18
Thu, Jul

Did LA Council President Wesson Vote Illegally for More than 11 Years?

@THE GUSS REPORT-According to voter registration records, Herb Wesson, the current Los Angeles City Council president, may have voted illegally for up to 11½ years between November 1993 and June 2005 by providing false address information -- and confirming that false information -- each time he voted. Whether the LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Public Integrity Division gives him a James Comey/Hillary Clinton free pass remains to be seen.

Read more ...

Curb Big Pharma’s Price Gauging: Vote ‘Yes’ on CA Prop. 61

RX FOR DRUG PRICES-Despite all the disgust with pharmaceutical price gouging and the public shaming of CEOs like Heather Bresch of EpiPen infamy and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli, we’ve yet to see any concrete steps to actually cut drug prices. 

Now California voters can take matters, and their health, into their own hands – and set a national model by passing Proposition 61 in November. 

"Since 2008, the price of brand name drugs has risen by 164 percent." 

Writing for the industry website PharmExec.com Tom Norton branded California “Ground Zero” for their perennial war to protect their windfall profits. The initiative, he frets, “would establish an incredibly deep, mandatory discount … for the public purchase of prescription drugs in America’s largest state.” 

That could happen through a simple approach taken by Prop. 61 – adapting a price cut to the one public agency that has full federal authority to demand lower prices, the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Prop. 61 would direct California to pay no more for medications for patients it covers through state health programs than the prices paid by the DVA, which could cut prices for those patients by up to 40 percent – and save the state billions of dollars in drug purchases. 

To head off that nightmare for the drug profiteers, the industry is pouring money up to $100 million into California to flood the airways and social media with a misleading campaign of deceit and scare tactics. 

At the heart of the fear mongering, and their brass knuckles campaign, is a threat that drug prices for veterans will jump if Prop. 61 passes. 

Steve Dunwoody for Vote Vets- Yes on Prop 61 from National Nurses United on Vimeo. 

Except for one fact. Federal law requires substantial discounts in drugs sold to the VA, and the drug companies will not be able to increase out of pocket costs for veterans no matter how much they try to retaliate for Prop. 61.  

“People need to see beyond the deception of those saying it will hurt veterans, it won’t,” says Iraq war veteran Steve Dunwoody. 

What the industry and those held in its thrall refuse to acknowledge is the crisis that nurses and patients see every day as a result of skyrocketing drug prices. 

"Why are our elected leaders unwilling to act?" 

Families who say they can’t afford the co-pays for the medications their children need to continue treatment for illnesses like leukemia and face becoming homeless or giving up other basic necessities to care for their child.  While the price of a drug like Gleevac, for leukemia patients, has shot up from $26,400 for an annual treatment regimen in 2001 to $120,000 today. 

Diabetic patients admitted to the hospital with elevated blood glucose levels because they couldn’t fill their medications while insulin prices have doubled and tripled in price. A diabetic who rations insulin can suffer organ damage, blindness, loss of limbs, heart attacks or strokes. 

Coronary patients with heart stents who can’t afford the follow up drugs to prevent blood clots in the new stent who come back to the ER with chest pain, if they don’t die from a heart attack or stroke before getting back to the hospital. 

Opponents of Prop. 61 suggest waiting until lawmakers in Washington or Sacramento set limits on the drug pirates. We might as well wait until the sun sets in the east. 

Congress has repeatedly blocked legislation to permit Medicare to negotiate bulk discounts, the way virtually every other country uses the power of government to curb the price gouging, or to allow patients to buy cheaper drugs from Canada. 

Why are our elected leaders unwilling to act? 

Since 1998, the pharmaceutical industry has spent $3.4 billion in federal lobbying, nearly twice as much as even that other behemoth the oil and gas industry. In 2015 alone, the pharmaceutical industry employed 1,400 federal lobbyists, nearly enough to assign three lobbyists to every member of Congress. 

The drug giants are also lavish spenders in elections. Since 1990, it has handed out $340 million in campaign cash to candidates for Congress. 

In California, even with substantial Democratic majorities, pharmaceutical lobbyists successfully buried two bills this year, SB 1010 and AB 463, both of which would have just provided more transparency on charges without even cutting prices. 

Big Pharma spends big in California to intimidate lawmakers as well, $75 million on lobbying and $17 million on contributions for candidates to state offices since 2000. 

The result of all this influence peddling has been a green light for the industry to charge whatever it wants. Since 2008, the price of brand name drugs has risen by 164 percent.  

Bernie Says Yes on California's Prop. 61 from National Nurses United on Vimeo.  

Everyone has heard of EpiPen, with its 500 percent increase for a two pack of a longtime family staple to deliver epinephrine to block potentially fatal allergic reactions to peanuts, shellfish or bee stings. 

But EpiPen is hardly an outlier. 

One of the most notorious is Sovaldi, the breakthrough drug for people struggling with hepatitis C. But maker Gilead charges $1,000 a pill or $84,000 for a 12-week treatment course, so much that it has threatened to bankrupt public programs which now commonly ration the drug. 

Those who don’t get Sovaldi “can die some of the worse deaths I’ve ever seen,” New Mexico nurse practitioner Laura Bush told The Atlantic last September. 

Today one in 10 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, don’t take their prescribed medications, while the world’s top 50 drug companies made $1.6 trillion in profits the past 20 years.

If you think all that wealth is being put back into developing cures for cancer or vaccines for the latest epidemics, think again. 

Nearly all drug companies spend more, usually far more, on marketing than research, much of it funded by taxpayers and conducted at public universities. 

Consider the current race to find a vaccine for the Zika virus. The biggest obstacle is how much profits Big Pharma can make from a vaccine. The French firm Sanofi SA jumped in, but only after getting $43 million in funding from the U.S. government, aka us taxpayers. Did Sanofi really need the help? It made $4.6 billion in profits in 2015 alone, and $83 billion in profits the past 20 years. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. In Egypt, Gilead sells the Sovaldi for just $900 for the same 12-weeks of care for which it charges $84,000 in the U.S. Overall, prices for the world’s top 20 selling meds are three times higher in the U.S. than in Britain, six times higher than in Brazil. 

The Big Pharma drug cartel, which would make a credible stand-in for the next season of Netflix’ show “Narcos,” certainly knows what’s at stake. 

