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Wed, Apr

Chase Knolls: A Popular Post-War Apartment Complex Faces the Battle of Its Life

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--In the years following World War II, Los Angeles was a fast-growing metropolis, an automobile-centric sprawling modern city, attracting new residents seeking a different type of urban living. Architects Heth Wharton and Ralph Vaughn were designing garden apartment complexes in Los Angeles, including Venice’s Lincoln Place, North Hollywood Manor and on thirteen acres of former dairy land in Sherman Oaks, Chase Knolls. Wharton and Vaughn followed the Garden City planning principles, arranging buildings around open courtyards and keeping traffic and storage to the perimeters of the complex. 

So many Angelenos have called Chase Knolls home over the years and in 2000, the complex was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument as part of an effort to prevent its demolition. But now, part of the property is at risk. 

The city has approved a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) that allows the developer to knock down existing garages 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. 

By the end of the project, residents’ covered parking will be replaced by an uncovered, unassigned open-air parking space. The change will also compromise the tenants’ storage units, half of the laundry rooms on the 13.5 acre property, as well as the trees and wildlife. 

According to a tenant activist, “the developers could move the utility lines over a few feet to save the garages, laundry rooms and trees except they are clearing the area to build six new apartment buildings where the garages and laundry rooms are today. The six buildings will house 141 new units that will not be covered under rent control.” 

On top of that, existing residents will get a 10 percent rent increase, based on the total cost of improvements, which is “basically putting the infrastructure in place for the developer to build,” the activist adds. 

Many of the existing tenants feel the THP was not properly completed and should have been rejected by the Housing + Community Investment Department for numerous reasons, including all three sections regarding hazardous material abatement, listed as N/A, although two sets of tests submitted by the landlord confirmed the presence of both asbestos and lead in the garages and laundry room, slated for demolition, as well as other issues. 

The law mandates disclosure of hazardous materials; leaving out information or lying on the THP form or in testimony is a misdemeanor. Tenant activists have been appealing to Councilmember David Ryu to forward the THP to the City Attorney for investigation. 

This past week, prior to a calendared September 27 meeting, trees have been cut down to make room for the electrical updates, some of which contain nests, also a violation of the prohibition against cutting down mature trees during nesting season, which one of the activists brought before Ryu. The activist notes that trees will be continued to be removed through the end of September and possibly into October, despite the EIR indicating that no more than 65 trees would be removed and the DEIR supplement indicating that “it would make every attempt to relocate mature trees … would replace trees that are removed a part of the revised project with the same species.” 

The activists will continue to battle against the change to the historic property, changes that will compromise the quality of life for existing tenants. We’ll keep you posted.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)

-cw

Working-Class Struggles in SoCal Symbolize Blue-Collar Blues Across America

TRUTHDIG-It should be named “the exploitation highway.” The path begins at the Los Angeles Harbor and extends about 100 miles east to the warehouses that process goods for Wal-Mart, Amazon and other retailers. These products are unloaded from container ships from Asian manufacturing plants, where labor is much cheaper than in the United States. 

Here, far from the noise of the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton brawl, are painful examples of what this presidential campaign should be about—$10-an-hour working people struggling to raise their families out of poverty, straining to send their kids to school, falling through holes in the safety net. 

At the port, truck drivers—classified as “independent contractors”—wait in long lines to pick up loads. Driver Daniel Anseko Vaina (photo above) told me he might get $185 a load to carry a container of Wal-Mart merchandise. From this, he subtracts $35 for fuel, $60 for the transportation company from which he leases his truck and another 5 to 10 percent for insurance, leaving him with less than $50 or $60 a day. 

The trucks carry the containers to warehouses. Most are east of Los Angeles, in the area known as the Inland Empire. There, goods are stacked, often precariously, on pallets, and then sped to sorting tables. 

Warehouse workers told me they receive about $10 an hour for dangerous work that offers no health or retirement benefits. One pallet knocked down Alejandra Lopez, 56. The company sent her to a clinic, which approved sending her back to work, despite extreme pains in her abdomen. She couldn’t make it. An attorney helped her get workers’ compensation, which paid for surgery. She cried as she told me her story. 

I met these workers while pursuing another story. We’d been talking at Truthdig about whether white blue-collar manufacturing workers, left behind in the current economy, would vote for Trump. But Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in California, especially in the southern part of the state. Manufacturing jobs are declining. The white blue-collar workers I interviewed earlier in my career have diminished in number, along with the auto, aerospace and other manufacturing plants that once employed them. 

Instead of the story I set out to cover, my attention was caught by an article by professor Juan Lara of the University of Southern California: “Warehouse Work: Path to the Middle Class or Road to Economic Insecurity?” 

That was connected with another story of working-class economic insecurity: that of truck drivers, deprived of regular pay, classified as independent contractors—as if they owned a business. Together, they amount to a story: the exploitation of hard-pressed working people, no matter their ethnicity. 

Barb Maynard, a communications consultant for the Teamsters Union, which is trying to organize the drivers, introduced me to Vaina, a truck driver who goes by the nickname Seko. 

We drove around the edges of the Port of Los Angeles, which occupies 7,500 acres of water and land. The adjoining Long Beach Port sprawls across another 7,600 acres. The shipping industry says these two ports account for nearly half of the sea cargo coming into the United States. 

Classifying drivers such as Seko as independent contractors is a good deal for the trucking companies, which he said don’t have to pay salaries or benefits (drivers are paid by the company that receives the shipment upon delivery). Rather, money comes to the trucking companies from the drivers’ lease payments and parking fees for their trucks. The drivers buy fuel and supplies from the company—at the company store, you might say. As Tennessee Ernie Ford sang in “16 Tons,”  “Saint Peter, don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” 

The companies say the arrangement gives the drivers the life of independent business people, able to choose their hours and working days. But the drivers’ days don’t allow for much independence. Seko said drivers begin lining up at the port at 3:30 a.m. to get a chance for a load when the gates open two hours later. “I start out at 5 or 5:30,” said Seko, who drives his truck until 3 a.m. 

Drivers circle the docks filled with containers, but there’s no guarantee of a load. “There’s no work,” the dispatcher could say, Seko told me. 

The warehouse workers have a different kind of bad deal. I met them through Sheheryar Kaooji of the Workers Resource Center, which is organizing warehouse workers to pursue rights guaranteed by law, such as safety and wage protections. He arranged for me to meet with five warehouse workers at the center, located in Ontario, Calif., a small city near the warehouses. They spoke Spanish and another resource center worker translated. They earn $10 an hour, the minimum wage. 

“Today, I made enough for my ride to work or to pay the babysitter,” said Marian Garcia, 45. She pays for her daughter’s transportation to college. To earn extra money, Garcia sells clothes and pots and pans bought off the internet. 

Warehouse work is dangerous. “There are so many injuries and accidents, you end up paying [your wages] for medical expenses,” said Rafael Sanchez, 54. “Boxes are stacked high, and there are injuries when boxes fall on top of you. Stacks topple over.” Speed for the quick movement of goods is all-important. “They used to time us,” said Sanchez. “We stopped that. Now they stand in front of you and stare. You will feel the pressure.” 

The workers are up against a business community fixated on recovery from the recession. I talked to Christopher Thornburg, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Riverside. According to him, take-home pay for workers is understated. “Median earnings in the Inland Empire … is running $42,000 a year,” he said, adding that that’s what warehouse workers receive. But USC professor De Lara noted that that figure includes management and high-skilled jobs. If you count just unskilled, blue-collar workers, the annual pay is $22,000. For women, it’s $19,000. 

Generations ago, there were strong unions—the autoworkers, steelworkers, machinists, longshoremen and others. But an unfriendly judicial and regulatory system has made it almost impossible for unions to organize drivers classified as independent contractors or warehouse workers in scattered facilities, each with a different owner. That should be part of the presidential campaign.

It took courage for the workers to meet with me. The bosses could retaliate by cutting their hours or not giving them work. I asked why they’d agreed. 

One said, “We want our children to have a better life.” Another told me, “The reason we are struggling is not just for our children, but for everyone who works in a warehouse.” 

I was stirred by those words and touched by their stories. They were far different from anything we’ve heard in the presidential campaign.

 

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.) Photo: Bill Boyarsky. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Welcome to LA, Where Real Estate Speculation meets Squeaky Wheel Planning

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Planning a large city like Los Angeles might be complicated, but it is not rocket science. In fact, the State of California outlines the process in detail through its periodically updated General Plan Guidelines, the latest draft of which is now available on-line. Furthermore, this update contains hundreds of live Internet links to other planning documents and databases. 

Nevertheless, Los Angeles has turned to three alternative principles to guide its multi-layered, opaque city planning process. Yes, City Planning has responded to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative with its own proposal to update Community Plans, batch General Plan Amendments, vet environmental consultants, and upgrade technology, but this is really old wine in new bottles. 

To better understand this old wine, I have boiled it down to three components: 

Component 1: Private Parcels. Oblivious to California’s General Plan Guidelines, in Los Angeles city planning only refers to the regulation of privately owned parcels, not to the city’s entire landmass, the actual focus of city planning. Since these private parcels range from about 20 to 40 percent of most communities, it means that LA’s day-to-day planning process ignores the 60-80 percent of the city that consists of sidewalks, streets, undergrounded and above ground utilities, parkways, parks, senior centers, libraries, schools, government buildings, power line easements, and open space. Likewise, all of the public services that are necessary to live in a metropolitan area, such as telecommunications, water, electricity, waste disposal, education, public safety, streetlights, stoplights, directional signs, and hundreds of other services, large and small, are slighted by this truncated city planning process. 

In practice, this means that the inflated population forecasts that drive LA’s plans are only applied to the planning and zoning of private parcels. They are not the basis for calls to upgrade local infrastructure, local services, or the City’s annual budget. There is one exception, however. Transit is often mentioned, but strictly because it can be invoked as a rationale for up-zoning and up-planning private parcels that happen to be located near transit corridors and stations. 

Component 2: Real Estate Speculation. Once city planning has been restricted to the regulation of privately owned parcels, the next planning component is to open the floodgates for individual and institutional profit maximization. If an individual or institutional investor believes they can make more profit by a specific real estate project, whether or not is it legal, the City’s planning laws and regulations are conveniently bent to become “business-friendly.” This ad hoc regulation of land explains why most of LA’s city planners, despite masters degrees from well regarded graduate programs at UCLA and USC, devote their working hours to administrative processes that legalize otherwise illegal real estate projects. 

Ingredient 3: Squeaky wheels planning. Since the maximization of profit through investment in private parcels guides the planning process in Los Angeles, it continually leads to two wildly different outcomes, either too little or too much investment. Most poor neighborhoods languish with little private or public investment other than the LAPD, giving rise to a dilapidated built environment, as well as massive civil disturbances in 1965 and 1992. Meanwhile “hot” neighborhoods suffer from uncontrolled real estate speculation. Because so many of their speculative projects are out-of-character, out-of-scale, and exceed the capacity of local public services and public infrastructure, local residents frequently push back. 

In response, occasional projects are killed or withdrawn, some are redesigned, and a few are thrown out by litigation. But, when the projects cannot be pushed through because of sustained local opposition, City Hall’s fall back position is to wall off small geographical areas to placate local residents by adopting protective overlay districts. 

This is what I call squeaky wheel planning, and it has resulted in an elaborate mosaic in Los Angeles of D and Q conditions on individual parcels, Community Plan footnotes, Specific Plans, Community Design Overlay Districts, Historical Preservation Overlay Districts, Transit Neighborhood Plans, Residential Floor Area Districts, Station Neighborhood Area Plans, Pedestrian Oriented Districts, Neighborhood Oriented Districts, Community Plan Implementation Ordinances, Master Planned Development Districts, Interim Control Ordinances, and overlay zones and districts so obscure that few people have ever dealt with them. 

Furthermore, squeaky wheel planning is about to become even more complicated once the new re:codeLA zones are implemented on their own, or through a lengthy cycle of Community Plan Updates and their appended zone and plan designation amendments. As I previously explained, the division of the current R-1 single-family zone into 12 alternatives R-1 zones means that many more areas will be walled off through small overlay zones. A program that was supposed to simplify the mind-boggling complexity of zoning in Los Angeles will actually make it much harder to comprehend and impossible to enforce. 

