Sun, May

Prop M: No Representative Planning, No Vote

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS-Proposition M brings out many conflicting views held in the LA Basin communities and in many suburban areas -- viewpoints of what is needed in the towns, cities and communities regionally. Citizens are demanding better and more representative planning. 

This is important because Prop M is now asking for hundreds of billions in tax dollars that will set a course for spending for decades. Much of the conflict is related to the proposed commuter rail. Due to that extensive and expensive influence, there could be a lifestyle and economic impact for many affected citizens. 

This issue is critical because Proposition M does not work physically (can’t put rail in existing boulevards), socially (because of inequity and lack of social mobility options for many), or economically (excessive costs of new corridor impact mitigations). It will lead to over concentration of density (leading to even higher land and housing costs for the majority) and will require a behavior modification for many who would prefer a more convenient and direct means of mobility. 

Furthermore, Metro has proposed unworkable and infeasible additions to the transportation system that can’t achieve goals for better mobility or bring about a sufficient reduction in VMT and reduced GHG emissions as required by SB32; it also creates some rail redundancy that puts the whole system in potential jeopardy. 

Prop M is being rejected by citizens because of these conflicts and deficiencies. Everyone should take note because there are much better alternatives that do not require such excessive spending and actually are the technological future of transportation in greater Los Angeles. 

However, a basic regional commuter rail network and Metrolink are being constructed now, paid for by the existing Measure R and Props A and C. This is what Downtown LA wants and they are on their way to getting it – a DONE DEAL. By purchasing previous rail corridors at low cost, Metro has brought the basic network together along with Metrolink, which is good. The low hanging fruit is being picked. 

From here, however, there is a lack of available low cost corridors for urban commuter rail transit. The impacts of forcing such corridors through communities makes it necessary to re-think what is the best way to improve both mobility and the socio-economic circumstances for livability in our communities and region. 

Thankfully, there are vehicular innovations emerging for cars and trucks, as well as buses – innovations that can make Bus Rapid Transit truly rapid and with an extensive and very affordable network. These improvements support existing development; and it’s integral, not like old RR lines that were built away from existing suburban towns and city development. 

Prop M should be turned down and better planning should be prepared. It may also mean that no such future sales tax increase is needed. Both the presidential candidates and the government in general want to begin increasing Federal spending for infrastructure, so it is very likely the LA County taxpayers do not need to be hit so hard and long as they would be with the Prop M two cent out of every dollar “forever tax.” Federal contributions and better planning can make that possible. 

This needed better planning is consistent with not having over-development in the LA Basin communities. It would also turn towards making more urbanizing growth in existing suburbs, bringing sustainability and becoming a way to help achieve climate change goals.

Already there are protests from LA Basin communities about over-development and traffic congestion, a conflict that would increase with new rail-induced development. More rail and associated Transit Oriented Development, especially regional office and commercial land uses, would increase vehicular traffic and the intrusion of cutting through neighborhoods. This is especially so when rail is put into existing boulevards such as Lincoln, Sepulveda, Santa Monica, La Brea, Van Nuys and others, as has been referenced in Prop M. Such a tactic has been identified by the recent Westside Mobility Plan studies as resulting in “unavoidable impacts and increased congestion” plus intrusions into neighborhoods. Neighborhood traffic impacts and social equity impacts would increase. All of that would occur while VMT and GHG emissions are not being reduced. 

Fixing LA Basin congestion so there are not excessive GHG emissions as well as reducing the average length of trips in the suburbs with the proximity of urbanizing land use, is a strategy that can massively reduce GHG emissions countywide. It gets the County on the path to the transportation share of reduced emissions to meet SB32 goals. This is meaningful because Prop M will not achieve the necessary reductions in GHG emissions. 

As it stands, suburban towns, small cities and communities would not have enough funds to develop transportation improvements that work best for their communities in order to improve the function, livelihood and livability that is needed. 

So now we are at the point where community-scaled planning concerns and multi-community connections require a transportation improvement method. Since rail impacts the community scale and brings more congestion, a more integral mode for fixing LA Basin congestion corridors and helping to structure future growth to the suburbs is needed. That kind of innovation is emerging in transportation technologies in both vehicular and innovative roadway use, as we now read about in the media every day. 

GHG EMISSION EXAMPLE: If the LA Basin congestion were fixed in the Santa Monica Boulevard corridor and 405 corridor on the Westside, it would be equivalent to the Measure R rail GHG savings of gasoline. The Measure R rail program is taking almost 40 years to be built and more than $20 billion in costs. Fixing the Santa Monica and 405 corridors would achieve the same reductions in gasoline used, would be about one twentieth as much in cost, and would take about 4 years. 

By combining advanced vehicular improvements with advanced roadway architecture in selected urban corridors, car, bus and truck modalities are given improved function and become part of the general solution which reduces GHG emissions and VMT growth. 

It is evident that the suburbs and dispersed cities of the County want and need to plan for their own growth and sustainability, instead of looking to the LA Basin for job security. In that case, it means evolving existing streets into advanced roadways that support and structure community growth in a timely process, according to their internal needs for growth. 

Combined with the envisioned dispersed growth is the objective of reducing VMT by reducing average trip length, due to the proximity of needed land use functions as each community, town and city becomes more self-sufficient. 

If you have kept up with transportation strategies of reducing GHG in significant amounts, this will occur by increasing, each year, the CAFE standards of greater mpg for vehicles. This massive reduction in GHG emissions is now in process. 

The County TSSP traffic signal program for suburban streets, where signals are spaced greater than two miles apart, is very “cost effective” at reducing GHGs. In the TSSP program, along 220 miles of streets, this is equivalent to reducing 3.74 times the amount that Measure R will reduce -- and at 1/1,000th the cost. Another way of describing the cost efficiency is that $1 of signal synchronization is worth $4,125 put into rail development, as is proposed in Measure R. And more areas of the County can use TSSP.

In the LA Basin, already congested communities can eliminate congestion because “advanced roadways and advanced vehicles” can now come to our streets combined as digital systems. 

For this more urban context, where signals are close together, a new innovative roadway architecture can allow continuous flowing traffic, essentially doubling the capacity of normal street lanes that presently have stop-and-go driving. The LA Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system gives the necessary signal timing and brings integration with other related existing areas of the street network. What would be taking place is the “digitization of roadways” in selected portions of the vehicular network, with the new roadway architecture facilitating “continuous flowing traffic” (CFT). 

An example of improvement with CFT would be the elimination of the 5 mph traffic congestion on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Today’s failing 5 mph peak period stop-and-go speed has a capacity of around 300 vehicles/lane/hour and is emitting GHGs at about 2.5 times the amount as when traffic flows at 30 mph. A managed speed of 30 mph (not allowing slower or faster traffic,) provides CFT capacity at about 1200 vehicles/lane/hour -- four times as much than the 5 mph failing traffic flow. This solves traffic congestion and GHGe. 

In the I-405 corridor and its related cross streets from Sunset to Pico Boulevards, the area encompasses a daily traffic volume of around 680,000 trips per day. It’s a problem that a tunnel for vehicles or a single line of rail transit, however configured, cannot address. The congestion is inherently a vehicular problem where traffic to the Westside is widely dispersed north, south, east and west in the morning and collected again in the PM. So the congestion solution lies with advanced vehicles and roadways with high capacity. 

Metro talks about a “rail tunnel” going through the Sepulveda Pass, making a light rail line connection between the Valley and LAX. That would be one expensive line! First, finding a corridor from LAX to WLA, then the tunnel, probably under the 405 from the I-10 to Sherman Oaks or further, would involve enumerable problems. The rationale is flawed in that the through-travel demand is just 42,000 person-trips/day. Given the possible 40% attraction to a rail tunnel being just 17,000 person-trips/day, this would become way too low of a ridership to justify such a construction expenditure. 

A much better use of a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass is for extending the Purple Line Subway to the Valley. That connection has the ability to attract as much as 54,000 person-trips/day ridership (70% of 76,000 travel demand,) in that it not only connects to Westwood and UCLA but goes on to Century City, Beverly Hills and the Wilshire corridor -- all the way to Downtown. 

A Boston Consulting Group (bcg.com) report warns about costly low ridership rail lines: “Rail companies may even end up in a downward (economic) spiral with reduced overall ridership. Rail companies’ overall unit costs for all remaining passengers will escalate because of the inherently high proportion of fixed costs in operating a train network. This could trigger price increases or reduced schedules, which would result in a further reduction in ridership.” 

Segments that include a costly “rail tunnel” with low ridership, too many low ridership commuter lines and forcing rail into boulevards (where mitigation is costly and there is vehicular competition,) would incur losses threatening to consume the entire rail system with costs -- setting a downward spiral for all of the County system. And the taxpayers would be required to pick up the cost of such losses. 

This is why better planning is required in all areas of the County. More citizen participation is needed to define exactly what communities, towns and cities should be. Greater attention must be paid to all the economic costs and benefits. 

Citizens, Prop M has the ingredients for creating a rail transit and real estate bubble which would collapse, leaving the County with bankruptcies. VOTE NO ON M!


(Phil Brown AIA, has invented the CFT roadway system improvement by research and development that has occurred over the last twelve years analyzing the Westside traffic problems and the socio-economic needs of Greater Los Angeles. Contact is available through the website FlowBlvd.com as well as postings of his previous recent CityWatch articles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Popular Talking Head Secretly Paid by Developers to Kill the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative

VOX POP--On October 11, at a Los Angeles City Council meeting, Christopher Thornberg, the founding partner of Beacon Economics and a popular talking head, chose not to reveal a little known, yet important fact — he’s a paid campaign consultant for the developer-funded campaign that seeks to kill the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and stop reform of LA’s rigged development approval process.

You see, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a March 2017 ballot measure that’s sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, seeks a much-needed fix of LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Even Mayor Eric Garcetti agrees it should be revamped.

But the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs, the misleadingly named campaign that’s funded by billionaire developers and LA business interests, is hell-bent on maintaining the status quo for developers, smashing anything that gets in the way of huge profits. Miami-based Crescent Heights and Australia-based Westfield are major funders of that anti-reform campaign.

Enter Christopher Thornberg (photo above), who’s often quoted by the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets and a founder of the LA-based research firm Beacon Economics.

According to the city’s Ethics Commission, Beacon Economics and Thornberg have been hired by the Coalition to Protect LA Neighborhoods and Jobs as a high-priced campaign consultant. So far, Beacon Economics has incurred $11,400 in fees.

Now cut to October 11 at LA City Hall inside Council chambers. An articulate, glad-handing Thornberg shows up in front of the LA City Council to deliver a presentation about the economic health of LA.

“It’s nice to be back today,” says Thornberg, “particularly to present all sorts of wonderfully good news.”

He makes a strong sell for more development in LA — and says that the reforms in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative must be stopped.

“We know the propositions that are coming up,” he says. “We know the rules that people are trying to put into place…My only last message to you is: Please, don’t allow them to win.”

Thornberg adds, “You are seeing a growing interest in urbanization…it’s the dense, urban cities that are growing. And that’s a wonderful opportunity for the city to capitalize on.”

Defeating the reform movement that’s the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and building more luxury development will also help wealthy developers — the people who are paying Thornberg’s bills — reap millions upon millions in profits. And often at the expense of lower-income and middle-class Angelenos.

But does Thornberg disclose to citizens who are watching the Council meeting that he’s a paid consultant for the anti-reform campaign funded by billionaire developers? Nope. Never.

That’s how things work at City Hall, where lack of transparency, backroom deals and soft corruption are the norm. And that’s why citizens across LA are joining the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement.

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for Preserve LA. Read more news and find out how you can participate: 2PreserveLA.org.) 


Joe Buscaino is Hiding Something, What We Want to Know is Why?

AT LENGTH-As we watch the bizarre and animated implosion of Donald J. Trump’s campaign tweeting itself into a never-ending spiral of defeat, there is something to be learned from this historic unraveling of a presidential campaign. 

The weaponizing of social media through political disinformation, the slow response of major media corporations to fact check candidate statements and the circus of cross allegations meant to confuse the public, should give us all great pause. 

Perhaps it is time for some serious self-reflection on the state of our republic and consideration of how the peddling of propaganda and misinformation, disguised as news, has corrupted our political process, while lessening transparency in our government as well. 

To this end, we have dedicated our cover story of this edition of Random Lengths to Project Censored. What else could be expected when the world of infotainment is merged with reality TV called Trump’s run for president for ratings gold? 

All democracies are dependent upon having an educated and well-informed electorate. Yet, what we have learned since the time of the Spanish-American War, if not before, is that media in service to either government or economic elites can sway public opinion to start wars, repress minorities and destroy the lives of innocent people who hold unpopular opinions. 

