Sun, Jul

Coming Attractions: New Digital Billboards on LA City Streets?

BILLBOARD WATCH-Will this digital billboard re-appear? In this location, or elsewhere? The photo is from 2010. But new digital billboards are going to start popping up along LA’s streets and freeways, probably sooner than later. The only questions are exactly where these brightly-lighted signs with rapidly-changing ads will appear, and how many will ultimately brighten the landscape with their shiny sales pitches to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians on those congested thoroughfares. 

That’s a prediction, not a fact. But it’s based on close observation of the saga that began when the city banned those billboards fourteen years ago, a convoluted epic involving lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, multiple rewritings of the city sign ordinance, numerous public meetings, and a lobbying and public relations campaign by Clear Channel and other big billboard companies that resembled, in its expense and relentlessness, a military exercise designed to batter down City Hall walls and turn politicians into willing and even enthusiastic allies. 

The latest chapter opens tomorrow, when the City Council’s PLUM committee takes up a proposal to allow 150 new digital billboards in exchange for taking down existing static billboards, providing community benefits, and sharing part of the considerable revenue generated by the signs. That’s it in a nutshell, although a lot of details would remain to be worked out, mostly to do with questions of quantity -- how many billboards taken down, how many streetscape improvements or pieces of public art or other community benefits, how much revenue. 

Certain numbers are floated in an 11-page joint report from the city’s planning department, the chief legislative analyst, the chief administrative officer, and the department of building and safety. One is a sign reduction of 8 to 1, based on square footage. In other words, if a full-size digital billboard were to be erected, Clear Channel or other company owning the sign would have to take down eight of equivalent size. And half of those billboards would have to be taken down within a five-mile radius of the new digital sign. 

But how can this happen without lifting the aforementioned 2002 ban on new billboards (defined by code as off-site signs) and any modifications to existing ones -- which, presumably, would open the floodgates to new billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising all over the city. 

The mechanism proposed by city officials and touted by Clear Channel ever since the court ordered their digital billboards turned off in 2013, is the relocation agreement. Put simply, California law allows cities to enter into an agreement with a billboard owner to remove a billboard and put up a new one of equivalent size elsewhere. This law was intended to relieve cities and other jurisdictions from paying compensation for billboards needing to be removed for street widenings and other public works projects, and it would -- presuming again -- allow LA’s off-site sign ban to remain intact. 

After the city settled a lawsuit back in 2006 by allowing Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor (now Outfront Media) to convert 840 of their billboards to digital, the companies got 101 of the new billboards operating before public outcry lifted to such a pitch that the City Council slapped on a moratorium and then a permanent ban on the signs. A lawsuit by a smaller billboard company then resulted in a court ruling that the city’s lawsuit settlement was illegal and that the digital billboards had to be shut off. 

Those digital billboards had been put up without any public notice or restrictions on location and proximity to residences. City planners and other officials obviously learned something from the debacle, because the proposal to be considered by the PLUM committee includes a number of restrictions apparently designed to lessen the impact of digital signs. 

Among the most noteworthy are prohibitions of the signs in areas zoned neighborhood or limited commercial, which typically have small shops and neighborhood businesses; in public parks, historic preservation zones, and along designated scenic highways; and areas within 500 ft. of single family zones. 

Still, this is a major departure from action of the City Planning Commission, first back in 2009 and again in 2015, which restricted any new off-site signs, including digital billboards, to 22 high-intensity commercial areas including downtown, Universal City, Warner Center, Mid-Wilshire, and others. That restriction, however, has been strenuously opposed by Clear Channel and other members of the billboard industry, and it became clear earlier this year that despite the support of numerous individuals, neighborhood councils, and community groups, the five-member PLUM committee was going to turn a collective thumbs down. 

Another unknown is whether new “relocated” digital billboards will be allowed on both private and public property, as vigorously promoted by the major billboard companies, or only on public property, as put forward in a proposal last year by City Councilman Paul Krekorian. Those companies -- Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising -- have vigorously enlisted the support of business groups, labor unions, and non-profit organizations in their push to allow the billboards on both private and public property, so the smart money is probably on that arrangement. 

