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Sat, Apr

‘When School Preempts Summertime’-- An Open Letter to LAUSD Board President Zimmer

TURNING UP THE HEAT-I’m agin’ it. Really, really against it. I oppose force-marching our school-aged children back inside any Institution of Learning during their traditional months of summer-break. Our kids deserve a rejuvenating summer and the LAUSD Board of Directors should vote to recess school until after Labor Day.  

How many ways can I justify my adamancy? 

Preparation: There’s this argument that our kids “have” to be in school ever-earlier in the school year in order to allow our AP-taking, uber-achieving, uber-scared High School upper class students more time to study for their AP tests. 

But wait a minute. Weren’t we assured six ways to Sunday that no one is going to “teach to the test?” This is the definition of “teaching to the test” – from the get-go! You’re structuring the very calendar of school to accommodate a test, and a test-taking paradigm, and a system of testing via a private, commercial, test-selling enterprise, constituted exclusively for the purpose of ginning our kids’ mental and emotional status into near-constant, hyper-jitterfied test-mediated terror. 

And it’s not enough that they feel this way in real time, but do we have to extend their state of utter anxiety even deeper into the prequel-summer of their school year? These are tests that aren’t even their own teachers’ doing or their own course work’s material. These are tests created for a class which is wholly and entirely constituted for the purpose of taking – which is to say “buying” or “taking from parents (or school systems) the money for” … these AP tests. 

These aren’t tests used to assess mastery of a body of material. These are tests created for the purpose of giving and taking these tests

And now, not only is the test, the curriculum and the class itself supposed to kowtow to the Test, but so is the entire structure of the kids’ school year. 

And more, the stricture applies not only to the kid taking the test, but to the kid’s entire family: Mom, Dad, siblings and other relatives. And to all the workers of all the school system. And to all the workers of a society formerly structured to serve a different school-year schedule (camp, holidays, sports, etc.) 

Kindergarteners’ lives and their relationships with their families are dictated by a test company’s ceaseless campaign to ensnare more and more students in the maws of their life-eclipsing, test-taking juggernaut. 

Basta. 

Enough pretending that we’re not “teaching to the test.” The imperative of this test has saturated the structure of our very society. These tests have gone far beyond simply being taught to, they’ve entrapped the very prerogative of our social structure since the School Board now uses as partial-justification for the accelerated start date the need to allow our kids extra time to study for these tests. 

…and that’s just one of the objections. 

It’s Hot Out: It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that temperatures in the northern hemisphere peak during summertime. And we live in a desert where the effort to control indoor climate is especially resource-intensive and hard to justify. 

Just think about the system-wide resources necessary to adequately illuminate and subsequently cool the classrooms housing upwards of a half million children? Plus all their teachers and support staff. This is not a trivial exercise. It’s expensive, it’s environmentally unprincipled, it’s wasteful and it’s needless. 

Everyone knows our collective sympathy for some other person’s child often falls short when the public purse is at stake. But what about the adult teacher tasked with shepherding that child into a mutually-acceptable state of productive citizenry? How unconscionable is it to ask a portly, middle-aged altruist to teach a roomful of 50 pre-pubescent bundles of unrejuventated energy? It’s a chilling sight to witness these teachers, fagged in their 110-degree classrooms, defeated by the children careening in obeisance to their unspent, youthful ebulliance. No one learns, no one is even able to teach, no one benefits, and much harm is achieved in stress-shortened lives, non-renewable energies squandered, bad habits engrained, and ill-temper engendered. Lose-lose-lose-lose-lose … to the nth power. 

And all this to what useful end??? 

I’m a Partner In This Child’s Upbringing. It may take a Village but it takes a family, too. It’s my prerogative to spend some time with my children. And it’s theirs to stew in the muddle of their family’s, as well. 

We’ve so amped the eclipsing power of the school to command our child’s time during the school year, with hours upon hours of schoolwork and ever-increasing course requirements translating to school credits and course hours, along with the tyranny of “choice” that forces endless commuting hours, even as subsidized busing (“transportation-dollars”) becomes increasingly elusive … all these demands on our children’s brief childhood drain them of the time just to be enfolded by us, their family. 

Non-existent summers mean kids grow up without visiting their cousins, reveling in that odd Uncle’s prejudice, appraising an eccentric Auntie’s politics. Last on the list and preempted by foreshortened time, are moments that may be lost to no good end but you’re still breathing the same air in the same room as your raging adolescent. When tempers flare and connections fray, sometimes the most potent medicine of all is to simply share oxygen with no ulterior purpose whatsoever. No homework, no housework or work-work, no exhorting. Just being. 

When LAUSD forces our kids back to school in the middle of the summer, they deprive them of us; it deprives our society of them and sells their future short. 

There’s nothing I love better than a good book, but sometimes you need to pick it out all by yourself. That’s what summertime’s for. 

Tell our schools to back off and give our kids the rest of their summer back! 

Call your LAUSD board member and register your opinion on the 2017/18 school calendar change.

Here’s the contact information for the seven LAUSD Board Districts. Locate yours here:  

Steve Zimmer (BOD President), District 4
213-241-6389; [email protected] 

George McKenna, District 1
213-241-6382; [email protected] 

Monica Garcia, District 2
213-241-6180; [email protected] 

Monica Ratliff, District 6
213-241-6388; [email protected] 

Ref Rodriquez, District 5
213-241-5555; [email protected] 

Richard Vladovic, District 7
213-241-6385; [email protected] 

Scott Schmerelsom, District 3
213-241-8333; [email protected] 

Please note: A petition was opened in 2014 and 2015 by parent Morina Lichstein, who recently updated the already extensive and interesting background information stored at these links. Rather than open a third petition re-demonstrating the empirically obvious, that thousands upon thousands of families are dismayed by this policy, this time around it may be most effective to phone your board member directly.

 

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

What to Do with the Lincoln Heights Jail … What about Housing the Homeless?

AT LENGTH-I was quite surprised to read the Los Angeles Times article about the city asking for ideas on reuse possibilities for the Lincoln Heights Jail. It’s a vacant property the city has owned since 1931. It sits just north of Chinatown across the LA River. 

The jail has been closed since 1965 and has been used in various films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Night Train. The music video for Lady Gaga’s song, “Telephone,” was shot there. 

The jail is also the site of the Bloody Christmas of 1951—an incident that inspired the fictional film noir thriller, L.A. Confidential. It involved seven young Latino and white men who were mercilessly beaten while in the custody of Los Angeles police officers. Eight officers were eventually indicted, 39 were suspended and 54 transferred when news of the beating got out. 

The request for proposals for the jail makes me wonder just how much unused property the city owns that could be put to better purposes especially in light of the proposed $1.2 billion city bond measure to address the rising tide of homelessness.
My first response to the article was, “Am I the only one in the entire city who sees the obvious solution?” 

Less than a mile from the old jail is the largest homeless population in the entire county that is getting squeezed out by gentrification. There are dozens of homeless service providers on Skid Row who, with the right amount of funding and a few developers, could work up a plan. 

It seems like the perfect solution for both the homeless and for those who see homelessness as a crime: convert an unused jail into the next permanent housing project. 

Well, not so fast. Even if someone at City Hall recognized the logic of this plan, it would be years before it got rebuilt. 

I wrote to City Controller Ron Galperin about my exasperation. 

“The city…asking for ‘ideas’ from the community on what to do with this derelict property is kind of amazing since not more than a few miles from this location is the highest concentration in the city of our homeless population. I am shocked that city government can’t see that the first priority for the reuse of city-owned property is to address the homeless crisis. One of the more affordable ways to address this problem would be to use and re-purpose properties that the city already owns and controls,” I wrote. Finding affordable land in the city is going to be one of the major challenges in deciding where to spend the $1.2 billion.

I then asked the question, “Just how much property does the City of LA own that could be converted to housing?” 

The answer that I received back a few weeks later from Galperin was astounding. 

“There are several thousands of properties—though not all suitable for development,” he wrote.

He went on to tell me that the Controller’s Office is just now putting together a report listing all of these properties that the city council should consider. When I asked how much these properties might be worth, he replied, “As to their value—that’s a future project!”

Of course, there are those who would simply just chase the homeless out of their neighborhoods and into someone else’s or perhaps throw them all in jail, because as they say, “The homeless are all drug addicts and pedophiles.” 

Yet, every law enforcement expert I’ve talked to says homelessness is not a crime and we can’t police our way out of this problem. And they shouldn’t be asked to. Policing our way out is a costlier burden. And, as you can see, it doesn’t work.

So for those who haven’t been schooled on the problem or who are just complaining about it on Facebook, here are the facts—not from me, but by one of the leading nonprofit agencies that deals with this issue. 

According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, an estimated 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and about 82,000 people are homeless on any given night. 

Unaccompanied youth, especially in the Hollywood area, are estimated to make up from 4,800 to 10,000 of these. 

Although homeless people may be found throughout the county, the largest percentages are in South Los Angeles and Metro Los Angeles. Most are from the Los Angeles area and stay in or near the communities from which they came. About 14 to 18 percent of homeless adults in Los Angeles County are not U.S. citizens compared with 29 percent of adults overall. A high percentage -- as high as 20 percent — are veterans. African Americans make up about half of the Los Angeles County homeless population -- disproportionately high compared to the percentage of African Americans in the county overall (about 9 percent). 


 

Other facts about LA’s homeless population: 

  • The average age is 40—women tend to be younger. 
  • 33 to 50 percent are female. Men make up about 75 percent of the single population. 
  • About 42 to 77 percent do not receive public benefits to which they are entitled. 
  • 20 to 43 percent are in families, typically headed by a single mother. 
  • An estimated 20 percent are physically disabled. 
  • 41 percent of adults were employed within the past year. 
  • 16 to 20 percent of adults are employed. 
  • About 25 percent are mentally ill. 
  • As children, 27 percent lived in foster care or group homes; 25 percent were physically or sexually abused. 
  • 33 to 66 percent of single individuals have substance abuse issues. 
  • 48 percent have graduated from high school; 32 percent have a bachelor degree or higher (as compared to 45 percent and 25 percent for the population overall respectively). 

 

Let me emphasize the first point: 254,000 men, women and children experience homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year and about 82,000 people are homeless on any given night. That’s the real challenge and it is huge. The nonprofit and government resources that are available don’t come close to solving this problem. What has come out of LA City Council, thus far, is a patchwork of Band Aids and hammers, with a promise of $100 million per year but resources to only fund $13 million. The Controller’s Office issued a report this past year saying that the cost to the city in law enforcement was some $80 million. 

Even with the anticipated $1.2 billion city bond, it will be years before the first project gets built or renovated. No matter your take on the homeless, it’s time to recognize one truth, we can either have them living on our sidewalks, sleeping in their cars on our streets or we can push for change. The first step would be to use a few of these thousands of properties that Galperin has discovered and allow for their temporary use as emergency transition centers, you might liken them to triage facilities, for off street parking or temporary shelter where social services can be offered. 

This won’t solve 100 percent of the problem, but it beats waiting five years for the first permanent housing unit to be built and it’s better than the continued whack-a-mole enforcement deployed by Los Angeles Police Department in response to community complaints. There is no guaranteed success with trying this solution but we all know what repeating the same action that’s having no effect is called. 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen…and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Sham and the Shame of LA’s Small Lot Ordinance … Same Old Sausage

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--For those who thought a new Department of City Planning (“DCP”) Director (“Director”) would mean a new direction for the department, the proof of the Small Lot Ordinance (“SLO”) update process indicates we are back to the same old sausage. Or similar words to that. 

Recent changes were made in DCP with promises of Small Lot Ordinance updates after citizens citywide rose to challenge these Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) projects. Some skeptics remarked the new Director was the “organization guy” in the underpinning of the original 2005 Small Lot Subdivision (“SLS”) Ordinance. 

The DCP cites that, overall, 11% of new projects are appealed, while 22% of SLS were appealed. Wiser planning processes might have been to truly examine the approved/constructed projects and connect the dots with the citizens’ comments. 

The La Brea Willoughby Coalition (“LCW”) neighborhood is a microcosm of these dynamics. Four SLS projects proposed and approved within a one-block area resulted in loss of affordable rent-control units on all project lots. The projects also resulted in several appeals and two lawsuits in which LWC prevailed. 

The LWC concerns and questions were well represented at two of the three initial public hearings and in two extensive comment documents. In this rare opportunity to build and strengthen the Ordinance, LWC’s plea was for all issues and components to be completed, made clear and concrete, and codified in an enforceable Ordinance. Such an overall planning process and policies would better serve applicants, city agencies, and citizens to promote more collaborative, non-litigious relationships with more rapid planning/construction of community compatible projects. 

