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Mon, Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

California Politics: Mostly White People

VOTING DISPARITY-The United States is, by and large, not a very politically participatory country. Not only do Americans vote in relatively small numbers, they also don’t contact their representatives, take part in campaigns, or even talk about politics all that much. 

It’s also a politically unequal country, with white people participating more than other groups  --  a fact highlighted in a new report on political participation in California. 

“Since 2000, California has been a majority-minority state where no racial group holds a numerical majority,” write Advancement Project researchers John Dobard and Kim Engie and University of California-Riverside political scientists Karthick Ramakrishnan and Sono Shah. “Yet California’s democracy does not accurately reflect that demographic reality.” 

Drawing on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Voter Supplement, the team estimates that an average of 68 percent of white U.S. citizens in California voted in presidential elections between 2004 and 2012, compared to 65 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Latinos. Meanwhile, just 48 percent of Asian Americans voted. 

“Racial disparity has been a common thread in voting and nonvoting forms of political participation. This does not bode well for California’s democracy.” 

That same basic pattern held true for mid-term elections, albeit with even smaller numbers overall. Those gaps, the researchers write, follow from three other factors -- Asian Californians, for example, are much less likely to be citizens and, among citizens, are much less likely to be registered to vote. 

Just as important, the authors argue, are disparities in other forms of political participation. Only about one in 10 Latinos and Asian Americans participated in some way in a political campaign, according to Census data from 2011 and 2013, compared with nearly one in four whites and nearly one in five blacks. While 16 percent of whites had contacted a public official in the year prior to taking the Census Bureau’s survey, only 9 percent of blacks, 6 percent of Asian Americans, and 5 percent of Latinos had done so. Asian Americans were by far the least likely to discuss politics every day  --  only 3 percent did, compared with 14 percent of whites. 

“There are also numerous ways in which those who speak up are unrepresentative of California’s population,” the authors write. “Racial disparity has been a common thread in voting and nonvoting forms of political participation. This does not bode well for California’s democracy.” 

There are, however, some solutions. Because low levels of political participation are associated with fewer resources – including  income, education, and so on -- they propose civic education efforts targeted at low-income communities of color, as well as the involvement of more people from those communities in voter mobilization efforts. 

(Nathan Collins writes for Pacific Standard Magazine where this piece was first posted.) Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Are LA’s Community Plan Updates Ready for “Unexpected” Bumps in the Road?

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--In their forced march to promote large, speculative real estate projects, LA’s elected and appointed officials have committed themselves to update LA’s 35 community plans over the next decade. Their public argument is quite simple; the Community Plans are old, and therefore need to be brought up-do-date, by which they mean increasing by-right density through elaborate zone changes and General Plan Amendments. 

But, as they are about to discover, this public argument does not hold much water because the only serious flaw of these older plans is their exaggerated population numbers. Like the General Plan Framework, these plans vastly overestimate LA’s population. LA’s population has hardly grown since the City Council adopted the Community Plans 15 to 20 years ago. And, some communities, like Hollywood and Wilshire, have actually lost population during the past two decades. This, then, creates a conundrum for City Hall’s density hawks. How can they justify vast programs to increase density in local communities when their rationale, population growth, has not panned out? 

One option, used for the Hollywood Plan, was to resort to old census data and SCAG population forecasts that foster the illusion of extensive future population growth. But this statistical illusion did not last long. It was quickly spotted by Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman, who summarily rejected the entire Hollywood Community Plan Update, including its text, maps, EIR, and land use ordinances. 

The other option, hardly any different from the one already overruled by Judge Goodman, is to cite newer SCAG data that points to the same dubious conclusion: hordes of newcomers to Los Angeles will soon need housing, so the City Council must now loosen up local zoning and plan designations. Once they do so, private investors will then rush into Los Angeles to build market housing for these newcomers. Voila. Problem solved by market forces (with support from well-treated friends in high places). 

Based on my review of a typical older plan, the Wilshire Community Plan, which regulates my Beverly Grove neighborhood, updates are a serious undertaking, not a hasty effort to create a windfall for commercial property owners. While each community plan is only 1/35 of Los Angeles, in size and complexity these plan areas are the equivalent of a medium-sized city. 

Furthermore, when City Planning takes out the time to carefully read the existing Community Plans, such as the Wilshire plan, they should gird themselves for some major bumps in the road. It will not be that easy to touch up the existing plan maps and texts in order to quickly leap frog to the real goal: appending extensive up-zoning and up-planning ordinances to each slap-dash Community Plan Update. 

So what are these bumps in the road? 

Bump #1 is Sequencing and Consistency. Depending on which side of their mouth you are listening to, City Hall officials say they only want to update the Community Plans, or they will simultaneously update the Community Plans and the other mandatory and optional elements of the General Plan. Once underway, they might stumble on this section of the existing Wilshire Plan, “Since state law requires that the General Plan have internal consistency, the Wilshire Community Plan must be consistent with the other elements and components of the General Plan.” 

If followed, this means that all elements of the General Plan must be based on the same population data; same demographic forecasts; and the same goals, policies, and programs. If some elements remain subject to inflated population numbers, while other elements have realistic demographic forecasts, Los Angeles’ General Plan would be inconsistent. The City would continue to be in violation of State of California planning laws.

So far, City Hall has not offered the third and most professional alternative; first update the General Plan’s citywide elements to obtain the big picture of Los Angeles over the next several decades before turning to local plans. If this option does not appear on its own, then the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative may mandate this serious bump in the road.  

Bump #2 is Accurate Forecasting: While SCAG can always be relied upon to conger up inflated population numbers, this is confounded by other factors. One such factor is actual population trends. For example, City Planning’s own data for the Wilshire Plan in 2015 indicate that it dropped about 2000 people since the Plan’s adoption in the year 2000. City Planning’s data also indicate that in 2015 Wilshire’s population was 45,000 people less than the Plan originally forecast for its 2010 horizon year. 

Bump #3 is Monitoring: Like the General Plan Framework, the Community Plans require clear monitoring programs that are intended to carefully guide the implementation of the plan. This section of the Wilshire Community Plan is typical: “In the fifth year following plan adoption and in every five years thereafter, the Director of Planning shall report to the Commission on the relationship between population, employment, housing growth, and plan capacities. If growth has occurred faster than projected, a revised environmental impact analysis will be prepared and appropriate changes recommended to the community plan. The plan and zoning changes shall be submitted to the Planning Commission, Mayor, and City Council as specified in the Los Angeles Municipal Code.” 

Although the Wilshire Community Plan is now over 15 years old, City Planning has never monitored it. If or when this were to happen, it is clear from this provision that the City Planning Commission should recommend up-zoning or even down-zoning to respond to changes, whether up or down, in population, employment, housing, and plan capacities. 

Bump #3 is Infrastructure: Community Plans include far more than the private parcels that City Hall aims to densify. They also include parks, schools and other public buildings, streets, driveways, parkways, sidewalks, power line easements, and open space. This is where public infrastructure is located, which is why Community Plans include data and policies for public infrastructure and services. At the same time the plans also should consider user demand for these same public services and infrastructure. Finally, according to the General Plan Framework, the Community Plans need to demonstrate that there is sufficient infrastructure and services, based on funded maintenance programs, to serve both the existing population and to accommodate future growth if or when it occurs. 

Bump #4 is Calculating Buildout: In order to make a convincing case that Los Angeles as a whole, or specific communities, like the Wilshire Plan area, have insufficient zoning to accommodate population growth, City Planning must calculate the potential build out of all local existing residential zones. This is not exactly a profound insight; it is just common sense, as well as standard city planning practice. 

Luckily, City Planning has already calculated residential build out several times. At the end of the AB 283 Zoning Consistency Program, in the early 1990s, City Planning staff determined that Los Angeles contained enough available zoning to absorb five million more people. 

Several years later, the consultants for the General Plan Framework Element and the Framework EIR reached the same conclusion in their background reports. They concluded that LA’s existing zoning – as of the mid-1990s -- could support a city of 8,000,000 people. The Framework’s text also noted that Los Angeles had enough commercially zoned parcels to accommodate all growth scenarios throughout the entire 21st century. 

Since the Framework’s population forecasts were 500,000 people higher than actual population in 2010, this indicates that Los Angeles has an extensive amount of existing but underutilized zoning. There is no evidence to indicate that this situation has changed over the past two decades. 

In the years since City Planning prepared these studies, I am also unaware of any subsequent zoning build out calculations, although current City Planning staff maintain that existing zoning could only accommodate 1,000,000 more residents. 

Clearly, there is a profound difference between zoning build out producing a city of 4,900,000 people or a city of 8,000,000 people. While both hypothetical cities are much larger than the LA of 2016, it is imperative that any updates of the General Plan, including the Community Plans, include a rigorous and transparent calculation of the likely population resulting from zoning build out, broken down by Community Plan area or even smaller neighborhoods. 

These data, combined with realistic population trends, as well as data on the capacity of local infrastructure and services, would result in plans that direct future growth to those neighborhoods that can best accommodate it. This approach should guide the update process, not the hunger pangs of investors intent on overloading neighborhoods like Hollywood and Koreatown with luxury high-rise developments that clash with existing character, scale, and capacity. 

Unknown Knowns: Following the insights of the famous Zen poet, Donald Rumsfeld, these four predictable Bumps-in-the-Road are known knowns. But this poet has also reminds us that there are unknown knowns, and sometimes even unknown unknowns. 

Clearly, once the Update process is in high gear, we should expect many more bumps in the road than this beginners list.

 

(Dick Platkin writes on Los Angeles city planning issues for CityWatch. He lives in Beverly Grove, and is a Board Member of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected]

-cw

Alert! Snagged Votes In Los Angeles

ELECTION WATCHDOG--Julie Tyler, an election observer who volunteered to make sure our democracy is on a good footing, went to the LA County Registrar’s office on June 20 in Norwalk, California.

