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Tue, May

Too Much Information Can Be Hazardous to a Voter’s Health

GELFAND’S WORLD-It's that time of year when your television screen fills up with ads attacking ballot propositions. But have you noticed that the political ads almost never tell you what the propositions would actually do? Instead, the screen is filled with young women running through fields of daisies or, in one recent approach, the TV screen is filled with spokesmen wearing military paraphernalia who are swearing that Proposition 61 is unfair to veterans (photo above). There is an opposing ad that has a spokesman -- also dressed up in military paraphernalia -- explaining that Prop 61 won't hurt vets. 

Nobody tries to inform us what Prop 61 would actually do. 

Or there is Prop 56. We get a mom and her young child, with the mom asking us to help prevent her child from someday taking up smoking. What we don't get is a simple description saying that Prop 56 raises the tax on a pack of cigarettes by two dollars. 

Funny thing about these commercials. In the anti-Prop 61 ads, the final screen showing the names of the major funders flicks on and off so fast that you can't quite follow. You have time to read the first few words, but they are generic made-up titles for organizations that don't sound genuine. We could make up our own organization and call it something like Proud Americans for Preserving Veterans' Rights and Freedom, and stick it on the end of one of these commercials, and who would know that it was created by a giant pharmaceutical company, or at least by the advertising agency that was hired to carry water for that company? But if you look closely (don't blink), you can find the names of some pretty heavy hitters in the drug industry near the bottom of the screen. 

Shouldn't the television stations provide an explanation for what each proposition does? Isn't this part of the news? This is a major failure on the part of commercial broadcast television in its ostensible duty to serve the public interest. 

But there is the Official Voter Information Guide sent out by the office of the Secretary of State. You probably got it in your mail a few days ago. May I point you to what is called the Analysis by the legislative analyst. It's on the first page of each Initiative section, right below the Official Title and Summary. For Prop 61, the explanation begins on page 72. 

Here is the first paragraph of the summary for Prop 61: 

Prohibits state agencies from buying any prescription drug from a drug manufacturer at any price over the lowest price paid for the same drug by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, except as may be required by federal law. 

There is one little exception that the opponents are attacking, but fundamentally, the law is ostensibly an attempt to allow California to take advantage of how the VA achieves discounts based on bulk purchasing. 

That doesn't seem like such a complicated idea. Whatever the VA pays, the state pays. No more and no less. It's no more because that is what the law would require. It's no less because the drug companies aren't likely to accept anything less from California than what they already are getting from the VA. 

So what's the beef? From the standpoint of the drug companies, it's potentially a very big beef. If California can enforce this standard for drug pricing, then what's to stop any other state from doing the same? In an era of the $600 epipen, there are a lot of individual consumers and state purchasing agents who would like to see a more balanced approach to drug pricing. The remedy for monopoly pricing is either more aggressive antitrust enforcement or collective bargaining on the part of consumers. 

For most of us, the collective bargaining is done by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. For VA patients, the collective bargaining is done by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Apparently the VA does pretty well in its negotiations. One reason for this is that the VA has traditionally been willing to remove a drug from its formulary if the administration feels that it is overpriced and that there are alternative drugs available. Now the state of California would like to take advantage of the system of price negotiations that already exists. 

You can see how the pharmaceutical industry would feel endangered by the most populous state trying to reduce its drug spending this way. If California has been paying $100 for some prescription drug and the VA is getting it for $70, what is the manufacturer to do? 

Well, one strategy would be for the drug company to start charging the VA the same $100 as California (and most everybody else) has been paying. That seems to be what the anti-Prop 61 ads are implying. The ballot arguments in the voter guide say pretty much the same thing. What's missing from this argument is that the VA has been enforcing its price strategy pretty well, and isn't likely to back down. 

There is a simpler argument against Prop 61 based on public policy considerations. We need a better method for negotiating drug pricing that is national in scope and is enforced at the federal antitrust level. The problem is that drug company money keeps the congress in check, so we aren't likely to see such legislation anytime soon. California voters are left with this alternative. It's imperfect, but it's something.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]) 

-cw

The Chase Knolls Battle: Behind the Scenes

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Two weeks ago, I first wrote about a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Landmark in the Valley that has become ground zero for the integrity fight in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood. In a nutshell, the city has approved a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) for Chase Knolls that allows the developer to knock down existing carports and laundry rooms and remove 138 mature trees to make room for new utility lines to upgrade electricity for future tenants so the landlord may install in-unit washer/dryer and dishwashers, amenities that will not be offered to existing tenants. 

Update: As of September 22, The Office of Historic Resources has asked the developer to stop the removal of the mature trees, pending an investigation of the property’s historic landscaping.

I’ve been speaking with Chase Knolls tenants, neighbors and other stakeholders to get the stories behind why maintaining this landmark is so crucial. 

This week, I spoke with Carolyn Uhri who has lived in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood near Chase Knolls since the 1950s. 

For Carolyn Urhi, the Valley (and Chase Knolls) represent a piece of her childhood. She’s committed to honoring her childhood neighborhood where she still lives. Carolyn is the President of the San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center, as well as the Project Coordinator for Horses Across the Valley at The Museum of the San Fernando Valley. 

Here’s what Carolyn shared with me: 

The History--“I used to walk by Chase Knolls every day on my way to school. It was an oasis; I thought it was magical as a young kid. My next door neighbor for many years came from Pennsylvania after the war. They were both in the Navy and lived at Chase Knolls while their house was being built. It was the place to go because it was an exotic garden apartment, what somebody from Pennsylvania would have thought Los Angeles was all about. 

When my parents came here from Nebraska to the Valley, this was a big deal for them. My mother used to take the red car to Hollywood because there were no department stores until they built a Sears in North Hollywood. Everything had more of a neighborhood feel back then. We were lucky to live in an area where we really watched out for one another. That has carried over from the original owners of these houses built in 1952-54 but I just don’t know what’s going to happen to families now. 

That’s gone.

This place has such a wonderful history and in a way, that is being pushed to the side. Some of these trees were planted in 1949, some actually have been here before that. The developer obviously thought it was important to keep some of the details, like the stainless steel counters in the kitchens. 

Waterton--Waterton Property & Investment Group is one of the most unscrupulous companies. There are three issues I see; traffic, water and quality of life, pretty generic but important, all in the name of a dishwasher! There are elements that they have kept and I am not sure how they were able to circumvent the others. 

Councilmember David Ryu--I’m disappointed in our new councilman who took over. David Ryu was supposed to be the one fighting developers. He had gone into people’s living rooms before the election to talk about that and how he’d fight for his constituents but nothing could be further from the truth! 

I want to believe city officials are on the up and up but I don’t believe they are. They seem to just want to let developers do whatever they want to do. At one standing room only meeting I attended behind Ross near Fashion Square, I remember Ryu saying he “inherited this from Tom LaBonge” and didn’t want to deal with it. He seemed indifferent to the whole thing. David Ryu was dead on arrival for this whole thing. He jumped into the pockets of developers, along with many others.

The Impact--Waterton wants to raise the rent for Chase Knolls residents. What happened to thinking about traffic? We have Milliken Middle School, Notre Dame. The plan is expected to add 140 more units. This will bring even more traffic. Where is the water coming from? This issue rankles me. With IMT, they’re putting up a new apartment building almost every month. Where is the water coming from? We get chastised for using too much water but they let developers come in and obviously use more water. 

(Note: A decade ago, the City Council approved six new apartment buildings on Riverside inside the Chase Knolls block that would contain 140 units but the entitlement ends in February.) 

The Neighborhood--I’m just really quite upset about what is happening to the residents and to the neighborhood. I have lived a half-mile away and have lived here since 1957. 

There have been lots of changes. It’s not like I want to go back to the sixties but too many things have been put into place to protect Chase Knolls and I wonder how the heck they’re getting around this, especially the historical landmark issue and pushing out existing residents. It’s a sad commentary on what is going on here.

Why This Matters--My area is still like Leave it to Beaver. Everyone has kept up their homes. But it seems that quality of life is not in the equation any more. That’s why I was forced to get involved in making sure these developers don’t take over. 

What Needs to Happen--I think we need to have a separate San Fernando Valley Conservancy to address our issues. If this is the way the Los Angeles Conservancy is run, it needs a complete overhaul. It’s supposed to be people trying to save garden apartment complexes, historic landmarks. This should not be about loopholes and ignoring the laws or checking off things that should not be checked off or looked into as “not applicable.” It’s so blatant. Do they think there isn’t going to be any backlash from how they’re handling it? 

This also all depends on money to fight. This group needs a lawyer and it takes money to hire a lawyer. 

Sherman Oaks is being overrun. With the Sunkist Building project, they’re planning to build 295 units on top of commercial storefronts just down the road. What on earth is happening to this area? It’s becoming like Tokyo.” 

Questions--Another issue I want to find out is the vacancy rates. I’ve heard with all the complexes built by IMT, they’re only one-third full. If that’s true, why do we need more units? They say it’s going to be low cost housing for a year and then they raise the rents.

What happened to quality of life? This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

 

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

Self-Generated Delusion: South Bay’s Buscaino Pulls a Trump

AT LENGTH-You’d expect the postmortems on the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump debate to be decidedly partisan dissections. I don’t think anyone would have thought so many Republicans would join the stomp parade on Trump’s debate performance. 

“Trump was somewhere between incoherence and babble. Never [before] has there been a candidate in a presidential debate as fundamentally unprepared and incoherent as what you saw tonight,” Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt said. 

The Arizona Republic, which has never endorsed a Democrat for president in all its years of publishing (since 1890) wrote: 

“The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified…for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.” 

The editorial staff of the Arizona Republic went on to explain: 

“The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting. Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not. Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.” 

It will come as no surprise to conservative readers and even some liberal or progressives of this newspaper that as a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter we are now endorsing Hillary Clinton for all of those reasons announced by one of the most conservative Republican newspapers in America.

I find it extraordinarily strange that this paper finds itself in agreement with such ardent conservatives, but the Republican Party has not had such an unqualified presidential candidate since its founding. Trump’s delusional rhetoric has divided this country from every corner and state down to our own main streets. 

Trump’s politics of fear insinuated itself far and wide in the national psyche through his calls to profile and restrict the movements of Muslims and Mexicans—the echoes of which can be heard in the voices of those who fear our growing homeless population at home. 

Those fears are rooted in the anxiety many working class Americans feel -- an anxiety that often results in the scapegoating of marginalized communities. When Trump says he wants to “Make America Great Again” he does it by hammering on our fear of the other, a division as deep as the Grand Canyon. 

One can only ask, “How can Trump possibly unify this nation after creating such divisions?”

The same might be said about Hillary Clinton except that she has not been the one castigating minorities or promising to build a Great Wall of China along our southern border to keep out the heathens. In the San Pedro Harbor area, our very own smiling Joe Buscaino has inspired much of the same fear and loathing as The Donald, though perhaps unintentionally. 

Still, the empowering of the Saving San Pedro folks with appointments and neighborhood council status has only emboldened the anti-homeless contingent of Pedrans and fueled sustained vitriol on social media. The main culprit behind Buscaino’s political rise and continued social media stardom is his chief propagandist, communications director Branimir Kvartuc, who recently told me point blank that, “I’m not going to answer any of your questions.” This while he was talking to the press at the Barton Hill demonstration we reported on in this issue about the lack of transparency in deciding the location of the homeless storage facilities near the elementary school. 

