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Fri, Apr

Are Angelenos the New Mayans?

LEARNING FROM THE PAST-Are Angelenos the new Mayans? Historians relate how the Mayans and their great cities just disappeared. Of course, Mayans who are still living in Central America would dispute the idea that they aren’t here, but I am talking about the demise of their great cities in the 8th and 9th centuries. Read this piece by Joseph Stromberg on August 23, 2012 on Smithsonian.com“Why Did the Mayan Civilization Collapse? A New Study Points to Climate Change.” 

When we look closer to the Mayan collapse, we see that the entire civilization did not disappear, but rather certain cities collapsed. Thus, maybe we Angelenos have something to learn from the Mayans. If Los Angeles slips to a 3rd, 4th or 5th rate city, urban areas like South Texas, Richmond Virginia and Phoenix will continue to thrive. But if one lived in a great Mayan city, its demise would not be palatable because others prospered. 

We are certain that Mayan cities like Tikal in today’s Guatemala did not have a CityWatch to publish articles warning of the forces which were dooming the city. If Tikal had TikalWatch, we imagine that the leaders of Tikal would have ignored its prognostications. That’s what rulers do. 

Although I have not polled them, I think that the common impetus for CityWatch contributors is to make Los Angeles a better place to live. Such a desire leads them to agitate against decisions which are harming the city and to promote programs to improve the city. Eliminating the negative and accentuating the positive make for a healthy society. 

Here are some trends reported in CityWatch, a couple of which correlate with the fall of Tikal. 

(1) Population Density--The rulers thought population density meant greater wealth as they had more subjects, and thus, they appeared deaf to the downside of too many people in too small an area. The primary support which Tikal’s population needed was food, but as the population became concentrated near the great central ceremonial temples, the clearing of vast acreage extended far into the forests. As a result, the deforestation reduced precipitation, which reduced the crops, which lead to more deforestation in an endeavor to grow more food. 

Meanwhile the rulers wanted a larger population as a considerable portion of their wealth came from trade and that required tradesmen. 

Because the rulers concentrated the population around the ceremonial centers, they needed to build more temples which required the burning of vast acreage of trees. Their palaces and public buildings required prodigious amounts of wood for the fires to make the lime plaster for construction. That building mania not only attracted too many people into small geographic areas, it also accelerated the deforestation. 

We see a general parallel with Los Angeles, where the wealthy want to concentrate the real estate wealth in The Basin with extremely dense office complexes like Bunker Hill, DTLA and Century City, but the social costs of supporting these modern temples overburdens society. 

Bunker Hill was constructed somewhat similarly to Tikal – through the forced participation of the citizenry. The Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA] was behind Bunker Hill as private investment houses did not see it as a financially sound project. Due to the CRA’s power, the office towers on Bunker Hill did not have to pay any incremental property taxes. That is not as harsh as whipping Angelenos to carry away millions of tons of bags of dirt on their shoulders, but the loss of tax revenues was the same as taking between $700 million and $1 billion out of Angelenos’ bank accounts. We had to pay for all the city services, while the billionaire developers paid zilch. 

While the few men who owned Bunker Hill became vastly wealthy, everyone else in Los Angeles suffered due to our infamous traffic congestion. If LA’s rulers had ignored the real estate developers and had allowed businesses to follow people as they moved away from The Basin, LA would be decentralized. We would have as many cars going and coming, but without our rush hour traffic jams as tens of thousands of people would not be trying to get to the same place at the same time. 

(2) Response to Drought --Another similarity between Tikal and LA is that nature starts droughts but men make them worse. As mentioned, Tikal continued to densify its population which increased the need to cut down more trees to grow more food and to burn more wood to create the lime plaster for their buildings. 

It is common for cultures to perpetuate destructive trends. One reason is that those who are in power usually gained power due to the current way of doing things and their personal power depends upon the city’s modus operandi not changing. That seems to be the mentality of Los Angeles. 

After WW II, hordes of people descended upon Los Angeles as a form of heaven on earth. This influx made real estate developers king and they knew how to turn the tide to their financial benefit. Los Angeles’s landmark study in 1915 warned Angelenos not to allow developers to retard the spread of business and industry, but rather to allow business and industry to follow the people as they moved to the periphery. 

Rather than learn from past mistakes, the City has tripled down on the densification of Hollywood. Not surprisingly its crime rate continues to escalate as Councilmember-Mayor Garcetti pushes the destruction of rent-controlled apartments and more mixed-use projects into the Los Feliz area. Did the rulers of Tikal order more slashing and burning of the forests in the face of evidence that aggrandizing Tikal was leading to its demise? 

(3) Tikal’s People Moved Away--When the Mayan trade routes shifted and business opportunities followed to towns near the sea, people left the great inland Mayan cities. Life was already becoming too arduous due to the population density of Tikal. The demand of rulers for more wealth and the rising cost of food and housing was making Tikal unsustainable in light of better conditions elsewhere. 

Likewise, for over 15 years our City’s rulers have ignored the health of our port, while the Panama Canal has been widened and shipping more easily goes to the Gulf of Mexico – near Texas where many former Californians now live. If the City had not focused on destroying rent-controlled homes and over-constructing luxury apartments for the last decade and a half, we might have made wiser plans for the port and its workers. Drastically escalating the cost of living for port workers and dissing San Pedro was not a wise policy. 

