reduction in the number of prisoners. Even after that reduction, the high costs (around $60,000 per year per person) remain. The 2016-17 California budget appropriates 8.1% to prisons, a greater percentage than the 5.3 combined percentage appropriated for both the University of California and the California State University. 

Our budget-constrained era thus presents a difficult choice: Should the taxpayers maintain the greatest public universities or the biggest and costliest prison system? Voters are beginning to conclude, not just in California but in places like Texas and Georgia, there can be too much punishment, which isn’t cheap. 

Proposition 57 is straightforward. The initiative measure simply allows parole consideration for non-violent offenders who have already served their base sentences. It gives prisoners an incentive to earn an earlier release after serving a substantial portion of their sentences. It’s not radical, and not a complete reversal of DSL. Those not granted parole will continue to have their cumulative DSL sentence as a cap on how long they serve. If the initiative were to pass -- and the parole authority were to adopt effective regulations -- the changes would be a long overdue refinement of DSL. 

Did we get DSL wrong? In some ways, if anything, the DSL worked too well. But the larger lesson of the last 40 years is not about one sentencing law. It’s that it remains very hard to rehabilitate felons, a challenge we need to better address. I’ve learned it’s unrealistic to expect a modification of sentencing law -- whether that law is ISL, or DSL or Prop 57 -- to yield rehabilitation. Getting to effective rehabilitation would require a sea change in how we do corrections. 

But DSL wasn’t a mistake. It responded to the real problems of ISL. And the experience of DSL was necessary to show the need for the reforms of Proposition 57. It also helped to have a governor with enough longevity and experience to recognize DSL’s shortcomings, and the political will to address them. 

We’re now, 40 years later, trying to get to a better place -- where we can have a more realistic discussion of what really happens in prisons, and of how much we are willing to pay and sacrifice for punishment.

 

(Michael B. Salerno is a law professor and director of the legislation clinic at UC Hastings College of the Law. In 1976, he was principal consultant to the California Senate Select Committee on Penal Institutions, the committee responsible for the DSL legislation. This piece first appeared on Zocalo PublicSquare.org.) Primary Editor: Joe Mathews. Secondary Editor: Sophia Kercher. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

California Divided: Why Prison Guards are Backing the Death Penalty

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS--Of the 17 propositions on this year’s California ballot, few are as divisive as the issue of capital punishment. There are actually two separate initiatives targeting the death penalty: Proposition 62, which would abolish the death penalty and replace it with prison without the possibility of parole; and Proposition 66, which would speed up the process to send condemned murderers to the death chamber.

According to campaign finance disclosures compiled by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, much of the pro-death penalty campaign funding is coming directly from police and prison guard unions. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) alone spent $498,304 on Prop. 62, while the Peace Officers Research Association of California spent $455,000 and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen ponied up $250,000 to keep capital punishment.

One recent advertisement, paid for by California’s largest prison guard union, opens with grainy surveillance footage. It shows a terrified young woman squaring off with an attacker. As the woman struggles, a voice-over narrates: “Charles Ng raped, tortured, and killed women. Murdered their babies. Killed their husbands…” Another ad bankrolled by CCPOA features a few members of law enforcement explaining their support of the death penalty — and why voters should support it, too.

“I’ve seen what the worst among us can do,” says Sergeant Dan Cabral of the California Deputy Sheriffs’ Association in one video. “Killings so brutal, families never recover. That’s why we have the death penalty.”

In 2012, another ballot initiative, Proposition 34, also sought (but failed) to eliminate the death penalty. At that time, however, law enforcement unions donated a tiny fraction of what they have spent on the 2016 ballot. It begs the question: Why are law enforcement officers so intent on keeping the death penalty?

The official arguments provided by California law enforcement groups supporting capital punishment claim that the death penalty provides closure to victims’ families, saves taxpayers millions of dollars and that repealing it would jeopardize public safety. Essentially, union officials say the death penalty process in California is broken, but they want legislators to fix it.

Brian Moriguchi, a lieutenant with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the president of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association, which represents 8,800 members of law enforcement, says the death penalty should be reserved for the “worst of the worst.”

“Most police officers, by a very large margin, support the death penalty,” he says. “We’ve been to those calls where somebody has raped and mutilated a child, and we’ve seen the type of people that do that. They are a threat to the safety of others as long as they are alive. Even locked down in prison, [they are] still a threat.”

Lt. Moriguchi says there is increased support for the death penalty this year, as opposed to 2012, because of an increase in violence targeted against police officers, not just in California, but around the country. (According to FBI data released in October, 41 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2015. Already in 2016, 46 officers have been killed.)

“What has changed since 2012 is that there is a greater attack on police officers today, where people want to kill police officers,” Lt. Moriguchi says. “ We’re passionate about that this year particularly because we see the assaults on police officers increasing. We want to see justice for those police officers, and we want to see those people on death row.”

(The other top three unions behind the campaign did not return requests for comment.)

Some outside of law enforcement, however, believe the motivations to support the death penalty are far more political than practical.

Bill Zimmerman, a longtime California political campaign manager, says the current wave of law enforcement support for the death penalty is a reaction to increased scrutiny over police and prison officials. The unions, he says, are “feeling threatened by this climate of police reform. They see this as a battle in a long war, and it’s a battle they don’t want to lose. If they can win this battle, they see it as something that gives them more clout, or at least the perception that they’re a powerful political force when it comes to legislative matters.”

Zimmerman believes financial support for the death penalty is a reaction to movements like Black Lives Matter, which some police officials say undermine respect for law enforcement.

“Their support for the death penalty fits into a larger context of criminal justice reform going on in California,” Zimmerman says. “The events in Ferguson, Missouri led to a new wave of public demands for reform — of criminal justice and police behavior. We’ve seen an enormous increase in the fundraising capability of law enforcement [unions]. Organizations that used to give $5,000 to $10,000, in this death penalty fight in 2016 are giving $50,000 or $100,000.”

Both sides agree that the death penalty system is outrageously expensive, costing some $150 million per year for the state because of extra litigation costs and a lengthy appeals process. The entire death penalty system is said to have cost taxpayers $5 billion since 1978. However, rather than just get rid of it, law enforcement groups say the death penalty process should be reformed.

“Death row inmates have murdered over 1,000 victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured,” the campaign explains. “It’s time California reformed our death penalty process so it works.”

Prison guard unions particularly support the death penalty, largely because their leaders say that convicted murderers would have nothing to fear (and might target prison guards) if the death penalty were not on the table. “Without the death penalty, what’s to stop the killer who’s serving life without parole, from killing inside the prison? asks CCPOA president Chuck Alexander in the latest advertisement. “It’s our last defense.”

Matt Cherry, executive director of Death Penalty Focus of California, disagrees with that notion, and says that even with the death penalty, a convicted murderer could still harm a guard on death row. More broadly, though, Cherry says there’s no statistical evidence to show that states with the death penalty experience fewer attacks on police officers. (In fact, the murder rate is lower in states without the death penalty.) “That’s one of the arguments that police like to use,” Cherry says. “I personally don’t think it’s convincing.”

Cherry believes police and prison guard unions feel they’re under pressure.

“There is a certain sense amongst police that times are changing, that there’s more criticism of police actions and the union leaders are hunkering down and rallying around the traditional causes that they have supported,” Cherry says.

He adds, “I don’t think that’s universal, though. You see a lot of smart police chiefs who don’t take that opinion.”

He’s right — not all police chiefs support the death penalty. A 2009 report from the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group, polled police chiefs around the country about all the different methods that could be used to reduce crime. Their findings: The use of capital punishment ranked dead last, according to the police chiefs.

So what’s the disconnect? Why do union leaders and police officials continue to support the death penalty if many, at least in the privacy of an anonymous poll, agree it’s ineffective and too expensive? According to Dr. George Kain, a current police commissioner in Ridgefield, Connecticut, it’s because police unions have an “arm-in-arm” mentality.

“It’s so polarized,” says Kain, who began his career as a probation officer. “You can’t be on the fence with this if you’re a cop. The political climate now is forcing people to one side or the other. It’s easier to get pushed towards support of the bully mentality: ‘We’re gonna execute more people, and we’re gonna execute them more quickly.’”

In California, that sort of mentality could have extreme consequences. Right now, there are 741 inmates on death row — more than any other state. However, California has only carried out 13 executions since it reinstated the death penalty in 1978. (Its most recent execution was in 2006.)

As of mid-October, opponents of Prop. 62 (which would keep the death penalty legal) have raised about $4.3 million, compared to $8.9 million raised by groups that want to abolish the death penalty. Supporters of Prop. 66 (which would speed up the death penalty process) have raised $4.9 million, compared to the $10 million collected by its opponents. Put simply, groups supporting the death penalty are being outspent by about 2-to-1 by groups that oppose it.

