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Gladstone’s Last Oyster

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The iconic beachfront Gladstone’s may be serving its last oysters by October 2017. County officials aim to entice a new restaurateur or developer by expanding the maximum concession terms, which would give the new developer time to recoup investments. 

A vote by the County Board of Supervisors has doubled the long-term lease for the Pacific Palisades property to forty years from its current twenty-year term and would require a redevelopment plan for the facility in hope that a new establishment would be constructed from the ground up. 

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wrote in a motion to the board, “Because the existing facility is seriously deteriorated and outdated, the Department desires the successful bidder to construct an entirely new facility.” 

Angelenos and tourists have been ordering chowder, crab cakes and the like at Gladstone’s since 1972. The eatery pays about $1.7 million in rent each year to occupy the state-owned property, which is operated by the county. The county discounted the rent to $875 K this year to accommodate the restaurant’s financial setbacks, according to the LA Daily News. 

How would the lease expansion bring in a bidding war? Kuehl’s motion would give new facility owners or developers forty years to recoup the cost of renovations or redevelopment instead of the existing twenty. The current owners of Gladstone’s would be eligible to rebid on the property. 

Carol Baker, spokesperson for the LA County Beach and Harbors said, “This isn’t some, ‘Let’s do this to Gladstone’s.’ This lease was coming to an end. We need to think about what’s the best way to move forward on this iconic property. It’s a harsh environment, right on the ocean. That property experiences a lot of wear and tear. An operator will need to address that – while you’re at it, what is your concept?” 

Former Mayor and current majority stakes holder of Gladstone’s Richard Riordan has some ideas, including a possible museum with a restaurant. He’s not officially tied with any redevelopment plans but favors the idea. “I think it’s a good idea if they can put the pieces together,” he said. 

The benefits of the proposed amendment include minimizing loss of revenue for the county when Gladstone’s closes, as well as making maintenance and security costs more affordable for a new operator. According to The Daily News, the restaurant has been running at a deficit of $100,000 per month. 

Currently, Gladstone’s website assures guests that there is no set closure date for the beachside restaurant. 

ATTENTION GUESTS:

Despite what you may have heard throughout the media, at this present time, there is no set closure date for Gladstone’s Malibu. We are happy to continue taking your reservations and event inquiries over the phone or via email/website submission. Thank you for your continued support and patronage to an iconic beach landmark!-Management.

 

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

-cw

Getting It Wrong: An Open Letter to LA City Councilman Mitchell Englander (and His PLUM Committee Buddies)

BILLBOARD WATCH--Dear Councilman Englander … At the August 23 meeting of the City Council’s PLUM committee, you publicly accused me of putting out false information in the articles I write about billboard and signage issues. Specifically, in asking a city official for clarification of a point under discussion, you said, “Because I want to make sure that when Mr. Hathaway writes about this, since he gets it wrong most of the time, that he hears it clearly.”

I consider this an attack on my personal integrity, because I always strive to be factually accurate and avoid taking things out of context or otherwise trafficking in misinformation. For example, before writing about PLUM committee meetings I almost always listen to the meeting audio, to make sure that I heard things correctly and that I accurately quote committee members and other speakers. I have a definite point of view about the signage issues the PLUM committee deals with, but that doesn’t mean I believe in using less than ethical and honest means to promote that view.

But your accusation was more than just an attack on me, it was an attack on the very idea that LA residents are entitled to be fully informed on the issues that affect them, in this case issues of billboard and signage regulation. That’s because the large majority of those residents can’t come to PLUM committee meetings to hear the discussion firsthand. Unlike lobbyists, billboard company representatives, and others who are paid to attend these meetings, most community people can’t take time off work, arrange child care, and make the necessary adjustments needed to attend a weekday meeting at City Hall. So, without someone reporting on the details of those meetings, they are denied the knowledge they need and deserve to form opinions and make decisions about the issues at hand.

I’m not paid, either, but I’m fortunate enough to be at a stage of my life that I can devote a significant amount of time to a cause I consider very important to the mental and physical health of communities throughout LA And an important part of that effort is to inform those citizens who want to know what their elected representatives are doing about billboards and signage but don’t have time to attend the many meetings held on the topic or read the many lengthy reports issued at various points in the deliberative process.

Unfortunately, your public statement at the Aug. 24 PLUM committee meeting tells those citizens, in essence, that the information they read online at the BanBillboardBlight [[banbillboardblight.org ]] website or in CityWatch or hear in public service programs on local radio stations is “wrong most of the time.” Doubly unfortunate is the fact that you didn’t specify a single instance of what you considered wrong, so it’s just an accusation put out there, deliberately or otherwise, to create doubt in some people’s minds that what they’re reading and hearing is factually accurate.

I have been writing articles about PLUM committee actions and deliberations, as well as those of the City Planning Commission and other government agencies, for almost nine years. In that time, not a single billboard company lobbyist or billboard company executive or employee has approached me and said that something I wrote was false. Not a single member of the PLUM committee, present or past, has contacted me to make that complaint. Not a single City Councilmember, not a single city planner or member of the city attorney’s staff or any other city official involved with billboard and signage issues has told me that something I wrote was inaccurate.

You surely understand that people come to meetings and otherwise involve themselves in community affairs, not because they are paid to, but because they believe in a vision of a better community and a better city. Those people deserve the respect and even the encouragement of their elected representatives, regardless of where they happen to stand on a particular project or issue. Those people deserve access to as much information as possible, so that they can make the kind of informed decisions that are in important part of the bedrock of a democratic system.

I hope you will take that into consideration before making unsupported accusations against someone who has volunteered his time and energy to disseminate that information as widely as possible and help make the system work the way it was intended.

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

-cw

DWP ‘Reform’ Charter Amendment RRR: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

BUTCHER ON LA-“Reform” of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is on the November ballot as Charter Amendment Measure RRR and it’s just (w)Rong, (w)Rong, (w)Rong! Wrong for the ratepayers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. 

Remember Gene Maddaus’ clear, uncontested explanation in the LA Weekly about how the current “reform” proposal is really a guise for future rate increases that will be easier to accomplish without even a hint of public oversight or accountability? Maddaus noted that, "Board actions -- including ratemaking -- would no longer require City Council approval unless the City Council asserts jurisdiction." (Emphasis added.) 

“It's hard to overstate the importance of this provision,” Maddaus continued. “Under the current system -- the product of more than 100 years of governance reform -- the City Council must approve any rate increases. This exerts a downward pressure on rates. No politician wants to approve an increase and face the wrath of voters. (In his first State of the City address, Garcetti made a big deal of delaying any rate increases for a year.) 

“If you give ratemaking authority to an independent body, you remove that downward pressure. The result: Rates will go up. Fuentes, of course, has no incentive to spell this out, and neither does D'Arcy. (Both declined interview requests.) If you're campaigning for a ballot measure, you wouldn't want to tout the prospect of higher utility bills. It's much better to say, as Fuentes does, that the measure will ‘take the politics out of the DWP.’” 

Charter Amendment RRR will make future rate increases easier to just slide through, further away from the public eye than now. 

DWP rates too high? Secret future rate hikes? Who you gonna call? Your Councilmember? Good luck with that! 

No on RRR! 

It is wrong, wrong, wrong for workers! 

Kevin Walker of KPCC/89.3 explains in 5 things to know about the Los Angeles DWP reform plan,”  in his point #4, “Civil Service Exemption:” 

If the ballot measure passes, the DWP might be exempted from LA’s civil service rules, which dictate how city workers are hired, promoted and fired. 

Supporters of the changes say it would make the department more nimble. They also argue the DWP should be able to manage its workforce more independently because of the specialized nature of their employees.  

Organized labor defends the civil service rules as a protection against corruption and nepotism. 

"We are deeply troubled by the City’s refusal to recognize the long-term consequences that this ballot measure will have," wrote Cheryl Parisi, chair of the Coalition of LA City Unions.  

The measure also leaves the council the option to delegate its salary setting authority to the DWP’s board of commissioners. 

For many years, some public sector union leaders have argued that the protections of a merit-based civil service system are redundant and even unnecessary if strong due-process provisions and other assurances are negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement. That hypothetical argument continues: when workplace protections come from “the employer,” the work of the union is undermined; workers see their rights and benefits arriving because of the beneficence of the boss, the law, the government rather than stemming from the contract and the historical struggles that led to a strong, enforceable agreement. 

Civil service protections for the workers of the DWP are as important today as ever; the DWP has a long, strong history of advancing white men who already work for “the company,” and/or those with family already working there. Currently, hiring, promotions, testing, and disciplinary procedures are all administered by the City’s Personnel Department, and the DWP is treated as one of 40+ city departments. It may be slow and tedious but it’s slow and tedious in the very same way for every single person. It’s fundamentally a fair and open system that has helped build a diverse, competent city workforce. 

Acceding to the elitist isolationism of the current DWP workforce and leadership is a terrible idea. Instead, the City’s utility should step right into the nascent local hiring program aimed at training city residents to fill critical immediate job openings all across the City.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, chair of the elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, advocates for the continued inclusion of civil service protections for DWP workers in an op-ed in the LA Times originally titled “A plan to make DWP even worse”: 

“Separating DWP’s hiring from the city’s Civil Service system is problematic too. The city of Los Angeles is a single employer and the DWP just one of its many departments. Employees can transfer among departments, depending on their skills and the city’s needs, through the city’s Civil Service system. This gives workers access to new opportunities throughout city government and helps the city deploy its talented employees to maximum benefit. 

“The Civil Service also provides objective procedures for hiring and promotion so that city jobs aren’t handed out as patronage. It was introduced in the city of Los Angeles in 1903 to counter a flagrant system of political spoils. In 1939, after the recall of Mayor Frank L. Shaw for corruption, the Civil Service system was overhauled and strengthened into a nationally recognized model of honesty and professionalism. 

“The Civil Service system has served Los Angeles well for decades, which is why the charter reform commissions insisted on keeping it in 1999. This merit-based, competitive method of hiring and promotion limits exposure to claims of discrimination, because the city must prove its testing practices are job-related and skills-based according to accepted legal models. This good government measure is as necessary now as ever.” 

The DWP works best as an integral part of a vibrant city. Open, fair, and transparent labor practices at Water & Power impact workers throughout the City as well as potential city employees, potentially benefit seniors in local LA high schools who are heading towards their futures. Who will get these great jobs? Will the department participate in the City’s local hiring outreach and put qualified Angelenos to work right now to start replacing the 40% of the current workforce soon eligible to retire? Or will the DWP kowtow to the crusty, inbred, nepotistic-leaning voices urging a private personnel system all their own? 

The Coalition of LA City Unions points out the myriad legal issues in one of its numerous legal briefings: 

“The proposed wholesale exemption of DWP from Civil Service violates the civil service mandate principle. If broad authorization of contracting out undermines civil service (Los Angeles Charter section 1022 narrowly limits contracting out to work that can be performed more economically or feasibly by independent contractors than by City employees), then surely exempting approximately one quarter of the civil service workforce subverts the entire system. Although the Motion - which has no specifics - cites an inability to hire quickly, there is no claim that the current DWP workforce does not perform DWP work efficiently, as the civil service rules seek to ensure. There is no basis to violate the civil service mandate as to existing City employees.” 

Perhaps most significantly, Charter Amendment Measure RRR is bad for the environment, for anyone committed to cleaner energy choices.

It is wrong for lovers of open, transparent, accountable government, and horrible for enthusiasts of public power. 

That’s why a broad new coalition is growing to oppose Measure RRR. Neighborhoods Against the DWP Power Grab recently announced its organizing efforts DWP ballot battle: Power grab or good government?               