“Adoption of VA pricing by the State of California,” Norton warns in PharmExec.com, “would be a pricing disaster for the entire U.S. drug industry” and “would shake the rafters of every single public state drug program in the nation.” 

Good. Let’s stop rewarding the arrogance of this out of control industry, and take real steps to cut drug prices, beginning in California by voting Yes on Prop. 61.

 

(Deborah Burger is a registered nurse and a co-president of National Nurses United. This piece first appeared in CommonDreams.org.) Photo: National Nurses United. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California’s New Education Architecture Is Already Failing

EDUCATION POLITICS--Is California abandoning its poorest students? That question would be dismissed as absurd by our state’s education leaders, especially Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Board of Education. For years, they have been building a new educational architecture they say will do more for the poorest kids in the poorest schools. 

But as the many elements of this architecture are put in place slowly—and I do mean slowly—they have begun to look like a Winchester Mystery House, so full of complicated rooms that the structure doesn’t fit together coherently. On its current path, the emerging educational architecture of California seems likely to undermine public accountability, resist meaningful parent and community engagement, and make it difficult to figure out whether disadvantaged students and the schools they attend are benefiting. 

The new architecture is built on a foundation known as Local Control Funding Formula, a multi-piece formula that is designed to give more money and authority to local school districts, especially those with concentrated poverty. That formula was approved in combination with the establishment of new Local Control and Accountability Plans, intended to give parents and communities more say in how money is spent. The state also adopted Common Core standards for math and English that emphasize critical thinking, and combined the standards with a computer-based testing system to better track individual students. 

And last month, the state wrapped all of these elements together in a new accountability system to track the progress of schools and students on new measures that go far beyond test scores.

The governing theory is that all these new educational structures—in concert with social programs to raise the wages, improve the health care, and provide more social services to poor Californians—will make it easier for a greater number of disadvantaged students to prepare for college and careers.

But examining the pieces in detail, the architecture is so hollow and unsteady that it’s hard to understand how students will benefit. 

Consider the new accountability system, approved by the State Board of Education in September. The board passed it in a meeting that was heavy on self-congratulation, and light on detail. 

The system introduces six indicators for measuring schools (such as college and career readiness, and the progress of English language learners) as well as local factors, like parental engagement and school climate. This was hailed as an improvement on a previous system that the board abandoned three years ago and had not replaced, leaving Californians in the dark about how their schools were doing. 

But, at least for now, this new approach to accountability offers more clouds than sunshine. It could be years before data for some of the new measures exists. There are also real questions about how you could reliably measure parental engagement and school climate, or whether the effort would be worthwhile, given all the other demands on California districts. 

Even worse, the board resisted urgent calls from many education and child advocacy groups to boil down this new system into something that the public might be able to understand. Instead, the board, defiantly, released a sprawling draft built around a confounding color-coded grid that deserves immediate induction, without the customary five-year waiting period, into the Hall of Fame for Bureaucratic Idiocy. “Making sense of it is practically impossible…” the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “… the Local Control and Accountability Plans required by the new formula are like the Holy Roman Empire—they aren’t local, they don’t really provide control or accountability, and they aren’t even plans.” 

Fixing this accountability system isn’t just a matter of redesign, which the board is saying it will do next year. The trouble is that the accountability system is built upon the other pieces of the new architecture, and those are similarly confusing. The new local control formula encompasses eight priorities, many of them hard to measure, and myriad sub-priorities and different grant formulas under those. And the Local Control and Accountability Plans required by the new formula are like the Holy Roman Empire—they aren’t local, they don’t really provide control or accountability, and they aren’t even plans. They are longwinded, technical answers to longwinded, technical questions required by a state template. School districts, naturally, have struggled to get parents and community members to participate in drafting these documents, which in many cases run to hundreds of pages. 

And if all that doesn’t give you a headache, the new system could soon get even more complicated. The federal government is in the process of developing its own plan to help the worst-off schools, under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind. 

The federal law requires states to identify the bottom five percent of schools and figure out ways to improve them. California’s emerging architecture doesn’t provide any easy way to identify those schools. Instead, state leaders are lobbying against the new federal system, and continue to design the state’s system in ways that are at odds with the federal law. Last week, Gov. Brown vetoed a bill, overwhelmingly passed in the legislature, to require the California system to align with the federal one. 

In the end, it’s possible there will be not one but two accountability systems for California schools—one answerable to Sacramento, the other to Washington. 

In watching this process, I can’t help but wonder if all the confusion isn’t cynically deliberate. Throughout, the state has followed the advice of its powerful teachers union, the California Teachers Association, which has opposed any system that offers coherent ratings, and thus meaningful comparisons, of schools. The union prefers to have as much evaluation as possible done at the local level, where they are most powerful. By enacting a state system that no one can manage or understand, California may effectively leave things in the hands of the locals. 

What does that mean for making sure poor kids are actually making progress? It may mean that we never know. Gov. Brown gave the game away in an interview with CALmatters earlier this year when he questioned whether the achievement gaps between disadvantaged and other students can be closed, even with the help of his Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). 

“The gap has been pretty persistent,” he said, “so I don’t want to set up what hasn’t been done ever as the test of whether the LCFF is a success or failure. I don’t know why you would go there.” Closing achievement gaps is “pretty hard to do,” he added. 

The defenses of the emerging system are equally lame. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has argued that the complexity of the new system is a virtue—since education, and life for that matter, is complex. 

The State Board of Education president Michael Kirst, a Stanford scholar whose writing on educational systems is distinguished by its clarity, has in this instance taken to issuing uncharacteristically foggy pleas for patience and delay. We’re still ironing out the kinks and the whole system will evolve continuously, he argues. “Concluding now that the system is too complex,” he wrote for the website EdSource, “would be no different than arguing that people would not be able to use a smart phone based on the engineering specifications when the device is still in development.” 

Professor Kirst is right about the need for patience, in a way. It will take at least until 2019, when California finally gets a new governor, before Californians will have any chance to stop construction on this incomprehensible mess, and to focus coherently on our poorest students. 

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square, where this piece originally appeared. Primary Editor: Andrés Martinez. Secondary Editor: Sara Catan.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Deadly Sixth Street May have to Wait for Safety Upgrades

BEVERLY PRESS FOLLOWUP—(Editor’s Note: As Richard Risemberg reported in CityWatch Sixth Street in the Miracle Mile neighborhood has become deadly. Lives have been lost.