All vote-count observers are given an escorted tour of the ballot counting facilities, but this was Tyler’s fifth visit to Norwalk. She had seen the provisional ballots removed from large fluorescent green envelopes to sit in piles of pink envelopes, each holding one ballot. By day five, there were many such provisionals placed in a box of “snagged” ballots. They would receive special “de-processing.”

“I was interested in understanding why the provisional envelopes were ending up in the ‘snagged’ box,” said Tyler. “As the rest of my small group exited the room with our escort, I noticed on the top of the pile in one box an envelope from a No Party Preference (NPP) voter, who had stated in the affidavit section, ‘Democrat’ and who was given a Democratic ballot.”

In California, people who identify as ‘independent’ register as No Party Preference, however, they are allowed to vote for president using a special Democratic, American Independent Party, or Libertarian crossover ballot in counties which opted to use crossover ballots. Different counties used different methods to prevent NPP voters from voting in the Democratic County Central Committee elections, while still voting Democratic in the presidential primary.

Tyler asked the supervisor, Tim, how these ballots would be reprocessed. “He said the ballot needed to be remade into an NPP ballot. I said, ‘but that would mean there would be no section for the presidential race.’ He said, ‘Correct.’ I said, so you mean it will be canceled? He said, ‘Yes.’”

Tyler persisted. “I asked him to pull out another ballot randomly from the box. In the span of 60 seconds, I saw three provisional envelopes suffering the same fate. I confirmed with him that these non-partisan voters and their ballots were being remade into NPP ballots in the remake room.”

Tyler and three other observers entered the remake room. “We all stood behind one of the clerks in front of her computer. She showed us how she scans the NPP ballot into a computer, canceling out the offices/races for which the NPP voter may not vote, then manually with a green pencil, marking an ‘X’ in the corresponding boxes.” Thus, independent voters without a special crossover ballot were having their votes for president thrown out.

Tyler asked, “which ballot would have been correct [so that NPP voters could cast a vote for president]? What does it look like? Please show it to me.”

Tim showed her an example crossover ballot. But the non-crossover Democratic ballots placed in provisional envelopes had all the information necessary to count their vote for president. Tyler said, “the intention of the voter is clear. It is written on the outside of the provisional envelope in the form of an affidavit.” The observers all had the same concern. “Why is this voter’s presidential vote being thrown out?” Tyler asked. “Tim really had no explanation, and at that point we all said we needed to talk to his supervisor right away.”

Aaron Nevarez, Executive Assistant of the County Clerk, who reports to Dean Logan, Registrar/Recorder, came to meet them. For a half an hour they discussed the issue. The observers requested a halt to the reprocessing of provisional ballots. They asked exactly how many had been reprocessed and what caused them to have Democratic ballots. Did they run out of the crossover ballots at the precincts? Were the poll workers uninformed, and simply gave out the wrong ballot?

Tyler said, “Nevarez said they needed to ‘understand the scope of it and would not be halting the process just then.’ He then agreed to go make inquiries and get back to us with a response.”

About an hour later, Nevarez returned saying that he had news that would please the observers. “He said they would no longer be remaking the Dem ballots as NPP, but rather crossover Dem, and that they would gather all of them which fit that criteria and put specific clerks on that task.” But how many provisionals had been reprocessed already, and would they start over? Tyler reported, “Nevarez said, out of 4,000 provisionals we have counted thus far, 25% fit the same criteria.

More importantly, we asked if they would go back, retrieve the ballots that had already been reprocessed and retroactively remake them the proper way. He replied yes. He said they were going to compile all of those particular ballots, put specific clerks on them to process them.” Who had made this decision? Nevarez, said Dean Logan.

The election observers wanted a guarantee that Dean Logan would take the matter all the way up to Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Los Angeles is just one of 58 counties in California, and it was unknown how many of them used crossover ballots.

“We wanted something in writing from LA County to cite when we requested other counties process this particular ballot,” Tyler said. “He told us to call Secretary Padilla’s office and make a request. An observer named Donna Tarr submitted something in writing on the spot.”

Volunteer observers held a conference call with every team lead statewide to watch for these ballots, to make sure they would be counted correctly. But San Francisco certified their tallies shortly after volunteers learned about the problem, and SF vote observers had experienced thwarted efforts to observe closely enough to catch it even if they were able to figure out NPP voters were being deprived of their vote for president.

Tyler tried to get more information from Mark, Ted, and Nick at the county registrar’s office. Others tried reaching Alex Padilla, whether through their state senator such as Ben Allen, or through Dean Logan’s office, trying to gain assurance that votes were counted. Tyler specifically expressed concern with vote by mail (VBM) ballots being returned with hand-written presidential candidates on their ballots. Again, in each case, the voter’s intent was clear.

When Aaron Nevarez agreed that “this issue falls under the category of voter intent” he was referring to the Democratic ballots, not every instance in which voters would show their preference for a candidate. Write-ins for Bernie Sanders on a Green Party ticket or write-ins for Bernie Sanders on an American Independent Party ballot would be wasted votes, according to the registrar’s office. Voter intent be damned in those cases.

Tyler said, “If I were an NPP voter whose presidential vote was thrown out for any reason, I would be furious.”

To report a problem with your voting experience, please fill out the California Voter Declaration at WatchtheVoteUSA.com.

(Judy Frankel is Founder and CEO, Writeindependent.org … where this perspective was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

University of California Publicity Campaign Unnecessary, Misguided

GUEST COMMENTARY--Some state legislators and student leaders called a University of California advertising campaign “tone-deaf” and accused the University of a “cover-up” after they learned that the UC spent $158,000 on online ads and radio time promoting its good practices.

The advertisements were intended to defend the UC after a March state audit, which found the UC had lowered admission standards for nonresident students in order to raise revenue. In the advertisements, the University pointed to highlights from its rebuttal to the audit, including the fact that 84 percent of UC undergraduates hail from California.

The spending didn’t hurt students, and it had good intentions. But it further damaged the University’s image and was not only unnecessary but ultimately ineffective.

The state’s audit lacked sorely-needed context that residents need to be aware of when assessing their stake in and access to California’s higher education system, such as the University’s balancing act between serving in-state students and enrolling out-of-state students, who can provide three times the amount of tuition dollars and help the University’s precarious financial situation. Given this, the UC’s motivations were understandable.

However, the University seriously misread the state of public opinion when it decided that spending money on an advertising campaign was the best way to improve their standing with the public. Instead, the move brought sharp criticism from California State Assembly member Catharine Baker, who called it “tone-deaf”, and University of California Student Association president Kevin Sabo, who said the University thought it was “above transparency.”

While the money came from the University’s endowment funds earmarked for administrative purposes, this represents a serious waste of resources. UC spokesperson Dianne Klein told the Sacramento Bee that the University thought it was necessary to promote a positive message because of negative press’ power to dominate the conversation surrounding the audit.

It was a worthy effort, but the university decided to try creating this positive message through a $158,000 ad campaign instead of using its existing press corps or spending the money on community engagement. In other words, the University spent money to flood Californians with information to reflect its struggle with the state. This is certainly not on par with a cover-up, but it isn’t the wisest use of University resources.

Instead, the University should be calling attention to the root cause of the enrollment controversy: years of underfunding from the state government. Danny Siegel, Undergraduate Student Association Council president, told The Bruin just that in an interview earlier this week: “The onus is on the state for this (spending). The UC wouldn’t be enrolling so many out-of-state students if the state wasn’t underfunding UC in the first place.”

Just as the state failed to acknowledge how its declining contribution to the UC has created the need for nonresident enrollment, the UC failed to acknowledge that residents don’t just need to know more about the UC, but rather need to be better engaged with it and its issues.

(This Daily Bruin Editorial Board commentary was posted originally by the UCLA Daily Bruin.)

We Will Preserve Our Republic ... If We Have the Brains and Courage to Keep It

ALPERN AT LARGE--"Well, Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a Monarchy?"

"A Republic, if you can keep it."

--Benjamin Franklin, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in response to a woman asking Dr Franklin this question at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, as per the notes of Dr James McHenry, one of Maryland's delegates to the Convention. 

Too many of us in our "modern, enlightened era" (the quotes are there because we're becoming less modern, and certainly less enlightened) have too little knowledge of our nation's history, and know too little of the difference is between a Republic and a Democracy, of the Separation of Powers, and just basic Civics to understand the extraordinary responsibility Benjamin Franklin was talking about. 

Our Democratic Republic is NOT for the entitled, and it is not for the cowardly... 

...and here's another critical quote from Dr. Franklin: 

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." 

In other words, our nation, "the home of the Brave and land of the Free", is NOT for sissies, and NOT for those looking for OTHERS to take care of THEM. 

1) And on that note, let me APOLOGIZE for an expression I used before in a recent CityWatch article.

I used the word "civil service mentality" to describe some of the more customer-unfriendly, honesty-challenged, and both contemptible and passenger-contemptuous individuals at United Airlines, and that expression should have been "entitled".  So while United Airlines IS by far too often an entitled and customer-unresponsive entity, our dedicated City workers are, by and large, NOT. 

I am, as I have stated on numerous occasions, the proud son of a retired former engineer who worked for the City of Los Angeles Dept of Sanitation and Refuse.  Many of the current efficiencies and modern sanitation practices of our City are due to his efforts, and I grew up living a more modest lifestyle than most of my neighbors because of his fixed income. 

So I would like to give a shout-out and call for respect to my neighbors and friends working for Council members, at the LADOT, Department of Public Works, and elsewhere.  Their income is overall much much lower, and with much less upside income potential, than many of their private sector counterparts.   

Most of them deserve a raise. Like our armed forces, they preserve and defend what we all take for granted. 