After all the time and work by citywide organizations, the same “fast track” schedule set under the previous director was kept. Final public comments and questions to the draft documents due by August 8 were invalidated by the lack of sufficient time for a credible Staff Report (”Report”). The City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing was scheduled in less than three weeks on August 25, after the comments were due.   

The LWC recognized the staff needed more time to complete a comprehensive Report and citizens needed more time for a full review of the Report. Neighborhood Councils certainly could not agendize or adequately prepare for the CPC hearing. LWC and other citizens raised these facts to the DCP administration several times, first on August 8. 

On August 15, a DCP administrator finally called this LWC representative. LWC gave reasons to slow down the Report and review periods verbally and by letter to this administer. The administrator admitted it was not enough time for adequate meetings, review, and motions by neighborhood councils and other organizations. No further follow-up was received as the Report was distributed on August 18 and the CPC hearing was scheduled for one week later on August 25, on the previously set schedule. 

Certainly, with this timeline, we wonder if the CPC can truly review the Report or will it simply adopt and approve the staff recommendations? As there has been limited outside review -- and even less time to submit written comments -- the CPC hearing means “1-minute public comment.” Thank you. 

The process and outcomes are not shaped by broad citizen input and certainly lack credibility. The Report with limited comments, shows minor, token changes, while major concerns were reduced to brief phases with no context or rationale -- or not included at all. For example, in this Ordinance, with its slippery language, there are no project notices to citizens or obligatory neighborhood council hearings. No enforcement measures are included. The “Design Standard testing” phase has no timeline specified. 

The real “shiny object diversion” is the elimination of essential environmental review consisting of a categorical exemption. As it is stated, these smaller developments, with no environmental cumulative impacts, require no review. But wait -- the average lot with a 1500-2000 square foot dwelling and four occupants are in play as SLS will now construct three or more 2000 sq. ft. structures for four or more occupants each, having all the predictable impacts – and it will have no review. Period. 

Clearly the DCP systems reverted to the previous models and missed this opportunity to bring in a new planning process -- to provide more eyes and greater insights citywide. This affects all of us, so please attend the hearing and offer your comments for greater citizen participation to shine a bright light on this travesty. 

The LWC will continue to rigorously fight for our rights and our neighborhood through our zoning codes and “Q” conditions, all the way through the courts/legal systems.

(Lucille Saunders is the La Brea Willoughby Coalition president and a citywide community activist. She welcomes all comments and questions at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Sherman Oaks Gives Tourists … and LA’s Curious … the Bird

THE GUSS REPORT-- Tourists in LA hoping to see famous faces sometimes take a not-always-truthful celebrity bus tour.   Others troll land-locked Hollywood for movie stars and musicians who more likely live closer to the salty air enclaves of Malibu and points south.   But most are at-peace after taking in Melrose Avenue, “The Price is Right” on Fairfax and head to Venice Beach to soak in cheap t-shirt shops, misfits juggling chainsaws and colorful vendors hawking shea butter that later has them asking “why did I buy this?” 

But this summer’s most colorful local celebrity might be the loud and brash superstar hanging out in Sherman Oaks ... a free-range peacock named Percival has shown up in backyards, on rooftops and waking the locals since early June. 

Percival took a particular liking to the homes in the Magnolia Woods section of Sherman Oaks.   

There, Michelle Pippin, a hair stylist originally from San Diego, says she first saw him in early June, “He was just walking around the neighborhood. He seemed fine with the crowd that had gathered to watch him, and (went) up on a roof. Nobody knows where he came from, or where he went after that, but there was talk of sightings of him just south of Burbank Blvd later that week.” 

Katiedid Langrock, a writer and humorist, says “We were inside and my friend thought she saw a chicken in the backyard so we ignored it because chickens pop up in the backyard not infrequently. But then she decided to (look closer) and there was Percival - not a chicken. 

We followed him around the backyard for about 10 minutes. I went to open the gate to let him out - thinking he had somehow got stuck in the backyard. That's when he flew into our fence. Then onto the neighbor’s roof. Then out of sight. My toddler and I scanned the backyard for feathers. No such luck.” 

Some of their photos can be seen here.   

While nobody in the sleepy neighborhood can recall any such sightings in previous years, the phenomenon of the feral flyers is not unheard of in other parts of Los Angeles County. Here is Los Angeles Magazine’s take on how they came to Southern California in the first place. 

If your visiting friends and family still want a shot at spotting a famous face, there’s always Costco, where spotting an Oscar winner is not impossible.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Daniel Guss opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)

Second-Dwelling-Unit Debate Arrives at LA City Hall

DENSITY BY DEFAULT-With debates raging over the regulation of short-term rentals in Los Angeles and the proponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative focusing attention on what many see as a broken planning system, a third issue has been steadily gaining attention and generating public outcry among concerned homeowners: the rules that govern the permitting of second dwelling units (SDUs). 

This Tuesday, August 23, the full City Council will consider, for the first time, the Planning Department’s proposed repeal of the City’s adopted local standards for SDUs, potentially eliminating protections that have safeguarded the character of LA neighborhoods for decades. In the place of local standards, the City would default to lenient state standards that allow much larger units, up to 1,200 square feet. 

The rules governing second units, which are ostensibly built for the purpose of providing accessory housing in single-family areas for aging parents, relatives and guests, have been hotly contested, and were recently the target of successful litigation by homeowners concerned that the City has been unlawfully ignoring its adopted standards in favor of the more permissive state standards. Under those lenient “default” standards, designed by the Legislature for cities that, unlike LA, do not have their own local standards, second units can be developed by speculators as huge rental dwellings that can virtually double the density of single-family neighborhoods while adding pressure to their already over-extended infrastructure. 

While it is sensible to allow the construction of small second units that come with reasonable protections for neighborhoods, the lenient state standards would foist “one size fits all” rules on our vast city, allowing enormous SDUs to be visible from the public streets and permitting their construction everywhere, even in delicate Hillside areas. 

The Department’s proposed repeal ordinance is on a “fast track” process, discouraging neighborhood councils, homeowner associations and other civic groups from engaging in the process. As we near the vote, many of these groups have nonetheless weighed in to object to the abbreviated timeline, with one, for example, commenting that “the speed and way in which this item has been scheduled prohibits neighborhood councils from evaluating and providing input through a community impact statement in a timely manner.” 

CityWatch has covered the history of the issue in further depth, but essentially the City does need to take some action, as ordered by a judge who found that the City had been unlawfully following the lenient state default standards for the past six years. 

But there are at least two alternatives the City can take, instead of the Department’s proposed repeal. First, the Zoning Administrator could issue an administrative memorandum that nullifies certain discretionary permitting procedures in the existing ordinance that puts it at odds with state law. Second, the City Council could amend the existing SDU ordinance to formally delete those same discretionary procedures. 

Both options would leave in place the City’s current protective SDU standards, providing a far more favorable result than outright repeal. Both options could be executed quickly. Each would bring the City into full compliance with state law without abandoning local protections in favor of extremely permissive state standards. 

And what to do about the permit holders who sought applications under the more lenient state standards during the six-year period that the City was unlawfully following them? 

The City could retain the current local standards for future permit applications, while simply grandfathering all pending unchallenged permits where applicants and property owners have relied in good faith on the City’s past illegal practices. The City Council should pause and seriously consider its options. 

If the City wants to overhaul its second unit ordinance, then that should come only after appropriate study, public outreach and deliberation. LA stands on the edge of voluntarily abandoning its own local SDU standards in favor of standards controlled through Sacramento, a drastic action that no other major city in California has taken. The City Council needs to think carefully before voluntarily surrendering the City’s zoning authority over second dwelling development to the State legislature. 

No one in this city who has invested in a home in a single family neighborhood would want to wake up and look next door to find a 1,200 square feet, three bedroom, two bathroom, two-story, full sized home under construction and crammed onto a lot zoned for a single family home. 

The Council will vote on the repeal ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday, August 23. Information about the meeting can be found HERE.  

CityWatch readers should contact their City Councilmembers in advance of Tuesday’s vote and demand that the existing protections for second dwellings stay in place.

 

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

Save Valley Village: ‘Councilman Krekorian Only Represents Those Who Agree With Him’

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The rumble between pro-development interests and those who support neighborhood integrity takes a possible new turn with members of the Coalition to Preserve LA stating although they have enough signatures to qualify for the March 2017 ballot, they’d be willing to withdraw the initiative if Mayor Garcetti would agree to an alternative plan. As written, the measure would place a temporary ban on projects outside the existing zoning and land use rules for the area. If Garcetti does not agree with the group’s terms, it’s All Systems Go for the petition, per Jill Stewart, the Coalition’s campaign director.

Most of you probably know the scenario; developers who often have a cozy relationship with City Council members typically plead their case for general plan amendments from the city to move these mammoth projects forward.

“That’s a wake-up call for the City Council,” Stewart told reporters. “No more mischief, no more backroom meetings with developers during a two-year period. Take all that wasted time you’ve spent creating a luxury housing glut in Los Angeles and instead, do your job, create a plan for LA that involves the public.”

The Coalition sent a letter to Garcetti, signed by several dozen reps of grassroots groups, businesses, HOA’s, and celebs including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Chris Pine, Joaquin Phoenix, Chloe Sevigny, and Garrett Hedlund. The new proposal in front of Garcetti would ban “ex parte” meetings between council members and developers, would make the process of updating the General Plan move more transparent and would reduce “spot zoning,” now standard practice. Developers and lobbyists would also be banned from hand-selecting the consultants responsible for Environmental Impact Reports (EIR’s.)

Arguments in favor of streamlining development point to “affordable housing” but more typically, the projects maximize profits for developers, setting aside the minimal required affordable units. Existing tenants are often tossed aside to make room for shiny new development projects and that include small lot subdivisions in areas throughout the city.

●●

One area particularly hit by the rush to develop has been in Council District 2, represented by Council Member Paul Krekorian. The activists of Save Valley Village are frustrated with Krekorian who they say consistently ignores their interests.

Case in point, a duplex on Tujunga that houses section 8 and HUD tenants --developer Apik Minnossian is seeking approval of eight units in three-story terraced buildings, along with 16 parking spaces. Neighbors say the building does not fit the criteria for a “small lot subdivision and is not in keeping with the integrity of the neighborhood.”

“We’re seeing a disturbing trend of deep complicity from Councilman Krekorian’s office and his Planning and Land Use Commissioner Karo Torossian who signed off on it in direct opposition to the Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Commission recommendations,” said an activist.

I’ve been in talks with the Save Valley Village activists and other concerned with development in their neighborhood for several months, sitting in on living room meetings and engaging in phone conversations. Hearing the personal stories of those impacted by the takeover of their streets has been compelling, taking the issue to a new level.

The proposed Tujunga project would impact the tenants of the existing building. The aunt of an existing tenant wrote this email:

“My nephew lives in the triplex at 4531 Tujunga.  He is on social security disability income.  If these triplexes get demolished there is nothing comparable in the whole LA County for him to go.   There is no affordable housing available.  I have been researching and I don’t see any affordable housing available.  I am very much afraid my nephew will be homeless not to mention the other tenants. 
 
The city keeps letting the developers demolish all the affordable housing without replacing comparable units.  It’s creating our homeless epidemic.  I don’t know where my nephew will live.   HUD and Housing nonprofits have 4 year waiting lists.   It’s insane.   Please, please reconsider and not allow more people to become homeless.”

Activists say they want Krekorian to put a “Q” provision on the Tujunga block that would limit buildings to 31 feet and to match the architectural integrity or look of the neighborhood. “General and community plans are very specific about new construction conforming to height, aesthetics, and density of the neighborhoods,” said a spokesperson for the neighborhood, which is 95 percent single-story. Instead of serving the interests of developers, the group is asking Krekorian to take into account property values, privacy, environmental impact, and other issues that impact neighbors.

It’s easy to forget at the end of the day that the surge in development and the City Council’s rather lax approval process affects people’s lives, whether those displaced from affordable housing or neighbors who wish to maintain their property values and quality of life. Under the current conditions, development is not adding affordable housing as much as lining the already deep pockets of developers who may continue their cozy, symbiotic relationship with council members without some oversight.

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

-cw

Listen Up, Beverly Hills: Time to Stop Fighting Expansion of Purple Line to Westside

GUEST COMMENTARY--Beverly Hills has sent a clear message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about its proposed Purple Line subway extension route running under the city. Quite literally, “It’s our way or the highway.”

