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Los Angeles: 27 Ways to Make City Hall More Transparent

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

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

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

To date, the results have been dismal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

How to Empower the Citizenry: Try a Little Respect!

ALPERN AT LARGE--Much of what brings the divergent opinions of CityWatch LA contributors together is the overwhelming desire of the contributors to allow the right of Joe/Jane Citizen to be heard, represented, and EMPOWERED.  Much of this desire is premised on simple "majority rule", but much of this desire is also in response to a City Council, County Board of Supervisors, and State Legislature/Governor who treat voters and taxpayers like lower lifeforms. 

It's without a doubt that many of those elected to City, County, or State office have said something to the effect of, "Hey, I paid the price and did the work to get elected.  If that group of people, even the majority, have a problem with my policies, they can get do the work and get elected themselves." 

Which, of course, belies the whole idea of representative government that began with the dawn of the United States of America.  That dawn, so eloquently and fervently understood and supported by Franklin and Jefferson when they wrote the Constitution, and after vigorous debate and drafting by Madison and others, was premised on the following paradigm: Those elected to public office are the servants of the people, and not the other way around. 

The observation that so many of these Founding Fathers were slaveholders, and yet were amazingly ahead of their time, is as relevant as the argument that the Greeks of Athens were ALSO slaveholders and yet ALSO the first to promote the concepts and paradigms of representative democracy. 

The original consideration of only allowing wealthy landowners to vote was rejected, and that set a trend that led to individuals of all genders and ethnic backgrounds inevitably being represented and allowed to vote in order to establish a true democracy. 

President George Washington set both the trend of term limits and ensuring there would be NO king of the United States in his departure from office after eight years, and in the statements in his Farewell Address. 

Yet after we fast-forward a few centuries, we've got human nature right back at its worst: City, County, State (and, of course, National) elected officials presuming they're higher life-forms, and all-too-many citizens willing to blindly re-elect them, regardless of their track records, to innumerable terms in office. 

Of course, it should be remembered that: 

1) The original representative democracy in Athens was never so threatened when they elected a tyrant (now a bad term, it should remembered that "tyrant" meant a pragmatically-elected general in times of war) who, understandably, had a hard time giving up the reins of power. 

2) Democracy is never so much threatened today when society allows the executive branch of government (or any branch of government, including the legislative and judicial branches of government) the ability to change the rules against the will of the majority. 

So if YOU are one of those who NEVER vote, or blindly follow the will of the elected as if they were kings and queens, then you're anything but a true proponent of democracy.  That's how socialism, communism, fascism, etc. all come into being. 

Of course, there's probably more than a few reading this now who think that socialism is a good thing, and that democracy is a bad thing.  Pity--and if you're one who ignores (or never learned about) both the 20th century examples of socialistic failure, and if the latest examples of socialistic failure (Cuba and Venezuela) are lost on you, then clearly you're part of a frightening problem. 

And ditto to that sentiment if you think that the historical perspective I wrote above is just booooooooring and irrelevant to our modern times. 

But back to City, County, and State elections and how they view the rest of us as lower lifeforms:  

1) When we ignore the pension crises as things we just don't want to talk about, or spend any time on, and are so easily cowed into avoid being called haters of police, fire, teachers, civil servants, etc. that we risk creating a slew of city, county, state and federal bankruptcies, then we've established ourselves as lower lifeforms. 

Of course we respect and cherish the public sector ... but, as with doctors and contractors, if their paid and with early retirements and unsustainable pensions, then bankruptcy will help them, us, and our children...how? 

2) As fellow CityWatch contributor and Planner-Extraordinaire Dick Platkin recently opined, there are a few darned good reasons why we need a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and legal efforts, and mass actions to allow the larger citizenry to say "NO!" to horrible ideas that enrich a few and significantly harm the majority. 

It should be remembered that the Los Angeles City Attorney represents Downtown, and not the average Angeleno, based on that position's job description.  There is NO attorney or legal or governmental entity for volunteer, grassroots neighborhood councils to run to for legal and political help when the opinion and rights of the citizenry get crushed. 

Meetings in geographically-accessible locations, and held during hours when most of us aren't working for a living, is something we all deserve.  This isn't ancient Athens or the dawn of the United States...it's an Era of Empowerment, and whether the tyrant comes from the Left or the Right, and whether the tyrant wears a scowl or a charming smile, that person is still a tyrant! 

3) As fellow and occasional CityWatch contributor and Historian-Extraordinaire, Fred Gurzeler, points out, the ballot initiative came about because politicians don’t listen to the people, so the people have to do the work themselves.  Hence we've got Mayor Garcetti trying to stop the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative by barring private developer meetings. 

Here's another thought for all of us who no longer wish to be lower lifeforms.  Pass the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.  Both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans and Independents, and both the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy favor it because it's the right thing to do. 

Too many of today's developers aren't looking for building within legal parameters that were established for a variety of scientific, environmental, and ethical reasons.   

They're not they aiming for a reasonable variance based on compromise and mitigations.  They want to win the lotto, and to Hades with the rest of us (who apparently can just move the heck out of the City, County, or State if we don't like it).  Because they've got fiscal, political, and legal connections, and they can WIN. 

Even if that means the rest of us LOSE in the worst sort of way. 

Consider the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Donate if you can. And vote. 

Because the rest of us in the Citizenry who opted NOT to be elected to public office did NOT elect our public officials, merely for them to turn around and then treat us like lower lifeforms.

 

(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

 

Don’t Believe the Anti-Progress Naysayers … ‘Measure M’ Can be a Game-Changer

GUEST COMMENTARY--I love working with Investing in Place because I get to work with you all towards improving people’s lives and future generations in LA County. I won’t mince words: I ultimately believe that our public budgets are moral documents (Martin Luther King, Jr. said the same) and, frankly, we don’t spend enough to undo historical wrongs and correct underinvestment in low-income communities and communities of color. But Measure M, in my mind, is a game-changer that would transform our transportation system for decades to come, and here’s why…

We’ve pored over every project and every dollar in the measure. We’re convinced this measure respects our county’s diverse communities and their aspirations for a safer and more accessible, sustainable, and equitable transportation system. I’m not saying Measure M — or any transportation investment — is the end all be all for equitable communities, but it certainly is a catalyst. After tracking Metro’s development of the proposed ballot measure for years, Investing in Place is proud to endorse Measure M. Below are the key outcomes that enabled us to make that decision:

Outcome #1: Creating Safe, Walkable Communities

Relatively less expensive projects — like first and last mile improvements, sidewalks, and complete streets — are the glue that holds the rest of the transportation system together. In Measure M, walking and biking have dedicated funding and are integrated into all other projects as part of a cohesive system. The days of dropping projects into communities are over. Metro is planning for better connections and access for all.

Outcome #2: Keeping Buses, Trains, and Infrastructure in Good Shape

As we think about access to jobs and housing, we think about reliability. This is especially important for low-income families that are affected by bus and train delays more than others: if a shift worker is a few minutes late, they could lose their job. If the system is unreliable, they need to pay more of their paycheck for a more expensive transportation option (e.g. a car). Similarly, the condition of our infrastructure (hello, sidewalks!) affects seniors, youth in strollers, and individuals with disabilities. Maintaining what we’re building is important for everyone — but it matters most for our most vulnerable residents.

Outcome #3: Investing in More and Better Bus and Rail Operations

At Investing in Place, we care about transit operations: transit is only useful when the bus or train is there when you need it. Frequency, span, and reliability are what matter for quality service. Bus service has been flat or declining for the past 8 years. If you care about bus service, Measure M provides the resources to have a serious conversation about increasing bus revenue service hours. What that service looks like matters, too. Transit will be even better (and cheaper to operate) when 40 people on a bus or 200 on a train have priority over one or two in a car. For us, this is a simple issue of fairness. Investing in Place wants to see investments in high-ridership corridors with more frequent, all-day service — the original vision for the MetroRapid that has been somewhat watered down. Measure M includes dedicated money for Bus Rapid Transit improvements, which would build the physical infrastructure to support improved operations. These are real operational and infrastructure improvements to our heavily used bus network.

Outcome #4: Investing in Local Street and Sidewalk Repairs

It is no longer sufficient for transportation projects to have a singular focus on mobility. The public right­-of­-way is a significant asset that must be managed to achieve multiple objectives. Local return gives cities more resources to address placemaking, stormwater, complete streets, urban greening, sidewalk repair, crosswalk upgrades, bicycle lanes, and more. Local return is an opportunity, not a guarantee, and community members need to engage collaboratively with local elected officials to set priorities for this funding (and Investing in Place will help!). Measure M brings resources to the table to help local conversations about planning our streets holistically.

Outcome #5: Investing in Better Connectivity Across The County

Measure M will expand opportunity through fast, reliable transit to new areas. Projects from Measure M can provide better access to job-rich areas for under-resourced neighborhoods. For example: the Sepulveda Pass and East San Fernando Valley Corridor connects Pacoima to the Westside; the San Fernando Valley-San Gabriel Valley corridor puts job-rich Glendale and Burbank on the network; the Santa Ana Branch and Gold Line Eastside connect low-income cities in Southeast LA County to downtown LA and industrial zones; the Crenshaw Northern Extension means South LA residents can get to job-rich areas in Mid-City and Hollywood.

Outcome #6: Affordable Fares for Older Adults, Students, and Individuals with Disabilities

Metro has recently revamped their reduced fare programs for college students, and is looking at improvements to other fare subsidy programs. To make these programs work and serve more people, they need more funding and Measure M would provide it. It’s not just about fare discounts — this is about increasing access to education, helping older adults who want to age in their community, and providing a valuable service for individuals with disabilities to get around.

Outcome #7: Maintain Flexibility and Oversight on Program Funding

Measure M provides us the resources to build, operate, and maintain an ambitious transportation system — but we need to stay at the table to hold Metro accountable on delivering for our communities. Measure M has a built-in oversight committee and flexibility to adjust program funding in response to future needs and opportunities.

Through November 8th, we’ll be rolling out more details on why we support Measure M. We invite you to join us in working to pass this measure. As always, we welcome your feedback, reactions, and ideas for working together to ensure our public investments strengthen all our communities.

(Jessica Meaney posts at InvestingInPlace  … where this perspective was first posted. She can be reached at: [email protected]

-cw

Build Bridges Instead of Firewalls: What Went Right, and Wrong … and How to Improve the Next Neighborhood Council Elections

ELECTIONS MANAGER REPORT-(Editor’s Note: This is a lengthy report, agreed. But CityWatch is publishing it because it is an important report, well done and offers solutions not just fault-finding. And, because solving these Neighborhood Council election issues … in particular those related to exclusion … to the future of Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Council System.) In the 2016 Neighborhood Council Elections we encountered many new and positive experiences; but there were also many issues that caused confusion and were detrimental to the process – leaving much of the voting public with a negative view of the election process, procedures, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) and the City Clerk. 

Voters have placed much of the blame on the City, but from the beginning, issues with the voting process and resulting misunderstandings stemmed from the individual neighborhood councils’ bylaws and their attempts to limit or exclude certain stakeholders within their districts. 

First and foremost, it should not be harder to vote for the Neighborhood Council than it is to vote for the President. One thing that could help is the standardization of the ballot voting models. They don't have to be identical -- there could be three or four choices -- but it probably isn't necessary to have 96 different models because so many of these iterations are actually attempts to reach common goals. 

For example, some of the most difficult to navigate models this year were born of attempts to thwart community interest takeovers. There are other ways to prevent that without alienating the entire community by using oppressive restrictions; most likely, the NCs are trying to figure out their own solutions to issues like these without much guidance. So why not identify a short list of priorities or board structure types? Why not build a ballot/voting model around each of these items, then create a menu for the next election cycle from which the NCs can choose? Such a menu could outline the ballot voting model and list its advantages. That way the system would be streamlined in a way that serves the needs of the NCs. 

Now might be a good time to consider ballot voting model reform, since voter documentation has been the subject of recent and ongoing federal court cases. Though quite a few states have passed some sort of voter ID laws, several states have come under scrutiny, and some have been ordered to amend laws that were too restrictive. The ACLU has spoken out against demanding voter IDs, as well. Since it's normally the states’ job to decide on issues related to voter documentation, and since California only requires an ID number (not a copy of the ID) to register, it may actually be best, from a legal standpoint, for the NC system to comply with the state law, especially since the rest of the City does. The NCs cannot hope to become a legitimate part of City government if they continue to operate under qualitatively different laws in this fashion. 