2) So let's throw the blame where it belongs ... with City management. 

Remember...brains AND courage?  That means when you ignore the small businesses of Los Angeles, and ignore all the rules of economics, and not only raise the minimum wage but jack it up to the point where businesses will either similarly jack up their prices or bolt outside the City limits, it's neither brains nor courage to do that sort of thing. 

Congrats to winning over the voters and activists who understandably are infuriated about income inequality, but I just hope that Mayor Garcetti and the City Council are able to "man up" if and when their business-unfriendly policies catch up with them ...AND MAKE INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE!!!

Because just about EVERYONE wants upside income potential to go UP, and for the average Angeleno to thrive, but pandering to feel-good policies that threaten the economic future of the middle-class just for some short-term publicity is neither Free nor Brave, and it's exactly the sort of thing that our nation shucked off when we chose to give up our Monarchy and become a Republic.

Raising the minimum wage?  Great.  Doing so to a level that small businesses were screaming? Not so great. 

Most importantly, diverting Angelenos from the horrific mismanagement in the City by smacking around small business owners makes short-term political sense, but only so far as the citizenry remains blind and uneducated as to what long-term damage our Downtown leaders have done.

That government-by-fiat approach over businesses is what Socialism is all about.  Yes...Socialism. 

And for those who are enamored by that form of government, just take a look at the crime, food lines, and civic unrest of Venezuela, which once had a growing and modernizing economy. 

Because Socialism is about the most efficient way to make income inequality WORSE, not better ... but enough uneducated individuals will feel "empowered" all the way down to Economic Hell". 

To Mayor Garcetti and the City Council:  perhaps if you REALLY want to help the middle class and small businesses, you'll find a way to make utility costs cheaper, and to really, really, REALLY take on the LA Department of Water and Power, which again keeps slipping into controversy and blatant mismanagement at the expense of City residents and businesses. 

3) Democracies, and Democratic Republics, are supposed to be messy and argumentative--but it keeps tyranny from taking over. 

There's a reason why CityWatch has so many things to raise up.  We have heroes like City Controller Ron Galperin, who continues to uncover more mismanagement and downright corruption in how our City spends its taxpayer monies. 

There are also heroes like CD11 City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who works side by side with City workers to restore the credibility gap left in the wake of the Hahn and Villaraigosa eras, but who also calls out corruption and bad City policies whenever he sees them arise. 

Yet, overall, we still have a two-tiered society--the empowered and the unempowered.  We have our empowered City leaders, and those unempowered volunteer activists and Neighborhood Council leaders who don't get paid in anything but heartache and indigestion while they "dare" to promote accountability and transparency in the way public money is spent, and how the economy is promoted. 

Do we have enough meetings (like, for example, the county Metro agency does for its rail, road and other projects) in the evenings when it comes to City Planning and other critical issues...or do we just stack the deck so that paid lobbyists and hired guns can overrun the City Chambers while the citizenry is hard at work feeding their families? 

How long are we going to endure rising taxes for this, that, and any other diversion the City Council can come up with rather than demanding the City live within its means, focus on basic City services, and not treat the public's money like it belonged personally to the Mayor and City Council? 

It's good to have an Olympics, but will Angelenos get rewarded by having their sidewalks fixed within 7-10 years, and not an insulting 30 years?   

We've paid and paid and paid.  That whole "taxation without representation" thing is going on today as much as it did under King George III, and just because we don't have an institutional monarchy doesn't mean Downtown too often doesn't understand that our taxes and fees is NOT their money. 

Ultimately, it's up to each and every one of us.  We can either fight for another round of City reform (such as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which comes out next year, and demands reasonable City Planning policies consistent with City Bylaws and Environmental Law be adhered to), move out of the City whenever we can...or just live with bad government like the lower life forms we've gotten used to being. 

Do we, as American citizens, recognize that brains and courage have ALWAYS been needed, and ALWAYS will be needed, to fight for a fair and representative Democracy that empowers and truly, TRULY takes care of its citizens? 

Or will we just give in to the siren's song of decrying those who do raise these issues as "crazy" or "unrealistic"?

 

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

-cw

Jerry Brown’s Concerns Reflect Hillary Clinton’s Vulnerability

ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY-Governor Jerry Brown has signed another California budget essentially along the lines he proposed, once again thwarting the designs of some legislative Democrats for expansive new and renewed programs. Not that Brown hasn’t had some expansive programs of his own, especially in education, health care, energy and the environment, and new infrastructure for a sustainable new economy.

“This solid budget makes responsible investments in California and sets aside billions of dollars to prepare for the next recession,” Brown declared in a signing statement. 

That last is the tell, the reminder of why Brown has been loathe to restore a number of social welfare programs which he and predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut back in the period in which the now four-term governor inherited a $27 billion state budget deficit. Why not? Because they’re the sorts of programs that grow and grow. And Brown is more convinced than ever that the next economic downturn is already on its way. 

This, despite the fact that California’s economy during Brown’s governorship has grown in the world, trailing only those of China, the US as a whole, India, Japan, and Germany. 

Russia? Just behind California. Britain? Back in 11th place, even before the exit from the European Union which continues to roil the world economic landscape (and has just turned into a real-life ‘House of Cards’ in both the Conservative and Labour Parties.) 

Brown, who has continually, in the view of many analysts, low-balled California revenue forecasts, even doubled his new state budget rainy day fund. Though, of course, any big downturn will probably require significant future budget cuts. That’s the only actual “spending limit,” as I’ve noted with regard to other governors, which works in a democratic society, and is well within the broad constitutional powers of the California governorship. 

Brown’s longstanding and growing concern about an economic downturn reflects one of the key eventualities that could lead to the defeat of the Democrat he ended up successfully backing earlier this month in the California primary, former Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton. 

Despite a month of woe, the execrable de facto Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump only trails Clinton by, on average, a mid-single digit margin. 

The continued danger of a Trump presidency, which if anything has increased again in the wake of Brexit, added a sense of urgency to Brown’s hosting of the first ever Clean Energy Ministerial held in the US. Brown hosted what has become an annual summit of major world energy ministers in his home town San Francisco a few days before the California primary. 

The two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination also created a second global organization on renewable energy and climate change, the Subnational Clean Energy Ministerial, representing subnational governments in key energy-producing nations.    

Trump is a notorious climate change denier who has vowed to push an energy strategy which would take America back -- though hardly in the way he meant it last week when he appropriated Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan -- at least half a century, relying on coal and other fossil fuels to the extent that the cooking of the planet would not only not be reversed, it would be accelerated.

Clinton, in sharp contrast, has committed to major steps forward along the renewable energy path that California is blazing into the future. 

Brown also just wrote a powerful article in the New York Review of Books, discussing former Defense Secretary William Perry’s new book, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink.” 

In it, Brown says that Perry, a defense technology insider for more than half a century, “As much as anyone, is aware of the ways, secret and public, that technical innovation, private profit and tax dollars, civilian gadgetry and weapons of mass destruction, satellite technology, computers, and ever-expanding surveillance are interconnected. But he now uses this dark knowledge in an effort to reverse the deadly arms race in which he had such a pivotal role.” 

As it happens, Clinton takes a more conventional view, and, among other things, has long backed the NATO expansionism which has alarmed Russia since the ‘90s and may drive a new nuclear arms race as Brown and Perry point out. I’ll have more on this going forward. 

Trump, however, has views on nuclear weapons which are frankly terrifying. 

He blithely recommends an increase in nuclear proliferation and has spoken of using nuclear weapons as though they are just another military option, holding out the prospect of nuking the terrorists of ISIS. In the American system, the president has quite stunning and immediate direct power over the nuclear button. 

If Hillary Clinton is elected, there’s room for debate and improvement on nuclear weapons along the lines advocated by Perry, Brown and others. 

But if Trump is elected, there can be nothing but opposition to a profoundly dangerous mindset and temperament. And perhaps prayerful hopes for the best. 

In which case Brown’s Jesuit background might come in handy.

 

(William Bradley is a political analyst. He blogs at Huffington Post  … where this piece was first posted.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Did the Declaration of Independence Authors have LA’s Ethics Commission in Mind?

POLITICS LA--Among the British-inflicted “repeated injuries and usurpations” spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, none holds greater significance for Angelenos than does the English king’s crime of erecting “a multitude of New Offices” and sending “hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Could the Framers have been referring to anything other than the Enforcement Division of LA City’s Ethics Commission? While the chronology doesn’t scan, have a listen to the audio recording of the recent campaign finance “proceeding” against longtime Neighborhood Council member Kelly M. Lord, and you’ll know what we mean.  

As we touched upon in an earlier CityWatch piece, Kelly Lord was last month wrongly convicted at the hands of Ethics Enforcement Director by Sergio Perez of campaign violation so tortured in design, so poorly cobbled together, and “out from left field” as to be meaningless. All for a 2011 City Council election in which Mr. Lord raised just $4,000 and got trounced by City Council member Mitch Englander. Thomas Jefferson would do back flips in his grave. The details can be found here

But for the purposes of this piece, it suffices to underline, two bigger issues with the case, which would exist even if Mr. Lord were actually guilty of a legitimate campaign violation, which, again, he was not.  To put it simply, the four ethics commissioners, Serena Oberstein, Melinda Murray, Ana Dahan, led by chair Nathan Hochman, made mincemeat of Mr. Lord's constitutional rights by holding precisely the kind of Kangaroo court persecution which colonial Americans suffered at the hands of British thugs.  

Due process requires in layman's terms, that the government can't take your possessions or prosecute you for a crime whenever they feel like it and for any reason that tickles their fancy and without a rule book for the proceedings.  The constitution makes the government jump through many hoops before they can deprive you of your property and or freedom.  