The extension, which could be completed by 2024 if a voters approve a 0.5 percent sales tax in November, will finally connect UCLA to Los Angeles’ burgeoning rail system. It’ll be a massive boon for commuters to the Westside who currently have to stew in traffic on the 10 Freeway or the Wilshire corridor.

There’s just one problem: The extension is supposed to run under the city of Beverly Hills, specifically under Beverly Hills High School, and concerns about the sub-school tunnel have given city leaders tunnel vision. In increasingly clear displays of obstructionism, they’ve spent the past five years trying to derail Metro’s plans.

But it’s time for Beverly Hills’ interests to step off the brakes of opposition to the subway. They’ve spent a lot of taxpayer money and made quite a fuss over the years, but they’ve accomplished little of actual substance.

Their latest loss in this sub opera came on Aug. 12, when U.S. District Court Judge George Wu handed down his decision on a lawsuit brought forward by both the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District against the Federal Transit Authority. In an appeal from a 2014 decision in Metro’s favor, they wanted FTA’s approval of the route nullified and a complete redo of Metro’s environmental impact statement. This would have cost Metro millions and delayed the construction timeline. In his ruling, Wu upheld the FTA’s prior approval, which means that Metro can secure its federal grants and loans and award contracts without having to revise its entire impact statement or change its proposed construction schedule.

It’s a victory for Metro, but the drama is expected to continue because Wu also ruled that Metro needed to redo parts of its environmental impact report. While Metro officials say they’re eager to make the revisions, BHUSD attorney Jennifer Recine put out a statement following the ruling that this decision proved the FTA “violated federal environmental law,” and that BHUSD would have further legal claims once the presumably “superficial” revisions were made. 

If Beverly Hills’ endgame is to stop the subway from running under the high school, they should quit while they’re behind. This is becoming an increasingly futile, costly and embarrassing battle for Beverly Hills’ leaders.

The city’s scare campaign has flitted from issue to issue, sometimes taking bizarre turns. The Beverly Hills Courier claimed that the Islamic State group would use the still-unbuilt subway to bomb Beverly Hills High School. The school board enlisted high school students to bring a consultant’s ideas to life and produce an anti-Metro video. The local parent-teacher association put out their own over-the-top video, complete with conspiracy theories and imagery that would have made the guys behind Lyndon B. Johnson’s Daisy Girl attack ad blush. And to top it all off, the school district has astronomical legal fees from all these court battles and public relations firms, which the district has justified paying with school construction bond money.

It’s certainly an impressive exercise in community hysterics, but all it’s gotten them so far is some failed lawsuits and not much else.

As with most things bureaucratic, Metro’s reasoning is a bit more mundane. According to Zev Yaroslavksy, member of the Metro Board of Supervisors until 2014, noted Metro-booster and current UCLA professor, the decision to run the subway under the high school was made to avoid an earthquake fault along Santa Monica Boulevard. Beverly Hills has denied the existence of this fault.

The route itself came from a decision to construct a Purple Line station in the middle of Century City, where it would provide its riders better accessibility and help it compete for federal grants, all at the lowest cost per passenger-mile. Yaroslavksy says there’s no reason to deviate from the proposed plan and have a more costly and less useful subway over technicalities in a report.

It’s easy to dismiss all that as the sweet talk of a biased official, but Wu’s ruling supports Yaroslavksy’s claims. Subway opponents say that his statements regarding the environmental impact report mean that the FTA relied on “faulty science.” Page 11 of the ruling clarifies: “As to those errors, the Court did not find that the FTA had actually made substantive decisions (e.g., the selection of the location for the Century City subway station) that were demonstrably wrong. … Additionally there is no indication that the FTA would be unable to offer better and/or more complete reasoning for its challenged decisions herein.”

In other words, the court didn’t find evidence that Metro and the FTA made flawed decisions, nor did it find the report’s errors serious enough to vacate the FTA’s approval and force a complete redo of the environmental study.

Make no mistake, safety concerns should be of the utmost importance, and the ideal situation would be that Metro and Beverly Hills work out an agreement on how to best redo the impact statement. However, there’s little to suggest future reports or lawsuits will produce new evidence against the route, and this puts BHUSD in a weak position for future litigation. So while we can expect Beverly Hills’ interests to appeal the decision and continue throwing money at this issue, we may be witnessing their last gasps of serious opposition.

Which is just as well. UCLA and Westwood need a viable rail option to connect them with the rest of the city, and this Purple Line extension will prove a valuable addition for student commuters and anyone else looking for an easier way to get around.

(Chris Campbell’s column appears regularly at the Daily Bruin … where this perspective originated.)

-cw

LAUSD’s Misplaced Priorities: Students and Parents Need a Real Summer Break

ALPERN AT LARGE--I am what you would call a "hard-ass"--I work three jobs, do all sorts of unpaid civic endeavors, and live in a household where the wife and two kids work hard and stay very busy.  "Downtime" is probably something we should do more, so I am the LAST person who'd downplay the need to keep up with global competition--but the LAUSD school schedule is clearly harmful for the well-being of our students and their families.

SOMEONE's agenda is dominating the early-summer, get-back-to-school-in-August schedule, but it sure as hell ain't the students and their parents.  The summers are too quick, and the ability of children and their parents to be allowed a life is being smashed.

It's not hard to "get it" with respect to global competition, and the need to stay competitive with European and Asian students competing for fewer and fewer well-paying jobs.  

It's also not hard to "get it" when one learns that the first month of a teacher's school year is spent bringing kids back to speed after a long, three-month summer vacation...kids need to relax, to sleep in, and maybe even watch a bit of television, but their minds can't be allowed to vegetate.

My last CityWatch article addressed the lack of affordability in Los Angeles, and the inability of our City to do what's right to allow for true affordability for the average Angeleno.

But as more and more Angelenos have to work multiple jobs, and have longer shifts just to make ends meet, the need to spend time with family becomes greater than ever.  Kids need to go camping, visit our national parks, and enjoy the beach, the mountains, or even just a backyard barbecue.  Call it quality of life.

And that's not to say we should require summertime verification of reading lists and other "to-do" lists, or summertime workbooks.  I really do NOT give a rip about parents too lazy to make sure their children's brains don't vegetate in front of an iPad all summer long--summer can be fun, but life and learning doesn't end when the LAUSD goes on break.

And speaking of breaks, why is there such a long winter break (3 weeks, and perhaps 4 weeks if one counts the full week off for Thanksgiving) but only a single week for the spring?  There's probably a reason or three, but it's still ridiculously lopsided--and prevents a balanced work/play ratio for parents, students, and even the teachers.

I am a dermatologist by trade, and have many teachers in my Orange and Riverside County clinics--so in my various discussions on this topic I've learned that they virtually all have better and more student/family-focused schedules than the LAUSD.   

I am quite aware of, and overall do support, the advanced requirements and preparation for AP classes in high school--my son worked his tail off this summer for AP World History with six chapters of textbook reading, two books, and a host of maps to memorize--he stepped up, and both he and his class are hitting the ground running.   

I am proud of my son, and support this "hitting the ground running" with these sorts of endeavors.  I am also proud of my elementary school-aged daughter, who did some father/daughter workbook studying to stay focused and learn a few things. 

But we also learned things when we went on vacation to the East Coast, and had fun at Dollywood, and saw the awe-inspring changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.  

We got rained on and drenched before seeing Luray Caverns in western Virginia. We got inspired at a Friendly's restaurant in Fredericksburg when we bumped into a local tour guide, who gave my son a Union Army bullet discarded in that hellish Civil War battle where the Union Army got slaughtered. 

So let's not shred the lives and happiness of hard-working students and their families.  We can be both competitive and humane...and we can also make damn sure the LAUSD School Board figures out who the hell their FIRST priority is:  the students and their parents! 

We can and should: 

1) Start the 2017-18 School Year after Labor Day, or the week before Labor Day.  Starting school in mid-August is both horrible for parents and their families, and requires horrible air conditioning bills that markedly increase the operational costs for the LAUSD.  Either way, it's horrible. 

2) Balance the winter and spring breaks.  Right now we've got about three weeks off in December and January … and one full week off (instead of just Thursday and Friday) for Thanksgiving. 

Meanwhile, we've got but one week off in the spring.  Two weeks in the winter, and two weeks in the spring makes sense (and don't worry--we can make sure the AP students are still working hard). 

Destroying summer for everyone doesn't make sense.  And the winter/spring imbalance strikes me as rather cruel and focused on either the benefits for administrators or for the teachers...but certainly not the parents and students.  There are clearly agendas that are being promoted, but they're not promoting the needs of the students and their families.

 

(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

LA’s Neighborhood Councils … Who, How and Why? The Debate Continues

GELFAND’S WORLD--A couple of weeks ago, I argued that the city is creating strife and turmoil which doesn't have to exist. In brief, the system the city has created for the election of neighborhood council boards stifles what should be a real reform movement. It ensures that each neighborhood council is in jeopardy of being overrun by people who have no right to be involved. In effect, it creates internal conflict. 

My argument in a nut shell is that voters in neighborhood council elections should be limited to the people who live in the neighborhood council's own district. The timeliness of this argument stems from the fact that Jay Handal, the director for this year's elections, suggested that I take it up here in CityWatch. Perhaps Jay brought the topic up because he knows I have been pushing it for the past decade. 

The debate has gotten some traction. One reason is that Tony Butka responded to my column with a column beginning with the title Gelfand's idea is crazy. Perhaps that headline was in reply to my own column's headline which started, Here's a crazy idea

I now choose to reply to Tony, but first I'd like to explain that neither Tony nor I are sniping at each other. The CityWatch editor wrote those titles. That's the way newspapers and CityWatch function. (It's true that the author can suggest a title to the editor, but the editor can change it or rewrite it entirely. It's at the editor's discretion.) So I'm sorry to disappoint you, but this isn't a shaming contest in which a couple of CityWatch contributors cross swords. It's a serious discussion about the way the City Council has done its best -- intentionally or unintentionally -- to undermine what could otherwise be a major contribution to city life. 

Let me summarize the argument in one short paragraph. I think that Tony Butka and I both believe that neighborhood councils should have independence and autonomy. They should be able to speak truth to power. The argument comes down to strategy -- how do we best achieve autonomy? My argument is that we should be able to prevent special interests from being able to mess with our elections. Otherwise, we have a formula for turning the once-autonomous neighborhood council into something that is little more than a special interest group. 

To begin with, I'd like to suggest that those of you who didn't read Tony's column the first time around take a look at it. I especially like the description of the early period of neighborhood council formation and development. Tony talks about how Greg Nelson, the city's manager at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), encouraged us to figure out our own paths and create whatever organization would work best for us. Greg's famous comment was one size doesn't fit all. Tony's column then goes on to explain how subsequent rule under a new mayor started to undo a lot of the earlier progress. 

I worked on a different neighborhood council in a different part of town, but my memory of the times is pretty similar to Tony's. Mayor Villaraigosa did a lot of damage through his newly appointed Acting General Manager at DONE. One year, she cancelled just about half of all the neighborhood council elections in Los Angeles. 

In order to get to the crux of our differences, I'd like to quote a couple of paragraphs from Tony's article. The first paragraph refers to my point that we ought to define voting membership in neighborhood councils. My argument is that right now, it isn't really defined. Pretty much anyone from anywhere can vote in your local neighborhood council under the current rules. The easiest way to fix this is to limit voting to people who reside in your neighborhood council's district. Tony argues: 

This is not a new idea, but I believe that the real problem isn’t redefining who can vote in NC elections. The real problem is going back to what Neighborhood Councils were supposed to be about before City Hall slowly and deliberately set out to neuter them. 

I don't disagree with the sentiment, but I would point out that what neighborhood councils were supposed to be about has never come to fruition. It's hard to go back to what never was. In addition, it is possible to argue (as Tony does) that redefining the definition of Stakeholder doesn't solve every problem. I'll certainly agree to that, but if you read my previous column, you will see that I suggest that it will solve most of the electoral problems we've been facing over the past 14 years. There have been a lot of problems, arguments, and grievance letters that didn't have to be. 

I'll skip a lot of the intervening discussion, and cut to what I think are the defining paragraphs: 

Let each and every Council go its own way. This includes governance, bylaws and meetings -- anything that furthers their ability to act as a check and balance on our serious train wreck of LA City Council governance. 

I say let’s go back to when the Neighborhood Councils, not the City Council, represented the Wild Wild West and did what they could to meet their Charter mandated goal -- “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs...” 

As for elections, let self-affirmation roll. Who cares? If a special interest group can organize enough votes to control a Neighborhood Council, so be it. Good for them. It makes the rest of us get off the dime and go organize. Heck, any way you slice it, doing elections by vote beats the heck out of elections by developers’ dollars. City Hall-style. 

