Thu, Dec

Southern California - Still Creative Capital of the World


NEW GEOGRAPHY-Over the past decade, Southern California has lagged well behind its chief rivals – New York and the Bay Area, as well as the fast-growing cities of the Sun Belt – in everything from job creation to tech growth. Yet, in what the late economist Jack Kyser dubbed “the creative industries,” this region remains an impressive superpower. 

By creative industries, we mean not just Hollywood’s film and television complex, which remains foundational, but those serving a host of other lifestyle-oriented activities, from fashion (photo above) and product design to engineering theme parks, games and food. We may be lagging Silicon Valley in technology and New York in finance or news media, but when it comes to entertaining people, and defining lifestyle, the Southland remains a powerful, even primal, force. 

Overall, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., creative industries employ more than 418,000 people in L.A. and Orange counties. This is larger than second-place New York, and more than five times larger than the San Francisco and Seattle regions. Orange County and Los Angeles account for 80 percent of statewide employment in entertainment and fashion. In toys, LA and OC account for over two-thirds of statewide jobs. 

As a whole, visual- and performing-arts providers have done best in percentage terms, growing by 23.8 percent, followed closely by fine arts and performing-arts schools, with 23.2 percent growth. The SoCal creative economy took a big hit during the recession, when overall employment decreased 14.5 percent, compared with 8 percent for all other industries. But recent trends speak to the resiliency of the region’s creative industries. From 2009-14, employment finally began to grow, even as the rest of LA’s economy was still shrinking. 

As other local industries fade, the creative ones become more important, making up a growing share of the regional economy. New research by Chapman University’s Marshall Toplansky and Nate Kaspi found Orange and Los Angeles counties boast among the highest per capita employment in these creative fields of any major region in the country. 

These jobs are also critical to supporting the region’s beleaguered middle class; 63 of the 80 creative occupations in California have annual wages higher than the statewide median of $38,920.

The Inland Empire does less well in these industries, but has a strong presence in such design fields as furniture and decorative arts. The Coachella music festival, taking place in Riverside County every year, is widely seen as the most successful concert venue in the world and a global incubator of lifestyle trends and fashion. 

Overall, in most creative industries, we simply crush the nerd culture of the Bay Area. Los Angeles easily leads the nation when it comes to independent artists, writers and performers, with a location quotient eight times the national average, twice the share of New York. If Arby’s has the meats, we have the artists.

Persistently vibrant --Southern California’s creative economy, as Cary McWilliams noted 60 years ago, came as a result of some very good fortune – largely the exodus of movie producers seeking respite from New York process servers and close proximity to the Mexican border. Once there, they discovered the possibilities of shooting films and living in an ideal climate. 

“Here was an industry,” noted McWilliams, “perhaps the only industry in America that required no raw materials, for which discriminatory freight rates were meaningless and, which at the same time, possessed an enormous payroll.” 

Hollywood’s geographic spread has grown inexorably over time, moving from its birthplace to what would have once been considered the distant reaches of the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. As entertainment and lifestyle have expanded as industries, the dispersal has been even greater, with fashion and lifestyle-related employment particularly strong in Orange County and with some artisanal production concentrated in the Inland Empire. 

The deep roots of the creative industries, and their synergy within the region, helps explain why they have remained intact. For decades, in fields like energy and aerospace, Southern California has been losing both company headquarters and production facilities at a rapid rate. The region’s once-vast manufacturing base, a key provider of middle-class and blue-collar jobs, has been evaporating, the victim of both foreign competition and an ever more strangling regulatory regime. 

In contrast, the major movie studios all remain based in Southern California, although their ownership’s home bases tend to fluctuate. Hollywood and other creative fields face regulatory challenges but are not nearly as vulnerable, for example, to high energy costs as industrial or logistics firms. They also benefit from close ties with those who run California’s one-party political system. Finally, they have been fortunate to draw on a workforce that trends young and childless, at a time when families, pressed by high housing prices, have been moving inland and, increasingly, out of state. 

The creative industries matter even more to the regional economy, given the losses of aerospace, which has largely decamped to other states that do not disdain a source of technology-oriented, high-wage employment. In contrast, the entertainment economy continues to compete with less-expensive U.S. locales, such as Louisiana or Michigan, as well as well-funded global centers such as New York or London. Much of the employment reflects what might be called the Hollywood mode of production, dominated by small artisanal firms that often sell their services to clients around the world. Working together, they offer levels of expertise not easily duplicated elsewhere. 

In creative sectors, notes a report prepared for Otis College of Art and Design by the LAEDC, self-employment is more common than wage and salary employment. In the visual and performing arts, there were over 2.7 self-employed persons in Los Angeles County for every salaried worker. In Orange County, the ratio was even more striking, nearly 4-1. 

However, the real appeal of Southern California lies in the area’s way of life. Entertainment professionals, designers and theme-park creators like each other’s company, or at least enjoy gossiping about their co-workers. What the creative industries share with the rest of us is an enjoyment of the dispersed, outdoors-oriented and increasingly culturally diverse lifestyle associated with Southern California. 

Impact on the future --This cross-fertilization and creative flair could prove critical in the emerging digital economy, notes a recent Neiman study, where industries, like media, cluster in places where content creators live, notably, Southern California, Washington, D.C., and New York. The LAEDC predicts continued growth in these industries to the end of the decade. 

California’s expanded film and television tax credit program also appears to be slowing some of the industry’s migration. But, while incentives will continue to play a role, there remain many challenges, notably the shift to digital production and the potential shift of decision-making from the increasingly antiquated networks and movie studios to digital disrupters such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix. 

There is also potential fallout if furniture and apparel manufacturers, closely aligned with the creative industries, are forced to shift more operations to less-regulated, less-expensive regions. Fashion, for example, has thrived largely due to the ability of LA’s flexible garment production sector to churn out “fast fashion” products. If production, partly because of the state’s new $15 minimum wage, continues to depart, this link could be weakened. 

As with other industries, the biggest challenge could prove the cost of living. High housing prices are slowing growth in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley; soaring residential costs could also limit the ability of artists and creators to settle permanently in the Southland. Ultimately, the region needs to expand or retrofit its stock of housing so artists can still live a Southern California – as opposed to a New York – lifestyle. The prospect of living in dark boxes in paradise is not what has driven creative people to this region. 

To thrive, the creative industries will need to expand regionally, as they have in parts of Orange County and in the old Los Angeles County beach cities. The new-urbanist dream of a densely packed mini-NY is not congruent with the sunlight-oriented lifestyle that, in the final analysis, is our most compelling product. 

Southern California’s creative edge ultimately draws inspiration from its climate, open beaches, mountains and its necklace of unique small neighborhoods and towns. We may have lost tech to Silicon Valley, banking to Wall Street, energy and manufacturing to places like Texas and Utah, but we remain paramount when it comes to creation, and that could pace our recovery in the decades ahead.


(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” Charlie Stephens is a researcher and MBA candidate at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics; he is founder of substrand.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Our ‘Legal’ Speed Limits Treat Pedestrians and Cyclists Like Afterthoughts!

SANE SPEED LIMIT LAWS-Every day we hear about drivers killed in collisions on their way to work or pedestrians mowed down when crossing the street. You may be asking yourself, “Why doesn’t anyone do anything about this? Aren’t there laws to prevent this?” Believe it or not, there are legal obstacles to making our streets safer. We have laws dating back to a more car-centric era that treat pedestrians and cyclists as afterthoughts. If we want active transportation to be accepted by mainstream America, a legal framework will have to evolve to protect all of our road users. 

In this series, I will examine legal danger zones and potential fixes for reducing traffic-related deaths in California. 

One of the most obvious places to start is speed limits. Since we know conclusively that speed kills, why don’t we set lower speed limits? 

A 10 mph reduction in vehicle speed from 40 mph to 30 mph, means that a pedestrian who is hit by a car has just increased his or her chance of survival from 10 to 50 percent. 

In Los Angeles, police are unable to ticket speeding drivers for violating the posted speed limit on 75 percent of the city’s streets. Why not? Because the speed surveys required by law for these streets have expired.  There is a fear in the active transportation community that the city would be legally required to increase speed limits, further endangering the public, if these speed surveys are conducted. 

How did we arrive at such an absurd state of affairs? 

California law requires that speed limits be set based on the “prevailing speed.” The prevailing speed is determined by a speed survey which calculates the speed of cars in the 85th percentile. Once this speed of majority drivers is determined, the law only allows an additional 5 mph reduction to account for unforeseen safety conditions. This method of determining the speed limit does not consider the severity of injuries inflicted on a pedestrian or cyclist if hit by a car travelling at the prevailing speed. This needn’t be the case. Alternative speed-setting methods have been effectively used both stateside and overseas. 

In countries with the highest rates of bicycle ridership, the severity of injuries caused by crashes at a given speed is taken into account when establishing speed limits. This approach is known as Injury Minimization, or Safe Systems.  The idea is to minimize the probability of death and serious injury. It is derived from Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative which dictates that car crashes will occur no matter what; therefore, our road systems ought to be designed to protect us. If we wish to have a larger percentage of people engaging in active transportation, this approach deserves a look. 

While the Safe Systems approach started in traditional bike meccas such as the Netherlands and Sweden, the philosophy is gaining traction in other jurisdictions as well. Throughout the United Kingdom, the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign has succeeded in reducing speed limits to 20 mph in more than half of the largest urban areas in Britain. This movement encourages people who walk or bike to use the road system safely. Places adopting the lower speed limits results in more children walking and biking to school.  

New York City is the first major urban area in the United States to usher in lower speed limits to reduce death and injury. Thanks to strong advocacy from Transportation Alternatives, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the 25mph speed limit into law in 2014. Additionally, Oregon and Washington have both passed legislation allowing for 20 mph speed limits.  

There is a glimmer of hope for us here in California since there is already an existing exception to the dreaded prevailing speed/85th percentile law: the school zone. This is a legislative exception carved out to protect vulnerable people, namely children. School zones are exempt from the typical speed survey calculations and mandate a 25 mph speed limit when children are present. 

What about designating a pedestrian zone? Or an active transportation zone? The same rationale of protecting vulnerable road users could apply. Don’t children who walk to school deserve the same protections as children who are within the school zone? 

If Californians want to experience the benefits of lower speed limits, our work is cut out for us. First, we need a fair and enforceable standard for setting speed limits; second, we need a legislator to champion the cause. The Swedish/Dutch Injury Minimization approach is a solid place to start. We can also learn from successful campaigns implemented in the UK and states such as Oregon and Washington. 

The challenge of eliminating traffic deaths is great, but the risks of inaction are unconscionable.


(Andrew Said is a prosecutor with the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney. He focuses on safe streets and active transportation. This piece was provided CityWatch by the author.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Massive Raid Deals a Blow to Mexican Mafia Business in LA

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--More than 300 law enforcement personnel swept an area east of Los Angeles in an operation targeting two Latino gangs that resulted in 52 arrests and the seizure of drugs with a street value of $1.6 million, California's Attorney General's Office said in a statement. 

Police seized 67 firearms, including assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons, as well as $100,000 in cash and quantities of methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana, in Thursday's raids in Riverside County. 

"The large amounts of narcotics, currency, and most importantly, the large cache of weapons seized, will no doubt disrupt the criminal gangs' enterprise, thus making our communities that much safer," the police chief of the city of Corona, Michael Abel, was quoted as saying. 

The raids targeted the Corona Varrio Locos gang and the Mexican Mafia, known as "La Eme," a criminal organization that operates throughout the California prison system. 

They stemmed from a joint investigation by the Corona Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff's Gang Task Force and the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Investigation Special Operations Unit Southern California team. 

"Criminal gangs brazenly trafficking guns and drugs on our streets jeopardize public safety and will not be tolerated," said California Attorney General Kamela Harris. 

The Mexican Mafia controls the drug trade and conducts other illicit activity in state correctional facilities and elsewhere, according to public safety officials. 

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR, assisted with the investigations and seizures inside the state prison system, where some of the criminal organizations continue their illegal activities. 

"A strong blow has been dealt to the Mexican Mafia that's constantly working to extend their criminal enterprise in this region," Derrick Marion, the chief of the CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety, said. 

The Corona Varrio Locos street gang operates in the city of Corona and surrounding areas of the Inland Empire, a region of Southern California, and is affiliated with the Sureños, a Southern California gang that in turn takes orders from La Eme, the state AG's office said.  

