Mon, Mar

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 www.fogl.us. 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 Forbes.com, 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 clucerf.org. 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 www.fogl.us. 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 MyFeetFirst.org [[ 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 www.laapoa.com.)  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]) 


Jerry Brown is Trying to Quash the People’s Ability to Fight Mega-Developers … For Him, It’s Personal!

VOX POP--A few years ago, then-state Sen. Alex Padilla implored us to embrace a fast-tracking plan that let wealthy developers rush huge mega-developments through the courts, getting around opponents by slashing the time they were given to fight back under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. 

Padilla, who is now California Secretary of State, repeated at the time to KCRW's Warren Olney what Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority Democrats in the legislature were saying in 2011: California's then-12% unemployment rate justified the pushing aside of environmental damage concerns created by massive developments, to create jobs.

Asked what the rush was, given the possibility of environmentally questionable developments sailing through the courts, Padilla said, "The urgency is 99 percent driven by the unemployment rate that we have," which had soared to 12%.

He went on to predict that a purportedly badly needed NFL stadium for Downtown Los Angeles would create some 20,000 jobs. It was a wild exaggeration in a time of desperate unemployment.

Fast forward to today. The California unemployment rate has plummeted, its urban areas are vibrant, and the absurd plan for a downtown NFL football stadium, squeezed onto insufficient land next to one of the most congested freeways in the world, died on the vine. The phony claims about "Farmer's Field," proved to be just that -- downtown Los Angeles soon exploded in growth and jobs, sans the NFL stadium.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown and some very sneaky California Democratic state legislators are trying to push through the 2.0 version of that end-run around our environmental protections. But because Brown and Co. no longer have horrible unemployment levels as an excuse for egregious environmental backsliding, they went with a hardball, last-minute, non-debated, surprise law as their strategy, Senate Bill 734.

Brown harbors a bitter hatred toward CEQA, stemming from his battles with low-income communities as mayor of Oakland. He will now try to push through SB 734, a law that came out of nowhere, had no public debate, and took California's major environmental and legal organizations purely by surprise.

It is opposed by the Sierra Club, the Judicial Council that administers California's courts, the Planning and Conservation League, and my own organization, the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is aiming to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot to end developer control of Los Angeles City Hall.

SB 734 will allow wildly inappropriate private developments to breeze through the courts, such as the traffic-freezing "Crossroads of the World" mega-blob development, proposed next to badly jammed-up Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, an area  now all but shut down for hours each day by overdevelopment and its endless, attendant, commuter traffic.

Under SB 734, the Crossroads boondoggle will get what its developer agreed was "benefits" by getting fast-tracked through the courts, even past other serious courtroom battles. Neighbors in the Hollywood flatlands will be trapped in a nightmare scenario: thousands and thousands of additional upscale commuters pouring into one of the city's most tangled, developer-created gridlock scenarios. And it will hardly be the last. Skyscrapers are proposed in completely inappropriate areas of Koreatown and South LA, and megadevelopers are drooling over new ways to cash in on the "waterfront" lands along the Los Angeles River.

It's shocking to watch the Democrats elected to serve us in Sacramento try to shove down the public's throat a law that would cut off at the knees any environmental or community groups suing the local government or developer for failing to avert environmental damage.

Howard Penn, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, explained, "The long and short of it is that because Gov. Brown is outright opposed to CEQA ... we are getting more and more of these attacks, and they are endless and relentless and continuous." 

Penn says his umbrella group has been tracking more than 30 bills in the legislature "to weaken CEQA. None of them were for strengthening it." 

Much of this is personal. Legislators are showered with money from developers, and Brown maintains a major chip on his shoulder from his days trying to heavily redevelop downtown Oakland, where he found that poor people and environmental groups could use CEQA and other laws to challenge his personal vision of urban renewal and preserve their longtime neighborhoods. 

As Penn notes, it's no secret that "Jerry Brown got waylaid by the process in Oakland and he got bitter and he carried that bitterness to where he is now. He sees CEQA as a barrier to his plans for big things like tunnels, and his plans for housing. And as opposed to working together to adjust CEQA, which is our group's aim, he and the legislature are going after every little thing" to dismantle it without a serious and reasoned debate. 

When you try to check out SB 734 at the California government's official website, leginfo.ca.gov, it's telling that the loophole law is all-but-hidden, listed under the wrong legislative author and described as something having nothing to do with CEQA. Only when you drill down on the website do you see the actual language, taken directly from the last mega-development loophole to get around CEQA, known as Assembly Bill 900.

The big differences this time is that AB 900 at least made an effort to pretend the bill was not a big giveaway to some of California's richest developers. The old language from 2011 states, as its Number One justification, that California was suffering from a 12% unemployment rate.

The new language, hidden in plain sight on the government website, merely places a strikethrough across the AB 900's topmost justification, the desperate unemployment during 2011.

But in today's developer-owned Sacramento, no rational argument is needed to sell out our communities' and our cities' environmental protections.

(Jill Stewart, a former journalist,  is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)

Is Corrupt Los Angeles Headed for Third World Status?

CORRUPTION WATCH-This article is only for the readers of CityWatch, which is okay since it is being published in CityWatch. Unless one reads CityWatch, I think it is unlikely that people realize that this city faces some extremely serious problems and things are getting worse. 

Just look at who’s given up. There once was a billionaire named Austin – hmm, Austin something or other. He wanted to be mayor in order to fix the city. Then, he thought that if he owned the LA Times he could fix the city. Then, he kind of melted away. 

And, we had the infamous gaggle of saviors in the form of the 2020 Commission, but they too flaked out. After expressing shock at the City’s decline in their December 2013 Report “A Time for Truth,” they proved to be dilettantes. Where did they go? Who knows, maybe they flew off to some cotillion in Davos. Hilda Solis did move to the LA County Board of Supervisors, proving once again that ignorance is no bar to public office. If she’d had any real solutions to offer, the 2020 Commission’s 2014 Report, “A Time for Action,” was the place to make her views known. But like other members of that Commission, she had nothing. 

That kind of brings us to Hillary Clinton and her July 28, 2016 acceptance speech. Here’s my paraphrase of Hillary’s speech: “We don’t need no freaking ruler. We’re Americans and we do things ourselves. Whadaya think ‘By the people, For the people and Of the People’ means? Get off your fat asses and get to work.” At least that’s what I heard. 