Some of the neighbors and Councilman Ryu’s office have a busy calendar these days however and safety doesn’t seem to be in the cards of this community any time soon. Too busy with incoming Metro stations, LACMA construction, etc. A hard cop out to buy if you’re one of the families impacted by hurt or death … or worried about the next deadly crash.

Read more ...

What about Accountability? MTA Measure M has it ‘Bass Ackwards’

PERSPECTIVE-Would you agree to guarantee a contractor a virtually unlimited amount of funds to build a house? If the answer is “yes,” then there are some business people in Nigeria who would like to talk to you. 

The MTA board may as well relocate its office to Lagos. 

By an 11-2 vote, the board approved a permanent sales tax which is estimated to raise $860 million per year in today’s dollars. Theoretically, forever. 

Proponents of the measure argue that the voters can always rescind it down the line if they are not happy with the results. 

What would be the odds of success? Average citizens would have to not only organize a grassroots movement, but raise many millions of dollars to fight proponents backed by the deep pockets and logistics of developers.

We do need to raise many billions of dollars for transportation projects, but there must be accountability. An unlimited stream of cash will not incentivize the MTA and its contractors to manage budgets. Only the sobering reality of losing future funding offers a chance of ensuring financial discipline. It’s a fact of life – MTA board members will come and go. They will not have to live up to long-term promises. 

The Measure attempts to assuage the concerns of the residents with the formation of oversight committees and independent audits, but there are no legal requirements for the MTA to implement recommendations or fix audit findings. 

The only way to control the effective use of funds is by requiring the MTA board to re-approach the voters periodically – say in 20 years initially, then every 5-10 years thereafter, to up the level of funding. If they want to exceed the 40-year horizon of the proposed wave of projects, they must earn our support first by demonstrating cost-effective and timely progress. 

Putting the onus on the passengers of a train to prevent a trainwreck, rather than insisting that the engineer apply the brakes before one occurs, is “bass ackwards.” 

But that is essentially what Measure M will do by almost certainly assuring unlimited funding.

 

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

Warning! We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet: California Faces Decades-Long Megadroughts

CLIMATE POLITICS--"Megadroughts" that last for decades are threatening to strike already parched California and other western U.S. states by the end of the century, a new study finds, with one model predicting that a drought lasting about 35 years may be a "near certainty."

A megadrought would bring back the devastating dustbowl conditions of the 1930s to California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, but would last for a much longer period of time, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. 

"Using a combination of temperature and precipitation models," the Guardian reports, "the study predicts a 70 percent chance of a megadrought by the end of the century, should rainfall levels remain the same, with a 90 percent chance of an elongated drought should rainfall decrease, as most climate models forecast."

"We can't rule out there could be a 99.9 percent chance of a megadrought, which makes it virtually certain," Toby Ault, a scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the study, told the Guardian.

"Historically, megadroughts were extremely rare phenomena occurring only once or twice per millennium," the study observes. "According to our analysis of modeled responses to increased [greenhouse gas emissions], these events could become commonplace if climate change goes unabated."

A map shows the rising risk of megadraughts corresponding to varying increases in global temperatures. (Image: Science Advances)

"With 4 degrees of warming, which is the rate the planet is currently heading for, megadroughts are almost a certainty," EcoWatch notes.

"A megadrought occurring again in the (California and the) Southwest in the coming decades would impose unprecedented stresses on water resources of the region, and recent studies have shown that they are far more likely to occur this century because of climate change compared to past centuries," write the study authors, scientists from Cornell University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Indeed, California's six-year-long drought has already changed the landscape, according to the Guardian: "Areas of the Sierras have burned a few times and the forests aren't recruiting back, they are turning into grasslands and bush lands," Mark Schwartz, professor of environmental science at the University of California, told the newspaper.  

"Water availability is a deep issue for people living in the arid south-west," Schwartz added. "Megadroughts have the ability to dry up Lake Mead [which supplies water to Las Vegas] and hamper crops in southern California. We are doing a relatively poor job of allocating water efficiently. We need to get better at that."

"The new report does proffer a crumb of hope," the Guardian writes, "if greenhouse gas emissions are radically cut then the risk of megadrought will reduce by half, giving a roughly 50:50 chance that a multi-decade stretch of below-average rainfall would occur this century. But the research found that the emissions cuts would have to be far steeper than those agreed to by nations in Paris last year, where a 2C limit on warming was pledged."

"We would need a much more aggressive approach than proposed at Paris," Ault told the newspaper. "It's not too late to do this but the train is leaving the station as we speak."

(Nika Knight writes for Common Dreams … where this report was first posted.) Photo: Shever/flickr/cc

-cw

This Is Not About Donald Trump!

GUEST WORDS--This is not about Donald Trump. And I mean it.

From the moment the first scribe etched a paean of praise to Nebuchadnezzar into a stone tablet, it’s reasonable to conclude that never in history has the media covered a single human being as it has Donald Trump.

Read more ...

The Z-Man Sues the City and LAPD Chief Beck for $6 Million … and, Other Good Stuff

RANTZ & RAVEZ--While I am always on the lookout for good RaveZ to bring to your attention, I find very few in dealing with our City, County, State and Federal Governments. When I do find something of significance, I bring it to your attention. Well, I have three for you this week. 

  1. I begin with the DWP Air Conditioner Optimization Program. The Program deals with a FREE service of your Air Conditioner System by a Professional Air Conditioning Company contracted by the DWP. A professional technician from Mediterranean Heating and Air Conditioning inspected my home. In addition to a full 2-hour inspection, I received a new state of the art Nest Thermostat to control my air/heating system. This FREE program was sponsored by LA City Councilman Bob Blumenfield and approved by the City Council to soften the impact of the multi-year increase in the DWP rates. All costs of the program are paid for by the DWP. The program is scheduled to run for three years at a cost of $4.5 million a year to the DWP. 

If interested in this TOTALLY FREE service, contact the DWP A/C Optimization Program at (877) 427-0418. 