It notes the involvement of former City Controller Laura Chick, actor/environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., former City Councilmembers Nate Holden, Robert Farrell, Hal Bernson, and Dennis Zine. The coalition also includes the unions of the Coalition of LA City Unions, UCI law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, William D. Smart Jr. of the Fix L.A. Coalition, and National Organization for Women California President Jerilyn Stapleton. In addition, it has support from Food and Water Watch, Consumer Watchdog, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, and Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association President Richard Close. 

According to the organization, “Chick, Begley and Holden are among the members of Neighborhoods Against DWP Power Grab, which is fighting Los Angeles Charter Amendment RRR.  Opponents say the measure will give DWP officials and the board overseeing the utility too much power, and makes the utility less transparent and accountable to voters.” 

Here is part of the organization’s argument against RRR: 

"Don't believe the false claims that this measure is ‘reform.’ Charter Amendment RRR is a power-grab by the DWP that gives voters less oversight over the DWP— not more. 

"This measure takes away voters' decision-making powers and accountability over the DWP by enabling unelected bureaucrats to run the department and determine rate hikes

"This measure gives the DWP Board the extraordinary power to spend millions of ratepayer dollars on contracts, rate hikes, and salaries without preserving currently existing oversight and approvals from voters and elected officials. 

"The DWP needs serious overhaul and reform, but this reckless proposal takes us backwards and does not reflect the good-government changes that ratepayers want and need. 

"In fact, this measure limits scrutiny over the DWP and decreases transparency by eliminating existing checks and balances. 

"This measure severely restricts voters’ power over DWP operations and rate hikes, and gives voters less of a say on clean water and renewable energy policies. 

"Making matters worse, this measure gives the DWP Commissioners, currently appointed citizen volunteers, ratepayer funded pay that could total as much as $2 million throughout the next decade. 

"This measure also opens the door to corruption and unethical hiring of friends and family by allowing the department to opt out of the civil service system. 

"This proposal could easily lead to mismanagement of our most precious resource: our water.

"If this misleading measure passes, the Mayor won’t have final authority to fire unelected and unaccountable DWP Board Members, who will have unprecedented power and control over rate hikes. 

"Vote NO on Charter Amendment RRR— the DWP power-grab. It’s misleading, worse than the status quo, and doesn’t represent the real change we need at DWP." 

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Vote No on RRR on November 8! Get involved in the campaign! Contact your Union! Watch this spot!

 

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

Death Politics: When are We Dead and Who Gets to Decide?

GELFAND’S WORLD--The editor of CityWatch sent me a news clip along with a question, "Is this a column?" Translated, that editorial question refers to whether the story of Israel Stinson provides important public policy questions, the kind that CityWatch covers. Israel Stinson was a two year old boy who had been kept barely alive through life support. Machines kept his lungs moving artificially. At the order of a judge, the life support was disconnected and the boy passed away almost immediately. 

The grieving parents are asking why their baby couldn't have been kept alive. The lawyers are asking why the hospital was in such a rush to pull the plug without bringing in the parents for one last visit. Members of the public commenting on internet sites are split as to whether life support should have been continued. 

There are numerous public policy questions. There is also a question of simple humanity that doesn't seem to be getting any play. That's because, sadly, it goes against the grieving parents, the pro-life organization that was representing them, and members of the public who donated money. 

Israel Stinson was barely two years old when he suffered a serious asthma attack. There are many children who get asthma, but luckily only a few get it badly enough for it to be a risk to life. Israel was one of the unlucky ones. His ability to take in oxygen became so limited that his heart stopped. News stories indicate that doctors worked on him for about an hour, using CPR while trying to get the heart to restart. Eventually the heart restarted, but the question remained, how much damage had been done? In retrospect, he had probably suffered widespread, irreversible brain damage in the first few minutes of his heart stoppage, but the doctors couldn't know this for sure at the time. All they could do is wait and watch. 

Faced with an uncertain outcome, the medical profession understands that there is nothing to do but provide supportive care and then just wait and see. So that's what they did. But eventually, after appropriate testing, they recognized that Israel Stinson was truly gone. They could keep his lungs moving and stimulate his heart to beat, but faced with evidence of his widespread, massive loss of brain tissue, they concluded that Israel was brain dead. 

Parts of our bodies can withstand the loss of oxygen for a substantial period of time. People get freezing injuries, yet somehow not lose all their toes. But the brain is an exception. Brain cells die rather quickly, and as far as medical science knows, once lost they stay lost. The cases where stroke victims recover function are generally attributed to the fact that other parts of the brain can learn to take over where the original tissue has failed. But when there is widespread, massive loss of brain cells, there isn't much to provide recovery. 

The case of Israel Stinson, as described in the Los Angeles Times by Erica Evans, establishes the simple facts, and then delves into the competing legal claims. Videos on YouTube provide the pro- and con arguments. There are numerous legal issues that are left hanging. Does a hospital have the duty to provide life support to a person that is brain dead? As the hospital sees it, they are being asked to tend to what is little more than a corpse. To the parents, things are different. They have the opportunity to spend time with their baby, whether or not he is responding in the way they would like. They have memories of his birth and subsequent life. They try to maintain hope. 

To the cold blooded rationalist, all hope for Israel was false hope. This may be, but the most cold blooded of rationalists has to concede that the choice being thrust upon the parents was horrifying beyond belief. They desperately wanted to believe that their child would get better, and doctors were telling them that this would never happen. In the meanwhile, they were getting some comfort by visiting with him, hugging him, tickling him to try to evoke some response. 

Some people are able to make the decision to pull the plug. Others are not. Sometimes it's because they can't bring themselves to make a decision that is so painful. Other people won't accept the fact that when brain function is irreversibly lost, their loved one is -- for all intents and purposes -- gone. They can see the chest moving in and out, and the occasional twitch, and for some, this is hope. 

The parents were advised to take him off life support. This is a polite way of saying that his breathing would no longer be created artificially, and he would almost immediately die, in body as well as brain. 

The parents refused. They kept the body of their son alive, going so far as to take him to Guatemala for interim treatment, then bringing him back to California. There is some question as to why the local hospital here in Los Angeles accepted Israel as a patient, but they did. But finally, recognizing his brain dead condition, the hospital petitioned the courts to allow them to pull the plug. The parents had the help of pro bono legal support and won a few days and a little false hope. Then a local judge pulled the plug judicially, and the hospital performed the physical act of turning off life support. 

The Los Angeles Times reporter Erica Evans began the account of Israel's last moments by describing him as "angelic-looking." It's true. The pictures look like a sleeping baby. It's only when you see the YouTube videos that you realize that there is almost no response to continued prodding and poking, in spite of the parents' desperate belief that they are seeing something going on. 

I am going to make a conjecture here. The parents saw Israel as injured, but somehow still with us. In photos, he looks like a sleeping baby. The parents refer to their strong religious beliefs, and felt (I think sincerely) that God was telling them to keep going. That's how they describe their beliefs on video. Perhaps they hoped that some day, this sleeping baby would awake to some level of normality. In brief, the parents were viewing their baby as comatose, and capable of recovery. It's true that some people in comas eventually wake up, sometimes years later. But they have to have intact brains for this to happen. 

These beliefs were opposed by members of the medical profession. There were several neurologists who did the standard, accepted tests, and concluded that brain death had occurred. The news story says that the doctors "declared the boy brain dead," as if it were an arbitrary ruling rather than a careful judgment based on the evidence of physical examination and lab tests. 

One YouTube discussion involved the legal definition of death. The attorney pointed out that in some states, death is defined as the cessation of heart beat rather than brain death. It was kind of irrelevant in the context, but it is part of the wider public policy question. 

Another public policy question that is of utmost importance but was avoided almost entirely, involves whether there is any obligation for any entity, public or private, to continue providing long term care. Lack of payment in a system which avoids government funded of national health care is just one element in the discussion. The other question is whether an entity, public or private, can be compelled to continue treating a person that is, in their judgment, already dead at the level of the brain. It's a legitimate question. 

I'm going to change the subject just a little, and make a serious comment that is not meant to be morbid or rude, but is based on a real life experience. It's a comment that I don't see very often in these debates over heroic measures and prolonged life support. 

The context of this comment involves the shooting death of a friend that happened a little more than 19 years ago. I can remember looking down on the body, which had a gunshot wound where his right eye had been just a few minutes earlier. The bullet had obviously gone through the eye and into the brain. 

I remember staring for perhaps 15 seconds, watching carefully to make sure that he was really dead. My thought in the stress of the moment was this: Why would anyone want to survive that kind of wound? He would be blind, probably mostly paralyzed, and severely damaged in his ability to form any thoughts. I don't think he would have chosen to survive that level of destruction if he had had any say in the matter. 

How could you want anything like that for your friend or spouse or for your own child? Obviously the parents had a different sort of hope. They tried to believe that Israel would come back to life and live normally. 

But in trying to keep their child alive, they were also ignoring the fact that getting a little better would be the worst thing that could have happened to their baby, because there wasn't the surviving brain tissue for him to get truly better. 

I truly believe that from the moment of his cardiac arrest, Israel felt no pain and endured no suffering. It's not a lot, but it's the best we have. 

Addendum: The Epi Pen 

Whether Israel Stinson's story is a legitimate part of the national healthcare debate, the Epi Pen scandal certainly is. As almost everyone knows by now, the number of pharmaceutical companies making automatically injectable epinephrin dwindled to one. Given their newfound monopoly status, the company raised rates, and raised them again, and yet again. This is what private companies do when faced with a chance to make serious money. 

It's almost amusing to see members of congress complaining. Isn't the congress the organization that refuses to allow Medicare the chance to negotiate drug pricing? Isn't this the organization that could have invented some federal agency to oversee drug pricing, the same way that the state of California has some regulation over automobile insurance rates? They didn't, but they are complaining.

 

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

-cw

Coastal Com Rules Should be Simple: All Conversations are Public, Coast is Not for Sale

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Members of state commissions are dumb enough when they talk to people. Keeping them apart from conversations won’t make them any smarter.

That basic insight is why efforts to “reform” the Coastal Commission and various other commissions don’t make much sense. The idea should be to encourage more conversation—public conversation—from which commissioners and everyone else can learn. And legislation shouldn’t pick and choose—making conversations with some people permissible, and conversations with other people impermissible.

So discard any reform that limits conversations. And adopt simpler reforms that encourage more conversation.

What does that mean in practice? It means adopting two categories.

If there’s a conversation between a commissioner and anyone whose work involves talking to commissioners, then that conversation needs to be disclosed the very day it happens. Not just the fact of the conversation, but some details – the subjects covered, the amount of time, the location. And that disclosure must come from both sides – the commissioner and the people approaching the commissioner. If people take notes, they should share their notes.

The teeth of the matter is this: if there are private conversations that go undisclosed, those are illegal—and both commission members and the lobbyist or lawyer involved in the conversation should be subject to fines and other penalties.

Such rapidly disclosed conversations should be the norm—and the only path to conversation. There can’t be another secret path, or some exemption, or some way to go off-the-record. If you don’t want to have a public conversation with commission members, great, but the world gets to know about it.

Otherwise, the only other path is to go to a meeting and talk to the commission in public.

Of course, three minutes at the microphone isn’t a great way to have conversations. If people want to throw energy into reform in this area, they should devise new kinds of public meetings ( there are many people that have thought about such things) that allows for real conversations, not just speaking. There are many models for such things, all of which drive lawyers for commissions crazy.

Which is another good argument for approaching this problem differently.

(Joe Mathews writes Connecting California and is an editor for Zocalo Public Square.This column was posted most recently at Fox and Hounds.) 

