Now Comes the Apartment-Hotel! How Much More Should the Venice Community be Expected to Endure?

FIRST HEARING REPORT-The developers, after a couple of years, finally submitted their environmental report to City Planning. Most everyone expected Planning to sign right off on it and push this project on … and they did exactly that. Now it proceeds to the public hearing process. 

We think that the nonsensical new name “apartment hotel” (that’s an 80/4 ratio of hotel rooms to apartments) may assist this commercial project to elude the Venice Specific Plan’s restriction against tying more than three commercial lots together. At this point, only the community can force a more thoughtful project out of the developers. 

ImagineVenice wrote a few other articles on this near city-block-long project comprised of an 80 room hotel with four apartments and a multitude of restaurants and other hotel services. When the writers first met with the developer years ago, we expressed support for a hotel in principle, and put forth a simple notion, one which more than likely would engender community support for the project --Build Less and Charge More. The developer demurred and said he was going to build to the “hotel model.” One can only assume that this “model” is one which the likes of StarwoodHilton, or Marriott would find attractive as an acquisition property, ensuring a very big future payday. 

Our concern is that this hotel, being built over eight lots, is designed in such a way that it would negatively affect the nearby residential Oakwood community forever. We think this current scheme comprising more than 50,000 feet, creates ongoing risks to the children of Westminster School. 

Additionally, we believe that paramount and essential to any good hotel project would be a serious intention to control the truck traffic and car flow it generates. These are important and worrisome issues and they are being glossed over with PR and by various promo “meet and greets.” We doubt there are many pesky neighbors at these “outreach” events to ask the hard questions. There is an intensive PR effort to “put lipstick on a pig.” 

We know it is hard to believe, but this huge development does not have an off-street loading and unloading area. Why? Because the city code says that developments without an alley don’t have to have loading areas. But wouldn’t you think that a developer projecting real concern and love for the Venice community would allocate the necessary land to take all the delivery trucks and trash trucks off the street? Instead, the project will load entirely from three curbside parking spaces on Broadway. These three spaces are expected to handle all truck pick-ups and deliveries. We are expected to believe that like magic, trucks will arrive in synchrony and fit perfectly into these three curbside parking spaces. 

It would have been the right thing if the developer wanted, and was willing to give up, revenue earning land for this essential need. Clearly no moral imperative propelled them to do it for the benefit of the community. Imagine, in 2016 a huge project is going up without an off-street loading area.

It doesn’t matter how many inch-thick surveys and elegant reports with pages and pages of charts are generated by paid-for hotel consultants. They all say this project will have no on-going negative impact on the Venice community. The results of bad planning are all around us now. How much more of it should the community have to endure? 

We believe that all the fancy promised amenities of this project will do nothing to offset the forever damage it will cause Venice. The developer claims they are filling a need for hotel rooms for visitors -- but who will protect the residents from more traffic congestion and over-building in the community? Our old infrastructure just can’t take much more of it. 

So, what we have here is a giant project, the largest in-fill development ever built in Venice, which has the same truck loading standards as do our old historic buildings on Abbot Kinney. Venice is forced to accept, adapt and live with the conditions grandfathered long-ago. Must we now shut our eyes to the endless number of double-parked huge delivery trucks and those that fill the center lane of Abbot Kinney knowing that it will most certainly increase? We are an old town. We live daily with a parking mess created in the 1930’s and 40’s. Why must we accept a 20th Century solution in 2016? It does not have to be this way. 

When a new 80 room hotel, its four apartments and all the restaurants, retail, offices and spa are in full operation, traffic will surely get worse for Oakwood and for most of Venice. Trucks and cars are already directing themselves inland to avoid the growing congestion on Abbot Kinney and Lincoln. 

The alternate route mobile AppWayz aggravates people now by directing traffic into residential neighborhoods. But who can blame people for using it? It is just one of the tools people will find even more necessary as they try to move around this town. 

As we said originally to the developers and which we repeat again here -- Build Less and Charge More. There is still time to reduce the size of this huge project, provide essential off-street truck loading and un-loading and develop a traffic mitigation system to keep hotel-generated traffic out of the Oakwood community and protect the safety of school children. 

The community has an opportunity to weigh in and voice their concerns about this very important and powerful development. 

The time is now.


(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are co-founders of Imagine Venice  … where this commentary was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

My Last Conversation with Scott Folsom – Or, ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong with Education Over Summer Vacation?’

REMEMBERING SCOTT FOLSOM--Decades-long champion for public schools, Scott Folsom, died last week. Howard Blume wrote a beautiful obituary in the Los Angeles Times.  

I had the privilege of sitting down with Scott for the last time a couple of weeks ago. He was troubled not to have written his education homily the week before. He didn’t call it that, but it’s not far off. For years, district officials and parents religiously read Scott’s blog, 4LAkids, every Sunday. Board President Steve Zimmer and Superintendent Michelle King called Scott “the conscience of the district.” Steve said Scott had the ability to see when the emperor had no clothes. 

In this era when so many people have found ways to make money off of public education, Scott gave two decades of unpaid public service.  He was part watchdog, part caretaker. He criticized because he cared -- and he showed great care. His blog was a mix of notes from the many, many meetings he attended, chatter heard-around-the-water-cooler. Scott’s broad educational and cultural references were infused with his wit and intelligence. He had majored in political science in the 60s. If there were song lyrics that fit a situation, Scott included them. When we read Scott’s blog, we understood both LAUSD and the world better. And, with important exceptions, we usually forgave both. 

Scott had called me, hoping I could listen to his thoughts on the week’s education happenings and put them into a blog post. I was operating on hope, too, not only because of my deep admiration for him, but because of my awareness -- growing by the day -- that he was running out of time. He had decided to discontinue cancer treatments, saying he had chosen quality over quantity. But he quibbled about the quality part.

Scott gave this post its title. He had so much left to say and do, and we would all be better for his having said and done it. If I could help in any way, I was going to try. 

So I sat and talked with him for a couple of hours while the Republican National Convention played on the TV in his living room. 

Here is part of what he said between long pauses: 

The process to put these together does not make it easy to narrate or dictate or any of those kinds of “-tates.” 

I would love to be able to turn over a handful of my notes and have you make it whatever you will. The reality is I can never read my notes 24 hours later, and I don’t even know what I meant. I can read and toss ideas. My mind wanders completely. I love where it wanders. And now morphine makes all these new words. 

I guess I could do like Melania Trump and find something that’s pretty damn good and use it. I could probably get away with it longer than she did. 

But our campaign is education, and plagiarism is somewhere along with our sworn enemies. The Trump campaign, on the other hand, has storm-trooped -- not tiptoed -- through the tulips, and created its own reality. It’s born from reality TV -- and there is neither in either. 

I was listening to Melania’s speech. Public education! At least she mentioned public education!

This Trump escapade is such a colossal and monumental failure of ethics. Ethics in government, ethics in journalism. The fact that the Republicans let it go this far. The Democrats let it go this far.

All of us let it go THIS FAR. 

That the one little boy on the street corner didn’t point out that this particular emperor had no clothes.

Speaking of clothes, now for a subject that’s neither near nor dear, but very close to me.

I was reading somewhere -- I think it came out over the gender identification discussion. It was about the signs on the restroom doors. Somebody was commenting about how the color pink had not always been identified with girls. 

The haberdashery industry in the UK was all fixated with boys and girls, the ones the Dickens kids were aspiring to be. And so, in stories, if you were selling layettes, you sold pink ones to girls and blue ones to boys.

Amusing. Not the end of the world. 

But I’m coming from a different end of the market. 

I’m buying adult diapers. 

The female ones are pink. Why are we not surprised? 

But the male ones? I guess, my gender, in my day and age, blue doesn’t quite go with the GI Joe image. They’re green—Army Man green. 

[Long pause.] 

That was exhausting. 

It had taken Scott over a half hour to say that much. And he was drifting in and out. Then he said: 

I did a really bad job of downloading what went on in public education this week. There’s so much fun to be had, and not enough time, and way too much explanation about Gülen. You and I both know that all charter schools aren’t Gülen schools. But it’s our government money, meant to educate our children. 


The promise made to me before the bait and switch was ‘quality of life’. I don’t want to overdose on anything because I don’t want to miss anything. 

Scott had picked different people to take over what he’d be leaving behind. Rachel on the Bond Oversight Committee, Franny needling from the inside, me blogging. It says something that it takes three of us to do what Scott did, and those are the three I know about. I can’t speak for Rachel and Franny, but I can’t imagine I’ll live up to Scott’s example. The striving will make a difference though. So I will try.   

Late last week I heard Scott was nearing the end, and that he was worried. I called him the day before he died. I said, “Scott, you’ve done enough. We’ll take it from here.” 

“OK,” he said. “Don’t screw it up.”

Then, always thinking of others, Scott instructed, “Karen, take care of those who need our care.” 

So I will try.


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

Beware! The City’s Campaign to Empty Your Wallet

JUST THE FACTS--In politics there is always the rule of Strategy. Strategy gets your ideas moving forward and hopefully onto implementation. Elected officials and others in government services use Strategy on many programs and issues similar to what our military and law enforcement personnel use in the various programs designed to protect and serve our communities. Without Strategy, not much ever gets done. 

Not to be too critical of our elected officials but … I have been thinking about the kind of strategy that was going to be used to convince you to vote for more fees and taxes and bonds to handle problems that have been brewing for months and even years in the City and County of Los Angeles. 

Take for example the homeless situation in Los Angeles. We have all seen the negative impact on our neighborhoods and read about how it is going to be addressed. We know the police are not doing much of anything about it. Not because they want to see our communities run over by homeless, but because they have been following orders from police leaders who follow orders from the political leaders of our cities. We can all see it every day. 

The homeless population continues to grow. Many of our communities have become homeless camps. During a recent drive down Burbank Blvd in the Sepulveda Basin, I have found that the homeless are permanently camped in the wooded section of the area on the south side of Burbank Blvd. Some have erected large Army tents in the brush and even parked their cars in the camp. It is like going to Lake Arrowhead and camping in the woods. 

While our mayor declared the Homeless population in Los Angeles an Emergency a year or so ago, nothing much has been done to address or resolve the problem. Sure there have been some dollars directed toward the problem, but nothing of any significance when you look at the billions in the city’s current budget. 

While our Mayor and other Los Angeles City Elected Officials were on another council recess rubbing elbows with others in power at the Democratic National Convention others from the city council were overseas in foreign countries on a Sister City Mission. So, with no one watching the exploding homeless population chewing up more and more of our neighborhoods, nothing is being done. 

But wait. There is an answer. Remember ‘Strategy’. There is hope you that you will fall for the increase in taxes to address this out of control situation. Yes ladies and gentlemen, ignore the problem after you declare it an emergency and let the problem continue to grow so that the people who pay the taxes will get so fed up with the situation that they vote to support the new taxes. 