Another major problem with the elections is that the process is often not well-promoted at the local level. Although EmpowerLA has had some responsibility for this, promotion is mostly left in the hands of the NCs and the candidates. But some board members don't know how to promote well enough to get the people already on their mailing lists to come to meetings -- so doing the kind of promotion that would bring new people into the election process, as candidates and voters, is beyond their reach. 

Other board members know how to promote, but if they're running for reelection, they might be reluctant to find their own replacements and so deliberately do not court well-qualified, popular candidates who might bring people to the polls. There are a couple possible solutions for this: EmpowerLA (ELA) can run workshops to train Elections and Outreach Committee members in the months leading up to an election. Or, the way NCs allocate their elections budget can be changed so that part of it goes toward hiring their own outside Elections Manager with event planning and promotion experience. ELA can create a list of approved vendors for this job, much in the way the Department already helps NCs choose vendors for their websites. 

Certainly, one of the biggest issues is that City Council does not adequately fund NC elections so that staff can be hired early enough to thoroughly vet the process. Better funding would ensure that all of the necessary components needed to run a smooth, efficient and transparent election cycle could be bought, leased or developed in a timely manner. 

Below is a list of (1) what was new in the 2016 NC Elections; (2) negative issues surrounding the elections; and (3) potential changes that can make the 2018 elections successful. 

What was New in 2016 

  • Online/digital voting. 
  • Supplied all NC’s with household data for mailings. 
  • 24 election workshops. 
  • TV campaign Citywide. 
  • Radio campaign. 
  • Candidate trainings by regions. 
  • Mayor’s PSA English and Spanish, channel 35 and online used for TWC ads. 
  • Poll Worker pay for all workers. 
  • IEA pay and schedule.I
  • Individual Independent Election Managers.
  • Pop up polls. 
  • Challenge panels. 
  • Staff working with “Selections.” 
  • Artwork collaborated to NCs. 
  • Citywide artwork campaign. 
  • Bus benches and pole banner advertising. 
  • Weekly dedicated Election newsletter. 
  • 24 hour response time. 
  • 1st time 3 polls for 1 selection and system to track voters. 
  • Interactive maps to locate voter qualifications. 
  • Fee free annual street pole banner permit from City Council. 
  • Pre-registration of volunteers and poll workers for Election Day. 
  • Staffed selections for the first time. 
  • Automated counting by the City Clerk. 
  • Nationbuilder: see notes below. 

 

Negative Issues in 2016 

  • 6 Neighborhood Councils failed to hold elections due to a lack of candidates. 
  • Failure to provide updated bylaws in a timely manner causing challenges, staff time loss, and litigation. 
  • Failure of NCs to provide both stip sheets. 
  • Calling both “stip sheets” was confusing to the boards. 
  • Failure of some NCs to have an annual budget on file. 
  • Lack of training for board members of the election process. 
  • No training for online voting process. 
  • Online and paper Registration was too difficult for the average voter.* 
  • Some stip sheets never reviewed causing incorrect ballots. 
  • Wrong information posted on EmpowerLA elections webpages. 
  • Lack of tablets early on in the election process. 
  • Confusion over seating of board. 
  • No staff training for election staffers. 
  • Lack of specific job descriptions causing staff issues. 
  • Internal Voter portal not secure, causing 2 breaches of data. 
  • E1C failure to provide voter portal until 3 days before the last election. 
  • E1C failure to initiate emails. 

E1C failure to have registration portal correct until 3 days before last closing period.

Online marketing director brought on to staff with no mission, direction, or budget to work with. 

  • Failure to train work-time keeping. 
  • Online marketing staff hampered by lack of funding, direction, and mission. 
  • Due to shortage of staff and no shortage of jobs to do, there were periods where the verified voters were not transmitted on a timely basis to E1C, causing many calls and email complaints about length of time to receive pin and passwords. 
  • Failure to educate voters registering for online that they would not receive their pin and password immediately upon registration. 
  • Documentation issues and its confusion caused to both voters and candidates. 
  • Rules for grievance panels made up “on the fly” and then changed when the outcome was “wrong.” 
  • Allowing third-parties to affirm the creation of legal documentation for voters. 
  • Too many “chiefs” led to conflicting and confusing information and internal conflict among staffers. 
  • Polling place staff assignments arriving the night before an election. 
  • Constantly changing election rules and manual. 
  • Communications on Election Day between DONE staff and Elections staff. Many issues where changes were made due to wrong ballots or bylaw interpretations in which DONE staff made a call on the voting but did not transmit the instructions to elections staff or City Clerk staff, causing under votes and failure to count some initial votes. 
  • Expectation that Board members would recruit candidates to run against them. 
  • NCs not wanting to spend their money. 
  • NCs not wanting to do outreach. 
  • NCs not wanting to have elections. 
  • “Rainbow sheet instructions” to poll managers not matching an NC’s bylaws. 
  • Failure to hire Director of Elections early in the process. 
  • Nationbuilder: see notes below. 
  • Everyone Counts 24 hours help line, was not always available. 
  • Issues of ballots vs registrations and human error in verifying if someone voted online and was trying to vote again at the poll. 
  • All portals should have been fully tested and functional no later than September of the year before the elections. Testing in mid-February for portals that are already live is bad business. 
  • Clarification of ballot model is needed. If seats are not challenged, do we put those seats on the ballot anyway? (If no seats are contested, no election). Some councils had only one of a number of seats contested. If a seat is not contested, should it be on the ballot? If no seats are contested, is it election by affirmation, or do you still hold an election and do ballots? The issue is cost savings of taxpayer dollars.  

Potential Changes and Resolutions for the Future 

  • Election manual update to clarify many ambiguous issues. 
  • Acceptable Forms of Documentation manual needs a major update and clarifications. 
  • Bylaws cut-off and internal maps and Ballot voter models earlier dates and added to bylaws as attachments. 
  • Standardize Bylaws.* 
  • Remove documentation-self affirmation only.** 
  • Take away all elections from NC’s and hire election managers for all. 
  • Have staff fully involved in ALL selections. 
  • Mandate spending $10,000 to $13,000 for outreach. 
  • Hire Election Administrator to begin process in fiscal 2016. 
  • Hire Election Staff much earlier. 
  • Get to all boards before the end of 2016/2017 fiscal year and get leftover funds for 2018 elections. Have Board vote 2017/2018 budget money for elections. 
  • Don’t allow Boards to control their election funds - no special board meetings. 
  • Mail every registered voter a ‘vote by mail’ application. 
  • Online all single ballot and self-affirmation NCs. 
  • Potentially mandate all NCs’ self-documentation. 
  • Consider changing stakeholder definition to live in the area only. 
  • Reverse elections by date and region 2018. 
  • Seat all on July 1, 2018. 
  • Lease proper electronic equipment and software for smoother online registration. 
  • Have unified collateral ready by end of 2017 and offered to the NCs for marketing the elections in 2018. 
  • Have one head of elections. This will eliminate issues with staff and voters alike. 
  • When funds have been frozen: This is a major marketing issue as well. NCs with frozen funds should have a special process for election materials so as not to hamper the candidate and voter turnout. 

Seat designations are too cumbersome and need to be simplified. 

If keeping documentation, the manual needs to be laser focus amended to specifics. NO more self-written affirmations. 

There were complaints that the NC bylaws require a ⅔ vote to amend, but that the stip sheets, which override the bylaws, only take a simple majority. It’s a violation of the intent of an NC’s bylaws. 

Combine all stip sheets into one. Having two stip sheets both named “stip sheets” was redundant and confusing to boards causing many to believe they already filed their stip sheet, when in fact it was the 2nd stip sheet that was missing. 

Hire professionals to design the 2018 election collateral materials and negotiate with vendors well in advance for outreach opportunities. 

Nationbuilder 

An online service, Nationbuilder was contracted. The purpose was to gain the voter data from the County Registrar and populate the NC’s data base to market to those voters to join us in the NC elections. 

Most NCs found it hard to sign up for and use. Asking the department staff to do the marketing to the individual NC universe was met with resistance. 

Unfortunately, thinking through the process, there was a hitch: If in fact, the NCs used the system well, and some did, it caused us to be shut down for spamming. While NCs were promised the service, many could not use it as it was shut down in mid-elections. Additionally, some were able to move the data into their own website contact list. 

The Department did use the system to outreach to over 100,000 registered voters. But, it was then shut down in midstream. 

Overall, Nationbuilder could have been a great tool for voter outreach, but it was not thought out thoroughly causing confusion and frustration; it consumed too many staff hours. 

Online Electronic Voting 

There have been accusations that the online voting was compromised and that it did not work. 

For the record: 

  • Pre-registration was very difficult for many and needs to be revamped using driver’s license scanners and QR code printers and readers. This will speed up registration and voting and make it much simpler at the registration desks. 
  • The online system used must be made more user friendly as many attempting to register at home gave up. Uploading documents was cumbersome for many, causing them to not register online. 
  • Pop up polls were hugely successful. Defined rules about pop up polls need to be drawn up and this system should be implemented with protocols and in larger numbers. Go to the people and they will engage. Allow equal opportunity for everyone to have a pop up poll. Be sure to designate an electioneering zone. 
  • Day of election registration needs for bullet point #1 above to be implemented. In addition, additional staff and laptops need to be secured. Tablets are too small and not easily used in registration. 
  • Better protocol needs to be in place to report the preliminary results on the same night on all online NCs. 
  • The period of early voting should be extended. Three weeks was not enough time to get a full effect. 
  • Further define the definition of electioneering. It is broad, ambiguous and unclear to all, including grievance panel members. 
  • With regard to the challenge process: it is important to further define the penalties allowable for the various offenses. They need to be spelled out clearly. 
  • The actual election (tablet voting) was smooth and effective. It should be encouraged. 

“Everyone Counts” did not perform all items as it should have, including but not limited to the voter registration portal. This should be calculated and debited from any payments made to date.   

Election Manager 

The Job Description: Needs more defined tasks and expectations and to be reviewed between client and EM so there is an agreed upon scope of work for the time given to work. 

All election budgets should be worked on in tandem with the Elections Manager (EM) so the client gets the most use out of the talent they hired. Otherwise, that EM is rewriting budgets, going to multiple committee and board meetings to get board approval on every line item. Once approved by the Board, the EM should have control of the election budget and not have to wait for votes on every item. Minutes take 30 days to approve and are not immediate enough to provide proof. One printer carried $25,000 of debt to help facilitate NC printing. 

All Election Committees should be formed one year out. Candidates should not be members of an Election Committee and it is recommended that the President not double as the Election Committee Chair. 

All Election Committees should have set monthly meetings one year out. 

Every NC should have a web page set up in advance with URL /Elections 2018. 

The compensation of $2000 is fine for certain NCs' needs but insufficient for others. There is a wide range of variables that can take up the EM’s time and expertise. These include everything from those NCs that are in exhaustive efforts to those NCs that have everything locked up and are 100% on target with needs and expectations. There are NCs that have fragmented Election Committees and Boards (no consistency in meetings and attendances leads to delays in execution and approval process); NCs that have worked 7-days a week and evenings/days; NCs that have added more work to the already scope of work, etc. 

The EM should have core direct response, advertising and media planning and buying skills. This is IMPERATIVE to add value for the client and be able to lead with experience and garner the best results. 

ELA and Funding needs to have "triggers" in place for "if/when" scenarios. EMs and even ELA learned too late in the game that no annual budget was on file at ELA. 

Expediting vendor payments should be done through EM or Election Chair/Outreach Chair and Funding. Having too many handlers loosens the control mechanism for execution. Turnaround varied and thankfully, since I knew the players at ELA, I could check on the status of payments because I made it my business to follow up and provide a full itemized budget with vendor estimates and names per line item. 

ELA needs to provide each NC with the name and contact info for their field reps so they know their liaisons at ELA. Each field rep should be connected to the Election Committee and EM. 

Early on, we created a Google Folder for IDEAs to NCs to EMs to tap into for Election files, agendas, schedules, timelines, templates, artwork, icons, images, free tools, etc. This is helpful since it enables the NCs to have (a) uniformity in "election" materials for ELA approved images; and (b) one-stop-shopping for outreach. 