-cw

Bullied Teen Wins $10,000 Scholarship for Anti-Bullying Video

CHAPMAN REPORT-A 17-year-old boy attending the Boys and Girls Club College Bound program in San Pedro won a $10,000 college scholarship this month from the Taco Bell Foundation for his personal anti-bullying video.    

Stephen Lee took the stance after struggling with bullying for years. He made the video with his own art work and the club staff helped him put it together. He received the good news call from the Live Mas team with the Taco Bell foundation while visiting his grandmother in Vietnam in July.  

“I was very grateful when I heard from a Skype call with the (scholarship) team early in the morning that I won $10K. I burst into tears. I am so grateful.”  

Taryn McNamara, the Taco Bell Foundation coordinator, said the Live Mas scholarship team gives out 220 scholarships across the country to students each year totaling $1 million. The scholarships range between $2,500 and $25,000 and are awarded to those who seem the most passionate about their future dreams and careers.  

“We’re looking at videos for kids with the most passion and desire,” she said. “We’re looking for the next generation of creators and innovators. We really like Stephen’s video and how he had so much passion for computer science.”  

Lee said the club at the Cabrillo Avenue site gave him the safe haven he needed to explore his dreams and passions. He was able to enhance his skills in art, animation, graphical design, game design and video editing. He was tutored, guided to prep for college and he even played ping pong. 

It was the first time he felt accepted despite “my quiet nature,” he said. Middle school and high school were filled with years of dealing with bullying. Students would attack him “verbally” he said and began making fake posts on social media using his name. His grades suffered horribly in those early years and he later spent much of his time feeling lost about his future. 

Once he attended the club, however, his life began to change for the better. His parents, Hudson and Sylvia who came from Vietnam and are U.S. citizens, were so delighted he felt at home there that they drove and picked him up from the club nearly every day and on the weekends.  

His father, Hudson, said when his son called “and told me he had won a 10k scholarship during work, I was so shocked and speechless I didn’t know what to say to him. I am very proud of him.”  

Eventually, the younger Lee said he found the courage at last to go to administrators at South Torrance High school where he attended and officials there acted on his concerns.  

But the club, he said, is where he made his discoveries that he enjoyed computer science. Family members in the field also taught him about coding and he was able to design three computer games at the club.  

“The Boys and Girls club…helped me calm down whenever I was stressed,” Lee said. “I have a lot of friends over there that I talked to. However, I talk to the staff a lot as well. I felt very comfortable talking to every single one of them. Even when I had a personal problem, they were there to hear me out and give me advice without judging.”  

His suggestions to other children who are bullied is to understand that no one else can solve “your problems” and to look to the people who do support you, a family member, a friend. “There’s always at least one person who is there for you.” 

“I feel every single situation is different and I feel that some people had it even worse than me,” he explained. “All I can say is what I learned. Learn to laugh at yourself, but don’t put yourself down. Don’t take actual constructive criticism as an attack, but learn from it. Lastly, don’t expect anyone else to solve your problems.” 

His future plans, he said, include making an app that will help school teachers and administrators determine whether students are being bullied.

See Steven’s video.


(Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” You can reach her at: [email protected].)

With An $8 Billion General Operating Fund, How Come LA Can’t Fix Anything Without Asking Us for More Money?

RANTZ AND RAVEZ--Some readers have commented that I like to Rant a lot and seldom Rave about the positive areas of Los Angeles. While it is true that I focus on unnecessary taxes and fees on a regular basis, I do comment on the positive aspects of Los Angeles when I find them. The problem is that I don’t find them that often. 

There are so many social issues facing Los Angeles that the positive Rave issues are lost in the negative concerns impacting L A. I try and find the practical solutions to the problems facing our city using existing funds and not calling for new and or additional taxes and fees. The issue is using current funds to improve the living conditions in Los Angeles. 

Los Angeles City has a general operating fund of over $8 BILLION DOLLARS! This does not include Special Funds and other Federal and State dollars that the city uses to operate a variety of programs. Some necessary and many part of the fluff of city government. The money is there….it all depends on how it is spent on projects and programs. 

Knowing the City of Los Angeles’ operations for nearly 70 years, I know the issues and solutions to the problems. I have lived with them during my 33 years with the LAPD, two years as an elected member of the Charter Reform Commission and 12 years as a member of the Los Angeles City Council. In addition, I have been a Los Angeles resident my entire life. Born, raised and educated in the City of the Angels. 

While the issues that negatively impact our city are continuing to mount day by day, solutions without additional cost in the form of taxes and fees to the residents and business owners are never mentioned by our elected leaders. It appears that the only answer to all of the ills impacting Los Angeles come with increased taxes and fees and any other way of pulling more of your precious dollars to fund this and that and remedy the ills of Los Angeles. 

Take for example our gridlock transportation situation. Our local roads and freeways have all become huge parking lots. The 101 freeway holds the title of having the worst traffic congestion in the nation. It usually takes me around two hours to travel from the West Valley to downtown or the Westside of town by car during most times of the day. Saturdays and Sundays are not much better. The political solution is to increase taxes for all of us and all future generations in Los Angeles. Remember that when government raises taxes, they seldom if ever rescind them.    

Then there is the EMERGENCY Homeless situation surrounding Los Angeles. While Los Angeles City and County have declared the homeless an emergency, Governor Brown has not joined the bandwagon on this issue. So, no state money is appropriated to the Los Angeles region to address the homeless matter. Again our city leaders have a solution of more taxes, fees or bond measures or any other sort of tactic to take more of your money to address a situation that is without doubt out of control and getting worse. 

The DWP established, with a vote of the public, the Rate Payer Advocate position a few years ago. I did not support this measure when I was on the council since I saw it as just another layer in the system that was not working for the people paying their water and power bills. Namely you. The cost of the Rate Payer advocate and his staff is now many millions of dollars annually? This money is coming from your water and power rates. Rates that have already been increased and will continue to increase in future years.       

While the ratepayer advocate is a good man, is his position necessary in the big scheme of things? 

Now our city leaders want to establish a PAID WATER AND POWER COMMISSION. There is an existing Water and Power Commission that is appointed by the mayor and answers to the mayor. It is a volunteer position and one of the political payoffs for supporting the mayor. It is interesting to note that in Los Angeles when you are selected to sit on a commission, you sign a document announcing your resignation. It is used when your services are no longer necessary and you are being dismissed. Talk about a hammer over your head to have you follow the directions of the Office of the Mayor. 

This new paid DWP Commission will cost you more money to run with the staff and other personnel necessary to carry out the new duties. Is it necessary to establish a PAID Water and Power Commission in Los Angeles, I say NO. It will just cost you more in your Water and Power bills.       

The city lacks direction and priorities. This has been the case for many years. Everyday is a new day to develop ways to take more of your money with a promise to make it a better run city. Our sidewalks are crumbling along with our streets. When we check, we find that there is no agenda or focus on a continuing basis. Lack of coordination and priority setting has been a long-standing problem in Los Angeles that continues as I prepare this article.   

We see crime continuing to increase in our region with little impact by law enforcement. Is it time to exercise your 2nd Amendment Rights and purchase that gun before new restrictions are imposed on you and other Californians? Just saying!     

As we approach the November election, I will be providing you with my recommendations and logic on the ballot propositions and certain political offices. Hopefully our population will vote to make things better in Los Angeles, California and America! 

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

(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

The Real Reason Hollywood Has No Target Store

CORRUPTION WATCH-The reason Hollywood has no Target Store can be summed up in one word: Garcettism. Without the interference by Eric Garcetti, first as councilmember for council district 13, and then as mayor, the Target Store would have been completed and operating several years ago. (see unfinished store above) 

I happen to live within walking distance of the Target location and I like Target. I also like the rule of law and I detest corruption. If any member of the Citizens Coalition Los Angeles (CCLA) dislikes Target or does not want a Target store, I have never heard them even hint at such feeling. Everyone I know believes that we need to be a society based upon the law and not on the whim of one politician. 

The Zoning for Target Was Brand New 

There have been false claims that Hollywood’s zoning is out of date and it was unfair to apply old laws to a new project. The “zoning” law governing this Target Store is called Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan (SNAP) and it went into effect March 1, 2001. 

SNAP had been based upon years of study involving every parcel within its 2.2 square mile area and each parcel was designated as fitting into a Subarea. There were five Subareas A through E. The Target proposed to build on a Subarea C parcel. The City and local community had considered whether they wanted retail stores taller than 35 feet and they expressly decided not to permit a retail store to be higher than 35 feet. 

“Commercial Only Project. Projects comprised exclusively of commercial uses (not Hospital and Medical Uses) shall not exceed a maximum building height of 35 feet and a maximum FAR of 1.5 ... ” (SNAP page 24) 

Target admitted in court that it could have constructed a store which did not violate SNAP’s 35 foot requirement. But in order to construct anything, however, Target needed to obtain a building permit. As CCLA heard from various sources, Councilmember Garcetti wanted a 75 foot Target store. So Target could get City Council’s unanimous approval for a 75 foot store, but no approval for a legal 35 foot store. 

If Garcetti had allowed The Target to construct the legal store with its parking underground, as is the parking for the adjacent non-profit Assistance League, then the Target store could have been operational by end of 2009. 

As Judge Fruin found in 2014, there was no basis for the Target to claim hardship in order to violate the SNAP ordinance. Thus, Judge Fruin rejected Target’s 75 foot store. (July 17, 2014 Judge Fruin Decision page 5.) 

Judge Fruin ordered Target to stop construction on the illegal store – construction that had begun with the blessings of Eric Garcetti. People need to stop and think about the mess Garcetti created by interfering with the construction of a legal Target store in the first place … and then giving Target a permit to build an illegal store. 

In July 2014, Target was free to revert to the original 35 foot store, but it was coerced into appealing Judge Fruin’s decision. First, it went to the appeals court to overrule Judge Fruin and allow it to continue building an illegal store. 

We need to pause here and look at that utterly ridiculous request. No permit should have been issued for a 75 foot store since that height was more than double the maximum 35 foot height. The trial court had just ruled the obvious: 75 feet is illegal. Based upon a double illegality, Garcetti asked the appeals court to allow the construction to continue. It said No. 

Then Garcetti had the City and Target petition the Supreme Court to allow the construction to resume, but the Supreme Court would not even consider the matter. 

Thus, Target was a three time loser. So why did it not make the prudent business decision and follow the law? Target has said that it is losing $100 million in sales per year, for each year this Target store is not built. 

If the Target could have gotten a permit from the City to construct a legal store staring in 2014, there would be a Target Store operating at the corner of Sunset and Western. 

Garcetti is the Obstacle to the Store’s Construction 

Let’s emphasize a crucial point: neither CCLA nor La Mirada filed any appeal to prolong the litigation. CCLA can see no obstacle other than Eric Garcetti to Target having been able to build its store in Hollywood at some time during the past eight years. In our opinion, the fault rests with one person: Eric Garcetti. 

Rather than allowing Hollywoodians to have a Target Store, Garcetti had the City Council approve a material change to SNAP by adding a Subarea F which would allow a superstore at the Target location as well as elsewhere in SNAP. A major change to a new Specific Plan to add a Subarea which had been previously rejected requires an EIR. But none was done. Thus, the City Council knew for an absolute fact that its approval of the Subarea F would result in additional litigation. Illegally changing the law is what CCLA calls illegal. This is not a complicated concept. 

By the way, did you realize that Target’s store will not be on the ground level, but it will begin on the 3rd floor? So if this plan were to be built, shoppers would have to go up three flights before even reaching the store itself. They call this pedestrian friendly? 

More False Propaganda 

As soon as the City Council approved the change to SNAP in May 2014, Mitch O’Farrell -- who pretends to be councilmember for CD 13 but who, from what we can ascertain, is in reality only administering the district according to the wishes of Eric Garcetti -- claimed that the construction would soon resume. 

