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Fri, Mar

Developer’s Hired Guns Put $124,046 into Seven LA Politicians Pockets in First Quarter of 2016

VOX POP--Powerful City Hall lobbyists, who are popular hired guns among developers, raised a whopping $124,046 in the first quarter of 2016 for seven City Council members, one of whom is running for Los Angeles County supervisor. Lobbyists help developers bend the rules and get City Council approvals for zone changes, General Plan amendments and/or height district changes for gigantic development projects across LA.

In June, the city’s Ethics Commission released a quarterly lobbying report for the first quarter of 2016. It contains eye-popping figures that show City Hall lobbyists are raising king-sized cash for LA. politicians’ campaign chests and officeholder accounts. 

Council members Mike Bonin of District 11, Gil Cedillo of District 1, Mitch O’Farrell of District 13 and Joe Buscaino of District 15 each received lobbyist fundraising money for their 2017 re-election bids. Council member Mitchell Englander of District 12 received lobbyist campaign cash for his LA County supervisor run, and Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson received lobbyist fundraising money for his 2015 campaign.

Nury Martinez of District 6 received lobbyist money for an “officeholder account,” as did Bonin, O’Farrell, Buscaino and Harris-Dawson. An officeholder account is a controversial slush fund used by City Council members to pay for expensive meals and travel.

The top five lobbyists firms to raise money for City Council members include, according to the Ethics Commission:

  1. Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell — $20,848 for Mike Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $700 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account;
  2. Benjamin Resnick — $20,848 for Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $700 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account;
  3. Afriat Consulting Group — $7,300 for Gil Cedillo’s 2017 campaign, $4,700 for Mitch O’Farrell’s 2017 campaign and $4,450 for Nury Martinez’s 2013 officeholder account;
  4. Englander Knabe and Allen — $4,700 for Mitch O’Farrell’s 2017 campaign and $700 for O’Farrell’s 2013 officeholder account, $3,300 for Bonin’s 2017 campaign and $1,400 for Bonin’s 2013 officeholder account, $2,900 for Mitchell Englander’s 2016 county supervisor campaign, $1,400 for Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s 2015 campaign and $700 for Joe Buscaino’s 2011 officeholder account;
  5. M Advisors — $8,900 for Buscaino’s 2017 campaign.

All of these lobbyists have been hired by deep-pocketed developers to woo politicians and bureaucrats at LA City Hall.

Council member Bonin represents such neighborhoods as West Los Angeles, Venice, and Palms, all areas that developers have been looking to overbuild. In O’Farrell’s district, developers have been pushing controversial projects in Hollywood, Silver Lake, Elysian Valley and Echo Park.

And councilmen Gil Cedillo, Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Mitchell Englander are members of the powerful Planning and Land-Use Management Committee, which signs off on zone changes and General Plan amendments sought by lobbyists on the behalf of developers.

See a pattern here? Politicians get big money from developers and lobbyists, lobbyists rake in millions from developers, and developers make huge profits from the help of politicians and lobbyists. And the citizens get what? Traffic gridlock, unaffordable housing, outsized development that ruins our neighborhoods, gentrification and essentially screwed. 

But that’s how things work within LA City Hall’s broken planning and land-use system. Spread around huge sums in campaign contributions to City Council members, and win big favors in return. 

In addition to lobbyists raising major money for local politicians, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign chests of LA politicians, according to Ethics Commission records.

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

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

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

-cw

City’s ‘Brilliant’ Strategy to Gain Support for November Tax Initiatives: Attack the Taxpayers!

TAX TSUNAMI--The overburdening of taxpayers in the City of the Angels is a very, very real thing--except, of course, to the privileged, the disconnected, and the powerful interests tied to the majority of the City Council and Mayor who feel that our sales, parcel, utility, and other taxes are just not high enough.  More importantly, the perception and reality alike of how our taxes are being spent argues that Downtown is attacking its taxpaying residents. 

1) It's no secret that our taxes, when compared to other cities, counties, and states in the nation, are very high--and arguably either the highest or very close to it.  More taxes are acceptable when they're being spent well, but not acceptable when the past history of how they're being spent is poor. 

My CityWatch colleague Jack Humphreville isn't the only one decrying the billion-dollar homeless bond plan the City is trying to push this November.  We're being asked to pay more taxes for transportation, parks, educational facilities...yet again...but what is our past history of spending. 

And THEN City taxpayers get attacked AGAIN for being cruel and selfish.  To oppose this homeless measure is being conflated with not caring about the homeless--which itself is a cruel and selfish argument not against those who are questioning this initiative, but against those who are completely oblivious to the City of Los Angeles' horrible history on how its past homeless issues-related spending has gone. 

So City taxpayers have to endure being attacked both with more taxes, and then morally pummelled and bullied into spending more taxes--despite a horrible history on how they were spent in the past--and therefore get attacked again. 

2) Good planning, and good policies, and good representation, will lead to the acceptance of more taxes and new City initiatives...but the converse is certainly true as well.  Bad planning and policies and ignoring the voters/taxpayers won't sit well when they're being asked to do more...and more...and more...and more! 

One of the best reasons I support individuals like CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin is that he takes his own credibility and representing the Westside very seriously...and it is certain that he will bridge the voters, the City workers, and developers into doing the right thing. 

It was Mike Bonin, and others, who are leading the fight to avoid LAX from smashing a few critical hundred feet into Westchester and threatening the safety, traffic and infrastructure of the entire region.  Others on the City Council caved in to the overreaching of LAX, some with better intentions than others--but poor Planning is poor Planning. 

But NO ONE wants, or will ever put up with, poor Planning--particularly when it's almost certainly illegal, threatens neighborhoods, the economy, and both the environmental safety and quality of life solely for the purpose of making a few very rich and connected individuals more rich. 

Everyone with a conscience and a brain wants affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and enhancement of our commercial corridors--but trashing neighborhoods to do that?  No--it's NOT acceptable. 

It's NOT acceptable on the Westside, the Eastside, in the Valley, or South Los Angeles. 

Whether it's an amazingly by-right project on Venice Blvd. in the Westside that is several stories higher than other buildings for miles around, and with fewer parking spaces than units, merely because the City of Los Angeles has grossly and immorally misinterpreted state affordable housing laws ... 

... or whether the gigantic and out-of-character Cumulus skyscraper in South/Mid-City Los Angeles is being promoted along the Expo Line near the La Cienega station... 

...illegal, immoral, environmentally-unsafe and neighborhood-destroying mega-projects are NOT acceptable to a City or County that voted for more transportation options to CATCH UP, NOT WORSEN traffic, and to IMPROVE, NOT DESTROY neighborhoods.   

3) Be they black, white, brown, or yellow taxpayers, NO ONE should be a slave to a Downtown Planning Politburo-like system gone amok.  And when the taxpayers and voters get stepped on too much, they'll have to face the Hobson's choice of either taking more abuse or screaming NO!!! to new tax initiatives just to make their elected leaders be heard. 

The Casden project was a horrible poison pill for Expo Line supporters in the Westside, and the Cumulus project was a horrible poison pill for Expo Line supporters in the Mid-City/South L.A. region.  

And "by-right" rules to the otherwise-venerable goals of affordable housing and transit-oriented development, but which establish projects and development that do anything BUT achieve those goals while making a few cruel and scurvy developers richer, is just plain WRONG. 

I am not the only transit advocate in agony over whether to promote Measure R-2 or not this November, because more sales taxes are needed to operations of mass transit, fixing our streets, and repairing our infrastructure--but "feeding the beast" is anything but acceptable. 

What is particularly sad is that the aforementioned Councilmember Mike Bonin, and former Santa Monica City Mayor Denny Zane have an EXCELLENT and VERY CREDIBLE record on past and planned-future spending of transportation funds, and on acknowledging what is and isn't real transit-oriented development. 

But they risk losing, and WE risk losing, a very necessary initiative (Measure R-2) if it will only result in empowering the developers and "the 1%" while disempowering the rest of us and consigning our City into a living hell...to which only the option of moving is available. 

To the Mayor, the City Council, the Board of Supervisors, and to our state and federal electeds: 

1) Stop attacking taxpayers with poorly-conceived and nontransparent spending initiatives, because they will threaten the ones that ARE well-conceived and transparent. 

2) Stop attacking taxpayers for being cruel and selfish when, in fact, they are anything BUT...although those doing the attacking are likely those who truly merit the monikers of "cruel" and "selfish". 

We have a City to save, and you're killing our ability to save it.

 

(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

 

Black Lives Matter Takes on New Fight: Brutality and Backlash

LA PROTEST WATCH--A sober New York Times headline last weekend described what many assume has been a dramatic change in fortune for Black Lives Matter, the de facto civil rights movement of the day. “Black Lives Matter Was Gaining Ground,” it read. “Then a Sniper Opened Fire.”

The story outlines how, since 2013, BLM has slowly but steadily built national support for its in-your-face protest tactics and its relentless message that African Americans have borne the brunt of police brutality, often fatally, for far too long. Against the odds, BLM and its larger critique of American racism have gone mainstream and become a de rigueur topic in circles ranging from celebrities to presidential hopefuls. The most recent fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, were among the most shocking and egregious of many such killings captured on camera in the last three years, including the high-profile shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.

These and other images were galvanizing the national conscience, much the same way as images of civil rights protesters being abused by police stunned the public in the ‘60s. But last week, when a black, military-trained sniper killed five Dallas policemen at the tail end of a peaceful BLM protest in that city, this national support allegedly stalled; in its place is a BLM backlash that has emboldened public figures like Rudy Guiliani to declare that by focusing exclusively on black lives, the organization is inherently racist. The question posed by the New York Times and other mainstream media is how, or even whether, BLM will survive.

The criticisms of BLM, especially accusations of racism, are not new. But the Dallas shootings instantly moved such criticism from the background to the fore, giving Guiliani and other pro-police types full license to characterize BLM as counterproductive and even dangerous—one pointed accusation is that in stoking black dissatisfaction, BLM is actually responsible for the deaths of the Dallas cops.

BLM activists have for their part rejected the backlash, as well as the narrative that their cause now hangs in the political balance. National protests against police violence have continued unabated, including in Los Angeles, where the rate of questionable shootings of black people by police is higher than in any other big city. The BLM backlash seems to have actually increased participation in protests. 

“Of course people who have power want to say what we’re doing is divisive, but what’s divisive is killing black people,” says Melina Abdullah, a key BLM organizer and professor of Pan African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. “State-sanctioned violence is the issue.”

Abdullah adds that the group that convened on Sunday at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood for a march numbered in the thousands; typically it would be about 200 people. She says the show of force speaks to the urgency of the cause of police reform and racial justice – an urgency that’s growing, not diminishing.