Empower people. Trust who is hired once you understand that person's talent and aptitude. 

Allow mistakes to happen so as to learn from them. There is enormous value in trying. 

The NCs were confused when it came to event forms, contracts, who should review them, how long it would take, etc. Again, we need clarity as to who, what, where, when, why and how -- it's all in the education up front. NC funding should not control Election events – they often happen on the spur of the moment. NCs should be allowed to vote a bulk amount of election funding and hand that over to the Elections Manager with the work plan. 

There should be a board transition MOA drafted this year with insight and feedback from NCs. Many felt short-changed in their tenure to serve. Many were unsure of the actual start date of the new board. 

Board Transition needs to be fully flushed out and part of the "candidate" education so NCs can start letting prospective board members know what to expect. This includes the number of meetings per month; the number of hours per meeting; the number of committees to join; who can attend meetings; what are bylaws; who is ELA and how they fit in; who "protects" NCs; what does being "elected" really mean for a Board Member; what happens when a board votes and you are not in favor of that final vote (how to speak and not speak as a board member), etc. 

Many (in some NCs in the Valley) don't like always being first up for elections. 

Some NCs don't like being told that elections must be held on a certain day (weekdays vs. weekends.) 

Poll Workers

Training 

At the least, there should be two sessions of in-depth training/workshops for poll managers and poll workers that are focused on both traditional and online poll sites. Short or non-existent trainings resulted in long registration lines, mistakes and confusion when it came to multiple ballot NC voting. 

Current poll worker training consists of three videos online that are task specific, an optional one-hour long training conducted by department personnel that was choppy and not engaging. 

Workshops should be mandatory, paid, “theatrical” and hands on. 

Communication 

Online voter registration process: The amount of web click-through that it took to reach the online voter registration was counter-intuitive especially when there was an older demographic coming through. Logging in, back into the registration, to submit an attachment (Document) was confusing; we almost never saw anyone take that route. 

A huge factor that contributed to individuals having difficulty submitting headshots or other non-related documents was the lengthy wording and descriptions on the EmpowerLA registration form. It was not at all user friendly or comprehensible to the general public. A clearer, to-the-point registration form link that is located on the front page of the Empower LA website during the election cycle is a better alternative for the future. 

Too many last minute instructions existed concerning tasks, deadlines and policy.  

Online Assessment 

In reviewing the online elections, my observation is as follows: 

We should separate the components of online into: pre-registration, early voting, day of registration and day of voting, Pop up Polls. 

The weakest and most concerning issue is registration. The criticism we received consistently was that registering was just too hard or too cumbersome. Many voters were turned off to the process. 

I recommend changes such as driver’s license readers and slip printers that would have made the day of registration run more smoothly, allowing staff to better register and allow people to vote. We had issues with the handwriting of pin and user names, causing voters to come back to the tables complaining that the information they had was not working. In some cases, we had to revert to paper ballots due to the number of people wanting to register that staff could not handle in a timely manner. 

The pop up polls were successful. Having staff input the information so the voters could vote immediately showed a more than 20% increase to the numbers. 

Regarding the day of voting itself, I believe it was a success. It took less than two minutes for a voter to cast his/her ballot. Even voters who were computer challenged had very little issue with the process. 

There were questions by stakeholders when there was a pop up poll but no voting. This was because the pop up poll was done outside of the 21-day early voting period. This should not happen moving forward. 

Making the registration a more seamless process will greatly enhance the usability of the online voting system. Changing bylaws and documentation requirements will also smooth out many of the wrinkles we experienced. 

The online portal

E1C failed to deliver the voter registration portal until three days before cut off of the last election. 

ELA did a superb job in creating a voter portal. But the DONE portal was not fully secure, causing the Studio City NC problems. This is a financial issue that should be reviewed due to the contractual obligations of E1C not being met in a timely manner. 

The contract with E1C specified that the first payment year would include a build out of 50 NCs. This was not achieved and the fiscal impact should be reviewed. 

I would recommend that an audit of the RFP vs the final contract be done to ensure that the contract in fact mirrored the RFP. 

The vendor promised a 24-hour help line. We had many complaints that stakeholders called the number and left messages that were not returned. 

Post election, it has come to the department’s attention that in at least one case, there was duplicate voting. In addition, in auditing the NC in question, the number of ballots cast does not match the number of registrations submitted. This was by a significant number, causing many additional staff hours spent auditing, as well as fielding concerns by stakeholders that there may have been voter fraud. 

The system to catch a duplicate voter is flawed. It relies on human cross checking and is not seamless. 

This issue, as well as registration, must be addressed before moving forward with any future plans for online voting. One NC has confirmed duplicate votes. It appears that it was caused by human error. A full investigation and report is forthcoming from DONE. (This issue is still outstanding, I believe.) 

Outreach 

The continuing issue of asking NCs to find their own competition is a major reason for the low voter turnout. 

The department did more outreach this year than in prior years, but it was hardly enough. 

Taking away election responsibility for marketing and branding the campaign is crucial to building the success of online as well as analog voting, as well as the visibility and awareness of the NC system as a whole. 

NC’s budget for 2017/18 will be in place next May. Election funding should be in those budgets, not an afterthought. Staff needs to be hired to visit each NC with an outreach plan for the budget no later than April 2017. 

Public Perception 

At many of the polls, especially where documentation was required, the voters perception is that DONE created the rules, and DONE is disenfranchising voters. On too many occasions, from Studio City to Central San Pedro, to Venice, to Park Mesa to Sunland Tujunga, voters complained about the department’s rules about documentation. 

While the voters are incorrect, the reputation of the department is sullied while the issues actually occur due to the neighborhood council bylaw restrictions imposed. 

This goes back to reviewing the policy of acceptable forms of documentation, the rules for self affirmation vs documentation, and considering a method to better standardize bylaws. These issues need to be vetted and addressed before the end of the first quarter of 2017. 

Bylaw changes 

During this cycle, there were issues with receiving amended bylaws after the BVM was created. This caused confusion, and in one case, having to run an election outside of the City Clerk system. 

I suggest that all bylaws must be completed by DONE staff no later than April 30 and sent to the elections team to build the BVM’s. NCs should be encouraged to review their bylaws immediately and trained consultants should be made available to work with them. The bylaws process often takes many months to do properly. The stip sheets should be incorporated into the bylaws (Attachment C) so that the ⅔ approval process is honored. The BVM should be attached to the bylaws as Attachment D. 

Challenges 

The new challenge process was rocky at the start, but after the problem at Studio City, it was seamless. 

The definitions of electioneering and some other portions of the acceptable challenge manual need to be reviewed and clarified. In addition, the acceptable forms of documentation that are required need to be reviewed. Doing so would reduce the challenges dramatically. This year we had 97 challenges vs 97 in 2014. Of the 97, we had 11 duplicate challenges. We had two panels hold hearings of challenges that were upheld. That is two more than in 2014. 

The EA team at Piper Tech handled 5701 online voters. Of those, 1497 did not verify. As I am no longer on staff, DONE needs to match the pre-registered -- but not certified -- with the actual voters list to determine exactly how many were lost. 

In addition, the EA team fielded over 15,000 customer service emails and phone calls. 

Funding and Savings 

Overall, the budget that was allocated for elections Assistants, IEAs and marketing was served more efficiently this year. 

It is estimated that we saved approximately $51,000 from the overall budget covering EAs, IEAs and marketing. 

Selections 

In the past, DONE has NOT been involved in helping those councils that have Selections. This year, we helped staff and brought collateral to most of the NCs that held selections. As is the case of Central and Coastal San Pedro, there were more robust turn outs and engagement. 

Since the Charter/Plan/Ordinance allow either Elections or Selections, the department should be fully involved in helping to guide and properly hold selections. This will benefit the community as a whole. 

Conclusion

First and foremost, the City Council MUST fully fund elections including early hiring, sufficient allocations to do marketing and outreach, and fully funding ALL of the tools needed for a smooth and efficient online election process. This funding must happen no later than December 2016 in order to have the lead time to start the 2018 election process. 

Online elections overall were a success. The fixes needed will make them hugely successful in the future and a model for citywide elections. 

Working on the major points above will allow for smoother, less controversial and more secure elections. 

Doing online, plus adding a vote by mail application mailed to every household, will open the system up to full exposure and an increase in participation. 

Changing and standardizing bylaws will make it easier for the City to administer the elections, easier for stakeholders to understand the process, and will ultimately open up elections to a simple process versus a process built to keep people out. 

Negotiate with Everyone Counts for a rebate due to failure to perform contractual obligations. (Failure to deliver components timely, including but not limited to the Voter Registration Portal.) 

Budget for and hire staff earlier. 

Design and implement a syllabus of training for election staff and for certain staff members who are interjected into elections. 

Allow the Election Manager to manage without interference. Have that person report to either the DONE General Manager or, if elections are run by the City Clerk, report to the City Clerk. 

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

 

Ballot Measure Corruption: Hold the Outrage

CORRUPTION WATCH--“Candidates are increasingly using these [ballot measure] committees as slush funds for unlimited contributions from special interests. They’re paying off lawmakers without technically violating the law. It’s disgusting.” — Kathay Feng (photo above), executive director of California Common Cause, a leading good-government advocacy group, as quoted by the Bay Area News Group

We are supposed to be outraged by the news, via the Bay Area News Group, that the number of ballot measure committees controlled by candidates has grown over the past decade. Adding to the outrage we must feel: BANG’s analysis that only $1 out of every $4 spent by these committees went to passing or killing measures on the ballot.

And the final reason for screaming: much of that money went to cozy up to political donors! With trips! With gifts of suits! With $17,000 worth of appetizers! Kathay Feng of California Common Cause, in the above quote, says that these committees amount to slush funds that represent a way around candidate committees that have limits.

Two reactions: First, hook me up with one of those appetizers (they ought to be great at those prices). Second, hold your outrage and disgust. Statements like Feng’s are self-serving and unfair to elected officials – and create public misunderstanding about how lawmaking works in California.

If anything, the number of ballot measure committees suggest the very opposite of what outraged news reports and goos goos want you to think. The truth is not that too many California politicians have such ballot measure communities. The truth is too few politicians have such committees.

You read that right. BANG reports that just 32 legislators (out of 120 in the California legislature) control ballot measure committees; and only four of the seven state constitutional officers do. That’s scandalously low in California, for one simple reason:

If you are going to make laws in this state, you must be constantly plotting, strategizing and accounting for potential ballot measures. Because California’s ballot initiative process is just so powerful. A measure passed by the voters can’t be undone except by another vote of the people—that inflexibility distinguishes California.

For California lawmakers, this means that any of their policy efforts can be stymied, pressured – or undone permanently – by one ballot measure. In that context, it’s fair to ask if the 88 legislators who don’t have ballot measure committees are doing their jobs.

Such committees constitute a very basic defensive tool. Legislators who are serious about legislating must show strength and constantly be courting donors not merely in support of his or her re-election but in defense of their legislative agenda. You want to build up a fund to show your enemies you’re ready for a ballot fight; and you might want to court or sideline interests or donors that might bring forth a measure that could frustrate your goals.

That’s why the good government attempts to distinguish, as the BANG analysis does, between ballot measure committees giving to ballot campaigns and spending and maintenance of donors are ludicrous. Both donor maintenance and actual ballot contributions are both part of the same game.

In fact, good, strong preventive maintenance of donors is more important — and should be proactive. You don’t want to give to ballot measure campaigns (and so it’s natural, and not corrupt as the goo goos suggest, that 25 of these committees haven’t sent money to ballot measure campaigns). You want to prevent such campaigns from happening in the first place so that your legislation doesn’t get locked into the permafrost of California’s constitution or initiative statutes.

When you understand that legislators with these committees are merely doing their jobs, what then explains the outrage? Part of it is reflexive dislike of anything involving money in politics. But a good part of it is politics by Common Cause and other interest groups, whose power derives from the notion that they represent the public interest and are a check on corruption.

Such groups want leverage and power over politicians, and they themselves use the ballot measure process—making them potential competitors with the pols. Indeed they’ve used the ballot to pursue measures like the redistricting commission, which took power away from politicians, and created more power and influence for the good government folks themselves.