However, the most recent polls are showing a tight race; there is a slight lead for proponents of abolishing the death penalty, but only by a slim margin. Nationally, support for the death penalty is waning. A September 2016 Pew Research poll found that support is currently the lowest in more than four decades.

Regardless of national sentiment, law enforcement leaders within California, such as Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, are hoping voters will keep (and reform) capital punishment on November 8. “The public and law enforcement recognize that [capital punishment] makes our communities safer by acting as a deterrent and ensures that the most violent criminals will never be released into our communities again,” Jones, the president of California Peace Officers’ Association, wrote in a recent letter.

But they are facing an increasing amount of opposition, not just from wealthy anti-death penalty advocates — but from crime victims as well.

One of them is Dionne Wilson. Wilson’s husband, Dan Niemi, was a police officer in San Leandro, California who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2005. Irving Ramirez, 23, was charged and convicted of Niemi’s murder.

At the time of his sentencing, Wilson says, she “begged” the judge for a death penalty sentence. On August 3, 2007, Wilson got her wish. (Ramirez remains alive and on death row.)

But as the years went on, Wilson’s opinion began to change about the death penalty. She no longer supports it — in fact, she’s on a crusade to get the death penalty repealed. Instead of executions, Wilson wants to see legislators use that $150 million go towards victim services, programs to treat mental illness and drug addiction, education and afterschool programs, and other crime reduction initiatives.

“I understand that type of vengeance-based reaction,” she says. “Trust me, I get it. But there seems to be a lack of analysis in that position.”

She adds, “Our criminal justice dollars are misused in this way. It’s frustrating to me. It’s just ‘cop killers deserve to die.’ Well, okay, but is there a better way to hold people accountable than propping up a system that has wasted $5 billion for the past 30 years? I can certainly think of better ways to invest that money.”

(Eric Markowitz has written for the New Yorker, GQ, Newsweek, the Atlantic and other publications. In 2016 he received two awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers for his coverage of the United States prison system. This perspective was posted originally at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

Court Rules: Save the Seals

PLANET WATCH--Despite living in the Arctic in a time of unprecedented climate change, the bearded seal is doing okay: the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists it as species of least concern, its population size remains fairly robust, and there have been no clear signs of a decline. But climate projections show that by mid-century, the Arctic sea ice the bearded seal depends on for survival will decline by at least 40 percent, meaning odds are high that, if climate change continues apace and models hold true, the bearded seal won’t be okay for long.

And that, according to a landmark decision handed down Monday by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is enough to warrant listing the species as endangered, even though it’s not endangered right now — a decision that could have implications for future conservation cases around the country.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which first petitioned for the bearded seal to be listed as endangered eight years ago, applauded the court’s decision, noting that it would help protect the species from the threat of climate change.

“This is a huge victory for bearded seals and shows the vital importance of the Endangered Species Act in protecting species threatened by climate change,” Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “This decision will give bearded seals a fighting chance while we work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions melting their sea-ice habitat and keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground.”

In 2008, citing studies which showed that the bearded seal’s habitat would rapidly decline in the face of climate change, the Center for Biological Diversity asked asked the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the bearded seal as as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Receding sea ice, the Center argued, would force bearded seals to nurse their pups closer to the shore — exposing them to land-based predators like polar bears — and search for food in deeper, less productive waters.

In 2012, NMFS agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition, and listed the bearded seal as threatened. Two years later, fossil fuel interests like the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute, joined by the state of Alaska and several native Alaskan groups, filed a lawsuit disputing the listing. In 2014, a lower court vacated NMFS’ initial listing, stating it was “based upon speculation” and calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

On Monday, a three-judge panel overturned that decision, concluding that the NMFS acted reasonably, based on “substantial evidence,” when it found that climate change would endanger the bearded seal population in the foreseeable future.

“There is no debate that temperatures will continue to increase over the remainder of the century and that the effects will be particularly acute in the Arctic,” the decision, written by Circuit Judge Richard Paez, read. “The current scientific consensus is that Arctic sea ice will continue to recede through 2100, and NMFS considered the best available research to reach that conclusion.”

But perhaps more importantly, the court found that the NMFS’ definition of “foreseeable future” as 500 to 100 years was not too broad, even if climate models can be volatile that far out.

“The fact that climate projections for 2050 through 2100 may be volatile does not deprive those projections of value in the rulemaking process,” the decision read. “The ESA does not require NMFS to make listing decisions only if underlying research is ironclad and absolute.”

That decision, according to Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau, makes this particular finding uncommon.

“‘Reasonably foreseeable,’ we’ve been wondering what that meant, and I guess the answer is that it depends on the species and the circumstance,” Parenteau said. “Pushing it out 50 to 100 years is certainly pushing the envelope on ‘foreseeable.’ I can see where other courts would disagree with that and think it is speculative.”

But it’s not completely without precedent. In 2008, the U.S. Department of the Interior listed the polar bear as threatened because of lessening sea ice due to climate change; it was the first time that a species had been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to climate projections. And in April, a U.S. District Court ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service must take climate change and project declines in snowpack into account when considering whether or not to list the wolverine as as threatened.

It’s possible that future courts could take this decision into account when making rulings related to the Endangered Species Act, Parenteau said, but that would be up to the discretion of that particular court. Some conservative courts might balk at the idea of interpreting “foreseeable future” to mean such a wide stretch of time, while others might view the 9th Circuit’s decision as well-reasoned precedence.

Parenteau said he expects the decision to be appealed to the Supreme Court, though it’s possible that the court might not choose to hear the case, especially if the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death remains unfilled. In that case, the 9th Circuit’s decision would stand.

But even if more species eventually are listed as “threatened” or “endangered” under the ESA, Parenteau warned that such a designation does little to stem the global warming-fueled loss of habitat that threatens those species in the first place.

“All we’re doing is listing them,” he said. “Until we get serious about reducing emissions and stopping fossil fuel infrastructure, it won’t matter. We’re just keeping track of the ones that are going.”

 

(Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress … where this report originated.)

-cw

Anne Gust Brown for Attorney General

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Gov. Jerry Brown’s best choice for attorney general – an appointment he must make after Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate -- is obvious: his wife, Anne Gust Brown. 

Call it nepotism if you want. But Anne Gust Brown is highly qualified. She not only had a distinguished career as a lawyer, but she helped run the attorney general’s office during her husband’s four-year stint there before becoming governor. 

And while there are many other qualified candidates interested in the post, the first lady is the only one who can redefine the job in the way it needs to be redefined. As teammate of the governor.

Among California’s many democratic deficiencies, there’s this: we are fools to have voters elect attorneys general, and all the other statewide executive positions. The reasons for this are many.

First, California is hard enough to govern without dividing up executive power among several elected politicians. The attorney general needs to work with the governor -- and should work for the governor. 

Second, while electing people to a.g. and other offices is supposed to make them independent, the reality is quite the opposite. The attorney general’s race, and other races for statewide executive positions, draw little public or media scrutiny. So the successful candidate isn’t really vetted. Instead, the races really serve as fundraising opportunities for ambitious younger politicians. Much of the money to support them comes from interests and industries that are deeply affected by the decisions of that particular statewide executive. These are pay-to-play elections. 

There’d be more accountability in an appointed a.g. That person wouldn’t be compromised by political donations. And it’d be far easier to remove an appointed a.g. who behaved badly than an elected one. 

Appointing Anne Gust Brown, thus, could be a first step to changing how we choose attorneys general -- and insurance commissioners, controllers, treasurers and state superintendents of public instruction.

 

(Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010). This piece first appeared in foxandhoundsdaily.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA City Council Conned Again on Granny Flats- When Will They Learn?

LA’S NEIGHBORHOODS--Once again, the City Attorney’s office and the Planning Department have played the City Council for fools. This time around, the City’s legal advisors and planning bureaucrats blatantly lied on the Council floor, spinning a fabricated tale that, if the Council would approve Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s September 13 motion to open a window for 5 days at the end of September for new second unit applications to be filed under very permissive state “default” standards (rather than the City’s stricter adopted standards), only a handful of new applications would be filed -- probably only about seventeen

O’Farrell stated that initially he had drafted his September 13 motion to “grandfather” only a handful of specific “stranded” second unit developers in his district who had been previously turned away by LADBS when they had sought to file their applications. 