NEW Taxes in the Billions of dollars! 

Since the city has over an $8 Billion-plus General Fund this fiscal year, it is time to use existing money and finally address the problem that is not going away and only getting worse as the days pass. 

While the city has throwing a few thousand dollars to address the problem, little impact has been seen. The homeless are not washing away or going to other parts of the country. It is time for you the taxpayers to get off your collective asses and force your city officials to use existing funds to finally address the out of control homeless population in Los Angeles. 

We all hear about the great economy here in Los Angeles and California. If that is true, existing money is there to once and for all address the homeless crisis the is negatively impacting neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles. 

For the record, following the DNC our Mayor and his entourage traveled to Rio to view the 2016 Olympics since Los Angeles has put in a bid to host the 2024 Olympics in Los Angeles. This is great. It is 2016 and there are a lot of pressing issues on the plate before attention is generated to 2024.   

There is strength in numbers and we the taxpayers have the numbers to vote. There will be no less than four local tax and bond measures on the November Ballot. Transportation and homeless are the main ones gaining attention at this time. This will cost us BILLIONS over the coming years. Use your vote to tell city leaders NO NEW TAXES and No Bond Measures. We have existing measures that are still being paid off from years ago! 

As always, Zine is watching your pocketbook and holding people accountable.

(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected].)


Vote Trading is a Crime and It’s Ruining Los Angeles

CORRUPTION REPORT-Each week CityWatch has more articles that could be categorized as “Organized Crime is Ruining Las Angeles.” The technical name of the vehicle which the Mayor and City Council use in their destruction of Los Angeles is called “Accounting Control Fraud.” The biggest problem with Accounting Control Fraud is that the name puts everyone except certified public accountants to sleep. An alternate name is Criminal Accounting. 

Many readers will remember Enron whose wunderkind, CEO Ken Lay, was the toast of Dallas until he made toast of Enron through massive frauds. Los Angeles has its own wunderkind in Eric Garcetti. Garcetti’s mastery of Criminal Accounting is prodigious. 

The characteristic feature of Criminal Accounting is that the company or the city itself is the target of the fraud which is orchestrated by the executives. In a city, the insiders are the mayor and city council. Rather than using a Ponzi scheme to dupe individuals out of their money, the mayor and city council steal money from their own city and divert tax dollars to their buddies. 

A city like Los Angeles is no different from a company like Enron; it can be bilked into ruin by transferring the city’s wealth to a handful of thieves. 

Organized Crime in the DTLA Hotel Market --In 2013, the City commissioned PKR Consulting to study how to divert city revenues to a few friends of the Mayor and City Council. PKR Consulting (which is now CBRE Group) specializes in helping the hotel industry become more profitable. Habitually, the City retains consultants which cater to the desires of a particular industry in order to obtain “independent” studies identifying which private person(s) should receive huge gifts of public money. Here’s what the lobbyists for the hotel industry found. 

Hotels were doing exceedingly well in Los Angeles with the DTLA hotels showing an 80% occupancy rate. In an economy which is not dominated by organized crime, one expects ample investment money to flow into that portion of the economy which is doing very well. Since the DTLA hotels were doing fantastically well, no subsidies were necessary. Yet, PKR Consulting found that the City should give new hotels hundreds of millions of dollars in tax rebates. We hasten to add that providing a silly opinion is not a criminal act. 

When a city solicits foolishness and then relies on the silliness in order to divert tax dollars into the pockets of its cronies, the city itself is the criminal enterprise.   

The Legal Function of a City--People form governments in order to provide public services. I cannot construct the streets, nor can I build the water system, nor can I maintain the parks. The function of city government is not to make the friends of the mayor and city councilmembers wealthier by diverting tax dollars into their pockets. Yet, that has been happening for over a decade in Los Angeles and it is the reason that Los Angeles is rapidly becoming a “failed city.” 

Readers of CityWatch will remember the criminal appraisal fraud with the CRA project at 1601 N. Vine, i.e. Cesspool on Vine. In that case, the City obtained an appraisal of the property for $4 million, but the developer obtained an appraisal in the same month for $5.4 million. In recommending that the City pay his buddy an extra $1.4 million for the property, Garcetti withheld from the City Council the lower $4 million appraisal. Thus, nobody questioned the $5.4 million purchase price. 

Later, Garcetti arranged for the City to sell back the same piece of property to the developer for only $835,000. In addition to the $4,564,000 which the developer made on these exchanges, he did not have to make any mortgage payments on the property for the time during which the City “owned” 1601 N. Vine. Now that’s organized crime, LA style. 

Organized Crime Favors Its Own while Harming Everyone Else--When a hotel gets to keep between 40 to 100 percent of all the hotel taxes for 30 or 40 years, it has a great advantage over its competitors. Just look at a advertisement. Hotel rooms are booked on the basis of price and any hotel that doesn’t have to pay taxes has a competitive advantage over hotels that must pay the hotel tax. 

Is there anyone so naive as to think that these hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts by the mayor and city council do not result in money flowing into the political campaigns of the mayor and councilmembers? 

The economic malarkey fed to the City by the mayor and city council is astounding. The public thinks that it benefits them to give their tax dollars to billionaires because the billionaires’ businesses are doing fantastically well. The hotels have over 80% occupancy rate, and therefore, we need to give them hundreds of millions of tax dollars! 

With criminal accounting, the crooks devise a bunch of false and misleading studies to deceive people into thinking that the city is making sound investments when in reality the city treasury is being looted. The foregoing has illustrated a couple penny-ante scams showing City Hall’s use of Criminal Accounting. But it gets worse. 

The Sophisticated Organized Crime Syndicate that Rules LA --When Judge Goodman ruled in January 2014 that Garcetti’s Hollywood’s Community Plan 2012 Update had knowingly used fatally flawed data, Judge Goodman did not go farther to describe how the entire criminal enterprise operated. Judge Goodman stopped short because the lawsuit was a civil lawsuit, and thus, he had no power to advance into criminal matters. Nonetheless, his ruling did reveal the widespread criminality. 

When one intentionally makes materially false representations of fact on which the deceiver expects other people to rely, that is criminal fraud. 

The Subways are an Example of Criminal Fraud--But let’s look a little deeper into how this massive fraud works. The history of Metro subways shows how a multi-million dollar criminal scam becomes a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise. Subways and trolleys are not inherently criminal, but in the hands of sophisticated fraudsters, any public agency can become a criminal enterprise. 

In the CityWatch article on July 28, 2016, “Expo Line Expansion Fails to Make Up for LA Transit Loss,” by Wendell Cox, we see how Organized Crime has manipulated Metro to divert money away from bus services (which actually benefit Angelenos) toward subways and fixed-rail transit which benefit developers. Mr. Cox’s article links to an extraordinarily important analysis by Thomas Rubin showing how Metro’s decisions have devastated bus service. When one understands how organized crime operates, one can see the rationale behind many of Metro’s current decisions. 

Here’s the essence of the complex criminal scam to divert tax dollars away from public services in order to benefit the friends of Garcetti and the City Council. Once a subway or fixed rail system has a station at a particular development project, that mass transit will never deviate one inch from that location to service another project. The purpose of LA’s subways and trolleys is not to provide better public transportation but to maximize the value of certain private projects over other real estate projects. 

When there is a subway station in the basement of a high rise, that project has a huge competitive advantage over all projects which do not have their own subway station. 

We are not saying that the mayor’s office and the city council are stupid; we are saying that they constitute a sophisticated Organized Crime Syndicate. LA is not dominated by criminals from outside City Hall. Los Angeles City Hall itself is The Crime Syndicate. The city operates in violation of Penal Code, § 86 which criminalizes all Vote Trading Agreements at any city council. Thus, by definition, Los Angeles City Council is an organized criminal enterprise. (The RICO statute does not apply to city councils.) 

The fact that law enforcement turns a blind eye does not mean that Los Angeles City Hall has not morphed into an Organized Crime Syndicate. The Duck Test reveals its criminality. Are the mayor and the city council looting the public treasury to benefit their friends? Yes. 

The Lynchpin of the Criminal Enterprise--City Hall’s criminal enterprise operates through a Vote Trading Agreement where each councilmember is required to support each other’s individual criminal scam. Although Penal Code § 86 criminalizes Vote Trading, law enforcement and judges all turn their blind eyes, while Organized Crime grows stronger each day.


(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.

South LA’s Gentrifying Skyscraper: Poster Child for LA’s Broken and Corrupt Planning Process

GUEST WORDS-Anyone looking for a project that crystallizes the City of Los Angeles’ “Wild Wild West development process,” needn’t look any further than the Cumulus skyscraper at Jefferson/La Cienega. In late May, without anything that remotely approaches legal justification, and without a word of discussion, the City Council rubber-stamped a 30-story skyscraper with over 1,200 luxury housing units and 1,900,000 square feet of new development at an intersection that any commuter to/from LAX or Downtown Culver City knows is synonymous with the term “gridlock.” Crenshaw Subway Coalition, along with Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, has jointly filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to stop the project. 

The 320-foot skyscraper proposed by San Francisco-based Carmel Partners would be the first skyscraper in South Los Angeles. It is almost three times taller than the next tallest building and four-times taller than the closest building within a 2-mile radius. In fact, the tallest building in the surrounding neighborhood is only 4 stories. Views from the Baldwin Hills and Blair Hills will undoubtedly be impacted. Traffic will be worsened. It is being built without a single unit dedicated to housing for households that are “low-income,” which the state defines as a family of four making $69,450 per year. And it is being built without a local hire requirement. 

The Cumulus skyscraper of luxury housing is clearly not for existing South LA residents. The project is a microcosm of how our city government is exacerbating, not solving, the country’s worst housing affordability crisis, and greasing the wheels of gentrification. It exposes a broken and corrupt process that threatens both working poor renters in Historic South Central and affluent Westside homeowners. 


If you’re wondering how it is possible that the City Council approved a 320-foot skyscraper in an area where none currently exists – in an area where no one even discussed something of this size for the future, first you have to understand three terms: “zone change,” “height district change” and “General Plan amendment.” 

Every parcel in Los Angeles has a list of limited uses and a height. This is justified by the presence of a citywide General Plan, which is a blueprint for development predicated on hard data related to regional and community-specific needs and growth projections. The community plan (there are 37 in Los Angeles) is where the zoning designation establishing limits on each site is specified. 

To achieve approval of the 320-foot skyscraper, with 1,600,000 square feet dedicated to the luxury housing, the City Council granted Carmel Partners requests for an amendment to the zoning code in the City’s General Plan and change in the height district designation to unlimited. In Los Angeles, these General Plan Amendments, zone changes and height district changes get doled out to almost any mega-developer who requests one like mollies at a rave. 