Apparently Garcetti believed that the City Council’s decision trumped the court order halting construction. But neither Target’s attorneys nor the City Attorney suffered from such hubris. They knew that Judge Fruin’s order will remain in effect until he or a higher court reverses it. 

Thus, Target and the City asked the appeals court to dismiss their appeal so that construction could resume. On August 16, 2016, Division Seven of the Court of Appeals said that Judge Fruin’s stop order remains in effect. 

Writing the unanimous decision for the appeals court, Justice Perluss reminded Target and Garcetti that they LOST in trial court. Then, Justice Perluss explained that when one loses, one does not then get to ignore the court order and continue construction.

We should remember that Garcetti has trouble following court orders. After Judge Chalfant had ordered the developer at 5929 Sunset not to demolish the facade of the Spaghetti Factory, Garcetti’s office – or so the story goes – hand walked the demolition permit through Building & Safety so that the facade could be destroyed overnight between Friday and Saturday. As a result, Judge Fruin had occupancy permits from 5929 Sunset pulled and the tenants had to move out. 

Target is now at square one – at the same place it was in 2008. Target has probably lost well over $800 million, and Hollywoodians have not had a Target Store for eight years. All this trouble just because Garcetti thought that he could just kick aside the law and do whatever he wanted. 

What Will the Future Bring? 

Target and Garcetti now have to ask Judge Fruin’s permission to resume construction. No one knows how Judge Fruin will rule. In fact, Judge Fruin himself should not know how he will rule since none of the legal papers with the facts and arguments have been submitted to him. 

It seems that one pivotal issue is whether the City can make a drastic change to a new Specific Plan which had previously chosen not to have a Subarea F, without the City first conducting an Environmental Impact Report (EIR.) 

That raises another issue for Judge Fruin. Should he allow the construction to resume before the case’s final determination? If he allows a 75 foot store to be built and then he finds that the Subarea F amendment to SNAP required an EIR, he will have encouraged economic waste. 

Who knows what weight Judge Fruin will give to the fact that Target can still construct a legal store under the original SNAP ordinance? Since litigation has already taken eight years and future litigation could take an additional eight to twelve years, Target can solve its financial problem right now by constructing the legal store. It is not Judge Fruin’s concern whether or not Garcetti will issue a permit for a legal store. 

CCLA has no objection to a legal store and urges Target to ask the court for permission to proceed with a store which is compliant with SNAP as of July 17, 2014. The May 2016 SNAP amendment does not mandate a 75 foot store. 

Update: On August 23, 2016, the City and Target went to Judge Fruin and asked that they be allowed to resume construction. Judge Fruin said, “No.” The jurisdiction remains in the appeals court until October 17, 2016, and until then Judge Fruin will not have jurisdiction to do anything.

 

(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. Full disclosure: The author is a member of Citizens Coalition Los Angeles (CCLA,) one of the two petitioners in the litigation involving the Target Store on the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Misguided Metro 1/2 Cent Sales Tax Increase

GUEST COMMENTARY--Transportation politics are in place to make a major disruption to communities by the mistaken belief that light rail can be put into existing boulevards. This is contained in the November ballot Proposition M to increase the sales tax and extend it. 

Putting light rail into existing boulevards at grade would kill off miles of businesses for lack of good access, would make greater traffic congestion including CO2 emissions and increase development at destinations that would further imbalance the ratio of travel demand to infrastructure capacity. 

Among the supposed political motivations to do this is the belief that less VMT and CO2 emissions will result, BUT THAT IS NOT SO! The real motivation is to add Real Estate to the tax base and please developers. However, the consequences have dire affects for the City and County of LA while conflicting with affordable living and achieving environmental goals. 

A profound incompatibility exists in trying to mix vehicular and rail transit modes in the same right of way. The State Public Utility Commission (PUC) requires a physical separation between the two different modes – which create major difficulties in operational and turning movements for vehicles and rail itself when light rail is put in the center of existing boulevards. Among those obstacles are the lack of opportunities to make left turns resulting not only in business failures, increased congestion and CO2 emissions but also with very much increased intrusions of traffic into adjacent residential neighborhoods to make up for the lack of left turn opportunities. 

The Metro list of boulevards to have light rail include Lincoln, Sepulveda, Santa Monica, La Brea, Van Nuys Boulevards and a number of others. As seen in the accompanying plan image, this would invalidate much of what Metro would intend to do in the greater LA area. 

In the recent EIR of the Westside Mobility Plan study, the impacts for both the centrally located light rail, which was then abandoned due to impacts, and the last alternative with an exclusive bus lane near the curbs were acknowledged as having “significant and unavoidable impacts.” Both of these conditions made more congestion and GHG emissions than not doing the projects at all. That makes such a ½ cent tax increase a waste of taxpayer money and offers sound reasons for not doing the projects. And more to the point of this discussion -- not voting for the tax increase! 

The ½ cent sales tax increase has been in the lobbying pipeline for some time, which probably means few politicians had been given truthful disclosure on the matter of these recent revelations in the Westside Mobility Plan study. 

The intent, to first use light rail, was to achieve a higher capacity mode to move person trips. The failure is due to the incompatibility of modes which degraded each of the rail and vehicle purposes and abilities. Mixing cars, trucks, buses and light rail becomes a traffic quagmire. Rail is supplemental to the vehicular network. And the ‘low hanging fruit’ of exclusive corridors like the Expo and Orange lines have been picked. 

The way to add the desired capacity to remove congestion, and the “CO2e” associated with it, while making truly “rapid bus transit,” is by designing some roadways as continuously flowing traffic facilities and incorporating the quantitative aspects of efficiency through controlled traffic management and the qualitative aspects of urban design concerned with function and experience at the pedestrian scale. Vehicular modes need to be controlled and made efficient; place making for pedestrians and bike riders need appropriate space and protection. 

Continuous flowing traffic (CFT) makes better use of the existing boulevard roadways giving the higher capacity that is required to remove those traffic bottleneck and gridlock conditions. The CFT roadway facility is designed to remove obstruction to flowing traffic, would still have cross traffic at grade as is needed in the urban context and would have traffic signals controlled by the LA system called Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system now used in some 4400 applications in locations throughout LA. 

A CFT roadway can have community compatibility with low and safe speeds, a constant 30 mph for example, but would provide faster travel time because signals would be timed to ensure green lights on the timed and spaced roadway intersections giving a mile of travel each two minutes any time of the day. Lanes of flowing traffic could have as much as twice the current lane capacities that stop and go traffic operate at and with current technology and driver abilities.  

This roadway joins the overall Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) planning strategy to reduce VMT and GHGs while developing sustainable communities in cities of all sizes and fixing many of those existing problems currently in the denser and overdeveloped areas of LA. Rightly so the approach stresses ‘Network Management’ and the transforming of vehicular efficiency with CAFÉ standards (54mpg by 2025) as well as increased use of electric and fuel cell vehicles. 

In that, vehicular mileage is comprised of greater than 95% of County travel in the movement of goods and people, and with rail less than 2%, an urban roadway system with capacities between that of a regular boulevard and that of a freeway becomes a needed and timely addition to solving traffic problems in selected corridors. LA County has the Traffic Signal Synchronization Program (TSSP) which is effective on arterials where signals are spaced greater than two miles apart. But now there can be the CFT low cost, compatible urban roadway system at grade that deals with signalization being closer than TSSP. 

Existing and future vehicle and traffic management technologies can be added to the basic CFT roadway architecture that comprises the ability to provide “continuous flowing traffic on urban interrupted streets.” The consistency of the system provides a safer driving environment for human drivers and can be combined with the autonomous vehicles of the future. 

It is important to acknowledge some of these objectives to reduce VMT and GHG that can be achieved with the following policies: Disperse future growth to within the contained area called LA County to not attract overdevelopment in communities that will then make congested streets and excessive GHG emissions. This is an essential part of the planning strategy to reduce VMT and CO2e by making the length of the “averaged trips” shorter by having more complete and balanced communities dispersed throughout the County which by proximity of destinations will reduce average trip length. 

Two things about the implied lack of Metro planning. There first is the fact that it is not feasible to put light rail into existing boulevards successfully eliminating most of their intended plans. Then there is the idea of trying to bring greater land use densities into the already high density areas of the LA Basin which already have congestion and communities in protest to preserve and protect themselves from drastic character change and gentrification. In contrast, it is the suburbs that need the job growth and increased urbanity to foster greater productivity within sustainable communities whose proximity of land uses decrease VMT and GHG emissions. 

In the LA Basin you fix the traffic congestion with higher capacity and in the suburbs you structure diverse land use growth with evolving higher capacity in selected growth corridors.

That brings us to the present situation that would fund a political battle and planning disaster. Jack Humphreville says it concisely: “If this measure is approved, it will increase Metro’s tax revenue over the next 40 years by $120 billion to an estimated $300 billion. These funds will be used to subsidize Metro’s money losing operations, fund its pensions, and finance its very ambitious, debt fueled capital expenditure program that will burden future generations of Angelenos.” 

I would add that this particular top-down planning not only does not work functionally and does not contain essential citizen participation but would set back real transportation solutions to mobility as well as socio-economic and environmental objectives. 

Instead, give existing over-developed communities a break by dispersing a meaningful amount of growth and business creation to the suburbs to drive urbanity and productivity through proximity there also decreases VMT and GHG emissions by a massive amount of shorter vehicular trips. This is how transportation can realistically and affordably structure sustainable communities countywide. It evolves the existing dominant mode of travel into being efficient and making efficient urbane sustainable communities. 

Work towards getting the bottom-up community planning that balances the top-down planning which can result in what is needed begins by the first step of voting down the proposed ½ cent tax increase.

 

(Phil Brown AIA (member, American Institute of Architects,) has invented the CFT roadway system improvement by research and development that has occurred over the last twelve years analyzing the Westside traffic problems and the socio-economic needs of Greater Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

 

Same Old Same Old: Proposed La Cienega Luxury High-rise is Oblivious to it Surroundings

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Mega-developer Rick Caruso’s proposed 21-story luxury high-rise apartment complex at the intersection of LaCienega and Burton Way is a city planning accident waiting to happen. It also similar to the three nearby Miracle Mile museum projects that I criticized as being oblivious to their surroundings in last week’s CityWatch column.  In those cases, I charged that these bizarre museum projects were just plopped into place. They are totally disconnected from the Miracle Mile, and they do nothing to address that historic corridor’s deficient public services and infrastructure and lackluster appearance. 

Market-based land use decisions-- Likewise, the 333 S. LaCienega project, which has recently completed its Draft Environmental Impact Report and is now shopping for support among community groups, has the same weaknesses. To begin, at this location -- the former Loehman’s and DWP water treatment site -- this project totally conflicts with adopted zoning and planning ordinances. To be built, the City Council must legally alter the underlying parcel’s zoning and General Plan designation. Until this happens, as designed, this project is dead in the water because it could only be built according to code.

While building to code would totally please surrounding neighborhoods, the developer, Rick Caruso, complains that a smaller building would generate much less profit than a luxury high-rise. He is undoubtedly correct, but reduced future profits are hardly legal grounds to justify spot-zoning and spot-planning. If elected officials cast aside every land use law and adopted General Plan element when investors thought they could make a fatter profit with a more permissive zone and General Plan designation, future accidents would no longer be waiting to happen. They would be happening right now.

Racing against the lock to get approvals-- Sitting in the wings is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. It comes up for a vote in March 2017. If approved, it would stop spot-zoning and spot-planning for good, and that includes many future accidents, like this one. This is why Caruso Affiliated must keep one eye on the calendar. For this project to go forth, it must obtain all of its approvals before the Initiative forces City Hall to take planning seriously. At the same time, Caruso Affiliated must also keep an eye on anxious neighbors and community organizations since many of them see no need for a luxury high-rise at this highly congested location.