Social media made it easier for half-truths and outright lies to masquerade as facts. This Trump-inspired penchant for spreading false information and cyber-bullying is spreading by way of Trump’s followers and just about anybody who doesn’t like somebody. 

This kind of social media backlash that has exploded nationally is also mimicked locally. The Facebook uprising of Saving San Pedro this past year grew to outsized proportions as it fanned the flames of intolerance against the homeless across Los Angeles. Now the fire has burned the hand that fed it. That is evidenced by Councilman Joe Buscaino’s pleas to his constituents at his Oct. 4 town hall meeting on the Homeless Navigation Center. He was attempting to cool their vitriolic attacks on his homeless taskforce. 

“There have been personal attacks against them over Facebook,” he said. “It is unacceptable to threaten neighbors who want to make this community better.” 

Yet, exactly where was Buscaino’s cry for civility when these same people used similar attacks against former board members of Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council? They were doing the same and, in my eyes, a better job of searching for solutions to the homeless crisis. 

I find it a curious form of Karmic justice that those who were the most vocal in their insults and allegations against me, as then-president of the CeSPNC and the majority of that council, are now on the receiving end of the very same treatment. 

What you can’t find in Buscaino’s live stream video of the town hall meeting is the public comment period in which constituents ripped Buscaino, his task force and their lack of transparency when they proposed placing this navigation center less than 500 feet from Barton Hill Elementary School.

Once again, I accuse the councilman’s propaganda guru, Branimir Kvartuc, and others on his staff for blocking access to the public comment period in their video. From my perspective, this very unflattering episode was caused by the very ignorance and incompetency of the council office itself. 

I have it from more than one source that the council office under both Hahn and Buscaino knew that the renovation of Harbor Park, where Reggie the alligator once roamed, would end up evicting some 167 homeless people when that project was started. 

Elise Swanson, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and member of the homeless task force, was then-councilwoman Hahn’s district director. When Councilman Buscaino succeeded Hahn, neither he nor his staff ever called on or consulted with his predecessor on the matter.

Even after he took office, there were reports to the Park Advisory Board about this problem and the response then was as it is now—Los Angeles City Ordinance 56.11. It’s the municipal code that makes it illegal to camp or sleep in a public park, even in areas that the public rarely uses. 

Since that time, Los Angeles, at the behest of Buscaino’s office, has been chasing the homeless around like a whack-a-mole game, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, with only an exacerbated problem in the form of more homeless encampments to show for it. 

Surprise, surprise—who knew? Buscaino knew and he should have done the right thing before it ended up in front of the U.S. Post Office on Beacon Street. 

That our smiling councilman and his team of surrogates are now receiving the blame for the lack of transparency by the very people he has manipulated to take over the neighborhood councils is just too precious not to mention. 

And by the way, after that notorious Oct. 4 town hall meeting, those newly-minted neighborhood council members on the receiving end all adjourned to the Green Onion Restaurant on Sixth Street, to drown their sorrows—an alcohol fueled violation of the Brown Act. 

In the end, Buscaino’s council office, his homeless team and the new neighborhood council leadership will learn the hard way about transparency, true accountability and the necessity of holding open public meetings. 

It’s time to demand that Buscaino’s Homeless Task Force meetings hold public meetings with advanced notice, that his office release the video of public comments from the second half of the Oct. 4 meeting and that the Los Angeles City Council dedicates itself to the only legal and moral solution to the homeless crisis — providing shelter first. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn from this exceedingly curious season is that civility and democracy start at home.


(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Hermitage/Weddington Project: Squatters Threatening Neighbors, Lawsuits Filed, City Hall Snoozes

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Back in May, I wrote about the Hermitage/Weddington project proposed by Urban-Blox. A structure built in the 1930s would be replaced with a small lot subdivision of 26 condos with an expected purchase price of $600,000 each. The project had been granted a density bonus and would have environmental impact, as well as eliminating existing rent control, according to Save Valley Village.

Since I first started covering grassroots activism, I’ve listened to homeowners, tenants and neighbors express their frustration, anger and disappointment that their neighborhoods were being taken over by often unscrupulous developers with accomplices in City Council and on the Planning Commission.

I’ve heard neighbors blind-sided by slipshod planning approvals that have permitted an adjacent house to be demolished without the next door neighbors consent, exposing neighbors to asbestos and knocking down trees on their properties. Houses at the cusp of receiving Historic-Cultural Monument Status have been destroyed; tenants with disabilities and those on fixed incomes have been evicted from their longtime homes to make space for more expensive condos. Properties have been demolished under a loophole that allows “renovation” to mean stripping a property to a single board and some nails. 

Although all of these scenarios are mind-boggling, none of these situations quite reaches the level of shock value as the scenario a tenant shared with me this week. 

The story features lawsuits to determine property rights, plans to privatize what is now a public street, a handful of squatters who are believed by neighbors to be involved in criminal activity, drug dealing and stealing utilities. 

An activist shared with me that council members have ignored thousands upon thousands of pages of evidence on planned projects, as well as the legalities of giving away a public street to a developer. The street issue has elicited the attention and support of State Assembly Member Patty Lopez who has written a letter on the activists’ behalf, although the property is not in her district.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1934, Clinton Lathrop, Sr. and Jean Lathrop purchased the land on which the property at 5303 ½ Hermitage sits. (Photo left.) This property now contains four residential units. 

Upon their parents’ deaths, Sydney Edwards and now deceased Clinton Edwards each owned half interest in the property. Sydney’s interest is now held in The Edwards Living Trust. Upon Clinton’s death, his interest has been held by his wife, Marta Lathrop, who currently holds one-half ownership of the interest. 

The sole remaining paying tenant of the property, Jennifer Getz, has been living at the property for over 20 years and claims she entered into a property management agreement with Clinton in 2009. Getz is currently in litigation over what she says was the expectation of first right of purchase, should the owners decide to sell the property, per the property management agreement. Instead, the property was sold to Urban-Blox, the developer that plans to demolish the structures as part of a larger 26-unit small lot subdivision.

UB Valley Village, LLC (Raffi Shirinian, co-founder and principal of Urban-Blox) filed a suit on September 7 against Sydney Edwards (Trustee of the Edwards Living Trust), Marta Lathrop and “Doe’s” 1 through 20 for Specific Performance for Breach of Contract to Sell Real Property and Damages. The suit states that the escrow was to close within 15 days after Getz has been evicted and removed from the property but on September 1, 2016, the defendants had communicated their intention to offer Getz the option to purchase the property. That case is in litigation. 

(Neither Urban Blox nor Mr. Shirinian responded to my request for comment.) 

If this scenario weren’t eye-opening enough, a posse of squatters has moved into the property. My source says, “We’ve done everything we can to get them off the property and are upset that it’s not working. A larger group joined the original two squatters, unloading trucks on September 2. They’ve been terrorizing and threatening the neighbors. Law enforcement has said this was a civil matter.”

(I confirmed with a spokesperson from LAPD North Hollywood Division that the eviction of squatters is a civil matter. The spokesperson also confirmed the property was currently in litigation.) 

On September 29, Sydney Edwards and the trustees of the Edwards Living Trust filed a forcible detainer suit against the squatters, who include Brandon Lee Gregg, Sean M. Mahavik and “Does” 1-10. In 2014, Mahavik was indicted on drug trafficking charges, possession to distribute a Class B Drug and trafficking in methamphetamine in Massachusetts, where he was allegedly connected with a Cape Cod meth lab. 

According to my source and a Los Angeles Times neighborhood crime mapping app, there has been an increase in violent and property crimes in the neighborhood. “The squatters are already going through the eviction process,” says my source. “We are not expecting LAPD to remove them, as that must go through the court system. What we DO expect is accountability for the drugs, the vandalism, the break-ins, the damage and harassment to members of the community. Just because they are squatters doesn’t mean they get to break all the other laws. The entire community has been compromised for no other reason. 

“At some point, someone does have to stop this. It’s completely unacceptable. It’s not unreasonable for a constituent to ask a council person to follow the guidelines that have been clearly outlined,” said my source. “Nobody seems to understand how permanent these decisions are. Removing a public street changes the grid and the layout of a community that was planned by planners who knew what they were doing. Councilmembers are silent. There’s not a word, despite so many people contacting them. Nobody is stopping the developers. The council people are giving these people an inch and they’re literally taking it all the way.”

What’s next? The two cases are in litigation and the PLUM Committee/City Council will have a final appeals hearing on October 25. Two of the South Valley Planning Commissioners (Maher and Beatty) have voted to uphold the appeal to stop the Urban-Blox development.

My source is appealing to as many concerned citizens as possible to attend the hearing. We’ll keep you posted. 

For more information, visit Save Valley Village or the San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Coalition sites.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Governor, Lawmakers Caught Breaking the Law

Morris Brown, founder of Derail (a citizen group opposed to California’s high speed rail project) writes over at Fox and Hounds Daily that newly enacted California Assembly Bill 1889 is unconstitutional. 

Brown could not be more on the mark. In 2008, the California legislature had placed a number of protections in a Proposition authorizing bonds for California’s high speed rail line. These were intended as enticements to voters to approve the proposition. The legislature and Governor promised. The people approved. And, now the legislature and Governor have gone back on their promise.

In short, the legislature and Governor have revised the conditions of the proposition, something that requires a vote of the people. With respect to high speed rail (and perhaps other propositions) California has replaced rule of law with rule of men (and women). That this should have occurred with respect to a voter approved proposition is particularly egregious, since such measures (such as initiative and referendum) were Progressive Era reforms, under Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911, intended to permit the people to take legislative authority from the legislature and governor when they felt it appropriate.

Meanwhile, the California high speed rail project has become a legendary “white elephant,” with costs going through the roof and little hope for achieving the promised travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

Brown’s analysis can be accessed here…. 

(Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm and blogs at New Geography … where this piece was first posted.)

Garcetti’s Wimpy Approach to LAFD Corruption and Bribery

@THE GUSS REPORT-Alive and well is the perception that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti employs the same approach toward advancing his political aspirations that J. Wellington Wimpy did in the old Popeye cartoons: “I will gladly quash corruption allegations and throw whistleblowers under the bus if you make a massive donation to my next campaign.” 

For example, for nearly a year now, Garcetti, his chief-of-staff Ana Guerrero and LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas sat on reports documenting the culture of corruption among some LAFD fire inspectors alluded to in my CityWatch articles on September 5 and October 3, 2016.  

Case in Point: The implausible overtime claims of Inspector Glenn Martinez. 

On the morning of December 23, 2015, department officials noticed that an odd proportion of the Q4 2015 overtime approved by Terrazas to help reduce the backlog of overdue inspections was claimed by Martinez. While his peers averaged roughly 40 hours that quarter, Martinez claimed 200 hours or about 40% of the total OT allotment.

When LAFD officials dug in to audit Martinez’s work plan for that day and saw that he already put in for a day’s worth of inspections, plus overtime, for time that had not yet occurred, they set out to locate him at the addresses where he claimed to be. 

At Our Lady Help of Christians School, Martinez put in for 6½ hours of inspection time, without having been seen by any of the onsite personnel, including those he would have needed to access the places on the property he claimed to inspect. Just eight days earlier, another inspector went through the property….in just two hours. It was a school building that had been closed for more than two years, which only required a walk-thru. How Martinez spent 6½ hours there is a riddle that solves itself. 

LAFD personnel looked for Martinez on and all around the Our Lady property at the time he said that he was there, but was seen by no one. Martinez’s time log claimed he was at the school from 11am to 5:30pm, after which he claimed to have spent four overtime hours at Occidental College, starting at – wait for it – 5:30pm, despite the campus being more than 6½ miles away.

(Martinez must have missed the chapter in the bunco playbook about taking into consideration LA drive time between one’s alleged victims du jour.

Records reflect that at Occidental, Martinez claimed to have spent four hours inspecting two buildings. That’s his modus operandi: take two hours to inspect a building regardless of its size and condition. The problem here is that the campus had, by that date, already been shut down for the winter break for 10 days. As was the case with the previous property, nobody (neither Occidental staffers nor LAFD personnel) saw Martinez or gave him access to where he needed and claimed to go. 

This is what prompted LAFD officials to dig deeper into Martinez’s other claimed allocations for those 200 hours of quarterly overtime, including similarly implausible inspection claims at USC, where he put in for extensive OT during much of the weekend of the USC/UCLA football game. That also happened to be the Thanksgiving holiday when the places Martinez said he inspected were inaccessible on his own, and whose safety personnel – who always attentively accompany LAFD inspectors – did not encounter Martinez.

That brings us back to Garcetti.