Even if the illustrious Mickey Kantor, the alef gadol of the 2020 Commission, had a clue what was wrong with Los Angeles, it’s not for him to fix. We the people – lazy and dimwitted as we may be -- are the ones who bear the responsibility to rid ourselves of our corrupt over-lords. We can think of Mickey K. as LA’s Paul Revere; he sounded the alarm but it’s for others to win the battles. 

So what’s to be done? Readers of CityWatch learn twice a week each week about the host of ills plaguing the city. The fulcrum of it all is the criminal vote trading at City Council – a scam that is a form of bribery where votes are used to purchase other votes. This lies at the base of these ills. 

Whatever corrupt scheme a councilmember or “Il Duce” concocts to loot the city treasury automatically gets unanimous support all the time. Billions of dollars have been diverted away from public services. And these crooks are not a dumb lot – they’ve even managed to make voters believe that city services are an illicit use of public funds. How dare those paramedics, firemen and police be so bold as to ask to be compensated and provided benefits in return for their services? Some members of the public have a conniption when city employees ask for their pensions to actually be funded rather than have their annual contributions given to billionaire real estate speculators. 

There will never be enough money for roads, parks, water mains, paramedics and a fully staffed LAPD as long as we allow each councilmember to write blank checks on the city treasury for his or her favorite developer. There is no way that any city council can create a land use policy that is sane -- as long as it is owned lock, stock and barrel by the developers. 

The criminal vote trading at Los Angeles City Council would stop tomorrow if LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey were not part of the problem. But as Hillary told us – don’t expect any “ruler” to fix anything. If we Angelenos want something fixed, we have to fix it ourselves. Hillary told us in detail about the long, patient, hard work it takes to coalesce community consensus before the right thing can be done. But Jackie Lacey isn’t going to lift her little pinkie to do anything about the organized crime racket that runs City Hall unless we force her. 

No one from the top of the corrupt power structure will wave a magic wand to make the corruption disappear. There are billions of dollars to be looted from Los Angeles and the developers have no intention of saying meekly, “Oh we’re so sorry. We’ll be leaving now.” Thieves who have invaded your home don’t leave until either they’ve cleaned you out or you throw them out. That is the situation facing Angelenos. The Obama Doctrine of “Too Important to Prosecute” will continue to dominate Los Angeles law enforcement until we do something about it. All the members of the Los Angeles City Council are “made men” until we un-make them. 

Are we going to wait until Los Angeles has been driven down to the level of a Third World city where we have favelas instead of neighborhoods? Or are we going to take action and throw the crooks out ourselves?


(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.

Health Officials Reject Adult Film Industry Efforts to Scuttle Condom Rule

PORN POLITICS--Adult film industry bosses suffered a new setback this week in their campaign to overturn state health rules that require them to provide condoms to their adult film performers and ensure that the performers wear them in sexually explicit scenes. 

On Tuesday, separate reports by the staffs of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board were made public. Both reached the same conclusion: condom use is essential to protecting adult film workers from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

The reports responded to a petition from Eric Paul Leue, the leader of a trade group that represents adult film producers. The group asked Cal/OSHA to amend its regulations to remove the condom requirement rule.   

“These staff reports are a tremendous victory for the cause of protecting workers’ health and safety,” said Los Angeles political consultant Rick Taylor. “The adult film industry wants to kill the condom use rule. But cooler heads and science have prevailed, and California’s top worker safety experts have reaffirmed that condoms are the gold standard for protecting performers. 

“These new reports again prove that the adult film industry’s producers are on the wrong side of medical science,” said Taylor. “They’re like climate change deniers. They’re wrong. And all the science proves them wrong.” 

The industry’s relentless campaign to gut existing condom use regulations and its refusal to obey these same rules during filming also emphasizes the importance of voter passage of Proposition 60, said Taylor, chief strategist for the Prop. 60 campaign. Prop. 60 is a measure on November ballot in California that would provide state health officials with additional tools to enforce the rule on condom use. 

“The industry’s record of resistance to condom use is so blatant and persistent that it’s obvious we need Prop. 60 to fight back,” said Taylor. 

The condom requirement has been in effect since 1992 but 97 percent of the performers in adult films do not wear condom, studies have shown. 

Producers frequently bully and blackball performers who seek to use condoms, say critics, who also claim that the result of widespread non-compliance is that the incidence of STDs among adult film industry performers is at epidemic proportions, according to recent studies. “I never saw so much chlamydia and gonorrhea in a population,” Dr. Peter Kerndt, former head of the Los Angeles County STD Program, told the Los Angeles Times in March 2016. 

Prop. 60 will close loopholes in Cal/OSHA regulations that agency officials say seriously interfere with their efforts to protect adult film performers. 

Specifically, Prop. 60 will extend the window of time (the statute of limitations) authorities will have to file a complaint against adult film industry producers violating the condom rule. In addition, Prop. 60 will enable health officials to seek penalties not only against the producers of condom-less film productions but also against the agents and distributors of such films. “We listened to what Cal/OSHA officials said about loopholes in the law,” said Taylor. “Now we’re fixing them.” 

Asked by the adult film industry trade group to drop the required use of condoms in favor of “alternative methods” of protection, Cal/OSHA staff conducted an extensive review of scientific studies and found that STDs “such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis – are effectively prevented by correct condom use and less effectively prevented by the alternative methods identified by the petitioner [the adult film industry trade group].” 

The industry claims its test screenings for STDs are effective in keeping sick performers from participating in explicit sex scenes and that taking drugs, like Truvada, can prevent HIV infections. 

However, Cal/OSHA staff noted that many STD infections exist weeks before they are discovered by testing. During those latency periods, those infected can infect their sexual partners. In addition, the performers’ strict adherence to taking the expensive Truvada anti-HIV pills “cannot be fully overseen by an employer,” Cal/OSHA staff pointed out, unlike the wearing of a condom, which is observable. Also the staff noted that Truvada’s manufacturer advises its customers to wear condoms. 

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that condoms are essential, the two staff reports recommended that Cal/OSHA’s governing board hold hearings – including one on Aug. 18 in Oakland – to give the adult film industry an opportunity to discuss “additional protections for workers in the adult film and similar industries” and to address the industry’s complaints that its views are not being adequately considered by Cal/OSHA. 