The neighbors not only have full rights to appeal and litigate this project, but also know that this area already has three regional traffic generators: the Beverly Center, Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and the Beverly Connection. They have also realized that City Hall made a colossal error by incrementally turning this area into a regional center through many separate land use actions. Furthermore, with or without Caruso Affiliated’s 333 S. LaCienega high-rise, this section of Los Angels is becoming much busier. The nearby Beverly Connection has been remodeled, while Cedars-Sinai is in a perpetual expansion mode, and the Taubman Corporation’s Beverly Center is undergoing a massive, $500 million renovation.

Despite so much private investment pouring into this area, it does not have nor will it have mass transit. While it has several METRO bus lines, few people who live, shop, or depend on medical care at this location rely on transit. As for the Caruso project, its future tenants only need to pick up the phone and a luxury car and chauffeur will be waiting for them.

While Wilshire Boulevard will eventually have a Purple Line subway station one mile to the south, no one contends that it will reduce traffic congestion in the Beverly Center area. San Vicente, Burton Way, Third Street, and LaCienega will still be a mess when the subway opens for business in 2023, and then for the foreseeable future.

The other disturbing issue is that that if/when the City Council adopts spot-zoning and spot-planning ordinances for this site, the resulting high-rise will be more than twice the height of other nearby buildings, such as Cedars’ new Saperstein wing.   Furthermore, its streamlined moderne architectural design is totally at odds with other buildings in this area, except for another Caruso Affiliated luxury project one block away. 

Area deficiencies-- But what about this area’s major deficits, other than horrendous traffic congestion? Like most of LA, they are legion, and this building’s proposed Community Benefits deal only scrapes the surface.

To begin, this entire area needs to have its conspicuous and dangerous overhead wires undergrounded. On nearby Third Street, filled with trendy stores and restaurants, they loom over both sides of the streets.   This commercial center, like most of Los Angeles, also has broken sidewalks and lacks coherent street furniture, such as light standards, benches, signage, and trash cans.

San Vicente Boulevard is even worse. It is nearly impossible to cross it on foot, and its motley selection of trees includes some that are barely alive. And, since LA welcomes billboards, unlike neighboring Beverly Hills, they are a true blight in this corridor.

At its best, the enormous private investment flowing into 333 S. LaCienega will not fix this area’s many deficits. At its worst, it will exacerbate traffic congestion, if that is possible, and its spot zoning and spot-planning – courtesy of the LA City Council -- sets a dangerous precedent.

Despite disclaimers, it is only time until they are matched with follow-up City Council actions to grant similar requests from other real estate speculators. When this happens, landowners will reap enormous windfalls in increased property values, but none of this instant wealth will trickle down to the local community.

Then, lot by lot, like much of Los Angeles, height and density will increase by spot-zoning, totally sabotaging LA’s besieged planning process. Of course, the necessary supporting infrastructure will still be ignored. Water, electricity, telecommunications, street capacity, waste water, storm drains, pedestrian enhancements, parks, libraries, schools, and much more, will remain after-thoughts.

When this finally happens, though, today’s elected officials will have moved on to cushy consulting jobs, or perhaps they will be winning horseshoe tournaments in their desert hideaways.

What to do? I think one of my neighbors hit the nail on the head in her testimony to a local Neighborhood Council meeting.

She argued that community groups should not bless such projects in exchange for negotiations that produce supposed community benefits.

This is because spot-zoning and sweetheart deals are a slippery slope. They are designed to divide local communities by peeling away shortsighted factions. Their side deals then end up “shredding LA’s zoning code” and destroying entire neighborhoods.

Finally, even when developers have tremendous pull that allows them to usually get what they want, our response should be, “Build to code or don’t build at all.”

(Dick Platkin is a veteran city planner. He reports on local planning issues for CityWatch, and he welcomes comments and questions at [email protected].)

-cw

‘Sacramento, When It Comes to Transportation Funding You Ought To Be Ashamed!’

ALPERN AT LARGE--No need to mince words here:  if the state did its job on transportation funding, then Metro wouldn't have to keep raising its county sales tax every few years.   Sacramento, when it comes to stealing and misappropriating transportation funding, you stink ... and you ought to be ashamed.  And now there's a bill (SB1379) to have Sacramento play a direct role in choosing the Metro Board?! 

There's a darned good reason why the Metro Board had to take over the last portions of the 405 widening project through the Sepulveda Pass:  Sacramento was broke and spending money on other things ... did you know we spend as much or more on former state workers as current state workers?  

But whatever ... no one other than the nerds even read or care about that "pension" thing. 

And past governors kept offering and then taking away money for the Expo Line and other major Metro projects--seriously, if we didn't have Measure R passed, it's anyone's guess when we'd have an Expo Line or Crenshaw/LAX line...and there would be nothing left for any other projects. 

Freeways really should be under the largesse of the state, and major rail lines (the latter of which, if you think about it, are freeway-alternatives or freeway-supplements) should be a combined state/local project with respect to planning and funding. 

Meanwhile, while this governor spends more time shoving a high-speed rail line down the throats of an ambivalent taxpaying public (tens of billions of dollars here, folks) without getting airlines, the private sector, and Amtrak on board, the lion's share of getting the light and heavy rails to our major LA City/County destinations has been the responsibility of the county. 

You know, the supes.  The five elected kings and queens of LA County.  There are four Metro seats for the Mayor, and seats allotted to different geographic regions of the county.   

Balance and fighting is always tough when fighting for projects and money, but after years of infighting we passed Measure R, and if we pass Measure M (also known as Measure R-2) this November, we won't have to agonize over freeway and rail access to the ports versus LAX light rail access versus the Wilshire Subway or the Sepulveda Pass Subway versus ... 

... you get the idea--freeways in the northern and eastern portions of the county, along with new rail lines, are just as vital as they are in the southern and western portions of the county. 

Our past mayor set the groundwork for LAX reconfiguration and getting the light rail to LAX, but it's been Mayor Garcetti and Westside City Councilmember Bonin who've worked with the right people to finish the job while also FIIIIIIIIIINALLY (!) allowing LAX renovation/reconfiguration without smashing into Westchester, and cutting off Lincoln and Sepulveda Boulevards. as well as future rail line extensions. 

Unfortunately, the past mayor also infuriated the southern and eastern portions of the county with respect to Measure R spending, and focused so much on the Wilshire Subway that eastern and southern rail lines appeared to be getting the short end of the stick. 

So enter Senate Bill 1379, sponsored by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia), which would maintain 4 seats on the Metro Board, but only have two county seats for the Metro Board while replacing the three others with a seat for Long Beach, as well as an appointee by the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the Assembly. 

Most of you reading this would want to respond with a "slow jam" of the following: "THE STATE WOULD SUPPLANT COUNTY GOVERNANCE OF A COUNTY ENTITY WITH STATE APPOINTEES". 

I'm not sure if the "D" in D-Artesia stands for Democrat, Dum-Dum, or Delusional, but if this is the best that Mr. Mendoza can do to ensure equity between the west and east halves of the county with respect to transportation funding, then maybe he should find a new hobby. 

The late Bill Rosendahl felt that Measure R should have been a full penny to get the job done, and that means a Gold Line to the San Bernardino County Line and to the full Eastside, a Green Line to the South Bay, and a light rail line to the Southeast Cities as well as the obvious north/south and east/west rail lines for the LA County urban core and LAX. 

Ditto for our roads and freeways, and for operational expenses. 

We're getting the job done, Mr. Mendoza, and both the Mayor and the County pols are getting along better than they've gotten along in decades.  Washington realizes that LA is a heckuva good partner in transportation spending. 

But the same is not true for Sacramento.  That entity really owes us tens of billions of dollars for our roads and rails and other transportation needs. 

So let's just hope that SB 1379 is just a misguided shot in the dark by a Sacramento that truly has been asleep at the switch for a very, very long time with respect to transportation. 

A simple note to Sacramento: don't give us lame, sophomoric governance bills.  If you really want to help, spend a few billion a year on city/county directed needs.  After all, that really IS the sort of thing that taxpayers expect their state taxes to go to, rather than to have to pay it again to the counties because Sacramento spent transportation money ... somewhere ... else 

(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

 

Our Own ‘Vexit’? Venice Thinking about Leaving the City of LA

SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT-Venice has been a part of the city of Los Angeles for 90 years, but residents have started a campaign to separate the neighborhood to become ... well, it has to figure that out. 

But it's SoCal's own Brexit – Vexit. 

"What's best for Venice?" says Nick Antonicello, chair of the new ad hoc committee on city-hood at the Venice Neighborhood Council. 

The Council voted in late July to explore how a split could happen. 

One option would be to "detach" Venice from LA City to become an unincorporated part of LA County. Another would ask a nearby independent city like Santa Monica to annex it. The last – and most ideal – is to become its own city. 

The movement is because Antonicello and others are increasingly frustrated about the lack of attention it gets from City Hall. 

"People in Venice like home rule and they like to control their own destiny," he says. "Small municipalities work very well." 

Antonicello argues that Venetians are the best decision-makers to tackle local issues like housing, homelessness, gentrification and more. 

Plus, he sees that wealthy Venice is putting more tax dollars into the city's coffers without getting much back in return. 

But no matter how it tries to break off and why, it will be tough for Venice to go it alone. "All of these situations are handled by something called the Local Agency Formation Commission," says journalist Isaac Simpson who wrote about the rift in Curbed LA.  

The Commission will put the city through a financial stress-test to make sure it can afford to exist without LA's help. East Los Angeles has failed that test several times when trying to incorporate. 

If a city passes the Commission's test, then the issue has to also pass two separate referendums: one by the neighborhood itself, and the other by the rest of Los Angeles. That's what thwarted the 2002 efforts to secede by Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and the Harbor Area of San Pedro. All those votes failed. 

"Venice would easily pass its own ballot," says Simpson. "In terms of getting the entire city to let them go as a second-most-visited tourist location in Southern California, the likelihood there seems extremely slim." 

But if Venice does succeed, there will be a clear loser: Los Angeles. 

"Well, it probably gets a lot poorer," says Simpson, noting that the wealthy tax base of Venice won't be a part of LA's budget anymore. 

Regardless of which option is taken, it could be weeks or months before the Venice Neighborhood Council decides what its next step will be.

 

(Take Two, exclusively on 89.3 KPCC, 89.1 KUOR and 90.3 KVLA in southern California, and on 88.9 KNPR in Las Vegas, captures the spirit of the West in a conversational, informal, witty style and examines the cultural issues people are buzzing about.) Graphic credit: LA.Curbed. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Is California the Most LGBTQ-Friendly State In the U.S. or What?

LGBTQ PERSPECTIVE--California has long been progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights, proposing bills for same-sex couples to retain rights and marry long before other states did. Despite a several-year period when Proposition 8 was in effect--banning marriage between same-sex couples from 2008 until 2013--California has taken measures to ensure that the LGBTQ community can live, work, and love safely.  

One of the ways the state has attempted to make positive changes for the LGBTQ community is with a Respect After Death Act, which ensures that the death certificates of transgender people will reflect the gender they chose to live with. Because gender identity is a huge part of a trans individual’s life, the law is a big win for the equality movement, ensuring that the deceased’s legacy will remain untouched. 

The bill, which was co-sponsored by the Transgender Law Center, is meant to help protect the dignity of the deceased. 

Executive director Masen Davis says that it “brings us a significant step closer to making sure that all transgender people are able to live – and die – authentically in accordance with who they really are.” 