One could hardly imagine a trial with less due process than the prosecution of Kelly M. Lord. First, most of us think it is important in a trial to have a judge. But apparently not the Ethics Commission.  According to their manual, the presiding officer needs to have not a single qualification including a law degree.  According to the commission's whim, the presiding officer can be anyone of the commissioners or the commissioner's as a group, or (the only sane alternative) an actual judge provided by an organization certified and experienced at conducting administrative hearings.   

In other words, there is no requirement to have any idea what they are doing.  In the case of Kelly M. Lord it was the commission's whim to have its Vice President Nathan Hochman play the role of judge.  It just so happens that he is a lawyer, though not one with any experience as a Judge, the small wrinkle in the choice of Hochman as we've mentioned in these pages before is that he is a campaign donor to precisely the person Kelly M. Lord was running against, at the time of his alleged campaign violation: namely, City Council Member and recently trounced county supervisor candidate, Mitchell Englander (who, through no fault of his own, also happens to be the nephew of the single most successful lobbyist in the Los Angeles region.) 

Listening to Hochman, Enforcement Director Sergio Perez and the rest of the commission fly by the seat of their pants in conducting the tribunal against Mr. Lord, will shock even the most unscrupulous lawyers. At the end of the proceeding one listens with horror and disbelief as Mr. Hochman asks if there are any volunteers among the other commissioners or Ethics Commission staff to draft the official finding of fact and application of law (ie. the official judgement against Mr. Lord).  Did that volunteer need to be a lawyer, let alone a lawyer with any experience or training in such matters?  Nope.  Did the volunteer have to have the faintest idea of what he or she would be doing?  No siree, Bob!   Could the volunteer have been the receptionist at the Ethics Commission?  Why not?  If he or she is willing to pitch in. 

The friendly patter and good-natured chuckles exchanged among the commissioners during the phase of the trial at which the extent of the punishment was being mused over is sickening when one thinks about Kelly M. Lord sitting just a few feet away, twisting in the wind.  After each of the commissioners had had an opportunity to expound on his or her feelings of how much or how little to mitigate or make harsher the punishment of Mr. Lord, they satisfied themselves with an eye-popping fine of $15,900.  By comparison, Mr. Lord's campaign raised in total, barely $4,000 dollars, which brings us to the second violation of Mr. Lord's constitutional rights: Eighth amendment which prohibits the levying of "excessive fines."   

This independence day is an appropriate time to call for a complete dismantling of the enforcement division of the Ethics Commission. Violations of the law including those related to elections and campaign finance should be handled by actual professionals acting in accordance with actual rules of due process and presided over by actual judges, who actually understand the Bill of Rights.  This is not at all to say that the whole of the Ethics Commission should be shut down. On the contrary, the extensive data base it provides of campaign contributions, money spent on lobbyists, and other tools of pay-to-play is an invaluable service to the public.  

“And as for Mr. Lord, he should take that $15,900 judgement against him, show it to a civil rights lawyer, and then do with it what those fed-up citizens at Boston harbor did with all those crates of tea.” 

Happy Birthday America! Happy fourth of July! 

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

What is Loretta Sanchez Thinking?

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Has Loretta Sanchez given up?

Given how much ground the U.S. Senate candidate has to make up on Attorney General Kamala Harris, what on earth was Rep. Sanchez doing visiting Spain on a recent trade mission?

There will be plenty of time to visit that fascinating (and even more stalemated than the U.S.) country after the November elections. Congresswoman, you’d be very welcome to join me at the 2016 Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy in San Sebastian, November 16-19.

But if you’re running for Senate from 30 points down, it’d be good to spend every possible minute in California.

Just compare Sanchez’s profile with that of Lt.. Gov Gavin Newsom, whose gubernatorial election isn’t until 2018. Newsom is making news almost every day. Part of that is because he’s involved in two initiative campaigns, on guns and marijuana. Of course, come to think of it, that’s a strategy that Sanchez, who needs to be better known, should have adopted herself.

The timing of the Spain trip was awful. With the presidential nominees decided, these weeks before the conventions offered an opportunity for Sanchez to get more media coverage.

Tt this point, it would be nice just to be present and show any sign of life. The case for Sanchez was supposed to be that she’s a fighter. California, with only 2 senators to represent 39 million, needs a non-stop fighter, trying to achieve some balance in a U.S. senate stacked against the Golden State. Spending critical campaign time in Spain raises awful questions: does Sanchez understand what the job requires? And does she really want it?

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

-cw

Are Valley Stakeholders Buying Into LA County’s R2 Transit Tax Pitch?

GUEST WORDS--"(T)he Metro plan itself, looks good on paper. It’s missing one critical element though, which is a transit system to California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Of even more concern though, is the lack of legal guarantees in the plan. The plan is built on trust, and unfortunately I do not think Valley residents trust Metro to follow through." -Richard Close

Metro’s sales tax expenditure plan, now commonly referred to as Measure R2, is scheduled to be considered by the entire Metro board June 23rd.  If approved, Metro’s expenditure plan—coupled with an evergreen provision that obviates the need for Metro to ever come back to the voters—would then be on the November ballot. Serious concerns are being raised by reputable Valley leadership that the San Fernando Valley is not receiving a fair share of the proposed funding resulting from passage of new sales tax. As one of the Valley’s most recognized and tenured leaders, what are your thoughts on Metro’s Draft Expenditure Plan?

The people of the San Fernando Valley realize that they have not received a fair share of the money that has been raised through the original Measure R sales tax increase for rapid transit. Of the 88 rail stations in the County, the Valley only has 2. In the prior ballot measure, we were promised a number of light-rail lines, and those never were built. Therefore, Valley residents are very skeptical of the newly proposed Metro plan.

That said, the Metro plan itself, looks good on paper. It’s missing one critical element though, which is a transit system to California State University, Northridge (CSUN).

Of even more concern though, is the lack of legal guarantees in the plan.  The plan is built on trust, and unfortunately I do not think Valley residents trust Metro to follow through.

In the original Measure R, they raised our sales taxes but we received very little. Now, they want to raise the sales tax to 9.5% with “commitments”, not legal requirements.

I want to see the Measure pass. But without legal guarantees, Valley residents will not vote for the measure in November and it will not get the 2/3 vote needed to increase the sales tax. 

As one who has been in the room when reaching consensus is necessary what does Metro need to do to entice the San Fernando Valley voters to support by a super majority Metro’s new Sales Tax Measure R2?

Before the Metro Board vote next Thursday it is necessary to change the plan so that what is promised on paper is legally binding. Secondly, they have to put more programs and funding into the San Fernando Valley because we have not received our fair share for the last twenty years. For example, where are people to park to use the transit lines. In the Valley, we need adequate parking to encourage more use of the system. 

It is time for the Valley to get their fair share of rapid transit projects and take part in the transformation that is occurring in other places in the county.

Who are the Valley stakeholders and whom should Valley residents turn to for guidance on this issue? Who, essentially, is looking out for the Valley?

The transportation leaders for the Valley are Senator Robert Hertzberg, former Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and former Assemblyman Richard Katz. These are the community leaders that are working to protect the Valley.  Without 2/3s Valley support in November, the Metro plan is dead. 

(Richard Close, President of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, for nearly four decades has been a well-recognized San Fernando Valley (SOHA) civic advocate. This piece was posted originally at the Planning Report.) 

-cw

Independence Day, Los Angeles: What It Means in 2016

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-The Fourth of July, like many holidays, has lost some of its luster as a patriotic paean to independence. We think of barbecues and pool parties, fireworks and, if we’re lucky, an extra day off. It’s the centerpiece of summer, flanked by Memorial Day and Labor Day. 

We sometimes forget that the Fourth represents more than a burger on the grill and watermelon. The holiday celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Two-hundred and forty years ago, the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies no longer considered themselves part of the British Empire. Two days later, they called themselves a new nation, the United States of America. 

The founding fathers present at the First and Second Continental Congress had guts. They didn’t like how Great Britain was treating the colonies and they were willing to do something. 

When I hear from Angelenos gathering forces to solve a problem in our city, I think about the founding fathers. Whether the issue is the influence developers wield on City Council, unfettered development, gentrification, homelessness, the lack of restrictions on sober living facilities, or even the plight of migrating birds if a three-day concert should be held in the Sepulveda Basin, citizens throughout the city are fully committed to making a difference to change the course. 

It’s easy to feel powerless against what we perceive as well-funded political machines and interests with deep pockets. Does each one of us really have a voice? What I see when I attend meetings in living rooms or meeting areas is that, gathered together, our voices can be loud enough to be heard.

So, in honor of Independence Day, use your voice at the ballot box by joining with neighbors and other concerned citizens to work on an issue you wish to change, and even by commenting on an article you’ve read. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedoms to vote, to assemble, and to speak out against injustices. Together, we can make a difference.

 

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

LA’s Mayor Flunks the Budget Test

LA WATCHDOG--In August, the Los Angeles Times awarded Mayor Eric Garcetti a C for his performance during his first two years in office.  While Garcetti received a B+ on his Vision, his overall ranking was dinged by a C- on Leadership and D on Political Courage. 

Unfortunately for all Angelenos, the “smooth on the podium” Garcetti has not shown leadership or political courage when addressing our cash strapped City’s budget, its lunar cratered streets, its massive $15 billion in unfunded pension liability, and its antiquated management information systems. 

One of the major financial goals of the City over the past decade has been to eliminate its Structural Deficit, where the growth in expenditures (primarily personnel costs – salaries, benefits, and pension contributions) exceeds the increase in tax revenues.  And of course, Garcetti pledged to eliminate the Structural Deficit as part of his Back to Basics program where the City would “live within its financial means.” 

But the political rhetoric is not consistent with reality as the City is now projecting a cumulative four year deficit in the range of $300 million, in large part because of a new labor agreement with the City’s civilian unions. This deal with the campaign funding management of the civilian unions turned a projected surplus of $68 million in 2020 into a deficit of $100 million, a negative swing of $168 million. 