At the same hearings, health officials will also hear from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which has championed the use of condoms in the adult film industry. AHF has urged that the word “condom” be explicitly used in Cal/OSHA regulations so there is no mistake about what is meant when those regulations say “barrier protections” must be used by adult film performers.


(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.)


California! Eye-Balling the Lesser Evil Up Close: No Climate Change Advantage with Dems in Charge

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Three things predictably happen in years divisible by four. 1) If you were born on February 29, you celebrate your real birthday. 2) We watch the spectacle of the summer Olympics. 3) We are endlessly subjected to lesser-evil arguments. This time Donald Trump is raising alarm bells with his supporters about Hillary Clinton, while the Democratic establishment is scaring the bejeezus out of its faithful with stories of Trumpian hell and damnation. 

In 2016 we can luckily put some of these lesser evil claims to the test because we live in a state, California, and a city, Los Angeles, where mainstream Democrats totally rule the roost. While officially non-partisan, nearly every elected official in Los Angeles is a Democrat, and it is hardly different in Sacramento. There the entire elected Executive branch and a super-majority of the State Legislature consist of Jerry Brown-friendly Democrats. 

This is in sharp contrast to the Federal government, where Republicans control the Senate and the House, and where Democrats routinely blame their lack of progressive legislation on the power of this greater (not other) evil. 

But, what happens when Democrats are free to do what they want, without those irksome Republicans boxing them in? 

I think a great litmus test would be the Democratic Platform Committee, especially its treatment of climate change. This issue is, after all, humanity’s greatest threat at the global, national, state, and local level. 

At the Democratic Platform Committee, Bernie Sanders was able to appoint this country’s best-known environmentalist, Bill McKibben. Unfortunately, even with help from the other Sanders’ appointees, he completely struck out on all platform planks regarding climate change. This how Bill McKibben summed up the pushback against his proposals from Clinton appointees. 

“We all agreed that America should be operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but then I proposed, in one amendment after another, a series of ways we might actually get there. A carbon tax? Voted down 7-6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7-6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7-6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7-6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7-6. (We did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!)” 

Although the Platform Committee was a Republican-free zone, it is possible that the specter of a knock-down, drag-out election against Donald Trump pulled the Democratic platform to the hard right on climate issues to win over waffling independents and Republicans. That is why I think the climate change litmus test should also consider Sacramento and LA’s City Hall. 

In Sacramento, Californians have world-class climate legislation, such as AB 32 and SB 375. It is the envy of climate activists and environmentalists from coast to coast. But, even more importantly, Californians have CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.  It is one serious piece of environmental legislation, and it requires all major projects, whether public or private, to submit a rigorous environmental review, including climate change impacts. With this information at hand, decision makers can then make an informed choice. 

So far so good, but unfortunately a year does not go by without Governor Brown, in close cooperation with the Democratically controlled State Legislature, pitching bills that would erode CEQA, including its ability to inform decision makers of the climate change impacts of all major projects. 

For example, this year, Governor Brown and his legislative counterparts are champions of SB 734, legislation that would fast track the environmental review of controversial high-rise mega-projects, like 8150 Sunset. 

Other efforts to erode CEQA are proposed amendments to Governmental Code sections 65400.1 and 65913.3. They would exempt multiple-residential developments from environmental review by considering them to be by-right projects in order to increase housing production. This is based on an urban legend I have previously debunked: the production of luxury housing miraculously increases the supply of affordable housing. 

In Los Angeles, where the Mayor, City Attorney, City Controller, and 14 members of the City Council are all Democrats, we can conduct an even stronger test to see if our local officials qualify as a lesser evil when it comes to the environment. 

What is their approach to the most important climate change legislation on the books, CEQA? The answer: City Hall is rife with proposals, some already implemented, to circumvent CEQA, even though LA has the worst traffic congestion and worst air pollution in the entire country. In fact, I can count at least five separate efforts to undermine CEQA advanced by our local branch of the lesser (not other) evil consortium. 

  • The City Planning Commission and the City Council adopt Statements of Overriding Consideration whenever a project’s EIR reports unmitigatable adverse environmental impacts. A perfect example is the overturned Hollywood Community Plan. Its EIR reported that it would generate uncontrollable amounts of the Green House Gases responsible for climate change and global warming. In this case, and in other EIRs, the City Council could reject outright or downsize a project to stop or reduce it deadly production of Green House Gases. Instead the City Council routinely adopts Statements of Overriding Considerations so these harmful plans and projects can go forth, despite their plumes of planet-killing gases. 
  • Lengthy Amendments to Amend Community Plan Zones and Land Use Designation. Even though Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman threw out the Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, it contained over 100 pages of up-zoning and up-planning amendments. Until stopped by the judiciary, this complex ordinance would have suddenly allowed nearly all, otherwise illegal large, tall buildings in Hollywood to slide through Building and Safety as by-right projects exempt from CEQA. 

Win or lose, this is the template for future Community Plan Updates, some now underway, with more on deck. Their many pages of policy language will become the appetizers before the main entrée: wide scale increases in by-right density and height that avoid CEQA. 

  • Re-code:LA will eventually rezone all private parcels in LA. Its approach is called form-based zoning, which means the range of uses allowed in each existing or new zone will expand. The result will be far fewer variances and zone changes to permit land uses not allowed under the current zoning code. Once in place, developers will then seldom require these discretionary actions, both of which trigger CEQA. 
  • SB 1818/Density Bonuses are discretionary actions that have been crafted to circumvent CEQA. The decision to subject density bonus projects to an environmental review is strictly the call of the developer or Department of City Planning. If neither volunteers to submit an environmental review, which happens 100 percent of the time, there are no grounds for opponents to successfully raise environmental issues, including CEQA. 
  • McMansions, as I have often written, are the only land use process I can identify in Los Angeles where the size of a project can expand by up to 42 percent through a totally secret ministerial decision at Building and Safety. This is still another way to avoid CEQA since such increases in an energy-guzzling building’s mass should be processed through a variance, another trigger for CEQA. 