Paying the Price 

Do Angelinos pay a price for a planning system that focuses on private parcels, bends over backwards to promote real estate speculation, and placates local opposition to excessive projects by oiling squeaky wheels with a vast array of overlay zones and districts? Yes

Price 1 is understanding. With so many layers of laws and regulations, only the most highly trained specialists can make sense of what is called planning. 

Price 2 is enforcement. While the City Council and the Planning Department might conjure up the rules and regulations, it is up to another City department, Building and Safety, to enforce these laws. Considering that this department is chronically short-staffed, has lost many experienced plan checkers, and pliantly bends to political pressure by routinely approving speculative projects, it is not up to the task. 

Price 3 is quality of life. Squeaky wheel planning can and does protect small areas, but its real purpose is to allow untrammeled real estate speculation to proceed in the rest of Los Angeles. Those neighborhoods continue to suffer even more from projects that are too large, too tall, that tax local infrastructure and infrastructure, and that impose short and long-term environmental costs. 

Price 4 is climate change. Climate change is the ultimate environmental cost of poorly regulated real estate speculation. These unplanned projects use vast amounts of resources and energy to build and then to operate. As a result, they cumulatively load the atmosphere with destructive Green House Gases, the engine of the climate crisis. Furthermore, despite hoopla that some real estate projects are transit-oriented, they have large parking facilities, cater to the well-off who do not use transit, and rarely monitor the transportation patterns of their residents and customers. 

Clearly, this old wine is not fit to drink, even if it is packaged in new bottles.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA city planner who reports on planning issues for City Watch. He also consults, teaches planning courses, and welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

We’ve Forgotten What Made Los Angeles a Great City

RICHARD’S LA ALMANAC-In writing for the CityWatch Corruption Watch, a lot of focus has been on the harm which the crimogenic nature of the Los Angeles City Hall does to the City. The City Council’s crucial element is its voting trading pact which guarantees that no councilmember will stand in the way of any construction deal no matter how illegal or how harmful to the City. Thus, Los Angeles has become an “open city” where the whims of corrupt politician govern – and destroy – the city. 

We seldom address what has made Los Angeles a great city. Two ingredients have been crucial in our rapid rise the nation’s second city. The first is weather. For the most part, weather is beyond our control. If we include air quality as part of weather, then we have exercised some control over air pollution.   The other factor which favored Los Angeles above over metropolitan areas has been de-centralization

Los Angeles began de-centralized. In the beginning, there was nothing but scrub brush and some native inhabitants spread hither and yon. We are unaware of their existence except when as new comers we try to pronounce Cahuenga. [Originally, “cabueg-na” which was changed to Cahuenga by the Spanish who could not pronounce the native word for the pass through the hills. (The Story of Hollywood, by Gregory Paul Williams © 2005 pp4-5)] 

It was a few hundred years before the concept of centralization aka densification became relevant for Los Angeles. 

The Landmark 1915 Study of Traffic Conditions in Los Angeles 

By 1915, Los Angeles had developed a serious problem due to centralization of business within a small area, about 1200 wide between Hill Street and Main Street and from First Street down to Seventh Street. The original densification was partially topographical due to Bunker Hill and the LA River, but it was primarily psychological as people were accustomed to retail being within that area confined area. 

With the advent of motorized vehicles, the concentration of business made for horrible traffic due to the street cars (trolleys) which left only room for one lane of traffic in each direction. In other words, the terrible traffic congestion due to the centralization of business was man-made. Other urban areas in the early 1900's were also topographical, Manhattan was a 2.5 mi vs. 11 mi island.

Decentralization was the Solution 

The 1915 study saw the obvious solution. In a gigantic circular area like Los Angeles, business had to expand outwards from the core downtown area. There was no significant geographic barrier. The City had learned to adequately bridge the river and the unobstructed expansion to the south and residential expansion to the west was clear once one was beyond Bunker Hill. 

As the civic leaders recognized, the topography of Los Angeles’s 5,000 plus square miles made decentralization as important in attracting newcomers as the weather. People came to LA in order to own detached homes on single family lots with yards and fruit trees. 

Relationship of Transportation and De-densification of LA’s Core 

In the brief pre-automobile days of Los Angeles’s growth (late 1800's), the horse drawn and then motorized trolleys allowed people to live farther from LA’s commercial center than in the crowded eastern cities which had been constructed in the 1700's and early 1800's, when fastest means of locomotion was a carriage. Thus, eastern urban homes were narrow, close together, and without yards, e.g., the Brownstones and tenements of NYC and Philadelphia row houses. 

Because Los Angeles grew after motorized transit, there was no demand for crammed residential housing, but rather people could spread out miles away from the core downtown area. Decentralization was as a significant attraction as the weather.     

Soon automobiles became the dominant mode of transportation which facilitated the expansion to more distant single family residential neighborhoods. The individual car was much faster than the trolleys as cars did not make unnecessary stops and the autos had maximum versatility.   

The 1915 Traffic Study Recognized the Great Harm of Densification 

The 1915 Study laid down the main principle that business, retails store, etc. had to expand outwards towards the periphery as there was a mathematical relationship between population density and traffic congestion. In fact, expansion would occur as a matter of course, unless retail, business, and population were artificially restricted to a core area.   Business, retail and industry had to follow the population as the residential areas expanded. The concentration of offices etc. in the Basin would benefit a few wealthy landowners while harming everyone else. (1915 Study p 38

The 1922 Los Angeles Traffic Commission Report 

By 1922, however, the city was slow to heed the mathematics and the advice in the 1915 Study. Thus, the Los Angeles Traffic Commission was established, and its heart was the most profound recognition of what was essential to set Los Angeles on the correct path: City officials were ethically forbidden to participate. 

“Public officials are, by the very nature of their office, prohibited from being participants. They must act in a judicial capacity and it is not appropriate for them to take sides for or against public improvements where there are conflicting interests and divided public opinion. City officials by reason of the position they occupy, are ethically prohibited from initiating such measures.” 1922 The Los Angeles Plan, p 3 

As a result of this ethical insight, the City began to follow sensible traffic plans. Trolleys were removed from the surface streets as they were not only a major source impeding traffic but also they were maiming and killing Angelenos. Trolleys run on fixed-rails down the center of the street, forcing riders to embark and disembark in the middle of the street where many riders were struck by autos. 

Los Angeles’s De-densification made it America’s Most Desirable City 

For several decades Los Angeles was allowed to expand outward and we became the nation’s #1 destination city. After WW II, however, the forces of corruptionism, about which civil engineers warned us in 1915 and 1922, took control of the newly formed Community Redevelopment Agency and used tax money to make the most devastating mistake Los Angeles had ever seen, namely Bunker Hill with its concentration of office towers next to downtown. 

Elementary mathematics, which had been done in 1915, showed that the result of Bunker Hill would clog LA traffic congestion. Bunker Hill was designed to make a few men vastly wealthy by retarding the movement of offices etc. towards the periphery.   Instead, a combination of corrupt officials, real developers and construction companies conspired to make the Valleys into bedroom communities while retaining as much office, retail and industry in the Basin. After that disaster, Century City was constructed giving rise the endless nightmares on the 405.

The Death of Decentralization is Killing Los Angeles as a World Class City 

The forces of corruptionism control City Hall today, and they are killing Los Angeles just as surely as if we had entered an Ice Age. 

The new middle class, i.e., Family Millennials, have placed Los Angeles as #60 on the list of places where they wish to live. As predicted in 1915 and 1922, these corrupt policies of concentrating development in the Basin are artificially increasing the cost of housing and making transportation a non-functional. CalTrans has opinion that just the Hollywood Millennium earthquake Towers will make the Hollywood Freeway.

 

In rejecting the Millennium Towers, Judge Chalfant based his decision on the City’s refusal to acknowledge the unmitigable traffic impacts that Hollywood densification would have traffic congestion. City did not address Caltrans’ "concern(s) that the project impacts may result in unsafe conditions due to additional traffic congestion, unsafe queuing, and difficult maneuvering" for the 101 Freeway, where the Level of Service (sometimes "LOS") is "F". 

F = Failure. The density is so terrible that it has already has an F and the City wants to greatly increase the traffic load. This type of corruptionism and disregard for facts are the major causes for Family Millennials deserting Los Angeles. 

Decentralizing to Cucamonga, Texas, and Beyond 

Angelenos are still decentralizing, except now their destinations are hundreds and thousands of miles to our East. People who want a better life are decentralizing to Cucamonga and Riverside, and then they escape to Texas, The Carolinas, Tennessee, Colorado. Rather than recognize that their corruption has doomed Los Angeles as a viable city in second half of the 21st Century, corruptionism is cannibalizing what is left. They are borrowing billions of dollars in order to maximize density with knowledge that the City will never have the financial base to repay the billions of dollars which it is borrowing and giving the real estate speculators. 

Assuming that a decentralization plan could be devised, the corruptionism which has seized control of City Hall would never tolerate Los Angeles to deviate from its present densification course until they have drained every last cent from the tax payers. Would that LA could return to the yesteryears of 1915 and 1922 when mathematics and ethics played a role in Los Angeles’ planning.

 

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

-cw

Thoughts on the Pot Prop. 64: California Could be Whistling ‘Happy Days are Here Again’

PROPS FOR THE PROP-If Proposition 64 on the November 8 ballot passes, California joins the ranks of states where the prohibition against marijuana use is lifted for anyone 21 and older. Polling shows support at somewhere between 50 and 60 percent in favor, so it looks as though “Happy Days Are Here Again” could be the theme song for a lot of Californians. 

Medical marijuana is available in 25 states. Four more have legitimized its recreational use. Mostly, legal pot is a blue state phenomenon, but there are some red states with libertarian tendencies that have joined the crowd. 

The first place to offer medical marijuana? California-- following the passage of Prop. 215 in 1996. Cannabis was outlawed in the Golden State in 1913. The first ballot measure to legalize pot came in 1972. It failed by a 2-1 margin. The next attempt at complete availability occurred in 2010. The initiative failed by seven points (53.5 percent No.) 

The current iteration of full-blown legalization would allow those 21 and older to use marijuana in various forms. (Brownies, anyone?) It also provides for regulation and taxation on retail sales and cultivation. Estimates of tax revenue range up to $1 billion annually. In addition, local governments could impose their own rules and taxes. The measure essentially treats marijuana much the same as tobacco and alcohol. 

It makes you feel good and the state makes money. And don’t forget the potential impact on the sales of snack foods. What’s not to like? 

According to opponents, unleashing the demon weed would loosen an army of intoxicated drivers who could not be prosecuted because there are no legal standards for determining how much under the influence a pot consumer is. They also claim a torrent of advertising and sales to minors would ensue (things prohibited by Prop. 64.) 

I asked my morning coffee crew what they thought. Responses ranged from absolutely not (“we have enough stuff to make people stupid already”) to an enthusiastic yes (“hell, yeah!”). The answer that I think probably comes closest to most voters’ thinking is, “I 95-percent don’t care.” The other five percent? “It’s O.K. with me as long as they tax it.” 

This is how a society changes its rules; not because the body politic feels a great enthusiasm for, or dislike of, a proposition. When an initiative like Prop. 64 garners the level of support it has, it’s not groundbreaking. It’s a ratification of the status quo. 

And now, here we are on the verge of allowing marijuana to become the newest legal vice for adults. For aging baby boomers like me this has been a long time coming. To many, the march from “reefer madness” to a 21st century version of the before-dinner drink is simply the latest manifestation of a culture that is moving to a greater level of tolerance and acceptance of new societal norms. 

Assuming Prop. 64 passes, it won’t be long before you can walk into the local market and pick up a pack of doobies -- and don’t forget the chips.

 

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

The Sixth Street Safety War: “People are Dying While We Argue”

RIDING WITH RICHARD--Last night I sat through a four and a half hour meeting of the Mid-City West Community Council. Sitting for an hour, let alone four, is not my preference, but a few months ago, friends and neighbors urged me to run for the Council’s board, and I finally acceded to their wishes. I indulged in exactly two (2) hours of campaigning, but, much to my dismay, I won anyhow. So there I was, along with thirty-four other board members, and a roomful of contentious neighbors.