OK Tony, I don't entirely disagree. I'm fine with going back to our founding days when the neighborhood councils were the wild wild West. But first let's consider what that really means. 

So allow me to tell you a story about a council that was the wild wild West 

My council was one of the first to be certified, back in December of 2001. We took seriously our responsibility of representing the interests of our district, and that brought us into a head-on clash with one of the weightier operators in California. We took on the Port of Los Angeles. 

We were opposed to unrestrained expansion of the port into residential areas and unrestrained growth in port activity. There were several reasons, but the main one was air pollution. The effect of all the diesel trucks and all the diesel powered ships was equivalent to having tens of thousands of diesel trucks running full time, right next door. Our council held public discussions and passed resolutions that represented the feelings of a substantial fraction of the people living in our district. 

In other words, our council was that wild wild west that Tony Butka talks about. We organized ourselves in our own way and to our own liking, and then we took on a giant opponent. 

And at a subsequent election, our council got taken over by a group who relied on the votes of outsiders to win a board majority. They didn't like the fact that we had passed resolutions that were intended to oppose port-related air pollution through the mechanism of port expansion. 

It was a strange election. It was frustrating to see people from outside the area and even outside L.A. County sign in to vote. But they did. And the responsible residents lost control of our neighborhood council's activities. 

Eventually the rightful representatives took back the council board, but it took another year, another election, and a lot of time and effort that could have been put to better use. 

But this goes to another point that Tony makes. He says, not unreasonably, Let each and every council go its own way. That sounds good in practice, but if the members of the council are not defined, how can this be meaningful? Residents of the Hollywood area neighborhood councils have strong feelings about commercial development. but if developers can bring in hundreds of outside voters to control those councils, then how can the concept of the neighborhood council have any meaning? 

Still, I don't think Tony Butka and I are all that separated in our thought. We both feel frustration over the way the City Council and city administrators have stifled what could and should be a robust political movement dedicated to governmental reform. May I suggest to Tony and to City Watch readers that the best way to create that robust spirit of rebellion is to have councils which are immune from being overrun by special interest groups. 

They aren't at this point. 

I think that everyone would agree that limiting neighborhood council stakeholder status to district residents has the virtue that we know who we are, and we don't have to spend half our time trying to make deals with those who represent ulterior interests. 

I will certainly concede that enlarging the stakeholder definition might bring in more people and create a perception of broader participation. But I would like the proponents of broader participation to admit that with each broadening, the political strength of the core constituency is weakened. It was true in 2004 -- my neighborhood council could not simultaneously represent the interests of Coastal San Pedro residents and the interests of the Port of Los Angeles. It had to be one or the other. 

There is one other point to bring up. The Port had existed for a long time before neighborhood councils came into being. The same holds true for the studios, the aerospace industry, the land developers, and so on. They already had political influence. One reason for the introduction of our neighborhood council system was to provide a counterweight to all that commercial power. It doesn't make sense to create a countervailing power -- the peoples' lobby -- and then to dilute it by giving the Port, the studios, and the land developers free rein to undermine our influence. 

Finally, I would like to respond to a member of our local neighborhood council governing board, who challenged my comments on the basis of the recent governing board election where I ran and lost. It's true that my slate played by the current rules, which allow you to recruit people effectively without regard to where they live. The answer is simple and obvious: We have to play by the rules as they exist, not as we'd like to see them. I would add that I might have lost by even more had we run under electoral rules limiting voting to residents (or just maybe, I might have done better). The point is not my own won-lost record, but that my neighborhood council has less believability to the public and to the city's elected officials in terms of who it actually represents.

●●

Short Takes--I flipped on the television set on Sunday and ran across the basketball finals at the Olympics. I immediately turned on my computer to find out how it had finished. Silly me. It turned out that this wasn't another of NBC's replays of USA gold medal events, but an actual live broadcast of a game that had not yet been completed. There has been a lot of discussion about NBC doing the Olympics the way ABC did Monday Night Football back in the old days. You know, the broadcast has to find a story line and then flog that story endlessly. Watching the biographical sketches was almost like watching tv commercials after a while. This is no way to appeal to an audience that has an ever-shorter attention span and the electronic gizmos to satisfy it.

●●

A few thoughtful pundits are explaining why Donald Trump's tax returns are of interest to the voters. The big question is whether Trump is beholden to foreign interests. The possibility of Russian money having a hold on Trump is hugely important if true, but other owed money is also important. Note that we're looking at close to two-thirds of a billion dollars in owed debt.

●●

What happened to parking ticket reform? We had a movement going for a while. We need to come back to that discussion. It will make more sense as part of a discussion of a broader initiative to reform local government. I intend to get to that discussion.

 

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

-cw

LA Supe Solis and Gov Walker: Odd Couple Gifting Billionaire Hedge Funder, Stiffing the Working Class

POLITICAL TONGUE IN CHEEK--Congratulations to LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for winning this year’s “Strange Political Bedfellows Prize,” in recognition by us of their “shared policy of putting the interests of billionaire hedge fund manager Wesley Edens above the interests of working class families and the rest of the public.”  

It’s an impressive win, given that Solis and Walker have been ideological arch enemies since at least 2012, when Solis, as U.S. Labor Secretary, supported the effort to recall Governor Walker for stripping away the collective bargaining rights of state employees. (Walker survived the recall attempt.) 

Scott Walker’s boosting of Wesley Edens at the expense of taxpayers is old news; without Walker, Edens could have never extracted $250 million from Wisconsin taxpayers to subsidize a new arena for the Edens-owned Milwaukee Bucks. (Mr. Edens’ business partner Jon Hammes was Mr. Walker’s national finance co-chairman during the Governor’s failed bid for the Presidency.) 

As for Hilda Solis, she has provided Mr. Edens the greatest gift of all. More than a month ago, on July 15, Mr. Edens was exposed on the front page of the New York Times  for having pulled a bait-and-switch of unprecedented scale on the LA County Board of Supervisors (as well on the elected officials of New York City, Ventura County, and San Dimas, California.)  

Like a wealthy kid getting into college by having someone take the SATs for him, Edens secured LA County golf course concessions worth tens of millions of dollars by having a qualified company (Fortress Investment Group LLC) go through the County vetting process for an unqualified company (Newcastle Investment Corp), with the result being that Newcastle, unbeknownst to the County, ended up with the contracts. A company called the American Golf Corporation carries out the work for Newcastle. 

In response to all this fraud, Supervisor Solis, the Board’s Chair and “ranking advocate” for working class families, has done nothing to stick up for Angelenos – and has, in fact, done nothing but bend over backwards to look away from the crime. Why? 

Far from being a victimless crime, the fraud has turned LA County into a place where only by lying can parents tell their children that working hard and playing by the rules can lead to success. It has driven working class and family-owned golf operators (as well as golf-pros who teach lessons to make ends meet) out of business. It is a fraud that has cost this “park-poor” County to lose revenues (through predatory pricing which has decimated revenue the County used to receive from non-Edens-controlled County golf courses.) It has turned recreational spaces owned by the public into monetized “gym-like” membership clubs with punitive cancellation policies.  

It is a fraud whose scale dwarfs the offenses for which the 13 companies on the County’s list of debarred contractors were banned. And the malfeasance continues -- including punitive actions by OSHA and by the Air Pollution Board (to whom American Golf pleaded financial hardship.) 

And yet Mr. Edens has still not apologized to the County, choosing instead to deny facts that are self-evident. Not a single document presented to any of the municipalities involved with the fraud included the name of the company actually acquiring the contracts, and yet Mr. Edens, rather than conceding the point, gave the New York Times a print-out of a single email containing the company’s name, with the claim that the email was sent to an LA County employee. The County refutes that claim, saying they never received the message. 

Is this a guy we can trust? Is this a guy we want with his hand in County cash registers? 

Where is Hilda Solis in all this? As the Board of Supervisors Chair (and former Secretary of Labor), she owes it to working class families and the rest of the public to defend Los Angeles. It’s not an enviable challenge, but it’s a fight that she is uniquely qualified for. 

In the next two weeks, as Labor Day approaches, the names of great labor and civil rights leaders will inevitably be invoked. And so here’s a question for Supervisor Solis: Would any one of those leaders respond to this situation by doing nothing?    

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

LA Politics: Mother to All Kinds of Crime and Corruption

CORRUPTION WATCH-The word “crime” is one of those terms which we use all the time without taking the time to think about it too deeply. According to Merriam-Webster, crime means: (1) a gross violation of law, (2) a grave offense especially against morality, (3) something reprehensible, foolish, or disgraceful. 

The Los Angeles City Council’s behavior satisfies all definitions of a crime. It operates in violation of Penal Code 86 which forbids vote trading among members of a city council. Its actions are morality offensive especially when it comes to the theft of billions of tax dollars and the destruction of poor people’s homes. Finally, its behavior is reprehensible, foolish and disgraceful. 

Yet, these words fail to convey the great harm which the ‘criminal’ Los Angeles City Council has brought upon us. 

Let’s take a deeper look at how a city council which is a criminal enterprise destroys a great city – one injustice at a time. 

Case in point is one tiny section of Valley Village, a place so small and so out of the way, that the vast majority of Angelenos do not even know that it exists. Zooming in closer, we see a most remarkable intersection at Hermitage and Weddington – or, at least, what is left of it. On the southeast corner once sat a modest home (demolition photo above) where Marilyn Monroe lived during the end of WW II. 

Rather than allowing the modest structure be moved, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Paul Krekorian wanted the home destroyed. So a couple days before a Cultural Heritage Commission hearing, Marilyn’s home was demolished (just as Garcetti demolished the facade of the Spaghetti Factory in Hollywood in defiance of a court order.)

From a neighborhood standpoint, the properties on the westside of Hermitage across from Marilyn’s home were significant in their own right. Directly opposite from Marilyn’s home was a beautiful Spanish-style apartment and to the north of Weddington was one of Valley Village’s most unique properties. 

Because Valley Village was a mixture of these unique low density places in an area where mega-apartments were encroaching, the Valley Village Specific Plan was enacted in order to preserve the character.  

The fascinating aspect of these Valley Village properties at 5621 to 5303 Hermitage is that they had an extra measure of protection from being destroyed. Weddington Avenue runs ½ block westward between the beautiful Spanish style apartment home at 5621 Hermitage and unique grouping of cottages at 5303 Hermitage. 

With the state owned street separating the two parcels, neither parcel was large enough to attract attention of developers who increasingly want to construct larger projects. In a city run by criminals, however, laws are impotent. Councilmember Krekorian and Mayor Garcetti see nothing wrong with giving the street to the developer so that Urban Box will have an extra-large area on which to construct its project – after destroying all the rent-controlled units and throwing the elderly and disabled on the streets. 

Criminals, however, do not care who owns property. It can be you, it can be me, or it can even be the State of California. When a criminal syndicate operates with the force of law, they take whatever they need. And, everyone else better shut up or else. 

This Is the Evil of Criminality 

In Los Angeles, greed rules and decency is in exile. If a developer wants to destroy your home, no law will stop him. Los Angeles City Council is a criminal enterprise where every unlawful demolition, where every unlawful gift of public property, where every corrupt commission decision always receives unanimous approval. 

We need to be very clear about this: in Los Angeles, the law counts for nothing, for zero, por nada. The criminal vote trading pact requires that each councilmember give unanimous approval without any regard to lies, deception, physical intimidation, vandalism or theft of public funds. There is no crime significant enough for a councilmember to refuse to go along. The criminal regime at City Hall is strict: not even allowing a single protest vote against the destruction of Marilyn Monroe’s home. 

Yet, the District Attorney finds nothing nefarious is afoot when all projects unanimously receive “Yes” votes. The odds of flipping a coin 100 times and getting 100 heads is 1/1.2676506 × 1030. Okay, so you don’t even know how to name that number because it is so large. We are talking about 15 coins being simultaneously flipped and getting all heads. Oh yeah, we’re supposed to believe that number, whatever it may be, is not the product of a vote trading agreement.

The Rise of the Garcetti Goons 

After some goons tried to intimidate an attorney who had come to the property at 5303 Hermitage prior to the August 11, 2016 South Valley Area Planning Commission meeting, the attorney complained to the Commission. He wrote to Councilmember Krekorian and to Mayor Garcetti that the intimidation had to stop. Neither of them bothered to reply. 

Silence in the face of an accusation is an adopted admission. There is a rule of law that says when someone is accused of bad behavior and they say nothing, their silence is a sign that the charge is true. 