  1. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer slams Wells Fargo for ripping off huge numbers of customers and over 450 United States Military Personnel. The San Francisco based Wells Fargo Bank was accused of ripping off thousands of customers by opening over 2 million fake accounts with bogus fees, and the repossession of private vehicles owned by United States Military Personnel. The company fired over 5,000 employees involved in these unethical actions and owes the following amounts of money to various organizations and individuals. In total, the amount is well over $200 Million. The specifics: 
  1. $100 Million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 
  2. The City and County of Los Angeles are due $50 million. This is the largest fine ever levied against a financial institution by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 
  3. $35 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and untold figures owed to affected customers. 
  4. In addition, $10,000 to each of the military personnel that had their vehicles illegally reposed by Wells Fargo. 
  5. This story is not over and additional fines and sanctions are in the making on many levels from state and federal authorities. They say image is everything when it comes to consumers and products and services. What will the ultimate consequences be for Wells Fargo? Only time will tell. 

Congratulations to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and his staff for protecting the Los Angeles consumers. The next question is how many other banks utilized the Wells Fargo tactics to meet goals and earn bonuses. Time and future investigations will bring about the truth of this and related matters. I am sure we have not heard the last of this procedure by various banks. 

I can see Mike Feuer running for Los Angeles Mayor in the future. 

  1. A $6 Million lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Central District with the author of RantZ and RaveZ, Dennis P. Zine (photo above left), and resident James Bibeau as Plaintiffs vs the City of Los Angeles and Charles Beck (photo at top right), Chief of Police vs the City of Los Angeles. This RaveZ concerns all Los Angeles taxpayers and has the impact of over $6 Million for the next three years. Being a former LAPD Supervisor, City Councilman, LA City Resident and local taxpayer, I found fault with the Rams Football Team receiving FREE LAPD security services for all home games. 

Within days of filing my lawsuit against the City of LA and Chief Beck, the Rams came forward and agreed to pay for security and related services at all home games played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

With the shortage of LAPD Officers and great demand on police services, it was proper to implement legal action against the City of LA and Rams Football Team. If the city leaders were truly concerned about the taxpayers and public safety, they would have resolved this matter before agreeing to have the Rams return to Los Angeles. 

Remember that the Rams Football team is only going to be playing football at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next three seasons. After that time, the Rams will be moving to Inglewood and will play all home games at the new Inglewood $3 Billion Stadium. In the future, the City of Inglewood will be providing all public safety and related services to the Ram’s Football Team. With all the services provided by Inglewood, the tax revenues and related income will all benefit the City of Inglewood. 

There you go. Three cases of RaveZ for your consideration.

 

+++

 

If you have a RaveZ that you would like to share with our readers, please email the information to me at [email protected].  The most recent report showed that over 400,000 people reviewed my RantZ and RaveZ column. That is impact and a great opportunity to spread the word.

 

+++

 

With all the media focus and talk about the November Presidential Election, and the many ballot measures that are so confusing to most of us, who do you turn to where we can find the truth of the matter. Who is going to give you the straight facts, and nothing but the facts, on the various ballot measures. There is one source that is accurate and honest and to the point. That one reliable and trusting is none other then the RantZ and RaveZ. Recommendations coming in future editions as we approach the November Election.

(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. Disclosure: Zine was a candidate for City Controller last city election. He writes RantZ & RaveZ for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]. Mr. Zine’s views are his own and do not reflect the views of CityWatch.)

-cw

Pan Am Equities: LA River Megadeveloper Gets Caught Lying to Atwater Village

OVER-DEVELOPMENT ONSLAUGHT-Billionaire Manhattan developers are proposing a surprise 419-unit apartment mega-project on the Los Angeles River -- next to a long-promised state park -- and recently explained themselves to the local community. They ended up showing quite a bit of contempt for Atwater Village and Glassell Park, the communities they seek to gentrify. 

The mega-development, dubbed “2800 Casitas” after the dead-end riverside street where the sprawling luxury housing would be shoe-horned, would radically remake the Glassell Park/Atwater Village community. As envisioned by developer Pan Am Equities, the massive project would dramatically impact a scenic and woodsy stretch of the LA River bird flyway, near a laid-back art-scene locale along the river, called the Bowtie. (Photo above.) 

Pan Am’s is among a frenzy of proposals that would shoulder aside LA’s lively civic discussions about re-greening the Los Angeles River, supplanting that public debate with developers’ private plans for dense, luxury “waterfront” housing in what are now working-class areas. 

Pan Am, owned by the billionaire Manocherian family, which owns 85 buildings in Manhattan alone, was drawn to LA by growing word that you can buy Los Angeles land, get the local land zoning tossed out in a backroom deal at City Hall, and then build as big -- and as inappropriately -- as you want. 

Having already held backroom meetings with City Hall leaders, Pan Am Equities was trying hard to win over the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council’s Environmental and Land-use Committee, by sending a local, Atwater Village architect, Mark Motonaga, to speak at its September meeting at Christ’s Church. 

Motonaga is a principal with Rios Clementi Hale Studios, the mega-project’s designer. Because Motonaga was filling in for the Manhattan developer, he had to repeatedly turn to Pan Am representative Reed Garwood -- sitting in the third pew of the chapel -- to answer questions.

And that’s when Garwood told the ugly fib, that Pan Am Equities’ plan was purely preliminary.

In fact, Garwood blithely assured Atwater Village and Glassell Park residents that Pan Am hadn’t even filed an application for a land zoning change. 

That wasn’t even close to the truth. 

Atwater area resident Cheryll Roberts held up Pan Am’s detailed, 90-page, land-rezoning application submitted to the city and chimed in, “Yeah, you did. I have it right here.” 

Ninety pages long -- hard for a developer to deny they’d already filed it with Los Angeles City officials. 

Pan Am wants to jack up the zoning from a furniture storage and shipping building to a far more intensive and river-impacting round-the-clock use: several hundred humans and their several hundred vehicles, wedged next to a supposedly coming public river park. 

The Coalition to Preserve LA is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot to protect communities like Atwater Village and Glassell Park from wildly inappropriate land-zoning changes known as “spot zoning.” 

The once-denigrated LA River, one of the nation’s most important bird flyways and a rare natural resource for the entire Los Angeles public, is now among the most-threatened land in LA.

The Coalition has pressed Mayor Eric Garcetti to end ex parte (backroom) meetings between developers and City Hall politicians that cater to developer greed and terrible planning like 2800 Casitas. 

Nobody disputes that by the time residents in places like Atwater Village hear of a project such as 2800 Casitas, backroom deals have already been made between the developer, local LA City Council members and planning officials. The public is cut out entirely, until far down the road.

At the meeting, residents from Atwater and nearby were shown a slide presentation and artists’ renditions of buildings soaring as high as 85 feet, prompting them to question how this out-of-character-development on the banks of the Los Angeles River could possibly represent smart planning. 