Final thoughts: This brief overview of the Democratic Party, from its high rollers in Philadelphia and Washington, to the aspiring hustlers in Sacramento and Los Angeles, reveals the same thing. Left to their own devices in a Republican-free political environment, the Democratic Party’s officials – as opposed to its progressive voting base/Sandernistas – are just another evil when it comes to the environment. They, too, willingly roll over for real estate speculators despite the severe dangers of climate change. When the speculators ask them for a way to jump through CEQA, their typical reply is, “How high?” No different than the Republicans they belittle, they consistently support short-term commercial gain for their patrons, even when the health and safety of the planet is at stake.


(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Bulldog Realty Goes For It … and Abbot Kinney Sinks Further into Parking Quicksand

VENICE VOICE--In front of one of the original Craftsman homes on Abbot Kinney is Bulldog Realty’s Notice of Intent to obtain a Coastal Development Permit. The permit is to demolish and build new. This property represents one of the finer original Craftsman houses on Abbot Kinney built long ago when it was predominantly a residential street. Since it is not an historically designated property, it is likely that the city will permit its demolition. 

The ‘Intent’ notices a new 3800 sq. foot office/retail/live/work building with only two parking spaces. All of the other required parking spaces are proposed to be supplied ‘virtually’ using ‘In-Lieu’ fees. What the City knows, as does the applicant, is that the California Coastal Commission will not approve “in lieu” parking as a parking solution in Venice. Period. 

Why do applicants go for a CDP when they know it is unlikely to be awarded? And why does the city take the applicant’s fees and push it on through the system when they know the CCC will deny the project? Like practically all applicants attempting to avoid the rules and build to the max, they figure if they fight, they just might get at least some of what they want. Bulldog is no exception. And the City? We figure it must be the fees paid and the work these projects create for the planners and the Department of Building and Safety that drives them to process this application for permit. 

The real question here is why Bulldog Realty, a long-term upstanding business on the street, is going for a project completely under-parked when it could construct a project that includes all the required parking? There is no other answer to this question than the simple fact that there is no money in parking. All the value is in habitable spaces and money is what development is about in Venice. 

While Bulldog is an Abbot Kinney business living daily with the street’s parking mess, we guess it is nothing personal – it’s simply another development that has no regard for our critical need for parking and no feeling of obligation to try and mitigate it. They just want what they want. The neighborhood and the on-going parking chaos is of little or no concern. 

So here we go again, another battle on the horizon. Again, residents will find themselves pushing another rock up the hill to stop the City from approving another project which does not comply with the parking requirements — including the rules at the CCC. Residents are forced to “man the barricades” there as well to make sure projects don’t slip through the system. The CCC is the last chance residents get to stop City-approved projects which hurt neighborhoods by circumventing rules. The city knows the rules and they know the Coastal Commission will not agree with its “virtual” in lieu parking “solution.” Nevertheless, they approve in lieu parking anyway. Why? 

The city uses its “discretion” to approve all kinds of things not really allowed. Why don’t they use that discretionary power to stop bad projects when they know they are bad for a community? City Planning knows how bad the parking situation is in Venice. They know how insufficient the town’s infrastructure is for 21st century demands. 

How can we expect any applicant to apply for a permit that is fully compliant with the rules when there are no consistent and true “rules of the road” for everyone? This conflict is the root cause of the endless battles fought against so many projects which caring residents are forced to oppose. 

It does not have to be this way.


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


Tags: Marian Crostic, Elaine Spierer, Imagine Venice, Bulldog Realty, Abbot Kinney, Venice parking crisis, LA City Department of Planning, California Coastal Commission


Are LA and California Really Ready for the November Election?

EASTSIDER-Remember the headlines during the primary election? Huge lines, unprepared and insufficient polling places, and, Why California Still Hasn’t Processed Over Two Million Ballots from the Primaries.  

With the November 8 General Election not that far away, the question is whether or not LA and California’s struggling system of voting is going to be ready. I know that the issues over the primary, including the massive number of provisional ballots, may not be matched again this fall, but the trade off is going to be a set of ballot initiatives with explanations the size of a small phone book. In short, a potential mess. 

State Measures--As of July 1, there were already 17 statewide ballot measures approved (nos. 51-67), and there’s still time for the legislature to pass more. There are very contentious issues on this ballot, from the death penalty to the legalization of recreational marijuana and gun control, practically guaranteeing a big turnout. All of these are going to involve the spending of big bucks from outside interests, will become the subject of endless droning from the television and internet media machine, and will likely have us all sick to death of the whole mess long before November 8th

Local Measures--Remember these 17 measures do not include equally contentious local issues from the City Hall cognoscenti. We have DWP Charter Reform, a measure regarding the Airport Police getting into the Fire & Police Pension Fund, the Homeless Affordable Bond measure, and a housing measure interestingly titled, “Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning.” 

The ballot will also include a monster “transportation” sales tax increase for Metro, to which our Jack Humphreville responds, Does Metro Deserve a 120 Billion Blank Check?  

And how about the County Parcel Tax for Parks? It is now titled with the cutsey name, “Safe, Clean, Neighborhood Parks Measure.” It used to be called, “Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, River Protection and Water Conservation Measure.” Make no mistake, it is a permanent parcel tax. 

Face it, this is going to be a humongous ballot, and even our hard charging group at CityWatch is going to have a heck of a time explaining all of these issues well enough to keep people’s eyes from glazing over. 

Our Archaic Voting System--“LA Was the Epicenter of Primary Chaos,” as reported by the LA Times on June 7. 

It would be nice to think that issues over provisional ballots will be all cleared up by November, but in California you can register or switch parties up to 15 days prior to the election date. 

Not only that, but Secretary of State Alex Padilla has noted that our voting equipment is “nearing the end of its life expectancy.”  

Add to that the fact each County can have its own different machines, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, and there is little chance of fixing anything before the November vote takes place. 

Statewide, well over 50% of voters use the absentee ballot (aka vote by mail), but that still leaves a whole lot of people at the polls in Los Angeles County in November. And as we have seen, LA County is at the epicenter of California voting issues. 

The big question is, what’s going to happen at the polls on Election Day? Nobody really knows the answer. The pundits are talking about a huge turnout, but most people I talk to are disgusted with the whole mess; a number of them may simply not vote at all. 

For what it’s worth, my personal guess is that fewer voters will turn out in November than voted in the primary so there will be significantly fewer problems with provisional ballots; those kinds of problems are generally bigger during primaries. On the other hand, with all of the ballot measures up for consideration, people are going to be confused and unhappy. They will probably clog up the polling booths trying to figure how the heck to vote. 