To date, the only thing he appears to have done in response to these, and other fraud allegations leveled against some of Martinez’s colleagues, is re-assign Deputy Chief John Vidovich who was dutifully doing his job exposing it. Garcetti’s removal of Vidovich from that role coincided with the donation of $350,000 to his re-election campaign, and those of his City Council successors, by the firefighters’ union which had become agitated by the reduced overtime of its members as a result of Vidovich’s work.

At some point, Garcetti goes from being the enabler of the corruption to being an inextricable part of it. 

It is time for LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey to set aside the perception that, for her, some in City Hall are fish too big to fry, or cross, and whether Garcetti and the Councilmembers took what may amount to bribery and conspiracy. If she is unable or unwilling to do that, the Feds should jump in. 

And while Lacey decides where she stands on enforcing the law, the LA Times owes Vidovich a public apology for its August 24, 2016 article in which it served as nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Garcetti machine, a mistake it has yet to correct.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport.   His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatchLA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Don’t be Fooled: DWP Reform Ballot Measure Simply Transfers Oversight to the Bureaucracy

NO ON MEASURE RRR--The Water and Power Associates opposes Measure RRR on the November 8 ballot. 

Here’s why: If passed, it will amend the City Charter to seriously change the governance of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

We concur that reducing political interference in LADWP’s business activities would be a positive step. However, the proposed Charter changes do no such thing. Instead, these amendments would transfer the City Council’s oversight over water and power rates to LADWP’s bureaucracy. This would quash the appropriate governmental oversight of the policies and performance of this vital asset of the City of Los Angeles, while conveniently deflecting voter outrage for increased rates. We also believe that the proposed amendments would encourage, not deter political interference. 

On July 1, 2000, the last major revisions to the City Charter dealing with the LADWP were implemented. They culminated from the activities of two separate commissions, one appointed and the other elected, working over a period of two years with extensive and open public input. In the previous Charter Amendment process, the public knew exactly what they were voting for. 

By contrast, these measures were prepared in the proverbial smoke-filled room, with little public involvement, and they allow changes to the Civil Service Procedures through future Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between the labor unions and the LADWP, which the public is not privy to, subject to generic and non-specific requirements. 

The LADWP currently operates under a number of constraints that were approved through the same proposed MOU process, which the public would probably not have approved of, such as: required union approval of all contracts affecting union membership; a requirement that all employees affected by contracting out be offered a minimum of 10% overtime; and the Letter of Agreement granting generous Longevity Pay Bonuses originally intended to go only to linemen – a group traditionally difficult to attract and retain – which were extended to 86 different easy-to-retain civil service classes such as painters, roofers and plumbers. 

Allowing an open-ended MOU process, which the public is not invited to, to determine how the LADWP is run is not the appropriate process for making such major changes as substantially modifying the Civil Service System. 

The Associates agree that LADWP needs to be able to streamline but work within the Civil Service System; improve flexibility in hiring and promoting qualified candidates; and be able to fill positions in a timely manner. The proposed amendment, as written, could change many Department jobs from Civil Service status to “At Will” status and open the door to political appointments rather than merit-based appointments. The proposal also allows the Council to delegate the salary setting authority to the LADWP Board. 

In the 1930s, Los Angeles recalled Mayor Frank Shaw and convicted his brother and Aide Joe Shaw, for selling civil service jobs and promotions in order to fatten the campaign coffers of Mayor Shaw. While we are not accusing anyone of planning such activities, Measure RRR makes them possible. Allowing open-ended changes to this system, which has safeguarded the City from corruption for nearly a century, with neither thorough analysis nor full public participation is not the way to accomplish this. It benefits neither the LADWP nor other City Departments to curtail the interdepartmental transfers that would occur with the removal of the Civil Service System from the LADWP, as allowed in this Charter change. 

As stated in the Ralph M Brown Act, 1953 -- “The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.” 

The Department needs reforms, but they should not be left in the hands of the unions and politicians.   The Associates recommend that Measure RRR be rejected at the ballot box.


(Edward A. Schlotman is President of Water and Power Associates, Inc. Water and Power Associates, a non-profit corporation, was established in 1971 to inform and educate its members, public officials and the general public on critical water and energy issues affecting the citizens of Los Angeles, of Southern California and of the State of California. It also promotes preservation of the history of how the development of water and energy has affected the development of Los Angeles and California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Homelessness: We Can’t Just Wish It Away

 THE CITY--‘As I was going up the stair … I met a man who wasn’t there … He wasn’t there again today … Oh, how I wish he’d go away.’ 

This old rhyme states, in a nutshell, the way I think most people view the matter of homelessness in our country. Perhaps now, more than at any time since the Great Depression, significant numbers of Americans are living on the street. Certainly in Los Angeles, homelessness has grown to epidemic proportions. 

In all the years (nearly 40) I’ve been in southern California, the homeless have been present. I lived and worked for a long time in and near downtown Long Beach. My neighbors and I knew many of those who populated our streets. Some were considered to be colorful characters, harmless enough and not really much of a problem. The seriously-disturbed and aggressive panhandlers were rare and seemed not to be around for long. 

I moved across the bay to San Pedro and there, too, was a relatively small population of homeless. They congregated in a particular area of downtown and, for the most part, weren’t considered to be much more than a nuisance; a problem easily avoided. 

And then came the recession. Many lost their homes and never got another one. Social services and government felt the pinch, too. Even now, those with jobs are often hard pressed to afford the rent. As a consequence, we see the homeless hanging out in front of our organic food markets and sleeping on bus benches normally occupied by the people who clean our houses. Occasionally, suburban sensibilities are shocked when someone in a nice neighborhood looks out the window and sees a dilapidated vehicle inhabited by a scruffy individual who may not have seen a bar of soap in weeks or months. 

Spend some time online at Facebook and other social media sites and you will come to the conclusion that, for most commentators, the problem is not that people are homeless, it’s that they are visible. In my community, the response of the vocal majority of the ninety-nine-and-a-half percent who are not homeless is to dehumanize the homeless. These folks delight in posting pictures of the obviously mentally ill and calling them names. All homeless are lumped together as a class that is intellectually and morally bereft. According to the “commentariat,” the homeless are homeless because they want to be homeless. 

The good burghers’ solution for this situation: make the homeless disappear. Send them somewhere else. This is the ultimate NIMBY position -- not in my backyard, not in my neighbor’s backyard, not in my neighbor’s neighbor’s backyard. 

My city councilmember and his homelessness task force recently proposed opening a “navigation center” providing storage for the property of the homeless and offering them services. The suggested location on a commercial street was met with a barrage of criticism from the surrounding area. A public meeting to explain the plan was mobbed by a few hundred angry residents whose answer to everything was a resounding “no.” 

There are as many “solutions” as there are homeless individuals. I don’t know what the best ones are. But I do know what the worst one is: pretending it’s not your problem and wishing it away.


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

Why is Mayor Garcetti Helping an Anti-Police Group Fundraise in Arizona … and not in LA?

SOUTH OF THE TEN-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has hit the campaign trail. This past weekend he popped into Arizona to attend a campaign rally for a local candidate running for Sheriff. Normally this wouldn't interest me but a Twitter account I follow made a big deal of who the mayor was campaigning against, along with the t-shirt he was wearing that promoted an anti-police group. 

The Twitter account, @Near_Chaos, has a passion for reporting on the goings-on at the weekly sideshow called the LAPD Police Commission meetings. The meetings themselves appear not to have any merit -- loved ones of the deceased cannot get answers, nor can the Commission really reform the beleaguered department. 

At the core of the weekly ruckus are members of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM). Members publicly protest what they and many others view as the continued disproportionate rate of excessive force used on people of the South LA community.  

BLM Members have camped outside the mayor's house in Hancock Park and City Hall. News vans spotted a cleanup crew at Getty House after it was hit with dozens of eggs. Some have been arrested trying to get the mayor's attention to this issue, to which he responds by either slipping out the back door or publishing an empty column in an urban periodical. And he’s also appointed African-Americans to key positions within his office – all this while supporting Chief Charlie Beck, who has yet to publicly reprimand any of the officers named for shooting an unarmed citizen. 

Back to this past weekend. 

Mayor Garcetti was recorded on social media at a campaign event for Maricopa County Sheriff candidate Paul Penzone, who is running against the infamous “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio. See video here.  

Garcetti prefaced his speech by referring to his strong roots in Arizona and commented that his family still resides there. He further commented that “Sheriff Arpaio is wasting taxpayer money” with his policing policies. Sheriff Joe is well known for racially profiling the Latinos in the area. 

Arpaio styles himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff." He has been accused of abuse of power, misuse of funds, failure to investigate sex crimes, improper clearance of cases, unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, and election law violations. He is currently facing criminal contempt proceedings. 

Maricopa county taxpayers are paying $4.5 million for Arpaio's legal defense fees, related to the racial profiling and open defiance of a federal judge who ordered he change his policies. Sheriff Joe did not comply and is now facing contempt charges. 

At some point during his visit, Mayor Eric donned a t-shirt that read, "Arrest Sheriff Joe," while standing next to a woman whose shirt read, "Arrest Arpaio Not the People.”  

The t-shirts fund a group called "Bazta Arpaio.” Citing 150 deaths in the jails and $140 million in related lawsuits, the group implores you to either donate money and/or buy a shirt to support their cause of ousting the Sheriff. Will Mayor Eric help BLM raise funds to oust him and Charlie Beck? 

Somehow the mayor has time to address the needs of the Latino community in another state, yet has no time to address the problems in his own backyard. The mayor is clearly sending mixed signals as it relates to his position on police abuse, both local and nationwide.  

LAPD recently came out from being under a federal decree, spearheaded by Connie Rice during the Riordan and Villaraigosa administrations. Through her nonprofit, the Advancement Project, she has joined other community activists in South LA by declaring a “state of emergency” in Los Angeles, related to the latest cases of police abuse.  

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s actions are line with an elected official who sympathizes with those who are victims of police brutality. Unfortunately, he is not brave enough to say it here at home and to use his political power in the way he flaunts it in other cities. On the other hand, perhaps his last two LAPD Police Commission appointments are saying it themselves via their actions during the PC meetings. 

Stay tuned.


(Melissa Hébert lives in Inglewood, CA, and blogs on community and political issues on 2urbangirls.com and is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. ) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

This Mother of a Murdered Son Says: ‘Repeal the California Death Penalty’ by Voting YES on Prop 62

BUTCHER ON STATE PROPS-My oldest son, Matthew Benjamin Butcher, was murdered in a Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary on June 24, 2010. It is in his name and his memory that I offer a few political recommendations on California’s statewide initiatives – to fight gun violence (Yes on 63), repeal the death penalty (Yes on 62), and legalize marijuana (Yes on 64). 

The LA District Attorney could have prosecuted Matthew’s murderer as a death penalty case. The men who killed him had finished robbing the store, packed the marijuana and cash into their car, took the computer and the security feed it was tracking, and left. Cruelly and senselessly, they came back, put Matthew and the young security officer who was also working that day on their stomachs on top of each other, and shot them both in the back of the head.

The men who did this deserve to die. 

But not at my hands. 

The DA could’ve justified the death penalty.

I’m glad she decided not to. 

Inmate A53710 is serving his life sentences in Calipatria State Prison and Inmate # A54227 is in Salinas Valley. If the other murderers are ever caught, we’ll endure another trial. Otherwise, that’s it.

We’re done. 

I’ve heard too many wrenching stories about the families of murder victims suffering through trial after appeal after trial. The decision not to pursue ours as a death penalty case saved us from all that and for that I am thankful; between the combined compassion of our prosecutor, now Judge, Deborah Brazil, and the amazing workers of the LA County Victims-Witnesses program, I never had to look at pictures of Matthew dead. Don identified him for the police on the night he was killed and while it may seem like a small thing, I’d prefer not to have that image floating forever through my already too vivid imagination.

Way bigger for me is what I’ve learned about the death penalty, jurors, and humans.

I’ll never forget how I felt the day our jury reached their quick, unambiguous verdict: 

“I watched the jury every day. From the days they tried to get out of it through the tedious days of cell phone technology testimony (I object! This is boring!) Once they knew there was no getting out of it, these twelve men and women, plus four alternates, paid total attention to every bit of testimony and evidence. Finally after three weeks of trial, the jury decided quickly. Each of them called out loudly, proudly: “Guilty!” 

I met them at the elevator, stopping the jurors to thank them, to hug them. One held me and murmured: It was our pleasure. Several others simply hugged back and sincerely told me they are sorry for my loss. Beautiful Juror #7 with the golden hair said yes when I asked if she’s a mom. Juror #8 bent his big bulk down for my hug as I told him he looks like Steven, Matthew’s “little” brother! 

I want to buy the jurors drinks, thank them for doing the right thing. I promise to respond promptly to every jury duty notice I get from now on, in honor of the jury in Department 102!