Contentious because of, among other things, a proposal to implement a road diet along that deadly part of Sixth Street that runs through the Miracle Mile. Crashes, caused by speeding, swerving cars, are a weekly occurrence there; injuries are frequent, and there have been deaths. Neighbors just trying to get home or to the store or the park. A woman was killed standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, her body broken by cars spinning away from yet another collision….

Everyone agrees that cars must be tamed along Sixth, but not everyone agrees on the means. Many people’s immediate reaction to a road diet is to assert that reducing the number of through lanes will “of course” increase congestion. This is not, in fact, true, as dozens, perhaps hundreds, of real-world observations have revealed. But in this sad time of “truthiness,” flat-earth theories are given respect that other hypotheses have had to work for. The evening was long.

But many people, on and off the board, spoke at length about both the mechanics and the benefits of road diets, and in the end…the motion passed!

The board will now send its recommendation to the LADOT and the local council member, David Ryu. Whether he will continue his predecessor LaBonge’s suppression of the road diet remains to be seen.

Yes, continue it: because this is not a new road diet. It was first proposed years ago. LADOT’s analysis and most of its design work have been done. In fact, just about everything has been done except actually doing it. Meanwhile, cars crash, neighbors die, and people at a recent town hall said they’re afraid even to walk along Sixth on the sidewalks!

Maybe, just maybe, Ryu can show some spine and support what will, despite overwhelming local support, be a contentious project. If he caves to the naysayers, in the time-honored way of LA council members, well…the gutters will continue to run with blood in the Miracle Mile.

As one of the other board members put it, “This is a moral issue. People are dying while we argue.”

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

-cw

Shame on Joe Buscaino … Now Trying to Hide the Homeless from the Neighbors

AT LENGTH--At the Sept. 13 Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council stakeholder meeting, we were reminded once again of Councilman Joe Buscaino’s commitment to transparency—or lack thereof. 

It was revealed that the Los Angeles City Council’s Homeless Strategy Committee was acting to authorize $615,000 for the leasing and construction of storage facilities for the homeless in San Pedro, without any prior notice given to the Harbor Area neighborhood council’s. Buscaino’s record on  transparency is par for the course, while failing to reach any sort of consensus on thornier issues.

One year ago, the homeless issue exploded in San Pedro at the CeSPNC meeting after that council voted unanimously to support the tiny homes initiative of Elvis Summers. Buscaino stepped in after that to announce his appointment of the Homeless Taskforce. That singular vote was the result of mounting frustration with the lack of action by Buscaino on this critical issue. I should know. I had a front row seat as president of Central during that time.

Not only did the councilman intentionally appoint a group of political shills who were neophytes to the homeless issue—with the exception of Shari Weaver, the one professional from Harbor Interfaith Service — he also excluded anyone from the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, some of whom had been working on the issue for more than two years.  This political insult was exacerbated by appointing Ray Regalado, president of Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, as his co-chair and George Palaziol the leader of the anti-homeless uprising and founder of the questionable nonprofit organization  “Saving San Pedro” to the task force.

Also appointed were Elise Swanson, the political armchair of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, Mona Sutton, the owner of the Omelette and Waffle Shop and others, who, as I’ve said before, have little experience in dealing with homeless issues. Since that time they have held multiple closed-to-the-public meetings, with no published agendas and reports on their activities. The councilman promises that one will be release soon, but in fact this move is classic JB—no transparency; zero community engagement.

If not for the continued scouring of LA City Council notices by Danielle Sandoval, the Budget Advocate from the Harbor Area and CeSPNC treasurer, the August 2016 Transmittal from the Homeless Strategy Committee, chaired by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, would have been buried and Buscaino’s deceit would have been missed until it was presented as a done deal.  His office has sought neither advice nor consent. There has been no waiting for City Controller Ron Galprin’s office to release the list of thousands of publicly owned properties and the only discussions that have taken place have been closed door ones with San Pedro Chamber of Commerce CEO, Elise Swanson.

Instead of Buscaino appearing before the CeSPNC himself, as he was scheduled to do this week, Swanson appeared in standard form as his apologist, making excuses and assuring that the “task force” was going to do its work and present a proposal with illustrations from the “consultants” for public comment (read rubber- stamp approval). Who knew that they already had consultants hired to work on the project that nobody knew about?

Further, with Sutton now president of Central, Regalado and  Palaziol, all being on different neighborhood councils, they all have conflicts of interests that prevents them from voting or even participating in the discussion on the proposed homeless storage facilities, since they are also on the councilman’s Homeless Task Force.

John Stammreich, the itinerant parlia-mentarian of CeSPNC, needs to brush up on his understanding of the legal terms “recusal” and conflicts of interest.

Sutton has a double conflict since she was recently appointed by Buscaino to the Harbor Area Planning Commission just before the June neighborhood council election. It’s a position that might allow her to review a change of use issue of any proposed storage facility under that commission’s purview.  Could the avoidance of controversy get any more complicated?

It certainly can as the CeSPNC homeless committee chairwoman Tunette Powell, resigned from the council after only two months on the job citing personal issues. Yet, it is well known that she was pounced upon by the bullies of the Saving San Pedro’s closed Facebook page for differing from their polemics and constant negativity.  Her frustration was evident at the recent meeting.

All of this and more comes into play as Buscaino has his sights set on a second term while having very little to show for his first five years in office, except for the constant barrage of photo opps and social media propaganda.

Yes, there are lots of promises such as the San Pedro Waterfront, the plan for redeveloping the public housing at Rancho San Pedro and three market rate housing projects (with no low-income units included) in central San Pedro. Through it all, there has been next to nothing in terms of  transparency in the pre-development stages, and with what little information that has been made public, is information that was vetted behind closed doors between the council office and the Harbor Department.

Don’t expect the actual waterfront plan to come out very soon.  It is rumored that Los Angeles Waterfront Alliance hasn’t yet secured an anchor tenant, therefore, there’s no actual capital funding as they continue to negotiate the biggest attraction at Ports O’ Call, the San Pedro Fish Market, down to 25 percent of its current footprint.

Buscaino just wants to be re-elected at any cost and he’ll smile his way past any one who thinks he doesn’t deserve it. But watch out, his deceit is as treacherous as Saving San Pedro’s comments on my hat are libelous.  And his continued lack of transparency and his use of neighborhood councils as rubber stamps will trip him up in the end.

(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.) 

-cw

Rethinking LA’s Yearly Neighborhood Council Congress

GELFAND’S WORLD--Once a year, City Hall opens its doors to the public for the annual Neighborhood Council Congress. This year, the gathering occurs Saturday, September 24. It's a chance for people who participate in neighborhood councils to network, hear presentations, and meet city officials. I think the congress has done pretty well, but it is ready for some rethinking. What's been missing of late is the old spirit of rebellion that motivated the founding generation. It's that same spirit you see in the pages of City Watch. The public should have their own shot at engaging in such discussions. 

Let's start with what's good about attending the Congress: It's a chance to meet folks from all over the city, so you can learn about the issues that other neighborhood councils are facing and how they are dealing with them. It is also a chance to become involved in the regional and citywide organizations that have grown up in response to citywide issues. 

Unfortunately, the Congress has tended to shy away from the more political discussions. I suspect that the organizers see these as divisive. Instead, we are being served up an extended civics lesson. Some of it is interesting, and some of it is even useful, but we should consider some bigger ideas (see below). 

What you can expect: There will be workshops, training sessions, and a breakout session on a subject I have been writing about here, the need for disaster preparedness. 

There will be a lot of sessions that are reminiscent of high school citizenship classes. There is a session on Board Basics, which is, I assume, training in how to participate in a board meeting. There are sessions on land use and code enforcement, outreach, working with city departments, and so on. We can get tips on leadership skills (I wonder how you teach that?), a session on how to manage a committee, and something about clean streets. These are defensible topics, but not door crashers. 

Let's quickly explain why the congress is set up this way. 

Back around 2001- 2005, neighborhood councils were a new invention in LA, and we all had to figure out how to navigate through the details of forming a brand new council and getting it up and running. Out of this came a few meetings where these subjects were explored in front of hundreds of interested people. For the past few years, the congress has been run by volunteer participants and a few hardy city agency staffers. 

So far, so good. The congress provides breakfast, lunch, and a nearly acceptable volume of hot coffee. City Hall has plenty of conference rooms and a regal City Council chamber, all of which get used. 

The one thing remaining for us to accomplish is to make the congress into a real congress. Instead of just those goody-goody sessions, I'd like to see a few things added on: 

Let's bring back the discussion of cutting City Council pay by half. 

Let's have a serious discussion about recreating Los Angeles government as a borough system. 

Let's take a strong position against high priced parking meter costs and parking ticket fines. 

Let's have serious discussions about all the reform suggestions coming from other writers here on City Watch, including Charter changes regarding the city budget. 

Let's have a serious discussion about public financing of City Council and mayoral elections. 

Let's talk about the limited public comment periods in City Council committee meetings. How many of you are tired of watching that green light - yellow light - red light gizmo run down? 

Let's even talk about the way that neighborhood councils were created with an almost total lack of authority, and whether this ought to be changed. 

Let's have a serious discussion about putting neighborhood council elections on the regular ballot, probably during the June primary election in even numbered years. 

You may have your own ideas for robust discussions. The point is to visit the serious underlying questions rather than just nibbling around the edges of the most superficial problems. 


We might also revisit an idea that has been circulating in neighborhood council circles since the beginning. Why not schedule quarterly Town Hall meetings, each dedicated to a particular subject? I'd like to see the Valley Alliance and the LA Neighborhood Council Alliance alternate in sponsoring such Town Halls. They wouldn't replace the annual congress, but they would allow serious people to engage in important discussions.

 

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

-cw

‘Nextdoor’ - Effective Social Media or Just another Annoying, Unnecessary Intrusion?

MY WAY--I like to think I am an equal opportunity critic and cheerleader but, of late, I’ve been more of a critic. So, I am happy to play cheerleader this week in writing about something that seems to be bringing neighbors together. 

If you are like me, you receive -- on a daily basis -- what seems like hundreds of emails that are of no interest. Aside from the spam, the scam, and other sexually charged missives, there are the commercial messages that I can easily do without. Still can't figure out how I got on the list for Viagra and beautiful Russian women! 

There are, however, certain emails I read on a daily basis. One of them is the Nextdoor Daily Digest. I bring up this particular website because of a conversation I had with some friends who are paranoid about their privacy. They use the internet in their business and personally, but mention sites like Facebook, Linked In, Instagram and Nextdoor etc., and it’s obvious they are not interested. 

The reason given for this loathing is, "I don't want people to know who my friends are or what I am doing." Yes, the age factor does make a difference. Millennials and Baby Boomers, at least the younger Boomers, don't have the same privacy issues. I must admit I enjoy Facebook because it allows me to keep in contact with my friends all over the world. I seldom post anything other than my CityWatch articles but admit to making comments, likes, and I've even learned to use the emojis. 

Nextdoor is a completely different type of social media. I learned about it when the City of Los Angeles entered an agreement with Nextdoor about three years ago. EmpowerLA introduced it to the Neighborhood Councils and encouraged them to set up an NC Nextdoor pages. Gradually it broke into smaller and tighter geographical areas. My group has 149 members with more joining every week. 

The site defines itself as the free and private social network for neighborhoods. On Nextdoor, neighbors create private online communities for their neighborhoods where they can ask questions, get to know one another and exchange local advice and recommendations. A recent Pew survey reported that a Facebook user has only 2% of its neighbors as friends. So this is more targeted. 

It was started by several Silicon Valley "techies" in 2010. They were wondering how they could bring their Menlo Park neighborhood closer together. In 2011, they went national with this concept and now have a 65% representation in 112 communities in the U.S. There are no ads and the sign-up and postings are free. How do they make money? Right now they don't generate any income but are conducting some pilot programs which should end up making the site profitable. This will undoubtedly please their various capital venture investors. They insist that the basic concept will remain free. 

