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Valley Activists Getting Nothing but Pushback from LA Planning Commission

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Valley Village has been a hotbed of proposed developments and activists who are focused on maintaining the character and affordable housing component of their neighborhood. Yet, it seems at every turn, the city council and development cronies are popping up to put obstacles in front of the activists and concerned neighbors. 

Back in May, I wrote about the Hermitage/Weddington project proposed by Urban-Blox. A 1940s apartment complex on Hermitage would be replaced with the neighborhood’s first and only four-story 43 unit apartment buildings with an unknown number of parking spaces. The project had been granted a density bonus and would have environmental impact, as well as eliminating existing rent control, according to Save Valley Village. Families who have been residing in the remaining buildings have been served with over eight eviction notices, according to the Save Valley Village website. 

On Weddington, a 1950s single family dwelling is in danger of being demolished by Urban-Blox, which per Save Valley Village, plans to replace existing homes on Weddington Street to make way for a new project that would bring more traffic, eliminate open space and rent control. Per Save Valley Village, Urban-Blox has “become known for purchasing existing rent-control buildings, evicting occupants, demolishing buildings, and selling.” 

The group has been attending South Valley planning commission meetings to address the Urban-Blox proposed project. A spokesperson for Save Valley Village shared with me, “Prior to the (July 14) hearing, we were so jerked around about how many copies we needed to submit, the deadline, not receiving notices. There are five commissioners, yet one office asked for 12 copies of the supplemental documents. A couple hundred dollars later, we bring those in and they ask where the 13th copy was! We could have brought 20 copies in and they would have asked for 21.” 

The representative of Save Valley Village adds, “The most disturbing part is how the documentation just sits there. We make sure to print our appeals and evidence in colored paper. This tells us if they are looking at it or reading it at the hearing, which they are not.” The representative notes that one commissioner “managed to take down a sandwich, a yogurt, and a bag of potato chips during the hearing. Clearly, this was more important than hearing the testimony of the residents and neighbors, all of whom had taken time off work.”  

Planner Dan O’Donnell, the representative notes, “has been recommending the Commission deny appeals since 2003,” deflecting information that shows noncompliance. Commissioner Rebecca Beatty addressed that the proposals dealt with “people’s lives,” while Commissioner Mathers voted to uphold the appeals. 

Both Mathers and Beatty “were not happy with the fact that the proposed project has eight inches between buildings, as well as proof that the applicants had lied several places on their application. The commissioners weren’t happy with removing rent-control housing. Mather’s had said that “price staggers the imagination” when they disclosed a sale price of over $600,000, off by $150,000 or so from their previous application and last public hearing.” 

The Save Valley Village website notes that Karo Torossian from Council Member Krekorian’s office attended the July 14 public hearing, “never letting his developer friends down with nothing but full support for their 28 small lot subdivision project that demolishes a chunk of Valley Village’s culture and history.” Save Valley Village has been collecting signatures for a petition to recall Council Member Krekorian. 

Save Valley Village and other grassroots groups throughout the city will continue their fight to maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods. With hope, council members and commissioners who seem to place roadblocks before concerned citizens will be replaced with those who listen.

 

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

-cw

The Future of Latino Politics and What It Means to LA and the Golden State

POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY--The sad decline in race relations has focused, almost exclusively, on the age-old, and sadly growing, chasm between black and white. Yet this divide may prove far less important, particularly in this election, than the direction of the Latino community.

This may be the first election where Latinos, now the nation’s largest minority group, may directly alter the result, courtesy of the race baiting by GOP nominee Donald Trump. If the GOP chooses to follow his nativist pattern, it may be time to write off the Republican Party nationally, much as has already occurred in California.

Today, Latinos represent 17 percent of the nation’s population; by 2050, they will account for roughly one in four Americans. Their voting power, as the GOP is likely to learn, to its regret this year, is also growing steadily, to 12 percent of eligible voters this year, and an estimated 18 percent by 2028.

Political geography may prove as critical here as rising numbers. African Americans, for historic reason, are heavily concentrated in deep blue cities, simply padding already existing Democratic supermajorities, or in the deep red South, where they are overwhelmed by a conservative white majority. In contrast, Latinos represent a growing constituency in critical swing states such as Florida, where they constitute one-fifth of the electorate, as well Virginia, Nevada, Colorado and, thanks to the genius of Donald Trump, perhaps even Arizona.

The next African Americans or the new Italians? --Not even considered a separate racial group by the U.S. Census Bureau until 1970, Latinos encompass many cultures and racial backgrounds – from purely European to heavily Native American and African, with lots of mixing in between. Unlike African Americans, the Latino experience has not been forged by the crime of slavery, the primary source of our deep-seated racial discontent. Latinos either predated Anglos in Texas or the Southwest, or came here later to seek opportunity and improvement.

Latinos, then, are more akin to Italians, an ethnic group who also came to this country largely poor and undereducated, than to African Americans. Like Latinos today, 19th century Italians were not generally cast in a good light by the ruling establishment. The New York Times in 1875 labelled them unflatteringly as “the Chinese of Europe.” Like all groups, Italians had their share of bad apples – the Mafia, for starters – but most were hard-working, family people. Over the years, they have succeeded and become property owners. They are hardly monolithic politically, having produced such progressive icons as Mario Cuomo and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as conservative heroes like Rudy Giuliani.

In contrast, African Americans have, arguably, to their disadvantage, become a political monolith, voting 90 percent Democratic in virtually every major election. Since Richard Nixon’s first race for the White House garnered 32 percent of the African American vote, no GOP presidential contender has won more the 15 percent, and in the Obama years it’s been less than half of that.

Latinos, at least pre-Trump, have been a contestable constituency. In 2004, Latino voters gave George W. Bush 40 percent of their votes. The GOP also has produced a strong group of Latino elected officials – Gov. Susan Martinez of New Mexico, Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. On the state level, notably in Texas, the Latino vote has been highly contested; current Gov. Greg Abbott received 44 percent of Latino votes in his election victory over a white, pro-choice Democrat beloved by the party’s white liberal base.

What works after The Donald? --Even before Trump, the need for GOP candidates to pander to nativist sentiments damaged Republican credibility among Latinos. The GOP brand is now so tarnished that Trump may actually do as “well” – that is, roughly 25 percent – as did Mitt Romney. Over time, this is the kind of performance that assures political death.

Perhaps the most damaging long-term effect of Trumpism may be to drive Latinos to adopt the kind of racial identity politics already threatening to tear this republic apart. That African Americans have adopted this approach – which relies heavily on central government intervention to address serious problems – is understandable, given their historical experience. But whether this works for immigrants, whatever their ethnicity, and their children, is dubious.

Ironically, Latinos have tended to do better in those deep red states, notably Texas, where broad based economic growth – particularly in blue-collar fields like energy, home construction and manufacturing – has taken place. Overall, Latinos suffer less unemployment, and achieve higher rates of homeownership and business ownership, in the Lone Star State than in progressive California.

To be sure, real poverty may afflict many Texas Latinos, as it does in California, particularly in rural areas, but they tend to have a smaller gap with whites than here in the Golden State, where, according to the United Ways of California, half of Latino households barely make enough to pay their basic expenses. In Los Angeles, the number rises to 54 percent.

Latinos and the future of the Democratic Party --Due in part to Trump, the real action in Latino politics for now will be within the Democratic Party. In California, Latinos seem to be dividing between pro-growth, pro-business pragmatists and a more ideologically driven progressive faction that celebrates identity politics and adheres to the general progressive agenda that prioritizes redistribution over economic growth.

Some activists also would like to see Latinos adopt the confrontational, anti-police politics now so widespread in the African American community. Others, like California state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, have cozied up to the green and smart-growth agenda favored by padrones like San Francisco hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. (Photo above: de Leon and Steyer.)

Overall, the hard green agenda seems a poor fit for Latinos, many of whom work in industries – manufacturing, construction and agriculture – most affected by draconian regulatory policies favored by Steyer and his crowd. Sacramento’s desire to force higher energy prices is particularly harmful to Latinos, many of whom live in the hot interior of California.

The state’s draconian planning and regulatory policies also have continued to make California a “no go” place for most industrial firms, have stymied home construction and are preparing a graveyard for much of the agribusiness industry. Latinos constitute two-thirds of all agricultural workers, and are twice as likely as other Californians to tell pollsters that the drought was having “a major impact” on their lives.

This divergence between progressive politics and economic self-interest provides a natural opening for more pro-business Democrats, like Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in her U.S. Senate race against predictably leftist California Attorney General Kamala Harris of San Francisco. She leads Harris two-to-one among Latinos, according to some polls. If Sanchez can meld her Latino, largely Southern California base with middle-of-the-road, and even conservative, Republicans and independents, she could begin to reshape the future of California politics.

Latinos and the birth of multiracial America --Such a mediating role for Latinos could help slow the racialism that is creeping into both parties. It is not healthy that the Democratic Party is almost 40 percent minority, while the GOP is 90 percent white. Some progressives openly see Trump’s effort as a “white America’s sad last stand.” It is, thus, no surprise that many whites may see the Democratic Party as seeking to decimate both their place in society and their heritage.

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This perspective was posted earlier at New Geography.) 

-cw

Sports Politics: Time for an MMA Fighters’ Association?

BUTCHER ON LA-Last week I was honored to sit in with the founder of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association (MMAFA) and two MMA fighters at a meeting with my congressman’s district staff. I won’t use the fighters’ names because at my core I am a union organizer and these young men, bursting out of their dress shirts, are as brave and courageous as any worker I’ve ever sat with. 

“I’m headed to an 8-week training camp. It’s an intense sport and I can’t really do anything else besides train,” explains Fighter 1. “Then, I’m expected to sell blocks of tickets to promote my own fight.” The “wage” for actual fights is quite low, for instance, $400 + $400 (that means the fighter gets $400 for showing up, another $400 for winning.) The rest of his or her income is solely determined by ticket sales. 

“I’m on Food Stamps,” the fighter admits. 

Rob Maysey of the MMAFA adds detail about the random and unfair setting of rankings: The promoter establishes the rankings -- not based on anything objective or related to merit; if fighters refuse to sign away their rights, likenesses, everything, sometimes for a lifetime, they don’t fight.

In most major sports, collective bargaining agreements specify the sport-player split. The NBA contract, for example, sets the players’ share at 49-51%. Estimates for MMA fighters is between 5 and 15%. 

Fighter and fledgling advocate Mark Hunt explains the state of the sport: 

“After purchasing the UFC back in 2000 for just $2 million, the Fertitta brothers transformed it into an International corporate franchise with some $600 million per year in revenues, and most recently sold the company for a staggering $4 billion. 

“One reason why potential buyers found the UFC so attractive is that reports have suggested that only 10% of its revenues go to its fighters – the men and women who literally shed blood for the sport. 

“Another selling point is that the UFC effectively control the MMA market and are basically able to set the agenda without any consideration given to the athletes who fight under the UFC banner.” 

“The time is exactly right,” Fighter 2 explains. “We’ve got a bill in Congress, introduced by a Republican who was an MMA fighter himself and who really gets the issues.” 

H.R. 5365 was introduced on May 26, 2016 “to amend the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 to include fighters of combat sports in the safety provisions of such Act.” Its working title is the “Ali Expansion Act.” 

Variety ’s Gene Maddaus introduces the bill’s sponsor, Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), “a former MMA fighter who is now a Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Mullin has proposed legislation that would force the UFC to share financial information with fighters and create an independent ranking system, both steps that would give greater leverage to fighters. The UFC has been adamantly opposed to the bill, called the Ali Expansion Act.” 

“Maybe this new group will see the importance of the athlete to make sure the sport is sustainable,” Mullin told Variety. “The UFC has treated fighters like they were a commodity….The way it works right now, if you get a UFC contract, it’s a take-it-or-leave-it mentality,” Mullin said. “The UFC controls the rankings system. You control the rankings system, you control the fighters. Because the only way you’re going to fight at the top level is if you get ranked by them. This language specifically says that a third party will have the jurisdiction to have a true rankings system. Then if you’re fighting for a championship belt, you’ll know it’s because you deserve it, not because the guy above you wouldn’t sign a contract slanted toward the organization and not the fighter.” 

“When WME/IMG bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship for $4 billion, it signaled that it sees tremendous upside for the global expansion of the sport. But the agency is also taking on risks, as some fighters are waging a struggle for greater power in the sport, which could pose a threat to the UFC’s [[[ http://variety.com/t/ufc/ ]]] business model.” 

“The Ali Act doesn’t create protection,” (Rob) Maysey said. “Let’s not kid ourselves; nothing will. But what it does do, without question, is it returns some leverage to the fighters. As of right now, the promoter controls things almost entirely. If I can control who you fight, if you fight, and whether you ascend the ranks or not, you’ll sign whatever I tell you to. You have to. If you don’t sign, I just don’t promote you.” 

Most of all, Mullin said, it will grant some measure of protection for a group of fighters that currently enjoys very little, which is why he suspects the UFC has “a whole bunch of (lobbyists)” in Washington D.C. to combat it. 

“They don’t want to change it because it’s perfect for them right now,” Mullin said. “But is it perfect for the fighters? And I realize there’s not going to be any one solution that’s perfect for everybody, but can we improve where we’re at today? I think we can.” 

As MMAJunkie.com notes in “With Ali Act, a long battle for MMA's future is just beginning:”  If passed, it would add MMA and kickboxing to the sports covered under the Ali Act. It would also force major changes upon promoters like the UFC, some of which might profoundly alter the way the UFC does business. 

That, according to Mullin, is part of the goal. As a former fighter himself, the 38-year-old Republican lawmaker describes himself as passionate about the sport, while at the same time fearing for its future. 

“The fighters today are phenomenal athletes, while we were more brawlers,” Mullin said. “It’s become a professional sport. But would I encourage my kids to try and make it? Would I encourage my kids to go into it? Is it a sustainable career? I mean, for the top one percent, is it even sustainable for them? 

And the answer is no. No it is not.” 

“UFC fighters are among the toughest athletes competing in sports. Fiercely competitive, they enter the octagon knowing they could be cut, bruised or placed in submission holds that could render them temporarily unconscious. With each fight, they run the risk of suffering career-ending injuries. 

“But mentioning ‘fighter pay’ to this same group of men brings forth a completely different side. They become consumed with fear. Flight instincts take over. 

“UFC fighters show no fear in the octagon, but they are scared to talk publicly about what they say is unfair low pay for the sports' non-stars. 

"‘Career suicide,’ one current fighter said here for ESPN.  

"’It would be the end of my career,’ said another current fighter, a former champion, when asked for an on-the-record interview about the UFC's fighter pay scale.” 

It’s time, the fighters and their association agree. 

"We have seen more public sentiment in favor of fighters taking some sort of action together to better their plight," Maysey told MMA Fighting.  "What better evidence exists that the leverage between fighter and promoter is way out of balance than the $4 billion sale price? [The UFC owners] don't get that valuation unless they are drastically reducing the compensation fighters get. Now that the sale price is public, it's not just Maysey saying it, it's not just the MMAFA saying it. It smacks them right in the face. You can't deny it."…

“Every time that I've helped other unions, there has always been something that at the time pushed them and gave them momentum to collect the cards and get it going," (Lucas) Middlebrook said. "This could be that time, that [UFC fighters] see the sale and how much money the people at the top are making. And they're starting to think, we need to band together and protect ourselves." 

"They fought it like it was the plague," said Middlebrook, who also represents Southwest Airlines flight attendants and mechanics. "It's the same thing with the UFC. The employer is used to complete control. They have each of the fighters sign these agreements where they're giving up essentially their rights to profit off of being in these [video] games, when you show up, what you can wear. They have complete control. The UFC, they would lose some of that control, because these things would then have to be collectively bargained. So you wouldn't just be able to say, ‘Here's your contract. Sign it or you're not fighting.'" 

“If I’m a fighter and I’m reading the headlines of the $4 billion valuation, my next call would be to the fighters’ association to get on board,” he said. 

If he were conducting due diligence for the buyers, he said he would be most worried about “fighters demanding an objective revenue split consistent with other major sports.” 

What Can I Do to Help the Athletes of the MMA? 

Stand with the fighters of the MMA! Contact Congress in support of H.R. 5365. Share and engage in the organizing of the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association! 

Follow them on Twitter @MMAFA 

Additional information and resources: 

 

Letter of support for the expansion of the Ali Act to athletes of the MMA

Together, we are writing to express our unwavering support for passage of the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act, the proposed amendment to the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (Ali Act) to all combat sports including mixed martial arts (MMA). This amendment is desperately needed by combat sports athletes and to enable these sports to prosper and thrive. The lack of financial disclosures and coercive contractual practices that plagues MMA not only deprives each athlete of rights already offered to boxers, but also prevents investment in the sport and, as a result, stunts the sport’s natural growth. 

Fighters are hamstrung in their ability to negotiate fight purses as promotions, unlike in boxing, are not required to disclose to fighters the revenues earned from such bouts. Just recently boxer Chris Algieri invoked the Ali Act to obtain financial disclosures from his promoter to assist him in negotiating his purse. For no seemingly logical reason or good reason, fighters in other combat sports are not provided the same disclosures. 

Coercive contractual practices crippling the natural growth of MMA include, but are not limited to: (i) the use of exclusive and non-public contracts; (ii) the assignment of ancillary rights from the athlete to the promoter far beyond the term of the promotional agreement; (iii) champions clauses that prevent champions from ever becoming freely marketable; and (iv) secret discretionary payments that are utilized to keep the athletes subservient and silent.

Athletes in MMA and other combat sports compete without benefit of independent, objective rankings criteria. Indeed, no credible or objective rankings criteria have been adopted by any promotion in MMA. 

The Ali Act seeks to prohibit promoters from being “able to rig the sport by placing favored boxers who have signed away promotional rights in the top rankings,” and for those boxers who refuse to cooperate, from being “arbitrarily dropped from the ranking or prevented from moving up.” In fact, promoters in MMA have stripped fighters of their championship status altogether, or worse, refused to allow them to compete against their champions at all. 

The Ali Act requires rankings to be based on merit, not contractual subservience.

Standardized, objective rankings serve to increase public confidence in the sport, and means “new opportunities for honest boxers who are trying to fight their way up the rankings.” 

Additionally, the sport achieves “more integrity and respect” since boxing fans “will know that championship matches are being fought by true champions.” Indeed, the public would be outraged if Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, simply replaced the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, or worse, kept them out of the playoffs because the New York Yankees bring higher ratings or more favorable contractual terms. A promoter’s ability to write fighters in and out of rankings arbitrarily serves to drastically reduce a fighter’s marketability and leverage. This practice is rampant in MMA, impugns the integrity of the sport, and serves to strip fighters of virtually all negotiating leverage at the time their marketability should be at its peak. 

The Ali Act addresses these exploitive business practices by requiring objective and consistent rankings criteria. This provision was inserted into the Ali Act to prevent promoters from abusing boxers and monopolizing the sport by requiring boxers to sign away all their rights in order to obtain an important fight or maintain their current status in the rankings. In short, the Act attempts to prevent promoters from forcing boxers into coercive contracts as a condition of participating in a given match.

The Congressional findings taken directly from the Ali Act apply with equal validity to MMA and other combat sports. Like boxing before, “rankings” and “contender” status in MMA and other combat sports are largely pure manipulations by the promoter, and often not the result of merit at all. To obtain title status, a promoter requires fighters to sign coercive, long term contracts with extension options and sweeping assignments of ancillary rights that go far beyond rights necessary to promote bouts. Fighters who refuse to sign these contracts are simply not provided “championship” status by promotions. Worse, promotions have simply stripped fighters who have already obtained championship status. 

Despite the fact that the athletes themselves have earned the right, through their performance, to fight the best in their respective weight classes, major promoters in MMA almost uniformly require exclusive, long term promotional agreements from any fighter fighting for a title. As one witness testified before the Senate, “this is akin to forcing a professional tennis player or golfer to sign an exclusive, long term contract with the promoter of whatever event they were seeking to win. The athlete would then only be able to compete when the promoter approved, against only those opponents who also were forced to agree to terms with that promoter.” 

The Ali Act curbs exploitive business practices and protects honest competition and the integrity of sport. As stated in the legislative history of the Ali Act, an industry free of restraint and exploitive and unethical business practices will lead to increased competition, “and fair, open competition is key to any sport’s success.” 

Removal of these artificial and anti-competitive restraints will dramatically reshape the MMA industry. With the removal of these artificial restraints, substantial new investments from deep-pocketed investors will be made in MMA. These investors, currently sitting on the sidelines unable to effectively compete in a free-market system, will provide not only more opportunities and earnings power to the athletes, but also additional tax revenues and jobs throughout the nation. Such organic growth will benefit all stakeholders in the sport of mixed martial arts by increasing revenues in all industry segments. 

We strongly support the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act sponsored by Representatives Markwayne Mullin and Joseph Kennedy III, and urge its passage at the earliest opportunity. The Muhammad Ali Expansion Act is desperately needed not only for the protection of the athletes, but also to enable these sports to reach their natural, unfettered potential. 

-- Signed by growing list of current and former fighters. 

Check out their websites if you’re interested in a deep dive into UFC finances or if you’d like to hear from the organizers of the MMAFA directly.  

For fun, frivolity, and fascinating bizarreness, read Betsy Woodruff’s article in the Daily Beast about Dana White, president of the UFC who spoke at RNC. She shares some of White’s ball-full comments writing that “Donald Trump loves to inveigh against the evils of political correctness. And perhaps nothing is less politically correct than saying one plans to teabag a stranger’s mother. The uncharitable quip is very much in character for White. Over the years, he has displayed a fondness for criticizing Twitter users’ mothers, calling people ‘clown shoes,’ and suggesting that his critics listen to John Mayer -- or worse.”

 

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

Ed Boks is Out of a Job … Again

THE GUSS REPORT-Government officials, including Mayors of Los Angeles, hate firing executives who they hired because it shows they exercised poor judgement and that their staffers were unable to run interference, try as they might, to protect the insular City Hall culture. 

That was especially true when it came to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his 2005 hiring of Ed Boks to run LA Animal Services. Three and a half years later, Boks “resigned” with a superficial glowing letter of appreciation from Villaraigosa signed just prior to the city settling a $130,000 sexual harassment lawsuit leveled against the city and Boks, which was the real final straw of Boks’ tumultuous tenure here. True to form, the LA Times’ glossed over that in its 2009 Boks autopsy. 

Boks has resigned “effective immediately” from his most recent gig running the tiny Yavapai Humane Society in Prescott, Arizona, which was an enormous fall in prestige, visibility and income from his days in LA and, prior to that, New York City. 

Boks lost his brief pre-Los Angeles job running New York City Animal Care and Control due in large part to a racial discrimination suit and a tenure described by New York Magazine in truthful and less than glowing terms. “So what happened? Animal workers unanimously point to former Animal Care and Control director Ed Boks, who served from 2003 to 2005: One alliance member sniped, “Boks’s programs had catchy names, but they had no substance and weren’t sustainable.” 

That is how Laura Beth Heisen, a former LAAS Commissioner, Chair of the City’s Spay/Neuter Committee, MBA and prosecutor remembers Boks’ time in LA. “At his first Commission meeting after just two weeks as General Manager he announced that euthanasia was down by 25%. After two weeks when nothing of any substance had changed? I knew at that moment that it would be all about hype.” 

Just as Villaraigosa kicked Boks to the curb, voluntarily or otherwise, in 2009, his media flack and prospective City Councilmember Matt Szabo falsely told the public, "Under (Boks’) leadership, this City has revamped the way we treat and care for our pets and animals. The ‘no kill’ policy has become a central component of our animal services strategy. Pet adoptions are up and shelters have expanded at a rapid rate. And ‘spay and neuter’ has become more than just a call to action; it is the law in Los Angeles.” 

As I showed in my recent CityWatch article, seven years later, despite claims by Mayor Eric Garcetti, “No Kill is a joke in LA,” as is the porous spay/neuter law and the false claim that “adoptions are up.” 

In an upcoming CityWatch article, I will show, with Heisen’s help, how Garcetti’s minions knowingly falsified 8,807 pet adoptions when those animals were merely moved from cages in one city-owned building to another -- with the deceptive help of City Controller Ron Galperin, City Council President Herb Wesson and current LAAS management and commissioners.

To date, Garcetti and company do not know where those animals are, whether they are alive and have yet to give a public explanation about their false adoption claims.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Magazine and others. He blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Alert! LA Planning’s Repeal of Second Dwelling Standards Threatens your Single-Family Neighborhood

ZONING ASSAULT-Anyone concerned about the Los Angeles City Planning Department’s proposed repeal of the City’s current protective second dwelling unit standards -- supposedly to encourage development of affordable rental properties -- should visit 6651 Noble Avenue in Van Nuys. (photos above) You’ll see a vivid example of the damage that the proposed repeal (and resulting application of the State default standards) can do to a quiet single-family neighborhood.

Our neighborhood consists of single-family homes built in the 1950s and 60s on 8,000 square foot lots. The average home is about 1,500 square feet, all one-story. Our neighborhood is designated as “Low Density Residential” in the General Plan and zoned R-1, which, according to the Zoning Code, limits the use to a “one-family dwelling” per lot. Almost all of the houses are owner-occupied – relatively few houses are rented.

Many of our neighborhood’s homeowners have invested to upgrade their homes. To all of us, our backyards are a precious part of our homes – a key reason we choose to live in a single-family neighborhood. Our backyards are typically small (about 2,500 square feet), but they have the usual mix of amenities: gardens, children’s play equipment, barbeques, patios and sometimes pools. These are private spaces where we enjoy being outdoors.

In November 2015, a real estate speculator purchased the 1,368 square foot house at 6651 Noble Avenue for $450,000 in a probate sale. He quickly began to renovate the existing house. Most neighbors thought nothing of it, other than wondering who the new owner would be and whether he would sell or rent the house.

We were shocked, however, to see that in February 2016 the investor began building a huge second house in the backyard! In fact, it was a 1,200 square foot, three-bedroom, two bathroom detached two-story house with an attached two-car garage (shown in the attached photos). The second house was taller than the original house and almost as large in area. The windows from the second story, presumably a master bedroom, looked directly into the backyards of all 5 surrounding homes, and even into the windows of our bedrooms and living rooms, giving anyone inside a clear view of what had been private areas of our home. The building site had once been a single-family home with a nice backyard -- like all of the others on the street -- but was now two homes with no backyard.

Beyond this, we learned that the investor intended to rent the original house for $3,000 per month and the second house for $2,900 per month – a total of nearly $6,000 per month. 

Concerned neighbors called the Department of Building and Safety and complained that a huge second house was being built in an R-1 zone. We assumed that the house was being built without permits. We were horrified to learn from City officials that an obscure memorandum issued by the Chief Zoning Administrator in 2010 (called ZA Memo No. 120) permitted anyone “by right” to build a second house up to 1,200 square feet as long as it met the setback and other requirements of the Code. In this instance, the R-1 zone does not have a height or one-story limit and the developer could easily build within the setbacks simply by eliminating the backyard. 

I have never considered myself to be a “NIMBY.” Our neighborhood, like many in Los Angeles, has major boulevards with large commercial developments nearby – office buildings, hospitals, shopping centers, apartments. I believe that well-planned high quality development can be an asset for the community. I know we have a housing crisis, and many hardworking families spend too much of their hard-earned income to rent housing. Vacancy rates are at an all-time low, and rents are at an all-time high. I agree that the City should do more to encourage truly affordable housing.

I don’t disagree that a homeowner should be able to build a small unit to house a parent, family member or caretaker – a so-called “granny flat.” If tightly regulated with sensible development restrictions, we can accommodate these units in our single-family neighborhoods. For example, the City’s current adopted standards limit second units to only 640 SF, not the 1,200 SF two-story monster being built in our neighborhood, and they would prevent these units from being visible from the street frontage. 

But, I don’t understand why the City Council would repeal our adopted Zoning Code development standards for second dwellings and intentionally substitute a policy designed to insert huge, highly visible second units into our single-family neighborhoods. This is especially hard to understand when the second houses will be rented at rates that won’t even come close to being affordable to lower income families. And I certainly don’t understand why the City Council would surrender its zoning authority to default standards that the Legislature designed to be so permissive that cities and counties would normally prefer to adopt their own more restrictive standards to control and mitigate the negative impacts of new second unit construction. The City Council must recognize that one of our City’s most important assets – strong, stable single-family neighborhoods – should not be compromised in this manner. 

Our neighborhood is grateful that our councilmember, Nury Martinez, understands the harm that this type of development will cause in our neighborhoods. She heard our concerns, and she took a firm stand to formally oppose the repeal of the second dwelling ordinance.

My neighbors and I urge all of CityWatch’s readers to contact their City Councilmember immediately and insist that the existing protections against second dwellings be maintained.

(Michelle Kiers is a producer at Disney Studios, lives in Los Angeles and is active in the fight against out-of-control second unit policies. Carlyle Hall contributed to this article.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

A First for Latinos: Ortiz to Head California Community Colleges

LATINO PERPSECTIVE--Long Beach Community College District head Eloy Ortiz Oakley will take over as chancellor for California’s 2.1 million-student community college system in December. The community college Board of Governors announced their unanimous selection of the system’s 16th chancellor at a board meeting in Sacramento on Monday, July 18. 

He will become the first Latino chancellor of the 113-college system, which serves 2.1 million students and is the nation’s largest higher education system. He replaces Brice W. Harris, who retired in April after leading the system through a crucial period of budget cuts,  academic reform and controversies over accreditation. 

Serving as superintendent-president of the district since 2007, Oakley is best known as one of the architects of the Long Beach College Promise, a partnership with the city and local schools to provide early outreach, a free year at Long Beach City College and guaranteed admission to Long Beach State for students. It has been credited with raising college attendance in the area and was a model for a similar national program proposed by President Barack Obama. 

Oakley will also be the first Latino chancellor of the California community college system, where nearly one-half of students are Latino. He emphasized a need to raise completion rates for students who have been “historically left behind” in higher education, including Latinos and African Americans. 

“This is the backbone of our workforce and we must lead the entire state higher education system in addressing their needs and lifting them all,” he said. 

Praise for Oakley rolled in from higher education and political leaders, including Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Gov. Jerry Brown, who said in a statement that the state’s 113 community colleges “are in good hands.” 

In November 2014, Brown appointed Oakley as a regent on the University of California’s governing board. Oakley said Monday that he would continue in the role to “build bridges” between the systems.

Geoffrey Baum, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Directors, said the relationship with Brown was a major selling point for Oakley, who will advocate for additional funding in California budget negotiations and in Washington, D.C. 

“He's known up and down the state as one of the most supportive presidents of the faculty senate,” said Karen Kane, president of the Long Beach City College Academic Senate. “[Oakley] has the right vision and the ability to see things that other people don't see. And he lays it out there and has the patience to wait for most people to catch up and understand where it is he's trying to go. He's the right leader at the right time.” 

Oakley said that in his first 90 days, he will focus on building relationships and continuing the priorities begun under Harris and former Chancellor Jack Scott. 

“They did a wonderful job of setting a very aggressive agenda for our system. So we're going to continue to move forward on the various student success initiatives, the workforce initiatives that are already well underway,” he told The Los Angeles Times. This is another example of how American Latinos are making a great difference in our communities. I wish Mr. Ortiz great success in his new role.

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].)

-cw

The City of Kindness: The Curious Case of Anaheim, CA

Inspired by the Dalai Lama, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait (photo above) created the “City of Kindness” initiative. The goal is as simple as the initiative’s title: people should be kind to each other, because, as Mayor Tait asks: “Who wouldn’t want to live in a city of kindness?”

While for the past 5 ½ years Mayor Tait has been trying to instill kindness as a core value of his city, others on his Council seem to be installing a completely different set of values. Now I don’t know for certain if kindness and greed are completely mutually exclusive, but I would tend to think so.

And so last night, the Anaheim City Council was faced with a decision about whether to give hundreds of millions of tax money to well-heeled developers. Call me Nostradamus, as I predicted the outcome a couple of weeks ago: the corporate giveaway passed, with Mayor Tait and Councilmember James Vanderbilt opposing corporate greed, all to no avail against a Council majority which has itself gotten generous campaign support from the putative beneficiaries of this bounty.

Oh, sure, this could lead to a prolonged discussion about the pernicious role of money within our political system. We could discuss Citizens United and Buckley v Valeo. We could discourse on how there is nothing close to a level playing field within our system and how in a true democracy, the best idea wins the day, not the hack with the biggest megaphone. In fact, “fairness” and “decency” are values which would seem to be more closely related to “kindness,” so we might discuss how if life oftentimes is not fair, it is our duty, our mission, as kind and decent people to try to do whatever we can to make it so. This, at least, is how I envision the Dalai Lama as addressing the issue.

But rather than philosophizing, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of hotel taxes, along with the rationale for taxpayer subsidies of private businesses. A “bed tax,” also known as “Transient Occupancy Tax” or TOT is a tax added to the price of a hotel room. In California, it’s generally seen as a tax which is very beneficial to cities. It’s a tax which generally goes to directly fund municipal services and seems to be one of the few taxes which cannot be plundered by the state government of California. And it’s a tax which is not paid directly by the businesses, i.e. the hotels directly, but which is paid by the hotel guests.

In Beverly Hills, our standard TOT is 14%, with newer hotels such as the Montage or the Waldorf Astoria, which is scheduled to open next year, paying an additional 5%. TOT is a significant source of income to Beverly Hills, providing roughly 25% of our General Fund revenue.

Similarly, TOT is an important source of municipal revenue in Anaheim. On May 15, Anaheim mayor pro tem, Lucille Kring, wrote an op-ed entitled, “When hotels come, Anaheim’s residents benefit.” Well, at least some of Kring’s council majority colleagues seem to benefit, as they have - unsurprisingly - gotten significant campaign donations from the prospective beneficiaries of the corporate giveaway. Ah, yes: money in politics. Citizens United. Buckley v. Valeo. Back to square one...

Writes Kring: “Revenue from hotels makes up the largest part of our general fund, Anaheim’s main funding source for public safety and community services.”

And yet if the state government suddenly told Anaheim that it was going to take 70% of the TOT, my guess is that the Council majority would be up in arms. How strange, then, that they are willing to give away 70% of the hotel revenue to developers. Ceding the money to the state treasury - in theory, at least - would presumably have some public benefit in mind; a corporate giveaway only benefits company executives and shareholders.

Kring’s justification for the largesse is as follows:

The notion that the hotel program is “giving away” revenue that could go to city services fails a simple test: You can’t give away what you don’t have.

Giving away something the city doesn’t have? She voted last night to approve an agreement which will give the city of Anaheim only pennies on the dollar of something she doesn’t have. The developer doesn’t have the money either. It comes from the hotel guests and is a way to help fund city services which also benefit the developer and its guests. Rebating such a tax is very different from lowering tax rates to remain competitive, since the tax is being paid by the hotel guest, not the corporation.

Of course, there’s also an unfortunate disconnect from reality in the sentence, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” Cities throughout California are doing it all the time, including Anaheim. Just look at the unfunded liability of cities throughout the state. Just look at Anaheim’s. It’s $568 Million - and growing day by day. We municipalities and governmental agencies are giving it away today like it’s going out of style and until we institute sensible pension reform which creates fair and sustainable public employee salaries and benefits, we should never, ever utter the words, “You can’t give away what you don’t have” without having a scarlet “H” for “Hypocrisy” painted on our chests.

Another “justification” for the corporate giveaway, which Mayor Tait estimates at a shocking and staggering $600 Million, i.e. greater than the city’s entire unfunded liability, is that Anaheim needs to be able to compete with other cities. Writes Kring:

Anaheim isn’t playing on a level playing field with other cities offering far more generous incentives.

I guess Mayor pro tem Kring never heard the same sage advice I got from my mother: “Just because everyone else jumps off a bridge, doesn’t mean you have to.”

For the record, Beverly Hills offers no fiscal incentives to hotel developers. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Bupkes. In fact, if we exercise any discretion in approving a hotel, we generally execute a development agreement, which provides for public benefits above and beyond the TOT.

Because here’s the thing: tax rebates are not the only factor which determines where developers want to build luxury hotels. As everyone who is in real estate knows, the critical factor is: location, location, location. And Anaheim has that in spades. And the residents of Anaheim deserve to share in the success their city has helped to create. In short, a new Disneyland luxury hotel will not - cannot - be built somewhere else if Anaheim decides it is unwilling to play the corporate welfare game because it can use the revenue generated by TOT more than the developer.

No, Ms. Kring, the Disneyland Ultra Luxury Resort Hotel will not move to Tustin. Not going to happen. In fact, “The Disneyland Ultra Luxury Resort Hotel of Tustin” sounds even more off the wall than “The LA Angels of Anaheim.” Have a little more faith in your own city, some civic pride and some common sense about why Anaheim locations are so attractive for hotels of all price ranges, including luxury hotels. And, trust me, your city can use the tax money which comes out of the pockets of the hotel guests far more than the developers.

Tom Tait’s vision of Anaheim is as a “city of kindness,” a city of decency and a city of fairness. A city which focuses on quality of life, which attempts to make itself more livable and which understands that it takes more than bureaucracy to make a house a home. A city which puts its residents first.

Other councilmembers in Anaheim clearly believe in a different kind of city: a city in which Machiavellian corporate interests rule the day and the residents need to content themselves with the scraps and breadcrumbs dusted off the corporate table; a city in which the meaning of the Golden Rule is (as was made famous in “The Wizard of Id” comic strip): “whoever has the gold makes the rules.”

A city of kindness or a city of greed...

I’ll take Mayor Tait’s vision — which I share for my own City — any day of the week.

(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

Slipping CalPERS Returns Could Diminish Your LA City Services

PERSPECTIVE-The Los Angeles Times reported that CALPERS incurred its worst rate of return since 2009. 

One year does not make or break the pension fund. Two years of low returns in a row hurt, but alone are not enough to register as a crisis. 

What is telling is the average rate over the last 10-20 years has fallen well below the assumed rate of return of 7.5%, which is a major factor in determining the long-term funding of the retirement plan. 

The rates reported were as follows:

7.03% over the last 20 years.

Less than 6% over 10-15 years. (Bloomberg reported 5.1% over the last 10 years)  

LACERS has not published its updated rates yet, but almost all would expect a similar set of results. The fund was in negative territory for the year as of March 2016, which will drag down the average rates over the 10-20 year period. LACERS’ 20 year return will probably be treading close to the 7.5% earnings assumption, while those for the 10-15 year range will miss the mark by a significant margin. That range was already well below the assumed rate as of last fiscal year. 

What’s so special about the 10-20 year range? 

It is what I refer to as the relevant range

Think of it like comparing baseball players from different eras. Hard to decide who was the greater slugger – Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron – because they played under markedly different conditions and levels of competition. 

Comparing investment returns rooted in the years prior to 20-30 years ago is like going through a time warp. The world economy has changed drastically since then due to globalization. As I pointed out in an article several years ago, the United States is no longer the lone 800-pound gorilla in the market. As competition has increased, so has investment risk. 

Relying on more recent returns as a predictive gauge has even greater risk, since one extraordinary year will skew the results. 

Assuming a rate much beyond a very conservative level is playing with fire in an age where markets whipsaw in response to both rational and irrational reasons. Public employee pension managers are under pressure to hit artificially high rate assumptions that they willfully incur more pronounced risks.

Bad timing can kill you. It could also deliver one-off major gains, but who wants to take a Las Vegas approach to investing funds underlying a guaranteed payout? 

Public retirement funds are probably not going to collapse. Instead, they will require higher contributions to assure retiree benefits are covered. 

The additional cash will have to come from either greater employee contributions and/or the taxpayers. In case you haven’t noticed, the ballots are always filled with tax measures, utility rates are tracking upwards and the costs of government services has steadily increased. We do not need another bill to pay. 

In a city like Los Angeles, where the taxpayer contributions have grown from 10% of the general fund to 20% in ten years, the ability to provide basic services will diminish. 

It’s what I have repeatedly referred to as virtual bankruptcy, a slow and painful path for the public.

 

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

On the Brink of Folly: Will City Council Unwittingly Upzone LA’s Single-Family Neighborhoods?

SECOND UNIT ALERT!--The City Council is poised to adopt an ordinance that would instantly double the potential density of every single-family residential neighborhood in the City of Los Angeles. The ordinance will give all property owners the ability to build “by right” a second house on their property of up to 1,200 square feet (equal to the size of many homes in Los Angeles) without any discretionary review. Of course, both the primary residence and the second unit houses can be rented. Overnight, every property zoned for one dwelling unit would be upzoned to permit two dwelling units. Amazingly, the City Council has reached this precipice with virtually no public input and with no CEQA analysis. (Photo above: illegal rental unit in Los Angeles.)

This impending decision poses two important questions for individual Council members: Will the City Council put the interests of a few hundred active second dwelling developers ahead of the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have invested in and treasure the character of their single-family neighborhoods? And will the City Council make Los Angeles the first city in California to voluntarily surrender zoning authority over second dwelling development standards and subject itself to the State legislature’s control of those standards? 

How did the City Council arrive at this brink? As is often the case at City Hall, it’s a combination of factors: spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, the Planning Department’s determination to shoehorn rental units into single-family neighborhoods, a strategic decision to “fast track” the process to avoid public participation, the failure of City Planning Commissioners and City Councilmembers to ask serious questions and the “group think” that often afflicts City Hall.

In order to understand the City Council’s impending decision, it is important to review the tortuous history of the City’s regulation of second dwelling units (SDUs):

The City Adopts A Balanced Approach to SDUs--Over 30 years ago, the City adopted a so-called “granny flat” ordinance (LAMC 12.24.W.43 and 12.24.W.44), which limited the floor area of an SDU to 640 square feet required compliance with height, setback and other requirements in the underlying zone, established constraints on a second unit’s visibility from the street, set a minimum lot size, mandated additional on-site parking and required a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The purpose was to balance the desire for SDUs to house a family’s grown children, guests, or elderly parents with reasonable development standards and a CUP process to protect against possible adverse effects on the character of a single-family neighborhood. SDUs were prohibited in designated Hillside areas, equine-keeping areas and on substandard streets due to potential traffic congestion, parking problems and fire hazards. 

The City Conforms to AB 1866’s Ministerial Processing Requirements--In 2002, the State legislature adopted AB 1866, which sought to encourage SDUs as a source of affordable rental housing. AB 1866 honored local control and recognized the continuing power of all California cities to establish and enforce their own development standards for SDUs. While AB 1866 prohibited cities from using discretionary CUP procedures and standards to review SDU applications, it made clear that cities were not required to amend their ordinances to rescind CUP requirements or discretionary factors. 

Instead, cities could simply ignore those provisions and apply their development standards ministerially -- i.e., without public hearings and without any discretion to deny or mitigate second units and their impacts. If a City failed to adopt its own standards, then it would default to the more lenient State standards - the SDU could be up to 1,200 square feet in area, could be located in the back yard or front yard so long as existing zoning code requirements were met. AB 1866 also mandates that the SDU can be rented.

In 2003, then Chief Zoning Administrator Robert Janovici issued an administrative memorandum confirming that, in order to comply with AB 1866, the Planning Department and the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) would ministerially grant building permits for SDUs that satisfy the City’s previously adopted second unit development standards. 

The City’s Neighborhoods Reject Weakening Its SDU Standards--In 2009, the City Council asked the Planning Department to study whether the Zoning Code should be changed to weaken standards for SDUs. The Planning Department conducted extensive outreach to the City’s Neighborhood Councils and neighborhood associations. At hearings and workshops across the City, neighborhood representatives adamantly insisted that the City’s development standards should not be loosened. Then Planning Director Gail Goldberg advised the City Council that there was no support for changing the City’s standards for SDUs. 

The City Attorney Gets It Wrong The First Time --In 2010, the City Attorney issued a surprising and incorrect legal opinion: that the City supposedly needed to formally amend its second unit ordinance to delete the discretionary CUP factors and the 2003 Janovici memorandum was legally insufficient to do this. Then-Chief Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande dutifully complied, issuing a new directive (the now infamous ZA Memo 120) decreeing that the Planning Department and LADBS must implement the State’s lenient standards, which included approving any SDU up to 1,200 square feet. The City blindly followed the City Attorney’s bad advice and discarded its carefully developed second unit development standards.

With the post-recession housing recovery going into full swing, savvy Los Angeles developers realized that they could now purchase a single-family house as a rental property and, thanks to ZA Memo 120, receive a bonus: they could build and rent a 1,200 square foot second unit “by right” without any discretionary review! This windfall made speculation in single-family neighborhoods even more profitable: the developer could virtually double the rental income from a property by making a modest investment to build a second dwelling. The investor could now develop, on a “by right” basis, a multifamily rental property smack in the middle of what had been an owner-occupied, single-family neighborhood.

A Neighborhood Fights Back and the Court Agrees--When a property owner began constructing an oversized SDU on street frontage in Cheviot Hills in 2014, outraged neighbors formed an organization called Los Angeles Neighbors in Action, and sued the City to challenge the validity of ZA Memo 120. 

In February 2016, the Superior Court agreed with the neighborhood and concluded that ZA Memo 120 was invalid. The Court ruled that the City Attorney was wrong when he concluded that the City must use the State default standards supposedly because the City’s ordinance had not been formally amended to delete the discretionary CUP provisions. 

The Court also found that AB 1866 allows the City to continue to use its more stringent standards on a ministerial basis. The Court ordered the City to cease issuing building permits in reliance on ZA Memo 120 and to continue administering its existing development standards (i.e., a maximum 640 square feet and other development standards) on a ministerial basis until it takes further action to comply with AB 1866.

The Court also explained that the City has at least three choices to comply with its ruling. First, it can amend its existing ordinance to formally delete the discretionary CUP requirements and other discretionary factors. Second, by administrative memorandum, it can “sever” the discretionary aspects from the ordinance and apply the City development standards ministerially; i.e., it simply could reissue the 2003 Janovici memo. Finally, the City Council can repeal its SDU ordinance and default to the lenient State standards. 

At this point, one might think that the City would want keep its own second unit development standards in place, if only to respect the desires of its neighborhoods that would be negatively affected by more SDUs. But never underestimate the power of bad legal advice in a City Hall that fails to ask tough questions. 

The City Attorney Gets it Wrong – Again-- In a second instance of spectacularly bad legal advice from the City Attorney, coupled this time with bad policy recommendations from the Planning Department, City Hall determined that, after the Court rulings, the only “feasible” option available to the City would be to repeal the City’s SDU ordinance entirely, thereby subjecting the City to the State's lenient standards -- and potentially doubling the density of the City’s single family neighborhoods overnight!

Following closed door briefings of the City Council by the City Attorney, the Planning Department produced an ordinance in record time proposing to repeal its SDU standards and default to the State standards – becoming the only city in California ever to voluntarily abandon its right to set its own SDU development standards and surrender control to the State legislature. Of course, this means that if the State legislature loosens its default SDU standards further – say increasing the maximum area to 1,500 square feet or eliminating all off-street parking requirements – the relaxed standards will automatically apply throughout Los Angeles.   

Shortly after the Court issued its ruling, LADBS put a hold on the hundreds of building permit applications in plan check. Astonishingly, LADBS even put a hold on SDU projects that fully satisfied the City’s existing development standards. 

The City Attorney and the Planning Department Create a “Crisis” to Exploit-- Recognizing the adage that “You should never let a serious crisis go to waste,” the Planning Department and the City Attorney have created a crisis promoting the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Their explanation? Several hundred property owners and real estate investors who have SDUs in plan check or under construction must be grandfathered immediately to protect their interests! 

The Planning Department packaged the repeal of the City’s SDU ordinance with the grandfathering of the pending projects as a single “urgency” ordinance and put it on the “fast track” to City Council approval. Amazingly, the City Attorney and Planning Department have never offered a legal justification or other reason why the repeal ordinance must be considered on an expedited basis, even if the stranded SDU projects deserve an “urgency” ordinance. 

Not surprisingly, there is no legal justification for treating the repeal ordinance on an “urgency” basis. Of course, due to the Planning Department’s “fast track” approach, few Neighborhood Councils or neighborhood associations have had adequate time to learn about or voice their opinions on the proposed repeal. 

What about the other two clear options offered by the Court in its decision? To the first option -- simply amending the City’s SDU ordinance to remove the CUP requirement and delete other discretionary factors -- the Planning Department fabricated an excuse that to do so would supposedly require public outreach and take a year or two, even though the amendment could be easily drafted and processed as quickly as the repeal ordinance. 

To the second option -- simply reissuing the 2003 Janovici interpretation -- the Planning Department has pronounced an even weaker reply: the interpretation would somehow be inconsistent with the City’s Housing Element, despite the fact that the Housing Element does not require implementation of the State’s lenient standards. 

By tying the repeal ordinance to the grandfathering provisions, the Planning Department has also activated a small but very vocal group to advocate for the repeal of the SDU ordinance: the several hundred homeowners and developers with SDU projects halted by LADBS. In no time, these homeowners and investors began calling Councilmembers demanding that the repeal of the SDU ordinances be expedited so that their projects can move forward!           

The City Planning Commission and the PLUM Committee Blindly Follow--Things moved quickly from there. In what amounts to lightning speed for City Hall, the Planning Department produced a staff report and “urgent” repeal ordinance ready for the City Planning Commission on May 12, 2016. Despite the strong objections of the few homeowners associations that had become aware of the situation, the Planning Commissioners failed to ask any hard questions to keep the Planning Department honest and meekly followed the Department’s conclusion that there is no other option to repealing the SDU ordinance.

On June 7, 2016, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee also deferred to the incorrect advice of the Planning Department and City Attorney. To their credit, Councilmembers David Ryu and Nury Martinez presented testimony at the PLUM Committee hearing contending that the City should not abandon its residential neighborhoods and repeal its SDU ordinance. Both Councilmembers followed with letters formally opposing the repeal ordinance. Nevertheless, the PLUM Committee asked the City Attorney to produce a final repeal ordinance for City Council action. 

Three weeks later, without any further public testimony or discussion, the PLUM Committee recommended approval of the repeal ordinance.

With the PLUM Committee approval, the final ordinance is teed up and ready for final City Council action as it reconvenes after its summer recess. This could be as soon as the last week in July or the first week in August. 

The City Council Prepares to Make a Decision as Major Concerns Persist--The full City Council has not yet focused on the ramifications of its decision. There is still time for the Council to take a deep breath and then take a hard look at how the City Attorney and Planning Department have painted it into this corner. After numerous twists and turns, we have reached the final scene in this drama. Of course, the City Council can follow one of the other Court-recognized options to keep its SDU protections in place.

The following fascinating questions are presented:

  • Will the City’s homeowners, neighborhood associations and Neighborhood Councils be able to make their voices heard? 
  • Will Councilmembers question the advice of the City Attorney and Planning Department that no option other than repeal is “feasible”? Will the City Council decide to pursue another option to maintain its SDU protections? 
  • Will Councilmembers question the Planning Department’s policy objective to promote the development of large SDUs on a “one size fits all” approach throughout Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods? 
  • Will the Councilmembers who represent Hillside areas realize that these neighborhoods will have no further meaningful protection from SDUs? 

The last 10 years have been hard on Los Angeles’ single-family neighborhoods. First, the recession crushed housing prices and led to tens of thousands of foreclosures and homes converted to rental properties. The recession caused the City to reduce services to its single-family neighborhoods, as tree trimming, sidewalk replacement, road repaving and street sweeping became a thing of the past. Next came the density bonus for affordable housing, mansionization and the assault of Airbnb and other short-term rentals on otherwise quiet owner-occupied, single family neighborhoods.

The Planning Department’s current effort to promote rental housing in single-family neighborhoods, abetted by terrible ongoing advice from the City Attorney, leaves one wondering whether the City Council even understands the ramifications of its decisions, much less whether it really listens to or cares about its single-family neighborhoods.

But it is not too late for the City Council to step away from the brink. The Council can easily reject the Department’s proposed repeal ordinance and act to protect our single-family neighborhoods. For example, the Council can simply amend the SDU ordinance to keep the current protective standards while removing the discretionary CUP elements. Alternatively, the Council can decouple the grandfathering provisions to protect the reliance interests of property owners whose SDUs were stopped by LADBS and issue a new administrative memorandum that applies the existing SDU protections ministerially. 

Anyone who cares about their neighborhood should call or email their Councilmember immediately to stop the repeal ordinance!

(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.)

Middleclass Can No Longer Afford Boyle Heights

KPCC SHORT LIST-Boyle Heights artist Lilia Ramirez is looking for a new place to live. The house she's rented for the past 8 years has been sold. It will soon be demolished to make way for a brand new housing complex. The search for a new apartment has been tough. If Ramirez wants to stay in Boyle Heights, it's going to cost her. 

“Even here, the prices are being hiked up,” Ramirez said. “It’s been difficult, and we haven’t found anything that we really could realistically afford.” 

Ramirez is one of many in Boyle Heights who is getting priced out of the neighborhood. Investors are scooping up property.  New is replacing old. And typically, when a property changes hands, renters are on the losing side, given the bad news that they must move out. 

KPCC wants to document displacement and track how Boyle Heights residents are resisting it. We invite our audience to tell us where they see rising rents, "going out of business" signs, and rallies to keep a beloved building. 

The local Mexican restaurant Carnitas Michoacan is preparing to close its doors after 33 years. A shiny new Panda Express will be moving in. Not far from there, activists are trying to save a beloved community garden. Its 15-year lease with White Memorial Hospital ended in January. 

"Sometimes you can't really stop it," Ramirez said. "We could protest. We could speak our mind. We could write about it, get some press on it, but ultimately at the end of the day, if you have the money ... it's profit before people, unfortunately." 

There is little data available to pinpoint just how high rents are climbing in this pocket of Los Angeles, long known for being one of the more affordable areas. Crystal Chen, who tracks LA rents for the website Zumper told KPCC that the median price of a two-bedroom apartment in Boyle Heights is now $1450 a month, a 12 percent increase over the prior year. 

Much of the city is experiencing rising rents. But residents in Boyle Heights have long had an expectation of affordability. Many of the homes are protected by LA's rent control ordinance, which prevents landlords from raising the rent more than three percent each year. Because of rent control, Boyle Heights residents tend to stay put. If they decide to move, the landlord can hike the price up to the going market rate. Neighbors have been shocked by those prices. 

For example, resident Elvira Barrales told KPCC she pays a little less than $600 a month for her studio apartment, where she’s lived for the past 16 years. When a similar unit opened up in her building, it was advertised online for $1,100. 

Property in this historically working-class immigrant community has become more desirable for a number of reasons. The most obvious: Boyle Heights is just across the river from downtown LA. Apartments in downtown can rent for more than $3000 a month there. Comparatively, Boyle Heights is a bargain. 

The longtime residents also have a long history of fighting for their neighborhood. Residents show up to public hearings. They ban together. The products of their efforts are quite obvious: a new playground in Hollenbeck Park, improved schools, safer streets. Then there are the young entrepreneurs, some who grew up in Boyle Heights and came back to invest, opening shops, cafes and bars.  

Those improvements have collectively made the area more attractive to outsiders. Recently, the neighborhood has seen art galleries pop up – not surprising, considering that downtown's Arts District is a stone's throw away. But art galleries are a surefire indication that change is afoot. Boyle Heights activists have seen what has happened in cities like New York and San Francisco -- and even in neighborhoods closer by, like Highland Park and Venice. After the art galleries come in, more upscale stores and restaurants follow, and with it, rents shoot up. 

They're not waiting around for it to happen in their neighborhood. 

"It's not that I'm saying that this is the panacea, that everything is fine in [Boyle Heights]," local restaurant owner Carlos Ortez told KPCC. "But when something is being touched that belongs to the community, everybody reacts to it." 

Community groups are actively fighting changes in the neighborhood. They have protested the art galleries and marched to protect a local garden.  

They've also fought new housing that threatened to displace older residents. But the question remains: how long will they be able to keep holding off the tides of gentrification?

 

(KPCC’s “The Short List” appears online. Credited writers and editors are Kellie Galentine, Elizabeth Munoz and Carla Javier.) Photo credit: Photo: Martha Daniel/KPCC. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Lies and Mansionizers: Spinning Some Wild Yarns about LA’s Housing Crisis

 PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Sometimes it is necessary to be as frank as possible to communicate a point, and this is such a time. It is hard to find anything like a legislative threat to someone’s business model to bring out his or her inner-scoundrel. In this case, it is real estate speculators who have generated a spirited, but thoroughly bogus defense of their construction of McMansions and their close relative, high rise luxury apartment buildings. 

In both cases the geese that lay their golden eggs are threatened by public opposition that is pressuring City Hall. And in both cases, the speculators have responded to public opposition with a torrent of lies to maintain their private gain at the public’s expense. 

Top Three Lies of the Mansionizers--Since the lies of the mansionizers – investors, contractors, realtors, architects, and a few bamboozled residents who support the construction of McMansions – were resurrected last week at the City Planning Commission’s public hearing on amendments to the Baseline and Hillside Mansionization Ordinances, let’s start there. If you are a regular CityWatch reader, then my apologies for dredging these whoppers up from the muck. 

Lie #1. No one can tell me what to do with my property--Sorry, Charlie, but the U.S. Supreme Court approved zoning as part of the police power of local government nearly a century ago. Cities have a total right to control land use through zoning and planning, and their purpose is to find a reasonable balance among all property owners and residents when it comes to the use of land. This means that no one can do whatever they want with their property. 

Lie #2. Opponents of mansionization are opposed to progress--There is nothing modern or advanced about plopping expensive, over-sized, boxy, energy intensive, automobile-oriented McMansions into existing residential neighborhoods. If they should be built at all, they should be located in new, jumbo-sized suburban lots large enough to accommodate new jumbo-sized houses.  

Lie #3. Anti-mansionization ordinances jeopardize property values--The mansionnizers regularly trot out this lie to bamboozle low-information local residents who believe their single family home nest egg will be pulled under water by a whirlpool of zoning amendments. But there is no evidence at all for this claim. Los Angeles neighborhoods with Historical Preservation Overlay Zones, Residential Floor Area Districts, and Specific Plans have exactly the same trends in property values as adjacent neighborhoods where the mansionizers have free rein. The only threatening action to property values is the construction of a McMansion next to you. In that case, the market value of your house declines by $50,000 to $100,000. 

Top Three Lies of the Luxury High Rise Syndicates--High rise buildings, mostly filled with luxury apartments, are sprouting up in many older Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Koreatown and Hollywood. What they have in common is that most of these buildings can only be legally built through City Council legislative actions for individual parcels: zone changes, height district changes, and General Plan Amendments. This business model, which has extraordinary adverse community impacts, would have stayed out of view were it not for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Scheduled for the March 2017 ballot, this Initiative would halt the City Council’s legislative actions to legalize these otherwise illegal high-rise luxury apartment projects through spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The investors, contractors, sub-contractors, realtors, and their allies at City Hall, have pushed back against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative with some truly imaginative fairy-tales, otherwise known as lies. Here is their top three: 

Lie #1. We need to continue City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning to build affordable housing--Through CityWatch and private inquiries over the past six months I have repeatedly asked for the addresses of affordable housing projects built through zone changes and/or General Plan Amendments. So far I have only been sent one address that checked out, and I am still patiently waiting for a long list to miraculously appear in my inbox. When that happens, I will gladly withdraw my accusation of lying. 

Lie #2. Los Angeles is a rapidly growing city, and its existing zoning is not sufficient to meet the housing needs of future residents--The Department of City Planning relies on the Southern California Association of Government for its population forecasts. These forecasts are notoriously high. For example the General Plan Framework Element, which is the heart of LA’s General Plan, overestimated LA’s population by over 500,000 people. It predicted a Los Angeles population of 4,300,000 people in 2010, while the US Census reported that LA’s 2010 population was only 3,800,000 people. 

But even if this and subsequent population forecasts turned out to be correct, there still is no evidence of insufficient zoning to meet future housing needs. The Framework’s own technical studies, which City Hall has never up-dated since they were submitted over 20 years ago, concluded that existing zoning (as of the mid-1990s) would build-out to a city of 8,000,000 people. Likewise, the AB 283 zoning consistency project, which ended in 1991, reached the same conclusion: Los Angeles had sufficient zoning to accommodate 5,000,000 more people. 

Lie #3. High-end market housing built through City Council legislative actions addresses Los Angeles’ housing crisis by increasing the supply of affordable housing, by forcing down housing prices, and by eventually filtering down to become affordable housing--While these claims are consistent with classical economics and the tenets of neo-liberal market fundamentalism, there is no data to back them up. Like, the tall tale that the construction of affordable housing depends on City Council legislative actions, I have also repeatedly asked for the names of Los Angeles neighborhoods where new luxury housing has forced down the price of other housing. I asked about immediate deflation of housing costs, as well as long-term reductions through filtering. So, far I have not yet received a reply. No one spinning these lies has been able to identify even one Los Angeles neighborhood where luxury housing construction increased the supply of affordable housing, even in the long-run. 

THEREFORE? 

There should be no mystery why no one has stepped forward to identify the neighborhoods where speculation in McMansions or residential sky-scrapers increased the supply of affordable housing. Perhaps they don’t exist? Or perhaps the amount of existing affordable housing eliminated through demolitions and evictions to make way for speculative real estate projects vastly exceeds the number of new affordable housing units added to LA’s housing supply through City Council spot-zoning and spot-planning. 

The repetition of these lies, despite their repeated rebuttal and lack of supporting evidence, speaks volumes about the motives of those who dredge them up again and again. All they care about is their business model, not the overall well-being of Los Angeles’ residents, employees and visitors. 

As a result, any planning approach that is based on these lies will doom LA to a downward spiral of ugly, out-of-scale, out-of-character white elephant projects that clash with adopted plans and that exceed the capacity of existing and future public infrastructure and services.

 

(Dick Platkin reviews city planning issues for CityWatch. He is a former LA City Planner who is now active in the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected]. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

LA Planning’s Secret Destruction Policy: First Marilyn Monroe, Now Walt Disney

THE CITY-The desecration of Los Angeles’ history steps it up a notch. Apparently, it’s now Walt Disney who no longer merits consideration. 

As my article in CityWatch reported on August 21, 2015, Marilyn Monroe’s Valley Village home did not merit historic preservation because she was not famous when she lived there. Now, Walt Disney’s first Los Angeles home, a 1914 Craftsman, is also set for destruction. (Photo above.) 

What we did not fully understand in August 2015, was the biased and illicit manner in which homes that clearly have historic significance are placed under the ax. Once a home is destroyed, it is gone forever and Angelenos need to know who within the city hierarchy is a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. There is no honor in covering up the misdeeds of those who have betrayed the public trust. We wonder if the same bias has played a role in putting this property on the chopping block. 

Ken Bernstein, AICP Manager, Office of Historic Resources and the principal city planner in Policy Planning in LA’s Department of City Planning, was the person who decided that Marilyn Monroe’s home had no historic significance. He based his opinion upon a biased report which the City had expressly requested the developer to submit. Mr. Bernstein’s April 9, 2015 secret opinion was contained in two emails that were withheld from the public. Two other vital documents, which had been given to Mr. Bernstein, never made it into the public record: the historic report from Architectural Resources Group (The ARG report) and the historic report from noted Los Angeles historian Charlie Fisher (the Fisher report.) 

The City had expressly solicited a biased report from ARG that would give Mr. Bernstein a basis for allowing Marilyn’s home to be demolished. But it contained many facts showing that the City needed to study the situation. And if one could have looked at those facts -- including not only Marilyn’s role but also the independent history of this property as an existing example of how Valley Village homes had evolved since 1912 -- one could have seen how the City should always look for alternatives to destroying these historic structures. However, Mr. Bernstein was having none of that; the ARG report was withheld from public record, even though it definitely belonged in the public record. 

By withholding the ARG report, it was not possible to show that Mr. Bernstein’s email opinions (which cleared a path for the destruction of Marilyn’s home) were contrary to the facts in the ARG report. 

Similarly, the Fisher report never made it into the public record via Mr. Bernstein’s office. We know that Mr. Bernstein was aware of it since he referred to it in his first April 9, 2015 email “expert opinion.” Four pages of the Fisher report, however, did make it into the Administrative Record. This was because a community person had attached them to an email submitted directly into public record without being routed through Mr. Bernstein’s office. Only after the City found that portions of the Fisher report had actually appeared in the court record did it let anyone know about the ARG report. 

Since there seems to be a direct parallel between Mr. Bernstein’s “expert opinion” to destroy Marilyn’s home and the facts surrounding Walt Disney’s home, we can expect Walt’s home to disappear within a matter of days – if not minutes. 

Here’s the parallel and why people need to act ASAP: 

Parallel #1. Bernstein’s secret April 9, 2015 emails said that since Marilyn had lived in the Valley Village home with her in-laws before she was discovered, the property could not be considered historic. Of course, Mr. Bernstein’s logic then makes the birth place of every other famous person also non-historic. His first April 9, 2015 email said: 

“Thanks, Tom, for checking back with us on this — I hadn't noticed that the APC hearing was happening today. Yes, we reviewed the ARG historic resources assessment, found it complete, and agreed with the findings. understand from Lambert that another consultant, Charlie Fisher, may raise the argument that Marilyn Monroe was first discovered during the period she lived at this property, but I would agree with ARG's conclusion that this alone isn't sufficient to make the building eligible for designation.” - Ken Bernstein, April 9, 2015 email at 12:47 p.m. 

About one hour later, Mr. Bernstein beefs up that email opinion. But he still fails to mention a single fact in the ARG report; instead he now conceals the Charlie Fisher report. Of course, any fair-minded person reading an expert opinion which was rendered BEFORE he saw the Charlie Fisher report would have to disregard Mr. Bernstein’s opinion. Mr. Bernstein’s re-written opinion at 1:49 states: 

“I wanted to let you know that the Office of Historic Resources' staff did review the historic resource assessment for 5258 Hermitage, prepared by Architectural Resources Group. We found the report to be thorough and complete, and concurred with the report's findings. While we understand that Marilyn Monroe was initially "discovered" to begin her modeling career while living at this property, this alone is not sufficient to qualify the property for historic designation. 

Our eligibility standards for SurveyLA, our citywide historic resources survey, are consistent with the guidance from the National Park Service: properties achieving eligibility for designation due to their association with historic persons should be those associated ‘with a person's productive life, reflecting the time period when he or she achieved significance.’ Because this property is from the earliest stages of Monroe's career, and she was not discovered at this particular site, the historic association at this site is not sufficient to meet designation criteria.” - Ken Bernstein, April 9, 2015 at 1:49 p.m. email. 

Parallel # 2. Walt Disney lived on this property before he was famous. By the “Bernstein Test,” it then merits no protection. Walt Disney lived here with his aunt and uncle when he first came to Hollywood. He was an extra at Paramount Pictures. 

There is much more to the Walt Disney story while he lived at this property and there is much more to the Marilyn Monroe story while she lived in Valley Village. Those facts were ignored by Mr. Bernstein. 

It seems that the courts don’t much care whether or not the facts are hidden from the public. As long as Mr. Bernstein gets to see the reports, all that matter is his opinion – his secret opinion which is shared only with the insiders. 

What are the rules which are supposed to govern expert opinions? 

An expert such as Mr. Bernstein may testify in court when his opinion is based on “sufficient facts” and his opinion is “the product of reliable principles and methods” and “the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.” - Fed. Rule of Evidence Rule 702. 

Mr. Bernstein violated every element of Rule 702. He relied on a biased report expressly solicited by the City to be against finding the need to study the Marilyn property. He withheld the facts in the ARG report. Those violations alone disqualified his opinion. 

What credible expert admits to knowing that another professional report will be submitted within a few days, yet renders his opinion before seeing the report? Is this what passes for “reliable principles and methods?” Obviously, yes – in the City of Los Angeles

Has Mr. Bernstein already issued another secret opinion via an email to the developer of the Walt Disney property? No one in the public knows because secrecy is the policy. 

Has Mr. Bernstein solicited another biased report from the persons who want destroy more of LA’s history? No one in the public knows, again, because secrecy is the policy. 

UPDATE—Councilman Ryu, using a rarely used legal maneuver, on Wednesday, managed a reprieve for this house with Disney ties. Here’s the full update. 

 

(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.) Graphic credit: LA Curbed. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Green State, Golden State: Inside the Fight to Save Cap-and-Trade

CAP & MAIN REPORT--For Sacramento, July is traditionally the calm before the storm — when state lawmakers and lobbyists desert the capital during the summer recess to brace for August’s legislative onslaught and its end-of-the-month deadline for bills headed to the governor’s desk. This year, however, the lights have remained on in both the offices of Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s powerful oil lobby. 

Earlier this month, Brown and Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) president Catherine Reheis-Boyd confirmed reports of ongoing direct talks between the governor and oil industry groups over what a Brown spokesperson told Capital & Main in a carefully worded email statement was an extension of “the state’s cap-and-trade program and climate goals beyond 2020.” The statement said talks were taking place for the sake of “market certainty” and to “ensure ongoing funding for clean energy programs, especially in vulnerable communities.” 

A similarly vague message from Reheis-Boyd said only that the talks were aimed at “improving the state’s current programs and ensuring legislative oversight concerning the decisions that will determine California’s next course of action to combat climate change.” (Another oil group, the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, did not respond to a request for comment.) 

Though both sides declined to speak on the substance of the negotiations, the likely assumption is that the governor is seeking to cut a deal for Big Oil’s pledge to remain neutral on two of this year’s climate bills that are considered essential to the future of the state’s pioneering cap-and-trade program and long-term carbon-emission reduction targets. 

Cap-and-trade is California’s approach to driving reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The “cap” sets a gradually lowered limit on emissions; the “trade” creates a market for carbon allowances, incentivizing polluters to innovate in order to meet their allocated limit. The less they emit, the less they pay. The money raised through the auction sale of carbon credits is earmarked for projects that help the climate and the environment in general. 

Senate Bill 32 would extend and further raise California’s GHG reduction goals beyond 2020, the short-term target date set by 2006’s landmark Assembly Bill 32. Its companion bill, AB 197, which is still being refined, spells out the power of the Air Resources Board (ARB) to use market-based compliance mechanisms for reducing emissions from “stationary sources” and the transportation sector, while appeasing fossil fuel-friendly Democrats by requiring state officials to both prioritize and consider the cost effectiveness and technical feasibility of emission reduction efforts. 

But the very fact that Brown is resorting to what amounts to domestic shuttle diplomacy across L Street is already a tacit admission that the influence wielded by Big Oil and its allies among the caucus of “moderate Democrats” amounts to a stone wall when it comes to taking decisive action on averting the catastrophic consequences of climate change and ensuring Brown’s climate legacy beyond 2018, when he will leave office. 

“It’s no secret what the oil industry in California has been after for a long time,” said Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Alex Jackson, “and that’s to prevent California from showing an effective path forward on climate change that can serve as a model for others to emulate. They’ve invested in electoral politics and initiatives in the past that have now set them up with some leverage to try to thwart California’s next big steps after 2020, if their demands aren’t met.”  

The oil industry spent a record $22 million lobbying California legislators and officials last year (as of May, the total for the 2015-16 legislative session had topped $25 million), with much of it directed at resisting the legislature’s efforts to turn the ambitious climate goals laid out in Brown’s 2015 State of the State address into law. 

That muscle was dramatically flexed last September when the lower house’s mod Dems caucus, led by then-Fresno Assmbleymember Henry Perea, defied the governor and its own party leadership by successfully gutting SB 350 of its 50-percent-by-2030 gasoline reduction provision. Those cuts had been part of the effort authored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) to codify Brown’s ambitious goal of achieving an 80 percent emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. 

The mods also forced Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) to hold over to the current session its sister bill, SB 32, albeit pared back from its original goal of codifying Brown’s existing executive orders to reduce climate emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The version that will now need to get past the oil Democrats’ roadblock — and that must be passed in tandem with AB 197 to become law — contains only the 2030 target. 

Part of what’s at stake for the governor is the legal cloud over whether, under AB 32, cap-and-trade requires legislative reauthorization beyond 2020. State Republican leaders insist that without reauthorization, it must end at that date; Brown and California’s Air Resources Board (ARB), which oversees the program, argue that AB 32’s language explicitly empowers the state to continue the program — and set new emission standards — without the legislature’s approval. 

Those uncertainties have been complicated by an ongoing court challenge by WSPA’s business ally, the California Chamber of Commerce, that seeks to invalidate the entire cap-and-trade program on the grounds that the billions in auction proceeds constitute an illegal tax. 

Last week, Brown and ARB released a plan to proceed with new emissions caps and future auctions and the allocation of allowances after 2020. However, concerns over the state’s long-term commitment to emissions reductions by the carbon marketplace are believed to have played a part in May’s disappointing auction of pollution credits. 

Though the billions that have been generated in auction proceeds are a byproduct of the program — the focus of cap-and-trade is to lower caps on emissions — the revenues are considered essential for investing in clean-energy technologies and in the communities that have been most severely burdened by state climate policies.

“It is ultimately about putting a price on polluting,” said Susan Frank, director of the California Business Alliance for a Clean Economy. ”It’s about forcing emitters-slash-polluters to pay something so that over time that cost becomes too much for them. That in the end it becomes less expensive for them to be cleaner, to reduce their emissions, to innovate and invest and do better than it is to pay to pollute. We have to let this unfold. It is the uncertainty of the program that contributed to what happened in the May auction, and it may very well happen similarly with August and November. But ultimately, the business community that I represent needs the certainty of a post-2020 game plan.” 

The surest way of achieving that certainty is for the governor and legislative leaders to immunize the state’s climate initiatives from further legal challenges by “bulletproofing” this year’s two-bill omnibus with the supermajorities mandated by the fiscal straightjacket of 2010’s Proposition 26, which defined fees as in the same revenue class as taxes. 

But that means getting the oil industry to stomach California’s “clean-gasoline” mandate, AB 32’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), which gradually lowers the cap on the amount of carbon generated from “well to wheel.” It aims to rid at least 10 percent of the carbon from California’s transportation fuels by 2020, which are currently capped at two percent. It forces companies that produce “dirty” fuels to either meet carbon-reduction targets directly or purchase credits from clean-fuel producers. 

LCFS is routinely hailed by environmentalists as a model of progressive and thorough fuel-regulation policy. It is also the feature of California’s regulatory landscape most feared and hated Big Oil. That’s because together with cap-and-trade, it strikes directly at gasoline and diesel profits by jumpstarting a market for alternative transportation fuels such as liquid biofuels, renewable natural gas, electricity or hydrogen. And the the world is watching. 

“We have other states and regions that are looking to join up,” Susan Frank noted. “California’s ability to succeed with a market-based program has implications regionally and nationally and globally. And while it is only one program on a larger slate of policies, all eyes are on California to see if this effort is going to be successful. And it’s been successful.”  

The oil industry has not been idle. It forcefully struck back with 2010’s failed Proposition 23, a ballot measure that sought to effectively suspend AB 32 altogether. Then, during in the months leading up to last year’s addition of transportation fuels to the cap-and-trade program, WSPA waged what’s been called a multistate, multi-million-dollar “AstroTurf campaign,” attacking LCFS not only in California, but also in Oregon and Washington State by claiming that the program would result in price spikes and fuel shortages. In fact, the standard resulted in a 36 percent increase in clean-fuel use in the state and $650 million invested in clean-fuel production. 

And the industry hasn’t let up even in the midst of its negotiations with the governor. The messaging being broadcast in its most recent round of attacks on SB 32 and LCFS, through groups with grassroots-redolent names like Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy (CARE) or Californians Against Higher Taxes, continues to cast doubts about the viability of cap-and-trade while portraying the state’s investments in clean energy as a waste of public money. Or, like the current “Fed Up at the Pump” sticker campaign by the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, it implies that LCFS and cap-and-trade constitute an illegal tax. 

That kind of vehemence has raised speculation that the industry is less than sincere in its negotiations with the governor. 

“I think that certainly it is possible that there is a larger strategy here to negotiate in bad faith,” Environmental Defense Fund director of Oil and Gas Program Tim O’Connor told Capital & Main. “The oil industry … has been in opposition to these policies for years and certainly as alternative fuels have taken stronger hold, as emission reductions in California have started to become more and more evident at the refining level, they are not becoming more friendly to these policies.” 

But the window is closing on the available time during which climate scientists say nations can still act cost-effectively to keep global average temperature to “well below the 2°C above earth’s pre-industrial levels” agreed to in last year’s Paris climate accord. 

“Sea levels are rising now, albeit slowly,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Habitats are slowly changing. The urgency arises from the fact that early preventive action has a much, much larger impact than a comparable action [taken] in 25 or 50 years.” 

It is estimated that for the Western United States alone, the price tag for disruptions in water supplies caused by global inaction could reach $270 billion by 2025 and balloon to nearly $2 trillion by the end of the century. Averting more floods, heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels requires good faith and bold leadership by all of California’s energy partners. It also means that any intentional delay for political advantage can only be seen as a kind of Strangelovean brinkmanship. 

If the clock is running on the planet, in Sacramento, time is ironically on Big Oil’s side. Even should cap-and-trade persevere in the courts, the oil industry has much to gain by stalling on cap-and-trade until 2017. By then, the industry will have two more “failed” pollution credit auctions to bolster a narrative that the program is already dead. It’ll also have the opportunity of November’s statewide elections to increase the ranks and the power of the mod Dems caucus. And 12 more months of inaction will paradoxically only increase pressure on the governor and Democratic leaders to accept the kind of watered-down emissions standards that today are unthinkable. 

“The tactic of delay is one that big polluters have used for decades,” said Tim O’Connor. “We think, as do many, many others, that 2016 is the year for California to move forward, to push ahead on long-term climate targets. … Governor Brown in his negotiations wants to see California step up and lead, and I just don’t know whether we’re going to see a unicorn appear this year. It’s likely and probable that there are going to be some actions that focus on a simple majority vote, which is much easier than negotiating with the oil industry.“

 

(Bill Raden is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. This report originated at Capital and Main.)

Developers, Listen Up! Here are 5 Great Ways to Convince Us We Need More Overdevelopment and Taxes

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--Silly me!  To think that my desire to have more transportation options, create more affordable and family-friendly housing, and establish more open space in an elegant manner that helps the Economy, Environment and Quality of Life of Angelenos was enough.  

I should have known better!  And you, Friend Reader, well YOU should have known better, too! You've taxed yourselves aplenty for transportation, schools, the environment, police/fire, parks, etc. But perhaps my recent CityWatch article about taxpayers being attacked and brow-beaten was all wrong. 

Because after seeing a presentation of a now "by-right" project proposed for 12444 Venice Blvd., taller than anything on that boulevard for miles, and a self-righteous presentation of the developer who had NO CHOICE to make it that big, I've come to the conclusion that … 

... maybe we're just not being taxed enough ... or impacted enough ... or overdeveloped enough.  Fortunately, we've got some first-rate developers, patrician-citizens, and elected leaders to help us find our moral compass and think straight. 

Here are FIVE great ways that developers can convince us we need overdevelopment--while our electeds find more ways to tax us and raise our utility bills to MAKE US PAY AND GIVE OUR FAIR SHARE!!! 

1) Decry our lack of affordable housing--yes, the City of Los Angeles could have emulated other cities by not transforming neighborhoods and allowing some reasonable height/density compromise, but...darn it all, there should be NO limit to height and density! 

(... and that lack of true affordable housing that comes out with the details of what the rent/cost really is, and the relatively small number of units for affordable housing...let's keep THAT on the down low, shall we?) 

2) Decry our lack of transit-oriented development--yes the City of Los Angeles could have emulated other cities by establishing a more realistic radius and definition of bus/rail stations...but what we REALLY wanted when we voted to spend $2.4 billion tax dollars on the Expo Line was to overdevelop the begeezus out of the Mid-City and Westside! 

(... and the impact of this overdevelopment on us spending more taxes for transportation--particularly mass transit--this November...naw, that overdevelopment couldn't POSSIBLY affect our interest in funding more mass transit) 

3) Decry our lack of Westside housing, Valley housing, etc.--yes, we've got a shortage of new developments in South L.A. (whose residents, by the way, want their neighborhoods IMPROVED, not TRANSFORMED FOR THE WORSE, too!), and very little new development south of the I-10 freeway, but don't let that get in the way of new megaprojects in overpopulated areas. 

4) Decry the lack of taxes or money that rich homeowners pay for their easy, lazy lifestyles--yes, both property taxes and utility bills are going up, but I guess we have to admit that L.A. homeowners are just lazy and selfish.  And those seniors and others on fixed incomes...well, nuts to them because others deserve to, and have to, live anywhere they want. 

That whole supply and demand thing?  That whole environmental sustainability thing?  Well, clearly that's for the rich and selfish--and fortunately, our developers are anything BUT rich or selfish. 

(Except, of course, for those developers who--and you DO exist--know how to keep a project modest, reasonable in its variances and height and parking and density, and free of acrimony from the residents and community leaders) 

5) Decry our car-based lifestyle--yes, Angelenos and others are spending and compromising aplenty to allow for pedestrian, bus, bicycle, and train-based commuting, but cars are going to be a thing of the past, doncha know! 

Because EVERYONE wants to use car-sharing, Uber, Lyft, etc., and even the Millennials (when they start having kids) will want nothing to do with owning their own car, or owning a second car, to accommodate a two-parent family with small children. 

So SCREW the whole parking requirement thing, and SCREW the neighbors concerned about how a new development will cause spillover parking on their property...because they're selfish...and evil...and living in the past that was probably based on cruelty, racism, elitism, and fascism 

... and ... there ya have it.  I could probably throw out a few other ideas, but you get the picture.  No, a seven-story development in a three-story neighborhood, with very little affordable housing, woefully-inadequate parking couldn't possibly be bad. 

The developer just had NO CHOICE but to make it that tall, that big, that dense, and with that little parking.  And seeing the sun again with that height ... probably over-rated, too. 

So thank you, Sacramento and Downtown Los Angeles, for coming up with policies that to my Neanderthal way of thinking will destroy the Environment, Economy, and Quality of Life for current and future generations of Angelenos. 

Thank you for allowing a 7-story monstrosity on a currently-open boulevard at 12444 Venice Blvd.  My community's hopes of mitigation, compromise, REAL affordable and transit-oriented housing and development have been turned around. 

We all now know better.  It's not the developer and her enabling political leaders who are the problem. 

WE'RE the problem.  And we're ready to pay a whole lotta taxes on transportation, parks, schools, the homeless, etc. this November...and maybe, some day, we can start thinking about how to pay for our sidewalks to be fixed in 7-10 years (instead of 30 years) after we get through embracing this new wave of taxes and development!

 

(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

City Hall for Sale: Casden West LA Mega-Project Spent $1.3 Million to Win Favors from LA Politicians

VOX POP … VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--Since 2000, billionaire developer Alan Casden and his representatives have spent a whopping $1,396,660 to curry favor from LA politicians, according city Ethics Commission records. Casden is considered a powerhouse developer in Los Angeles -- at one point, he was looking to buy the Dodgers. Just like other shrewd developers, he knew that a key to success would be spreading around lots of cash at City Hall. 

Casden, founder of Beverly Hills-based Casden Properties, and his team have shelled out $55,150 in campaign contributions to LA political candidates, according to the Ethics Commission. Also, since 2000, Casden and crew have spent $1,341,510 on politically connected City Hall lobbyists, who then seek favors from LA politicians and bureaucrats. That’s an eye-popping total of $1,396,660. 

One of Casden’s most recent projects is Casden West LA, a controversial mega-project located at Pico and Sepulveda boulevards, where gridlock traffic is infamous. Casden came under intense pressure from community groups to downscale the project, which he ultimately did. But the developer still wanted to build more than 595 residential units on the site, and he needed the L.A. City Council to sign off. 

In addition, Casden West LA sits next to the 405 Freeway. USC and UCLA researchers have found that housing within 500 feet of a busy freeway can cause a number of serious health problems for children, pregnant women, senior citizens and the infirm. Such freeway-adjacent housing has come to be known as “Black Lung Lofts.”  

Regardless of the traffic gridlock and health hazards, LA politicians approved Casden West LA in 2013, though the development has not yet been built. 

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

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

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

Developers and their politician pals will do anything to defeat our reform movement and continue their wrong-headed policies. But together, we, the citizens, can create the change that LA needs!

 

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

CalPERS … Private Equity … and the Quest to Be Governor

EASTSIDER-My ears always perk up when I hear CalPERS and private equity mentioned in the same breath. Our story starts a couple of years ago, when these words came to the attention of a financial blog, Naked Capitalism, which noticed that CalPERS representations about the wonderful returns on their private equity fund bets simply made no sense. 

This is important because, like most pension funds, CalPERS wasn’t able to make the 7.5% returns on investment they had adopted in calculating what they needed to keep the Plan afloat and healthy. Private equity investments are important to the Plan since they are key to their strategy of trying to get high yields on their investments. 

And you and I should care about this, ‘cause guess who has to pony up more money if CalPERS guesses wrong? Yup. Members of the plan and taxpayers. 

Anyhow, there was much controversy over CalPERS’ refusal to provide public information about their private equity holdings and the actual returns on them. At the time, I wrote about the blatant misrepresentations by CalPERS staff as they tried to pretend that they were actually making a ton of money from investing in Private Equity deals 

Ultimately, the mess got so bad that respected national figures were all questioning the real returns of private equity partnerships, after all the hidden fees were taken into consideration. Thirteen public officials from all over the United States even wrote a letter to the Securities & Exchange Commission. Finally, the California State Treasurer, John Chiang, weighed in and initiated legislation to curb the abuses. I got so excited that I wrote a piece called John Chiang Steps Up.”  The Bill is AB 2833, and was actually authored by Assembly person Cooley. 

Silly me. 

Imagine my reaction when a recent LA Times article wrote a very unflattering piece over CalPERS, private equity, and by implication, John Chiang his own self.

Even though the Times article gets a bit mixed up trying to balance things by quoting an alleged law professor from UCLA, whose credentials are suspect, the point is clear: this is the old ‘bait and switch’ kind of legislation that the California Legislature is (in)famous for. 

Which brings me to a point about politics. Here’s how it played out: As Treasurer of the State of California, John Chiang automatically has a seat on the 13-member CalPERS Board. Late last year, he actually intervened in the private equity mess by getting AB 2833 (Cooler) introduced. Since Chaing was busy Treasurer, he sent a representative, Grant Boyken. 

So why would his representative at the CalPERS May Board meeting, basically lie through his teeth to the Board about negotiations between the Treasurer’s Office and the Bill’s author over proposed amendments to AB 2833? 

These amendments, it turns out, gutted the bill once Boyken got the Board to support it “if amended” -- but without specifying what those amendments would be. And they were amendments that Boyken clearly knew about when he made his representations to the CalPERS Board. Heck, one of the Bill’s original drafters and supporters even testified to that effect. Here’s the link to a detailed article detailing how Grant Boyken Duped CalPERS Board.  

Not only did the Treasurer’s Office mislead the CalPERS Board, their representative doubled down with his mealy-mouthed responses to the LA Times questions.   

There is only one logical explanation for all of this intrigue. Last year, John Chiang was simply the State Treasurer. This year, John Chiang is a candidate for Governor of the State of California. Do the math. As his deputy, who, by his own admission, is deeply involved in the negotiations between the Treasurer and the author of AB 2833, there is simply no way that Grant Boyken was unaware of these pending amendments when he misled the CalPERS Board. 

The shame about CalPERS support of AB 2833 is twofold. First, it shows that there is not a lot of due diligence done by either staff or the Board itself on the subject of private equity funds, and that is scary. Remember, as the Orange County Register recently reported, CalPERS annual return on investment for this year is going to be essentially zero (0) percent -- even as the Board is looking for a 7.5% return to make their books balance. 

Secondly, it’s a real disappointment to see the political machinations of a man I viewed as the only “grown up” in the field of candidates for Governor -- John Chiang. Think about it. My reasoning starts with Jerry Brown who has been the only counterbalance to the tax and spend democratic super majority for his entire term of office. Even the Howard Jarvis folks have as much as admitted it. 

So who exactly is going to step up and fill that gap when Brown leaves? Gavin Newsom? Antonio Villaraigosa? Eric Garcetti? Give me a break. Chiang is a very smart and savvy politician who comes out of the financial side of politics and actually knows how to count. What a concept. And nobody that I know of except Chiang has the chops to successfully stand up to the Democrats when Brown terms out. The sudden bait and switch on AB 2833 shows the money power of the private equity crowd and their lobbyists, politicians and camp followers. Yuck! 

By the time you read this article, CalPERS will have had their July meeting, and we will see how their brand new shiny Executive Director, Marcie Frost, and their seemingly inept investment staff, as well at the problematic Board of Directors, handle this problem. Or if they do at all.

 

(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.

 

Build Better LA Takes Some Heat from … Surprise … Unions

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW--Affordable housing is a big issue in LA. November’s jam-packed ballot will include an affordable housing measure, Build Better LA, backed by labor unions and community groups. If passed, the measure would place affordable housing requirements on developers who seek approval for projects larger than city rules allow. 

The measure is opposed by business groups like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce who believe the proposal would impede needed development, increasing construction costs, especially vis a vis requirements that would favor union labor. 

A surprising new group is rallying against the measure, tenant activists. The LA Tenants Union argues that the restrictions placed by Build Better LA would encourage construction of luxury housing instead of affordable apartments. Should the measure pass, activists fear renters would face eviction from buildings that would be demolished to pave the way for new construction. 

Per an analysis by City Atty. Mike Feuer, some developments seeking zoning changes or amendments to the city general plan could either build affordable housing or pay a fee to bypass the requirement. 

Certain projects would be required to follow wage and hiring guidelines and the city would be limited in its ability to restrict general plan amendments. The general plan is a blueprint to ensure development meets certain guidelines for affordable housing, access to public transportation, and labor. 

If existing affordable housing is razed to make room for costly developments, tenants would not have a guaranteed right to return, according to the Tenants Union, a right that only exists now under certain circumstances. Several renters groups support the measure. 

A second measure, which bakers hope to get on the March ballot, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, would limit spot zoning to bypass planning rules for individual development projects. 

As developers continue the race to build luxury and mixed use projects to gentrify neighborhoods, the affordable housing crisis will not be abated. We need affordable housing close to public transportation and employment for our city to survive and thrive. 

Forcing Angelenos further from centers of employment isn’t prudent for the economics of the city or for the environment. We need limits to development to serve both Angelenos and the business community, which also benefits from workers who can live closer to jobs. We need to ensure city office holders adhere to the city’s general plan instead of making decisions to favor the deep pockets of developers who will choose to pay a “fee” to bypass affordable housing requirements.

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

-cw

A Better Way to Fund Homeless Housing: Future City Revenues, Not a New Tax

GUEST WORDS--When looking at the City of Los Angeles’ proposed $1.2 billion bond for homeless housing, residents should look past the obvious question of whether this will really get the 27,000 people living on our sidewalks into housing. Instead they should focus on more fundamental questions: 

Is this the City’s responsibility? 

Is a new tax really needed? 

Will the tax burden be spread fairly? 

Is an adequate process in place to avoid mismanagement and corruption? 

The answer to all four questions is: No. 

Counties* in California - not cities - are the government entities responsible for taking care of mentally incompetent, poor, indigent and incapacitated persons. Yet the County of Los Angeles only provides $221 per month in general relief (which jumps to a grant of $877 from Social Security if a person is totally disabled). As an old saying goes, the only problem with poor people is that they don’t have any money. If the County had regularly indexed the $221 figure to account for decades of inflation, a significant number of the homeless would be able to afford to live in shared apartments and houses. 

In the face of the County shirking its duty, the goodhearted folks at City Hall have volunteered to help – as long as someone else pays for it. 

Before residents let the City Hall again put its hand into their pocket they might consider that the City Administrative Officer projects that the budget will grow from $5.55 billion to $6.20 billion in just the next four years, about $650 million in new revenues each year by 2020. If the City simply committed 10% of the budget increase over the next twenty years it could easily pay off the $63 million needed each year to service the bond without a tax increase. 

If it is adopted in November, the bond’s tax burden will fall unevenly, with most of the cost being covered by those who have more recently purchased property, whether houses and condos, apartments, or commercial and industrial buildings. This is due to the operation of Proposition 13 which reassesses properties to market value upon sale (or new construction). Renters – including those who are quite wealthy - will pay nothing, and those who have owned their property since 1978, when Proposition 13 passed, will pay very little. 

While City officials say the average yearly increase would be $44.31 per year for a home assessed at $327,900, the current median in Los Angeles, the tax on the Westside and elsewhere with more expensive real estate will be far higher. 

My duplex, purchased in 1989, is assessed at about $800,000. So, I would pay an average over the expected 28 year life of the bond of about $106 a year (on top of the $1,470 I already pay each year to retire school and community college construction bonds.) However, a new buyer of my property, at about a $3.5 million sales price, would pay an average of $473 per year, with a spike in the 11th year to about $800 when all the bonds will have been sold. 

These effects play out much differently between apartments and commercial property. The City’s rent control ordinance does not allow apartment owners to pass on property tax increases to renters, so apartment owners will have to absorb all the increase. But commercial property is frequently under a triple net lease, which requires the lessee to pay the property taxes, so lots of mom-and-pop businesses will have to pick up the bill. 

With more than a billion dollars at play, the potential is high for mismanagement, favoritism and corruption. However, the oversight committee designed by the City Council has the foxes guarding the hen house. Four are appointed by the Mayor, three by the City Council and there are no qualifications required - such as 10 years or more of multi-million dollar construction management experience or being a certified public accountant. There also is no funding for the committee to hire independent staff or retain experts. Nothing in the bond ordinance prevents the appointment of political cronies or individuals from the affordable housing industry who have a financial interest in which projects are funded.

This all suggests the County, with funding from Sacramento, should finally step up and assume its legal requirement to take care of the homeless. If the City still feels it wants to help, it can fund a housing bond from future revenues. Even without a new tax, strengthening the independence and qualifications of the oversight committee would be prudent. 

*WELFARE AND INSTITUTIONS CODE SECTION 17000

 Every county and every city and county (i.e.; San Francisco) shall relieve and support all incompetent, poor, indigent persons, and those incapacitated by age, disease, or accident, lawfully resident therein, when such persons are not supported and relieved by their relatives or friends, by their own means, or by state hospitals or other state or private institutions. 

(Mark Ryavec is the former Chief Deputy Assessor for Los Angeles County and now serves as president of the non-profit Venice Stakeholders Association.)

-cw

 

 

The Republicans Should Avoid Talking about Global Warming

GELFAND’S WORLD--Think of it as a much bigger, real-life version of the movie Jaws. The town sheriff and the nerdy biologist want to warn the people about the menace, but the town fathers don't want to hurt business. 

"Maybe it's not that bad." 

"But it's a hungry, predatory beast that has already killed!" 

"Well, maybe it will go away." 

For those of a scientific frame of mind, global warming is the beast. It's the worst risk we face. Until giant bug-eyed monsters from outer space or land sharks invade us, or until we get into a nuclear war, global warming is our supreme risk. Nothing else comes close in terms of the worldwide catastrophic effects likely to occur. That's not only to us humans, but also to pretty much every other life form on the planet. 

What's the tie-in to the presidential conventions we will be having? In a word, global warming is potentially still at the stage where we humans can have some effect on the eventual outcome. At least I hope we are still at that stage. But we need to make a mutual decision as a species that we will do our best to prevent the worst. And that's where the politics of this democracy come in. Choices have to be made, and unfortunately, the choice-making process has been perverted. 

The choice: To decrease the slope of our descent into a dramatically worsened world, we have to make changes, beginning with our profligate spending of fossil fuels. At some point, we will also have to come to grips with our own population explosion, the root of our other problems. At another point we may choose to deal with ancillary problems such as the number of cattle we raise. These are, every one of them, difficult problems and each linked to solutions that will be painful to somebody. 

These next two weeks, we will observe the beginnings of the decision-making process. This week, the Republicans will engage in the first of two propaganda celebrations. Then the Democrats get to do their own rites. Should any of the speakers at either convention bring up the issue of global warming, we can expect diametrically opposed positions. It's as if the orbit of the earth around the sun were still in question, the way the two parties differ on this fundamental question. 

For some reason, the leaders of the Republican Party have bought into the mythology that global warming doesn't exist, or if it does exist then it is the result of natural changes, or that if it does exist and humans are partly to blame, then it's too late and too expensive to do anything about it. It's not unlike those arguments about gun control in which the pro-gun side wants to talk about anything but the guns themselves. In the case of global warming, the climate change denialists will talk about the inherent fallibility of scientific data, or raise accusations about the motives of climate scientists, or look desperately for (and even find) a couple of scientists who remain skeptical. But the overall weight of the evidence and the conclusion it implies aren't popular topics in Republican debate. 

The problem for climate change denialists is that the scientific data are getting to be pretty close to overwhelming. There is no disputing the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been going up steadily, and there is no disputing the fact that carbon dioxide has an absorbance and emission spectrum that helps our atmosphere to retain heat. That's why we use terms like greenhouse effect. The only remaining part of the argument is whether the plants and animals of planet earth will be incredibly lucky, at least for a while. 

At the moment, the official Republican line is that global warming is a hoax. Donald Trump has been going around reciting that position, for example in an interview with the editorial board of the Washington Post.  "I'm not a big believer in man-made climate change." 

Notice the choice of words: believer 

This should be a clue to the overall thought process that goes into such statements. The validity of a physical change affecting the entire surface of planet Earth is treated as if you can decide Yes or No based on your personal political obsessions. The tens of thousands of measurements made by orbiting spacecraft, the historical record found in tree rings and glacial cores, none of these matter if you can force yourself to remain in a strong enough state of denial. It's see no science, hear no science, speak no science. 

The Republicans have so far managed to treat global warming not so much as a scientific controversy, but as a political game that it is possible to win. 

The week after next, the Democrats will be holding their own convention. The question for mankind isn't whether the convention treats Bernie Sanders kindly, but whether the Democrats will be serious enough about global warming to even mention it. And if they mention it, will they make a serious case for doing serious things? 

The Clinton campaign treats global warming as a serious threat. My concern is Clinton's need to marry the concept of global warming to some oh-so standard political cliche mongering. Making America the world's clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge. Hear me out, Hillary: It's the crashing of major ecosystems, the extinction of tens of thousands of species, and a future of misery for much of the world's human population if we don't get going. It's not like adjusting the dollar exchange rate to improve our import/export ration by a couple of percent, or moving farm price supports up a few percent to save Illinois farmers from losing money on next year's crop. 

But the Democratic Party's argument is phrased in terms of creating jobs, not saving the world. 

I can understand the idea of sugar coating the medicine a bit, as long as we can agree that at some point, we may have to agree that humans need to make some sacrifices in order to save the world. But right now, the Clinton website is basically about the sugar coating, and not much about either the medicine or the problem it is supposed to treat. 

Still, the conversion of the American economy to solar power is a useful thing, and potentially decisive in stemming global warming if the rest of the world does the same thing. 

By the way, we (and the rest of the world) will probably be better off if Republican convention speakers avoid the topic of global warming. The reasoning behind this statement may seem strained, but the logic works: Right now, Republicans with a bit of intelligence and education have to know that they are on the wrong side of science on the question. They've been gradually shifting their position from "there is no global warming" to the slightly softened "it's getting warm, but we can still drive our cars." They're not quite ready to move even further, to "This is a major emergency, albeit a slowly forming one, and we have to do what it takes, even if it costs." 

That would be a decisive statement. It's too bad that the Republicans aren't decisive on global warming the way they pretend to be decisive on middle east wars. But they just aren't there yet. So it's better if they say nothing, because in saying nothing, there is less distance they have to back-peddle when the time comes. 

Notice that the Democratic Party position isn't a decisive statement that we need to save the world, whatever the price. It's more like a promise that the next economic stimulus package will include solar installations, and not just new highways and bridges.

 

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

-cw

 

The Deterrence Myth: Prop 66 Death Penalty ‘Reform’ is just ‘Fools Gold’ for Californians

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS--When Mike Ramos, the current district attorney for San Bernardino County (and candidate for California Attorney General), pleaded for Californians to send him one million dollars at the end of April -- so he could afford "paid petition gatherers" to collect enough signatures to qualify "the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016" for placement on the November 8 ballot -- he asserted, "the threat, and application, of a working death penalty law in California is law enforcement's strongest tool to keep our communities safe." 

Other than the proverbial bridge in Brooklyn, no bigger, more bald-faced balderdash has heretofore been sold to Californian voters.  

Eviscerating the myth that the death penalty acts as a valuable deterrent, the Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund soberly observed in 2014, that "there's still no evidence that executions deter criminals."  Delving into scientific studies done on the subject for Newsweek, including a 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences (comprised of our nation's brightest scientific minds), Stanford Law Professor John Donohue’s assessment of the death penalty's deterrent value at the end of last summer was even bleaker. In a column called, “Does the death penalty deter killers?,”  Donohue resoundingly concluded: "There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide."  

Instead of continuing such a deeply flawed policy, Donohue wrote: “A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crime.” (Formerly a professor at Yale and Northwestern Law School, Donohue is one of the leading empirical researchers in legal academia.) 

The shibboleth that the death penalty acts as a deterrent is just one of many reasons why “Proposition 66, ‘The Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,’ is Fool’s Gold for Californians.”   

Savvy, streetwise, sophisticated Californians have a superlatively better, more effective alternative to vote for, called Proposition 62, "The Justice That Works Act of 2016."  Proposition 62 would (1) replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole; (2) require death row inmates to work and pay wages to their victims' families; and (3) save taxpayers a projected $150 million dollars a year. 

Apart from finally ending California’s ignominious and failed experiment with capital punishment -- making us a standard-bearer for other states where already, “practically speaking, the death penalty is disappearing”  – do you know what’s best about Proposition 62? 

Unlike Proposition 66, the prospective benefits of Proposition 62 are not illusory, based on a bunch of baloney, glorified ballyhoo, or like death penalty proponents’ deterrence argument – bunk.

 

(Stephen A. Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Residents On Edge: Will ‘Hollywood Project’ Overwhelm Larchmont?

VOX POP … VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--With a slick website and considerable political clout, Paramount Pictures has been pushing a $700-million plan to modernize its campus at 5555 Melrose Avenue, deemed the “Hollywood Project.” Larchmont residents, though, are justifiably concerned that the massive redo will overwhelm their community. On Thursday, July 14, the city’s planning commission will consider recommended approvals for the project.

In addition to worsening the already traffic-clogged streets around Paramount Pictures, many residents are alarmed by Paramount’s plan to construct a 15-story building along Melrose Avenue and install super-graphic signs touting the studio’s latest blockbusters. The building would tower over the nearby, low-slung, residential neighborhood.

For the project, Paramount Pictures executives seek approvals from the City Council and mayor that include a General Plan amendment and zone change.

In numerous letters to the city’s planning department, residents constantly noted that the 15-story building would destroy neighborhood character.

“A 15-story office building in our neighborhood blocking our view of the hills? Really? Are they nuts? This is not downtown Los Angeles,” wrote resident Teresa August.

She added, “I’m trying to think of a positive here, but am coming up short. It seems all good for Paramount, but all bad for us.”

Resident Kate Corsmeier wrote, “The Paramount lot is beautiful and historically significant, [but] a 15-story building does not blend with the existing buildings, will block views and add to the feeling of an impersonal commercial district rather than a cohesive commercial and residential area.”

Resident Susan Leibowitz noted, “It’s great that Paramount is infusing money [into] the neighborhood. But the building at Gower and Melrose is too tall for our neighborhood. There’s nothing that tall around here. They need to scale it back.”

And Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association president Charles D’Atri wrote:

I have grave concerns about a number of elements contained in the proposal plan… Several of the proposed features, including the 15- and 8-story towers, super signage and proposed new electronic sign district, are inappropriate and completely represent a break with the historical approach to development on this property. Massive 15-story office towers and lively bright electronic signage might be appropriate in a number of areas, however they do not have a place abutting a quiet, residential neighborhood.

Larchmont activists are expected to show up in force at the planning commission hearing at City Hall in room 350 at 8:30 a.m. on July 14, hoping L.A. officials will actively address their concerns. 

Rendering of massive Paramount Pictures’ “Hollywood Project”

But Paramount Pictures executives and employees have long been major campaign contributors to L.A. politicians. Since 2000, according to the city’s Ethics Commission, they have given at least $95,400 to local pols. At City Hall, that’s a sizable sum that doesn’t go unnoticed.

In addition, since 2003, Paramount has spent at least $238,187 on City Hall lobbyists, who then curry favor with City Council members and the mayor.

That’s how things work within LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Pay huge sums in campaign contributions and lobbying fees, and win big favors in return. 

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

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA.)

-cw

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