Justice be served.” 

- Mother follows Echo Park pot shop murder trial to its conclusion, The Eastsider, November 21, 2013. 

It was in that same news article that I understood the upside of it not being a death penalty case:

“Prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty in this case,” said District Attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison. “That means that when the defendants return on Jan. 10 for sentencing, they will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.’” 

And they were. On January 10, 2014, the men who murdered Matthew were held to account

It turns out the reason the DA opted not to pursue the death penalty is because Los Angeles juries – LA jurors, that is – are loathe to vote for it. Even jurors who know the accused is guilty without a doubt. LA juries, apparently, reportedly have a really hard time voting to kill another human being. 

I find that so life affirming.

And counter to the opinion of other Butchers, it leaves me determinedly opposing the death penalty, in Matthew’s name, because of what I learned in the process of getting him a tiny bit of justice. 

There are many good arguments against the death penalty, and I’d likely oppose it even if not for our experience watching up close. The cost, the cruelty, the lack of deterrent, the ridiculous mechanics of actually executing human beings, the Constitution.

Who am I to make that determination? (The beautiful LA jury phenomenon!)

What if I’m/we’re wrong?!? 

On May 1, 1989, Donald Trump ran this ad in the New York Daily News, calling for the death penalty for the “Central Park 5.”: "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY!"  

They were innocent! 

The cynical might argue that what I find optimistic and deeply moral about Los Angeles jurors might simply be distrust of the police, and they might be correct, in whole or part; we all need to work on that. For us, the LAPD and the County of Los Angeles did their jobs in service of justice. 

The world only spins forward. I’m voting Yes on 62 to repeal the death penalty in California. I’m also gonna vote against the initiative which would speed up executions (No on 66). 

Also, in Matthew’s memory, it’s time to legalize pot. I’m voting Yes on 64! 

And finally, anything we can do to limit guns and gun violence is a yes for me! Proposition 63 is a novel, good idea and I’m voting Yes! 

I’d love to participate in intelligent discussion on these and the other statewide initiatives. I made a chart (below) using the Haiku descriptions of the measures written so very cleverly by our friend Damian Carroll.

Damian also did the local props (he is so smart and funny!) 

Everyone knows how wrong I think Los Angeles City Charter Amendment Measure RRR: DWP ‘Reform’ Charter Amendment RRR: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!  

I love that Hillel Aron has named it the “Pirate Initiative” in his recent LA Weekly treatment: Pirate DWP Reform Ballot Measure RRR Has Some Going, "WTF?!"  (For the sake of accuracy, I was the GM of legacy local SEIU 347 and a Regional Director for SEIU 721.) 

The spending info here is from Ballotpedia, financials that were updated as of October 2, 2016.


+ Spending for Propositions 65 & 67 are reported as combined campaigns. 

** Measures 58 and 59 were put on the ballot by the legislature so there’s no ballot access cost data. 



Summary *

$ Spent for

$ Spent against

Cost per signature for ballot access

Butcher voting


Nine billion dollars of bond funds for school buildings

Term: thirty-five years

$ 9,831,284


$ 3.42



A hospital fee matched with federal dollars funds Medi-Cal boost


$ 11,562,866




Bonds for big projects
(Like high speed rail and Delta)
Would need people’s vote






Bills must be posted on the web, for three days straight
before they are passed






For high-earning folks, an income tax that funds schools
would remain in place






The cigarette tax would go up, two bucks a pack, E-cigarettes too






Earlier parole of prisoners serving time for non-violent crimes






Kids learning English won’t need a waiver to take Bilingual classes



N/A **



Asks to overturn Citizens United, but Shucks, it’s non-binding






Adult film makers would have to require condoms or risk a lawsuit






In theory, lowers the cost of some state-bought drugs (But it could backfire)






Vote for this one if you want to eliminate the death penalty






Requires a permit Issued by the DOJ to purchase ammo






Legalizes pot! Also raises some tax funds (Perhaps a billion?)






Plastic bag makers put this one on the ballot to punish grocers

6,136,883 +





If you want the state to execute more people, this one is for you






To ban plastic bags, vote “Yes” on 67 and “No” on 65


6,136,883 +



 (Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild. She can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The ‘Remove Nothing’ Plan: Misplaced Opportunity?

TRUE TRANSIT SUPPORTERS-I’ve been taking a bit more transit than usual these days, as a bit of a change of pace from pedaling the Brompton absolutely everywhere. 

My changes of pace, by the way, never involve a private motor car, which I drive four or five times a year under marital duress; I’ve put in enough miles behind the windshield -- that is to say, over a quarter-million or so -- to know exactly what I’m missing by avoiding the driver’s seat, and it is absolutely nothing. Physical and emotional stultification just don’t tickle my innards. 

So there I was on the Wilshire Rapid, making good time to my dentist’s office in SaMo, when we crossed Westwood Boulevard. And of course the intersection hosted a lineup of people on bikes, waiting to proceed to UCLA. A cyclist had just gotten off the bus, presumably for the same purpose; bikes were rolling up and down Wilshire; and the bike racks around the intersection were full to overflowing. 

It naturally brought to mind the lack of bike lanes connecting UCLA with the new Expo Line station at Westwood. This vacuity comes to us, of course, courtesy of chair-warmer District 5 council member Paul Koretz, who has been kowtowing so vigorously to a cabal of Cheviot Hills homeowners that he probably needs a live-in chiropractor. The Chevioteers failed in their attempt to block the entire Expo Line -- yes, they tried to hold the entire western half of LA County hostage to their fear of “those people” crowding onto the train to steal their porch decks -- but cyclists are an easier target than ethnic groups, especially since “cyclist” is often (in white pseudo-suburbia) a code word for “dark.” 

Saving car lanes and parking was the ostensible excuse, but that excuse flew out the window when Ryan Snyder presented a bike lane plan that removed no car lanes or parking, cleverly entitled the Remove Nothing Plan.  

“Remove Nothing went nowhere. Koretz and his puppeteers ignored it, and Koretz went further, saying he would permit no study to be made of any plan including bikeways of any sort on the southern portion of Westwood. 

People will be riding bicycles on Westwood anyway, and probably slowing traffic in a way they wouldn’t with a bikeway in place. Angelenos old and young, of every shade, will want to get from the Expo Line to UCLA, and, of course, the many delectable restaurants along the way. Fewer will choose to do so lacking a bikeway; a number of those will opt to use cars, further clogging traffic. Stoopid, ain’t it? Opportunity misplaced. 

I won’t call it a lost opportunity, though, because I think we can find it again, and soon; it hasn’t been lost, but simply hidden from view for a while. After all, Jesse Creed is running against Koretz for the council seat in CD5, and he is a strong supporter of transportation choices, including bikeways. He himself endeavors to pedal anywhere within a two-mile radius of home. 

Remember that, come March and the election. If you live in CD5, Creed’s the real deal. (Photo above, left.) 

Naturally, if you live in CD1, the home district of this blog, its Joe Bray-Ali, running to retire “Roadkill Gil” Cedillo. (Photo above, right.) 

If you live anywhere else, send a little cash to these two gentlemen. Two more progressive voices added to Huizar’s on the city council might be enough to transform LA. No more rubber stamp votes against the future! Bray-Ali and Creed for City Council! 

Grass roots vs. trickle down: which side are you on?


(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are focused on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Shame on You, Governor Brown: Declare Homelessness a ‘State of Emergency’ Now!

VOICES-At a time when Los Angeles City is asking the taxpayers to approve a $1.2 billion bond measure for supportive homeless housing, our Governor continues to refuse to declare homelessness a "State of Emergency" in California – an action that would release $500 million immediately from the rainy day fund. 

How can this Governor close his eyes to the tens of thousands of his citizens, allowing them to sleep in alleys, streets and behind dumpsters…eating from garbage cans and defecating on themselves and on the streets? 

It is time for everyone to light up the switchboards at the Governor’s office and the offices of all our state elected officials, demanding they declare a "State of Emergency" and release the funds. 

And while we are at it.... 

Why is Los Angeles City asking for $1.2 billion when Prop 30 has $2.1 billion already segregated for the same cause, in addition to the availability of half a billion dollars in rainy day funds? 

All this tells me is there is no serious plan and no real political will to end homelessness. 

Remember, if you are not angry about homelessness, then you have just not been paying attention.


(Jay Handal served at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment for ten months as Election Manager for the 2016 Neighborhood Council elections. He is Treasurer of the West Los Angeles Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, Co-Chair of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates Committee for the upcoming 2016-2017 fiscal year, and a hearing examiner for the Los Angeles Police Commission.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Public Ed Supporters Shocked and Gratified … LAUSD to Consider Rejection of Charter Schools

EDUCATION POLITICS--Public education supporters in Los Angeles are shocked and gratified to learn that the staff of the Los Angeles school district has recommended rejection of several charter school petitions to be considered at next week’s school board meeting. For years, it seemed there was no reason to ever expect LAUSD to reject charters and recent reports show senior district staff coordinating with Eli Broad's nonprofit to expand charter choices even as it grapples with decreasing enrollment.

The board will decide whether the staff recommendations will stand at the Tuesday, October 18 meeting. Presumably, that meeting will include heated discussion among the school board and district staff, as well as comments from charter advocates and the public. It’s common for charter schools to organize large showings of supporters at their hearings, usually with matching t-shirts.

The recommendations were posted on the district’s website on Wed. The district’s Charter Schools Division made the recommendations after facing heavy criticism for its perceived mishandling of oversight responsibilities in the wake of financial scandals at El Camino Real Charter High School.

The recommendation which has drawn the most speculation is the one to approve the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Revoke the charter of El Camino Real.

Staff has also recommended the denial of the renewal of three Magnolia Science Academy Schools, part of the Gulen chain of charters which are associated with the Turkish Imam suspected of organizing a coup against the government of Turkey. That California chain has been under fire since a legal complaint was filed last February, calling on the California Department of Education to investigate. The complaint was first reported on the PSconnect blog.  It cited more than accusations, and included findings made in a state audit such as 69% of Magnolia's financial transactions being unaccounted for; that Magnolia routinely awarded large contracts to vendors with overlapping connections to their own employees and board of directors; and that Magnolia had illegally used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay for visas for Turkish nationals. A report in today’s Los Angeles Times shows that number is closer to $1 million. 

Other charter proposals facing the new wrath of the LAUSD: WISH Charter is hoping to add more grades to its school. Citizens of the World wants an additional school and to grow an existing school. Celerity Dyad and Celerity Troika schools are petitioning to renew their charters. Staff is recommending that the board reject all those petitions.

It is unprecedented in recent memory for the LAUSD staff to recommend rejection of so many charters since the district began instituting market based reforms years ago. A top priority of so-called reformers is charter school expansion, and the wind has been at their backs. One year, LAUSD voted for 67 out of 72 charters. California lifted its cap on charters when Netflix founder Reed Hastings forced the California legislature to accept a measure similar to the one currently on Massachusetts' November ballot. Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a stand against that measure, called Question 2, and it's more and more common to see criticism of charter schools in major news outlets. The Washington Post recently published two pieces (here  and here) by the Network for Public Education's Executive Director, Carol Burris. Capital and Main, a leading Sacramento political blog, has been posting a series (here and here) featuring the billionaires funding California's charter industry, and the NAACP has recommended its board pass a moratorium on new charters. (Diane Ravitch posted phone numbers to call to express support for the moratorium.) 

Whether next week’s agenda represents the beginning of a reversal of fortune for the charter juggernaut in Los Angeles remains to be seen.

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)



In Defense of the 800 Pound Gorilla of the Public Pension World

PLAYTIME AT CalPERS (Part 1)--Grab a cup of coffee - this one’s a bit long. CalPERS and other public pension plans have had a rough go of it in recent months, Mostly, the Federal Reserve’s policy of 0% interest & buying back toxic financial assets on the taxpayers dime, has managed to wreck the investment assumptions of public pensions. 

As the long term assumptions of return on investment go significantly down, there is a necessary increase in the employer/employee contributions to the system, in order to keep their long term payoff ability intact. This puts Cities, Counties, & Special Districts on the hook for a higher percentage of their annual budget going to pay CalPERS, and the media has by and large responded with hit pieces about ‘greedy public employees’. 

Why’s Everybody Pickin’ On CalPERS?

As the 800 pound gorilla of the public pension world, CalPERS seems to have become the poster boy for hit pieces, even though the articles tend to ignore the basic math that all defined benefit plans are trying to deal with. Lower returns. So when the New York Times does a hit piece on CalPERS, I don’t pay too much attention. They are probably just tired of talking about their very own Donald Trump. 