In this context, the expressed outrage about ballot measure committee is disingenuous, and strategic; the goo goos blast politicians for trying to do their jobs when what you’re really doing is constraining their power (and they are already very constrained) and enhancing your own power. Media outlets need to be smarter about giving good government the platform in their stories to speak as a voice of authority; they are just another contestant in the contest for ballot power in California. They shouldn’t be allowed to pose as the good guys.

The hard truth is that California’s ballot initiative system doesn’t leave any room for good guys. It’s all about power—and locking in your preferences.

Now, let’s take a step back. Is it good that our ballot initiative reality forces politicians to have these committees and do this extra fundraising? Of course not. Our inflexible system forces politicians to the ballot, both for defense and offense. And when elected officials use the ballot, that’s not really direct democracy –it’s a plebiscite. And that’s dangerous.

But the way to respond to that is not to attack politicians out of context. After all, they didn’t create this system—voters and interest groups did, often through ballot measure. The goal should be to make the ballot system more flexible.

There are two essential reforms. First, make it harder to change the constitution by initiative. And second, let politicians amend statutes passed by ballot initiative as if the statutes were any other law. That, in turn, would reduce the need for politicians to have ballot measure committees, since they could still change voter-approved laws that went too far without having to play the ballot game themselves.

Such changes would bring California more in line with other states and countries, and would make our system more rational. But in California, the people in power see the rational as unrealistic. These reforms aren’t. In fact, making the ballot initiative process more flexible would have natural allies and financial support. Including from the candidate-controlled ballot measure committees.

(Joe Mathews writes California Connected for Zocalo Public Square. This column was posted at Fox and Hounds.) 

-cw

A Potentially Devastating Blow to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

GELFAND’S WORLD--In a recent column (see the subsection titled Another dog that didn't bark), I mentioned that the new state law mandating vaccination of school age children seems to be going into effect smoothly, with generally high levels of compliance. I speculated that the most extreme anti-vaccination parents were managing to obtain vaccine exemptions for their children by going to a few pediatricians -- the ones who are willing to play the game of declaring nearly normal kids to be medically ineligible for vaccination. 

Perhaps I spoke too soon. 

In that earlier piece, I mentioned that until recently, anti-vaccine parents didn't even need a doctor's note. They just needed to sign something called a personal belief exemption (PBE). I speculated that use of the PBE was often just the result of parental tardiness rather than of deeply held anti-vaccination beliefs. Parents who had neglected to keep their children's vaccinations up to date found that they could still get their children enrolled in school. They just had to sign a piece of paper (the PBE). The new law makes this impossible because the PBE has been abolished. We are now seeing the effect. Parents either have to make an appointment with an expensive pediatrician or make the effort to get the kids their shots. A lot of parents now are just taking their kids to the shot clinic. 

But then there are the more extreme anti-vaccinationists, the ones who blame childhood vaccinations on all manner of ailments including autism. They have to deal with the issue in some other way. Home schooling is one permissible option. Going to a cooperative pediatrician who is willing to write a vaccine exemption letter is another possibility. 

The most famous of those pediatricians is Dr Bob Sears (photo above) of Orange County. Sears is the author of a book on vaccine resistance and was an outspoken opponent of the new state law, SB277. 

The same day that my original column was published, a legal bombshell hit the anti-vaccination community. Bob Sears was charged with negligence by the state medical authorities. 

I won't go into a lot of detail about the charges, except to point out that they involve a parent who obtained a vaccine exemption for a two year old infant. The charges imply that Sears did not follow an adequate level of medical care in his evaluation of the child. The charges make it clear that the state authorities consider Sears' performance to have been negligent (an important word in the practice of medicine), at a level that is bad enough to justify the state taking action against his right to practice medicine in California. 

The story was considered big enough to make the news in the Orange County Register and the L.A. Times, and from there to local radio. It expanded to become a worldwide internet discussion. That the state's action is more than just a complaint about medical incompetence was explored in the opening paragraphs of Matt Hamilton's story in the Times

Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician and nationally known critic of vaccination laws, faces the loss of his medical license after the state medical board accused him of improperly excusing a toddler from immunization and endangering both the child and the public. 

The Medical Board of California contends in legal documents released Thursday that Sears committed “gross negligence” and deviated from standard practice when he issued a letter in 2014 prescribing no more vaccines for the child. 

In other words, the state of California is going after Sears because of his approach to childhood vaccination. We can paraphrase the state's message to California doctors as follows: You can write vaccine exemptions when they are medically indicated, but you have to follow the principles and standards of accepted medical practice. Doctors who wish to continue playing the vaccination exemption game will probably be able to do so, but they will have to document each exemption by taking a medical history, examining the patient, and keeping adequate records. You might say that the state of California is requiring that vaccine exemption needs to be considered just as seriously as you would consider a possible case of pneumonia in a young patient. 

Some critics are going to point out that the state of California is being tougher about vaccines than it is about marijuana use. It's no secret that getting a certificate recommending the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is simply a matter of visiting one of the clinics that advertises for your business. Some of these clinics have actually used signs the size of small billboards to bring in the marijuana users. 

Others may recall the days during the Viet Nam War when young men sought exemptions from the draft. There were a lot of doctors who were sympathetic and would supply a letter to your draft board if there was some finding that could justify a draft exemption. It was obvious at the time that some doctors pushed the limits of medical science in writing those letters. 

Is Dr Bob Sears doing anything all that different or all that worse than the medical marijuana certificate mills or the anti-draft doctors of the 1960s? There is a pretty good case that from the public health standpoint, he is. The medical board's position about Dr Sears endangering the wider public, in addition to the specific child, makes exactly that point. It's also obvious that unvaccinated children are at increased risk of catching whooping cough and other contagious diseases. 

What about the political and social implications of the state's action? 

The charges against Sears cannot help but create a stultifying effect on pediatricians who have been merchandising themselves as anti-vaccine practitioners, and on those who have been considering doing so. They are all thinking things through very carefully at the moment. The upside to writing slightly spurious vaccine exemptions is to build one's medical practice and to gain the gratitude of anti-vaccine parents. The downside is the possible loss of one's career. 

Dr. Sears responded to the public thrashing by announcing the charges on his internet page. This resulted in angry (and anguished) comments by his supporters. For people who really believe that vaccination can lead to autism, Dr. Sears was their life preserver in a sea of hostility. They don't want to lose him. 

The effect of the state's action, however well justified, is to further stimulate the fight that for one brief moment seemed to be dying down. Some pediatricians willing to deal with anti-vaccine parents may figure out how to walk the tightrope and write those exemption letters. Others may figure out that it's not worth the effort. But no licensed physician in the state of California is likely to run an anti-vaccine exemption mill in the way that the medical marijuana mills have been run. 

Hillary gets pneumonia 

Late night comedians will be dusting off the Prevnar jokes. Unlike Vince Foster, she didn't get this one done. (If you didn't see the commercial, this line will be meaningless to you.) Reporters will explain to the Libertarian candidate that laryngitis is not a city in the middle east. Some comedian who went to college will connect Bill Clinton with the word pneumococcus. 

But I'm going to treat this illness as an experiment. You see, I have no reason to assume that the diagnosis of pneumonia is anything but 100% true. What reason would they have to fake it? She's been coughing, weak, and feverish for days or weeks, and her doctor confirmed the diagnosis. 

But my prediction is that within hours, we will be deluged with speculations about what Hillary has, why the pneumonia story serves a villainous end, and how the subterfuge is being managed by the mass media. The paranoia will flow and burst into flame. Figure Wednesday at the latest.

 

And because we are imagining this now, before it has taken off, we can treat it as a new episode of Hillary Derangement Syndrome (HDS). The point of our observing HDS after the pneumonia diagnosis is that it will demonstrate how unbelievable all those previous episodes of HDS were.

 

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

-cw

Will LA City Council and Mayor Garcetti Approve a Scary ‘Black Lung Loft’ Next to the 101 Freeway?

VOX POP--AMCAL Multi-Housing, Inc. wants to build 335 apartments next to the 101 Freeway in Woodland Hills, although scientific studies have shown that freeway-adjacent housing, also known as “Black Lung Lofts,” can be extremely unhealthy for children and pregnant women. Since the mega-project seeks height district and zone changes, the developer needs approvals from the LA City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti. What will they do?

Read more ...

Where the Hell is the Outrage! Transparency Bills Fail Leaving Calif Beach Biz Behind Closed Doors

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Two bills that would have improved transparency at the California Coastal Commission were defeated last week, disclosing a slant toward business, labor, and pro-development interests. A third measure that would mandate one of the commission’s fifteen members to be from a low-income minority community that is impacted by environmental problems did pass the Assembly and is headed for Governor Brown’s desk. 

Senate Bill 1190, sponsored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would have banned ex-parte contacts between commissioners and developers, lobbyists, environmentalists and others with an interest in the commission’s decisions. Forty-seven assembly members voted against the bill, with 21 abstentions. Only twelve members supported the bill. 

Jackson’s bill had an endorsement from the Coastal Commission and was passed in the Senate but the measure faced resistance in the Assembly from a roster of organizations, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Chamber of Commerce, the Western States Petroleum Assn., and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, as well as the California League of United Latin American Citizens and lobbyist Susan McCabe who represents development interests.

The bill’s opponents used the “free speech” argument alleging that the ban would restrict labor representatives, developers and others from providing their views to commission members. The California Coastal Act requires commissions to stick to issues like public coastal access and environmental issues, not business or economic benefits. If commissioners do not follow these guidelines, their decisions can be challenged in court. 

Supporters of the bill state that most ex-parte contacts are between commissioners and developers looking for approval along California’s coastline, which can impact the fairness of subsequent proceedings. In lieu of ex-parte meetings, developers and others, they say, should address their concerns during public hearings and not behind closed doors.

Assembly Bill 2002, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), would have required anyone who lobbies the Coastal Commission to register with the state and to disclose clients with business before the commission. The bill would also have fast-tracked reporting of ex-parte meetings and made the disclosures more accessible to the public.

The measure faced an uphill battle due to the two-thirds vote requirement, as it would have amended the Political Reform Act. The bill failed to pass in the Senate. Opposition to the bill included lobbyists, construction, real estate and agricultural interests, the same groups that also worked to defeat the ex-parte bill. 

The beleaguered Coastal Commission has been under scrutiny by courts and the media for its lack of transparency in reporting ex-parte meetings or reporting them late and without much detail, all of which appear to violate statutory requirements. Just over two weeks ago, Spotlight on Coastal Corruption and attorney Cory Briggs filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court, alleging that five coastal commissioners (Chairman Steve Kinsey, Erik Howell, Martha McClure, Wendy Mitchell and Mark Vargas) had violated ex-parte disclosure rules 590 times. 

Until we see complete transparency and a ban of ex-parte meetings, the Coastal Commission will answer to special interests with deep pockets. Our miles of coastline will be up for grabs, sold to the highest bidder. You could lose you California beach. I ask again, where the hell is the outrage!?

 

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

Vote Trading, Secrecy and LA’s Culture of Criminality

CORRUPTION WATCH-CityWatch has had a few articles recently about the harm which secrecy does to our society. On September 5, 2016, Daniel Guss described, in “Garcetti Playing Dirty Pool?”  the behind the scenes attack on John Vidovich of the Los Angeles Fire Department. It seems his misdeeds were reduced to the number uninspected buildings in Los Angeles and trying to save the homes and lives of those living in the Hollywood Hills near Lake Hollywood. 

On the same day, CityWatch ran a piece about the harm that the Brown Act’s secrecy causes by permitting city government to hide its corrupt machinations from the public. 

CityWatch has also written more than a few times about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that calls for no more secret meetings between developers and city councilmembers. 

A major factor in this widespread secrecy is the unanimous voting at City Council where all items pass unanimously. As reported by the Los Feliz Ledger, Councilmember David Ryu admits that it is futile to vote No since all the other councilmembers will vote Yes. Ryu’s reasoning seems to be: What sense would it make to expose the dirt behind the scenes when each councilmember is obligated to vote Yes? 

A Case Study of Secrecy and How It Pollutes Society 

Let’s take a look at just one case of secrecy that shows the relationship between not only the secret dealings between developers and city councilmembers, but illustrates how the entire system is enveloped in a cloud of criminality. We shall analyze the secret dealings between Councilmember Krekorian’s Office, City Planning and the developer to see how Marilyn Monroe’s home was demolished and how the entire system, including the courts, closed ranks to protect the criminal voting system at City Hall. 