Recently, the University of California took steps to make sure their bathrooms were more gender-neutral and to change their official records to include a name change. The campus also has gender-inclusive athletic facilities and has been rated among the top schools in the country for LGBTQ students, in part because the school’s student insurance plan offers coverage for hormones and surgeries for those in transition. 

In another groundbreaking law, California introduced training for all healthcare professionals on how to best care for LGBTQ patients, including “understanding and applying cultural and ethnic data to the process of clinical care, including, as appropriate, information pertinent to the appropriate treatment of, and provision of care to, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities.” 

California has also become the first state to protect people from being charged with being a sex worker solely on the basis that they are carrying condoms. Because of the large number of transgender women who have turned to sex work over the years due to discrimination and destitution, women are being profiled by law enforcement and arrested for carrying protection. This law requires the court to state without a doubt that the condoms are relevant to a particular case in order to be used as evidence. 

With California taking steps to ensure the legal protection of LGTBQ individuals, it has become something of a safe haven for the community as a whole, especially with laws put into place banning the legal defense of “gay panic,” meaning a person who murders a gay or transgender individual can’t use the defense that they became violent after discovering they were LGBTQ. 

Since the state has put measures in place designed to protect members of the gay and transgender community, it has garnered praise from rights groups over the years, as well as from those who have made the move to call California home.   

(Caroline Hampton is a teacher and concerned parent. She created OpenEducators.org to make it easier for teachers (and parents) to find reliable, engaging educational resources for the children in their care. In addition to working on the site, Caroline enjoys spending her time organizing events at her church, cycling, and of course, hanging out with her husband and two kids.)

-cw

Garcetti’s Preference for Lighting the Olympic Torch is Misplaced

PERSPECTIVE-The Rio Olympics is history. The green water of the diving and water polo pools has been emptied into Guanabara Bay. The Brazilian Army’s deployment helped keep a lid on crime, but it could not prevent Ryan Lochte from creating an international incident. 

In all fairness, Rio did pull off a mostly controversy-free Games, but there are lessons for Los Angeles. If we win the bid for 2024, our dirty laundry will be aired to the world. 

No matter how hard a host city tries, it will be under the microscope. 

Let me say, I believe LA can stage a financially successful Olympics. As skeptical as I can be about our city’s finances, remember: the mayor and city council will not be pulling the strings. Look for a Mitt Romney or Peter Ueberroth to run the show. Mitt should be available. 

First, we have to secure the bid. 

So, talk of who should light the cauldron at the Coliseum is way too premature. 

But according to TMZ, Mayor Garcetti has expressed a preference for Caitlyn Jenner to do the honors.  

While Jenner has garnered both Olympic and social preeminence, the highly publicized transgender personality wins, at best, a fourth-place medal as a candidate for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

While I hesitate to speculate who would best represent the nation and the region, since the mayor has prematurely opened the door, I’ll weigh in. 

The gold medal winner in the race to light the flame belongs to someone who represents the best in America and a symbol of our Southern California lifestyle. Who better for that role than Kerry Walsh-Jennings? 

When you think of LA, the beach…and beach volleyball…emerge as one of several symbols of our culture. 

Walsh-Jennings is a model of sportsmanship, competitiveness and triumph. In a span that transcended five Olympiads (including one as a member of the indoor team at the Sydney 2000 Games), she won three golds and a bronze. She also had a sensational career as a player at Stanford. She earned her degree there, as well. Not too shabby. 

Jenner, whose achievements are noteworthy and has shown personal courage, unfortunately brings to mind the Kardashian clan. I do not believe we want Kim, Kanye and company leveraging off the publicity – as if they need any. 

Regardless, this is about selecting a role model all can admire -- one who sets a standard for achievement with humility and grace. 

Let the mayor know Walsh-Jennings can best represent us before the world.

 

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

Don't Let Charter Industry Silence John Oliver … Calif Being ‘Scammed’ (Video)

OLIVER TARGETED BY PRIVATIZERS--What do an education historian and a late-night comedian have in common?

Shared opposition to the fraud and abuse associated with charter schools and other privatization efforts, of course.

Longtime educator and activist Diane Ravitch encouraged her readers to start a campaign of thanks to comedian John Oliver, who devoted a segment of his HBO show Last Week Tonight on Sunday to charter schools and fraud—and is now being targeted by privatizers and other corporate propagandists on Twitter. (There are approximately 274 charter schools currently in the Los Angeles School District.)

Charter supporters are "saying that he 'hurt' children, he savaged children," she wrote, noting that this is "a familiar tactic" of intimidation that she faced after writing about dubious test-scoring methods in New York City school a decade ago.

Ravitch called on her readers to combat the hate by tweeting and emailing Oliver messages of support. "Don't let the charter industry intimidate him," she wrote.

Watch Oliver's segment below:

"Fraud is a feature of deregulation, not a bug," Ravitch added.

"When no one is looking, some people steal. Not everyone steals, but many do. That is why Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and California are scamming taxpayers. No one is demanding accountability. Politicians get paid off by charter friends, then cripple any effort to oversee them Ohio and Michigan spend $1 billion a year to subsidize charter schools, which are lower-performing than public schools."

(Video) John Oliver takes on the Charters  

Education activist and associate fellow at Campaign for America's Future Jeff Bryant noted in an op-ed on Thursday that Oliver's critics miss the point of his segment by calling his arguments outdated, uninformed, and unfair. 

"None of Oliver's critics seriously refuted the crux of his argument that there might be something fundamentally wrong by design, rather than by implementation or intent, with the idea that  a 'free market' of privately operated and essentially unregulated schools is a surefire way to improve education opportunities for all students," Bryant wrote.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams … where this piece was first posted. John Oliver on Charter Schools Video.) 

-cw

Coming Attractions: New Digital Billboards on LA City Streets?

BILLBOARD WATCH-Will this digital billboard re-appear? In this location, or elsewhere? The photo is from 2010. But new digital billboards are going to start popping up along LA’s streets and freeways, probably sooner than later. The only questions are exactly where these brightly-lighted signs with rapidly-changing ads will appear, and how many will ultimately brighten the landscape with their shiny sales pitches to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians on those congested thoroughfares. 

That’s a prediction, not a fact. But it’s based on close observation of the saga that began when the city banned those billboards fourteen years ago, a convoluted epic involving lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, multiple rewritings of the city sign ordinance, numerous public meetings, and a lobbying and public relations campaign by Clear Channel and other big billboard companies that resembled, in its expense and relentlessness, a military exercise designed to batter down City Hall walls and turn politicians into willing and even enthusiastic allies. 

The latest chapter opens tomorrow, when the City Council’s PLUM committee takes up a proposal to allow 150 new digital billboards in exchange for taking down existing static billboards, providing community benefits, and sharing part of the considerable revenue generated by the signs. That’s it in a nutshell, although a lot of details would remain to be worked out, mostly to do with questions of quantity -- how many billboards taken down, how many streetscape improvements or pieces of public art or other community benefits, how much revenue. 

Certain numbers are floated in an 11-page joint report from the city’s planning department, the chief legislative analyst, the chief administrative officer, and the department of building and safety. One is a sign reduction of 8 to 1, based on square footage. In other words, if a full-size digital billboard were to be erected, Clear Channel or other company owning the sign would have to take down eight of equivalent size. And half of those billboards would have to be taken down within a five-mile radius of the new digital sign. 

But how can this happen without lifting the aforementioned 2002 ban on new billboards (defined by code as off-site signs) and any modifications to existing ones -- which, presumably, would open the floodgates to new billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising all over the city. 

The mechanism proposed by city officials and touted by Clear Channel ever since the court ordered their digital billboards turned off in 2013, is the relocation agreement. Put simply, California law allows cities to enter into an agreement with a billboard owner to remove a billboard and put up a new one of equivalent size elsewhere. This law was intended to relieve cities and other jurisdictions from paying compensation for billboards needing to be removed for street widenings and other public works projects, and it would -- presuming again -- allow LA’s off-site sign ban to remain intact. 

After the city settled a lawsuit back in 2006 by allowing Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor (now Outfront Media) to convert 840 of their billboards to digital, the companies got 101 of the new billboards operating before public outcry lifted to such a pitch that the City Council slapped on a moratorium and then a permanent ban on the signs. A lawsuit by a smaller billboard company then resulted in a court ruling that the city’s lawsuit settlement was illegal and that the digital billboards had to be shut off. 

Those digital billboards had been put up without any public notice or restrictions on location and proximity to residences. City planners and other officials obviously learned something from the debacle, because the proposal to be considered by the PLUM committee includes a number of restrictions apparently designed to lessen the impact of digital signs. 

Among the most noteworthy are prohibitions of the signs in areas zoned neighborhood or limited commercial, which typically have small shops and neighborhood businesses; in public parks, historic preservation zones, and along designated scenic highways; and areas within 500 ft. of single family zones. 

Still, this is a major departure from action of the City Planning Commission, first back in 2009 and again in 2015, which restricted any new off-site signs, including digital billboards, to 22 high-intensity commercial areas including downtown, Universal City, Warner Center, Mid-Wilshire, and others. That restriction, however, has been strenuously opposed by Clear Channel and other members of the billboard industry, and it became clear earlier this year that despite the support of numerous individuals, neighborhood councils, and community groups, the five-member PLUM committee was going to turn a collective thumbs down. 

Another unknown is whether new “relocated” digital billboards will be allowed on both private and public property, as vigorously promoted by the major billboard companies, or only on public property, as put forward in a proposal last year by City Councilman Paul Krekorian. Those companies -- Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising -- have vigorously enlisted the support of business groups, labor unions, and non-profit organizations in their push to allow the billboards on both private and public property, so the smart money is probably on that arrangement. 

Still, many questions remain. For instance, will a small billboard company like Regency Outdoor or Summit Media be interested in removing eight of its existing billboards just to get one digital sign? What about Lamar Advertising’s inventory, which consists predominately of small signs in less affluent neighborhoods? Would it want to put up all its new digital billboards in communities miles away where eyeballs are more coveted by advertisers? And what about Clear Channel’s and Outfront’s digital billboards that have been sitting dark for three years? Many of these signs generated complaints about light flashing in windows, possible distractions to drivers, and so forth. Do the companies want to turn a bunch of those back on? 

And perhaps most importantly, what is the legal significance of these proposals? The highly litigious billboard industry, as well as other outdoor advertising companies, have sued the city repeatedly in the past, all attacking in one way or another that nefarious 2002 ban on new off-site signs. The sign district restriction adopted by the City Planning Commission was originally touted as a way to allow off-site signs without opening up the ban to legal attack. 

Any digital billboard scheme the PLUM committee stamps with its imprimatur will have to be put in ordinance form by the City Attorney’s office, which-- presuming yet again -- means that some light will be shed on possible legal pitfalls. 

We’ll see.

 

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

City Hall Flashback: They’ve Always Been Cheats!

EASTSIDER-I’m looking at an old CityWatch Special Report from September 2006, which was published ahead of the November 2006 general election. What’s fascinating to me is the subject matter of the two major events it covered -- Proposition R and a one billion dollar affordable housing bond called Measure H. These two events are still timely today as we look forward to this November’s general election. 

Measure R and Legal Lying 

The most politically divisive and deliberately misleading of the two was Measure R, captioned as “Council member Term Limits of Three Terms, City Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Ethics Laws, Charter Amendment and Ordinance Proposition R.” 

Here’s how misleading the measure really was: (1) it made it seem like LA City Councilmembers would have stricter term limits of only three terms, when the truth is, that measure expanded the term limits from two to three terms; and (2) it made it seem as if there was a real substantive crackdown on lobbyists, when in fact, the opposite was true: existing rules were turned on their head. 