It also means, if my friend Jack Humphreville is right, that the tax increase measures could all get voted down on the theory that, when the voters get confused, they shut down and just say no. Actually, that’s not such a dumb idea. 

What to Do?--The reason I’m writing this column now instead of in November, is that there are a couple of things that you can do to make voting a smooth process. First, if you haven’t already, get set it up to vote by mail. That way, you avoid any potential turnoffs at the polling place. 

On the other hand, if you wind up going to vote in person, and I often like to do this just because it feels like a real election that way, do two things in advance. First, find and double check on your polling place, since they can change sometimes, and if you go to the wrong one, you may wind up with the dreaded “provisional ballot.” 

Second, and most important, take your voter guide filled out as to how you want to vote on each item. Be sure to take your filled out guide when you go to the polls. Remember, all these ballot measures are deliberately designed to make you want to vote yes. The name of the measure may or may not have anything to do with what the measure will actually do. That’s how consultants make bags of money. 

Follow these guidelines to have a smooth experience. Remember, it’s hell getting into a voting booth and then trying to read all this crud. Since the poll workers can’t tell you how to vote, they will be of little help at that point. You’re on your own! 

On November 9, I will go back and take another look at this article…just to see how far off I was. 

Please, please VOTE!


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





Lake Hollywood Resident Lambasts Former Councilman LaBonge … Says He Turned Community Into a Fire Risk

SPECIALVIDEO REPORT—Lake Hollywood residents and LA council members have been at each other’s throats ever since former 4th District councilman Tom LaBonge took spade in hand and reconfigured the viewing area adjacent to the Hollywood sign. What was manageable before appears to be out of hand today and creating, according to Lake Hollywood Estates residents, serious fire dangers for their community. 

Andrew Davis, who hosts The Millennial Project website is the reporter and host on this video interview. He talks with Lake Hollywood Estates resident Tony Fisch who explains how LaBonge illegally developed the public Hollywood Sign viewing area in his neighborhood and how current LA City Councilman David Ryu refuses to resolve the issue. 

See this excellent report and video interview


Andrew Davis’ background and credentials are available on his website The Millennial Project.)  

Add your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Disqus below.


Silver Lake Reservoir: The Plug has been Pulled but Anxiety Mounts

 DEEGAN ON LA-It sounds romantic and dreamy: the “Meadow,” the “Knoll,” the “Eucalyptus Grove,” starry nights, family fun. A destination with enhancements, a beach, an esplanade, a park, a picnic on blankets, maybe a plunge pool for swimming. It also sounds like a marketing pitch. But some are looking forward to this possible vision of Silver Lake Reservoir. 

Others see, and want, a tranquil lake to gaze at from the hillside at sunset, birds dipping their beaks, children feeding the ducks, great blue herons being sustained by the Pacific Flyway, a pastoral vision in the center of urban mass. Like nature: a release, a palliative, an escape. 

These opposing viewpoints are held by two organizations that were launched in the spring of 2016, when it became apparent that a huge vacuum may exist in what to do once the DWP has completed repairs at Silver Lake Reservoir and adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir. 

One option is refilling the reservoir and beautifying afterwards, as Refill Silver Lake Now is asking. The group describes itself as “a dedicated group of people advocating for the prompt refilling of the Silver Lake Reservoir (Historic-Cultural Monument 422), home to many species of wildlife and critical nesting grounds for the legally protected Blue Heron. The Reservoir is not only a crucial spot on the Pacific Flyway for migrating waterfowl, but an essential body of water for the LA County Firefighters in battling blazes in the area, including Griffith Park. In short, it is the heart and soul of the 43,000 people and countless wildlife that call Silver Lake their home.” 

The other option being promoted is to create a “destination” (including a water feature.) That is the plan of Silver Lake Forward which calls itself “your new neighborhood action group” consisting of “conservation advocates, architects, activists, and entertainment and media industry executives.” They have an agenda and some political connections to try and get what they want -- far more, it sounds, than what the community is comfortable with. 

Some residents say they have been made to feel apprehensive recently by Silver Lake Forward that was launched in April by Catherine Geanuracos. It’s a successor group to the Geanuracos-led Swim Silver Lake, launched in 2014, that invited the community to embrace Geanuracos’ vision and be “part of the transformation of our neighborhood,” by turning the Silver Lake Reservoir into the "Silver Lake Plunge." Having a beach club replace the Ivanhoe Reservoir, within the Silver Lake Reservoir complex, was a concept that attracted very little interest and was dropped. However, Geanuracos has not given up on her attempts to gentrify Silver Lake Reservoir, even though the community has not acquiesced to those desires. 

A dry lake can become a fertile playground for change -- another thing that has the community wondering. When will the water return? A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, owner and operator of the reservoir, told CityWatch that "we are still targeting May for the start of refilling of the reservoir. We expect it to take about a month to fully cover the entire bottom and then it will continue to rise, but it will take time.

This suggests filling the reservoir now and then beautifying or enhancing the surrounding area, if that is what is decided by the community and approved by David Ryu (CD4) and Mitch O’Farrell (CD13), the two Councilmembers that share jurisdiction over the reservoir. That’s what Refill Silver Lake Now wants. 

Ninety-six acres of open space in the middle of the city, without the water that should be there, is a tempting sight and creates anxiety about the “what-ifs?” The space is huge -- it could fit 500 single family homes, to give some sense of proportion to it. Some describe the possibilities of what can be done with Silver Lake Reservoir as “a marketplace of ideas” but residents may be more calling it “a community.” Silver Lake residents don’t want the reservoir turned into a laboratory of ideas for reimagining what has been a pretty good thing for the past 110 years -- a beautiful lake in the middle of the city. They worry about the stresses of development that a “destination” brings, change that would alter the character of the serene setting, adding traffic and other impacts to the neighborhood. 

This may be something the community did not want to begin with. 

Silver Lake Reservoir and the adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir are now empty. (see photo left) But the community is full of questions about the future of this complex. They fear they would face the prospect of a less bucolic lake with the introduction of asphalt for parking lots and other amenities -- like restrooms, hot dog stands and food trucks – all bringing congestion, chlorine, and other unknown impacts. 