But when the Los Angeles Times starts a multi part investigatory series on “the consequences of an historic expansion of retirement benefits for California public employees”, you know it’s a hit piece. And by the way, it is not really an LA Times series -- it is billed as a collaboration with something called CALmatters and an associated radio station, Capital Public Radio. 

As near as I can figure it out from their website, CALmatters is an attempt to provide California political news for sale much as the AP & Reuters do. It looks to me like the Chicago Tribune/Los Angeles Times owners are engaging in even more cost cutting of staff & using deals like this to provide the illusion of investigatve reporting. Sheesh. 

Anyhow, about this series of articles on CalPERS. Since it is clear that CalPERS itself incapable of explaining, much less defending, itself, I thought someone should at least explain what CalPERS is, who’s on their Board, who’s on their staff, how they function (or all too often don’t function), so that people can make up their own minds about the agency.

To provide context, a lot of the articles to date have implied that CalPERS should be ‘privitatized’ into 401(k) type plans. Oh yeah, that works. Just ask me and an entire generation what happened to their 401 plans (not to mention real estate values) when the financial collapse of 2007/08 took place. A lot of us watched instant decreases of around 40% of the value in our ‘retirement portfolio’. Many of my friends will never be able to retire, and will work until they die or get too sick to work. 

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems at CalPERS. There are. But to understand their dysfunction, it is necessary to take a look at how the giant $300 Billion plan that impacts over 1 million beneficiaries & their dependents actually operates. Both at a Board of Directors level and at a staff level.

The LA Times Article

You can read the first LA Times article here. Their central thesis is that then Governor Pete Wilson was desperate to find money since the State was broke, and wanted to gain control of the State’s retirement fund, CalPERS. Gee whiz. Every desperate politician that I can remember has wanted to do the same thing. Pete’s scheme involved taking over the actuarial function of the Plan so he could diddle the numbers, and to be able to directly appoint a majority of the CalPERS Board to validate the fix.  

The article then goes on to imply that the Unions response was to launch an preemptive ballot measure in 1992 (Proposition 162) which wound up meaning that “pension directors were no longer required to balance benefits with costs.”   They also characterized CalPERS doing it’s own actuarial projections was somehow suspect and found it “quite independent” as if that’s a bad thing.   

Honestly , the article is largely much ado about nothing. You could argue that by having sole and exclusive control over actuarial projections, the CalPERS Board has an extremely high fiduciary duty to be very conservative and prudent with their numbers. And the language which talked about the Board’s duties to beneficiaries taking “precedence” also says that they have to “minimize employer contributions thereto”, a balancing offset. 

Finally, Proposition 162 in no way changed the composition of the Board, nor did it change the appointment/election process of any of the seats. 

Ok, so I find the Times article misleading. What then, does the Board of CalPERS really look like? 

Composition of the CalPERS Board

In almost all public sector pension plans in California that I’m aware of, the Board of Directors structure is carefully set up to provide that the number of elected Public Employee Members are less than the number of appointed Board members, and the total of both is always an odd sum - like 13 in the case of CalPERS. This to avoid tie votes and to guarantee that the management “grown-ups” will ultimately be able to control the majority vote. 

At least that’s the theory. In the case of CalPERS, here’s how the appointment process works for the Board of Administration: 

6 members are elected - 1 elected by school members, 1 elected by retired members, 2 elected by active and retired members, 1 elected by public agency members, and 1 elected by state members. 

4 members are ‘ex officio’, a fancy way of saying that they automatically have a seat by virtue of their public office. Those officials are the State Treasurer, State Personnel Board designee, Director of Human Resources for the State, and the State Controller. In the case of these officials, the actual person sitting on the CalPERS Board is usually one of a number of designated staff members, and they can rotate. 

2 members are appointed by the Governor. One Represents the Insurance Industry, and the other represents local government. 

1 ‘public’ member is appointed jointly by the Assembly & Senate of the State. 

The Elected Members

Of the 6 elected members, two are pretty much straight up Union folks. 

Rob Feckner, current President of the Board, is elected by school members of CalPERS. He is out of CSEA (California School Employees Association), and is the longest serving Board member, going back to 1999. He’s been working for the Napa Valley USD for some 39 years as a ‘glazing specialist’, which should tell you how hot he is for power. Most of us would have retired a long time gone. 

Henry Jones is Vice-President, and holds the retired CalPERS members seat. He is a product of that exemplar of fiscal prudence, the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he was their Chief Financial Officer and retired in 1998. He has ‘only’ been on the CalPERS Board for some 8 years, but evidently the lust for power has overtaken him as well, since he recently and unsuccessfully challenged Rob Feckner for the post ion of President of CalPERS. 

Theresa Taylor was elected in 2015 to represent state members on the Board. She is Secretary-Treasurer of the very large SEIU Local 1000 (Service Employees International Union), as well as being on their State Council Executive Board. She works for the Franchise Tax Board & lives in Carmichael. 

There are also 3 other directly elected Board members. Pyria Mathur is the elected member from public agency members (read employers), and has been around since 2003. She has worked for BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit District) since 1998, and prior to that worked as a consultant massaging Municipal Bonds. 

The last 2 elected members are elected by all CalPERS members at large. First is Michael Bilbrey, who works for the Bookstore at Citrus Community College in Glendora. He also is a past-president of CSEA, which makes him the second straight up Union type.

And finally we have JJ Jelincic, the second at-large elected member. JJ has been on the Board since 2010. Interestingly, he works directly for CalPERS, and once upon a time was President of the California State Employees Association, which was largely supplanted by SEIU after the State passed a collective bargaining law for state employees (SEERA). JJ is my favorite Board member, since he knows where some of the bodies are buried, and actually asks honest and direct questions of both the Board, and even scarier, the paid CalPERS staff. More on the paid staff in a follow up article. 

JJ’s actions have caused the Board and staff to try and marginalize him, thus exposing their true siege mentality & lack of intestinal fortitude. To demonstrate that I’m not making this up, check out this article at Calpensions.

The Ex-Officio Members

Of the 4 ex-officio members, clearly the grown-up in the group is John Chiang, currently the State Treasurer, and one of the few technically competent elected officials in the State of California. Prior to this position, he served as State Controller, and on the Board of Equalization. Unfortunately for us, he is currently busy in running for Governor when Jerry Brown terms out. His usual designee, Grant Boyken, has engaged in some seriously questionable acts regarding legislation sponsored by Chiang that directly impacts CalPERS private equity interests, while he (Boyken) sat on the Board as representative of the Treasurer. 

Richard Gillihan is a member because he’s the head of the State’s Department of Human Resources, where he acts as the State’s employer of record for all collective bargaining matters, including pension reform. He was appointed by Governor Brown in 2014, and has been of the CalPERS Board since then. He remains a mystery to me, in that as an HR Director, he clearly knows better as he passively allows the staff of CalPERS to violate many basic principles in their hiring and personnel practices.  

Betty Yee is the current State Controller, and as such sits on the Board. She’s sort of following in Chiang’s footsteps, having started out with the Board of Equalization before becoming Controller. For whatever reason, she rarely personally shows up at CalPERS Board meetings, sending a designee who tends to go along to get along. 

The final ex-officio member is Richard Costigan, who represents the California State Personnel Board. Mr. Costigan is a type we are all familiar with - professional pol. He comes from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, one of the seriously big time political lobbyist law firms. After working in the assembly as Chief of Staff to a couple of minority leaders (read Republican), he jumped up as Deputy Chief of Staff and legislative affairs secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was elected as the State Personnel Board’s representative in late 2010, and continues to hold that position as we speak. He, of all people, should know how this stuff works and be more vocal.  

The Appointees

There are three appointed members to fill out the 13. Two are directly appointed by the Governor, and one is appointed jointly by the Assembly & the Senate. 

First there is Dana Hollinger, the Insurance Industry Representative, appointed by the Governor in 2014 to the CalPERS Board. Her public resume says virtually nothing other than she is a 25 year veteran of the life insurance industry, and “is a sought after speaker”. She got a JD from Southwestern, her insurance group The Hollinger Group is based in Century City, and she’s licensed in Beverly Hills :-).

The second gubernatorial appointee is Bill Slaton, first appointed in 2012. He originally came out of IBM in the seventies, handled structured asset financing for public agencies with particular emphasis on IT projects, and was on the Board of two Northern California community banks. He is on the high profile SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District), where he was President for two terms and is currently Vice-President. 

The final appointee is Ron Lind, jointly appointed by the Assembly & Senate. Wouldn’t you like to know how that one gets handled:-). Anyhow, Mr. Lind comes via a large private sector union, the UFCW (United Food & Commercial Workers) in the Bay area. He was appointed in 2013, and stepped down from his union positions - UFCW International, California Labor Federation, South Bay Labor Council, and the Northern California UFCW Employers Pension Fund - in 2014. 

So There You Have It - the CalPERS Board of Administration

I should be clear that I do not personally know any of these people. This article was derived from publically available information, and notes from some prior articles I”ve written about CalPERS over the last couple of years. 

It is important to know who these 13 Board members are, however, as we go forward and analyze their actions, and their interactions with CalPERS staff. As should be apparent from these brief descriptions, the composition and range of the CalPERS Board members is a lot more complex than advertised in the Times article.  

The second part of this series will be about the staff of the agency, their history and how the interactions between the staff and the Board take place. Also by then further articles from the LA Times series should have appeared. 

Stay tuned.


(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.)



Don’t Hold Your Breath for an Urban New Deal from a Clinton (or Trump) Administration

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you think a Hillary Clinton administration, even with another Great Recession and the Democrats in control of Congress, will result in an Urban New Deal, don’t hold your breath. It is not going to happen. This is why. 

Part of the story is the steady decline of the Democratic Party over the past 40 years. It does not just consist of negative campaigning and shallow debates, rigging the Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders, smearing Dr. Jill Stein; endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya; flooding the Middle East with US weaponry; and unleashing aerial death squads called drone missiles. Nor is it just mass incarceration of US citizens and refugees, wholehearted support of fracking, and record levels of deportations. 

Less obviously, the Democratic Party’s downward trajectory also includes the total abandonment of the urban programs it once championed, such as public housing. As evidenced by the White House’s recent position paper on affordable housing, as well as a succession of ineffective affordable housing programs in Los Angeles from the 1980s to date, the party’s urban policy has imploded into unrestrained capitalism, also called urban neo-liberalism.  

Long gone are urban programs that included public investment in infrastructure and services, as well as careful regulation of private investment. Since the days of LA Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1980s to date, from Washington, DC, to LA’s City Hall, the Democratic Party’s approach has been a three-legged stool: jettison zoning and environmental laws, abolish government housing programs, and bend over backwards for glad-handing real estate speculators. When challenged, they invariably resort to name-calling. Their critics are always NIMBYs, not supporters of strong planning and environmental regulation. 

So, let’s get into the specifics, including the House LA approach now underway at LA’s City Hall. 

More Revelations from the Mountain Top: Straight from Washington, DC, the Obama Administration has issued a White House Housing Development Toolkit. It identifies two barriers to affordable housing production: local zoning and environmental laws. It never mentions that the U.S. has been in a perpetual housing crisis for the past 40 years and that this crisis coincides with the wholesale elimination of Federal housing programs in the 1970s and 1980s. 

As for the White House’s solutions, they are the same market-based mantras that have been recited by real estate speculators since today’s boomer retirees started paying off their student loans. I have listed them below, with my plain English translation written in italics. 

  • Establishing by-right development. (Up-zone commercial properties to avoid discretionary zoning applications, environmental reviews, public notices, public hearings, and appeals.) 
  • Taxing vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers. (Thirty years ago Mayor Tom Bradley called for using the air rights above City parking lots for affordable housing.) 
  • Streamlining or shortening permitting processes and timelines. (Cutting corners for well-connected real estate investors.) 
  • Eliminate off-street parking requirements. (Under-park apartments before a mass transit system is in place.)
  • Allowing accessory dwelling units. (Turn single-family homes into duplexes without upgrading public facilities and infrastructure to accommodate a population increase.) 
  • Establishing density bonuses. (Allow developers to get free variances in exchange for a handful of unverified affordable units.) 
  • Enacting high-density and multifamily zoning. (Permit apartment houses in single-family neighborhoods without upgrading infrastructure and services.) 
  • Employing inclusionary zoning. (Require new market-rate apartment buildings to include a small percentage of uninspected affordable units.) 
  • Establishing development tax or value capture incentives. (Allow developers of market housing to pay an in lieu fee for off-site affordable units.) 
  • Using property tax abatements. (In addition to Prop. 13 provisions that freeze most commercial property taxes to late 1970 rates, any increase in assessed valuations would also be exempt from property taxes.) 