Did Tikal’s rulers ignore the emigration when it started? Did they unknowingly accelerate it? We know that Los Angeles’ rulers are both ignoring and accelerating the loss of our more productive work force. 

The USC Sol Price Institute for Public Policy has told us that the great population influx into Los Angeles is over. Other demographers have documented that Los Angeles is losing people. The only reason the population rises is that births exceed deaths and the net population exodus. Newborns are a burden on society for 18 to 23 years. The portion of the population which we need to bear the cost to repair our decayed infrastructure is the very segment which is leaving Los Angeles. 

Demographic patterns do not stop because City Halls turns a blind eye. Twice a week CityWatch explains not only the factors which are harming Los Angeles, but the measures needed to improve LA. 

My pet proposal to reverse LA’s decline is to stop the corrupt vote-trading scam where every councilmember agrees to never vote No on another councilmember’s construction projects. The vote trading deal turns Los Angeles into 15 fiefdoms – or, you could say, LA is more like15 wards that extend “mob courtesy” to each other.

 

(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.

Yes on Prop 66: Reform, Don’t Eliminate, California’s Death Penalty

DEATH PENALTY POLITICS-Historically, Californians have overwhelmingly supported the death penalty. Yet, during every election cycle a ballot measure comes up looking to repeal it.  Well this year is no different. Governor Brown and a host of Hollywood elite are actively pushing Prop. 62, which would repeal the death penalty, granting criminals convicted of murder with special circumstances, a life sentence instead.   

Opponents of the death penalty try to point out the possibility of persons being wrongly convicted of capital offenses, sentenced to death and then being executed. The fact is there is no documented case of this EVER taking place in California due to the expertise and painstaking quality of investigation and prosecutorial work that has gone into death penalty cases. 

Instead of abolishing the death penalty altogether, a smarter move is to mend a broken system. Prop. 66 is the answer Californians are looking for. The goals behind Proposition 66 are laudable and more in line with the thinking of the California electorate that voted to reinstitute the death penalty to begin with -- mend it, don’t end it. 

Prop. 66 reforms will speed up the appeals process, ensuring appeals are heard within five years and no innocent person is executed. It doesn’t do so in a hasty way intended to cut corners. It does so by eliminating legal and procedural delay tactics while still respecting the legal rights and recourse for those convicted.  

Proposition 66 would ensure that every person sentenced to death has qualified death penalty appeals counsel assigned immediately, eliminating the current wait of five years or more. The appeals would then be expedited without endangering due process, and initiated at the trial court level where the facts of the cases are best known.  

Death row inmates have murdered over 1000 victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. It’s time California reformed our death penalty process so it works and provides murder victims and their families with some sense of closure. Instead of talking about how barbaric and unfair the death penalty in California is, those seeking to abolish it should give thought to those victims who had their lives taken from them, often in truly brutal and horrific ways, and their families who have had to live with the knowledge that the murders of their loved ones continue to live at the expense of the taxpayer.   

And regarding the expense, those backing repeal of the death penalty try to point to a great windfall of savings for the taxpayer if those on death row simply spend that time in prison for life rather than face execution. Even at an estimated $150 million reduction in annual costs, one would still have to concede that the savings is a paltry drop in the bucket compared to the vast size of California’s budget and hardly the worst use of taxpayer funds. Instead, under Prop 62, taxpayers are on the hook to feed, clothe, house, guard and provide healthcare to brutal killers until they die of old age costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.  

Criminals don’t end up on death row unless they are convicted of the worst crimes. Victims left behind, grieving families throughout California and their loved ones, don’t deserve anything less than justice. Justice is a reformed -- not eliminated -- death penalty. 

We urge a No vote on Proposition 62 and a Yes vote on Proposition 66. 

 

(Michael Hestrin was sworn in as the Riverside District Attorney in 2015. Prior to being sworn as the DA, Hestrin spent 18 years as a line prosecutor in the DA’s Office. Mr. Hestrin’s views are his own and do not reflect those of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Developer Checks Out of Villa Carlotta Hotel Conversion Plans … Victory for Community

DEEGAN ON LA-Breaking News-Audible gasps, in the Department of City Planning hearing room Wednesday, greeted the surprising news from Vila Carlotta developer CGI Properties that it was withdrawing its application to turn the historic Franklin Avenue apartment house into a hotel.

“This is what’s achievable when you have representatives in office that are responsive. David Ryu (CD4) was engaged, and he kept his word” exclaimed Sylvie Shain, the last evicted tenant of the Villa Carlotta to move out—-just a few weeks ago. 

Shain, the leading figure in the long fight against converting the historic structure, with its star-drenched history of tenants and “bohemians”, was nearly speechless when reached by CityWatch on-set at her production job following the unexpected announcement by the developer.

Sarah Dessault, chief-of-staff for Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) provided this statement to CityWatch: “Councilmember Ryu's goal is to create and preserve great neighborhoods and protecting Villa Carlotta and its rich history is an important part of that effort. (Photo left: Councilman David Ryu with CES executive director Larry Gross.)