There are more than 500 different Nextdoor groups in the City of Angeles and more than 5500 in the greater Los Angeles area. Aside from the 112,000 plus sites throughout the U.S., they are in the Netherlands and this week opened officially in the UK. 

It’s easy to get started: simply visit www.nextdoor.com and enter your email and home address. If Nextdoor is already available for your neighborhood, you will automatically be invited to join that neighborhood. If not, you'll be given the option to create one by drawing the boundaries of your neighborhood on a map, naming your Nextdoor site, and inviting your neighbors. You must have at least ten sign-ups in twenty-one days. You must use your real name and street and there are three ways to authenticate that you are who you say you are.

Nextdoor communities are self-moderated by the neighbors who live in the communities. Needless to say, all Leads and Founders are volunteers. This can include the Founding Member who started Nextdoor in his or her community, as well as the Leads of the neighborhood. In addition, any member can flag content to their Leads or contact Nextdoor’s support team. They have what they euphemistically call a conflict resolution team to handle improper posts. 

Posts are divided into categories in the daily digest and on the website. Topics of discussion on Nextdoor are as varied as local events, school activities, plumber and babysitter recommendations, recent crime activity, upcoming garage sales or even lost pets. Breakdown of conversations on Nextdoor is as follows: 7% events; 8% lost & found; 8% free items; 16% crime and public safety; 19% classifieds; 26% recommendations; and 16% other. 

As an example, here is what is in my Nextdoor digest today: 

Cat to a Good Home

Looking for Lost Dog (with pic)

Recommending a great fence builder

Need an Animal Crate

LVN wanted for Weekend Invalid care

Car broken into parked in front of my house

Just moved here from Michigan looking for friends 

I asked the Head of Communications, Kelsey Grady, if they have many improper or nasty postings. She replied that they do get some. There are one or two "leads" for each neighborhood site. These are volunteers who keep an eye out for problem posts and answer questions. 

One of their recent challenges has concerned "racial profiling." The company is confronting a tough problem: How do you stop an activity when people can't even agree on how to define it? Jaywalking and speeding are easy. Racial profiling does not have a universally accepted definition, as experts in criminology have noted. 

If you go to their website you will see the large amount of press coverage they have received on this issue. Nextdoor decided to create a working definition that is relatively broad: anything that allows a person to stereotype an entire race. Throughout this summer, CEO Nirav Tolia and his engineers have been testing ways to put a stop to it online. He says that they have managed to decrease racial profiling by fifty percent; he looks forward to eradicating it completely in the near future. 

People engage in racial profiling "often not on purpose," Tolia says. It's implicit bias. For example, he says that a user might think, “‘If I look out my window, and I see someone breaking into a car, and the only thing I see is that they are dark-skinned, why can't I post? That's all I see.’” 

Tolia continues, "The problem with that post,” — ‘a dark-skinned man is breaking into a car’ —, [is that] while the activity sounds like a crime, the description of the alleged perpetrator lacks any useful detail, like what he was wearing, his sneakers, his hairstyle or height. 

"Because that message goes out to the entire neighborhood, where presumably many of the neighbors reading the post are dark-skinned, that would be considered racial profiling," Tolia explains. 

Nextdoor has been no stranger to such posts. The end effect, he says, has been more hurtful than helpful, generating animosity among neighbors instead of offering useful tips for law enforcement. 

In a pilot project running in select neighborhoods across the U.S., the company has altered the rules for posting. When a user wants to post about a crime or suspicious activity, in the Crime & Safety section, a new form requires two physical descriptors — e.g. Nike sneakers, gray sweat pants, bald — if the user chooses to include the race of the person." 

An algorithm under development spot-checks the summary of the suspicious activity for racially charged terms, as well as for length. If the description is too short, it is presumed to lack meaningful detail and is unacceptable. 

If a draft post violates the algorithm's rules or the form's mandatory fields, the user has to revise. Otherwise, it's not possible to post. All 112,000 U.S. communities have been sent the new regulations. 

The move to block posts sparked heated internal debate, Tolia admits. "It's highly unusual for a social network to say: If you don't do this, you cannot post. Highly unusual. I mean, think about Twitter or Facebook or Snapchat. There's no friction at all in the process of posting." 

In tech, "friction" is a dirty word. Engineers rack their brains over how to shave seconds off the time it takes to broadcast your post to the world. 

Some Nextdoor engineers argued that the company should just politely suggest, not require, a better description. They pointed out that when people complain — about bullying, hate speech, revenge porn — on other social networks, those companies don't change their product. 

Nextdoor recruits police and city agencies into the network as an added feature, a kind of Community Policing 2.0 that many users want. In the wake of the Dallas shootings, the police department there turned to Nextdoor to communicate safety updates to residents, and later to recruit for the police force. The network says it's partnering with more than 1,600 public agencies in the U.S. 

How many people do you know in your immediate neighborhood? This is a way to find recommended suppliers and services, to keep track of things-both good and bad going on in the community and best of all ... to bring people together. 

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.

 

New Advanced Roadway Architecture for LA and Why Prop. M won’t Work!

TRANSPORTATION BREAKTHROUGHS-With all the technological improvements coming along with vehicles it is fitting that an advanced roadway architecture should be developed as well. This is so they work together and make even greater transportation service and efficiencies regarding congestion elimination and GHG reduction. 

A full range of small to large vehicular roadway solutions are feasible and attainable short term and can provide further roadway structure for continued technological improvement and planning efficiencies supporting SB 32 environmental goals. 

These improvements would be very affordable and integral with what exits today and would continue the desirable characteristics of travel that we want into the future while bringing about efficiency to the overall roadway network. 

A new breakthrough urban roadway architecture utilizes existing street rights of ways and begins by making higher capacity from selected regular boulevards by using “continuous flowing traffic on urban interrupted streets”, (the interruptions are for cross traffic.) 

In addition to capacity related problem solving, the continuous flowing traffic can be managed to provide safer speeds for drivers, bikers and considerations for pedestrians as well while making the significant reductions in GHG emissions. These are extra benefits beyond giving shorter travel times at low speeds related to the environs that are being traveled through. 

The improved structuring of how communities work can give urban design “place making” opportunities as well. The innovative roadway architecture that allows continuous flowing traffic is a dramatic improvement by essentially doubling the capacity of normal street lanes that presently have stop and go driving. The LA Automatic Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system gives the necessary signal timing and brings integration with other related existing 4400 controlled areas of the street network. What would be taking place is the “digitization of roadways’ in selected portions of the vehicular network with the new roadway architecture facilitating “continuous flowing traffic” (CFT). 

Eventually vehicles would communicate with the roadway and the roadway would communicate with vehicles in making even safer, managed mobility with even higher capacities if so needed and desired. 

Bus transit would be truly rapid with CFT and coordinated with communications to minimize first and last mile connections from origin to destination. The continuous flowing traffic boulevards would attract ridership and bring greater frequency and dependability of bus service. 

An example of improvement with CFT would be the elimination of the 5 mph traffic congestion on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. That utter traffic failure every work day, can be eliminated by an increase in capacity. Todays failing 5 mph peak period stop and go speed has a capacity of around 300 vehicles/lane/hour and is emitting GHGs at about 2.5 times the amount as when there is flowing traffic at 30 mph. A managed speed of 30 mph (not allowing slower or faster traffic), gives CFT capacity at about 1200 vehicles/lane/hour, four times as much than the 5 mph failing traffic. 

What that means is a shorter peak period with uncongested flowing traffic and a much freer spacing of vehicles one to another which would be safer and have less stress on drivers. This is the result of designed and managed free flowing traffic. 

As a larger case example, the I-405 bottleneck in West LA can be eliminated as well with selected roadways having continuous flowing traffic to add capacity to the I-405 corridor. 

Metro suggested a solution that a tunnel under the I-405 freeway going from south of the interchange with the I-10 freeway, then north on past the West LA area while still in a tunnel and into the San Fernando Valley (likely beyond the I-101 interchange as well). Thankfully it is not a solution and such a boondoggle can easily be avoided. 

The tunnel proposal comes from a view that does not recognize the travel demand which brings about the 405 bottleneck. The problem is not the amount of traffic that is exchanging between the San Fernando Valley and south of the I-10 (approximately just 8% of the Westside 405 corridor traffic). The problem is the massive amount of traffic that is exchanging with all the areas beyond the Westside, going to and from the Westside, within that short distance between Sunset to Pico Boulevards. 

The I-405 corridor and its related cross streets going under it from Sunset to Pico Boulevards, essentially comprise a daily traffic volume of around 680,000 trips per day. It’s a problem that a tunnel for vehicles, or a single line of rail transit however configured, cannot address. The congestion is inherently a vehicular problem. 

There are three major functions where the 405 is insufficient; 1/ backed up traffic on the 405 because the Interchange with the I-10 has been out grown, 2/ there is a lack of signal and ramping capacity to deal with the intensity of distribution and collection of commuters to the Westside which backs up traffic on the 405 and related crossing boulevards coming and going, and 3/ with the 405 failing, commuters then cut through the arterial grid such as between the Valley and the City of Santa Monica by going through Brentwood instead of using the freeways as intended. Cut-through traffic is excessive throughout the Westside because of that breakdown where the major corridors do not contain the travel demand due to inadequate capacity. 

The clear evidence of that is the backed up commuter traffic, some half mile or more for hours, on all the crossing roads with which the commuters are waiting to get on the 405. A plan using a frontage road with continuous flowing traffic along with minor improvements to the 405 and 1-10, can provide good access by solving these three deficiencies. 

The Santa Monica Boulevard corridor would be an included improvement for adding capacity and would have a connection to an improved 405 corridor. The result of the CFT frontage road, and related minor freeway improvements would be in effect the adding of 120,000 person trips per day capacity to the corridor. That would contain the traffic to the corridor and eliminate backed up traffic and the intrusive cut-through traffic into adjacent communities. 

Roadways and Planning! 

From a community viewpoint, future planning for the LA Basin must protect the character preserving and livable community standards by having limitations on development to keep the relationship of travel demand to land use in balance with available transportation infrastructure. This is also reasonable given the need for developing a mix of urbanizing land uses elsewhere in the County. 

Limiting future growth in the congested LA Basin then would direct the majority of future job and community enhancing growth to the suburbs which they need. This secures suburban urbanizing as well as the reduction of VMT by making shorter trip length on average because jobs, shopping, institutions and services are closer to the housing in those communities. Suburbs and cities would use CFT corridors to structure growth and maintain good land use to infrastructure relationships. 

With the 90 million miles currently made by vehicles each day in LA County, reducing average trip length from 15.5 miles in length to 12 miles would be a 22% reduction in VMT and GHG emissions. That is a significant approach to meeting the transportation share of GHG reduction to reach SB 32 goals and for providing good mobility. 

Structuring better planning with an extensive and efficient improved roadway system makes sense, whereas the supposed increase in rail transit implied by Proposition M brings about greater concentration of development in the LA Basin. The proposed rail is directed to the LA Basin which already resists over development. And the ‘coup de grace’ is that light rail can’t be put into existing boulevards without creating greater congestion and GHG emissions. Metro’s plan would not work! 

Vote NO on Proposition M so that affordable and good “bottom-up” planning can be incorporated into overall County plans to secure livable communities, towns and cities.

 

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

Hey, Hey We Won’t Pay … ITT Tech Students Launch Debt Strike …7 Schools in LA Area

VOICES--Former students of the recently shuttered, for-profit ITT Technical Institutes announced Wednesday they have no choice other than to not make payments on their federal student loans, as they denounced the "immoral system that profits from our aspirations." There are 7 Technical Institutes in the Los Angeles area. 

As of the writing of this article, 176 former students are taking part in the action. One of them is Niki Howland, who said she was the "perfect prey for the predator that is ITT Tech." She said the school recruiter lied to her about the total cost of the school and the pay she could earn after receiving her degree.

"These were all lies," she said. "All I have is a revolving cycle of outrageously high interest debt with a useless piece of paper ITT Tech calls my AA 'degree' in Applied Computer Science—Computer Network Systems." She added that the "student debt crisis ruins lives."