It is my contention, especially for Los Angeles, these programs did not work several decades ago, and they will not work now. The simple reason is that the private sector has never been able to meet the housing needs of lower-income Americans. You can easily enrich the crony capitalists buzzing around elected officials intoxicated by the sweet nectar of laissez faire capitalism, but the cumulative, long-term result is dismal. After several decades, these market schemes have only managed to build a tiny fraction of the affordable housing needed in the United States. In fact, the situation is now so bad that every county in the entire county has an affordable housing shortage.  

Bradley Administration: To understand House LA, we need to step back in time to the Tom Bradley administration, when LA first acknowledged that it had an affordable housing crisis. Like the Depression, in the 1980s, only one family in five could afford to buy a home, 200,000 families were doubled or tripled up, 40,000 families lived in garages, and 150,000 families were homeless at some point in a year. 

Initially slow to respond, Mayor Bradley eventually made it clear that the crisis resulted from the extensive cutbacks in urban programs that began during the Nixon-Ford years (1968-1976), and only got worse under Carter (1976-1980), Bush 1 (1980-84), and Clinton (1984-1992). By the late 1980s, nearly all Federal urban programs, especially housing, had been eliminated. This era marked the end of New Deal liberalism and the beginning or urban neo-liberalism: the myth that the private market could solve persistent urban problem if showered with enough deregulation and financial incentives. 

Beginning in 1988, that is exactly what Mayor Bradley undertook through a detailed proposal whose premise was a quickly discredited low-ball calculation of LA’s residential zoning potential. The Bradley program intended to eliminate environmental reviews of small and medium sized apartment houses, permit apartment houses and second units in single-family neighborhoods, demolish houses with code violations to furnish free building sites to non-profit housing corporations, impose linkage fees on new residential projects to fund affordable housing projects, and build affordable housing in the airspace above 105 city-owned parking lots, beginning with 10 prototypes. 

In response to widespread community opposition, however, the initial Bradley program was modified to include the rehabilitation homes and apartments in low-income neighborhoods and a slumlord task force to target slum properties for criminal prosecution. It also shifted the construction of affordable apartments from single-family neighborhoods to transit corridors and stations. 

The Planning Department’s updated housing calculations also revealed that Los Angeles had sufficient zoning for one million additional housing units, or 25,000 new units per year for the next 40 years. Other Planning Department estimates from the early 1990s indicated an even larger buildout potential. Based on existing zoning, Los Angeles could add nearly 5,000,000 more people, reaching a total population of 8,000,000. In the intervening 26 years, however, the City has never updated any of its zoning build out calculations. Despite claims and counter-claims, the actual changes between 1990 and 2016 are not known. 

House LA - Old Wine in New Bottles: Based on information from the Los Angeles Business Council, House LA appears to be the Los Angeles version of the White House Housing Tool Kit. It mostly repackages old, off-the-shelf market programs. Unfortunately, most of them go back nearly three decades, with little to show for themselves. As before, my translation is in italics. 

  • Expansion of Expedited Processing Section in Planning. (Pay to Play: Quick zoning approvals for well-off real estate speculators.) 
  • Site Plan Review Modifications. (Zoning deregulation.) 
  • Permitting Micro Unit Housing (Increasing density without upgrading public services and infrastructure.) 
  • Deferring Fees. (Municipal subsidies for well-connected real estate speculators, like AEG.) 
  • Expanding the Use of Shared Vehicles. (Under-parking new buildings prior to the build-out of the mass transit system.) 
  • Facilitating Accessory Dwelling Units for Affordable Housing. (Turning single family’s homes into duplexes without upgrading public services and infrastructure and without collecting additional property taxes.) 
  • Using City-owned parking lots for affordable housing. (House LA recently added Tom Bradley’s long-neglected program to use City-owned properties, mostly parking lots, as affordable housing sites. Other than a 30 year hiatus, the only other differences is that House LA identifies 100 not parking lots and proposes 11 not 10 affordable housing sites.) 

Why so much hostility from House LA to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative? Gil Cedillo, the City Councilmember who has campaigned for the House LA market-incentive proposals, has sharply criticized the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. But, his talking points come straight from the Astroturf funders: CH Palladium, LLC and Westfield DD&C, LLC. These Big Real Estate players have every reason to oppose an Initiative that will force the City of Los Angeles to systematically and quickly update its General Plan, including permanent bans on parcel level spot-zoning and spot-General Plan amendments. 

This is because the Palladium and Westfield business models rely on spot-zoning and spot-planning. As they scour Los Angeles for shopping center and high-rise building sites, they inevitably run into conflicts with zoning and planning ordinances. But, they could care less if their projects conflict with the character and scale of existing neighborhoods or exceed the capacity of existing infrastructure.

For them, their criterion is profitability. But, they can hardly go to the city’s voters and fess up that they oppose the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative because it impinges on their bottom line. So instead, they have created an Astroturf organization, the Coalition to Save Los Angeles Neighborhoods and Jobs, that claims spot-zoning and spot-planning is essential to the production of affordable housing. 

It doesn’t matter that they cannot identify projects from the Bradley to the Garcetti eras where affordable housing projects required zone changes and General Plan Amendments. Even their latest gambit, grabbing a hold of the Tom Bradley program of using city parking lots for affordable housing sites, is a desperate act. This is because this option has been around for nearly 30 years, has hardly ever worked, and could be easily pursued on city-owned parcels that did not require the City Council to adopt spot-zones and spot-plans. 

So, with deception in one hand, and a check in the other, they march on to block a voter initiative that would force the City of LA to properly plan, including rigorous criteria for the approval of any deviations from legally adopted plans and zones.


(Dick Platkin is a veteran city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He also serves on the boards of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. Please send comments and corrections to [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Democrats Should Turn the Page on Corruption and Choose a Woman for State Party Chair 

OPENING UP THE PROCESS-The importance of women's leadership in politics is not only apparent in Democrats' selection of Hillary Clinton to run for President, but also in the candidacy of another talented woman pursuing the top leadership role in the state party in 2017. 

Kimberly Ellis, a progressive Black woman from the Bay Area city of Richmond, is running to become chair of the California Democratic Party. She heads the statewide nonprofit Emerge California and trains women candidates, some inspired by Hillary Clinton, in how to mount effective campaigns for office. She has a remarkable record in fund-raising and building her organization to equip a diverse group of women for public service. As party chair, she would succeed John Burton. 

During Burton's 8-year tenure as chair, the state party has secured its own headquarters and paid it off while championing healthcare expansion, LGBT equality, gun safety, climate protection, vaccination for all, and opposition to the death penalty. Everyone takes his calls -- perhaps to hear a revealing story of politics past, told in his signature salty language, or more likely to touch base with someone who influences politicos and shapes policies in California. 

As former state Senator Burton steps down, a political insider from LA has stepped up alongside Ellis to seek the chair's role. Eric Bauman, the senior adviser to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, is also chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee and male vice chair of the state party. 

Ellis, at age 43, is also a leader in state Democratic circles. She is recording secretary of the state party's African American Caucus and a member of the party's Finance Committee. 

But if she is a queen of empowering women candidates and African Americans, Bauman fancies himself a kingmaker. 

About to turn 58, he has the ear of many elected Democrats and personifies the bullying tactics of an old-school boss. The manner in which he peddles his influence can sometimes be a problem. In June, for instance, the Beach Cities Democratic Club in LA invited him and Ellis to address them to enlighten the club's consideration of endorsement in the contest for state Democratic Party chair. At the event, Bauman modestly claimed it was the first such speech he had given. Yet he was already listing endorsements from 16 clubs on his flyer before that meeting. Shouldn't open and even-handed opportunities to address clubs come before an endorsement -- especially for a role as weighty as state party chair when that election is still a year up the road? 

How does Bauman's style of campaigning promote inclusiveness, diversity, and participation? This is an example of old-boys' favoritism that shows how it can corrupt party politics. We give credit to the Beach Cities Democrats for actually seeking out more than one candidate. 

Using his influence, Bauman has also made connections for his own profit that have attracted the critical eye of good-government watchdogs. His consulting business, Victory Land Partners, solicited and received $12,500-per month payments from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as Pharma, to stop an initiative to reduce prescription drug prices for Californians, which turned into Proposition 61, the Drug Price Relief Act. All this happened while he drew $145,000, plus benefits, as a state employee. 

President Obama has said the big pharmaceutical companies put Americans' health at risk, writing that they "oppose any change to drug pricing, no matter how justifiable and modest, because they believe it threatens their profits." Trading on his party role for personal profit, Bauman is treading on the same thin ice that has collapsed under past operatives who put self above public service. Do we want the chair of the party to be an expert at this icky kind of manipulation? 

In contrast, Ellis has worked to make the state Democratic Party a bastion for progressive ideas and candidates. She believes that progressive voters -- including people of color, environmentalists, union members, professionals, the disabled, the elderly, millennials, the poor, the tired, those yearning to be free -- make up a largely untapped majority of the electorate. It's the job of the state Democratic Party to seek out those voters, energize them, show that elections are relevant to their interests, engage them as voters, and train promising advocates among them as the next generation of Democratic leaders. 

Commanding a reliable progressive majority in the electorate, California Democrats will have to recruit and support progressive candidates, and overcome resistance to the kind of legislation that aggressively promotes great education for all from preschool to grad school, protects the environment, revamps the criminal justice system, and promotes income equality. That's how California Democrats will write and pass the kind of legislation that can reinvigorate our public schools, our community and state colleges and universities, and our pre-kindergarten programs.
Young voters sent a message in this year's primary election about wanting an open, inclusive party that delivers on policy goals like an affordable path to a college degree for them and the next generation. Ellis is listening. 

California Democrats are about to make a major choice for state party chair. They can take a timid step to dance with the old-boys' club or a bold progressive step to dance with the future. The opportunity to select Kimberly Ellis in 2017 will follow the election this fall, when Hillary Clinton is likely to gain more than 60 percent of Californians' votes. Electing Ellis will send another strong message that the door to leadership for women and progressives in the Democratic Party is finally open.


(Delaine Eastin is a former state Superintendent of Public Instruction who served four terms in California's state Assembly. Ron Kaye is former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News who continues to advocate for honesty in public service and a better informed electorate.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Can This Ballot Measure Really Fix LA’s Affordable Housing Crisis?

VOX POP--“Since I’ve been displaced, I’ve seen more people who weren’t here before. Where my house was before, now it’s a fancy condominium.” Caridad Vasquez is talking about the changes that have come upon her neighborhood in the years since Metro – Los Angeles’ transportation system – expanded its subway and light-rail services, and helped turn this working-class, traditionally Latino neighborhood into a desirable new destination for young professionals. She is a long-time street vendor and local resident of the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles. Today, sitting in an office of the East LA Community Corporation, Vasquez is wearing short turquoise flannel pants, a “Legalize Street Vending” T-shirt and sneakers with pink laces, loosely tied and no socks.

Vasquez is a supporter of Build Better LA (BBLA), a ballot initiative (officially, Measure JJJ) crafted by a consortium of transportation advocates and neighborhood groups – including the Alliance for Community Transit-Los Angeles (ACT-LA), the land trust organization TRUST South LA, the tenants advocacy group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance — along with the LA County Federation of  Labor and another union group, the Building Trades Council. The proposal emerged from a number of policy discussions from 2015 onwards, and was placed on the November ballot to take the steam out of a competing measure – now pushed back to March, 2017 – that would impose a two-year development moratorium in many areas, protecting old housing stock but doing nothing to alleviate the growing lack of access to affordable housing.

Since 2008 America’s second-largest city has embarked on a $40 billion, long-overdue drive to provide itself with a comprehensive public transit system. That system is made up of Metro’s subway, light rail and bus lines, and at long last it is becoming possible and easy to use mass transit to journey from the Pacific to the far eastern suburbs, and from Pasadena in the north to Long Beach far in the south. Yet one of the side effects of this transformation has been displacement of older, poor communities – ironically, the very demographic that most uses public transport — along these rapidly gentrifying corridors.

To attack the problem, BBLA presents two goals. The first is to provide a series of carrot-and-stick incentives to developers along transit corridors to include a large number of affordable housing units in their new developments. This would essentially refuse to allow the general plan amendments and zoning changes that are needed for almost any new large development, along transit routes, unless developers either build a percentage of units to be affordable, or pay into the city’s affordable housing trust fund so as to allow units to be built elsewhere.

It is a recognition of the reality that, despite LA moving toward a higher minimum wage, for many workers the cost of housing remains entirely prohibitive. According to attorney Doug Smith, of Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that works with affordable housing advocates citywide, a higher percentage of L.A. residents are “rent burdened” – meaning that they are paying over 30 percent of their income on rent or on a mortgage — than any other large city residents in the United States.

“The fight in 2015 was to raise and enforce the wage in the city of L.A.,” says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the County Federation of Labor. “But it became clear you also had to address issues connected to housing and housing affordability.”