“We are grateful to CGI for their decision to withdraw their application for a zone change. They listened to us and to the community and are working to restore this cultural monument. 

“Working closely with Larry Gross and the Coalition for Economic Survival and the tenants throughout this process has invigorated the Councilmember's work to protect tenants rights and prevent displacement.”

The Hollywood United Neighborhood Council was also against the hotel conversion, and made that known last week. They stressed, in their board decision, that affordable housing should be prioritized over hotel conversions.

Unknown is what’s next for the building, that will continue to undergo renovations by the developer, or whether Shain, and all the other tenants that were evicted through use of the Ellis Act, would be given the right to return which is conditionally embedded in that state law. 

The Wallace Neff designed Villa Carlotta was built in 1926, in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, is a standout piece of architecture in the neighborhood known as Franklin Village. Tenants for the first fifty years of operation read like a who's who of the movie and music worlds.

For now, one Hollywood dream has come true, and a Councilmember that ran on a pledge to listen to the community has delivered on his promise, which is good, all around.

(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].)

-cw 

 

LA's ‘Affordable’ Housing Efforts: Unaffordable and … Morally Bankrupt

PLANNING POLITICS--Nice to know I'm not the only one who's aghast at how the City's efforts to improve affordable housing is making things worse, not better.  Let's keep it simple, please:  we need senior affordable housing, student affordable housing, and workforce affordable housing.

Everything else is just overdevelopment, and a warped interpretation of how the City and State wanted to ensure a middle class could afford to live in California. 

My recent sarcastic CityWatch article about how developers could use, and should use, the usual talking points in justifying overdevelopment and unsustainable urban projects is something we all see just too darned often. 

And then WE get called crazy, or zealots, or NIMBY's, or racist, or what have you...which is the perfect way to get reasonable people to shut up and be shut down. 

The recent CityWatch article about the Casden Sepulveda development was a true flash to the past of what set me (and other Expo Line supporters) off about where this City is going. 

Cities and neighborhoods will always have to figure out variances and compromises for the greater good, but it is NOT the state law (SB1818) on affordable housing that is the problem...it's how the City of Los Angeles interpreted it that is the problem. 

In particular, while I find our current Mayor Eric Garcetti to be more affable and responsive than his Sacramento-based, smashmouth-politics predecessor, his "overdevelopment and neighborhood destruction with a smile" usually has the same result of his predecessor. 

And the good will that Antonio Villaraigosa lost after getting Measure R passed (because of his predisposition to enabling overdevelopment) is pretty much getting lost by Mayor Garcetti before his own transportation initiative (Measure R-2, as it's often called) because of the "sons of Casden", such as that which is being planned "by right" at 12444 Venice Blvd. 

The tallest and least affordable and most neighborhood destructive project for miles around is being promoted as "by-right" by an inscrupulous smashmouth developer who refuses to work with the public to come up with a compromise that would create TRUE affordable housing, and have a project that's appropriate for the neighborhood. 

Better to come up with a shorter, market-value condo development with lots of extra parking to serve the local commercial corridor of adjacent Downtown Mar Vista--at least THAT would be more honest than promising local artists the ability to live in $2000+/month "affordable housing". 

Meanwhile, Boyle Heights ain't the only neighborhood that's losing affordability.  The whole darned City is becoming unaffordable for the middle class! 

Meanwhile (again), the Build Better LA Ballot Initiative on this November's ballot is being opposed by business (such as the LA Chamber of Commerce and Valley Industry and Commerce Association) and LA Tenants Union alike! 

So maybe the City of LA won't be surprised if BOTH Measure R-2 AND the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative pass, but Build Better LA does NOT. 

Want to REALLY enhance affordable housing, transit-oriented development, pedestrian-friendly streets, sustainable development and urban infill, and a better quality of life for all Angelenos? 

1) Acknowledge that Downtown/City Hall and the "Planning Politburo" are being dominated by zealots who enable the uber-rich and connected, and smash the law-abiding remnants of the middle class. 

2) Acknowledge that Neighborhood Councils, local Chambers of Commerce and tenants organization will do wonders in guiding local efforts for affordable housing that are cheap, quick to build, and get the job done. 

3) Acknowledge that universities can and should direct affordable student housing efforts. 

4) Acknowledge that local businesses can and should direct affordable workforce housing efforts. 

5) Acknowledge that legitimate, non-compromised senior advocacy groups can and should direct affordable senior housing efforts. 

6) Acknowledge that, with the exception of Downtown and certain key locations, virtually ALL affordable housing developments should be 2-4 stories tall...maximum! 

7) Acknowledge that there are many neighborhoods south of the I-10 will be ripe for affordable housing and a new development of the middle class where it's been long overdue. 

8) Acknowledge that, while mass transit is a venerable and laudable goal, PARKING can and will be needed for the unforeseeable future.  If a project spills out parking to the adjacent neighbors because it doesn't provide enough parking spaces for its residents, then it NEVER should see the light of day. 

9) Acknowledge that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is by far a better plan than Build Better L.A. because, as with Neighborhood Councils, it allows a democratic, grassroots approach to teaming up with the developers who choose to play by the rules rather than our socialistic, winner/loser approach that portends to help the little guy ... but only helps the rich and powerful. 

...Because to do anything otherwise is just ... unaffordable, and morally bankrupt.

 

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

-cw

Is This Sodom 2016? The City of Los Angeles Falls to #60

CORRUPTION WATCH-After a decade and half of corruption, the City of Los Angeles continues to decline. The relationship between corruption and urban decay is one of the oldest stories in western civilization, and yet, it is also the most current. 

Corruption Leads to Destruction--Genesis and rabbinic tradition instruct us that injustice, abuse of the poor, and corrupt leaders destroy society. Sodom was ruled by four judges: Liar, Habitual Liar, Deceiver, and Perverter of the Law. Through a variety of ploys, the rulers of Sodom stole the wealth of others especially of the poor and strangers who had no friends to protect them. 

It has been reported that Sodom’s rulers destroyed the homes of the poor and then charged the people of Sodom billions of dollars to build homes for the poor, except they built luxury homes for the wealthy while the poor languished in the streets of Sodom. Oh, no…wait. That wasn’t Sodom. That’s Los Angeles under the reign of Garcetti. 

Just as the rulers of Sodom were smug in their complacency believing that no one would disturb them in their wealth, the city councilmembers and mayor are confident that no one will hold them accountable. Certainly not the district attorney who sees nothing wrong with the massive vote trading scheme which has dominated the City Council since Garcetti became City Council President in 2006. 

One of the worse cruelties of the Garcetti Administration has been the intentional and systematic destruction of the homes of the poor. Surely, the destruction of over 20,000 rent-controlled apartments -- throwing the elderly, the disabled and poor into the streets -- is a measure which would make the rulers green with envy. 

As CityWatch recently reported, one of Garcetti’s planning commissioners revealed the purpose behind destroying the homes of the poor: to make the Metro system more profitable. 

Why does Garcetti want an expanded the Metro system? It has nothing to do with improving transportation but rather with getting people to tax themselves another $120 billion which will be given to the campaign supporters of Garcetti and the elected officials in Los Angeles. 

Destroying the homes of the poor swells the ranks of the homeless so that the same politicos who have destroyed poor people’s homes can pretend to come to their rescue. Here’s Garcetti’s plan in a nutshell: Destroy a poor person’s home, give a million dollars to a billionaire. 

The Absolute Right of Councilmembers to Steal--Los Angeles City Councilmembers have this absolute right to steal because they’ve made their Faustian deal with each other: “I will never vote against a project in your district, if you never vote against a project in my district.” In 2006, Penal Code § 86 criminalized vote trading by councilmembers as a form of bribery. The votes of other councilmembers may not be purchased by cash or by another councilmember’s vote. 

This unlawful vote trading pact has been a form of “Mutual Bribery,” by which the City Councilmembers approve each and every construction project UNANIMOUSLY -- over 99.9% of the time. What does the City Attorney say about Mutual Bribery? 

“ . . . City Council’s unanimously agree[ing] 99% of the time . . . Does not give rise to a reasonable inference that a Councilmember ‘gives, or offers or promises to give, any official vote in consideration that ...another member of the legislative body ...shall give this vote either upon the same or another question.’ (Penal Code, § 86.)” Thus, sayeth the City Attorney. 

Really? Ten thousand consecutive unanimous votes in a 15-member city council does not give rise to an “inference” of vote trading?   

If you went to Vegas and the House won 10,000 times in a row, would you pretend that it was just the luck of the draw? If a casino’s tables won every hand for just one day, does anyone think that the Nevada Gaming Commission would allow that casino to operate the next day? 

Yet, the District Attorney has allowed these types of astronomical odds to rule LA City Council for ten years while accepting the absurd explanation that the unanimous votes are just the luck of the draw. 

As the judges of Sodom learned and the rulers of Los Angeles are discovering, some laws come with built-in penalties. Retribution for corruption tends to be slow, but it is devastating. People move away from Los Angeles, making the city poorer and poorer day by day. 

Before Garcetti was first elected to the LA City Council in 2001, Los Angeles was one of the nation’s premier cities. In less than a decade, Garcetti destroyed his own council district in Hollywood so much so that, between 2000 and 2010, Hollywood’s population dropped by 12,596 people. 

Los Angeles’ Brain Drain --Furthermore, recent data shows that Los Angeles as a whole has suffered greatly due to the corruption in Garcetti’s City Hall. The most important segment of a city’s work force is its “professional and business services section.” This portion of the population is crucial not only for the wealth it adds to the city; it’s also the bell weather of a city’s future. 

As noted by Joel Kotkin and Michael Shires in their July 22, 2016 article in NewGeography.com,  “In many ways, the business and professional service sector may be the best indicator of future U.S. economic growth.” 

As the name implies, “professional and business services” are dependent upon a strong economy with a growing business section. A city that does not attract the “professional and business services” sector is a city in decline. 

Los Angeles has fallen to Number 60 among U.S. cities for attracting the “professional and business services” sector of the work force. These workers are the stable middle and upper-middle class. They are the classes that can afford to pay taxes; they also have enough education and jobs skills to move to a less toxic municipal environment. 

It is no mystery why a pathologically corrupt City Hall drives away businesses and the city’s more productive people. 

“Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline. § For too many years we have failed to cultivate and build on our human and economic strengths, while evading the hard choices concerning local government and municipal finance presented by this new century.” -- December 2013, 2020 Commission, “A Time for Truth.” 

When the rulers expropriate a city’s wealth for themselves and their cronies, the streets are not repaired, the sidewalks are not fixed and water mains constantly burst. Los Angeles has fewer parks than any large city and its traffic congestion has become the worst not only in America but also in all of Europe. Businesses look at the long-term when deciding whether to stay or leave Los Angeles. Increasingly, businesses are finding that they should get out while they can. 

Businesses Move Away from Corruption--Likewise, when businesses consider where to re-locate, they look at the long-term. When they look at Los Angeles, they see a city which has shot itself in the foot when it comes to obtaining federal money. Is anyone surprised that after Garcetti stole the Promise Zone money from South Central and gave it to his developer buddies in Hollywood, that the Obama Administration skipped Los Angeles when giving out its transportation grants?    San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 07/11/1, Southern California Gets a Big, Fat $0 from Feds for Freight, Road Improvements. 

Businesses look at Los Angeles and see our possible future: (1) Continued decaying infrastructure as more and more money is drained from the city treasury and diverted to developers; (2) huge tax increases that will be needed to pay to rehabilitate our infrastructure. 

Businesses see that the City is incurring billions upon billions of dollars in debt that they, the business leaders, will have to repay. The only people who can avoid paying their share are the developers who form LLCs and LLPs in order to receive their influx of cash from the City and then BK their “collapsible” LLCs and LLPs. No rational businessman willingly remains in such a morass of corruption. 

We Angelenos need to ponder the fact that LA has fall to #60 in attracting the “professional and business services” sector of the work force. Can you even name 60 other U.S. cities? That’s how far down the list Los Angeles has fallen. If our City was on American Ninja Warrior, we wouldn’t even advance to the next round. 

“Power corrupts and corruption destroys.” – GOD, Genesis 18 (more or less.)

 

(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.

Name Calling Vs. Critical Thinking: Donald Trump, the Ghost of Tricky Dick, and Saving San Pedro

AT LENGTH--It’s an old but tested technique of argumentation. When you can’t win on the facts or logic, call your opponent bad names. Donald Trump and his political surrogates have lost the argument on Hillary Clinton’s email. Now they’ve gone back to the “Crooked Hillary” schoolyard taunt. This is a tactic about as sophisticated as a couple of schoolboys tossing back and forth “yo’ mama” jokes. But it is not without historical precedent. 

The classic example was back in 1950 when Richard Nixon ran for the Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas -- a campaign that echoed his win over New Deal liberal Jerry Voorhis for a House of Representatives seat by calling Voorhis a “Commie.” In the Senate race, the Nixon campaign manual included a “pink sheet” comparing Douglas’ voting record to that of the Communist Party­. Nixon won the California senate seat and an indelible sobriquet that would follow him for his entire life – “Tricky Dick.” 

Name calling and slander are the most common tactics the losing side uses to distract an audience from real issues. We’ve seen that to be true at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and we’ve seen that to be true in the recently concluded neighborhood council races. It even continues on Facebook today. 

I recently reposted a Facebook post from a Bernie Sanders delegate for the 44th Congressional District, Carrie Scoville. The post was on the terms “groupthink” and “norms” in a discussion on organizational theory. 

Groupthink: “Remaining loyal to the group by sticking with the policies to which the group has already committed itself, even when those policies are obviously working out badly and have unintended consequences that disturb the conscience of each member . . . Groupthink involves non-deliberative suppression of critical thoughts as a result of internalization of the group’s norms . . .” 

Renowned research psychologist, Irving L. Janis defined the term “Groupthink” as being the desperate drive for consensus at any cost. 

I thought this was a good topic to discuss amongst our community in light of battles over homelessness, coyote sightings and those claiming to be “saving San Pedro.” 

Coastal Neighborhood Council member Gayle Fleury was one of the first to greet the discussion topic with suspicion. 

“What is this in relation to?” she typed. “It sounds: 

  1. Ultra-left-liberal bias.
  2. A leap to judgment.
  3. An intentional swipe at people who were just seated on the council.
  4. A blind eye to the way Central was run the past year. 

What is your intention? Is it positive? Do you want GOOD things for Central? Or are you just driven by anger that you were not elected?” 

To which I responded: 

“Gayle, you inevitably will take the above academic discussion and twist it anyway that you can, but let me make one thing clear -- in both Central and Coastal neighborhood council districts, Sen. Bernie Sanders won a majority of the votes. In fact, he eventually won over Hillary in the entire LA County. (I was incorrect on this point in my response. Sanders lost Los Angeles County by more than 140,000 votes.) 

“So if anything that I write sounds at all like any of his political positions, then I would say that they are rather mainstream considering that the second highest votes went to Clinton, another ultra left liberal by your standards. This, in San Pedro, makes up something over two-thirds of the voters!

That through some mistake of neighborhood council elections [or distraction by the electorate] the people who mostly ally themselves with Trump have gotten elected to the majorities of two of these councils should not be overlooked by those paying attention to something more relevant than coyotes or panhandlers. 

“And as far as my leadership at the Central NC over the past 2 years, it was done with a high degree of ethics, command of the rules and compassion for those who needed help the most. That is more than can be said about the current leadership, which violated more laws, by-laws and broke more rules in just two meetings than I did in two years.” 

By the way, Gayle is not the only one who has continued to cast aspersions against me and others on social media even after the elections were over. As if to consolidate their “desperate drive for consensus,” even as they have called for community voices to come forward with concerns coated with the promise that they will listen. 

My suggestion to everyone with a gripe about the way the City of Los Angeles treats San Pedro is to show up and start complaining. They might even listen. But will they commit to getting the city to act and respect its citizens? 

As for my intentions -- they’ve been the same for more than 35 years -- it is to empower the people of this community with information, engage them in a public civic debate of the issues that affect them the most and to hold those who are in power accountable for the consequences of their actions. 

Or put another way, the role of journalism should be “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”  I do ascribe to that motto more than a little. 

However, what I will say to all of my critics both near and far is that once you start in on the juvenile name calling, you have already lost the debate, even if you win the election. I only wish this weren’t true in our national elections.  For what I actually fear most is that the good people of this country will remain silent, like many have in San Pedro, while belligerent bullies like Donald Trump mouth off with racist, sexist and homophobic name-calling to silence their opposition.

 

(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.

 

Invasion of the Monsters … Trucks and Twenty-Somethings with Radios Occupy San Pedro

GELFAND’S WORLD--Things have calmed down a bit, but for nearly two weeks, a film production company parked rows of trucks along our San Pedro streets, took over a swathe of the local park, and for lack of a better term, generally annoyed the local residents. One of my neighbors described how a mobile bathroom truck emptied its tanks into the sewer at the crack of dawn, creating an overpowering stench that filled her house. 

Others talked about the loss of street parking. What we were experiencing in microcosm was the experiences of people all over town. It's the result of political decisions creating a system that is in part justified by economic necessity, but it's a system that could be much improved. Unfortunately, our elected officials are terrified of even raising the question. (Photo above: Scene from movie classic Chinatown shot in Point Fermin Park.) 

The scene: Point Fermin Park in San Pedro. This has been a popular filming location for years. Last week and the week before the movie Deported was being shot here. Deported is an independent production which is described as a romantic comedy involving a young American man and his Canadian girlfriend. I guess the writers were trying to develop a story of cultural and ethnic diversity. 

Deported took over the area, as hundreds of other productions have taken over other parts of town. It wasn't as bad as a previous film shoot that had a helicopter flying right overhead emitting loud simulated gunfire, an experience that frightened quite a few local residents. In both cases, many residents did not receive advance warning. 

It doesn't have to be this way. It's not hard to see that the entertainment industry could be more accommodating to local residents, but it obviously hasn't been forced to do so. The bottom line, which I'll discuss below, is that it is going to be up to us civilians to negotiate a better system if a better system can be had. We shouldn't expect the political class to get themselves involved. 

Why must Angelenos put up with the strains of location filming? There are a couple of reasons. One is airplanes. The other is Joel Wachs. The airplanes are a problem because we don't manufacture them around here, at least not on the scale that we did during WWII and in the postwar years. As Los Angeles lost its role as a major site for the development and construction of passenger aircraft, it also lost a lot of high paying jobs. Some other industry needs to fill that economic role, even if it's only in part. 

The city relies on film and television production to employ people at reasonable salaries. The city (like a lot of other states and countries) is willing to give up on some potential tax revenue in order to keep the industry going locally. This is straightforward macroeconomics. Well paid workers spend money on houses, clothing, food, cars, and everything else, and the city takes a cut in the form of sales taxes. The rest of us benefit through the prosperity of the local economy. 

Elected officials have been worrying about runaway production for decades. It's a strange term, runaway production, because it implies a sort of entitlement enjoyed by Los Angeles. We don't complain about runaway oil drilling, or runaway agriculture, even though we once were competitive in both. But we want to stay competitive in entertainment. That's where Joel Wachs and John Ferraro come into the story. You can read about it in newspaper clippings from the mid-1970s. Previous to that time, location filming was mostly illegal in much of the city. Ferraro and Wachs got the City Council to approve changes in the law that made possible what we now are experiencing. 

The regulatory system has gone through various phases. As of right now, the city and county (and several other adjacent cities) have an agreement with a nonprofit corporation called FilmLA [http://www.filmla.com/] to oversee the permit process for location filming. FilmLA is supposed to be a one-stop-shop. For the filmmaker, this is a huge improvement over a previous system which often involved getting separate permits from each of multiple districts and agencies. 

Here's an example of how things used to be. Back before the single agency permitting process came into being, a friend of mine was tasked with getting a location near the harbor breakwater for a location shot. As he explained, he eventually dealt with eleven different agencies and authorities in order to achieve the proper paperwork for this one shoot. He mentioned the city, the county, the port, the Coastguard, the fire department, the port police, and so on. Each one had to sign off on the application. 

FilmLA was created to cut through this kind of red tape. It is generally successful in helping film and television to get permitting in a rapid and fairly inexpensive way. But FilmLA is also supposed to be sensitive to the greater public interest. FilmLA claims that things have improved over the past few years, largely due to better communication among the public, the film companies, and FilmLA. For the residents of the Point Fermin area, this claim rang a little hollow, but apparently there are areas in the San Fernando Valley that used to be under siege by location shoots, and now have some little relief from the onslaught. 

FilmLA will come out and talk to your neighborhood council about your local issues. Last week, my neighborhood council met with Guy Langman, a Community Outreach Liaison for FilmLA. He listened patiently as my neighbors complained about the Deported takeover of the streets and the park. He explained that FilmLA tries to limit the negative effects of location film shoots, and is trying to work with people around the city. Langman even suggested that I put his work email in this column so that you can contact him to set up your own neighborhood council discussion. Here it is: [email protected] 

Since there was so much discussion about Deported, I wandered down to the site of the filming to find somebody to talk to. I spoke to one young staffer who explained patiently how he had done his best to limit any difficulties brought on the local community. There is one lesson that jumped out at me during this discussion. In planning their location shoot, Deported tried to get use of a large publicly owned parking lot that is right across the street from the park. As the young man described, they were denied permission to park their trucks in the parking lot because there were competing events over the July 4th weekend and the succeeding weekend. So they took over a large part of the last block on Gaffey Street, thereby denying use of that block to the locals and to coastal visitors. 

This suggests a failure of the system. Point Fermin Park (as so many other parks) has a busy calendar of events. FilmLA and other city agencies should be able to coordinate their efforts. There is no reason that the Department of Recreation and Parks couldn't work with FilmLA to deal with scheduling issues. Deported should have been told that it could either reschedule to a different time or scale down its intrusion. 

There are a lot of additional issues that should be discussed at another time, such as the rights of local residents to object to a location shoot happening at all. For now, we might consider the way to achieve some improvement in the current system. As I mentioned above, I don't think we can expect much help from our elected City Council. For one thing, they want to keep the industry in town. But it's also obvious that the political players are terrified of lifting a finger to help the belabored public. The industry has too much clout. 

For this reason, the best chance we have is to try to have some quiet, polite chats with the entertainment industry about how to get along better. This might be a useful thing for neighborhood councils to try. I think that it might be possible for local residents and businesses to help the industry, while getting help from the industry in turn. 

Here's one possibility that I've mentioned before. The downtown San Pedro area has been a popular site for location work, but due to one unfortunate incident a few years ago, there are special rules for filming in this area. I think the rules are needlessly limiting. We could develop a less restrictive set of rules and, in exchange, work out ways for the local economy to get a boost from local filming. We might sit down over coffee and simply ask them what they want, and they can ask what they might be able to do to help us a little.

●●

A huge story that is starting to build--Major news organizations have been putting together data and connecting the dots. 

The picture that emerges is still a bit tentative, but it is nevertheless damning regarding Donald Trump's judgment and even possibly his loyalties. The story involves Trump's deep economic connections to Russian money which is in turn connectable to Putin. 

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo provided a summary of news articles that are solid and unimpeachable. Kevin Drum has further summarized. These facts and inferences could be the answer to a question that many of us asked after Trump's speech at the Republican National Convention. Why is Trump attacking NATO, and suggesting that he might not respond militarily to a Russian invasion of our easternmost NATO allies? Imagine what Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan would have said if a Democrat had ever made such a suggestion. 

The implication of the stories linked above is that Trump is beholden to Putin and to Russian money interests, and that he is doing their bidding. The linked articles reference Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort and the fact that the Trump campaign only threw its weight around regarding one element of the Republican platform, the issue of whether the U.S. should support Ukraine against Russian meddling in its eastern region.

 

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

-cw

Will It be a Shake-Up or a Handshake as Runyon Canyon Park Reopens?

DEEGAN ON LA-Another round of controversy has appeared on the horizon to coincide with the reopening of Runyon Canyon Park. Closed for repairs the past few months, the park officially reopens on the morning of August 2, Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) has announced. 

Once again, some in the community have the Friends of Runyon Canyon fundraising support group in their sights. Like the prior controversy over a basketball court in the park, they have been amplifying their voice through social media, public comment at neighborhood council and Board of Recreation and Parks Commission meetings, and online petitions to make their point that they “do not trust”, as they say, the Friends of Runyon Canyon. They want the Memorandum of Understanding that created the private-public partnership with the Department of Recreation and Parks, terminated. 

The other side of the argument is value based. The fundraising efforts by Friends of Runyon Canyon, says the organization’s president, Don Andres, “included $100,000 in 2015 of which about 1/3 has been spent on new benches, trash containers, bike racks, dog waste dispensers and thousands of bags, clean-up signage, kiosk and message board renovations, as well as a Runyon demographic study and hiring MLA & Associates (park experts) to evaluate the park.” 

Andres added, “over $500,000 in 2016 to support the Trust for Public Land (TPL)-led effort to acquire land for more open green space, extend a wildlife corridor, and preserve a Runyon Canyon hiking trail.” He also mentioned that “the Foundations ongoing efforts in working with the City Staff have resulted in real park improvements by DWP and RAP during the closure including a totally resurfaced Fire Road and erosion control measures, upper Runyon trail maintenance, piping for a storm water reclamation future project, new fire hydrants, and four drinking fountains to be deployed.” 

The Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board voted unanimously on Wednesday, July 20, to approve the following motion: “The HHWNC hereby resolves that it recommends that the Department of Recreation and Parks terminate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which it entered into with Friends of Runyon Canyon, dated April 15, 2015.” Community activists are calling this a victory, even though Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council President Anastasia Mann told the packed auditorium that this was not the final answer. 

What, then, is next? Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) may need to intervene as he did to successfully bring all parties together to resolve the basketball court dispute. His spokesperson said to CityWatch: 

The Councilmember believes that the MOU should not be terminated at this time….it sets a bad precedent for other potential private-public partnerships throughout the city, and would impact an important program of philanthropy that the Department of Recreation and Parks depends on. However, there is room to clarify some vague elements of the Friends of Runyon Canyon MOU, including community outreach and responsibilities. 

“The Councilmember would like to bring all sides together, to build consensus, in a respectful way. Any actions in the park come from the city, not Friends of Runyon Canyon, which is a fundraising arm to help the department, when needed. A review of the departments donor recognition policy also needs clarification. Its a big problem that needs to be reviewed, specifically the size and placement of corporate logos …there needs to be a line in the sand. That review may take a City Council discussion and action. 

“We would also like to include a review of the Runyon Canyon Master Plan from the 80s. Lots of people are supportive of reviewing that plan.” 

It’s not only the Memorandum of Understanding that concerns some in the community. An online group is objecting to Manuel Valencia’s application to build a 9,500 square foot residence at 3003 Runyon Canyon Road, the site of a Lloyd Wright house bordered on all four sides by the canyon. The Wright house has been a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument since 1992, which protects it from demolition. The new residence would need to be located elsewhere on the almost five acre property.

Opponents allege that Valencia is a major “funder” of Friends of Runyon Canyon, that their board voted not to oppose the building of the new house in the middle of Runyon Canyon. 

However, Friends of Runyon Canyon President Don Andres disputes those allegations, confirming that Valencia “donated $1,000 because he loves the park, his home (the subject property) is surrounded by the park and was supportive of the Foundations efforts to protect and preserve the park.” He added, “Several meetings were held, with the Mulholland Drive Design Board, the Hillside Federation, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and each meeting was attended by Foundation individuals as community representatives opposing the proposed project.” Andres stressed that “there were no conversations with Mr. Valencia regarding his property, and there was no favor given to Mr. Valencia for his donation per IRS regulations.” 

What is it about this park and the community and the support group that has created such tension? Why is it that David Ryu must act as a referee? What’s blocking the dialog between the community on one side -- including activists on social media, neighbors of the park and the neighborhood councils -- and the support group on the other side? 

Ryu is right to urge that everyone should come together respectfully to reach consensus. It the early stages, many months ago, a field deputy might have been able to help resolve the situation. Instead, the disagreement morphed into a monster and continues to haunt all sides like a tar baby. At some point, the lens has to pull back and widen out the bigger picture; we must take into consideration how the park can serve everyone and what is best for the park itself. A global audience of park users must be able to benefit as much as the community and support group. 

A harsh spotlight on Friends of Runyon Canyon has caused others to weigh in. Notably, Citizens Preserving Runyon (CPR) that describes its mission like this: 

We at CPR are dedicated to preserving Runyon Canyon as a wilderness area for community hiking and off-leash exercise for our dogs. We remain steadfast in our ongoing fight to stop developers (whether corporate or "non-profit") from commercializing our beloved canyon. We oppose the City granting administrative authority to outside groups who do not answer to the people. We want the City to meet its obligations to maintain this beautiful park. In essence, we support keeping Runyon Canyon a natural wilderness area.” 

So how will this end? That will rest with David Ryu and the LA Department of Recreation and Parks who are also looking at how to manage the traffic at the park entrance. Some have suggested white-gloved traffic officers during peak times, which, although welcome, may not be feasible. Catherine Landers, David Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, offered one practical suggestion at the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council board meeting: try to arrange for a dedicated drop off and pick up spot for visitors that use Uber to go to the park. Hopefully many more ideas will come from the group gathering that appears to be the next step. 

In 1975, the music group War had a hit song called, “Why Can’t We All Be Friends?” It may be time to pull out the old vinyl and make that the Runyon Canyon Park anthem!

 

(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.

Valley Activists Getting Nothing but Pushback from LA Planning Commission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

Sports Politics: Time for an MMA Fighters’ Association?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer is no. No it is not.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow them on Twitter @MMAFA 

Additional information and resources: 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Ed Boks is Out of a Job … Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A First for Latinos: Ortiz to Head California Community Colleges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kring’s justification for the largesse is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

Slipping CalPERS Returns Could Diminish Your LA City Services

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

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

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

The rates reported were as follows:

7.03% over the last 20 years.

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

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

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

It is what I refer to as the relevant range

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following fascinating questions are presented:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middleclass Can No Longer Afford Boyle Heights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEREFORE? 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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