These additional grandfathered developers would be added to the hundred or more second unit applicants and permittees who had sought and/or obtained permits under the very permissive state “default” standards that the City had been illegally using since May 2010. In early 2016, the Superior Court had declared that the planning and building departments’ dubious policy of following permissive “default” standards, rather than the City’s own adopted, much stricter standards -- based on the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice -- was unlawful, and it ordered those departments to stop following those “default” standards. 

O’Farrell explained that, as he was drafting his September 13 motion, the City Attorney’s office persuaded him to expand it so it would open to one and all a 5-day end of September filing window for new applications under the permissive “default” standards. 

Councilmember Paul Koretz vigorously objected, saying that, whenever the Council announces that loose zoning restrictions are about to be tightened up, very substantial increases in permit application filings (seeking to take advantage of those looser restrictions) are very common. Accordingly, the number of new second unit applicants filed during the 5-day window would probably be closer to a hundred, not a mere handful. LA Neighbors in Action also protested that LADBS’s second unit application forms are so simplistic that they present no practical difficulties at all to anyone seeking to take advantage of the 5-day window. 

But Planning Department and City Attorney representatives repeatedly testified on the Council floor that the practical difficulties of filing a second unit application would limit the number of applications to a “very small” number. The 5-day window would be “fair” to the “very small” number of developers who would be in a position to take advantage of it, so it would not be overly disruptive to the surrounding single family residential neighborhoods throughout the City. 

Specifically relying on their advice, Council members Krekorian, Blumenfield and Ryu expressed their support for O’Farrell’s motion, and the Council overwhelmingly approved O’Farrell’s proposed end of September 5-day window. 

Now the results are in. The City Attorney recently reported to the Superior Court that, during the 5-day window, second unit developers filed fully 140 new applications -- almost ten times the City’s planning and legal advisors’ disingenuous projection, and, in one week, more than double the average annual number of second unit applications filed in the past dozen years! 

These are not idle numbers. LADBS must now process and approve “by right” 140 newly filed second unit applications with no discretion to impose any mitigation measures. The proposed second units need merely meet very weak “default” standards allowing construction of oversized 1,200 SF second units -- the size of many primary residences and almost double the 640 SF that the City’s existing standards allow. 

These oversized second units can be squeezed into backyards in single family neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles -- and sometimes into front yards! And, even though the City’s adopted standards would otherwise forbid it, the 140 second unit applications filed during the 5-day end of September “window” can be built in designated “hillside” areas and on “substandard” streets. (Ugly, severely impacting second units of the kind allowed under the default standards during the 5-day window can be seen in the attached photos.) 

Notably, shortly after the Superior Court’s ruling earlier this year, the Planning Department strongly (but inaccurately) urged the Council that it had only one “feasible” option: repealing the City’s adopted strict second unit standards so that the state’s permissive standards would thereafter apply by “default.” This extreme proposal -- which the Department put on a fast-track approval process -- generated a storm of controversy. 

Neighborhood Councils and homeowner associations throughout the City strongly objected, demanding that the City’s adopted protective second unit standards be maintained. Meanwhile, “stranded” developers demanded that their second units be grandfathered, since they had relied on the City’s unlawful second unit policies before the Superior Court declared them illegal. 

Finally, on August 31, the Council approved a compromise motion addressing both side’s principal objectives. On one hand, “stranded” developers and applicants would be “grandfathered” so their proposed second units can be completed -- even if they exceed the adopted standards and negatively impact the surrounding neighborhoods. On the other hand, going forward, the Council would retain the existing adopted protective standards until, based on a transparent process with robust public outreach and study, it decided to change them while customizing them to the City’s diverse neighborhoods. 

Matters appeared heading toward the Council’s approving an ordinance that would implement this compromise, until O’Farrell’s September 13 motion suddenly proposed the new 5-day late September open window allowing second units under the permissive default standards. To that point, the planning and legal bureaucrats had always argued that the proposed grandfathering could be justified, because, despite the negative “spillover” impacts of these oversized, improperly located second units, the financial impacts on the “stranded” developers arguably offset these neighborhood impacts. They emphasized that the stranded developers had “relied to their detriment” on the City’s unlawful second unit policies and practices, and, if they were stopped in mid-process, they might sue the City for substantial financial compensation. 

But for the first time, O’Farrell’s September 13 motion proposed that during this late September 5-day window, second unit developers would not need to establish any “reliance interest” at all and yet would still be allowed to take advantage of the permissive default standards and inflict adverse impacts on their neighbors. Under O’Farrell’s motion, it was sufficient simply to submit an application and pay the required fee. 

Since reliance would not be necessary, the Council members who backed O’Farrell’s motion stressed the Planning Department’s and City Attorney’s representations that only a “very small” number of applications -- about 17 -- could likely be filed during the 5-day window. 

  • Council member Krekorian, for example, was particularly fooled. Although he was led to expect only about 17 applications citywide, the recent City Attorney report to the court revealed that fully 23 applications were filed in his district alone. Krekorian will have some serious explaining to do to the 23 neighborhoods that will be disrupted and potentially devastated by oversized, poorly located second units. 
  • Similarly, a dozen second units in Council member Blumenfield’s district will now get away with conforming merely to the permissive “default” standards. Not exactly the “very small” number Blumenfield anticipated citywide.
  • Some 19 new second units will be built in Council member Englander’s district under the permissive default standards. Did Englander realize that those 19 neighborhoods would be adversely impacted even though none of the developers in question needed to show they ever relied on the City’s prior unlawful conduct? What explanation will Englander give to homeowners who will have to live with new oversized second units peering into their backyards and bedrooms? 

Notably, as with second unit permits issued throughout the past decade and a half, by far the most applications filed during the 5-day window (more than 100 of the 140 applications) will be located in the North and South San Fernando Valley. Twenty-two of the new second units will be sited on lots that City planners concede are “environmentally sensitive.” 

Ironically, the City Attorney’s recent report to the Court related that only five of the new second unit applications filed during the 5-day window are located in O’Farrell’s district. If O’Farrell had ignored the City Attorney’s spurious advice to expand the scope of his motion, those five applicants -- the mere handful that he attested were his specific concern -- could have obtained their second unit applications without baselessly wreaking havoc on some 135 additional single family neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.   

Instead, O’Farrell allowed himself to get sucker punched by the City Attorney, while the Council again foolishly placed its trust in the Planning Department and City Attorney staffs’ testimony. Will this misplaced confidence just keep on going and going? Will they ever learn? 

(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He also co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Measure M: The Winning Argument in a Nutshell

ALPERN AT LARGE--There's something to be said for supporting a winning argument, and recognizing losing arguments when you see them.  In theory, we should not NEED Measure M (half-cent sales tax for transportation funding) to be passed. In theory, Sacramento should have kept its priorities of pensions for past employees balanced with funding for current employees and services. 

But Sacramento didn't, and despite the fact that state taxpayers throughout the economic and political spectrum are tapped out, we'll need to save ourselves in the City and County of Los Angeles. 

Which means that all the money that taxpayers are on the hook to pay for an unsustainable pension plan at the City, County and State levels (you can be BOTH pro-government AND recognize unsustainable financial/budget plans!) was, is, and will very much kill our ability to rely on Sacramento to do its job for schools, public safety, transportation, etc. 

So here's the WINNING argument in a nutshell … 

  1. The overwhelming success of the Expo Line, with trains every six minutes; 
  2. Public/private partnerships funding rail throughout the County; 
  3. County transportation measures throughout the state;  

… show that Measure M is both timely and necessary for our county's economic future. 

Yet all the siphoning of state budgeting and other economic resources to public sector workers retiring in their 50's, and being paid for 30 or more years at a level we just CANNOT afford (not all retirees, but too many and without sufficient limit-setting) has led to: 

1) K-12 and community college taxes and bonds that have proven inefficient, and which are proof-positive that enrichment of certain small special interests, and not outcomes, is the ultimate goal of the "cottage industry" of the public education lobbies who (purportedly for the children) are driving this state into the economic ditch. 

2) A City, County and State bureaucracy that is anything but transparent, and which is milking small businesses dry and driving "good jobs" (solid pay and benefits) out of this state. 

3) A City of L.A. and State that has given the cold shoulder (or perhaps a more rude gesture or two) to law enforcement, and is more focused on bending the law, or ignoring the law altogether, rather than valuing law enforcement and those pleading for our society to adhere to laws.   

(For those who still give a rip about laws, and who still value law enforcement recommendations, please review my last CityWatch article

So the desire to pay for transportation/traffic measures has been thrown to the beleaguered cities and counties of our state, and woe be unto those of us who dare decry this violation of the budgetary and other rules of law and economics! 