This $300 million cumulative deficit does not include any money for the City’s ambitious homeless initiative, the systematic repair of our lunar cratered streets, the proper funding its pension plans and management information systems, the “goal” of hiring of 5,000 new employees, or any new labor contracts for the City’s 32,000 employees. 

However, these deficits are very difficult to comprehend as projected revenues over Garcetti’s first eight years (July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2021) in office are anticipated to increase by 35%, or $1.6 billion.  This shows that our City has a spending addiction, a problem that the mayor has refused to address.  

Garcetti’s lack of leadership and political courage was evident by the fact that he was missing in action when the LA 2020 Commission recommended two finance related reforms.  These reforms included the adoption of a three year budgeting cycle and the establishment of an Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee our city’s precarious finances.  

The LA 2020 Commission also suggested the formation of a Commission on Retirement Security to review, analyze, and make recommendations to stabilize our City’s seriously underfunded pension plans.  As it is, the financial demands of the City’s two pension plans threaten to devour our City’s future and burden the next two generations of Angelenos with tens of billions of obligations. But where was our Back to Basics mayor? 

The Mayor has also failed to develop a comprehensive operational and financial plan to repair and maintain our streets, some of the worst in the nation.  At the same time, the City receives a kickback of over $200 million a year from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to help maintain our streets and transportation systems.  Instead, our mayor is crowing about fixing 2,400 miles of streets a year.  But this pothole filling strategy is just a band aid that does not address our thousands of miles failed streets and neglected alleys.  

Garcetti tell us that he wants LA to be the best run big City in America.  But this is not in the cards unless the City is willing to devote the significant resources to update City Hall’s antiquated management information systems with new enterprise software systems that are necessary to run complex organizations in this ever changing world.  

Mayor Garcetti has been blessed by an improving economy that has resulted in a huge increase in revenues.  But he has squandered this opportunity to stabilize the City’s finances by failing to address the Structural Deficit, our failing infrastructure, our seriously underfunded pension plans, and our antiquated management information systems. 

Mayor Garcetti has failed us and as a result, he has flunked Budget and Finance and deserves the failing grade of D. 

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected].)

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Westside Mega-Project Comes Under Fire

HUGH MARTIN EXPO PROJECT WILL OVERWHELM THE NEIGHBORHOOD--The Coalition to Preserve LA, a citywide, community-based group that seeks to reform L.A.’s broken planning and land-use system, has sent out mailers to Westside residents, denouncing the outsized mega-development Martin Expo Town Center.  The proposed project would create 16 new gridlocked intersections on the Westside’s already traffic-jammed streets and more than 7,000 car trips daily.

“The Martin project is overwhelming,” the mailer states. “But we can stop the overdevelopment avalanche.”

Martin Expo Town Center is proposed for the current site of the Martin Cadillac dealership on Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive. The Martin family, which operates Martin Automotive Group, is behind the mega-project. Through a company called Philena Properties, the Martin family is seeking a zone change and General Plan amendment from LA City Hall to build.

Since 2012, Martin Automotive Group and its representatives have contributed $3,650 to the campaign war chests of City Council and mayoral candidates, according the city’s Ethics Commission. In addition, since 2012, Philena Properties has spent $759,121 on politically connected City Hall lobbyists to win over politicians and bureaucrats.

That’s how things work in LA’s broken planning and land-use system — spread around the cash at City Hall and expect profitable favors in return. 

Coalition to Preserve LA mailer

As noted in the Coalition to Preserve LA mailer, Martin Expo Town Center will jam 516 residential units and at least 150,000 square feet of office space on the Martin Cadillac site, and will create 7,151 more car trips daily and 16 new gridlocked intersections. It also seeks a half-dozen on- and off-site liquor licenses and permits for live entertainment.

In other words, for the entire day and deep into the night, neighborhoods surrounding the project will be slammed with traffic jams and other quality-of-life impacts. Also, Angelenos who drive through the area will encounter a gridlock nightmare.

Community activists and such neighborhoods groups as the West of Westwood Homeowners Association, West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, Brentwood Homeowners Association and Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowners Association are seriously alarmed by the mega-project.

West LA-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council member Xochitl Gonzalez notes, “The Coalition to Preserve LA mailer is great. People on the Westside know what this project means — a more dangerous place for us to live. It will make it more dangerous to walk across streets, to bike anywhere, to get emergency services.”

She adds, “Anyone on the Westside knows that, during traffic time, Olympic Boulevard becomes a parking lot. The streets cannot take the additional traffic this project will generate. The leaders of Los Angeles are short-sighted. Adding oversized projects like this makes our city a less desirable place to live.”   

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

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

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

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

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

To Protect and Snoop: LAPD Using Tech Tools to Spy On the People … BLM Says ‘Slap in the Face’

POLICING THE POLICE--U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch traveled to Los Angeles on Wednesday to highlight the police department’s efforts to foster a stronger relationship with the community via social media.

The Los Angeles stop is part of Lynch’s national community policing tour, which spotlights departments that have excelled in that area according to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s final report, released last month. The LAPD, the report says, shines in its use of technology and social media. 

But not everyone agrees with that assessment. The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter considers such praise so wrongheaded that the activists are protesting Lynch’s visit.

“It’s a huge slap in the face. It’s a huge insult to black people and the people of Los Angeles,” Melina Abdullah, an organizer for Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, told The Huffington Post. “Their use of social media is really surveilling us.”

Hamid Khan, the coordinator for the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, is equally baffled by the recognition from the Justice Department.

The LAPD has used cutting-edge technology to create “a massive architecture of surveillance and spying and infiltration,” he said.

His coalition’s website lays out how the department watches the city’s residents. Stingrays and DRT boxes are used to track, intercept data on and sometimes jam mobile phones. Street cameras employ highly accurate facial recognition technology. License plate readers, drones and even police body cameras help the department know where people are and when. 

This wealth of data — which is collected even on individuals who haven’t committed crimes — fuels the LAPD’s predictive policing model, which the coalition asserts is used to “crunch crime statistics and other data with algorithms to ‘predict’ when and where future crimes are most likely to occur.” 

Even police efforts to interact through social media can have a sinister edge. Tweeting out to the community is one thing. Tracking the online activities of people who are, after all, just exercising their rights to civil protest is another  — and Abdullah, for one, fears the latter is happening.

In other words, Khan said, the LAPD — and other police departments — “are incorporating and codifying counterterrorism and counterinsurgency methodology and tactics into their daily policing.”

The LAPD declined to comment on its use of technology to surveil citizens. A Justice Department spokesman said that Lynch was simply in the city “to highlight ways in which the LAPD uses social media and technology to positively engage the LA community.” 

Body cameras are one of the tools that Los Angeles police use to surveil residents, according to the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

On Wednesday, Lynch attended a briefing at the LAPD Real Time Analysis and Critical Response Division. It’s the department’s first fusion center — a place where it gathers, analyzes and shares information to scope out alleged threats.

Or Khan put it, “to spy and to gather information on people.”

LAPD’s participation in the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative, for instance, has been heavily criticized for the activities that it deems to be suspicious. These include “suspected pre-operational surveillance” (using a camera or binoculars), “counter-surveillance efforts” (doubling back, evasive driving or changing your appearance), and taking measurements (counting footsteps).

Any of these innocuous behaviors can lead the police to write up a secret file on an individual and upload it into a database accessible to every law enforcement agency in the country, Khan said.

And the SAR program doesn’t surveil the city’s residents equally. Over 30 percent of suspicious activity reports involved black Los Angelenos and 50 percent of the women surveilled were black, according to an inspector general’s audit of the program in January 2015. Black people comprise 9.6 percent of the city’s population.

“These are the tools for racial profiling,” Khan said.  

People protest in March against the killing of a mentally ill homeless man, who allegedly tried to grab an LA police officer’s gun during a scuffle.

Beyond the surveillance, Abdullah takes issue with the Justice Department honoring what she called “the most murderous police department in the entire country.”

In 2015, LAPD officers shot 38 people — and killed 21 of them. The number killed, according to NPR, tops the number of people shot to death by police in several of the nation’s other largest cities, including Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. The LAPD also saw an uptick of deaths in custody last year.

At least eight people have been killed by on-duty LAPD officers this year, according to The Counted.

Lately, officers have also been cracking down on dissent at the public meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Abdullah said.

“This is the first week in four weeks that there have been no arrests for showing up at the oversight body public meeting,” she said. “And so, I’m really angry that the attorney general is turning a blind eye to that.”

Last week, an 81-year-old man was dragged out of the meeting and arrested for speaking off topic.  The week before, someone was arrested for filming the meeting, Abdullah said. On another occasion, a civilian was detained for walking out the wrong door. Abdullah herself was arrested for going over the two-minute speaking limit, she said.

The Los Angeles Police Commission did not respond to a request for comment.

Considering all of these events, Abdullah said she can’t understand why the attorney general would highlight the LAPD as a pillar of community policing. 

Initially, she thought that Lynch was actually going to present the LAPD with the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service in Community Policing award. She even started a petition calling out the police department’s “long and deep history of corruption that continues in their current practices.” But there will be no award.

Still, Abdullah said of the attorney general, “It doesn’t make sense to me that, as a black woman, you can turn a blind eye to what LAPD has a history of doing and continues to do.”

(Julia Craven is a politics reporter for The Huffington Post … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

Street Talk … from Inside the ‘Still Bernie’ Rally Supporters Rally in Hollywood

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS LA STYLE-On Sunday, June 26 at high noon, various groups supporting Bernie Sanders for President inspired a march/rally in Hollywood. About 800 to 1,000 enthusiastic supporters from across the city and nearby counties took part in the march. They rallied with banners, costumes, dances, and songs and there was a strong presence of politically savvy young activists. 