Dear Councilmember Krekorian and Mayor Garcetti: 

The intimation and threats in connection with your desire to demolish the rent controlled units at 5303 Hermitage in Valley Village must cease and desist immediately. Brandishing firearms, tampering with the gas lines and having thugs try to intimidate the tenant’s attorney has brought the City’s “war” on poor people’s homes to a new low. As I told the South Valley Area Planning Commission yesterday, this criminal behavior has to stop. Furthermore, no police officer should ever tell a person who has been assaulted with a fire arm that he will arrest her if she calls 911 for protection. We expect this criminal behavior to cease and desist forthwith.-- Richard MacNaughton, Attorney at Law, State Bar 77258.  

When the city council becomes a criminal enterprise, we all live in a lawless society. And when white collar criminality at City Council becomes physical intimidation, it threatens of intolerable violence at the home owner level. 

Let’s remember that this Valley Village instance is not the first situation involving Garcetti, development and criminals. Garcetti’s fundraiser, Juri Ripinsky, spent two years incarcerated in Federal prison at Leavenworth for real estate and bank fraud. Yet, Garcetti got unanimous approval from the City Council for Ripinsky to have the lucrative Paseo Project at the old Sears site in Hollywood. Two years at Leavenworth and he gets a multi-million dollar real estate project! 

Just like the poor people who are desperately trying to save Valley Village, all Angelenos face a criminal enterprise. When criminals with absolute immunity want something, they just take it. And, people wonder why employers and the middle class are leaving Los Angeles.

 

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

 

Become an Important City Hall Insider for Your Community … Here’s How

DEEGAN ON LA-What does it take to access the corridors of power in City Hall, establish a by-name relationship with key departments, be recognized on sight by your councilmember and staff, and possibly even share an elevator ride with the Mayor and buttonhole him about your community’s issues? 

It takes two things: knowledge and position. So get yourself elected to your Neighborhood Council and then get yourself trained because one feeds into the other in our citywide NC system of 96 Neighborhood Councils. With over 1,800 board members representing neighborhoods across the city, the NCs are city-chartered grass roots organizations that have been empowered for a decade. They help connect residents to the world of city planning as well as other processes. 

Los Angeles City Charter Section 900 defines the purpose of Neighborhood Councils as: “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.” 

Cindy Cleghorn, Chair of the Neighborhood Council Congress 2016, points out that “about half of Los AngelesNeighborhood Council board members were elected to a Neighborhood Council for the first time in the most recent cycle of neighborhood council elections that were completed earlier in the summer, and that brings a new class of board members into the system that will need to learn how to navigate the civic ecosystem.” 

Describing the Congress, Cleghorn says, “The Congress is a once a year opportunity for Neighborhood Councils across the City to come together at City Hall for a day of education and communication for the entire NC System. It is an opportunity to speak one on one with our city's elected officials, department officials and each other. Also, to take advantage of a wealth of specialty workshops created by and for Neighborhood Council leaders. This years Congress seeks to advance the Neighborhood Councilsadvisory power needed for the enhancement and/or preservation of our communities.” 

Several hundred “newbies” and NC veterans are expected at City Hall on Saturday, September 24, for the 2016 Congress of Neighborhoods. Presented by the Neighborhood Councils of Los Angeles and the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), this year’s theme -- “Neighborhoods First: Your Voice, Our City” -- examines how local focus can create citywide impact. 

The Congress is an all-day free education featuring a range of sessions that will teach participants about their roles and responsibilities as board members, and introduce them to some of the intricacies of working the system, now that they are freshly-minted political and civic insiders. 

Registration at www.NCCongressLA.com went live on August 22. Over 700 Neighborhood Council leaders from across the City are expected to attend the annual event. 

What will they learn? The menu of choices is tantalizing, with over 40 workshops and discussion panels held during four 75-minute sessions. Participants will be able to choose from topics in the areas of:

  • Leadership skills
  • Planning and land use class series
  • Managing your City funds
  • Writing & sharing Community Impact Statements
  • Homelessness
  • Purposeful aging
  • Code enforcement
  • Outreach, social media and PR 

Ethics training (which is required of all Neighborhood Council members) will also be available. Classroom space fills up fast, so early registration is encouraged. 

Each year, leading City officials like the Mayor, City Councilmembers, the City Controller, and the City Attorney have spoken at the opening and closing sessions of the Congress. Headline speakers are still being confirmed, but so far, City Council President Herb J. Wesson, Jr, and City Councilmembers Paul Krekorian (CD 2), Bob Blumenfield (CD 3), David Ryu (CD4), Paul Koretz (CD 5), and Marqueece Harris-Dawson (CD 8) are scheduled to appear. 

It’s a fact, known through observing the success of many previous Congress events, that participants come away smarter and more informed about their board positions and the role of NCs. Also indisputable, is that their new knowledge directly impacts how much better they are able to work for the communities they serve. For many, attending a Congress is just the beginning of a political curriculum that helps prepare them for service to community and city – and could possibly be a stepping stone in their own political careers. Who would want to miss that? 

The Congress runs from 7:45 am - 4:30 pm, on Saturday September 24, at City Hall. It includes four workshops, breakfast, lunch, and opening and closing sessions. Attendees may come and go as their schedules permit. 

Here's an outline of the day: 

7:45 am – Breakfast 

8:30 am – Welcome 

9:25 am - Session 1 workshops 

10:50 am - Session 2 workshops 

noon – Lunch 

1:20 pm - Session 3 workshops 

2:45 pm - Session 4 workshops 

4:05 pm - Closing session 

Everything is free if you RSVP, including admission to over 40 workshops, exhibit tables, catered meals and parking! Sign up at www.NCCongressLA.com. This is about the only time you’ll ever get a free lunch at City Hall. 

Attend the Congress, and go home empowered!

 

(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

We Need an ‘Affordable’ Fix for Unaffordable LA

ALPERN AT LARGE--With skyrocketing utility rates, costs of health care, and an average rent of approximately $2000 per month, it's obvious the City of the Angels is anything but angelic when creating affordability for the average Joe/Jane middle-class American.  But can we fix this affordably, or will we just continue to encourage those who built LA and California to throw up their hands and move away? 

1) It's obvious from the way our City and state spend money that we've been pandering too long, and with too much budgetary devastation, to present and future governmental services from being efficient and sufficient for taxpayers' needs. 

So whether it's the Republicans, or conservative or moderate Democrats, or liberal Democrats who understand that "Math doesn't lie", we've got to get over our mommy/daddy issues and recognize that a balanced and sustainable budget--with all of its painful sacrifices--is truly necessary if we're going to allow ourselves and future generations a chance to succeed and thrive. 

And if "progressivism" is turning into "socialism", then we better take a hard, HARD look at Venezuela, Greece, or any other paradise-turned-into-purgatory before we walk down that road.  If the middle class is fleeing to other states (like Texas or North Carolina), then we MUST take note. 

So when the issue of state pension reform hits the news cycle, perhaps we can stop ignoring it.  The reality is that cities and counties are not only grappling with their own pension/budget problems, but they also have a devastating lack of state support. 

We MUST have our City and County political heads work with our state leaders, or we'll have a fiscal crisis the likes of which will make Detroit look like a picnic--because there are only so many millionaires and billionaires in California, and because the stock market will NOT be rising forever. 

2) We MUST fund transportation as the economic engine to promote mobility for both fiscal, business, and quality of life purposes.  We finally have a name for "Measure R-2" for more sales taxes to fund transportation...it's called "Measure M".  And we must pass it.

I've been on the fence for this measure for quite awhile, because I've seen past transportation efforts lead to bad planning and developer overreach...but if we look at transportation as "income" and planning as "spending", we have to have more "income" and less (or smarter!) "spending" to fix our L.A./California household. 

Past stupidity and lack of courage/foresight in the San Fernando Valley led to an Orange Line Busway that could have, and should have, been a more cost-effective and economically-beneficial light rail line.  But the Valley's leaders blew off the experts and the transit advocates, and never reversed the Robbins Bill to show cohesive leadership and build it the right way. 

So with the long-awaited Orange Line-Red Line pedestrian tunnel finally completed and a VICA-led effort to convert the Busway to a light rail line, it'll be expensive but LESS expensive if we upgrade our transportation system NOW. 

And we need to let private employers, developers, and businesses know that we mean business when we ask them to pay for our infrastructure.  Universal Studios and the City Walk could have been directly connected to the Red Line Subway, and now everyone's suffering from that.  Ditto for any lost opportunities in North Hollywood. 

Arguably, any "deals" with hotels, developers, etc. should be focused on transportation/infrastructure mitigations.  THEY (the private sector) can and should expedite paying for freeway, road and rail connections and repairs and upgrades, and play a major role towards the conversion of fixing L.A.'s sidewalks from a 30-year window to 7-10 years. 

(AND I AM TALKING TO YOU, MR. MAYOR, WHEN I STATE THAT YOUR RE-ELECTION SHOULD ADDRESS THAT ISSUE IF ANGELENOS ARE TO TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY). 

So we will all need to pay for transportation upgrades, because not only our freeways but our new rail lines (Expo, Foothill Gold) are clogged with commuters, and our subways are busier than ever.  

There's just no question we all need to put our money where our collective mouth is. 

3) We MUST stop whistling past the graveyard, and stop promoting Orwellian nonsense, about affordable housing when we're really just helping the rich get richer, and promoting upscale housing for the wealthy instead of giving the middle class the support and love they deserve. 

We could build 2-3 story affordable, middle-class housing all over the City (and including south of the I-10 freeway) in a matter of 1-2 years without having to build uber-developments that are geared to the "1%" or without having to transform neighborhoods from family-friendly to those that favor the wealthy and build so big and tall that "us little people" will no longer be able to see the sun and sky. 

And if our celebrity/star-obsessed City will pay attention, it's not just the "old, NIMBY cranks" who want the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative--it's also concerned Angelenos Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, Garrett Hedlund, and Chloe Sevigny...to say nothing of former Mayor Richard Riordan (who founded the Charter Reform that created the Neighborhood Councils) and Skid Row Reverend Alice Callaghan. 

Let's build...but not have get-rich-fast types kick some financial tail at the expense of kicking the tails of the rest of us.  Los Angeles IS moderate, IS compromising, and IS open-minded and caring. Blockbuster building that shreds the character of neighborhoods isn't "progress"...it's wanton destruction, no matter what flowery speech is used to justify it. 

So we can and should focus on TRUE affordability...but we can't wait any longer.  We just can't afford to keep kicking the can down the road, either at the political or the grassroots level. 

These are battles that we just cannot afford to lose, if we want to keep our City and state truly affordable for ourselves and our children.

 

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

The Great LA Exodus! And, What It’s Costing Us!

CORRUPTION WATCH-Although most of us say we believe in “Thou shall have no other GODS before Me,” the reality is that Angelenos actually worship the weather gods. Yes, we have the weather gods of perpetual sunshine who have to fight off the god of May Gray and the god June Gloom each year, but throughout Los Angeles’ history, the good weather gods have always prevailed. 

So, the weather gods have been a little off their game in the last few years with the drought, but that’s hardly a wrinkle. Besides, drought means no mosquitoes with Zika virus. 

The weather gods, however, not only bring us the wonderful California sun, but more importantly, they bring us a constant influx of new Californians with brains, energy and creativity. The weather gods also deter any reverse migrations back to the Snow and Rust Belts. “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart turns out to be a subversive film. It reminded new Californians in the depths of winter just how horrible it would be to move back to Small Town USA. Yep, the last time I saw Jimmy Stewart ready to jump into the freezing river, it was 85 degrees in Hollywood. I had to run outside and stand in the sun, murmuring my little prayer of thanks to the LA weather gods. 

Shocker!! The weather gods are deserting us – or the world has been knocked off its axis. 

Something dire has happened -- people have stopped coming to Los Angeles. Worse yet, the weather gods have opened the exit gates and people are streaming out of the City! 

Look at it this way. Money is streaming out of Los Angeles. Yes, whenever a white collar job moves to Texas, it means that hundreds of thousands of dollars are leaving Los Angeles. Worse yet, Los Angeles has fallen to #60 as a place where professionals and business service workers want to live. We are behind Chicago and New York -- and they don’t even have weather gods! 

Nashville has had its professional and business service worker segment grow by 47% since 2010, while Dallas-Ft.Worth increased by 29%. San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco has grown a remarkable 45% since 2010. 

Here are some rankings: Nashville was #1, San Fran etc. was #2, Dallas was # 5, metro New York ranked #14, Chicago with its wind, chills, snow and summer humidity ranked #43, and Los Angeles was #60 as the place where middle class white collar workers desire to live. 