Everyone questioned the tall boxes along the river and near charming old neighborhoods of architecturally interesting one- and two-story homes. At more than 60 housing units per acre, on 5.7 acres, 2800 Casitas would set a major precedent, encouraging a luxury housing stampede of developers demanding zoning riverfront changes from the local LA City Council members. 

Pan Am’s big buildings “look like a fortress,” as one community member remarked, while others questioned the intelligence of creating a giant community on a small dead-end road. 

“Have you talked to the fire department about this?” Committee Chairman Larry Hafetz asked. “There generally has to be two outlets.” 

With a nod to the nearby active Hollywood Earthquake Fault that travels along Los Feliz Boulevard and runs deep into Atwater Village, resident Diahanne Payne said: “What if the 2 Freeway (on the proposed mega-project’s north border) collapses? People would be trapped. I’ve got a problem with that. 419 units means 840 cars or so. That’s an access problem. God help the poor suckers who live on Casitas Street.” 

And the proposed buildings, Payne said, “Look like tenement buildings, no matter how much green you add to the walls.” She meant the developer’s plan to somehow mask the huge structures with vines. 

Larry Hafetz cited two other communities now fighting the gridlock and neighborhood destruction brought on by LA’s City-Hall encouraged luxury housing frenzy. According to warnings by the city’s housing department, the overdevelopment has left a huge 15% vacancy rate in all LA luxury housing built in the past decade. 

Hafetz said: “The community needs to be preserved. This is not Hollywood or Silver Lake. Our community is the river. Density is going to be a hard sell.” 

(David Futch writes for 2PreserveLA.org. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Orwellian Logic: When Illegal Signs are Really Legal

BILLBOARD WATCH-In April of this year, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued a permit for temporary construction fence signs at the site of a church on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. Those signs have since advertised movies, TV shows, and Airbnb to an audience of motorists on one of the most gridlocked thoroughfares on the west side of the city. 

Lincoln Blvd. is also a Community Design Overlay (CDO) District, with standards and regulations that include a ban on new billboards and off-site signs. Since none of the signs plastered on some 200 ft. of plywood attached to a chain link fence at the edge of the church property have advertised products or activities available at the church, they’re clearly off-site signs and thus prohibited by the CDO. 

So why would the building department issue a permit for those signs? Before that permit was handed to the sign company, the City Planning Department had to provide a “clearance” attesting to the fact that the signs wouldn’t conflict with any zoning regulations. So one might think that the CDO’s ban on off-site signs would have prompted a thumbs down on the permit. 

But no. The planning department issued the clearance on the grounds that the off-site sign ban in the citywide sign ordinance contains an exception for temporary signs, and that this exception applies to the Lincoln Blvd. CDO.

This makes sense only if facts are ignored and logic twisted. One, the sign permits were issued under a special ordinance allowing advertising signs on fences surrounding construction sites and vacant lots. These signs at construction sites can remain for the duration of the site’s building permit or two years, whichever is less, and there are specific limits on their size, number, and spacing. 

In contrast, signs permitted under the citywide sign code’s temporary sign exception can only remain for 30 days at a time, with a cumulative annual limit of 90 days. There are also size limits that are proportional to the street frontage of the property. 

The total square footage of the signs at the church property on Lincoln Blvd is considerably greater than that allowed under the temporary signs provision of the citywide sign code. And the signs have violated both the 30-day limit and the 90-day annual limit. Yet the building department has declined to cite those violations because the signs comply with the provisions of the permit issued under the ordinance that allows signs on construction walls. 

Confused yet? 

The signs violate the CDO’s ban on off-site signs and they violate the size and time limits of the temporary sign regulations, yet the two responsible city agencies regard them as legal. 

In other words, black is white and up is down. 

To add insult to injury, the Lincoln Blvd. CDO also has design standards stating that fences and walls should not front Lincoln Blvd., and any such fences required by code should be no more than 42 inches high. These provisions are intended to enhance the visual quality and the pedestrian friendliness of the boulevard. 

The plywood wall that provides the backing for the church property signs is eight feet high

Furthermore, there is no sign of any construction activity at the site, which includes the church, a separate auditorium building, and a parking lot.

 

(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Measure M and the Beneficial Domino Effect

ALPERN AT LARGE--In my last CityWatch article, I recommended a "NO" vote for just about every tax measure this November based on the fact that the new funds would be poorly spent.  The big exception, of course, is Measure M--because the money and projects are well-defined, and well-vetted by the taxpayers of LA County. 

We do NOT want to "feed the beast" of unsustainable pension/benefits of public sector officials and workers who perform vital jobs but are being reimbursed and pensioned at a level we just can't continue to fund.  After all, are California (particularly LA County) residents paying less or MORE than the rest of the nation? 

And are we getting a good "bang for our buck" with respect to what our taxes pay for? 

But the reason why the schools and "general fund" taxes and bonds should be rejected is that we don't know where the money is going, while the opposite is true for Measure M. 

Opponents of Measure M are people who, for the most part, should be listened to and worked with for years to come.  Metro's come a long way since the crazy-spending of the 1990's, and there are a lot of good reasons why Caltrans let Metro take over and/or finish local freeway projects--in short, Metro typically spends their money well, and is a model for adhering to its budget. 

A model that school districts, water districts, and other public sector/sphere jurisdictions would do well to emulate. 

But with Measure M--as with the previously-passed Measure R in 2008--there will be a domino effect of MORE money coming into LA County from Sacramento and Washington. 

LA is no longer last but among the first when it comes to federal and state eyes and wallets opening to support a county "that has its act together".  And, of course, a county willing to put its money where its mouth is. 

The "Friends of the Green Line" project that started shortly after 9/11 found that the critical LAX/Metro Rail connection now funded by Metro with a 2024 due date (LINK: ) will happen faster if Measure M passes … call it the Measure M Domino Effect: 

1) South Bay residents would want "in" to the Green Line/LAX connection 

2) Increased interest in a Norwalk Green Line/Metrolink connection would occur that might bring in dollars from both Orange and Riverside counties 

3) Westsiders and Downtowners would want better access to the LAX/Metro Rail connection as well, facilitating interest in extensions via Lincoln and Sepulveda Blvds. 