Maybe the pessimists are right, and maybe they're not, when they proclaim that California is inevitably on its way to an economic crash (particularly when the inevitable next stock market downturn occurs and we discover there really are NOT enough rich millionaires to keep bailing us out), but: 

1) If the money is vague and probably will not be spent well, then vote NO. 

2) If we're already spending gobs of money on a given priority, and the past funding has been spent poorly, then vote NO. 

Hence it's clear that County Measure M is the only tax initiative that merits approval because it's transparent and defined, and has as its greatest opposing argument that it doesn't go far enough. 

Meanwhile, the City, County and State needs to perform a long-overdue clean up of their economic houses and spend more efficiently and sustainably rather than vomiting out another slew of tax, bond, or other fiscally-related measures and propositions. 

Vote YES on County Measure M, and vote NO on all other financial measures.

 

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

-cw

 

Tags: Ken Alpern, election 2016, ballot measures, Measure M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LAT Should be Ashamed! Times-USC Daybreak Poll Dishonors the Paper!

CALBUZZ--Despite Nate Silver’s argument that we should leave the LA Times/USC Dornsife “Daybreak Poll” alone, this poor excuse for a survey has been so wrong so persistently – and has been so constantly cited by Donald Trump as evidence of his campaign success – that it’s time for the Calbuzz Green Eye Shade Division to call them to task.

We’d be tempted to accept Silver’s admonition that all you have to do is add 6 percentage points to Hillary Clinton’s standing in the survey to accommodate for its “house effect,” except for the fact that the survey continues to arrogantly insist that “This chart tracks our best estimate, over time, of how America plans to vote in November.”

World class flapdoodle So we’re sorry to say that our old friends David Lauter of the LA Times and Dan Schnur of USC will forever have to take responsibility* for the single most reckless name-brand survey of the 2016 election season. Even if they succumb to pressure from the polling world and re-weight their flawed sample in the coming weeks so that they end up in the ballpark (like Survey USA usually does), they will have overseen an entire season of faulty, misleading polling that has misinformed the public and given Trump false bragging rights and his allies false hope.

As of Wednesday, when most national polls by reputable organizations were showing Clinton leading Trump by 4 to 11 percentage points, the screwball LA Times/ USC Dornsife “daybreak” survey showed Clinton and Trump tied at 44% — after weeks of showing Trump leading Clinton by significant margins.

Garbage in... Why? Because they started with a faulty, pro-Trump panel of internet respondents, weighted their reported 2012 vote for president and then stuck with that panel as part of their methodology. Garbage at the start; garbage all throughout.

“What’s the source of the LA Times poll’s Trump lean?” Silver wrote. “There are good ‘explainers’ from The New York Times’s Nate Cohn and Huffington Post Pollster’s David Rothschild.   Long story short: The poll’s results are weighted based on how people said they voted in 2012. That’s probably a mistake, because people often misstate or misremember their vote from previous elections.

Here’s their graph:

 

 

 

 

Interestingly, the LA Times so did not believe its survey that coverage, by most of its fine political writers, have paid it no mind.

On Wednesday, Lauter himself tried to hide his paper’s miserable poll’s findings – a tied race — with a front-page story that focused on survey respondents’ expectations of who will win the race instead of their stated voter preference.

“More and more, his own supporters no longer think he can win, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll has found,” Lauter wrote.

Hide the turkey. Except that this was not a new finding at all. The survey’s respondents had consistently said they thought Clinton would win the race – with even larger proportions predicting her victory back in August. The story gave the Times an opportunity to use its miserable survey as a way to convey to readers the paper’s conviction that Clinton is actually leading Trump.

“The Daybreak poll asks people whom they plan to vote for and which candidate they expect will win,” Lauter wrote. “The question of voter expectations has often, although not always, proved to be a more reliable forecaster of election outcomes than asking voters their candidate preference.”

This is, on its face, an absurd argument. First of all, how would the Times know that asking voter expectations is “a more reliable forecaster of election outcomes” until they know what the outcome is? By comparing this question in their survey to other national polls? Second, why are they asking voter preference if they think it’s an inferior measure of election outcomes – which their own statement on the survey about their “best estimate” flatly contradicts?

This is a sneaky way to mask the findings of their flawed survey.

Piling it on. Then, on Thursday, Lauter wrote about how the poll stands up if it is re-weighted to discount USC’s original weighting for who candidates said they had voted for in 2012 — which was a dumb idea from the get-go. This is exactly the kind of legerdemain that Survey USA and other sleazy operations use to make their final polls look legit.

The re-weighting, by Ernie Tedeschi, an economist formerly with the Treasury Department “provides reassurance that although the poll differs from other surveys, its data about the trends in the election — the ups and downs in support for the two candidates — are consistent with what others have found,” Lauter wrote.

Oy. It was a bad poll design. USC and the LA Times are stuck with it.

* Lauter and Schnur get responsibility, but here’s how Lauter (LA Times Washington Bureau Chief) explained the origin of the survey in an email to us:

“The researchers at USC’s Center for Economic and Social Research https://cesr.usc.edu/, led by Prof. Arie Kapteyn, developed the poll. They based it on a very similar survey they did four years ago when they were at the RAND Corp. (That 2012 poll was one of the most accurate of the election year and the only major survey not to underestimate Obama’s margin). Dan introduced Arie’s team to those of us at The Times, and we were (and are) very happy to partner with them to publish the results.”

When we asked Schnur (director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, USC Dornsife College) if he is responsible for his organization’s survey, he replied: “Jill Darling is the Survey Director for the Center for Economic and Social Research. I’m sure she’ll be happy to answer your questions. She can be reached at: [email protected]

(Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine … long time journalists … publish the award-winning CalBuzz.com

-cw

LA County Supes: Corruptionblind

VOICES--When it comes to public/private partnerships, the past four months have been a mixed bag for Milwaukee Bucks’ co-owner and recently exposed defrauder-of-LA-county, Wesley Edens. 

On the down side, Mr. Edens just got sent packing by the City of Atlanta where five golf course concessions crucial to one of Edens' most important investment schemes just met their maker.  

According to an email blast sent out this Saturday by the American Golf Corporation (the subsidiary through which Mr. Edens runs his golf investments), they "will no longer lease or operate" any of the city’s courses as of November 1st. That’s a big deal, because American Golf has been operating those courses for thirty years. The details of the ways-parting are murky but the big picture is clear. 

What has this got to do with LA? On the plus side for Wesley Edens, the profit margin on his golf operations in Los Angeles County and elsewhere around the nation have soared; as announced on a recent investor conference call. Newcastle Investment Corporation is now running a 25% profit margin on its gym-like membership program “The Player’s Club.” 

On the dark side of things however, that return violates the “reasonable profit margin” clause of Mr. Edens’ contracts with LA County. And, to no one’s surprise, so far not a peep from LA Parks and Rec. So the good times can continue to roll—especially if the County continues its non-enforcement of American Golf’s contractual obligation to disclose its Players Club membership revenue figures. 

Mr. Eden’s current good fortune doesn’t end there. He has been given a free pass on his ongoing violations of LA County’s minimum wage ordinance. At the time of this writing, to cite just one example, La Mirada golf course is advertising a job with an hourly rate below the mandated minimum wage. As of September 9, 2016, Brookside golf course—located in but not owned by LA County—was advertising on the American Golf website a job paying an hourly rate of $8. (Screenshots available upon request.) 

And so, while we want to express our heart-felt condolences to Mr. Edens on his recent losses in Atlanta, we also want to ‘congratulate’ him on his expert work in Los Angeles County. He should never forget that whatever may happen in other parts of the country, he's always welcome in the fiefdom of the LA County Supes of the Roundtable.  No mention yet of a possible Edens knighting.

(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government. He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a CityWatch contributor and teacher who lives in Los Angeles.)

 –cw

“If We Appear to Seek the Unattainable … We Do So to Avoid the Unimaginable”-Tom Hayden, Dead at 76

DEMOCRACY REMEMBERED--The writer, politician, and anti-war activist Tom Hayden died yesterday at the age of 76, a year and a half after suffering a stroke. Now, as they say, he rests in peace—a man who devoted his life to making the world a place where the living can do the same. From helping to found the New Left in the 1960s right up to this turbulent election season, Hayden was a pillar of Democratic politics, a brilliant strategist and political thinker, and a leading advocate for a more just and equal society.