The march covered two square blocks, swiftly moved up Cahuenga Blvd to Hollywood Blvd and continued down Vine Street. It halted for a while at Selma Avenue for a pre-rally kick-off before proceeding to the rally center in front of the CNN building on Sunset Blvd. 

KPFK Public Radio Host Cary Harrison said that the public thinks that Bernie Sanders has dropped out due to the lack publicity in the mainstream media, and that is not true. Harrison emphasized that people were at this rally to support the ideals and values Bernie stands for. “To push Bernie into the White House where we can actually see policy change,” he said, “…he hasn’t disappeared just because CNN wants him to disappear.” 

Harrison added that the grandchild of Jeremy White of Team Bernie LA sponsored this event. 

As I interviewed Harrison, standing on Vine Street near the “Black Men for Bernie” bus with performers atop, loads of cheers were heard from the crowd of supporters as they looked up at the speakers, singers, and dancers. 

Harrison explained that voter suppression is on, even in the public radio system. “I did a whole radio show on voter suppression on Election Day. We did the entire hour live but they eradicated every person I interviewed. Our public archives are gone…there’s no record of it.” 

At about 12:30 pm, an announcement was made to the street rally in front of CNN that the vote counts in Los Angeles County and the City of San Francisco had flipped in favor of Bernie Sanders. The youth were dancing to that tune! 

“As the votes are being counted I see that a lot of counties have been flipping and I believe that at the end Bernie is going to have won California,” said YahNé Ndgo, spokeswoman for Bernie or Bust, and “DC to DNC” -- a march for Democracy from Washington DC starting on July 13 and arriving in Philadelphia on July 23 for the Democratic National Convention to be held July 24 through July 28. 

Spokeswoman Ndgo said that Bernie and the 1900+ delegates he has secured will all be at the convention. They will be discussing and negotiating what the democratic platform is going to be. The delegates and super delegates will cast their votes and officially nominate the democratic candidate for president. 

Ndgo added, “A lot of votes have not been counted, a lot of votes have been suppressed, there’s been a lot of election fraud and the only way for that to be corrected is for the super delegates to come out and vote in a way that corrects the inappropriate shifting of the election to Hilary Clinton that caused her to get the majority of delegates. If they don’t do that there are a lot of people who will not vote as democrats.” 

“This is Bernie’s Parade,” said Lidia Arata, from Harbor City, who heard about this event a week ago online. Arata’s been a volunteer for Bernie since last summer. She summed up her interview with me by saying, “Bernie or bust no matter what. Only Bernie!” 

As I moved in the crowd, one of Bernie’s banners caught my attention. Rick Macias from the Inland Empire is with Latinos for Bernie. Macias announced that August 2 -- a week after the DNC -- will be the people’s Super Tuesday, when people leave the Democratic Party nationwide through social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, online, house parties, etc. 

Heather Kim from Torrance California, said with a big smile, “This is wonderful. I want the world to know that we’re still with Bernie Sanders. I represent myself, and I’m holding this banner that reads, ‘Asian Pacific Islanders for Bernie.’ We collected donations from about three hundred people to make this Banner,” Kim said. 

Kim belongs to two groups, Americans for Bernie comprised of 150 Korean Americans, and Palos Verdes for Bernie comprised of 300 people from Torrance and Redondo Beach. 

As hip-hop music was blasting in the background, Christen Jenson Story, a teacher from Oxnard, almost shouting so I could hear, said that this election has been completely rigged on so many levels, with a lack of caring for the democratic process. She emphasized that “from polling places being gone, to not having a truly open primary, the mainstream media completely manipulated in favor of Clinton and Trump on CNN all the time.” 

As I was walking away from the loud speakers, I ran into Chih Chang from Orange County. Chang said that we need to find the right person to do the right thing at the right moment. “And I think that Bernie Sanders will represent that,” he concluded. 

Activist Linda Milazzo from the West San Fernando Valley said she thinks it’s important to show that the spirit of what Bernie began will not end until we have real change. 

Don Irwin, resident of Los Angeles, has been volunteering for Bernie’s campaign since August 2015 and has canvassed in five states. “I think this event is fantastic, a good way to get started.” 

In addition, Irwin said that he wants to make sure that young people have the same opportunity that the system provided him. He coordinated voter registration drives with student groups on campuses throughout the city and state. Also, as part of the committee that coordinated this event he said that he “assists with social media since the mainstream media has blacked us out.” 

Finally, Esperanza Salazar from Santa Barbara County said that the media keeps saying that Hillary Clinton has won, but we can’t determine that -- especially when they are still votes to be counted. Salazar continued, saying that this is the first time so many different ethnicities have come out to register and vote, adding to a large voter turnout. “Bernie caused this to happen,” she said. “This is what Democracy looks like.”

 

(Connie Acosta writes about Los Angeles neighborhood councils and is a neighborhood council participant.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Missing Pet Alert! ‘Cash’ Disappears from LA’s Pooch Hotel

PET WATCH-On June 11, 7-year-old lab-pit mix “Cash” opened doors at the Pooch Hotel where his owners Talita Trygsland and Louis Angelo left him for care and disappeared into the night.

Video surveillance shows Cash opening doors and exiting onto busy Highland Blvd without any Pooch Hotel staff members in sight.  It wasn’t until the next morning when Cash’s owners went to pick him up that the staff realized he had gone missing.  

This is not the first time a pet has suffered in Pooch’s care. Last year a 13-pound French Bull dog, “Boggs” was mauled to death by another dog. Since the death of Boggs, new owners have taken over.

Paradise 4 Paw’s currently owns the Pooch Hotel along with 9 other locations across the US. Saq Nadeem, Founder and CEO financially assisted the owners of Cash in their search at the outset but, according to sources, is no longer is providing such assistance. At this point they are merely providing the use of their location as a meeting place for volunteers.  

A search campaign in such a large city is costly and includes many rolls of tape, neon posters, and color photocopies. Volunteers are needed and a Facebook page has been set up.

If you can volunteer please contact the owners or message them on Facebook. A gofundme page has been set up to help the owners cover expenses.  There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Cash.

If you see Cash, please take a photo and text to 310-497-8887 with the location.

Charter School Founder’s Run for Mayor Will Ensure LA Education has a Place in the Campaign Debate

EDUCATION POLITICS--The just announced candidacy of Green Dot Charter Schools founder Steve Barr (photo above) for the mayor of Los Angeles next year might just be a blessing in disguise. A campaign between Barr and present LA Mayor Eric Garcetti will have an almost impossible task of keeping their equally abysmal records on public and charter education out of the public debate. Could this finally lead to some overdue reform? 

In reality, when it comes to public education policy, there isn't a nickel's worth of difference between present Mayor Garcetti's unwillingness to address and reign in clearly and long failed public education policies at LAUSD and Steve Barr's equally failed model of supposedly viable public charter education, which in reality is as bad or worse than LAUSD, if you don't fudge the stats. 

Green Dot Charter's illusory promises and policies of supposed educational reform and achievement are verifiably non-existent, when it comes to any objective measure of minority students' actual academic achievement. And while LAUSD and Green Dot actual achievement has avoided any real public scrutiny in the past, this is not a fact easy to keep under wraps during the heat of what will surely be a vigorously contested general election for mayor. 

My first impression is that Garcetti will have an easier time changing his position on LAUSD to address growing public awareness and concerns about LAUSD than Barr will have in explaining his record at Green Dot Charter School where he has called all the shots. Barr is a scammer who personally built Green Dot Charter to fool the public and give minorities’ false hope by utilizing the support of the same corporate interests that now want to run him for mayor. 

Has Mayor Garcetti ever called for an audit of either Green Dot or LAUSD to show the obscene contracts for goods and services that both of these entities enter into on a daily basis at rates many times greater than fair market value? 

Barr's candidacy should only be seen as just the latest move to further the corporate agenda to increase corporate profits in a more and more privatized public sector, while further eliminating what should be the objective governmental regulatory function that is already nowhere to be found in Garcetti's present administration, which continues to put the will and needs of the people behind the primacy of corporate profits no matter what the cost to the public. Could that be just one of many reasons why over 70% of the public think the economy is rigged against them? 

Doubt what I'm saying about Green Dot or LAUSD? All that the public needs to do is go into any Green Dot Charter or LAUSD school and they can see for themselves the same failed model of assured academic destruction based on mindless repetition. In these schools there is no analysis or any academic rigor. This model never addresses the subjective needs, level, and understanding of its students from where they are actually at academically, but always ends with the social promotion of the student whether or not they have learned anything. 

These de facto segregated schools remain filled with inherently intelligent, curiosity, and trapped minority children whose native intelligence remains purposefully undeveloped in both charters like Green Dot or public school districts like LAUSD until it predictably is destroyed. The indifference of a White population whose own children go to private schools is the main reason these schools exist, which the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education was supposed to eliminate 62 years ago. 

There is a certain sick irony to the fact that Whites with the social capital to change public education seem not smart enough to understand what the effects are against them if they continue to allow such travesties to continue. 

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

Was it a Stunt, or the Beginning of the End of NRA Supremacy?

GELFAND’S WORLD--On Monday, June 27, congresswoman Janice Hahn brought the House of Representatives gun control sit-in back to Los Angeles. This time it was a public meeting at a high school in San Pedro. A line of people stretching to the back wall waited their turn at the microphone to speak about their children, cousins, and friends who had been murdered. Some of the testimony was anguishing, nearly unbearable. What it all had in common was its reality. It's the American sickness, and we've been lax in dealing with it. 

Out of the hundred-plus people in the room, there were two who came to speak on the other side. They spoke of the Constitution and their rights under the Second Amendment. They were not well received, but they got their three minutes to explain to us that we should concentrate on something else -- pretty much anything else -- as long as we avoided talking about the guns. 