Similarly, there would be a Domino Effect for the Foothill Gold Line, which would be funded by Measure M not only to Claremont (the eastern edge of L.A. County in the Inland Empire) but to Montclair in San Bernardino County.  That brings that county on board, particularly if the line were to be advocated for extension to Ontario Airport, and/or with more Metrolink connections. 

Would there be an increased effort to connect Orange County with any Santa Ana Pacific Electric Rail Right of Way to the Southeast LA County cities and the Green Line?  Probably--the 405 freeway isn't getting any lighter with respect to traffic, and Orange County residents would certainly want a better way to access Downtown. 

So enter another Domino Effect

And the more these projects get promoted, the more that federal and state matching funds could be achieved, allowing Metro to work their way down the list to build these projects (including Metro projects in the South Bay, Southeast LA County Cities, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, and the like) to fulfill the needs of ALL LA County residents. 

Domino Effects are usually negative, and not desired, by taxpayers...yet it does appear that Measure M has the strong potential (and strong likelihood, based on our experience with Measure R in 2008) to create a positive and favorable Domino Effect

Hence Measure M deserves our consideration, and our vote, come this November. 

And if Measure M passes this November, any work done to expedite transportation improvements throughout the county, and/or to fine tune Metro's priorities, could begin in earnest the very next day.

 

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

-cw 

 

 

 

 

Kamala vs. Loretta: The Worst Debate in History

ELECTION 2016--Despite her self-regarding belief, Barbara Boxer has not exactly been a paragon of political achievement in the U.S. Senate — but c’mon is this really the best a state of 39 million people can do in finding a replacement?

Not since the tap dancing George Murphy and the tam o’shanter-styling S.I. Hayakawa squatted in California’s seats in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body have there been two Mickey Mouse lightweights as insubstantial as 2016 Senate wannabes Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez.

So we guess it was appropriate that the one and only faceoff between the Democratic dynamic duo Wednesday night was the lamest so-called debate in memory, Or at least since the 2016 vice-presidential contenders parleyed the night before.

A dilettante’s delight: The ABC7-produced event in LA was, and let us put this as politely as possible, a bloody muddle: a panel of three, amateur-night questioners competed for time with a batch of pre-recorded Real People (some of whom could not be heard by the rivals in the studio) to pose the most insipid inquiries possible, while OCD-stricken moderator Marc Brown continuously refused to let the candidates finish sentences, apparently concerned there wouldn’t be time left for the crucial performance of a troupe of trapeze artists waiting in the wings.

At one point, one of the three panelists (we omit Janis Hirohama’s name to spare her family embarrassment) actually asked Harris and Sanchez “what committees would you like to serve on?” Yuck.

In the end, sigh, Harris’s banalities and clichés trumped Rep. Sanchez’s squeaky prattling and saccharine babbling, and Kamala was the only one on the stage who at least had the poise and appearance of a U.S. Senator.

Three key takeaways:

Where were Willon, Cadelago and Marinucci? Egghead Raphael Sonenshein of the (all rise) Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA; League of Women Voters goo-goo Hirohama and ABC7 general assignment reporter Adrienne Alpert all are, no doubt, very nice people who are routinely kind to dogs and curtain crawlers. Not one, alas, is a professional political reporter who is actually, um, covering the Senate race.

So instead of benefiting from beat reporters who know what they’re talking about, and who might have asked at least one – one, for the love of God, one! – follow-up question, we were subjected to this trio of worthies earnestly reading her or his list of shallow questions conscientiously prepared in study hall. That’s not to mention moderator Brown, who seemed to think the 12 people who actually tuned into the affair did so to hear him bellow “your time is up,” any time either Kamala or Loretta came close to expressing a complete thought. Secret memo to Marc: the fans don’t come to the game to watch the umpires.

Queen of the platitude: Harris was alternately arrogant, condescending, weak-kneed and pandering. Some examples of her soaring rhetoric: On water: “We must have a conversation around this” (A conversation? Really? Hint, hint: California’s been having a “conversation” on water since before the Bear Flag Republic. No word yet on any progress). On fighting terrorism: “We have to be smart and tough” (now don’t get too far out on a limb there, General). On U.S.-Russia relations: (“I believe that Russia poses a serious threat to our country” (Ooh). Also: we hereby demand a moratorium on using the word “unpack” unless you’re talking about removing the contents of a suitcase. Big upside: she speaks in complete sentences.

Word salad Sanchez: For her part, Sanchez was smarmy, scatterbrained, snarling and sarcastic. At least her self-dramatic digressions were long-winded. To her credit, she did roll out an entertaining series of creative gestures to distract from her semi-coherent verbal frolics, at one point forming a little hand puppet mouth while saying that Kamala was all talk and no action, and, at another, shooing the air in her foe’s direction, like a fairy princess dismissing the wicked witch from her kingdom. Sadly for Sanchez, Harris totally clobbered her on her truly lousy House attendance record.

Bottom line: Neither candidate did anything that will change a race now shaped as a Harris win. As a practical matter, it wouldn’t matter anyway, since either of them would fill the Boxer space in the Senate of predictable, reflexive support and fist-shaking on behalf of every liberal Democratic interest group in the state. Good times, CTA, trial lawyers and SEIU!

What a pair.

Full disclosure: we watched this horror show with one eye focused on the Giants memorable wild card win over the Mets. However: the most recent PPIC poll reported that a fourth of likely voters said they might not cast ballots in this one. And, despite our long and impeccable citizenship records – we’re the only two people in California who actually show up for jury duty – we’re tempted to join them.

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

-cw

Harris vs. Sanchez: Ethnicity Shouldn’t Matter When CA Picks a Senator

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--We have all been so busy and preoccupied with the Presidential election this fall but did you know that there is also an important Senate election to replace Senator Barbara Boxer who is not running for re-election? 

Very few people are paying attention to this election. Both Senate candidates -- state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez -- are Democrats and female and come from diverse backgrounds. Whoever wins in the November general election will make history for California and the nation. 

Harris, whose mother is of South Asian descent and whose father grew up in Jamaica, would be the second black woman elected to the Senate; Sanchez would be among the first Latinas elected senator. 

Following on the heels of Barbara Boxer's retirement announcement, the election will fill the state's first open Senate seat in two and a half decades. 

Besides the lack of knowledge on the part of many voters about these two candidates, what’s really interesting is the lukewarm support the Latino community has for Congresswoman Sanchez. 