What we have found here is that Kvartuc’s facile use of seductive digital media imagery has built a bubble around Buscaino, shielding him from voices of dissatisfaction with his reign in office, as the number of those grumbling grows. 

There are very few who will go on record  about their lack of confidence in Buscaino’s leadership, but privately there is a growing chorus asking, “Exactly what has Joe done in the last five years, aside from taking selfies of himself and blasting them over social media?” 

Media should be the bridge and not the wall between the governed and those who govern -- and when the government assumes the role of being the media, like Kvartuc and others have done, they eliminate dissenting voices. Hence, like Trump, Buscaino is living in his own self-generated delusion. 

Don’t get me wrong, Trump is a xenophobic self-centered egotist who can only bully his way into public office. Buscaino, on the other hand, is a really nice guy, a former Los Angeles Police Department senior lead officer whom everybody once liked. I’m sure that, unlike Trump, Buscaino’s intentions are decent, if unavoidably naive and narrow-minded. After all, he views governance through the lens of law enforcement. Some have even gone so far as to call him arrogantly ignorant of the realities of big city politics and development. 

Whatever the case may be, it has come to my attention that he is terribly thin-skinned and resistant to even light-handed criticisms. I’ve offered them privately before I voiced them publicly. His leadership, much like his police training, is a top down kind of approach that distrusts collaboration, public discussion (unless heavily controlled or edited) and critique. 

He avoids neighborhood councils, except when he wants his decisions to be rubber stamped. He sets up task forces to deal with dicey issues so as to avoid Brown Acted meetings and transparency and uses them for cover if things go bad.  And, when you come to think of it, this is the same kind of problem the rest of the City of Los Angeles has with its citizens, or vice versa. So Buscaino fits right in with the top down power structure. 

An example of this is the councilman’s bungling of the homeless storage proposal, which excluded Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council advice, and avoided getting community consent and consideration of the neighborhood that would be most impacted. Obviously, his chief propagandist didn’t get ahead of the issue before it exploded. Good job, Branimir! 

(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.

What's So Bad about 100% Graduation?

EDUCATION POLITICS--The Los Angeles school board gathered last week under the premise of discussing Superintendent Michelle King’s draft Strategic Plan.  

The morning session was a discussion of how to connect what the board and the district do to what happens in the classroom. In other words, what is the mission?  

Remnants of special interests were apparent. The discussion was framed as what reform (or as LA’s late, great Scott Folsom used to say ®eform) should look like. 

Board President Steve Zimmer bristled at the term. “School reform has become a vulgarly distorted term that I’m not actually interested in anymore because I don’t know what it means.” 

The news reports following the meeting mostly announced the board’s mission of 100% graduation (KPCC's report gave a fuller idea of what was discussed). 100% graduation is neither a mission nor a vision, but a goal. The morning conversation was about more than that anyway. 

It would have benefited from some preparation in the form of research and policy analysis presented to board members ahead of time. Without that, each board member was left to his and her own devices. Some were better informed than others. 

PUC Charter Schools co-founder Ref Rodriguez blamed regulation: The regulatory environment keeps us centralized rather than ultimate school reform. Not sure what that means, but ®ef must be thrilled that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two bills this week that would have required charter schools to adhere to California’s transparency laws that all public bodies in the state follow. He was the least helpful. He later suggested that empowered parents should be considered "just noise". 

There was discussion about why parents and even employees go directly to board members instead of to the many district employees whose jobs are to do the things the board hears about. That might be because board members are elected and therefore accountable to the people. 

Some board members elaborated on their vision. The longtime school principals, Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, and classroom teacher Monica Ratliff described school communities as the center. Vladovic cited Edmonds’ research and talked about bringing in parents and the whole school to improve student achievement.  

Monica Ratliff grappled with whether and how board resolutions can make their way into the typical classroom. They discussed the need for district employees at every level to know that their whole purpose was to serve students. These were ideas that you could imagine parents, teachers, principals and aides coalescing around. They were talking mission and vision. 

It’s hard to understand how hours of exchange about the goals and obstacles for a huge and diverse school district got reduced to a single number. 

Maybe it’s because, by the afternoon, the Board Bully, Monica Garcia had joined the meeting. But why did Zimmer, too, insist on narrowing the focus “laser like,” as he said? And why was King so ready to reduce the district’s mission to one goal? 

The superintendent, whom Zimmer reminded everyone, has the most trust of any superintendent in recent history, will now be judged by her ability or inability to achieve one target. The headlines will write themselves. 

George McKenna understood that this was the wrong direction, knowing all the factors that are beyond the school’s control. There’s plenty of research about this, too. 

But it seemed that having the Superintendent declare an easily stated goal was more appealing than grappling with the exigencies of a diverse and massive school district. 

Reducing LAUSD’s mission to 100% graduation is downright baffling when you contrast it with California’s recent move toward the use of multiple measures in evaluating schools (after years of leading the country in bucking the Obama administration’s Race to the Top policies). Amidst ESSA's rejection of 100% proficiency goals of NCLB. In light of the shift in the national discourse from achievement gaps to opportunity gaps. 

But this background was not even discussed. 

Michelle King is a good listener. Recent reports say she has been listening to the Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) folks who plan to award grants to open more schools in LAUSD. Last week, the LA Times wrote: 

Emphasizing possible collaboration, [GPSN’s] news release on Wednesday included a comment from LA schools Supt. Michelle King. 

“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our LA Unified families,” King said. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.” 

She added: “I have encouraged our local district superintendents to identify our most successful models and to work with their teams to develop competitive and forward-thinking proposals,” King said. 

As enrollment is dropping and the superintendent is considering consolidating and closing schools (according to this TV interview), how are more schools the answer? Where will those students come from? But these are ideas brought to her by GPSN.  

Michelle King is known as a good listener. Those of us who care about our schools should consider giving her something more to hear. 

What is your idea of LAUSD's mission? What do you want included in the strategic plan? 

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

-cw

Report: LA City Council Puts Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on March Ballot … “Fairest Way to Deal with This”

VOX POP--The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017, ballot today – a major victory for all Angelenos who want to reform City Hall’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system. Jill Stewart explains why there is so much support for the ballot measure. 

Noting that community activists worked hard to gather nearly 104,000 signatures from the public to put the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the ballot, City Council president Herb Wesson said that the “fairest way to deal with this is ask the voters what they think.”

Coalition to Preserve LA campaign director Jill Stewart said today, “Our measure allows 95% of all development to continue while the greediest 5% of developers are put on a timeout while we force the City Council to come up with a real plan for Los Angeles. How are they going to improve the roads, get the water we need and fix the infrastructure to accommodate the City Council’s desired huge projects?”

Stewart added, “Our ballot measure forces them to answer this crucial question and follow our zoning rules, instead of ignoring them as they have in recent years. It will also force them to address the growing luxury housing glut of 15% vacancies – three times what is healthy – that has left LA with ghost condos and empty penthouses while rents skyrocket and homelessness spikes. Again, this City Council has no plan.”

The Coalition to Preserve LA is a burgeoning, citywide, citizen-driven movement that seeks to reform City Hall’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system. It is the sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.

Inside City Council chambers today, several Coalition to Preserve LA supporters explained the desperate need for the reform measure.

Grace Yoo (photo above), an attorney and co-founder of the Environmental Justice Collaborative, detailed how a 27-story luxury housing skyscraper was approved by City Hall for a low-slung, working-class section of Koreatown. The community overwhelming opposed the mega-project, but the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti didn’t listen to them. 

“The residents are tired of the city bulldozing over them,” said Yoo.

Xochitl Gonzalez, a Neighborhood Council member and Westside resident, spoke about City Hall’s recent approval of the Martin Expo Town Center mega-project at Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive, where traffic is already gridlocked. The oversized development will only worsen car congestion, and numerous community groups opposed the mega-project. But, again, the City Council didn’t listen—and green lit Martin Expo Town Center. 

Explaining that LA’s planning and land-use system consistently favors wealthy developers over ordinary citizens, Gonzalez said, “People all over LA are beginning to understand how skewed the process is.”

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

-cw

Human Compassion in Short Supply in LA’s City Council Chambers

CITY HALL--The vast majority of Angelenos who show up at LA City Council meetings to address their representatives have never been there before. They come from every corner of the city, from every age group, and for different reasons, but there’s one thing they all have in common—genuine, heart-felt passion about their reason for coming. Without such feeling, those Angelenos could never find the impetus to take time off from—and to risk losing—their jobs, to find a caretaker for their young kids, or, as a senior citizen, to venture out into the unfamiliar and frightening web of buses and subways. 

The expectations with which they come to a City Council meeting--of what will happen when they take those fateful few steps up to the public comment podium, when the agenda item for which they’ve travelled all this way to speak with their representatives, is called up by the Council President--vary as much as do their reasons for coming.  

But there’s one thing none of them expect, but which is true at least half of the time—that they won’t be allowed to address the Council at all. 

Sometimes the bad news is delivered politely by the Sergeant-at-Arms, sometimes curtly, but the effect is devastating regardless.  

The reasons they are turned away? The most frequent cause is that the agenda item was already “taken up in committee”-- and the Brown Act says that if an opportunity for public comment is given at a committee meeting, then the Council doesn’t have to hear public comment at the regular meeting.  

Sometimes the reason for the bad news is that the Council has decided—during the meeting—to “continue” the agenda item to another date. That means they’ve decided not to address the issue that day but instead to do it at a future meeting.   

Other times the reason for denial of public comment is that the item was “already approved,” as a result of Council President Wesson taking up the issue in the first few seconds of the meeting, even if the item appears near the end of the published agenda.  

In every one of the cases, Council President Wesson can easily make it possible for these Angelenos to make their comment. And yet he rarely does that.  

Even for the lucky ones who make it up to the podium to say their piece there is disappointment. They will find many of the Council members … often as many as half or more … are missing, or engaged in side conversations, or, as happened recently, holding a press conference.
It’s heartbreaking. It’s wrong. And on Friday, on a motion by Paul Krekorian, the amount of time afforded to those who made the journey down to City Hall to address their representatives was cut in half.  

How much time does that give? Five minutes? Three? No, the answer is one. A single minute. 

It’s no wonder that the respect level for politicians is at an all time low. It’s no wonder that voter turnout at Los Angeles elections is embarrassingly miniscule. It’s no wonder that more citizens than ever before are going to court to get the attention of their representatives. As former LA Councilman Joel Wachs said in his run for mayor as far back as 1992, the people have become cynical about government and no longer believe anyone is listening or capable of understanding them. 

It’s interesting to imagine how successful a politician might be, in today’s cynical climate, if he or she were to give a promise of human compassion a high priority in their political campaigns. Of course that would require that they possess that quality in the first place. And, based on the treatment of constituents in the Los Angeles City Council chambers, human compassion is running in short supply.

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

Fraudulent LAFD Inspections: How Much Did the Mayor Know and When Did He Know It?

@THE GUSS REPORT-One month ago my CityWatch article exposed how Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti threw under the bus a veteran Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief named John Vidovich (photo above) who actually did what he was supposed to do: improve public safety by exposing inefficiency and fraud among some, but more than a few, fire inspectors.