To be clear General Plan amendments are allowed – but not the kind the City is granting. General Plan amendments are supposed to be community-wide, not site specific. To change the zoning at a project site to let the developer build without having to adhere to the restrictions imposed on the whole community/corridor is known as “spot zoning.” It constitutes a special favor that increases the land value and potential profits of a development project. If that sounds like it is not only unfair, but also illegal to you, that’s because it is. It is one of multiple claims in our lawsuit to stop the project.

Unfortunately, the city of Los Angeles is littered with new high-rise luxury housing projects that received General Plan amendments, and height district/zone changes. It is how most mega-projects that are wildly out-of-character and have/threaten to gentrify communities like The Reef in Historic South Central are even possible. 


There are undoubtedly regional impacts of this lone massive project. But by green-lighting the Cumulus skyscraper, our City has sent a signal to other potential developers that “anything goes” in the neighborhood. This is the domino effect of the project. It is practically guaranteed to lead to even more drastically out-of-scale developments in the community that violate zoning laws. One luxury high-rise that violates the height and density limits leads to another, then another, then another… 

Unfortunately, “the domino effect” is already on full display in other parts of our city. Like a kid who says that they should get to stay up late on a school night and eat dessert first because their sibling was allowed to, mega-developers are being relieved of height, density and zoning limits based on special favors being previously given to nearby projects. You read that right: the city actually uses previous approval of illegal projects to approve more illegal projects. This is the very definition of out-of-control lawlessness that threatens our community and harms our city, and the insanity is completely unjustifiable. 


Proponents of “spot zoning” argue that it is necessary to increase the city’s housing stock, because the city’s zoning code is outdated. For a variety of reasons, that argument has more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese. Firstly, even the low estimate is that L.A.’s existing zoning code would permit development to house 1 million more residents. That’s without General Plan amendments, height district or zoning changes. (Many suggest the figure is actually much higher: between 3-5 million.) Additionally, when one considers the density increases provided by state laws, it is apparent that almost every major commercial boulevard in Los Angeles could be lined with residential development that is a minimum of 5 or 6 stories tall. 

Furthermore, proponents apparently want us to ignore that the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor have deliberately chosen to not do city planning. Much smaller cities like Seattle (population: under 700,000; which is smaller than just South LA) have far more staff solely dedicated to planning than the entire city of Los Angeles (population: 4 million). The analysis of hard data, infrastructure capacity (parks, fire stations, transportation), affordable housing and senior housing needs, and the facilitation of community conversations about improving the quality of life of existing communities while growing responsibility, is being done in LA by a skeletal staff and at a snail’s pace. Our elected officials have consistently and deliberately underfunded the “city planning” in the City Planning Department. This underfunding has gone on not for years, but for decades. 

We are rightfully skeptical of Congressional Republicans who state that the oil industry must be allowed to police itself to prevent environmental catastrophes like Deepwater Horizon, because we know that for decades they’ve been cutting funding for oil rig safety inspection. A blind man can see that the real desire of Congressional Republicans is deregulation. Similarly, the real objective of the City’s elected officials should be clear: give mega-developers who feed their campaign war chests whatever they want, no matter what the zoning law requires. 


If you are still unconvinced of the real objective of our City Council despite the approval of countless General Plan amendments for mega-developers, who spend millions of dollars in lobbying and shower City politicians with donations, the specifics regarding the Cumulus skyscraper approval process should eliminate all doubts. You see, the new zoning code for the community was before the City before Cumulus was proposed. 

In April 2013, the City Planning Commission reviewed the draft of the new West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Community Plan. The West Adams Community Plan specifies the height, density and allowable land uses of every parcel in the city from roughly Robertson to the west, Venice/Pico to the north, Arlington/Van Ness to the east and the borders of Inglewood/Culver City to the south/southwest. Among other updates, drastic increases in the allowable height and density and permission of mixed-use (a combination of office/retail with housing) were proposed around the new Jefferson/La Cienega Expo Line station. The argument is that mixed-use development and higher density housing should be encouraged around transit stations. 

But those proposed increases are not as great as what Carmel Partners proposed and the City Council approved. Not. Even. Close. 

The proposed height increase was 45 feet to 86 feet for mixed-use projects. Not 320 feet like Cumulus.

The proposed density increase, known as the floor-area ratio, was 1.5:1 to 3:1. Not 3.9:1 like Cumulus. 

At no point in the West Adams Community Plan update process did anyone from the public request, nor did the city planning department or any other governmental entity study, let alone recommend, anything that even remotely approaches 320 feet at the site. 

And it is telling that at no point in the numerous region-wide town hall presentations and public hearings regarding the community plan update, where the planning staff justified upzoning around the La Cienega/Jefferson because of the new light rail, did a city official announce to the audience: “Oh yea, there’s a skyscraper-a-coming.” 

And if you think that this is a case of the left-hand not knowing what the right-hand is doing, that somehow the Planning Department and Council just forgot about that whole community plan update process as they were fast-tracking this mega-development, consider that the City released the final (and now approved) version of the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Community Plan on the very same day that the City Council approved the Cumulus skyscraper. 


The Cumulus skyscraper project stinks as bad as a pig farm in August. It is the poster child for a corrupt planning process that favors mega-developers who buy favors from City Council without any regard to the needs of our community and city. 

Carmel Partners bought the project site knowing that the height and density at the site was going practically double, and yet that wasn’t enough. The mega-developer wanted more, because they knew they could get more, and the City Council obliged. 

We in South LA, which has long been underserved by both the public and private sector, but are now receiving heightened attention because of public transit investment and a changing real estate market, must quickly rise up, become better educated and more engaged in the planning process. 

We need to reject those who claim that we have to accept these illegal General Plan Amendments and zone changes, which are being requested by those who seek to gentrify our communities for their own personal profits. 

We need to demand our elected officials just say no, because there is no justifiable legal basis for approving them. 

We need to loudly state from the moment they are proposed that they are illegal and violations of the zoning code, and be willing to sue to stop the projects, like residents in other parts of the city, to protect and enhance the community we have built. 

We should welcome new development, but unapologetically demand that it be built for us and in conformance with our community standards. To do otherwise is to co-sign our own displacement. 

(Damien Goodmon is the Executive Director of Crenshaw Subway Coalition, past Coordinator of the Citizens Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line, a renter in Leimert Park, and fourth-generation Angelino whose family has lived in South Central for over 100 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]


Which is It, Mr. Mayor … Homeless Housing or Olympic Games?

SKID ROW- Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti traveled to Rio de Janeiro for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. 

Obviously, his primary reason for being there is to “wine and dine” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because they’re the ones who will decide which city gets the 2024 Summer Olympics. LA is one of four contenders, pitted against Rome, Paris and Budapest, Hungary. (Hamburg, Germany was also selected as a contender, but withdrew its bid in November 2015.) 

Why is an event eight years in the future so important today? 

Los Angeles has a deadline of September 2016 to submit its final 2024 Olympic bid and the IOC will determine the winner in September 2017. The host city will then have seven years to build the necessary infrastructure for what the IOC hopes will be another “worldwide sports spectacle.” 

Spectacle? The only spectacle the world will see if they come to LA for the 2024 Summer Olympics is the spectacle of widespread homelessness. 

City Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose 14th council district includes Skid Row – more commonly known as “the homeless capitol of America” -- is also in “hot water with the heat about to rise 1000 degrees.” Last year, he chaired the newly-formed LA City Council Homelessness and Poverty Committee, tasked with signing off on the Mayor’s “Comprehensive Homeless Strategic Plan” that was passed by the council in January 2016. 

Huizar publicly boasted of caring deeply about his homeless constituents in Skid Row. We now know that, at the time he touted the priority need to house them, he also finalized supportive efforts for a Beverly Hills developer to build “microlofts” in Skid Row buildings – structures that used to house and provide services for the homeless residents there. Hypocrisy in its finest display! It seems that Huizar initiated displacement of the very homeless men, women and children he so passionately vowed to house and provide services for. How dare he! 

The City’s comprehensive plan was signed off on in January and it’s now August. So where’s all this housing for homeless people promised by Huizar and Garcetti? 

Was their Comprehensive Homeless Plan nothing more than a smoke and mirrors marketing campaign to show to the IOC just to win an Olympic bid? 

And according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s (LAHSA) last two Homeless Counts, there has been an almost 20% increase in homelessness over the last three years alone. Yet there’s been no significant new construction for homelessness anywhere in the city; it takes a minimum of 18 months (but more like two to three years) to build new construction. So it’s virtually impossible for the City of LA to create enough housing and services to serve the over 26,000 homeless people struggling to survive here in the “City of Angels” before the 2024 Summer Olympics would be held here. 

As a homegrown Angeleno, I cringe to imagine the world descending onto our city for a Summer Olympic “spectacle,” only to be shocked by the number of homeless people on the streets. They will be dismayed by the tens of thousands of homeless folks that will gravitate toward the foreigners, asking for monetary aid (i.e. panhandling) along with whatever else they are able to obtain. And based on LAHSA’s current numbers and trends, homelessness in LA will continue to rise over the next seven years to a jaw-dropping number! 

Is this the Los Angeles we want the world to see firsthand? 

If not, the Mayor’s re-election campaign should be focused on a demand for action

The termed-out Huizar is not above ridicule in the court of public opinion as he continues to schmooze with big-money developers and the Downtown business sector in an effort to “Bring Back Broadway.” I’m sure voters will remember his lack of true leadership and blatant deceit regarding housing homeless people whenever – if ever -- he seeks another political job. 

With such an uphill battle in his bid for the 2024 Olympics, how do we even know Mayor Garcetti is really trying to win it? Or is he just using taxpayer dollars for an elaborate summer vacation in Rio? 

The pressure is rising against both of these politicians who call themselves “homeless advocates,” as well as all other City officials who’ve shown a collective incompetence toward “ending homelessness.” Remember when Garcetti took the oath of office and publicly promised to house all homeless vets by the end of 2015? Later had to admit failure in accomplishing such an unrealistic goal. And it’s summer now; August is the hottest month of the year for homeless folks stranded by the City of Los Angeles as they try to cope with triple-digit heat in deplorable conditions almost like they were left for dead. Our city leaders should feel an equivalent amount of heat -- whether it’s in 2016 or 2024. 

While people all over the world consider Rio one of their top-ten favorite vacation spots, eyes in LA are on Garcetti and Huizar right now. If they don’t do something significant and soon about homelessness, Rio may be seeing a lot more of both of them!


(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Rumors of Wilmington NC Death are Greatly Exaggerated

NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL NEWS-For the past several weeks, rumors have been swirling throughout the Los Angeles Harbor Area that EmpowerLA was set to dismantle the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. The council has not been able to conduct meetings for much of 2016. 