The sooner the water is returned to the reservoir the better, as that will set some boundaries for development. “There is a limited amount of additional space that could be opened to the public, and the DWP has not yet determined how much space it might need for its more limited operations once it is decommissioned as a drinking water reservoir,” said David Keitel, President of the Silver Lake Conservancywho added, “There are now two public park spaces on the property - a multi-use park and recreation center at the south end of the property and the newer Meadow Park on the east side.” 

Another source of anxiety is, will DWP follow through and refill the reservoir on schedule? Or will Silver Lake Forward’s political connections to Councilmember O’Farrell and the Englander, Knabe & Allen lobbying firm help them pre-empt the DWP’s plans, delay the refilling of the reservoir, and instead, start preparations for their “destination?” 

The statement by DWP to CityWatch seems to indicate, for now, that the answer is “yes” -- the reservoir will be refilled in May. However, two city councilmembers and the opposing agendas of community groups must get into alignment. 

At least for now, “There is no plan to substitute a park for the water. The DWP has publicly stated more than once that to fill the space would take many years of all-day truck trips. To do so would essentially destroy Los Angeles City Historic-Cultural Landmark No. 402, designated in 1989,” said David Keitel of the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy. 

“There is a variety of feelings within the community about what should be done with the land surrounding the reservoir once it has been refilled and for the long run, including improved/increased public access, the preservation of the natural environment and general property maintenance,” Keitel continued. 

“There are now two public park spaces on the property - a multi-use park and recreation center at the south end of the property and the newer Meadow Park on the east side. There is a limited amount of additional space that could be opened to the public, and the DWP has not yet determined how much space it might need for its more limited operations once it is decommissioned as a drinking water reservoir,” said Keitel. 

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council has not yet had hearings or taken a position, but others in the community have. Refill Silver Lake Now Co-Founder Jill Cordes points out, “We don’t need to be a world class destination—this is not Chicago and the Great Lakes lakefront. We have a ton of destinations in LA. We don't need, nor want, the reservoir itself turned into something other than the beautiful body of water that it has traditionally been. If more park space is wanted around the perimeter we are absolutely open to discussing that. And remember we already have green space, including a soccer field, playground, basketball court and the Meadow. And Echo Park and Griffith Park are a mile away. Whats wrong with wanting a respite in the middle of the city?” 

Community feedback, in an empirical and non-emotional format, is being prepared through a survey by the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, and should help provide Councilmember Ryu, a strong advocate of hearing what the community has to say before making a decision, with some relevant facts. 

Conservancy President Keitel shared a preview of their current survey and what is being indicated from the results, telling CityWatch: “The Reservoirs Conservancy has consistently surveyed the resident and user communities about their desires and concerns surrounding the reservoir property, especially following the approval of the Master Plan by the DWP in 2000. SLRC commissioned its most comprehensive survey in 2016, sent to a random sample of 3,400 residential addresses within the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council boundaries. 

“While the 800+ responses are still being analyzed for inclusion in a published report, the most highly-rated attribute has been the water, i.e.: maintaining water in the reservoir space. The survey does not address specific proposals by Silver Lake Forward or Refill Silver Lake Now, because it was administered before either of those recently formed groups existed. But the community clearly expressed its appreciation of the public space as a respite, an oasis and a natural environment - and expressed concerns about it being overly developed or commercialized.” 

There’s a lot at stake here, including a sense of unwanted change, and a resistance to a repurposing of Silver Lake Reservoir that feels like it’s being forced onto the community. Public feedback and community engagement, like the Conservancy’s survey and the series of community meetings that are being hosted by Councilmembers Ryu (CD4) and O’Farrell (CD13), may help to clarify the anxieties many in the community are feeling about what going forward at Silver Lake really means.


(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 Identity in South LA: Tensions? Segregation? Collaborations?

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--This is a very interesting KCET viewer supported story in which they aimed to find out which way is South LA heading? As Latinos have become a numerical majority in what was recently an African American neighborhood, do we see tensions, collaborations or segregation? 

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California, and Walter Thompson-Hernandez, a former research assistant for the Roots|Raíces research project at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII), together with their team at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, they spent the last year interviewing one hundred Latina/o residents in the Watts, historic Central Avenue, and Vermont Square neighborhoods for the Roots|Raíces research project and put this story together. While there is no one monolithic portrait of Latino South LA, they found common stories and struggles—and also some interesting key generational differences. 

They argued that in the 1980s, thousands of Mexican and Central American immigrants began setting down roots in South LA. Some had just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, fleeing Civil Wars and economic devastation, and others moved here after living in crowded neighborhoods near downtown and MacArthur Park; but they all came looking for the same thing: a better life.  

These were tough times in South LA. During the 1980s, South LA was reeling from the aftermath of deindustrialization, with gang wars, a crack epidemic, and impoverished neighborhoods featuring more liquor stores than grocery markets. 

One of their respondents drew a mixed portrait of neighborhood life when asked to recall what it was like in the late 1980s. “Mira, hay cosas que eran buenas…Look, there were things that were good, and bad things. At that time we were about the only Latinos on the block … Everyone else was Moreno (Black). But the majority of those who lived there were older people, and they were very nice. We never had any problems with any Black neighbors.” 

Many of these first generation Latina/o arrivals found a kind of next door neighbor civility (even if relations stayed somewhat superficial) with their older African-American neighbors, but on the streets they often encountered hostility from youth gangs, street crime, over-policing, and a climate of violence and racialized resentment that was very particular to the 80’s and early 90’s in South LA. Pushed inward also by the language barrier, the work of daily survival, and the street violence, most Latina/o newcomers responded by “shutting in and shutting out,” basically keeping to themselves. 

However, their interviews also highlighted another important aspect of South LA racial dynamics: Generations think about race in different ways. While the first generation migrated to South LA with anti-black racist ideologies—which were often hardened in the tough street climate in the 1980s and 1990s—the second generation Latinos who were raised in South Los Angeles related starkly different racial experiences with African Americans. While some had faced racially motivated tensions in the schools or the street, a large majority of the second generation expressed an affinity for African Americans that was almost non-existent among their parents’ generation. 

One of their interviewees expressed her views about the interconnectedness of South LA African American and Latino identities this way: “We grew up together. You know, they fed us collard greens; we fed them beans. You know, we grew up in each other’s homes, and we grew up together. So to us, it’s a similarity. They’re our people. We struggle, we consider them our people.” 