Vidovich’s efforts caused fraudulent overtime to plummet (some inspectors are believed to have been paid more than $130,000 in annual overtime) and criminal behavior to be exposed so much so that the firefighter’s union stepped in with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash for Garcetti and members of LA City Council in a curiously timed, but alleged and unstated, quid-pro-quo donation to stop Vidovich. 

I have since received scores of statements from Vidovich supporters alleging specific acts of fraud, including some that accuse the Garcetti-appointed LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas of knowing about the criminal activity but doing nothing about it internally or not reporting it to the District Attorney’s office for further investigation. 

Perhaps the most pronounced area of the alleged fraud at the LAFD is in its Schools, Churches and Institutions unit which, according to its website, is “responsible for the inspection of all public, private and charter schools in the city of Los Angeles…and for inspecting Los Angeles Unified Schools District schools, churches with over 750 attendees, jails and residential care facilities.” 

The accusations against Inspectors in this unit include: 

Last November, Inspector Glenn Martinez allegedly put in for 30 hours of inspection time at the University of Southern California. The problem is that those hours were billed during the bustling USC/UCLA football game week that, according to sources, would never have taken place during that time, and could not have taken place because Martinez would have needed key card access. Some sources claim Terrazas knew about this allegation as early as December, 2015, but failed to launch an investigation until I started researching it for my article in August, 2016. Martinez may also be caught up in similar activity at Occidental College. 

Inspector Aaron Walker is accused of being so far behind in his work that he allegedly deleted from the inspection database dozens of ancient buildings at the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus. An internal report given to Terrazas is believed to show the results of a computer forensics investigation indicating that those addresses were deleted via Walker’s account. Walker is rumored to have denied this allegation, claiming that someone made the deletions while signed in under his name, but he could not be reached for comment for this article. 

Inspectors Derricke Lockhart and Patricia Ramirez were both accused of allegedly inspecting, among other places, several daycare facilities that may have been closed for as much as a decade on the dates they claimed to have inspected them. 

Vidovich (photo left) was hardly alone in his efforts to expose the corruption. Among the good guys is Captain Duc Nguyen, who discovered one Inspector allegedly putting in for 150 different inspections at a swap meet that had a single address. 

These and many more allegations were known to the higher-ups, like independent assessor Sue Stengel, who, sources say, was more hell bent on finding dirt on Vidovich than on digging into the fraud allegations and misconduct that was known to management before he was appointed to clean it up. 

It is believed that Walker, Martinez and some of their colleagues have, or are about to, put in a claim against the city for $1 million each for retaliation, a pre-cursor to a formal lawsuit that may have the unintended consequence of exposing more wrongdoing during the discovery process. 

Since these allegations would amount to felonious behavior (if proven truthful) due to the monetary value of each fraudulent inspection, what remains to be determined is what, if anything, did Terrazas tell Mayor Garcetti? And if he did tell him, was Garcetti too busy endorsing the firefighter union’s campaign check to care? 

If they both stay silent on a matter of public corruption, it’s time for the FBI to get involved. Garcetti, Terrazas, Stengel and firefighter’s union officials at the local and national level did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatchLA, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. His views do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatch. This is the second of an ongoing CityWatch investigation into LAFD inspection fraud.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Exposed: Hahn Operative Trolls CityWatch

@THE GUSS REPORT-“This is Ground Control to Janice Hahn.…” Immediately hire the person who for several hours last week posted voluminous, detailed comments (actually, the only comments) vigorously defending you using the name Jay Romeo on my CityWatch article regarding the illegally raised special interest donations that you have agreed to return in your campaign against Steve Napolitano to become LA County Supervisor of the 4th District. 

That is, unless Romeo already works for you …. 

Romeo’s effort is what one might expect of a paid political consultant like Hahn’s campaign spokesman John Shallman who did not respond to my offer to do Q&A prior to the article being published and discussed on KFI AM-640. While his office eventually denied posting those comments, let’s take a closer look. 

But first, my cardinal rule about reporting on politicians or aspiring ones: I do not accept prepared statements in lieu of (my) questions and (their) answers. A prepared statement neither advances a story nor serves the reader. It serves only the entity making it. 

Romeo claims to be so close to Hahn that he explains her motivation for returning those funds: “She’s doing it anyway out of an abundance of caution and respect for the law in general.” 

Romeo also cited quotes from the LA Times and the Daily Breeze newspapers: 

Los Angeles Times (9-24-16) “In an interview, Hahn said she would pay back the money if the county ultimately decides she has to…” 

Daily Breeze (9-22-16) “As we’ve said before, Janice will ‘cure’ (repay what’s owed) within the time frame given by the registrar,” said Hahn strategist John Shallman. 

Generous for Romeo to include that second quote, don’t you think? Perhaps the Daily Breeze quote was added because in the Times’ article, Shallman’s name did not appear in proximity to his quote, and that one quote addressing the subject simply wouldn’t do. It’s just a hunch. 

On Friday, while Hahn and Napolitano duked it out in court when he sued her to prevent those excess funds from being spent, I re-contacted Shallman’s office to ask if they posted the Romeo comments.

Meghan Carvalho, a Shallman aide, emailed me a prepared statement (despite my caveat against them) that she said came from Shallman. 

In Shallman’s statement, he mentioned “…firefighters, teachers and nurses…” 

In one of Romeo’s comments, he mentioned “…teachers, firefighters and nurses…” 

There are more than 10 million people living in Los Angeles County in thousands of professions. 

How spectacular that Shallman and Romeo selected not only the same number of professions, but the same exact three…with the same exact comma usage, too.

-----

In the LA Times, Shallman is quoted “…working families are not silenced…”

In the same exact context, Romeo wrote “…working families, cannot donate…”

-----

Shallman’s emailed statement noted how the law “…rigs the system in favor of millionaires…”

Romeo’s comment was “…rigs the system in favor of millionaires…”

That’s the same exact wording, to the letter.

-----

Shallman, in his prepared statement and in other media outlets, made some of the same specious points that Romeo did, like suggesting that donation limits on Political Action Committees (PAC) somehow silences individuals’ 1st Amendment right to contribute to campaigns. They do not. Individuals are all able to donate to campaigns directly, regardless of whether they also donated to PACs. 

This is hardly the first time Shallman has been accused of unconventional, unfair or untruthful behavior. 

While Romeo accused me of favoring Napolitano, I wrote about Napolitano’s concerns because he willingly engaged in Q&A, while neither Hahn nor Shallman did. But let me assure you, Romeo, I do not live in the 4th District, am neither Republican nor Democrat, cannot tell you where Napolitano stands on even a single issue and, prior to this article, never even heard of him. Satisfied?

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatchLA, Huffington Post and KFI AM-640. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.   His views do not necessarily reflect those of CityWatch) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Decision 2016: How We Spend Our Tax Dollars … More Important Than Ever Before

ALPERN AT LARGE--As mentioned in a previous CityWatch article, the need to figure out what to spend our tax dollars on is as critical as ever. Raising or cutting taxes willy-nilly makes no sense--the big questions are whether our current taxes are spent well, and if our society wants to focus on a given priority. 

It should be remembered that our current state budget is dominated by self-serving public union leaders who are merely hired guns to make some folks wealthy (or at least comfortable) while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves and work two or more jobs until we drop dead of old age.  Our pension budgets … city and state … have not been resolved. 

We're spending as much or more on retired pensioners (who deserve to retire well, but not at the unsustainable six-digit-figure-per-year level) as we are on current state employees and their necessary services.  It's doubtful that even the average public sector union worker believes that our current pace is sustainable, so it's not so much the unions but their greedy, tone-deaf leaders who have inspired this mess. And, our many less than skilled electeds who allow it to happen. 

So the "ginormous" number of state, county, and city tax measures we have to vote on is daunting.  Frustrating.  Painful even. 

In short, it's easy to figure out how to vote this November, because the "money tree" is bare: vote NO on all tax measures (especially with regards to education) with the exception of those addressing transportation/infrastructure. 

Of course, it's no secret that I am a transportation advocate, so I may be coming across as a self-serving lobbyist ... except that I don't get paid.  I very much AM, however, through my neighborhood council and other grassroots experience, familiar with the needs and outcries of the voting public.   

Education dollars are being horribly misspent, as are so many health, welfare, homeless and other vital issues that merit BETTER spending, not MORE spending. 

So why the big exception for Transportation/Infrastructure?  It's simple:  the demand is critical, and our health and economy (which pays for everything) is on the line.  And our transportation departments, at virtually all government levels (with perhaps the exception of the high-speed rail folks), are pretty efficient. 

Here are a few key issues with respect to local and regional transportation, particularly Measure M, the LA County transportation sales tax measure (VOTE YES!!!): 

1) With state leadership and federal funds drying up, local cities and counties are having to make up and take the lead on any transportation planning, funding, and construction.   

If it makes you feel any better, this governor and his high-speed-rail-at-the-expense-of-all-other-transportation-priorities will be out of office in two years.  And both Trump and Clinton have promised more annual spending, with a strong prioritization in our government, to rebuild and expand our transportation/infrastructure, if they are elected. 

2) Did the Expo and Foothill Gold Lines prove successful?  YES.   

Expo Line ridership is years to decades ahead of ridership hopes, and the whole San Gabriel Valley can't wait to have a full Foothill Gold Line to Montclair, which is at the eastern edge of the Inland Empire.  Planning/drafting for the Glendora to Montclair extension is ahead of schedule. 

Meanwhile, the Rams are enjoying a heavy Expo Line ridership to their games, and it's blatantly obvious that any future Olympic or pro sports teams playing at the Coliseum, near Staples Center, or anywhere Downtown will benefit from the Expo Line and the future Downtown Light Rail Connector (which will make our countywide rail network just that...a network). 

3) Did the City of Los Angeles, LA World Airports, and Metro get their act together for better airport operations? 

Yes, yes, on my Sweet Lord, YES!  After witnessing an adversarial impasse for decades, the City and its LADOT, the County and its Metro, and the LA World Airports planners are a team!   

Whether it's the Olympics, the need to have a better economy, or just common sense, the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line and the LAX People Mover to connect Metro to the terminals, are both approved and will be done by a potential 2024 Olympics. 

Furthermore, LA World Airports backed off an unnecessary LAX northern extension that would have trashed current and future Westside transportation efforts, and is doing work to improve the flight and connection experience in an efficient and cost-effective manner

4) Does the County of Los Angeles, and its cities, want more transportation funding?  YES! 

The South Bay Cities want the Green Line extended to South Torrance, and for planning to commence ASAP to connect the Green Line, San Pedro, and the Blue Line.   

As aforementioned, the San Gabriel Valley Cities want their Gold Line extended ASAP to the San Bernardino County border (and probably en route to Ontario Airport). 

The Southeast/Gateway Cities want a Green Line/Santa Ana PE Right of Way connection to the Orange County border ASAP, and there is an increased interest in the lost-but-not-forgotten Green Line extension to the Norwalk Metrolink station (and to the Orange/Riverside Counties' Metrolink network). 