And then there was everyone else. An emergency room physician from Harbor-UCLA Hospital spoke quietly. His department sees, on the average, one gunshot victim per day. He described an event from just the night before. A fifteen year old boy who lived near the hospital was shot on his way home, early in the evening. The EMT's did everything they could, as did the hospital ER staff, but death was the result. Harbor-UCLA manages to save some gunshot victims, but loses others. 

Closer to home, people told of gunshot deaths right here in San Pedro. One woman, a neighbor and friend to many of us, showed the photo of her cousin who died by gunshot, just about 10 blocks away from where we were meeting. The victim was 17 at the time of her death. 

There were two additional protestors standing across the street from the meeting, carrying signs. One of the two, a guy named Donald who is an elected board member of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, held a sign that said, "People kill people, not guns." There was another protestor standing next to him, holding his own sign that had been written on a target. 

When it was my turn, I simply described an experience I had while teaching a class at a local university. I had accidentally spilled a cup of coffee onto the floor next to me and, looking down at the puddle, fought to keep my composure in front of the class -- the pool of coffee reminded me of the widening pool of blood that had spread out next to my friend after his murder. It's hard not to think about these things. The image stays with you, even after 19 years. I can't begin to imagine the level of grief and pain that stays with parents and cousins of victims. 

Perhaps this week's events signal a political awakening in America. I wonder if the sit-in by the congressmen and congresswomen may represent a political shift in the politics of murder. I realize that I am supposed to refer to the topic delicately, as gun control, but it's the effects of those guns that we really mean to talk about. So let's talk about the politics of murder, both mass and individual. 

Gun owners and their organizations have had a stranglehold on our ability to discuss the subject rationally and to enact practical laws. This political effectiveness comes from the fact that a lot of people treat the liberty to own and brandish firearms as their highest priority. They vote as a block, and they have managed to terrify a lot of politicians. Their lobbyists rule the land. Curiously enough, they make clear that the function of their guns is to protect them from their own government, an obvious reference to the ability of men with guns to kill federal law enforcement officers and, in the extreme, soldiers in the U.S. Army. It's completely obvious that the function of the gun is to kill people, no matter the idiotic signs that "Guns don't kill people." Why would the extremists buy all those guns if they didn't believe in their effectiveness as killing machines? 

And the dead accumulate. We hear the response from the people standing in line, "Enough is enough." But what to do? 

Here is what we need, and why that sit-in that occurred in the House of Representatives was important. We need a larger, equally devoted block of Americans on the other side from the gun nuts. Our numbers are vastly larger. There clearly are many more people who support gun control than oppose it. The strong majority of Americans support background checks. It's just that those of us who support gun control have been busy with other interests. We've been worrying about health insurance reform and global warming. 

Perhaps we can now agree that the situation has gotten way out of hand and that it is imperative that the country take action. If so, then it has to be done through a political movement. 

I don't think that we need bother ourselves with trying to counter such illogic as "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." I think that the people who recite these slogans understand the fundamental weakness of the statement. We just need lots of people on our side, and they have to be people who take action by voting. 

But before we can change the country by voting, we need to have candidates who make gun control a priority issue. We have to be able to develop political movements that can intimidate your run of the mill politician who is looking to see which way the wind is blowing. We need to be that wind. When congressmen representing traditional Republican districts start to hear from people about firearm deaths, and start to worry about a developing electoral majority, then the tide will have turned. 

That's why the sit-ins are so important. They could be the spark to ignite the movement. All those people who came to the San Pedro meeting on Monday night are just the most vocal and the most local. There are lots more all over the country. They need to be able to coalesce around a wing of the Democratic Party that will provide the leadership. It's that political wing that is necessary for the mass movement to win. It's asking a lot of politicians who have been trying to avoid the wedge issue of gun control, but perhaps this is the moment. 

At Monday night's meeting, one woman spoke of a niece of hers who had died in the Connecticut shooting. She spoke of the many parents who had to make the decision about whether to bury the corpse of their child with her favorite doll, or whether to save it as a remembrance.

 

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

-cw

Updates: Sex Assault Loophole, Rehab Mogul Arrest

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-First, an update on the Stanford rape case.

The six-month sentence of former Stanford athlete Brock Turner has elicited public outcry across the country, as well as a petition to recall the sentencing judge. Assembly Bill 2888 would close what prosecutors refer to as a loophole in California’s sex assault law. The bill cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday. The sentencing loopholes currently paved the way for Turner to be eligible for a sentence that included probation in lieu of a time served in prison following his attack on an unconscious woman. 

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), says, “Simply put, rape is rape. We believe there should be consistency in addressing this issue.” Alaleh Kianerci, the Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney who prosecuted Turner, addressed state senators at Tuesday’s hearing, stating that the trauma experienced by the victim, referred to as “Emily Doe,” was no less than any other rape victim. “We all need to protect the next Emily Doe,” stated Kianerci. 

Under the new legislation, anyone convicted of eight specific sexual assault crimes, including crimes that involve alcohol or any other “intoxicating or anesthetic substance,” would no longer be eligible for parole. Several lawmakers see that bill as the best way to address the issue of punishment for sex crimes on college campuses. The bill’s co-author, Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa), adds, “It’s about changing a culture and preventing future crimes.” 

Rehab Mogul Chris Bathum Arrested on Drug Charges--The founder/owner of Community Recovery Los Angeles, a chain of two dozen plus sober living and outpatient clinics, was arrested in Lost Hills Tuesday for the “transport (or) sale of a controlled substance,” per the LA County Sheriff’s Department. Chris Bathum was released on $30,000 bail at 4:40 am, less than two hours after booking.

The California Department of Health has also filed a complaint in LA County Superior Court against both Bathum and CRLA for operating “unlicensed alcoholism and drug-abuse recovery or treatment facilities in Los Angeles County.” The Department of Health has petitioned the court to close the entire operation. A May investigation of two CRLA facilities, including a Woodland Hills sober living facility called “House of Women” and a Melrose facility known as “The Melrose Project” concluded that both facilities had been “improperly providing residential alcoholism or drug-abuse recovery or treatment services without a license.” 

As previously noted in this column, California’s sober living facilities often operate under a grey area, although the facilities are not permitted to provide any type of therapy or treatment, or dispense medication. However, sober living facilities in the state are for the most part unregulated and do not require a license to operate. 

Investigators found evidence of treatment centers at both the House of Women, which had a room labeled “Room Detox,” as well as a medication room, and at the Melrose Project, which former clients and staff confirmed was a treatment center. In August, the department had sent written orders to both facilities to cease all illegal activities and by September, Community Recovery CEO Kirsten Wallace responded in writing that, “The practices you demand us to cease and desist have ceased and desisted.” 

In May, the department returned to investigate and found that CRLA is “still providing services without a license, despite CRLA’s written statement of correction. In fact, the department interviewed staff and clients who confirmed that ongoing services were being provided at the facilities.” The Department of Health seeks a permanent injunction against Bathum and anyone acting “in concert with him” from “operating any unlicensed alcoholism and drug-abuse recovery or treatment facilities or in any way facilitating such operations,” per the department’s complaint. 

This is hardly Bathum’s first dance with law enforcement. The “rehab mogul” has faced accusations of drug use, insurance fraud and sexual battery, all of which he has denied. 

While sober living facilities may serve a purpose in assisting addicts on the road to sobriety, the unscrupulous must be prevented from taking advantage of the most vulnerable. Bathum’s arrest and the petition to close his facilities are the first steps in curbing the illegal and unethical manner in which he has engaged with those struggling with addiction. Hopefully, the state will clamp down on similar unethical operators through increased oversight and legislation.

 

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

 

Tale of Two LAs: The City Hall Reality and … the People’s Reality

EASTSIDER-If you’re an LA City Council member, life is grand. You are part of the highest paid city council in the United States, your term in office is good for 12 years (3 four-year terms), and all you really have to do is dance to the tune of the lobbyists, developers, and (mostly) Democratic insiders that brought you to the dance. No one who means anything can upset your applecart. 

So from your standpoint, everything is just fine in our town. 

Even as you finish selling the City to developers, and are now in the process of selling off the peoples neighborhoods. Witness the four Planning Department Ordinances that are speeding through the system and forever changing single family zoning for where we live. 

Another case in point would be last week’s decision by the spineless Planning Commission to actually increase the number of days a short-term rental can be used from 90 to 180 days, and to specifically provide for allowing vacation homes. Woo hoo! Party on! 

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life ain’t so grand. So let’s take a look at what’s up for most Angelenos. 

1) Us old folks are still working. That’s right. More people over 65 are still working, and for longer, than any time since the turn-of-the-century. 

That doesn’t jibe too well with all those TV ads about checking your stock portfolio from your wonderful retirement home in some beautiful enclave. It’s more like: retirement, what retirement? This shift has unintended consequences as well, such as blocking employment for younger people since companies don’t have to pay to train older workers. 

2) Lots of folks in the “prime working age” category aren’t working at all.  

This is just not cool on so many levels. If you couple the decrease in what they call “workforce participation” with LA’s ridiculous rents, we’re talking about systematically destroying the lives of people at the very time that they are supposed to be improving their lot and tucking money away for retirement. 

3) Also, many younger people have it so rough that they’re living with their parents

For the first time since the turn-of-the-century, more 18-34 year olds live with their parents than live with spouses or partners -- even as the politicians and TV talk about an America that simply doesn’t exist anymore. 

4) Not only that, but for all the talk about Millennials and Hipsters, their real employment opportunities aren’t that good.     

One of the categories that I find particularly scary is what happens to young people who are neither working nor in school. This is a key part of our future, yet they wind up being categorized as “disconnected youth,” with predictions of a life far from the American dream that’s being sold by our politicians. 