When one sorts through all the data, what we see is that places with atrocious weather and with over-crowding and high costs of living are doing significantly better than Los Angeles. Places which have sunshine like South Texas are doing wonderfully. 

So that has been the Kryptonite for our weather gods? “Corruptionism.” 

When business leaders look long-term, nothing is a greater deterrent than entrenched Corruptionism. It’s not just that LA’s streets are the worst and that our traffic congestion has become the worst in both America and Europe. The real threat is a City Council which is a criminal enterprise. There’s a difference between LA and a place like Chicago where cronies throw city contracts to their friends and if they get too far out of line, they get prosecuted. 

In Los Angeles, the City Council itself has been the criminal enterprise since 2006 when Garcetti was City Council President. When employers see entrenched criminals receiving the protection of the District Attorney and the courts for a decade, they know that matters will deteriorate. 

It’s no secret that billions of dollars have been diverted to real estate developers at the same time the City has been destroying poor people’s homes. The City is subsidizing the private Grand Avenue Project to the tune of an initial $198 million. Only the terminally naive think that this largesse will be the last of the city’s generosity to the project. And now they want us to approve ballot measures costing over $200 billion and that’s just the start of it. 

We know that the exodus from Los Angeles will accelerate because two important groups of Millennials are leaving: (1) Those who had to postpone starting families because of the bad economy and high student loan payments, (2) Those who are a few years younger, but who also can afford to start families elsewhere. 

Don’t expect new Millennials to take their place. The number of younger Millennials is dropping each year and since LA is now #60, there are 59 other cities where all Millennials of any age believe they can make better lives for themselves.   

Recently, there has been disinformation out there that only the poor are leaving the City. That is a false claim, although smart poor people actually should move. For the state as a whole, according to IRS data, “In 2014, more than two-thirds of the net domestic out-migrants were reported on returns filed by persons aged from 35 to 64. These are the people who are most likely to be in the workforce and be parents.” And we know Los Angeles is doing much worse than the rest of the state, so our middle class is abandoning the City. 

No place can economically survive when the 35 to 64 age group is two thirds of the net domestic out-migrants. That is why employers are moving away from Los Angeles and why Los Angeles’ great residential neighborhoods are now being built in Texas – which has some pretty powerful weather gods of its own. 

Corruptionism is Kryptonite. Employers know that the criminal vote trading at Los Angeles City Council is permanent. Los Angeles’ corruption overlords have become far stronger than our kindly weather gods.

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

Prepare for a Scare: How Do Lobbyists Really Do What They Do?

CITYWATCH INSIDER REPORT (FIRST OF AN OCCASSIONAL SERIES)--If you ask someone what the small army of lobbyists who frequent LA City Hall actually do, you'll probably get an answer along the lines of, “they try to get the City Council and various commissions and committees to support projects and other things their clients want.” 

This is true. But it leaves a lot to the imagination. For instance, when a lobbyist steps off the elevator on one of the floors at City Hall, where is he or she going? To the mayor's office? To one of the 15 LA City Councilmembers' offices? To the Planning Department? Public Works? 

And even more to the point, who is the lobbyist going to talk to in one of those offices, and what, exactly, will that city official be asked to do? 

Because lobbying firms are required to register with the City Ethics Commission and file quarterly reports that are posted on the commission's website, one might assume that the answers to these questions are just a few mouse clicks away. Unfortunately, that's not the case. 

To illustrate, take the most recent quarterly report of one of five firms registered to lobby on behalf of Clear Channel Outdoor, the multinational corporation that owns some 1,600 billboards in the city. The firm, Ek & Sunkin, reported receiving $75,000 from the corporation to lobby on “issues related to City sign ordinance.” Listed as targets of that lobbying were the mayor's office, the city council offices and the city planning department. That's the extent of the report. 

There are more than a thousand persons working in the mayor's office, the city council offices and the planning department. Who did the lobbyist meet with? The mayor himself or an underling? A city councilmember or one of his or her staff? The director of planning or a deputy? 

And almost every conceivable issue involving billboards would be related in some way to the city sign ordinance. Did the lobbyist want an amendment to the ordinance? A particular vote on the latest version of the ordinance which is pending in City Council committee? Something else? 

Some reports are marginally more informative. For example, when the lobbyist is working for a client with a specific real estate development, the name or address of the project is often listed. But there is typically no detail about who the lobbyist met with, when and where the meeting took place, and what, exactly, was being sought. All these questions are highly pertinent to one of the Ethics Commission's stated purposes: promoting government decisions that are “fair, transparent, and accountable.” 

We'd all like to think that politicians and other city officials are guided in their decisions purely by personal principles and public opinion. But one needn't be a cynic to assume that those officials are also influenced by the blandishments of businesses, labor unions, and others with a strong vested interest in the decisions made inside City Hall. 

Consider the fact that 200 firms employing 442 lobbyists are currently registered with the Ethics Commission, and that those firms were paid $58 million last year to promote the interest of some 1400 clients ranging from corporate behemoths like Exxon Mobil and Comcast to local businesses such as restaurants and taxi companies. 

In addition, those lobbying firms reported raising $996,000 for city election candidates and delivering another $324,000 in contributions from individuals. All legal, even though registered lobbyists are prohibited by law from contributing directly to those candidates. 

It's doubtful that this flood of money spent to influence city officials can be slowed down, but there are ways to shine more light on the connections between that money and the decisions those officials make. In fact, the Ethics Commission is engaged right now in a review of the municipal lobbying ordinance, and soliciting public comment about ways to improve it. 

The commission doesn't have to look far for ideas. In San Francisco, for example, lobbyists are required to report the names of officials they contact, the date and location of that contact, and its purpose—to propose a specific policy, to get support for an ordinance, to provide information about some matter, and so forth. 

That city also maintains a directory of all public officials who have been contacted by a registered lobbyist and a list of all “subject areas” of concern reported by lobbyists. Lobbying firms are also required to report monthly, rather than quarterly as in Los Angeles. 

At its most recent meeting, the Ethics Commission discussed another element of lobbyist regulation that seems to cry out for reform. While the state of California and Los Angeles County define a lobbyist as someone who receives compensation for communicating with a public official to influence legislation, Los Angeles defines a lobbyist as a person who engages in 30 hours or more of compensated lobbying in a 3-month period. 

Which means that a lobbyist spending less than 30 hours in that activity is not required to report, or even register with the Ethics Commission. How many contacts could a person make to influence city officials within that time limit and still keep the public in the dark? 

Of course, none of these possible reforms would impede deep-pocketed interests from sending that small army of lobbyists to City Hall to buttonhole councilmembers, commissioners and others. But at least the public would have a better idea of who was buttonholed and how that contact might have affected a vote or other action. 

To use another billboard-related example, did lobbyists for Clear Channel meet with Councilman Mitchell Englander and/or members of his staff before he put forth a proposal to grant “amnesty” to all of the unpermitted and out-of-compliance billboards in the city? The public surely deserves an answer to the question. 

If you want to weigh in on lobbying reform, the commission welcomes public comment. Send yours to

[email protected]. We can be sure that the lobbyists themselves will look to protect their own interests. But that may not jibe with the greater transparency and accountability the public deserves.

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

Our Wildfire Crisis: What California Can Do

DROUGHT CONUNDRUM-While fire is always part of nature, many attribute its increased frequency and intensity to climate change. Certainly, that makes sense: longer stretches of warm weather and earlier snowmelt create a fire-friendly scenario. But what does this connection do for us, beyond providing another reason to rue the continued assaults on our climate? For the terms “climate change” and “global warming” elide the dynamics that create the constellation of factors that, collectively, we call climate. However, by zeroing in on the ecology of fire-prone regions, we can find ways to minimize the risk and severity of the fires that threaten homes and wilderness areas—not to mention the lives of firefighters. 

For example, since arid conditions beckon fire, we can ask how healthy environments maintain moisture. Plentiful rain is one obvious answer, but equally important is what happens to rain once it falls. Enter “green water”, or water held in soils. We generally think of freshwater in terms of lakes and rivers, but two-thirds of rainfall becomes green water. When rain falls on living soil that’s rich in organic matter, it stays in the system and sustains plant and microbial life. Rain that falls on soil depleted by tillage or chemicals streams away, as does all the rainwater that strikes concrete or asphalt. Dry, degraded soil (read: dirt) doesn’t absorb water, thirsty though it may be. For every one percent increase in soil organic matter, soil stores 20,000 gallons of water per acre. 

Historically, our western landscapes were kept hydrated in part by beavers. According to Brock Dolman of The WATER Institute’s Bring Back the Beaver Campaign, the winsome rodents act as “water engineers”. By building dams they harvest water and direct its flow, and the moist soil that surrounds the pools yields lush vegetation. Beavers, he says, serve as ecological “shock absorbers” so that land is less susceptible to drought and fire. Beavers are native to much of California, and were numerous prior to the early nineteenth century, when they were mostly wiped out. (Water-wise, California’s “fur rush” was a bigger deal than the Gold Rush.) Nationwide, today beavers number around 10 million, down from an estimated 200 million when Europeans arrived on our shores. 

One ongoing challenge in staving off conflagrations is keeping down potential fuel: the dead trees and dried leaves and grasses standing or laying around, ready to ignite. Australian soil microbiologist Walter Jehne, whose Regenerate Australia program emphasizes reducing fire risk, says nature has two basic strategies for dispensing with combustible material. One is through fire, which tends to perpetuate a fire-prone regime: favoring plants that require fire for germination or that thrive on bare ground. (One such tree is the Eucalyptus, which sprouts and regenerates quickly after fire. Originally from Australia, Eucalyptus, now pervasive in California, have been implicated in deadly fires, notably the 1991 Oakland Tunnel fire that killed 25 people.) 

The other means of managing fuel is recycling the plant matter biologically. This could be by way of animals that eat the plants or, says Jehne, “fungi that can break down litter or fuel into organic matter and reincorporate it into the soil where it is safe from fire.” Either way, plant debris is returned to the soil so that the ground becomes a sponge for rain and dew, thereby creating a fertile environment for plants to thrive, draw down carbon and cycle water. All of which make uncontrolled fires less likely. 

"We can think of climate change as the manifestation of disrupted carbon, water, nutrient and solar cycles." 

We can think of unbridled wildfires as a result of climate change, as well as a contributor to it. Extensive bush and grassfires spark a negative spiral that leads to more greenhouse gas emissions—in Australia, annual CO2 emissions from fire exceeds that of fossil fuels—dry, tinderbox conditions, and bare soil unwelcoming to plants and vulnerable to erosion. When sunlight beams down the ground gets a direct hit, without the cooling effect of water transpiring through plants. The alternative scenario, in which the land holds moisture and would-be fire fuel is processed biologically, encourages what we want: living soil that stores, rather than releases, carbon; plants providing food and shelter for animals, birds and insects; water cycling within the system rather than evaporating or rushing away. 

In other words, climate change isn’t merely a looming specter that’s tied up in physics and the fiat of large corporate and governmental entities. It’s also about what we do with land. Climate dynamics are too complex to be reduced solely to an equation involving CO2. Rather, we can think of climate change as the manifestation of disrupted carbon, water, nutrient and solar cycles. With this approach, we see that wildfires—along with droughts, floods, heat waves and other problems associated with climate change—are not inevitable. 

In my travels reporting on ecological restoration I’ve seen numerous instances of people allying with natural processes that hold water on the land, and seeing multiple benefits including reduced risk and impact of fires. Chris Henggeler, who manages a parcel in Western Australia the size equivalent of New York’s five boroughs, has minimized fire damage by keeping water in springs and creeks longer into the dry season, installing fire breaks, and making use of dew, which he calls integral to the “micro-water cycle”. 

As we look toward future fire seasons, there is indeed much we can do to douse the flames—and curtail the degree of flames need dousing to begin with.

 

(Judith D. Schwartz is a longtime journalist who lives in Vermont. Her most recent book, Water In Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, has just been published by St. Martin's Press. Her previous book is, Cows Save the Planet (Chelsea Green Publishing). This perspective was first posted at Common Dreams.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Mayor Garcetti Pressed to End Overdevelopment … Leonardo DiCaprio Backs Neighborhood Integrity Initiative

VOX POP--Working-class Latinos, Westside homeowners, Valley renters, South Los Angeles citizens and major film stars joined together today in asking Mayor Eric Garcetti to reform the city’s rigged development system that is paving over cherished neighborhoods and has created a serious luxury housing glut and massive gridlock, while destroying thousands of units of affordable housing.