Last May, Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) blasted the California Democratic Party for backing Attorney General Kamala Harris over Rep. Loretta Sanchez in the primary for U.S. Senate. Vela, in a statement to the Washington Post, said the party’s active support of Harris “is insulting to Latinos all across this country.” 

“Congresswoman Sanchez has served her Party and her state in an exemplary fashion for over 20 years,” he also said in the statement. 

“Surely, grassroots California Democrats will recognize that such disgraceful treatment of Congresswoman Sanchez will only lead the party in a foolish direction.” 

Asked why he criticized the state party’s endorsement, Vela said via email to The Post that Democratic organizations should not endorse in primaries: “The establishment should be available to help ALL Democratic candidates equally.” 

“How can the Party claim to be supportive of the Latino community and at the same time alienate a qualified candidate in a historic election?” he wrote. “I hope this statement encourages Democratic leadership across this country to recognize that the Latino community should not be taken for granted. 

California is the most populated state in the country, with the largest number of Latinos than any other state in the country. The California Democratic Party has no business taking a position against Loretta Sanchez,” who, according to Congressman Vela is the “most experienced candidate in this race.” 

“Not one single Democratic Latina has ever been in the United States Senate, and the California Democratic Party’s position is a disrespectful example of wayward institutional leadership which on the one hand ‘wants our vote’ but on the other hand wants to ‘spit us out,’ ” Vela said. 

But the reality is that the Democratic Party endorses in elections all the times where there are two or more Democrats competing against each other; I believe the Republican Party does the same. 

I disagree with Congressman Vela for saying that Latinos should support Sanchez just because she’s Latina. Being Latino or Latina shouldn’t be the only reason to back a candidate. It’s irresponsible to vote for someone or support a candidate solely based on race. 

Vela’s statement that the Party’s active support of Harris is insulting to Latinos all across this country is not true at all. Latinos are smarter than that; we are going to vote for the best qualified candidate. If that candidate happens to be Latino or Latina, then even better. 

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the position of the party is. What matters is the position of the voters. Political parties are political institutions and make political decisions. Congressman Vela should know better. It’s just politics!

 

(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.

Fact Checking ‘News’ Articles that Shill for Real Estate Speculation in LA

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--By now we have all encountered news services, like Politico, that fact check politicians during the election campaign. Well, this week I am offering a similar service to CityWatch readers. I have fact checked three recent “news” articles that sing the praises of extravagant real estate speculation in Los Angeles.

Hopefully, my fact checking will help you critically assess the constant stream of quasi-journalistic falsehoods that spin the virtues of illegal real state projects that rely on special, parcel level City Council ordinances to become legal. 

More specifically on my blog I have posted my extended corrections to these three articles: 

  • “In Cranes’ Shadows, Los Angeles Strains to See a Future with Less Sprawl,” New York Times, September 21, 2016. 
  • “Tall v. Sprawl – Build Better LA Proposition Will Determine Our City’s Future,” LA Weekly, September 27, 2016. 
  • “LA Community Developer Caruso Struggle with Caruso’s ‘Dream Project’,” City Watch LA, September 26, 2016.                                                                                                                          

While I certainly invite you to go to the link for my blog, Plan-It Los Angeles, here is the abbreviated version of what you will find there.  

In their efforts to celebrate real estate speculation, all three articles rely on a journalistic form to candy-coat private commercial interests trying to game the land use system. This is why I call these articles info-journalism. They are the print version of an infomercial, those mock late night TV ads that mimic news stories, but are really nothing more than an extended commercial touting a specific product, such as a Veg-O-Matic kitchen utensil. 

In addition to their faux journalistic form, all three articles fail to mention the following: 

  1. The mega-projects in the sights of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative are all illegal. The adopted laws of the City of Los Angeles bar their construction because they conflict with the City’s adopted General Plan and the zoning code that implements the General Plan. 
  1. In order for these otherwise illegal projects to be constructed, the City Council must adopt a special law for their underlying parcel that, essentially, exempts the project from the City’s General Plan and from the zoning laws that implement the General Plan. If this looks like “Pay to Play” to you, I suggest you trust your intuition. 
  1. All of these large mega-projects require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and all of these EIRs identify an environmentally superior alternative, such as a modification of the existing structure or a replacement structure that could be built by-right because it already conforms to General Plan and the Zoning Code. 

At the request of the investor, however, the City Planning Commission and the City Council never opt for the environmentally superior alternative. Instead, they support the most environmentally damaging alternative. In doing so, they always adopt a Statement of Overriding Considerations, and these Statements always rely on the developers’ claims that that his or her project will generate jobs and/or transit ridership. None of these claims are ever subsequently monitored and verified, and there are no consequences, such as the revocation of a building permit, if the purported benefits fail to appear. 

  1. Even though all of these “illustrious” projects are substantially higher and larger than nearby legal buildings, the City Planning Commission and the City Council gloss over the General Plan’s clear principle that new development must be consistent with the character and scale of existing development.   Despite obvious design clashes, the City Planning Commission and the City Council never reject a project on design criteria, even though the General Plan Framework Element has an entire chapter and three appendices solely focused on neighborhood and building design. 
  1. The General Plan is also clear that new development must have sufficient supportive public infrastructure and public services for deviations to proceed. Yet, none of these articles mention that LA’s infrastructure is strapped and often failing, that the city is headed for natural disasters that will compound underinvested infrastructure and services, and that the City has not properly monitored its own infrastructure and public services in nearly two decades. 
  1. The General Plan Amendments, Zone Changes, and Height District Changes that the City Council dishes out to its cronies dramatically increase the value of the underlying land. Yet, none of this added value comes back to the City as additional property taxes because of Proposition 13’s giant loopholes. This is because the title does not change, and the only benefit to the city and state is from sales taxes generated by on-site businesses. 

Now, some special fact checking for each of these articles. 

The New York Times article presents current land use disputes in Los Angeles as a disagreement in esthetics and values between those who want a slowly growing, dispersed city versus those who want a concentrated city with rapid growth that also addresses its housing crisis. This is an entirely false distinction. The opponents of the mega-projects are not fans of suburbanization or slow growth. They simply want a city that prepares, adopts, implements, and then monitors an up-to-date General Plan. These plans designate many areas where density and height are allowed, and they ensure through careful planning and monitoring that the city’s infrastructure and services are up to the task. This position is not pro-sprawl, pro-suburbanization, pro-slow growth, and pro-a housing affordability crisis. These ridiculous claims are nothing more than the unquoted repetition of the desperate arguments of anxious business interests whose latest business ventures are real estate projects, not to Kruggerands, cotton futures, and high tech start-ups. 