Akili, a fellow BLM activist and project coordinator for Corporate Accountability International, agrees with Abdullah that the Dallas shootings, tragic as they were, cannot obscure the real, deeply historical problems of inequality that have animated the movement from the beginning. “The two items are separate—the shooting in Dallas, and our demands for justice,” says Akili, who goes by one name. “These two things are not related, but we’re connecting them. That’s wrong. [Sniper] Micah Johnson was a deranged individual and we are not accountable for that. You can’t paint all black people with the same brush, but that happens all the time.” Especially when it comes to acts of violence.

Coincidentally, or appropriately, Los Angeles has become a hotbed of protest this past week. The Sunday night march in Inglewood shut down the 405 Freeway near LAX airport. On Tuesday, protesters were visibly angered by the Los Angeles Police Commission’s ruling that the 2015 fatal shooting of Redel Jones, a 30-year-old black woman who allegedly charged officers with a knife, was in policy. Jones was one of 36 people killed by the Los Angeles Police Department last year. After having swarmed City Hall, only to be refused entry, protesters are now enacting an “occupy” campaign; Abdullah says she and others will stay in the streets until LAPD chief Charlie Beck is fired. They will stay, she says, until that goal is achieved. No more negotiating.

It could very well be a long haul, with long odds for success. Abdullah is undeterred. “It’s summer,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.”

(Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles journalist whose posts regularly appear on KCET’s SoCal Focus blog. Her book, Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line, is published by University Press of New England. This column was posted most recently at Capital and Main.) 

-cw

 

Who Gets to Represent a Richer South LA?

VOICES FROM THE SQUARE--There is more opportunity in South Los Angeles now.

You can see it in the houses, in the development, in the grocery stores finally arriving, in the people who—as I did several years ago—decided to stay. There’s a real sense of unity and possibility. It can feel a little (dare I say) like Brooklyn, with the renaissance in some neighborhoods, the sexy feel of the place. And we’re just a $5 Uber ride away from everything happening in downtown. Maybe I should stop here—I don’t want too many people to come to South LA.

But I also want to raise questions about the big things that haven’t changed. Who gets the money produced by the hard work and striving of people in South LA.? Who gets to decide how public money is invested to improve South LA. neighborhoods? And most of all, who gets to represent South LA.?

For now, the answer to those questions is: the same old Los Angeles establishment. South LA. doesn’t get to invest in itself, represent itself, and govern itself. One reason for this is that running for office in LA. costs a lot of money—and citywide interests with little sense of South LA. are the funders who can afford to participate in our political races.

South LA. has always been a pawn in games played by other people. There is a strong sense of identity among people here, but our bureaucrats and politicians have divided the place up so they can do as they wish. Some parts of South LA. are unincorporated and in the county, some are in the city. Within the city, South LA. has been divided up between three or four different council districts. On top of that, the city has divided South L.A. into three different planning areas, each with their own plan.

Throw in the school district, the police and sheriff departments, and various other state and local government entities, and it’s often hard to tell who is responsible for what. That has made it harder for people here to be civically engaged—and to get power equal to our numbers. And those numbers are considerable: 850,000 people live in South LA, as many as live in San Francisco.

If the jurisdictions weren’t enough to divide us, the establishment continues to try to divide us between black and brown. People in power are always talking about that demographic divide.

But what I’ve seen over the years are ways to create possibilities. Twelve years ago, I bought a big, 100-year-old craftsman home in South LA I grew up a few blocks away from this house, helping my dad with his gardening business while my mom ran a day care. I had some struggles as a kid, but found my way to college, became a graphic designer, and started my own design firm. When my company expanded, I decided to move the firm into the second floor of my house.

I like to tell my neighbors: “Don’t move, improve.” Let’s make the “hood” a place we want to live.

I had so much space that I opened The Big House, as we call it in the community. A couple of nonprofits and small businesses have offices in my home. I built a skate park for neighborhood kids in the back. We’ve hosted block parties, health fairs, and all kinds of community events.

With my work colleagues and neighbors, we’ve also tried to tell the story of some of the gains South L.A. is making. For the past two years, I worked on a marketing campaign for Santee High School, which used to be one of the city’s worst, and now is among its best. Many community members didn’t know that. So we put together brochures, and produced original content about how well the students were doing and the school’s offerings in subjects like culinary art, fashion design, entrepreneur courses and perception of the school changed. More people need to be telling the good stories.

Of course, now that we’ve seen so many gains, expectations are higher, and South LA needs to be better prepared for the changes that are coming. Six years ago, I incorporated a nonprofit, Nuevo South, that teaches kids how to code and handle various technologies, produce original content, how to seek a job, how to engage in civic life, how to lead. I saw so many talented people leave South LA when I was young—I was briefly one of them.

Housing prices have gone so high in South L.A. that some people might be tempted to sell. But where are you going to go? You can’t go to Huntington Park or South Gate—you’re priced out. I like to tell my neighbors: “Don’t move, improve.” Let’s make the “hood” a place we want to live. (Photo left:A stately home in Jefferson Park.)

If enough people stay and become more prosperous here, South LA should be able to fund and elect its own representatives.

Then we can steer economic development here, and get local hiring—in everything from tree trimming to the contracting at the new soccer stadium that’s replacing the Sports Arena. South LA can develop its own housing policy that works to get the right kind of development—instead of exhausting ourselves fighting every single luxury condo development that doesn’t offer affordable housing or other benefits to the community. And we could provide far more infrastructure to help small businesses.

We also need to completely popularize civic engagement, so people in South L.A. vote in big numbers, and throw their weight around City Hall—which is really not very far away. This is why I’ve decided to make it a little closer. After years of talking about changing politics and representation in South LA, I’ve decided to do something about it—by running for city council next year.

I’m betting that now that South LA’s people and institutions have more money and resources, we can elect one of our own, and gain the power to match what the place has become.

(Jorge Nuño is founder of El Nuevo Sur. This essay is part of South Los Angeles: Can the Site of America's Worst Modern Riots Save an Entire City?, a special project of Zócalo Public Square  and The California Wellness Foundation.) 

-cw

What Would LA be Like without Latinos?

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--One of the things I like to do in my weekly column is to show my readers the important contributions that Hispanic Americans bring to the United States. 

Famed African American author Ralph Ellison once posed an intriguing question: What would America be like without blacks? Not only did Ellison show the socio-economic and cultural contribution of African Americans, but he also questioned what America would have been if Africans and their descendants did not shape and define America. 

According to Stephen Balkaran who is an Instructor in the department of Philosophy and Political Science at Quinnipaic University, Ellison not only showed that America’s historical, political, economic and cultural definition was contributed to by African Americans, but also reminded us that America has continued to evolve as a country of immigrants. 

Recent debates now surround the “Browning of America,” the continuous reshaping of America and its Hispanic influence. Many of us fail to grapple that America has always been Hispanic. 

Yet, Hispanics have contributed to every avenue of American life since the inception of this country. Hispanic’ origins have played a key role in our country’s socio-economic, political and cultural development and many argue: What would America would be like without the presence of Hispanics and their influence? 

Here is a small but meaningful example. Sigue Corporation founder and CEO, Guillermo de la Viña (Center, photo left), was honored with a Community Hero Award from the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, July 3. The honor is given to leaders in the Hispanic community as part of the Dodgers’ Viva Los Dodgers and Cuban Heritage Day. 

With 25 years of experience in the banking and financial services industry, de la Viña led Sigue to become the fourth largest money transfer company globally. Sigue serves more than 100 countries on six continents.  

“Sigue connects Latino communities throughout the world, and the Dodgers connect us all in Los Angeles,” said de la Viña. “The Los Angeles Latino community is particularly close to my heart because it’s where I’ve built my business. I am very grateful for the way the community has welcomed me and for this special recognition from the Dodgers’ organization.” 

The Community Hero Award is presented to an individual with a tireless involvement in the Latino community. The general public nominates individuals that they think have provided continued support to the Latino community in Los Angeles.  

De la Viña was recognized as one of the most successful and creative individuals in the Latino community by Poder Hispanic Magazine, which included him on the list of the nation’s 100 Most Influential Hispanics of 2011. 

In 2014, de la Viña received the Community Service Award from the Soledad Enrichment Action (SEA), a Southern California non-profit organization, for his public service. He has supported many organizations and non-profit groups, including White Memorial Medical Center, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

 

About Sigue Corporation 

Headquartered in Sylmar, California, Sigue is a leading financial services company providing international electronic money transfer services to over 100 countries. The company is privately held and operates through a comprehensive network of retailers. Learn more at www.sigue.com

 

(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

Urban Coyotes - Learning to Coexist With Them

DEEGAN ON LA-The shot rang out in the silent summer night, in Silver Lake. One coyote down. Summer is here, the heat is rising, and the hills are full of coyotes that are migrating down from their usual habitats in the now-parched hillsides to urban centers in search of food and water. What to do? Definitely don’t shoot them, as an apparent coyote vigilante did in Silver Lake a few weeks ago. 

"This kind of sniper attack against a coyote is the first Ive heard of in Southern California. There has been an outpouring of support to find and catch whoever committed this reprehensible act of animal cruelty. Project Coyote is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the sniper who fatally shot this coyote in Silver Lake,” declared Randi Feilich, the Southern California Representative for Project Coyote an organization that promotes coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science and advocacy. 

The LAPD is treating the coyote shooting in Silver Lake as an open criminal case, and asking anyone with information to call the Animal Cruelty Task Force at 213-486-0450. 

Protecting wildlife corridors in the hills, so coyotes and other wildlife can trek to common grounds, is no longer the answer when the native wildlife, that were here long before any of us, descend into Silver Lake, or Hancock Park, or the Valley communities at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains. 

Coexistence with them and education about them are the winning strategies for dealing with our wildlife neighbors that are showing up in urban neighborhoods with real regularity. 

Hillside dwellers may be more familiar with coyotes than city dwellers, although, as the hills continue to densify and attract first-time residents, many more are seeking the “living-in-nature” experience in the midst of urban sprawl -- one of the coveted lifestyles in LA. So, some knowledge about the wildlife population and strategies for coexisting with coyotes in the hills or on city streets is necessary. 

Many people moving to hillsides are simply unaware there is wildlife living near them in close proximity. Education is the key for safe coexistence", said Feilich. The same advice – education -- applies to city dwellers. 

Project Coyote offers strategies for both hillside and city residents to coexist with coyotes. 

If you live in the city, these are some solutions that will help you manage:

  • Start with keeping your animals on a leash when you are taking them for a walk.
  • Some waste management containers don’t have self-closing lids--always have garbage contained and covered.
  • Fruit on ground attracts rodents and then coyotes. Pick it up when it falls off the tree.
  • Don’t feed a coyote by leaving cat food or dog food outside.
  • Leaving your pet door open at night is a problem. Close it at night.
  • Dusk to dawn is the critical time to be sure you don’t have free-roaming pets when you take them for a walk.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Coyotes can, and will, mate.
  • Secure your under-house crawlspaces to deny coyotes a place to hang out and make themselves at home. 

Here are some of the tested and effective strategies if you live in the hills:

  • You can build fences around your property. Make them 6 to 7 feet tall because coyotes can leap, and are also good climbers, and sink the fence to a depth of at least a half-foot to prevent them from burrowing under the fence.
  • If you have coyotes coming into your yard, you can get solar operated flashing lights, or motion sensors, or motion-activated sprinklers. Any of these methods will scare a coyote away.
  • To prevent a coyote from climbing up your fence, you can install a “coyote roller” which has a unique design that prevents coyotes from getting the traction with their front paws needed to climb a fence line. A coyote roller (coyoteroller.com) is a 4-foot, aluminum extruded ribbed roller designed to prevent animals from getting the foothold they need to climb over a fence. It’s simple, safe, and humane; it requires no power source while being maintenance free and durable. 

Project Coyote’s Feilich makes a point many hillside dwellers may not have considered when she advises, “Clear away dense brush and weeds that can become den sites for coyotes who are looking for a safe place to raise their young. April through August is pupping season for coyotes. Dont create a habitat for them if you dont want them in your neighborhood. But also recognize that they are one of natures most effective rodent controllers so theyre important to healthy ecosystems.

 

Project Coyote offers this short video of “Best Practices For Coexisiting With Coyotes”

Others, like California wildlife biologist Kevin Brennan, an expert on coyotes in Southern California who works for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, have also shared their strategies. Brennan recently told a Southern California Public Radio audience that “understanding some of the attributes of coyotes helps -- theyre likely to eat pets, root through your garbage and frighten homeowners.” 

He advises a strategy of deterrence for urban dwellers who are not used to dealing with the growing presence of coyotes that are now often sighted when walking dogs in city neighborhoods. Like others, he suggests keeping pets on a leash when outdoors, cleaning up loose garbage and picking up fruit that falls from trees, thus denying coyotes a free lunch. You can also make coyotes feel uncomfortable by opening and closing an umbrella aimed at them or throwing a tennis ball toward but not at them; this will not hurt them but may scare them away.

Closer to home, Los Angeles Animal Services offers a very informative brochure full of tips and FAQs that can help you, such as: 

What should I do if a coyote approaches me?

  • Wave your arms.
  • Shout in a low, loud tone.
  • Throw objects at the coyote while maintaining eye contact.
  • Make yourself look as big as possible.
  • If you are wearing a jacket, take it off and swing around over your head.
  • If possible go towards active or populated areas but do not turn your back and run from the coyote as that could trigger a chase. 

How can I keep my dog safe?

  • Closely supervise your dog.
  • Do not leave small dogs unattended in your yard.
  • Walk your dog on a leash at all times & stay close to high pedestrian traffic areas.
  • Try not to establish a regular routine & route to avoid setting up a pattern for the coyote to detect.
  • Avoid dense brushy areas or paths near abandoned properties.
  • If you notice a coyote when walking your dog, keep your dog as close to you as possible and move towards an active area.
  • Never encourage or allow your dog to interact or “play” with coyotes.

No matter if you live in the hills or the flats, the coyotes are singing the same tune as humans as they roam our streets and hillsides: Home Sweet Home.

 

(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.

 

Funding the Homeless Fight: Let the Voters Decide

GUEST COMMENTARY-Faced with what may be the most critical moral, civil rights and social justice issue of our time, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering asking voters to approve a tax to fund the fight against homelessness. 

Ongoing revenue — as opposed to one-time-only funding — would go far towards implementing the comprehensive 47-point strategy of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, which seeks not only to house the homeless, but to provide a full range of supportive services that are vital for homeless persons to achieve stability and eventually become self-supporting. 

We are in a crisis and, sadly, it is growing. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the current homeless population of 46,874, would fill every seat at the downtown Staples Center, USC’s Galen Center and the newly renovated Forum in Inglewood — combined. This is the largest number of homeless men, women and children in a local jurisdiction anywhere in the United States. It’s hard to believe but the trends strongly suggest there will be another 2,000 homeless individuals by this time next year. Needless to say, this is not only unsettling but patently shameful. 

The disturbing increase in homelessness in LA County over the past three years is part of a statewide problem. The Board of Supervisors recently called on Governor Jerry Brown to declare a statewide emergency on homelessness, which would make funding available immediately to assist California’s 115,000 homeless — the most of any state, and more than 20 percent of the United States’ homeless population. The California State Assembly answered the Board’s formal request last month, passing HR 56,  which also urged the governor to make that emergency declaration. The general public has spoken as well, with some 14,000 people signing a petition urging the governor to act. People are paying attention to this inescapable crisis and the number of concerned citizens continues to grow. 

Without abandoning its pursuit of state funding, the Board of Supervisors is also focusing its efforts on placing a sales tax, parcel tax or marijuana tax on the November ballot. Our deliberations are informed by 10 surveys conducted by diverse pollsters from February through July, which showed the electorate consistently and emphatically views homelessness as a top concern, second only to jobs and the economy. The polls also indicated an unprecedented willingness by likely voters to tax themselves to finance solutions to the crisis. The question is: What kind of tax would work best to fund the County’s response to the homeless crisis? There are three proposals to be considered on Tuesday, July 12. They are as follows: 

General Sales Tax--The sales tax proposed to the Board is equivalent to one-fourth of a cent, which would raise about $355 million a year. For the average taxpayer, that amounts to about $1 a month, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. A County-commissioned survey in April showed 68 percent of likely voters already in favor of a half-penny sales tax dedicated to homelessness — double what the Board is considering. These and other data make it clear that the people of LA County want something done and they are ready, willing and able to pay for it. 

Parcel Tax--Another proposal for the Board’s consideration is a parcel tax that is projected to generate $185 million a year. At 3 cents per square foot, a property owner would pay about $45 annually for a 1,500 square foot parcel. At this rate, the parcel tax would generate less than half of what is required to address the homeless crisis with sufficient resources. 

Marijuana Tax--This proposal may be a promising new source of revenue for the County, but at present, it is unclear how much revenue it would generate and when the County would start seeing returns on the upfront administrative costs. Although using marijuana for medical purposes is permitted under state law, recreational use remains illegal, although voters could change that in November. Even if California legalizes recreational marijuana use, federal law makes regulation and taxation a bit murky at this point. Further, public health and public safety officials, environmentalists and land use experts have all expressed concerns about the potential impact of legalization, and the overconcentration of dispensaries in some areas of the County. 

While each funding option merits consideration and they all generally fared well in the polling, I believe a general sales tax levy provides the best opportunity to secure most of the funds needed on a yearly basis to effectively deal with this crisis. No other option comes close to generating as much revenue as the sales tax. A projected annual yield of $355 million is nearly 80 percent of the total funds needed to put us on a path to ending homelessness, and sales tax revenues are more predictable than the other options. 

It is unconscionable that Los Angeles County — one of the largest economies in the world — has nearly 47,000 human beings living on the streets. We can and must take action to provide decent housing and restore dignity to those forced to live in such unsafe and deplorable conditions, no matter how daunting the task. It is time to put a viable measure on the November ballot and let the voters demonstrate that they are serious about addressing this worsening tragedy.

 

(Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas represents the 2nd District for the County of Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Englander’s ‘Toxic’ Body Camera Deal a Slap in the Face of LA’s Rank-and-File- Cops

POLICE POLITICS--Mayor Garcetti should rip up the $69 million, conflict-of-interest-tainted, police body camera purchase order recently slapped on his desk by Mitchell Englander (photo above) … the soon-to-be-termed out City Councilmember and recently defeated County Supervisor candidate … whose tireless efforts at ramming the toxic body camera procurement through the Council finally succeeded a few weeks ago. 

Read more ...

DWP Reform Ballot Measure: What’s in it and Why You Should Care

GET EDUCATED NOW-On the November 8 ballot, City of Los Angeles voters will be asked to approve Charter changes to improve governance of the Department of Water and Power. At least that’s the theory. The measure contains some new contracting freedom, gives the DWP Board its own staff, and doubles the minimum budget for the Ratepayer Advocate’s Office of Public Accountability. It also opens the possibility that some or all of the city’s Civil Service standards may be modified through a binding labor agreement, provided that merit-based hiring, retention and discharge (not promotion) are retained. These changes are significant. They deserve a YES vote. 

The reality is that the ballot measure does not really free DWP from the political meddling of elected officials. It includes a new “strategic planning” process. This process will give the City Council an oversight role for LADWP investments and rates that it does not have today. Strategic planning is good. Strategic planning for a utility by elected officials who are strongly influenced by election cycles and special interests is not in keeping with the concept of reduced political interference. 

What DWP really needs to resolve its hiring crisis is more positions that are exempt from Civil Service rules. The County of Los Angeles has 10 percent. DWP has 18 positions out of 8,000. Exemptions didn’t make it to the ballot. As a result, DWP is totally dependent on labor negotiations with its dominant union for a solution to its hiring crisis. That is going to be expensive. 

Furthermore, the City Council apparently has no intention of allowing the DWP Board to make the decisions on changes to Civil Service at DWP. The ballot measure requires that any changes made through a valid labor agreement must be approved by the “salary setting authority”. That authority is the City Council. Note that none of the remaining 23 recommendations for DWP Reform include making the DWP Board the salary setting authority for DWP. 

Shortening the terms of DWP Commissioners from five years to four means that all members can be replaced by every Mayor, even with staggered terms. This partially offsets the new ability of commissioners to appeal their dismissal to the City Council. Expansion of the Board to seven members and some decorative skill “requirements” will have little effect on the powers of the Board. The only areas in which elected officials have given the Board additional powers are contracting and setting the salary of the General Manager. Four recommendations (20, 21, 22 and 23) are classic political meddling. 

Inserting into the Charter a requirement that DWP implement monthly billing by January 1, 2020, raises the specter of a three-year (2017, 2018, 2019) forced march to a major billing system software change that can’t be halted if it is not ready. Did we learn anything from the last billing system fiasco?

The following list is a summary of the 24 DWP Reform recommendations from the Rules, Elections, Intergovernmental Relations and Neighborhoods committee (REIRN, or just “Rules”). It breaks them down into categories by the type of action and the timing. 

Ballot Measure, November 8 

—- 01 –Charter Changes - Board GM DWPAO OPA Strategic Plan Personnel Billing.

 

Ordinances, IF Ballot Measure passes 

—- 02 –Board - Stipend of $2000 per month proposed.
—- 03 –Board - Transition schedule and staggered terms.
—- 14 –Contracts - Eliminate council approval of power contracts and design-build contracts.
—- 16 –Oversight - Four-year investment and revenue Strategic Plans and approvals.

 

Other actions, IF Ballot Measure passes 

—- 07 –OPA_RPA - (Request) Hiring plan with additional exempt positions.

 

Ordinances, NOW 

—- 04 –Gen Manager - Board sets compensation annually with approval of EERC.
—- 05 –OPA_RPA - Appropriate and necessary access to DWP documents.
—- 11 –Contracts - GM authority to $5 mil without Board OK Board up to ($15 mil?) without Sec 245.
—- 12 –Contracts - Quarterly and annual contracting reports including outsourcing.
—- 13 –Contracts - Board approves contracts up to 5 years (some 10) without Council OK.
—- 15 –Contracts - DWP may use RFPs and competitive negotiation for special equip.

 

Other actions, NOW 

—- 09 –Personnel - By Aug 1: a Plan to address DWP hiring needs in existing system.
—- 10 –Personnel - DWP labor negotiations to expedite existing hiring and promotions.
—- 17 –Independence - Ask Mayor to exempt DWP from sweeping oversight of ED4.
—- 18 –Independence - CAO: Options for DWP Board to do own collective bargaining.
—- 19 –Power Transfer - Litigation update with options to modify transfer or resolve the case.
—- 24 –Attorney - Authorize technical or legal changes w advice of CAO, CLA, CC Pres.

 

Reports for POSSIBLE ordinances 

—- 06 –OPA_RPA - Potential changes to [Charter!] role by ordinance.

—- 08 –Attorney -“Strengthen Board oversight of litigation” without an outside counsel.
—- 20 –Water System - Report: Options for integrated water group (BurSan merger).
—- 21 –Discounts - Report: How to give discounts to Rec & Parks, non-profits, seniors.
—- 22 –Green Power - Report: Options to assure access to green power by low income.
—- 23 –Low Income - Report: Creating an executive level low income advocate at DWP.

 

For full details on these 23 additional proposals, go to http://dwpreform.lacity.org, click on “Information for Neighborhood Councils”, and look at the related document “REIRN Committee Recommendations on DWP Governance Reform.” The charter changes (the ballot measure) are contained in recommendation number 1. They became new CF 16-1800

Each of the recommendations 2 through 24 is still open for Neighborhood Council input. Community Impact Statements can be filed on the original motion (CF 16-0093). Make sure to send a copy of any Neighborhood Council or individual recommendation on DWP Reform to Council President Herb Wesson’s Assistant Chief Deputy Andrew Westall ([email protected]). 

Please send your questions and comments on DWP Reform to [email protected]. DWP Reform information will be posted regularly at http://empowerla.org/dwpmou. There is additional information at http://dwpreform.lacity.org.

 

(Tony Wilkinson is the Chair of the Neighborhood Council – DWP MOU Oversight Committee. He will be contributing information on the DWP Reform process to the EmpowerLA newsletter each week.) Prepped by Linda Abrams.

Crunch Time: Down to the Wire: On the Krekorian Recall Petition

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Since the petition to recall Councilmember Krekorian was approved on March 29, the activists at Save Valley Village have been hard at work collecting enough signatures prior to the upcoming July 26 deadline. If the petition gathers enough signatures, the recall vote would trigger a special election. 

I sat down with a member of Save Valley Village for an update on the fast approaching deadline. Where does the group stand on the petition effort and what is the pulse in the neighborhood? 

“A day does not go by where we do not receive at least one e-mail from a constituent eager to sign. Everyone has a personal experience of being ignored by the council office, frustrated by over-development, and vanishing character and culture,” shared the spokesperson for the group. “People are still reaching out to us wanting to do what they can to remove Krekorian from office.” 

The petition, she says, has appealed to an “extraordinary cross-section of voters, wealthy homeowners, elderly pensioners, professional people, blue collar workers, immigrants, homemakers, artists, small business owners, renters, students -– residents of every imaginable cultural and religious background, across the socioeconomic spectrum.” 

However, she adds, “A number of people were afraid to sign the petition for fear of retaliation. Council members are not permitted to view the signature sheets, yet people feared they would be singled out. They feared the possibility that getting their request fulfilled in the future would somehow be compromised – as if those requests are getting fulfilled now. This is indicative of the lack of confidence in the integrity of our city systems.” 

“A woman was promised a stop sign by Krekorian who was running for office in his first election – in 2009. She would rather continue waiting for a response from his office, over seven years later, than sign a piece of paper that would help get her the appropriate person elected to get her stop sign and be done.” 

The petition movement has brought together many people, affording the grassroots group the opportunity to further grow its database of residents committed to preserving the character and culture of the community. 

With about two weeks to go, petitions are still circulating throughout the neighborhoods. The group had hoped to get the signatures in prior to the July 26 deadline to leave room for collecting additional signatures as needed. 

As indicated by the graphics below, the response has been mixed between those who “didn’t have time,” “needed more information,” and signed, as well as a handful who weren’t sure who Krekorian was. A second survey noted over 52% percent of those asked had signed.

 

 

No matter the outcome, the Save Valley Village spokesperson notes, “There is nothing in the Election Code preventing voters from filing another Petition to Recall. We have learned a great deal from the process and have a good handle on the Pulse of Council District 2 – which is more than we can say for our Council Office.”

 

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

California’s Dangerous Potential New Death Penalty Initiative

DECISION TIME--Thirty-one years ago, Kevin Cooper was sentenced to death by a California court for the brutal murder of four people in a ranch house in Chino Hills, a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles.

The bodies of Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and a family friend, 11-year-old Chris Hughes, were all found stabbed to death. Josh Ryen, the couple’s eight-year-old son, managed to survive the attack.

From the start, Cooper’s case has been besieged with controversy: Cooper has steadfastly maintained his innocence; the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department destroyed and concealed important evidence; and the case was the first to make use of then-new DNA testing. One 9th Circuit Judge went so far as to write that Cooper “is either guilty as sin or he was framed by the police.” In a scene seemingly taken straight from The Making of a Murderer, there are allegations that the police planted physical evidence implicating Cooper and concealed statements from eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen three white men leaving the crime scene on the night of the murders. 

While no definitive evidence has been found to confirm Cooper’s guilt, he remains on death row. That’s because the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 constrains his ability to present new evidence. The AEDPA, passed during Bill Clinton’s administration, was one of a number of laws and regulations designed to prevent what were seen as an unending string of appeals afforded to those facing execution, particularly those who were claiming innocence as a result of newly discovered evidence.

But even judges involved in Cooper’s case have expressed doubt as to his guilt: One judge on the 9th Circuit called the ruling “wholly discomforting.” In 2009, the 9th Circuit denied en banc review of Cooper’s case, and the powerful dissent, joined by four other judges, begins: “The State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.”

Cooper is one of 747 people on California’s death row, and one of the 16 who have now exhausted all of his appeals. He faces execution if the backers of the (confusingly named) new pro-death penalty initiative, California Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016, have anything to do with it.

Amid declining support for the death penalty across the nation — 19 states have eliminated it entirely, and 2015 saw a record low in the number of death sentences and executions doled out — there’s been a joint endorsement by the California District Attorneys Association, law enforcement, and a majority of prosecutors across the state to enact the CDPRSA. They argue it will fix the death penalty.

That’s a potentially major shift in a state where more people on death row die from suicide than have been executed, and where more inmates have died of natural causes (60) than have been executed (13) since 1978. (Visiting San Quentin’s death row in 2015, the Los Angeles Times described a harrowing scene of wheelchairs lining the hallways.) Meanwhile, death row has cost California taxpayers $4 billion since it was reinstated in 1978. A Los Angeles Times story describes at least 20 death row inmates who are likely “permanently incompetent” — deemed to be unqualified for execution because of mental illness.

While the CDPRSA is being hailed by some as a panacea to prison bloat, there’s simply no research to support the notion that speeding up executions will save money—money that could be better used to solve cold cases or fund public defenders.

The death penalty in California has been headed toward extinction for a long time. Reinstated in 1978, death sentences, while technically legal, have been trapped in a morass of case law, further exacerbated by the unavailability of the execution drugs and the desperate attempts by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to write a new lethal injection protocol that survived the challenges of advocacy groups. As a result, no one has been executed in California since 2006.

With the exception of a few outlier counties, death sentences have gone down across the United States. Last year saw the lowest number of death sentences and executions in the last two decades. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there were 49 death sentences issued in the U.S. in 2015, 14 of which were in California, more than any other state. (Texas, long a staple of the “death belt,” had only two.) These 14 death sentences were not evenly distributed throughout the state — Riverside County alone had eight.

There’s simply no research to support the notion that speeding up executions will save money.

Though California hasn’t executed anyone in a decade, certain counties in California continue to sentence people to execution at disproportionately high rates. As legal expert and senior researcher at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice’s Rob Smith explains, these outlier counties account for almost all of the death sentences in the U.S. It so happens that five of these counties are in California — Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, and Kern.

Kern, Orange, and San Bernardino counties have produced more death sentences than the three most death-loving Texas counties, despite having fewer people. Riverside County, which is home to just 6 percent of California’s population, has produced over 50 percent of last year’s death sentences, more than Los Angeles County, which has over three times as many people. Most experts argue that these death sentences are the result of overzealous prosecutions, not increased crime.

So, is the CDPRSA a ploy to cement Southern California as the new death belt?

The immediate risk posed by the CDPRSA is that innocent people will be executed. Three men have been exonerated from California’s death row since its reinstatement. And while the district attorney of San Bernardino, Michael Ramos (who is sponsoring the initiative and is running to replace Kamala Harris as attorney general of California), told me that “California has never executed an innocent person,” those who know the Tommy Thompson case might disagree. Thompson, who was convicted in 1984 in Orange County largely on the basis of snitch testimony, went to the execution chamber with many people still asserting his innocence. And, despite evidence to the contrary, Ramos remains similarly convinced of Cooper’s guilt.

Supporters of the CDPRSA argue it will save money and help victims — namely, by double-celling death row inmates and saving on their health care and other housing expenditures. But there’s little evidence to support this argument. In fact, there’s reason to think the initiative will cost more money than is currently being spent on death row, because it moves death cases to the front of the docket, pushing out other cases and jamming courts.

Further, the $4 billion that has been spent on death row has come at the cost of other public-safety provisions, particularly in the counties that seem to favor executions the most. In 2010, the California Supreme Court held that at least 18 cases in Riverside against people accused of felonies and serious misdemeanors were dismissed because of the “fault or neglect” of the county government; the new death penalty initiative would seem to further strain a system that has already proven insufficient.

There is also little to no reason to think that victims’ families benefit from a death sentence. Take the case of Scott Dekraai in Orange County — if the prosecutors there gave up the death penalty, the case would be over because no one questions Dekraai’s guilt. Instead, the Orange County district attorney’s pursuit of a death sentence, in light of substantial police and prosecutorial misconduct, just means the case will be stalled for decades. “Stop the madness. Take the death penalty off the table and end all the appeals, all the court appearances,” a victim’s sister said in the local press.

Rather than creating justice, speeding up the death penalty increases the risk of a dreadful mistake, all to satisfy a handful of prosecutors who should be focused on following the law, not making it. Courts will be blocked up and costs will increase. And while the Supreme Court decided not to take up the issue of whether the death penalty itself violates the 8th Amendment, Justice Stephen Breyer has given hints that he is watching the issue closely.

California’s showdown on whether the death penalty should be resuscitated will indeed be an interesting battleground to watch.

(Jessica Pishko writes for excellent Pacific Standard Magazine  … where this piece originated.)

-cw

 

What’s Wrong with LA? How about City Council Vote Trading?  

THE CITY-The illustrious attorney Mickey Kantor of the mega law firm Mayer Brown formed a fancy-smancy committee of poobahs back in 2013 to figure out what was wrong with the City of Los Angeles. Contrary to the proclamations of our new mayor that he had revitalized everything, this gaggle of self-appointed VIPs discovered that the City was going to rack and ruin. It wrote: 

“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.” 

When time rolled around to fix the problem, the 2020 Commission became the Zero Zero Commission. It had nothing. 

Now, we read about all sorts of solutions in the LA Times, LA Weekly and CityWatch. Borrow $1.2 billion to build homes for the people we just made homeless by tearing down their homes. Or, better yet, how about a $120 billion tax increase for more subways, when, with each billion dollars we spend on transit, a smaller percent of the public actually uses mass transit? 

The cause of the City’s ruin can be viewed three times a week on TV. All we have to do is tune to the City Council’s live feed or to Channel 35 and we can watch criminality in action. Mickey Kantor is right: the City of Los Angeles is in decline, but there was no reason for him to keep the origin of our municipal woes a secret. His commission just lacked the guts to admit the truth. The Los Angeles City Council operates under an unlawful vote trading pact which Penal Code 86 criminalized a decade ago in 2006. 

The vote trading pact is the old “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch my back” trade-off. No councilmember will vote “No” on any project in another councilmember’s district. In return, no councilmember will vote “No” on any project in his or her district. As a result, any project which a councilmember places on the City Council agenda unanimously passes. They’ve got a 99.9% unanimous passage rate. 

This is not passage by a mere majority vote – this unlawful “voting pact” requires that every single councilmember who is present must vote “Yes” every single time. It does not matter how many laws a project may break -- it gets unanimous approval. It does not matter how many millions of dollars in gifts the developer gets -- there is unanimous approval. It does not matter if the city treasury cannot pay for roads or sidewalks because the developers are draining the coffers. Each project gets unanimous approval. The overriding concern of the City Council is that each and every council member has every one of these special deals with his special friends unanimously approved. 

Of course, almost nothing works in the city, and naturally we have too little money for pension funds, streets or paramedics. Yet, the councilmembers always get unanimous approval for whatever gifts they want for their special friends – no questions asked. Literally, no councilmember ever asks another council member if giving millions of dollars to CIM Group for 5929 Sunset is a wise idea. 

The City’s rotten core, its criminal vote trading system, continues on many fronts: 

  •  If a councilmember’s buddy wants to construct twin skyscrapers straddling an earthquake fault line, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  •  If a councilmember’s buddy wants $14 or $20 million for his Hollywood high rise which the courts closed down for being illegally constructed, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Krekorioan’s buddy wants to tear down Marilyn Monroe’s historic home in Valley Village three days before the Cultural Heritage Commission meets, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell wants to continue evicting the elderly, disabled and the poor from their rent-controlled apartments so his buddies can continue to create more high-end, luxury boutiques for the rich and famous, he’s got it – unanimously. 
  • If Councilmember Wesson wants all the sales tax revenue at the CIM Midtown Project to go to CIM Group and not to the City, he’s got – unanimously. 
  • If a councilmember wants the millions of dollars of hotel taxes from its Grand Hotel to go to his buddy, aka Korean Airlines, he’s got it – unanimously. 

It does not matter what project a councilmember wants or how much the project will drain the city treasury, the councilmember gets it – unanimously. 

Let’s go back to Mickey Kantor and his report from 2013. It continued: 

“As a consequence, Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept. City revenues are in long-term stagnation and expenses are climbing.” 

What is the City’s response when someone complains about the criminal vote trading agreement? The City claims that it is above the law. The City says that it is none of the courts’ business how the City conducts its internal affairs. It claims that it does not have to follow Penal Code § 86 because the Mental Processes of the councilmembers are confidential and privileged. 

The City’s claim is far more than councilmembers’ asserting the Fifth Amendment. It claims that no one may present any evidence in court from which a jury could infer that a councilmember had a criminal state of mind. King Louis XIV of France made the same assertion when he claimed, “L'etat c'est moi'” (I am the state). 

In line with its grandiose belief, the City claims that the State of California has no power to enforce its laws setting the limits on how cities may govern themselves. The State can pass all the laws it wants, but the City denies that the courts have the right to adjudicate whether the City is following the law. 

The City claims that it is solely a matter of politics, and courts may not hear cases that involve politics. The fancy word for this weird idea is “justiciable.” The City asserts that the question of whether or not city councilmembers engage in criminal vote trading is a non-justiciable issue. It is not the court's role “to dictate the manner in which councilmembers choose to vote.” The City asserts that the courts are impotent in the face of this massive, decade’s long criminal vote trading agreement that has brought disaster upon the City.

So now, you know why the 2020 Commission turned tail and ran away. The City insists that the only law it has to follow is the law it wants to follow. In fact, the City claims that it does not even have to follow its own rules and procedures. Why? Because the courts may not second guess what the city actually does. 

So we Angelenos can forget about exalted commissions. We can forget about the Neighborhood Councils or submitting our comments to challenge construction projects. We can forget about the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. We can forget about everything because the fix is in. 

The role given to us Angelenos is simple – approve hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds, rate hikes, and tax increases so that each city councilmember has an endless supply of money to dole out to his friends.

 

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

What the Takata Airbag Mess Has to do with You

EASTSIDER-When I grew up, we had a whole bunch of automakers in the US, mostly based in Detroit. One heck of a lot of jobs, mostly in America. That ended with the full-on onslaught of the Global Economy, which we are told is “good for us” and somehow produces a better free market which should make us all sing hosannas and clap with joy. 

I still remember the television pronouncement of President Bill Clinton as he told us all to get over the idea of working for one employer and retiring on their pension. We lived in the new, competitive, global economy and we needed to get used to it and be willing to train, and retrain, for a bunch of different jobs during our working life so that we too, could become competitive. Or some such horsepuckey. 

So here’s my poster child for “how’s that workin’ for ya?” Let’s talk about airbags. You know, the ones that are in virtually every car these days, made overseas by the Takata Corporation, a veritable shining example of global competitiveness and its outcomes. 

These devices were so cost competitive on a per unit basis that they created close to a monopoly: no one else could compete with their prices. After all, if car companies can save a few cents per unit on every car they make, then they should do so. Then add all that up and “hurrah” – it’s a shining example of global competitiveness in action. 

But it is also a prime example of what happens when a system goes wrong. The simple timeline of the airbag problem and efforts to fix it shows us how incapable our system is in actually dealing with global problems of this magnitude. Here’s Consumer Reportstake on it. 

And this gift just keeps on giving. I own a Toyota and was overjoyed to be greeted by this headline last week: “A second airbag supplier SNAFU hits Toyota, 1.4 million cars recalled.” 

Seems to me that all this points out some pretty serious flaws in the wonderful “global economy” theory. When things go wrong, no one knows the magnitude of the problem for a long time because the chain of how it has occurred is murky, complex, and has happened over a long period of time. The company on the hook is simply unable to fix the problem for every vehicle, because, in truth, doing that all at once would make them go bankrupt. So too bad for all of us and our cars. But we still go through these tortured exercises about how the government is somehow responsible for figuring out what to do. It’s a huge mess and coping with it is beyond the ability of any one of these global giants. Plus, the car manufacturers can’t take the hit all at once either. 

Remember, one of the upsides of the old “inefficient” economy was a certain amount of redundancy. There were usually a fair number of parts manufactured so that, if one messed up, there were quick fixes or alternatives. In fact, often a manufacturer would step up and actually make the part if necessary. Our global system, in contrast, tends to rely on a “just in time” assembly process with pieces coming on a slow boat from China. The old system had the advantage of redundancy, as well as being close to home -- and oh, by the way, providing jobs for us. 

The financial services industry could care less about this because they are the primary beneficiary of the global economy. They’ve already taken in their money and have it lodged in institutions all around the world, able to move their profits at the click of a button at the speed of electrons. 

By financing these deals with a massive amount of highly leveraged debt, they have made tons of money which they and their corporate partners can hide overseas to evade US taxes. If one of the deals goes bad, some investors (like your and my 401-k plans) get hit. However, the corporate types along with their profits have moved on, bearing no responsibility. 

In the meantime, people die. Also, a heck of a lot of folks in the United States have lost their jobs, with most of the manufacturing losses permanent. There is a direct correlation between the so-called free trade deals and job losses for us, and it’s not based on news media hype. Even the New York Times gets it. 

If you want to really know the details, check out the 55-page research paper referred to in the Times article here.  

Where does all this leave you and me? How about we consider less globalization and more local jobs? How about actually reigning in “Too Big to Fail” banks? Of course, I wouldn’t hold my breath with the two presidential candidates we have, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

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

The Lotus Festival: A Celebration of Asian Food, Culture and … Flowers

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Lotus Festival (photo above) is an annual celebration of the Asian cultures that have settled and flourished in Los Angeles. There will be dragon boat races and food, dance performances, a health fair, and community interest booths. The Lotus Festival is being held this weekend, July 9-10 at Echo Park. 

The festivities begin at noon each day and continue until 9 PM. There will be 14 food booths, 29 boutique booths (that's how the sponsor describes them), and 38 community organization booths. Entertainment begins at noon each day, and continues until the festival's closing time of 9 PM. 

How, you may ask, do you manage to fit dragon boat races into the middle of Los Angeles? The answer is Echo Park Lake. This is also a clue for the answer to "Why is it the Lotus Festival?" 

Back in the late 1800s, what is now Echo Park was empty land on the western edge of a much smaller but growing city of Los Angeles. Then came the lake. It was originally designed to be a reservoir, containing water diverted from the L.A. River. You can read the story in Nathan Masters' history.  As Masters explains, the lake and its surroundings went through various phases, and were eventually made into what we now know as Echo Park. 

Historians are unsure how the lotus plants began to populate the lake, but at some time in the 1920s, they began to flourish. There is an amusing story of how the lake's lotus population died off and was later reintroduced. The fun part is that the replacement plants came from cuttings that had been stolen from the lake nearly a decade earlier. You can read about it in Marisa Gerber's story in the L.A. Times. How many people can put lotus thief and honored conservationist on their resume? Randy McDonald can. 

The Lotus Festival is well on its way to the half-century mark, although it went out of business for a short time and then came back in 2014. 

Each year, a different country sponsors the Lotus Festival. This year, it is the Republic of Korea. To give you an idea of the breadth of what will be presented, artist Yongseob Kwon will be displaying his remarkable collection of paintings of the LA River as imagined in a future setting. And those of you who have been active in neighborhood councils may know members of the Korean Culture Center Inc, which supports the heritage of the Korean independence movement as it existed in Los Angeles a century ago. 

Wear your sun screen and print out a street map.

●●

Dave Thomas would have been ashamed--Dave Thomas (photo right) was the guy you may remember from Wendy's commercials. He has since passed on, but he represented his company on television for more than a decade, mostly in the 1990s. The other night I went into the Wendys over in Carson and ordered a burger and a bowl of chili. The young man at the register asked me if I'd like onions and cheese on my chili. 

You may already know where this is going. I said, "Sure." He took my money but when I reached for the receipt, he held onto it, telling me that it was used to fill my order. Only later did I notice that Wendy's had stuck a half-dollar charge for the cheese on my bill. I should point out that the cheese they put on wouldn't have filled a thimble, but that's not the point. The point is that the company dishonestly and dishonorably stuck a surcharge on my bill without warning or explanation. Considering that cheese and onions are an expected part of a bowl of chili unless the customer declines them, this wasn't right. It was as if they had stuck a surcharge on the bill for taking a packet of sugar to go with a cup of coffee. 

If you were to have gone into that same restaurant with me that same night and looked at the menu, you would have seen the incriminating evidence. The menu board gave the prices for two sizes of chili, but nowhere did that menu say anything about charging extra for cheese. Like I said, Dave Thomas would have been ashamed of this kind of behavior. The young manager politely explained that the computer automatically adds the fifty cents to your bill if you agree to the offer of the added cheese. 

There oughta be a law--There is upselling and then there is sleazy upselling. One morning I ordered some breakfast at the McDonalds here in San Pedro. The menu item explained that my breakfast came with a drink which could be orange juice or coffee, and when I asked for coffee, the sales lady said, "Medium?" I assumed that she was offering me a chance to have either the smaller coffee (medium) or the larger coffee, as in upsize that. If she had offered me a large coffee, I would have understood that there would be a surcharge. 

So that morning in McDonalds, still looking at the printed price list and in answer to the question, I said, "Sure." That was another half-buck that a corporate computer stuck onto my bill in its own sneaky way. I guess I should be more careful about answering any question at a fast food place with "Sure." 

The game in upselling seems to be that the advertised price isn't necessarily the real price, and if you agree to any change whatsoever, you deserve your fate. But how is the offer of that half-thimble worth of cheese -- which the customer would assume is something that comes with the order -- any different than the question of whether you want cream in your coffee? We've come to expect that we can have our coffee with cream or without cream for the same price. Restaurants don't ordinarily charge us for sugar or artificial sweetener. It's part of the deal, and the cheese should be too. Or the sales person should make it clear that it's an upsale and it will be costing you. Then you can say to yourself, "Wendy's doesn't provide the whole dish when I order chili, so maybe I should avoid the Wendy's experience." 

Long ago, fast food places introduced the hard upsell by asking, "Will you be having fries with that?" It didn't take people long to figure out that fries weren't a free bonus, but cost extra. Eventually that question became the punch line to a lot of jokes, such as "What is the first thing a liberal arts major says in his new job?"

 

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

-cw

Open Season Continues on Murdering Black Men (Video)

A PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE--As a pastor it is my calling to defend the helpless and to point out injustice when it happens. Christianity is not always a "namby pamby" religion. There is a time for condemnation and to demand change. I am reminded of Jesus Christ taking a whip to the money changers and overturning their tables in the temple in Jerusalem. What brings all of this to my attention are the two recent shootings of black men in this country. 

It is an uncomfortable fact in this country that when it comes to cops and African American men, it is open season on murdering black men. Having dated a black man for 2 years, I can personally testify to the terrible relations between the black community in Pasadena and the police. I even took a 13-week community policing class in Pasadena, and what I came away with was disheartening. The attitude of the PPD is shoot first, ask questions later. When I pressed the officers about that, the response was that was what lawyers and the courts were for, to work out the details. Our officers in the PPD are trained in Orange County, hardly a bastion of progressive thinking. This is made even worse by the recent shootings by Pasadena police of unarmed black men in Pasadena. 

This brings me to the shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota that happened this week. Both men were shot point blank. Take a look at these videos, and then tell me if you think the shootings were necessary or justified. Warning: these videos are very graphic in nature.

Sterling

Castile

Enough is enough! Police officers need to be held accountable for their actions, both by their commanding officers and by grand juries that investigate. 

Police officers are not above the law. In the case of the officer in Minnesota, he was yelling obscenities at the victim when he shot him. 

In the case of Alton Sterling in Louisiana, two police officers were kneeling on top of the victim with the full force of their weight, and then shot him. 

We need a policing culture that respects the lives of everyone, regardless of the color of one's skin. We need to retrain our police forces on how to deescalate dangerous situations and how to interact with minority communities. And we need to make it crystal clear that the attitude of shoot first ask questions later has no place in policing, and if an officer does that, charges should follow. 

Gun and ammunition laws need to be changed, and changed now. Assault weapons have no place in our communities.  

Let me ask you this question: How many pastors have you heard speak out about all of this? And white pastors need to stop the silent act and speak out firmly against the killing of unarmed black men. My message to white pastors: Stop hiding in your churches and step up to the plate! 

We are entering a very dangerous summer season. The United States is a powder keg, just waiting to explode. We already have demonstrations planned for the two national political conventions. And now we have protests over the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. It's going to be a long hot summer. 

We read in Psalm 18 : "This God - his way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all who take refuge in him." My prayer is that the violence will end, and all of us, as children of a loving God, will take refuge in the loving arms of Christ. 

However, in the meantime, we demand change. We demand that the killing of unarmed black men stop. We demand that our police officers be retrained. Yes, black lives DO matter. ALL lives matter. And it is time we remember that. 

 

-cw

Important to SoCal: Can Obama Pardon Millions of Immigrants?

EDITOR’S PICK—(When the history of President Obama’s legacy on immigration is written, he will not go down as the president who boldly acted to protect millions of families from the brutality of our nation’s unforgiving immigration laws. The Supreme Court made sure of that last month, when it deadlocked on the legality of his program to defer the deportation of parents of American citizens and residents. Instead, he will be judged on what he actually did: deport more immigrants than any other president in American history, earning him the moniker “deporter in chief.”

However, President Obama can still act to bring humanity and justice to an immigration system notoriously lacking in both. He can do so by using the power the Constitution grants him — and only him — to pardon individuals for “offenses against the United States.”

The debate over the deportation deferral program has been framed as a question of the division of powers. Both sides agree that Congress is the only entity that gets to define offenses against the United States. Reasonable commentators also agree that the president enjoys prosecutorial discretion to determine which deportation cases to pursue and which to forgo. 

The difficult question is whether a categorical decision to decline to prosecute millions begins to intrude on Congress’ power. While the program is consistent with the way previous presidents have used prosecutorial discretion, without guidance from the Supreme Court, debate will surely continue. (Read the rest.) 

-cw

I’m Getting Bored with all the Talk about Millennials … ‘Savvy Seniors’ Can Make a Difference

MY TURN-Remember when you had your fiftieth birthday and one of the greetings in the mail was from the American Association for Retired People -- AARP? I don't know about you, but I was almost insulted. Retired at 50? Old person? I dumped the application in the waste paper basket and steadily ignored those solicitations for several years. 

Everyone is talking about “how to attract millennials.” Marketing people are always looking for new ways to reach the digital generation. (I had to learn how to text to communicate with my grandchildren.) They want to know, how do we get millennials excited about voting? How do we get them to shop at brick and mortar stores? I could go on forever talking about the challenges involved in reaching this newest generation of consumers and leaders. 

Quite frankly I am getting bored with all the focus on millennials! What about our generation...the Savvy Seniors. We are, as Gale Sheehey wrote in her book "Passages," at least ten to fifteen years younger than our parents were at the same age. We work out, we bike, we take classes in esoteric subjects, we’re involved in online dating, we travel and we’re probably as knowledgeable about our local politics as we are about the national outlook. 

There have been so many horrible events in the past couple weeks. In a way, all the patriotic events on the Fourth of July -- the parades and the fireworks and the music -- provided a welcome respite from so much sad and scary news. 

I will bet this is probably the first Independence Day that people who gathered in large crowds might have looked around at their fellow celebrators and wondered, "Am I and my family safe? Does anyone here have an assault weapon or a suicide vest?" If you had those thoughts, you are not being paranoid. It’s the world we live in. 

This got me thinking about our problems and how "we" can make things better. Not the “royal we," but everyone. And I don’t mean like those Facebook homilies suggesting we could solve all the world’s problems if “everyone did something nice for someone else daily.” 

For those of us “savvy seniors” who are somewhat computer literate, have you noticed that if you check out a product or service on a website, they follow you? It’s called target marketing. Yes, I do still get mailers advertising the features of "advance burial” and invitations to lunch with the Neptune Society. They like direct mail for their target market. 

AARP does a really good job with its lobbying to protect social security and Medicare as well as promoting dozens of other projects protecting seniors from scams. As an influential national organization, AARP represents and informs us well. 

When you hear the phrase “all politics is local,” I think this extends to public service and philanthropy as well. 

Senior centers in Los Angeles, for the most part, do a good job of helping seniors pass the time. It is proven that seniors who have a good social network live longer and healthier lives. But personally, I think these centers are missing the boat. 

There is a wealth of talent and creativity locked away inside those who have retired. We have a real problem with education in Los Angeles. Our high school dropout rate is appalling for the 6th largest economy in the world! The money we spend on each student is less today than back when we went to school. I'm not going to recite the list because CW readers know the problems only too well. 

Mayor Garcetti keeps asking for suggestions in his weekly Facebook posts. His vision gets pretty good marks from those that evaluate our politicos, but his execution leaves something to be desired. He has a whole Department of Aging which tries to make sure that seniors have access to services they need. The point to this is…everyone needs to be needed! 

Here is a suggestion, Mr. Mayor: We have a large percentage of seniors among our four million inhabitants so why not create a Senior Public Service Corps in each neighborhood? This could include retired teachers, artists, woodworking craftsmen -- every profession and trade one could think of. Time is a precious commodity and, for the most part, this group has time

We could have classes in art, music, shop, cooking as well as help with reading in every school that doesn't have the money or parent participation to offer those things. Before the teachers union gets bent out of shape, we are not looking to replace them but to augment their work. Mentors for kids who need them (and how many of us are where we are today because we had one?) would come from their own neighborhoods. It would provide many of the benefits that kids going to private schools in LA enjoy for a princely sum. 

It would give kids in Middle School the extras that allow them to see their unique possibilities and it would offer alternative opportunities for kids in High School. Not everyone needs or wants to go to college but everyone needs to have the knowledge to earn a living and be able to take care of themselves and their future families. 

This could be done through the Neighborhood Councils or other local service organizations. It would take advantage of adults who have experienced wars, recessions, joys and tragedy and survived it all. The cost would be minimal and it would give many seniors in LA the satisfaction of still being needed and able to make a difference. 

Yes, Mr. Mayor, I volunteer! 

My eldest granddaughter participated in the "March of the Living" a couple of months ago with high school seniors who visited Poland and Israel. In Poland they were accompanied by Holocaust survivors, touring two concentration camps as well as other historical places. There were 10,000 young people and chaperones in all. In recounting their very traumatic experiences, the one that really stuck with me were the stories and interaction with these eighty and ninety year olds who shared with these kids how they survived and showed how they are now giving back. 

I am sure that many of you have ideas and suggestions for how we can improve our schools, take care of the homeless, improve our environment and continue to be the place that sets the standard for the rest of the country. 

When I first began my career I was lucky to have a great mentor. He ran a big company but managed to find time to be the president or chairman of both industry and philanthropic organizations. I remember asking him how he could do it all. He replied, "Public Service is the rent one pays for taking up space on this earth." 

I'm sure you’ve heard variations on that theme before but for this 20 year old it made a huge impact. I can still hear him saying those words so many years ago that so greatly affected my life. 

As always comments welcome.

 

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

How South Los Angeles Can Save Us

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--“How can we save South Los Angeles?” is a tired question. It’s an artifact of previous decades when the region formerly called South Central was known by its reputation for crime, gangs, poverty, racial conflict, and the 1992 riots, the deadliest American urban uprising since the Civil War. 

So let’s retire the old query, and turn it upside down to pose a new and urgent question: How can South Los Angeles save us?

South LA is no longer a place apart. Today, it sits in the center of the California story, embodying some of our greatest possibilities and our greatest struggles. And in a particularly nasty and anxious time in the United States, when pessimism and angry nonsense spread faster than Western wildfires, the South LA of 2016 offers a tough-minded but optimistic narrative that ought to remind us just how much can be achieved—beyond mere survival—through gritty determination and small, steady improvements.

South LA is both the closest thing we have to an urban success story, and the furthest thing from a fairy tale. In today’s South LA, crime, despite recent upticks, is less than one-third of what it was a quarter century ago, access to health care is improving, there are more and better schools, housing prices and home ownership are up, transportation and arts and food options are multiplying. And major new developments are arriving—with all their promise and peril.

Of course, it is dangerous to generalize about a place so large and diverse. South LA consists of about 30 very different neighborhoods, from pristine suburban-style historic tract to industrial precincts to college-town enclave to narrow boulevard-based corridors. South Los Angeles is comparable in size to San Francisco, California’s fourth largest city. Both are nearly 50 square miles and have populations of 850,000.

But today’s South LA is more often described as Los Angeles’ version of Oakland. It’s a poorer place that is being changed, for better and for worse, both by the work of its residents and by proximity to the wealth and spillover housing demand of Los Angeles’ booming downtown and Westside.

South LA has not shed its older challenges, particularly around poverty and jobs, while its gains have created new challenges. In particular: How do South LA’s people and businesses make sure they don’t become exiles from their own success, driven away by a higher cost of living?

That poignant question resonates across the state. South Los Angeles is the largest working-class place left in coastal California. If it can figure out a way to remain such, it could provide a crucial model of success for a state with a dwindling middle and a widening divide between its affluent and America’s largest population of poor people.

Part of South LA’s importance lies in its relative openness to new approaches in addressing this conundrum. There’s less of the NIMBYism that’s epidemic elsewhere in the state. I recently heard community planners call South Los Angeles “LA’s LA” They meant that in two ways. First, in the sense meant by Tom Bradley, modern LA’s greatest mayor and a longtime South LA resident, who once said that people come to LA “looking for a place where they can be free, where they can do things they couldn’t do anywhere else.” And second, in the technical sense: while so much of LA’s planning and zoning has already been settled, with overlays and districts for different areas, South LA’s plans remain relatively free of such obstacles.

So how can South LA’s example save us? The region has become a popular proving place for new initiatives.

It’s already the site of some of LA’s most significant cultural investments these days—in Exposition Park alone, the Coliseum is being renovated, a new soccer stadium is scheduled to be built, the Natural History Museum has been recently renovated, and the Space Shuttle Endeavour now resides at the California Science Center.

Many of South LA’s bigger developments come with “community benefits agreements” and local hiring promises that are all the rage among labor unions and local economic development wise men. But it remains to be seen whether such agreements lead to enduring improvements, or whether this one-deal-at-a-time approach undermines efforts at more thoughtful and comprehensive planning and development. USC’s The Village, which combines student housing with a new Target and South LA’s first Trader Joe’s, opens next year and is being closely watched because it comes with some of the strongest community benefits in the city’s history, including hiring for disadvantaged people, local business assistance, $15 to $20 million for a new affordable housing fund, and the creation of a legal clinic to assist local tenants. A proposed $1 billion expansion of the Washington Boulevard high-rise for creative firms and artists known as The Reef, to include new housing units, retail, and a hotel, faces skepticism about its feasibility and opposition from neighbors who fear it could further drive up rents in the area.

In an LA where it’s hard to build housing, South LA is a relative hotbed of new homes—often fashionably close to transit and retail—but it’s far from clear whether it is affordable enough to serve local residents. Recent efforts to improve access to health care are being closely watched, notably Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital, located south of the 105 Freeway, which recently reopened in conjunction with expanding local health clinics. The just-completed Expo Metro rail line (which connects South LA with downtown and Santa Monica) as well as the forthcoming Crenshaw line will make South LA a key test of whether highly touted transit investments can improve neighborhoods.

And South LA is home to dozens of charter schools, billions of dollars worth of new and improved school facilities, and various other educational innovations, including the Partnership schools, a district within a district. So far, some of these school experiments are showing strong results, while others lag.

South LA is a fertile ground for experimentation, from efforts to help local businesses embrace technology, to a new approach in sidewalk repair. The city’s new trash franchise is supposed to curb illegal dumping in South LA and establish recycling facilities in the area. Private and nonprofit efforts to provide healthy and locally grown food are targeting South LA. And if high-profile efforts to boost voter registration and turnout are to succeed, they’ll have to gain traction in South LA, where people vote less frequently than in other Southern California communities with similar population profiles.

Statewide efforts to increase park access in poorer communities are being tested in South LA, which has seen the opening of many small parks but has struggled to establish the mid-sized community parks it desperately lacks. South LA’s long street corridors are ripe for the redesigns promised by the “Great Streets” movement, which aims to make streets friendlier for bicyclists, pedestrians, and community gatherings.

In all these initiatives, the stakes are high. If any of these ideas can show results in reputedly hardscrabble South LA, they are likely to find a receptive audience in struggling urban areas around the country.

If any of these ideas [for community improvement] can show results in reputedly hardscrabble South LA, they are likely to find a receptive audience in struggling urban areas around the country.

Of course, the two most profound changes South LA needs involve not physical, but human, capital.

First, South LA stands to benefit tremendously from statewide efforts to ease re-entry into communities for people who have served time, as well as from efforts to help people clean up their criminal records by expunging or reducing non-violent felony convictions. Nonprofit groups are collaborating to make it easier for people with records to get hired and become eligible for housing and student benefits.

Second, there may be no greater advertisement for long overdue immigration reform than to spend time in South LA. And if the undocumented workers and entrepreneurs behind so many small or home-based businesses had the legal status to come out of the shadows, South LA, as both an economy and a community, would be unstoppable.

South LA’s reputation, particularly in mainstream media, hasn’t yet caught up with its new, improved, and more complicated reality. Its success has come too slowly and steadily, without a sole catalyst, and so it’s not easily told.

But that may be about to change. Two high-profile political campaigns could bring media scrutiny to South LA. Steve Barr, founder of a charter school network with many South LA campuses, is challenging the incumbent mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, in 2017. And if former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa makes a strong run for governor in 2018, Californians should hear a lot about South LA, the setting for the most significant policy initiatives of his eight years in office.

South LA’s people and institutions are understandably reluctant to tell their turnaround story, given the remaining challenges. And progress can have its costs. South LA was turned down at first for a federal Promise Zone designation, which brings all kinds of resources to the neediest neighborhoods, largely because it wasn’t poor enough to meet the program’s standards. But, in a demonstration of their collaboration and sophistication, South LA’s officials and nonprofits rallied, suggested changes to the program’s standards, and won the designation.

An updated narrative of South LA is vital to the region’s ability to protect itself and its people from developments and changes that might threaten its progress, or displace its people. Vast and diverse South LA is on the rise, and we shouldn’t let anything get in the way of the example being built there.

Because if South LA can make it, there’s hope for all of us.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square ... where this column originated.)

-cw

Here’s What Troubles Me about DWP’s Cases against PwC

PERSPECTIVE-As reported by the Los Angeles Times, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) faces allegations of billing fraud. Unlike the earlier version of the complaint filed by the City where it accused the firm of botching the implementation of the DWP’s new billing system, this latest motion has the potential for criminal charges if there is compelling evidence of a deliberate attempt to deceive. 

Most of you have probably read the article. It was reported that a number of contractors involved in the project inflated billable hours to cover the cost of some serious partying in Las Vegas, with the knowledge and approval of the billing project’s PwC partner and managers. See the DWP press release at the bottom of this post. 

I am assuming it was a whistleblower who disclosed the alleged fraud, although other means of discovery could have been in play. 

The outcome of the lawsuit could go any number of ways, but one needs to bifurcate the overall case. The initial complaint was mainly over performance, although DWP also claimed PwC misrepresented its expertise in implementing comparable billing systems. Overall, this aspect of the case is civil. 

So let’s focus on the latest motion. 

Knowingly presenting falsified invoices to a government entity is serious business, more so when done by a firm required to serve the interests of the public. There could be an element of criminal intent. 

The AICPA defines the accounting profession’s public as consisting of clients, credit grantors, governments, employers, investors, the business and financial community, and others who rely on the objectivity and integrity of CPAs to maintain the orderly function of commerce. Every action taken by the CPA should work towards serving the public interest. 

If this latest claim arose from whistleblowers’ information, it will get down to their credibility. I would think there would have to be corroborating evidence to justify a criminal action. 

The most difficult challenge for the City will be proving that the cost of the extra-curricular activities in Las Vegas were actually billed. It is one thing for a manager to suggest an unethical action (perhaps under the influence of alcohol), and quite another to actually pull the trigger. Regardless, at a minimum it would probably be viewed as unprofessional conduct by the State Board of Accountancy even if the expenses were not passed through. 

The original contract for the system was for $57 million and grew to $69 million. Is there at least a tenuous trail that could connect the specific hours spent partying as a very small piece of the $12 million increase? That would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

Are there progress billings with hours traceable to the dates and times of the activities in question? Hard to conceive that would be the case. 

There may be no smoking gun with fingerprints. 

A civil decision in favor of the City or a settlement would make it a reportable event to the Board of Accountancy. PwC would be sanctioned in a manner which could make it difficult for the firm to engage in consulting services with governments in California, and maybe even Nevada. Clouding the prospects for a favorable outcome for the City would be the DWP’s role in the system’s disastrous rollout. 

According to Daniel J. Thomasch, PwC’s outside counsel, “the DWP acknowledged in writing …that PwC fulfilled each one of its contractual obligations and paid PwC in full.” 

An audit conducted by the State of California concluded, “The department’s executive management was well aware of the significant problems associated with (the system) and yet made the questionable decision to launch.”

PwC was awarded the contract in the summer of 2010, the go-live date for the project was September 2013. There was plenty of time in between for DWP to smoke out potential trouble and cause PwC to modify its approach. All major system projects involve a constant flow of information and feedback between the developer and the client. Did DWP consistently approve the results of tests? Did its employees even bother to look? 

If it was the intent of DWP to place 100% confidence in PwC – or any contractor – to develop a critical system, that is the essence of naivete, not to mention dereliction.

There was a contract with a division of Ernst and Young for quality assurance. The State Auditor reported: DWP was “warned that no aspect of the project was ready; in fact, the quality assurance expert reported that the project’s scope, quality, and schedule were all at the lowest possible rating and needed immediate attention.” 

It would appear, then, that regardless of PwC’s actions or errors, DWP was equally reckless and incompetent throughout the duration of the project, as well as in its decision to go live. 

With so much at stake for both sides, the case will be lengthy and expensive. 

One nagging question: what action has been taken against any DWP employees whose responsibilities included oversight? 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DATE: June 30, 2016 5:00:33 PM PDT

LADWP Letterhead
Additional Allegation of Fraud by PriceWaterhouse Coopers Filed in Court Motion in Connection with its Role in Customer Information and Billing System Implementation
 

LOS ANGELES — Earlier today, the Los Angeles City Attorney, on behalf of the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), filed a motion in LA Superior Court seeking permission to file an Amended Complaint detailing an alleged fraudulent conspiracy operated by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, LLP (PwC) and several of its senior managers. The alleged conspiracy was recently discovered through an ongoing investigation into PwC’s role as the primary contractor implementing LADWP’s Customer Care and Billing System (CC&B). This legal action, which seeks to recover tens of thousands of dollars in ratepayer funds that were illegally obtained by PwC through its fraudulent conspiracy, is in addition to the charges of fraudulent inducement and breach of contract included in litigation initially filed by City Attorney Mike Feuer on behalf of the City and LADWP in March 2015. 

The alleged conspiracy detailed in the court papers filed today consisted of PwC and several senior-ranking PwC Managers, including the PwC Partner-in-Charge of the CC&B System implementation project for LADWP, engaging in a three-year long conspiracy to defraud the City of Los Angeles and the LADWP by repeatedly submitting intentionally falsified PwC time records in a manner not able to be detected by LADWP to obtain payments for work that PwC never performed from 2011 through at least 2013. The alleged fraudulent conspiracy is detailed in the court filing and includes payments authorized by PwC and its senior managers to reimburse their subcontractor for payments made for the services of escorts and prostitutes, lavish hotel stays, two bachelor parties and thousands of dollars for “bottle service” liquor at Las Vegas hotels and clubs in July 2011 and May 2013. 

After learning of the alleged fraudulent conspiracy, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners directed LADWP Executive Management to pursue all appropriate remedies, up to and including the possibility of debarment, which if initiated could result in PwC being debarred as a government contractor for the LADWP for a maximum period of five (5) years. 

LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards made the following statement regarding today’s court filing: 

“PriceWaterhouse Coopers not only misrepresented their qualifications and delivered a disastrously flawed billing system to LADWP, but based on the allegations in the court filing made today, they did so while violating the public trust and engaging in reprehensible and potentially criminal conduct. Even worse is the fact that the alleged fraudulent scheme was carried out by the PwC Partner-In-Charge and PwC’s Senior Managers working on the billing system project. Their alleged conduct is outrageous and our customers deserve to be repaid every dollar that the flawed billing system and fraudulent billings have cost them,” said General Manager Edwards. 

Background 

In March 2015, the City and LADWP filed a civil lawsuit against PwC. The Complaint in the lawsuit alleges that PwC fraudulently induced the City and LADWP to enter into a contract to replace the LADWP’s Customer Information System (the “CISCON Contract”) and, after having been awarded the CISCON Contract, that PwC breached the terms of the CISCON Contract by failing to successfully perform several of the tasks that PwC was contractually required to perform. As a result, LADWP was unable to properly bill many of its customers, leading to widespread problems experienced by LADWP customers and costs borne by ratepayers to fix the billing system after it went live in September 2013. 

In March 2016, the Court ruled in favor of the City and LADWP when it rejected PwC’s attempt to dismiss the City and LADWP’s fraudulent inducement allegations. The Court’s decision was significant because it allows the City and LADWP to attempt to recover all of the damages incurred by the City and the LADWP as a result of PwC’s misconduct. 

PwC’s defective implementation of the LADWP’s CC&B Billing System caused a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of LADWP customers and its employees as LADWP managed the fallout from this defective implementation. While LADWP has made tremendous progress in lowering call hold times and in remediating the defectively implemented CC&B Billing System that PwC delivered, the LADWP has also continued its investigation into PwC’s misconduct in connection with the lawsuit. 

NOTE: The motion and amended complaint will be posted on http://www.ladwpnews.com under Hot Topics when available from the Court.

 

For more information contact:
Joseph Ramallo
Communications Director, LADWP
(213) 367-1361

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(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].)

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Crenshaw Subway Coalition & Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Sue Illegal South LA Skyscraper

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative are jointly suing a Bay Area real estate developer (CP V Cumulus) and the Los Angeles City Council to stop the first approved skyscraper in the history of South Los Angeles. 

The project, known as Cumulus, (above, photo of rendering) would impose nearly 1,200 luxury housing units in a fortress-like complex that includes a 30-story, 320-foot skyscraper at the foot of Baldwin Hills and adjacent to the Expo Line La Cienega station. The Cumulus project would add a staggering 1.9 million square feet of development at the frequently gridlocked intersection of La Cienega/Jefferson, which is a shortcut to LAX that is already jammed with east-west and north-south commuters much of the day. 

“The building is too damn high, and the Jefferson/La Cienega intersection is already a traffic nightmare,” said Clint Simmons, a nearby resident and member of Expo Communities United. 

Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative are two independent groups fighting for rational city planning that respects neighborhood character and ends land-use abuses. The groups jointly filed their complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief in Los Angeles Superior Court on June 24. The lawsuit cites gross violations of the City Charter and California Environmental Quality Act by the City Council, which on May 25 unanimously approved the Cumulus project. 

In approving a 30-story skyscraper in an area where no building exceeds even 4 stories, the Cumulus project is among the worst examples to date of the City Council’s pattern of defying all local protective zoning and height/density limits to help enrich wealthy developers -- who shower the City Council with campaign funds and lobbying. In 2014 and 2015, Carmel Partners (CP V Cumulus) of San Francisco paid $59,356 to well-connected lobbyists to influence LA officials, and gave a total of $4,900 to a council member's “officeholder account” and the campaign chests of City Council members who were key to backing the project. 

National and international developers are swarming Los Angeles to cash in on the development craze currently gripping the Los Angeles Department of Planning and elected Los Angeles politicians, creating a glut of luxury housing with a huge 12% vacancy rate, according to the city's own data. 

The Cumulus project, which will introduce more than 1,000 new unaffordable high-rise apartments, is aimed at upscale employees in nearby Culver City, while acting as a slap in the face to the surrounding South Los Angeles neighborhoods of mostly Black and Latino residents. The City Council even approved the project without any local hire requirements. 

The Cumulus project is the poster child for wildly out-of-scale development that is clearly not for existing residents and feeds concerns like gentrification. We believe in development without displacement and responsible community planning. This is a gross violation of both of those principles. Furthermore, the Cumulus project sends a horrible message to developers that “anything goes,” which threatens the right of existing residents to the neighborhoods we have built and want to see improved for us. 

Beverly Grossman Palmer, the attorney representing Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Friends of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said, “The entitlements granted to construct the Cumulus Project fly in the face of sound planning and violate City Charter rules about when the General Plan may be amended.” 

Palmer notes that, “The City ignored the limitations included in the newly proposed West Adams Community Plan and permitted construction of a 320-foot tower that far exceeds the permissible height on all neighboring properties. This is a perfect example of ‘spot zoning’ to benefit a particular developer, exactly the practice that the City Charter prohibits.” 

Outrageously, the City Council approved a special “General Plan Amendment” in its efforts to help the developer get around city land-use rules on the very same day that an environmental impact report was publicly released detailing the updated West Adams Community Plan. The new Community Plan, eight years in the making, allows an increase of the building height limit on the site from 45 to 75 feet with a possible increase to 86 feet for mixed-use projects, far below Cumulus’ 320 feet. 

City Hall’s decision to break zoning rules on behalf of a wealthy developer is a clear-cut message that Council members viewed residents’ years of input and engagement with city officials on the West Adams Community Plan as meaningless. Such actions have been proven to ignite a domino effect that drastically alters neighborhood character. The Council has frequently used approval of a single illegal tower to justify more high-rise towers in areas where they are expressly prohibited by the zoning code. 

Darren Starks, President of the Baldwin Neighborhood Homeowners Association, said, “We are deeply concerned about the domino effect of the Cumulus skyscraper. One skyscraper is bad given the current traffic gridlock. But we see this as the start of more to come.” 

Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative heading for the March 2017 ballot, said supporters of the ballot measure joined the Crenshaw Subway Coalition in suing City Hall because “City officials are steamrolling over a community of color that supports development, but not outrageous and illegal development that will ruin their area, jack up rental prices, price out existing residents, and jam up the streets in an area reaching from South L.A. to the Wilshire District to Palms. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will put an end to the soft corruption at City Hall, where rule-breaking mega-projects are granted ‘spot zoning’ favors after council members and the mayor take money from those very same developers.” 

The Cumulus skyscraper complex is far more than a “project.” It would forever change local neighborhoods in and along the Baldwin Hills, and would tower over the Ballona Creek Bicycle Path and Ballona Creek. Yet the Cumulus proposal is practically unknown to the public, having been rushed through its approvals with little mention of it by the area's representative, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. 

 

(Damien Goodmon is the Executive Director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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