The San Fernando Valley wants its successful Orange Line Busway converted into a light rail (regardless of past lost opportunities to have it built as a light rail in the first place) and both the Westside and San Fernando Valleys are ready for both the Wilshire and Sepulveda Subways to be built and carry hundreds of thousands of passengers a day on both sides of the mountains. 

A northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line to the Purple and Red Lines is as popular as ever, and after the LAX/Metro Rail connection is created there will be undoubtedly a resurgence of interest in the unused Harbor Subdivision Right of Way from Inglewood to the Blue Line and Union Station, and create another "Downtown Connector" via a southeast Downtown that is ripe for commercial and residential development. 

In short, the economic and mobility opportunities abound for Measure M to be passed, and it is therefore a tax measure that is among the most worthy--if not THE most worthy tax measure this November.  

It is no wonder that the LA Times and all chambers of commerce favor passage of Measure M. 

Yet the abject failure of the City of Los Angeles to devote enough road and sidewalk repair in its budget, and the failure of Metro to accommodate sufficient parking for its rail lines, and the lack of freeway priorities are strong arguments against Measure M

But it should be remembered--and this is critical--that the main argument against Measure M is that it doesn't fund enough.  The unmet needs of the different regions of the county, and the unmet needs to repair and upgrade our streets, freeways, sidewalks, etc., all scream for better state and federal matching efforts. 

Which makes the bold passage of Measure M as timely as ever. 

Which makes the need for Sacramento and Washington to do their fair share as timely as ever. 

Which makes the need to stop the garbage/pandering spend-a-holic ways of our state and federal governments as timely as ever, and focus on the basics--our roads, rail lines, mobility, and economy.  

Stop making a few comfortable, and stop barfing out money on military, education, social service and other efforts that are being spent poorly, and use efficiency in those other sectors to pay for the most vital of our governmental services. 

Money does NOT grow on trees.  Where we spend poorly, we need to spend more efficiently--and to Hades with those who are prospering at our collective expense ... because our taxes are OUR money to spend on.  And if we are in need of spending more on unmet and popular priorities, then we should do just that. 

Vote YES on Measure M, and with virtually no exception Vote NO on all other city, county, and state tax measure come this November!

 

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

-cw

 

Are You Embracing New Urbanism Yet? What Are You Waiting For?

DEEGAN ON LA-Think for a minute about how much time you spend each day in your car, moving about from home to work, to shop, to play, and then overlay that with how much frustration you feel with traffic and hassles with parking. Once calculated, look at the other side of the coin: what if you could exist just fine in a ten-square block area that you call “home”, or your ”bubble”, where you can live, work, shop and play? Designers and planners call living in a “bubble” like this the “new urbanism”, and it’s becoming contagious: people are discovering it to be a solution to gridlock, the cousin of overdevelopment. 

In a city with hundreds of neighborhoods with these attributes it's not hard to find one that matches your needs -- if you are not already settled into one and experiencing your own bliss. 

Do you really need to live in the valley and work in the basin, and fight that over-the-hill canyon traffic every rush hour? Or, work in the Studio City end of the valley and live in Woodland Hills? Or love being in the hills at night but working at the beach during the day? Those kinds of combinations, once very attractive when everything in LA was “20 minutes away,” are no longer feasible. 

Millennials that are moving out from home and starting their first significant career positions can adapt easily to the new urbanism paradigm, while others that are more established and settled, may feel stuck where they are in both their living and working locations. But survival and a sustainable lifestyle are not only for the fittest, they’re for everyone. 

Dislocation and disruption may be survival tactics worth considering. Our traffic will never improve: the added lanes on the 405 prove that all the expansion did was increase the volume and capacity of the 405 going through the Sepulveda Pass. Smart cars will not ease traffic: they will just bring more cars onto the roads, albeit without drivers and a need for parking spaces. 

Thinking has to change, and the most atomic level at which this can happen is the individual, making informed and smart decisions about where to live, work, shop and play. 

If “new urbanism” is new to you, what better way get on the fast-track to expand your knowledge of it than by attending the Fourth Annual New Urbanism Film Festival, (NUFF) opening October 6 and running through the weekend, an event that has become very popular and well-attended over the past few years. It’s fun and educational to watch the many short films that define new urbanism, listen to panel discussions, take neighborhood walks with designers and planners, and to meet and chat with seasoned new urbanists and newcomers who want to join the growing movement by finding common sense solutions to living in the huge urban mass of Los Angeles. 

What, exactly, is New Urbanism? The Congress for New Urbanism explains the essence of the movement in its charter statement: “We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.” 

Urbanists tell us that “A significant number of Baby Boomers and Millennials are moving back into America’s downtowns looking for a new American Dream. What they seek is walkable urbanism – a vibrant urban place where they can walk to the important destinations of life. This new life is downsized and sustainable, but not without its challenges as cities struggle with twenty-first century problems.” The festival's screening of Downtown” helps amplify this point. 

What can you expect at the New Urbanism Film Festival? Plenty. Every night, from Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, October 9, there are films and lots of special events. 

For example, on Opening Night, Thursday, October 7, a panel of LA designers and planners who are bringing life to urban spaces through art and temporary installations will host a panel discussion on “Tactical Urbanism” following a screening of the film, The Art of Recovery.” 

Another panel discussion, this one about historic preservation in Los Angeles, will follow Saturday afternoon’s (October 8) screening of Through the Place,” a feature-length documentary about the historic preservation movement in the United States over the past 50 years. 

A highly-anticipated panel about the Los Angeles River will be held on Saturday, October 8, following the noon screening of Accidental Parkland.” 

Festival programming this year is expanding to include a Culver City “hub” on Sunday, October 9, that will be the starting point for excursions to Ballona Creek and Playa Vista that include a train trip on the brand-new new Expo Line from downtown Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica to learn what design principles have been applied there, as well as a bike ride around Culver City to witness bike-related projects. 

Festival Director Josh Paget was enthusiastic about this year’s programming, saying, "I am excited about this year's festival because it has more emphasis on community engagement. We have a lineup of feature films that really explore the history of urban issues in different cities, and then we've curated a panels of expert from Los Angeles, who will help apply the lessons of the movie to the local issues in Los Angeles." 

Films, expert panels, activities, networking, education, and brain expansion: the new urbanism -- all in four highly participatory days that will help you learn how you can begin identifying as a “new urbanist.” What are you waiting for?

 

(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.

Vin Scully Makes Me Cry

GUEST WORDS—(Editor’s Note: This column was posted on Sunday, October 2, the day of Vin Scully’s final broadcast.) It is October 2, 2016. 

The French have an expression, “Partir, c’est mourir un peu,” which roughly translates to: “To say goodbye is to die a little.” 

The day has finally come and I feel as if a little part of me has died. 

Saying goodbye to Vin Scully as the voice of the Dodgers has never been a pleasant thought or an easy proposition. And now it’s upon us.

Read more ...

Trump: Boxed In, Wrapped Up, Labeled

GELFAND’S WORLD--The working press tends to look for each election's storyline, and then beats on it ad infinitum. Those of a certain age will remember when Gerald Ford was labeled as clumsy and stupid. Comedian Chevy Chase built the beginnings of his Saturday Night Live career by taking Ford-like pratfalls. In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush was presented as a bit dumb, but Al Gore was labeled as haughty and overbearing. When the press got hold of the line (that Gore didn't actually say) -- I invented the internet -- we heard those words in late night monologues for the rest of the decade. 

No matter that Gerald Ford was probably the most athletic person ever to hold the presidency of the United States, or that Al Gore isn't really like that, or that George W. Bush isn't stupid. Once these tropes get their barbs stuck in the national skin, they don't come out easily. 

It's taken a while for the mainstream press to come out of its collective shell and begin to adopt a storyline on Donald Trump. It's really only the past couple of weeks that the Trump label was adopted as the semi-official presentation for the 2016 election. 

Here it is: Don't trust anything Trump says -- anything at all -- unless you have actual evidence. 

This goes way beyond the more prosaic argument suggesting that Trump deviates from the truth once in a while. If he were just a teller of tall tales that would be something that normal people could live with. We expect a little factual improvisation from politicians who are caught with their arm in the cookie jar. But the argument that the media are making about Trump goes several steps further, making him out to be a pathological case. It's been a long time coming, but now that it's been exploited on the front pages of major newspapers and on CNN, it isn't going away. 

The effects of this developing consensus are beginning to do damage to Trump's campaign. At this moment a few days after the first presidential debate, Trump's advisors are trying to figure out how to salvage something from the wreckage. That means Trump needs a comeback in the second debate. Barack Obama did it in 2012, so why not the Donald? 

The problem for Trump right now is very different than it was for Obama back then. Trump is stuck with a problem of his own making. During the debate, he couldn't resist interrupting Clinton when she made factual attacks on him. He inserted the word, "Wrong" repeatedly. This technique must have worked for Trump in the past, but in the context of a presidential debate it is a disaster. Trump failed to understand that the same techniques proving that Melania Trump's speech included plagiarism will be used on his latest statements. 

It gets even worse than that. People have been archiving Trump's tweets. During the debate, Trump denied being a climate change denialist. Within moments, the internet was ablaze with people repeating his original statement about climate change. 

Even for the most durable Trump supporters, there has to be some cognitive dissonance developing. They can limit their television to Fox News and their radio to Sean Hannity, but at some point in the day, they will be confronted with the fact that Trump's words are not to be trusted. 

Sure, lots of hard-right Trump supporters will stick with him. They are obviously very good at denial and mental compartmentalization. But some people will feel the mental pressure, particularly when Trump's obvious lies are rubbed in their noses. 

How will they deal with questions like, "We all read his tweet saying that the Chinese invented the idea of global warming. How can he now say he didn't say that?" 

They will find it hard to come up with a believable answer. 

The important fact that has been largely ignored is this: Trump delivers his lies in a tone of voice that is very convincing. He sounds certain, even to the point of sounding irritated that someone could ever question his veracity. At some point, people will be confronted with the question, "Trump said it with complete conviction, but it's demonstrably a lie. How do you explain that?" 

There is a real possibility here for improvement in the national temperament. As the skepticism about Trump's honesty is continually reinforced by stories in the press and the electronic media, some current Trump supporters will begin to waver. And as they waver on Trump, they will also waver (just a bit) on the right wing media. After all, it is the right wing media that have been feeding the Trump story to us. 

Does Fox lie intentionally? It's a question that many people have been avoiding, but some will begin to realize that it's time to ask that question. 

By the way, you may be asking, "what is the storyline on Clinton?" That's a good question, and it's not well resolved as yet. But there is another answer that may be compelling. If Clinton wins, then her label will be the one word, "winner." We don't have much of a label on George W. Bush either, because labels are explanations for why a candidate did not win. Winners don't need labels. 

Addendum: Those weren't deer in the headlights, those were city employees 

During what would have otherwise been a sleepy afternoon at last Saturday's neighborhood council congress, a little bit of fun ensued. High ranking city employees were asked to explain the budget process. They did so very effectively. But when asked why the city was considering a refund to the Mariott Corporation for occupancy taxes, there was a sort of embarrassed pause. It was a deer in the headlights moment. One speaker explained that we were getting into the topic of subventions. It's a curious word, subventions. The questioner followed up, pointing out sarcastically that Mariott sure needed that money, nearly a million dollars. 