Criminal activity has been going up in the Los Angeles area recently, but because of these actions by law enforcement our communities are a little less dangerous today.

Governor ‘No’ … Brown Rejects LA Homeless Plans

DEEGAN ON LA--Although homelessness in Los Angeles County has reached crisis proportions, Governor Jerry Brown this week refused to take action on two proposed solutions that were put forward to him by the LA Board of Supervisors. 

The problem’s getting worse, not better, by the day. Heat is simmering and a boiling-over point may be on the horizon. “The issue of homelessness is compelling beyond contradiction,” declared Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, addressing his remarks to an audience of county stakeholders on Thursday, June 16. He is one of the most vocal County Supervisors addressing what he calls “an unescapable reality.” 

Ridley-Thomas’ rhetoric is matched by his similarly forceful advocacy of solutions: one was a motion to the Governor, co-authored with Sheila Kuehl and unanimously backed by all five supervisors, to ask the Governor to declare a statewide state of emergency to help the homeless that would unlock a half billion dollars from the state’s Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties.  Governor Brown said that a declaration by him of a state of emergency to help the homeless “is not appropriate.” 

The second motion was an appeal to the state legislature and the Governor for a millionaires’ tax, the so-called “Robin Hood” tax that would allow the County to tax millionaires 1% of their personal income to pay for homeless housing. Brown also turned this down, saying he had deep concerns when it comes to allowing local governments to levy additional taxes. 

Despite these two rejections, Ridley-Thomas vowed that the County will continue to push the Governor for more action. “Homelessness is not a partisan issue, it is a humanitarian concern. Engaging state leadership to join with us in providing solutions is critically important,” said Ridley-Thomas. 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Governor Brown was trained to be a Jesuit priest. One of the “Six Values” that are known as the “Principles of the Jesuits” is the “Principle of Cura Personalis: Care for the individual person” that includes having concern for the poor and marginalized, categories that squarely define the homeless. 

“We are faced with an ever-expanding crisis, and the crisis is worsening” is how Ridley-Thomas characterized the matter. He continued, saying that “the increase in homelessness is trending upward in a very disturbing way, and is clearly not deniable. It isn’t simply our imagination -- the problem is expanding. People throughout the county report they are seeing homeless in their communities that they have never seen before. This makes it abundantly clear that something is going on. According to the polls, homelessness is a top-tier issue of people in the County, and combating homelessness is an unescapable reality.” 

What are the other options? 

The budget the Governor and state lawmakers agreed on this week would set aside some funding for affordable housing, to be spent only if a separate deal can be reached on streamlining the process for new construction. The Governor recently called for relaxing the rules on construction zoning and environmental reviews in an effort to “streamline” the process for new construction. 

There may be $267 million in the new budget to build supportive housing for mentally ill homeless people, but the County’s share of that would only be about $40 million, which is 10% of the estimated $450 million per year it would cost to address housing issues for the homeless. And, that $40 million allocation would be just for this year’s budget.

Another option may be for the city to place a bond measure on the November ballot to build more housing for the homeless. While there may have been public support for millionaires to be taxed to pay for this program, it’s unknown how all voters will react to paying for homeless housing out of their own pockets. An increase of the sales tax or a parcel tax are other options, but both would need supervisorial support and a vote by the public. 

Identifying the problem and estimating the cost have been done. Now, getting someone to pay for it is the real challenge. 

Not one to give up, Ridley-Thomas said, “The momentum we are building is very encouraging. We are part of a movement that is articulating itself from a perspective of compassion and doing what is right for the homeless.”


(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.

Garcetti Reappoints ‘Arrogant’, Delinquent Commissioner

THE GUSS REPORT--Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has reappointed Roger Wolfson to the LA Animal Services Commission, which City Council will undoubtedly unanimously reconfirm on Tuesday. An attorney and television writer whose last IMDB credit was in 2012, Wolfson had no qualifications or prior experience when first appointed, and has since that time failed to consistently attend the twice monthly meetings or do much of the work of a Commissioner except for his self-described “personal” humane pursuits. 

“He’s so arrogant that [he] can’t seem to be bothered to show up at all very often,” said Marla Tauscher, an attorney involved in humane affairs inside and outside of the city, and who recently filed suit against LAAS. “In the last 4 meetings I’ve attended, he hasn’t been at three and was late to the fourth. If he’s so busy he can’t make it, he should resign. It’s not as if we can’t live without his searing insight.” 

Tauscher is right. 

In 2015, of the 22 LAAS meetings that Wolfson was supposed to attend, he was either absent (4x) or late (5x) 41% of the time. And it is tough to tell whether he rolled out of bed in time for the 10am and occasional 7pm meetings in 2014 because he refuses to force LAAS to post the meeting minutes for that year, 76% of which are still missing from the LAAS website. 

In 2014, Wolfson did offer a written observation about LAAS before he acknowledged that he was warned that one does not criticize LAAS when on the Commission. 

“(LAAS is) a leaking rowboat, Dan. No way to plug all the holes at once. I’m doing my best,” he wrote in an August 28, 2014 email

To date, Wolfson’s “best” resulted in none of those holes being plugged or even addressed honestly, including: 

  • The 8,807 pet “adoptions” that the city falsified by simply shuffling animals between cages in city-owned buildings, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “adoptions were up.” 
  • The inconsistently applied $25 drop off fee that is written in LAAS policy for people bringing an animal to a city shelter, while Garcetti falsely told the public that “impounds are down.” 
  • Failure to enforce no pet sales laws or to determine why breeder permits are available to anyone who wishes to breed their animals, including pits and Chihuahuas, the two breeds most often killed by LAAS. 
  • Failure to pick up stray animals reported to LAAS. 
  • Inability to collect millions of dollars in annual dog licensing revenue, including from Wolfson himself, who failed to pay his dog license fees to the city until he was first appointed by Garcetti, and even then, only for the present year due. According to LAAS records, his obligation remains unpaid, as are his unassessed late fees that others, including City Council president Herb Wesson, are charged when it was determined that he, too, was delinquent. 

Wolfson’s delinquency is treated differently than was that of his predecessor Ruthanne Secunda, a wealthy literary agent who was terminated from the appointment when it was discovered that she voted on city leash and licensing laws while disregarding both herself. 

Councilmember Paul Koretz, at that time, wrote in an email,  “A Commissioner violating a leash law and license law that she voted on or at least clearly knew about is unacceptable. The fact that she acted once she was caught and licensed her animals shouldn’t impress anyone…. Your commissioner is an idiot and absolutely should go.” 

Later in Koretz’s email, he erroneously referred to me as a “moron” for pointing out Secunda’s failures, and somehow concluded that it was a criticism of the LAAS GM. Note: Koretz at first denied writing the email, but apologized in person after being shown a copy of it. 

At the last Commission meeting that Wolfson actually attended, he called for more nighttime meetings that are held at the local shelters, but simultaneously tried to reduce the amount of speaking time that local attendees could use to share their concerns, rendering such meetings moot. Why have meetings in the community if you are not dedicated to listening to the community? 

Wolfson, who did not respond to requests for comment for this article, also admitted the emotional atmosphere in the shelter is so "intense" that sometimes he can't go back for several weeks. 


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


For Huntington Hospital, Biz Operations Supersede Medical Operations

HEALTH POLITICS--Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., has been in the news twice in the past two weeks. But the stories weren’t about one of its doctors discovering a cure or inventing a new life-saving procedure. They were about 11 tragic deaths that occurred at the hospital and about the hospital’s costly and illegal union-busting campaign that forced Huntington into signing a settlement agreement with the California Nurses Association.

This is what happens when a hospital puts profits over people—its patients as well as its employees.

The 625-bed facility made headlines when it reluctantly admitted that 11 Huntington patients had died between January 2013 and August 2015 after being infected by dangerous bacteria from medical scopes. Another five patients were infected but are still alive. The hospital acknowledged the deaths only after the Pasadena Public Health Department (PPHD) was about to release a report about the outbreak of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) pseudomonas aeruginosa linked to procedures (called endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) performed with scopes made by the Olympus Corporation.

The city agency’s investigation, which began last August with an unannounced site visit and continued with cooperation from hospital staff, blamed both the design of the scope and the hospital for lapses in infection control. For example, according to the report, the hospital used canned compressed air from Office Depot to dry the scopes—which is not recommended by the manufacturer or by nationally recognized cleaning guidelines. The PPHD report triggered stories in the Los Angeles Times headlined “11 deaths at Huntington Hospital among patients infected by dirty scopes, city report says” and “Pasadena hospital broke the law by not reporting outbreak, health officials say.”

Initially, Huntington only notified patients who had been treated with the scope between January and August 2015 about the possibility of infections. The PPHD, after it began its investigation, insisted that Huntington notify all patients who had been treated with the scopes since January 2013. The PPHD had to ask Huntington twice to notify those earlier patients before the hospital complied.

The duodenoscope is, according to the Times, “a long snake-like tube with a tiny camera on the tip that is inserted into a patient’s throat and upper gastrointestinal tract. It is used to treat cancer, gallstones and other problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts.” The PPHD report concluded: “This broad bacterial contamination supports the hypothesis” that the hospital’s disinfection and maintenance “were insufficient to prevent the spread of infection.”

“We take responsibility for the deficiencies outlined in the [Pasadena Public Health Department] report and have taken steps to ensure rigorous compliance going forward,” wrote Derek Clark, the hospital’s director of public relations, in an email response.

The same week that the story about the deaths broke, Huntington also made news when it reluctantly agreed to a settlement with the California Nurses Association (CNA). The hospital agreed to rescind the firing of registered nurses Allysha Shin (whose last name was Almada before she was married last October) and Vicki Lin and restore their full back pay. Both were illegally fired as part of Huntington’s vicious and expensive anti-union campaign last year.

The results of last year’s union election were overturned. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will determine a new election date. Huntington also agreed to abide by labor laws that protect the RNs’ right to organize and agreed to post its commitments throughout the hospital and email the notice to all nurses.

It would hardly be news that a hospital has agreed to obey the law, except that Huntington so egregiously broke the law last year that they had to put it in writing before CNA would approve the settlement agreement.

During last year’s organizing campaign, the union caught Huntington engaging in dozens of illegal acts of intimidation designed to prevent the nurses from gaining a stronger voice in their workplace. CNA brought these unfair labor violations to the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which ruled against the hospital. Hospital officials were scheduled to testify on June 6 before an NLRB hearing. But on June 1, the hospital agreed, as part of the settlement with CNA, to set aside the results of last year’s election and allow the nurses to move forward with a new election.

“We have the best nurses in the world and we continue to respect all of their rights, including their right to be represented by a union, should they so choose,” said Huntington public relations director Clark.

If you’re wondering whether there’s a connection between these two news stories—the 11 deaths and the union battle at hospital—wonder no longer. There is.

Sources among nurses and CNAbelieve that the hospital knew that the deaths were due in part to its negligence in sterilizing its scopes—and its efforts to keep them secret—was about to go public, because a Los Angeles Times reporter had been asking questions. Huntington signed the settlement agreement with CNA on May 31. The Times’ first story about the scopes scandal came out the next day.

Were Huntington’s top executives worried about this double whammy of news stories about the hospital’s self-inflicted wounds? Better to settle with the union than to expose themselves to more negative publicity at the NLRB hearing, where nurses were prepared to testify about the hospital’s outrageous and costly efforts to frighten and intimidate them from organizing and voting for the union. An administrative law judge was slated to review 42 objections to the 2015 election. These included the 175 challenged ballots that led to an inconclusive election result, the firing of Shin and Lin, and other labor law violations committed by Huntington administrators. The NLRB had anticipated a three-to-four-week hearing.

“The terms of the agreement make it clear that we have the right to speak out and that the hospital’s campaign to silence us must stop,” said Terri Korrell, who has been an RN at Huntington Memorial Hospital for 42 years.

But there’s another important missing piece to the story about the tragic deaths of 11 Huntington patients. Huntington nurses warned hospital management about the problem with unsterilized scopes, but their concerns were ignored. It wasn’t until a Huntington nurse expressed concerns to CNA—which then, protecting the nurse’s identity, notified federal health agencies and the Los Angeles Times—that Huntington removed the scopes and began taking appropriate action. This is one reason that many Huntington nurses were organizing to gain a voice in their workplace. It had to do with patient care—specifically, the hospital administration’s prioritizing of revenue over patient care.