And who were the movers and shakers behind this smarmy sleight of hand? None other than then Council President Eric Garcetti, along with god’s gift to the Eastside, Jose Huizar. Rounding out the pack was our current Council President, Herb Wesson. Yes, sir, all in for the gravy train. 

On the other side of this deal was a little band of mostly Neighborhood Council types and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo -- who publically stated that the measure, as dastardly as I have described it, was passed over his opposition. In the interests of full disclosure, I should report that your humble blogger was among that little band of folks filing the NO Argument on this one. 

It got really ugly. We wound up in Superior Court over the hopelessly skewed language of the Ballot description -- and we won. Of course, the Superior Court judge was quickly reversed by those bastions of the establishment in the Appeals Court. The result was that the public was denied the truth when they voted in November. 

On the Ethics side, the measure was equally toxic. Bill Boyarsky, a really good guy who was on the City Ethics Commission at the time, was quoted in an LA Times article, saying Measure R was “outrageous,” and noted that the LA City Council “showed absolute contempt for the Ethics Commission.” Of course, unbeknownst to most normal people who do not follow the slime trail of LA City politics, guess who was the President of the LA City Ethics Commission at the time? None other than Gil Garcetti -- yes, that Gil Garcetti -- former District Attorney of Los Angeles County and father of Council President Eric Garcetti. 

I mean, this thing stunk worse than the plot of a bad soap opera. Naturally, backed by the big bucks of lobbyists and political insiders, you won’t be shocked to hear that the measure passed before the voters figured out they’d been hoodwinked. 

For those interested in the event, check out the history on Smartvoter.org.  

And You Thought Affordable Housing Bonds Were New? 

As long as the Council was sliding through job extensions for themselves, it evidently seemed like a good idea to back door a new tax increase by asking for $1 billion in bonds for a really good cause -- Measure H, “Affordable Housing.” Of course it wasn’t simply called that. Nope, in and of itself, something with such a clear title might get defeated at the ballot box. The text of the final ballot language is below, and the smartvoter.org history file is here

“To provide safe, clean, affordable housing for the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors and the disabled; assist first time homebuyers; provide low income working families safe and affordable rental housing; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,000,000,000 of bonds, with independent citizen oversight, mandatory annual financial audits, and prosecution for criminal misuse of funds?” 

My goodness. This measure was the written equivalent of all those TV ads showing starving children and abused animals. I mean, how could anyone with a heart not vote for it? And, by the way, people did vote for this one. Measure H was only defeated because of the 2/3 requirement for tax increases. The final vote tally was 62.86% in favor and 31.14% against. 

Two points here. First, prominent among the shining proponents of Measure H were Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Council President Eric Garcetti, and then Councilmember (and Chair of the City Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee) Herb Wesson. Gee, do these names sound familiar? 

The second point is a lesson in why voters really need to read the full text of anything on a ballot before voting for or against it. In the case of Measure H, buried in the lengthy text of the measure was a Fiscal Impact analysis by then LA City CAO Bill Fujioka: 

“The debt service will be paid from additional property tax revenues based upon the assessed value of all taxable property within the City.” 

Of course most people don’t even bother to vote, much less look at what they are voting for. But for a few tenths of a percentage point, we would have had another tax. 

Back to my ongoing concern about City Hall and Neighborhood Councils. Why this Measure frosted me is that it demonstrated what Council President Garcetti (and the entire City Council) really thought about Neighborhood Councils. As CityWatch put it: 

“The main reason Neighborhood Councils are upset about the proposed billion dollar affordable housing bond issue is that while numerous powerful interests were invited to draft and vet the proposal, the only group the City Charter mandates the city consult with - Neighborhood Councils - was completely ignored.” 

The only difference between 2006 and 2016 is that in 2006, then Council President Garcetti was sufficiently worried (probably about passing the bond) that he actually agreed to leave his ivory tower and go to LANCC’s first ever General Assembly to discuss the matter. I wonder if he or Herb would do the same today. 

The Takeaway - Career Politicians Don’t Change 

Flash forward from 2006 to 2016, one whole decade. Many of the faces in LA City are the same: Eric Garcetti, Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar, and the always running for something, Antonio Villaraigosa. And behind them are the developers, the “fixers,” the lobbyist law firms and fronts for money. 

One example would be the Kaufman Legal Group, a professional corporation dedicated to “political law.” There are lots of others; I only mention them because guess who worked Measure R in 2006? 

Yup, and their client list reads like a Who’s Who of the democratic party establishment -- Kevin De Leon, Eric Garcetti, Janice Hahn, Jackie Lacey, Alex Padilla, John Perez, and Herb Wesson, just to name a few. And since they specialize in Governmental Ethics, I would note that Gary Winuk, former Chief of the California FPPC’s Enforcement Division from 2009 to 2015, has recently joined their Sacramento office. I guess you should buy the very best when lookin’ for loopholes in ethics laws. 

Seems to me that not too much has really changed in the last decade of LA City politics, other than the fact that after Measure R, City Council members have been able to inflict themselves on us for twelve years instead of eight. Ain’t life grand? 

Oh, I guess there is one change -- City Hall politicians now routinely blow off the Neighborhood Councils with impunity. They have the City Attorney, BONC and DONE to front for them and control us.

 

(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. 

Can You Believe It? Over Half a Million People Arrested In California for Marijuana In Last Decade

POT POLITICS--Although legalization of recreation marijuana did not pass in California in 2010, Robin Abcarian, with the LA Times  writes that marijuana is barely labeled as a “gateway drug” anymore, and you hardly find anyone saying it’s evil. Hence she believes that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized when it goes up for ballot in November. 

Nearly two-thirds of California voters support legalization of marijuana for recreational use, according to a poll released on Wednesday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. From June 29 to July 18, 2016, 3,020 people were surveyed in this poll. 

One of the arguments against legalization is that patients in California can be prescribed to treat practically any ailment. Therefore, according to such opposition, legalization for recreational use isn’t required. 

Further, in 2011, California made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a minor offense that is only as bad as a parking ticket. 

However, the Drug Policy Alliance released a report finding that almost half a million people were arrested in connection with marijuana related charges in the last 10 years. Almost 9,000 people were arrested on marijuana-related felonies in 2015 alone.  

“Black, Latino, and white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates, yet black and Latino people are more likely to be arrested for a marijuana law violation,” according to the report’s press release. 

“Black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana misdemeanors and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana felonies. Latinos are 35 percent more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana offense: 45 percent more likely for a misdemeanor and 26 percent more likely for a felony.” 

In addition, arrests of people under 18 for marijuana misdemeanors almost tripled in 2015 when compared to the time period before 2011 - when the charge for personal use possession was dropped to a misdemeanor. 

Thousands of people are still being arrested for misdemeanor possession charges, giving away marijuana to other people, or possessing more than an ounce of marijuana. 

Upon passing marijuana legalization, possession of marijuana concentrates, giving away minor quantities of marijuana would all be legal. People will also be able to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (which is now a felony). And plants can be sold and taxed like in Colorado. 

In February, the Denver Post reported that in 2015 legal sales of marijuana in Colorado hit $996,184,788. 

“Colorado also collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 — more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects,” The Denver Post reports.  

With a population that is almost eight times larger than Colorado, California’s Department of Finance director Michael Cohen and legislative analyst Mac Taylor reported that California can potentially collect over $1 billion in tax revenue yearly if marijuana legalization passes. 

It is argued that legalization will reduce the amount of arrests for marijuana-related charges. That means less people will miss work, lose a job, have an arrest on their record, or restrict their chances of leading a productive life due to a victimless act that shouldn’t be considered a crime. 

An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will appear on the November ballot.


(Neal Rodriguez is a technologist and journalist who has worked for the Neilson Company, AOL and the US Department of Defense. This perspective was posted most recently at Huff Post.

-cw

Between the World and John Deasy

EDUCATION POLITICS--Dear Professor Ta-Nehisi Coates (photo, right above): I am writing in response to an open letter that was recently addressed to you asking for your attention and admiration. It was written by the disgraced former superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy. (photo, left above) 

I realize, Dr. Coates, that you are not reading this article. I doubt that you read John Deasy’s either. John Deasy did not write it for you. The obsequious screed addressed to you was really for himself and the sponsors of his next “private-public” agenda: Alternative Juvenile Prisons. 

So, I will address the same people whom John Deasy was addressing by similarly using you as my pseudo-conduit. (NOTE: My exploitation of your name and works is at least honest.) I hope you won’t mind being the vehicle for my Public Service Announcement. 

John Deasy’s address to you was published in The 74, one of the primary voices of the extremely well-funded Education Reform Movement. Its founder, Campbell Brown, has accrued a number of Republican and wealthy Neo-Liberal Democrats to push their education agenda through its editorial advocacy. John Deasy is one of the stars of this movement. 

Professor Coates, as an admirer of your landmark book and your other writings as well (hearty shout out to the new Black Panther comic!), I would like to give you an opposing viewpoint on John Deasy and provide an alternative insight into his selfish education political agenda. 

First off, you should know that I taught AP English, Philosophy and Film in an LAUSD high school for over twenty years. I am a National Board Certified Teacher who uses literature and film as a way of expanding the world for my students to inform their own political and cultural consciousness. I am most proud of the fact that so many of my former students have gone on to college and adult life politically engaged, working in areas to promote social justice. 

Looking back, the leadership of John Deasy at LAUSD was one of the most arrogantly destructive eras of my pedagogical lifetime. His tenure at LAUSD was marked by a raging autocratic management style where he took unilateral actions to further the corporate education agenda of Big Business -- all justified under a mask of civil rights “urgency.” Indeed “Dr.” Deasy is as adept as the Koch Brothers at appropriating the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to propel the interests of his benefactors, and in the process, his own. 

This is old news for those of us in LA. But for the uninitiated: Deasy’s curriculum vitae has always defined his policies. It is a Who’s Who of America’s most powerful entrepreneurs. 

John Deasy is a man who has enjoyed a whole lifetime of white privilege and the patronage of very wealthy benefactors who have assisted him in every step of his education career. Their names are familiar to all of us: Gates. Annenberg. Broad. There’s hardly a billionaire to whom John Deasy hasn’t offered his services, and been rewarded handsomely. 

John Deasy first came to prominence by attending the University of Louisville graduate school of education. He was invited to study there by a professor named Robert Felner.

Deasy's and Felner's careers overlapped in Rhode Island, where Felner served as director of the University of Rhode Island's School of Education from 1996 to 2003 and Deasy served as a local school superintendent from 1996 to 2001. 

A year after taking over as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in 2001, Deasy recommended that his school system pay $125,000 for a survey performed by the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy, run by Felner. The survey was later extended for two more years at the same price, for a total of $375,000. 

How long did Deasy stay at Louisville to get his doctorate? He entered the program in January, 2004 and he received his doctorate on April 9, 2004. This was unprecedented since a PhD candidate must spend two years on campus and three years is the usual amount of time it takes to get a doctorate. 

Soon afterwards, in 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Felner on nine counts of mail fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Felner siphoned away not only the $694,000 earmarked grant, but also $1.7 million in payments from three urban school districts, money that ought to have gone to the legitimate public education center that Mr. Felner had created in Rhode Island. 

When Deasy left his superintendency of the small Santa Monica-Malibu School District to take over the large, predominantly black district of Prince George’s County outside Washington, D.C., he promised the search committee that he would stay between four and eight years, the length of time, Deasy assured, it would take to make a difference. 

How long did John Deasy actually give to make a difference? 

Nine months. 

Deasy abruptly abandoned P.G. County and those students to take Bill Gates’ lucrative offer as a Deputy in his philanthropic universe, again placing his own fortunes and ambitions first. 