Those of us in the audience realized that we were meeting the people who work directly on making the sausage (to borrow from the old Bismarck line). Their job is to follow up on instructions from the City Council and the mayor. 

A thought ran through my mind. The residents of Los Angeles should receive notice of campaign donations to City Council members from companies that have some stake in a piece of legislation. Every single item on the City Council agenda should be checked for financial advantages going to specific companies. Donors and recipients should be listed on the Council's agenda. It wouldn't be the whole story, but it would be something.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

SoCal Part of the Blue Shoots Black Epidemic … Zianna Oliphan: “We Shouldn’t Have Tears”

GUEST COMMENTARY--Jesus. On Tuesday, America's trigger-happy police shot dead another unarmed man, this time in El Cajon in Southern California.

Police shot and killed Alfred Orlango, 30, reportedly for having an epileptic seizure while black; his sister had called for help after he began walking in traffic.

Police say they shot - and simultaneously tasered - him when he ignored their instructions to take his hand from his pocket and pulled out an object; no gun was found. Cell phone video shows scores of police and Orlango's sister wailing, “Oh my God. You killed my brother. I just called for help (and) you killed him.” As usual, officials urged calm and furious residents can't see why they should be.

“I’m Scared That I won’t Grow Up to be a Black Man”

That same day, the Charlotte City Council held its first meeting since the shooting death of Keith Scott, a father of seven, sparked sometimes violent protests against almost daily police shootings of black citizens repeatedly decried  as a moral, social and legal outrage as well as a public health epidemic. 

The meeting drew peaceful protesters and a crowd of about 50 people who spoke out against police violence. Among them were several children whose very presence offered a powerful reminder of the devastating effects of the carnage on our smallest citizens. Said Taje Gaddy, 10, "Every morning when I wake up, I’m scared that I won’t grow up to be a black man."

“We Shouldn’t Have Tears”

The most heartbreaking testimony came from nine-year-old Zianna Oliphant (photo above), who tremulously told officials, "I come here today to talk about how I feel ..." Breaking down, audience members yelled support - "You're doing great! Do not stop!" - before she went on, tears streaming down her face.

"We are black people, and we shouldn’t have to feel like this ... I can’t stand how we are treated. It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to their graveyard and bury them. We have tears and we shouldn’t have tears. We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”

When she finished, the room filled with protesters speaking the vital, righteous truth. "No Justice, No Peace," they chanted. "No justice, No Peace."

(Abby Zimet writes for Common Dreams where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

Secret Meeting Alert … Is LA’s City Council Trying to End-Run Thousands of Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Petition Signers?

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE-Friday, September 30, the LA City Council will convene to either place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot — or immediately adopt this citizen initiative word-for word, as required by law. 

Since the measure is an historic and fundamental reform of a City Council that has grown transfixed by cutting multimillion-dollar backroom real estate deals, we'll be at City Hall with a careful eye to possible political mischief aimed at keeping it off the ballot. 

“We” is the Coalition to Preserve LA, which has had a good month despite a bizarre opposition campaign, funded by three global billionaires, one from Australia and one from Miami, who had hoped to convince voters that we somehow plan to end rent control and “halt all development,” and other absurd conspiracy theories.

(Note: On Friday the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot. Read that update here.)  

Ironic, then, to see the City Council schedule yet another backroom meeting for Friday, an “executive session,” to discuss possibly suing our movement. Such a bone-headed action would serve to further anger residents sick of surface street gridlock, destruction of neighborhood character, displacement of the working class and poor, and Wild West gentrification fueled by land speculators and skyscraper flippers. 

More likely, the City Council is not going to make such a mistake, and is merely holding yet another illegal backroom meeting, an “executive session” where no litigation is seriously discussed (the City Council is allowed to meet as a full body in private only to discuss lawsuits, nothing else). 

It's far more likely that any “executive session” held Friday will simply be another Brown Act violation, an illegal meeting at which much hand-wringing unfolds among City Council members concerning “what to do about” the tens of thousands of LA residents who say their communities are being paved over to provide skyrocketing profits to developers. 

The Coalition to Preserve LA will be just outside their door, to watchdog things — people like Jay Beeber, the folk hero who got rid of LA's hated red-light cameras. This San Fernando Valley resident proved that City Hall was lying when it said that the universally hated $465 red light camera tickets were reducing accidents. That was a lie. Beeber proved it — not one of the city's 50,000 municipal employees — by delving into the accident data itself. 

Also present on Friday will be attorney Grace Yoo, who has stared down well-connected political forces in Koreatown, where the pressure is on from City Hall to wipe out affordable neighborhoods because luxury skyscrapers are “inevitable.” The developer of one proposed 27-story edifice has already destroyed several affordable rentals and will wipe out even more if the City Council votes to approve his utterly illegal plan. 

This lack of planning — top city officials openly admit that their “customer” is developers, not city residents — has brought us predictable results: a steep vacancy rate of about 15% in all luxury housing built in the past 10 years, and skyrocketing homelessness fed by the loss of 22,000 affordable rent-stabilized rental units since 2000, now demolished or converted to condos. 

And endless gridlock on streets that cannot absorb the giant glass boxes marching across Los Angeles. 

It's no wonder that volunteers who support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative hail from the Westside, Eastside, South LA, Wilshire District, Hollywood, West Adams, East and West Valley, San Pedro, Westchester, Northeast LA and scores of other communities. 

Naturally, I will be there on Friday, having been accused by our three billionaire opponents of personally promoting a “housing ban” — yet another conspiracy theory by the anti-campaign, which cannot beat us on the merits next March, and so has resorted to ridiculousness. 

Earlier this week, in an exchange on the NextDoor social media messaging system, I explained to West Valley residents that the busy U.S. Post Office in Woodland Hills is set for destruction. But even worse, after months of backdoor meetings with key City Council members, the developers had announced plans to build a massive 335-unit luxury housing project just a stone's throw from the 101 Freeway. In the works for a long time, this distinctly awful development was finally being sprung on the unpleasantly surprised neighborhood.

What makes freeway-adjacent housing bad development? We call them “Black Lung Lofts” at the Coalition, based on an LA Weekly cover story several years ago that delved into USC's landmark Children's Health Study into thousands of children who lived within two blocks of a freeway, or about 500 to 550 feet. USC researchers definitively showed that children's still-developing lungs (they develop until age 18) suffered high levels of permanent lung damage. 

The suffering and millions of dollars in medical care due to Black Lung Lofts will be vast, but at least we know about the threat to children now, and we can stop jamming children into housing within two blocks of freeways. 

But the City Council won't stop. Children suffering from millions of dollars in health damages must be weighed against their desires to run for higher office, after all. 

In Los Angeles, by the time a bad development like the Post Office luxury rental blob is unveiled to the neighbors, the deal has been cut in City Hall backroom meetings, the political palms greased. By the time such a project is publicly announced, the developer is all but assured a huge profit by being allowed to ignore the zoning to build as big as he wants. 

Our measure puts an end to these backroom deals, in which City Council members get rolled by developers, time and again — and LA residents suffer for it. 

But far more important than the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative's timeout on City Council backroom deals is the work we force them to proactively undertake. Our citizen intiative forces the City Council to, in essence, eat its vegetables rather than grab for the dessert: Come up with an actual General Plan — an integrated and interwoven plan for LA's parks, streets, sewers, housing, open space, safety services. 

That is actually the City Council's core job, to write one every five years. Yet it is a job they have refused to do since 2005, when they very quietly voted never to have to write another General Plan for Los Angeles.

True story: Members of our Coalition found the one-page document in which the City Council — the nation's highest-paid City Council with salaries of $189,041 a year — relieved itself of its fundamental duty of writing a General Plan. One City Hall elected official insisted to me recently that, “We had to do suspend writing a General Plan because it was during the Recession, and we had to put planning aside” to cope with other troubles. 

Interesting, how lying works — or doesn't work quite as well, lately — at City Hall. After all, the Recession was not yet upon us in 2005. In fact. 2005 saw a booming economy and an LA development frenzy similar to the one unfolding today. 

But City Hall elected leaders love their dessert — high-end wining and dining by the developers and their lobbyists — and hate eating their vegetables. Nobody is going to hand $100,000 to an LA politician's favorite charity or pet project because that Council member finally decided to lead an update of LA's cracking ancient water mains, or an effort to identify the water source that's going to feed City Hall's thirsty skyscrapers. 

So we'll be there on Friday, as the Los Angeles City Council undertakes a required, and some say historic, vote. To put a citizen initiative on the ballot measure that lets LA residents fix a broken system at City Hall.

(Jill Stewart, a former journalist,  is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)

-cw

Pension Reform: The ‘Times’ Are Right

PERSPECTIVE-Both the New York Times and LA Times have recently published informative articles about the status of public pensions, particularly Calpers. LA Times’ Jack Dolan and James Koren have provided sober analysis in recent weeks. 

The reporters have echoed the same concerns that I, Jack Humphreville, respected members of academia and many in other publications have been sounding for years – concerns over the diminishing sustainability of the defined benefit plans that almost every politician at the state and local government levels have ignored. A few, including Governor Brown and former Governor Schwarzenegger, have attempted modest reforms and failed, because of the death-grip public unions have on our elected officials. 

The NY Times article, by Mary Williams Walsh, is particularly interesting because it reads like a case study. For all intents and purposes, it is one. It deals with a small fund managed by Calpers. Since this particular fund is so small, it is easier for readers to wrap their heads around the math. But it is the same math behind every other defined benefit plan, large and small. Just as a lab experiment on a single cancerous cell can speak volumes about the greater disease, so can this case shed light on the cancer of public pensions. 

Basically, the problem boils down to using aggressive favorable assumptions to gauge the financial health of plans, plans which are required to fully guarantee the promises made to their members. The assumptions have masked the weakness of the underlying numbers. 

The important difference between a market vs actuarial approach to funding defined benefit plans is critical, as the article suggests. As the small pension unit in the article learned, Calpers charged them the market rate to liquidate the plan, which was a sum far greater than the actuarial value Calpers uses to assess the health of any plan. 

Quite a shock to the participants who assumed things were just peachy. 

Calpers wants it both ways: use the blue-sky view for public disclosure, but penalize participants based on reality. It’s called “having your cake and eating it too” (a few of my colleagues at CityWatch know how much I detest that expression, but it applies here.) 

The truth is, Calpers should not be hanging its hat on one approach vs the other. A range of values needs to be shared with the public, and funding should be based on at least a blend of outcomes.

That means either taxpayers fork over more money, or the participating employees contribute more. The taxpayers are already covering too much, not to mention bearing the risk if there are insufficient funds to pay participants. 

How much more participants should pay is arguable, but it would cause some degree of pain in any event – manageable pain. 

In the private sector, typical employees pay 6.2% for SSA retirement and contribute at least 6% into a 401K. State employees contribute anywhere from 5% to 11.5% of their salaries. Pretty good compared to the 12.2% absorbed by their counterparts. Safety workers are at the higher end, but can retire much earlier and collect up to 90% of their salaries. 

A private-sector worker would pay $1 million to purchase an annuity comparable to an average CalPERS’ benefit starting at age 60. A state employee earning an average of $100,000 and contributing 10% would pay in $300,000 over 30 years in gross terms. Obviously, discounting the amount would lower it considerably. 