Here at The Nation we are especially saddened by the loss of a close friend. A longtime contributor to these pages, Hayden joined our editorial board just weeks before the attacks of September 11, which gave a new resonance to his life’s work. He attended most biannual meetings, often in person and sometimes by Skype, until September of 2015. His most recent piece for the magazine, published in April, was a moving essay about why he was supporting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary: 

So here we are, at the end of one generation on the left and the rise of another. Both camps in the party will need each other in November—more than either side needs to emerge triumphant in the primary. We still need the organizing of a united front of equals to prevail against the Republicans. It will take a thorough process of conflict resolution to get there, not a unilateral power wielding by the usual operatives. It’s up to all of us.

Though an irreplaceable voice for peace has been silenced, there will be one more reminder of Hayden’s unsurpassed ability for making readers understand what it takes to hold the powerful to account. Next spring, Yale University Press will publish Hayden’s final book, Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement. For now, here is a sampling of some of the important work Hayden published in our pages.

A month after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration as president, Hayden wrote a cover story titled “The Future Politics of Liberalism” (February 21, 1981), which showed that there was much more to his vision of the United States that the limited set of issues that usually falls under the rubric of politics:

We need more than ever a participatory society in which persons of all life styles believe that they matter, instead of the escapist culture that absorbs millions in irrelevance. We cannot contend with the coming of external limits unless we delve more into our rich inner potentials.

It comes down to moving from a wasteful, privately oriented, self-indulgent existence to a more conserving, caring and disciplined life style. The cornerstone has to be a renewal of self-reliance, not the outmoded frontier fantasy of the Republican philosophers, but the reassertion of personal responsibility in everything from conserving resources to decentralizing services to keeping ourselves well through self-care to practicing a “right livelihood” in business. It is a change from planned obsolescence to the production of useful goods that last, from consumer madness to the achievement of inner satisfactions, from the opulence of Jay Gatsby to the frugal self-assurance of Henry David Thoreau.

More important than money and technique in elections is the factor of motivation and vision. The Democrats (or someone else) will return to national leadership when they are inspired again.

The following year Hayden was elected to the California state assembly, where he passed important bills on education and animal rights and participated in a US Commerce Department delegation to Northern Ireland. In 1992, voters promoted him to the state senate, and a few years later he began writing often for The Nation.

“Unfinished Business: Can We Beat the Special-Interest State?” (September 9/16, 1996):

Though for the next few months most progressives like myself will work to re-elect Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress, it is not enough o beat back the Gingrichites only to return to the Democratic status quo. The next great debate, reminiscent of the sixties, should be over the values and direction of the Democratic Party. The fight will be for the soul of our politics, not a policy-wonk debate about training vouchers for jobs that may not exist. I would begin with a public demand to free the political system from the suffocating grip of special-interest money, thus opening the possibilities of building a sustainable economy and environment for the next generation, instead of dooming them to corporate downsizing, a public sector dominated by prisons and a planet degraded beyond repair.

Too many of our elders in the sixties discarded their rebellious children or remained silent when the time came to take a controversial stand against their government. The question haunts me: now that authority has fallen to this generation, how will we be different from our parents toward those downsized to despair?

Twenty years later, with the Clintons likely to return to the White House, it’s still a good question.

More important than money and technique in elections is the factor of motivation and vision.

In May of 1999, Hayden wrote about “The Liberals’ Folly” in supporting the Clinton Administration’s bombing of Kosovo. Drawing on his memory of the fight against the Vietnam War, Hayden said it was the job of liberalism to critique such military adventures abroad, not to support them when Democrats were in the White House. The “confident expectation of an early military victory,” Hayden wrote, “is sinking in a Vietnam-style quagmire. Their political fortunes in 2000 are fast becoming collateral damage.”

In 2002, Hayden reflected on “The Port Huron Statement at 40”:

Perhaps the most important legacy of the Port Huron Statement is the fact that it introduced the concept of participatory democracy to popular discourse and practice. It made sense of the fact that ordinary people were making history, and not waiting for parties or traditional organizations.

The notion was used to define modes of organization (decentralization, consensus methods of decision-making, leadership rotation and avoidance of hierarchy) that would lead to social transformation, not simply concessions from existing institutions. It proved to be a contagious idea, spreading from its academic origins to the very process of movement decision-making, to the subsequent call for women’s liberation.

These participatory practices, which had their roots in the town hall, Quaker meetings, anarchist collectives and even sensitivity training, are carried on today in grassroots movements such as the one against corporate globalization.

The strength of organizations like the early SDS or SNCC, or today’s Seattle-style direct-action networks, or ACT UP, is catalytic, not bureaucratic. They empower the passion of spontaneous, communal revolt, continue a few years, succeed in achieving reforms and yet have difficulty in becoming institutionalized.

But while hierarchical mass organizations boast more staying power, they have trouble attracting the personal creativity or the energy of ordinary people taking back power over their lives. Participatory democracy offers a lens for looking at all hierarchies critically and not taking them as inevitable. Perhaps the two strands–the grassroots radical democratic thrust and the need for an organization with a program–can never be fused, but neither can one live without the other.

The Port Huron Statement claimed to be articulating an “agenda for a Generation.” Some of that agenda has been fulfilled: The cold war is no more, voting rights for blacks and youth have been won, and much has changed for the better in the content of university curriculums. Yet our dreams have hardly been realized.

The Port Huron Statement was composed in the heady interlude of inspiration between the apathetic 1950s and the 1960s’ sudden traumas of political assassinations and body counts. Forty years later, we may stand at a similar crossroads. The war on terrorism has revived the cold war framework. An escalating national security state attempts to rivet our attention and invest our resources on fighting an elusive, undefined enemy for years to come, at the inevitable price of our civil liberties and continued neglect of social justice.

To challenge the framework of the war on terrorism, to demand a search for real peace with justice, is as difficult today as challenging the cold war was at Port Huron. Yet there is a new movement astir in the world, against the inherent violence of globalization, corporate rule and fundamentalism, that reminds us strongly of the early 1960s. Is history repeating? If so, “participatory democracy” and the priorities of Port Huron continue to offer clues to building a committed movement toward a society responsive to the needs of the vast majority. Many of those who came to Port Huron have been on that quest ever since.

Increasingly, Hayden turned his attention to how that quest could be linked up with similar ones around the globe, including among those dispossessed by the forces of neoliberal globalization. After attending the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre, Brazil, in early 2003, Hayden wrote that “an alternative” to global capitalism was emerging in Latin America:

Instead of NAFTA’s corporate escape from New Deal-style regulation, the new agenda would be an extension of the most progressive elements of the New Deal to global society, a new social contract in place of market fundamentalism. Globalization from the bottom up. Instead of NAFTA-style agreements that solely protect foreign investors, this alternative model would offer enforceable protections to workers, women and the environment as well–on both sides of the border. Instead of sweatshops and child labor there would be unions and literacy programs. Instead of damming rivers and slashing rainforests, there would be conservation programs for future generations.

As he concluded, “Powerful new coalitions for change are being birthed.”

The same week that issue of The Nation hit newsstands, the United States began bombing Iraq. As the war foundered and those promised WMDs mysteriously disappeared, an anti-war movement began to gain steam, and Hayden had plenty of wisdom to offer about how best to proceed. In “How the Peace Movement Can Win” (December 17, 2007), Hayden proposed engaging in a “domestic war” to take back control of the government in the 2008 elections and end the war. The United States was “approaching a similar chasm in public opinion” as the one that tore the country apart in the late 1960s. “With a majority of Americans wanting and expecting a withdrawal from Iraq, the outcome of 2008 may depend on who has the greater will to win.”

Another piece worth revisiting is Hayden’s essay from the Nation of April 16, 2012, “Participatory Democracy: From the Port Huron Statement to Occupy Wall Street,” in which he reflected on the similarities and differences between the two movements a half-century apart:

I don’t know whether history begins anew or just repeats its sputtering cycles again and again. What is clear enough is that the Occupy movement began without pundit predictions, without funding, without organization, with only determined people in tents, countless Davids taking on the smug Goliath in spontaneous planetary resistance. While Occupy could not and would not agree on making detailed demands, it did agree, as noted earlier, on “direct and transparent participatory democracy” as its first principle.

There is endless speculation these days about the future of Occupy Wall Street. Since I was pleasantly surprised by its birth, I am not one to predict its growth. I prefer to wait and see. Across the Western world, the smoldering division is becoming one between unelected wealthy and foreign private investors and the participatory democracies of civic societies with their faltering elected governments.

Hayden was critical, however, of what he saw as the Occupiers’ unwillingness to sully themselves by working with elected officials to enact at least modified versions of the sweeping changes they proposed. Among the new generation of activists, he said, there is a broad suspicion of seeking reforms that require alliances with top-down organizations, especially with progressive elected officials.