ITT Tech announced earlier this month that it was closing all its campuses nationwide—leaving the students "in limbo"—and blamed the move on "actions of and sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education." 

As the Wall Street Journal reported:

ITT Tech, among the nation's largest for-profit college chains by revenue, had been facing accusations from its accreditor of chronic financial mismanagement and questionable recruiting tactics. It is also under investigation by more than a dozen state and federal authorities, including the Massachusetts attorney general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Last month, the Education Department said it banned the school from enrolling new students with federal aid. That was a "death blow," the WSJ added, as "The company got 80% of its cash revenue from Title IV federal aid, including Pell Grants and student loans, in 2015, according to securities filings."

In their letter addressed to President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King Jr. posted online Wednesday, the former students write that they are taking part in the "debt strike," which is organized by Debt Collective, to "begin to collect on your obligation to erase [the debts]."

"Each of us is still left with tens of thousands of dollars of debt to you, the very agency that was supposed to have protected us from ITT's scam," they write. They say they are following in steps of former students of now bankrupt Corinthian College, who began their own debt strike.

"We trusted that education would lead to a better life. And we trusted you to ensure that the education system in this country would do so. Instead, each month you force us to make payments into an immoral system that profits from our aspirations. This is a profound betrayal."

"These are debts we cannot pay and should never have been forced to. Erase them now. Return what we have already paid. Our debt strike will continue until justice is served," they conclude.

Secretary King wrote that the former students may be able to have their loans discharged but as Marketwatch reports, some of those saddled with debt "say that the Department’s decision to sanction ITT indicates that its students were victims of wrongdoing and should be eligible for automatic loan forgiveness."

(Andrea Germanos writes for Common Dreams  … where this report originated.) Image: Debt Collective

INFO: California Campuses 

  1. Bay area campus - Concord, CA
  2. Bay area campus - Oakland, CA
  3. Fresno area campus - Clovis, CA
  4. Los Angeles area campus - Oxnard, CA
  5. Los Angeles area campus - San Dimas, CA
  6. Los Angeles area campus - Sylmar, CA
  7. Los Angeles area campus - Orange, CA
  8. Los Angeles area campus - San Bernardino, CA
  9. Los Angeles area campus - Torrance, CA
  10. Los Angeles area campus - Corona, CA
  11. Sacramento area campus - Rancho Cordova, CA
  12. San Diego area campus - National City, CA
  13. San Diego area campus - Vista, CA
  14. Stockton area campus - Lathrop, CA

 

 

 

 

From Frogtown to South LA, Hollywood to Westwood, Fed Up Angelenos are Joining the Preserve LA Revolution

SPECIAL TO CITYWATCH--It's been an incredible few weeks for the Coalition to Preserve LA, a citywide movement of tens of thousands of Los Angeles residents who support the historic Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that, in a few days, will be officially certified by the LA City Clerk for placement on the March 7, 2017 ballot. 

We've been honored by endorsements from working-class Latinos in MacArthur Park, Westlake and Elysian Valley (the longtime residents don't actually call it “Frogtown,” a disturbing indicator of the days when brutal gangs controlled the area) who are watching a frenzy of “zone changes” by the City Council that let developers build as big and as ugly as they wish, setting off gentrification and displacement of longtime residents that robs Los Angeles of its crucial working-class neighborhoods. 

We've been delighted by endorsements from Westside professionals, attorneys and, yes, even developers, who make up such groups as the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Association and the Westwood Neighborhood Council.  Their members, people such as Debra Hockemeyer, Sandy Brown and Steve Sann are watching staggering new surface street gridlock from the Santa Monica border to La Cienega, traffic that radiates out one, two or even three miles from the mega-developments approved by City Council members during widely acknowledged backroom deals that break the zoning rules to profit a single developer. 

We've been humbled by endorsements from important journalistic voices in South Los Angeles and Mid City, from two inspiring women who publish small, but respected, newspapers — Gloria Zuurveen of Pace News, and Dianne Lawrence of The Neighborhood News, and from the iconic Los Angeles Sentinel columnist Larry Aubry. All of them are appalled at plans for Cumulus, a 30-story luxury skyscraper in a single family neighborhood of South LA on La Cienega Jefferson Boulevard that sped through the rigged system that lets developers build whatever they wish, regardless of the zoning and rules. 

We've been energized by endorsements from Richard Close and Cindy Cleghorn, who represent the trademark activism of the 1.8 million people in the San Fernando Valley and its foothills., a polyglot working-class and middle-class world where $2,500 one-bedroom buildings fashioned like inhumane glass cubes, approved in backroom deals with individual City Council members, are creating a devastating domino effect, prompting other landlords along the same blocks to slap on a coat of paint and dramatically raise their own rents, too, now that the area has been made “hot.” 

We've been thrilled by surprise endorsements from film stars Leonard DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix and Chloe Sevigny, who are watching attempts by developers to transform such wonderfully livable areas as Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz and Studio City — all at risk of becoming the next Hollywood, California's most richly historic district that is now being methodically destroyed by the City Council to make way for skyscrapers. 

We've been invited to meaningful meetings and phone chats with aides to City Councilman David Ryu (the sole Los Angeles City Council member who is interested in reforming that body's broken system of planning and developing Los Angeles), we've met with Mayor Eric Garcetti in his gracious and huge Old World conference room, and we've sat down with City Council President Herb Wesson. The meetings were all at their request, all to determine whether any serious reforms of City Hall's rigged system could be rushed into law, to stop the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative from appearing on the March ballot. 

And during all of this time, we've been pummeled by much of the Los Angeles media, whose political reporters have yet to raise a finger to conduct any credible investigations of how these backroom deals between individual City Council members work, in which the council member accepts money, gifts and wining and dining from a developer. What actually goes on, and how, when City Council members privately agree to help that developer break the rules to build an outsized project such as the Martin Cadillac development in congestion-jammed West LA, or the towering Frank Gehry blob at the already gridlocked entrance to Laurel Canyon, yet another community under threat of destruction? 

In the current state of Los Angeles journalism, of which I was an avid member for 35 years, business reporters have yet to produce a single report on how the backroom game pencils out, in which global financiers and developers have flooded LA with unwanted and unaffordable luxury rentals, yet still bring in plenty of profits while sitting on empty $8,000 penthouses, ghost condos and half-rented $3,500 rental towers. The city housing department admits to at least a 12% vacancy rate in these overbuilt glass boxes with which the City Council is fixated, their key source of campaign funding and evenings on the town. Yet for everyone else in living in Los Angeles, the vacancy rate is close to zero. 

But that's OK, the campaign itself will probe these greed-driven deals, thanks to our crew that includes award-winning journalist Patrick Range McDonald, and the folk hero who stopped the $465 red light camera tickets by investigating the city's phony claims about what causes auto accidents, Jay Beeber. 

All of this makes even more compelling the evening I spent on September 14 in a church in Westwood, where the Westwood Neighborhood Council endorsed our measure 8 to 1 — a key victory in the block by block battle to reform City Hall. 

The room was oddly stacked with men from hipster neighborhoods east of Hollywood, who argued with passion that Los Angeles must become a city of towers and skyscrapers and give up its unique big-city, small-city lifestyle. Our paid opposition was there as well, a team slickly financed by three global development billionaires who have everything to gain from keeping City Hall's rigged backroom dealing intact: The Lowy family of Australia that controls $68 billion worth of Westfield Malls globally: Miami developer Sonny Kahn who controls, with his cousins, Crescent Heights Inc., which has filled Florida’s beachfront with skyscrapers; and Robert J. Lowe, the billionaire multinational luxury resort developer based in Los Angeles. 

For me, among the voices who spoke eloquently for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, including respected former LA Building and Safety Commission Chairman Joyce Foster, and lifelong community defender Sandy Brown, the one who stood out was a soft-spoken developer trained in economics at UCLA who asked the Westwood Neighborhood Council to endorse our citizen initiative. John K. Heidt explained that “I am committed to following the rules, but I am competing in a system that favors the developers who create special relationships and are exempted from the rules.” 

Heidt serves on the Permanent Supportive Housing Committee of the Ocean Park Community Center to help move the homeless into meaningful housing, and is not the first decent, fair-minded developer to back the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Heidt didn’t want to talk to the Westwood Neighborhood Council about the sexy and most-discussed element of our measure, which bans for two years the 5% of development in Los Angeles that is breaking the rules, destroying neighborhood character and jamming up the narrow or already overwhelmed streets where these projects do not belong. 

Heidt wanted to talk instead about the profound reforms at the heart of the measure, that force our pay-to-play City Council members to end their backroom deals that soak up an enormous amount of their time and their staff’s time, and pivot back to their real jobs— long abandoned — of planning what Los Angeles should become during the next few years. 

This planning, which is done in every well-run city but, incredibly, is not done in Los Angeles, means the writing of a General Plan that explains where and how the City Council plans to provide us our long-promised and far too rare city parks and protect our open spaces, how our council members plan to overcome their repeated failure to address our streets, sewers, water availability and overtaxed safety services, and — just one element among these many pressing needs — where and how Los Angeles will add office buildings, stores, restaurants and rental units over the next five years. 

Even more important, through the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, voters will force the City Council to update the city's 35 Community Plans, the Airport District Plan and the Harbor District Plan, and as a new lever of power, we will require the City Planning Commission to hold all of its Community Plan meetings out in the neighborhoods --- and the meetings must be held at night and on weekends only. 

This deceptively simple new lever of power brings the debates over what Los Angeles should become directly back to the neighborhoods, a radical change that will all but end the sparse downtown City Hall 10 a.m. hearings that few working people can attend, and which I, as a journalist, noted were dominated by the “suits,” the paid lobbyists for the developers. 

It is through the Community Plans that the city's badly backfiring policies will finally be debated and influenced by the residents themselves, on such topics as Small Lot Subdivisions (city records from 2005 show that these towering, skinny, $1 million homes were supposed to be affordable housing for first-time buyers), Mansionization (the latest fix falls far short for many areas of the city), Airbnbs (city planners and the City Council are clueless about how many affordable units are being lost to this trend in touristy areas such as Venice that cannot afford to lose a single apartment unit), and Granny Flats (city planners and the City Council are unprepared in their rush to correct their illegal “second dwelling” policies, quietly implemented without community debate in a backroom meeting years ago). 

Wonky, yet far more important than anything else, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is behavior modification aimed at the Los Angeles City Council. This historic citizen initiative forces these 15 elected leaders to do their jobs, requiring them to pivot away from their wildly inappropriate roles as closed-door real estate dealers — a job for which they are woefully unqualified. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative hands power to the communities, something that should have been done decades ago.

 

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

-cw

Edmund D Edelman: Great Man Passing

REMEMBERING ED EDELMAN-Toward the end of the film “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) has just lost his case defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who had been unjustly accused of raping a white girl. Dejected, and bearing the heavy moral burden of having failed the local black community, he walks down the aisle to leave the courtroom. As he does so, all the black townspeople segregated in the “colored” balcony solemnly rise to their feet out of respect for his effort on their behalf. His young daughter “Scout,” seated with them, peers over the rail, oblivious, until she feels a tap on her soldier and hears a gentle whisper from the Negro Baptist preacher, Rev. Sykes. “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” 

I thought of that scene when I received a call from a longstanding friend that my former boss, Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman, had just died at the age of 85 a few minutes earlier. “I didn’t want you to hear it first on the news,” she told me. 

Ed had suffered terribly over the last several years from Atypical Parkinsonism, a neurodegenerative brain disorder that gradually robs those afflicted of the ability to move or even speak. It was almost too painful to imagine the man I spent five years working for in the County Hall of Administration, who played tennis regularly and always insisted on taking the stairs instead of the elevators up to his eighth-floor office, reduced to this enfeebled condition and utterly dependent on round-the-clock attendant care. I have to believe that his death came as a release. 

With his quiet and determined decency, Ed had more than a little Atticus Finch in him. He entered politics the old-fashioned way: attending public schools, serving a hitch in the Navy, graduating from UCLA in political science and UCLA Law School. He served as a staff counsel for legislative committees in Washington and Sacramento, and at the National Labor Relations Board, before making a successful bid for public office in 1965, running a mildly insurgent City Council campaign to score an upset victory against a popular establishment-backed incumbent. 