That’s a pretty large gap. In any event, Calpers would still be a good deal for employees if their contribution rates doubled. 

And why not? 

Investors pay more, in the form of a lower yield, for less exposure to risk. Why shouldn’t public employees pay a premium for what is a risk-free, lifetime benefit? 

The system is not going to collapse tomorrow. It’s similar to a sinking ship, which takes on water but stays afloat … that is until buoyancy is lost. 

When that happens, it goes down faster than the Edmond Fitzgerald. 

Time to start pumping and sealing the leak.

 

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

Miracle Mile’s Death Row

ROAD DIET RAGE--I have had the misfortune to be elected to the board of my local Neighborhood Council, which is involved in promoting a road diet for the Miracle Mile’s Sixth Street, a one-mile stretch of roadway that saw 135 recorded collisions between 2011 and 2015, including one death, and several more deaths since then. Note that many minor crashes are not reported to the CHP’s database.

Naturally, a handful of particularly blustery sorts are aghast that traffic might actually be slowed down by a road diet, and predict every sort of calamity to ensue should it be approved. Of course, they ignore the very real blood-and-bones calamities that occur nearly every month on this stretch. So I shall reprint for you the letter I just sent to our Nextdoor group, where the self-righteously indignant have been raging.

When you look at ACTUAL road diet implementations, you find that they do not increase congestion–in fact, they often alleviate it slightly. I have previously posted links to the dozens of studies from all over the US and the world that support this assertion. The intuitive is rarely related to actuality. The Federal Highway Administration recommends road diets for streets such as Sixth as “a proven safety countermeasure.” Bike lanes are often used, as I have mentioned several times, as techniques for creating road diets, but, although several of you would “never ride” your bikes on Sixth, I do, every day, and so do many dozens of others. It is a major bicycle commuting corridor.

Convenient tax-subsidized parking and saving a few seconds on a one-mile passage are not valid justifications for terrorizing all the pedestrians and cyclists who use the street, as well as the many motorists (and even building owners) who have suffered property damage and injuries, including severe ones, caused by Sixth Street’s “dangerous by design” configuration,.

Barbara G. presented her proposal, and went far over the time allotted for comments, getting more of her say in than anyone else, including board members, but the majority of the attendance was not convinced.

I have been studying road diets and related interventions for twenty years, and I am convinced that it is right for Sixth Street. I have lived near Burnside and Sixth for sixteen years now, and I have personally seen the carnage.

Listen, if you hate the road diet, write Ryu. If you support the road diet, write Ryu. His email is [email protected].

I have seen the bodies. I have heard the testimonies of fear. Neighbors are afraid to walk on the sidewalks–on the sidewalks! A handful of people shouldn’t have the power to condemn their neighbors to death and terror for the sake of a few seconds’ “convenience.”

And for your further delectation, this all-too-appropriate comment from Minnesota, entitled, “A Cure for Fear of Parking Loss.” 

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

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Metro Needs 2 More Years to Perfect its Plan – Vote No on Measure M

GUEST COMMENTARY--Metro’s Measure M on the November ballot adds LA County’s fourth half-cent transportation sales tax increase since 1980, and gives Metro two full cents in “forever” sales taxes. But, is Metro’s Plan as advanced in Measure M really perfect enough to cast in concrete for perpetuity? The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association has studied Metro’s transportation plan for more than two years and wanted to support it. Unfortunately, we believe the plan is flawed by five inherent weaknesses and we must recommend a NO vote. Let’s give Metro a couple of years to perfect their plan for the 2018 ballot. 

We agree that Los Angeles County desperately needs better transportation solutions – to move people more effectively on streets, freeways and in public transportation. 

Taxpayers have been contributing to Metro’s coffers since 1980 when they approved Measure A, Metro’s first half-cent forever sales tax. They again ponied up in 1990 with Measure C, Metro’s second half-cent forever sales tax. In 2008, they passed Measure R, Metro’s third half-cent sales tax, which was not forever but expires in 2037. As a result, we are currently paying a 1-1/2 cent sales tax to Metro, which brought them about $2.3 billion in FY2014. 

And now, we are being asked to pass Measure M, adding a fourth half-cent forever sales tax. It also removes the expiration date from Measure R to make it a forever tax as well. So, if taxpayers pass Measure M, we will all be paying a two-cent transportation sales tax in perpetuity. For example, LA City’s sales tax will rise to 9 1/2 percent – and stay at least that high forever! Is Metro’s plan really perfected enough to warrant this? 

We give Metro credit for working hard on the plan -- with the County, its 83 cities and its unincorporated areas, looking at hundreds of projects across nine subregions. Using a bottom-up selection process, Metro used local input to focus on the 39 major highway and transit projects listed in their August 2016 Measure M Flyer – “Facts About The Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan.” 

The key questions are whether these projects are good enough to truly improve the County’s traffic gridlock and whether we can be sure the projects get built as promised. We think the answer to both questions is no, because Metro’s plan is flawed by five weaknesses: 

  • Guarantees are weak; 
  • Parking plan is weak; 
  • Management capability is weak; 
  • Route implementation is weak; and 
  • Long-term public commitment is weak. 

Guarantees are Weak 

Measure M does not include strong guarantees that promised projects will really be built – and as we know, Metro has reneged on promises before. 

Look at Metro’s 1980 ballot measure brochure transit route map on the left. This was Metro’s promise for its first half-cent transportation sales tax. There’s a line from Sylmar to Long Beach. There’s another line from El Monte to San Pedro. And another from Burbank Airport to Canoga Park. But none of these were ever built. 

Oh yes, the Orange Line busway in the Valley is similar to the Canoga Park route, but it was not built with Metro funds (former Assembly Speaker, now Senator Bob Hertzberg found the funds.) 

The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association was worried about promised projects being built and identified this as a key concern in our March recommendations letter to Metro. We told them that ironclad written guarantees are absolutely necessary for Measure M’s success

Measure M does include some new provisions that help ensure that projects will be built. For example, paragraph 11.a of Measure M’s implementing ordinance provides that “the Metro Board of Directors may amend the ‘Schedule of Funds Available’ … to accelerate a project, provided that any such amendments shall not reduce the amount of funds assigned to any other project or program … or delay the Schedule of Funds Available for any other project or program.” 

In other words, you can’t rob one project to pay for another. This is good. But, when Metro CEO Phil Washington spoke at our August Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association meeting, we asked him a question about guarantees – expecting him to quote this paragraph. 

Inexplicably, he instead talked about the Measure’s Independent Taxpayer Oversight Committee and how they would ensure projects are built. How does a seven-member committee of technical specialists hired and fired by Metro ensure taxpayers that their projects are built? No way! It seems that Metro is planning for flexibility to do what it wants rather than what the public wants. Maybe the committee should be nine members from the public – one for each of the nine subregions that Metro used to develop its bottom-up plan? 

Vote NO – Give Metro two years to develop ironclad guarantees. 

Parking Plan Is Weak 

The key to any public transportation system is strong ridership – make it easy for people to get to stations. Unfortunately, Metro’s Measure M includes no parking plan. In fact, Metro’s proposed Measure M Ordinance includes the word “parking” only once, and then it’s about bicycle parking, not car parking. And, Metro’s April 2016 Active Transportation Strategic Plan also only addresses bicycle parking. So, why is Metro ignoring parking? 

We met with Metro’s new Director of Parking Management and know that Metro is beginning to work on a parking plan. But, it is not ready yet – and shouldn’t a parking plan be part of Measure M right now – not later? Other transportation systems in major metropolitan areas have learned that parking is necessary to secure ridership. In fact, the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association sent Metro a detailed letter in June explaining how Washington DC had drastically increased automobile parking to improve ridership. And, we don’t even have a parking plan? Are we supposed to walk or ride our bikes to a station four miles away? 

Vote NO – Give Metro two years to include a detailed parking plan in their ballot measure. 

Management Capability Is Weak 

Metro doesn’t have a good track record managing large transportation projects. A few examples are the original tunneling problems on the Red and Purple subway lines, the lack of sufficient rail cars on the brand new Expo Line, and the massive overruns and schedule delays on the recent I-405 improvement project, including a $400 million lawsuit against Metro by the project contractor. 

Now Metro is asking voters to approve a massive transportation plan where multiple huge projects will be built at the same time. Are we to expect that Metro’s management capability has so improved over the last few years? The answer is very probably no. At our August Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association meeting, Metro CEO Phil Washington told us that he is working on a detailed program management plan. But working on a plan and having a complete management capability are two different things. Is Metro really ready? We don’t think so. 

Vote NO – Give Metro two years to prove they have a strong management capability in place. 

Route Implementation Is Weak 

Rapid transit must have effective routes and fast vehicles. You can have a great route, but implement it with a slow bus or tram and ridership will not materialize. We fear that Metro’s plan suffers weak route implementation. Let’s look at some illustrative examples in the San Fernando Valley. 

There are seven major Valley projects in Metro’s plan, as listed here by opening year. Together, they form a rectangular route from Van Nuys to Warner Center to Canoga Park to Sylmar and back to Van Nuys, with offshoot lines through the Sepulveda Pass and to the Red/Gold Lines. But while the routes look effective, their implementation does not. It raises some serious questions about Metro’s plan for the Valley – and the entire County. 

Why, for instance, are the first four Valley projects all busways? Probably because busways are cheap and quicker to build. But, they are slow and lack the capacity of rail. We know – the Valley’s Orange Line is a dedicated busway that was over-capacity on the day it opened. But, not to worry, the Orange Line is being improved by Project 4 – except that this project simply adds a very few grade separations to the existing busway – and still leaves many street crossings. 

Again, not to worry, the Orange Line is converted to light rail with Project 7. But, it will still have many at-grade street crossings. And, this project does not open until 2057 – one of the very last Measure M projects completed. Even when the project is complete, the Valley route rectangle will only have rail on two of its four sides, and busways on the other two. And we all know that once these busways are in place, it will be decades before they might be upgraded. So, expect to be stuck with the projects we start with. 

Yes, this is bad implementation. Metro is telling the Valley that we should be happy with slower, less-efficient transit. Metro’s Red and Purple Lines are light-rail subways operating in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the Westside. Metro’s Blue, Gold, and Expo Lines are ground-level rail running from downtown to Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Azusa, with a few routes even having dedicated rights-of-way. And, the Valley is supposed to be thrilled with slow busways running through busy intersections. We’re not. And, neither are other parts of the County that Measure M is shortchanging. 

Vote NO – Give Metro two years to fix the implementation problems in their plan. 

Long-Term Pubic Commitment Is Weak 

When Metro began planning for Measure M many years ago, they started with a 40-year sales tax increase built around a 40-year bottom-up plan. The tax would generate more than $120 billion over the plan’s 40-year period, and Metro would spend this on critical highway and transit projects. So far, so good! But, in July, when Metro realized that they needed to accelerate many project schedules to attract voters, Measure M became a forever tax that never ends. Here’s the catch: Metro changed to a forever tax but didn’t commit to a future bottom-up public planning process once their 40-year plan is finished. 