Developer Purchased Marilyn Monroe’s Former Home, Knowing its Historical Significance 

The listing for the family home at 5258 Hermitage Avenue in Valley Village included the express statement of that it was the former home of Marilyn Monroe. Thus, when the developer bought the property, he already knew he had a problem. 

Although the City still has failed to provide all the documentation about the contacts between Councilmember Krekorian’s office and the developer, during litigation a significant email was discovered from the developer’s attorney to City Planning stating: 

From: Mary Neifert <[email protected]>

Date: Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 1:03 PM, Subject: 5258 Hermitage Historical Assessment

To: [email protected]

Hi Tom,

The APC appeal hearing is

Per your suggestion last month, the owner of 5258 Hermitage Avenue had a historical assessment done on the property to defend against the appeal on file. I have attached it hereto for your review. Hopefully it can be included in your report to the Committee. Please contact me if you need any further information. 

This email was not shared with the public. Not only does it tell us was there was prior contact between the developer and City Planning, but it also reveals that City Planning had expressly asked the developer to prepare a biased report against finding any historical value to Marilyn Monroe’s former home. In case anyone questions whether this communication between the developer and City Planning was intended to be secret, the attorney concludes with: 

The contents of this email and any attachments are confidential and may be protected attorney work product or subject to the attorney client privilege. If you are not the intended recipient, kindly notify Mary Neifert immediately by telephone at **** - or by e-mail at****.com. Please also destroy all copies of this message and any attachments hereto. 

While the City has chosen to keep the prior contacts between Councilmember Krekorian, City Planning and the developer secret, it is clear that prior to receiving any data about the property’s historical status, City Planning was asking the developer to provide a slanted report on which the Planning Department’s Ken Bernstein could then rely to claim that there was no historical significance to Marilyn’s home.   

In what type society is the City allowed to be the biased and dishonest advocate for a developer who wants to destroy a historic structure? On April 9, 2015, we found this email from City Planning’s Ken Bernstein. 

Ken Bernstein <[email protected]> Zhu, Apr 9, 2015 at 12:47 PNI

To: Tom Henry <[email protected]>

Cc: Tom Glick [email protected]>, Lambert Giessinger <[email protected]>

Thanks, Tom, for checking back with us on this — I hadn't noticed that the APC hearing was happening today. Yes, we reviewed the ARG historic resources assessment, found it complete, and agreed with the findings.

understand from Lambert that another consultant, Charlie Fisher, may raise the argument that Marilyn Monroe was first discovered during the period she lived at this property, but I would agree with ARG's conclusion that this alone isn't sufficient to make the building eligible for designation.

Ken, Ken Bernstein, AICP, Manager, Office of Historic Resources. & Principal City Planner, Policy Planning 

Ken Bernstein’s office, which had requested the biased ARG report, agrees with the report’s conclusion, despite the fact that he has learned that the community will be submitting a report from noted historian Charlie Fisher. Nonetheless, without bothering to wait for the Charlie Fisher report, Ken Bernstein agrees that the home is not significant.   

About one hour later at 1:49 pm, and before that afternoon’s meeting of the Area Planning Commission, Ken Bernstein re-writes his email with some interesting changes. 

On Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 1:49 PM, Ken Bernstein <[email protected]> wrote: 

Tom,

I wanted to let you know that the Office of Historic Resources' staff did review the historic resource assessment for 5258 Hermitage, prepared by Architectural Resources Group. We found the report to be thorough and complete, and concurred with the report's findings. While we understand that Marilyn Monroe was initially "discovered" to begin her modeling career while living at this property, this alone is not sufficient to qualify the property for historic designation. Our eligibility standards for Survey LA, our citywide historic resources survey, are consistent with the guidance from the National Park Service: properties achieving eligibility for designation due to their association with historic persons should be those associated "with a person's productive life, reflecting the time period when he or she achieved significance." Because this property is from the earliest stages of Monroe's career, and she was not discovered at this particular site, the historic association at this site is not sufficient to meet designation criteria.

Ken, Ken Bernstein, AICP, Manager, Office of Historic Resources & Principal City Planner, Policy Planning 

Here we see secrecy in action. Any mention of Charlie Fisher and his report has been deleted. Ken Bernstein, who is the Manager of the Office of Historic Resources, is concealing that fact that there will be another historic report with a different conclusion. Wouldn’t one think that the Area Planning Commission would like to know that there is contrary report?   

While Ken Bernstein refers to the ARG (Architectural Resources Group), one could never find that Ken Bernstein allowed the Area Planning Commission to see the ARG report. Thus, we have double secrecy: The actual ARG report and the fact that it had been solicited to be biased are withheld from the Area Planning Commission. It turns out that the ARG report contained many facts which showed that the property had historical significance and that its conclusion was not supported by its facts. Thus, one may reason that the contents of the ARG report were kept secret from the Area Planning Commission because the Commission disagreed with Mr. Bernstein and it might decide that the city should conduct a study of alternatives to demolishing the home. 

SaveValleyVillage Sues the City of Los Angeles 

SaveValleyVillage sued the City and the developer over destruction of Marilyn’s Valley Village home due to its failure to proceed in the correct legal manner. For the legal case, the city was required to identify all pertinent documents so that they could be included in the Administrative Record on which the court would base its opinion. 

Did City Planning provide any copy of the ARG Report on which Ken Bernstein said he relied? No. Although the city certified that it had produced everything, the ARG report remained secret. Ken Bernstein also failed to provide the City Attorney’s Office a copy of the Charlie Fisher report which explained why the property had historical significance. Thus, City Planning had cleansed the Administrative Record of any historical report from which SaveValleyVillage could argue that the property had historic significance. Also, there is no reason to believe that the City Attorney’s Office knew about the missing documentation. 

After SavevalleyVillage had submitted its brief to the court, the City saw that a member of the public had attached the crucial four pages of the Charlie Fisher report to an email and that those four pages, which had not been routed through Mr. Ken Bernstein, had made it into the Administrative Record. 

This breach of secrecy was devastating to the developer and to Ken Bernstein’s opinion. The only factual evidence in the Administrative Record supported the position that Marilyn’s home had historic significance. 

Then and only then a miracle occurred: the City Planning “discovered” the ARG report. Despite the fact that SaveValleyVillage had already submitted its brief and had laid out its entire case for all to see, the court thought that it should consider the ARG Report. The court believed that if Ken Bernstein had the opportunity to review the ARG report in secret and to conceal the ARG Report from the Area Planning Commission and keep it out of the Administrative Record, then the court should most certainly rely on that secret document. Why, anything less would be unfair.

In rendering his August 29 decision, Judge Fruin relied on a case from August 12, 2016 even though the briefing in his Marilyn Monroe case had been completed in July.

The Criminogenic Nature of Los Angeles Culture 

Members of the public need to understand the criminogenic culture that permeates Los Angeles. The lynchpin in this criminal culture is the vote trading pact which Penal Code § 86 criminalized in 2006. 

If city councilmembers were free to complain about and vote against a developer who secretly colluded with the Department of Planning to destroy Marilyn’s home, then Councilmembers such as Paul Krekorian might not feel so secure in being able to subvert the law. Without the City Council’s criminal voting pact, Councilmember Krekorian would have had to risk the project’s being voted down due to the illicit manner in which the council office, city planning and the developer conspired to destroy the property. 

The public needs to understand the vital importance that the criminal voting pact plays in Los Angeles. It allows every councilmember to know that no matter how illegal a project may be, no matter what may have transpired in secret behind closed doors, his or her project is guaranteed unanimous support. What good is secrecy between the council offices, city planning and developers when it can be brought into the open during a public debate a city council? 

If the City had followed CEQA and issued an Environmental Impact Report concerning the limited issue of the historic significance of Marilyn Monroe’s home, one CEQA alternative would have been to move the small structure to another location. For example, the Lasky Production Barn was moved from Gower Gulch in Hollywood to opposite the Hollywood Bowl. 

As for the City’s permitting the public forum, which an EIR would have provided, Judge Fruin wrote: 

Petitioner suggests that the structures, or at least the back house in which Norm Jeane and her mother-in-law lived, could have been moved to a different location and serve as a Hollywood attraction. See rd Am. Pet. @ 21:23-25 and 22: 2-6; see also Pet. Br., p.8 and Reply Br., p.8. (Moving a structure to a different location is considered to diminish its historical integrity. [bold added] August 29, 2016 Statement of Decision page 8 ¶2 

Thus, Judge Fruin seems to believe that considering the historic value of Marilyn Monroe’s Valley Village home would have been a waste of time since moving a historic structure “diminishes it historical integrity.” Apparently, smashing it to smithereens so that not even a match stick size parcel of wood remains is a suitable option to relocating the home. 

Judge Fruin shows no concern about Mr. Bernstein’s secrecy or his own reliance on a report which the developer’s own attorney admits was asked to be biased against finding the property to have historic significance. In some judicial systems, judges question the reliability of such evidence. 

Could there be any stronger judicial support for secretive collusion between a developer and the City than relying wholeheartedly on a secret report that was solicited to be biased and withheld from the Administrative Record? 

Secrecy and the culture of criminality go hand in hand.

 

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

Point & Counterpoint: No Matter the Name, ‘Black-Focused Housing’ at Cal State LA is Still Racism

NO ON BLACK HOUSING-To quote the late, great Martin Luther King, who deserves his own holiday as much as any President, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  Well, at CSULA, we've got no dream … we’ve got a nightmare:  a New Racism, as repugnant and dangerous as any Old Racism we've ever seen. 

I'm sure there are a few "diversity" types or "social justice warrior" types, who will defend the "living learning community" of black-focused housing at Cal State Los Angeles, and to those creepy types I wish them all the racist monikers and scorn they richly deserve. 

Shall we have separate bathrooms and water fountains for African-American students, but this time of

THEIR choosing to make it all "better"?  How about black robes with eyes cut out, for good measure, so those living at the black-focused housing can recognize a fellow self-excluded member and feel "safe"?  

Perhaps we can have some "white-focused" housing, too, now that we're going "full-on racist"? 

Yes, these ARE very harsh criticisms and statements, but after a half-century of our nation fighting to create a melting pot in America, which Martin Luther King and his heroic team of TRUE "social justice warriors" fought to make real in the United States (and not just diversity among white/European backgrounds), this regressive CSULA housing experiment is such a horrific step backwards that it should be stopped altogether. 

As a physician who worked for outreach to minority students to attend my medical school in Texas, and who still advocates for more medical Spanish and cultural sensitivity to be taught to medical professionals, I've also observed the need for patients and professionals alike to get over their cultural differences. 

We're "culturally-sensitive," which is smart and just, but are we as a society brave and demanding of our need to get over those cultural barriers, and to emphasize that there's only one race--the human race? 

And that we're of one people--the American People--in this nation? 

The only exclusive/cultural needs that might be open for housing is for those based on gender and sexual preference ... although those, too, have their risks in a society that has to live with and work with each other.  So while LGBTQ and single-sex housing might make for greater comfort to those living there, it's best for all of us to end bullying and fighting to coexist. 

College is supposed to prepare us for the real world, and any successful American will not get to his/her goals without confronting the differences and similarities of our fellow human beings.

Certainly, any black student who truly wants to succeed will have nothing to do with this form of housing--which is publicly-funded, and should be subject to appropriate rules and governmental oversight. There remains the option of black colleges, but sooner or later there comes a time when anyone and everyone must choose to address and (hopefully!) befriend ALL our fellow Americans. 

There is an answer to this nightmare at CSULA, and it's premised on the "community" being open to all students (there is a waiting list, however): 

It is my hope that all Asian, Latino, and white students truly interested in learning about the segment of our nation who happens to be African-American apply to live there.  Let diversity really work, and let enough non-black students attend so that the "safety" of an all-black-only student housing community is prevented ... because that "safety" can only lead to racial division (which we do NOT need!). 

The education of what it is like to grow up black in America is fundamental to all of us.  And ditto to learn what it is like to grow up Latino, Asian, and even white (which ranges from Italian to Greek to Jewish, just as "Latino" ranges from Mexican to Cuban to Peruvian). 

The medical group I work at, and the other medical groups I worked at previously, had black, Latino and Asian leaders ... but the ethnic background was de-emphasized in favor of excellence. 