What to make of these generational racial differences? When thinking about the future of South LA—particularly the face of leadership—we are left with the almost inescapable reality that the face of future South LA leadership will be a cohort of young leaders who will have grown up in a community that was predominantly Latino but with a strong inclination towards the African-American political and cultural legacy of South LA. These will be leaders who will have been impacted by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as much as they will have been impacted by Martin Luther King, Jr. 


Learn more about the “Roots|Raíces: Latino Engagement, Place Identities, and Shared Futures in South Los Angeles” researched by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) at USC at http://bit.ly/rootsraices.

(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 who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].)



LA Waterkeeper Takes Water Boards to Court … for Ignoring Public Outcry On Dangerous Pollution Levels

WATER WATCH--After a decision by the California State Water Resources Control Board and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, legal pollution limits have increased to allow excessive amounts of copper and lead in the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. High levels of toxic pollution pose a serious threat to the marine life and possibly to people that depend on Los Angeles’ waters. 

That’s where watchdog organizations like Los Angeles Waterkeeper come in. On July 18, LA Waterkeeper filed a lawsuit against the State and Regional Water Boards to hold them accountable for ignoring public criticism and allowing dangerous levels of pollution in our waters. 

Rather than enforce existing standards against polluters and protect the residents consuming the water in Los Angeles County, the State and Regional Water Boards tried to redefine water pollution. Both Water Boards approved a set of weaker standards — known as site-specific water-quality objectives — that override the existing, more protective water quality standards limiting copper and lead pollution levels. Compared to the existing regulations, these objectives increase pollution limits by up to 1,000 percent. 

That’s up to 1,000 percent more copper and lead in the water you and your family drink. 

These pollution violations an urgent environmental and public health issue. Copper in the water threatens aquatic life, while lead pollution poses more of a hazard to humans. These new objectives are so weak that, if allowed to continue, Los Angeles could stop treating its storm water entirely, and it would still remain in legal compliance for copper and lead pollution levels. 

This case marks the first time any organization has legally challenged the scientific validity of studies used by the State Water Board to justify site specific water quality standards. The scientifically flawed studies supporting the dramatically weaker standards were paid for and overseen by stakeholders with a financial interest in weaker water quality standards. These include cities that line the river and its tributaries, as well as Caltrans and Los Angeles County. Local and state agencies can be liable for permit violations if they discharge excessive pollution into the river. 

Our team is filing the lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act and the federal Clean Water Act. LA Waterkeeper seeks to reverse the approval of the negligent site-specific water quality objectives and restore the original – and more protective – water quality standards for copper and lead. 

This type of water management is irresponsible and damaging. These actions create a ripple effect across the state that harms our residents, our children and our quality of life. Our local communities and wildlife depend on these waters, and we demand better standards for all of us. 

Visit lawaterkeeper.org to learn more about protecting water quality in Los Angeles.


(Bruce Reznik is Executive Director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper. This piece special to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Mayor and City Attny: Public Records Act Info Exposes Bent ... If Not Broken ... Rules for Animal Charity

ANIMAL WATCH-On July 1, 2014, Mayor Garcetti launched his Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, “to advance civic initiatives.” It amassed $14.6 million the first year, according to the LA Times

An e-mail exchange between LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette and Maggie Neilson, former Animal Services Commissioner and CEO of Global Philanthropy Group, and the Mayor’s Office --provided AFTER my CityWatch article, CA Feuer, Mayor Garcetti, Councilman Koretz Ignoring Public Records Requests - Is There Something to Hide?” – reveals that wasn’t the only charitable fund the Mayor planned to launch in 2014. (Photo above: Mayor Garcetti with City Attorney Mike Feuer.) 

While Garcetti’s then-Deputy Doane Liu was setting up a preliminary meeting with Neilson regarding a proposed non-profit foundation to support LA Animal Services, he was abruptly informed that Mayor Garcetti -- who has historically shown only a politically correct interest in animals -- would meet personally with Ms. Neilson. 

Here’s how the usual formalities were bypassed: 

On August 13, 2014 10:17 AM Brenda Barnette wrote to Maggie Neilson: 

FYI us [sic] met with the Mayor yesterday. Would like to arrange for you to meet him for personal introduction. He wants an opportunity to speak publicly for the animals and would love it to be the Foundation launch this fall.”

About 90 minutes later Maggie Neilson responded: 

Hi Brenda! First I hope your summer is going well. Give my best to Pam and let’s get together in Sept…?  I‘ve been meaning to reach out for a few months now to apologize for the slowdown in progress on this…we are poised to begin again in full in Sept. I would love to connect with the mayor; just let me know when works for him and we will make it happen. This is going to be awesome despite the brief delay.  Xo, m”   

This affectionate exchange portrays an uncomfortably informal relationship between the GM and the sole incorporator of a proposed charitable arm for LA Animal Services. Trevor Neilson and Maggie Neilson of Global Philanthropy Group reportedly advise such celebrities as Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in how to spend charitable dollars to maintain a humanitarian profile. Brenda Barnette claims to have been a “former fundraiser” (and later used that influence to have restrictive items in the MOU removed by Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel). Shouldn’t a formal letter, or at least an professional business e-mail, have been used in arranging a meeting with the Mayor of Los Angeles?  

According to the CA Secretary of State, Maggie Neilson had filed as sole incorporator for “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” on August 11, 2014. 

Following is some of the history garnered from 540 pages of e-mails provided by the City Attorney’s office, plus the delayed responses from the Mayor’s Office and GM Brenda Barnette to my CPRA requests, which indicate that Brenda Barnette was intending to be very closely involved. 

On Apr. 22, 2014, Maggie Neilson wrote to her pro bono attorney, who was developing the MOU for “The Animal Rescue Foundation, “The first issue is that we want to confirm Brenda’s ability to serve on the Foundation’s Board.”  

The answer was apparently negative because later Brenda wrote to Deputy City Dov Lesel:

“With permission of the Mayor would it be permitted for me to serve as a volunteer Board member?” 

The MOU later approved by the Garcetti-appointed Animal Services Commission, showed that annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” would be provided only to the LAAS General Manager, the Department’s senior accountant and the Commission. 