During his time on the City Council, Ed was a quiet but committed rebel. He criticized police abuse, stood up against censorship, defended civil rights, pushed to fluoridate the City’s water supply in the name of dental health, and tirelessly advocated to improve public services. 

Shortly after beginning his third Council term, a position opened up on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and after a hard-fought contest, Ed was elected in 1974 to represent the Third District, which at the time stretched from the northeast San Fernando Valley down through Hollywood and the Westside, across the city to take in part of downtown, and included unincorporated East Los Angeles and southeastern cities like Bell and Commerce. 

Though he lived on the Westside near his beloved UCLA, Ed was always proud of his service to his Eastside constituents. He didn’t speak Spanish, but his field staff did, and they made sure those unincorporated communities were properly taken care of. Thanks to Ed, the roads, parks, and public services were considered much better than in the neighboring cities. In 1990, after a successful voting-rights lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, the ACLU, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a federal court scrapped the Board’s gerrymandered district map and redrew the lines, shifting Ed’s district west of downtown to include more of the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains, and the coastline, stretching from Venice up to the Ventura County line. He quickly embraced the issues and concerns of his new constituents—wilderness and open space preservation, fire safety, coastal environmental protections—with the same enthusiasm and commitment he had formerly served the Eastside. 

His signature issues centered on an abiding commitment to serving those in need, ranging from abused and neglected children and battered women to the medically indigent, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the transit-dependent. Representing the area of West Hollywood both before and after it formally incorporated as a city, he embraced the LGBTQ community and called for improved AIDS care and treatment and protection against discrimination long before it was popular or even acceptable in many political quarters. 

He was also a champion of the arts, representing a district that initially included the Music Center and the future site of Walt Disney Concert Hall (a County project he helped initiate thanks to generous founding gifts from Walt’s widow Lillian Disney and their two daughters), as well as the Hollywood Bowl, the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. An amateur cellist who practiced regularly on his lunch hour across the street at the Music Center, Ed was fiercely protective of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and LA Opera, and invigorated the County’s grant-making Arts Commission with dynamic new leadership and increased funding. 

Nor did he shy from confronting controversial issues that he deeply believed in. He reviled Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13 for its negative impact on local government taxing and spending authority, despite the measure’s enormous popularity with the public; he cajoled a reluctant Sheriff Sherman Block into embracing a sweeping set of reforms after a spate of alarming officer-involved shootings; and he tirelessly (but unsuccessfully) pushed to expand the number of supervisors to create smaller and more responsive districts, and establish an elected County Executive to emulate state and federal constitutional principles of checks and balances through a separation of executive and legislative powers. 

One of his final acts before retiring in 1994 was to successfully broker an agreement to end a contentious decade-long development battle in the Santa Monica Mountains and acquire and preserve nearly 700 acres of prime wilderness open space for the state parks system. 

Retiring by choice in 1994 well before the County adopted term limits, Ed went on to a successful career as a mediator and arbitrator, policy fellow at the RAND Corporation, and consultant on homelessness and other issues before he was felled by his illness. He was truly a committed public servant to the very end. 

On a personal note, I will always be more grateful than I can express for the opportunity Ed gave me as a former broadcast and print journalist, when he recruited me to change careers and join his staff as communications deputy. Apart from serving an honorable and honest public official, I experienced firsthand how much good the public sector could accomplish with capable and dedicated leadership and staff, and I made some of my closest and most respected friends. 

Working for a real-life Atticus Finch was a rare privilege that I will always cherish. So stand up, Los Angeles. A great man has passed.

 

(Joel Bellman is a former Communication Deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisors.  This piece appeared originally in Fox and Hounds.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

City High Charter School Has Locked Its Doors and Stranded Its Pupils

EDUCATION POLITICS--Why? Why Is This A Thing

Why is the public afforded no right to follow its public monies behind the privacy hedge of unaccountable Charter Schools? What’s it feel like to wake up one morning and discover your school has simply closed

I’m guessing a whole jumble of feelings vie for primacy from angry, sad, betrayed, scared, anxious, small, vulnerable, unimportant … I’m guessing there’s a huge range of PTSD symptoms, none of which encompases, critically, any feelings at all that happen to be conducive to learning: supported, encouraged, bolstered, trusted, buoyed, secure, powerful, competent.

If the high schoolers of City Charter School on Olympic Blvd in West LA weren’t so busy scrambling to enroll in a new school one month after the start of the school year, we could ask them. Because over last weekend, reportedly, or perhaps as late as Monday night for some, that community was gathered together and informed it would imminently be no more.

As the mother of teenaged high schoolers, I can testify personally to their fragility, susceptible to hormones and insecurities and a pressurized academic system at the mercy of Big Testing, High-Stakes, Big Business.

But as a veteran of some 18 years of overwrought admissions-induced panicking parents, it is worth remembering that empirically, kids command remarkable stores of resilience. Subjecting kids to a churn of insecurity will affect their immediate learning achievement, but it is the crisis of vulnerability that determines their plight as political collateral.

Expendable accessories to Education is what these kids have become. 

Because for all intents and purposes, Charter schools are corporate educational entities that are not accountable to anyone, and sustain no corporate responsibility for the welfare of their constituent client-students. There is no accountability for Charter School’s finances, not for their academic integrity, not for their functionality, nor for betraying their – our – kids.

We do not know why City Charter HS closed its doors, and because it is not a public entity, we cannot compel verification that low enrollment is a precipitate. Unlike in a truly public enterprise there is no means to investigate the school’s financial jeopardy. Meeting minutes from 2015 reference ongoing enrollment and extreme financial hardship but financial data is not presented and there is no surety that these vestigial minutes will not disappear anon. There is no way to monitor the institution and its public monies for efficiency, fraud or equity.

So even as “public Charter Schools” pocket public monies privately and insist on the fallacious moniker, and even as a boardmember of this de facto private corporation campaigns for a seat on the public schoolboard he has pledged to dismantle, yet as members of the public we have no mandate to scrutinize the foundational hallmarks of nominally public Charter institutions: financials, constituency and governance.

Time and again Charters unveil what is truly pernicious about them. They are designed as entities to circumvent accountability and reassert politically unacceptable advantage. It should not be a surprise when repeatedly they are felled by hubris and disregard. 

The political history of mankind is a struggle between limiting malfeasance and unleashing the human spirit. There never has been an institution public or private that does not require checks and balances, for these institutions are run by people with vested and competing interests. Until we design our schools’ top priority to be the educational interests of our students individually, and not their derivative monetary value, our children will inevitably be burdened and disserved, with the cost of their betrayal shouldered by the public, borne by each and every individual child personally.

Best of luck to the flood of City Charter students dissplaced, midyear. The good news is that our public schools are still here, still excellent (if flawed), available and open to welcome them as learners.

I apologize as a voting citizen, for unleashing on them this Charter school system which is so unaccountable to you my children, its students.

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com)

-cw

Is the Road to Charter School Accountability Paved with Good Intentions?

EDUCATION POLITICS--It’s 9/11. Read the recollections on the web. Watch the tributes on television. Ponder. And please remember that Democracy was the target. The cornerstone of Democracy is public education. Can we redouble our efforts to save and support public education? 

The Wall Street Journal says elected school boards are passé -- especially in big districts. 
Last week, blogger Peter Greene, aka Curmudgucation, told us:

Behind the paywall at the Wall Street Journal, Chester Finn (honcho emeritus of the Thomas Fordham Institute,) Bruno V. Manno (Walton Foundation) and Brandon Wright (Fordham) are happy to announce the death of one more piece of democracy in this country.

“The trio reports that charter schools are spearheading a "quiet revolution" in local control. Because, like Reed Hastings (Netflix), they are happy to see the local elected school board die.

“Oh, the elected school board was fine back in the day. ‘This setup functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.’ But this set-up does not work for a ‘country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens.’ Not with money coming from the state and feds, and not when ‘discontent with educational outcomes is rampant.’ What does that mean? Where is the evidence? What do you mean?! Didn't you hear him? The discontent is rampant! Rampant, I tell you!

“Also, they want you to know that some school districts are really, really big. So big that elected boards are no longer "public spirited civic leaders" but are now a "gaggle of aspiring politicians and teacher-union surrogates." Because gaggles of aspiring politicians are far worse than gaggles of aspiring financial masters of the universe. Hedge fund managers are known for their altruism -- remember how altruistic Wall Street was back in 2008? Not that these guys are going to mention that the folks behind the “great charter revolution” are mostly hedge funders and money changers.” 

There’s more at Curmudgucation.blogspot.com. 

El Camino Real = the Royal Road

After blaming its own alleged financial violations on the Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to provide enough oversight of the independent charter school, El Camino Real Charter High School is refusing to hand over the investigative report it commissioned. That’s rich.

Such is the Royal Road to charter accountability in California.

El Camino can’t quite get its story straight on the reasons it’s hiding the report. The Royal Road’s attorney says it’s because the report contains personnel matters. If the report is used for a personnel evaluation, that evaluation is subject to confidentiality, not the report. Just like a report about a robbery would be public, and then also might be used in a personnel evaluation that would be confidential. Just like an iPad contract would be public, and the evaluation of the superintendent who might have fixed it would be private. Other examples abound.

Then there’s the Royal Road’s argument that it’s covered under attorney-client privilege, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.  

The investigative vendor, Oracle Investigations Group, is not a law firm. How can its report be covered under attorney-client privilege?

If the school’s attorney commissioned the report, it seems that would have been part of the discussion when the president of El Camino’s board asked his board colleagues to approve the hiring of Oracle. But it never came up.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that discussion back in June:


“Now the El Camino high board of directors has decided to launch an independent financial probe of the popular principal’s spending. The forensic accounting comes ahead of a year-long management assistance review by a state financial turnaround agency prompted by the credit card scandal.

“I want guidance from agencies to tighten up the (school fiscal) policy,” El Camino board Chairman Jonathan Wasser said after a unanimous vote late Wednesday to pay for the probe of its principal. “I believe in due process.

“We need to have the forensic accounting look over all the information because it’s big, and I’m not an accountant, and it requires somebody trained to look over the evidence.”


El Camino might not be an outlier. 

Everybody's doing it


In this KPCC report, charter schools advocates are blaming school districts' lack of expertise in oversight for the ACLU's recent report showing 1 in 5 California charters illegally discriminating in enrollment. They say it's all just a big mistake and if the school boards had the expertise, they could have just told the charter schools to stop requiring a birth certificate or a student essay or a parent's volunteer contract in their enrollment packets. A state oversight commission would seem like a good idea if you wanted to focus on one appointed board instead of all these hundreds of pesky elected school boards throughout the state. 

The wild, wild West


The Washington Post asks, “How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.” Education reporter Valerie Strauss gives her column to Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE) who visited the “wild, wild West” to write a report on California’s charters. I’m glad to have had a chance to sit down with her and highlight the lowlights. The report is the first of four she will be writing.

Perfect timing! There are two charter accountability measures on the Governor’s desk.

Legislative update


Is the Charter Schools Association supporting El Camino’s earlier call for more oversight by urging its members to push the governor to sign them? Nah.

In an email to its members, it urges:

Ask Governor Brown to veto AB 709. AB 709 would apply a series of conflict of interest laws to charter schools. CCSA opposes AB 709 because it would impose Government Code 1090 on charter schools, remove important flexibility for charter school governance, and cost charter schools time and money spent on compliance that is better spent in the classroom. AB 709 is nearly identical to a conflict of interest bill from the last legislative session that was opposed by CCSA and vetoed by Governor Brown.
 
Please help us ensure Governor Brown hears loud and clear that AB 709 is bad for charter schools and charter school students, and should be vetoed. Send a letter today!”


At last count, the CCSA was looking for 8,350 more letters.


The CCSA is also urging passage of AB 1198 – Assembly member Matt Dababneh proposed this bill to help charter schools buy or build facilities or refinance existing debt, even through personal deals with their own board members. 1198 passed through the legislature unanimously.