BBLA’s second part, which is being pushed by Hicks and other allies in L.A.’s powerful unions, is a series of labor standards to ensure that workers on these projects are paid decently, come out of union apprenticeship programs, that at least 30 percent are local hires and that 10 percent have to be from disadvantaged communities – that are made up of nine criteria, including foster care youth, single mothers, veterans, the homeless and ex-prisoners.

“We’re making clear what the rules of the road are with regards to development,” Hicks says.

Supporters of BBLA calculate that had these rules been in place over the last few years during the city’s building boom, more than 5,500 affordable units would have been built along transit corridors between 2013 and 2015, and more than 11,000 good-paying construction jobs would have been generated. While these numbers are guesstimates, they are based on an analysis of the development projects that did go through during this time and an understanding of how different those projects would have been had they incorporated BBLA levels of affordable housing into their designs.

Despite some opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, from some tenants’ groups and from the Coalition to Preserve LA , the group behind the competing initiative, with less than a month to go before the election BBLA continues to poll strongly – internal numbers from the campaign suggest support in the 70 percent region, and most proponents are assuming that come next year it will be a core part of L.A.’s affordable housing strategy. In fact, so sure are developers that it will pass that at least some have apparently sought to push through city planning commission requests to approve development projects before November, as a way to get around the anticipated new affordable housing requirements.

City planning officials didn’t respond to repeated requests to comment on this, nor did they address advocates’ concerns that the commission will be holding more frequent, and longer, hearings between now and November in order to process more projects; but Kevin Keller, deputy director of city planning, acknowledges that it’s at least possible that the developers of some projects already close to the approval process finishing line may be trying to sneak in under the wire. “Regulatory changes often do create a little blip, a spike in filing,” he says.

Jill Stewart, campaign director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, argues that the developers actually don’t have much to lose should BBLA pass. “It sets up a series of backroom meetings between individual council members and the developer,” she argues, in explaining her group’s opposition. “All of whom give the council members campaign cash, and wine and dine them.”  It is, she believes, a bad deal for the city, one that would create what she calls “backroom deals on steroids” as a central part of the city’s development strategy. She also argues that the way the measure is worded it would, in fact, give developers plenty of leeway to argue that including affordable housing would unfairly limit their profits, and thus to wiggle out of their promises to provide such units on site. “It’s going to be a disaster. Over-building without affordable housing.”

Amongst housing activists in the city, however, Stewart’s stance is in the minority. Many groups argue strongly that the initiative is a far better way of bulking up the affordable housing stock than other plans that have been put forward in recent years.

Assuming Measure JJJ passes, and assuming that, despite the concerns of Stewart and others, its changes will indeed protect and expand affordable housing, it  won’t come too soon for Caridad Vasquez.

“For me, Boyle Heights is a very humble community,” Vasquez says.  She feels, fairly or not, that “Metro didn’t benefit this community.” She talks of soaring rents, of older buildings demolished and replaced by luxury apartments, of families who have had to move out, and of mom and pop businesses replaced by chain stores. “Right before the Metro came, there were a lot of rumors it would bring change, and a lot of us would be displaced. And the rumors came true.”

What has happened in Boyle Heights is occurring in Koreatown, in South Los Angeles, in Chinatown (along the route of a soon-to-be-expanded Gold Line Metro Rail) and in old communities nestled around the huge University of Southern California campus.

Transit advocates such as Laura Raymond, of the Alliance for Community Transit, estimate that 60 percent of new housing development in L.A. is now occurring near new Metro stations; and the great majority of this housing is unaffordable to low-income Angelenos.

In addition to promoting BBLA, city officials, affordable housing experts, labor unions, transportation advocates and neighborhood groups have been pushing rule changes around development to encourage an expansion of the city’s woefully inadequate affordable housing stock. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced a goal for the building of 100,000 more housing units in the city by 2021, of which at least 15,000 will be specifically earmarked as affordable to low-income renters. Los Angeles, explains the city planning department’s Keller, is using an array of zoning tools to incentivize mixed-income developments, “to really produce housing along our commercial corridors.” It’s a good start, but not nearly enough to meet the cascading need as both real estate values and rental prices continue to soar in the City of Dreams.

This is, after all, a crisis decades in the making. Since the Reagan years, the federal government has failed to build up a stock of new public housing. California’s redevelopment agencies, which were once major facilitators of public housing, no longer exist. And while in LA many existing rental units are rent-controlled, recent law changes and court rulings mean that new developments are not subject to such controls. Moreover, the statewide Costa-Hawkins law, passed in 1995, has prevented cities from limiting rents on newly vacated apartments, which has diluted the rent-controlled housing stock. And a legal ruling in a lawsuit filed against the city by one of the region’s leading developers, Geoffrey Palmer, also prohibits LA from mandating affordable housing set-asides in new developments.

As a result, the city’s affordable housing stock is crumbling in quality and, as older buildings are replaced by newer developments, also declining in quantity. All of this feeds into an affordable housing crisis of huge proportions, one that helps explain the city’s homelessness epidemic, the overcrowding seen in apartment buildings in poorer neighborhoods and the increased displacement of working-class residents to the far reaches of the megalopolis.

Alan Greenlee, executive director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, quotes data produced by his members estimating the city has a shortfall of more than half a million affordable housing units. “Dang man,” he says in the organization’s fourth-floor offices in a Koreatown tower block, while explaining why he threw his organization’s support behind BBLA, despite some members’ concerns about the high costs of the initiative’s labor provisions. “That’s an emergency,” Greenlee says. “We’re at a break-the-glass-pull-the-fire-alarm kind of moment.”

Nati R’s (her last name has been withheld at her request) apartment, in South Los Angeles’ Trinity Park neighborhood, is a case study of the risks in play there for long-established residents.

For years, her building has been allowed to deteriorate, with disintegrating, damp walls, floors that periodically collapse in places, an elevator that frequently doesn’t work. For years, too, the streets surrounding the apartment block were home to gangs, to shootings, to what residents euphemistically term “activity.”

The trade-off for these abysmal conditions has been cheap rent for low-income residents who don’t have other options in the city. Nati shares the apartment, whose walls are covered with Mexican artwork, with her husband, her daughter and, at times, her son and his growing family.

Over the last few years, however, Nati and her neighbors have helped reclaim their streets, prettifying the local parks while working to tamp down the violence that for too long plagued their community.

Now, however, she fears that all of that hard work will, ultimately, benefit not her but newer, more affluent residents. Recently her building was, according to SAJE staffers, sold for $2.4 million, and apartments that used to rent for $850 are now going for $1,200. “The biggest fear,” she says in Spanish at her kitchen table, “is to be displaced, to be pushed out, to be left on the edges of the city where we don’t have our community. We make minimum wage. We can’t pay $1,000 rent.”

South of Downtown, at the Tuesday afternoon tenants’ clinic, run out of the SAJE offices that are adorned with banners from an array of tenants’ fights over the years, a middle-aged woman named Sonya tells the volunteer attorney about the eviction notice she received in early summer.

Sonya, who requested that only her first name be used, lives just two blocks west of the USC campus and the city’s Natural History Museum, in a one-bedroom, $850-per-month, rent-controlled apartment complex where long-time residents now find themselves competing with university faculty — who come onto the market with tens of thousands of dollars in housing subsidies given them by the university. Ostensibly, the reason the company that owns Sonya’s building wants her out is so that it can renovate the unit – even though, under the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department rules, that is not a legitimate reason to evict a tenant from a rent-controlled building. The SAJE people suspect that, in reality, the owners want her gone so that they can bring in a tenant who would pay a far higher rent.

The SAJE team and the attorney advise her not to vacate, that the eviction isn’t legal. Sonya, wearing glasses, her hair dyed brown, seems to breathe easier. She knows that at her stage in life, beginning anew isn’t something to take lightly. But then the SAJE team gently brings her down to earth. Be prepared, they warn her — the landlord will almost certainly try again, looking for another excuse to kick her out, looking for some other way to take advantage of the red-hot real estate markets created by the city’s investments in its transit corridors.

“The value of the investment in public transit is diminished if you’re driving transit users away,” argues Sandra McNeill of TRUST South LA, speaking in the group’s cluttered offices in a converted storefront church a couple miles from Downtown. “There’s a tremendous rationale to having a comprehensive policy in place.” With BBLA, she says, there’s finally a chance of stabilizing neighborhoods too long roiled by unconstrained real estate speculation. “We’re just doing what I think the city should have done a long time ago.”

(Sasha Abramsky writes for Capital and Main  … where this column was first posted.) All photos by Pandora Young


Amid the Mud and the Sleaze, Remember the Issues Please

ELECTION 2016--We all like a soap opera, don't we?  Well, this campaign season has been thrilled with antics, debauchery, and backroom sleaze.  But sooner or later, there are issues, and the host of financial issues and societal/moral issues MUST be addressed.

And YOU must address them.  YOU must address taxes, the economy, law and order, etc. 
Will the money be spent well?  Do we have a pension problem, in that we're now paying as much or more for retired state workers than current workers, with equivalent problems for the cities and counties of our state?  Do you think our taxes are at reasonable levels?

There are a lot of city, county, and state governmental hands in our faces, asking for money, money, and more money!  Our money.

Yet if things are better, with unemployment DOWN and the economy UP, then why so many hands in our faces?  There's an answer, but it's only acceptable to those willing to acknowledge the painful, awful, and ugly nature of economics:

This state has exported, if not shoved out, much of our middle class tax base, and replaced it with a two-tier system of very rich and very poor individuals.  And the cost of living is such that it's hard to know the difference between "lower middle class vs. poor" and "upper middle class vs. rich".  Good-bye TAX BASE, hello DEBT.

If you think that socialism, liberalism, and class warfare is just fine, and that the examples of Greece and Venezuela just doesn't apply to our city, county, and state, then vote "Yes" to all the tax hikes.  After all, it's not YOUR problem, is it?

Except that it is.  If you work for a small business and lose your job, any "Yes" votes on new taxes will simply be a result of taking a swing at "the man" and realizing you just punched yourself HARD in the mouth.  That taste in your mouth?  It's your own blood, not that sweet taste of victory (or if it is victory, then it's as futile a victory as any).

So here we go:

  • City: This is painful for me, but I recommend a "NO" vote on Measure HHH, the $1.2 billion bond measure that is sponsored by one of my personal heroes (Mike Bonin). In large part, I oppose this measure by saying publicly what I hear privately from so many of my neighbors--the money won't be spent well, because most of LA's city government is NOT as kind or virtuous as Bonin.  Also, I don't want LA to be a homeless magnet.

I oppose the Build Better LA (Measure JJJ) and recommend a "NO" vote because while it has some "feel-good" features of minimum wages for workers and requiring Angelenos be hired as workers for development projects, the top-down approach to governmental requirements repeats the mistake that well-meant socialism always teaches: it doesn't work!!! 

This spring, vote in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative instead!!!

Measure RRR:  Vote "YES".  It's reform, but only modest reform.  It's a start, though, yet woefully insufficient...yet something is better than nothing.

Measure SSS: Vote "NO".  Yes, LA Airport Police Officers deserve a good pension, but allowing them into the same unsustainable LA City police/fire department pension plan is just throwing more weight on a train that just can't be expected to move forward forever.
And speaking of trains...

  • County:  Vote YES on Measure M--It's one of the most defined tax measures we have if not THE most defined measure, and its biggest detractors claim it doesn't go far enough. Yes, I am a "pro-train" guy, but had serious doubts about this measure until I realized how popular transportation still is for our county. And I very much do want ALL of our county to advocate for each of our regions' mobility.

This next one is also painful, because I absolutely LOVE parks and recreation!  Vote "NO" on Measure A because it's a "modest parcel tax" to maintain our parks, recreation centers, rivers and beaches.  Yet if it's a cause good enough for all of us, why is the middle class the one being asked to pay for it all?  I can't think of a better way to create a future draconian "Proposition 13-style" initiative than to keep smacking around homeowners--virtually none of them are in "1%".

  • LA Community College District--this is an easy one: Vote "NO" on Measure CC. What the hell is that district doing, asking for more money when they burned through billions of dollars on scandal-plagued, often-subpar work? And what the hell would be OUR problem if we fed that beast more money at this time? 

...aaaaand it's now understood that time and space probably prevents me from addressing other issues (like the state measures) for now.  But educate yourselves! Ignore the Trump/Clinton soap opera long enough to focus on the city, county, and state issues that will really affect your lives!

And vote, darn it, vote!  Even if you hate the two main presidential candidates, the "down" races and measures are more critical and affect you, your paycheck, your family, and your neighborhood more than any presidential race.  Democracy is NOT for sissies, so dig in, do your research, and vote!