Concerned Angelenos Leonardo DiCaprio, Kirsten Dunst, Joaquin Phoenix, Chris Pine, Garrett Hedlund and Chloe Sevigny added their voices to those of former Mayor Richard Riordan, Skid Row Rev. Alice Callaghan and tens of thousands of Los Angeles residents supporting the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which will give residents a much greater say in what Los Angeles becomes.

In a meeting at City Hall with Mayor Eric Garcetti, leaders of communities from east, west, south and north sectors of Los Angeles, rich and poor, middle-class and working-class, urged Mayor Garcetti to take the lead — as he promised in April 2016

If he does not propose major and immediate reform, in just over a week, the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsors of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative aiming for the March 2017 ballot, will submit far more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot. 

Below is the letter and signatories to the letter, presented today to Mayor Garcetti:

Dear Mayor Garcetti:

We appreciate that you agree with us that our city’s planning process is broken and out of control. As you know, for far too long, greed has fueled corruption, which has produced runaway development, and now stifling gridlock.

This planning process does not serve the people of Los Angeles because it’s not designed to. It is designed to serve powerful lobbyists and for-profit developers at the expense of the rest of us. And we pay the price.

That’s why we support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. We have been playing by the rules of a rigged system for a generation, only to see luxury housing proliferate, gridlock calcify, homelessness spike, open space destroyed and middle-class homeowners get squeezed out of our city.

The time has come to take back our city for our communities and our families before the fundamental character of our city is lost forever.

While we deeply believe in the purpose and the policies represented in the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, we also believe that complicated issues like zoning policies and urban planning are best resolved by the city’s elected leadership. That’s their job. That is the reason we write to you today.

Through our grassroots campaign we have collected the requisite amount of signatures to qualify for the March 2017 ballot, the same ballot on which you and seven council members will stand for reelection. On August 24th we plan to turn in our signatures.

We believe our city is about to cross a Rubicon after which the character of our neighborhoods will be drowned out by unrelenting development and lost forever in a sea of unaffordable luxury housing and gridlock. We have no choice but to act now.

But we would welcome your leadership on this pressing issue, and we remind you that, in reaction to our citizen initiative movement, you promised to be that leader. You said that you want to fix the broken system in City Hall, yet you have done nothing of note to achieve that goal, and time is running out.

Before our August 24 signature completion, we urge you to announce your mayoral plan to transform the fundamental nature of our rigged system. Our tens of thousands of supporters expect your commitment to include:

  • Developers and their special interest lobbyists must no longer be permitted to choose the consultants who literally write Environmental Impact Reports for their own developments. This obvious conflict of interest must be banned so that the actual environmental impact – not a consultant’s self-interested twisting of traffic, health, parking, open space and density impacts – will be fully mitigated, instead of ignored.
  • There must be a clear and transparent process, including fast-tracked deadlines, for crafting the new Los Angeles General Plan that empowers the people to chart the future of our own city, slashing the undue influence of developers and their lobbyists over the L.A. River, neighborhood character, mansionization, small lot subdivisions and other crucial public concerns.
  • Spot zoning exceptions to the General Plan, a practice which currently allows wildly inappropriate mega-developments in cherished neighborhoods, must become the rare exception to the rule, rather than routine, as it is today.
  • Ex parte communications between developers and city elected officials or members of the City Planning Commission — also known as backroom meetings — must be eliminated. Just as we have seen with the California Coastal Commission, ex parte communications give developers an all-access pass to our government officials while regular people with a much bigger stake in their communities wait in line at long meetings for one minute of public comment. We are better than that.

It is our hope that we can put aside special interest politics and rally around a shared vision for our collective future that serves all the unique neighborhoods and communities of Los Angeles.

You have a deep connection to the history of Los Angeles. Your story in many ways is the story of our city. You literally embody many of the diverse cultures and communities that make our city so special. As citizens and as voters, we call upon you to commit these next several days to proposing a far-reaching solution that will shape the landscape and define the character of Los Angeles for the 21st Century.

Meanwhile, we are readying for our our August 24th deadline, when we will submit far more than our required 62,000 signatures, and the people of Los Angeles will decide.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

The People of Los Angeles

Signatories (all signatories are acting as individuals.)

Dr. Ken Alpern, chairman, the Transit Coalition; and board member, Mar Vista Community Council

Jay Beeber, executive director, Safer Streets L.A.; and San Fernando Valley coordinator, Coalition to Preserve LA

Sandy Brown, president, Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association; and vice president Westwood Neighborhood Council

Jose Cabrera, vice president, and Margarita Lopez, president, MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council

Rev. Alice Callaghan, founder, Familias del Pueblo, Skid Row

Mabel Chang, Del Rey, former president, Los Angeles City Planning Commission

Cindy Chvatal, president, Hancock Park Homeowners Association

Richard Close, president, Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association

Diann Corral, president, Laurel Grove Neighborhood Association, North Hollywood

Leonardo DiCaprio, award-winning actor and environmentalist

Kirsten Dunst, award-winning actress and activist

Aaron Epstein, founder and owner, Artisan’s Patio of Hollywood, Valley Village

Gustavo Flores and Manny Flores, founders, Westlake Advocates, Westlake

Joyce Foster, former board member, Westside Area Planning Commission; and former vice-president, Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission

Roman Gomez, president, and Arturo Gomez, vice president, Elysian Valley Neighborhood Council

Xochitl Gonzalez, board member, West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council

Damien Goodmon, founder, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, South Los Angeles

Garrett Hedlund, actor and activist

Alex Hertzberg, executive director, Society for the Preservation of Downtown Los Angeles.

Debra Hockemeyer, vice-president and treasurer, Brentwood Hills Homeowners Association

Jack Humphreville, president, DWP Advocacy Committee; and Ratepayer Advocate, Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council

Susan Hunter, member, 1st Unitarian Church of Los Angeles; and RAINN Speakers Bureau

Christine and Gareth Kantner, owners, Cafe Stella, Silver Lake

Jeff Lynn, president, Van Nuys Neighborhood Council

Casey Maddren, president, and entire board, UN4LA, Hollywood

Joaquin Phoenix, award-winning actor and activist

Chris Pine, award-winning actor and activist

Dick Platkin, former Los Angeles city planner; and adjunct instructor, USC

Richard Riordan, former Mayor of Los Angeles, Brentwood

Julie Ross and Kathy Schwertfeger, Playa del Rey Guardians Society, Playa del Rey

Chloe Sevigny, award-winning actress and activist

Gerald Silver, president, Homeowners of Encino; board and members, Homeowners of Encino

Clint Simmons, P.E, member, Expo Communities United; and board member, Baldwin Neighborhood Homeowners Association, South L.A.

Darren Starks, president, Baldwin Neighborhood Homeowners Association, South L.A.

Robina Suwol, founder, California Safe Schools, San Fernando Valley

Carole Tweden, Wilshire Vista Heights stakeholder; volunteer for Coalition to Preserve LA

Diego Velasco, Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, Silver Lake

Grace Yoo, attorney, co-founder, Environmental Justice Collaborative, Koreatown

Gloria Zuurveen, publisher, Pace News; and director, Los Angeles Press Club Board, South L.A.

(This article provided CityWatch by Preserve LA.

-cw

Los Angeles County #1 … in Local Corruption

CALWATCHDOG--California doesn’t have nearly the reputation of, say, New Jersey or Maryland when it comes to a history of public corruption. Studies that measure corruption with metrics tend to give most corrupt honors to less populated, poorer southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi or big, relatively wealthy Midwest and Eastern states like Illinois and Pennsylvania.

But when it comes to the most corrupt counties, few if any can top the recent run that Los Angeles County is on — specifically, the cities and agencies in south and central LA County.

The latest example came last week when Luis Aguinaga resigned as mayor of South El Monte after admitting to taking bribes for seven years from a contractor paid by the city for engineering and construction services.

A Nexis search of stories by the Southern California News Group, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio shows Aguinaga has plenty of corrupt company in neighboring communities.

Bell--In 2010, a  Los Angeles Times investigation found that the city was being run like a criminal enterprise to the benefit of city officials and City Council members who received huge salaries and relied on illegal taxes and deceptive accounting. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was found guilty of 69 corruption charges. Five City Council members also were convicted over city schemes.

Carson--Mayor Al Robles is now under siege from Los Angeles County prosecutors for simultaneously serving on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and as Carson mayor. He faced a county grand jury rebuke over the water board’s move to pay his legal bills. He has also faced years of campaign finance allegations over his water board and Carson election campaigns.

Central Basin Municipal Water District--Political and legal fallout continues from a scandal involving an alleged $2.75 million slush fund created by the district to pay politically connected consultants such as former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello. Central Basin board member Art Chacon was allowed to collect car allowance and mileage reimbursements from the district from 2006 to 2014, an eight-year span in which he didn’t have a driver’s license. To avoid a potentially huge payout at trial, in 2014, the district settled sexual harassment allegations made by a female contractor against district Director Robert Apodaca for $670,000.

City of Commerce--In 2012, Councilman Robert Fierro resigned after he pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to his attempts to dupe investigators looking into the financing of his 2005 campaign. In 2010, Councilman Hugo Argumedo resigned after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Argumedo concocted evidence to help an attorney sue his city for allegedly unpaid legal fees.

Cudahy--In 2012, City Manager Angel Perales, Mayor David Silva and Councilman Osvaldo Conde were arrested by the FBI after being caught seeking bribes from the owner of a marijuana dispensary. In 2014, then-state Controller John Chiang released a scathing report about city finances that found city credit cards were used improperly for meals, travel and entertainment; pay raises were awarded without explanation or justification; and that employees regularly received paid leave that they were not entitled to get.

Lynwood--In 2012, former City Council members Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza were convicted of illegally boosting their pay — by $330,000 and $160,000, respectively — by taking stipends for working on city commissions without any responsibilities, a crime with parallels to what happened in Bell. There were also reports that city officials used city credit cards to pay for entertainment, including “a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors” for two city officials, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2007, Mayor Paul H. Richards II received a 16-year sentence for a long-running embezzlement scheme.

Maywood--County prosecutor are now investigating alleged illegal collusion to get around state open-government laws that may be related to questionable zoning changes made without proper scrutiny. There are also reports that the FBI is investigating possible bribery in the awarding of city contracts.

Montebello--In 2011, state Controller John Chiang issued a report showing that officials had improperly spent more than $31 million, helping prompt a city budget crisis. Redevelopment funds were used for many non-government purposes, including meals in Las Vegas.

South Gate--Former city councilman, city manager, mayor and treasurer Albert Robles was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2005 for public corruption, money laundering and bribery. Though several of the convictions were thrown out in 2013, Robles’ sentence was not reduced because of the seriousness of the bribery counts that remained.

Vernon--The tax-rich industrial city which long controlled who voted in the city by controlling who stayed in its very limited housing was nearly disbanded by the Legislature in 2011 after Donal O’Callaghan became the third city administrator since 2006 to face criminal charges. Mayor Leonis Malburg and his wife Dominica were convicted of voter fraud and conspiracy in 2009. The Malburgs lied for years about living in Vernon while actually residing at a Hancock Park mansion.

(Chris Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego and a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog … where this perspective was first posted.)

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LACMA’s Controversial Expansion Plan: Long on Hype, Short on Context

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-If you want to dive into critical discussions about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA’s) makeover, designed by Peter Zumthor, the world is your oyster. Just Google it, and for hours you can immerse yourself in renderings, panel discussions, and well-written articles, many by LA Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne.  

But most of what you unearth will miss the big picture, the context of LACMA’s costly project on Wilshire Boulevard, where two other nearby museum projects have already been abruptly plopped into place. Like Zumthor’s edgy design, they, too, are totally disconnected from the surrounding mid-Wilshire area. 

This section of Wilshire is called the Miracle Mile and it extends from Highland Avenue on the east to San Vicente Boulevard on the west. It began as LA’s premier shopping destination, and it still has some notable gems. But, with or without Zumthors’s inkblot, this area’s many rough edges require far-reaching up-grades. 

The question is how the future of this charming, centrally located region of Los Angeles will evolve over the next several decades, especially when the Purple Line Subway Extension opens in 2023. By the time it is completed, this transit project will have cost over $3 billion, a tidy investment of local and Federal money. 

The Miracle Mile’s amenities include Page Park (also called Hancock Park), the LaBrea Tar Pits, and the adjacent complex of museums near Wilshire and Fairfax. Together they have reversed some of the corridor’s economic decline after the Beverly Center and Grove shopping centers forced its old department stores to meet their maker. 

Unlike the transit improvements, which are publicly financed, the museums are dependent on private philanthropy; the bulk of it coming from a small coterie of extremely well off patrons, such as Eli Broad. More specifically, LACMA’s project will cost over $650 million, and the adjacent Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science museum and major event center will cost at least $300 million. Across the street, the renovation of the Peterson museum cost $125 million. 