The NPE is circulating its own letter:
 
“It is time for sensible regulation of charter schools in the State of California. Stories of illegal selection practices and even outright fraud and corruption are far too commonplace. Millions of tax dollars are wasted, even as millions more are drained from public school districts.

If you have not read our recent report on California charter schools, please read it now.  You can find it 
here.
 
Write Governor Brown today. We make it easy. Just click 
here. Ask him to sign two bills that are sitting on his desk today.
 
AB 709 requires charter schools to abide by the same oversight as district public schools, like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, because they spend public funds. Yet this reasonable measure is being fought by the powerful California Charter School Association lobby.
 
SB 739 puts a stop to one school district approving a charter in another district. It’s hard to believe this is allowed, but it happens. This bill would allow charter authorizers to place charter schools only in their own districts.
 
Write today by clicking 
here. Then share the link with neighbors and friends.”
 

I listened in on a short conference call about AB 709, with its author, Assembly Member Mike Gipson, State Treasurer John Chiang, LAUSD Board member George McKenna, Anaheim Superintendent Michael Matsuda, the California Teachers Association, the ACLU, and the Center for Popular Democracy -- and now you can, too.

My favorite school district


Last week, the LAUSD board held its first Budget and Facilities meeting at which board members were asked to bring ideas for the year’s agenda. I was told no one mentioned Prop 39, which requires school districts to hand over empty classrooms to charter schools. I was told no one mentioned bond measures. 

Tuesday, September 13th is the first Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting. 10 a.m. In the Board Room.

 

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

Valley Village: Corruption Out of Control … Lopez Meeting Vetoed

CORRUPTION WATCH-Power corrupts, and corruption destroys, but corruption breeds something worse – a grandiose sense of hubris. The attitude that “I can do whatever I want and screw you” describes Valley Village’s Councilmember Krekorian. 

Councilmember Krekorian’s hubris is not misplaced. He is the absolute ruler of Council District 2 where there are no laws. Rather it operates at the whim of the councilmember. If you want to destroy historic homes? No problem, someone in CD 2 will ring up City Planning’s Office of Historic Preservation and you can be certain the historic home will be bulldozed. 

Concerned about the loss of affordable housing in established neighborhoods? No matter who you are, Krekorian ignores you. Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, who district is contiguous to Valley Village and who therefore will be directly impacted with a rise of homelessness in this area, requested that the City Planning Department take the time and effort to meet with her so that the housing crisis will not worsen. With Krekorian’s blessing, Garcetti’s Commission rejected out of hand Assemblywoman Lopez’ request for a meeting. 

Assemblywoman Lopez’ focus on the needless loss of affordable housing is allegedly shared by the Mayor, Councilmember Krekorian and the LA City Council in general which declared homelessness to be a crisis. That is all propaganda PR for the March 2017 re-elections. All the units which Raffi Shirinian’s Urban Blox will destroy are rent-controlled units and none of the new units are affordable. However, the behind-the-scenes secret dealings with politicos to push through Raffi Shirinian’s Urban Blox destruction of affordable homes is more nefarious. 

The Theft of State Property 

The long established rule in California is that city streets belong to all the people of the State. “It is settled that the public streets of a municipality belong to the people of the State,” it is stated in Keller vs. City of Oakland (1921 Calif Supreme Court) 54 Cal.App. 169. 

Krekorian and his cohort Raffi Shirinian recognize that Shirinian’s destruction of poor people’s homes requires the theft of state property. According to City documents, Shirinian’s entire project is 42,342 square feet and about 14,070 square feet (33% of the land) is being stolen from the State of California. Weddington does not even belong to the City of Los Angeles and certainly it is not the personal property of Councilmember Krekorian, even though he treats it as such. 

Weddington Street (photo left) sits between Shirinian’s south side of Weddington and the parcel to the north. Weddington Street is 60 feet wide. That means that without Krekorian’s ripping out all of Weddington Street’s 14,070 square feet and giving all that land to his buddy Raffi Shirinian, there is no viable project. 

Instead, Raffi Shirinian has a small parcel south of Weddington and a small parcel north of Weddington which are unconnected to each other. Neither parcel is large enough to support the cost of destroying the nine homes of the poor and disabled people now at stake, but with Krekorian’s gift of the connecting State property, Raffi Shirinian now has enough acreage to construct his 26 high-end homes. 

Giving Away State Property Makes Money for Corrupt Politicos 

It has become quite the rage for councilmembers to give away city streets to their friends and campaign donors. (More about how that works later.) The target can be any dead-end street or cul de sac. A councilman like O’Farrell declares that the street is no longer necessary and councilmember’s friends get to incorporate what used to be a public street into their property. This ploy is favored by the wealthy who want to live in illegal gated communities. Because gating off a public street is unlawful, the councilman simply gives the entire dead-end street and -- like magic -- the landowners now have a private driveway where there used to be a public street. 

But Weddington Street is used all the time as a street. The residents have showed how it is being used by the neighborhood children as a play area – and as a dead-end street, it lacks the dangers of a through street. It provides on-street parking for about fourteen cars. After this project is constructed, none of these current residents will have any place to park; there will be no play area for children. The street also serves the function of providing open space in a residential neighborhood. In fact, any city that cared one whit about the quality of life of its citizens could make the intersection of Weddington and Hermitage much safer by installing a modest roundabout. 

A roundabout is a circle often filled with flowers which is placed in the middle of an intersection so that cars cannot speed directly down the street, but rather, when they come to the roundabout, they must slow down and drive counter-clockwise around the circular garden. 

We Know that this is Corruptionism 

We know that this gift of Weddington Street to Raffi Shirinian is slow-motion corruption which could be stopped dead in its tracks – except for the overwhelming hubris that the unanimous vote trading pact has created in city councilmembers like Krekorian. Krekorian knows that no councilmember will mention the fact that there is no basis – other than cronyism - to give Raffi Shirinian 14,000 sq feet of state land. Rather, the City Council will unanimously approve this additional bit of corruptionism. 

Judges are very familiar with how this delayed compensation-bribery system functions. While on the bench, many judges are very nice to insurance companies, real estate developers, and other business interests. Then when they retire on fat pensions, the judges go to work as arbitrators and mediators for insurance companies, real estate developers and large “downtown” law firms. These ex-judges can pull in $750 an hour. How does anyone tie their bizarre rulings on the bench with the generous compensation which they receive after their “retirement?” There is no way. 

There is no way to trace future campaign contributions to Krekorian or to his deputy Karo Toussian, who is running for Council District 7, to this deal with Raffi Shirinian or to the deal whereby Krekorian needlessly destroyed Marilyn Monroe’s home. 

The Los Angeles City Council’s Unlawful Vote Trading Pact Makes Los Angeles Safe for Criminals 

This gift of state land to Raffi Shirinian is the result of LA City Council’s unlawful vote trading pact. Each councilmember agrees to vote YES for every construction project no matter how corrupt, and in return, each councilmember is guaranteed the same “respect.” This type of “respect” is also known as “omerta.” In other words, “I won’t talk about your illicit deals if you don’t speak about mine.”

 

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

 

The Mayor Gets an Ultimatum: Bar Backroom Meetings with Developers! Leaked Letter Tells What Happened.

VOX POP--Mayor Eric Garcetti has vowed to ban ex parte backroom meetings between developers and his planning commissioners, conceding to a demand by the Coalition to Preserve LA Described by the Los Angeles Times as a “burgeoning” movement, the citywide Coalition is fighting pay-to-play corruption at City Hall through the reform measure known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

The LA Times reports that Garcetti’s plan to issue an executive directive to prohibit such private meetings is “part of a bigger attempt to fend off [the] hotly contested” Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which the Coalition aims to place on the March 2017 ballot.

In an August 17 letter to Garcetti, the Coalition and its supporters offered four reforms to improve LA’s broken planning and land-use system. For the first time in memory, City Council members and the mayor have agreed the system is broken. The Coalition demanded:

— Developers and their special interest lobbyists must no longer be permitted to choose the consultants who literally write Environmental Impact Reports for their own developments. This obvious conflict of interest must be banned.

— There must be a clear and transparent process, including fast-tracked deadlines, for crafting the new Los Angeles General Plan that empowers the people to chart the future of our own city, slashing the undue influence of developers and their lobbyists at City Hall.

— Spot-zoning exceptions to the General Plan, a practice which currently allows wildly inappropriate mega-developments in neighborhoods, must become the rare exception, rather than routine, as it is today.

— Ex parte communications between developers and city elected officials or members of the City Planning Commission — also known as backroom meetings — must be eliminated. Such communications give developers an all-access pass to our government officials while regular people with a much bigger stake in their communities wait in line at long meetings for one minute of public comment.

The Coalition and more than 20 neighborhood activists delivered the letter during an August 17 meeting with Garcetti at City Hall.

Yesterday, the LA Times revealed a leaked letter that Garcetti had sent to the Coalition pledging to “bar ex parte meetings with members of the City Planning Commission and the area planning commissions that vet development plans in different parts of the city.”

The LA Times notes: “Critics have grown increasingly vocal over the last year about private meetings conducted between real estate developers and planning commissioners appointed by Garcetti, arguing that such talks have skewed city planning decisions in favor of development interests.”

Bizarrely, David Ambroz, Garcetti’s appointed planning commission president, gave the LA Times a completely false statement saying that the powerful commission is somehow “at the tail end of the process.” In fact, the City Planning Commission is mired in backroom meetings with developers, and Ambroz is widely known for being arrogant and condescending to neighborhood residents who try to speak at his hearings.

Garcetti’s promised ban is a clear, first-step victory for neighborhood activists who have banded together to form a citywide, grassroots reform movement, the Coalition to Preserve LA. 

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

-cw

Prop 56: Big Tobacco is Blowing Smoke … Smoker Health Issues Cost Non-Smokers Big Bucks!

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--As we race towards November 8, it’s easy to forget we have a tome of ballot initiatives to read through before filling out the Vote by Mail ballot next month or arrive at the polls. We are unlikely to get an onslaught of presidential campaign ads that those in the swing states might see but we are getting hit by ads against Prop 56, which would increase cigarette tax by $2 per pack, with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products and e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. 

If passed, the tax increase would boost existing healthcare programs and would also be used for prevention and control programs, as well as research for tobacco-related disease research and law enforcement. Other programs that would benefit would be University of California physician training, dental disease prevention programs and administration. Revenues would be excluded from Prop 98 funding requirements. The Passed in 1988, the Mandatory Education Funding Bill requires a defined percentage of the state budget be used for public education. 

The state’s legislative analyst and director of finance estimate that the bill would increase net state revenue by between $1 billion and $1.4 billion, with potentially lower annual revenues over time. 

Opponents to the proposition, as the numerous ads running against Prop 56) claim Prop 56 throws money at “special interests,” i.e. insurance companies. I did a bit of digging to see who is paying for those ads, as well as who is supporting the proposition and here’s what I found. 

Prop 56 is sponsored by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association in California and the American Heart Association. The proposition is supported by dozens of nonprofit organizations, including California Medical Association, California Dental Association and California Hospital Association. The opposing organizations? Take a guess. Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. That’s it. 

Tobacco costs California taxpayers $3.58 Billion each year in tobacco-related healthcare costs and each year, tobacco causes more deaths than guns, car accidents, HIV, alcohol and illegal drugs combined. Big Tobacco (Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds) have made billions in profits from California and are figuring out ways to attract new smokers, such as e-cigarettes and vaping. They’re trying to protect their turf, which is why they’ve spent millions to defeat Prop 56. 

Instead of dipping into the wallets of nonsmokers to the tune of about $413 per household, Prop 56 would tax tobacco users to fund existing programs. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, increasing tobacco taxes reduce teen smoking. This year, an estimated 16,800 California teens will start smoking and a third of those will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases. In every state that has raised cigarette taxes by a significant margin, teen smoking rates have decreased, which is something Big Tobacco doesn’t want. 

In fact, introducing electronic cigarettes is the latest marketing plan to introduce a new generation to smoking because ninety percent of smokers start as teens; and teens who start with e-cigarettes as twice as likely to become smokers. Almost every major tobacco company now owns at least one e-cigarette brand and some even market to younger users with themes like Barbie and flavors like bubble gum, cotton candy and gummy bear. 