EmpowerLA Director of Outreach and Communications, Stephen Box, put the rumors to rest. He said that EmpowerLA was, in fact, working to get the Wilmington council up and working again. 

For several months, the Wilmington Neighborhood Council has been failing to achieve a quorum at their meetings. (A quorum is the minimum number of members of an organization that must be present to conduct a valid meeting.) With no quorum there cannot be a meeting. “In a nutshell, [the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment] is not dismantling or decertifying,” Box said. “The department is going to facilitate the existing board in the process of filling vacant seats … so that the board can achieve quorum and conduct business.” 

According to the Wilmington Neighborhood Council’s bylaws the advisory board should be comprised of 24 people and thirteen people must be present to form a quorum at a board meeting. 

Wilmington Neighborhood Council Governing Structure--The governing structure of the board may be the core reason for this neighborhood council’s issues.

Of its 24 board seats, only three are elected on an at-large basis. The remaining 21 board seats are either filled by appointments or by selections through a complicated and ambiguous caucus system.

Six seats are reserved for residential organizations selected by a stakeholder caucus to represent quadrants of the community, but these are not defined. People, by definition, are not considered organizations. 

Wilmington’s bylaws state that the stakeholder selection should take place every two years. The board membership is structured to include: 

  • Three business or industry representatives selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • Two churches representatives selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • Two education representatives selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • One labor representative selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • One nonprofit community or fraternal representative selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • One recreational representative selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • One parks advisory board representative selected by stakeholder caucus.
  • One senior community (although a nominee need only be 16 years old to serve in this. capacity) representative selected by stakeholder caucus. 









Three seats are appointed: 

  • The youth seat, which is nominated by stakeholder caucus and appointed by the board.
  • The parliamentary seat, which is appointed by the board.
  • And the seat representing the Port of Los Angeles and appointed by the Port of Los Angeles. 

Too much is left to be desired due to the complicated selection and appointment process. For a long time, the board seemed be comprised of homogenous, older people who have ties with the business community and the Port of Los Angeles. 

“You are not going to be outspoken because your hands are tied,” said Sylvia Arredondo, a former selected board member. “The neighborhood council is there sometimes to protect their own interests.” 

Former board member Anabelle Romero agrees. 

“Some of the members are really old,” Romero said. “People are invested in it for different reasons.”

But since 2012, there has been a gradual shift in the makeup of the board with younger, more active community members joining. 

Interestingly, the Wilmington Neighborhood Council’s bylaws state that “no single Stakeholder group shall hold a majority of Board seats unless extenuating circumstances exist and are approved by EmpowerLA.” 

There are currently 96 neighborhood councils and each one has its own strategies and bylaws. They either work or they don’t. 

The Problem--The most recent board election, which took place on June 11, yielded the three elected, at-large, board members. But none of the 18 caucus seats were filled, resulting in a loss of quorum. 

Sylvia Arredondo said she was only informed through an email from Wilmington Neighborhood Council Chairwoman Cecilia Moreno that due to the decision by EmpowerLA, she no longer was on the board. She said that part of the reason the selection process failed and resulted in a loss of quorum is a lack of outreach to the community. Volunteering is minimal in the board, communication is minimal and even the materials are limited to English-only in a largely Latino community. The result is low voter turnout in a community known for its involvement because community member do not see the neighborhood council as significant or serving to the community. 

“There is no true outreach and if there is, when you want to step up, it depends on who you are,” said Arredondo, explaining that often when a younger member wants to do outreach, another board member is sent along to make sure the message is delivered in accordance to the status quo

Arredondo said that Moreno’s letter stated that Moreno neither agreed nor supported EmpowerLA’s decision. 

“I honestly feel lost and confused,” Arredondo said. “It’s great that there is a shake up. There could be more transparency and outreach from DONE to let us know what is going on.” 

Box said EmpowerLA did send an email to board members and even offered assistance at the most recent meeting. 

In 2010, the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners established a policy to deal with such cases. It states that if vacant seats are greater than three-fourths of the board, the board and the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment must create and execute a selection process. 

A Solution--The three at-large board members and Department of Neighborhood Empowerment-EmpowerLA, is expected to conduct a town hall meeting to select board members to fill the vacant caucus seats. The department will work with the newly seated board to ensure quorum is maintained. Any stakeholder who is at least 16 years old is eligible to vote for candidates at the town hall meeting.

Calls and emails to Moreno were not answered as of press time Aug. 3. 

The town hall meeting is anticipated to take place in late August. The time, date and venue is yet be determined. 

(Zamná Ávila, is Assistant Editor at Random Lengths, where this piece was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Not So Fast Governor Brown, You’re Putting CEQA … and Your Legacy … in Jeopardy

DEEGAN ON CALIFORNIA-These are big shoes to fill: a man who knew that water was California’s new gold rush and who helped create the California State Water Project in order to quench the thirst of a growing California population and power up the state’s role as America’s biggest farm. He also oversaw the building-out of the freeway system for mass transit and was a leader who expanded the university level public education system, enabling Californians to grow and develop the native brainpower of Golden Staters. 

Any one of these high impact achievements which have benefited tens of millions of Californians since he was governor of the state (from 1959 to 1967,) could be considered Edmund “Pat” Brown’s legacy. Together, all of these accomplishments are more than enough to warrant calling his administration a “Golden Age” in the Golden State. 

But what about his son? What does Jerry Brown -- whose 16 years in office make him the longest serving Governor in California history (1975 to 1983, and 2010 to 2018) -- have to show for himself as he gets ready to term-out in eighteen months? What will be his legacy? He will probably not be remembered as an environmentalist, one of the nobler callings in this time of global warming and environmental crises. In fact, he seems to be turning “anti-environmentalist.” 

Jerry Brown has been watering down and de-powering CEQA, the state law that has a foundation in the federal environmental clean water and clean air laws enacted in the 1960’s. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is “a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.” 

The former Catholic seminarian, trained in politics at his father's knee, had to make a choice: would he serve the church or state? The prospective “Father Jerry” instead became “Governor Moonbeam” who hung out in Rock ‘n Roll breeding ground Laurel Canyon with Linda Ronstadt when she was at the top of the charts; he was ferried around town in a decrepit blue Plymouth by a CHP driver, telling us all the time how “small is beautiful.” Fun stuff to remember, but not a legacy. 

Back then he seemed ashamed to wield power. According to some anecdotes, he was embarrassed as a kid when his dad, as district attorney for San Francisco and then Attorney General of California, would flash his badge to avoid paying the toll on the bay bridges. Maybe there was an imbalance: not enough humility on the part of the dad (although politicos that think big generally do have outsized egos that deliver outsized results,) and too much humility on the part of the son. It might have been a better fit if Jerry’s coin-flip had landed on “church” instead of “state.” 

Even dog catchers, at the archetypical lowest rank of elected officials, project power. That’s what politics is about: taking power and using it. You “go where the power is,” as LBJ liked to say. Take something small, make it important and it will add to your power. LBJ used his power in the 1960’s to create a legacy that included the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. 

But first you have to have the power before you can create a legacy. The crucial difference between these father and son governors is that one knew how to use power to reflect his leadership and bring memorable good to the people and the state -- while the other hasn’t and may never do this. 

Like LBJ, Pat Brown knew how to create big things to benefit as many Californians as possible – water which is the lifeline of the state, freeways for its mobility, and higher education to nurture the state’s intelligent workforce. 

Son Jerry will leave us with his hundred-billion-dollar “bullet train” that future generations will be financing through taxes for many decades. His attempts to claim the spotlight on climate have been trumped by actor Leonardo Di Caprio. But other than these two recent initiatives, what else does he leave us to remember him by? Sadly, it’s been his downgrading of CEQA and telling developers and politicos that they can skirt the environmental laws and fast-track their building projects. Brown Junior has let the state’s residents know they need to get used to living on the wrong side of the “fast tracks” -- that their objections to the environmental impacts created by building projects don’t matter anymore. 

Who will this action hurt? First of all, the communities whose voices concerning their neighborhoods have been muffled because they may no longer be able to rely on environmental safeguards – the CEQA requirements -- to mitigate the impact of building projects. Another victim is Jerry Brown himself, who may be remembered as anti-environment. Quite an image reversal for someone who once pitched environmental protections through climate control. 

Like father, like son? Hardly a match-up.


(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.

Latino Workers Join Protest, Threaten Supermarket Strike

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Trough EFEUSA … a Spanish language news source … I found out that this past Tuesday about 2,000 workers and union leaders protesting against the Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons supermarkets, warning that they are "ready" to stage a strike if no agreement is reached in the next three days. 

"The workers traveled here from San Luis Obispo and San Diego to tell the owners that, although we don't want to go on strike, we're ready to do so," said Rigoberto Valdez, vice president of Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW. 

The collective bargaining agreement at the supermarkets ended four months ago and the parties have been unable to reach a new accord due to differences over working conditions. 

Tuesday's march began at Lafayette Park and ended at the intersection of Vermont and 3rd Street. Once there, the demonstrators blocked traffic and protested peacefully for almost an hour in front of Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. 

Valdez insisted that union leaders want to "avoid a strike" and that they will try to negotiate a "fair" contract by Thursday, but he warned that the stances of the workers and the companies are, at present, "far apart." If no accord can be reached, on Aug. 8 the workers will vote to decide if they should launch a strike, which could commence on Aug. 9 and last indefinitely. 

The union leader said that the strike would affect 300 stores located in Southern California and the economic fallout in the region would be "devastating." 

"The last strike we held against these companies lasted 144 days. It lasted from the fall of 2013 until the spring of 2014 and both the companies and the consumers were affected," he said. For the past five months, about 50,000 people, half of them Hispanic, have been working for the firms without a union contract. 

Among the workers is Elvira Barragan Quintero, who is head of the flower department at the Albertsons store in Montebello. "It's very unfair that after having invested 24 years working at this company, now they want to take away our salary and retirement benefits," the part-time employee said. 

"I earn $14.80 per hour after 24 years, and they don't want to pay minimum wage," she added. 

We have to make sure that workers are paid a living wage and have decent working conditions, that’s just the right thing to do.

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


If Metro Can’t Manage Rail Expansion, Why Should We Trust Them to Manage Another Tax Increase?

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Just when you thought the November ballot was splitting at the seams with volumes of initiatives and measures, the Board of Supervisors has stuffed in another, agreeing unanimously last week to add the MTA’s proposal, asking county voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase that would continue indefinitely to bankroll a major expansion of SoCal’s transit network. 

Back in June, MTA directors greenlighted the “Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan,” which would add at least $860 million a year to expand the county’s rail network through the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley, and the Sepulveda Pass. The funding isn’t limited to rail; the proceeds from the tax would fully or partially fund ten new highway projects, which would include a State Route 71 expansion and a new carpool-lane interchange between the 405 and 110. 