The gig at Gates positioned Deasy to gain favor with his most ambitious benefactor, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad. Broad’s Superintendent’s Academy grooms private business people to take over public school systems. The graduates of this private breeding ground of public school superintendents fanned out across the country and became a virtual Who’s Who of the most aggressive and failed school CEOs of the last decade. 

In a 2013 Philanthropy Magazine interview, Broad revealed that his recruiters for his Academy were former employees of Goldman Sachs. Of course John Deasy would pass that muster and become a champion for Broad’s autocratic business philosophy put into the world of education where the real needs of working class kids of color are, apparently, standardized testing, data-driven teacher evaluations, Rahm Emanuel-style autocratic neighborhood school closings and the proliferation of “public” charter schools. 

John Deasy is a huge believer in executive authority promoting mayoral control over school systems and the limitless amount of dark corporate money into school board elections. His preferred candidates are vastly different to the ones I would support. 

I was inspired to become a teacher by the education writings of Paolo Freire, Jonathan Kozol and Dr. Robert Coles, to name a few. None of these pedagogical intellects appear on the Eli Broad Academy syllabus. What was on the syllabus of John Deasy’s mentors? The tools for an education philosophy called “creative destruction.” 

On Broad’s recommendation and his payment to fund various administrative positions of like-minded administrators (with zero input from the elected school board,) Deasy was installed as Superintendent of LAUSD in 2011. Deasy then deployed his vaunted “sense of urgency” to railroad ill-considered data-driven initiatives, top-down management directives and pedagogically improper technologies into schools, paying little heed to experienced educators in the system. 

But I believe one episode best encapsulates Deasy’s executive “skills” and “passion” for social justice. Early in his tenure as superintendent, John Deasy visited a classroom on the second day of school and denigrated, shamed and humiliated a substitute teacher in front of her students. He put her in her place showing his bizarre wrath coupled with his wildly inappropriate bullying management style which would become his hallmark leadership quality. This was Deasy’s shot across the bow to everybody in the system.

There was a new sheriff. 

I defy anyone to listen to teacher Patrena Shankling’s testimony of that day and not be repulsed by the inhumanity (and pedagogical or managerial “logic”) of Deasy’s actions. As teachers, we spend so much time preaching against bullying for our students and yet our top education authority uses such tactics to get his way. If one ever wanted to understand John Deasy’s manner, decorum and sense of righteous entitlement, it is all encapsulated in Shankling’s testimony. 

Who became the targets of Deasy’s brave “Civil Rights” crusades? 

Certainly not the power structure itself that has hurt my students in so many ways -- and neither was it the rich economic and political titans who could truly make a difference in their lives. 

It was always the people below him, scapegoated, coerced, and frightened into acquiescence. 

Although he has no scruples about spouting Civil Rights discourse, the true center of John Deasy’s speech is always John Deasy. He is the kind of ass who boldly says things like, “I know people say I love children too much.” Or, “People criticize me for my sense of urgency.” Or, “I will never apologize for putting children first.” Embarrassingly and like a fetish, etched into each bicep of John Deasy is a tattoo: the Chinese caricature of the word “Courage.” 

I’ll leave it to a psychiatrist to examine why Deasy displayed his “courage” in extraordinary self-aggrandizement, but his narcissism is the catalyst for his public policy. Nowhere in his career does he show the vaguest understanding or respect for the grassroots organization core to the Civil Rights Movement, nor for the ability of communities to articulate their own needs and solutions. There is always ONE solution: get out of his way. This is urgent. 

Because of his overreach in appropriating one billion dollars of school infrastructure bond money for a disastrous IPad program (claiming this “Civil Rights” act as the most important pedagogical necessity,) John Deasy was finally forced to leave LAUSD. The FBI seized files from his office shortly afterward and is still investigating. Deasy’s grotesque self-pity party that followed was alleviated somewhat when he was compensated handsomely for his travails by Eli Broad, subsumed again into Broad’s corporate education empire as a model for other aspiring superintendents. 

It is in Education Policy where you can see the greatest split among people claiming the Progressive mantle. Rich and powerful Reform Democrats (“sigh”) find kinship with some of the most vile Republicans on what best benefits public school kids, while the educators in the actual trenches decry the abasement of education policy that provides obvious benefits to rich, business interests. 

I long for a real national debate between these two camps on what is best for our nation in terms of education policy -- for all kids, but particularly the ones who both groups claim they advocate for. 

John Deasy has always sided with the money. 

I was gratified to hear the NAACP come out for a moratorium on charter schools, against the school closings and takeovers that have been a paramount crusade for Deasy and his corporate education advocates. The Big Business that has bankrolled the expansion of Charters throughout the country is now being more vigorously examined, particularly for which interests support them and why. 

So now, the public/private education partnership that has created the Charter School Industry, that John Deasy and the Neo-Liberals have long advocated, have set their sights on a new fortune to be made: juvenile justice “reform.” 

Thus, Deasy’s fawning letter to you, Dr. Coates. Each side of the Progressive Education debate sees the crucial value in a Black Lives Matter endorsement. Appropriating the mantel of Civil Rights is the cornerstone of Deasy’s self-righteous strategy. If the NAACP is pulling out of corporate education reform, perhaps corporate justice reform will appeal to BLM? 

John Deasy rests comfortably among the 1%, who he claims are the ones who can truly deliver on the promise of Civil Rights. 

This is what John Deasy believes and I do not doubt his passion. He honestly believes that he is what kids of color need. But John Deasy’s pedagogy and activism are the opposite of what is required. He doesn’t put his faith in the democratic system -- he puts his faith in wealth to deliver the same Top Down change that fails to acknowledge how this oppression is what these communities are seeking to not only remedy, but to flee from. 

In summary: Narcissistic Bully + Billionaire Backers + Self-righteous White Savior Complex = BEWARE. 

But of course you knew that: it’s one of the great themes of your work. 

John Deasy and his allies are the epitome of the World Between so many of us.

 

(Joshua Leibner taught in LAUSD public schools for 20 years. He is a National Board Certified teacher. This piece first appeared on LAProgressive.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

‘Pretend’ Civic Engagement is Not Participation

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-On Saturday August 20, fifteen members of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council (EPNC) participated in a six-hour retreat to formulate outreach goals and a funding plan for fiscal year 2016-17. They met at the old fire station building at the crossroads of Edgeware and Bellevue Avenues in Echo Park. 

During a brief part of the retreat, when discussing the topic, “posting agendas,” a film crew of four from LA City… Channel 35, entered the room unannounced, not to interrupt of course, but to film two young people who would be coming in to show “participation” in neighborhood council meetings. To begin with, there were, at this time, no youth present in the room. One crew member placed two empty chairs in the midst of the NC attendees, then moved them to an even “better spot” in the room. The adult crew members walked back and forth, opening and closing doors, as one of them tested to find the best spot in the room for the camera. None of them gave their names when asked. 

But the retreat continued quite smoothly. After all, we in this NC are survivors of heavy-duty past interruptions, not to mention Exhaustive Efforts (EE), the category assigned to EPNC by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). 

Tomas Soong from DONE was overseeing the retreat. He said the filming would be okay. “They’re just using the EPNC setting, as a backdrop since there’re no other NC meetings going on today, to show youth participation in NCs,” he said. 

Fifteen minutes elapsed and still no youth. Finally, at 11:06 a.m. two young females wearing blue T-shirts that said “Lincoln Heights NC” walked in. They were escorted and controlled by the two women who had been going in and out of our meeting room. Then one of the women stepped into the back room and observed through the open door behind where the NC sat, as the other escorted the girls to their seats. 

After taking a seat, one of the girls raised a hand and waited to be called on. When recognized she asked, “What is a joint board meeting?” Once her question was answered; she commented on something else. A few moments later at 11:12 a.m. the cameraman folded up his gear and left the room. Five minutes later, the two girls stood and were escorted by the two female crewmembers out of the public meeting and by 11:17 a.m. the filming crew was gone. 

After the crew had left and the NC took a lunch break, Board member Jim Brown shared with colleagues sitting next to him, “How do we get youth involved in the Neighborhood Council process? Perhaps have an NC committee with youth, so our demographics be better represented?” Brown was interested in finding a solution to what we had just witnessed. “Even though this [filming] was not authentic and they were really not involved, I would like to see youth involved and attend our NC meetings. Maybe there’s a way to get youth involved,” he said. 

Sitting on the opposite side of the room from where the camera had been positioned earlier, Board member Margarita Fernandez said, “I question why were they here and who were they? We weren’t notified. I consider it an interruption.” Another board member who sat closer to the camera in the room said that she did not know what to think of it. “I wonder if it was just a photo ‘op’ [opportunity],” she said. 

Paul Bowers, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), commented to members sitting at the same table that it was a legitimate film for a commercial for youth participating in a NC, “but in reality the two youth were not participating.” 

Another board member said that youth participation with NCs is more than attending six NC meetings in a day and being filmed. At the start one Board member overheard that these girls would be attending five other NC meetings today film crew. 

In addition, one crewmember mentioned upon entry that the two young people to be filmed were from the Lincoln Heights NC. 

It makes sense to provide equal access to all stakeholders such as business and education entities in the Lincoln Heights area since there are two Los Angeles Leadership Academies, a middle and high school in their jurisdiction. However, as of Saturday August 20, the Lincoln Heights NC website showed there to be two vacant Board youth-representative seats. But even if they haven’t yet posted some of the newly elected board members, these young people need learn to sit for more than twelve minutes at an NC meeting. That in itself would be participation.

(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils for CityWatch.) Graphic credit: Connie Acosta. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Will LA End Up With Two Sinking, Tilting Luxury Housing Skyscrapers from Millennium Developer?

VOX POP--One of San Francisco’s most iconic luxury housing skyscrapers is sinking and tilting — and it was built by Millennium Partners, the same developer that wants to put up an ultra-controversial mega-project in Hollywood near the landmark Capitol Records building and an earthquake fault.

The Millennium Tower in San Francisco is home to such wealthy folks as former San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, but the 58-story skyscraper, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, has sunk 16 inches and tilted two inches since 2008. That’s a big deal, according to experts, and at least one major lawsuit has been filed — check out the complaint.

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority in San Francisco has also weighed in with a scathing press release. Here’s an excerpt:

The 60-story Millennium Tower is made of concrete rather than steel, resulting in a very heavy building. This heavy structure rests on layers of soft, compressible soil. The foundation of the Tower, however, consists only of a concrete slab supported by short piles that fail to reach the bedrock below. That foundation is inadequate to prevent settlement of a building with the weight of the Tower.

In Los Angeles, the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have been strong backers of the Millennium Hollywood mega-project, which features two luxury housing skyscrapers next to the Capitol Records building — Millennium Partners is also behind that. The city of LA has even battled the state of California over the mega-project, which the state says is located near an active earthquake fault.

It’s the kind of political support a developer gets when working LA’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system — Millennium Partners has spent $5.2 million on high-priced lobbyists to win over over city politicians and bureaucrats, according to the LA Ethics Commission.

Now one has to wonder if that City Hall backing will result with LA getting not just one sinking and tilting skyscraper but two!

That’s how things work in LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Shell out big cash in campaign contributions and lobbying fees to win over city politicians and bureaucrats, and then expect very profitable favors in return. Since 2000, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign war chests of LA politicians.

Enough is enough. We need to reform LA’s broken planning and land-use system, which is what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will do.

In fact, the Los Angeles Times, the LA City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous neighborhood groups all agree that reform is desperately needed.

Join our citywide, grassroots movement by clicking here right now to donate any amount you wish.  You can also send us an email at [email protected] for more information.

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

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