In 2014, Huntington nurses felt that they weren’t being listened to about this and many other aspects of patient care. So they contacted CNA and began talking about organizing a union. The nurses who called CNA felt that having a union, with a collective bargaining agreement insuring an independent voice for nurses in advocating for patients, was the only way that they would be listened to regarding the erosion of patient-care conditions, including chronic short staffing and inadequate supplies.

On paper, Huntington is a “nonprofit” institution, but in reality, it operates like a large for-profit corporation. Soon after the nurses’ union drive began in May 2014, the hospital (named for Henry E. Huntington, a turn-of-the-century railroad tycoon) engaged in a nasty and expensive union-busting effort. They paid a bevy of experienced and high-priced anti-union firms and consultants—Littler Mendelson, IRI and Genevieve Clavreul of Solutions Outside the Box—to harass nurses and undercut their organizing efforts. Managers at the hospital interrogated nurses about their union activity, required nurses to attend anti-union “captive audience” meetings and denied pro-union nurses access to the hospital when they were off-duty and wanted to discuss union matters.

When pro-union nurses and community allies, including a number of prominent local clergy, were meeting in the cafeteria, hospital security staff told them to remove their literature from the tables, but didn’t say anything to a group of anti-union staff at the other side of the cafeteria who had their own materials. One of the hospital’s security staff took photos of a pro-union nurse as she passed out leaflets on the public sidewalk outside the hospital. The hospital arbitrarily switched the retirement date of one nurse who had worked at Huntington for 31 years—and who was an outspoken union supporter—so she wouldn’t be able to vote in the union election last April.

Not all the nurses were initially sympathetic to the idea of unionizing. One of the reluctant nurses was Shin, who worked in the intensive care unit. Shin considered Huntington Hospital her second home. Her mother has worked there as a nurse for over 30 years. She was born at the hospital, attended its day care center and volunteered there when she was in high school. She worked as a nurse’s aide in Huntington’s ICU before becoming an RN. The family volunteers their dog at the hospital as a therapy dog.

“I was close with my mom’s coworkers. I loved Huntington,” Shin recalled. “I knew I wanted to go into nursing.”

Given her strong ties to the hospital, Shin was thrilled when she was hired at Huntington five years ago after graduating from the nursing program at California State University in Los Angeles. She worked hard, made close friends among her fellow nurses and enjoyed caring for her patients.

“I was outspoken about patient safety,” Shin said. “In nursing school, I learned that a lot of hospitals use lift teams to help patients turn over or get out of bed, so nurses don’t have to strain or hurt their backs. I gave my manager some research about this, but nothing happened. When we were short on linens or IV pumps, I mentioned it to my manager. But the problem continued. I thought the hospital was jeopardizing patient care, so I said something.”

Her words went unheard.

“To cut expenses, the hospital began rationing supplies, like bed linens and patient gowns,” Shin explained. “Many of our patients in the ICU have very compromised immune systems so the risk of infection is very high. It is absolutely essential that we have adequate supplies of clean linens, yet the hospital is intent on limiting these basic necessities.”

Nurses say that patient care standards at Huntington have eroded, compromised by cuts in nursing as well as support staff. Nurses have been forced to do more work with less help. They were made to do more admissions, more transportations of patients and more housekeeping tasks because of hospital cutbacks in these areas. The unsterilized scopes were among the many issues that nurses brought to Huntington management’s attention.

Thanks to CNA’s efforts, California is the only state in the country to enact a law mandating the ratio of nurses to patients in acute care facilities, which Huntington and other hospitals opposed before it was passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 1999. The law took effect in 2004, giving hospitals five years to phase in the changes. Nurses report that Huntington has repeatedly violated the nurse-to-patient ratio law, endangering patient safety.
Even so, when some of her colleagues contacted CNA to help them organize a union at Huntington, Shin had doubts.

“At first I wasn’t sure it was a good idea,” she said. “I went to some informational meetings. But I soon realized that we needed a collective voice to be advocates for ourselves and our patients. I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe is right.”

Shin became a visible leader in the union drive. Before and after work, she met with fellow nurses—in their homes, coffee shops and outside the hospital—to encourage them to support the unionization effort. She was one of three Huntington nurses whose photo appeared on a CNA-sponsored ad on public buses running throughout the Pasadena area. “Save one life, you’re a hero,” the ad said. “Save a hundred lives, and you’re a nurse.”

Last July 26, she spoke out at a public community forum at a local church and at a news conference on the need to improve conditions at the hospital, joined by many local elected officials and community leaders who supported the nurses’ right to organize. A few days later, she was quoted in a local newspaper about conditions at Huntington Hospital and management’s expensive union-busting campaign.

Shin was suspended a week after the article was published and fired several weeks later, despite her long-term ties to the hospital and her excellent performance evaluations.

“I put my whole soul into caring for my patients, and management knows this. At Huntington, I worked as a nurse educator and sat on a committee of nurse leaders who bring patient care concerns to management. I have special training in trauma and open heart,” Shin said. “I care deeply about providing the best possible care, and that’s exactly why I spoke up at the community forum—to help ensure that RNs are supported in providing top-quality, safe care.”
“The next thing I knew, I was fired,” she said. “They tried to silence nurses. They tried to intimidate other nurses from speaking out. It’s wrong.”

On election day, the hospital received 539 votes to the union’s 445, but 175 votes were disputed, leaving the final results inconclusive. In addition, CNA filed dozens of objections to management’s illegal conduct during the election period. As a result, the NLRB did not certify the results.

CNA filed many “unfair labor practice” charges against the hospital with the NLRB, including Shin’s firing and other efforts to suppress voting and otherwise rig the outcome of the election. CNA asked the NLRB to seek a federal court injunction to force Huntington to rehire Almada and Lin. In January, the federal agency found that there was enough evidence to show that Huntington had illegally terminated Shin and Lin for their union involvement. 

The nurses intend to continue their efforts to win representation with CNA in the near future. They plan to wage another union campaign, and they hope that Huntington will abide by the settlement agreement to obey the law and refrain from hostile intimidation tactics so that the election will take place on a level playing field.

The settlement “is an enormous breakthrough for all Huntington RNs who have worked hard to seek union representation and stood up valiantly for justice in the face of HMH administration’s illegal and immoral campaign,” CNA President Malinda Markowitz said. “Management is finally accepting reality. We nurses deserve a place at the table. Our voices deserve to be heard. In order to be patient-care advocates, we need the protection of a union to fight for our patients.”

The experience had a profound impact on Shin, who was raised in a conservative family and had no prior involvement with activism of any kind. Last October, Shin was invited to the White House Summit on Worker Voice because of her leadership role in the union drive at Huntington. She presented a stethoscope to President Obama on behalf of her fellow nurses and the California Nurses Association. Engraved on the stethoscope was the message: “Listen to Nurses.”

“Watching the courage of my fellow nurses as they dealt with the hospital’s anti-union campaign, and seeing activists from other unions and from the community lend their support, really opened my eyes and strengthened my resolve to fight for workers’ rights and patient care,” she said.

Shin was thrilled by the CNA-Huntington settlement, which she called a “huge success for Huntington nurses.” But she decided to resign from Huntington and continue her nursing career at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, a CNA-represented hospital nearby.

“For the past six months, I’ve been working at Keck USC, a hospital where RNs enjoy a CNA contract,” she explained. “Huntington RNs deserve the same protections and benefits that RNs enjoy under CNA contracts. I am committed to supporting my former HMH colleagues with their quest to win union protection. I’ll be there each and every step of the way.”

Underlying the scopes scandal and the hospital’s illegal anti-union efforts is a larger problem that isn’t unique to Huntington. At many hospitals, nurses try to alert management about issues with patient care and management blows them off or retaliates. This is emblematic of the corporatization of health care—pushing for profit at patients’ expense. Hospitals like Huntington spend large sums of money in certain areas, while cutting back on areas that support safe patient care. The difference at Huntington is that nurses, unlike the majority of California hospitals, do not yet have a powerful independent voice through union representation, leaving management’s priorities unchallenged.

Since 2010, for example, Huntington has increased the prices it charges for its services 16 percent faster than its costs have increased. In other words, the hospital seeks to boost its bottom line at the expense of patient care. During that same period, the hospital has received almost $2.5 billion in revenue from patients and had a net income of almost $87 million.

On a day-to-day basis, Huntington is run by longtime CEO Steve Ralph, who earned $3.9 million in 2014 according to its most recent 990 form submitted to the Internal Revenue Service. . (Huntington’s PR director refused to provide Ralph’s current compensation). But the hospital’s broad policies and direction are shaped by its board of directors, who include doctors, business people and civic leaders. Nurses and other employees, patients and their families, and community members have a right to hold the board accountable for the hospital’s patient-care problems as well as for its expensive and illegal anti-union campaign.

According to the hospital’s website [[http://ourstory.huntingtonhospital.com/ ]]   and press releases, Huntington’s board of directors [[ http://www.huntingtonhospital.com/Resource.ashx?sn=BoardofDirectors ]]   include: Paul Ouyang (chairman); Jaynie Studenmund (vice chairman); Stephen Ralph (president and CEO); Sharon Arthofer; former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard; Wayne Brandt; Louise Bryson; James Buese, M.D.; Michelle Chino; Reed Gardiner; Armando Gonzalez; Christopher Hedley, M.D.; R. Scott Jenkins; Paul Johnson; David Kirchheimer; Ellen Lee; Lolita Lopez; Lois Matthews; Allen Mathies Jr., M.D.; John Mothershead; Elizabeth Olson; Kathleen Podley; James Shankwiler, M.D.; John Siciliano; Rosemary Simmons; K. Edmund Tse, M.D.; and Deborah Williams.

Americans view nurses more favorably than any other profession. Nurses have ranked No. 1 in the Gallup Poll’s “honesty and ethics” survey every year but one since 1999. (The exception is 2001, when firefighters topped the list, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks). Despite this, hospitals like Huntington refuse to grant nurses the dignity and respect that they deserve.

If nurses had union protection and did not have to fear retaliation for voicing concerns about patient safety at their hospital, would 11 innocent patients have died? The question lingers with many people. Huntington nurses want the hospital to return to its founding mission: to provide quality and safe patient care.

Over the past two years, Huntington nurses and community members alike have had to endure an aggressive anti-union campaign of harassment, intimidation, surveillance, bullying and wrongful termination—a campaign launched with the Huntington administration’s blessing. This costly battle has been waged against nurses who simply want to exercise their federally protected rights to organize a union and, more importantly, to uphold their responsibility to protect the sick and vulnerable admitted as patients under their care.

(Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.)


City’s Know-It-All Economic Plan: LA will Deficit Finance Its Way to Prosperity

THE CITY-Los Angeles is facing an economic disaster. The 2020 Commission’s December 2013 report, A Time for Truth, set forth our tale of woe, and two years later, our situation is more precarious. When the time came for the illustrious and clueless 2020 Commission to set forth some remedies in its 2104 report, “A Time for Action,” it came up dry. The centerpiece seemed to be a huge political gift to BNSF Railway, a client of Mickey Kantor, a senior partner at Mayer Brown Law Firm who was the major force behind the 2020 Commission. The City of Los Angeles would simply take over the port of Long Beach like Wall Street raiders take over and destroy smaller companies, and then make Kantor’s client the only freight railroad for the port. 

For a while, some people thought that building a football stadium in DTLA would financially save Los Angeles. That idea fell through when the voters refused to increase the sales taxes so that the city could give the NFL the $1 Billions it wanted. The financial theory behind the football stadium was that it would employ a lot of people to build and then a lot of hotdog venders on game days. Not only do football stadiums not benefit the local economy, the $1 billion was not going to CIM Group, federal felon Juri Ripinksy or other developer friends of Garcetti. 

As the City’s own HCIDLA department wrote in its November 17, 2015 report, Los Angeles has a glut of apartments constructed within the last ten years. There is a 12% vacancy rate and 5% vacancy is equilibrium. In 2013, the City construct 150% of the housing needed for people who had above moderate income.   