What does this mean to your wallet? The county’s base sales rate would be pushed to 9.5 percent and 10 percent in cities like Santa Monica and Commerce. Ouch. And if that isn’t enough to break a sweat, the half-cent tax would double to one-cent in 2039 to replace revenue lost when Measure R expires. That one-cent increase would also continue indefinitely. 

We all know that the traffic jams, Sig Alerts, and smog in these parts are among the worst in the country, especially on that parking lot otherwise known as the 101/405 interchange. Though the measure seems to have support from labor groups and municipalities, Supervisor Don Knabe expressed concern about what is now the third tax to fund Metro that does not have an expiration date. 

If the measure is approved, Metro will get two cents on every dollar spent in LA County, a mighty steep allowance. However, the measure faces some uphill battles, including a ballot already jammed with a tax initiative and a two-thirds pass threshold. Other taxes on the ballot for county voters include a parcel tax for parks and a community college bond measure; LA City voters will be voting on a $1.2 billion bond measure to fund housing for the homeless. 

Giving any entity unlimited access to our credit and debit cards for eternity is always a dicey move but add in the fact that the MTA doesn’t appear to be doing a bang-up job with what’s already in the coffers just further raises our eyebrows. 

Getting Angelenos to ditch the Prius for a ride on the Metro is a challenge. Two months after the Westside light rail extension, riders have been waiting for hours for a train because the MTA doesn’t have enough rail cars to accommodate the Expo Line’s ridership, due to a year-long delay in acquiring additional cars. As it stands, rail cars don’t have adequate space for bikes, wheelchairs, sometimes even passengers during peak hours. Waiting twelve-minutes for the next train doesn’t make riding the Metro more of a draw to commuters who are on a schedule. 

Westsiders have been turning to the Metro during the week; trips have increased by half since the trains began running in Santa Monica but logistical issues have not allowed the Metro to keep up with demand for cars. 

Back in 2008, LA County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund almost thirty miles of light rail tracks and rail cars; the first fifty from Italian company Ansaldo/Breda came in years behind schedule and overweight by almost three tons. The MTA deal with the company collapsed and the transit authority was left scrambling for a replacement, this time giving a $900 million contract to Japanese-based Kinkisharyo International back in 2012 for 235 new cars. Kinkisharyo delivered the first silver and yellow cars expediently but tests are taking longer than planned. Of the 41 cars delivered, 13 still need to be tested. While the goal is to run trains every six minutes by year’s end and three-car trains by 2017-2018, platform length limits trains greater than three cars, which means not everyone will get a seat.

The challenge of continuing to encourage commuters to trade in their gas cards for a Metro Card and to attract new riders needs to be balanced with the blank check sales tax proposal put up by the MTA. If the MTA is not up to the challenge as of yet, handing over the checkbook does not seem like a prudent plan. 

Metro in trouble.  Lousy planning. New Westside extension short on train cars. Riders left standing at stations for hours because trains are jammed. 

Our question is, if they can't -- with years to do it -- manage to prepare for the extension, then why should we trust them to handle the new sales tax they're asking for? 

Obviously, they're not ready for growth. So why would people give up their cars to stand in line for hours waiting for a train?


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

Get the ‘H’ Out of Here: The Battle at Beachwood Canyon

WATCH THE WAR (VIDEO)—The mad-as-hell residents of Beachwood Canyon, Lake Hollywood Estates and environs have had enough. The Hollywood sign may be public but the neighborhood ain’t. It’s the NIMBY Hollywood sign neighbors vs. the rude and disrespectful international and local tourists. Some warn: look for blood in the streets. Or, on the trail. CityWatch contributor Andrew Davis … camera in hand … offers both sides of the Beachwood Battle … direct from the ‘war zone.’ 

First, meet Sarjane Schwartz.

Sarjane is a former actress and the president of the Hollywoodland Homeowner’s Association and … most will tell you … the Beachwood patriot who fired the first shot.


Here’s the rest of Andrew Davis’ video story on the Beachwood Battle:


  • Why is it so hard to get to the Hollywood Sign 


  • Tony Fisch: City illegally directed tourism to my neighborhood 


  • Christine O’Brien: Save the Hollywoodland Gifted Park 


(Andrew Davis is a videographer/producer, host of the Millennial Project and a CityWatch contributor.)

Continue to follow the Beachwood Battle on CityWatch. Your comments are welcome.



Common Sense, Common Decency and Common Cause in a 21st Century Los Angeles 

ALPERN AT LARGE--Sometimes it's hard to traverse the path of common sense and compromise, although most of us living in the world of maturity and kindness don't have a problem with that.  And that's the majority of us. Yet we will be attacked, belittled, told we're "crazy", and cornered as we attempt to not only save, but improve our City of the Angels. 

The Expo Line is a smashing success, as evidenced by its lack of rail cars for its surging ridership.  That the lack of rail cars was warned about by transit advocates to an inept, tone-deaf, and otherwise-distracted Metro Board dominated by then-Mayor Villaraigosa might be the truth, but sooner or later we need to face forward. 

Then, Mayor Villaraigosa and the late Westside Councilmember Bill Rosendahl had to break a few barriers to get to where we are now, and current Mayor Garcetti and current Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin are clearly focused on the future. 

But at the present, it's safe to say that the Expo Line was NOT a failure, and IS being ridden by more people than many would have ever predicted … although a bunch of us Friends4Expo Transit veterans pretty much knew that the Expo Line would have exploded in ridership when it reached its goal in Santa Monica. 

My family went to Santa Monica (we live in West LA) recently with some friends, and made the mistake of using a car--time lost to drive and park made for a rather unpleasant experience. In contrast, using the Expo Line this last Sunday made for an opposite experience--less stress, more happiness, and more free time. 

In short, the Expo Line is succeeding because it's just Common Sense to use a direct train (for all of its flaws, lack of parking and lack of grade separations, the ride was sweet and the Metro staff on a Sunday night were very kind and helpful) along the mega-congested I-10 freeway corridor, which is one of the most overcrowded corridors in the nation. 

Yet we are now seeing a rush of law-breaking and overdevelopment that makes no prima facie environmental, legal, or moral sense as state affordable housing and pro-mega-development laws get slammed down our throats, and less-than-honorable cities like Los Angeles misinterpret them to make overdevelopment even worse. 

As Jill Stewart, she of the LA Weekly fame, and of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative fame, recently opined in CityWatch, Governor Jerry Brown and other "smiling tyrants" (can't accuse THEM of hurting people, can ya?) is doing anything BUT leaving California in better shape than when he arrived. 

And to think that the Democratic Party in Sacramento is supposed to be "representing the little guy".  

Well, the "little guy" (and/or gal, if you prefer) is getting bowled over as the Sierra Club, the Planning and Conservation League, and grassroots organizations throughout the City of L.A. and the state have the temerity to fight for Common Sense, Common Decency and Common Cause as we ask for density, development, and mobility that is ... 

... (Gasp!) sustainable!   

... (Gasp!) economically-beneficial for the majority, and not for a privileged and connected few at the expense of that majority! 

... (Gasp!) environmentally-friendly, and beneficial for the quality of life of families and for all ethnicities and socioeconomic groups! 

Of course, if one dares oppose the powers that be, there are all sorts of legal and verbal slapdowns, threats, belittlings and attacks. 

I saw it when the Westside gathered around and took on a crude, conquering and seemingly-corrupt uber-developer Alan Casden and his enabling cronies in the Villaraigosa administration, and I am seeing it now throughout the City of Los Angeles when Neighborhood Councils and grassroots groups are denied compromise arrangements in favor of godawful, prima facie, and environmentally-harmful overdevelopments.  

So it's safe to say that more transportation funding is needed this November--a "yes" vote on "Measure R-2" for a half-cent sales tax hike is in order. 

But so is a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative this spring to allow our laws, common sense, City bylaws, and environmental justice to be preserved and upheld. 

And the time to raise the issue of a legal authority in the City to defend our Bylaws and zoning/planning laws and Community Plans for average, ordinary, non-wealthy Angelenos is also coming due.  

The Bylaws and job description of the City Attorney is NOT to protect ordinary Angelenos but to protect the City Council and other Downtown powers--deal with that! 

But a Neighborhood Council legal office of some stature and power, to enhance the role of Neighborhood Councils and to not require poor and middle-income Angelenos the need to pay for expensive legal counsel and protect themselves and their communities is something that would be great for L.A.'s Downtown gods and goddesses to have to deal with, too. 

We DO need more transportation, densification, developments, affordable housing, etc. but in a matter that is both legally, mathematically, scientifically and environmentally sound. 

Common Sense, Common Decency, and Common Cause: the smashmouth era of Antonio Villaraigosa is over, the kinder but still troubling era of Eric Garcetti is in full swing ... 

... but the future of LA, where Downtown isn't always at war with its citizenry, is still worth the fight.   

And it's a fight that Neighborhood Councils and grassroots groups will have to take up.


(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 The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)


California: Delusion Economics

NEW GEOGRAPHY--In Sacramento, and much of the media, California is enjoying a “comeback” that puts a lie to the argument that regulations and high taxes actually matter. The hero of this recovery, Gov. Jerry Brown, in Bill Maher’s assessment, “took a broken state and fixed it.”

Yet, if you look at the long-term employment trends, housing affordability, inequality and the state’s long-term fiscal health, the comeback seems far less miraculous. Silicon Valley flacks may insist that the “landscape now has been altered,” so prosperity is now permanent, but this view is both not sustainable and deeply flawed.

Jobs: The long view --Since 2010, California has begun to generate jobs at a rate somewhat faster than the nation, but this still has just barely made up for the deep recession in 2007. The celebratory notion that true-blue California is outperforming red states like Texas is valid only in a very short-term perspective. Indeed, even since 2010, the job growth in Austin and Dallas has been higher than that in the Bay Area, while Los Angeles has lagged well behind.

If you go back to 2000, the gap is even more marked. Between 2000 and 2015, Austin has increased its jobs by 50 percent, while Raleigh, Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Nashville, Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix and Salt Lake City – all in lower-tax, regulation-light states – have seen job growth of 24 percent or above. In contrast, since 2000, Los Angeles and San Francisco expanded jobs by barely 10 percent. San Jose, the home of Silicon Valley, has seen only a 6 percent expansion over that period.

Regional concentration --As Chapman University economist and forecaster Jim Doti recently suggested, the California boom is exceedingly concentrated in one region. “It’s not a California miracle, but really should be called a Silicon Valley miracle,” Doti noted in his latest forecast. “The rest of the state really isn’t doing well.”

The Bay Area has experienced a phenomenal recovery from the Great Recession, but San Jose has just exceeded, finally, its pre-dot-com boom jobs total. San Francisco has done a bit better, but it still took about 13 years to recover from the dot-com bust. The tech sector has provided a huge portion of the state’s job volatility, and has been on a roll. There is no reason to believe that the tech sector’s volatility has melted away. It’s based on disruptive technology.