The same dilemmas arose in the ’60s in the relationships between SNCC and the national civil rights leadership, and between SDS and the liberal Democrats we blamed for starting the Vietnam War. In retrospect, however, it’s impossible to reach a majority, much less the 99 percent, while rejecting coalition politics.

Nevertheless, some Occupy theorists seem to believe they can do so. For example, Micah White, a brilliant editor at Adbusters, writes that “an insurrectionary challenge to the capitalist state” will be mounted by “culture-jammers” who create “fluid, immersive, evocative meta-gaming experiences that are playfully thrilling and [that] as a natural result of their gameplay” a social revolution will arise as “pure manifestation of an anonymous will of a dispersed, networked collective.” It is as if the pure insurrectionary act, memorialized as performance art, is more important than the construction of any alliances, or any consequences that flow from it.

Ultimately, however, he thought the two movements had much in common:

It is time for a participatory New Deal, to bring the banks and corporations under the regulations and reforms they have escaped through runaway globalization. This year marks the first presidential campaign in our lifetime when the gluttony of Wall Street, the failures of capitalism, the evils of big money in politics and a discussion of fundamental reform will be front and center in election debates. No doubt the crisis that gave rise to Occupy will not be fixed by an election, but that’s beside the point. Elections produce popular mandates, and mandates spur popular activism. It’s time to organize a progressive majority, and the vision and strategy of Port Huron is worth considering as a guide.

And so it still is. Goodbye, Tom.

(This rememberance was written by the Nation editors and published most recently at Common Dreams.  The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. )

-cw

How Eric Garcetti Falsified 8,807 Pet Adoptions and Worse

@THE GUSS REPORT-In May 2014, the City of Los Angeles significantly doctored its pet adoption statistic without telling the public that it was doing it, let alone why

It was done with the knowledge of Mayor Eric Garcetti, his minions and more disturbingly, City Controller Ron Galperin who failed to address this (and other) fraudulent LA Animal Services activities in his bogus audit roughly one year later.

The reason why Garcetti did this was so that he could claim humane successes where programs either failed or where programs didn’t exist; and he did it to justify his rehiring of LAAS GM Brenda Barnette, who was all too happy to stay generously employed by Garcetti given her well-documented real estate struggles. 

The proof that Garcetti did this is as follows … 

Prior to May 2014, LA Animal Services records claimed that between July 1, 2009 and January 31, 2014 (a span of 1,675 specific days,) it adopted out 97,757 dogs and cats, not including any other types of animals in the shelter system. That claim is shown here on LAAS’s own spreadsheet. 

City Hall insiders knew all along that this was a false statistic because LAAS counted as “adopted” animals that it simply shuffled from cages in some LA city-owned shelter buildings to cages in other LA city-owned shelter buildings. No matter how you slice it, sitting in a government cage does not reflect the love or trappings of a dog or cat adopted into a family…but this was how Eric Garcetti, as City Council president and as Mayor, knowingly counted them during this time span. 

But suddenly, and stealthily, the statistic changed dramatically. 

In this subsequent LAAS spreadsheet, captured in June 2014, the claimed adopted statistic on the spreadsheet that used to be 97,757 was suddenly 92,580

How does an adoption statistic suddenly go down by thousands of animals? 

In fact, the number of animals Garcetti claimed were adopted during this time frame is even lower than that. To fully understand Garcetti’s ruse, we need to employ some nerdy math. 

In the second spreadsheet, the date-range includes February, March and April 2014. In order to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the same exact 1,675 days, the adoption figures for those months (which are in the red box) must be subtracted from the new 92,580 figure. The result: Garcetti and LAAS now claimed that it adopted out only 88,950 dogs and cats during this time.

That’s 8,807 fewer adoptions than the city previously claimed -- and without explanation. 

The city altered its adoption statistics with malice aforethought, too. In an April 22, 2014 email, David Zaft, the Garcetti-appointed president of the LAAS Commission wrote, “Assuming that the reports on the website are changed…and I agree with you that they should be…I believe it would be appropriate for some explanation of the change to be given.” 

But since animals are silent victims, and Zaft (as Commission president) controls what goes on the LAAS Commission agenda, to date, this has never been explained because it is the proverbial loose string on a sweater. Expose this, and you will expose the fake impound numbers generated – in violation of the city’s agreement with Best Friends – for animals who never set foot in any city shelter, as well as even deeper problems. 

As of October 2016, the Garcetti administration has no idea what became of those 8,807 animals, and has refused to honor CPRA requests because the wealthy, stealthy Best Friends organization is not held accountable (as all other rescue organizations are required to report) on where they shipped those animals which, in Best Friends case, includes sending them to high kill shelters in other cities and states. Garcetti may very well soon find the city sued over those records. 

Since the time that the statistics were quietly altered, Garcetti has repeatedly told the public “adoptions are up,” when all he did was lower the starting figure. In his world, it is better to make thousands of animals disappear rather than show up as kills on his statistics.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Hey Southland Voters: Can You Pass This Stoopid Test?

GUEST WORDS-First let me declare that I am a liberal and a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Party. And I have voted for most tax increases in the past for schools, infrastructure and the like. 

Not this time. 

I’m fed up with our political “leaders” and their patrons – developers and union interests that treat local politics as their piggy bank. We’ve all seen the absurdly lavish salaries, from the DWP to City Hall, and the shockingly generous pensions and lifetime health insurance they bestow upon themselves. Personally, I just received notice of a 29% increase in my health insurance. And yet I am being asked to fork over more taxes? 

I don’t think so. Not until some balance returns to the system. 

The problem is corruption across the whole spectrum of local government that sees the few (the political class and their patrons) benefit off the backs of millions of taxpayers who get no say, and no seat at the table. 

It was reported that Herb Wesson (president of the City Council) abruptly cut off the public commentary phase at a recent hearing. As in: please shut up and go away you annoying peons.  Arrogant? You decide. 

I live on the eastside and read recently that the city has simply given up on EVER repairing the concrete streets we have in this part of town because they are too expensive to fix. Huh? The city to whom I pay thousands each year in property and other taxes can’t do the most basic thing like fix the streets? 

So that is why I am asking you: why continue to be a sucker? 

Why continue to be an enabler? Why not stand up and say: no more tax increases until some balance finds its way back into the equation. 

Ask yourself this: what are the great ideas our local public servants have in mind for the gigantic sums of money they haul in now? (LA City alone has an $8.7 BILLION budget). Fix our streets? Repair sidewalks? As if. 

No, they want to commit billions to bringing the Olympics here and removing concrete from the sides of the LA River -- concrete installed to control flooding, which the LA Times just reported remains a long term threat. 

It’s just plain nuts. LA is like a homeowner whose house has holes in the roof, termites, leaky plumbing – and decides to build a shiny new pool! It would be funny except it isn’t anymore. 

The joke is on us unless we speak up and demand they begin to address OUR basic needs. If not we’ll find ourselves living in a third world city with ruble for streets, failed infrastructure, and banana republic politics. 

Oops. We’re already there. 

So I am voting against most tax increases, and I urge you to do the same until some accountability returns to the system. And it’s not just on philosophical terms. It’s also on the “merits” and fine print of most of these issues. 

Case in point: Measure M. 

I’m all for a wise and sensible plan for a comprehensive public transportation system for LA and surrounding cities, and could support a tax increase to achieve this. But the key phrase is “a wise and sensible plan.” 

Measure M is neither. Forget the fact that we are being asked to increase our sales tax to a full 2% of every dollar spent -- FOREVER. As in no sunset clause. As in: this-tax-will-never-ever-ever-stop. Forever. Taylor Swift should write a song about it. 

But my fundamental problem is not with the tax. It’s with what’s planned for it. 

Basically the idea is to build a few more choo-choo trains. This when Metro admits there has been a 10% drop in transit boardings from 2006 to 2015 despite a 9 BILLION dollar investment. They like to point to a small uptick of ridership on the new Red line, without explaining how the last 9 billion they spent led to a 10% DROP. Despite population grown in the millions? 

We have at least 1200 square miles to serve in the greater LA region. Rail transit works well when areas served are geographically dense, and riders are close enough to walk to stations. But this will never be the case in LA. 

The whole multi-billion dollar scheme is based on a faulty premise and last-century thinking. 

I have a radical proposal: forget choo-choos. We should embrace next-century thinking. Why not think outside the box and invest in a system of automated, driverless units that work like Uber. Call them transport pods.   Get Elon Musk and the best minds from Silicon Valley to design a “driverless, people mover system” that carries 6-8 people each. It could be like a small van with three rows of seats. And they would be electric. 