Given cost overruns and inflation, we can assume that the final museum price tags will easily surpass $1 billion in private donations from LA’s one-percenters. 

Corridor’s shortcomings: Considering that over $4 billion in public and private investments is flowing into the Miracle Mile corridor, it is truly amazing that so many obvious shortcomings in appearance and public services persist. Sitting in plain view, they remain unexamined and unaddressed by City Hall, METRO, and the big-givers impatient for their names to be chiseled in marble on museum entranceways. 

Like most of Los Angeles, this blight is pervasive, and it is inexcusable that $4 billion in public and quasi-public projects have ignored the following: 

  • City Planning has yet to undertake any actual neighborhood planning for the Purple Line Extension. The many questions of how pedestrians, bicycles, cars, busses, and cabs/ubers will interface with the subway stations at LaBrea, Wilshire, and LaCienega have not yet been examined, much less planned and paid for. Likewise, the land use and design impacts of the Purple Line subway on surrounding areas have, so far, not been considered, even though old file cabinets have detailed plans, land use ordinances, and EIR’s from the early 1980s, when the original MetroRail alignment included the Wilshire/LaBrea and Wilshire/Fairfax stations. 
  • Furthermore, based on station area planning for the new METRO Exposition light-rail line stations, there is not much to look forward to if the Purple Line planning process is implemented before 2023. In the Expo cases, the plans consist of the up-zoning of private parcels and a streetscape design manual. The City’s budget does not yet include any money for public improvements to support the new light rail stations. 
  • The boulevard trees along the entire Miracle Mile corridor are a hodge-podge of different species, with some odd choices and notable gaps. In fact, on the half-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and San Vicente, there are hardly any street trees at all.
  • Billboards and super-graphics can be found in many parts of the Miracle Mile, a major form of visual pollution that would only get worse if the City’s new billboard ordinance designates the Miracle Mile corridor as a sign district suitable for electronic billboards.
  • Large metal fences fortify local landmarks, especially LACMA, Hancock Park, and the adjacent Park LaBrea housing complex. These block pedestrian flow, and if anyone wants to walk from Hancock Park to Park LaBrea, they must swerve two blocks out of their way just to cross the street.
  • Other than the famous Urban Light installation at LACMA, the corridor is gloomy at night. It urgently needs enhanced street and pedestrian lighting along Wilshire Boulevard, not just a public art installation on LACMA’s grounds.
  • Building signs include many questionable and outright illegal signs that should be cited and removed through the Department of Building and Safety and office of the City Attorney.
  • Missing street furniture, such as visually consistent newspaper racks, bus shelters, and trash cans, are the low hanging urban design fruit that could quickly spiff up this area, especially the bleak section west of Fairfax Avenue.

Why is context so ignored? How can we explain LACMA’s failure to consider the Miracle Mile’s context in its expansion plans? Why have the other two major museums in this area also been so resistant to local design guidelines and so unconcerned about the extraordinary lack of sufficient services, infrastructure, and planning for this corridor? 

My working explanation is that LA’s movers and shakers, who are the guiding light and deep-pocketed funders of these museum projects, are quite unaware of the city they live in. Cloistered in protected estates and penthouses, their lives consist of private services, private infrastructure, and tinted windows blocking out both sunlight and the urban blight of most LA neighborhoods. Instead, they only peak out of limo windows to view iconic buildings, such as the Getty Museum, Disney Concert Hall, and now LACMA, all designed by celebrity architects appreciative of accolades and handsome commissions. 

LA’s hundreds of miles of congested, unadorned streets, with their endless overhead wires, mini-malls, strip malls, billboards, super-graphics, bootlegged commercial signs, treeless parkways, dumped couches, broken sidewalks, pot holes, McMansions, ragged building lines, and dingbat apartments are apparently well hidden by a Star Trek-type cloaking device. It miraculously makes this visual pollution invisible to those patrons of the arts whose tastes gravitate to Frank Gehry and his ilk. 

In their wake, elected officials and City staff have absorbed this blinkered view of Los Angeles, and it is our task to peel the tinting off the windows so they can see and attend to the real Los Angeles. 

(Dick Platkin lives in the Fairfax area, several blocks from LACMA and the Purple Line Extension. A veteran city planner, he reports on local planning issues for CityWatchLA, and he welcomes comments and questions at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Herb Wesson: King of the Foreclosure Dance

THE GUSS REPORT-(Editor’s Note: This Daniel Guss piece was posted on CityWatch on August 9. We offer this in-case-you-missed-it ‘replay’ because David Zahniser’s excellent column in Thursday’s LA Times flushed the financial struggles of City Council president Herb Wesson the top the LA politics conversation again. It’s worth a second read.) Herb Wesson is one of the most influential and talented local lawmakers in the United States. As President of the Los Angeles City Council, former Speaker of the California Assembly, and recipient of a consistent and generous government paycheck and perks since 1982, the irony of his potentially losing the homes he and his wife Fabian own is immense. Yet that is the dangerous dance they have narrowly sidestepped as far back as 2002 and as recently as a few weeks ago.  

Their former residence in Ladera Heights, which sits on an earthquake fault line, was first in default 14 years ago this month. But as recently as a few weeks ago, the Wessons were notified that the million dollar house would be sold at auction for just $382,229.50 in July if their obligations were not immediately satisfied. They have received similarly ominous warnings virtually every year since 2011. 

That house, according to the Council President’s filings, provides the Wessons between $10,000 and $100,000 in rental income per year by leasing it to a Pasadena-based business that uses it as a for-profit assisted living facility. (That company was cited this summer by the Department of Social Services for having broken appliances, indoor furniture and exposed trash in the yard, and poor maintenance of patient records.) 

Wesson’s office did not respond to a request for an interview regarding why that revenue was not used to satisfy the latest mortgage default, what conditions presently exist in the house, what is its current ownership status and the condition of its residents. 

Things are more worrisome for the city’s leading lawmaker when it comes to the home in which he and his wife reside. Earlier in 2016, they were in default by $33,248.24, an amount similar to earlier default notices and more than double those from earlier years at the other property.

One mortgage executive, who estimates that that figure represents roughly eight months of missed payments, says that it makes no sense that the properties have not yet been seized and sold. “With their hefty income, significant equity and one property being a revenue-generating, non-owner occupied home, no lender would knowingly say that is a hardship worthy of a refi[nance]. I would want to see their loan docs [to determine among other things] whether they have represented to their lenders that they are the occupants of the home they’re leasing out … A refi in that type of situation would be a big no-no.” The executive also points out that the Wessons may have cured their defaults with money from a source other than a refi. 

According to Wesson’s Ethics Commission filings, their combined household income in recent years ranges between $200,000 and $500,000 per year. They enjoy the city’s Cadillac-level health insurance plan and free automobiles that the taxpayers also fuel, maintain and insure at no cost to them, leading to the question: how is it they are able to hold foreclosure at-bay? 

Perhaps it is because some of the defaults are in Wesson’s legal first name, Herman; others are in his more familiar name, Herb, with and without his Junior suffix; and others are in his wife’s name. It should be noted that one of his sons is similarly named Herb Wesson III who, like one of his brothers, is also employed in a City Council staff position. 

Complicating matters even more, Wesson has not recused himself from voting on City Council agenda items that relate to the rotation of lenders who hold and hand-off their defaulting mortgages like a hot potato. Wesson’s office, in response to multiple public records requests, says no records exist regarding those votes. 

While some of the Wesson’s problems stem from a massive federal tax lien, as well as a state tax lien, their mortgage woes predate those liens by at least six years. 

At an event last year, Wesson told a sidebar of constituents concerned about their personal and community’s economic woes that their “suffering is God’s way of testing your faith.” But by that measure, Wesson’s own faith is being mightily tested, as well. The question is, since Wesson has the ability, authority and talent to do something about their situations and his own, why hasn’t he? 

While this may explain a bit why Sacramento and the City of Los Angeles are in a perpetual fiscal morass, it might be time for Wesson to offer a confession of his own … or at least an explanation.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. Daniel Guss opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Felipe Fuentes: Not Such a Long Farewell

MY TURN-This political year has been like an addiction … a very bad drug for those of us who are political junkies. You don't want to watch the events on TV, but you don't want to miss anything either. And as if it wasn't bad enough to be counting down the days to November 8 … we now have a local election issue that won't be resolved until next March. 

I’m sure most of you have heard that Felipe Fuentes, Councilmember for District 7, is leaving his post in September. Social media and the mainstream press have covered his resignation extensively. He has accepted a position with the legislative advocate The Apex Group in Sacramento. 

He assured everyone that he did not entertain new job opportunities until after he announced his intention not to seek re-election back in January of this year. His current term of office doesn’t expire until June 30, 2017. 

District 7, which extends from east of the 405 to the border with Glendale, sometimes reminds me of poor Job in the Old Testament. They have fires, homeless encampments, poor roads, speeding problems with constant accident fatalities, increased crime, floods (unless we have a drought), NYMBYism, and in some areas, the need for economic and job development. 

District 7 is a microcosm of Los Angeles. The stakeholders there represent all economic levels, and cover the entire political spectrum -- which can make for interesting discussions. Beautiful rural areas, including animal preserves and hiking trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, are mixed in with industrial parks and car repair blight. Developers want to increase the density. High Speed Rail threatens to split some communities in half. Residents there are multi ethnic, multilingual and care deeply about their neighborhoods. 

I became familiar with Felipe Fuentes last year when he evicted the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council and a police substation from the designated City Hall in this part of the Northern San Fernando Valley. Ostensibly, his reason was to give the space to a couple of non-profits that were working on homeless projects. 

I covered that rather ugly event in a CityWatch article in October. I had tried to get some explanation from either him or his offices to no avail. Apparently, his typical response was no response. This is something his constituents faced most of the time. I again questioned his motives in a CityWatch piece in January called "Felipe Fuentes: The Long Farewell." It seemed strange that he would cloak himself in the "lame duck" attire eighteen months ahead of time. 

Of course he and his fellow Councilmember Nury Martinez had been questioned as to why, on City time, their respective staffs helped with Raul Bocanegra's recount for the 39th Assembly district when he was defeated by Patty Lopez. There has been no further news on that lately.   

Scouring the internet, I couldn’t find a single post from anyone who is sorry to see him leave. This is pretty remarkable since he did manage to raise a lot of money for his council campaign in 2012. His biggest donors were building trades associations. Coincidently, his new position with The Apex Group will be with their construction and building trade sectors. 

I asked Darren Martinez in the City Attorney's office if there is any rule against an elected official becoming a lobbyist immediately after leaving office or it there is a waiting period, which is standard in Federal and State ethics rules. As of now, I’ve had no response from the City Attorney. I guess they are too busy defending the City against lawsuits. Someone knowledgeable in LA ethics law told me that the City has the same ethics rule but since he is going to work for a lobbying group outside of Los Angeles, it doesn't apply. 

He should have resigned in January which could have allowed a new councilmember for District 7 to be elected. Doing it now is like making a farewell obscene gesture to his constituents: He’s leaving them without a representative for another year. Council President Herb Wesson will appoint a "caretaker" from the Legislative Analyst’s department. 

Some of Fuentes constituents told me that they will be better off with him gone because he wasn't doing anything for them anyway. While this may be true, he did, after all, make a commitment to serve for four years. It seems that he managed to do the minimum amount of work just to set himself up to take a much higher paying position when leaving office. 

He managed to spearhead the new Charter amendment on the November ballot which restructures the DWP. But what did he accomplish for his constituents? Aside from telling some of the NCs in his district that he didn't need them and helping with some cleanup and playing favorites...not much. 

The LA Times grudgingly endorsed him in 2012 with the caveat that he could do a great job or a poor one. Yesterday they concluded it was poor. 

Now, at least 21 people have filed papers for the vacancy. It looks like representatives from the entrenched SVF political machine will try to use their considerable influence and power. There are also political staff members from other Council offices who are getting a head start on fundraising. Don't forget…this primary election isn't until March 2017. There are quite a few civic activists and some ordinary citizens also looking at this job. 

I urge the stakeholders in District 7 to vet all these candidates carefully. You are at a crossroads and you need someone who will commit to doing his or her best 24/7. Hold their feet to the fire! Make them give you more than a glimpse of their visions and how they plan to achieve their goals. The term of office will be five plus years, so make them promise publicly that they will fulfill the whole term of office. 

Felipe Fuentes will serve as a great example of what you don't want in your next councilmember! 

As always ... comments welcome.

 

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

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