Wall Street has become reluctant to loan developers money to construct into a glut, and poor people cannot afford to pay the rents which will create the revenue stream to repay the Wall Street loans for mixed-use projects. Projects in TODs are more expensive as the land costs more and construction costs escalate as building heights soar. The City has demolished over 20,000 rent controlled units since 2001. Thus, we have a significant homeless crisis due to the City’s allowing poor people’s homes to be demolished and thrown on to the streets. 

Basta! Enough with the Doom and Gloom already. What’s the solution? 

The Know-it-Alls have decided that the City of Los Angeles will Deficit Finance its way to prosperity. Here’s the plan. 

(1) The City will issue bonds for several billion dollars more than it can repay. The City must deficit finance on a huge scale in order to make this scheme work. The City has to borrow billions of dollars more than it can possibly repay. The City has make certain that its debt will be so enormous that a bankruptcy reorganization will be infeasible, leaving a quick and complete bail out as the solution. 

(2) The City (Metro and the County) will give these billions of dollars to those multi-millionaires and billionaires who finance the various political campaigns aka real estate developers. 

(3) These developers will construct massive projects which Los Angeles does not need and Angelenos for the most part do not want... 

(4) By spending billions of dollars which otherwise would not be spent, the entire economy will be stimulated. 

(5) When the time comes to pay off the bond holders and repay the banks, the City won’t have the money. The City will be billions of dollars short and then it will run to Washington DC, screaming: “Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy.” As everyone knows, no federal government can allow Los Angeles to go bankrupt. Wall Street will not tolerate it? Who, do you think, bought all the bonds and loaned LA all those billions of dollars? If LA went BK, they would lose billions of dollars. Deja vu 2008. 

(6) Thus, LA plans to issue a series of billion dollar bonds and it will also borrow up the ying yang. The City knows now – right now in 2016 – that it has no intention of paying off the bonds or repaying the loans. The Feds will step in and pay whatever it takes – $1 trillion, $4 trillion, more. It does not matter! The Feds will pay off the debt to avoid a Los Angeles Bankruptcy. 

Will federalizing Los Angeles debt work? 

Yes and No. 

Answer #1: Yes, it will work. 

No matter how much LA borrows, the Feds will pay off the debt. There is no number too high. In fact, the higher the debt, the more pressure on the Feds to pay off the debt outright rather than allow Los Angeles to re-organize. Organization takes time and some lenders may have to take a financial “hair cut.” Wall Street will want is $1.75 on the dollar and the surest way to get all its money is to have a gigantic crisis. 

It’s the same as the game play where the City destroyed thousands of rent-controlled apartments in order to manufacture a huge homeless crisis so that people will vote to issue $1 billion in bonds. Then developers will BK their LLCs and LLPs, causing the City in turn to scream bankruptcy so that the Feds will bail out Los Angeles. The poor will still be poor, but the billionaires will become wealthier. Kind of like the last 30 years! 

Answer #2: No, it will not work. 

The things which LA is buying range between worthless and detrimental. Los Angeles is investing in 19th Century choo-choo trains and dense residential construction which the overwhelming majority of Angelenos and Americans shun. 

Meanwhile, other areas of the country are busily re-creating old Los Angeles in places like Texas and the Carolinas. If people take the time to look at what Austin is doing and at what is happening outside Dallas and what could happen in North Carolina if it stopped its run-away bigotry, one sees that it is what made Los Angeles a destination city. We offered a combination of job opportunities, a decent climate and virtually endless single family homes. 

Garcetti has declared war on the single family home. The lack of single family homes and the atrocious school district are the largest factors driving out the productive middle class. Employers are shunning Los Angeles and the type of highly dense housing which Garcetti loves will quicken the departure of both educated workers and employers to other states. The exodus is already under way. 

Some very short term events are likely: 

(1) CEQA will be gutted so that more high density housing can be constructed faster to pump more money into the economy faster. 

(2) Billions more in bonds will be issued. 

(3) The courts will rule against all or almost all challenges to any construction project with no regard to whether it is legal or illegal. 

Leading up to 2012, many State leaders saw that the Community Redevelopment Agencies were pushing cities and the State into insolvency due the billions of tax dollars which the CRAs were sucking away from incremental property taxes. Effective February 1, 2012, all the CRAs were abolished and massive insolvency was avoided. At that time, there was no plan to bail out the cities or the State. 

After 2008, the public was extraordinarily hostile to bailouts so the CRA’s had to be killed off and killed quickly. In that climate, many politicos saw the need to force the developers and city to hold back on development. The orders went out to the judges to uphold the challenges to these projects until the economy could correct itself. 

Now in 2016, there is a plan to bail-out the Cities but there is no need to resurrect the elaborate CRA structure. Each councilman says what he wants, and the LA City Council passes it unanimously. Don’t worry about Penal Code 86 which criminalized the vote trading agreement. The judges have their new marching orders to kill any lawsuit which questions the propriety of the City’s being run by a criminal vote trading pact. 

With the bailout plan in place, the priorities have shifted to stop all citizen challenges to the massive spending which is being launched. Most likely the trial courts will rule that citizens have no right to question the decisions of the City leaders and that will throw the cases into the appellate process for several years. Meanwhile, billions of dollars will be borrowed and given to the developers. 

The construction industry will keep Los Angeles’s economy afloat, and ironically, as City devolves it probably will become less crowded as an increasing number of people move away. That will leave LA with more elderly, until they start dying off. A city without modern jobs will lose young of working age. 

Starting after 2026, what we currently call “corporate welfare” will morph into “municipal welfare,” in that city will perpetually need the Feds to prop up the economy. Who knows if LA will continue to have the political clout to keep the Deficit Spending Plan going after 2040. In a culture where only the short term matters, only fools ask such questions.


(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.)

California’s Addiction Rehab System Desperately Needs a Fix

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Last Friday, ABC’s 20/20 detailed the unfathomable saga of rehab mogul Chris Bathum, (photo above) subject of an April expose in LA Weekly written by Hillel Aron. Bathum’s company, Community Recovery, Inc., took in over $30 million in revenue last year, despite his record as a convicted felon and, by his own admission, that he is neither a licensed drug counselor nor a therapist. 

Bathum doesn’t even have a college degree and the only certification he holds is from a hypnotherapy institute. His legal troubles had been the subject of an LA Weekly cover story back in December. The founder and board chairman of a chain of over 20 sober living houses and outpatient clinics in California and Colorado has been the target of three lawsuits in early 2016 for allegations ranging from wrongful termination to sexual battery.

A pair of former patients at Bathum’s Community Recovery Los Angeles (CRLA) facilities alleges that Bathum had “isolated and targeted (the) plaintiffs and other women to prey on their addictions by using and supplying drugs around them, moving them to isolated hotel rooms and remote locations, encouraging them to use drugs with him, and sexually molesting them when they were high and/or incapable of consent.” 

According to various reports, Bathum is the subject of over 50 lawsuits, including former client Amanda Jester who filed a suit that he had molested her in a sweat lodge during a meditation session. Another client, Erika Bruakis, claims he provided her with crystal meth and made sexual advances toward her. Dana Reardon, the most recent patient to file a suit, claims he provided her with meth and heroin, forcing her to watch him engage in sex acts with two of his other patients. 

20/20 and LA Weekly both reported that Bathum overdosed on heroin and was taken by ambulance from a Malibu motel in December, which he denies. In fact, when questioned during the 20/20 report, he denied all charges and claimed his identity had been stolen. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department says he never filed a report. He is currently countersuing multiple women who have filed lawsuits against him for libel.

Bathum’s troubles didn’t start at CRLA. Last July, one of his former patients, Julie Hluchota, died of an overdose. Hluchota had entered a Malibu rehab clinic, Seasons, where Bathum was the co-founder and the director. After spending 90 days in the program, she began to work at the facility and relapsed just two months later. Hluchota alleged that Bathum made unwanted sexual advances toward her, which is denies. 

Just how does a convicted felon without a degree or credentials open and run a chain of sober living facilities and rehab clinics, preying upon young women in the most dire of conditions? 

Kenneth Whoridaz Whitfield has a lot to say about it. The 46-year old military veteran has been in recovery since 1993 and has been sober for the past six years. He shares that he made some bad decisions and relapsed in 2008, serving time in County and as a result, awakened to what recovery really is and what it isn’t. 

“People in the Inland Empire, San Bernardino, and other areas aren’t as affluent,” he says. “They might not have as many resources other than 12 step-programs. It was a real culture shock when I arrived in LA in May 2010. After I was incarcerated, I got clean and sober, thanks to the VA in West LA and Henry Waxman who was committed to staying on top of things to get veterans the best care possible,” he shares. “My experience at the VA wasn’t perfect but they did the best with limited resources and I’m back to being a productive member of society.” 

Following his time at the VA, Whitfield got into the field of recovery, managing a sober living facility in Mar Vista and working in marketing for another facility. When his last contract was up, he says he “didn’t like the direction the treatment world was going.” 

The U.S. is the most addicted country in the world, he says, and the consumer of 90 percent of prescription drugs worldwide. As a result, the addiction treatment centers and rehab have become a multimillion dollar industry. “Until society looks at prescription and illegal drugs as drugs anyone can get addicted to, nothing will change,” says Whitfield. 

He continues, warning, “Big names in rehab are just about making money. It’s easier to get a license as a rehab owner in California than it is to get a contractor’s license. If you have a felony record, you just have to write to the governor. Doctors who have had their medical licenses revoked can open clinics and rehab facilities. There’s no process to make sure they are legit and they are given carte blanche to scam insurance companies.” 

What can be done to change the broken system? 

Whitfield points to the Governor. “When it comes to this issue, he’s dropped the ball. He needs to put his foot down and say if you’re a sober living facility, you need to be non-profit,” he advises. “The East Coast has far more regulations. In New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, they don’t have this stuff going on. To open a treatment center there, you have to get a license like a hospital or mental health facility.” 

If someone owns an outpatient treatment clinic, he or she should not be able to open a sober living facility and the facilities need to be licensed, he suggests. There should be some oversight and regulation to check up on non-licensed employees handing out medication, as well. Residential treatment centers must have doctors and nurses present to provide the level of care necessary.

Substance abuse and addiction come at a tremendous cost to individuals, families, and society. As the need grows for rehab and sober living facilities, it’s crucial that we don’t allow unscrupulous entrepreneurs to take advantage of Californians in the most dire straits. California should follow the lead of other states that place more restrictions on who can open and operate facilities, as well as how the facilities operate. 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo: LA Weekly. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.



Bulletin: California has NOT Passed a Budget


CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--The California media keeps getting it wrong. The state legislature hasn’t passed a budget. And the governor hasn’t made it law.

It’s not because they don’t want to do those things. It’s because they can’t. Not in California.

Yes, the legislature approved a document called a budget, and Gov. Brown signed it. But that is not the state budget. That is sort of a holding document that decides all the very easy things that can be decided under the California budget system.

All the budget optimism has blinded us to the unchanging reality in California:

The real budget is decided by voters.

And that’s not because they necessarily want it that way. It’s just how California works.

Anything that changes the constitution or affects previous initiatives has to be decided by ballot – that’s what makes California different. In addition, difficult tax and spending questions get put on the ballot by the rich and the interested – because they want political power or notice, or they want leverage, or they want something that they can’t get from the governor and the legislature.

Gov. Brown and the legislature’s main budget reform has been to move all these big ballot measure questions away from June, and pile them up on a big messy November ballot. That’s where voters will decided on the key points of the budget—various taxes including partial Prop 30 extensions, and a host of other questions that could affect spending and taxes.

So it’s November – or maybe December, when the votes are all finally counted – when the budget gets passed. Well, sort of. The courts can rule on measures, further delaying things.

So hold the congratulation about passing budgets, at least until the stores are decorated for Christmas.

(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. This was originally posted at Fox and Hounds.



Westchester Parkway Plan an Example of Smart Growth

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS-We live in conflicted times.  Whether it's presidential politics, state politics, or local politics, the ambivalence and anger seem to be at historic levels. Ditto with transportation and planning here in the City of the Angels.  I've heard many impassioned, if not infuriated, individuals who are all over the place with respect to transit/transportation efforts, but one common sentiment appears universal: overdevelopment is neither economically nor environmentally smart or safe ... and if LA City transit leads to overdevelopment, then sentiment for more transit will certainly drop. 