Prop 56 would require independent audits and strict caps on administrative spending and overhead, as well as to prevent politicians to hijack funds for their own agendas. 

Charging smokers a user fee tax instead of leaving California taxpayers on the hook for tobacco-related healthcare costs, preventing teens from using tobacco and maybe decreasing the number of smokers in the state seem to be sound reasons to support Prop 56. 

Sorry, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

Los Angeles: 27 Ways to Make City Hall More Transparent

THE CITY--Recently, CityWatch published comments from Eric and Joshua Preven who argued that the City Council shouldn’t be holding so many secret, closed-door meetings. They’re right.

To take the discussion to the next level I am proposing 27 specific actions that City Hall could take, and neighborhood councils could push, to make City Hall more transparent, and improve the public’s perception of government.

Any one of the suggestions could become a crusade led by a neighborhood council. After all, they were created with the hope that they would organize themselves into a force that could, among other things, fundamentally change the way government operates.

To date, the results have been dismal.

Do the math. There are nearly 2,000 neighborhood council board members. Add in former board members, activists who have specific interest areas, members of each council, and all their friends and relatives. The number is staggering. It’s easily enough people to determine how this city is run.

In between neighborhood battles over planning and zoning issues, it seems reasonable to expect that a citywide reform effort or two could be included in order to reduce some of the reasons for all the neighborhood battles.

Improving City Hall’s transparency isn’t just a matter of reducing the number of closed sessions. There are procedures used by the City Council, its committees, and city commissions that reduce transparency in open meetings too.

I’ve written enough CityWatch columns to know what will happen next. Someone will write a comment taking exception to one of the suggestions on the list. If you read a recommendation you disagree with, ignore it, pick just one that you agree with, and organize the crusade.

The city of Riverside, in adopting transparency reforms for its City Council said it best: “Our values lie not in hiding embarrassment and unpleasant occurrences.”

The first step is to begin changing the culture at City Hall that discourages public participation. City Charter Section 900 explains that the purpose of the neighborhood council system is "To promote more citizen participation in government ...." That too should be the goal of the City Council, and they should be constantly reminded of it. Here's the list. (Mentions of the “City Council” generally also include its committees.) 

 

1.  If a City Council meeting is to be a closed session for reasons of discussing anticipated litigation, recordings of the meeting should be made public after two years if no litigation is filed, when the statute of limitations passes, or when the controversy is concluded.

2.  After closed sessions, the City Council or commission should publicly announce which items were discussed that weren’t confidential.

3.  If the city attorney’s representative in a closed meeting leaves after issuing warnings that a potential violation of the Brown Act has occurred, or is about to occur, the Office of the City Attorney should notify the public and media ASAP.

4.  Every member’s vote on a final action in a closed session should be disclosed to the public at the end of the session.

5.  Before the City Council votes on a settlement, the deal should be made public at least 10 calendar days before the meeting, or 15 days if it’s a collective bargaining agreement so that the public may weigh in.

6.  City Council committees should be required to keep minutes and make them public.

7.  City Council and commission minutes should include a brief summary of each person’s statement made during the public comment period for each item. Submitted written comments of up to 150 words should be included in the minutes.

8.  Draft minutes of City Council and commission meetings should be available no later than 10 working days after the meeting.

9.  All preliminary drafts and department memoranda should be declared public information.

10.  Elected officials and agency heads should keep a public daily calendar of every meeting and    event attended, minus personal events, including a brief statement of issues discussed.

11.  The City Council and commissions should write their procedures and rules in a way that is easy to understand, much in the same way that city ballot measures are written in simplified language.

12. The Brown Act requires that, at a minimum, agendas must include a brief general description of each item. But the City Council and commissions shouldn’t to do the minimum just because it can. Often the descriptions of agenda items do little to explain to the public what is to be discussed. There have been too many examples in the past of items that were purposely worded to be so vague that nobody knew the importance of them, e.g. the Staples Center deal.     

13. Rule 11 permits the presiding officer to determine the duration of speakers' comments based on the impending danger of losing a quorum. This misses the underlying problem of why a         quorum is about to be lost. Legally, there is very little required of the City Council members.          One would think that showing up and staying for work would be a minimum expectation.      

14. City Council members arriving late to meetings should be required to explain publicly why they are late, or why it is necessary for them to leave early, especially if it causes a loss of a quorum, something that is insulting to the City Council and the public. All the explanations should be recorded in the minutes.      

15. The City Council president should direct that the Channel 35 cameras in the Council Chamber be turned on at 10 a.m. so the public can see who arrives on time, and who is tardy.      

16. The council minutes clerk should post on the internet the time of day at which each member arrived, distinguishing between those who have been previously excused and those who haven't, and publish the information.       

17. Council Rule 17 permits the chairs of committees to waive consideration of an item pending in their committees. Instead, a majority of the committee members should be required to allow a committee to waive consideration of an item pending in a committee.      

18. If it is anticipated by the Council President or committee chair that an item MAY appear on a future agenda, that item should be listed at the bottom of all preceding agendas. Often lobbyists and parties with a financial interest in an item will privately arrange to have an item scheduled for a specific date, usually when it's convenient for them. The problem is that the public never knows about it until the agenda is released 72 hours in advance for a regular meeting, or 24 hours for a special meeting. The future item can include a statement that the date is tentative and subject to change even after the agenda is released.      

19. Council Rules 16, 23, 39, and 64 allow items to be considered by the City Council without being referred to a committee, or meeting the normal 72 hours posting requirement. The Council Rules should be amended to require that any such action include an explanation for the urgency, even if the reason is that it's a routine, non-controversial matter. Far too often there is no real urgency, and the public's ability to participate in the decision-making process is severely hampered by design.      

20. Recommend that an explanatory statement of urgency be included whenever a "placeholder" item appears on a City Council agenda. This happens when the City Council committee plans to meet on an item after the City Council agenda has been posted. Often the committee meets just an hour before the City Council meeting is scheduled to begin, and the committee decision is literally run over to the Council Chamber. The public should know why it isn't possible for them to have at least a 72 hour notice of a committee's discussions and actions.  

21.  The City Council should tell the mayor that, except in the event of a real urgency, the Council will not schedule an item, or cast a final vote on any item until the staff report has been made available to the neighborhood councils and public X working days before the meeting. The mayor should give this same instruction to city commissions. Too often, critically important reports aren’t available until moments before a meeting is to start.

22. Council Rule 51 allows the City Council to send a matter immediately to the mayor for signature or veto without allowing time for the City Council to reconsider its action at its next meeting as provided by the Brown Act. "Forthwith" actions should include an explanation of the urgency. This would help alleviate concerns by skeptics that the action has been taken to purposely eliminate the public's ability to influence the mayor's actions.      

23. Council members should be present in the chamber in order to cast a vote. Council Rule 48 provides that members’ votes be recorded as "yes" if they haven't used the electronic voting system switches at their desks. This is not the case when oral votes are taken, so it shouldn't be asking too much of council members to actually go to their desks and cast votes. There have been many “yes” votes cast while a member was in the bathroom, or snacking in the backroom.        

24. From time-to-time, motions are referred to more than one committee either when the motion is submitted or afterwards, and each committee in turn will discuss the matter. But the city clerk should create a copy of the file so that each committee has one. In this way, any one of the committees may take an action and send it to the full City Council. This would eliminate the problem of one committee chair refusing to place the item on his/her committee's agenda.        

25. Twice a year, the city clerk should post on its website a list of the files pending in each committee. These lists already exist in electronic form so there wouldn't be additional work for the office.  

26.  The mayor should assign one high-ranking staff members to be responsible for promoting transparency and public participation throughout city government. 

27.  The city controller should maintain a database on the internet that keeps track of how much each elected official receives in total financial compensation, where their discretionary funding has gone. Finding this out shouldn’t require a Public Records Act request. 

If there is one person who take just one of these recommendations and lead a crusade to get it adopted, neighborhood councils will know the satisfaction of having the first step toward being the most influential political force over city government.

 

(Greg Nelson was instrumental in the creation of the Neighborhood Council System and served as General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA’s Archbishop is Wrong! But, He’s Also Right!

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Archbishop Jose Gomez said this week, and I quote, “that with all due respect to the Pilgrims, they got to the U.S. about 100 years late, since there were already Spanish and Filipino explorers and missionaries here – a point, with relevance for today’s immigration debates.” 

With all due respect Archbishop Gomez, the United States wasn’t conceived until 1776, and the Pilgrims didn’t arrive late at all; they founded this country -- not the Spanish and not the Filipinos. I dare to say that if it wasn’t for those courageous Pilgrims the United States would not exist today. 

The Spanish and Filipino explorers didn’t come to these lands to found a new “Nation conceived in Liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The Spanish didn’t write these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It was our founding fathers. 

The Archbishop goes on to say that long before the U.S. had a name, hence before George Washington and the 13 colonies existed, Spanish and Mexican missionaries and explorers had settled in the territories that are today Florida, Texas, California, and New Mexico. But what he doesn’t seem to know is that Florida, Texas, California, and New Mexico were not American territories at that time. They became American territories much later. 

He’s also wrong when he says that the first non-indigenous language spoken in this country was not English but Spanish. He seriously needs to retake American History 101: of course English was the first non-indigenous language of the United States of America. Tell me where in the 13 colonies that Spanish was ever spoken at that time? Can someone please hand the Archbishop a 1st grade American History book? 

But he’s also right in this: as the United States grew and gained new territories, Spanish and Filipino explorers and residents became members of the new and expanding American nation. The “Hispanic Footprint” that he talks about is part of the America that we know today. 

Mexico, without a doubt, is part of the fabric of what America is today; but if we are going to have a discussion about history and immigration, we must deal with the facts and always with the facts. 

And the facts are that there are at least 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country – most of them for a long time and most of them are law abiding, hard-working individuals who have made and continue to make America great. 

The vast majority of American citizens agree that we can’t leave this group of people living in the shadows any longer. Comprehensive immigration reform has to be one of the top priorities of the next President. We must secure our border -- no wall is needed because that doesn’t make any sense. But at the same time, the U.S. Congress must work on a plan to get the 11 million undocumented residents on a path to legalization. Archbishop Gomez is definitely right about that.

 

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

LA City Council Wimps Out … Kills’ Bike Lanes in LA’s Mobility Plan

MOBILITY LA--A plan to reimagine the future of Los Angeles streets had its final vote at the City Council last week after more than a year of controversy.

The Mobility Plan 2035 is a blueprint to guide policy decisions on transportation over the next three decades.

The proposal spurred multiple lawsuits, hours of public comment and more than a year's worth of back and forth at the City Council.

Adding bike lanes to busy streets, particularly on Westwood Boulevard near UCLA and Central Avenue in South Los Angeles, proved the plan's biggest controversy. Opponents complained the bike lanes would displace car traffic. 

On Wednesday, the council decided once and for all to strike the two controversial bike lanes from the busy arteries. Instead, the bike lanes have been moved to parallel streets, Gayley Avenue and Avalon Boulevard, which critics say won’t disrupt traffic as much.

The decision was a blow to bike advocates who showed up by the dozens at meetings on the proposed plan over the last year.

"It’s a disappointment for sure," said Brian Moller with the LA County Bike Coalition. "I think identifying alternatives is a good next step."

Laura Lake, a Westwood resident who had helped lead a lawsuit over the proposal with the organization, Fix the City, was happy with the decision.

"Substituting Gayley for Westwood Boulevard keeps the 60,000 daily bus riders moving on Westwood. Gayley is safer for cyclists.  It's a good compromise," she said.

Moller with the Bike Coalition is still hopeful Westwood Boulevard and Central Avenue can be added back into the plan in the future as politics in the city changes. He said the routes provide more direct, and in the case of Central Avenue, a safer alternative than the side streets.

Nothing in the plan will move forward until the council approves funding and takes further action.

(Meghan McCarty Commuting and Mobility Reporter at KPPC … where this piece was first posted.) 

-cw

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