The Measure M Ordinance – the document that implements the ballot measure – has no specific provisions for detailed public involvement in another bottom-up process to select the next set of projects after 2057. Sure, that seems like a long time from now for some of us, but not for our children and grandchildren. Don’t they deserve a commitment that Metro will keep them involved? Metro is committing taxpayers to a forever tax without a forever plan – and that’s a serious flaw. 

Decisions about public funding of projects should be made by the public, not politicians. 

Vote NO – Give Metro two years to develop a commitment to public participation in future planning and correct the other weaknesses in their plan.

 

(Bob Anderson is a board member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowner Association. He can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Tags: Bob Anderson, Sherman Oaks Homeowner Association, Measure M, Metro, SF Valley transportation

Latino Children are Under Attack Again … Vote NO on Prop 58

ELECTION 2016--There are a few obvious truths in our 21st Century, "small world after all" nation and globe.  One is that speaking only one language is a surefire way to limit your financial future.  Another is that being illiterate in any language, particularly English (our current global scientific/financial "lingua franca"), is a surefire way to limit your financial future.  Which is why Latino children are again being attacked. 

Latino children, like any children, deserve to have as bright a future as any of us.  Hence, when Proposition 227 passed in 1998, it should be remembered that much of the start of this effort to End Bilingual Education came from Latino families in Santa Ana--some who predominantly spoke Spanish--who wanted their children to achieve the American Dream and who valued their children's education. 

Much of the "bilingual education" had to do with either political correctness or just a nice, fat, financial bonus ($5000/year, approximately) for teachers certified as bilingual.  English-speaking children with Latino last names were being yanked out of normal classes and slammed into "bilingual" classes that scored horribly on standardized tests in either English OR Spanish. 

It was terrible, and the Latino parents in Santa Ana (who clearly love their children) wanted a choice. Proposition 227 passed, and English immersion was required.  Bilingual education was limited only to those parents who specifically made the choice to enter those classes (and who usually had children scoring high in either language, and in schools who focused on the well-being of the students, and not teachers' salaries). 

And students test scores throughout the state, including Latino student scores, then went up significantly. 

So Proposition 58, in an attempt to repeal Proposition 227, is rightfully viewed as a dangerous threat to Latino students, and which is being promoted by the same politically-correct (and financially-focused, to be sure!) lobbies that really don't give a hoot, and won't be there to help, the children that they hurt. 

For those of us not aware of Latino culture and its very close ties to the Spanish language, it should be pointed out that there is an emotional, and often painfully-important tie of Spanish to many Latinos (particularly those who are ambivalent of which identity should be first and foremost in their hearts and minds ... American, Latino, or both?).  Asking Asians and Europeans to switch to English is not nearly so hard as it is to many Latinos. 

Yet Latinos who never learn English, or at least become bilingual, have a horrid future in that they lose access to higher-paying jobs in a nation where blacks, Asians, and most Latinos do speak English in their everyday and financial transactions. 

And Latinos who grabbed the American Dream (let's keep the illegal/legal immigration out of the picture for the time being ... but both have benefited) either by supporting Proposition 227 or throwing out the corrupt rascals that led the City of Bell into the financial toilet have almost universally enjoyed financial and political benefit. 

Would anyone reasonable recommend that Latinos forsake the Spanish language?  Certainly not--in our international society, mastery of multiple languages is as beneficial as being computer-literate, or fiscally-literate. Whether it is Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, or any other major language of the world, it is vital to hold onto any form of multilingual capability available. 

But the bilingual education lobbies are dangerous--they seek to balkanize, they seek to profiteer, and they seek to control any group of individuals possible while claiming they "speak for them".  Hence the Useful Idiots at the LA Times who are promoting Proposition 58 are as dangerous as they've always been. 

And, of course, the LA Times and other typical knee-jerk liberal newspapers have almost never been on the side of Latinos, African-Americans, and other under-represented minorities...although it's to be presumed the "wizards of smart" at the Times probably think that they've got the backs of the Latino children they're sending to Poverty Purgatory by ignoring the dreadful history of bilingual education. 

We've too much to gain by being able to communicate with each other, and too much to lose by not communicating with each other, to let the Politically-Correct-But-Factually-Incorrect-And-Financially-Compromised creepies try to balkanize California yet again. 

Let's keep our students' test scores high, and let's demand our children be exposed (and, if possible, master more than one language) to English so that ALL students, including and especially Latino students, can enjoy the bright future that only the United States of America has to offer. 

Vote NO on Prop 58. Vote yes on a brighter future for all of our children.

 

(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.)

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Jerry Brown Gets Pushy with LA City Council … On Granny Flats Rules

EASTSIDER-It’s not often that the great State of California intrudes in the LA City Council’s wholesale slaughter of our neighborhoods, particularly by way of land use regulation. So it was a great surprise to our elected officials when not one, but two, Granny Unit (also known as accessory dwelling units and granny flats) bills, passed the legislature and are sitting on Governor Brown’s desk: AB 2299, and a companion bill, SB1069. 

I won’t get into the details of the bills here, since they are designed to work together and are technical, but if you want to track their histories, there is a great (free) resource available to all of us at the California Legislature’s bill tracking website here.      

Anyhow, back to the plot. A few months ago, I wrote in CityWatch about some of the 15 LA Planning Department proposed ordinances, particularly the emergency repeal of the City’s existing granny unit policy, as well as the grandfathering in of all existing illegal granny units. 

Clearly the Planning Department’s proposal to simply repeal the existing rules was a pretext to let the loose default State rules apply, and allow virtually everyone in LA to build up to a 1200 foot “auxiliary dwelling unit.” And, since we know that no one in LA City Planning can even put finger to keyboard without orders from the Council, the proposed emergency ordinance represented City Hall’s desire to simply bring in a Wild West Show of building -- even if the character and infrastructure of our residential neighborhoods go down the toilet. 

Step one was for the Council to “grandfather” in all of the existing granny units, proving that it does indeed pay to break the law. If you read the exact language of the new ordinance (Council File 14-0057-S8), it even includes anyone who has a building permit, or for that matter, even proposed plans. All this was authored by none other than our own Mitch O’Farrell. We in northeast LA thank you bunches, Mitch. The term “grandfather” now has new meaning. 

These events provoked a huge pushback from owners of single family homes in most neighborhoods, so the Council tried to finesse matters by approving the grandfathering first, and then putting the rest on hold while they tried to figure out rules that would mirror the loose state regulations -- all while appearing that they were saving us from those incompetent planners who wanted to simply repeal all the rules. Sure. 

Then along came Assembly Bill 2299 (Bloom D-Santa Monica) and Senate Bill 1069 (Wieckowski D-Fremont), both making substantive amendments to the very loose default State law regarding the permitting of granny units. This “affordable housing” adjunct is of huge statewide concern. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think there is any affordable housing in California, unless you want to live in the San Joaquin Valley.

This was one of those “while Rome burns” moments. While the LA City Council fiddled, both bills passed the state legislature and are currently sitting in front of Governor Brown waiting for his signatures. And all this because of the hastily rammed through motions of opposition by the LA City Council. 

Suddenly, the LA City Council wasn’t so sure about defaulting to state rules in the face of substantial changes to those rules. 

UPDATE! As I was writing this article, Jerry Brown signed both bills on Tuesday of this week. So much for the clout of LA in Sacramento. To give you a taste of what’s in store for us state wide, I can do no better than quote from the two bills’ authors. 

Wieckowski’s statement says in part: 

“Removing the most egregious obstacles to building these units will help to increase the supply of affordable housing in California and allow more people to remain in the communities they call home,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee. “SB 1069 returns more power to homeowners and reins in some of the enormous fees and requirements levied by local agencies. Governor Brown’s action will lead to more housing, more jobs and shorter commutes.”  

And from Bloom’s announcement upon signature of AB 2299: 

“AB 2299 requires local governments to adopt accessory dwelling unit ordinances. Also known as second units or “granny flats”, ADUs are a creative affordable housing option often used by college students, elderly parents, or disabled individuals who need to live close to their families. Unfortunately, individuals who want to build these units are often caught in a web of cost-prohibitive local regulations that discourage the construction of ADUs. AB 2299 will ease and streamline current statewide regulations for ADUs by permitting local governments to adopt ADU ordinances and by adding specifications for what is required of those ordinances. These specifications include prohibiting the need for a passageway, increasing the permissible size of the units, and eliminating some parking requirements.” 

Now What? 

It seems pretty clear that Los Angeles has lost much of its ability to regulate granny units at all, and the Council is going to have to go back to the drawing board over the entire issue of what, if any, authority they have left. 

The actions of the City Council demonstrate what I am forced to call legislative incompetence. They had literally years of opportunity to sit down and adopt reasonable rules and regulations for the building of granny units in LA City. You know, balancing the integrity of residential neighborhoods with homeowners’ rights to maximize the use of their property and make a few bucks. 

Yet they did little until faced with an adverse court decision. They were ready to just pass the buck in favor of the State of California’s regulations, evidently unaware that the State has the same ability to legislate changes to their granny unit regulations that the City does -- and preemptive ones at that. 

Whether these bills help or hurt our local neighborhoods is a largely unanswered question. There is no doubt that both bills make absolutely clear that the ability to build granny units is a legislative priority in the State of California. Furthermore, the bills are designed specifically to limit local governments’ ability to restrict accessory dwelling unit construction. 

It seems to me that by being cute, by fooling around while there was still an opportunity to come up with reasonable regulations before the State stepped in, our glorious City Council has once again shot itself in the foot. And it is not clear how preemptive legislation is going to work in LA, an area that comprises close to 40% of the population of the State of California, an area suffering from crumbling infrastructure, densification and the rapid transformation of the very character of its neighborhoods. 

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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Gridlock: Not New to LA

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-According to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles still has the worst traffic congestion of any major city in the United States. This is old news to most of us (see photo above), but to finally address this gridlock, we need to better understand it. 

LA’s horrible traffic congestion does not result from a handful of poor decisions made by a few bad apples at City Hall. Rather, LA’s gridlock results from thousands of short-term transportation and land use decisions, some going back many decades. Most of these decisions appeared to be minor at the time, although, in retrospect at least one turned out to be momentous, the dismantling of the Red and Yellow Cars, the largest trolley system in the United States until the 1950s.

Furthermore, the culprits are not just elected officials. They also include the private sector. In their successful pursuit of a handsome rate of return on private investment, the real estate and transportation sectors built a car-oriented city and life style. But its downside, gridlock and smog, had already become a problem by WWII. This successful business model also had another downside; it habituated most Angelinos to two bad habits. One is our imposed dependence on private cars for personal mobility, and the other is the California dream – also largely imposed -- of a single-family home with a big garage. 

Unfortunately, many decades later we have woken up to harsh reality. Once people become used to the comfort and ease of cars and private homes, it is nearly impossible to change their transportation and housing habits. Furthermore, even if they try, Angelinos soon discover that Los Angeles has been methodically re-engineered to make driving cars and living in single-family homes transparently easy. The alternatives of taking the bus, walking, and living in an apartment remains a great personal challenge. In this world, harangues about personal responsibility, traffic congestion, air pollution, and climate change rarely work. Instead, we need to hold our tongue and, instead, re-engineer LA’s built environment. 