We could afford tens of thousands of these for less than the price of a few absurdly inefficient trains. They could roam they city 24/7 like Uber drivers do now, and you would hail them with an app. There would be a share component so that open seats would be matched with other riders coming and going. Plus there would be room for transporting groceries etc. And they would take you from point to point. 

Far fetched you say? 

Uber’s driverless cars will be on the road within five years.   This plan could be up and running in ten years or less, DECADES sooner that the choo-choos proposed and we could have an emission free, smart system that would really work. 

Forget last century thinking and wasting billions on a system destined to fail. Vote No on Measure M, and take a hard look at the other tax increases they want you to approve. 

And pass the stoopid test.

 

(Michael Wilson is a director and producer who has lived in Los Angeles for thirty-five years.)

-cw

Are Hollywood Neighborhoods Falling Down a Rabbit Hole? Help Stop Developers’ Modern Day Gold Rush!

VOICES OF THE PEOPLE--Councilmember David Ryu’s recent letter to the City’s Planning Land Use Management committee (PLUM) stating he cannot support the new Frank Gehry project at 8150 Sunset was welcome news to everyone who opposes the project. Lots of people and groups have contacted the Councilman in an effort to help him understand just how bad this project really is.

While I know some believe this is an effort on his part to continue negotiating with the developer and that, ultimately, he will support the project, I see it differently. I see it as a fulfillment of the Pledge he signed while running for office. His statement, “I want to be clear that I will not support a de facto revision to the Community Plan for this area. Zoning and the General Plan must be respected,” is unambiguous and leaves no room to tinker around the edges. 

However, no one should be under any illusions that the Planning Department and the City Attorney will second David’s position. The City has thrown in with the developers and thrown down the gauntlet challenging its residents, its rules and its laws. Today it is happening in Hollywood; tomorrow it could happen anywhere -- even in your neighborhood.

Part of the difficulty that the Councilman, his staff and the community have had to struggle with is the spin put on it by the Planning Department’s Major Projects Unit. This has created a fog obscuring the truth, allowing the City (CPC) to disregard the law and approve the project.  

When I was first asked to look at the project it was described as “almost by-right” with an SB 1818 (density bonus) twist. I accepted that as a working premise but soon realized it was not the case. The first aspect of the project that caught my eye was the proposal to close a section of southbound Crescent Heights without going through a street vacation process. I didn’t think that was possible and brought in a friend for a second opinion. She agreed with me but what we didn’t know then was that we had just fallen down the rabbit hole. In the months that followed, we dug and dug to uncover the history of the site and surrounding neighborhood in order to properly evaluate it. It was not easy but we finally got to the core of the issue and guess what? The project as presented is anything but “almost by-right” and cannot be built. Furthermore, the City’s cavalier attitude towards the Alquist-Priolo Act’s requirements will put people’s lives at risk during an earthquake.

The core of the issue is that the zoning on the site limits the buildable area to a 1:1 Floor Area Ratio not the 3:1 tripling they are trying to get through using SB 1818. There is a “D” development limitation on the site which is public knowledge but what was unknown until now is that the limitation (1:1 FAR) was imposed as a CEQA Mitigation during the 1988 Hollywood Community Plan update. The planning department has to know this but they continue to ignore that fact. We were told that the City Attorney’s office had convinced everyone including Councilman Ryu that we are wrong and will lose any lawsuit we file. We are used to hearing that and continue to prove them wrong. Fortunately it appears that the Councilman saw through the spin the City was putting out and decided not to support the project.

The only way this project can be built in its current form is for the City to remove the “D” condition. In order to do that the City must find that the conditions that caused the CEQA mitigation in the first place no longer exist. As the EIR for the 1988 Community Plan stated, the 1:1 FAR limitation is linked to “an effort to make the transportation system and other public facilities and service systems workable.” The 1988 EIR noted that, under the 1973 Plan, “this level of development activity has resulted in significant burdens on the traffic circulation system within the Community Plan area, as well as other adverse impacts on public services and infrastructure. Development activity has also resulted in numerous land use conflicts and incompatibilities reflected in parking problems, aesthetic impacts, light, shade-shadow impacts of new larger buildings on existing lower density properties, the removal of architecturally or historically significant buildings, among other impacts.” 

Does anyone seriously believe that the issues that required the current CEQA mitigations no longer exist in Hollywood? Compounding the problem is that there is already another project in the queue (7500 Sunset Blvd) which is a mirror image of 8150. Councilman Ryu and the community need to understand that the entire commercial stretch of Sunset between West Hollywood and LaBrea has the same “D” Limitation zoning as 8150 and those buildings will fall one by one if he does not get this right. Instead of the 1 and 2 story commercial buildings that now line the boulevard serving the community there will be 6, 8, 15 story mixed use projects. You will get more market rate apartments, a few affordable units, ground floor national chain restaurants and lots and lots of cars pulling in and out of those buildings. This is virgin territory to the development community and they are all watching what happens here. 

What will happen when the project goes to the full Council? That is the great unknown. Will the other members vote to support the project against the Councilman’s wishes? I cannot remember a time that has happened. But I am willing to bet that it could happen here because the development community wants it to happen. This is a modern day gold rush and they can’t wait to stake their claim to the newest bonanza.

If the other councilmembers do disrespect the Councilman and his constituents I hope he has a long memory and lets them know that payback will come when they least expect it. In the meantime we must support his efforts to stop this and every other project on Sunset with the “D” limitation. 

The court decision on 8150 will prove that the City is wrong and put an end to this madness but the community cannot wait for that to happen. They must start organizing now to stop 7500 Sunset if the Councilman is not able to do it on his own. 

In the meantime, I want to make a suggestion that the Councilman use some of the office’s discretionary funds to consult with a private CEQA attorney to verify that what we have put into the record is correct. He will probably need to keep that attorney’s number on speed dial if he wants to protect his constituents until the court decision is rendered.

 

(Jim O’Sullivan is one of the Fix the City founders and President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Young Mexican Pitcher Showing America ‘What We’re Made Of’

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump called Mexican immigrants rapist, and criminals but in reality very few Mexican immigrants fall into this category. The vast majority come to our country to better their lives for themselves and their families. They are law abiding, pay taxes, and hard working individuals. 

I think that now more than ever it’s important that Latinos and Hispanics show the country what we are made of. For today I couldn’t find a better example than Dodger’s pitcher Julio Urias … the youngest in MLB postseason history and … Mexican. 

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias stepped in for relief in game 5 of the National League Division Series. He helped defeat the Washington Nationals, and because of his winning performance, he was the starting pitcher in last Wednesday’s game 4 of the Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. The Chicago Cubs won that game 10-2. 

Now the Cubs are heading to the World Series for the first time in 71 years breaking a baseball curse. What a bummer for Angelinos but nevertheless a big victory for our young Mexican star. 

Urias told the Associated Press through a translator "I felt the adrenaline when I was on the bench," "I felt it in Washington, but then I knew that it was something that I could handle and something I could do. I know that I can do it again." 

On May 27, Urias made his debut in New York against the Mets. He was 19 years old at the time and the second teenager to start in the majors this century, joining Felix Hernandez who debuted at the same age in 2005. 

Urias made 15 starts for Los Angeles before finishing the regular season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. In all, he's had four stints with the Dodgers in his first season, and Los Angeles has limited him to 16 innings since Sept. 1. 

"That's how it's been all year. The decision has been the team's," he said. "The only thing that's important is to be in the mentality of go out there, do my job, and that's really what matters." 

Urias hadn't been expected to arrive so early in the season; manager Dave Roberts had anticipated him being a September call-up. 

"It's been incredible," Urias said. "As a ballplayer, I set goals for myself ever since I came to the United States. My goal originally was to set foot on a major league mound and to pitch at a big league level. I did that in May, and now to be able to have this opportunity and to be called on to start, it's great." 

We may have a new Fernando Valenzuela in the making. Now more than ever Latino/Hispanic Americans and immigrants must show the rest of the country what we are made of, that we are just like any other group of Americans, a community that contributes, that works hard for our families and our country. That we are successful even in America’s pastime baseball. Our hope is that he will make us proud, and continue through baseball making America great. Mucha suerte muchacho!

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader and was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].)

–cw

Neighborhood-Changing Mega Development Issues: Hard to Tell Beverly Hills and LA Apart

MEMO TO LAT COLUMNIST MICHAEL HILTZIK: In your Sunday, October 22, 2016, column about Measure HH in Beverly Hills, are you sure you only talking about Beverly Hills. There are numerous identical issues in your article with Rick Caruso's planned 20+ story luxury project at 333 South LaCienega, at the site of the former Loehman’s. store. 