There's a time when we need to talk, and to debate, and to learn.  Then there's a time to act, and to live, and to make a stand. 

I'll go with the time-tested and time-proven "melting pot" of what best makes our nation special.

The New Racism at CSULA is as repugnant and deserving of scorn as any Old Racism.  It stinks, and belongs on the trash heap of failed ideas as much as Jim Crow laws, Socialism, Fascism, and Communism.

I'll stick with MLK's ideals, and eschew the KKK ... in whatever hellish form any wannabe separatist, racist new trend may show up.  Black separatism is as pathetic as any White separatism. 

Hey, CSULA!  Show some real "character" and end this form of New Racism! 

 

(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

Point & Counter Point: 'Black Only-Housing' by Cal State LA Makes Sense

YES ON BLACK HOUSING--California State University of Los Angeles was right to establish black-only residence areas for its students.

In November 2015, the Black Student Union at Cal State LA wrote a letter to University President William A. Covino explaining feelings of victimization that they had experienced on campus.

The letter, found on the Afrikan Black Coalition’s website, reads, “Racially insensitive remarks, and micro-aggressions, by professors and students create a learning environment that is not conducive to the overall learning atmosphere. This presents unnecessary barriers to the success of Black students here on campus.”

In addition to the students’ accounts of racism on campus, the letter contains a list of demands to resolve some of the issues, including black-only housing options.

“WE DEMAND the creation and financial support of a CSLA housing space delegated for Black students and a full time Resident Director who can cater to the needs of Black students,” wrote members of Cal State LA’s Black Student Union.

After feeling victimized due to racial prejudices, members of the union were justified in their request for segregated housing.

The Mission Statement of Cal State LA’s Housing Services Program reads, “As a community of scholars in support of the University, we endeavor to build residents’ capacity for academic achievement, leadership and global citizenship.”

Housing Services cannot complete this goal if residents are feeling attacked in their own homes.

Members of the Black Student Union also conveyed the need for more affordable housing options.  In their letter to President Covino, the students said that Black-Only Housing options would provide African-American students with more affordable living options on campus.

Cal State made the right move by responding to the demands sensitively.

According to College Fix, the university is opening the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community for the first time during the 2016 Fall Semester. The community “focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory,” said Cal State LA spokesperson Robert Lopez in an email to College Fix.

The LA-based university is not the only college to offer segregated housing options for black students. UCONN, UC Berkley, and UC Davis have residence halls that provide black students the opportunity to form living arrangements with each other.

The addition of the Halisi Scholars Learning Community could contribute to awareness of the racially-charged problems that plague the campus. In addition to black-only housing, the Black Student Union demanded that all faculty and staff complete cultural competency training.

Perhaps the combination of the new living and learning options and increased cultural awareness on the university’s campus will provide a more inclusive atmosphere for all students.

(Mark Jones posts at Opposing Views  … where this piece originated.)

-cw 

Let the Wright Confirmation Hearings be an Opportunity for Real LADWP Reform

GUEST COMMENTARY-After Marcie Edwards announced her retirement as General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Mayor Garcetti chose the department's Chief Operating Officer, David Wright, to replace her. 

Wright, who is currently serving as Interim General Manager, was an obvious choice in some respects. His experience in public utilities is deep. 

But DWP is a department with serious problems. Its workers and management are compensated significantly more than other city employees or other similar employees around the country. DWP is the eighth worst public utility in the United States, in terms of consumer satisfaction. 

Is Wright the best choice to lead DWP into its next era? Will he be the leader who can reform one of the city's most inefficient and hated institutions? The answers to those questions are unclear. 

Wright will need to be confirmed by the LA City Council in order to serve as permanent GM. This is a real opportunity for the Council to show their constituents they take DWP reform seriously. All too often the Council has served as a rubber stamp for the Mayor's policies and decisions. That can‘t happen here. 

Wright's track record and plans to improve the department need to be carefully scrutinized. He needs to honestly and thoroughly address five areas of questions.                                                                                                          

How is he planning to overhaul the massive bureaucracy of DWP to work for its ratepayers rather than its union and management? What are his plans for the department’s workforce numbers and future collective bargaining agreements? 

How will he increase the department's use of renewable energy and decrease its dependence on coal fired power plants? 

How will DWP respond to the drought if it continues another five years? Ten years? How can we continue to meet water reduction targets? 

What is his plan to improve customer satisfaction? How will he convince the public to trust DWP management? 

Finally, what can the City Council, the Mayor, and public expect in terms of a timeline for reform? What are the metrics and benchmarks he will use to measure success? 

This confirmation process should be a vigorous and thoughtful debate. No 15-0 vote after a one day hearing. No rubber stamping. This is serious, and it's an opportunity the City Council should not pass up.

 

(Mitchell Schwartz is candidate for Los Angeles Mayor 2017.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Lawsuit: The Rams are Ripping Off the Taxpayers and LAPD Detectives … Cases Stacking Up

JUST THE FACTS— I recently filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and LAPD for forcing LAPD Detectives and others to work on duty at Ram’s Football Games at the Coliseum. 

While the Ram’s are willing to pay for LAPD security inside the Coliseum, they are not willing to pay for the LAPD personnel working outside the Coliseum. 

There is no doubt that security is necessary to protect the fans and their vehicles as they park and pay up to $100 to a gas station operator or homeowner along Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd since parking is so limited at the Coliseum. LAPD detective personnel forced to work the detail on a working day means that they have to take a day off during the week and their cases are stacking up more and more. 

While the LAPD has run out of patrol officers to police the city and work the Coliseum, it has become necessary to assign detective personnel to work the Ram’s games for public safety. This is a gift of public funds and that is the basis of my lawsuit against the city. 

With the owner of the Rams, Mr. Stan Kroenke, worth an estimated $8 BILLION DOLLARS and the Rams valued at $3 BILLION DOLLARS, don’t feel sorry for Mr. Kroenke. Mr. Kroenke and the Rams need to pay for all the security at the Ram’s games at the Coliseum. I hope this matter is settled sooner rather than later for the benefit of the LAPD Personnel and citizens of Los Angeles.

●●

When Elected Officials pledge to improve our quality of life, there is a cost. That cost comes in various forms. It could be higher fees or taxes or bond measures. It all comes down to all of us paying more … one way or another. 

Here are 4 of the proposed Los Angeles City measures that you will be able to vote on when you go to the election booth on November 8, 2016.

  1. I will start out with the pressing matter of the Homeless in our region. There is a Homeless Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond. This is Proposition H. 
  1. Then there is the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards related to City Planning. This is Initiative Ordinance J. 
  1. With our Water and Power rates increasing over the coming years, The City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to change the Commission’s structure. This is Charter Amendment R. 
  1. The City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions impacting Airport Peace Officers. Charter Amendment S. 

These 4 Los Angeles Ballot Measures are allegedly created to improve the living conditions and services in Los Angeles. Will they accomplish that or just cost you more money in various forms of taxes and or fees. 

Now comes the good part. I will expose the truth of the measures and hopefully encourage you to vote to improve city services without taking more money out of your pocket. 

The first item is the Homeless Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond. Proposition H.     

This measure will provide a $1,200,000,000 General Obligation Bond to develop housing and facilities for the homeless and affordable housing for those at risk of homelessness. Using the Comprehensive Homeless Strategy that was adopted by the city on Feb 9, 2016, the housing need calls for 13,000 units of new housing including 10,000 units of supportive housing for the homeless in Los Angeles.   

The measure will require the following to gain the public trust, if that is possible. 

  1. An Annual Plan that prioritizes funding for supportive housing and facilities and the necessary bond issuance to finance those development
  2. Establish a Citizens Oversight and Administrative Oversight Committees to monitor the bond program. 
  3. Produce an annual financial audit that will be available to the public. 

This measure will become effective if two-thirds of the voters support it. 

With Governor Brown unwilling to accept that Los Angeles has a Homeless Emergency as declared by L.A City leaders, and without state funds to help reduce the Homeless population in Los Angeles, is it necessary to float a Bond to the tune of $1,200,000,000 dollars to help reduce the homeless population? 

There is no doubt that the Homeless Population is increasing and something has to be done to address it. Will the 13,000 Homeless units be in your neighborhood or on your street? Are you willing to accept that? The latest homeless count in Los Angeles listed 26,000 as homeless with and 11% increase over last year. Will there be more and more homeless coming to Los Angeles as housing is provided to assist them? 

I will address the three other measures in my future articles.

(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. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected].)

-cw

 

If You Have Power, You Don’t Need ‘Empowerment’

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you want to understand the deeper politics of empowerment, especially when it comes to Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles, please read on

This is the political essence of empowerment: no one who has power bothers to become empowered.

They are already the decision makers, what George W. Bush called the “deciders.” This is the essence of their governmental power. And, no one who has been “empowered” actually has any real power because they are still NOT the decision makers. 

Read more ...

DWP Reform: Don’t Even Bother to Read the Ballot Arguments

EASTSIDER-As we move closer to November, the subject of DWP Reform is still front and center in the media, including CityWatch. The reform issue itself is serious business, for the simple reason that, win or lose, this will likely be the last DWP reform measure for a longtime to come. 

Sadly, most voters will only know about Charter Amendment RRR, as it is named, based on the YES and NO arguments in their in their Voter Guide. And that’s assuming that they even read the arguments. Truth is, very few people even read the LA Times anymore, and there is virtually no coverage at all about DWP Reform on the cable and network television “news” channels. Even the CityWatch audience, great as it is, consists of a drop in the bucket in terms of the total number of registered voters in Los Angeles for the November 8 General Election. 

The Ballot Arguments 

It’s a shame, because the arguments for and against Charter Amendment RRR, aren’t really helpful in trying to understand what the Amendment is about and what it really means. Remember we tend to forget that, by definition, ballot arguments are political arguments, not analysis. Persuasion, not truth, is their goal. Further, the names associated with the pro Arguments are a bit misleading, as they imply wholehearted endorsement. 

For example, you will see Marcie Edwards (General Manager of DWP), Mel Levine (DWP Board President) and Dr. Fred Pickel (Ratepayer Advocate) listed on the YES statement. If you look beyond the names, however, their appearance as YES proponents does not imply unqualified enthusiasm. Marcie Edwards was appointed by the Mayor, and so was Mel Levine, and they serve at his pleasure. So you will never know what they really think. Dr. Pickel was charged with drafting the YES ballot argument itself, so again, his name does not necessarily reflect what his personal opinion/beliefs may be. 

Not to belabor the point, but the Mayor appoints the entire DWP Board of Directors, guaranteeing that, notwithstanding what they might want or say in private, their input had little to do with the City Council sausage making machine that produced Charter Amendment RRR. 

I don’t know who actually penned the NO argument, but it’s also fairly misleading, as you can expect from those opposed to a ballot measure. For example, RRR is described as a “power grab by the DWP,” but the measure was in fact concocted by the LA City Council, not the DWP. Actually, you could argue that DWP reform started out because Councilmember Fuentes was looking for another full time gig as a DWP Commissioner. This because the unpopular “worst legislator in California” knew he would be voted out of office if he ran again for City Council. 

A Taste of the Real Language 

Truth is, if you actually read the ballot language, it is some 16 pages of highly technical, complex and often difficult to understand language. Even those of us who have tracked the evolution of the measure from the beginning get buried in the verbiage. There is no simple “yes” or “no” answer to the proposed Charter amendment. 

Contracting 

While those in opposition to the measure cry out that the City Council will lose all authority over contracts by the proposed DWP Board, the actual language doesn’t say this. 

In one of those statutory gobbledygook twists of the English language, Section 245 of the LA City Charter, details the City Council’s ability to veto Board actions, including those of the DWP. The subsection containing the DWP’s ability to use delegated authority to enter into contracts, lists the following as being exempt from Council review: 

(8) … “actions of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners regarding contracts involving consideration reasonably valued at less than an amount specified by ordinance...” 

In other words, the LA City Council gets to write whatever ordinance they want that sets the threshold for Council review of DWP contracts. That amount could be the same as it is now, or it could be X millions of dollars. Either way, the City Council, not the DWP Board, determines the amount. Not only that, if I remember correctly, it only takes about 90 days to revise any ordinance that the Council doesn’t like. (Just in case they get it wrong the first time.) 