So whether it's the proposed half-cent transportation tax ("Measure R-2") scheduled for this November's ballot, or the troubled California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) project, ambivalence and conflicted sentiments abound.  I'm not the only transit/transportation advocate who recognizes BOTH the benefits and shortfalls of mass transit, and who NEVER wanted the blatant overdevelopment we're seeing in LA. 

And I'm not the only transit/transportation advocate favoring passage of BOTH Measure R-2 this fall as well as the Neighborhood Intregrity Initiative next spring.  Expediting rail to our airports and suburbs, as well as funding transportation operations, is in no way mutually exclusive to delivering the legal and political smackdown that overly-empowered developers and their political puppets so richly deserve. 

In my last CityWatch article, I emphasized how the City of LA--which has a huge hunk of county voters--is undermining the county's efforts to pass Measure R-2 by the City's corruption, poor planning, horrific abuse of environmental and planning laws, and belittling of its City's residents' rights. 

But then ... we had Bill Rosendahl show up, and now we have Mike Bonin. 

Visionary goals, prudent planning, a focus on credibility, and no B.S. allowed in CD11 with respect to development and obeying the law. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the City Hall too often provides milquetoast, or aloof, or even downright corrupt leadership with respect to appropriate economic, environmental and quality of life issues.   

Garcetti's record is mixed with positive new initiatives and an appalling record of overdevelopment from his City Council days.  And as for City Council President/Boss Wesson...well, let's just be grateful for term limits. 

In my last article, I mentioned the imperfect but overall-favorable approach to the Martin Cadillac project adjacent to the only CD11 Expo Line station at Bundy/Olympic that Mike Bonin could influence--he and his team are fighting for a transit-oriented project with community benefits and affordable housing. 

Ditto for the LAX Northside Plan Update on Westchester Parkway, and sandwiched between LAX and Westchester/Playa Del Rey.  The City Council passed it, and it's an example of community participation and more appropriate and sustainable planning the City sorely needs. 

As articulated by Argonaut newspaper journalist extraordinaire Gary Walker, the originally-approved 4.5 million square feet of commercial land use was cut in half.  Westchester residents will have a virtual extension of the Downtown Westchester Business District, and will have Westchester Parkway buffered to protect local neighborhoods.  Green space, open space, community/civic land use, and even a dog park is planned.  And, of course, it's transit-friendly. 

Mike Bonin and both the Westchester and LAX leaderships worked together on this plan, which shows that--as with the LAX/Green Line/Crenshaw Line effort--former foes can work together to come up with compromise that best serves all parties. 

Unfortunately, Mike Bonin isn't mayor...yet.  But he does show that honor, credibility, and compromise can get the job done during an era where citizens are so used to getting the heave-ho that they presume government will never serve him. 

Maybe there's hope for Measure R-2 after all ... but, of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't also pass the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.  Not everyone is as well-represented as folks are in CD11.


(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.)



Warning: Four Neighborhood-Altering Planning Ordinances that Could Kill Our Quality of Life!

EASTSIDER-I can only say that my failure to grasp the scope of LA City politicians’ ability to rip us off was a gross underestimation of their talent. Now our very neighborhoods are under the same types of attack the Council used to reserve for commercial development. In fact, for those who care, I would point out that there are currently something like fifteen Proposed Ordinances gurgling around the Planning Department. 

Of these, four are now directly aimed at the residential neighborhoods we live in: a Small Lot Code amendment, the repeal of the Granny Flat Policy, adoption of a Home Sharing Ordinance, and our old favorite, the Airbnb type short-term rental Ordinance. Oh goody, more “help” from government even as our middle class implodes. You can find the text of all of these Ordinances and backup information here.  

  1. The Small Lot Subdivision “Code Amendment and Policy Update”--What, you

ask, is the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance? Good question. If you live in Northeast LA, there are a whole bunch of complexes that look like 3-story Leggo’s squashed together with virtually no space between them, zip setbacks, and a lack of anything that resembles design. (Example in photo above.) 

For example, as you come off the Glendale Freeway going south into Echo Park and Angeleno Heights, there’s one where the freeway ends. It’s amazing -- the freeway particulates can go directly into these units -- I guess to enhance their ambience. 

There’s another cluster of them in Silverlake/Echo Park up off of Rowena on the hill by the 5 freeway, built on a hillside that looks like a slide waiting to happen. There’s even one off of Eagle Rock Blvd. by the new Sprouts grocery store. I tell you, they’re going up like popcorn poppin’! 

What they are, according to the inventive language of the Planning Department, is “..a new hybrid housing topology that looked and functioned like row townhomes but where each unit was built independently on individual ‘small lots’. It combined the benefits of a single-family home and its full fee-simple ownership of building with the conveniences of a townhouse lifestyle.” 

I don’t know what it cost the developers to get the PLUM Committee and City Council to approve this stuff, but I can only say that they got a real bargain from the elected officials. All we and our neighborhoods got is the fuzzy end of the lollipop. 

I say “our neighborhoods,” because these new structures can be built in single-family zones. Again, to quote the Planning Department: “When Small Lot projects are proposed in a neighborhood developed with single-family homes or small duplexes, it signifies that they are within an older multi-family neighborhood zoned for multi-family uses.” 

Well gee, I feel so much better knowing that, not to mention that when they adopted this Ordinance back in 2005, they neglected to limit the number of units per project. Now the proposal is that projects of over 20 homes will have to provide stuff like open space, bike parking, and the like. And, of course, all the existing projects will be grandfathered in. 

  1. Second Dwelling Unit Repeal--Here’s the short version. In 2010, the Planning

Department adopted a Memorandum outlining the criteria for building Second Dwelling Units. This regulation was more restrictive than the State law (AB1866). These units are usually referred to by everyone I know as Granny Units, Granny Flats, or in the planning vernacular, “accessory dwelling units.” They are the add-on rentals that a lot of people build without a permit to make a few bucks toward their mortgages. 

So in 2013, a homeowner group filed a lawsuit over the issuance of such a permit in Cheviot Hills. And finally this year, a Superior Court judge overturned the City’s regulations and entered a judgment directing the City to cease using their current criteria for permitting these units, as well as requiring monthly reports back to the judge. 

Evidently this action provided an opening for the City Council to cozy up to the construction community. Instead of filing an appeal, like the City did with the Telephone Users Tax and the DWP annual transfer of funds to the City, the City Attorney and the Council used this opportunity to propose an Emergency Repeal of the existing regulations regarding Second Dwelling Units. 

Buried in the Planning Department’s Report and Recommendation is the real reason for the rush to repeal everything instead of fixing any deficiencies in existing rules: the effect of a repeal is to default to State Law and that will be a lot looser than what the City’s extant regulations were. 

For example, the Emergency Repeal would allow Granny flats of up to 1200 square feet, eliminate any lot size requirements (like the substandard lots in the hills), and let these secondary units to be built in single-family and multi-family zones. 

Don’t’ blink. This one is going through the system faster than a NASCAR race. Good to know the City Council can move so quickly, even if it’s against residential homeowners. 

The rationale, of course, is that we need more affordable housing, since Council actions have already made most housing unaffordable. 

  1. The Unapproved Dwelling Unit (UDU) Ordinance--This one is simple to

understand. Everybody knows that a ton of people have been building unpermitted granny units to make a buck or just make ends meet. This Ordinance legalizes them as long as they were in existence as of December 10, 2015. 

OK, I get that. The rationale, however, is a doozy. It turns out that those nasty Code Enforcement people have been doing their job and citing the miscreants. Goodness. As the City chooses to describe the problem, “the result is often the dislocation of low and moderate income households and the loss of existing housing stock at a time the City is facing a severe housing crisis.” 

Need I say more? 

  1. Short-Term Rental Ordinance (aka Airbnb)--Goodness knows I’ve written enough

about this divisive issue. The last post is available here.  

Since that May meeting, there was a public hearing in the auditorium next to the LAPD’s new building, and it was evidently packed with some 300 people. As usual for Airbnb hearings, it was also very contentious. As of now we are still awaiting yet another draft of the proposed Ordinance, and no one’s talking about what if any changes will be in the new draft. 

Whatever will be in the revisions, a few things are clear. First, the City Council is going to approve a short-term-rental Ordinance, because they lust for the revenue to shore up their shaky budget. Second, in the adoption of almost any Ordinance, it is virtually impossible to realistically limit the number of guests per rental. And third, without forcing the rental entities themselves such as Airbnb to responsible for providing data to the City, there is no way that LA City will have the technological ability to track and enforce what goes on. Stay tuned. 

So…What Does All This Mean?--The net effect of all of these new planning tools aimed squarely at our residential neighborhoods will be to fundamentally change the character of those very neighborhoods. You know, the places we live together that actually define what Los Angeles is, since the City is so big, sprawling, and impossible to get around in that it has no inherent character -- except for being a desert. 

Nowhere in these proposed laws is any mention of what is going to happen to parking. In my part of town, where you already can’t park since everyone seems to have at least two cars, one a big SUV or truck, and they already park them on both sides of the street, since the garages are used for other purposes. 

What’s going to happen to the existing (and crumbling) infrastructure for water, power, and streets as the load on them potentially doubles? I suspect that the current DWP plan to replace pipes on something like a 200 year schedule is going out the door, and we already have power outages in areas where the power demand is suddenly increasing dramatically. Who’s going to pay for all this stuff and how long is it going to take to ramp up? 

Most important, what is going to happen as neighbor is pitted against neighbor? We have already seen with the Airbnb proposals how bitterly divided our communities have become on this type of issue. The invective isn’t pretty, and it is inwardly directed, instead of focused on the City Council that is creating the divisiveness through their actions. 

There is a huge increase of folks out there who don’t have high paying and/or full-time employment, as our society devolves into a “sharing” or “gig” economy without fringe benefits pensions or employer paid health insurance. They need additional income to cover the outrageous costs of housing in our City, and I certainly can’t blame them for wanting to do what they can to make ends meet. 

It is also unacceptable to expect us to live in neighborhoods which are flooded with too many people, where parking is nonexistent, streets crumbling, increased broken pipes and power outages, and oh yes, where we get to pay for the sidewalks that the City messed up by planting the wrong type of trees. 

This is not good governance. This is not good public policy. If our elected City officials are incapable of bringing us together, I can see only one short term solution. Support Jill Stewart and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative


(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.

Toastmaster Scores Better when Subject is Politics or … Homelessness

LA PROFILES--Homelessness is presently a political, hot topic as it continues to sprout in almost all parts of the City of Los Angeles. The story of Toastmaster Michael Perez’ volunteering for the homeless caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest for Table Topics ---held bi-annually in downtown Los Angeles. 

The Contest Topic was open-ended enough for contestant Perez to respond from direct life experience. He won the Division Contest, rising to the district level competition. However, he didn’t make good at the district contest, though he did walk away with a bundle of impromptu speaking skills and a cherished experience. 

Later, I contacted Perez for an interview on his altruistic story that caught my attention at the Toastmasters Division Contest. Perez explained that when he was attending Cal State University Northridge, his fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma in partnership with another fraternity held an annual event to feed the homeless on skid row. About fifty volunteers made 1,000 peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches in Northridge to distribute to the homeless at 3:00 a. m. on Thanksgiving Day. Their target was the homeless without shelters who are situated in one place at that time in the morning. 

“Phi Beta Sigma is a multicultural fraternity with an inclusive motto, ‘united we stand, united we fall,’“ Perez articulated. “We wanted to show our brothers and sisters living in skid row that someone cared for them. What a better time than on Thanksgiving Day when we’re all enjoying freshly home-cooked meals.” 

Perez admitted that a bit of fear lingered in the air when they took to the streets not knowing how they [homeless] were going to respond especially at three in the morning. 

“It was lit well enough for us to navigate from street to street. We zigzagged in and out of major streets --started walking up Sixth Street, then north on Central Avenue, etc.--covering 30 square blocks and ending back at Pershing Square, where we started,” Perez said in one breath. 

The crew handed sandwiches to everyone they saw in the street, and in a matter of two hours the sandwiches were gone. “People were sleeping, lying down on cardboards, inside tents, while some sat on the bare concrete sidewalks,” he said. 

Perez (photo left) explained that there are some homeless who don’t even bother to go to a shelter or church where distributions of food are offered because of their circumstances, “We targeted those who don’t have access, for whatever reason, and give them a break from their harsh reality by bringing some hope into their lives.” 

When Perez saw someone sitting by a tent, he’d ask how many inside and left sandwiches for them. In some cases, when there were lone tents, “we left a couple of sandwiches in a bag with a note, letting them know why the sandwiches were there.” 

Perez expressed that in the past, he heard about a few cases where homeless men tried to grab female volunteers. For the three consecutive years that he volunteered, he saw no obstacles. Women were paired with men for precaution, and the crew was welcomed with open arms. 

“Starting off on Thanksgiving Day with men and women getting together to distribute food before twilight is very powerful. This feeling of community unity brings meaning to community service,” Perez said. 

“This experience made my Thanksgiving even better. 

Perez is a Mechanical Design Engineer, a graduate from Northridge-U and works in the aerospace field as a mechanical designer.


(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils and is a neighborhood council participant.)









State of Emergency: LA Supervisors Pressing Governor to Unlock Emergency Homeless Funds

DEEGAN ON LA-Immediate access to one-half billion dollars from the state’s Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties is the goal of a motion introduced on Tuesday, June 14 by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl seeking a resolution from the Legislature asking the Governor to declare a state of emergency due to the homeless crisis. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the motion. 

In addition to the action by the Supervisors, the County’s multi-pronged State advocacy effort to combat homelessness includes an online petition urging Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in California to address this growing humanitarian crisis throughout the State, by indicating to lawmakers the need for a concerted effort and more resources to end homelessness. 

If the Governor declares a state of emergency, it will open the door to various funding possibilities that can immediately help LA County, where nearly half the state’s homeless population lives, deal with our homeless issues. 

The stark reality is that 115,738 homeless, or 21% of the nation’s homeless, live in California and that 41% of the state’s homeless (47,000 including over 6,000 parents and their children) live in Los Angeles County. 

Stay with CityWatch for ongoing comprehensive coverage of this developing story.


(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.

Shocker: Get Ready for a Very Different Venice!

WORDS FROM THE HOOD--It’s been a while since ImagineVenice had something to say. Why? …because no one likes to read an edition comprised of rants. It seems like all the action around here provokes one rant after another – so, we guess, it’s time to let it rip.

Residents often talk about how “cool” Venice is. You know, along with all the other platitudes about how much more Venice was before and how Venice has changed. We have. Many worry we are on an irreversible course towards losing our “uniqueness” … maybe even our soul. We are. In the next breath these landed gentry complain “tsk, tsk my friend still can’t find a place to live here with all these Airbnb’s taking over all our rentals.” If you are grousing about the changes around this town, you better get ready for the big one. 

Last week our local Chamber of Commerce lead its business-minded membership, along with many restaurant owners, developers and architects to the polls to vote at the Venice Neighborhood Council election. (Photo above: Voters stand in line to cast vote in Venice Neighborhood Council election.) They called in their chits and their dishwashers and Sparklett’s delivery guys marched dutifully to the polls along with anyone else who “owed” them. It was a rout. The election turnout was almost double from the last election.

Many of the newly “Venice committed” voters have absolutely nothing to do with the Venice community. They could care less about it. Their required declared “relationship” got them a ballot and they voted. That’s the way this election dumped the old team and brought in a new one.

We know it sounds ridiculous that non-residents or non-property owners could actually determine your future by voting in someone else’s local election. That’s what happened. An interpretation of the election rules allowed this corruption.

Manipulation like this of our local neighborhood council vote has never happened before. The Chamber and all of its business-interested members have utilized their group power and joined together to serve their common interests using this avenue. It doesn’t matter whether it is moral. It is legal.

You would be right to question if anyone not focused on money-making development issues in Venice needs to pay any future attention to the happenings of the VNC. With this new group running the VNC show there won’t be a development they won’t like or a rule they won’t break or change or a rent stabilized apartment they won’t want to change into a short-term rental for a buck. Whatever it is, if it puts money in their pockets or in their friend’s pockets they will approve it.

Get ready for a very different Venice.


Enforcement? Not in Venice--If you want local laws enforced, better move to Brentwood. Somehow, even though we are in the same council district, trash cans are plentiful over there and homeless people are not setting up tents on their sidewalks. 

Shops don’t get to illegally expand without parking and restaurants don’t get away with adding illegal seating. Citations mean absolutely nothing around here but somehow have their intended force and effect in Brentwood. There are no driveways on San Vicente or Wilshire converted into “pop-up” shops of one stripe or another or vendors setting up businesses right on the street out of their cars, vans and even on blankets. 

In Brentwood you won’t find apartment houses with illegal structures built in their front yard selling cookies. No amplified music event is approved if it is within 500′ of residences. The ABC doesn’t approve just about every request it gets to sell alcohol. We in Venice must live in another world. 

Maybe we do. Here, anything goes. Despite a year’s worth of citations our hottest restaurant still uses the neighbor’s driveway to provide seating for a no-seating-allowed takeout. That property owner continues to ignore citations demanding the seating be removed and his driveway returned to a useful driveway. There are numerous illegal acts, too many to list. For some reason, enforcement just doesn’t happen around here, no matter how egregious the behavior. 

The newest hustler on the block, Greenleaf, asked for and got a permit for an outside parking lot “beer garden” to add to the mix during our last First Friday. Never before has a restaurant or shop on the street sold alcohol from an outside parking lot or a shop received a special event permit to sell alcohol on a First Friday. 

Greenleaf has now opened the floodgates to alcohol special event sales on First Friday. Thousands of young people pack our sidewalks those nights while eating from various food trucks. Now they have the “opportunity” to walk off the sidewalk and get a beer or three and return back to the crowd. 

Imagine kids all juiced up packed in like sardines on the next First Friday. Imagine your kid at this event. If it’s a hot night, it will take just one troublemaker to make this event a disaster. The decision makers use no discretion when they give out alcohol-related permits. It will take much more than common sense to say “no” to the powerful and connected — especially if the Chamber is behind them. You would think these “deciders” were Chamber members themselves! 

We dodged a bullet last Friday. It was a cool evening. We are unlikely to be that lucky in the future. Greenleaf now has a sidewalk sandwich sign advertising their parking lot alcohol event for future First Fridays. Looks like future approvals are in the bag for our avaricious new neighbor. It is all about making money. 

Sometimes newcomers are the target of our disdain because of their disinterest in what made Venice, Venice. The new “new” matters most to them. They really don’t care if this place is turned into another Grove. But they are not villains. They are what they are. 

The real truth behind the big changes here can be found with our own “movers and shakers.” They are our villains — our very own — our super land rich. Because Venice has become a magnet drawing international businesses from all over the world, our own landed gentry are now so very rich and loving it. They never dreamed money of this magnitude would drop from the heavens right into their laps. All they had to do to get it was be here at the right time. Like a drug, they just want more, more, more. No matter the cost. 

Venice in the word of that famous song just doesn’t get any R-E-S-P-E-C-T.


(Marian Crostic   and Elaine Spierer are co-founders of Imagine Venice … where this commentary was first posted.)


Scam Alert! How LA Taxpayers Will Get Stuck Bailing Out Wall Street!

THE CITY--While Angelenos are easily fooled, Wall Street is not. Wall Street does not buy the disinformation about a housing shortage. They know that Los Angeles has a 12% vacancy rate for apartments constructed in the last decade. Wall Street knows that means the City has been constructing too many new apartments. 

Wall Street knows that more people are moving out of the City of Los Angeles than are moving into the city, meaning, LA has a net exodus over new arrivals. The amount of empty housing increases, even if nothing new is constructed. Thus, Wall Street knows the exodus means the demand has slowed, while the number of available places has grown. 

Wall Street knows that developers with empty units cannot make their loan payments and that makes Wall Street unhappy. The developers are also upset. Like the species of sharks which must swim in order to breathe, developers must construct in order to survive. Any business facing a declining market for its product is doomed. The developers know that Los Angeles has “150 percent (5,874) of the units needed by above moderate income earners.” (11-17-2015 HCIDLA report to Mayor) 

In response to this excess capacity, the City has turned to subterfuge: 

(1) Tell Everyone That There Is a Shortage of Housing--Following the old adage, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure,” they pretend that housing prices are soaring, therefore, there must be a shortage. Like I said, Angelenos are easily deceived, but Wall Street is not. Higher prices do not necessarily mean a shortage. And that is why Wall Street wants guaranteed bail-outs to fund additional construction. But more about the bail-outs later. 

(2) How Housing Prices Are Hyped--In calculating average prices, they throw in some super high homes such as the asking price of $85 million for Eddie Murphy’s old estate in Holmby Hills – as if mansions in Holmby Hills affect prices in East Hollywood. 

And there’s another scam on the public: the City reports the high advertised sales prices and high advertised rents as the amounts actually paid. The City gets this misleading data from real estate companies which have a vested interest in deceiving people into believing that prices are escalating. 

There are also machinations at the low end of the market. The City has torn down over 20,000 rent controlled units. Rent controlled units have lower rents and the older units with long term tenants have the lowest rents. The demolition of rent controlled units removes low end rentals from the equation. 

For example, let’s say the rent range is between the low rent of $20 and the high rent of $80. Then the average rent is $50. Tear down the $20 units, and the cheapest is now $30 so the new “average rent” is $55. Because rents have then increased by 10%, the City declares that there must be an increased demand. However, the reality is that the demand has not changed. Rather, the City has eliminated the apartments with the lowest rents.

(3) Create a Homeless Crisis--By tearing down rent controlled housing, the City throws thousands of people into the streets. Even if they could find a new rent controlled apartment, that unit’s rent would begin at market rate, which these people cannot afford.


Now, Wall Street sees a chance to make money on the backs of the poor. Here’s how the scam works:


(1) Publicize the Plight of the Homelessness--Garcetti excels at photo-ops. He may suck as a mayor, but when he’s in front of the camera, he is #1. These photo-ops then lead to a campaign to house the homeless. 

At this moment, Garcetti ignores the fact that LA has a plethora of empty apartments – where we could house all the homeless who want homes. Instead, the Mayor says that we must give hundreds of millions of dollars to his friends to build apartments for the homeless. I wonder if Garcetti’s friend and campaign fund raiser Juri Ripinsky, a federal felon who served two years in Leavenworth for real estate fraud, is in line for some of this free money. He got the lucrative Paseo Plaza Project in Hollywood back when Garcetti was City Council President. 

(2) Wall Street No Longer Likes Tax Rebates--There was a time when the City gave future taxes to the developers who would keep the sale taxes generated from the stores in their mixed-use projects. However, many of them collected no sales taxes because their retail space was vacant. Vacant retail space often means that many apartments are also unrented. The point of mixed-use projects is that the people who live in the building will shop at the stores. Wall Street knows that empty retail spaces portend disaster. As a result, Wall Street will no longer rely on sales tax rebates as providing the developer with the revenue stream to repay his loan. 

(3) The Garcetti Administration has a dilemma--The homeless are too poor to pay rents and the more affluent already have too many available apartments. Plus, each day Los Angeles is losing more and more educated and well trained people. This leaves us with a poorer population, many of them young and elderly. Neither the newborns nor the old are demanding new housing. 

Question: What can we do to keep Garcetti’s developer buddies in business? 

Answer: Pre-Arranged Wall Street Bail-Outs 

This solution is brilliant. In advance of a loan, the taxpayers will guarantee to bail out Wall Street. In this scam, the City itself borrows the money and gives it to the developers. That way, it’s the City that must repay the loans! 

Wall Street buys City’s bonds which the taxpayers repay. The developers are left out the equation -- except they get all the money. Developers form collapsible companies call LLCs and LLPs. After the developer’s company has distributed millions of dollars to the developer, his family and his friends, the company goes bankrupt. 

If the developer had borrowed the money directly from Goldman Sachs, then Goldman Sachs would be out hundreds of millions of dollars. But in this scheme, Goldman Sachs will have bought the City bonds and made no direct loans to the developers. So the City has to repay Goldman Sachs.   

That is why the City is floating bonds for projects with Affordable Housing. The public is easily fooled and doesn’t realize that it’s paying the bills. The harm here is greater than one first sees. When the City uses up its credit by issuing too many bonds, it must agree to pay higher rates of interest for additional borrowing. 

Thus, a secondary impact on the taxpayer is that the City cannot finance itself without incurring high debt. In anticipation of more of the City’s money going to pay off Wall Street, the City is already turning to rate hikes like the four year DWP rate increase, from which the City skims off 18%. The City also wants higher taxes to pay for transportation -- and eventually will want higher taxes for more police and paramedics. 

NYC is called The Big Apple. Soon, LA will be known as The Big Scam.


(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.


Saving Pacifica Radio - An Insider’s View

FINANCIAL STRUGGLE--With the demise of Air America, Current TV, and Al Jazeera America it looks like only Pacifica Radio is still standing. Here in Los Angeles many rely on KPFK 90.7 fm for information they just won't hear anywhere else. KPFK is one of the five Pacifica stations. 

Many have lamented the perpetual dysfunction and drama surrounding Pacifica. But Pacifica has somehow endured for almost 70 years. It's time to fix it. Actually, it's past time to fix it. The need for revitalization is urgent. All five stations are struggling financially but financial shortfalls at two of the stations are so severe that they are threatening the survival of the entire network. 

Also, Pacifica is currently being investigated by the California Attorney General, has lost its Corporation for Public Broadcast funding two years in a row (about $2 million lost so far) because of poor financial reporting and will probably lose CPB funding for the next fiscal year. It is also not up to date on other financial reporting to federal and state agencies. 

Pacifica's radio signal licenses are estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. It would be tragic if they were lost. Progressive advocacy groups need media to project their messages. They court, beg and cajole mainstream media with mediocre results. Meanwhile, here is Pacifica, the naughty step child of the left, mostly abandoned by the groups and movements that could save it and build a powerful media force and, at the same time, increase their own clout. 

Here's a quote from the Pacifica Bylaws: "The Foundation is committed to peace and social justice, and seeks to involve in its governance and operations individuals committed to these principles."  

Let me say loud and clear that you are formally invited to join Pacifica governance. Yes, I mean YOU. What does that entail? Let me explain. 

Pacifica has democratically elected local boards that, in turn, elect members of the Pacifica National Board, which controls all its stations and assets. If competent and committed people are elected to these local boards there is a good chance that Pacifica could be fixed. 

Pacifica has been mismanaged and misgoverned. The Pacifica National Board has the ability to change the management of the Foundation for the better. If the Local and National boards were improved they could make the bold management changes needed and Pacifica could probably be repaired. It wouldn't be easy, but it could be done. There are elections for local boards at each of the 5 Pacifica stations. These elections began on June 1st. The local boards each elect 4 people to the Pacifica National Board. The first step is to elect competent people to the local boards who then elect their most qualified members to the National Board. It's as simple as that. 

There is a very short window for nominations to these boards. The nomination period has already started and ends on June 30th is scheduled to open on June 1st and only lasts for one month. It's extremely important that competent, committed people be elected to these boards. Elections are held every two out of three years. As there was an election in 2015, after this current election there won't be another one for 2 years. That means this election is crucial to the survival of Pacifica Radio! 

If you want further information, please don't hesitate to email me at [email protected]. Or you can go to Elections.Pacifica.org or to CandidateSlate.org.


(Grace Aaron is a Pacifica National Board Member (2008, 2009 and 2016, interim Exec Dir 2009.) The opinions expressed in this article are entirely her own and do not represent Pacifica Radio, or any faction, group or entity related or unrelated to Pacifica.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Orlando and the Massacre of Innocents: A Cop’s Reflections

JUST THE FACTS-It was Sunday morning June 12 when I learned from a radio report around 6:30 am that there was a massive shooting in Orlando, Florida. As the information was broadcast, I learned that this was possibly another terrorist attack on Americans at a soft target location. Reminding me of other recent attacks across the globe, I went to church at the 7:00 am service to offer prayers for those shot and killed and recovering from their wounds. 

Since the event was so recent, the priest did not mention the incident during the service. Following mass, I turned to my radio and learned the horrifying details as the news reports were coming in from the scene. The tragedy was now being described as the worst massive shooting in American history! 

During my 33 years of service with the LAPD, I often thought I had seen the worst of hostility and tragedy in America. Multiple shooting victims at various crime scenes, the North Hollywood B of A Bank shootout and thousands of victims killed in gang shootings over the years. 

The Orlando shooting reminded me of so many other terrorist shootings I have read about around the world. Incident after incident with innocent people including women and children killed by terrorist activity. The civil rights movement in America claimed the lives of many innocent men, women and children over the years. Riots across America claimed the lives of other innocent people. Chicago gangs have taken so many lives in turf battles. Being raised a Catholic, I have always respected people as people. It did not make a difference of the persons color, their religion or sexual orientation. It is and has always been about respect for people. All people. 

I will be saying prayers for those that have been killed and those suffering in recovery. The family members of all those impacted also need our support and prayers.

May the 49 that have died Rest in Peace in God’s hands. 

We also need to keep the police officers and sheriff deputies firefighters and paramedics in our prayers. Coming upon a scene with so many dead and injured people will have an impact on the safety personnel for many years to come.

May our elected government representatives work with our public safety personnel and establish safety and security in the lands of The United States of America. 

How many more TERRORISTS are out there looking for the next target? 

The FBI currently has hundreds of people under investigation for possible terrorist activity. We all need to support our law enforcement personnel in their mission of Protecting and Serving all of us in America. Remember that IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING. Law enforcement can’t do it without your help and assistance. 

In this particular case, the individual has been identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen. He carried out the carnage with a Sig Sauer MCX and a Glock 17.     

Terrorist activity in America and law enforcement’s ability to rescue victims that are being held in so many life-threatening situations.   

Some ignorant American government officials with no military or law enforcement experience have pressed law enforcement agencies to return surplus military equipment that was supplied for the protection of the public. To be politically correct, some agencies were forced to return the military vehicles and other specialized equipment. While public safety personnel may not use the specialized military equipment on a daily basis, when they need it to protect American people and they need it now and not later. Isis is a threat to all Americans and America. We need to push the Federal Government to supply our local public safety personnel with the military equipment they need to protect and serve our communities.               

I thank those of you that have taken the time to email me your thoughts and comments. I try and reply to each of you when time permits. Your comments are welcome at [email protected].


(Dennis P. Zine is a 33-year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, a 12-year member of the Los Angeles City Council and a current LAPD Reserve Officer who serves as a member of the Fugitive Warrant Detail assigned out of Gang and Narcotics Division. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected].)

Hotel Development on Steroids: LA City Planning MIA

PLANNING POLITICS--The Los Angeles Department of City Planning has done some crazy stuff in the past several years. Greenlighting skyscrapers that would be built on top of fault lines. Allowing developers to knock down affordable housing to build new luxury units. Continuing to hand out liquor permits in high-crime areas, even after LAPD Chief Beck wrote a letter asking them to cool it. I’m so used to the DCP doing things that are either irresponsible or totally irrational that I thought nothing they did could surprise me anymore. 

But I was wrong. 

At the beginning of May I was going through my inbox when I came across a hearing notice for a 21-story hotel that’s been proposed for the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga (graphic above)st. That caught my attention. I live in the area, so I know the intersection well. I scanned the hearing notice, and was surprised to see that the DCP was handling a project this large with a Mitigated Negative Declaration. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this process, here’s a quick summary. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that project applicants complete an Initial Study to determine if there will be significant impacts on the environment. There are three possibilities. If there are no significant impacts, it can be handled with a Negative Declaration. If there are significant impacts but they can be mitigated, a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) is used. If there are significant impacts that can’t be mitigated, then the project requires a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Doing an EIR is a long, complex process. It can be difficult and costly for developers, and many would rather skip it if possible. 

R.D. Olson is the developer behind this high-rise hotel, and they obviously didn’t want the hassle of doing a full EIR. Lucky for them, the DCP was only too willing to oblige, and chose to handle the process quickly with an MND. In my opinion, this was completely inappropriate for a project of this size, especially considering the entitlements the developer was requesting. Check out R.D. Olson’s wish list. They’re asking for…. 

A Vesting Zone and Height District Change and an increase in Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of up to 6 to 1. 

A Conditional Use to permit the sale and dispensing of a full line of alcoholic beverages. 

Reducing required setbacks on the sides and rear of the project to zero. 

Seems like the developer is asking for a lot. But let’s skip that for the moment, and take a look at the way the DCP has handled the approval process so far. 

The hearing to consider approving all these entitlements and the adoption of the environmental document was scheduled for May 25. On May 4, I e-mailed the staff contact to ask if I could get a copy of the MND. He replied the same day, saying that the MND wouldn’t be ready for a couple weeks. That bothered me, because it meant the public would only have a week to study the document before the hearing. I wrote back expressing my concern, and asking if I could see the Initial Study. No answer. A few days later I wrote again. Still no answer. After another few days I wrote again. This time I got a response, but the staff contact made no mention of the Initial Study.

I finally realized that e-mailing was a waste of time, and I made an appointment to go to the DCP to look at the case file. On Friday, June 20, I made the trip to City Hall and rode the elevator up to the Department’s offices. A young woman handed me the file and showed me to a conference room. I sat down and started flipping through the documents. I was hoping that since the hearing was only five days away the MND would be available. No such luck. But what really surprised me was that in looking through the file I didn’t see any sign of the Initial Study. 

Let me state this another way. In five days the DCP was going to hold a hearing to consider approval of a 21-story hotel in a busy urban area that required major entitlements, and the environmental documents required by state law were nowhere to be found in the case file. 

But I did find another document that was pretty interesting. The traffic analysis for the project was done by Linscott, Law and Greenspan. They studied six intersections in the vicinity, including Cahuenga at De Longpre, Cahuenga at Sunset, and Cahuenga at Hollywood. Now anybody who’s driven north on Cahuenga or east on Sunset during weekday rush hour knows how bad the congestion is. Cars are often backed up for blocks. But according to Linscott, Law and Greenspan, all three intersections get an “A” for Level of Service (LOS) during the PM rush hour. Let me give you the definition of “LOS A” from the Highway Capacity Manual: "Free-flow conditions with unimpeded maneuverability. Stopped delay at signalized intersection is minimal." 

It’s clear that the analysis offered by Linscott, Law and Greenspan has some serious problems. But you’d never guess that from the Traffic Assessment prepared by the LA Department of Transportation (DOT). They say, "....[T]he proposed development is not expected to result in any significant traffic impacts at any of the six study intersections identified for detailed analysis. The results of the traffic impact analysis, which adequately evaluated the project's traffic impacts on the surrounding community, are summarized in Attachment 1." 

The other aspect of this project that really worried me was the liquor permit. In recent years the DCP has approved numerous liquor permits for clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels in the Hollywood area, apparently unconcerned about the high-crime rate associated with local nightlife. But LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was so worried about this practice that he wrote a letter to the DCP in October 2014 to express his concern about the “oversaturation of ABC [alcoholic beverage control] locations” in the Hollywood area. In his letter, Beck said that the high number of businesses serving alcohol was putting a strain on police resources, and listed some of the problems associated with local nightlife, including robberies, thefts, fights with serious injuries, shootings and rapes. 

I wanted to talk about all these issues at the hearing, so I showed up at City Hall on May 25. I was surprised when the hearing officer opened the proceedings by announcing that they were doing things a little differently for this project. Since the MND wasn’t ready yet, this would just be a preliminary hearing. Later, when the document had actually been completed, the DCP would schedule another hearing. This was a first for me. I’d never heard of such a thing before, but I guess they finally realized that giving the public the opportunity to comment on a document before it was actually released didn’t make a lot of sense. Also, it would have made it very easy to challenge the DCP’s determination. 

So after listening to the project reps give their spiel about how great this hotel would be, I got my chance to talk. I told the hearing officer I thought an MND was inadequate; I said I believed the traffic analysis was seriously flawed and explained that I was worried about approving yet another full alcohol permit in an area that clearly had serious problems related to nightlife. 

And that sparked an interesting discussion about the permit. The project reps assured me that this hotel would not be creating undesirable impacts. The clients they wanted to attract were business travelers, not night clubbers. There would be no parties on the rooftop deck. There would be no DJs. There would be no live music. This hotel was going to be geared toward the upscale business class. Any fears about the project adding to the problems caused by the party scene were completely unfounded. 

At the time, I bought it. But then I remembered that I’d seen a post on Urbanize LA announcing the project. According to that post from August 2015, no operator had yet been named. I contacted both the developer and the DCP to ask if Olson had signed an agreement with someone to run the hotel. No response from either. Why is this a concern? Because the operator will be the one to determine who the hotel caters to and what kind of clientele they want to attract. 

R.D. Olson isn’t going to be running the show. Any promises they make about how the hotel will be run are meaningless. And the DCP knows that. Lately they’ve been making a practice of handing out liquor permits to developers instead of business owners, which means there’s no way to assess the impacts and no meaningful way to attach conditions governing the use of the permit. 

Why am I going on at such length about this proposed hotel? Because it’s a beautiful illustration of just how bad things have gotten at the Department of City Planning. We have the decision to use an MND for a project that clearly requires an EIR, the bizarre plan to hold a meeting to consider a document that wasn’t even finished, the absurdly inaccurate traffic analysis, and the approval of a full liquor permit with no clear idea of how the business owner will use or abuse it. When you add all this together, it seems to me that the Department’s highest priority is serving the developer. 

The substantial impacts this hotel could have on the community have all been brushed aside to speed the approval process. I get the impression that the folks at the DCP feel like they can just disregard state law. And even worse, it seems to me that they’re completely oblivious to the public’s interests here. I get the feeling that they just don’t care. 

This is what planning looks like in the City of LA these days. A shoddy, haphazard process driven by developers with deep pockets. This is just one hotel in Hollywood, but there are people all over LA who are frustrated by the DCP’s apparent lack of concern for their communities. 

Last Thursday, I wrote again to the staff contact to ask if the next hearing had been scheduled. You won’t be surprised when I tell you I haven’t heard back yet.


NOTE: If you’re interested in talking to the DCP about this project, here’s the case number: CPC-2015-2893-VZC-HDCUB-ZAA-SPR


(Casey Maddren was born in Los Angeles and has lived here most of his life. He tries to capture as much of the city as he can in his blog, The Horizon and the Skyline.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Historical Footnote for the Governor and the Mayor’s Amazing Money Machine

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--We don’t know how future historians will assess the political careers of Governor Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and LA Councilmember Gil Cedillo, but they should at least receive a footnote for their contribution to the slow by steady descent of the Democratic Party. 

This chapter begins with Jerry Brown’s proposal to “streamline” housing production in California by forbidding local authorities from undertaking any zoning or environmental reviews of proposed housing projects that conform to local zoning. 

Just to show he means business, the Governor doubled down on his proposal with an ultimatum to the State Legislature. He would not fold $400,000,000 for existing State affordable housing programs o the State budget unless the Legislature agrees to his approve his Streamlining Affordable Housing Approvals Bill. 

Some cities, unions, and many environmental organizations oppose the Governor’s approach, but in Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Gil Cedillo, signed a joint statement of support. In Cedillos’ words, he supports the Governor because Brown’s program is a market-based approach to California’s housing crisis. (As a footnote to a footnote, Gil Cedillo was also co-chair of the Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Southern California, even though his market-based solutions to affordable housing are the antithesis of Senator Sanders’ unreconstructed New Deal political approach public policy). 

On this account, Cedillo, like Garcetti and Brown, is correct. The Governor proposal is a market-based solution to California’s housing crisis. But, otherwise, these three pols are flat out wrong about the housing proposal, such as one conspicuous detail. There is no evidence that the Governor’s bill will produce the affordable housing that California needs. While it might produce a few thousand affordable units here and there, the real beneficiaries will not be lower and middle income families that need affordable housing, but the investors and contractors building the housing, since most of the units will be sold for California’s soaring market prices.  

The profit margins of the developers will go up because in many municipalities they will no longer need to submit their projects for design review, environment review, and then be subject to lengthy public hearings, debates, and appeals that increase their costs. 

This also means that the market value of their properties will increase because the cost of pulling permits and constructing housing on it will go down. Like any formal or informal up-zoning program, property values will increase. This, not affordable housing, is the real importance of this amazing money machine. It makes money for owners of commercial property under the cover of an affordable housing program in which only five percent of their units need to be affordable. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated by John Schwada in CityWatch, the City of LA’s Housing Department is notoriously incompetent in keeping track of these affordable units. Based on the research for this article, we can expect that many of these affordable units will not be included in the City inventory of affordable housing available to the public.  

What else do we know about the Governor’s public rationale for his amazing money machine? 

We know that the boosters of all such market housing programs invoke several axioms of classical economics. They portray them as if they are irrefutable truths, rather than quasi-religious dogmas masquerading as social science “laws.” For example, these market fundamentalists, whether Democrats like Brown, Garcetti, and Cedillo, or Republican, repeatedly invoke the “law” of supply and demand. Their claim is that if market regulation of land use is removed, developers will rush in to build much more housing. They then argue that once this housing boom produces a surplus of pricey housing, the price of all housing will decline and some of it will become affordable. 

Of course, those who live in Los Angeles know their claim is utter nonsense. In Los Angeles new, expensive housing is infill housing, and it often displaces older, lower-priced housing, including certified affordable housing. Furthermore, even when the expensive housing has high vacancy rates, such as the current 12 percent, the landlords do not slash rents or purchase princes. Instead, they just hold out longer for tenants, sometimes sweetening leases with a signing bonus, microwave oven, or free cable. 

Even in the worst cases scenarios, such as the Savings and Load crisis of the 1980s and 1990s and the Great Depression that began in 200, the investors successfully turned to the Federal Government for massive bailouts when they went belly-up. The S and L crisis ended up costing the Federal Government over $132 billion, while the Great Depression financial sectorbailouts, as I have previously written, totaled about $13 trillion. 

The markets alternatives of selling building or units at a loss, or slashing condo prices and rents is hardly a wise business option when Uncle Sam offers this type of a helping hand. Likewise, the option of subsidizing borrowers so they could renegotiate delinquent mortgages hardly makes financial sense when compared to a bailout 

Another supposed iron economic “law” is filtering. According to this doctrine, today’s pricey housing will become tomorrow’s affordable housing. In the case of Los Angeles, however, when pressed to show where yesterday’s pricey housing has become today’s affordable housing, the adherents come up dry. Through CityWatch, and sometimes directly I have repeatedly asked, “Where is the affordable housing in Los Angeles that filtered down from once expensive housing?” Is it the gentrifying areas of Highland Park and Boyle Heights? The Historical Preservation Overlay Zones in the West Adams district? The once-upon-a time bohemian neighborhoods of Venice, Silverlake, and Echo Park? Trendy areas like the Arts District and Koreatown? 

(Since I post my email address at the end of every CityWatch article, just let me know where downward filtering is happening in Los Angeles.)

As we wait for these locations to be listed, it is painfully easy to document the counter-example of LA’s many gentrifying neighborhoods where previously affordable housing has filtered upward to become expensive. While gentrification now goes by many names, the best known and most controversial are spot-zoning, spot-planning, mansionization, small lot subdivisions, and Transit Oriented Development (TOD). 

Another often repeated market claim is that zoning and environmental reviews so stifle the production of affordable housing that developers must turn to the City Council for spot-zoning and spot-planning laws. Even though I have also repeatedly asked for evidence of this in my City Watch columns, so far only one person gave me an address that checked out. Like my question for evidence of filtering in Los Angeles, all lines are open and operators are waiting. 

The lack of any serious data for these repeated claims about market magic to address the housing crisisis no mystery, however, and I think this might explain why: 

Profit maximization. Investors of all types, big and small, want to make money, and affordable housing doesn't sufficiently fill their wallets. Even in a city like Los Angeles, where there is massive demand for affordable housing, and many locations where contractors could build by-right, investors are ignoring the supposed law of supply and demand. 

Political influence. Investors have substantial political influence through their donations. When they are subjected to market busts, they ask for and receive financial bailouts, even if it costs trillions of dollars and requires the government to run the printing presses 24/7. In slightly more flush times, like the present, they settle for favorable legislation, like the Governor Brown’s 

Cost of War.  The New Deal programs that built affordable housing (in theory, still championed by Bernie Sanders) through the Federal Housing Authority were sacrificed to sustain high levels of military spending. This process began during the Vietnam War and continued to the present day. Furthermore, alternative local sources for affordable housing funds in California, Community Redevelopment Agencies, were dissolved in 2012.


(Dick Platkin reports on city planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He is a former LA City Planner and current advocate planner.   He welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].) 


County Supes Create Financial Safety Net for Millions of Low Income and Struggling Angelenos

GUEST WORDS-- Since joining the LA County Board of Supervisors 18 months ago, I, along with my colleagues on the Board, have taken a series of steps to build prosperity and economic security for residents by raising the minimum wage and establishing programs to promote social enterprises, help small businesses thrive and prevent people from falling into homelessness when they encounter short-term financial crises, like the loss of a job or a catastrophic medical condition.

Last week, the Board took another significant action to try to stabilize and empower low-income households in the county.  Fifteen percent of our residents live below the official poverty line, but more than three times that number (49%) lack sufficient savings to live above the poverty level for three months if they lose a job or suffer a financial emergency. These residents don’t hold sufficient household wealth to weather even a brief financial storm.

Twenty-eight percent of County households either don’t have a bank account or rely on check-cashing stores and payday lenders with high interest rates. Those dramatic numbers led to the Board voting to establish a Center for Financial Empowerment which will help thousands of families reduce their debt and save money. 

The Center for Financial Empowerment will coordinate and promote the many existing financial services already available for low-income residents such as financial literacy, free tax preparation, accessing appropriate benefits and helping consumers manage their debt.  Similar Centers have been established in Boston, Chicago, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle.

In LA, the Center will initially prioritize two populations: families and young people. According to a New America Foundation report, low to moderate income County residents fail to claim more than $370 million in Federal EITC funds each year. The Center for Financial Empowerment will focus on ensuring that County families tap a greater share of that EITC funding. 

In addition, the Center will target young people, 18 to 24, who are just entering the job market and starting families. Over the last decade, San Francisco’s Office of Financial  Empowerment has helped more than 75,000 “unbanked” San Franciscans open safe, affordable bank accounts, and more than 22,000 college savings accounts have been opened for public kindergarten students.

I am very grateful for the support of my colleagues, especially Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion that established the Center, and to Citi Community Development which will provide significant financial support for the first year of the County’s pilot.

I am hopeful that these new County efforts will help more and more families build the kind of household wealth that will allow them to send children to college, purchase homes and start new businesses!

(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

California Primary: A Turnaround for Voter Turnout?

SORTING OUT THE STATISTICS-The recent primary offered signs of improvement for California’s abysmally low voter turnout. Recent elections have seen some of the worst turnout in the state’s history. The 2014 election cycle was particularly dismal, but 2012 also set a new low for a presidential primary election. Moreover, California has been lagging behind other states in both registration and turnout. 

However, there has been a large surge in new registrants over the last few months, and the California Secretary of State currently estimates that almost 9 million Californians participated in the 2016 presidential primary election, compared to only 4.5 million in 2014 and 5.3 million in 2012. 

If we look at the share of voting-eligible residents who have registered in time for each of the last 18 primary elections, California’s registration rate has always fallen within a fairly narrow band—from a low of 66% in 1988 to a high of 75% in 1996. 

In this context, the 2016 registration rate might be seen as a disappointment. Compared to the same point in the 2012 primary election cycle, the registration rate has remained largely unchanged, though it is still comparatively high when viewed in the context of the past several decades. 

How can we square this result with the reported surge in new registrants? The registration rate typically drops some between elections as county registrars purge voters who have moved or died from the registration rolls, and relatively few new voters sign up to take their place. This decline was especially large between fall 2014 and the beginning of the primary season this year. Given that baseline, a flat registration rate is consistent with a surge of new registrants, and must be considered something of a success. 

More to the point, these registrants turned out to vote at a higher rate than we have seen in any primary since 2008. The estimated 8.9 million ballots translates to a turnout rate of about 50% among registered voters. That sits comfortably in the broad average of California’s presidential primary turnout, and marks a considerable improvement over 2012. 

In fact, California’s presidential primary turnout now shows no clear sign of decline since 1984; it may even be holding its own relative to other states. But midterm turnout is a different story. There is a much longer downward trend for such elections, both viewed on their own and relative to trends in other states. 

On balance, there are signs of recovery from the low turnout levels of 2012 and 2014, despite concerns that California’s late presidential primary would discourage participation. Whether this improvement will be sustained into the fall—and whether things will turn around for mid-term elections in 2018—of course remains to be seen.


(Eric McGhee is a research fellow at Public Policy Institute of California where this was originally posted. He focuses on elections, legislative behavior, political reform, and surveys and polling.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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