Mr. Caruso has pledged $500,000 to the condo association at the adjacent Weatherly Tower if he gets approval for his project. When suggested that he lop off some floors to make the building less obtrusive, he stated, "It doesn't pencil out."  As my mother used to say, "Nebbuch," Yiddish for awww, too bad.  

Mr. Caruso wants the Loehman’s parcel to be rezoned, and he is trying mightily to push approval through before the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative comes to the ballot on March 7, 2017.  Why do you think he is in such a hurry?  

Mr. Caruso's drawings illustrate a green space at the promontory of the property, much like the proposed Beverly Hills project, and like the proposed Beverly Hills green space, the "park" will be available only selectively to tenants of his very high end apartments and to customers of the proposed street level restaurant and stores - not to the public.  Patrolling security will filter others from using the space, and it will be closed at night.  

Oh, but Mr. Caruso has promised that he will install a plaque at sidewalk level thanking the local homeowner's association for their cooperation.  That's a great sop, isn't it?  Install a plaque that can be urinated upon by passersby in exchange for local agreement to build 20 stories in a low rise and mid-rise corridor, and nearby 1-2 story residential neighborhoods. 

Armistead Maupin wrote of "Tales Of The City".  You need to write about "Tales Of Our Broken City".  I ask you Mr. Hiltzik, how much more money does a billionaire need?  

 

(Toby Horn serves on the board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association, which has hired an attorney to challenge any City Council parcel-specific legislative actions that will permit the Caruso project.)

-cw

Not So Fast! Know the Side Effects of Marijuana Legalization before You Vote

DEEGAN ON CALIFORNIA-In California, smoke is in the air, along with a warm glow of anticipation, as voters are asked to legalize weed statewide by voting “yes” on Prop 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative

From the “Golden Triangle” at the northernmost edge of the state, to the Mexican gateway at our state’s southern extreme and from the ocean to the deserts and the Sierras, weed is consumed by Californians daily. It’s illegal under Federal law, but legal for some under a state law that allows for the dispensing of “medical marijuana.” 

If passed by the voters on November 8, Prop 64 will allow anyone age 21 and older “to possess one ounce of cannabis for recreational use, and to grow up to six plants for cultivation.” It’s an honor system; nobody can imagine these restrictions will be binding or really enforceable. 

But what else do we need to know? What might we not be considering beyond just the headlines? Will unanswered questions about the marijuana ballot proposal be a “buzz kill” to the high life? Growers, dealers and consumers may rejoice, but there is a whole as yet unformed infrastructure that is still wide open for review. 

What are we looking at? There are farm-workers and growers, the taxman, the bankers, the Feds, felons, cartels, vapers, quality control, producers and abusers…plus lots of weed. Figuring out how to tax, regulate and control marijuana will have to follow its legalization. 

The “Golden Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, situated contiguously north to south at the very top of the state -- with two of them fronting the Pacific Ocean where fresh, moist air helps cultivation, similar to the wine counties south of the triangle -- is allegedly the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States and possibly the world. This is where urban legend supposes that 60 percent of the nation’s herb may be grown. The problem with illegal trade, though, is that there are no metrics that quantify the scope of production at this “ground zero.” Note also that the votes for passage will be harvested from the major population centers like the SF-Bay area, Los Angeles and San Diego. 

Proponents for the “get high on weed” campaign run the gamut, trying to appeal to everyone. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, who is possibly running for higher office, has endorsed legalization. (He wants to be Governor in 2018 and a victory for Prop 64, a campaign that he is so closely identified with, could boost his chances.) Newsome chaired the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy (BRC) to study legalization. Stoner Tommy Chong (“Dave’s not here”), whose personal brand promotes getting high, already markets “Chong’s Choice, a line of flower buds” in Washington state where weed is legal. The California Democratic Party and the California Nurses Association union are among the many other supporters. The “no” group is politically non-partisan, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and the California Republican Party, along with many law enforcement agencies. 

Giving the people what they want -- there are many who like getting high often, sometimes daily -- is not such a bad idea, especially if the state can monetize it and bring in new tax revenues. Long ago, the “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol were enacted to make what some considered morally dubious products acceptable. It was a balancing act in which the known risks of tobacco and alcohol were offset by the cash revenues they could bring into state and local economies. 

Legalization of pot was on the California ballot in 1972 via Prop 19; it was defeated by a not-even-close seven percent spread. But that was before medical marijuana, drug courts, drug diversion programs, the boom in drug recovery programs and the general decriminalization of marijuana for personal use were part of the picture. 

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have recently legalized marijuana without dire consequences. Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a “Rocky Mountain high” by a landslide thirty-nine point spread; and Washington state’s voters emphatically voted yes for legalization with a seventeen point spread. California Proposition 215, the Medical Marijuana Initiative was passed by the voters in 1996. 

But, before you vote “yes” on Prop 64 for legalizing pot, here are some questions to think about – a possible hangover from any marijuana high:

  • Big Tobacco - Will small producers be protected by encouraging a “craft” production paradigm (like craft beer), or will Big Tobacco be allowed to dominate the production process?
  • Growers - Who can grow weed? How do we keep this a “down home” business and not have the grower community be swamped by carpetbaggers rushing into the state, like some reenactment of the 1849 California Gold Rush? Will a residency period be required?
  • Labor - Will the marijuana industry be labor-friendly? Does marijuana cultivation and processing need to be unionized to protect workers’ rights and provide for collective bargaining? For mom and pop growers, probably not. But for Big Tobacco-like growers, probably yes.
  • Taxation - How will cannabis be taxed, and where will the tax revenues go? Taxation is one of the most compelling reasons to legalize weed. Colorado, with 12% of our state’s population, collected $1 billion in marijuana tax last year, reports Fortune magazine

Is it conceivable that Golden State weed sales could provide the state with billions of dollars of tax revenue annually? Today, “sin taxes” (taxes on cigarette and alcohol sales) are projected in the state budget to bring in under one-half-billion dollars in revenue. Weed, with potentially billions in taxes, would be the biggest sinner/winner of them all. What to do with the tax, and the numerous claims for a piece of it, will be very important. Careful thought must be given to programs that can benefit from the new revenue stream so the state doesn’t just rely on drug taxes the way addicts rely on drugs.

  • Banks - How to deal with the Feds and banks? Federally insured banks will likely not allow drug money to process through their systems, because possession of weed, or drug money, is against federal law. A banking alternative needs to be created to eliminate the dangers associated with a cash business. Medical marijuana dispensaries are routinely robbed of both their cash and their merchandise. That cannot be allowed to happen here.
  • Cartels - What about the Mexican drug cartels? How will they react to the possible evaporation of the currently illegal market to which they are the principal suppliers? Legalization may shut off the demand for their product, or, if they feel threatened by market forces, force them into aggressive tactics to preserve at least a market share, if not their dominance of it. They could copy new templates for quality control, create their own branding, and push their product through their well-established underground distribution networks, seriously underselling California growers and denying the state treasury of sales and excise taxes.
  • Felons - Will ex-felons be allowed to be employed in the marijuana industry? The cultivation and marketing of weed will be a big business, with or without Big Tobacco, and this new industry may grow into a large employer. Will any of the thousands who have been convicted of marijuana-related crimes be allowed employment? The BRC says let them work. What will lawmakers say?
  • Vaping and the contact high - How will weed and vaping commingle, as vapers exhale lungs-full of pot smoke into the general population? Some may like the unexpected “contact high,” but it’s a public safety issue.
  • Medical use - What should be done about pricing so as to stabilize both the medical and recreational marijuana markets? With a pricing imbalance, one sector or the other could inflate demand in order to force up prices.  
  • DUI - What to do about people driving while stoned? How long does the effect of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive, mind-altering ingredient found in the cannabis plant) stay in the blood system, and what impact will that have on a field sobriety test that could come days after use of weed? What about people, many of them, that smoke weed daily? Should they be allowed to drive if they ingest more than a threshold level, and what would that level be?
  • Purity - How to tell what’s in your weed? Microsoft may have an answer to this with a software program that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale” that will keep tabs on sales and commerce. If industry standards are agreed on by a yet to be formed trade association, Microsoft’s software could include those quality designation labels as part of their tracking system. This would give the retailer and consumer a complete provenance record from planting the seed to inhaling the smoke.
  • Water--Where’s the water coming from to irrigate pot cultivation in the midst of an ongoing drought? 

Lots to think about as you consider your vote on Prop 64. And there’s more to it than the stoner generation’s anthem (dating back to 1966 and held sacred ever since) penned by newly minted Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan: “Everybody must get stoned.”

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

More Articles ...

Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays