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Prohibition to Legalization: California Stoners Are Stressing Me Out!

THE MARY JANE TRANSITION--California tokers, why are you trippin’ so hard?

You keep saying that marijuana is supposed to help manage anxiety. But those of you who work in or partake of the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.

And that leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California; the limits on profits and the number of plants you can grow are being lifted. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass. California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black market shadows and into the legal light.

If the future looks so dank (that’s stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?

Did you get some bad schwag or something?

In recent weeks, I’ve posed these questions to people on farms and in dispensaries and I keep hearing two big reasons why cannabis people seem so cashed (reduced to ash). The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. The second reason is about all the unnecessary pressure the rest of us are putting on you.

A bottle of “Chongwater,” a flavored hemp drink marketed by comedian and marijuana icon Tommy Chong.

Let’s start with the self-pressure. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory—the end of cannabis prohibition—requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.

In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses—only a couple hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly—at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana (including a state marijuana czar) and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.

Some of you, particularly weed boutiques that operated outside the law, are preparing to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly, but not so quickly that you run afoul of the authorities. In the process, you’re learning that while managing an illegal business has its perils, it may be even more dangerous to run a legal capitalist enterprise in the Regulatory Republic of California, and not run afoul of its dizzying array of licensing, workplace, and environmental rules.

A number of you are taking on outside investors; there’s even a new private equity firm making “strategic investments” in cannabis. Those kinds of big-money decisions raise new anxieties, even as you still have to operate semi-underground. Some local governments don’t want marijuana operations and are sending the police on raids of your facilities. And the federal government, by maintaining that your businesses are illegal no matter what state law says, has made it difficult for you to use banks and pay taxes.

On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying to build a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use. At the local level, there are competing initiatives that sometimes divide the cannabis industry. And the presidential race creates uncertainty about federal intentions. A Trump presidency might bring Attorney General Chris Christie, who wants to wipe out medical marijuana. Some of you fear Hillary Clinton would turn the industry over to her rich donors in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

“All of this creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety for people,” says Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech Corp, a publicly traded “cannabis-focused” agriculture company. “This is going to be an entirely different animal than anyone is used to. A lot is being born right now.”

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century.

Of course, such pressure is inescapable, given the realities of ending prohibition. What can make this moment unbearable for all of you are the outside demands that this transition has brought from what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “The Square Community.”

In other words, California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Today you hear rhetoric from politicians and media that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poorer and rural areas of the state, save agricultural businesses and lands, and replenish strained local and state budgets with new taxes on weed.

All this amounts to Bogarting weed for our selfish priorities. Los Angeles County recently debated a plan to “solve” homelessness—it has the largest homeless population of any American county—with a marijuana tax. Environmentalists have been talking about how marijuana, which requires considerable water to grow, can pioneer water-saving practices to mitigate the state drought. And no small number of musicians—chief among them Snoop Dogg, the wizard of “weed wellness,” and Tommy Chong, the “godfather of ganga”—seem to think that by licensing their names to marijuana products, they can replace the revenues that music used to provide before iTunes and Spotify.

Rapper Snoop Dogg, the “wizard of weed wellness,” performing in Cancun in 2014.

Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities—in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century. Broader legalization of marijuana will bring opportunities, but there are just too many expectations riding on this one plant.

Before exploiting legal marijuana for all manner of schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be comprehensible and not so extortionate that it drives out small players (or creates incentives to keep the black market alive). The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together, and be transparent enough that California cannabis goes forward as a competitive market, not a state monopoly. To ease the transition, state government needs to do everything it can to help you—growers, processors, dispensary operators, and customers—negotiate these changes, including protecting you from the feds and the banks.

If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.

But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill like to say, you gots to chill. These are stressful enough times for stoners already.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square … where this piece was originally posted.)

-cw

Ped & Biker Alert! California Trying to Make it Legal to Roll through Red Lights

STREETS BLOG REPORT-No, this is not about a bill to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, sorry. This is about a bill that supposedly set out to lower fines for cars that turn right on red without stopping. It is sailing unopposed through the state legislature.

The bill, S.B. 986 from Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), was already looking pretty bad to traffic safety advocates. But Brenda Miller at MyFeetFirst.org [[ hotlink]] noticed something even more insidious in the bill’s wording. Its current draft removes the requirement that drivers “remain stopped” at a red light until it is safe to proceed.

“That seemingly small change,” she writes, “effectively legalizes the ‘California stop’ at red lights.”

The bill still requires drivers to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and approaching vehicles, but without the requirement to remain stopped it will be much harder to enforce that provision. It also puts pedestrians at much greater risk, as Miller points out:

SB 986 fails to consider our typical wide, arterial roads where cars in adjacent lanes obstruct a motorist’s view. With two to five lanes in each direction, edging forward is always dicey. Add a slight curve and/or a few parkway plants and/or a truck . . . even the safest drivers have a hard time seeing what’s coming, especially kids. “Remain stopped” in existing law is important.

Streetsblog has already complained several times about this bill, which supposedly was written to assuage complaints that automatic red light cameras were ticketing too many people for violating red light rules. Too many tickets means too many people are violating the law, not that the law needs to change or the fines need to be lowered.

The fine reduction seems like a distraction when you realize that if it is passed the way it’s currently worded, S.B. 986 could change the way drivers navigate intersections.

“It prioritizes the right to make a careless turn,” said Miller, a safety advocate who has worked in the city of San Clemente for many years. “As it stands now, the law says you must stop on a red light, no excuses. That is removed. [The bill authors] added a paragraph that says you must yield the right of way” but it no longer requires you to be cautious on approaching a right turn.

“It also means that the limit line before the crosswalk—which was put there because of the problem of vehicular encroachment—will lose its meaning. Drivers would no longer have to stop [and stay] at a limit line or crosswalk. Those delineations create a bright line perspective as to where the intersection begins and ends, and this effectively removes that delineation.”

“Traffic cops are going to have a difficult time determining where to draw the line,” she said.

On her blog MyFeetFirst, Miller includes a few data points to drive home the safety implications, writing that “more than one third of Orange County’s injury collisions were caused by drivers failing to yield to people in crosswalks.”

Miller also points out what the bill could cost in terms of economic losses from collisions, and what the possible economic consequences might be for cities who want to prioritize pedestrian safety.

Miller concludes: “It’s a horrific piece of legislation.”

S.B. 986 is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly Appropriations Committee tomorrow. There is likely to be little discussion, as it’s the end of the session and the committee has a long list of bills to consider. It could be worth contacting your state Assembly member to ask them to vote “no” when the bill comes up for a vote on the Assembly floor, sometime in the next few weeks.

Otherwise we’ll have to hope that Governor Brown will veto it.

(Melanie Curry writes for Streets Blog California  … where this perspective originated.)

 

New Chief for LAX PD: Out with the Old, in with the New

GUEST COMMENTARY-While the news is all a buzz with the upcoming corruption trial for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the retiring of former Los Angeles Police Chief NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and the continued calls from community activists for the firing of current LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers' Association remains hopeful for real leadership for our department in the search for a new police chief. 

Let's be clear, Chief Patrick Gannon was a consistent disappointment to the rank-and-file police officers of the LAXPD. 

Command staff and the rank-and-file don't agree on much but we do agree with their nickname of JT as in "just there" for Chief Gannon. 

When Gannon was around, and that wasn't often, he outwardly appeared to spend the majority of his time helping is alma mater the LAPD to co-opt and infiltrate the LAXPD. When Gannon wasn't making the case for why the LAXPD needed more LAPD officers in its ranks he was busy undermining the effectiveness and morale of both sworn and civilian alike within LAXPD. 

From going on local television and admitting that LAX police officers do 99 percent of the work to publicly and privately fighting those same officers from achieving equal pay for that work, Chief Gannon was a police chief that suffered from conflicting loyalties, leaving many of us to ponder why he ever left his beloved LAPD in the first place. 

There have been ten consecutive times that the Los Angeles World Airports has gone outside of our ranks to promote command staff personnel. This would include three Deputy Directors of Law Enforcement, two Police Chiefs and seven Assistant Chiefs, including the most recent who have all been disappointments. 

The next LAXPD chief of police must leave any past allegiances behind and make decisions solely on what is best for the LAXPD. We agree that alliances and partnerships are important, but in addition to public safety, the needs of our police department must be the most dominant factor if rank-and-file officers are to have any productive relationship with the next chief. 

LAX is the nation's second busiest airport and a key transportation mode for the region. With over 70 million passengers passing through, public safety remains the number one concern for Airport Police officers and we are committed to it. Our next leader should be a champion for the rank-and-file officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out and not an adversary. It seems odd to even have to say that, but after nearly four years of working under a Chief who seemed to have more faith and support for outside contracted police officers than his own, it must be said. 

Our current LAX police facility was built in the 1950's. It is in a state of disrepair and cannot accommodate the necessary technology for our police officers to do their jobs. Among other issues, the building's air conditioning has broken multiple times, the water damage has ruined many of the walls and has led to a mold infestation and cosmetic-only painting enhancements that have done nothing to alleviate the structural problems associated with the building. 

Across the way, we watch every day our LAFD counterparts operate in a state of the art station at the airport. Despite these glaring differences, our former chief of police, Patrick Gannon, did nothing to demand that his officers have the basic facilities to do our jobs.  

We need a Chief who will advocate for us. One who will look at the dilapidated and run down police station we operate in and understand that it's unacceptable. 

As LAWA conducts interviews this week to fill the Chief spot, the rank-and-file officers remain eager for real leadership in the department -- leadership and commitment from someone who wants to be here, is here and advocates for us and not against us.

 

(Marshall McClain is a senior lead officer with the Los Angeles Airport Police and President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers' Association which represents the sworn police officers and firefighters assigned to protect and serve Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), LA/Ontario International Airport (ONT) and Van Nuys Airport (VNY). For more information on LAAPOA, please visit www.laapoa.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

NC Budget Day: Featuring Budget Discussion for the Main Course and a Dollop of Anti-Semitism for Dessert

GELFAND’S WORLD--Los Angeles is the third largest Jewish community in the world, right behind New York City and Israel itself. You wouldn't have realized that fact at the Neighborhood Council Budget Day that was held last Saturday. 

At Budget Day, appointed representatives from the city's 96 neighborhood councils get to elect 36 of their number to participate in an intensive, months-long study of the city's finances (well, most reps anyway -- the people from my neighborhood council neglected to show up). 

The 36 elected Budget Advocates work for months, meeting with department heads and even with the mayor. Eventually, they present their recommendations to the City Council and to the public. 

The elected budget advocates held their organizational meeting that same Saturday afternoon. One important question was when to meet in the future. Traditionally, the advocates meet twice a month. The practice has generally been to meet on a week night the first week of the month, and then to meet on the third Saturday of the month. It makes sense to meet twice a month because there is a lot of material to absorb. It makes sense to space the meetings so that there are a couple of weeks between one meeting and the next. But Saturday meetings became an item of discussion. 

In response to the proposal to adopt the previous practice of Saturday meetings, one man raised his hand. "I'm an observant Jew, and it is a problem for me to come to meetings on Saturdays." 

There was discussion, including some insensitive, dismissive remarks by three or four people. Apparently they were satisfied with meeting on Saturdays, and they weren't about to search for an alternative. One woman asked whether the person in question could join in the meeting using some electronic listening device. He responded that this wasn't very practical because he would ordinarily be at a religious service at the time. It struck me that asking the same question about someone attending a Catholic mass or a Protestant church service would have been viewed as ridiculous by most of us, but somehow this question was made with serious intent. 

After a while, the chairman invited those who opposed Saturday meetings to raise their hands. There were seven opposed and one abstaining. The chairman then announced that since there were only a total of 8 in opposition out of 31 advocates present at the time, that the motion to meet on Saturdays passed. 

In a post-meeting conversation with Budget Advocate co-chair Liz Amsden, I suggested that the vote was a fairly brutal rejection of what was, after all, a legitimate concern. She agreed that there was a concern, answering my questions respectfully and, I think, sensitively. At the same time, we both were faced with the fact that a large majority of the committee wanted to go with Saturday meetings. She agreed that some of the remarks we had heard were something less than understanding. 

Only then did it occur to me that something was missing from our argument. There was a reason that there were so few observant Jews making the argument on that day and place. Being observant includes "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." That's the reason that the more observant would never be at this meeting on a Saturday morning. Perhaps "never" is too strong a word, but skipping Saturday religious services on a routine basis to work on budget advocacy would run contrary to the chosen life-style for a lot of our fellow Angelenos. 

It’s a conundrum. Most citywide neighborhood council activities happen on Saturdays -- the once-a-year Neighborhood Council Congress, the monthly LA Neighborhood Council Coalition (first Saturdays) and Plancheck LA (second Saturdays). We've added the monthly Emergency Preparedness Alliance for another Saturday. The Budget Advocates will once again hold meetings on most third Saturdays of the month. 

I include this list in order to point out that I'm not trying to single out the Budget Advocates. Their meeting just happened to be the place where this question came up. Every other major citywide neighborhood council coalition has followed the same path, seemingly without consideration of the religious element. 

That's the way the system has developed over the years, with very little discussion about the propriety of what is clearly religious insensitivity. A quick look at the reference books reveals that the Los Angeles area includes more than six hundred thousand Jews. Not all of them are within the city of Los Angeles itself, but certainly a lot are. I wonder if a large number of observant Jews have long since written off participating in these citywide events. That would be unfortunate, but it wouldn't be surprising. After all, we wouldn't expect people to attend neighborhood council meetings on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. 

It's true that some neighborhood councils exist in areas with substantial populations of observant Jews, and these councils do their best to accommodate religious preferences. I think it's also obvious that our neighborhood council system appeals to the more secular elements, not only of the Jewish community, but of many other religions and ethnicities. 

Antisemitism ancillary to neighborhood council communities in the harbor area 

There have been a couple of occasions when neighborhood councils in the harbor area held meetings on Friday nights. There were discussions, and it's likely that this won't happen again. Nevertheless, there was some blowback to the idea of religious sensitivity. One neighborhood council board member had no problem with holding a meeting on a Friday night. When he was asked whether he was OK with holding a meeting on a Sunday morning, he was utterly opposed. 

"Why not," he was asked. 

"It's the Lord's day." 

So much for nondiscrimination. I should point out that discrimination is not limited to religious populations. The other evening, one of our local neighborhood councils held a meeting of one of its standing committees in a place that does not have handicapped accessible bathrooms. It wasn't just an oversight. The neighborhood council was warned in advance, including by a direct call from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. 

One of the governing board members who attended the meeting didn't like the idea of being told to follow the law, and threatened to retaliate against the people who made the complaint. He said he would use social media to get back at the offender. He was apparently unaware that this sort of response is more suggestive of a seventh grade locker room than of what neighborhood councils are supposed to be. 

On another occasion, the grown son of a current neighborhood council board member responded on Facebook to a comment by a Jewish man. The response was a flagrantly antisemitic remark that played on centuries-old stereotypes. The parents (including the neighborhood council board member) were invited to repudiate their son's remarks. Neither was willing to repudiate antisemitism directly. Instead, they suggested that their son had much to learn. I'd like to think that any normal person would have responded, "I'm sorry, and I don't condone this kind of remark." The people of the harbor area are still waiting for that reply.

 

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

-cw

Jerry Brown is Trying to Quash the People’s Ability to Fight Mega-Developers … For Him, It’s Personal!

VOX POP--A few years ago, then-state Sen. Alex Padilla implored us to embrace a fast-tracking plan that let wealthy developers rush huge mega-developments through the courts, getting around opponents by slashing the time they were given to fight back under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. 

Padilla, who is now California Secretary of State, repeated at the time to KCRW's Warren Olney what Gov. Jerry Brown and the majority Democrats in the legislature were saying in 2011: California's then-12% unemployment rate justified the pushing aside of environmental damage concerns created by massive developments, to create jobs.

Asked what the rush was, given the possibility of environmentally questionable developments sailing through the courts, Padilla said, "The urgency is 99 percent driven by the unemployment rate that we have," which had soared to 12%.

He went on to predict that a purportedly badly needed NFL stadium for Downtown Los Angeles would create some 20,000 jobs. It was a wild exaggeration in a time of desperate unemployment.

Fast forward to today. The California unemployment rate has plummeted, its urban areas are vibrant, and the absurd plan for a downtown NFL football stadium, squeezed onto insufficient land next to one of the most congested freeways in the world, died on the vine. The phony claims about "Farmer's Field," proved to be just that -- downtown Los Angeles soon exploded in growth and jobs, sans the NFL stadium.

Now, Gov. Jerry Brown and some very sneaky California Democratic state legislators are trying to push through the 2.0 version of that end-run around our environmental protections. But because Brown and Co. no longer have horrible unemployment levels as an excuse for egregious environmental backsliding, they went with a hardball, last-minute, non-debated, surprise law as their strategy, Senate Bill 734.

Brown harbors a bitter hatred toward CEQA, stemming from his battles with low-income communities as mayor of Oakland. He will now try to push through SB 734, a law that came out of nowhere, had no public debate, and took California's major environmental and legal organizations purely by surprise.

It is opposed by the Sierra Club, the Judicial Council that administers California's courts, the Planning and Conservation League, and my own organization, the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is aiming to place the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot to end developer control of Los Angeles City Hall.

SB 734 will allow wildly inappropriate private developments to breeze through the courts, such as the traffic-freezing "Crossroads of the World" mega-blob development, proposed next to badly jammed-up Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, an area  now all but shut down for hours each day by overdevelopment and its endless, attendant, commuter traffic.

Under SB 734, the Crossroads boondoggle will get what its developer agreed was "benefits" by getting fast-tracked through the courts, even past other serious courtroom battles. Neighbors in the Hollywood flatlands will be trapped in a nightmare scenario: thousands and thousands of additional upscale commuters pouring into one of the city's most tangled, developer-created gridlock scenarios. And it will hardly be the last. Skyscrapers are proposed in completely inappropriate areas of Koreatown and South LA, and megadevelopers are drooling over new ways to cash in on the "waterfront" lands along the Los Angeles River.

It's shocking to watch the Democrats elected to serve us in Sacramento try to shove down the public's throat a law that would cut off at the knees any environmental or community groups suing the local government or developer for failing to avert environmental damage.

Howard Penn, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, explained, "The long and short of it is that because Gov. Brown is outright opposed to CEQA ... we are getting more and more of these attacks, and they are endless and relentless and continuous." 

Penn says his umbrella group has been tracking more than 30 bills in the legislature "to weaken CEQA. None of them were for strengthening it." 

Much of this is personal. Legislators are showered with money from developers, and Brown maintains a major chip on his shoulder from his days trying to heavily redevelop downtown Oakland, where he found that poor people and environmental groups could use CEQA and other laws to challenge his personal vision of urban renewal and preserve their longtime neighborhoods. 

As Penn notes, it's no secret that "Jerry Brown got waylaid by the process in Oakland and he got bitter and he carried that bitterness to where he is now. He sees CEQA as a barrier to his plans for big things like tunnels, and his plans for housing. And as opposed to working together to adjust CEQA, which is our group's aim, he and the legislature are going after every little thing" to dismantle it without a serious and reasoned debate. 

When you try to check out SB 734 at the California government's official website, leginfo.ca.gov, it's telling that the loophole law is all-but-hidden, listed under the wrong legislative author and described as something having nothing to do with CEQA. Only when you drill down on the website do you see the actual language, taken directly from the last mega-development loophole to get around CEQA, known as Assembly Bill 900.

The big differences this time is that AB 900 at least made an effort to pretend the bill was not a big giveaway to some of California's richest developers. The old language from 2011 states, as its Number One justification, that California was suffering from a 12% unemployment rate.

The new language, hidden in plain sight on the government website, merely places a strikethrough across the AB 900's topmost justification, the desperate unemployment during 2011.

But in today's developer-owned Sacramento, no rational argument is needed to sell out our communities' and our cities' environmental protections.

(Jill Stewart, a former journalist,  is campaign director for the Coalition to Preserve LA, sponsor of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.)

Is Corrupt Los Angeles Headed for Third World Status?

CORRUPTION WATCH-This article is only for the readers of CityWatch, which is okay since it is being published in CityWatch. Unless one reads CityWatch, I think it is unlikely that people realize that this city faces some extremely serious problems and things are getting worse. 

Just look at who’s given up. There once was a billionaire named Austin – hmm, Austin something or other. He wanted to be mayor in order to fix the city. Then, he thought that if he owned the LA Times he could fix the city. Then, he kind of melted away. 

And, we had the infamous gaggle of saviors in the form of the 2020 Commission, but they too flaked out. After expressing shock at the City’s decline in their December 2013 Report “A Time for Truth,” they proved to be dilettantes. Where did they go? Who knows, maybe they flew off to some cotillion in Davos. Hilda Solis did move to the LA County Board of Supervisors, proving once again that ignorance is no bar to public office. If she’d had any real solutions to offer, the 2020 Commission’s 2014 Report, “A Time for Action,” was the place to make her views known. But like other members of that Commission, she had nothing. 

That kind of brings us to Hillary Clinton and her July 28, 2016 acceptance speech. Here’s my paraphrase of Hillary’s speech: “We don’t need no freaking ruler. We’re Americans and we do things ourselves. Whadaya think ‘By the people, For the people and Of the People’ means? Get off your fat asses and get to work.” At least that’s what I heard. 

Even if the illustrious Mickey Kantor, the alef gadol of the 2020 Commission, had a clue what was wrong with Los Angeles, it’s not for him to fix. We the people – lazy and dimwitted as we may be -- are the ones who bear the responsibility to rid ourselves of our corrupt over-lords. We can think of Mickey K. as LA’s Paul Revere; he sounded the alarm but it’s for others to win the battles. 

So what’s to be done? Readers of CityWatch learn twice a week each week about the host of ills plaguing the city. The fulcrum of it all is the criminal vote trading at City Council – a scam that is a form of bribery where votes are used to purchase other votes. This lies at the base of these ills. 

Whatever corrupt scheme a councilmember or “Il Duce” concocts to loot the city treasury automatically gets unanimous support all the time. Billions of dollars have been diverted away from public services. And these crooks are not a dumb lot – they’ve even managed to make voters believe that city services are an illicit use of public funds. How dare those paramedics, firemen and police be so bold as to ask to be compensated and provided benefits in return for their services? Some members of the public have a conniption when city employees ask for their pensions to actually be funded rather than have their annual contributions given to billionaire real estate speculators. 

There will never be enough money for roads, parks, water mains, paramedics and a fully staffed LAPD as long as we allow each councilmember to write blank checks on the city treasury for his or her favorite developer. There is no way that any city council can create a land use policy that is sane -- as long as it is owned lock, stock and barrel by the developers. 

The criminal vote trading at Los Angeles City Council would stop tomorrow if LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey were not part of the problem. But as Hillary told us – don’t expect any “ruler” to fix anything. If we Angelenos want something fixed, we have to fix it ourselves. Hillary told us in detail about the long, patient, hard work it takes to coalesce community consensus before the right thing can be done. But Jackie Lacey isn’t going to lift her little pinkie to do anything about the organized crime racket that runs City Hall unless we force her. 

No one from the top of the corrupt power structure will wave a magic wand to make the corruption disappear. There are billions of dollars to be looted from Los Angeles and the developers have no intention of saying meekly, “Oh we’re so sorry. We’ll be leaving now.” Thieves who have invaded your home don’t leave until either they’ve cleaned you out or you throw them out. That is the situation facing Angelenos. The Obama Doctrine of “Too Important to Prosecute” will continue to dominate Los Angeles law enforcement until we do something about it. All the members of the Los Angeles City Council are “made men” until we un-make them. 

Are we going to wait until Los Angeles has been driven down to the level of a Third World city where we have favelas instead of neighborhoods? Or are we going to take action and throw the crooks out ourselves?

 

(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.

Health Officials Reject Adult Film Industry Efforts to Scuttle Condom Rule

PORN POLITICS--Adult film industry bosses suffered a new setback this week in their campaign to overturn state health rules that require them to provide condoms to their adult film performers and ensure that the performers wear them in sexually explicit scenes. 

On Tuesday, separate reports by the staffs of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board were made public. Both reached the same conclusion: condom use is essential to protecting adult film workers from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

The reports responded to a petition from Eric Paul Leue, the leader of a trade group that represents adult film producers. The group asked Cal/OSHA to amend its regulations to remove the condom requirement rule.   

“These staff reports are a tremendous victory for the cause of protecting workers’ health and safety,” said Los Angeles political consultant Rick Taylor. “The adult film industry wants to kill the condom use rule. But cooler heads and science have prevailed, and California’s top worker safety experts have reaffirmed that condoms are the gold standard for protecting performers. 

“These new reports again prove that the adult film industry’s producers are on the wrong side of medical science,” said Taylor. “They’re like climate change deniers. They’re wrong. And all the science proves them wrong.” 

The industry’s relentless campaign to gut existing condom use regulations and its refusal to obey these same rules during filming also emphasizes the importance of voter passage of Proposition 60, said Taylor, chief strategist for the Prop. 60 campaign. Prop. 60 is a measure on November ballot in California that would provide state health officials with additional tools to enforce the rule on condom use. 

“The industry’s record of resistance to condom use is so blatant and persistent that it’s obvious we need Prop. 60 to fight back,” said Taylor. 

The condom requirement has been in effect since 1992 but 97 percent of the performers in adult films do not wear condom, studies have shown. 

Producers frequently bully and blackball performers who seek to use condoms, say critics, who also claim that the result of widespread non-compliance is that the incidence of STDs among adult film industry performers is at epidemic proportions, according to recent studies. “I never saw so much chlamydia and gonorrhea in a population,” Dr. Peter Kerndt, former head of the Los Angeles County STD Program, told the Los Angeles Times in March 2016. 

Prop. 60 will close loopholes in Cal/OSHA regulations that agency officials say seriously interfere with their efforts to protect adult film performers. 

Specifically, Prop. 60 will extend the window of time (the statute of limitations) authorities will have to file a complaint against adult film industry producers violating the condom rule. In addition, Prop. 60 will enable health officials to seek penalties not only against the producers of condom-less film productions but also against the agents and distributors of such films. “We listened to what Cal/OSHA officials said about loopholes in the law,” said Taylor. “Now we’re fixing them.” 

Asked by the adult film industry trade group to drop the required use of condoms in favor of “alternative methods” of protection, Cal/OSHA staff conducted an extensive review of scientific studies and found that STDs “such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis – are effectively prevented by correct condom use and less effectively prevented by the alternative methods identified by the petitioner [the adult film industry trade group].” 

The industry claims its test screenings for STDs are effective in keeping sick performers from participating in explicit sex scenes and that taking drugs, like Truvada, can prevent HIV infections. 

However, Cal/OSHA staff noted that many STD infections exist weeks before they are discovered by testing. During those latency periods, those infected can infect their sexual partners. In addition, the performers’ strict adherence to taking the expensive Truvada anti-HIV pills “cannot be fully overseen by an employer,” Cal/OSHA staff pointed out, unlike the wearing of a condom, which is observable. Also the staff noted that Truvada’s manufacturer advises its customers to wear condoms. 

Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that condoms are essential, the two staff reports recommended that Cal/OSHA’s governing board hold hearings – including one on Aug. 18 in Oakland – to give the adult film industry an opportunity to discuss “additional protections for workers in the adult film and similar industries” and to address the industry’s complaints that its views are not being adequately considered by Cal/OSHA. 

At the same hearings, health officials will also hear from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which has championed the use of condoms in the adult film industry. AHF has urged that the word “condom” be explicitly used in Cal/OSHA regulations so there is no mistake about what is meant when those regulations say “barrier protections” must be used by adult film performers.

 

(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.)

-cw

California! Eye-Balling the Lesser Evil Up Close: No Climate Change Advantage with Dems in Charge

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Three things predictably happen in years divisible by four. 1) If you were born on February 29, you celebrate your real birthday. 2) We watch the spectacle of the summer Olympics. 3) We are endlessly subjected to lesser-evil arguments. This time Donald Trump is raising alarm bells with his supporters about Hillary Clinton, while the Democratic establishment is scaring the bejeezus out of its faithful with stories of Trumpian hell and damnation. 

In 2016 we can luckily put some of these lesser evil claims to the test because we live in a state, California, and a city, Los Angeles, where mainstream Democrats totally rule the roost. While officially non-partisan, nearly every elected official in Los Angeles is a Democrat, and it is hardly different in Sacramento. There the entire elected Executive branch and a super-majority of the State Legislature consist of Jerry Brown-friendly Democrats. 

This is in sharp contrast to the Federal government, where Republicans control the Senate and the House, and where Democrats routinely blame their lack of progressive legislation on the power of this greater (not other) evil. 

But, what happens when Democrats are free to do what they want, without those irksome Republicans boxing them in? 

I think a great litmus test would be the Democratic Platform Committee, especially its treatment of climate change. This issue is, after all, humanity’s greatest threat at the global, national, state, and local level. 

At the Democratic Platform Committee, Bernie Sanders was able to appoint this country’s best-known environmentalist, Bill McKibben. Unfortunately, even with help from the other Sanders’ appointees, he completely struck out on all platform planks regarding climate change. This how Bill McKibben summed up the pushback against his proposals from Clinton appointees. 

“We all agreed that America should be operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2050, but then I proposed, in one amendment after another, a series of ways we might actually get there. A carbon tax? Voted down 7-6 (one of the DNC delegates voted with each side). A ban on fracking? Voted down 7-6. An effort to keep fossils in the ground, at least on federal land? Voted down 7-6. A measure to mandate that federal agencies weigh the climate impact of their decisions? Voted down 7-6. Even a plan to keep fossil fuel companies from taking private land by eminent domain, voted down 7-6. (We did, however, reach unanimous consent on more bike paths!)” 

Although the Platform Committee was a Republican-free zone, it is possible that the specter of a knock-down, drag-out election against Donald Trump pulled the Democratic platform to the hard right on climate issues to win over waffling independents and Republicans. That is why I think the climate change litmus test should also consider Sacramento and LA’s City Hall. 

In Sacramento, Californians have world-class climate legislation, such as AB 32 and SB 375. It is the envy of climate activists and environmentalists from coast to coast. But, even more importantly, Californians have CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.  It is one serious piece of environmental legislation, and it requires all major projects, whether public or private, to submit a rigorous environmental review, including climate change impacts. With this information at hand, decision makers can then make an informed choice. 

So far so good, but unfortunately a year does not go by without Governor Brown, in close cooperation with the Democratically controlled State Legislature, pitching bills that would erode CEQA, including its ability to inform decision makers of the climate change impacts of all major projects. 

For example, this year, Governor Brown and his legislative counterparts are champions of SB 734, legislation that would fast track the environmental review of controversial high-rise mega-projects, like 8150 Sunset. 

Other efforts to erode CEQA are proposed amendments to Governmental Code sections 65400.1 and 65913.3. They would exempt multiple-residential developments from environmental review by considering them to be by-right projects in order to increase housing production. This is based on an urban legend I have previously debunked: the production of luxury housing miraculously increases the supply of affordable housing. 

In Los Angeles, where the Mayor, City Attorney, City Controller, and 14 members of the City Council are all Democrats, we can conduct an even stronger test to see if our local officials qualify as a lesser evil when it comes to the environment. 

What is their approach to the most important climate change legislation on the books, CEQA? The answer: City Hall is rife with proposals, some already implemented, to circumvent CEQA, even though LA has the worst traffic congestion and worst air pollution in the entire country. In fact, I can count at least five separate efforts to undermine CEQA advanced by our local branch of the lesser (not other) evil consortium. 

  • The City Planning Commission and the City Council adopt Statements of Overriding Consideration whenever a project’s EIR reports unmitigatable adverse environmental impacts. A perfect example is the overturned Hollywood Community Plan. Its EIR reported that it would generate uncontrollable amounts of the Green House Gases responsible for climate change and global warming. In this case, and in other EIRs, the City Council could reject outright or downsize a project to stop or reduce it deadly production of Green House Gases. Instead the City Council routinely adopts Statements of Overriding Considerations so these harmful plans and projects can go forth, despite their plumes of planet-killing gases. 
  • Lengthy Amendments to Amend Community Plan Zones and Land Use Designation. Even though Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman threw out the Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, it contained over 100 pages of up-zoning and up-planning amendments. Until stopped by the judiciary, this complex ordinance would have suddenly allowed nearly all, otherwise illegal large, tall buildings in Hollywood to slide through Building and Safety as by-right projects exempt from CEQA. 

Win or lose, this is the template for future Community Plan Updates, some now underway, with more on deck. Their many pages of policy language will become the appetizers before the main entrée: wide scale increases in by-right density and height that avoid CEQA. 

  • Re-code:LA will eventually rezone all private parcels in LA. Its approach is called form-based zoning, which means the range of uses allowed in each existing or new zone will expand. The result will be far fewer variances and zone changes to permit land uses not allowed under the current zoning code. Once in place, developers will then seldom require these discretionary actions, both of which trigger CEQA. 
  • SB 1818/Density Bonuses are discretionary actions that have been crafted to circumvent CEQA. The decision to subject density bonus projects to an environmental review is strictly the call of the developer or Department of City Planning. If neither volunteers to submit an environmental review, which happens 100 percent of the time, there are no grounds for opponents to successfully raise environmental issues, including CEQA. 
  • McMansions, as I have often written, are the only land use process I can identify in Los Angeles where the size of a project can expand by up to 42 percent through a totally secret ministerial decision at Building and Safety. This is still another way to avoid CEQA since such increases in an energy-guzzling building’s mass should be processed through a variance, another trigger for CEQA. 

Final thoughts: This brief overview of the Democratic Party, from its high rollers in Philadelphia and Washington, to the aspiring hustlers in Sacramento and Los Angeles, reveals the same thing. Left to their own devices in a Republican-free political environment, the Democratic Party’s officials – as opposed to its progressive voting base/Sandernistas – are just another evil when it comes to the environment. They, too, willingly roll over for real estate speculators despite the severe dangers of climate change. When the speculators ask them for a way to jump through CEQA, their typical reply is, “How high?” No different than the Republicans they belittle, they consistently support short-term commercial gain for their patrons, even when the health and safety of the planet is at stake.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on local planning issues for City Watch. He welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Bulldog Realty Goes For It … and Abbot Kinney Sinks Further into Parking Quicksand

VENICE VOICE--In front of one of the original Craftsman homes on Abbot Kinney is Bulldog Realty’s Notice of Intent to obtain a Coastal Development Permit. The permit is to demolish and build new. This property represents one of the finer original Craftsman houses on Abbot Kinney built long ago when it was predominantly a residential street. Since it is not an historically designated property, it is likely that the city will permit its demolition. 

The ‘Intent’ notices a new 3800 sq. foot office/retail/live/work building with only two parking spaces. All of the other required parking spaces are proposed to be supplied ‘virtually’ using ‘In-Lieu’ fees. What the City knows, as does the applicant, is that the California Coastal Commission will not approve “in lieu” parking as a parking solution in Venice. Period. 

Why do applicants go for a CDP when they know it is unlikely to be awarded? And why does the city take the applicant’s fees and push it on through the system when they know the CCC will deny the project? Like practically all applicants attempting to avoid the rules and build to the max, they figure if they fight, they just might get at least some of what they want. Bulldog is no exception. And the City? We figure it must be the fees paid and the work these projects create for the planners and the Department of Building and Safety that drives them to process this application for permit. 

The real question here is why Bulldog Realty, a long-term upstanding business on the street, is going for a project completely under-parked when it could construct a project that includes all the required parking? There is no other answer to this question than the simple fact that there is no money in parking. All the value is in habitable spaces and money is what development is about in Venice. 

While Bulldog is an Abbot Kinney business living daily with the street’s parking mess, we guess it is nothing personal – it’s simply another development that has no regard for our critical need for parking and no feeling of obligation to try and mitigate it. They just want what they want. The neighborhood and the on-going parking chaos is of little or no concern. 

So here we go again, another battle on the horizon. Again, residents will find themselves pushing another rock up the hill to stop the City from approving another project which does not comply with the parking requirements — including the rules at the CCC. Residents are forced to “man the barricades” there as well to make sure projects don’t slip through the system. The CCC is the last chance residents get to stop City-approved projects which hurt neighborhoods by circumventing rules. The city knows the rules and they know the Coastal Commission will not agree with its “virtual” in lieu parking “solution.” Nevertheless, they approve in lieu parking anyway. Why? 

The city uses its “discretion” to approve all kinds of things not really allowed. Why don’t they use that discretionary power to stop bad projects when they know they are bad for a community? City Planning knows how bad the parking situation is in Venice. They know how insufficient the town’s infrastructure is for 21st century demands. 

How can we expect any applicant to apply for a permit that is fully compliant with the rules when there are no consistent and true “rules of the road” for everyone? This conflict is the root cause of the endless battles fought against so many projects which caring residents are forced to oppose. 

It does not have to be this way.

 

(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are co-founders of Imagine Venice  … where this commentary was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Tags: Marian Crostic, Elaine Spierer, Imagine Venice, Bulldog Realty, Abbot Kinney, Venice parking crisis, LA City Department of Planning, California Coastal Commission

 

Are LA and California Really Ready for the November Election?

EASTSIDER-Remember the headlines during the primary election? Huge lines, unprepared and insufficient polling places, and, Why California Still Hasn’t Processed Over Two Million Ballots from the Primaries.  

With the November 8 General Election not that far away, the question is whether or not LA and California’s struggling system of voting is going to be ready. I know that the issues over the primary, including the massive number of provisional ballots, may not be matched again this fall, but the trade off is going to be a set of ballot initiatives with explanations the size of a small phone book. In short, a potential mess. 

State Measures--As of July 1, there were already 17 statewide ballot measures approved (nos. 51-67), and there’s still time for the legislature to pass more. There are very contentious issues on this ballot, from the death penalty to the legalization of recreational marijuana and gun control, practically guaranteeing a big turnout. All of these are going to involve the spending of big bucks from outside interests, will become the subject of endless droning from the television and internet media machine, and will likely have us all sick to death of the whole mess long before November 8th

Local Measures--Remember these 17 measures do not include equally contentious local issues from the City Hall cognoscenti. We have DWP Charter Reform, a measure regarding the Airport Police getting into the Fire & Police Pension Fund, the Homeless Affordable Bond measure, and a housing measure interestingly titled, “Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Related to City Planning.” 

The ballot will also include a monster “transportation” sales tax increase for Metro, to which our Jack Humphreville responds, Does Metro Deserve a 120 Billion Blank Check?  

And how about the County Parcel Tax for Parks? It is now titled with the cutsey name, “Safe, Clean, Neighborhood Parks Measure.” It used to be called, “Safe, Clean Neighborhood Parks, Open Space, Beaches, River Protection and Water Conservation Measure.” Make no mistake, it is a permanent parcel tax. 

Face it, this is going to be a humongous ballot, and even our hard charging group at CityWatch is going to have a heck of a time explaining all of these issues well enough to keep people’s eyes from glazing over. 

Our Archaic Voting System--“LA Was the Epicenter of Primary Chaos,” as reported by the LA Times on June 7. 

It would be nice to think that issues over provisional ballots will be all cleared up by November, but in California you can register or switch parties up to 15 days prior to the election date. 

Not only that, but Secretary of State Alex Padilla has noted that our voting equipment is “nearing the end of its life expectancy.”  

Add to that the fact each County can have its own different machines, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, and there is little chance of fixing anything before the November vote takes place. 

Statewide, well over 50% of voters use the absentee ballot (aka vote by mail), but that still leaves a whole lot of people at the polls in Los Angeles County in November. And as we have seen, LA County is at the epicenter of California voting issues. 

The big question is, what’s going to happen at the polls on Election Day? Nobody really knows the answer. The pundits are talking about a huge turnout, but most people I talk to are disgusted with the whole mess; a number of them may simply not vote at all. 

For what it’s worth, my personal guess is that fewer voters will turn out in November than voted in the primary so there will be significantly fewer problems with provisional ballots; those kinds of problems are generally bigger during primaries. On the other hand, with all of the ballot measures up for consideration, people are going to be confused and unhappy. They will probably clog up the polling booths trying to figure how the heck to vote. 

It also means, if my friend Jack Humphreville is right, that the tax increase measures could all get voted down on the theory that, when the voters get confused, they shut down and just say no. Actually, that’s not such a dumb idea. 

What to Do?--The reason I’m writing this column now instead of in November, is that there are a couple of things that you can do to make voting a smooth process. First, if you haven’t already, get set it up to vote by mail. That way, you avoid any potential turnoffs at the polling place. 

On the other hand, if you wind up going to vote in person, and I often like to do this just because it feels like a real election that way, do two things in advance. First, find and double check on your polling place, since they can change sometimes, and if you go to the wrong one, you may wind up with the dreaded “provisional ballot.” 

Second, and most important, take your voter guide filled out as to how you want to vote on each item. Be sure to take your filled out guide when you go to the polls. Remember, all these ballot measures are deliberately designed to make you want to vote yes. The name of the measure may or may not have anything to do with what the measure will actually do. That’s how consultants make bags of money. 

Follow these guidelines to have a smooth experience. Remember, it’s hell getting into a voting booth and then trying to read all this crud. Since the poll workers can’t tell you how to vote, they will be of little help at that point. You’re on your own! 

On November 9, I will go back and take another look at this article…just to see how far off I was. 

Please, please VOTE!

 

(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. 

 

 

 

 

Lake Hollywood Resident Lambasts Former Councilman LaBonge … Says He Turned Community Into a Fire Risk

SPECIALVIDEO REPORT—Lake Hollywood residents and LA council members have been at each other’s throats ever since former 4th District councilman Tom LaBonge took spade in hand and reconfigured the viewing area adjacent to the Hollywood sign. What was manageable before appears to be out of hand today and creating, according to Lake Hollywood Estates residents, serious fire dangers for their community. 

Andrew Davis, who hosts The Millennial Project website is the reporter and host on this video interview. He talks with Lake Hollywood Estates resident Tony Fisch who explains how LaBonge illegally developed the public Hollywood Sign viewing area in his neighborhood and how current LA City Councilman David Ryu refuses to resolve the issue. 

See this excellent report and video interview

 

Andrew Davis’ background and credentials are available on his website The Millennial Project.)  

Add your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Disqus below.

-cw

Silver Lake Reservoir: The Plug has been Pulled but Anxiety Mounts

 DEEGAN ON LA-It sounds romantic and dreamy: the “Meadow,” the “Knoll,” the “Eucalyptus Grove,” starry nights, family fun. A destination with enhancements, a beach, an esplanade, a park, a picnic on blankets, maybe a plunge pool for swimming. It also sounds like a marketing pitch. But some are looking forward to this possible vision of Silver Lake Reservoir. 

Others see, and want, a tranquil lake to gaze at from the hillside at sunset, birds dipping their beaks, children feeding the ducks, great blue herons being sustained by the Pacific Flyway, a pastoral vision in the center of urban mass. Like nature: a release, a palliative, an escape. 

These opposing viewpoints are held by two organizations that were launched in the spring of 2016, when it became apparent that a huge vacuum may exist in what to do once the DWP has completed repairs at Silver Lake Reservoir and adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir. 

One option is refilling the reservoir and beautifying afterwards, as Refill Silver Lake Now is asking. The group describes itself as “a dedicated group of people advocating for the prompt refilling of the Silver Lake Reservoir (Historic-Cultural Monument 422), home to many species of wildlife and critical nesting grounds for the legally protected Blue Heron. The Reservoir is not only a crucial spot on the Pacific Flyway for migrating waterfowl, but an essential body of water for the LA County Firefighters in battling blazes in the area, including Griffith Park. In short, it is the heart and soul of the 43,000 people and countless wildlife that call Silver Lake their home.” 

The other option being promoted is to create a “destination” (including a water feature.) That is the plan of Silver Lake Forward which calls itself “your new neighborhood action group” consisting of “conservation advocates, architects, activists, and entertainment and media industry executives.” They have an agenda and some political connections to try and get what they want -- far more, it sounds, than what the community is comfortable with. 

Some residents say they have been made to feel apprehensive recently by Silver Lake Forward that was launched in April by Catherine Geanuracos. It’s a successor group to the Geanuracos-led Swim Silver Lake, launched in 2014, that invited the community to embrace Geanuracos’ vision and be “part of the transformation of our neighborhood,” by turning the Silver Lake Reservoir into the "Silver Lake Plunge." Having a beach club replace the Ivanhoe Reservoir, within the Silver Lake Reservoir complex, was a concept that attracted very little interest and was dropped. However, Geanuracos has not given up on her attempts to gentrify Silver Lake Reservoir, even though the community has not acquiesced to those desires. 

A dry lake can become a fertile playground for change -- another thing that has the community wondering. When will the water return? A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, owner and operator of the reservoir, told CityWatch that "we are still targeting May for the start of refilling of the reservoir. We expect it to take about a month to fully cover the entire bottom and then it will continue to rise, but it will take time.

This suggests filling the reservoir now and then beautifying or enhancing the surrounding area, if that is what is decided by the community and approved by David Ryu (CD4) and Mitch O’Farrell (CD13), the two Councilmembers that share jurisdiction over the reservoir. That’s what Refill Silver Lake Now wants. 

Ninety-six acres of open space in the middle of the city, without the water that should be there, is a tempting sight and creates anxiety about the “what-ifs?” The space is huge -- it could fit 500 single family homes, to give some sense of proportion to it. Some describe the possibilities of what can be done with Silver Lake Reservoir as “a marketplace of ideas” but residents may be more calling it “a community.” Silver Lake residents don’t want the reservoir turned into a laboratory of ideas for reimagining what has been a pretty good thing for the past 110 years -- a beautiful lake in the middle of the city. They worry about the stresses of development that a “destination” brings, change that would alter the character of the serene setting, adding traffic and other impacts to the neighborhood. 

This may be something the community did not want to begin with. 

Silver Lake Reservoir and the adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir are now empty. (see photo left) But the community is full of questions about the future of this complex. They fear they would face the prospect of a less bucolic lake with the introduction of asphalt for parking lots and other amenities -- like restrooms, hot dog stands and food trucks – all bringing congestion, chlorine, and other unknown impacts. 

The sooner the water is returned to the reservoir the better, as that will set some boundaries for development. “There is a limited amount of additional space that could be opened to the public, and the DWP has not yet determined how much space it might need for its more limited operations once it is decommissioned as a drinking water reservoir,” said David Keitel, President of the Silver Lake Conservancywho added, “There are now two public park spaces on the property - a multi-use park and recreation center at the south end of the property and the newer Meadow Park on the east side.” 

Another source of anxiety is, will DWP follow through and refill the reservoir on schedule? Or will Silver Lake Forward’s political connections to Councilmember O’Farrell and the Englander, Knabe & Allen lobbying firm help them pre-empt the DWP’s plans, delay the refilling of the reservoir, and instead, start preparations for their “destination?” 

The statement by DWP to CityWatch seems to indicate, for now, that the answer is “yes” -- the reservoir will be refilled in May. However, two city councilmembers and the opposing agendas of community groups must get into alignment. 

At least for now, “There is no plan to substitute a park for the water. The DWP has publicly stated more than once that to fill the space would take many years of all-day truck trips. To do so would essentially destroy Los Angeles City Historic-Cultural Landmark No. 402, designated in 1989,” said David Keitel of the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy. 

“There is a variety of feelings within the community about what should be done with the land surrounding the reservoir once it has been refilled and for the long run, including improved/increased public access, the preservation of the natural environment and general property maintenance,” Keitel continued. 

“There are now two public park spaces on the property - a multi-use park and recreation center at the south end of the property and the newer Meadow Park on the east side. There is a limited amount of additional space that could be opened to the public, and the DWP has not yet determined how much space it might need for its more limited operations once it is decommissioned as a drinking water reservoir,” said Keitel. 

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council has not yet had hearings or taken a position, but others in the community have. Refill Silver Lake Now Co-Founder Jill Cordes points out, “We don’t need to be a world class destination—this is not Chicago and the Great Lakes lakefront. We have a ton of destinations in LA. We don't need, nor want, the reservoir itself turned into something other than the beautiful body of water that it has traditionally been. If more park space is wanted around the perimeter we are absolutely open to discussing that. And remember we already have green space, including a soccer field, playground, basketball court and the Meadow. And Echo Park and Griffith Park are a mile away. Whats wrong with wanting a respite in the middle of the city?” 

Community feedback, in an empirical and non-emotional format, is being prepared through a survey by the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy, and should help provide Councilmember Ryu, a strong advocate of hearing what the community has to say before making a decision, with some relevant facts. 

Conservancy President Keitel shared a preview of their current survey and what is being indicated from the results, telling CityWatch: “The Reservoirs Conservancy has consistently surveyed the resident and user communities about their desires and concerns surrounding the reservoir property, especially following the approval of the Master Plan by the DWP in 2000. SLRC commissioned its most comprehensive survey in 2016, sent to a random sample of 3,400 residential addresses within the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council boundaries. 

“While the 800+ responses are still being analyzed for inclusion in a published report, the most highly-rated attribute has been the water, i.e.: maintaining water in the reservoir space. The survey does not address specific proposals by Silver Lake Forward or Refill Silver Lake Now, because it was administered before either of those recently formed groups existed. But the community clearly expressed its appreciation of the public space as a respite, an oasis and a natural environment - and expressed concerns about it being overly developed or commercialized.” 

There’s a lot at stake here, including a sense of unwanted change, and a resistance to a repurposing of Silver Lake Reservoir that feels like it’s being forced onto the community. Public feedback and community engagement, like the Conservancy’s survey and the series of community meetings that are being hosted by Councilmembers Ryu (CD4) and O’Farrell (CD13), may help to clarify the anxieties many in the community are feeling about what going forward at Silver Lake really means.

 

(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.

Latino Identity in South LA: Tensions? Segregation? Collaborations?

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--This is a very interesting KCET viewer supported story in which they aimed to find out which way is South LA heading? As Latinos have become a numerical majority in what was recently an African American neighborhood, do we see tensions, collaborations or segregation? 

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California, and Walter Thompson-Hernandez, a former research assistant for the Roots|Raíces research project at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII), together with their team at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, they spent the last year interviewing one hundred Latina/o residents in the Watts, historic Central Avenue, and Vermont Square neighborhoods for the Roots|Raíces research project and put this story together. While there is no one monolithic portrait of Latino South LA, they found common stories and struggles—and also some interesting key generational differences. 

They argued that in the 1980s, thousands of Mexican and Central American immigrants began setting down roots in South LA. Some had just crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, fleeing Civil Wars and economic devastation, and others moved here after living in crowded neighborhoods near downtown and MacArthur Park; but they all came looking for the same thing: a better life.  

These were tough times in South LA. During the 1980s, South LA was reeling from the aftermath of deindustrialization, with gang wars, a crack epidemic, and impoverished neighborhoods featuring more liquor stores than grocery markets. 

One of their respondents drew a mixed portrait of neighborhood life when asked to recall what it was like in the late 1980s. “Mira, hay cosas que eran buenas…Look, there were things that were good, and bad things. At that time we were about the only Latinos on the block … Everyone else was Moreno (Black). But the majority of those who lived there were older people, and they were very nice. We never had any problems with any Black neighbors.” 

Many of these first generation Latina/o arrivals found a kind of next door neighbor civility (even if relations stayed somewhat superficial) with their older African-American neighbors, but on the streets they often encountered hostility from youth gangs, street crime, over-policing, and a climate of violence and racialized resentment that was very particular to the 80’s and early 90’s in South LA. Pushed inward also by the language barrier, the work of daily survival, and the street violence, most Latina/o newcomers responded by “shutting in and shutting out,” basically keeping to themselves. 

However, their interviews also highlighted another important aspect of South LA racial dynamics: Generations think about race in different ways. While the first generation migrated to South LA with anti-black racist ideologies—which were often hardened in the tough street climate in the 1980s and 1990s—the second generation Latinos who were raised in South Los Angeles related starkly different racial experiences with African Americans. While some had faced racially motivated tensions in the schools or the street, a large majority of the second generation expressed an affinity for African Americans that was almost non-existent among their parents’ generation. 

One of their interviewees expressed her views about the interconnectedness of South LA African American and Latino identities this way: “We grew up together. You know, they fed us collard greens; we fed them beans. You know, we grew up in each other’s homes, and we grew up together. So to us, it’s a similarity. They’re our people. We struggle, we consider them our people.” 

What to make of these generational racial differences? When thinking about the future of South LA—particularly the face of leadership—we are left with the almost inescapable reality that the face of future South LA leadership will be a cohort of young leaders who will have grown up in a community that was predominantly Latino but with a strong inclination towards the African-American political and cultural legacy of South LA. These will be leaders who will have been impacted by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as much as they will have been impacted by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

NEED TO KNOW 

Learn more about the “Roots|Raíces: Latino Engagement, Place Identities, and Shared Futures in South Los Angeles” researched by the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) at USC at http://bit.ly/rootsraices.

(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

 

LA Waterkeeper Takes Water Boards to Court … for Ignoring Public Outcry On Dangerous Pollution Levels

WATER WATCH--After a decision by the California State Water Resources Control Board and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, legal pollution limits have increased to allow excessive amounts of copper and lead in the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. High levels of toxic pollution pose a serious threat to the marine life and possibly to people that depend on Los Angeles’ waters. 

That’s where watchdog organizations like Los Angeles Waterkeeper come in. On July 18, LA Waterkeeper filed a lawsuit against the State and Regional Water Boards to hold them accountable for ignoring public criticism and allowing dangerous levels of pollution in our waters. 

Rather than enforce existing standards against polluters and protect the residents consuming the water in Los Angeles County, the State and Regional Water Boards tried to redefine water pollution. Both Water Boards approved a set of weaker standards — known as site-specific water-quality objectives — that override the existing, more protective water quality standards limiting copper and lead pollution levels. Compared to the existing regulations, these objectives increase pollution limits by up to 1,000 percent. 

That’s up to 1,000 percent more copper and lead in the water you and your family drink. 

These pollution violations an urgent environmental and public health issue. Copper in the water threatens aquatic life, while lead pollution poses more of a hazard to humans. These new objectives are so weak that, if allowed to continue, Los Angeles could stop treating its storm water entirely, and it would still remain in legal compliance for copper and lead pollution levels. 

This case marks the first time any organization has legally challenged the scientific validity of studies used by the State Water Board to justify site specific water quality standards. The scientifically flawed studies supporting the dramatically weaker standards were paid for and overseen by stakeholders with a financial interest in weaker water quality standards. These include cities that line the river and its tributaries, as well as Caltrans and Los Angeles County. Local and state agencies can be liable for permit violations if they discharge excessive pollution into the river. 

Our team is filing the lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act and the federal Clean Water Act. LA Waterkeeper seeks to reverse the approval of the negligent site-specific water quality objectives and restore the original – and more protective – water quality standards for copper and lead. 

This type of water management is irresponsible and damaging. These actions create a ripple effect across the state that harms our residents, our children and our quality of life. Our local communities and wildlife depend on these waters, and we demand better standards for all of us. 

Visit lawaterkeeper.org to learn more about protecting water quality in Los Angeles.

 

(Bruce Reznik is Executive Director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper. This piece special to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Mayor and City Attny: Public Records Act Info Exposes Bent ... If Not Broken ... Rules for Animal Charity

ANIMAL WATCH-On July 1, 2014, Mayor Garcetti launched his Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, “to advance civic initiatives.” It amassed $14.6 million the first year, according to the LA Times

An e-mail exchange between LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette and Maggie Neilson, former Animal Services Commissioner and CEO of Global Philanthropy Group, and the Mayor’s Office --provided AFTER my CityWatch article, CA Feuer, Mayor Garcetti, Councilman Koretz Ignoring Public Records Requests - Is There Something to Hide?” – reveals that wasn’t the only charitable fund the Mayor planned to launch in 2014. (Photo above: Mayor Garcetti with City Attorney Mike Feuer.) 

While Garcetti’s then-Deputy Doane Liu was setting up a preliminary meeting with Neilson regarding a proposed non-profit foundation to support LA Animal Services, he was abruptly informed that Mayor Garcetti -- who has historically shown only a politically correct interest in animals -- would meet personally with Ms. Neilson. 

Here’s how the usual formalities were bypassed: 

On August 13, 2014 10:17 AM Brenda Barnette wrote to Maggie Neilson: 

FYI us [sic] met with the Mayor yesterday. Would like to arrange for you to meet him for personal introduction. He wants an opportunity to speak publicly for the animals and would love it to be the Foundation launch this fall.”

About 90 minutes later Maggie Neilson responded: 

Hi Brenda! First I hope your summer is going well. Give my best to Pam and let’s get together in Sept…?  I‘ve been meaning to reach out for a few months now to apologize for the slowdown in progress on this…we are poised to begin again in full in Sept. I would love to connect with the mayor; just let me know when works for him and we will make it happen. This is going to be awesome despite the brief delay.  Xo, m”   

This affectionate exchange portrays an uncomfortably informal relationship between the GM and the sole incorporator of a proposed charitable arm for LA Animal Services. Trevor Neilson and Maggie Neilson of Global Philanthropy Group reportedly advise such celebrities as Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in how to spend charitable dollars to maintain a humanitarian profile. Brenda Barnette claims to have been a “former fundraiser” (and later used that influence to have restrictive items in the MOU removed by Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel). Shouldn’t a formal letter, or at least an professional business e-mail, have been used in arranging a meeting with the Mayor of Los Angeles?  

According to the CA Secretary of State, Maggie Neilson had filed as sole incorporator for “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” on August 11, 2014. 

Following is some of the history garnered from 540 pages of e-mails provided by the City Attorney’s office, plus the delayed responses from the Mayor’s Office and GM Brenda Barnette to my CPRA requests, which indicate that Brenda Barnette was intending to be very closely involved. 

On Apr. 22, 2014, Maggie Neilson wrote to her pro bono attorney, who was developing the MOU for “The Animal Rescue Foundation, “The first issue is that we want to confirm Brenda’s ability to serve on the Foundation’s Board.”  

The answer was apparently negative because later Brenda wrote to Deputy City Dov Lesel:

“With permission of the Mayor would it be permitted for me to serve as a volunteer Board member?” 

The MOU later approved by the Garcetti-appointed Animal Services Commission, showed that annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” would be provided only to the LAAS General Manager, the Department’s senior accountant and the Commission. 

Maggie Neilson’s last-shown contact in the Mayor’s office, according to e-mails provided, was Diedre Lind, President of the Mayor’s fund. 

Doug White, director of  Columbia University's graduate program in fundraising management, advised the L A Times that, “Information about a nonprofit shouldn't be channeled through a politician's office . . . Because of the nonprofit's association with government, its officers and directors should be particularly attentive to maintaining independence.” 

An attorney for a major governmental agency explained, “When a governmental agency, such as LA Animal Services, joins with an allied non-profit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests. That organization then is branded by, and has the benefit of, the department’s name, trademark and good will for soliciting donations without objective requirements or accountability.” 

A CITY CHARITY BY ANY OTHER NAME 

In February, we asked, Has L.A. Animal Services’ Brenda Barnette Crossed the Line with Questionable Fundraising MOU?  Maggie Neilson’s new non-profit corporation purportedly created to assist LA Angeles Animal Services -- and be patterned after Foundations for LAPD, LA Fire Dept., and the Library -- is called, “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation.” 

Neilson’s foundation does not contain the name “LA Animal Services” in its title as the other city department foundations do, nor is its corporate mission statement even similar. 

The Articles of Incorporation state, “The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

However, the Department of Animal Services, which is a tax-funded public safety department, has a posted mission statement and mandate: To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

How do we correlate this and the MOU which states, “… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…” when seminal factors are vastly dissimilar? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency such as LA Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after owners relinquish them or fail to claim them from the shelter.  

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money were to be spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? Or is money assumed to be donated for the shelter allowed to be distributed otherwise? Is it reserved to help shelter animals? Not according to the changes made by the City Attorney in the standard template that is used by other City fundraising arms.   

Other questions are:  Will “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” usurp the fundraising efforts of independent local rescue and animal-welfare groups in Los Angeles? And, why are City officials ignoring the fact that the LA Animal Services already has a robust, generously donor-funded and closely monitored, Animal Welfare Trust Fund

DEVIATIONS FROM OTHER CITY-DEPARTMENT FOUNDATIONS

GM Brenda Barnette and Maggie Neilson each received a copy of the draft MOU with the Los Angeles Fire Foundation. Deputy Dov Lesel writes: 

Animal Services was advised to look at that contract as a model for using with a foundation to do fundraising for that department.” 

But “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” and Brenda Barnette requested changes. 

In a January 9, 2015 e-mail to Dov Lesel, Brenda Barnette describes herself as a “former fundraiser” and agrees with The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation’s pro bono attorney that the standard 20% overhead limitation applied to other departmental foundations is unnecessary, because “…the marketing to elevate the Department for community members will be expensive and worthwhile.” 

On March 11, 2015, after Lesel agrees to remove the 20/80% limitation on overhead, Maggie Neilson writes: 

“Thanks Dov – I do want to clarify that we are not raising funds “for” the city in the sense that the $ we raise won’t go through the city system. This will be an independent non-profit organization that will work side by side with the Department towards the same mission.” 

Lesel responds:

“If you are raising money using the Department’s name, etc., how exactly do you envision the funds being held and how do you envision the funds being spent? 

“Will you be engaging in a discussion with the Dept. re its needs and agreeing to fund certain projects during the year or funding projects that you think the Dept. needs?” 

(Note: Any answer by Neilson to these questions was omitted from the CPRA response.) 

On Oct. 06, 2015, in compliance with the Foundation’s request, Dov Lesel also agreed to remove “financial” from the support to be provided to the Department and remove any support for the Department’s “needs” — only its “mission and function.” 

DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY FAILED TO NOTICE 

According to e-mails, it wasn’t until January 13, 2016, (after Commission approval and before the Council’s PAW Committee meeting) that Dov Lesel finally read the Articles of Incorporation for “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation.” 

On that date he sent an e-mail to Global Philanthropy Group, cc’d to Brenda Barnette, stating: 

“I noticed that there is no mention that the purpose of the organization is to support the Department.”   

The next-day response from Maggie Neilson’s assistant: 

“The articles of incorporation describe the mission of the Foundation as working to ensure every animal in Los Angeles has a home and that no adoptable animals are euthanized.  This mission supports the goals of the Department.  The purpose of the MOU is to establish the official relationship between the two entities.” 

Lesel (finally realizing what he had been working on for two years) replied:  

“[M]y concern is that this issue may be raised by City staff as it goes through the approval process, as these articles are very different than the ‘normal’ articles of incorporation for City partner fundraising organization. [sic] Normally, this type of non-profit incorporates specifically to assist the City. 

GM Brenda Barnette sent a testy retort soon after:  

“Dov, Two years later and much back and forth and NOW we have a big question after the Commission has approved.  I will appreciate your good efforts to get ma [sic] a document I can transmit without further delay.”  

Dov Lesel backs down(!): 

“Brenda you can transmit the revised clean MOU with their existing Articles, unless you believe the existing Articles might raise a red flag.” 

Lesel added:

“I can check with the CLA’s office in advance to see if this would be a concern.” 

Apparently the fact that “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” articles are notably “very different” from other City-department fundraising partners and failed to include that it is intended “specifically to assist the City” did not bother the CLA either, because it traveled on to the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee with no changes or “red flags.” 

With the excuse that his one-hour Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee on March 13, 2016, ran out of time, the LAAS charity item, CF16-0070, was continued.  On April 4, my CityWatch article was published. No further action has been taken yet.

HOW IS MAGGIE NEILSON CONNECTED TO LA ANIMAL SERVICES? 

On March 5, 2013, word spread through the Los Angeles humane community and far beyond City Hall that Kathleen Riordan, daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan and popular 14-year veteran Animal Services Commissioner, was being replaced by Maggie Ragland Neilson, an unknown in animal circles. 

Neilson admitted that she had no animal experience except being a dog owner. Her background also failed to reveal any professional interest in animal welfare or experience in city government. 

Riordan’s analytical mind and penchant for asking probing questions had often set her at odds with then-Mayor Villaraigosa’s aide Jim Bickhart. And, at one meeting, Riordan’s insistence that the City’s mandatory competitive-bidding practices were not being followed caused GM Barnette to bang her head down on the Commission table and later stomp out of the meeting when the Commission agreed with Riordan.  

According to an interview with Kathy Riordan by Dana Bartholomew of the Los Angeles Daily News, Jim Bickhart informed her by telephone late on February 28 that she was being replaced by someone with “more to contribute...” 

Maggie Neilson served less than four months and was not reappointed by Mayor Garcetti, but wrote to Brenda Barnette that not being a Commissioner would allow her to work on forming a foundation to do fundraising for LAAS. 

 

(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Is City Hall Ignoring North Hollywood Residents On Hot-Button ‘NoHo West’ Mega-Project?

NEIGHBORHOOD INVASION-Despite deep concerns among North Hollywood residents about the controversial NoHo West mega-project at 6150 Laurel Canyon Boulevard near the 170 freeway, Los Angeles City Council member Paul Krekorian made clear on Tuesday, July 26, at a public hearing that he fully supports the oversized development that’s located next to a low-slung, residential community. Once again, City Hall appears to be siding with deep-pocketed developers. 

At a well-attended LA planning department hearing at Van Nuys City Hall, Karo Torossian, the director of planning for Council Member Krekorian, testified that Krekorian backed NoHo West as proposed. Torossian and his boss, who represent North Hollywood in Council District 2, were unmoved by local residents’ (photo above) worries that the mega-project would destroy the character of their neighborhood and create nightmarish traffic problems. 

“We are concerned about the six-story apartment building,” said Diann Corral, president of the Laurel Grove Neighborhood Association, at the hearing. “It’s not in keeping with the character of our neighborhood.” She also added that no traffic mitigations had been offered to residents. 

Merlone Geier Partners, a San Francisco-based firm, and Goldstein Planting Investments, a Los Angeles-based firm, are the developers behind NoHo West, a project that features a whopping 1.6 million square feet of retail and residential space with 742 rental units. It’s a massive project that the developers have been pushing hard at City Hall. 

Merlone Geier employees, including chairman Bradley Geier and partner Peter Merlone, have given $6,500 in campaign contributions to LA politicians between 2008 and 2015, and the developer paid $240,182 for a City Hall lobbyist to schmooze with the City Council, the planning department and the building and safety department. 

Goldstein Planting Investments employees have spread around $7,400 in campaign contributions to local pols between 2009 and 2015, and the firm shelled out $174,349 for a City Hall lobbyist to meet with the City Council and city agencies. 

During the hearing, the developers seemed to wave off community concerns, going so far as to tell residents what was best for them. 

“The neighborhood needs to grow,” a representative for the developers said at the hearing. 

But many residents sounded a similar theme — while retail development was welcomed, the proposal to jam 740 rental units into two large towers with no traffic mitigations was not. One resident testified, “Density is a buzzword of developers. It is their profit point. But in a neighborhood, it is a killer.” Another resident said, “Your decisions today will affect my life.” 

Residents also believed the traffic studies in the project’s environmental impact report were inaccurate with bad data. 

There was little mention, however, about the health impacts of building NoHo West next to the 170 freeway — according to top scientific researchers at USC and UCLA, children and pregnant women who live in freeway-adjacent homes, known as “Black Lung Lofts,” are more likely to suffer serious health problems. The LA City Council continues to ignore the serious public health problem and approve such housing. 

But that’s what happens in LA’s broken planning and land-use system. Developers spread around big cash at City Hall, and expect profitable favors in return from City Council members no matter what local residents have to say. Since 2000, the real estate industry has contributed at least $6 million to the campaign war chests of LA politicians. 

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

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

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

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 where this piece was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

How ‘Organized Crime’ Controls Los Angeles’ City Hall

CROOKED POLITICS, CROOKED DEVELOPMENT-If it is organized and it is criminal, it is organized crime. No, it does not have to come from New Jersey. No, it doesn’t have to have an Italian name, but Italians like Jews are not excluded from organized crime. At the LA City Council, crime is non-discriminatory. We’ve got Whites, Gays, Jews, Hispanics (formerly known as Mexican-Americans), Blacks, a woman, etc. The requirements to be “organized crime” are simple: (1) be organized (2) be criminal. 

What’s so bad about organized crime? After all, aren’t crime lords known for being great family men, er, I mean “family persons?” Don’t we hold the heads of organized crime in great esteem? Who doesn’t know the name Michael Corleone or John Gotti or Eric Garcetti? 

Al Capone must be turning in his grave, green with envy at the brilliant scam that has become the Los Angeles City Council. Gone are the days when hoods bribed public officials. In Los Angeles, they are the public officials! 

We don’t mean to imply that the more traditional forms of organized crime have left the scene altogether. One always wonders about the large unions, especially in the building trades. Now, we’re not saying. We’re just wondering. One tends to look askance at multi-billion dollar public works projects. That couldn’t be happening here in Los Angeles, could it? No one would ask the voters to blindly give $120 billion for mega-construction projects…would they? 

Here’s the crux of Los Angeles City Hall’s organized crime: Joe Blow city councilman is keen to tear down a bunch of rent-controlled units in the Valley and construct some of these small lot subdivision “homes.” One might ask, why tear down poor people’s homes to build these so-called single family homes which are separated by eight (8) inches?   

Here’s why: rent-controlled units are bad tax shelters for millionaires and rent-controlled units are terrible for money launderers. The only people who benefit from rent-controlled apartments are the elderly, the disabled and the poor, otherwise known in Los Angeles as the “Expendables.” As we have learned, when it comes to destroying poor people’s homes, Garcetti wins the Olympic gold medal. 

As the Los Angeles Times reported on July 28, 2016, the Feds are looking into a lot of these real estate deals. It’s almost as if the administration at LA City Hall got a heads-up on the cut-offs for reporting transactions to the Feds: the dollar limit to trigger reporting is just above the investment amounts in these fancy condos and “small lot subdivisions” single family homes. 

Rather than construct a 26-unit apartment complex where developers looking to hide their money would have to cough up several million dollars above the new federal reporting limit, they can now “invest” in several of these new individual “homes” -- where each one costs well below the reporting limit. We are sure there is no connection here between Don Garcetti’s having already raised all the money he needs for his re-election and these new small lot subdivisions. 

Here’s the genius of Los Angeles’ organized crime: It’s been in operation since 2006, the year that Garcetti first became City Council President and Penal Code § 86 criminalized vote trading. But under the City Council’s own “vote trading agreement,” each councilmember purchases the votes of each of the other councilmembers by his/her promise to never vote No on a development project in another councilmember’s district. 

We are certain the ghost of Meyer Lansky must be trying to come back from the dead so he can partake in this brilliant con. All a developer has to do to get his construction project approved is be “nice” to one Los Angeles City Councilmember. Wow, in days of yore, the old time mob had to buy off or at least intimidate the majority on a city council. In today’s LA, though, developers have the sweetest deal of all – just be nice to one councilmember and, as if by magic, City Council unanimously approves whatever each developer wants. 

They are guaranteed 100% approval no matter how many codes they violate…no matter how many poor people the developer drives from their homes…no matter how much ethnic cleansing occurs…no matter if entire neighborhoods are destroyed. 

All that matters is that the nice city councilmember puts the project on the City Council agenda for it to be unanimously approved. Let’s note that juicy word, unanimously. No matter how crooked a project may be, it is guaranteed unanimous approval

And the system is fool proof. Under the rigged LA voting trading system, unanimous approval does not even require a single councilmember to vote for the project. The LA City Council has fixed – and we do mean “fixed” – its vote tabulator so that the machine itself automatically votes “Yes,” even if not a single councilmember actually votes!   

Tax shelters and money laundering are big business. Billions of dollars are looted each year from foreign governments and of course drug traffickers also need places to wash their loot. So it’s interesting that at the same time demographers are reporting that more Angelenos, especially middle class professionals, are leaving Los Angeles than are choosing to move to LA, the Garcetti Administration is constructing more and more of these condos and tiny houses separated by eight inches. When more people leave a city than move into it, the housing supply increases – even if no one adds a single unit. So why is Garcetti building us into a glut – with prices just below the federal reporting line? 

Although Penal Code 86 criminalized the “vote trading agreement” that exists in the Los Angeles City Council, it has operated undisturbed for a decade under the law enforcement and judicial assumption that 10,000 consecutive unanimous votes in a 15-member city council is just a “coincidence.” Now, in our opinion…that’s a well-organized criminal enterprise.

 

(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.

 

Here’s What California Needs: More Protection for Mega Developers

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--The changing landscape of Los Angeles and environs has prompted concerned groups to mobilize to protect neighborhood integrity and stop the deep pockets of developers from yielding undue influence on council members and planning commissions.

All that could change if SB 734 were to pass. The bill would provide protection against potential lengthy litigation against large developments in California. In Hollywood, the $1 –billion redevelopment of the Crossroads of the World complex and a $200-million hotel/residential development at Yucca Street and Argyle Avenue are among the projects that would be protected by the new law that is intended to reduce lawsuits against large developments throughout the state.

In a nutshell, the bill would not protect mega-projects ($100-million plus) from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) suits but would fast-track the suits to wrap up within nine months instead of up to three years. The bill would also provide for higher wages for construction workers and place strict guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy.

SB 734 would extend by two years a 2011 measure supported by Brown and influenced by legislation that year that would have benefitted the now defunct Farmers Field football stadium project downtown.

However, since the 2011 measure passed, only six projects qualified for the fast-track process, including Apple’s expanded corporate headquarters in Cupertino and a proposed arena for the NBA Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. Although some of the six have been built or are currently under construction, none have needed to utilize the provisions.

Critics of the 1970 CEQA intended to preserve the environment say the law is overbearing. However, the proposed bill is limited to massive developments like sports arenas and condo towers, which could absorb any litigation costs, unlike smaller developments.

Proponents say the bill is essential to California’s economic recovery, fast-tracking job-producing, environmentally-friendly projects. The bill’s co-author, state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) is hopeful for a bi-partisan super-majority vote in both houses by the end of the legislative session in August. If the bill is signed into law, developers would need to apply to the governor to be certified to meet the investment, wage, and environmental parameters.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups oppose the bill because they are unhappy with the standards that developers need to meet. The state’s Judicial Council, which is sets policies for the courts, is also opposed to the measure on the grounds that the bill would push these suits to the front of the line, even before previously filed suits.

While encouraging green projects that would add to employment seems sound, SB 734 would provide fast-track litigation and special treatment only to large-scale mega-projects, weakening the ability of activist and environmental groups to impact or stop mega-developments in their neighborhoods. Large-scale projects often compromise traffic, parking, affordable housing, and neighborhood integrity and citizens should have a voice that is not quieted by a shorter litigation process.

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

-cw

Beware More Government Overreach … Big is NOT Always Better

POLITICS--It's a surefire way to keep us troglodytes in check.  You know, us backwards-type cave-dwellers that presume the happiest way to make Los Angeles family-friendly, environmentally-sustainable, and ripe for a first-rate economy is to preserve neighborhoods (including single-family neighborhoods), have great schools, parks, and libraries, and to keep LA right-sized?  Well, the enlightened lawmakers have fortunately found an answer to THAT Neanderthal form of thinking! 

Get past us country bumpkins and fast-track the skyscrapers!  Yep, as the Times reports, the state is considering a bill, SB 734, to fast-track expensive and high-rise developments and receive more defense against potential lengthy litigation. 

You know, that awful, AWFUL litigation to allow citizens their rights to ... have rights?  

It's certainly merited to avoid prolonged, wasteful, costly, lengthy legal battles, but is there a defense fund to allow ordinary, non-uber-wealthy citizens the ability to sue and pay the legal bills to fight the 1%-uber-wealthy types in court?  Will THIS be part of the SB 734 to ensure speedy trials, too? 

I'm guessing ... well ... NO! 

But for the City of the Angels, HERE are some ideas whose time has come. 

Rather than voting in a gazillion new taxes and bonds (I'm probably leaning towards making an exception of Measure R-2, because it's going to ensure transportation funding in a world where we need that more than ever), maybe we can just vote NO and instead: 

1) Vote in favor of this spring's Neighborhood Integrity Initiative--it's favored by pro-growth moderates who just want to have a coherent, law-abiding method of Planning and Development that's truly environmentally-sustainable, doesn't harm Angelenos, and/or force them to leave to avoid living in a City that's apparently desperate to turn itself into a hellish urban "hive". 

2) Encourage those supporting the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative to come up with similar initiatives, including a Neighborhood Council Legal Advocate, to be funded by the City, as a new but actually helpful part of City Government.   

The City Attorney does NOT represent the citizens of LA but rather the City Government (look it up), but who has the ability to counter the City when its government violates its own Charter and Bylaws?  Where can Neighborhood Councils and citizen groups go when they need to have a lawyer represent them?   

Having paid (and, potentially, pro bono) lawyers as part of LA City Government is as timely as it is morally--and legally--appropriate.  Frankly, this potential office should also have the ability to sue the State if it's violating its own laws, and/or federal laws.  And it would be paid for by OUR tax dollars, and for OUR own benefit and protection. 

And, as in my last CityWatch article, there are all sorts of tongue-in-cheek humor about why we should tax and hurt ourselves in the name of "progress", but we can also come up with a few good answers to boot. 

Because Neighborhood Councils are also a form of progress, and one where the "little guy/gal" has a place to go.   

We NEED a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

And we also NEED a good lawyer or two to help us defend ourselves against governmental overreach, whether it’s from Downtown LA, the County, or even Sacramento.

 

(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.)

 

 

8150 Sunset Project: Welfare for the Rich, Greed on Steroids

PLANNING POLITICS--When I first wrote for CityWatch about the 8150 Sunset project (“Rotten to the Core”), I thought something was really wrong with it. Now, two months later, after much research, I know there is. Back then I had heard that Luci Ibarra of the Planning Department’s Major Projects Division had insulted many who opposed the project, including the representative of West Hollywood and Councilman Ryu’s office. The talk from the neighborhood was that she was committed to the developer and hostile to any criticism.   

On Thursday, July 28, 2016, the 8150 Sunset Project breezed through the CPC hearing aided by the star power of Frank Gehry (photo above) and considerable help from Ms. Ibarra. City staff must be objective in their evaluation of projects. She was not. 

Some have described the Frank Gehry design as putting lipstick on a pig. But it is so much more than that. It is the prototype of things to come and if allowed to stand will dismantle zoning all over the City and destroy our neighborhoods. 

In a stroke of brilliance, Townscape Partners hired Gehry to redesign a project that seemed doomed to fail and turned it into a star, tripling its square footage. This is Hollywood, after all, where celebrity is worshiped and people line up to get a glimpse of the rich and famous. That is what happened on Thursday when the planning commissioners fell all over themselves in praise of a project that will overwhelm the local streets and infrastructure. 

But do they care? Not when they got Frank Gehry himself to show up and talk to them about design and his ideas on architecture. The commissioners swooned while the local community wept. Four Commissioners even admitted that they had visited his studio regarding the project. Still, they claimed to be objective. The fact that four of the six commissioners that were voting made this admission is of concern. 

After Gehry spoke the real show began. Representatives of four groups that had appealed the planning department’s initial approval of much of the project got up one at a time and listed the reasons why the City should deny this miscarriage of justice. Next, the representative of the Neighborhood Council told the Commissioners why the project would not work for the neighborhood. Sarah Dusseault, chief of staff for David Ryu, stood up next and argued that the project was too big and pointed out why it should not be approved as presented as well as the terrible precedent it would create. 

I sat in the back of the room nodding affirmatively at each point. Sarah and Julia Duncan from Ryu’s office really nailed a couple of very salient points, telling the Commissioners that, contrary to what Planning staff had written in their reports, there was ample reason and justification in the law to turn this project down, send it back for more work and to make it smaller. 

Then the crowd of extras delivered by the developers came to the microphone one at a time to sing the praises of Mr. Gehry and the project. Whenever the commissioners had a question they turned to Ms. Ibarra for clarification. If there were three facts and two did not support the developer she chose the third that did. Misinformation was sprinkled in to flavor the meal she was serving up and the commissioners devoured it.   

Members from the four groups opposing the project, along with the Neighborhood Council and the Council office, listened in silence as all of our arguments were turned down. Once again, the commissioners once sang the praises of Frank Gehry and approved the project.  All of us left worn out after a five hour ordeal in an un-air-conditioned room. But we are determined to carry on. 

I have no idea what the City of West Hollywood or the two other appellants will do, but Fix the City stands ready to protect all the neighborhoods across the City and litigate if necessary, fast-tracked or not.  

This project is welfare for the rich, greed on steroids -- one more example of the ruling class sticking it to the rest of us. It is also the advanced guard of projects that will destroy zoning as we know it. Using Senate Bill 1818, (Density Bonus) law, Townscape partners agreed to set aside 28 of their 249 apartments for very low income residents. For that they are asking the Commissioners to grant them a 300% increase in square footage instead of the 35% they are really entitled to get. Instead of asking for a Height District change to increase the FAR, Townscape is using the Density bonus law. Fifty (50) of those 249 units they will build will be condos selling from three to twelve million dollars. There will also be 65,000 sq. feet of commercial space.   

In their own financial statement, they claim they will make a 15.9% profit which translates to $52 million. Like I said, welfare for the rich. They will also close the southbound section of Crescent Heights from Sunset Boulevard without the standard process required by the Streets and Highway Code to vacate it. They claim they will use B permits to cover over the road and take over the current traffic island which has its own address (8118 Sunset) to create an outdoor public space. 

When questioned on how they can do this, Planning’s answer is the City will continue to own it (the island and road to be covered over by cement) and the developer will maintain it.  First the people of California own the streets, not the City but who’s going to stop the City from doing this? This is the big gamble developers are taking all over Los Angeles. They ask themselves, how many projects can we slide through before someone sues us?  Given that there are more of them than groups who can afford to sue, the odds are forever in their favor. 

We the people have few options available to us except to carry on and organize to affect change. I am sensing all over the City a feeling similar to the one that led to the secession movement. What is different this time is that it is not just the Valley and some in Hollywood that feel disaffected -- it is most of Los Angeles.  

(Jim O’Sullivan is one of the Fix the City founders and President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Superintendent Tom Torlakson: Governor for a Day (or So)

EDUCATION POLICY ALERT-Well, here's our chance! Imagine my surprise when I heard on NPR this morning that State Superintendent of schools Tom Torlakson -- my very favorite State official -- is Acting Governor of California for the rest of the week. 

This is what happens when your whole state government comprises the biggest delegation at the Democratic National Convention. 

While every other force in Golden State politics is looking for unity in the City of Brotherly Love, my mind leaps to the education priorities we could advance! 

It wouldn't be the first time an Acting Governor did a whole lot of governing when Jerry Brown was out of state. 

So I’ve penned a letter to the Superintendent to offer my assistance: 

Dear Acting Governor Torlakson, 

First off, congrats! 

I am writing you to offer to rush to the State Capital and work feverishly alongside you to advance our public education priorities while the rest of California’s political wish lists languish in the Philadelphia International Airport baggage claim. (It’s not their fault they exceeded the 3.7 ounce limit.)

I admit, I’ve been feeling envy what with all the selfies my friends have been posting. Betsy pictured with Dolores Huerta. Randi pictured with Bill Clinton. Carolyn and Dallas were even interviewed about their experiences as mother and daughter in Hillary’s and Bernie’s respective delegations.

But, oh, the things we can get done for our schools while they're distracting our elected officials! 

By the way, Tom, I hope you don't let the “Acting” qualifier get in the way of the work we can do together. The philanthropists and politicians certainly haven't let their lack of credentials get in the way of dictating what our teachers and principals do. So let's give it a go! 

Just say the word and I’ll be on the next Southwest flight to Sacramento. I’ll use carry-on, so my only baggage will be emotional -- a decade of mourning for the once top-funded California public school system and my more recent PTSD from the assault on public schools by the charter lobby. 

But there’s no time for a pity party. Here’s my short list of what we mice should do while the cats are away.

 

 

What’s that? Charter = accountability? That’s so funny you say that because...they’re lying.

Charter schools claim to receive autonomy in exchange for more accountability. But this is just a slogan because--have you opened a newspaper lately?! 

There’s the report of Principal David Fehte of El Camino Real Charter High School in the Southern part of the state who’s been flying first class and buying expensive wine and charcuterie plates at fancy hotels (does he wine and dine alone?) while he moonlights as a scout for the NBA. (Now that Arne Duncan has resigned as US Secretary of Education, I’m pretty sure basketball connections no longer exempt alleged cheaters from scrutiny.) 

Then there’s the LA Times report of a charter school paying $566,803 to a teacher who sued because the director, Kendra Okonkwo, forced her to travel with her to Nigeria to marry Okonkwo's brother-in-law to gain US citizenship. 

And Gulen.

I know, Caprice Young is cozy with the politicos -- but they’re all in Philly this week! (Note: send Philadelphia Inquirer reporter list of California Democrats who have ignored the Gulen scandal said reporter has been covering for years. Pitch idea of confronting them on the Convention floor.) 

And I get it -- geopolitical conflict is complicated. But the moms at the PTA meeting said there isn’t room on Tuesday’s agenda between the bakesale and ordering “I’m a proud public school parent” t-shirts to debate which side of an attempted foreign coup our middle school should be on. They just want the money for our schools that the cult leader in the Poconos is allegedly sucking out of the US education ATM through the vast network of charter schools he has “inspired.”

Here are a few articles in preparation for our discussion: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  60 Minutes, The Atlantic Monthly, just for starters. 

I can't make any promises, but I’m pretty sure the expert, researcher Sharon Higgins, would rush right over to Sacramento from Oakland to brief us on this. Shall I tell her 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday? (Note: Locate entrance closest to freight elevator for her BOXES of documents.) 

Tom, do the blinds in the Capital totally block the sun? I ask because we could co-host a screening of Killing Ed, the Mark Hall documentary that tells this story. The Nigerian forced marriage has not yet hit the big screen, but we can discuss with Hollywood producers if you wish. Geronimo could write the “based-on-a-true-story-I-swear-I’m-not-joking” screenplay. (Note: clear 4 front parking spaces for stretch limo and ego of Hollywood producer.)

 

 

Voters were hoodwinked and they know it. Here's a 4-minute video to brief you on how the parasitic law creates conflict, featuring “me.”    

 

 

 

Just throw away the whole project. Period. (Note: Do not exceed 5 minute discussion on this item.)

 

 

 

Some politicians might think kids need more reading and writing drill-and-kill just because I said "ain't" but I know you can take a joke. KPCC’s Mary Plummer covered this law when she was the knock-out arts education reporter for the NPR affiliate. Guess what? Now, she’s the knock-out  "political” reporter, so she can go exactly where the story takes us. I would imagine she could cover a political angle for a lot of the reports she covered in education.

 

 

 

My own LAUSD middle school’s library has been shuttered for five years since LAUSD cut all the school librarians in an effort to offload pension costs of elderly teachers. It was shameful. And, no, telling principals they can cut something else in order to fund a librarian is not funding libraries. 

Google could provide wifi, HP could provide the printers, VOX could create a digital version of The Weekly Reader (I know--I'm showing my age), etc. etc. In exchange, hang a plaque in each library saying they did something for humanity by helping to make this generation literate.

 

 

 

Sure, AB1369 was progress, but “suggestions” rather than requirements don’t go far enough. One in five students have dyslexia, and most cases go undetected for years. Can you imagine sitting in school and not being able to access written curriculum for years? We currently don’t test until two years after a teacher notices that a student is suffering. There is lots of evidence that this would put a major dent in the high school dropout rate, too. Now that’s a Data Wall I’d like to see in every school! I could pretty much promise that the dedicated folks from Decoding Dyslexia would rush over to help us with the details. They’ve been working on it for years.

12:00 lunch meeting on Wednesday? (Note: Search yelp for good lunch deliveries near the Capital.)

 

 

 

Charter schools should not be offloading their pension costs onto the public school districts. That's like charging the US Postal Service for the pensions of FedEx drivers. 
(Note: Are the union leaders away this week, too?)

 

 

 

I hear Eli likes to send his money to Arizona.  Getting Eli out of education policy is our best chance of returning education funding to levels that are not a national embarrassment, and eliminating all number of his “disruptions.” 

That about covers it for now. If Jerry has a long layover, I'll make further plans. I await your call! 

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

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