5) Of those younger people who do get jobs, it is clear that the educational system has seriously let them down. Income segregation is the polite term.

And for college grads, it turns out that a lot of employers don’t even think they have the right job skills for the real world, even as they have piled up student debt. 

When I grew up, California had the best (and free) public education system in the nation. What the heck happened? 

6) What we used to call the middle class is both shrinking and changing as well. The phrase simply doesn’t mean what it used to, just as scary is what we call “middle class” is down by some 20% since the 1970’s. That isn’t trivial, and it’s even more troubling since it costs something like 30% more to even be in the middle class. No wonder life doesn’t feel so good for the governed. 

7) If you adjust for the outrageous housing costs and rents, LA just isn’t that attractive a place anymore. For example, renting a home in LA is simply beyond the reach of many people who do have a job.

A Tale of Two LA’s--In summary, the reason the troops do not have happy faces about our elected officials is that life in LA is pretty much going in the wrong direction and has been for quite a while. Deny it as they may, the City Council knows about these facts, because the LA 2020 Commission gave it to them straight in their report some time ago.

While the Mayor and City Council talk lovingly about the new “sharing economy,” even as they sell our neighborhoods to Airbnb and their ilk, the truth of the matter is that the new version of employment without benefits like health insurance, sick leave, vacations and pensions simply continues to erode what we refer to as the middle class backbone of our society. 

The Takeaway--I believe that the fundamental problem is that elected officials simply live in a different world than the troops. They only talk to each other and their mutual group of rich backers, lobbyists, and party insiders. So for them the world is good, and they simply have no real understanding of how most of the rest of us live. Their livelihood is determined by their current office, and the next one they will run for and the bubble that they live in. 

When politicians do run for office, they are not living in the same world as you and I. It’s all about demographics, likely voters, vote by mail, and statistical analysis of issues. Plus the hot button issues that will get them the $400,000 to $500,000 to finance their campaigns, along with suppressing the voters that might vote for someone else. 

It is the same at the national level -- like when Hillary Clinton comes out with one of her “I feel your pain” speeches; or Donald Trump channels the pain and anger of the large chunk of our society that has simply been discarded -- even as he flies in his jet to Scotland to advertise the opening of his luxury golf course. It’s just a ploy. Trump is probably more believable in his horsepuckey than Clinton, but it is still just smoke and mirrors by all. 

Same for our local City Council and Mayor. Their daily lives and who they interact with are the elites and special interest groups who all live in the same bubble. Do that long enough and you simply have no real connection with the average person who lives in your district. 

They cannot relate to those who they no longer understand. Welcome to the land of 15-0 and 11-1 prearranged votes. Our City Council. 

(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.

Short-Term Rentals Crisis Seeking Long-Term Solutions

 DEEGAN ON LA- Mixing and matching the needs of guests, hosts, neighbors and the City is a challenging problem being attacked and defended from all sides, as a prospective Short-Term Housing Ordinance makes its way through the review process and into law. 

The huge black eye of “party houses” has only fueled the debate for those who do not want short-term rentals. These houses, many of which charge admission, often rent short-term just for the weekend, frequently beginning the party on Friday evening and not ending it until Monday morning. 

Ersatz country clubs by day and dance halls at night, these hillside houses are both loud and a threat to public safety when the narrow canyon roads are clogged with double-parked cars that make it impossible for emergency vehicles to pass through. When the police arrive, responding to complaints from neighbors, it’s easier to take the ticket and pay the fine then turn down the volume. Tickets are a cost of doing business. 

Help with the party house problem, though, is on the way. Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) has introduced a motion 

that will regulate party houses. It’s now with the Public Safety committee, and City Council President Herb Wesson has ordered that the Planning and Land Use committee (PLUM) also review it. It’s gotten so bad that some developers are building houses in the hills with the intention of turning them into party houses. There will be public hearings and a vote by the full city council that will lead to the Mayor signing whatever ordinance is developed into law. 

Ryu is suggesting that the strong party house laws in Newport Beach’s “Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance”, and Malibu’s “Excessive Special Events Ordinance” be viewed as best practices models. 

Party houses are the “poster children” for what can go wrong. But they are not the only objectionable elements in the booming “shared economy” paradigm – a phenomenon that has introduced the world to Uber, Airbnb, and other ways to access transportation and housing -- doing it your way.  

A hearing by the Planning Commission on June 23 did little to resolve the overall short-term housing matter, except for allowing an opportunity for the commissioners to vote for extending the number of days that a host can rent short-term – extending it to 180 days annually, double what had been proposed as a 90-day limit. While some cheered that extension, others were upset that this represents an upward trend. The Commission also considered a 15-day limit on the rental of second homes. That issue is worthy of a separate hearing and review. 

"We have seen hosts voice concerns about the proposed cap -- from the number of days to the fact that it applies to a person even if they are just sharing a spare bedroom in their home. Even with the proposed 180 days that is an increase from the original proposal of a 90 day annual limit -- when someone shares a spare bedroom, or the home in which they live -- these dont represent housing units taken off the market, but rather, the homes of middle class people trying to make ends meet,” says Glenn Gritzner with Mercury, speaking for Airbnb 

Key issues of the proposed ordinance include the types of residences permitted, registration of housing units so they can be tracked, having a cap on the number of rental days (the 180-day decision), data-sharing from rental platforms (the booking agencies) to the city so there can be monitoring and enforcement, setting and collecting fines for breaking the rules, and the collection of the city’s 14% transient occupancy tax (TOT). 

Considering that none of these elements currently exist (except the 180-day limit) it’s a huge expectation to believe this problem will have been solved in one hearing. In fact, going into the Planning Commission hearing, Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) called the proposed ordinance “half-baked”, in a letter to the Planning Commission President. 

The pros and cons include regulating what has traditionally been a unregulated mom and pop business, and accountability and standardization that applies to hosts and “platforms” -- tech-speak for online websites where you can advertise your property if you are a “host” or find lodging if you are a “guest.” 

Regulation and accountability through registration, monitoring, reporting, and taxation would go a long way to stabilizing this market before it gets really out of control. 

The simple way to get the taxes collected, offers Helen Walker, who manages several properties, is to sign up with a service like Avalara at mylodgetax.avalara.com. 

“They send a reminder every month and we just sign in to their website any time between the 1stt and 10th of the month, and report the income for the prior month. They calculate the taxes due and pay them to the tax collector and the money comes directly out of our bank account. They charge a small service fee for filing. No muss, no fuss. They automatically renew our business license each year, too. They take the burden off the websites having to report to the City, and puts the burden squarely on the property owner/manager, where it should be in the first place. What could be easier?” 

Organization like the Short Term Rental Association have mixed feelings about the ordinance. Executive Director Robert St. Genis is concerned that the process may move underground, away from any sort of standardization or quality control or accountability which are all features of the proposed ordinance. 

He adds, “There are parts of the ordinance that we like, such as TOT (transient occupancy tax) revenue payments going into affordable housing, and we support registration, and registration fees within reason, but don't agree that portals should be the policemen. The term limit of 180 nights is a job killer, completely arbitrary and accomplishing no goals whatsoever other than hurting livelihoods and killing jobs.” 

“A key component is the use secondary homes as vacation home rentals. That may need to be addressed in a separate ordinance. Many, many owners own vacation residences, and generations of families have been doing this for decades.” 

“At the end of day, this is such a complex issue that it cannot be dealt with by one piece of legislation. All agree it is not going away. So, how do we address it? We dont want to drive it underground.” 

With no controls, measuring the size of the short-term rental market is hard to gauge, but best estimates by independent monitors are that there are 20,000 “hosts” in LA. Ari Teman, the entrepreneur behind the Airbnb monitoring software Sublet Spy 

says that “40 hosts — out of L.A.s 20,000— account for the majority of L.A.s Airbnb activity.” 

What does the establishment say, those that are now faced with challenges to their business model? Barbara Nichols, a real estate broker, cites several concerns, including, “Long term renters are vetted, credit checked, and background checked. You know who you are dealing with. When you move into a single family neighborhood you have an expectation of knowing who your neighbors are. Strangers in and out of a neighbors house destroys neighborhood connections. If the argument for “home sharing” is to help a homeowner pay the mortgage, a homeowner can rent a spare bedroom for six months or a year and currently get the same benefit.” 

Users of Airbnb are enthusiastic about the availability of obtaining housing for a few nights when traveling, and point out the non-financial benefits of hosting. David Mann, who has experience as a host and a guest says “When I host, I proactively engage with my guests and that way get to know people from everywhere. They sense I am interested in what life is like in their part of the world, and friendships have developed during and after their stay. Its more of a social relationship than an economic relationship. My one bad experience as a guest was immediately remedied by Airbnb staff beyond my expectation." 

A few days ago, the city stepped in, with City Attorney Mike Feuer filing charges 

against apartment owners that allegedly evicted tenants, then rented out their units via Airbnb. With regulations, Airbnb would be required to flag an egregious situation like this and block the landlord from renting through them and profiting unfairly. Other platforms could do the same. Platforms can already voluntarily ask the city housing department for this information, but do not. 

Attorney Randy Renick of Hadsell Stormer & Renick, who is representing some of the evicted tenants, says that “Airbnb is a co-conspirator in this scheme and needs to be taken to account. They've known landlords have been violating the RSO for some time, using the Ellis Act to wrongly evict tenants, but theyre willing participants in re-renting units. The city housing department can provide a list of Ellis Act evictions on request. Airbnb could use that to filter out properties that do not qualify for short term rental. As I understand it, the City Attorney is going to be sending the list to Airbnb, whether they like it or not.” 

Legal action is a good start, but enforceable guidelines are a solution. That’s the big challenge now, with so many different perspectives from City Councilmembers, hosts, guests, platforms and the public all weighing in. 

(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.

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