Civil Service 

If you think the delegation language is ambiguous, check out the so-called “elimination of Civil Service for DWP” referred to in the ballot arguments. I will not quote the proposed Charter text here, since the language goes on for about two pages in the Resolution and makes the contracting language look like a masterpiece of clarity. For the brave, you can read the full text of City Charter Amendment RRR here.  Look starting at the end of page 11 for the text concerning civil service. 

Honestly, even reading the language is no help unless you’re an expert on public sector employment law. As I noted in a prior CityWatch article:

“As to the proposed amendment on personnel and hiring, I can only say that my hat’s off to an absolute masterpiece of obfuscation, persiflage, and all round mealy-mouth platitudes. Clearly, over the years Council President Herb Wesson has mastered the art of writing a lot of words while saying nothing, and he has really outdone himself in this one. 

“For example, the ‘salary setting authority’ ‘may’ waive some or all of the Civil Service requirements ‘pursuant to a legally binding collectively bargained MOU.’ Then there are further requirements that the ‘waivers’ would have to maintain ‘specific merit system standards.’ Finally the Council ‘may’ but doesn’t have to, even designate the new DWP Board as the ‘salary setting authority.’” 

Unlimited power to set Rate Increases

The opponents of the measure argue that the DWP and its “bureaucrats” will have the unfettered ability to jack up our rates with virtually no oversight. I guess that’s worse than the City Council’s ability to do the same? 

Anyhow, the language of Charter Amendment RRR doesn’t support this contention. Section 676 (Strategic Plan and Rate Setting) provides for a series of four year rate/revenue plans, which the Council can approve or disapprove. Once approved, anything that exceeds the parameters of the plan has to be approved by the Council and the Mayor. Further, “The City Council, by ordinance, may further define the policies, projects, programs and revenue requirements that shall be within the parameters of the Plan.” 

While I know that the courts have ruled that ballot arguments can lie like a rug, there are legitimate reasons to question Amendment RRR without engaging in hyperbole. 

Our DWP Committee Forum/Debate 

The complexity of DWP Reform was made apparent at our own DWP Committee meeting on Saturday September 3, 2016. At the impromptu forum, our very own Jack Humphreville was the moderator, and the panelists were Dr. Pickel (Ratepayer Advocate and author of the YES argument), Tony Wilkinson (DWP MOU Chair and participant in the dialogue that produced Amendment RRR), and Nate Holden, long time politician and former City Councilmember from 1987-2003, who is signatory to the NO argument on the measure. 

Even this highly knowledgeable group couldn’t agree on what the language of Charter Amendment RRR means. For example, the much ballyhooed crux of the reform measure has to do with how the city civil service system would be handled if the measure passes. Proponents admitted that there was no certainty as to the outcome or even if there would be any changes, and opponents said that the civil service system as we know it would be utterly destroyed if RRR passes. Dr. Pickel, of course, could not weigh in as we were in a City facility and he was author of the YES language. 

Let’s look at reality. Brian D’Arcy’s IBEW Local 18 is the 800-pound gorilla in the DWP World. This powerful union represents most of the Department’s employees and is not shy about flexing its muscle. Well, surprise, surprise: Local 18 is quietly in favor of the DWP Reform measure, although you would be hard pressed to find much in the way of public statements to that effect. The much smaller peripheral unions -- in terms of DWP membership -- are vigorously opposed to the measure, partly in fear that the idea could spread to the rest of the City, and partly because they lack the clout that Local 18 has with the Department. 

For further detail, and an alternate point of view, check out Julie Butcher’s recent CityWatch article describing the Charter Amendment as “Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!” Actually, her opposition to RRR is a much better read than the ballot arguments. 

The Takeaway 

Love it or hate it, the language of RRR is the necessarily flawed result of the LA City Council-Mayor-City Attorney meat grinder as they desperately try to shift the focus from their own incompetence in overseeing the DWP, the potential fiscal disaster if they lose the current lawsuit over the transfer fees annually extorted from DWP, and the huge ratepayer pushback over recent DWP rate increases. 

My personal belief is that this measure is poorly written and the language itself is difficult to read, much less understand. Given all the paid city staff available to write and vet the endless revisions, I think that this much obfuscation has to be deliberate. Further, I am unable to find the bag of goodies for us, the electorate, in Charter Amendment RRR that would motivate an actual ratepayer to vote yes.

Most voters I know, faced with a confusing ballot measure which will definitely have a long lasting impact on every ratepayer in the City of Los Angeles, will tend to throw their hands up in the air and simply vote NO! 

I find their cynicism to be well founded when it concerns City Hall and I agree with that sentiment.

 

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

Decisions, Decisions: $10,000 to Chat with Hillary or … the $2.99 Special at Der Weinerschnitzel

GELFAND’S WORLD--Want to chat with Hillary Clinton? You can have the pleasure this coming Tuesday at the home of Seth MacFarlane. You just have to contribute thirty-three thousand, four hundred dollars. Another opportunity for that chat is to have dinner at the home of Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. That one will set you back a hundred thousand dollars per couple. If those are a little rich for your blood, there are a couple of conversations with Tim Kaine (he's the guy running for Vice President) for anything from $2700 to $100,000. The higher priced tickets (starting at ten thousand) get you into the home of Eva Longoria who, unlike most of the others, does not seem to live in Beverly Hills. (Photo above: Hillary Clinton and George Clooney at Clinton fundraiser.) 

Meanwhile, I was having the $2.99 special at Der Weinerschnitzel last night. If I had waited another day, I could have had the $1.29 special on the mini-sundae. 

I'm not sure how I ended up on the email address list for all those lavish parties, but the underlying message is a little depressing. I'm all in favor of Hillary going after Trump with an advertising blitz and putting up well funded campaign HQs all over Florida and Ohio. That's the necessity. But it's too bad that Hillary's companionship in California is limited to the few people who can buy it. 

I bring this recitation up for two reasons. One is to remind you of an old story from back in the George W. Bush administration. The other is to remind my fellow Californians that we are a third class state when it comes to electoral politics. 

Of course it was possible at one time (anytime last year, actually) to meet all of the candidates for merely the price of a cup of coffee. All you had to do was to live in New Hampshire. They came looking for you at the local breakfast hangout. The residents of New Hampshire seem to think they have a divine right to the candidates' time and an equally divine right to choose first. The fact that winning the New Hampshire primary has become the presidential kiss of death seems to be lost on them. Nevertheless, we got to read about one New Hampshire woman who had already met with ten presidential candidates, but remained unsure. 

Meanwhile, 48 other states are left in the lurch. I'm leaving Iowa out of the equation because their caucuses really do go first in the nation and at least for Republicans, the Iowa caucuses are even more of a kiss of death than the New Hampshire primary. 

Want a chance to meet the candidates on the same terms as the New Englanders? Let's set the California primary for the same day as the New Hampshire primary. We don't want to define a particular date in advance, because if we do, the state of New Hampshire will move theirs up a week or three (that's their historical pattern). Instead, let's just define our primary as taking place on or before the date of any and all other states. 

Or, if California voters protest that the additional election would cost a lot of money, let's just put the cost on the political parties by getting rid of our presidential primary and turning California into a caucus state. We could set our caucus date as equal to or in advance of any and all other state caucuses and primaries. 

Of course the Democratic National Committee will probably resist. Let's just ignore them. They'll ultimately come around. The 2020 primary season would be a good time to give the new system a tryout. President Clinton won't have much opposition, so we can treat the 2020 California caucuses as a dry run. Then in 2024, Californians will have the pleasure of going to the local Dennys to meet with candidates Kaine, Clinton the younger, and Jerry Brown. And you'll save that hundred thousand dollars. 

The story I promised you: Back when W was president, one of his top ranking officials was scheduled to do a fund raising dinner here in Los Angeles. It was a mere $2500 per person, but that's still quite a bit for us normal people. At the time, Kevin Drum was blogging for Washington Monthly, and he announced (a bit tongue in cheek, I have to imagine) that if you didn't want to pay to meet with the Bushites, you could join him for lunch at the Farmers Market over on Fairfax. The Farmers Market did extremely well that day, as most of the top bloggers of that era (and Arianna Huffington) showed up. And it was a ninety-nine point seven percent reduction in the price. 

Another dog that didn't bark 

School has started. This year, children entering the first grade in California are required to be up to date on their immunizations, and seventh graders are required to be up to date on whooping cough immunization. A new state law took away parents' rights to refuse vaccinations through what was known as a personal belief exemption. The PBE is no more. The only current exception is a medical condition that makes it unwise to give the injections. The law (SB277) was passed over the objections of a couple of thousand people who stalked the corridors of the state capitol and packed legislative hearings. 

What's interesting about the beginning of this school year is how little public outcry we have seen. I invite the reader to try to recall a television news story about an anti-vaccination protest demonstration this school term. The subject seems to have dropped off the radar. It's the old Sherlock Holmes line (now having become a cliche) of the dog that didn't bark. 

When SB277 was being debated, the opposition made it sound like it would be the imposition of fascism stirred and simmered with genocide. The more extreme opponents made a fetish of the term "vaccine injured" in their attempt to push the very-much-disproven argument that vaccines induce autism in some children. (Carefully done epidemiological studies following millions of children showed otherwise.) But still the angry parents flocked to Sacramento and carried out demonstrations in Los Angeles. Then the law was passed. The opponents tried to get the measure placed on the state ballot, but failed to gain the necessary number of signatures. 

Opponents vowed to continue the fight. They filed a lawsuit, but a federal judge denied a request for an injunction.  Of course the vaccine opponents pledge to continue, but the general tendency of the law is not with them.  

So what is actually going on in the real world of public education? Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) spokesperson Ellen Morgan points out that for one requirement -- that entering seventh graders have an up to date immunization against whooping cough -- the compliance is close to 100 percent. The department is following up on immunization records for entering first graders, which involves a lot of tedious analysis of written records, but the preliminary indication is that the district is doing extremely well. 

There may be a simple answer to why the most strident anti-vaccination people are remaining fairly quiet, at least in public. The text of SB277 allowed for a reasonable accommodation for those who cannot or should not be vaccinated. This includes some children who have immune deficiencies and some children who have undergone chemotherapy recently. But the law did not specify precise limits on the ability of doctors to write exemptions. As the law was being debated in Sacramento, some doctors began to circulate the message that they would bend over backwards to help anti-vaccination families get exemptions. A few doctors wrote fairly long lists of things that might induce them to write exemptions, ranging from allergies to vaccine reactions among distant relatives. 

Parents who are particularly anti-vaccine and can afford the medical bills can shop for a doctor who will write an exemption. That may be what is going on in California this year. Other parents who aren't so dogmatic probably scribbled out personal belief exemptions in the past, because they hadn't taken the time to get their kids to all the scheduled injections. School was starting, and filling out a form solved their problem. 

We will probably discover that a lot of students who would have presented PBEs in the past are now getting their injections. It's simply a matter of figuring out that it is easier to take your kids to an immunization clinic or to a pediatrician than to be forced to home school your children.

 

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

-cw

Council Puts LA Planning on a Short Leash – Rejects Repeal of Granny Flat Rules … Dept Still Doesn’t Get It

UPRIGHTING THE PLANNING DEPARTMENT-After the Superior Court ruled that Los Angeles’s planning and building officials had, for the past six years, been unlawfully refusing to follow the City’s ordinance regulating second dwelling units (SDUs) and ordered them to stop doing so, these same officials cooked up an ingenious scheme to circumvent the Court’s ruling. The Planning Department would prepare a report proposing that the City Council should simply repeal the SDU ordinance.    

The Department’s report, they schemed, would misleadingly assert that repeal was the only feasible choice. In fact, the Court identified three choices. It would confirm that repeal of the adopted standards would hardly make any difference. In fact, the existing standards are the only protections that LA’s single family neighborhoods have against “by right” SDU development. 

With repeal and the ensuing application of the state “default” standards, extra-large SDUs that are the same size as many primary residences could be built, and designated “hillside” areas would no longer be protected from SDU development. Importantly, the Department would “fast track” its repeal proposal, giving only the minimum required legal notice so that neighborhood councils and homeowner associations would not have sufficient time to inform themselves about the proposal, let alone develop formal positions and provide useful testimony and input. 