The LA Weekly article is even worse than the New York Times article when it comes to false distinctions in order to convince its readers that speculation in otherwise illegal real estate projects is just what the doctor ordered for an ailing Los Angeles. On one side the Weekly presents a modern urbanist faction that yearns for an LA that should be tall, dense, served by mass transit, bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly streets. Their preservationist opponents are those who want a Los Angeles that is supposedly wide, sprawling, car-oriented, and dominated by single-family homes. This imaginary distinction, too, is utter nonsense. 

The real dichotomy is between those who advocate for a city that is properly planned and monitored, versus those who implicitly call for a city that grows willy-nilly, based on short-term profit maximization, oblivious to existing zones, plans, public services, public infrastructure, neighborhood scale, and neighborhood character. But, support of good planning is independent from the pace of growth, single-family homes, mass transit, bicycle lanes, and creating a pedestrian environment. In fact, as anyone who has reads my weekly CityWatch columns knows, these features are all part of a properly planned city, and this is the best way to ensure that these vital infrastructure components appear. 

The CityWatch article was largely a sympathetic interview with the head of a company, Caruso Affiliated, that wants to build a 240-foot high luxury high rise project at the site of the recently closed, three-story Loehman’s store near the Beverly Center. Because the developer made a last minute change to his list of required discretionary actions by adding an SB 1818 Density Bonus option, the article presents the developer as a billionaire populist who is trying to create a model of egalitarian life style in Los Angeles. 

While few hired publicists would go overboard like this, the article unsurprisingly fails to mention that the only objective change in the project is converting 8 of its 145 luxury ($10,000 to 20,000 monthly rents) to affordable units whose actual rents are not yet known. The article also fails to mention that many other developers of market housing, including high-end housing like this project, have taken similar advantage of SB 1818. They, just like Caruso Affiliated, have been able to bust through zoning laws, by converting 5 percent of their units to affordable apartments (that are never subsequently field inspected by the City of Los Angeles). 

Furthermore, the developer’s boast that the 8 tenants of the affordable units will have access to the same amenities of the 137 global one-percenters paying full fair is not even optional. It is a legal requirement to treat al tenants the same. 

Finally, by opting for the 5 percent SB 1818 option now, the developer may be able to shield himself from the 15 percent requirement of the Build Better LA Initiative on the November 2016 ballot. He may also insulate himself from the City’s pending 20 percent affordable inclusionary housing requirement contained in the Value Capture Ordinance now worming its way through the City’s lumbering preparation and adopting processes. 

Readers, hopefully my fact checking has come in handy, and if you encounter any more info-journalism promoting mega-projects that you want debunked, my email is below.

 

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

-cw

 

LAUSD: No Meaningful Reform without Meaningful Information

GUEST COMMENTARY-The continuing generational fraud, the purposeful failing of predominantly Latino and African American students at the over 90% de facto segregated LAUSD, is accomplished by never addressing these minority students' subjective academic levels and needs. Such an open fraud could never take place without the collusion of the commercial and public media, which scrupulously refuse to report what is actually going on academically at LAUSD that the system makes no attempt to hide. 

In just the latest example of the media parroting of the disingenuous LAUSD party line ideas like "LAUSD board pushes for 100% graduation rate" by Los Angeles Times Reporter Sonali Kohli -- without any real reporter examination of such a goal in light of easily discoverable facts attainable through Public Records Requests  -- reporters continue to never address whether this pie in the sky LAUSD administration goal of 100% graduation has any real possibility of coming to fruition -- it doesn't as long as the truth as to what is going on at LAUSD is never reported. 

How much real reporting would it take for reporters like Sonali Kohli (photo above) to uncover the following publicly accessible facts showing:

 

LAUSD Cumulative Enrollment Counts

2014----------2015----------2016

608,478------598,298------595,840

 

Student Truancy Counts

2014----------2015----------2016

275,983------209,105------297,844

 

And then, might she ask those like Supt. Michelle King and the LAUSD Board members who have the gall to talk about “100% graduation” the following questions: 

How can you honestly expect to increase graduation rates if half of your enrolled students are chronically truant? 

This question might then lead to another question: Why are so many students truant, while LAUSD administration does nothing about it? 

Could it have anything to do with the fact that LAUSD policy has been to coerce teachers into giving passing grades and socially promoting all students -- whether or not they have mastered prior grade-level standards and are capable of doing the next grade-level's work – and that LAUSD administration has pushed them into in complete derogation of their actual academic ability? 

If Sonali Kohli, Howard Blume, and all the other reporters who are too afraid of losing their jobs were given free rein to do as Deep Throat advised Woodward and Bernstein to do in All the President's Men -- "follow the money" -- they might also then ask some of the following questions: 

How many students that are habitually truant are still reported as present for purposes of collecting Average Daily Attendance money from the state and other financing from the federal government like Title I? 

Does this amount to defrauding both the state and federal governments? 

If LAUSD's official 2016 graduation rate of 75% is anything but a made up number, why doesn't it align with either attendance figures or subsequent LAUSD student failure rates at community colleges, where 70% of incoming freshman are taking remedial and not college-level courses, because their high school diplomas aren't worth the paper they are printed on? 

Doesn't such post-LAUSD graduation academic failure also point to the knowing fraud in present high school credit recovery courses, given the widespread post high school failure and high incarceration rates of the large numbers of LAUSD high school graduates? 

It's not like Supt. King and the LAUSD Board members don't know the truth -- nobody's hiding it. Just go into almost any LAUSD school and you see the failed academic reality that their plan scrupulously ignores. 

This purposefully unaddressed failed reality of LAUSD schools is given a different insider's meaning by ex-school principal and now LAUSD board member George McKenna's comment regarding the 100% graduation rate: "It's a wonderful slogan," he says, but he has seen too much of LAUSD school reality to believe it. 

It is criminal that these “usual suspects” continue to mouth platitudes they know have no chance of succeeding without first addressing the abysmal, easily verifiable academic reality at LAUSD. How long will they be allowed to get away with this?


(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

The Chase Knolls Battle: Behind the Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what Carolyn shared with me: 

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

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

That’s gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's So Bad about 100% Graduation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this background was not even discussed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Articles ...

Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays