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Thu, Jul

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

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

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

The Ballot Arguments 

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

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

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

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

A Taste of the Real Language 

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

Contracting 

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

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

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

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

Civil Service 

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

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

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

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

Unlimited power to set Rate Increases

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

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

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

Our DWP Committee Forum/Debate 

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

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

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

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

The Takeaway 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another dog that didn't bark 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

California Losing Migrants … and Money

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

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

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

The Big Winners: The Sunbelt and Texas

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

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

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

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

The Biggest Losers

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

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

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

Where’s The Money Going?

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

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

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

Where Young Adults And Families Are Headed

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

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

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

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

-cw

Rapist Brock Turner Walks! What Now?

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-This past Friday, Brock Turner walked out of jail after serving just three months of a controversial six-month sentence, released under a law that credits inmates for time served. The now 21-year old former Stanford swimmer and Judge Aaron Persky who sentenced him were at the center of a swarming controversy after Persky’s light sentencing. 

Turner was found guilty in March of three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci argued that Turner should receive a six-year sentence in state prison as he lacked remorse and because the victim was particularly vulnerable in her unconscious state. 

Perksy, however, chose to follow the probation department’s recommendation of probation and county jail time, citing the assailant’s lack of criminal history, his display of “sincere remorse” and that alcohol had impaired his judgement. “I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life. And the impact statements that have been [submitted] … [and the] character letters that have been submitted, do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr. Turner based on the conviction,” Persky wrote. 

Updates: 

Judge Persky 

Almost a million people signed a recall petition for the judge, while those supporting him argued that censoring judges for sentencing goes down a dangerous slope. Per Persky’s request, the judge has been transferred to the civil division by the end of September and will no longer hear criminal cases. 

Brock Turner 

Turner has returned to his family’s Dayton, Ohio home where his parents have been asking local police to monitor protests in their neighborhood. He will have five days from his release to register as a sex offender and must re-register every 90 days. His image, conviction information and address will be publicly available on Ohio’s sex offender registry. All those living within 1,250 feet of his address will be notified by mail of his presence and he will not be able to live within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds. 

Turner will also need to complete three years of probation and enter a sex offender management program for a minimum of one year but as long as three years. This is typically centered on group counseling led by psychologists based on cognitive behavior treatment to address anti-social behavior leading to distorted thinking about sex, relationships and empathy. 

As a registered sex offender, he must notify law enforcement of changes in address, employment, education schedule, vehicles, phone numbers, volunteer work and Internet access such as user names and passwords for emails, websites and social networking sites. Turner was expelled from Stanford and banned by USA Swimming for life.

Stanford University 

While Stanford University has issued an official statement just weeks following the rape that the university has participated in the investigation, encouraged bystanders to act and that the university had a zero tolerance for sexual assault and rape, the university has joined in on the focus of the case on intoxication as a “cause” of sexual assault. 

As of late August, the University has placed a ban on liquors 20 percent alcohol by volume (40 proof) at undergraduate gatherings. The ban extends to containers of hard-alcohol that are 750 ml or larger in student residences. Stanford director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education Ralph Castro called the new policy a “harm reduction strategy,” a tactic that many see as capitulating to Turner’s assessment that alcohol and the party culture are to blame for his assault, denying his personal responsibility. 

State Legislature Passes Mandatory Sentencing Bill in Response to Turner Case 

The State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 2888 last Monday, in direct response to the Turner sentencing. If signed by Governor Brown, the bill would expand the types of sexual assault convictions subject to mandatory sentencing. 

By amending the penal code, the bill would bar judges from granting probation for crimes that include two for which Turner had been convicted: sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object (his finger) and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. Under the new law, both would require mandatory three year prison sentences. 

The third crime of which Turner was convicted, intent to commit (penile) rape would be at the discretion of judges but would generally place a two-year prison sentence on the assailant. 

While mandatory sentencing may seem to be a solution to cases like Turner’s, the end result might not necessarily be the answer. Our justice system tends to skew in favor of those who can afford legal representation. Many criminal defendants are forced to plead out their cases due to inadequate funding for public defenders. Turner was able to mount a rigorous defense unavailable to many on trial. Mica Doctoroff of the ACLU Northern California regards AB 2888 as “hasty-policymaking” in response to a high profile case that would disproportionately impact communities of color. 

Another side to the sexual assault problem on college campuses and elsewhere is the low rate of conviction for sexual assaults. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only about one in three sexual assault cases are reported to the police. Only 63 reports per 1,000 assaults lead to an arrest; 13 of those are referred to prosecutors and only seven lead to a felony conviction with only six rapists sentenced with incarceration. Thousands of rape kits go untested every year. 

The current fiscal environment means prosecutors are reluctant to take on cases that might not be a win. Even with mandatory minimum sentencing, rape and assault cases are still subject to prosecutorial and law enforcement discretion before the case ever makes it before a jury. While requiring mandatory minimum sentencing may seem to be an effective deterrent, the tactic may be less than ideal. 

We must continue the discussion about consent and improve training on sexual assault at police academies and law schools. We must continue work to change the culture that blames women for sexual assault. Teaching or encouraging women to follow safe practices and the culpability for rape and assault need to be seen as two separate issues. 

If a woman, for example, is intoxicated, that should not be seen as a green light to assault or mitigate the severity of the charge. We need to provide adequate funding to process rape kits and to conduct investigations, as well as support for the assaulted. Mandatory sentencing may not be the panacea it appears to be.

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

Once Again America Seeks the Answer to the Labor Question

LABOR POLITICS-“The labor question, is, and for a long time must be, the paramount economic question in this country.” — Justice Louis Brandeis, 1904 

The labor question is back. After World War II, it seemed to many that widespread unionization and collective bargaining had made sure that the people who did the work in this country were getting a fair share of the wealth they created, and that through their unions working people had a substantial voice in the way our country was governed. 

But we live in a different world today. Only 11 percent of all American workers belong to a union, and less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are organized. Workers’ incomes have been stagnant for decades, and whatever gains have occurred in family income have gone entirely to the top of the wage structure, driving runaway inequality. At the same time, working people feel increasingly alienated from and betrayed by our political system. 

It wasn’t so long ago that very serious people denied that the economy was failing working people in America. But overwhelming data on inequality and wage stagnation marshalled by such economists as Emmanuel Saez, Thomas Piketty and the team at the Economic Policy Institute have changed the narrative. Now defenders of the status quo of runaway inequality have shifted from saying there isn’t a problem to saying that, while there is a problem, NOTHING CAN BE DONE. The new line from the very serious people is that runaway inequality and stagnant wages are somehow the result of the unstoppable natural forces of technological change and globalization. 

There are two reasons to be suspicious of those who move so easily from denial to despair. First, basic economic theory tells us that when productivity rises, wages should rise as well. Technological progress should make the average person better off, not worse off. Second, globalization and technological change are not confined to English-speaking countries — yet since 1980 the United States and the United Kingdom have been total outliers in terms of wage stagnation and inequality among advanced societies. 

The data strongly supports what the American people say that they believe in poll after poll — that elites rigged the economic rules in our society to benefit themselves. That the United States adopted public policies — labor laws, trade rules, fiscal and monetary policies, immigration policies and tax policies — that ensured technological progress and globalization would benefit only a small number of Americans. 

The most dangerous moment for a democracy is if the people who do the work conclude they live in a democracy in name only. 

And so the labor question is back, and that question is: How can the people who do the work in America receive a fair share of the wealth we create, and how can our voices be heard in our politics, our society and our culture? 

The reason this question was so important to Justice Brandeis and at least as important to America today is that when working people are economically exploited and socially and politically marginalized, our economy and our society do not work. Our economy stagnates, our competitive position deteriorates and our politics become prey to purveyors of extremism and hate. And the most dangerous moment for a democracy is if the people who do the work conclude they live in a democracy in name only, where the ballot box is just window dressing for a process controlled by the rich. 

The labor question pervades our public policy debates — but if you don’t listen carefully, you might miss it. When you hear economists bemoan “secular stagnation” and “demand shortfalls,” they are talking about the labor question. They are talking about stagnant wages and loss of worker bargaining power. 

When you hear business leaders and engineers talk about the crisis in infrastructure and education — about how no one can find the political will to raise the taxes to fund the investments we must make to be competitive — they may not know it but they are talking about the labor question. Throughout modern history, in every successful society, organized workers provide the political power to drive public investment. 

When you hear business leaders complain they can’t find skilled workers, and can’t afford to train their workforces, they, too, are talking about the labor question. Individual employers never train their workers adequately — it’s not economically rational to do it. Where workers are organized, together with their employers they can solve the collective action problem of training. 

That’s how it still works today in highly unionized parts of our economy, and that’s how it works in countries that compete with us like Germany. But increasingly, as private-sector union density falls, adequate training is the exception rather than the rule. 

When you hear concern from all quarters about rising extremism and hate, you are hearing a conversation about the labor question. 

In America, the labor question has always been intertwined with issues of race and gender. Sometimes people talk as if the working class is made up of white men. The reality is that the majority of people in jobs paying less than the median wage are women and people of color, and the economic devastation in deindustrialized predominantly African-American communities like St. Louis and Baltimore is part of the labor question, as is the denial of rights to undocumented workers.

And so when you hear concern from all quarters about rising extremism and hate, you are hearing a conversation about the labor question. 

When working people organize around their economic interests, and when public policy supports working people having an independent voice in our politics and our society — then working people themselves can ensure we are not left behind, that our issues are heard and addressed.

When we are marginalized, ignored and silenced, some of us become desperate, like anyone else would. Some of us give up on our democratic system, and some of us are tempted to turn on each other. The labor question is not just economics. Solving it is fundamental to the health of our democracy. 

The 20th century was called the “American Century” fundamentally because we addressed the labor question democratically and we did it first — propelling the US out of the Great Depression and enabling us to be the Arsenal of Democracy.  Our 20th-century economic competitors were torn apart by the social conflicts associated with the labor question, and they became the battlefields of World War II. 

In the 21st-century global economy, those countries that can solve the labor question will be able to sustain broad-based prosperity. Those that do not will face social instability and national decline.

The labor question has an answer. When the people who do the work in our society have collective voice through unions — democratically run workplace organizations — then working people have a way of being heard when the big decisions get made in the workplace and in public life. 

But the labor question has many false answers as well. In this presidential election year of 2016, all the false answers are on display — racism, faith in the benevolence of the super rich, and appeals to return to the social order of the past. And so are the real answers — standing up to those who would divide us, bringing working people together, strengthening worker bargaining power and worker voice, and using that voice and that power to drive investment in our nation’s future. The choice could not be clearer or more urgent.

 

(Damon A. Silvers is the Director of Policy and Special Counsel for the AFL-CIO. Published first at BillMoyers.com. This was also published by CommonDreams.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Los Angeles Needs a New Mayor

CORRUPTION WATCH-Eric Michael Garcetti is the City of Los Angeles’ current mayor. Garcetti was first inflicted upon us in 2001, as councilmember for Hollywood’s Council District 13. Starting in 2006, Garcetti was President of the City Council until 2012, when he stepped down to run for Mayor. Thus, Eric Garcetti is LA’s longest serving elected official. 

When Garcetti arrived, Los Angeles was progressive and full of hope. It was the #1 destination city in the entire nation. Now, Los Angeles is more than half way through its second decade of decline. We have gone from the most desirable urban place to live to the least desirable. 

For some reason, Angelenos fail to understand the connection between massive corruption and LA's shrinking influence in American life. They are oblivious to the fact that corruption drives away business. When businesses leave, we lose workers; and with the departure of professional and middle class business workers, our tax base suffers. 

Employers know what is happening, even though Angelenos are sleep walking through life. One reason for the different perceptions is that most employers look at mathematics when making decisions. Angelenos, on the other hand, look at traffic. If traffic is bearable, then things must be OK. 

Angelenos who realize that LA has the worse traffic -- not only in America but also Europe -- lull themselves into complacency thinking that more subways will solve traffic congestion. 

What Angelenos do not realize is that traffic improves when people move away and the type of people we lose is very important. Los Angeles no longer attracts the smartest and brightest in the leading sectors of the economy. We have fallen to #60. Our low ranking is not due just to our density and high cost of living. San Francisco places #2 and it, too, is dense with a high cost of living. New York ranks #14 and Chicago is #43. Yes, with its cold, wind, snow, and incessant murders, Chicago still beats out LA. Check out this recent article on NewGeography.com by Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires. 

When employers look at an urban area, they assess a multitude of factors but they always project decades ahead. They do not want to relocate again in 10 to 20 years. They seek stability and permanence. They want a place to "bet on" and Los Angeles is a bad bet! 

We have a mayor and city council that wage war on the vital facets of the good life which all significant businesses need in order to attract and retain highly qualified employers: (1) decent single family homes and (3) decent schools. 

After fifteen years of Garcetti, we need a new mayor. The next mayoral election is March 2017, which in political life is just around the corner. At that time, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will also be on the ballot so that we can all focus on Garcetti’s manic obsession to Manhattanize Los Angeles. 

But who could run? Yikes! There is no one. Here are three who have bellied up to the bar. 

First, we have Michael Schwartz. Ho hum, there is really nothing bad to say about Michael. 

Second, we have YJ Draiman, who is a curious person. His son, David’s, father was born in Israel, but apparently YJ was not. How does that work? Enough with all the closets already. Oh yes, here’s what YJ says about himself: “YJ Draiman is a former Real Estate developer with over 20 years’ experience; he has worked extensively in gentrifying neighborhoods.” Wow, with the NII and YI on the same ballot, this should make the election interesting. (NII = Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to slow down development corruptionism in LA.) 

Third running is Steve Barr, who has apparently confused the City Council with the School Board. Why? 

The one thing these three candidates have in common is that none of them will be LA’s next mayor. That leaves us searching the LA City Council for someone. 

Bonin? A nice guy who also believes that LA should become Manhattan and that an annual subway deficit of $8 billion would be a good idea. He wants more bike lanes in major thoroughfares to maximize the air pollution that cyclists inhale and to further aggravate traffic congestion. 

Koretz? He’s been around and has too much baggage. 

Krekorian? He tore down Marilyn Monroe’s home rather than let it be moved to a safe place. He’s dead meat. 

What could a new mayor do? 

Facing the LA City Council which operates as a criminal enterprise in violation of Penal Code § 86, the mayor has very little power. He can veto projects but with “unanimous voting,” anything can be passed. He can appoint certain department heads, but developers will still purchase bogus EIRs which the City Council will approve. 

The only real power a new mayor would have is what Teddy Roosevelt used so well -- the bully pulpit. A new mayor would have the platform to advocate for reform. The City Council structure needs to be re-done so that vote trading is structurally impossible. The mayor could place “Quality of Life” as Los Angeles’ top priority rather than its current goal: the City’s Manhattanization and developers’ profits. 

No mayoral candidate is thinking of making Quality of Life even a factor in the City’s decisions and virtually no Angeleno is bold enough to set forth the radical idea that people matter. Instead, there is near universal agreement that we need to destroy the homes of poor people and give billions of dollars to real estate developers. Welcome to favela LA.

(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. -cw

It’s Time to End LA’s Secret Meetings: What Do City Council Members and LA’s County Supervisors Have to Hide?

THE BROWN ACT IS WRONG -- According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. House of Representatives has met behind closed doors four times during the past 186 years—in 1979, 1980, 1983, and 2008.  That’s about one closed session per half-century. By contrast, the LA City Council and the LA County Board of Supervisors average about one closed session per week. 

Since August 1st, the City Council has placed nineteen items on its closed-session agenda. This coming week the Board of Supervisors will meet behind closed doors three times in a 24 hour period. Why all the secrecy?  

Congress managed to keep its debate open during both World Wars. All it takes to send our local leaders into the bunker is an update from their real estate agent. Why? Because the Brown Act permits them to do so? 

The truth is that the Brown Act is wrong to allow for any exceptions to California’s open meeting requirements. The sky will not fall if ‘pending litigation’ or ‘real estate acquisitions’ or any of the other issues deemed top-secret by the Brown Act are discussed during open sessions of the City Council or County Board of Supervisors. On the contrary, doing away with closed-session meetings will strike a blow to those who would abuse the public’s trust. 

Into closed-session is the first place the LA City Council scurried in 2012 upon learning from HUD that scores of developers under the City’s purview were defrauding taxpayers, by taking federal money designated for the inclusion in affordable housing projects of apartments for people with disabilities, and then willfully neglecting to build those apartments.  

Disabled residents reported going to apartment buildings that were advertised as accessible, according to the LA Times, only to find they weren’t. HUD warned the Council that it had ten days to agree to voluntary corrective compliance or face possible federal enforcement action. 

Rather than comply with HUD’s directive, the City Council embarked on a four year legal misadventure which entailed four major lawsuits, including the one recently settled by the city for $200 million ($20 million of which is going to the plaintiff’s attorneys). All this in addition to at least $6 million in legal bills paid to the white-shoe law firm of Byrne and Nixon, not to mention the in-house costs to the City Attorney’s office.   

This entire horror story played-out in a series of closed-session meetings which denied the public its right to weigh in on the matter.  

Would most Angelenos have wanted the City Council to comply with the original directive from HUD instead of fighting it in court? Would they have considered that the prudent and ethical thing to do? It’s not for us to say, but it wasn’t for the City Council to say either back in 2012. By going into closed-session and deciding what they thought was best for the public, the City Council cheated Angelenos. 

What’s more, it wasn’t just one set of closed-session meetings by which the Council waged its legal war. As we will discuss in a future article, the Council used a series of underhanded tricks to conceal the huge amounts of money it was pouring into its legal battle. Instead of keeping all actions of the Council in the matter in one Council file, they dispersed it into at least five separate files—all under different names, making it virtually impossible for the public to know what was going on.   

It’s time to put an end to closed-session meetings.

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

Garcetti Playing Dirty Pool?

THE GUSS REPORT--Is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti willing to play dirty pool in order to get significant union money and votes for his re-election as well as for his anticipated future campaigns for either Governor or Senator? (Photo above left: Mayor Garcetti) 

Does anyone doubt that the Los Angeles Times – formerly known as the newspaper of record for Southern California – is willing to aid and abet him in that mission? 

It certainly seems so in reading the Times’ August 24th article by Paul Pringle and Ben Welsh entitled “LAFD Fire Marshal Steps Down after Criticism that He Cut Corners on Safety.”   

Taken at face value the Times made it seem that that man, John Vidovich, a 35-year Los Angeles City Fire Department Deputy Chief assigned to the Fire Prevention Bureau is an incompetent who put firefighters at-risk until the vast majority of them banded together to demand his ouster. 

But you know that the story could never be that simple. Life dictates that it isn’t. 

The Pringle and Welsh story cries out with questions: 

  1. What did you find out when you investigated whether the Firefighters’ Union was upset because the waste, fraud and abuse exposed by Vidovich embarrassed some of its members, and efficiencies he recommended cut down on overtime that, while saving taxpayers’ money, cost the firefighters overtime that in some cases could be as much as $100,000 per year each? 

You did investigate that, didn’t you? 

  1. You wrote that the Times’ investigation found about 6,800 buildings were months or even years overdue for an inspection.   Where in your article did you state that, when Vidovich first took over the position, that figure was much higher…10,000 buildings with overdue inspections, and that his efforts in just two years cut that original figure down by 32%? 

It’s kind of relevant, yes? 

  1. You wrote “the union that represents inspectors and other firefighters earlier this year voted to approve a resolution of ‘no confidence’ in Vidovich.”   Exactly how many people (of the 3,100 firefighters in the department) took part in that vote, and exactly how many of them voted “no confidence?” 

Let’s just say that the room in which the vote allegedly took place is rather small. 

  1. How did the union’s donation of $350,000 to Mayor Garcetti’s re-election campaign, and to those of Councilmembers up-for-re-election, impact the decision to move Vidovich? The donation announcement was posted verrrry shortly after the decision to move him was announced. 
  1. Did you investigate whether any Councilmembers came to Vidovich’s defense only to be threatened by the union with the loss of their share of those campaign donations funds if he or she did not shut their mouth? 

Call me if you want to discuss specifics on this. 

  1. You wrote “through a department spokesman, Vidovich and (Fire Chief) Terrazas declined interview requests.”What effort did you make to contact them directly to determine if that is true? 
  1. If City Hall was willing to paint Vidovich as an incompetent, did you determine whether he received any awards for his work – like innovation awards – to determine whether or not he was being railroaded? 
  1. Did you receive a copy of the letter written to Chief Terrazas supporting Vidovich, signed by six of his fellow LAFD Captains? Isn’t this relevant to your story, or does balance, fairness and accuracy in journalism not come into play anymore? 
  1. What exactly transpired when the LAFD recently sat down with the major studios because they felt they were being over-assigned uniformed inspectors on sets that do not have any pyrotechnics when a walk-thru inspection would be sufficient? 
  1. And how exactly did the union rank and file respond when it was no longer allowed to work on its Paid Days Off, a Vidovich recommendation approved by Terrazas, so that they could bank those days and get time-and-a-half from the taxpayers? 

And then there are the documents which expose the sheer fraud … like the one in which an inspector allegedly billed for hours for inspecting a building that was torn down years prior? Wouldn’t it be a good time to look closer at this story and see whether what you were fed by Garcetti and his minions is truthful? 

It would appear the full Fire Marshall Vidovich story has yet to be told. Consider this an invitation to stay tuned.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer and a CityWatch, Huffington Post and KFI-AM640 contributor. He blogs on humane issues at ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at @TheGussReport. Opinions he expresses are not necessarily those of CityWatch.)

-cw

Who Justifies City Council’s ‘Criminogenic’ Culture … and Why

CORRUPTION WATCH-Ending the “corruptionism” at the Los Angeles City Council is very easy – in theory. Enforce Penal Code § 86 which criminalizes vote trading in a city council. Los Angeles City Council unanimously approves all construction projects 99.9% of the time. (There is no statistical difference between 99.9% and 100% when we are talking about thousands of votes over spanning more than a decade.) Thus, the District Attorney, the US Attorney or the State’s Attorney General could all file suit to stop the practice. 

Because law enforcement has the power to subpoena records and compel people to provide evidence beyond what a regular attorney can do in a Citizens Lawsuit, it would be very easy to gather the evidence to show that the Los Angeles City Councilmembers operate by a criminal vote trading agreement not to vote “No” on a construction project from another district. 

Councilmembers may rest assured, however, that no law enforcement officer will ever inquire into the vote trading at Los Angeles City Council. Just because Jackie Lacey may act as if she is deaf, dumb and blind does not mean she does not know what is occurring. Good government in Los Angeles is political suicide, and all the politicians place their own personal well-being far, far ahead of any civic duty. 

Thus, it would be extreme political naivete to think that any law enforcement officer will ever take any action against this criminal nature exhibited by the Los Angeles City Council. 

That leaves Angelenos with two options. (1) Spontaneous change in the people’s consciousness such as occurred when the Soviet Union collapsed or (2) A Citizens Lawsuit. 

No Spontaneous Change of Consciousness 

There will be no spontaneous change in consciousness since the segment of the population with the biggest stake in reform has a much easier solution – it moves away. 

All the data show that the emerging middle class is choosing to leave Los Angeles. They know that they can secure a better job and a much higher standard of living almost anywhere else in the nation than in LA. For example, a 3-bedroom home in Los Angeles is $850,000 with a median family income of $55,909.00 and a 3-bedroom home in Austin, Texas is $290,000 with a median family income $52,431.00. 

The City of Los Angeles has fallen to #60 of desirable places for professionals and business service workers to live, which explains why more people leave Los Angeles each year than come here. There will be no change in the area’s consciousness when the replacement middle class for the retiring Baby Boomers are fleeing Los Angeles for almost anywhere else in the nation. It is easier and wiser to switch than to fight. 

Citizens Lawsuit Is the Only Hope 

The sole hope to root out corruptionism is via a Citizens Lawsuit. It is the essence of simplicity. If a government agency like a city council violates a public duty, any citizen can sue to have a court enjoin the violation of the public duty. Most people, except Superior Court judges, believe that everyone has a public duty not to violate the law. Thus, in theory, it should be easy for any citizen to have a judge enjoin the Mutual Bribery which runs the Los Angeles City Council. 

But there is one obstacle. The criminal enterprise which we call the Los Angeles City Council exists within a criminogenic political system. Not only is the city council a criminal enterprise, but all of the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies including the courts also operate within a criminogenic state of mind. According to a three judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the California State judiciary has suffered an epidemic of misconduct. In one case before them, they had a prosecutor who had committed perjury in order to have a defendant convicted of a crime, but the three judges did not focus on that one prosecutor with the standard “one rotten apple” lament. Rather, they said that the California court system had an epidemic of attorney misconduct because the judges habitually turn a blind eye to misconduct. In brief, the judiciary itself was corrupt. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! 

It will be interesting to see what gibberish the state judiciary provides to turn its blind eye to Los Angeles City Council’s decade of vote trading. One should realize the teleological nature of the state courts. They are oriented towards a particular goal and all their actions are devised to achieve that goal. In California court, that objective is the perpetuation of its own power. If facts or law will achieve the desire result, then the court uses the facts and law, but if the facts and law do not reach the pre-ordained outcome, the facts and/or law are changed. 

Here are a few nonsensical things we can anticipate: 

(1) A citizen may not bring a criminal lawsuit. 

Duh, a citizen lawsuit is not a criminal lawsuit, making the state irrelevant. A citizen’s lawsuit does not seek any criminal penalties against any councilmember. The violation of the penal code shows that the city council is violating a public duty. There is no gibberish too misleading for a court not to whole heartedly adopt it. 

(2) Councilmembers have no public duty to follow the law. 

Some judges believe that due to some unarticulated reason, city councilmembers have no duty to follow the law. The judges have to take this ludicrous position since as soon as they admit that there is a duty to follow the law, they admit that the councilmembers need to be enjoined from vote trading. 

(3) The unanimous voting is coincidental. 

There are about 3,000 council votes per year and 99.9% of the time, they approve an agenda item unanimously. They have been unanimously approving every construction project for over ten years. Thus, using the analogy of flipping a coin a 100 times seriously understates the statistics in the City’s favor. Rather than 100 coin flips, we are actually talking about 39,970 coin flips where it came up heads. 

The chances for a flipping a coin 100 times and coming up heads each time is once in every 1,000 billion billion billion times. Let’s remember that, for this city council, we would have to simultaneously flip several coins as there are 15 councilmembers and 11 is a quorum. The chances of that happening are less than once in every 1,000 billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion. For short hand, let’s just say, 1/ ∞. “Yes, your honor is right. A mere coincidence.” 

(4) Separation of Powers means the courts may not intervene in the city council business. 

Under this theory, which the City of Los Angeles advances, no court may look at how the City of Los Angeles conducts its business. It does not matter if the City violates state laws because the courts may not interfere in how the city conducts its business. If this were true, then why would the State bother to make any laws? Why does Penal Code, § 86 exist? The fancy word the judges use to evade their duty is “justiciable.” The behavior of city councils is “non-justiciable.” 

On a practical level, does anyone expect any judge to interfere with this on-going multi-billion dollar scam? Any admission now that the city council engages in vote trading means that the practice has been happening for over a decade. What judge would make such a ruling? If the GOP can make such a fuss over a private email server, one can imagine what would happen if any judge hinted that the Los Angeles City Council, which functions as an adjunct of the Democratic Party, has been running a criminal enterprise the entire time that Obama has been President. (Disclosure: author is registered Democrat.] 

What’s next? 

Do not expect the great scam to stop now. 

Here’s the great scam that Garcetti and his minions are running on Angelenos right now: They believe that if the City spends billions of tax dollars constructing high-rise projects which no one wants then that spending will prop up Los Angeles’ economy. If they were spending the billions of dollars to make Los Angeles more productive, then the scam could work, but the city is squandering the hundreds of billions of dollars on 19th and 20th Century technology. This makes it certain that Los Angeles will never enter the 21st Century. The future is not choo-choo-trains and skyscrapers; it’s decentralization and TelePresence ©, aka Virtual Presence ©. 

By destroying all the rent-controlled properties, Garcetti thinks that he can justify the need raise billions of tax dollars in order to build “affordable housing.” If the November ballot “affordable housing” measure passes, it will raise property taxes over $2 billion! 

We already know the result of this construction – empty units. Since more people leave LA than come here, our housing supply increases each day even if we build nothing. 

The poor also realize that life is better in Dallas, Nashville or Arizona. As all these other areas of the country become opportunity centers, they will attract not only the more educated middle class, but also the less educated. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, it was not only the middle class who fled the farm lands. When life is bad for the middle class, it’s worse for the poor. 

The Great Subway-Bicycle Delusion. 

Garcetti labors under the delusion that subways, fixed-rail transit and bicycles will save our transportation problems. The data show otherwise: People hate the subways and seldom use the buses. According to Google, for example, it takes 19 minutes to go from Los Feliz to Sherman Oaks via car and 1 hour and 1 minute by bus. Thus, it takes three times as long by bus and that is without counting the time it takes to walk to the bus stop and to the destination. 

People avoid mass transit by one of two methods: (1) buying a car, (2) moving away from LA. When a family moves away from LA, let’s say to Austin, Texas, it can afford to buy both a home and two cars for less than the cost of one home in LA. 

Knowing these facts, the Garcetti Administration wants to load up Angelenos with hundreds of billions of debt with its housing and transportation measures on the ballot in November.   

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and corruption destroys. There is no Lone Ranger, no Superman, no White Knight to save Los Angeles. We are engulfed in an all- encompassing criminogenic culture where the powerful will suck away every last cent needed to run a modern city until Los Angeles becomes America’s first favela.

 

(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

What Will Change If California Legalizes Marijuana ?

When we speak of legalizing marijuana we are really speaking of the Great Cannabis Debate. Come November, Californians will vote on Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which could bring safety and security for both cannabis consumers and farmers, and the sales taxes accrued could provide much-needed revenue to our state. Let’s look at a short list of possible unforeseen ramifications. 

Read more ...

The ‘Forever Tax’, Metro’s Measure M: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

MIRISCH ON ‘M’--In an article on its propaganda website, eerily named “The Source,” Metro boasts: “It’s official: Measure M heads to November ballot.” The subhead makes the spin clearer: “More Mobility, Movement, Motion, Maintenance focus of Metro’s Sales Tax Ballot Measure.”  

Of course, that’s how Metro is going to try to hard-sell the new Forever Tax.  

Quite frankly, it would be more appropriate to have written that the “M” in Measure M stands for: 

More Money, Mismanagement, Malfeasance and Misinformation make up Metro’s Sales Tax Ballot Measure. 

As a transit advocate for a forward-thinking, future-oriented, fully-integrated transit system which democratizes public transportation by providing point-to-point, on demand mobility, I’m going to go into a level of detail which may be a bit of inside baseball for those who basically just want to know whether they should support Metro’s Forever Tax or not. 

For those who just want the down and dirty, I’m going to start this essay with a summary of bullet points.

Metro is claiming the “M” in Measure M stands for “Mobility, Movement, Motion, Maintenance.” It actually stands for: More Money, Mismanagement, Malfeasance and Misinformation.

More Money

  • Measure M is a Forever Tax, which will generate hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • Measure M effectively doubles (after the expiration of Measure R) our countywide transportation tax. It raises our county sales tax to 10% or more in parts of the county, among the highest in the nation.
  • Sales tax is a notoriously regressive tax, which disproportionally impacts the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
  • The way the plan has been put together to garner political support rather than, first and foremost, to advance mobility, Metro seems more concerned with passing the tax than mobility itself.
    Mismanagement
  • Metro has increased its operating budget successively to $5.6 billion, yet is suffering from a “ridership slump” (LA Times).
  • Metro offers no viable first/last mile solutions, which are crucial for a first-class mobility system.
  • Measure M’s proposed projects include politically-motivated projects at the expense of mobility-motivated ones. The proposed Sepulveda Pass Tunnel is the poster-child for wasteful spending.
  • Metro’s mantra seems to be: “Overpromise and underdeliver.” In attempting to be all things to all people, they are making contradictory promises to various parts of the county in order to try to win support for the Forever Tax.
  • Measure M’s funding mechanisms are inherently unfair: the measure would make important parts of the county, such as the Gateway Cities and the South Bay, wait decades for much-needed infrastructure upgrades.

    Malfeasance
     
  • Metro continues to act like it is under the Consent Decree, as it was for over a decade, because its Measure M spending plan aggravates social injustice while increasing racial discrimination. This is why the Bus Riders’ Union and other civil rights organizations strongly oppose the measure.
  • Metro’s safety record is questionable. The Blue Line is one of the most dangerous and deadly commuter light rail lines in the country.
  • The recently opened Expo Line covers 15.2 miles from Santa Monica to Downtown LA. It takes close to an hour. This is expensive, inefficient, unmodern transportation, which provides questionable value-for-taxpayer-dollars.
  • A federal judge recent ruled that Metro has acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in planning transit routes, and has violated federal environmental law. Metro painted the ruling as a “victory,” because the judge did not vacate the record of decision (ROD) and allowed Metro to continue to seek federal grant funding. In other words, Metro only cares about the money.
  • Metro’s corporate governance is rigged and undemocratic. Residents of 62% of the county are underrepresented on the Metro board, while the city of LA has a bloc which gives it outsized voting power. As the board makes the spending decisions about all funds - including, ultimately, how the Measure M funds would be spent — the principle of “one person/one vote” needs to be adhered to before Metro is given more money.

    Misinformation 
  • The idea that passing Measure M and giving Metro the proceeds of the Forever Tax will “solve traffic problems” is a myth. Metro’s name for Measure M, “the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan” is nothing if not deceptive. 
  • Metro has raised taxes three times, increased spending significantly, yet ridership has not increased. Traffic has not improved.
  • Measure M is not a “ground up” tax which deserves support from the residents of LA County. It is a cynical political ploy which aims at spreading transit crumbs throughout the County with the primary goal of winning votes, not increasing mobility.
  • Metro’s plan is backwards-looking rather than forwards-thinking. We need to better take advantage of advances in transportation technology, including the rapid development of autonomous vehicles, to create an integrated transportation system which offers all residents of the county a first-choice for mobility and which democratizes public transportation. 

Who should favor Measure M, the Forever Tax? 

Corporate welfare fans; crony capitalists; politicians who are looking for campaign cash and favors; commuters who are happy with second class service; transportation nostalgiacs who don’t feel advances in transportation technology should be integrated into a modern transit system; people who don’t mind funding agencies who have repeatedly broken past promises.

Who should oppose Measure M, the Forever Tax? 

People concerned with social justice and/or fiscal responsibility; people who want to reduce racial discrimination; those who want a public transportation system for everyone; people who want a forward-thinking, visionary transportation system with the goal of point-to-point on-demand mobility within public transportation; people who doen’t trust massive governmental agencies with a documented record of poor decision-making; those who feel that forever is a long, long time...

Who benefits most? 
 

  • The Transportation/Infrastructure Industrial Complex: politically connected corporations like Parsons Brinckerhoff & Co. ; construction companies; engineering companies; construction unions.
  • Developers who use transit as an excuse to overdevelop and an alibi to densify.
  • “Mobility” advocacy and booster organizations, who receive funding from the Transportation/Infrastructure Industrial Complex. 
  • Empire-building politicians (who then name subway stations after themselves)


Who benefits the least?
 

  • Everyone else 

What a YES vote means. 

  • Among the highest sales tax rates in the nation. Forever.
  • More construction, more maintenance, not necessarily more transit solutions.
  • Cities and areas outside of the city of Los Angeles will continue to be second-class transportation citizens and will need to continue to be satisfied with transit crumbs and scraps from Metro’s table.
  • Wasted opportunities and planned obsolescence, as traditional rail projects, including inefficient light rail, continue to provide expensive transportation alternatives with long commute times.
  • Politically motivated spending on projects which will do little or nothing to increase mobility in the county.  
  • The ability of the Metro board to divert funding from all the projects being touted in the Measure M propaganda to other projects which benefit their friends and patrons. And the inability of the citizens of LA County to do anything about it... 
  • More broken promises.
  • NO real solutions to the county’s traffic problems. 

What a NO vote means.

  • Sending a message to Metro that we are unwilling to throw good money after bad money. Metro has raised taxes three successive times - and fares numerous times — without an accompanying increase in service, mobility or ridership.
  • Acknowledgement that future-oriented mobility needs to be at the top of Metro’s agenda. Solutions for the future need to look to disruptive and transformative developments in transit technology, such as autonomous vehicles.
  • Support for an integrated plan which puts mobility, not politics first.
  • An unwillingness to pass another regressive tax, which disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable among us.
  • Recognition that Metro Board governance needs to be changed so that all residents of the county are equitably represented, and that the city of Los Angeles’s leaders need to do more than pay lip service to the 62% of the county’s residents who live in the other 87 cities and unincorporated county.
  • Support for social, racial and geographical justice.
  • Acknowledgment that forever is a long, long time, and that a Forever Tax is not the answer.
    #

That’ll do it for the Executive Summary of the Measure M. You don’t really need to know that much more in order to understand just how bad an idea Metro’s Forever Tax is. But for those who like inside baseball, here’s the more detailed breakdown of the Forever Tax, Measure M. Enjoy!

More Money

Metro’s mantra seems to be “Show us the money!” It sometimes seems that the agency’s mission is more sucking up and spending money, rather than mobility itself.

We can see Metro’s addiction to taxpayer dollars by looking at Metro’s operating budget. Metro’s operating budget has increased from some $3 billion to over $5.6 billion in a few short years. 

So to deal with Metro’s jonesing for public dollars, this time it’s a Forever Tax, folks. 

Yep, that’s right: in contrast to Measure R, the new Measure M is a half-cent sales tax increase which has no sunset, no end, and which keeps the faucet of taxpayer dollars running forever. What’s more, Measure M eliminates the sunset date for Measure R, converting it, too, to a Forever Tax. 

Consequently, Measure M, the Forever Tax, effectively doubles the transit tax rate after Measure R expires, and brings the sales tax up to close to 10% throughout the County (and over 10% in certain areas). The Forever Tax would generate literally hundreds of billions of dollars and raise our sales tax to among the highest in the entire nation.

It is a blank check of the highest magnitude, because despite all the assurances of “strict oversight,” it is ultimately the undemocratic Metro board which decides how the money is being spent.

Mismanagement

For all the public funds Metro has taken to satisfy its thirst for money, for all the billions in increased budget, we haven’t seen anything close to the development of an integrated system of public transportation which serves the needs of the entire county. We haven’t seen an increase in ridership. We haven’t seen better service. We haven’t seen better mobility or a decrease in racial discrimination or an increase in social justice. And we haven’t seen a decrease in traffic.

What we’ve seen is pretty simple: a bigger budget.

While it’s clear Metro is not concerned at all with giving the residents of LA County the best mobility value-for-money, we see more evidence of Metro’s mismanagement from some of the projects proposed by Measure M and from some of the lack of projects.

Despite some nice-sounding lip service from certain Metro Board members, first/last mile mobility solutions are almost nowhere to be found either in Measure M or in Metro’s larger, overall transit strategy. First/last mile solutions are extremely important from a transit perspective, because in real life people need to have the ability to access heavy and light rail stations, as well as bus stops. Yet for all Metro’s focus on “shiny new things” aka rail, Metro is singularly dismissive of the need to help commuters get to and from the rail stations.

Cluelessness about “public transportation”

One of my Council colleagues recently posted on Facebook that he and his wife had taken the Expo Line to Santa Monica. Someone asked him how he got to the station, to which he responded that he had parked at Metro’s park-and-ride on Jefferson and La Cienega. A senior Metro executive then seriously suggested that my colleague could have taken Uber to the station.

Think about it. If my colleague was really going to take Uber, then he wouldn’t take it from Beverly Hills to Culver City in order to ride the train to Santa Monica. He would take it directly to Santa Monica. But beyond the cluelessness of the Metro executive’s suggestion, the mere idea that a representative of one of the richest transit agencies in the country would so cheerily offer up a private, profit-driven company as a solution for public transportation goes to show that Metro just doesn’t get the concept of “public transportation.”

In Beverly Hills, we recognize the importance of dealing with the first/last mile challenge, and so we are working on our own solutions, which would also transform mobility within our own city. We are the first city in the country to be actively pursuing the incorporation of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology within a system of public transportation with the vision of developing a Municipal Autonomous Shuttle System. As envisioned, our system would provide on demand, point-to-point mobility within our city which would literally transform public transportation, and would offer a blueprint for hyperlocal mobility solutions for other cities and regions.

Of course, Metro itself should be developing public transportation solutions to the first/last mile challenge rather than recommending Uber, but that’s another story and just one further example of Metro’s mismanagement.

Political Sepulveda Pass Blues

Perhaps the biggest poster child for Metro’s wasteful spending is Measure M’s proposal to build a tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass. It’s a 9-mile tunnel which is currently budgeted at $10 billion, including a connector to the airport. 

Let’s put this in perspective. 

The Swiss just recently completed the longest rail tunnel in the world, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, a 35-mile, twin bore tunnel. Switzerland is a notoriously expensive country. A Big Mac costs something like 60% more in Switzerland than in the US. But the Swiss managed to complete the GBT for some $12 billion, tunneling through some of the roughest mountainous terrain in the world. That’s about $343 million per mile. Contrast with Metro, which is budgeting almost a billion dollars per mile for the Sepulveda Pass Tunnel. And, no, the Sepulveda Pass is hardly the Alps...

But the Sepulveda Pass Tunnel is not only the poster child for Measure M’s wasteful spending because of the inflated costs, even by Swiss standards. The Sepulveda Pass Tunnel is the poster child for Measure M’s wasteful spending because it is a completely superfluous, unnecessary project. Oh, sure, Metro officials describe it as an “ambitious project that could vastly improve mobility.” But it makes no sense at all.

We already have a major piece of infrastructure which connects the Valley with the Westside. It’s called the 405 and Metro just spent a billion dollars widening it. Yes, it’s perpetually jammed, but perhaps before spending $10 billion on a tunnel, it would be better if Metro looked at ways to use this piece of existing infrastructure more efficiently.

Part of Metro’s problem is that it is not taking advances in transportation technology seriously and not integrating them into its Measure M plans.

In justifying the need for the tens of billions of dollars which Measure M would raise, Metro’s CEO Phil Washington has said, “we’re building for the next 100 years.” Yet if Metro is really building for the next hundred years, it should stop focusing on the past hundred years. It should start looking to the future.

Autonomous vehicle technology, for example, could create a significantly more efficient use of the freeways. One or two AV-only lanes, including multi-rider public transit AVs, could increase capacities on the 405 exponentially. There would be no need whatsoever for the porky Sepulveda Pass Tunnel.

But a tunnel is cool. It’s sexy.

And, more importantly, it’s been highlighted by Metro to try to appeal politically to Valley voters who feel they have been shafted in the past by Metro (because they have been shafted in the past by Metro). In short, the project is part of Measure M because Metro feels it will win votes to pass the tax.

The only problem is it could be yet another hollow promise. While Metro’s lackeys are touting the Tunnel to win Valley votes, they’re probably not telling those who would be seduced by the tunnel that it is not fully funded, not even with the Forever Tax. In the words of a top Metro official: “Measure M includes only $2.9 billion for all phases. The ability to achieve state, federal or private funds will determine how this project is finally scoped.” 

Overpromise and underdeliver

Part of Measure M’s unsolvable problem is that Metro is trying to make it all things to all people. The political ploy is to throw transit breadcrumbs and scraps around the county to get the diverse constituencies to vote in favor of the Forever Tax. As such, Measure M is a Frankenstein’s monster constructed of various disparate, non-integrated parts with the primary goal of passing a tax, rather than providing the entire county with the best possible, fully integrated mobility system. In fact, the promise of mobility is simply being used to get more money.

Like with the porky Sepulveda Pass Tunnel, which the Metro bigwig above seems to be selling down the river to elected officials concerned with its porkiness, Metro is telling different things to different groups. To the Valleyites, they are hard-selling the Sepulveda Pass Tunnel (“It will be transformational!”). To the South Bay and Gateway Cities, they are saying that the Sepulveda Pass Tunnel isn’t fully funded by Measure M and implying it might not ever get built.

You get the picture.

Metro board members desperate to get the Forever Tax passed have also been making calls and visits to elected officials from the other 87 cities in LA County (i.e. all cities outside of the City of Los Angeles) with a combination of sweet-talking and arm-twisting (“If you don’t support the measure, I’ll remember; if you do, I promise...”) to try to eliminate any opposition to the Measure. The results have been distinctly mixed, but the effort in itself is remarkable in that elected officials are being contacted by high-level Metro board members who are stunningly silent when they don’t want or need anything (“You never write. You never call...”).

Unfortunately, Metro has overpromised and underdelivered in the past. All the projects promised by Measure R have not been finished and some communities actually feel that the agency should make good its previous promises before holding its hand out again. And, quite frankly, some cities and elected officials are simply unprepared to say “Thank you, Sir, may I have another” or accept that their cities are being royally screwed, in spite of further promises from Metro honchos. 

It is completely understandable that the South Bay and the Gateway Cities Councils of Government, representing 44 — or half — of the 88 cities in the county, have voted to oppose the Forever Tax. This is unprecedented, but at some point, the chalice of Metro’s unfairness bubbled over and the elected officials - and hopefully the residents come November - were unwilling to call the BS they were being served up on the side chocolate mousse.

Because of Measure M’s unfair and inefficient funding scheme, these cities are going to have to wait decades for infrastructure which would serve their residents. What’s even more outrageous is that it’s also infrastructure which could be obsolete before it is even built. In their rapacious zeal to get the tax passed, Metro is ignoring the real opportunities which the future and new technologies open for a truly integrated region-wide transportation system which actually democratizes public transportation by creating a first-choice system of mobility.

Malfeasance

Metro’s Mismanagement and mantra of “Promise and Underdeliver” would be reason enough to reject their Forever Tax. But this is also an agency which in the past has done nothing to inspire the trust which in a best case scenario would justify another tax increase, never mind a Forever Tax.

Metro spent years under a consent decree because its policies created social injustice and increased racial discrimination. The focus on building sexy and expensive rail lines took (and takes) away resources from buses, which remain the backbone of the transit system. What’s more, a sales tax is among the most regressive taxes, disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable among us. This is why the Bus Riders’ Union, representing the interests of those who are most dependent upon good public transportation, as well as other civil rights advocates strongly oppose Metro’s latest Forever Tax.

And while Metro is a world-leader in spending taxpayer dollars, it neither provides the best nor safest public transportation in the country. It should be noted that Metro’s Blue Line light rail is among the deadliest, most dangerous commuter rail lines in the entire country. Over 120 people have died in Blue Line accidents and there have been over 800 collisions on this line alone since 1990.

Yes, Metro loves rail, even when it’s dangerous and even when it’s not the most efficient form of transportation. Metro’s new Expo Line from Santa Monica to Downtown LA is a case in point. It’s a 15.2 mile stretch which takes almost an hour from point-to-point. Not exactly a model of efficiency, though fans of the Toonerville Trolley might get their kicks on the Expo Line.

“Arbitrary and capricious”

What’s more, a federal judge’s recent decision (in a case involving Beverly Hills), describes Metro’s actions as “arbitrary and capricious,” and made the finding that Metro violated NEPA, the federal environmental law. If the IRS or DEA or EPA had been determined by a federal judge to have both violated federal law and acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner, one would think that none of the aforementioned agencies would claim the judge’s decision as a “victory.”

Yet that’s exactly what Metro has done. Metro touted the judge’s decision as a “victory” on “The Source,” because the federal judge did not vacate the ROD (Record of Decision), which allows Metro to continue its process of getting federal grant funding. Clearly, for Metro, it’s all about the money. But, clearly, governmental agencies which don’t care if they violate federal environmental laws and who are unconcerned over a federal judge’s ruling that they have acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner don’t deserve billion dollar blank checks and funding faucets which never get turned off.

Undemocratic and rigged corporate governance

Metro is an equal opportunity blower-offer and its arrogance crosses the board, whether it’s Norwalk, Torrance or Beverly Hills, whether it’s the bus riders or those opposed to using the notion of “Transit Oriented Development” (or TOD) as an excuse for overdevelopment. The cause for Metro’s arrogance and tendency towards misbehavior could very well be the subject of a dissertation of a corporate psychiatrist, but much of it likely has to do with the fact that the residents of LA County are not proportionally represented on the Metro Board. The Metro board was designed and rigged to give the city of LA outsized, bloc voting power, and that means that the other 87 cities in the county, as well as unincorporated areas, can easily get the short end of the stick. 

Metro’s undemocratic corporate governance needs to be fixed, something which the city of LA is bound to resist, but something which it should embrace in the name of fairness and true regional cooperation. Torrance’s Mayor Pat Furey and I wrote an article in the LA Business Journal in detail why Metro board reform is a precondition for truly getting transit on track back in LA County.

Misinformation

Metro’s entire sales pitch on the Forever Tax, Measure M, is that it will “bring traffic relief.” In fact, Metro’s own name for Measure M is “the Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan.” Sounds great, but this is a total myth.

In fact, the viability of the entire ballot measure is predicated upon this myth. It’s why Metro wags are touting that polling shows 75% of the voters are in favor of the tax.

Of course, with polling, it all depends on how you ask the question.

Metro’s pollers: Do you want to alleviate traffic?

You: Yes!

Metro’s pollers: Would you be willing to pay a half-cent more in sales tax to solve the traffic problems?

You: Yes! 

That’s how Metro can get 75% polling in favor of the Forever Tax.

And yet, even the LA Times, which when it comes to Metro often seems like a booster organization rather than an independent, objective organ of journalistic integrity, wrote earlier in the year about Metro’s increasing expenses and ridership slump.  (The headline online now reads, “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California.” This headline was softened from talk of a “Ridership Slump,” a phrase which evidently was anathema to Metro. Presumably, Metro’s PR honcho, Steve Hymon, a former LA Times employee was able to get his buddies to change the headline of the online version, though if you look to the URL, it includes the phrase “ridership-slump”).

So, in short, Metro’s equation is: more money=fewer riders.

Which leads us to a number of important questions:

Is pouring more money into the agency - forever - really the solution? Especially considering how Metro seems more concerned with the digging/tunneling/building/spending itself rather than with mobility?

How about demanding an agency which develops a modern, forward-thinking, fully-integrated system which has efficient, point-to-point transportation as its goal?

How about a transportation system which is a first-choice for mobility for the majority of the county’s residents? A transportation system which our residents use because they want to, not because they have to, would be the hallmark of the kind of public transportation system we both need and deserve.

Measure M, Metro’s Forever Tax, is a far cry from anything close to that. For the resources which Metro is now demanding from the taxpayers, we should insist upon no less. Because forever is indeed a long, long time....

(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

The Central Basin Water District and the Calderon family – Whoo Boy!

EASTSIDER-Much ado has been made over recent corruption involving the Calderon brothers and the Central Basin Water District. First, hats off to CityWatch, which covered their shennanigins in no less than three separate articles back in 2013. 

For all the smoke, not much happened until last year, raising questions as to what the Feds knew and why they didn’t do anything at the time. Now of course everyone seems to be weighing in on the Calderons and the Central Basin Water District with horrified expressions of “oh my god, how can this be?” Please. 

The Calderon brothers have been playing in California politics since the 80s, led by brother Charles (a former LA City Deputy City Attorney) for those who follow politics, they always played dirty and they always played hard. Real hard. For decades they have controlled much of the political life of most of southeastern Los Angeles County -- places like Cerritos, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, Montebello, Downey, Pico Rivera, Bell, Huntington Park, and the like. Not to mention the California State Legislature. 

As all the rats desert a sinking ship, what political insiders always knew is now public -- these folks were major league crooks and the Central Basin Water District was their big time slush fund. 

One of the major players in this mess is Robert “call me Bob” Apodaca, who was serving as President of the Water Board when the wheels came off their crooked deals. In one of those “only in Los Angeles” moments, Apodaca then cut a deal for himself to testify against the Calderon brothers -- but only after getting the Board to pay $670,000 to settle a sexual discrimination against himself! 

Fortunately, one case that Bob couldn’t fix was the whistleblower lawsuit against him and the Central Basin Water District filed by Ron Beilke, a former Pico Rivera city councilman. When it became clear that Beilke was poking his nose into fiddled financial transactions and would not go along to get along, he was fired after less than a week on the job. Recently, a superior court judge ruled that Beilke is entitled to a jury trial. Hot damn, that should be interesting. 

For those whose prurient interest in matters Calderon is piqued, the Los Angeles Times has an absolutely cool interactive graphic on the Calderon family and their web of politics. You can find it here 

Water Districts -- the Structural Story 

If this was simply a story about crooked politics in Los Angeles, most people would yawn and go back to their iPhones or the internet. Maybe it’s just me, but most people I talk to seem to think that most in City Hall are a bunch of crooks, albeit smart enough to insulate themselves by using cutouts like real estate developers, billboard companies, lobbyists and lawyers, not to mention merrily violating the Brown Act public meeting statute through staff, small committee meetings and a default 15-0 Council voting system. God forbid that a Neighborhood Council should emulate them. That NC would find itself in “Exhaustive Efforts” faster than Eric Garcetti can make a deal. 

So let’s take a closer look at water districts, with special emphasis on Central Basin. The graphic header to this piece is a web capture of the Elections page from the current Central Basin Municipal Water District website. Tell me if you can figure out anything about the Board of Directors from the web page. Good luck, unless you’re into the Municipal Water District Law of 1911. 1911 for goodness sake! 

Anyhow, the truth is that the Central Basin Water District is a relatively recent special district, as they go, being voted into existence in 1952 to “help mitigate the over pumping of underground water resources in southeast Los Angeles County.” Sure. So the first thing they really did was join the Metropolitan Water District -- the same huge District that the DWP buys water from. And, greasing the gravy chain, Apodaca got to be on the Board of Directors of the MWD.

Too Many Special Districts 

The problem is that there are way too many special districts, especially water districts, in California. In 2001, after the state’s Little Hoover Commission issued a pretty rough report, AB 38 was passed charging the Legislative Analyst’s Office with examining water special districts. 

The Legislative Analyst’s report, which can be found here, revealed that there are 1286 water districts of one type or another, which is an astoundingly high number of public agencies when you think about it. They ranged from the giant Metropolitan Water District to little teeny ones with few employees. Of those districts, some 326 were controlled by county boards of supervisors, 25 were run by city councils, and some 935 were independent water districts, like the Central Basin Water District that sunk the Calderon brothers and their pals. 

Think about it. Almost no one knows anything about these water districts and, as we have seen, they provide a wonderful opportunity for both graft, as in the recent case of the Central Basin Water District, and for more nuanced behavior like personal aggrandizement, warehousing money, slimy deals, secrecy in general, and all kinds of groovy stuff which could provide lots of plots for episodic television. 

I know, it’s hard for normal folks to keep track of Cities, Counties and the State of California itself without having their eyes glaze over – but there’s a whole subterranean world of California public agencies. Also, buried in the regulatory labyrinth of the state is a group of public entities called “Special Districts.” Within that generic category, “Water Districts” are an even more arcane subset. And since almost no one knows about them, they are easy prey for mischief by members of their Boards. 

Recent Developments 

In 2014, as the events surrounding the Central Basin Water District were starting to gain coverage, the LA County Board of Supervisors asked the State of California to conduct an audit, which they did. The report, released in 2015, was scathing. And Assembly Member Christina Garcia (D-Downey), introduced legislation to clean the mess up. 

But remember, this is California, where nothing is as it seems. Back in 2013, at the same time that everyone was writing about the Central Basin mess, and the drought was coming on strong, our very own governor Jerry Brown appointed a big time water lobbyist as the chief deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources. 

I can’t resist a play on words -- her name is Laura King Moon, reminding us old folks of Jerry’s former moniker, “Governor Moonbeam,” during his first term. (I know, cheap shot.) It’s clear that the governor lost his former ideological frame of mind after becoming mayor of Oakland. 

Further, in 2014, Governor Brown vetoed Christina Garcia’s bill (AB 1728) that would have tightened contribution limits for water board members. Gee, I wonder if Ms. Moon had any input into the veto. 

This year she authored another bill, AB 1794, which is squarely aimed at the Central Basin Water District and would establish an entirely new governance structure for the Board. As of now, I don’t know if the governor has signed it or not. 

Sometime in the future, I’ll get into the overall issue of special districts in California -- their perils and pitfalls -- and what’s happening. Teaser: nothing’s been done since the Little Hoover Commission’s 2000 Report but the Little Hoover Commission is back at it and will be conducting hearings starting this month. 

Stay tuned.

 

(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.) 

 

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Qué Syrah, Syrah: Whatever will Happen to El Camino Charter High School?

EDUCATION POLITICS-The charter school under fire for accusations that it used public money for luxury items like first class airfare, a bottle of syrah (not será) and late night charcuterie (and more…much more) defended itself by blaming the school district for failing to provide necessary oversight. 

In Risky Business, did Tom Cruise blame his parents for leaving him home when his entrepreneurial experiment turned into the party of his life? 

El Camino Charter Executive Director David Fehte’s party was the premier topic at LAUSD’s August 23rd board meeting. As has been widely reported and blogged, the board adopted a Notice of Violations for the high achieving, highly segregated -- some might say that’s redundant -- charter school. 

The charter school’s attorney said the problem isn’t unique to El Camino. “Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes, and then they’re heavily penalized when they actually do,” she complained. 

If she means that, in the five years between renewal hearings, unregulated charter schools can be given enough rope to hang themselves, she may be right. But then she threatened legal action against the rope maker. 

“…Approving this will expose the district to liability,” she said bluntly. 

The testimony of the teachers, though, was emotional. Some had been teaching at El Camino for decades and they had gone through a process to try and discern the best way to serve their students. Eighty-five percent had voted to become independent from the district bureaucracy and convert to a charter. 

One teacher said, “It hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny.” 

The rest of LAUSD and public school districts across the country might have a thing or two to say about the fairness of being scrutinized. 

The teachers touted the accomplishments of the school since they were granted autonomy: Having the highest paid teachers, adding staff to the tune of two dedicated college counselors, another counselor just for the Humanitas program, facilities upgrades, new technology and an administration that is 100% behind their collaborative model. None of them mentioned an enrollment process that allows charters to recruit the most motivated families. 

Every person who testified on behalf of the charter school pointed the finger at LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division (CSD). 

Melanie Horton, the charter school’s director of marketing, said, “We need feedback and guidance. We pay oversight fees and we expect their support.” 

Another teacher, Susan Freitag, the visual and performing arts department chair, said that since they converted to charter, the school has benefited from facility upgrades and new technology. She asked, “If the thousands of pages of violations sent to [El Camino Charter] hold any validity, I question the Charter School Division as to why these issues were not brought to our school’s attention prior to last year. We have the same administration. We’ve had the same financial team. We’ve had the same board members.” 

Dean Sodek, head of the Humanitas Global Studies Academy at El Camino Charter said financial transparency is something we all want. 

One wonders if these teachers pressed their charter school board for the same thing. For all the recent talk that “all schools are our schools in the LAUSD family,” its charter schools are independently governed by their own boards of directors. Nonprofits are subject to oversight even if they’re not schools because they’re handling public money.

The same administration. The same financial team. The same board members. 

Former LAUSD school board member David Tokofsky quoted a page from history when he testified at the board meeting. 

“I’m reminded, as a social studies teacher, of the phrase ‘What did you know? When did you know it and who did you tell?’ That refers not to you as a board or to the superintendent, but it may refer to your staff and it may refer to the board at this charter school.” 

There will be plenty said, and plenty of people will need to say it, as the volumes of documents are investigated. Which recalls another quote from history: “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.” 

How much authority does the LAUSD board have over an independent charter school? Will charters start lobbying for more oversight? LOL. What will the California Charter Schools Association say about that? Why did so many public schools in former school board member Tamar Galatzan’s district convert to charter in the first place? 

The discussion and the ramifications will reach far beyond El Camino Charter and the LAUSD.

Qué será, será.

Whatever will be, we'll be -- watching. (With apologies to Doris Day, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)

 

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

 

Northeast San Fernando Valley Lives Matter

MY TURN-When I heard the anti high speed rail group SAFE calling for a demonstration on Wednesday, I was not particularly excited. That is, until one of my very regular readers pointed out that this was more than just about stopping the High Speed Rail. It was about ordinary people rising up and hopefully forcing the CHSRC group to at least listen. 

This is what the original founders of the Neighborhood Council system imagined LA’s Neighborhood Councils would do.   The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Water and Power stands as a significant and rather lonely achievement of the earlier NC's standing up to power. 

Such potential to make a difference and currently mired in petty infighting.   There were two NC’s, Foothill Trails and Sunland Tujunga involved in the ongoing push against this controversial railroad project, but it was other members of the communities affected who've stayed the course for the last couple of years. 

I attended the demonstration fully prepared to see the usual small turnout of activists and malcontents. Imagine my surprise to see a hundred people, many of whom were carrying signs along with a few of the horse set representing the cavalry. 

David De Pinto, (photo) president of Shadow Hills Home Owners Association, has been carrying the message and shouting it loudly to both the press, politicians and anyone else who would listen. His consistent beef with the CHSRC is they don't talk to anyone other than their own group.   They keep regurgitating the same information. Their last meeting was in Anaheim. This is in spite of the fact that the project would change the environment, create housing and business displacement and may never be properly funded. Some have called it, "The train to nowhere". 

There are legitimate arguments on both sides but it seems the opposition is a lot louder and has more to lose. After all, for some it is only their way of living. They do have political support and the LA County Supervisors came out against the plan as it exists. I was told they keep asking Mayor Garcetti for his opinion and get stonewalled.   Our Mayor doesn't seem to like controversial issues where he may get people angry with him. 

Like many of you ... I look around and get very discouraged about our civic progress. Most of our elected officials are busy planning their run for higher office or making sure that they get re-elected. The appointed staff quickly fall into a COA pattern and know not to make waves. 

So when I see a group of stakeholders give of their time, energy and money to stand up to the entrenched politicians I want to shout hurray!!!! On the whole, I think Governor Brown has done a good job but this ... one of his legacies ... has too many bad consequences for too many people. 

Other parts of the City are facing different problems. I was once told by a very successful politician "everyone greases a squeaky wheel."  But it's not just the noise factor ... it's the organization, it's the facts given without histrionics. It's the structure of the opposition. That is why we have Lobbyists. For the average person, whose life is already stressed with more than they can handle, they are only too happy to leave it to someone else. 

Try driving down Wilshire, Santa Monica Blvd or Sunset anytime between 3 and 7 p.m.?   Food trucks and cots would do a landslide business for the people driving east. Yet more and more developments are being built. There are issues in every corner of our City. 

I thought that the 2020 group laid out a pretty good strategic plan for Los Angeles   Most of it got buried in the bureaucracy. Maybe, if that group had gone to the various districts BEFORE they presented it to the City Council, they would have had more enthusiastic buy in from Angelenos, thus putting pressure on the Mayor and City Council. 

How do you get average citizens to realize there is strength in numbers and they can make change? One of the political commentators today remarked that we had set the lowest civility bar in our history--- this election.   One newspaper columnist suggested we turn off cable news until the debates. I can understand the populace becoming more and more disillusioned. 

One can't expect everyone to be altruistic all the time. It is however in our best interests to have good neighborhoods, safe streets, clean water, reasonable utility bills, and good schools. Fortunately, there are still people who will go beyond their own self interests. We need to back them up. We need to take action in determining our future. 

David De Pinto and his diverse North East San Fernando Valley community have set the bar higher. If they are ultimately successful, it won't be because the politicians achieved it. The politicians who wrote some of the bills were pressured by many of their constituents and that Ladies and Gentlemen is the way it is done! 

As always comments welcome.

 

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

-cw

Forced Religiosity, the IKEA Con and Other Notes of Interest

GELFAND’S WORLD--I was having coffee with a friend over in Carson the other day, so I took the opportunity to walk over to Ikea to buy some potato chips. They have good potato chips. Since I hadn't been through Ikea for some time, I rode the escalator to the top and commenced what I call the Ikea journey. That's the part where you walk in great circles around each floor from one section to the next, and then take a downward spiral from floor to floor. For some reason, the trek ordinarily involves getting lost and repeating one floor. I repeated the second floor, because the approach to the stairs wasn't obvious. 

Along the way, I half filled my yellow shopping bag with brightly wrapped bargains. Apparently a bunch of stuff was on sale, because the price cards showed a sale price, which was printed as a Family Price, in big numbers. The signs reminded me of Family Size cereal boxes and Family Size laundry detergent you see in the super markets. Down below in microscopic print was the price you would ordinarily pay. I could see how much money I was saving. 

So after what seemed like a two mile hike through the store, I managed to find the steps down to the cash register level. It was there that I discovered that about half the items I was trying to purchase were going to cost me more than the "sale" prices. 

Ikea has succumbed to temptation, in this case the gimmick of creating a discount club. I was invited to present the cashier with something called the Family card. It turns out that those sale items weren't really on sale at all. In order to get what had appeared to be the going price but in this case turned out to be the Family Price, I would be required to have that card, which means that I would be required to turn over all kinds of personal information, everything from my email address (mandatory) to phone number to home address. 

But the store offered to make it easy for me to divest myself of my personal privacy. I could fill out an application right there. Or not. For me, there were two alternatives. I could either pay higher prices than my fellow shoppers or abandon my pile of goods. To abandon my purchases would be a symbolic gesture at best, considering how much business Ikea does in a day, but I don't like to get conned. I left the pile on the cashier's counter and asked to speak to a manager. 

A polite request to the manager -- to be allowed to purchase my goods at the advertised price -- was to no avail. They claim that the price that the customer sees as he approaches the item really isn't their advertised price. 

It's the standard retail store con. You traipse across acres of floor space, lugging your bag of goodies, and when you finally get to the cash register, the prices have suddenly increased. This system isn't even good enough to be referred to as bait and switch. At least with bait and switch, you get something better for the higher price. Here you just get the higher price. 

Parenthetically, I wonder how safe that Ikea layout is in the event of a fire or an earthquake. I asked the manager, "How do people get out in the event of a fire?" 

His answer: "Follow the arrows." 

I looked down on the floor. I couldn't see any arrows. I should add that this was in a rather complicated part of the store layout, a place where it would have been hard to figure out which direction the fire exit was. 

Here's somebody else who complained about the card, but is a big fan of most things Ikea: The blog that goes by the title of American Genius [https://theamericangenius.com/editorials/ikea-family-card-pretty-much-useless/] argues that the Ikea card is "pretty much useless." 

I'll have to get the potato chips somewhere else. Maybe I'll use my Vons Club card. 

Another loss in the Hollywood preservation community 

Bob Birchard was a pillar of the Cinecon organization, the group that puts on one of the longest running and most respected festivals of classic films. Each year over the labor day weekend, he would join his fellow cinephiles by presiding over the Cinecon festivities. Besides his efforts in the Hollywood preservation community, Bob was a film and video editor and the author of books on Cecil B. DeMille and on Tom Mix. Bob Birchard passed away at the end of June. 

Most of us found out when we clicked on the Cinecon website.  

That website is worth looking at for another reason, the festival itself. One recently rediscovered classic that will be screened on Friday is the 1928 Dolores Del Rio film (set in southern California) Ramona. Another must-see which is one of the great comedies of all time, Girl Shy starring Harold Lloyd, will be screened on Monday. There will of course be a special tribute to Bob Birchard. 

Cinecon doesn't sell tickets to individual movies, but you can get a day pass for $40, which is good for about 12 hours of movies and presentations. 

Colin Kaepernick, neighborhood councils, and the politics of resentment 

The San Francicso 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been quietly sitting out the playing of the national anthem at preseason games. This has worked out pretty much as you would expect. The idea of a robust society which welcomes divergent viewpoints is lost on a lot of people. According to news accounts, mid-level executives in other NFL cities have been calling him terrible names. You might say that the people who complain about somebody else being unAmerican are themselves the most guilty of that accusation. Some players are simply keeping quiet, presumably based on the reasoning that a quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl is entitled to some slack. 

Down here in the San Pedro area, we've had a sudden efflorescence of neighborhood councils reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. There is a certain level of quiet grumbling among some folks. The pledge is one of the few officially sanctioned religious statements in this country, with its Under God wording added in the early 1950s as a snub to the officially atheistic Soviet Union. Not everyone feels comfortable with expressing privately held religious sentiments as part of an official government activity. One woman suggested that the local council refrain from reciting the pledge, which bothered her, and do something tangible for veterans instead. One of the proponents of the Pledge referred to her proposal as "disgusting." I like to think that the recitation of the Pledge is a snub to Donald Trump. 

That part about one nation indivisible certainly makes that point, and with liberty and justice for all makes the point even better. I fear that these points are lost on the ones who have been flag waving the most.

 

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

-cw

 

Cooking Up Fake Support: How Big Real Estate Manufactures Consent

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Big real estate interests, such as developers of shopping centers and high-rise complexes, do not leave things to chance. The only difference between them and Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Finance is that Big Real Estate mostly operates at the local and state levels, not the Federal level. 

So what are the many tricks up their sleeve -- all on view in Los Angeles? 

Altering land use laws to grease the wheels of real estate speculation. 

Sometimes Big Real Estate takes the long view to avoid project-by-project battles. These knockdown, drag-out fights force them to waste considerable time and money wooing elected officials and employing land use experts. Instead, they make a concerted effort to work with these same City Hall officials to revamp underlying zoning and planning laws. This long-term approach allows Big Real Estate to later skip lengthy and often costly applications for such discretionary actions as zone changes, as well as associated environmental reviews. 

In Los Angeles this Big Real Estate tactic is proceeding on several fronts. The most advanced program is re:code LA [[[ http://recode.la/about/project-files ]]] since it will ultimately rezone all private parcels in Los Angeles. This program’s approach is called form based zoning. If adopted, it would expand the range of uses permitted for each parcel. These free zone changes, worth many billions in increased property values, then eliminate the need for future zone variances or zone changes to green-light otherwise illegal real estate projects. 

Another similar program is Community Plan Updates. If prepared and adopted correctly, Community Plans are the final step in updating the entire multi-element General Plan. But, in Los Angeles these local updates are prepared first. This is done to append long, intricate land use ordinances that up-zone and up-plan hundreds of local parcels. Once adopted, these ordinances allow developers to quickly march ahead with their otherwise illegal projects. The Update amendments eliminate the future need for developers to legalize their projects, one-by-one, through General Plan Amendments, zone changes, variances, as well as related environmental reviews. 

Another strategy is to gut the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), hidden behind such high-minded words as reforming and streamlining. Current statewide strategies, which are resurrected yearly by Governor Brown and the State of California legislative would reduce EIR appeal periods and grant CEQA exemptions to favored projects, especially sports stadiums and high-rise apartment buildings.  

Sidestepping land use laws to grease the wheels of real estate speculation 

But, if you really want to see how Big Real Estate does not leave things to chance when they dodge local land use laws, just examine such proposed mega-projects as Warner Center, the Palladium, 8150 Sunset, Cumulus, or the Caruso luxury high rise near the Beverly Center. 

In all these cases the developers pull out every stop, beginning with the easiest marks, City Hall’s elected officials. Like the people they appoint to Commissions and hire to manage City departments, they have all drunk deeply from the well of real estate speculation. They live and breathe City Hall’s institutional culture of elevating real estate projects to the municipal pantheon. When it comes to gaining the support of these elected, appointed, and hired officials, Big Real Estate regularly turns to campaign contributions (i.e. legal bribes), polished lobbyists and architects, and ingratiating back slapping and scratching. 

As for the City’s technical staff who review and habitually approve their projects, Big Real Estate relies on expensive land use attorneys, planning and environmental consultants, expeditors, and experienced architects and engineers. Their first job is to identify all discretionary actions and other municipal requirements that must be overcome to approve their projects. After that these pens-for-hire grind out applications, Environmental Impact Reports, and appeals. Their third job is to ensure that all possible bases are covered because a handful of land use lawyers are willing to represent local residents, and they have recently won many land use and environmental cases against the City of Los Angeles. 

The next step is outreach, conducted by either the developer’s staff or by hired consultants, including those who expertise is creating such astroturf organizations, as the Coalition to Protect L.A. Neighborhoods and Jobs. In this case, two kingpins of Big Real Estate, the Palladium and Westfield Shopping Centers, created and funded a “grassroots” organization to oppose the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. For a contact address though, the astroturfers goofed when they listed their own location, that of the Stephan Kaufman Legal Group. Its political clients include LA’s most prominent booster of Big Real Estate, hizzoner Eric Garcetti. 

As they play serious dodge ball, Big Real Estate hires architects to prepare color renderings that never show traffic congestion, and who sometimes join outreach operatives at community meetings. Together they sing a duet of praises for their pet project, and whenever someone raises an objection, they creatively explain how their complaint can be mitigated by minor design changes or off-site improvements. When combined, these off-site amenities are called community benefits. In reality, thought, they are deal-sweeteners to gain community support for projects that depend on quasi-judicial and/or City Council legislative actions to legalize them. 

The purpose of these community meetings – often recommended by City Council offices — is to identify and disarm potential community critics who might submit damaging testimony, appeal a discretionary action and its related Environmental Impact Report, or even resort to law suits. 

Of course, sometimes developers are so dedicated to their project’s bottom line that they will not budge to adequately respond to community critics. In these cases, such as the Hollywood Community Plan update, the staff planners and private supporters glibly told the City Planning Commission and the City Council that a project had substantial community input prior to its final form. This deceptive answer was enough to get a thumbs up from the City Planning Commission and City Council. 

Another purpose of community outreach is to convince local residents that either they personally or their community will benefit from a project. In cases where charm, good looks, expensive suits, and car-free renderings are not up to this task, developers will then offer a “community benefits” package, but usually with a clause that acceptance forfeits the right to future public criticism of a project. 

Once these supporters are lassoed, they are then offered talking points for public hearings, and in a few cases, act as trolls on websites. For example, last week I received about two dozen comments, many critical, in response to my article about the Caruso Affiliated project at 333 S. La Cienega. This is in sharp contrast to my previous CityWatch article. It leveled similar complaints against three Miracle Mile museum projects, and that column hardly generated any comments. Since the comments supporting the Caruso project parroted the developer’s own talking points, this is a powerful demonstration of how sophisticated developers leave nothing to chance. In this case, they made sure there would be a group of neighbors who would publicly support their project. They knew that without an advanced full court press, that few nearby residents would voluntarily step up to a microphone or keyboard to defend a project which violates zoning and planning laws, clashes with community character and scale (in direct violation of the General Plan) and taxes existing public services and infrastructure. 

Finally, in almost all of these cases, there is no shortage of opportunistic academic and journalistic cheerleaders who cheer for “business-friendly” planning legislation and speculative mega-projects because of their alleged benefits. Regardless of a project’s actual specifics, rest assured that they just know it will produce a cornucopia of affordable housing, transit ridership, employment, sustainability, and a sense of community. 

In all of these cases, though, there is a catch. There is no requirement to monitor approved projects to determine if their predictions materialized. And, there are no consequences if the promises are not kept, such as the revocation of building permits or the demolition of improperly approved structures. Once built, Big Real Estate projects are here to stay, at least until the next real estate bubble leads to their demolition and replacement with yet another 8th Wonder of the World.  

But, they can’t always get what they want. 

Despite their deep pockets and access to expensive lawyers, planning and environmental consultants, and public relations and outreach operatives, Big Real Estate continually drops the ball in Los Angeles. Why? It is because so many community groups oppose their projects, have a fast learning curve, and sometimes manage to out-organize and out-litigate them. 

It is a hard job, but not an impossible job, to beat the house. Furthermore, the struggles over land use are escalating in Los Angeles. On one side are outside investors especially from China, who regularly outbid their local Big Real Estate frenemies. 

But, on the other side is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. If passed by LA voters in March 2017, it would force the City of Los Angeles to properly plan and to stop dishing out parcel-level approvals for Big Real Estate projects that conflict with zoning laws and with the General Plan. 

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

Coming Together on Infrastructure Spending, Falling Apart on Unintended Consequences

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--It's no secret that taxpayers want their transportation, energy, communications and other infrastructure paid for, and built ASAP.  It's probably also no secret that the era of bipartisan discord on infrastructure prioritization is coming to an end.  But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is how spending will occur, and whether it'll lead to solutions or new problems. 

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proposed dramatic new spending proposals on infrastructure.  Matt Bai has opined on Yahoo that Clinton is a champion of infrastructure, but wishes she would be more specific about her vision on how to best spend that money.  Americans need that specificity. 

On the other side of the political aisle, Republicans wisely (if not decades too late!) chose to shed their reticence to spend on infrastructure--and much of Trump's appeal in the primaries to GOP voters was his unabashed desire to spend big (nearly twice that of Sect. Clinton) on infrastructure.  Whether his willingness to take on new debt to do that is acceptable is another thing altogether. 

But for years, we've had the problem of consensus over what a good investment in infrastructure is, and how best to pay for it.  President Obama had the opportunity to spend well in his stimulus package, but despite some modest victories spent much (arguably most) on feel-good and politically-connected projects. 

To his credit, President Obama has gained his footing on transportation/infrastructure spending.  His current Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, was approved unanimously by the Senate and (if he so chooses) would be a great holdover for the next Administration, be it a Clinton or Trump Administration.  Transportation spending is both higher and smarter than when Mr. Obama took office. 

But there are a few "inconvenient truths" to transportation/infrastructure spending.   

Like it or not, fossil fuels aren't going away, and while our need to modernize the safety and efficiency of the use of fossil fuels is paramount, it is foolish to think that "the era of fossil fuels is over".   

While there are those who want fully electric cars everywhere NOW, it's more realistic to think that such a dream is years to decades away--only the very rich can afford those cars (no matter how some will spin things to the opposite), and if the misanthropes on the Far Left can be brought to bear, the need for the middle class and poor to have affordable utility bills is also a priority worth bringing back into our political debates. 

Speaking of affordability, we're so much into "affordable housing" that we've allowed the liars and enablers among our political elites to encourage overdevelopment that is neither environmentally smart nor geared towards the middle class.  Gigantic and mega-tall projects are geared to the upper crust of our society, favoring ocean views for the wealthy over truly affordable housing. 

Even when we've a surplus of housing both Downtown and elsewhere in the City of Los Angeles. Perhaps when capitalism catches up to the rental industry, we'll publish and encourage those looking for cheap rent to go to where it actually exists. 

Transforming neighborhoods and overdevelopment were NEVER goals of the movement that created the Expo Line and other light rail corridors, and hence the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is in full swing to restore democracy and livability in the City of the Angels. 

So while transit-oriented development has both its opportunities and its challenges, those advocating for an end to parking altogether look more like radicals and lunatics than true visionaries. 

Roads aren't going away, and cars aren't going away, and the need to treat the suburbs differently than rural or urban cores isn't going away.  File that under "common sense", or "growing up" and "confronting reality". 

And placing more burdens on communities, while denying basic governmental services, will NOT help bring us all together r... unless it's the desire to have a new wave of pro-succession movements, such as that we're seeing in Venice

And what's going on in Los Angeles is certainly going on in other major cities throughout the nation. 

Utilities, infrastructure, "big vision projects" and the like are supposed to enhance faith in our government and its leaders, not the opposite.  The Expo Line's chief complaint by its users is its lack of cars and trains--riders can't get enough of them.  Overdevelopment and neighborhood destruction to make a few people rich, however, are not going to help this line's benefits. 

We will, as a nation, or as a state, or as a city, come together in major transportation and other infrastructure spending initiatives.  But bad spending, and enabling those who seek to financially benefit at the expense of the majority, will do nothing but turn people off to transportation and infrastructure spending ... 

... and, by extension, turn people off to what government and its taxes can do for them.

 

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

-cw

 

Will Frank Gehry Consider the Alternatives?

DEEGAN ON LA-Is it a tactic that will pay off or a “Hail Mary” to breathe a last breath of life into a dire situation? Whichever it turns out to be, it’s smart and that’s what anti-development activists have been showing lately: their smarts. No longer willing to automatically accept developers’ plans for incursions into their neighborhoods, or rely on threats of litigation or lawsuits, activists are “weaponizing” social media to mobilize their communities.

Read more ...

When the Going Got Tough, the Tough Caved … Controversial Granny Flat Vote Postponed

CITY HALL-Looking at a potentially close vote at the City Council’s August 23rd meeting, City Council members who favor the Planning Department’s proposed repeal of Los Angeles City’s existing regulations for development of second dwelling units (sometimes called “granny flats”) succeeded in getting the Council’s vote postponed until Wednesday August 31st.   

Many repeal opponents left the August 23rd meeting angry and frustrated that the Council, without public testimony or debate, had pushed the vote back another week. But with momentum strongly favoring the many homeowner groups and neighborhood councils who vigorously oppose the repeal efforts, the last-minute continuance apparently reflected concerns by some Councilmembers that the Council’s balance is now tipping against the Department’s proposal. 

The Superior Court had ordered City planning and building officials to stop their unlawful policy refusing to enforce the City’s adopted second unit standards. The Planning Department responded by proposing that the Council should repeal the existing ordinance’s protective standards. This would mean the City “defaults” to very permissive state standards allowing 1,200 square foot second units (as large as many primary residences) to be built “by right” throughout the City’s single family residential zones, including sensitive hillside locations. 

The Department marshaled public support for its repeal proposal principally from developers who were “stranded” in the midst of constructing second units that had been permitted under the LADBS’s unlawful policy of disregarding the City’s protective standards. To date, the Department has refused to consider the obvious alternative of “grandfathering” most of these stranded permit holders, while at the same time preserving and enforcing the current adopted protective standards for future permits. 

Seeking to avoid opposition to its repeal proposal, the Department put it on a “fast track,” infuriating homeowner representatives. One typical homeowner recently wrote the Council: 

Repealing this ordinance will have lasting negative impacts on the character and infrastructure of our neighborhoods.  Abandoning the city's local control of second dwelling units will leave us at the mercy of incredibly weak state standards, and throw open the gates to developers to further fuel real estate speculation in our neighborhoods.  

You have several options at your disposal to bring the City into compliance with state law on second units. There is simply no reason to discard our protective local standards. If revisions to the Second Dwelling Unit ordinance are necessary, at the very least they must be considered with adequate public outreach, not on the current “fast track” basis, so that all stakeholders have the opportunity to consider proposed changes and express their opinion.  

The homeowner coalition that opposes the Department’s repeal proposal stressed the positive aspects of the Council’s postponement of the second unit vote until August 31st.   Pointing out that the postponement meant opponents would have “one more week to make our voices heard on this issue,” the coalition urged: 

The vote is shaping up to be very close. We have come so far since the PLUM Committee voted in favor of the repeal at the end of June, and we must keep the momentum going.  It is critical for the City Council to continue to hear how the proposed repeal would harm neighborhoods. We cannot simply abandon our local standards for the development of second units in single-family residential zones. 

We have built a terrific coalition that has been active and engaged on this issue. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed, and we are in the final stretch. 

There are three ways that you can help in advance of Wednesday’s vote: 

  • Send an email to the City Council
  • Place a call to your Councilmember’s office
  • Attend the Council meeting on the 31st 

CityWatch readers should consider doing the same.

 

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

-cw

 

Wesson’s Explanation to LA Times Opens Pandora’s Box

THE GUSS REPORT-A week ago, the Los Angeles Times followed-up on a story I broke a week earlier in CityWatch regarding the severe personal financial troubles of Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. 

David Zahniser, the Times’ veteran City Hall reporter, indicated in his article that Wesson refused to be interviewed but instead submitted a prepared statement via his media flack, who wrote, “Wesson attributed the problems to the home he and his wife bought for $759,000 …” 

The home he refers to was purchased by Wesson and his wife, Fabian, in 2007. It is located on Virginia Road in the City of Los Angeles’ Council District 10 that Wesson has represented since his 2005 election. For clarity, let’s refer to that property as “Virginia Road / LA City.” 

While Wesson may attribute his current multiple mortgage defaults and other financial problems to that purchase, his money troubles go back not years, but decades, even though he earned a consistent and generous government paycheck in various managerial and elected positions: 

  • In 1993, the Wessons defaulted on a mortgage for their house on Roberts Avenue in Culver City (“Roberts Ave / Culver City”.) The loan was from Avco Financial Services, a high risk, high interest rate lender that has since become a leader in the payday loan industry. 

Coincidentally, a senior Avco executive described the company to me as, at that time, a “lender of last resort for people who cannot get a loan elsewhere,” meaning that by borrowing from Avco, Wesson’s money problems are traceable to at least the 1980s.

Wesson had bought Roberts Ave/Culver City for $153,000 in 1988, but took a huge loss in 1993 when it sold for just $60,000. A year and a half later it got flipped for $168,000. Today it is valued at nearly $850,000. What does that tell you? 

And that isn’t the biggest red flag here. 

The default that triggered Wesson’s costly loss took place on the same day as its sale, November 24, 1993, which is also the day that he purchased a much pricier ($425,000) home on Bedford Avenue in Ladera Heights, an unincorporated area of LA County. Let’s call that property “Bedford Ave / LA County” so it is understood that it, like the property on Roberts Avenue, is not within the City of Los Angeles. 

  • In 1995, the Wessons defaulted on Bedford Ave / LA County, but narrowly avoided a scheduled foreclosure sale. Their overdue $21,086.06 indicates that payments were rarely, if ever, made to that point. 

During the years of these first two defaults, Wesson earned a comfortable living as the chief-of-staff for Los Angeles City Councilmember Nate Holden and as chief-of-staff for Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. This is according to Wesson’s unreliable Wikipedia page which, in one section, incorrectly says he was elected to LA City Council on July 1, 2005, while in another section it correctly says he was elected on November 8, 2005 in a special election to replace future felon Councilmember Martin Ludlow who suddenly resigned after only two years in office. 

  • In 2002, the Wessons defaulted once more on Bedford Avenue / LA County, but again avoided a foreclosure sale for being in arrears to the tune of $34,619.45. This is while serving as an elected member of the California State Assembly, where he later became its powerful Speaker, holding great sway over the state’s budget and economic health. 

None of these earlier defaults were mentioned in Zahniser’s article, which focused exclusively on the Wessons’ defaults that took place after their late-2007 purchase of Virginia Road / LA City.

Also missing from his Times article are the massive federal and state tax liens that hit the Wessons after their purchase of Virginia Road / LA City in 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 totaling nearly $100,000 in taxes, interest and penalties for income earned during Wesson’s first four years (2005-2008) on City Council, either from salaries or other sources of income. 

Still, Wesson is a deft politician who now rakes in a combined annual household income in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while sidestepping mortgage foreclosures that continue to hound him as recently as a few weeks ago, as detailed in Zahniser’s and my articles. And last year, he finagled a 17-month extension of his final term on City Council (and those of some of his colleagues) which also pads their public pensions by thousands of dollars, with a voter-turnout maneuver described by his former Council rival and fiscal hawk Bernie Parks as “a gimmick.” 

And here the story takes an odd, possibly perjurious turn. To be continued.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who contributes to CityWatch, Huffington Post, KFI-AM 640 and elsewhere. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/. The opinions he expresses are not necessarily those of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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