A clever but reprehensible scheme, and, fortunately, one that utterly failed. At its August 31 meeting, the City Council unanimously rejected the Department’s repeal proposal. The five Council members (Nury Martinez, David Ryu, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian and Bob Blumenfield) who co-authored the motion to reject the repeal proposal -- and their hardworking staffs -- deserve full credit for standing up to protect our neighborhoods. Council members Martinez, Ryu and Koretz, in particular, did the heaving lifting to obtain unanimous Council support, while Council President Herb Wesson and his staff forcefully weighed in to develop the consensus vote for neighborhood protection. 

LA’s neighborhood councils and homeowner associations showed they would not be bullied by the Department’s arrogant approach and that they can act quickly and effectively to call, write and meet with Council members. They played a key role in educating the Council about the vital importance of LA’s protective standards against the negative impacts of too-large and poorly located SDU development. They also developed convincing testimony that the Department’s report failed to consider the potentially serious cumulative negative impacts the repeal proposal would have on LA’s already stressed infrastructure. After all, repeal would be tantamount to rezoning all single family R-1 zones into R-2 zones, since the “default” standards would effectively allow, by right, a second, similarly sized residence on every lot.  

Altogether it was a very bad day in Council for the Planning Department. Not only did the Council firmly reject repeal, but the Council’s motion makes it clear that -- in stark contrast to the fast tracked, closed and slipshod process the Department followed for its repeal proposal -- it must now, looking to the future, initiate a new code amendment process to develop new SDU standards with a “comprehensive, open and transparent review” process. Take that, Planning Department! 

Further, in contrast to the Department’s proposal’s to use repeal to replace LA’s existing local standards with the very permissive “one size fits all” state “default” standards, the Council’s motion directs that the new LA standards must take into account “the unique characteristics of each geographic area of the city that may result in certain limitations and prohibitions” regarding SDU development. On the chin, Planning Department! 

And yet the Department’s hubris seems to know no bounds. When Council President Wesson was describing to the new Planning Director, Vince Bertoni, how its motion expects the Department to quickly bring back an “interim solution” that the Council can present to the Court and that the City can enforce until such time as the new code amendment is finalized, Bertoni appeared completely tone deaf. 

The Council motion called for the Department to prepare an administrative memorandum similar to the one issued by the Chief Zoning Administrator in 2003. In that memo, then CZA Robert Janovici had invoked the very limited power AB 1866 gives local governments to treat previous discretionary CUP procedures as “null and void” so that SDU permits can be issued “by right.” 

Since the City had successfully used the 2003 memo to administer SDU applications for seven years from 2003 to 2010 and since the memo had been explicitly approved by the Superior Court (and even identified by the Court as one of the Council’s three options going forward,) the task of preparing a similar memo to delete the discretionary CUP procedures should likely take about only an afternoon or two of work.   

Wesson pressed Bertoni about how long it would take before the new administrative memo would be presented to the Council. Not just a few days, Bertoni responded. He saw it as taking perhaps “several weeks.” Why? Because, Bertoni explained, he and his staff wanted to go behind-closed-doors with the City Attorney representatives in order to undertake a wide-ranging fishing expedition by which the Department would “pick and choose” which parts of the existing SDU standards appear to pass legal muster in the Department’s eyes. After all, the Department wouldn’t want to be administering illegal SDU standards. 

As an example of this “picking and choosing” effort, Bertoni focused on the adopted LA standard that allows SDUs only on lots that are at least 7,500 sq. ft. According to Bertoni, most LA single family lots are not this large, and in some geographic areas, only a relatively few lots meet this standard. Bertoni then ventured his opinion that, under state law, a city “can’t completely prohibit SDUs overall in the city or in geographical areas” unless it makes very detailed, hard-to-establish findings. Consequently, after some new fact research, the existing 7,500 sq. ft. standard may not make it into the CZA’s interim standards memo. 

Yipes! Does the new Planning Director really intend for us to take him seriously? If so, he shouldn’t be uttering sheer hokum. What’s wrong with it? 

It’s a fundamental part of the American legal system that bureaucrats do not have power to “pick and choose” which ordinance provisions they think are “illegal” and refuse to enforce them. They take an oath of office to defend and enforce the laws that have been enacted and, if they disagree with some of those laws, or have doubts about their legality, there are legally acceptable ways for that determination to be made, rather than issuing unilateral administrative fiats.  

AB 1866 gave local officials a very limited specific authority to declare “null and void” certain discretionary CUP procedural mechanisms, based on the unique circumstances that had led to enactment of AB 1866. 

In preparing the 2003 memorandum, then-CZA Janovici carefully limited his “null and void” determinations only to whether a provision was discretionary or mandatory, and not to undertaking a wide-ranging fishing expedition to question whether there might be any legal or policy issues regarding other standards. Bertoni has missed this fundamental point. 

Bertoni also has no idea what the legal standard is. State law explicitly provides cities like LA with authority to establish planning/environmental standards for determining where SDUs can and can’t be properly located, stating that a local second unit ordinance “may do any of the following: (A) designate areas within the jurisdiction… where second units may be permitted.  

The designations of areas may be based on criteria that may include but are not limited to, the adequacy of water and sewer services and the impact of second units on traffic flow.” Bertoni’s obscure legal pronouncement seems wrongly derived from a completely different portion of the statute that forbids cities from “totally preclud[ing]” SDUs from their territorial boundaries altogether, unless they can make the findings in question.  

Ironically, Bertoni recently left employment as Pasadena’s Planning Director.  Pasadena has a 15,000 sq. ft. minimum lot size for SDUs, far greater than LA’s 7,500 sq. ft. size that he now claims presents legal difficulties. 

Once Bertoni and his colleagues open the question of excluding SDUs from LA lots smaller than 7,500 sq. ft., their attention would likely next turn to the adopted LA standard that precludes SDUs from designated “hillside” areas. 

This standard, too, would be suspect under Bertoni’s described legal criteria. Large areas of the Los Angeles are designated “hillside” for obvious environmental and planning reasons. But Bertoni and his team apparently believe that they have authority to determine that LA’s prohibition on SDUs in hillside areas is inconsistent with state law unless the difficult-to-make “findings” can be applied to those areas.  

The existing “hillside” SDU prohibition, of course, is highly valued by many neighborhood councils and homeowner associations, and there is no Department-proposed “pick and choose” exercise that would be more likely to raise their hackles. 

Director Bertoni misses the irony in his proposal to go behind-closed-doors to use some conjectured “lawfulness” criteria as the means of preparing the “interim solution” CZA memo. The Council has just vigorously yanked the Department’s chain for its ill-conceived closed, fast-tracked process followed in its repeal proposal, dictating instead that an open, thoughtful and transparent process be used to develop changes in the City’s SDU standards. It looks like the Council now needs to put Bertoni on a very short leash and quickly terminate his weeks-long “picking and choosing” fishing expedition approach for preparing the interim SDU administrative memo.

 

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

California Losing Migrants … and Money

NEW GEOGRAPHY--When comparing the health of state economies, we usually look at employment and incomes. Another critical indicator worth closer attention is where Americans choose to move, and the places they are leaving.

American history has been shaped by migration, from England to the Eastern seaboard, and later from the Atlantic Coast toward the Midwest, and later to the Pacific.

Our analysis of Internal Revenue Service data from 2014, the most recent available, give us an important snapshot of where Americans are moving now, and, equally important, a breakdown by income levels and age.

The Big Winners: The Sunbelt and Texas

To measure the states that are most attractive to Americans on the move, we developed an “attraction” ratio that measures the number of domestic in-migrants per 100 out-migrants. A state that has a rating of 100 would be perfectly balanced between those leaving and coming.

Overall, the biggest winner — both in absolute numbers and in our ranking —  is Texas. In 2014 the Lone Star State posted a remarkable 156 attraction ratio, gaining 229,000 more migrants than it lost, roughly twice as many as went to No. 3 Florida, which clocked an impressive 126.7 attraction ratio.

Most of the top gainers of domestic migrants are low-tax, low-regulation states, including No. 2 South Carolina, with an attraction ratio of 127.3, as well as No. 5 North Dakota, and No. 7 Nevada. These states generally have lower housing costs than the states losing the most migrants.

But it’s not simply a matter of taxes and regulations. There are three states in our top 10 with mixed reputations for red tape and taxes: Oregon (fourth), Colorado (sixth), and Washington (eighth). These are states that have thriving information  and professional business services sectors, which offer higher wages. And though these states have high housing costs, they are well below California’s. For Californians, the employment opportunities available in Seattle, Denver and Portland, combined with the prospect of huge profits from selling the house, makes moving particularly attractive.

The Biggest Losers

High costs go a long way to explain which states are losing the most migrants. At the top, or rather, the bottom of the list is New York State, which had an abysmal 65.4 attraction ratio in 2014 and lost by far the most net migrants, an astounding 126,000 people. Close behind was Illinois, a high tax, high regulation, and low growth disaster area. In 2014 the Land of Lincoln had an abysmal 67.2 attraction ratio, losing a net 82,000 domestic migrants.

Most of the other top people-exporting states are in the Northeast and Midwest. But the West, traditionally the magnet for newcomers, now also has some major losers, including Alaska (80.1), New Mexico (84.6) and Wyoming (88.6). The outflow for some of these western states may get worse, unless prices for natural resources like coal, oil, gas and minerals do not recover in the near future.

And then there is the big enchilada, California. For generations, the Golden State developed a reputation as the ultimate destination of choice for millions of Americans. No longer. Since 2000 the state has lost 1.75 million net domestic migrants, according to Census Bureau estimates. And even amid an economic recovery, the pattern of outmigration continued in 2014, with a loss of 57,900 people and an attraction ratio of 88.5, placing the Golden State 13th from the bottom, well behind longtime people exporters Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Louisiana. California was a net loser of domestic migrants in all age categories.

Where’s The Money Going?

Some analysts have claimed that the people leaving California are mostly poor while the more affluent are still coming. The 2014 IRS data shows something quite different. To be sure the Golden State, with its deindustrializing economy and high costs, is losing many people making under $50,000 a year, but it is also losing people earning over $75,000, with the lowest attractiveness ratios among those making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, slightly less than those with incomes of $10,000 to $25,000.

Overall, many of the most affluent states are the ones hemorrhaging high-income earners the most rapidly. As in overall migration, New York sets the standard, with the highest outmigration of high income earners (defined as annual income over $200,000) relative to in-migrants (attraction ratio: 53). New York is followed closely by Illinois, the District of Columbia and New Jersey, which are all losing the over-$200,000-a-year crowd at a faster pace than California.

The big winners in terms of affluent migration tend to be historically poorer states, mainly in the Sun Belt and the Intermountain West. Florida has an attraction ratio for people earning over $200,000 a year of 223, the highest in the nation, followed by South Carolina, Montana, Idaho and North Carolina. Four of the states with the highest attraction rate among the highest income earners were in the top five in net in–migration of seniors, many of whom are taking nice nest eggs with them. South Carolina scored the highest, followed by Delaware, Idaho, North Carolina and Florida.

Where Young Adults And Families Are Headed

Much of the discussion about millennial migration tends to focus on high-cost, dense urban regions such as those that dominate New York, Massachusetts and, of course, California. Yet the IRS data tells us a very different story about migrants aged 26 to 34. Here it’s Texas in the lead, and by a wide margin, followed by Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Florida and New Hampshire. Once again New York and Illinois stand out as the biggest losers in this age category.

Perhaps more important for the immediate future may be the migration of people at the peak of their careers, those aged 35 to 54. These are also the age cohorts most likely to be raising children. The top four are the same in both cohorts. Among the 35 to 44 age group, it’s Texas, followed by Florida,  South Carolina and North Dakota. Among the 45 to 54 cohort, Texas, followed by South Carolina, Florida and North Dakota.

Far more than the often anecdote-laden accounts seen in the media, the IRS data provides us with a glimpse of a demographic future dominated by those states that are either retirement havens or lower cost places that can compete with the traditional high-income economies such as Massachusetts, California, New York and New Jersey. As millennials age, along with their boomer parents, the data gives us a vision of a changing America which is likely to see a greater dispersal of population, income and demographic groups to many places that, like Texas, Florida or South Carolina, have been considered backwaters but now seem destined to emerge as shapers of our national future.

(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com where this piece was first posted. Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international pubilc policy and demographics firm.)

-cw

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