Maggie Neilson’s last-shown contact in the Mayor’s office, according to e-mails provided, was Diedre Lind, President of the Mayor’s fund. 

Doug White, director of  Columbia University's graduate program in fundraising management, advised the L A Times that, “Information about a nonprofit shouldn't be channeled through a politician's office . . . Because of the nonprofit's association with government, its officers and directors should be particularly attentive to maintaining independence.” 

An attorney for a major governmental agency explained, “When a governmental agency, such as LA Animal Services, joins with an allied non-profit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests. That organization then is branded by, and has the benefit of, the department’s name, trademark and good will for soliciting donations without objective requirements or accountability.” 


In February, we asked, Has L.A. Animal Services’ Brenda Barnette Crossed the Line with Questionable Fundraising MOU?  Maggie Neilson’s new non-profit corporation purportedly created to assist LA Angeles Animal Services -- and be patterned after Foundations for LAPD, LA Fire Dept., and the Library -- is called, “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation.” 

Neilson’s foundation does not contain the name “LA Animal Services” in its title as the other city department foundations do, nor is its corporate mission statement even similar. 

The Articles of Incorporation state, “The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

However, the Department of Animal Services, which is a tax-funded public safety department, has a posted mission statement and mandate: To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

How do we correlate this and the MOU which states, “… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…” when seminal factors are vastly dissimilar? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency such as LA Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after owners relinquish them or fail to claim them from the shelter.  

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money were to be spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? Or is money assumed to be donated for the shelter allowed to be distributed otherwise? Is it reserved to help shelter animals? Not according to the changes made by the City Attorney in the standard template that is used by other City fundraising arms.   

Other questions are:  Will “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” usurp the fundraising efforts of independent local rescue and animal-welfare groups in Los Angeles? And, why are City officials ignoring the fact that the LA Animal Services already has a robust, generously donor-funded and closely monitored, Animal Welfare Trust Fund


GM Brenda Barnette and Maggie Neilson each received a copy of the draft MOU with the Los Angeles Fire Foundation. Deputy Dov Lesel writes: 

Animal Services was advised to look at that contract as a model for using with a foundation to do fundraising for that department.” 

But “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” and Brenda Barnette requested changes. 

In a January 9, 2015 e-mail to Dov Lesel, Brenda Barnette describes herself as a “former fundraiser” and agrees with The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation’s pro bono attorney that the standard 20% overhead limitation applied to other departmental foundations is unnecessary, because “…the marketing to elevate the Department for community members will be expensive and worthwhile.” 

On March 11, 2015, after Lesel agrees to remove the 20/80% limitation on overhead, Maggie Neilson writes: 

“Thanks Dov – I do want to clarify that we are not raising funds “for” the city in the sense that the $ we raise won’t go through the city system. This will be an independent non-profit organization that will work side by side with the Department towards the same mission.” 

Lesel responds:

“If you are raising money using the Department’s name, etc., how exactly do you envision the funds being held and how do you envision the funds being spent? 

“Will you be engaging in a discussion with the Dept. re its needs and agreeing to fund certain projects during the year or funding projects that you think the Dept. needs?” 

(Note: Any answer by Neilson to these questions was omitted from the CPRA response.) 

On Oct. 06, 2015, in compliance with the Foundation’s request, Dov Lesel also agreed to remove “financial” from the support to be provided to the Department and remove any support for the Department’s “needs” — only its “mission and function.” 


According to e-mails, it wasn’t until January 13, 2016, (after Commission approval and before the Council’s PAW Committee meeting) that Dov Lesel finally read the Articles of Incorporation for “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation.” 

On that date he sent an e-mail to Global Philanthropy Group, cc’d to Brenda Barnette, stating: 

“I noticed that there is no mention that the purpose of the organization is to support the Department.”   

The next-day response from Maggie Neilson’s assistant: 

“The articles of incorporation describe the mission of the Foundation as working to ensure every animal in Los Angeles has a home and that no adoptable animals are euthanized.  This mission supports the goals of the Department.  The purpose of the MOU is to establish the official relationship between the two entities.” 

Lesel (finally realizing what he had been working on for two years) replied:  

“[M]y concern is that this issue may be raised by City staff as it goes through the approval process, as these articles are very different than the ‘normal’ articles of incorporation for City partner fundraising organization. [sic] Normally, this type of non-profit incorporates specifically to assist the City. 

GM Brenda Barnette sent a testy retort soon after:  

“Dov, Two years later and much back and forth and NOW we have a big question after the Commission has approved.  I will appreciate your good efforts to get ma [sic] a document I can transmit without further delay.”  

Dov Lesel backs down(!): 

“Brenda you can transmit the revised clean MOU with their existing Articles, unless you believe the existing Articles might raise a red flag.” 

Lesel added:

“I can check with the CLA’s office in advance to see if this would be a concern.” 

Apparently the fact that “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” articles are notably “very different” from other City-department fundraising partners and failed to include that it is intended “specifically to assist the City” did not bother the CLA either, because it traveled on to the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee with no changes or “red flags.” 

With the excuse that his one-hour Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee on March 13, 2016, ran out of time, the LAAS charity item, CF16-0070, was continued.  On April 4, my CityWatch article was published. No further action has been taken yet.


On March 5, 2013, word spread through the Los Angeles humane community and far beyond City Hall that Kathleen Riordan, daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan and popular 14-year veteran Animal Services Commissioner, was being replaced by Maggie Ragland Neilson, an unknown in animal circles. 

Neilson admitted that she had no animal experience except being a dog owner. Her background also failed to reveal any professional interest in animal welfare or experience in city government. 

Riordan’s analytical mind and penchant for asking probing questions had often set her at odds with then-Mayor Villaraigosa’s aide Jim Bickhart. And, at one meeting, Riordan’s insistence that the City’s mandatory competitive-bidding practices were not being followed caused GM Barnette to bang her head down on the Commission table and later stomp out of the meeting when the Commission agreed with Riordan.  

According to an interview with Kathy Riordan by Dana Bartholomew of the Los Angeles Daily News, Jim Bickhart informed her by telephone late on February 28 that she was being replaced by someone with “more to contribute...” 

Maggie Neilson served less than four months and was not reappointed by Mayor Garcetti, but wrote to Brenda Barnette that not being a Commissioner would allow her to work on forming a foundation to do fundraising for LAAS. 


(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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