(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.)



Who Speaks for You at City Hall? Is Anybody Listening?

DEEGAN ON LA-Many attempts have been made over the decades to empower the voice of communities, often with some success through Homeowner Associations (HOA.) That community voice was organized and amplified fifteen years ago with the creation, through Charter reform, of the Neighborhood Council (NC) system. There are now 96 NC’s with 1,800 board members, representing every area of the city, and there are also countless HOA’s ranging from coalitions of a few members to huge alliances of multiple HOAs. The NC’s often work closely with the HOA’s, and some even share board members. 

Every voice in these NCs and HOAs is important as the city experiences a growth spurt unseen since the end of World War II, when LA’s population exploded and the city went through massive densification. 

Post World War II, it became evident that Los Angeles was experiencing a population boom, and that the formerly quiet neighborhoods would expand, and outlying areas, such as the San Fernando Valley, would also grow. Homeowners began to voice concerns that their well-manicured and sometimes “non-inclusionary neighborhoods” (i.e. neighborhoods in which covenants and conditions, now illegal, were attached to land deeds spelling out “who” could own property) would either be invaded by growth or bypassed for attention as newer communities sprang up to house a growing population. 

In a reaction to this, city officials made a series of attempts over the next twenty-five years to empower communities, starting in the 1950s when the County Department of Community Services created “community coordinating councils” as a way to identify specific neighborhoods, in effect giving them a “pedigree” separate from the “new growth” areas. It also created a system to coordinate county services to those community councils. Significantly, those “councils” were not activist initiators of change, but rather, passive receptors of services who were not called on for advice. 

Following the Watts Riots of 1965, the school board created a system of “neighborhood advisory councils,” to serve as a platform for public calming and give voice to distressed communities after that epochal upheaval. This was more like a super-PTA than an advisory body. 

It was not until 1969 that there was any attempt to add teeth to the empowering of neighborhood communities when Mayor Sam Yorty tried to change the City Charter to create specific neighborhoods that would have what he called “elected neighbormen” to act as local governments. Not surprisingly, because this would cut into their jurisdictions, the City Council vetoed this. 

In 1977, City Planning Director Calvin Hamilton created thirty-five “citizens advisory committees” to be a type of participatory democracy to help develop community plans that would eventually become a new master plan for the city’s growth. The City Council retired the idea, and its originator, leaving a vacuum for how to deal with growth issues. That vacuum was filled by developers who began working directly with councilmembers to get what they wanted. 

The most successful scheme to encourage participatory involvement of communities in city government has been the Neighborhood Council system, now in its fifteenth year, now with 95 NC’s that come under the direction of the City’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. DONE is led by General Manager Grayce Liu on its mission of “leading the EmpowerLA team as they support Neighborhood Councils in engaging the community and make government more responsive to local needs.” 

What then is the difference between a homeowner’s association (HOA) and a Neighborhood Council (NC), if both are dedicated to advocating for their respective communities and often work in tandem to meet those goals? In a word: training. 

Every fall, EmpowerLA (the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment) hosts a Congress of Neighborhood Councils that focuses on training board members to be more expert in land use, transportation, public safety and a host of other topics, including many administrative trainings to help NC’s function. On Saturday, September 24, 2016, the annual Congress of Neighborhoods was in session at City Hall, where nearly 1,000 neighborhood council board members assembled. They met first in council chambers and then attended a series of workshops that focused on specific community issues as well as topics addressing how to administratively run an NC. 

The very well attended workshops included “Meet Your City Officials,” “Planning and Land Use 101 and 102,” “How To Make A Difference at City Hall (Lobby Like a Pro),” “Community Partnerships for Better Outcomes,” “Unlocking the Traffic Grid,” “Public Safety in LA,” “The Future of the Neighborhood Council Movement,” “Code Enforcement-Solving Code Violation Problems,” “Persuasion in a Nutshell,” “LA 2040-Our City, Our General Plan, Our Future,” and “Emergency Preparedness.” 

While advisory only, NC board members are elected in City Clerk-run elections, and must meet the same kind of ethics and financial training standards as all city employees. Workshops like “Ethics,” “Leadership Skills,” “Parliamentary Procedures,” “How to Run a Successful Meeting,” “NC’s and the City Attorney's Office,” “Outreach and Events,” and “Board Basics 101,” all provided a basic training curriculum to strengthen the skills of NC board members. 

What differentiates the two groups (NC’s and HOA’s) is the holistic approach to neighborhood and community concerns taken by the NCs -- they look at the bigger community picture with multiple issues that go beyond the traditional concerns of preserving property values. (That’s how HOAs started and it’s still a valuable function of these organizations that often do additional helpful work for their members.) The workshops at the Congress provide valuable training and tools to people who are newly empowered (through election by their community to board seats) but arrive in office often unprepared to deal with the complicated details of land use, public safety, transportation, and education issues. Votes can be squandered by board members who do not take the time to be trained -- one of the truly great advantages of attending the Congress. 

The Congress this year was a success. According to Cindy Cleghorn, Chair of the Neighborhood Council Congress 2016, “…803 registrations and 150 walk-ins signed in. Attendance exceeded 850 throughout the day. Most all workshops were at capacity. This is the sixth consecutive Congress for NCs. There have been others but not consistent. We are anxious for feedback and making the NC Congress better each year.” 

Empower LA General Manager Grayce Liu added, "I love the Congress of Neighborhoods because it brings together all of our amazing Neighborhood Council volunteers across the City to share their successes and to learn how to overcome the obstacles they are facing in their work. It is this type of collaboration that has made LA's Neighborhood Council system so successful and is a big part of the reason why we'll still be here to celebrate the 15th year anniversary for the first Neighborhood Councils in December." 

Looking at the arc of the past six decades since WWII, and the various attempts to bring communities to the table, it’s apparent that having a seat is not the same as having a voice. Having a voice is not the same as having a trained voice. This is the critical advancement of the NC system: it brings professionalism to bear. 

What can you do? Start attending your Neighborhood Council meetings and make public comment. Join a board committee as a stakeholder. Run for a board seat. And become one of the people in the community with the loudest, trained voice.


(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.

There is Integrity in that LA Initiative

HOW IT’S DONE AT CITY HALL--Is the so-called Neighborhood Integrity Initiative really something to be feared?

I think it could be a great advancement for the city of Los Angeles. But business people seem to view the possibility that it will pass in the March 7 election with much the same kind of dread that 14th century Europeans looked upon the arrival of the bubonic plague in the nearby village.

At least, at a Sept. 22 politically oriented luncheon held by the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, denunciations of the initiative got hearty applause, such as when Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez said, “This initiative is dangerous.”

What’s more, what’s been called the broadest coalition in LA history to fight an initiative has formed to oppose the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. It is made up of chambers of commerce, developers and other business interests, but also labor groups, affordable housing proponents, a few city councilmembers and others. Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad is among the contributors.

Yes, lots of folks – not just business people – hate the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Why the wrath? It’s mainly because the initiative calls for a two-year moratorium on most major construction in the city of Los Angeles. Well, either two years or until the city updates its general zoning plan, whichever comes first. Opponents say it is nigh onto impossible to accomplish such a mammoth task in less than two years. So, realistically, construction will seize up for that span.

Opponents also imply that the entire initiative is cynical because it was started and bankrolled out of self-interest by Michael Weinstein, the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and an unrepentant gadfly. (He’s the guy behind the successful initiative requiring condoms on porn movie sets.) Weinstein is irked because the 28-story Palladium Residences towers are going up next to his Hollywood office, blocking the view from his 21st floor window, and that makes his new initiative a selfish and petulant attack against the city, some believe.

Well, maybe so. But Weinstein experienced the same fury and frustration that thousands of powerless Angelenos feel when they wake up one morning to see a tower under construction next door on land that wasn’t supposed to allow such structures. If they investigate, they likely discover that – surprise! – a deal was cut in City Hall.

Indeed, that’s how development is done in Los Angeles. Deals are cut, one by one, in City Hall. Since the city’s zoning map is woefully outdated (intentionally so, the initiative’s backers claim), that means developers must get a variance, an exception to the zoning code, whenever they want to build much of anything substantive. To get that variance – guess what? – they must schmooze the appropriate city councilmember to get his or her sign-off. Weinstein’s group claims city councilmembers and the mayor have gotten $6 million from developers since 2000, and that’s just in campaign contributions. Has anything other than campaign contributions been forked over? Well, I’ll leave that up to you to guess.

By the way, if a business did what the city is doing, that business could be charged with running an extortion racket. And rightfully so.

I agree with the proponents in this regard: The city must be forced, bludgeoned if necessary, to meaningfully update its zoning codes. It needs to come up with a realistic and transparent set of rules to guide what kind of city we want built. That way, citizens and businesses would be forewarned about the type and scale of development that may go up around them. And once the codes are set and understood – and provided they are realistic – developers could simply get routine permits and wave to the elected folks as they walk by their offices. They would no longer have to stop and pay, ahem, homage.

Sorry to be cynical, but this points out why several city councilmembers hate the initiative. If it passes, it would derail their gravy train.

Having said all that, I agree with the initiative’s opponents in this regard: That two-year moratorium is a killer. It is simply unrealistic to presume a meaningful general plan and all that goes with it (think public hearings in every neighborhood) can be done quickly. As a result, we would be stuck with a two-year hiatus for most construction throughout Los Angeles, and that makes the initiative lethally flawed.

Doesn’t this feel like prime time for a compromise? A statesman is needed to come forward. (Former Mayor Richard Riordan, who supports the initiative, pops to mind, but surely there are other candidates.) Someone needs to work with the Weinstein group to help them achieve their goals but not with that two-year prohibition on construction. Perhaps there can be a waiting period of two or three years before the hammer of that punitive construction moratorium comes down, which would provide time and a deadline for the city to come up with a new general plan. Call it a moratorium for the moratorium if you wish, but a compromise of some type is needed.

If that type of solution were figured out, then we’d have the chance to achieve something truly meaningful: a transparent general plan that creates rational building patterns and doesn’t virtually require a shakedown of developers. And it could be done without a two-year construction moratorium.

That would be something not to be feared by businesses. Indeed, it would be embraced by the grateful arms of a relieved city.

(Charles Crumpley is editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal. This perspective was posted most recently at Fox and Hounds.) 


The Trump Anchor in California

POLITICS-Even before the Washington Post reported the videotape revealing Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women, the Republican candidate was proving to be an anchor weighing down Republicans in California. Campaign pollsters say that Republicans running for assembly and senate seats that were doing well suffered a drop in numbers after a barrage of negative hit pieces tying them to Trump—whether the local candidate supported Trump or not.

Post debate, it appears many Republican voters will hang with Trump despite Trump’s braggadocio on the videotape. According to a Politico Poll taken after the tape was made public (but before the debate), Republican voters that supported Trump were sticking by him. The debate won’t change that. In fact, his debate performance might have lessened the bleeding his campaign was experiencing among some Republicans. 

The attacks and counter punches were there last night. Hillary Clinton was either the devil (according to Trump) or acting like Abe Lincoln (according to Clinton.) But its unlikely few minds were changed by the debate performances.

In California there are fewer and fewer Republicans as the latest figures from the Secretary of State’s office reveals. While a number of Republicans stick with Trump, it is less certain that independent voters will come his way and that could hurt down-ticket Republicans even if, as Congressional candidate Scott Jones has done, candidates announce they will not vote for Trump.

Of course, the Trump tape is not the first time that sexual misconduct has been an issue in a presidential campaign.

Go back to the beginning of the Republic when disaffected Thomas Jefferson supporter turned political journalist, James T. Callender, put in print the long rumored story that Jefferson had several children with a slave named Sally.

Another episode was Grover Cleveland’s child out of wedlock and the tale concocted by his aides to put the blame on the child’s mother. And, of course, more recently, there was Bill Clinton’s history that Trump brought up during the debate and with his pre-debate press conference featuring some of Bill Clinton’s accusers.

It should be noted that all three candidates painted with the brush of scandal won the White House.

Tying down-ticket Republican candidates to Trump in deep blue California could well lead to supermajorities for the Democrats in both houses of the state legislature. Could Trump’s anchor bring the number of Democrats to a large enough supermajority to offset some moderate Democrats abandoning legislative leaders on certain issues?

Turnout is the key. If this latest episode with Trump solidifies Clinton’s standing through Election Day, her California supporters may see no need to vote, which would help down-ticket Republicans. Or could the revelation that Hillary Clinton is speaking out of both sides of her mouth on issues important to Bernie Sanders progressives reduce the Democratic vote in California? Both scenarios could counter the Trump anchor effect that has shown up in state polling.

(Joel Fox is the Editor of Fox & Hounds  … where this perspective was first posted … and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)


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