Due to the lack of new housing construction, this boom is being undermined by ferociously high costs. Only 13 percent of San Franciscans could purchase the county’s median home at standard rates. For San Mateo, the number is 16 percent. It is no surprise that as many as one in three Bay Area residents are now contemplating an exit. There are clear signs of slowing job growth, as companies look for space in less expensive, less highly regulated areas. Even Sergei Brin, a co-founder of Google, recently suggested that startups would be better off launching somewhere else.

Mediocrity elsewhere --Even Orange County, the strongest Southern California economy, has lagged statewide levels of employment growth. Tech and information employment has dropped since 2000. The recovery, celebrated by some, is based largely on the not-so-firm basis of real estate inflation and hospitality employment.

Los Angeles County’s job growth since its prerecession high has been truly terrible. With a base of about 4.2 million jobs, it’s seen only about 93,000 net new jobs. Most sectors are down. Indeed, only two low-wage sectors, education and health services and leisure and hospitality, have shown strong job growth. Despite all the hype, tech growth in L.A. has been paltry, up 4,600 jobs since 2007 – compared to over 36,000 in Silicon Valley – while business services have actually declined.

The state’s one bright spot, business service growth, has been driven largely by the Bay Area. Southern California has generally been losing market share in this increasingly critical field. Out of 70 metropolitan areas surveyed by Pepperdine University’s Mike Shires for, Orange County’s growth in business services ranked 39th, San Diego 45th, Riverside 52nd and Los Angeles 60th.

Expanding inequality --Perhaps nothing so undermines the narrative of the California “comeback” more than the state’s rising inequality. A recent Pew Research Center study found California’s urban areas are prominent among the regions where the middle class is shrinking the most rapidly. California now is home to over 30 percent of United States’ welfare recipients, and almost 25 percent of Californians are living in poverty, once one factors in the cost of living, the highest rate in the country.

How can this be, in light of strong job growth? You have to look at the kind of jobs being created. Since 2007, virtually all the high-wage, blue-collar sectors – manufacturing, construction, energy and natural resources – have declined, even as the rest of the country experienced something of a resurgence in energy and manufacturing. Construction and manufacturing – high-value, high-wage sectors – have lost a combined 250,000 jobs since the recession began, while the leisure and hospitality sector – notoriously poor paying – gained over 300,000 jobs. A recent analysis by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. predicts this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

Today, California can’t even create enough jobs to keep up with its college graduates. Even with the booming Northern California economy, California has created more college graduates than jobs over the past 10 years. California’s public universities granted 1,583,499 bachelor and higher degrees from 2006 to 2015, inclusive, but only 1,136,642 jobs. This is a damming statistic, in part because huge percentages of California’s job gains over the past 10 years have been for jobs that do not require a college degree. For example, 31 percent of new jobs in that time period were in leisure and hospitality, a sector which requires relatively few college graduates.

The fiscal crisis --Gov. Brown has achieved bragging rights by suggestions of a vaunted return to fiscal health. True, California’s short-term budgetary issues have been somewhat relieved, largely due to soaring capital gains from the tech and high-end real estate booms. But the state inevitably will face a soaring deficit as those booms slow down. Brown is already forecasting budget deficits as high as $4 billion by the time he leaves office in 2019. As a recent Mercatus Center study notes, California is among the states most deeply dependent on debt.

The state’s current budget surplus is entirely due to a temporary tax and booming asset markets. The top 1 percent of earners generates almost half of California’s income tax revenue, and accounts for 41 percent of the state’s general fund budget. These affluent people have incomes that are much more closely correlated to asset prices than economic activity, and asset prices are more volatile than economic activity generally. Brown’s own Department of Finance predicts that a recession of “average magnitude” would cut revenue by $55 billion.

More critically, the state continues to increase spending, particularly on pensions. Outlays have grown dramatically since the 2011-2012 fiscal year, averaging 7.8 percent growth per year through FY 2015-2016. Seeing the writing on the wall, the state’s labor leaders now want to extend the “temporary” income tax, imposed in 2012, until 2030. This might not do much to spark growth, particularly in a weaker economy.

During this recovery, California has made minimal effort to eliminate the state’s budget fragility. To use a recently popular term, this is gross negligence. It is, thus, no surprise that credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service ranked California second from the bottom in being able to withstand the next recession. Someday the bills will come due.

Confronting reality --Neither of us considers California to be a lost cause. But the problems are far deeper than the boosters believe – a deteriorating infrastructure (notably roads), high rates of poverty, weak high-wage growth and a looming fiscal meltdown. The current euphoria of the asset-inflation boom may make some Californians feel better, but it’s the hangover that follows which concerns us.

The hoi polloi, perhaps more prescient than their established betters, continue to leave the state. Much of this exodus comes from the young and the working class. There’s been a net migration loss of 625,000 people between 2007 and 2014. Inbound immigration from abroad has declined, notably in Southern California. Recovery may have enriched some property owners, tech magnates and connected crony capitalists, but for many the good times are ephemeral.

California retains enormous physical and human assets that decades of mismanagement have not yet managed to squander. But even the most advantaged places cannot long thrive if their policy makers feed themselves largely on delusions.

(Joel Kotkin is an R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” Bill Watkins is an economics professor and director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University, which can be found at This piece was posted most recently at New Geography.


CA Treasurer Chiang Lambasts Pay-to-Play in School Bond Elections

CALIFORNIA FORWARD-California State Treasurer John Chiang and a coalition of county treasurers and tax collectors today moved to stop questionable bankrolling of campaign activities in local bond election campaigns. 

“There are unscrupulous Wall Street firms offering to fund local bond campaigns in exchange for lucrative contracts,” said Chiang. “Not only are these pay-to-play arrangements unlawful, they rip-off taxpayers and endanger the integrity of school bonds, which are vital tools for building classrooms and meeting the educational needs of our communities.” 

Ensuring democratic integrity is an important public accountability issue for California Forward, which praised Chiang’s initiative for boosting transparency and compliance with ethical standards.

“Public trust should not be compromised in an effort to secure voter support for local bond projects,” said James Mayer, CA Fwd president and CEO. “This action will encourage a fair community discussion about investments in local schools and other projects among community leaders.” 

The problem arises when municipal finance firms, including bond counsel, underwriters, and financial advisors, offer to fund or provide campaign services in exchange for contracts to issue the bonds, once approved by voters. 

The payments could violate state laws governing the use of bond proceeds and public funds, according to a recent California Attorney General’s opinion. Such payments could saddle taxpayers with exorbitantly high bond issuance costs, the opinion noted. 

In response to the attorney general’s opinion and as a proactive measure, Chiang announced that municipal finance firms seeking state business will be required to certify that they make no contributions to bond election campaigns. Firms that fail to do so will be removed from the state’s official list of acceptable vendors and barred from participating in state-issued bonds. 

The California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors said it agrees with Chiang.

The treasurers expressed “solidarity with the State Treasurer for imposing these new minimum qualifications to reduce and eliminate the ‘pay-to-play’ electioneering tactics connected to campaigns for school bond measures.” 

Common Cause, another good government advocacy organization, echoed the sentiment. “Pay-to-play government contracts have no place in a democracy,” the group said in a statement. “School bond underwriting contracts should go to the most qualified firm, not the one that agrees to make the biggest ballot measure campaign contribution.” 

According to a press release issued by Chiang’s office today, “the attorney general acknowledged the pay-to-play problem in a response to requests for a legal opinion from Treasurer Chiang and his predecessor, Bill Lockyer. Both officials sought a legal basis for cracking down on these schemes which often lead to higher costs that must be shouldered by taxpayers. Specifically, the deals result in padded bills that allow municipal finance firms to recoup money spent on illegal campaign-related work.” 

“Local treasurers throughout the state and I are united in refusing to do business with any securities firm which promotes these quid-pro-quo schemes,” said Chiang. “They do nothing but inflate taxpayer bills and reduce resources for students.”


(Ed Coghlan is a contributing editor and special correspondent for California Forward ... where this piece originated ... and the California Economic Summit, dealing with all matters related to California's sputtering economy and how we as a state can get it back on track. He is a veteran of television news at all levels and serves as a media consultant in his spare time.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Build Better LA’ Initiative: Right Idea, Wrong Approach

VOICES--(The Los Angeles Business Council has strongly advocated for affordable housing development for over a decade. On June 8, the LABC Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the Build Better LA (BBLA) initiative because they believe it’s the wrong approach for our city.

Below is an excerpt from a recent letter sent by the LABC to the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, to formally state their opposition to BBLA, which is slated to appear on the November ballot.)

Over the last several months our leadership and membership have reviewed the Build Better LA proposal to craft a position only after we did our due diligence. While we agree with the need to make citywide improvements and updates to our planning processes and guiding documents, and agree with the need to increase the stock of available affordable homes, we unfortunately disagree with the path to a solution laid out in BBLA.

The LABC supports market-driven tools and incentives to increase affordable housing development and decrease the cost to build. Also, we support streamlining the process to reduce the cost and complexity to build housing in LA. As you know, our members have expressed concerns specifically with the requirements for:

  • All projects with 10 or more residential units that require a General Plan amendment or zone or height district change to include a percentage of affordable units;
  • And, developers of these projects to hire contractors who guarantee 10% of the workforce will come from residents living within five miles of the project.

We’ve heard from many of our developers that the “10 or more residential units” threshold would be too costly for developers to build these smaller projects, which tend to be lower-income, multifamily affordable housing projects. We recommend increasing this threshold to 50 units, to align with the requirements for site plan review.

Our members have also expressed concern over “10% of the workforce [coming] from residents living within five miles of the project”, mainly over the feasibility of this requirement. While we agree that priority should given to the local workforce we have concerns that the percentage required would increase costs too greatly.

We are concerned these new mandates would deter future housing development in Los Angeles, a result which would be counterproductive to the goals that BBLA seeks to achieve - more affordable housing development and much-needed, high-paying jobs for the local workforce.

Perhaps most importantly, we believe the coalition who developed this initiative should have obtained the input of market-rate, affordable housing developers early in the process, because of their extensive experience developing here in Los Angeles and awareness of some of the biggest challenges to developing housing for middle- and lower-income Angelenos. This experience is invaluable to the development of any policy looking to reform the way we plan and develop in LA.

As such, we are unfortunately unable to express our support for the Build Better LA Initiative. We look forward to working with you in the future on developing policies to incentivize affordable housing development and thank you for allowing us the opportunity to provide our input.

(Mary Leslie is President of the Los Angeles Business Council (LABC), a nonprofit advocacy and education organization dedicated to serving L.A.’s business community while strengthening public policy in the region.)


LA Pulse … Vote Now: Does Racism Influence the Policing of LA and America?

BLUE LINES, BLACK LIVES--As long as I can remember, there’s been an argument over policing in the black community. Do police patrol more intensely because the crime rate is higher there, or do higher crime statistics result from heightened levels of policing? When I did my first ride-alongs with the Los Angeles Police Department almost five decades ago, South Los Angeles felt like an occupied colony patrolled by a mostly white department. On the other hand, I often heard a demand from many neighborhood voices asking for a greater police presence because they wanted a safer community.

Safer communities or more occupation? That feels like a bad choice. Blue on black violence or black on blue violence? That doesn’t feel like a choice at all. Yet here we are, in America, too many years later, stranded between either/or: The police feel attacked and the community – especially the young – feels besieged.

[sexypolling id="10"] 

The statistics are much more complex, even confusing. Out of about 900,000 sworn officers in America, according to the memorial page on Officer Down, 130 police lost their lives in the line of duty in 2015. A much smaller number, 41, died due to shootings. Decade to decade, the numbers for officers shot and killed vary widely: In the 1970s an average of 127 police were shot and killed each year; from 2000 to 2009, 57 police were shot and killed on average. Between 2014 and 2015 the number of officers shot decreased 14 per cent. Like I said, confusing.

During all these years, a greater number of people were killed by the police. According to the FBI, about 400 people are killed each year by officers at all levels of government. But in the first five months of last year, police shot and killed 385 people, according to the Washington Post, a sharp increase over most years. About half of those killed were white. Of the total, almost one in six were unarmed or carrying a toy. But among unarmed victims of police shootings, two-thirds were black or brown. Overall, reports the Post, blacks were shot and killed at three times the rate of the population as a whole.

Moreover, in the first five months of last year nearly half of all police shootings involved civilians 18 to 34 years old. Perhaps these youth still felt the illusion of invincibility. Perhaps they acted abruptly or erupted rashly. We don’t know. We do know that about half of police shootings occur in mundane circumstances: domestic violence situations, a potential suicide, a mentally ill homeless person acting out. These are certainly dramatic situations, but these sorts of calls happen every day. Theoretically, they should not end in anyone dying.

A new study correlates police stops with police shootings. It claims that blacks and Latinos are no more likely to be shot while interacting with the police than the general population. However, they are more likely to be stopped by police than either Asian-Americans or non-Hispanic whites. And when stopped, they are also more likely to be arrested.

And the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that when stopped, officers were more likely to use pepper-spray or handcuffs, or to point a weapon at a black person than they would a white person.

These studies paint a picture that looks to me like racial prejudice is alive and well in America. Consciously or not, when people live along stratified socio-economic corridors we cut off one ethnicity and economic strata from another. Then as a people we carry an illness, a disease: We do not know each other. So we bring our perceptions and fears into our encounters with those who remain unknown to us.

In the case of the police those perceptions and fears can be lethal. Because they both carry a gun and wear a uniform, officers may feel simultaneously more powerful and more vulnerable. Their power comes not from a gun, but from the overwhelming support of average Americans. Their authority comes from our approval, not our fear of them. Their vulnerability may exist because they are easy targets from unknown threats and unfamiliar differences. Unknown is the risk they take and for which we honor them. The unfamiliar is a condition that can be remedied, and must be, if we are going to live together as a nation of diverse peoples. 

(Rev. Jim Conn is the founding minister of the Church in Ocean Park and served on the Santa Monica City Council and as that city's mayor. He helped found Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Los Angeles. This piece was posted first at Capital and Main.) 


So, How DO Common Sense and Compromise Survive in the Planning and Transportation Wars?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--Most of us are reasonable people--willing to give, but not willing to be taken. Taken for a ride. Taken down that primrose path.  Taken to the cleaners.  Taken for granted. 

So it's not hard to figure out the agony that more than a few of us have over the need to fund more transportation, homelessness reduction, parks, schools, and other civic needs because we're ALREADY paying a lot for that, and we're pretty concerned about where more money would go if spent by the SAME folks who got us into this mess to begin with. 

My personal focus of transportation has been sullied by a variety of agendas, not the least of which is the Planning Politburo of the City of Los Angeles, that has been aided and abetted by an out-of-touch and developer-owned Sacramento and legal elite all too happy to create laws, and/or misinterpret laws, which destroy the basic tenets of compromise and common sense. 

Hence we've got the choice of "just voting no" on the transportation, homeless, parks, and school bonds/taxes initiatives this November and "making a statement" but letting unresolved issues remain ... well ... unresolved ...or 

... voting in favor of some or all initiatives and getting clobbered in the same way we'd be clobbered if we gave our substance-abusing parents some money to buy groceries and presume they'd not spend it on something horrible.  Or allow something horrible to happen. 

For years we've been told that we should vote for more transportation, and--in all honesty--it's easy to support this November's transportation initiative for the County of LA as one of the more transparent gestures that Metro has made for a countywide transportation system.  At this time, I intend to vote for it, and I recommend that anyone reading this does the same. 

But a "no" vote might just be the only way we can prevent the formation of mega-developments, of unsustainable high-rises, and of future transportation/mobility failures because Planning interprets a new transportation project as a way to support politicians and developers high on "taxpayer crack" when we just want some more mobility, a little bit of densification, and a whole lot of common sense. 

Does that new development have to be seven stories tall, and out of alignment with the 1-2 story region? 

Does that new development have to be "affordable" with rents/monthly fees being $2000/month or more? 

Does that new development have to have such a ridiculously-low number of parking spaces that spillover parking impacting the law-abiding neighbors is inevitable? 

Does the reality that even Portland has only 7% bicycle commuting rates get allowed into any public discussion, suggesting that there's a limit to what bicycling (and other non-automobile forms of transportation) can do for traffic and mobility improvements? 

Does the public and the Neighborhood Councils ever get allowed to work with, and compromise with, high-rise-obsessed developers building either in the Westside or elsewhere and ask for appropriate balance of developing density versus traffic/parking/infrastructure mitigations. 

I will end this article the way I ended my last one

Development and Transportation is a form of progress, but ... 

Neighborhood Councils are also a form of progress, and one where the "little guy/gal" has a place to go.    

We NEED a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

And we also NEED a good lawyer or two to help us defend ourselves against governmental overreach, whether it’s from Downtown LA, the County, or even Sacramento ... as part of a successful new portion of LA City government.


(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 The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)


Prohibition to Legalization: California Stoners Are Stressing Me Out!

THE MARY JANE TRANSITION--California tokers, why are you trippin’ so hard?

You keep saying that marijuana is supposed to help manage anxiety. But those of you who work in or partake of the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.

And that leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California; the limits on profits and the number of plants you can grow are being lifted. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass. California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black market shadows and into the legal light.

If the future looks so dank (that’s stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?

Did you get some bad schwag or something?

In recent weeks, I’ve posed these questions to people on farms and in dispensaries and I keep hearing two big reasons why cannabis people seem so cashed (reduced to ash). The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. The second reason is about all the unnecessary pressure the rest of us are putting on you.

A bottle of “Chongwater,” a flavored hemp drink marketed by comedian and marijuana icon Tommy Chong.

Let’s start with the self-pressure. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory—the end of cannabis prohibition—requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.

In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses—only a couple hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly—at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana (including a state marijuana czar) and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.

Some of you, particularly weed boutiques that operated outside the law, are preparing to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly, but not so quickly that you run afoul of the authorities. In the process, you’re learning that while managing an illegal business has its perils, it may be even more dangerous to run a legal capitalist enterprise in the Regulatory Republic of California, and not run afoul of its dizzying array of licensing, workplace, and environmental rules.

A number of you are taking on outside investors; there’s even a new private equity firm making “strategic investments” in cannabis. Those kinds of big-money decisions raise new anxieties, even as you still have to operate semi-underground. Some local governments don’t want marijuana operations and are sending the police on raids of your facilities. And the federal government, by maintaining that your businesses are illegal no matter what state law says, has made it difficult for you to use banks and pay taxes.

On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying to build a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use. At the local level, there are competing initiatives that sometimes divide the cannabis industry. And the presidential race creates uncertainty about federal intentions. A Trump presidency might bring Attorney General Chris Christie, who wants to wipe out medical marijuana. Some of you fear Hillary Clinton would turn the industry over to her rich donors in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“All of this creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety for people,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech Corp, a publicly traded “cannabis-focused” agriculture company. “This is going to be an entirely different animal than anyone is used to. A lot is being born right now.”

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century.

Of course, such pressure is inescapable, given the realities of ending prohibition. What can make this moment unbearable for all of you are the outside demands that this transition has brought from what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “The Square Community.”

In other words, California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Today you hear rhetoric from politicians and media that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poorer and rural areas of the state, save agricultural businesses and lands, and replenish strained local and state budgets with new taxes on weed.

All this amounts to Bogarting weed for our selfish priorities. Los Angeles County recently debated a plan to “solve” homelessness—it has the largest homeless population of any American county—with a marijuana tax. Environmentalists have been talking about how marijuana, which requires considerable water to grow, can pioneer water-saving practices to mitigate the state drought. And no small number of musicians—chief among them Snoop Dogg, the wizard of “weed wellness,” and Tommy Chong, the “godfather of ganga”—seem to think that by licensing their names to marijuana products, they can replace the revenues that music used to provide before iTunes and Spotify.

Rapper Snoop Dogg, the “wizard of weed wellness,” performing in Cancun in 2014.

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century. Broader legalization of marijuana will bring opportunities, but there are just too many expectations riding on this one plant.

Before exploiting legal marijuana for all manner of schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be comprehensible and not so extortionate that it drives out small players (or creates incentives to keep the black market alive). The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together, and be transparent enough that California cannabis goes forward as a competitive market, not a state monopoly. To ease the transition, state government needs to do everything it can to help you—growers, processors, dispensary operators, and customers—negotiate these changes, including protecting you from the feds and the banks.

If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.

But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill like to say, you gots to chill. These are stressful enough times for stoners already.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square … where this piece was originally posted.)


Ped & Biker Alert! California Trying to Make it Legal to Roll through Red Lights

STREETS BLOG REPORT-No, this is not about a bill to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, sorry. This is about a bill that supposedly set out to lower fines for cars that turn right on red without stopping. It is sailing unopposed through the state legislature.

The bill, S.B. 986 from Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), was already looking pretty bad to traffic safety advocates. But Brenda Miller at [[ hotlink]] noticed something even more insidious in the bill’s wording. Its current draft removes the requirement that drivers “remain stopped” at a red light until it is safe to proceed.

“That seemingly small change,” she writes, “effectively legalizes the ‘California stop’ at red lights.”

The bill still requires drivers to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and approaching vehicles, but without the requirement to remain stopped it will be much harder to enforce that provision. It also puts pedestrians at much greater risk, as Miller points out:

SB 986 fails to consider our typical wide, arterial roads where cars in adjacent lanes obstruct a motorist’s view. With two to five lanes in each direction, edging forward is always dicey. Add a slight curve and/or a few parkway plants and/or a truck . . . even the safest drivers have a hard time seeing what’s coming, especially kids. “Remain stopped” in existing law is important.

Streetsblog has already complained several times about this bill, which supposedly was written to assuage complaints that automatic red light cameras were ticketing too many people for violating red light rules. Too many tickets means too many people are violating the law, not that the law needs to change or the fines need to be lowered.

The fine reduction seems like a distraction when you realize that if it is passed the way it’s currently worded, S.B. 986 could change the way drivers navigate intersections.

“It prioritizes the right to make a careless turn,” said Miller, a safety advocate who has worked in the city of San Clemente for many years. “As it stands now, the law says you must stop on a red light, no excuses. That is removed. [The bill authors] added a paragraph that says you must yield the right of way” but it no longer requires you to be cautious on approaching a right turn.

“It also means that the limit line before the crosswalk—which was put there because of the problem of vehicular encroachment—will lose its meaning. Drivers would no longer have to stop [and stay] at a limit line or crosswalk. Those delineations create a bright line perspective as to where the intersection begins and ends, and this effectively removes that delineation.”

“Traffic cops are going to have a difficult time determining where to draw the line,” she said.

On her blog MyFeetFirst, Miller includes a few data points to drive home the safety implications, writing that “more than one third of Orange County’s injury collisions were caused by drivers failing to yield to people in crosswalks.”

Miller also points out what the bill could cost in terms of economic losses from collisions, and what the possible economic consequences might be for cities who want to prioritize pedestrian safety.

Miller concludes: “It’s a horrific piece of legislation.”

S.B. 986 is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee tomorrow. There is likely to be little discussion, as it’s the end of the session and the committee has a long list of bills to consider. It could be worth contacting your state Assembly member to ask them to vote “no” when the bill comes up for a vote on the Assembly floor, sometime in the next few weeks.

Otherwise we’ll have to hope that Governor Brown will veto it.

(Melanie Curry writes for Streets Blog California  … where this perspective originated.)


New Chief for LAX PD: Out with the Old, in with the New

GUEST COMMENTARY-While the news is all a buzz with the upcoming corruption trial for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the retiring of former Los Angeles Police Chief NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and the continued calls from community activists for the firing of current LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers' Association remains hopeful for real leadership for our department in the search for a new police chief. 

Let's be clear, Chief Patrick Gannon was a consistent disappointment to the rank-and-file police officers of the LAXPD. 

Command staff and the rank-and-file don't agree on much but we do agree with their nickname of JT as in "just there" for Chief Gannon. 

When Gannon was around, and that wasn't often, he outwardly appeared to spend the majority of his time helping is alma mater the LAPD to co-opt and infiltrate the LAXPD. When Gannon wasn't making the case for why the LAXPD needed more LAPD officers in its ranks he was busy undermining the effectiveness and morale of both sworn and civilian alike within LAXPD. 

From going on local television and admitting that LAX police officers do 99 percent of the work to publicly and privately fighting those same officers from achieving equal pay for that work, Chief Gannon was a police chief that suffered from conflicting loyalties, leaving many of us to ponder why he ever left his beloved LAPD in the first place. 

There have been ten consecutive times that the Los Angeles World Airports has gone outside of our ranks to promote command staff personnel. This would include three Deputy Directors of Law Enforcement, two Police Chiefs and seven Assistant Chiefs, including the most recent who have all been disappointments. 

The next LAXPD chief of police must leave any past allegiances behind and make decisions solely on what is best for the LAXPD. We agree that alliances and partnerships are important, but in addition to public safety, the needs of our police department must be the most dominant factor if rank-and-file officers are to have any productive relationship with the next chief. 

LAX is the nation's second busiest airport and a key transportation mode for the region. With over 70 million passengers passing through, public safety remains the number one concern for Airport Police officers and we are committed to it. Our next leader should be a champion for the rank-and-file officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out and not an adversary. It seems odd to even have to say that, but after nearly four years of working under a Chief who seemed to have more faith and support for outside contracted police officers than his own, it must be said. 

Our current LAX police facility was built in the 1950's. It is in a state of disrepair and cannot accommodate the necessary technology for our police officers to do their jobs. Among other issues, the building's air conditioning has broken multiple times, the water damage has ruined many of the walls and has led to a mold infestation and cosmetic-only painting enhancements that have done nothing to alleviate the structural problems associated with the building. 

Across the way, we watch every day our LAFD counterparts operate in a state of the art station at the airport. Despite these glaring differences, our former chief of police, Patrick Gannon, did nothing to demand that his officers have the basic facilities to do our jobs.  

We need a Chief who will advocate for us. One who will look at the dilapidated and run down police station we operate in and understand that it's unacceptable. 

As LAWA conducts interviews this week to fill the Chief spot, the rank-and-file officers remain eager for real leadership in the department -- leadership and commitment from someone who wants to be here, is here and advocates for us and not against us.


(Marshall McClain is a senior lead officer with the Los Angeles Airport Police and President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers' Association which represents the sworn police officers and firefighters assigned to protect and serve Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY). For more information on LAAPOA, please visit  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NC Budget Day: Featuring Budget Discussion for the Main Course and a Dollop of Anti-Semitism for Dessert

GELFAND’S WORLD--Los Angeles is the third largest Jewish community in the world, right behind New York City and Israel itself. You wouldn't have realized that fact at the Neighborhood Council Budget Day that was held last Saturday. 

At Budget Day, appointed representatives from the city's 96 neighborhood councils get to elect 36 of their number to participate in an intensive, months-long study of the city's finances (well, most reps anyway -- the people from my neighborhood council neglected to show up). 

The 36 elected Budget Advocates work for months, meeting with department heads and even with the mayor. Eventually, they present their recommendations to the City Council and to the public. 

The elected budget advocates held their organizational meeting that same Saturday afternoon. One important question was when to meet in the future. Traditionally, the advocates meet twice a month. The practice has generally been to meet on a week night the first week of the month, and then to meet on the third Saturday of the month. It makes sense to meet twice a month because there is a lot of material to absorb. It makes sense to space the meetings so that there are a couple of weeks between one meeting and the next. But Saturday meetings became an item of discussion. 

In response to the proposal to adopt the previous practice of Saturday meetings, one man raised his hand. "I'm an observant Jew, and it is a problem for me to come to meetings on Saturdays." 

There was discussion, including some insensitive, dismissive remarks by three or four people. Apparently they were satisfied with meeting on Saturdays, and they weren't about to search for an alternative. One woman asked whether the person in question could join in the meeting using some electronic listening device. He responded that this wasn't very practical because he would ordinarily be at a religious service at the time. It struck me that asking the same question about someone attending a Catholic mass or a Protestant church service would have been viewed as ridiculous by most of us, but somehow this question was made with serious intent. 

After a while, the chairman invited those who opposed Saturday meetings to raise their hands. There were seven opposed and one abstaining. The chairman then announced that since there were only a total of 8 in opposition out of 31 advocates present at the time, that the motion to meet on Saturdays passed. 

In a post-meeting conversation with Budget Advocate co-chair Liz Amsden, I suggested that the vote was a fairly brutal rejection of what was, after all, a legitimate concern. She agreed that there was a concern, answering my questions respectfully and, I think, sensitively. At the same time, we both were faced with the fact that a large majority of the committee wanted to go with Saturday meetings. She agreed that some of the remarks we had heard were something less than understanding. 

Only then did it occur to me that something was missing from our argument. There was a reason that there were so few observant Jews making the argument on that day and place. Being observant includes "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." That's the reason that the more observant would never be at this meeting on a Saturday morning. Perhaps "never" is too strong a word, but skipping Saturday religious services on a routine basis to work on budget advocacy would run contrary to the chosen life-style for a lot of our fellow Angelenos. 

It’s a conundrum. Most citywide neighborhood council activities happen on Saturdays -- the once-a-year Neighborhood Council Congress, the monthly LA Neighborhood Council Coalition (first Saturdays) and Plancheck LA (second Saturdays). We've added the monthly Emergency Preparedness Alliance for another Saturday. The Budget Advocates will once again hold meetings on most third Saturdays of the month. 

I include this list in order to point out that I'm not trying to single out the Budget Advocates. Their meeting just happened to be the place where this question came up. Every other major citywide neighborhood council coalition has followed the same path, seemingly without consideration of the religious element. 

That's the way the system has developed over the years, with very little discussion about the propriety of what is clearly religious insensitivity. A quick look at the reference books reveals that the Los Angeles area includes more than six hundred thousand Jews. Not all of them are within the city of Los Angeles itself, but certainly a lot are. I wonder if a large number of observant Jews have long since written off participating in these citywide events. That would be unfortunate, but it wouldn't be surprising. After all, we wouldn't expect people to attend neighborhood council meetings on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. 

It's true that some neighborhood councils exist in areas with substantial populations of observant Jews, and these councils do their best to accommodate religious preferences. I think it's also obvious that our neighborhood council system appeals to the more secular elements, not only of the Jewish community, but of many other religions and ethnicities. 

Antisemitism ancillary to neighborhood council communities in the harbor area 

There have been a couple of occasions when neighborhood councils in the harbor area held meetings on Friday nights. There were discussions, and it's likely that this won't happen again. Nevertheless, there was some blowback to the idea of religious sensitivity. One neighborhood council board member had no problem with holding a meeting on a Friday night. When he was asked whether he was OK with holding a meeting on a Sunday morning, he was utterly opposed. 

"Why not," he was asked. 

"It's the Lord's day." 

So much for nondiscrimination. I should point out that discrimination is not limited to religious populations. The other evening, one of our local neighborhood councils held a meeting of one of its standing committees in a place that does not have handicapped accessible bathrooms. It wasn't just an oversight. The neighborhood council was warned in advance, including by a direct call from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. 

One of the governing board members who attended the meeting didn't like the idea of being told to follow the law, and threatened to retaliate against the people who made the complaint. He said he would use social media to get back at the offender. He was apparently unaware that this sort of response is more suggestive of a seventh grade locker room than of what neighborhood councils are supposed to be. 

On another occasion, the grown son of a current neighborhood council board member responded on Facebook to a comment by a Jewish man. The response was a flagrantly antisemitic remark that played on centuries-old stereotypes. The parents (including the neighborhood council board member) were invited to repudiate their son's remarks. Neither was willing to repudiate antisemitism directly. Instead, they suggested that their son had much to learn. I'd like to think that any normal person would have responded, "I'm sorry, and I don't condone this kind of remark." The people of the harbor area are still waiting for that reply.


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


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