Still, many questions remain. For instance, will a small billboard company like Regency Outdoor or Summit Media be interested in removing eight of its existing billboards just to get one digital sign? What about Lamar Advertising’s inventory, which consists predominately of small signs in less affluent neighborhoods? Would it want to put up all its new digital billboards in communities miles away where eyeballs are more coveted by advertisers? And what about Clear Channel’s and Outfront’s digital billboards that have been sitting dark for three years? Many of these signs generated complaints about light flashing in windows, possible distractions to drivers, and so forth. Do the companies want to turn a bunch of those back on? 

And perhaps most importantly, what is the legal significance of these proposals? The highly litigious billboard industry, as well as other outdoor advertising companies, have sued the city repeatedly in the past, all attacking in one way or another that nefarious 2002 ban on new off-site signs. The sign district restriction adopted by the City Planning Commission was originally touted as a way to allow off-site signs without opening up the ban to legal attack. 

Any digital billboard scheme the PLUM committee stamps with its imprimatur will have to be put in ordinance form by the City Attorney’s office, which-- presuming yet again -- means that some light will be shed on possible legal pitfalls. 

We’ll see.


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

City Hall Flashback: They’ve Always Been Cheats!

EASTSIDER-I’m looking at an old CityWatch Special Report from September 2006, which was published ahead of the November 2006 general election. What’s fascinating to me is the subject matter of the two major events it covered -- Proposition R and a one billion dollar affordable housing bond called Measure H. These two events are still timely today as we look forward to this November’s general election. 

Measure R and Legal Lying 

The most politically divisive and deliberately misleading of the two was Measure R, captioned as “Council member Term Limits of Three Terms, City Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Ethics Laws, Charter Amendment and Ordinance Proposition R.” 

Here’s how misleading the measure really was: (1) it made it seem like LA City Councilmembers would have stricter term limits of only three terms, when the truth is, that measure expanded the term limits from two to three terms; and (2) it made it seem as if there was a real substantive crackdown on lobbyists, when in fact, the opposite was true: existing rules were turned on their head. 

And who were the movers and shakers behind this smarmy sleight of hand? None other than then Council President Eric Garcetti, along with god’s gift to the Eastside, Jose Huizar. Rounding out the pack was our current Council President, Herb Wesson. Yes, sir, all in for the gravy train. 

On the other side of this deal was a little band of mostly Neighborhood Council types and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo -- who publically stated that the measure, as dastardly as I have described it, was passed over his opposition. In the interests of full disclosure, I should report that your humble blogger was among that little band of folks filing the NO Argument on this one. 

It got really ugly. We wound up in Superior Court over the hopelessly skewed language of the Ballot description -- and we won. Of course, the Superior Court judge was quickly reversed by those bastions of the establishment in the Appeals Court. The result was that the public was denied the truth when they voted in November. 

On the Ethics side, the measure was equally toxic. Bill Boyarsky, a really good guy who was on the City Ethics Commission at the time, was quoted in an LA Times article, saying Measure R was “outrageous,” and noted that the LA City Council “showed absolute contempt for the Ethics Commission.” Of course, unbeknownst to most normal people who do not follow the slime trail of LA City politics, guess who was the President of the LA City Ethics Commission at the time? None other than Gil Garcetti -- yes, that Gil Garcetti -- former District Attorney of Los Angeles County and father of Council President Eric Garcetti. 

I mean, this thing stunk worse than the plot of a bad soap opera. Naturally, backed by the big bucks of lobbyists and political insiders, you won’t be shocked to hear that the measure passed before the voters figured out they’d been hoodwinked. 

For those interested in the event, check out the history on Smartvoter.org.  

And You Thought Affordable Housing Bonds Were New? 

As long as the Council was sliding through job extensions for themselves, it evidently seemed like a good idea to back door a new tax increase by asking for $1 billion in bonds for a really good cause -- Measure H, “Affordable Housing.” Of course it wasn’t simply called that. Nope, in and of itself, something with such a clear title might get defeated at the ballot box. The text of the final ballot language is below, and the smartvoter.org history file is here

“To provide safe, clean, affordable housing for the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless, such as battered women and their children, veterans, seniors and the disabled; assist first time homebuyers; provide low income working families safe and affordable rental housing; shall the City of Los Angeles issue $1,000,000,000 of bonds, with independent citizen oversight, mandatory annual financial audits, and prosecution for criminal misuse of funds?” 

My goodness. This measure was the written equivalent of all those TV ads showing starving children and abused animals. I mean, how could anyone with a heart not vote for it? And, by the way, people did vote for this one. Measure H was only defeated because of the 2/3 requirement for tax increases. The final vote tally was 62.86% in favor and 31.14% against. 

Two points here. First, prominent among the shining proponents of Measure H were Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Council President Eric Garcetti, and then Councilmember (and Chair of the City Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee) Herb Wesson. Gee, do these names sound familiar? 

The second point is a lesson in why voters really need to read the full text of anything on a ballot before voting for or against it. In the case of Measure H, buried in the lengthy text of the measure was a Fiscal Impact analysis by then LA City CAO Bill Fujioka: 

“The debt service will be paid from additional property tax revenues based upon the assessed value of all taxable property within the City.” 

Of course most people don’t even bother to vote, much less look at what they are voting for. But for a few tenths of a percentage point, we would have had another tax. 

Back to my ongoing concern about City Hall and Neighborhood Councils. Why this Measure frosted me is that it demonstrated what Council President Garcetti (and the entire City Council) really thought about Neighborhood Councils. As CityWatch put it: 

“The main reason Neighborhood Councils are upset about the proposed billion dollar affordable housing bond issue is that while numerous powerful interests were invited to draft and vet the proposal, the only group the City Charter mandates the city consult with - Neighborhood Councils - was completely ignored.” 

The only difference between 2006 and 2016 is that in 2006, then Council President Garcetti was sufficiently worried (probably about passing the bond) that he actually agreed to leave his ivory tower and go to LANCC’s first ever General Assembly to discuss the matter. I wonder if he or Herb would do the same today. 

The Takeaway - Career Politicians Don’t Change 

Flash forward from 2006 to 2016, one whole decade. Many of the faces in LA City are the same: Eric Garcetti, Herb Wesson, Jose Huizar, and the always running for something, Antonio Villaraigosa. And behind them are the developers, the “fixers,” the lobbyist law firms and fronts for money. 

One example would be the Kaufman Legal Group, a professional corporation dedicated to “political law.” There are lots of others; I only mention them because guess who worked Measure R in 2006? 

Yup, and their client list reads like a Who’s Who of the democratic party establishment -- Kevin De Leon, Eric Garcetti, Janice Hahn, Jackie Lacey, Alex Padilla, John Perez, and Herb Wesson, just to name a few. And since they specialize in Governmental Ethics, I would note that Gary Winuk, former Chief of the California FPPC’s Enforcement Division from 2009 to 2015, has recently joined their Sacramento office. I guess you should buy the very best when lookin’ for loopholes in ethics laws. 

Seems to me that not too much has really changed in the last decade of LA City politics, other than the fact that after Measure R, City Council members have been able to inflict themselves on us for twelve years instead of eight. Ain’t life grand? 

Oh, I guess there is one change -- City Hall politicians now routinely blow off the Neighborhood Councils with impunity. They have the City Attorney, BONC and DONE to front for them and control us.


(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. 

Can You Believe It? Over Half a Million People Arrested In California for Marijuana In Last Decade

POT POLITICS--Although legalization of recreation marijuana did not pass in California in 2010, Robin Abcarian, with the LA Times  writes that marijuana is barely labeled as a “gateway drug” anymore, and you hardly find anyone saying it’s evil. Hence she believes that recreational use of marijuana will be legalized when it goes up for ballot in November. 

Nearly two-thirds of California voters support legalization of marijuana for recreational use, according to a poll released on Wednesday by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. From June 29 to July 18, 2016, 3,020 people were surveyed in this poll. 

One of the arguments against legalization is that patients in California can be prescribed to treat practically any ailment. Therefore, according to such opposition, legalization for recreational use isn’t required. 

Further, in 2011, California made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a minor offense that is only as bad as a parking ticket. 

However, the Drug Policy Alliance released a report finding that almost half a million people were arrested in connection with marijuana related charges in the last 10 years. Almost 9,000 people were arrested on marijuana-related felonies in 2015 alone.  

“Black, Latino, and white people use and sell marijuana at similar rates, yet black and Latino people are more likely to be arrested for a marijuana law violation,” according to the report’s press release. 

“Black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana misdemeanors and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana felonies. Latinos are 35 percent more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana offense: 45 percent more likely for a misdemeanor and 26 percent more likely for a felony.” 

In addition, arrests of people under 18 for marijuana misdemeanors almost tripled in 2015 when compared to the time period before 2011 - when the charge for personal use possession was dropped to a misdemeanor. 

Thousands of people are still being arrested for misdemeanor possession charges, giving away marijuana to other people, or possessing more than an ounce of marijuana. 

Upon passing marijuana legalization, possession of marijuana concentrates, giving away minor quantities of marijuana would all be legal. People will also be able to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (which is now a felony). And plants can be sold and taxed like in Colorado. 

In February, the Denver Post reported that in 2015 legal sales of marijuana in Colorado hit $996,184,788. 

“Colorado also collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015 — more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects,” The Denver Post reports.  

With a population that is almost eight times larger than Colorado, California’s Department of Finance director Michael Cohen and legislative analyst Mac Taylor reported that California can potentially collect over $1 billion in tax revenue yearly if marijuana legalization passes. 

It is argued that legalization will reduce the amount of arrests for marijuana-related charges. That means less people will miss work, lose a job, have an arrest on their record, or restrict their chances of leading a productive life due to a victimless act that shouldn’t be considered a crime. 

An initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will appear on the November ballot.

(Neal Rodriguez is a technologist and journalist who has worked for the Neilson Company, AOL and the US Department of Defense. This perspective was posted most recently at Huff Post.


Between the World and John Deasy

EDUCATION POLITICS--Dear Professor Ta-Nehisi Coates (photo, right above): I am writing in response to an open letter that was recently addressed to you asking for your attention and admiration. It was written by the disgraced former superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy. (photo, left above) 

I realize, Dr. Coates, that you are not reading this article. I doubt that you read John Deasy’s either. John Deasy did not write it for you. The obsequious screed addressed to you was really for himself and the sponsors of his next “private-public” agenda: Alternative Juvenile Prisons. 

So, I will address the same people whom John Deasy was addressing by similarly using you as my pseudo-conduit. (NOTE: My exploitation of your name and works is at least honest.) I hope you won’t mind being the vehicle for my Public Service Announcement. 

John Deasy’s address to you was published in The 74, one of the primary voices of the extremely well-funded Education Reform Movement. Its founder, Campbell Brown, has accrued a number of Republican and wealthy Neo-Liberal Democrats to push their education agenda through its editorial advocacy. John Deasy is one of the stars of this movement. 

Professor Coates, as an admirer of your landmark book and your other writings as well (hearty shout out to the new Black Panther comic!), I would like to give you an opposing viewpoint on John Deasy and provide an alternative insight into his selfish education political agenda. 

First off, you should know that I taught AP English, Philosophy and Film in an LAUSD high school for over twenty years. I am a National Board Certified Teacher who uses literature and film as a way of expanding the world for my students to inform their own political and cultural consciousness. I am most proud of the fact that so many of my former students have gone on to college and adult life politically engaged, working in areas to promote social justice. 

Looking back, the leadership of John Deasy at LAUSD was one of the most arrogantly destructive eras of my pedagogical lifetime. His tenure at LAUSD was marked by a raging autocratic management style where he took unilateral actions to further the corporate education agenda of Big Business -- all justified under a mask of civil rights “urgency.” Indeed “Dr.” Deasy is as adept as the Koch Brothers at appropriating the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to propel the interests of his benefactors, and in the process, his own. 

This is old news for those of us in LA. But for the uninitiated: Deasy’s curriculum vitae has always defined his policies. It is a Who’s Who of America’s most powerful entrepreneurs. 

John Deasy is a man who has enjoyed a whole lifetime of white privilege and the patronage of very wealthy benefactors who have assisted him in every step of his education career. Their names are familiar to all of us: Gates. Annenberg. Broad. There’s hardly a billionaire to whom John Deasy hasn’t offered his services, and been rewarded handsomely. 

John Deasy first came to prominence by attending the University of Louisville graduate school of education. He was invited to study there by a professor named Robert Felner.

Deasy's and Felner's careers overlapped in Rhode Island, where Felner served as director of the University of Rhode Island's School of Education from 1996 to 2003 and Deasy served as a local school superintendent from 1996 to 2001. 

A year after taking over as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in 2001, Deasy recommended that his school system pay $125,000 for a survey performed by the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy, run by Felner. The survey was later extended for two more years at the same price, for a total of $375,000. 

How long did Deasy stay at Louisville to get his doctorate? He entered the program in January, 2004 and he received his doctorate on April 9, 2004. This was unprecedented since a PhD candidate must spend two years on campus and three years is the usual amount of time it takes to get a doctorate. 

Soon afterwards, in 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Felner on nine counts of mail fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Felner siphoned away not only the $694,000 earmarked grant, but also $1.7 million in payments from three urban school districts, money that ought to have gone to the legitimate public education center that Mr. Felner had created in Rhode Island. 

When Deasy left his superintendency of the small Santa Monica-Malibu School District to take over the large, predominantly black district of Prince George’s County outside Washington, D.C., he promised the search committee that he would stay between four and eight years, the length of time, Deasy assured, it would take to make a difference. 

How long did John Deasy actually give to make a difference? 

Nine months. 

Deasy abruptly abandoned P.G. County and those students to take Bill Gates’ lucrative offer as a Deputy in his philanthropic universe, again placing his own fortunes and ambitions first. 

The gig at Gates positioned Deasy to gain favor with his most ambitious benefactor, Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad. Broad’s Superintendent’s Academy grooms private business people to take over public school systems. The graduates of this private breeding ground of public school superintendents fanned out across the country and became a virtual Who’s Who of the most aggressive and failed school CEOs of the last decade. 

In a 2013 Philanthropy Magazine interview, Broad revealed that his recruiters for his Academy were former employees of Goldman Sachs. Of course John Deasy would pass that muster and become a champion for Broad’s autocratic business philosophy put into the world of education where the real needs of working class kids of color are, apparently, standardized testing, data-driven teacher evaluations, Rahm Emanuel-style autocratic neighborhood school closings and the proliferation of “public” charter schools. 

John Deasy is a huge believer in executive authority promoting mayoral control over school systems and the limitless amount of dark corporate money into school board elections. His preferred candidates are vastly different to the ones I would support. 

I was inspired to become a teacher by the education writings of Paolo Freire, Jonathan Kozol and Dr. Robert Coles, to name a few. None of these pedagogical intellects appear on the Eli Broad Academy syllabus. What was on the syllabus of John Deasy’s mentors? The tools for an education philosophy called “creative destruction.” 

On Broad’s recommendation and his payment to fund various administrative positions of like-minded administrators (with zero input from the elected school board,) Deasy was installed as Superintendent of LAUSD in 2011. Deasy then deployed his vaunted “sense of urgency” to railroad ill-considered data-driven initiatives, top-down management directives and pedagogically improper technologies into schools, paying little heed to experienced educators in the system. 

But I believe one episode best encapsulates Deasy’s executive “skills” and “passion” for social justice. Early in his tenure as superintendent, John Deasy visited a classroom on the second day of school and denigrated, shamed and humiliated a substitute teacher in front of her students. He put her in her place showing his bizarre wrath coupled with his wildly inappropriate bullying management style which would become his hallmark leadership quality. This was Deasy’s shot across the bow to everybody in the system.

There was a new sheriff. 

I defy anyone to listen to teacher Patrena Shankling’s testimony of that day and not be repulsed by the inhumanity (and pedagogical or managerial “logic”) of Deasy’s actions. As teachers, we spend so much time preaching against bullying for our students and yet our top education authority uses such tactics to get his way. If one ever wanted to understand John Deasy’s manner, decorum and sense of righteous entitlement, it is all encapsulated in Shankling’s testimony. 

Who became the targets of Deasy’s brave “Civil Rights” crusades? 

Certainly not the power structure itself that has hurt my students in so many ways -- and neither was it the rich economic and political titans who could truly make a difference in their lives. 

It was always the people below him, scapegoated, coerced, and frightened into acquiescence. 

Although he has no scruples about spouting Civil Rights discourse, the true center of John Deasy’s speech is always John Deasy. He is the kind of ass who boldly says things like, “I know people say I love children too much.” Or, “People criticize me for my sense of urgency.” Or, “I will never apologize for putting children first.” Embarrassingly and like a fetish, etched into each bicep of John Deasy is a tattoo: the Chinese caricature of the word “Courage.” 

I’ll leave it to a psychiatrist to examine why Deasy displayed his “courage” in extraordinary self-aggrandizement, but his narcissism is the catalyst for his public policy. Nowhere in his career does he show the vaguest understanding or respect for the grassroots organization core to the Civil Rights Movement, nor for the ability of communities to articulate their own needs and solutions. There is always ONE solution: get out of his way. This is urgent. 

Because of his overreach in appropriating one billion dollars of school infrastructure bond money for a disastrous IPad program (claiming this “Civil Rights” act as the most important pedagogical necessity,) John Deasy was finally forced to leave LAUSD. The FBI seized files from his office shortly afterward and is still investigating. Deasy’s grotesque self-pity party that followed was alleviated somewhat when he was compensated handsomely for his travails by Eli Broad, subsumed again into Broad’s corporate education empire as a model for other aspiring superintendents. 

It is in Education Policy where you can see the greatest split among people claiming the Progressive mantle. Rich and powerful Reform Democrats (“sigh”) find kinship with some of the most vile Republicans on what best benefits public school kids, while the educators in the actual trenches decry the abasement of education policy that provides obvious benefits to rich, business interests. 

I long for a real national debate between these two camps on what is best for our nation in terms of education policy -- for all kids, but particularly the ones who both groups claim they advocate for. 

John Deasy has always sided with the money. 

I was gratified to hear the NAACP come out for a moratorium on charter schools, against the school closings and takeovers that have been a paramount crusade for Deasy and his corporate education advocates. The Big Business that has bankrolled the expansion of Charters throughout the country is now being more vigorously examined, particularly for which interests support them and why. 

So now, the public/private education partnership that has created the Charter School Industry, that John Deasy and the Neo-Liberals have long advocated, have set their sights on a new fortune to be made: juvenile justice “reform.” 

Thus, Deasy’s fawning letter to you, Dr. Coates. Each side of the Progressive Education debate sees the crucial value in a Black Lives Matter endorsement. Appropriating the mantel of Civil Rights is the cornerstone of Deasy’s self-righteous strategy. If the NAACP is pulling out of corporate education reform, perhaps corporate justice reform will appeal to BLM? 

John Deasy rests comfortably among the 1%, who he claims are the ones who can truly deliver on the promise of Civil Rights. 

This is what John Deasy believes and I do not doubt his passion. He honestly believes that he is what kids of color need. But John Deasy’s pedagogy and activism are the opposite of what is required. He doesn’t put his faith in the democratic system -- he puts his faith in wealth to deliver the same Top Down change that fails to acknowledge how this oppression is what these communities are seeking to not only remedy, but to flee from. 

In summary: Narcissistic Bully + Billionaire Backers + Self-righteous White Savior Complex = BEWARE. 

But of course you knew that: it’s one of the great themes of your work. 

John Deasy and his allies are the epitome of the World Between so many of us.


(Joshua Leibner taught in LAUSD public schools for 20 years. He is a National Board Certified teacher. This piece first appeared on LAProgressive.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

‘Pretend’ Civic Engagement is Not Participation

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-On Saturday August 20, fifteen members of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council (EPNC) participated in a six-hour retreat to formulate outreach goals and a funding plan for fiscal year 2016-17. They met at the old fire station building at the crossroads of Edgeware and Bellevue Avenues in Echo Park. 

During a brief part of the retreat, when discussing the topic, “posting agendas,” a film crew of four from LA City… Channel 35, entered the room unannounced, not to interrupt of course, but to film two young people who would be coming in to show “participation” in neighborhood council meetings. To begin with, there were, at this time, no youth present in the room. One crew member placed two empty chairs in the midst of the NC attendees, then moved them to an even “better spot” in the room. The adult crew members walked back and forth, opening and closing doors, as one of them tested to find the best spot in the room for the camera. None of them gave their names when asked. 

But the retreat continued quite smoothly. After all, we in this NC are survivors of heavy-duty past interruptions, not to mention Exhaustive Efforts (EE), the category assigned to EPNC by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). 

Tomas Soong from DONE was overseeing the retreat. He said the filming would be okay. “They’re just using the EPNC setting, as a backdrop since there’re no other NC meetings going on today, to show youth participation in NCs,” he said. 

Fifteen minutes elapsed and still no youth. Finally, at 11:06 a.m. two young females wearing blue T-shirts that said “Lincoln Heights NC” walked in. They were escorted and controlled by the two women who had been going in and out of our meeting room. Then one of the women stepped into the back room and observed through the open door behind where the NC sat, as the other escorted the girls to their seats. 

After taking a seat, one of the girls raised a hand and waited to be called on. When recognized she asked, “What is a joint board meeting?” Once her question was answered; she commented on something else. A few moments later at 11:12 a.m. the cameraman folded up his gear and left the room. Five minutes later, the two girls stood and were escorted by the two female crewmembers out of the public meeting and by 11:17 a.m. the filming crew was gone. 

After the crew had left and the NC took a lunch break, Board member Jim Brown shared with colleagues sitting next to him, “How do we get youth involved in the Neighborhood Council process? Perhaps have an NC committee with youth, so our demographics be better represented?” Brown was interested in finding a solution to what we had just witnessed. “Even though this [filming] was not authentic and they were really not involved, I would like to see youth involved and attend our NC meetings. Maybe there’s a way to get youth involved,” he said. 

Sitting on the opposite side of the room from where the camera had been positioned earlier, Board member Margarita Fernandez said, “I question why were they here and who were they? We weren’t notified. I consider it an interruption.” Another board member who sat closer to the camera in the room said that she did not know what to think of it. “I wonder if it was just a photo ‘op’ [opportunity],” she said. 

Paul Bowers, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), commented to members sitting at the same table that it was a legitimate film for a commercial for youth participating in a NC, “but in reality the two youth were not participating.” 

Another board member said that youth participation with NCs is more than attending six NC meetings in a day and being filmed. At the start one Board member overheard that these girls would be attending five other NC meetings today film crew. 

In addition, one crewmember mentioned upon entry that the two young people to be filmed were from the Lincoln Heights NC. 

It makes sense to provide equal access to all stakeholders such as business and education entities in the Lincoln Heights area since there are two Los Angeles Leadership Academies, a middle and high school in their jurisdiction. However, as of Saturday August 20, the Lincoln Heights NC website showed there to be two vacant Board youth-representative seats. But even if they haven’t yet posted some of the newly elected board members, these young people need learn to sit for more than twelve minutes at an NC meeting. That in itself would be participation.

(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils for CityWatch.) Graphic credit: Connie Acosta. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Will LA End Up With Two Sinking, Tilting Luxury Housing Skyscrapers from Millennium Developer?

VOX POP--One of San Francisco’s most iconic luxury housing skyscrapers is sinking and tilting — and it was built by Millennium Partners, the same developer that wants to put up an ultra-controversial mega-project in Hollywood near the landmark Capitol Records building and an earthquake fault.

The Millennium Tower in San Francisco is home to such wealthy folks as former San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, but the 58-story skyscraper, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, has sunk 16 inches and tilted two inches since 2008. That’s a big deal, according to experts, and at least one major lawsuit has been filed — check out the complaint.

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority in San Francisco has also weighed in with a scathing press release. Here’s an excerpt:

The 60-story Millennium Tower is made of concrete rather than steel, resulting in a very heavy building. This heavy structure rests on layers of soft, compressible soil. The foundation of the Tower, however, consists only of a concrete slab supported by short piles that fail to reach the bedrock below. That foundation is inadequate to prevent settlement of a building with the weight of the Tower.

In Los Angeles, the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti have been strong backers of the Millennium Hollywood mega-project, which features two luxury housing skyscrapers next to the Capitol Records building — Millennium Partners is also behind that. The city of LA has even battled the state of California over the mega-project, which the state says is located near an active earthquake fault.

It’s the kind of political support a developer gets when working LA’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system — Millennium Partners has spent $5.2 million on high-priced lobbyists to win over over city politicians and bureaucrats, according to the LA Ethics Commission.

Now one has to wonder if that City Hall backing will result with LA getting not just one sinking and tilting skyscraper but two!

That’s how things work in LA’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.

Join our citywide, grassroots movement by clicking here right now to donate any amount you wish.  You can also send us an email at [email protected] for more information.

(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA where this piece was first posted.)


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

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

How many ways can I justify my adamancy? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

…and that’s just one of the objections. 

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

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

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

And all this to what useful end??? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote to City Controller Ron Galperin about my exasperation. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Other facts about LA’s homeless population: 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of their photos can be seen here.   

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

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


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

Second-Dwelling-Unit Debate Arrives at LA City Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can and should: 

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They aren't at this point. 

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA Politics: Mother to All Kinds of Crime and Corruption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is the Evil of Criminality 

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

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

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

The Rise of the Garcetti Goons 

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

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

Dear Councilmember Krekorian and Mayor Garcetti: 

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's an outline of the day: 

7:45 am – Breakfast 

8:30 am – Welcome 

9:25 am - Session 1 workshops 

10:50 am - Session 2 workshops 

noon – Lunch 

1:20 pm - Session 3 workshops 

2:45 pm - Session 4 workshops 

4:05 pm - Closing session 

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

Attend the Congress, and go home empowered!


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


We Need an ‘Affordable’ Fix for Unaffordable LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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