If you doubt the power of these thousands of small decisions to create an addictive life style based on cars and houses, just eyeball the weekend Los Angeles Times. About half of the paper is devoted to advertising inserts for cars and single-family homes. This successful promotion of driving and dispersed residential patterns leads to a number of unintended consequences, including traffic gridlock. 

Taking on Gridlock: This knowledge means that the only way to address LA’s chronic gridlock is to reinvent the city’s transportation and land use systems. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that can cure gridlock on the transportation end alone, such as flexible work hours, carpooling, HOV lanes, street widening, self-driving cars, or timed lights, called ATSAC (Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control System) in Los Angeles. 

Likewise, it impossible to only address gridlock through better land use decisions. While the City should obviously dump laws that promote automobile driving, such as excluding the square footage of attached garages in McMansions, this is only part of the picture. We also need to make walking more appealing in residential and mixed-use areas through a major program to repair LA’s cracked sidewalks, install ADA curb cuts and mid-block cross walks, and plant a drought tolerant urban forest to form a tree canopy over pedestrian areas. 

What else needs to be done? 

Transportation: At the transportation end, we need to end auto-dependency by building a multi-modal city, already envisioned by California’s Complete Streets Act, as well as the new Mobility Element of the Los Angeles General Plan and several ballot measures. For example, at a projected cost of $5,000,000 million per mile, the $1.4 billion CalTrans program to widen the I-405 freeway could have re-engineered nearly 300 miles of surface streets in Los Angeles. All of the major east-west corridors linking the downtown and the ocean, such as Pico Boulevard, could have become multi-modal corridors. They could all become variations of the My Figueroa project. Only now breaking ground, this project will radically alter Figueroa between downtown and USC by incentivizing transit, bicycling and walking. 

This infrastructure approach is based on the premise that to change human transportation behavior, cities need to change their built environment. While this is an expensive proposition, we know that it can be done because other cities provide us with successful models. For example, in London, busses and subway trains run every few minutes. Furthermore, every Londoner in their 60s or older rides busses and the subway for free, while fares on interurban trains, including high speed rail, are heavily subsidized for seniors. This combination of first-rate engineering, reliable service, and attractive pricing results in high ridership rates and plays a major role in reducing the city’s gridlock.

Furthermore, London’s sidewalks are wide, well maintained, with a tree canopy, directional signs, many crosswalks and street level destinations, such as snack bars and coffee shops. 

Land-Use: In CityWatch, I regularly take aim at City Hall for poor land use decisions that contribute to gridlock. Unfortunately, City Hall is so bewitched by real estate speculation that any significant improvement in this area will come after a knockdown, drag out fight, such as the AB 283 zoning consistency program of the 1980s, and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot. 

Our challenge is to end City Hall’s glaring double standard when it comes to land use. When existing land use laws prohibit the construction of car-oriented mega-projects, the City Council readily revokes those irksome laws through spot-zoning and spot-planning ordinances. But in the opposite situation, when existing land use laws allow real estate speculation and auto-centric buildings by-right, such as McMansions, there are no administrative or legislative options for neighbors to seek relief. 

For now it is heads they win, tails you lose, but this rigged game would change with voter approval of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative next year. Those too-tall, high-end, automobile intensive projects proposed for already congested neighborhoods require special legislative intervention, such as zone changes, from the City Council. They also almost always require an Environmental Impact Report, and each of these EIRs presents the City Council with an environmentally-preferred alternative that would minimize increases in traffic congestion. Yet, in case after case, LA’s elected and appointed decision makers approve the most environmentally damaging alternative. They then adopt a Statement of Overriding Consideration to dispose of those inconvenient EIR findings with a flick of the pen. Voila, they whisk away gridlock by referencing the developers’ unverified promises of a jobs and transit ridership bonanza once their project is completed. 

The Lesson: To deal with standstill traffic, we need to pay full attention to the thousands of small decisions that eventually lead to gridlock, such as spot-zoning for luxury buildings and loopholes for McMansions. At the same time, we need to support LA’s transition from an automobile-centered transportation system to the multi-modal one envisioned by the Mobility Element and to a lesser extent by Measure M. 

Finally, we need to remember the obvious, the transportation system and other infrastructure and services categories must be re-engineered prior to land use changes. If we reverse the sequence and permit denser land uses before the City’s infrastructure and service systems are substantially upgraded, we perpetuate LA’s endless gridlock.

 

(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].)

2016 NC Congress Sizzles! A Pleasant Surprise!

MY TURN-I approached the 6th Annual 2016 Congress of Neighborhoods with a certain amount of skepticism. I had been to the five previous ones, and had been a speaker and co-program chair, so I found myself rather irritable about giving up a Saturday to drive downtown to Los Angeles City Hall. 

As a cheerleader as well as a critic at large, today's article allows me to wear both hats. There was an awful lot of good at this year’s Congress and admittedly I was surprised. I expected it to be the same BS from the Mayor and Politicos; the same workshops presented by speakers, some of whom are very good, but most are mediocre or poor. This time, I didn't attend enough of the workshops and seminars to determine the ratio of good and bad. Evaluations were given by participants but who knows if they will be shared. (Photo above: participants look through information and maps and provide park priorities for their neighborhoods.) 

I'm not going to discuss the logistics of the event other than to say there was plenty of excellent graphic signage showing you how to navigate the labyrinth of corridors and elevators. And there were plenty of volunteers giving directions to the mobs of people. No matter how many times you go there, the Los Angeles City Hall location is impressive. 

The first time I visited City Hall for an event, I was a senior in High School and we were participating in a "student congress." That is when I decided to become the first Lady Mayor of the City of Los Angeles. Meanwhile... life happened and we still haven't had a Lady Mayor. But I don’t stop hoping!

This was a massive undertaking by volunteers. Grayce Liu, General Manager of EmpowerLA, the City agency which has operational responsibility for the Neighborhood Council (NC) system and its 96 neighborhoods, provided some help but the bulk of the work was done by NC volunteers from throughout the City. 

The Los Angeles Police Department Cadet Program provided much of the onsite support staff.

There is something about seeing these fresh faced young men and women in their white uniforms that creates a sense of optimism. Here is proof that the Police Department, in addition to serving as a deterrent against crime, also invests in programs to help these young people improve relations with law enforcement, to take advantage of their physical and academic programs, and to get involved in community service. 

Ms. Cindy Cleghorn, Sunland Tujunga NC, has served as Chair of this annual event since its inception. She is either a masochist or deserves "sainthood" for marshaling all of the various resources and people together. 

I asked her about the standout features of this Congress. She said it was the enthusiastic energy of both the volunteer host committee and the attendees. Just about every workshop was filled to capacity. Over fifty per cent of the attendees were first-timers. 

The Congress had been stuck for the last couple of years at 700 attendees representing about 80 percent of the ninety-six Neighborhood Councils. This time there were over 800 attendees from ninety-four NCs. Since this is pre-registration data and 150 people registered on site, the statistics will probably end up higher. It was a well done, professional event and they deserve a lot of credit. 

For those of you unfamiliar with your own NC, here is a brief description. Because NCs are under the City Charter, there are lots of rules and regulations governing what can and cannot be done. Basically, they have some influence but no real power. Usually, the City Council members who view their relationship with the NCs in their district as important show up to this event and offer a few words of encouragement in an informal “meet and greet.” 

The councilmembers who don't show up are, for the most part, the ones who find their NCs a thorn in their sides; they have no interest in partnering on community projects. Several Department heads came, as well as City Controller, Ron Galperin; also, Public Works Manager, Kevin James; Planning Director for the City of Los Angeles, Vince Bertoni; Code Enforcement Bureau Acting Chief, John Biezins; as well as other City Department Heads who were active in the panel discussions concerning their areas of responsibility. Among other speakers and panelists were a wide variety of NC board members and community experts. 

NC board members are elected by their neighborhoods, so to have that many different board members and other stakeholders under one roof at a time provides a chance to find consensus on important issues. It’s not binding, but it can encourage the individual NCs to report back to their communities for feedback and influence. Not to do this is a lost opportunity! 

There was one particular panel I was interested in attending: "The Future of the Neighborhood Council Movement: New Faces, New ideas." I have been greatly concerned about the future of this exercise in democracy. As one of the City’s “gurus” pointed out, how can you have a democracy when the majority of the NC Boards of Directors make decisions on behalf of their neighborhoods without consulting them

When you consider that the City Attorney shoots down most of the good ideas; the Mayor's office quietly discourages the idea that NCs should have any influence; the "Board of Neighborhood Commissioners” is appointed by the Mayor and it could be disbanded without being missed; and the DONE staff can't handle the day-to-day operations of the 96 councils … the NC system is in danger of slowly disappearing. 

Add to that, the fact that the almost 1800 elected representatives are divided into groups: 25% doing a great job; 35% an average job; 30% have their funds frozen or do not have enough directors attending to form a quorum; and then another 20% who have operated the same way with the same people for the last fifteen years. Some fall into more than one category, making totaling up to more than 100%. 

Imagine my surprise then, to find that the panel consisted of mostly new faces. They represented most of the City and all of them were actively involved in reaching out to the stakeholders in their respective neighborhoods. 

My only criticism of the make-up of the panel I attended was that there was only one San Fernando Valley representative. The Valley is 220 square miles and it has almost half of the NCs in its geographical area. It can easily be divided into four separate sections...all with different challenges. 

This panel was organized by Rhonda L. Spires, Canoga Park NC; the Moderator was Michael Newhouse Esq. of the Venice NC. 

Panelists included: Nick Greif, Palms NC; Andrew Jhun, Mid City West Community Council; Saaliha Khan, Canoga Park NC; Danielle Sandoval, Central San Pedro NC; and Bonnie Strong, Olympic Park NC. 

It looked like a microcosm of Los Angeles. They gave the audience a good glimpse into how they were orchestrating their NCs and reaching out to their stakeholders. I noticed Grayce Liu was taking a lot of notes. All of them stressed the importance of social media and were proud of their websites. If you live in any of their neighborhoods, or just want to get some great ideas on how to engage various groups, I urge you to check out their various sites, found at Empowerla.org. 

I also took notes and hopefully the session was recorded. I am curious to see where this goes and if Empower LA (otherwise known as Department of Neighborhood Empowerment -- DONE) will do anything with the ideas and suggestions. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention City Council President, Herb Wesson who opened the event with his usual enthusiasm. This time it was more than just words. A little over a year ago, the Councilman took the responsibility of the Neighborhood Councils into his rules committee. I thought it would be the usual political empty promises. 

Surprise...surprise! He has taken his interaction with the various NCs seriously. He announced at the inaugural general session that the Sunland Tujunga NC, kicked out of its long time office almost a year ago by EX-Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (I love saying EX,) will be moving back in to the municipal facility. Rather than appointing a legislative analyst to represent the EX-Councilman's District 7, he is assuming that responsibility. There are currently 21 people running for the EX- Councilmember's seat. The election will not be held until next March. District 7 is NOT a walk in the park. 

To conclude, I am pleased that I was wrong in anticipating a mediocre Neighborhood Congress. I still think it should be held more often than once a year. In my not so humble opinion -- after fifteen years, the entire NC system should be re-evaluated and the group should collectively come up with a strategic plan to meet the needs of the City today and into the future. 

Power to the People! 

As always comments welcome.

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.  

 

 

 

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