01
Fri, Mar

Lies, Disrespect Will Derail Transportation Funding

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--This is neither the first nor last time I will emphasize that American voters, taxpayers, consumers, or just about anyone reasonable will have a problem either paying more to get more, or being flexible and adaptable for unexpected delays or cost overruns when it comes to transportation, health care, education, the homeless, or anything else...but NO ONE tolerates being lied to or disrespected when it comes to our hard-earned and precious money, safety and time. 

As both a physician (dermatologist) and a transportation/community advocate, I believe that acting with credibility and honor is the best way to ensure that our fellow human beings are treated with respect, and that we can most likely get something in return when it's needed (like better health care and transportation spending). 

If we need more spending, then do it!  But how often is it simply a manner of spending WELL and with an operating policy of being sensitive versus tone-deaf to those doing the spending? 

After all, if the argument can be made that we need to spend more on a given priority or project, then most people will do it if they at all possibly can.  But diverting any reasonable argument or complaint with a "wordstuffing" or a suggestion that the person complaining is making an argument completely different, and completely unreasonable, than the actual argument being made just is WRONG.  And it'll backfire. 

CASE IN POINT #1:  As per my last CityWatch article, the concern and fury behind me and my family being LIED TO by United Airlines for up to three days after repeated requests, and complaining about lousy and inadequate operational management in its Midwest/Southern operations got me both: 

1) A slew of private responses stating that--yes--United really IS lousy with respect to operations and ATTITUDE towards their customers (and probably their workers, too), compared to other domestic U.S. airlines. Furthermore, American and Southwest have made advances in the domestic air commuter market because they're more efficient, and really are trying to achieve better customer service with a more professional and kind approach to their paying customers. 

2) A gaggle of trolls (probably paid and/or butthurt airline workers) who all said the same thing--that weather is something we can't avoid, and to "get used to it or don't fly".  As if I, a physician, would ever promote unsafe travel!  As if a reasonable delay of luggage arrival isn't understandably going to happen at times! 

But if United's Houston hub will be shut down by a two-hour rain storm, and the other airlines won't be, then maybe United Airlines needs to have a smackdown in the marketplace with other, BETTER airlines that actually do give a damn about their customers, and who won't lie and lie and LIE about when planes will leave and arrive, and when luggage will truly arrive and leave an airport, in a manner that distinguishes them from other competing airlines.   

Honesty is the best policy, after all...and the private sector won't tolerate inhumane treatment when there are other choices to make. 

CASE IN POINT #2:  The public sector, while it is more often than not a monopoly (and an onerous one, at that), must also treat their "paying clientele" (you know, the TAXPAYERS) with regards to honesty and transparency and respect. 

It is neither honest, nor transparent, nor respectful, to knowingly LIE through one's teeth about how the California High-Speed Rail's "competitiveness" with an air flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Those suckering the rest of us with respect to speed, cost-effectiveness, convenience, and viability of a LA/SF high-speed rail never did apologize to the taxpayers... 

...and the public relations of that entire project threatens the entire future of intercity/commuter rail, which is an endeavor that our state really MUST pursue (LINK: ).  When Governor Brown leaves office, expect a slowdown--or even shut down--of funding for the High-Speed Rail project by less rigid governors who realize that other transportation projects need funding first. 

Yet we DO need a high-speed rail, or at least higher-and-more-frequent intercity rail network in our state! 

But NOT for the LA-SF connection.  As I learned when I had to give a lecture in Bakersfield, there is NO nonstop flight to/from Bakersfield and LAX, Ontario, Orange County, Burbank or any other local possibility.  Fresno is also an obnoxious commute and problem.  My commute yesterday between my Temecula clinic and Bakersfield was by car--very inefficient, and very exhausting. 

And for THIS we should blame the CA High-Speed Rail ninnies who should have always shut their pieholes about a speed and operational impossibility between LA and SF, and who should have emphasized the inability for Central Californians to access either northern and southern California with efficiency and ease. 

If or when we get a High-Speed Rail, we will NOT have most of the commuters going from Northern to Southern CA, or vice versa--most of those commuters will be going from SF or Sacramento to Fresno or Merced, or from the LA Basin to Bakersfield. 

Already we see high ridership on the Amtrak service between LA, Anaheim and San Diego--and with more and faster trains, we'd see more.  Because it just makes sense--check out the proposed CA High-Speed Rail route

And on THIS issue, the governor is to blame--the airlines will not fly more if it's not cost-effective to go to/from Central CA...but they WOULD help with the costs if a pitch could be made to emphasize the smaller commutes that airlines can't profitably do, instead of compete with (and probably antagonize) airlines who do a pretty decent job of getting to/from Northern and Southern CA. 

CASE IN POINT #3:  No, I do NOT have a hard heart for the homeless--and I really don't know just about ANYBODY with a heart and/or brain who does.  I treat the homeless, and fight for the homeless when I can.   

So I'll keep this brief.  But if the City and County of LA wants to grab state emergency funds, and spend all kinds of money, good after bad, to address the homeless emergency before our utilities and sidewalks and basic services are funded--at the expense of the same taxpayers who are screaming for their taxes to pay for our critically-necessary infrastructure...they will fail. 

Taxpayers will revolt, and maybe not spend more on needed transportation initiatives, because they do NOT like to be disrespected.  No one likes to be disrespected.  Or lied to.  Or "wordstuffed" into saying they don't care about the homeless, or that they don't care about the infrastructure mess our government leaders got us into. 

No one knows if November will be a success or failure for the transportation initiatives our society needs to pass to deal with a half-century of underinvestment in our infrastructure (so vital for our economy, environment, and quality of life!). 

But if November IS a failure, then our government leaders will suffer the same fate as United Airlines inevitably will if it dehumanizes and disrespects and lies and diverts the taxpaying, voting public. 

I've worked with enough honest, sincere and moral leaders (LA Councilmember Mike Bonin and Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane come to mind) to know that we CAN get the right message to the voters.  But sadly enough, they're in the minority of our so-called leadership. 

And we'll all suffer as a result--because whether it's the private or public sector, it's always, always, ALWAYS management who creates a successful or failed operational business or government endeavor.

 

(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

‘O’ My! LA’s Office of Mismanagement Exposed

PERSPECTIVE--Controller Ron Galperin (photo above) has uncovered a gap in the City’s cash management controls.

The audit report, covering the issuance of Proposition O bonds, makes a case for the city to hire a real Chief Financial Officer instead of parsing out finance responsibilities to a mishmash of executives who appear to have trouble communicating with each other.  

Bonds to fund various projects were issued way in advance of the commencement of actual work on projects dealing with water quality.  This finding raised a red flag and called into question the management of projects authorized under other propositions.

The net result was an average balance of $171 million in idle cash from 2010 through 2015 – idle meaning sitting in the treasury earning very little. All the while debt was serviced at higher rates. The negative margin was 1.9 points, which amounts to an average loss of $3.2 million per year. The actual loss was pegged at $54 million.

This is a loss of real dollars; the payments were unnecessary.

There is plenty of blame to go around.  CAO Miguel Santana either failed to perform basic analysis of the cash flows or did not understand the magnitude of the timing.

The Bureau of Engineering regularly failed to reasonably estimate project schedules, which led to the too-early issuance of bonds.

But there is one department that should share accountability – the Office of Finance.

According to the Office’s website:

The Cash and Debt Management Division manages the City’s cash handling policies and practices as well as the City’s relationship with our banking partner Wells Fargo Bank. This Division manages Street Improvement Bonds and coordinates other debt issuance in the City.

Antoinette Christovale served as Director of Finance/Treasurer for 16 years, which happens to span the entire time the bonds were issued. I do not know what her specific duties were, but a treasurer would ordinarily stay on top of debt service and be involved in analyzing the need and timing of bond issues.

It appears that Christovale’s department failed to identify another problem.

In an audit report issued  June 2015, Galperin discovered $500,000 in payments to Wells Fargo Bank for check printing from February 2012 to March 2015.  The City prints its own checks. 

Christovale retired in early 2016. She was replaced by Galperin’s Deputy Controller, Claire Bartels. 

While the players may change, the organizational structure that led to this embarrassing lack of due diligence is still in place.

Let’s hope Bartels and Santana ride herd on the departments charged with managing debt.

Better yet, let’s fold the Office of Finance and the CAO under an independent CFO with solid credentials. The City is an $8 Billion entity.  Only the most able executive should be trusted with its finances.

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

-cw

Lessons from Beverly Grove’s Successful Fight against McMansions

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-On July 14, 2016, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission will consider proposed amendments to the Baseline and Hillside Mansionization Ordinances. As explained in previous City Watch articles, a unanimously adopted City Council motion directed the Department of City Planning to revise the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance by removing bonuses and exemptions that contribute to mansionization. 

Apparently City Planning only got the first part of this message because through many months of ordinance preparation, they have gradually reverted to their tried and true model, gradually slip in mansionization loopholes, whether bonuses or exemptions advanced by real estate developers, even when opposed by nearly all neighborhood residents and organizations. 

As this showdown over the fate of LA’s neighborhoods comes closer, we can learn about the day-to-day realities of mansionization in Los Angeles, including repeated claims and the counterclaims, by examining the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District (RFA).  It is now nearly three two years old, and it contains, by the far, the toughest anti-mansionization provisions in Los Angeles, aside from Historical Perseveration Overlay Zones and several residential Specific Plans. 

Beverly Grove RFA historical lessons to date: 

  1. The ordinance provisions that the City Planning staff, alongside the City Planning Commission and the City Council added to the original 2008 Baseline Mansionization Ordinance in 2008 were billed as design enhancements that would curb the visual impact of larger houses. This claim, often advanced by architects, was that articulated front facades, stepped back second stories, breezeways, decks, and balconies reduce the harsh visual impact of McMansions. But, in practice, it was all a hoax. 

These so-called design features were nothing more than loopholes that allowed developers to increase the size of houses by 42 percent through secret ministerial decisions conducted by the Department of Building and Safety (LADBS). To this day, in fact, no one knows what loopholes LADBS used to approve building permits for the thousands of McMansions built in Los Angeles over the past decade. 

  1. When the hard data, including photographs, was presented to the City Planning Commission (CPC) for mansionization in Beverly Grove, the CPC readily conceded that the mansionization bonuses and exemptions they had celebrated five years earlier had totally failed. They even complimented Beverly Grove residents on their thorough case and approved forthwith the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District. 
  1. The Beverly Grove RFA episode then became the basis for a unanimous City Council motion directing City Planning to remove the loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. City Planning’s initial response was to take up that challenge and also fold-in the closely related Hillside Mansionization Ordinance. 

Beverly Grove practical lessons to date: 

  1. During the ten years of organizing to stop mansionization, Beverly Grove residents, including their neighborhood association, the Beverly Grove Homes Association (BWHA) never gave up. The residents and the BWHA wrote many articles for City Watch, had repeated contact with reporters and columnists at the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, and became regulars at Council District 5. They also maintained a professional demeanor and attempted to restrain any rancor towards elected officials, even in the case of former Councilmember Jack Weiss, who was in cahoots with the mansionizers. 
  1. As a result of continued reinvention or their organizing activities, the Beverly Grove community disposed of a phony pro-mansionization astro-turf organization (i.e., top down groups pretending to be grass roots associations) created by some realtors and contractors. The residents also beat back the astro-turf organization’s nuisance lawsuit. To little surprise the astro-turf group pulled up it tent and disappeared into the night the moment the City Council adopted the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District. Their POB and web-site also soon vanished. 
  1. Like all other neighborhoods in LA, the mansionizers made a host of the sky-is-falling claims about ordinances that restrict mansionization. In the nearly three years that the Beverly Grove RFA has been in force, all of these claims have been totally disproven by reality. 

The mansionizers claimed the RFA would reduce property values, but, like other RFA’ and HPOZs, local Beverly Grove home values have soared over the past three years. The only trend that can be observed is that houses next to Beverly Grove’s 75 McMansions have not appreciated at the same rate. 

The mansionizers claimed that real estate activity would stall in the Beverly Grove neighborhood, but the same realtors are still hard at work with the same door knocking, mailers, flyers, and ads. They still are shilling with form letters designed to look like hand-written notes from people who claim they want to move into the neighborhood and desperately want to buy a house. 

The mansionizers’ claim that McMansions are built by local residents who need more space has also been shown to be bogus. All of the Beverly Grove McMansions are spec houses, and no local resident demolished their house, moved into a rental property for a one or two years, built a McMansion on the suddenly empty lots, and then moved back to the neighborhood. Instead, the local residents who sold out to the mansionizers sheepishly disappeared, probably loading up moving vans with their prized possessions in the dark of cold and windy nights. 

The mansionizers claimed that McMansions are designed for large, multi-generational families, but the people buying the McMansions have the same family size as other residents. McMansions filled with large multi-generational families were just a fiction. 

Finally, the mansionizers often repeated claim that they are only building to meet a market demand has also not held up. The McMansions sell more frequently than older houses, and often sit vacant for many months with for sale signs. In some cases, the lack of demand caused builders to move into their empty houses, and in other cases turn them into party houses or short-term rentals. 

The real upshot of these lessons in that local campaigns against mansionization must charge on for years and be continually, but not arrogantly, in the face of elected officials and City Planning staff. 

A second conclusion is that the repeated claims of mansionizers are nothing more than self-serving hot air. They constantly make the same bogus Chicken Little opinions, no matter how many times they are rebutted by opponents, or, in the current case, by empirical reality. They nevertheless plod on in the hopes they can eke out a few more spec houses before a new, effective mansionization ordinance finally puts the kibosh on their slimy business model. 

Finally, a third conclusion is that any decisions to add size and bulk to a house beyond what is allowed by-right, must not be a ministerial LADBS decision, but must go through City Planning as a discretionary action.

 

(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]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Pulse … Vote Now: Should CA Legalize Recreational Pot?

CITYWATCH ACTION POLL--Californians are set to decide whether to make recreational marijuana use legal, as other Western states have done, after the California Secretary of State’s office said on Tuesday the issue could be put to voters in the November ballot.

The proposed so-called “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” which is supported by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom among others, would allow people aged 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana for private recreational use and permit personal cultivation of as many as six marijuana plants.

------------------------------------------

[sexypolling id="8"]

-----------------------------------------

“Today marks a fresh start for California, as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself,” initiative spokesman Jason Kinney said in a statement.

The measure would also establish a system to license, regulate and tax sales of marijuana, while allowing city governments to exercise local control over or disallow commercial distribution within their borders.

The initiative required just over 402,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and exceeded that number on Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s office said. Secretary Alex Padilla is slated to certify the initiative on June 30.

Opinion polls show attitudes have shifted more in favor of liberalized marijuana laws since California voters defeated a recreational cannabis initiative in 2010.

California led the way in legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, with 22 other states and the District of Columbia following suit, although cannabis remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law.

Voters in four states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska - plus the District of Columbia, have gone a step further since 2012 in permitting recreational use for adults. Voters in several more states will consider similar legislation in November as well.

Opponents of liberalized marijuana laws have argued that such measures carry public safety risks and would make pot more accessible to youngsters.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco for Reuters. Posted by Huff Post.) 

Is It a Good Idea for LA to Borrow Billions of Dollars?

THE CITY--Is it a good idea for the City of Los Angeles to borrow so many billions of dollars that the Federal government will have no choice but to bail out the city five, ten or fifteen years from now?

From a Keynesian macro-economic point-of-view, deficit spending at the right time and in the right place can be beneficial -- spending of billions of dollars can stimulate a sluggish economy. 

Traditionally, deficit financing has been done by the Federal government during the bust phase of the business cycle. We are currently in the boom phase of the business cycle. 

Los Angeles, however, is facing an economic disaster that is not shared by other portions of the country. What was once the nation’s premier destination city has become an “exodus city,” meaning that more people are moving away than are coming here. The gross numbers of this exodus, however, can be too simplistic. We need to look at who is coming and who is not coming to LA, as well as what part of the population is leaving. 

Due to the economic down turn after 2008, the number of illegal “Mexican” immigrants declined. (People use the term “Mexican” in common parlance without regard to national origin to refer to any persons who come illegally or legally from south of the border.) People who were drawn to the US to work naturally lost their economic incentive to come here during the Great Recession. Illegal “Mexican” immigration was primarily the result of a strong economy. When our economy turned south, so too did the “Mexicans” – they went home and stopped spending money locally. And their absence made recovery much slower in Los Angeles. 

Another reason LA is becoming an exodus city is that educated Millennials who have reached child rearing age are leaving. Unlike the “Mexicans” who are easily re-attracted to Los Angeles by an improved economy, when the Millennials move away, they are unlikely to return. 

These younger people are moving to Texas, Arizona, Nevada and the Carolinas in order to have the kind of lifestyle that is being killed in Los Angeles. They’re seeking single family homes with yards in cities with new infrastructure and decent schools. If they wanted to raise their families in a small high rise near a freeway and use slow dirty mass transit, they could move to NYC or Chicago or simply stay in Hollywood. 

Back during the period of time that former Mayor Villaraigosa and Council President Garcetti were declaring war on the middle class and the single family home, other parts of the nation were creating “new Los Angeleses.” Decades ago people flocked to Los Angeles primarily for our endless single family homes and our great weather. We also had job opportunities galore. 

Families like the ones that moved to Los Angeles in the 1920's, the 50’s and the 80’s now see a different Los Angeles -- a crowded, dirty urban area dominated by a pathologically corrupt City Hall that is waging war on the very things Millennials desire the most: a single family home and a decent job. Employers see the same situation; they realize that the high cost of doing business in LA is more than the escalating taxes. 

In order to attract an upwardly mobile, family-oriented work force, there must be a decent school system. But LAUSD is one of the worst school districts in the industrialized world. It costs between $11,000 and $32,000 per year per children to send a kid to private school in Los Angeles. Employers know that they have to pay that extra cost since the only place their employees receive income is from their employers. Why would an upwardly mobile family want to penalize their children by sending them to LAUSD schools when they can move to a smaller city with decent public schools? Why would employers want to absorb the overhead of paying employees enough to cover the cost of private schools for their children? 

If, however, someone comes along and gives away billions of dollars to a particular LA business whose projects can only be done by people who live, work and spend their money in Los Angeles, the City can economically survive. One thing about a huge mixed-use project in Hollywood with 30% occupancy -- it cannot be built in China by Chinese laborers. The same is true of the Subway to the Sea that goes from DTLA to the ocean. There’s no way to export those jobs. 

As we learned from the Chinese, an economy can be kept afloat by constructing entire cities…where, incidentally, no one will live. So, is there any reason that the same game plan cannot be used in Los Angeles? Answer: No, there isn’t. It can be done here -- provided we Angelenos don’t have to pay the bill. 

Federalizing local debt so that LA can deficit finance its way out of economic disaster is much better than the old CRA system. Before we abolished the corrupt Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA,) Angelenos bore the brunt of the corruption. CRA projects paid no incremental property taxes to the city and that seriously reduced the City’s operating revenues. Although LA had the legal right to spend CRA money on streets, paramedics, parks, pension contributions, etc. while Villaraigosa was Mayor and Eric Garcetti was City Council President, it chose to give the money to real estate developers. That decision to give hundreds of millions of dollars annually to real estate developers is why Los Angeles now has a crumbling infrastructure whose deterioration is far beyond our financial means to repair without tax increases. 

Under this new system to Federalize debt, the Federal government will bear the economic losses. People still think that Federal money is free and there are no economic or social costs in opening the Federal bank vaults and letting the money spill out. One thing is clear though – the more the City borrows and spends, the better the economy becomes in the short run. 

Every dollar spent by a construction worker has the same multiplier effect as the dollar spent by an aerospace engineer. NASA, however, is not located in LA, but construction workers on The Subway to the Sea have to stay and spend their wages in LA. From an economic stimulus standpoint, there is no reason that federalizing local debt will not work. 

Here are the steps: 

(1)   Borrow Billions of dollars and spend it locally. 

(2)   Have the Feds bail out Los Angeles. 

What could go wrong? 

The November 17, 2015 the HCIDLA report to the Mayor warned what can go wrong – the voters might not approve the necessary bonds or tax increases that require a 2/3 vote in order to prevail on the November 2016 ballot. 

As the HICDLA report said, it will be a massive sales job and its outcome is questionable. Thus, two advertising campaigns are under way: 

The first ad campaign pleads the plight of the homeless – who will remain homeless despite the fact that Los Angeles has plenty of empty apartments to house them. It will be important between now and the November election not to let anything reduce the scope of the homeless crisis. If people realize that there are better ways to help the homeless than giving billions of dollars to real estate developers, they won’t approve the sale of bonds. 

If ballot measures fail, the City could borrow funds from the Federal government or through smaller bond offerings and then give those funds to developers to construct apartments were a portion of the projects are for affordable housing. For example, on May 13, 2016, the City Housing Committee approved $27.6 million in bonds to provide money to give to developers for affordable housing. 

The second ad campaign is designed to convince us that we need more subways despite the fact that Angelenos shun subways and basically, the only people who use mass transit are people who have no other choice. The fact that the subways were constructed for the poor is shown by the lack of parking near the subway stations. Just take a look at the Metro Stop at Western Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard. If people living in The Oaks wanted to use the subway, the nearest place to park their cars would be their own home since there is no parking anywhere near the subway station. 

Thus, the crucial first step for Los Angeles to “deficit finance” its way to financial success is to convince voters to incur billions of dollars’ worth of debt that will then force the Feds to pay our bills starting five, ten or fifteen years from now.

 

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

Great Streets Initiative: Transforming Miles of LA Roads and Sidewalks

URBAN UPLIFT-Fifteen percent of the landmass of Los Angeles is streets and sidewalks. These 7,500 centerline miles of roads constitute the single largest physical element under city control, according to Lilly O’Brien, program manager of the Great Streets initiative -- a political organization staffed by trained urban planners housed in Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office. 

Great Streets has been working with city councilmembers, city departments like the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), and nonprofit design organizations to make better use of existing city resources and infrastructure while simultaneously creating urban corridors that reflect --and hopefully economically engage -- the people who live there. The initiative ties into a national and even global push to pedestrianize underutilized swaths of the urban fabric. In design terms, the 15 streets the project has undertaken so far largely demonstrate this blend of infrastructural alignment and local identity through sidewalk installations and pop-up play spaces. 

For one day, nonprofit organization Street Beats (photo above, courtesy Street Beats) transformed the intersection of Crenshaw and Florence into a musical instrument by using bump-outs to install DJs at each corner and fashioning scramble crosswalks to look like a giant urban keyboard. Pedestrians could engage in light-pole-mounted-speaker beat battles using iPads. 

Meanwhile, on Reseda Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, LA-Más attempted to transform the car-oriented environment of the sidewalk into a living room by designing the installed furniture in a late-midcentury modernist style and combining it with a painted flagstone paving pattern. (Photo left, courtesy Stacey Rigley/LA-Más.) As Lilly O’Brien said, “these are designed to be places that could both support a communal space and a local economy.” 

“Our installations weren’t supposed to blend into the fabric; they were supposed to live in the in-between of the sidewalk, between what’s legal and illegal, between what’s private and public,” architect Elizabeth Timme, the co-executive director and cofounder at LA-Más said. According to Timme, her boundary-blurring work made it clear that the street was a pedestrian space, not a vehicular space, while also creating a far more accessible and welcoming area. 

Kounkuey Design Initiative has been working on a pilot “Play Streets” program for the initiative that closes off thoroughfares in South LA to vehicles and then introduces varying amounts of infrastructure to see “how play gets activated,” cofounder and executive director Chelina Odbert said. 

She’s discovering that regardless of the amount of equipment introduced into the environment, “people will play no matter what; closing down the street does the trick tangentially.” After securing the participation of LADOT and the Great Streets initiative, Odbert enlisted the help of “play experts” (i.e. kids) to develop the initial design concept into a workable reality, introducing everything from Hula-Hoops to temporary slides on reclaimed asphalt. The pilot program will run for one year, and depending on its results, may effect more permanent, citywide changes. 

This potential for broader urban change is in keeping with the scope of Mayor Garcetti’s original plan. As he told AN via email, “I launched the Great Streets initiative to energize public spaces, provide economic revitalization, increase public safety, enhance local culture, and support great neighborhoods. We are changing the culture around how we use our streets by partnering with urban designers on community-level improvements that appear hyperlocal but reverberate around our city.” 

The ongoing initiative will continue to develop and apply its findings to streets throughout Los Angeles.

 

(Julia Ingalls is a writer for the Architect’s Newspaper. This piece originated at archpaper.com.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Consumer Affairs Director: ‘Workers and Business Can Thrive with a New Minimum Wage’

GUEST COMMENTARY-For nearly 40 years, the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs was our local consumer protection agency. As director of the department since 2012, it was my job to make sure all consumers in LA County were treated fairly under the law. 

However, Los Angeles County is only at its strongest when both consumers and businesses thrive. So about a year ago, the County’s Board of Supervisors made an important change to both the focus and name of my department. Today, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs empowers both consumers and businesses in LA County. 

Starting this July 1, LA County will have an increased minimum wage. Businesses in unincorporated areas of LA County with more than 26 employees must pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour. 

Businesses with 25 or fewer employees will follow a staggered schedule, paying $10.50 an hour beginning July 1, 2017. The minimum wage will increase every year until 2021, eventually reaching $15 an hour. 

The County believes honest work deserves fair pay and this law will certainly boost workers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet. 

The Board of Supervisors has tasked my department with enforcing the minimum wage. If workers believe they are not being paid the correct minimum wage, they can file a claim. We will look into the claim, contact the business if necessary, and take appropriate actions to ensure businesses are in compliance. 

The County’s minimum wage law includes an anti-retaliatory measure that states that employers cannot punish workers if they file a wage claim or assist in an investigation. 

We know some business owners are concerned about what this change means for their bottom line. However, just as our department’s name suggests, we are working hard to boost Los Angeles County businesses. 

For months, my team has reached out to businesses across the County. We conducted several round-table events and went door-to-door to more than 200 businesses to educate employers about the new wage law. 

When enforcement efforts begin later this year, if a claim is filed against a business, business owners will have the opportunity to prove they’re in compliance, or to correct a violation. 

In addition, the Board of Supervisors and my department are developing new programs to help businesses succeed. The Small Business Initiative, a collaboration with several County departments, will provide workplace development programs and faster plan checks for restaurants among many benefits. The County’s Small Business Utilization plan is establishing easier ways for local small businesses to compete for millions of dollars of available County contracts. 

So when we say “Honest Work, Fair Pay,” that could mean your business getting paid, too.

Consumers and businesses thriving...it’s the LA County way.

 

(Brian J. Stiger is Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Visit dcba.lacounty.gov or call 1-800-593-8222 to learn more about LA County’s new minimum wage. This piece first appeared in PublicCEO.com. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The LA Model: Trickle Down Deceit

CALLING IT LIKE IT IS--Call it the Eric Garcetti Trickle-Down Theory of Dishonesty, where the city’s top executive has so consistently told half-truths to the public that mendacity has drip, drip, dripped down to his voluntary Commission appointments.

There was Garcetti’s $1,400 per plate DC fundraiser for his re-election coffers on the eve of the LAPD Commission ruling on the Ezell Ford killing, which he told Black Lives Matter protestors was a trip to raise money for housing.   He also claimed that veteran homelessness would be eradicated in LA by the end of 2015, at which time he admitted was still rampant because the problem was twice as bad as he originally thought.

In recent weeks, I exposed at Huffington Post his awkward, dishonest Tweets about Super Bowl LV coming “back to Los Angeles,” and here on CityWatch his untruthful claim that LA was on the verge of becoming a “No Kill” city, despite doctored statistics and there being no such thing as a no kill city anywhere in the U.S.

So, it was no surprise last week that City Council, as predicted, unanimously confirmed Garcetti’s re-appointment of Roger Wolfson to the LA Animal Services Commission despite having a 41% absentee/tardiness record in 2015, on track for worse in 2016 and his ongoing failure to pay his overdue dog licenses or their late fees.  In fact, City Council failed to ask Wolfson a single question as he sat in the front row with his arm wrapped behind LAAS GM Brenda Barnette. (Photo above.)

Wolfson’s story about his background in the legal profession does not add up, especially between June 10, 2013 and June 17, 2015, and in his City Council file resumes.

On that 2013 date, in a gushing LA Times article about plays he puts on in his backyard, Wolfson said, “I’m not a doctor or lawyer, but I want to be a pillar of my community.”

But on June 17, 2015, Wolfson described himself in an interview with TheNewHollywood.com as “a civil rights attorney.”

According to Wolfson’s City Council file, which contains an overkill list of every speech he says he ever created or delivered, he was indeed an attorney, describing himself as a founding partner of Haft, Harrison and Wolfson, a NY law firm founded in 1999, which he started after working as an attorney at the law firm he says was founded by his mother and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

Wolfson’s resume, which appears to be identical for both of his Garcetti appointments, lists him as a member of the New York, Connecticut and District of Columbia Bars, but is unclear as to whether he is presently licensed to practice law before any of them.

According to the Connecticut Judicial Branch, Wolfson was suspended in 2000 for failure to pay a client security fee.  He is presently listed as retired and therefore cannot practice law there.

In Washington D.C., records reflect that Wolfson is suspended due to his failure to attend continuing education courses and/or pay dues, and might not be able to practice there, either.

(NOTE: Attorneys not actively practicing law often list themselves as “inactive.”  Suspensions, whether administrative or disciplinary, are considered a permanent black mark on an attorney’s record.)

And according to the New York State Unified Court System, Wolfson’s license lapsed in April.

Wolfson also lists himself as a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar Association, which is largely considered a vanity membership, except for those who actually practice law before the SCOTUS, which Wolfson does not appear to have done.   Its Public Information Office did not respond in time for this article.  Wolfson and the Mayor’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.

In the world of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council, the truth glass is almost always half bull. 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatch, Huffington Post, KFI AM-640, LA Times, LA Daily News, and Los Angeles Magazine.  He blogs on humane issues at: ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/.) 

-cw

Stage Watch: The Fringe Fest Produces Some Winners … ‘Office Beat, a Tap Dance Comedy’ Among Them

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Hollywood Fringe Festival ran through June 26, allowing increasingly lively crowds to catch up to shows that have been receiving positive coverage. I managed to catch Tilt, Time Stands Still, and Office Beat, a Tap Dance Comedy. I have to admit that the idea of a tap dance comedy struck me as unusual, but it turned out to be one of the better shows. 

Office Beat is the creation of Tap Overload, itself the creation of Gabe and Mindy Copeland, a husband-and-wife team with long backgrounds in tap. The show opens on a more or less normal office setting with a row of desks and chairs. But this office is a bit peculiar, because the workers don't talk and don't seem to be doing much office work. What they do is tap dance. They like to tap dance. They do it as individuals, in pairs, and as an entire ensemble. 

One day, they get a new boss. He's a mean guy. He posts signs making it against the rules to do any more tap dancing. (This is called dramatic tension, and it's all that this show has or needs.) The staff resist the new boss by dancing when he's not around, and becoming increasingly rebellious to him when he is around. I'll leave it to your imagination to decide whether the boss ultimately has his way, making this show a tap dance tragedy, or maybe he eventually changes his mind even as he discovers that he himself can tap! (The exclamation point would be appropriate if things were to turn out that way, don't you think?) 

About half way through Office Beat, I realized that this show has managed to capture the look and feel of the good old days of silent film. There is no spoken dialogue, and the cast is left to communicate using their own athletic ability, facial expression, and a bit of mime. There are a few written signs (No Tap Dancing Allowed) which fit the bill precisely as replacements for what the old-time movies used to call intertitles. And just like the silent movies -- which were never silent, but had musical accompaniment, often with a lot of rhythm -- the show was ultimately a bit of Buster Keaton or Clara Bow. 

Gabe Copeland as the new hire and Valerie Rockey as an office worker were outstanding. Rockey turns out to have been the runner-up on the tv show So You Think You Can Dance. Actually, they all were quite good. The audience filed out in good humor. 

Time Stands Still is the story of Sarah, a photographer of wars and famines, who has arrived back home to New York City from the middle East. She is recovering from a near-fatal exposure to an improvised explosive device. She squabbles with her long-time boyfriend James, a writer of wars and famines. The two of them squabble with their old friend Richard, an editor at the magazine they seem to work for, and they get to know Richard's brand new love interest Mandy. This is a lot of introduction to shoehorn into 60 minutes of playing time. Mandy, though much younger than the others, is the source of commonsensical interventions when they are most needed. It's that oldest cliche from the movies as explained by Roger Ebert -- in a story about teachers and students (or in this case, the young and the middle aged), the teachers eventually learn from the students, the older from the younger. 

Lauren Shein as Sarah holds her own with a convincing and naturalistic acting style. Tashia Gates as Mandy gets to portray positive emotion battling the gloom and anger presented by the others. 

I mention the next play because it has been getting a lot of positive comments in the Fringe's own review site, while paradoxically reflecting on my own negative comments about the Fringe management in a previous column. Tilt is either a decent first effort by a talented actor/playwright or the ultimate salute to sadism, irresponsibility, and amorality. 

In a mountain cabin, a slightly hairy, crazed fellow shambles around holding a crowbar in hand and spouting pseudo-profundities. The door opens and in comes a less-crazed fellow in a black leather jacket. It turns out that they did an armed robbery a week earlier and have been hiding out. Black leather jacket went away for a few days, leaving the hairy fellow to watch over the cabin. 

It is at this point that we learn something shocking. Sometime during that interval when leather jacket was away, the hairy fellow was surprised by a couple who were trying to gain entry. The couple, who we never see, were interested in what used to be called a romantic tryst. We now learn that the hairy fellow, reacting to being discovered, used his crowbar to break the legs of the couple. Then he duct taped them to a couch. This is all rattled off in what otherwise passes as a comedy. The fact that this conduct amounts to torture doesn't come up in the ensuing dialogue. The hairy fellow is resigned to killing the captives, and leather jacket desperately tries to find a way out. Neither of the main characters displays empathy towards the captives. 

The staging gimmick is that the main characters are looking towards the audience as they discuss the injured couple. We are the victims and they are us. It's not quite breaking the fourth wall, but it's close enough. 

There is a lot of further explication of how this all came to be. The fellow in the black leather jacket turns out to be the more civilized -- or at least less crazy -- of the two crooks. He's been a Beverly Hills jewelry salesman, and now he is caught up in something he didn't intend. It's the ultimate nightmare -- a wide awake bad dream in the making -- being forced to choose between joining in murdering the injured couple or somehow figuring a way out of the quandary. 

You might say that leather jacket is more capable of planning for the long run, and the hairy fellow is less capable of impulse control. Perhaps the moral of this story is that you shouldn't take off and do armed robberies with homicidal maniacs, because bad things could come out of it. Or you might consider the moral question faced by the salesman -- should he take some action that will eventually result in him being punished by the justice system (like arrange for the two victims to be saved), or should he abandon the injured couple to their own bad luck and just take off. Like I said, the leather jacket character doesn't seem to apply empathy to his attempts at planning. The victims are there as a plot gimmick, put there to create an impossible situation for the less crazy of the two crooks. 

This not being a romance, the salesman eventually takes his half of the swag and leaves the injured couple to the announced homicidal intention of the crazed fellow. It's about as amoral an ending as you might imagine. 

There is something worth thinking about here. If you were to analyze this play according to a deep critic such as the late John Gardner, whose book On Moral Fiction explained what real literature is about, you would realize that the play comes from a very bleak and depressing place. The salesman raises the moral issue early on, but this theme just sort of evaporates away, as the dialogue takes the two characters into an exploration of their own relationship and how they came to be stuck in their difficult situation. Our salesman character doesn't so much deal with his moral question as he manages to divert himself from it by thinking about other things. 

I guess we have a new art form here, the theater of responsibility avoidance. Students of Antonin Artaud and the theater of cruelty might take note. 

I've concentrated on the meaning of the play, sort of like you might consider the moral meaning of Oedipus Rex or Rhinoceros, but only to illuminate the fundamental lack of moral thought at its core. 

This is not to criticize the acting or the technical proficiency that went into the writing and directing. Ben Moroski is the author and plays the guy in the leather jacket. Michael Shaw Fisher plays the hairy guy. Unlike some other Fringe plays I have seen over the past couple of years, the actors do their lines like they really mean them, find the comedic pauses effectively, and basically sell the characters to the audience. Tilt is worthy of being considered on a higher level than, for example, Time Stands Still, because the presentation is excellent. The fact that one play argues serious moral concerns and the other makes them frivolous is a different question. I wonder if Tilt, as performed this week, might (with a little judicious rewriting) be the opening act in a much deeper three act play. 

On the same weekend, Long Beach Opera performed The News. It's a rhythmic, tuneful one-act opera with two female singers, a supporting band, and full-wall projections of what is going out from a television news show. It's the news on television, performed in front of us as modern opera. 

Mark Swed's review in the L.A. Times nailed it: The singers are great, the band is great, and the level of in-depth commentary on how television delivers the news is a bit weak. Singer Loire Cotler is something called a rhythm vocalist. She uses her voice as a percussion instrument to amazing effect. Maeve Hoglund is the more traditional soprano voice, and performs well.

 

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

-cw

Shocker! Councilman Discovers the Homeless In His District are his Own … Not Bussed In from Elsewhere

AT LENGTH--It has been more than 10 months since Councilman Joe Buscaino held his San Pedro Forum on Homelessness at the Warner Grand Theatre, where he reiterated the commonly held belief that neighboring cities were busing their homeless to the San Pedro area. 

He vowed he would stop this practice and called for greater cooperation amongst local cities to curb the importation of homeless people. Then he appointed a special task force to deal with the issue. The San Pedro Homeless Taskforce still hasn’t reported its findings. The homeless problem persists. Only it’s not what Buscaino expected. 

In Buscaino’s weekly e-news bulletin, he reports that, “In April, the Emergency Response Team met with 145 homeless individuals, 85 percent of whom are from the Harbor Area.” 

The report continues on about the reported results in the month of May that, “the team met with 170 individuals, 88 percent of whom were from the Harbor Area.” 

These reports from his trusted sources are similar to, but higher than national statistics, that show that most people who are homeless live in places in which they were reared and lived in a home.

The reality is that the people whom we have come to call “homeless” in our neighborhoods (at least some 85 to 88 percent) are in fact right at home because this is where they came from. They just don’t have a roof over their heads with a permanent address. 

This fact flies in the face of tightly held prejudices that perceive the homeless in our communities as outsiders. The councilman now must recognize them as his constituents. 

The Cost of Sweeping Homeless-- This is a hard fact to swallow for the indignant Saving San Pedro crowd after shaming the homeless on social media and having consistently called for more encampment sweeps to the tune of $30,000 per action. 

It was reported at one of the recent Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meetings that there have been 27 such sweeps in the Harbor Area since the end of last summer, possibly more by now. By my estimation, the sweeps have cost the taxpayers of Los Angeles somewhere around $810,000. 

In addition to this expense, the police routinely issue tickets for infractions for any of the 24 municipal codes of which the homeless could be in violation, just by existing in a public space. Most of these tickets go to warrant for failure to appear. This only adds to the public expense and burden to the superior courts­, not to mention the cost to the homeless themselves. 

This criminalization of the poor has become a revolving door with a downward spiral. It’s part of what keeps the homeless, homeless. None other than the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized this vicious cycle for what it is: a civil rights violation that jeopardizes federal housing grants to our city. Enforcement actions such as the ones this city has used do nothing but make city officials look responsive. 

In response to the Los Angeles Police Department’s growing awareness that we can’t arrest our way out of homelessness, the Los Angeles Police Commission and the Los Angeles Chief of Police, Charlie Beck, issued new policy guidelines this week that change how officers approach the mentally ill and homeless populations. This policy change comes after two officer involved shootings of homeless people in the past few years. One of those shootings was judged “out of policy” and the officer is being criminally prosecuted. 

Clearly there must be more creative and effective ways to spend $810,000 in Council District 15 and the rest of Los Angeles. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the estimated $80 million spent on police and fire department to react to the homeless crisis isn’t working either. 

Homelessness itself is not a crime. We as neighbors and as citizens of this city and nation must not continue down this misconceived path. The homeless are our neighbors without shelter. If this were any other kind of crisis that left 46,000 residents countywide without shelter for even a day, someone would call for the Red Cross and the National Guard to step in. 

In Los Angeles, we talk the issue to death at city council meetings. Then we propose three different bond or tax measures, one of which will be voted on in November. Yet, not one new emergency shelter or new low-income housing unit will be opened or built before then. 

If this is how Los Angeles handles a crisis, I’d hate to see how the city would respond to the next major earthquake.

 

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy - Don't listen to that man with the white cap - he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

SCOTUS Speaks: Time for California Lawmakers to Dump the Affirmative Action Ban

URBAN PERSPECTIVE--The California legislature and Governor Brown now have all the ammunition they need to do what they should have done years ago. And that’s dump the outdated, outmoded, and grossly harmful Proposition 209. That’s the state amendment passed by voters two decades ago in 1996 that banned the use of race as a factor in college admissions.

The ammunition was supplied convincingly by the US Supreme Court when it strongly upheld the University of Texas’s affirmative action program. Justice Anthony Kennedy rammed the point home that race can be considered in admission to insure broad, and meaningful racially diverse colleges.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris further underscored the critical importance of affirmative action at California colleges in her friend of the court brief.

Affirmative action also assures the fair and equitable use of tax dollars for public education. This is a point missed or deliberately distorted in the affirmative action wars. That is that African-American and Hispanics pay taxes, lots of taxes, and are vital public stakeholders. Yet when colleges and universities shut the door or severely limit the number of African-American and Hispanic students at public institutions this means their tax dollars’ amount to de facto support of modern day quasi Jim Crow education. They are forced to pay for educational services and advantages in higher education that white students get and their children are denied.

Studies on college admissions to California colleges and universities have repeatedly found that there was a big plunge in the number and percentage of Black and Hispanic student enrollment after the passage of Prop. 209. This downward trend has remained agonizingly steady over the years. 

The studies also found that colleges and university administrators have done everything they could to devise policies and strategies employed to deftly skirt around Proposition 209 to ramp up the low numbers of black and Latinos on the campuses. The efforts have failed to boost the numbers. The problem of stagnant or declining Black and Hispanic student enrollment is made even worse by the widening gap between the percentage of underrepresented minority students graduating from California high schools and the percentage enrolling at UC. 

In 2014, the California senate took a big stab at trying to roll back Proposition 209 when it passed theConstitutional Amendment 5. This would have given voters another chance to consider the use of race in college admissions. The bill was pulled after some Asian-American constituent groups claimed that reinstituting affirmative action would do major harm to Asian-American students' chances of getting admitted to state colleges and universities. The charge that Asian-Americans would and are getting the short end of the admissions stick from affirmative action doesn’t hold up. 

Asian-American students already make up a disproportionate number of students at many public universities. According to university figures, at the University of Texas they make up 16 percent of the university enrollees though they are only 4 percent of the state’s population. 

The figures there are typical of their enrollment at many public universities where Asian-American students make up double digit numbers of the student population. 

The other old argument is that affirmative action is just another way of imposing quotas that would admit a lot of unqualified, poorly educated Black and Hispanic students to the colleges. This is nothing more than a rehash of the old quota or reverse bias argument that’s been used for years by conservatives to thwart affirmative action.

Quotas have long since been ruled illegal. Despite popular myth even before the imposition of Proposition 209 in California there was never a quota system that mandated a set number of Black and Hispanic students be admitted at any California university or state college. Race, then, was simply used as one of several factors that could be considered in a student’s admission. 

The brutal reality is that Proposition 209 is a relic of a time past when the relentless attack on affirmative action was a sneaky, and malicious way to maintain a racially discriminatory, two tiered education system that blatantly excluded Black and Latino students. It was bad public policy then, and in the two decades that Proposition 209 has been on the books, it still is.  

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, there’s absolutely no reason why California lawmakers shouldn’t speak too and dump Proposition 209. Their swift action on this can and will serve as a model for other states that followed California’s lead and imposed bans on affirmative action in higher education to make affirmative action a reality again. We’ll all benefit from that.

 

(Earl Ofari Hutchinson is President of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. For more Hutchinson insight.) 

-cw

Not Rich? You Have Two Options … Become Homeless or Move Out of Hollywood!

DEEGAN ON LA-What’s the difference between an 18-unit apartment building at 1850 N. Cherokee Avenue in the heart of Hollywood that has a long history of providing rent-stabilized housing for working class tenants, and a trendy 24-unit boutique hotel that may replace it? How about the potential of a one-quarter-billion dollars gross for developer David Lesser over a 25-year life span of the new enterprise? And over $6 million in “bed taxes” to the City of Los Angeles over the same period? 

The conversion from rent-stabilized (RSO) apartments to hotel is an economic model for both developer Lesser and the City that may be too good to pass up. Most evictions and redevelopments hinge on what’s in it for the developer, and that usually means big profits. Incumbent rental occupants often become collateral damage and worse in the process. In this case, as in many others, some former tenants evicted by Lesser using the Ellis Act  have become homeless. 

If the boutique hotel is approved by the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM), and then the full City Council, there will be no more fixed 3% annual rent caps on the formerly Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) building. The new hotel’s room rates can fluctuate with the economics of supply and demand and LA will receive a 14% per bed, per night Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) that, in itself, could eventually bring the city one-quarter-million dollars annually.

An activist community is fighting City Hall over this conversion, and now has a second chance at a PLUM hearing on Tuesday, centered on a CEQA-based argument on homelessness that has apparently caught the attention of the PLUM members. It seems that the city has no overall screening process to consider the cumulative impacts of how Ellis Act evictions add to homelessness, especially the loss of RSO housing units, even though they are required to under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). 

Recently, Governor Brown declared that CEQA, a state law, that may get in the way of progress and hinder developers should be minimized or eliminated altogether. Brown wants it diluted or removed from the planning process. 

The full council file for the Cherokee Hotel (CF 09-0967-S1) project is now available online. The public hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 28 at 2:30pm in Hearing Room 350 at City Hall. 

The transcript of an eye-opening conversation between Director of City Planning Vincent Bertoni and Councilmembers Jose Huizar (CD14) and Gilbert Cedillo (CD1) sheds some daylight on a City Hall where departments and council offices are not in sync. It shows us how an operational dislocation hurts occupants of RSO housing that are being evicted by the Ellis Act and becoming homeless as a result.

In the transcript of the PLUM meeting, the City Planning Director and two of the 15 City Councilmembers -- Huizar and Cedillo -- admit they do not know what the cumulative impact their constant approval of Ellis Act evictions has had in creating homelessness. Most likely, the other 13 Councilmembers are equally unaware that when they say “yes” to developers wanting to build in their districts, often with favors attached, they are also saying “no” to tenants who are also constituents. 

This shocking admission was reported by Jill Stewart and Miki Jackson in their expose published on June 24 in CityWatch, detailing how the “LA City Council and City Hall are clueless about their role in fueling homelessness.” 

In a stunning turn of events, PLUM will reconsider this matter on Tuesday, June 28. This reflects how far the community will go to try and preserve affordable housing in a rapidly densifying Hollywood that many consider ground zero for much of what’s wrong with city planning. It also highlights the influence that developers lord over politicos relying on them to fuel their election campaigns. 

Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell (CD13), who holds sway over development projects in central Hollywood, is up for re-election next March. So is his mentor, former CD13 councilman and now Mayor, Eric Garcetti, who many credit or bedevil, depending on your point of view, with getting the development wrecking ball rolling into high gear in Hollywood. 

The developer has said he does not intend to tear down the two existing 1929 buildings on Cherokee, but to repurpose them, retaining the character that adds to the neighborhood. No word yet on the fenestration (the arrangement of windows and doors on the elevations of a building) but it’s likely that that will not change and, to the eye, the building may look pretty much the same as a hotel as it did as an apartment building. At least there is no longer the intrusive threat of the original plan that included a 69-unit condo building that could have looked something like this.     

We will never know if the prospect of the 69-unit condo project was a bluff, a threat or a tactic by the developer to make a 24-room hotel look better by comparison. But one thing’s for sure: the current tenants will be the big losers. A few of them have already become homeless and need to move far away to obtain affordable housing. This is yet another result of the citywide reduction in affordable housing exacerbated by Ellis Act evictions initiated by developers who are intent on tearing down pre-1973 rent stabilized (RSO) housing. 

Removing affordable housing from inventory is the opposite of providing supportive housing for the homeless and lower-wage-earning residents. While the City may think it can support evictions that result in more homelessness and then ask taxpayers or the Governor to fund homeless housing, in truth, it really can’t. 

This schizophrenic approach is hurting the neediest, and slowly works its way up the food chain to damage the many politicos that are starting to be seen for what they are: the creators, not the solvers, of the homeless problem that comes from Ellis Act evictions. 

This is a variation of the well-established pattern of dislocation and gentrification throughout Hollywood and other communities, with some unique twists, explained by community activist Sylvie Shain, saying, “the tenants of 1850 N. Cherokee were vacated in 2013, under the Ellis Act, per a prior project approval for this site to build a condo complex, which was approved in 2009 but never moved forward. Half of these tenants did not receive relocation assistance because the owner benefited from the applicability of a waiver in the Los Angeles Municipal Code (Chapter 151.09G), provided for in the following circumstance: “The tenant received actual written notice, prior to entering into a written or oral tenancy agreement, that an application to subdivide the property for condominium, stock cooperative or community apartment purposes was on file with the City or had already been approved.” 

This is another example of how Hollywood is rapidly changing people’s lives and bank accounts. This hotel conversion project shines a spotlight on the politicos that have helped to shatter the dreams of everyday people who have been living in Hollywood in redevelopment projects; and there are dozens more on the books. These are tenants who, under the politico’s pro-development addiction, are now unable to afford living in Hollywood once they have been “Ellis-Acted” out. 

Bertoni, Huizar and Cedillo now admit to being complicit in creating an increase in homelessness through their constant approvals of tearing down affordable housing, throwing people onto the street. More of their colleagues need to turn the corner away from denial and into the reality of taking solution-based actions. 

While everyone is scrambling for up to two billion dollars in funding to help the homeless, there’s an easy non-monetary first step available: place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. Get the facts and a perspective on how this directly and cumulatively impacts our homeless crisis.

 

(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.

 

Many LA Latinos are On Edge about State’s New Aid-in-Dying Law

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Julie Watson from The Associated Press wrote and reported that California this month has become the latest state to allow the terminally ill to legally choose to end their lives, raising worries among some people in the state’s large Latino and African-American communities that poor people with serious illnesses could be pressured to take lethal drugs as a cheaper option to long-term care. 

Concern has surfaced across the Golden State, from primary care physicians and administrators of large hospital systems, to ethics professors and clergy. 

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the nation, called the new law “a failure of solidarity” in a society where loneliness and isolation already prevail. 

But those fears were found to be unsubstantiated in a recently released study conducted by UCLA professor Cindy Cain with the department of health policy and management. 

Cain found that in states such as Oregon, which began implementing the law in 1997, the number of those who died with prescription assistance rose gradually each year, from less than 20 in 1998 to 105 in 2015. 

Most of those who chose to end their lives were 65 and older, white, had some college education; and more than 60 percent of them had private insurance. 

The data doesn’t support the idea that the passing of the aid-in-dying law will disproportionately affect the poor or vulnerable groups, Cain said. 

This spring, the national right-to-die advocacy organization Compassion & Choices named Latina, African-American and Filipina-American women to reach out to minority communities. The group also set up a bilingual hotline explaining the law and held meetings in largely Spanish-speaking areas such as California’s Central Valley. 

“We knew we would need to learn to talk about the issue around death and dying in a way that was not just recognizable to the white community,” said Toni Broaddus of Compassion & Choices. 

In an April 14 column in the Chicago Tribune, cancer patient Miguel Carrasquillo called on his fellow Latinos to “break the cultural taboo of discussing death and medical aid in dying.” 

He called himself the “Latino Brittany Maynard,” a reference to the 29-year-old California woman who was dying of brain cancer when she moved to Oregon to access the lethal drugs in 2014. Her story galvanized support for the proposal that became the California law. Carrasquillo’s mother supported his fight for the option, but his father saw it as intervening in God’s work. 

Carrasquillo died of cancer in his native Puerto Rico, lacking the funds to move to a state with a right-to-die law. His mother promised him she would keep pushing for the practice so others do not have to suffer as he did. 

In California, before a doctor can prescribe lethal drugs, a patient 18 or older must make two oral and one written request. The law also requires a diagnosis that the person has less than six months to live and that the person can take the drugs without help from anyone. 

Life-ending drugs will be covered under MediCal, the state’s public insurance plan, but it limits coverage of outpatient palliative care consultations unless the person has stage IV cancer.

 

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

LA’s Great American Story: Asian Immigrants and Politics

TRUTHDIG-Amid Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, it’s refreshing to take a look at Asian-Americans, who braved great hardship to come to the United States. In the face of racism, they began life in a hostile land, raised families and have made a significant contribution to the nation’s social, intellectual, economic and political life. (Photo above: Mayor Eric Garcetti at podium, Councilman David Ryu front row right.)

I’ve been intrigued by their lives, which mirror the experiences of other Americans of immigrant stock. I’ve watched the transformation of the Asian-American community from powerlessness to political office and clout. From my perch in Los Angeles and its suburbs that surround the city, I got to know a lot of the people who made it happen. Theirs is a great American story, one that offers hope in a time of gloom and cynicism.

But first some numbers to put this in perspective. More than 18 million Asian-Americans live in the United States, more than 5.5 percent of the population. Chinese comprise the largest group, more than 4 million, followed by Filipinos, Indians, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese. They are the fastest-growing ethnic minority and are expected to play an increasingly important role in elections.

There were many turning points in the history of Asian immigrants to the United States. All of the immigrant groups treasure theirs. To record them all would fill a book. This is just a column, so I’ll write about the ones I saw.

The Korean-American moments of history are the most recent. An important one was the wrongful conviction of Chol Soo Lee, a Korean immigrant accused of a 1973 murder involving Chinese-American gangs in San Francisco’s Chinatown. A Korean-born journalist, K.W. Lee, then with the Sacramento Union, investigated the case. K.W., as everyone knows him, was the first Asian immigrant to work as a journalist on an American newspaper, starting out on the Kingsport Times-News in Tennessee. It took him more than 100 stories and five years before Chol Soo Lee was retried and acquitted. During this time, K.W. helped organize a grass-roots campaign by Asian-Americans, the Free Chol Soo Lee Defense Committee, one of the first Pan-Asian justice defense organizations.

I met K.W. while he was editor of the English-language edition of The Korea Times.   He was my gracious teacher and guide through Koreatown in the months preceding, during and after the biggest turning point for the Korean-American community, the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  It devastated Korean businesses and was forevermore known in the community as Sa-I-Gu, Korean for 4-2-9, the day in 1992 the riots began.

Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, (see photo above.) then a teenager, remembers the helplessness felt by Korean-Americans. He was one of the young Korean-Americans inspired by K.W. to become a community activist.  

Ryu was elected in 2015 in a historic demonstration of growing Korean-American power, beating a candidate backed by the City Hall establishment. He immigrated to the United States at age 5 with his parents. “The family was on food stamps,” he recalled. “There were six of us in a two-bedroom, 700-square foot apartment.”

Ryu was in the 11th grade when the riots began after a jury in suburban, mostly white, Simi Valley acquitted the white Los Angeles Police Department officers of the videotaped beating of Rodney King, an African-American who had been stopped for a traffic violation.

The riots were a multiethnic event for a multiethnic city. African-Americans in South Los Angeles began looting and burning stores. Latinos joined in. Korean-American immigrants owned many of the small grocery and liquor stores, buying them as a way to begin the climb up the U.S. economic ladder. The stores tended to be family affairs, with the parents and children working to keep them open seven days a week. Most of the adults didn’t speak English well, and relations with the African-American customers were tense, just as they had been when Jews ran those stores before the 1965 Watts riots. Flames and rioting spread north of South Los Angeles. Too often, police and firefighters were not around. Korean-Americans armed themselves, and one, an 18-year-old college freshman, was shot to death.

After watching the riots and observing people fighting fires with their garden hoses, I attended a mass meeting of several thousand Korean-Americans in a Koreatown park. People were angry, feeling they had been neglected by the city’s political and law enforcement powers.

“It showed the Korean-Americans that you just couldn’t be quiet, knowing your place. You were shooting yourself in the foot,” Ryu told me.

Younger people like him were long put down by their elders, but no longer.

“We got to speak out,” he said. “We started organizing, registering voters, [believing] we cannot let this happen again. We need access. Connections.”

There were other examples of mistreatment of the Asian-American minority by politicians and law enforcement.

Back in 1871, 17 Chinese were lynched in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in a massacre that historians found was widely supported by the town’s white powers. 

All Asian-American immigrants were targeted by the 1913 California Alien Land Law, which had the effect of barring landowning by Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean farmers.

Japanese-Americans suffered the worst when, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved imprisoning 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “relocation” camps. Their long fight for reparations and recognition for the injustice was the beginning of Japanese-American political organization.

A governmental and political outrage of another kind spurred the political organization of the largest group of Asian-Americans, the Chinese. It began in the 1980s in Monterey Park, a small suburban city east of Los Angeles with a movement called “English only.” White merchants and politicians tried to ban Chinese-language signs from stores in a city that was becoming home to many Chinese-Americans. 

That’s when I met a young member of the small Garvey School District Board, Judy Chu, who taught psychology at East Los Angeles Community College. She and others organized a coalition of Asian-Americans, Latinos and whites against English only. She was elected to the Monterey Park City Council, the state Assembly and then to Congress, where she was the first Chinese-American woman to become a member of the House. She is chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus. English only, by the way, disappeared when Monterey Park became a majority Asian-American city.

I talked over the history with Mike Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona and the first Asian-American elected to the Los Angeles City Council. He later ran unsuccessfully for mayor.   

Woo’s election is part of the history, as is an action he took as a councilman. He was the first member of the council to call for the resignation of the influential police chief Daryl Gates, whose leadership of the department was blamed for police failures to control the 1992 riots and protect residents. The action by the Chinese-American councilman created a bond with African-Americans at a time when their relationship with Asian-Americans had been bad.

Today, more than 4,000 Asian-Americans hold local, state and federal offices. In a paper published by the Center for American Progress in 2014, scholars Karthick Ramakrishnan and Farah Z. Ahmad found that the number of Asian-American voters nearly doubled from more than 2 million in 2000 to almost 4 million in 2012. They are projected to constitute 5 percent of the electorate by 2025 and 10 percent by 2044.

This should be good news for the Democrats in this presidential election year, if they can take advantage of it. Most Asian-Americans favor Democrats and don’t like anti-immigrant politicians. The biggest number of Asian-Americans live in the West, where California, Oregon and Washington are Democratic. But their numbers are increasing in Arizona and, combined with the large number of Latino Arizonans, could deliver that usually Republican state to Hillary Clinton. In Florida a small minority of Asian-Americans, centered in Orlando, could combine with Latinos and take the state away from Trump.

The rise of this immigrant community in politics and its growing participation in the political process are a refutation of Trump and his portrayal of immigrants as an alien body invading the United States.

“The trend toward Democrats by Asians will continue,” Woo told me. “It might be accentuated by what Asians see as anti-immigrant bias.”

In a close election for president, that could make the difference.

(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)

-cw

CA Higher Education – A Sure Path to Raising Incomes

EDUCATION POLITICS--Globalization and technological change have shattered many of the economic models that have prevailed since World War II. This rapid change has driven justifiable concern about income stagnation and the prospects for this and future generations. Fortunately, there is a positive path forward through higher education, if we don’t take our eyes off the road. 

California continues to boast the finest public higher education system in the world. Our community colleges, California State University and the University of California comprise the three pillars of the Master Plan for Higher Education that has served us well for more than half a century. These campuses have energized our economy and fueled the innovation and creativity that are hallmarks of the California Dream. They are a big reason why California has the world’s sixth largest economy. We can’t afford to take public higher education for granted when the State sets its Budget priorities. 

Over the past several decades, there has been an unfortunate pattern of raiding higher education funding when the State gets into a fiscal jam. During the Great Recession, California’s community colleges lost $1.5 billion in State funding from 2008-09 to 2011-12. That lost revenue forced a 25% reduction in course offerings and shut 500,000 students out of the classroom. Fortunately, in the last few State Budget cycles, the community colleges have received healthy increases and it is imperative that this trend continues. 

Often overlooked, the community colleges provide the foundation of training and preparation that enable hundreds of thousands of Californians to embark on productive careers with solid incomes. Students with a degree or certificate from California community colleges nearly double their earnings within three years. Attending a community college gives students twice as good a chance of finding employment as those who fail to complete high school. Community colleges train 70% of our state’s nurses and 80% of firefighters, law enforcement personnel and emergency medical technicians. California community colleges are the largest provider of workforce training in the country. 

The community colleges also play a key role in readying students for four-year institution. Half of CSU graduate and almost a third of UC graduates started out in the community college system. Almost half of the UC graduates in science, technology, engineering and math started out at community colleges. 

All of the numbers underscore the importance of fully funding all three branches of California’s public higher education system. Californians with a college degree will earn an average of $400,000 more in their lifetime than those with just a high school degree. For every dollar the State invests in students who graduate from college, it will receive a $4.50 return on that investment. 

There has been some progress in restoring higher education funding in recent years, but much more needs to be done. It is essential that we accelerate State funding for all three branches of our higher education system and it is critical that the State resists back-peddling when the next economic downturn occurs.

 

(Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine are Co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former legislator who served as State Senate Republican Leader. Levine is a former Democratic member of the State Assembly and Congress.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Brits Vote to Exit EU … What Does it Mean to LA and California Business and Politics?

BUSINESS POLITICS--The immediate effect of British voters’ move to leave the European Union will hit California business but a ripple effect could also be felt with the state’s political decisions as well.

No one knows for sure what the long-term effects of Brexit will be but there was extensive handwringing over the economic prospects for the state in the few days following the vote. The unpredictable nature of the unprecedented vote has raised concern. Britain is the second largest trading partner with California after China. In Southern California alone, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation reports that 1,145 British owned establishments employ 55,000 workers with their future status unknown.

Other possible issues: California’s movie business might find filming in Britain more economical with a depressed British pound meaning film projects meant for California and its workers could travel “across the pond.” Also, as California Chamber of Commerce president Allan Zaremberg said in a release, “This will probably make America and the dollar safe havens for international investments, which unfortunately could make California exports more expensive.

California political decisions could also feel a jolt from the Brexit vote when the state’s voters go to the polls in November and beyond.

If the action in Britain results in a worldwide economic slowdown or recession as some economists fear, California’s budget is bound to take a hit. The investing class of taxpayers would not do so well. The state budget relies heavily on the state’s top income taxpayers and benefits from their success with capital gains during good economic times. When the economy plummets so does the budget.

How might voters react to the extension of Proposition 30 or many local taxes on the November ballot in the shadow of an economic slowdown?

If the budget swings downward would the argument that the tax extension is necessary to offset budget loses be more compelling to voters than those who claim that maintaining the heavy burden on high-end income taxpayers will just continue budget woes into the foreseeable future?

More at risk would be local tax measures. Most of these sales taxes, parcel taxes, and property taxes that pay for local bonds come directly from most voters’ pocket. If the economy is struggling won’t voters want to keep more of their own money?

Then there is the interesting political dynamic created by the Brexit model of government separation.

The United Kingdom decided to separate from the European Union. Other EU countries may consider following suit. Meanwhile, Scottish officials are talking about separating from the UK so that an independent Scotland can remain in the European Union.

Will all this talk of government separation spur the separation movements that simmer in California? Calling Tim Draper and his plan for Six Californias that fell short of making the ballot via initiative recently. The website supporting the plan is still up. Or those who have dreamed for seven decades of creating the state of Jefferson in Northern California. 

Brexit’s inspired tidal wave will be hitting the California shore. The question is how severe will it be.

(Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)

-cw

Booze on Billboards: Marketing to LA’s Kids?

BILLBOARD POLITICS--In 2006, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a large-scale study of the effects of alcohol advertising on youth drinking. The conclusion: Exposure to alcohol advertising on TV, radio, and billboards contributes to increased drinking by underage youth, which in turn contributes to such problems as poor grades in school, risky sex, alcohol addiction, and car crashes. (Photo above: Billboard just a building away from a community center for low-income youth.)   

Other research has confirmed this link between advertising and increased youth drinking. Yet billboard companies continue to place prominent ads for alcohol in proximity to places where young people congregate. A case in point is the Outfront Media billboard pictured above, which is just a door away from Venice Arts, a community arts center for low-income youth on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice.

Was placement of that ad for Coors Light where it would be seen by many young people under the drinking age just a coincidence? Or deliberate? Less than a block away are a public phone with a Bud Light ad and a doubled-sided Lamar Advertising billboard that has displayed at least four alcohol ads in the past several years. More coincidence? 

As pointed out in an earlier article, this stretch of Lincoln Blvd. is a daily route for students at Animo Venice Charter High school who arrive by bus from other parts of the city and walk the street to and from the campus. Which means more exposure for the alcohol advertising, intended or not.

The Outfront Media billboard now displaying the Coors Light Ad also appears to be have been significantly enlarged in violation of the city’s sign code. According to city records, the sign was permitted in 1969 with two 12 ft. By 25 ft. faces. But inspection records show that the face with the alcohol ad is 26 ft. By 25 ft., or more than 100 per cent larger.

The Lamar Advertising billboard may also violate a sign code section prohibiting billboards from extending over a public sidewalk.

One certainty is that the placement of these signs violates the Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s Code of Industry Principles, which states that ads for products illegal for sale to minors will be kept a “reasonable distance” from places where those young people congregate. On the other hand, perhaps Outfront Media considers the few steps from the billboard to the door of the youth center a “reasonable distance.”

 (Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected].

-cw

10% of CSU Students are Homeless! What’s Wrong with This Picture?

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Later this summer when millions of college and university students moved into dorms and apartments, over 50,000 are projected to be homeless. According to 2013-2014 Federal Student Aid Form (FSFA) data, over 56,000 college students identified as homeless.

Last week, the Times reported that one in ten of California State University’s 460,000 students are homeless and one in five are food insecure, per initial findings of a study commissioned by Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, aimed at addressing the hidden secret at many of the nation’s public universities. 

White stresses the need for the country’s largest public university system to tackle the problem across its 23 campuses. Experts address that it’s difficult to calculate and measure the student homeless population, as many do not consider themselves homeless if they are couch surfing or living in cars. The homeless population tends to be underreported. 

According to the study, eleven campuses host a food pantry or homeless support programs. Fresno State has an app that notifies student when food leftover from campus catered events is available, as well as a center that provides free groceries, toothpaste, and other supplies. Cal State Long Beach’s intervention program gives students grants, hotel vouchers, meal assistance, and counseling, as well as assistance in finding campus jobs. 

Why do so many college students lack housing or adequate food? Experts point to issues like parental job loss and lack of affordable housing. For families in lower income brackets, a job loss can have serious consequences, especially when supporting a child in college. The gap between minimum wage earnings and housing costs has increased while federal housing subsidies have decreased. The average minimum wage employee working full-time cannot afford fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in most cities.

Three universities across the U.S. have had success with programs for homeless students. At Florida State University, Kennessaw State University in Georgia, and University of Massachusetts Boston, students have access to housing assistance and essential needs such as food and toiletries.

Addressing the needs of students who many not have adequate housing and food is an essential component of higher education. Kudos to the Cal State University system now addressing these issues in a proactive way. Colleges and universities across the country must continue to expand efforts to assist homeless students. California’s and America’s future is in their hands. How skilled, how educated do you want tomorrow’s doctors, scientists, leaders to be?

 

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

What’s Behind California’s Sudden Urge to Help the Homeless? It’s the Rich!

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--How did homelessness suddenly become such a hot issue across California? There are many reasons, and few of them have anything to do with people who are homeless.

Those reasons—economic anxiety, budget surpluses, tax schemes, housing prices, prison reform, health care expansion, urban wealth, and political opportunism have combined to create today’s “homeless moment” in California.

For decades, combating homelessness has been a civic obsession in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its long tradition of progressive politics and generous homeless services. Now that homeless hubbub has spread statewide. To the surprise of many at the State Capitol, a $2 billion bond to pay for housing for the mentally ill homeless—previously a backburner issue in tax-and-education-obsessed Sacramento—became a central focus of this month’s budget negotiations. And around the state, local law enforcement officials have stirred the pot by claiming that recent measures to reduce the California prison population have exacerbated the homeless problem.

In Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second largest homeless population according to federal figures, homelessness has become the dominant political debate. Mayor Eric Garcetti has talked big about addressing the problem—declaring an emergency, promising that no military veterans will be living on the street—and now faces criticism for weak follow-up. L.A.’s city and county governments are now ensnared in huge debates about how to pay for additional public housing.

A similar pattern—of big plans to end homelessness followed by conflict about how to do it—has emerged in cities from Redding to Riverside. In San Diego, with America’s fourth largest homeless population, a leading city councilman called for ending all homelessness by the end of this year. (He’s since backed off). In Orange County, there have been calls for a “homeless czar” to speed up the building of shelters and housing. In Fresno, Mayor Ashley Swearengin just held a press conference at the city’s baseball stadium to tout a plan to end homelessness in the next three years. In Sacramento, homelessness was a leading issue in the just-concluded mayoral election, with the victor pledging to build more housing for the homeless.

Given all this drama, you might expect that the number of homeless people is rapidly rising. To the contrary, homeless counts (the accuracy of which is another big debate) show relatively flat or even declining homeless populations in most of these cities. So why the sudden urgency? The short answer: the homeless are now more visible to the rich people who drive civic conversation. Fancy restaurants and new high-end housing have brought wealthy folks into urban neighborhoods and old industrial areas that once were havens for the homeless. Downtown L.A., home to a large population of unsheltered homeless for decades, has rapidly been transformed from one of the most affordable to one of the most expensive places to live in the city.

At the same time, anxiety about housing has never run deeper. The housing crisis of the previous decade cost many Californians their homes. California’s total failure to build housing—we’ve produced just one new unit for every eight new Californians in this decade—has led to sky-high prices. Many Californians are forced to spend more than half of their incomes on housing, and the prospect of sleeping on the street no longer seems so unlikely.

Politicians, who read polls showing this growing fear, have seized on the opening. Homelessness has become an almost perfect issue for politicians. Expectations of success are low (homelessness is persistent) so any progress can be spun as heroic. Few homeless people vote, so democratic accountability is close to nothing. And the issue doesn’t have a strong partisan profile, so there is room for political horse-trading and risk-taking.

In an extraordinary public letter late last year, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane urged experiments with different approaches to the problem—and took himself to task for not having done so previously. “I am as responsible as anyone in this community for our failure to address our lack of shelter and our over-reliance on law enforcement and the criminal justice system to manage homelessness,” he wrote. “I have been a direct participant in many of my city’s decisions on homelessness. I have failed to adequately answer many of the questions I am posing.”

Such self-criticism is easier for politicians when money is on the way. The federal government has stepped up funding for housing the homeless—especially for veterans. The state is running a surplus, and a state fund for mental health services, funded by the Proposition 63 tax on millionaires, is so full of extra dollars that even Gov. Brown, a notorious tightwad, agreed to borrow $2 billion from it to fund housing and other services for the homeless. He and the legislature also threw another $400 million in affordable housing dollars into the budget.

In some places, the notion of a homelessness emergency is seen as a justification for a money grab. LA County supervisors want the state—which famously limits local taxation—to permit them to impose their own millionaire’s tax to pay for more homeless programs. That money, of course, could free up other funds for other purposes—which is all the more reason to decree a homelessness emergency.

To be fair, much of this money will be spent on a strategy that has shown some success—providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless. This housing-oriented approach is a welcome departure from decades of efforts to fix the ills of the homeless—be they substance abuse or trauma or mental illness—before getting them housing.

But the focus on housing is narrow for a problem this complex. And today’s windfall for homeless services is unlikely, in California’s volatile budget system, to last. Even if it did, the disparate nature of the funding—a bundle of incentives and grants—isn’t efficient enough to create the capacity to cover the fluid and shifting homeless populations in California cities.

In his acclaimed new book, Evicted, Harvard professor Matthew Desmond argues that ending homelessness would require greater ambition than anything on the table in California, or anywhere else in the U.S. He advocates “universal housing” as a clear right, like the well-established right to public education.

Under Desmond’s proposal, the government would issue housing vouchers to families below a certain income threshold so that they pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The vouchers could be used to live anywhere they wanted—just as families use food stamps to buy groceries almost anywhere.

Such rental assistance is common in other developed countries like Britain and the Netherlands, which don’t suffer from American-style homelessness. In the U.S., universal housing via vouchers would cost $60 billion, Desmond estimates—real money, but a mere fraction of the hundreds of billions spent subsidizing the housing of wealthier people via the mortgage-interest tax deduction.

Universal housing wouldn’t have much chance of passage in Washington. But universal housing is just the sort of idea that California should try—if this homeless moment is really about ending homelessness.

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

-cw

The Bullet Train has the Valley in a Tizzy … Here’s Why They’re So Pissed Off

MY TURN-Stakeholders keep the heat up on the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) so we will probably be looking at the status of the California Bullet train for the next two decades. Who knows if anything will anything even be completed by that time? The issue has managed to bring out passions on both sides and that is a good thing. This is definitely the year for activism in politics. 

David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association and Board member of SAFE coalition are continually trying to have communication with the CHSRA and any other government officials who will listen to them. 

There are positives and negatives on both sides. The California electorate passed 1A with certain provisions. They defined "High Speed" as reaching speeds up to 220 miles an hour. 

They also were told that it would provide 150,000 well-paying jobs, cut down emissions from cars and trucks by almost half, and put the State into the same stratosphere as other great countries. Now that we’ve been designated the sixth largest economy in the world, we can lay claim to almost being our own country. Not to be cynical... but we know from past experience the number of jobs projected is always less and the costs are always more! 

On the other hand, do we need to have such high speeds? I enjoy taking the train from LA to San Diego because we pass through some scenic wonders and it’s a therapeutic start to a trip. It beats flying which is only 40 minutes. Of course, one must add two hours to the actual flying time to stand in security lines. It certainly doesn't make for a stress free start. I could drive the two and a half hours, which can and has turned into a five hour trip on the 405/5. So the train is a great choice even if it goes 50 miles an hour. 

The train between NYC and Washington DC is another great ride. One goes through five or six different states and the scenery is fascinating. I think the highest speed is 81 miles an hour. But the majority of Americans seem to be in a perpetual rush. I don't know how much scenery one can enjoy going 220 miles an hour. 

If only the project were that simple. People on the east coast try to live within walking distance to the nearest train station. Trains don't run all night and during the day; the sound of a train signaling its approach is rather pleasant. 

We Californians -- especially Angelenos -- are a different breed. We’re spoiled! We don't have to worry about digging out of snow. We have a great freeway system, especially at 2 am if – if CalTrans hasn't decided to do "roadwork" and close three lanes. Our cars are included as members of the family. If you believe the Liberty Insurance commercial, we even name them. 

But we must consider both the environmental and people impact that the new CHSRA business plan envisions for its ride to LA. The northeastern Valley seems to bear the brunt of the hardships. Several hundred thousand residents are going to be severely impacted over the next 13 years. 

Because the CHSRA decided to construct the Northern California portion first, Valley residents breathed a sigh of relief. CHSRC does not necessarily have the best communication skills. I attended one of the meetings where they were reporting progress to the LA City Council. I expected some fireworks and some tough questions from the City Council members. The only searching questions came from the audience and because of Council rules none of the questions could receive answers because they weren't listed on the agenda. 

Dave De Pinto keeps me apprised of the SAFE outreach. Here is a quote from his second to latest notice to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard, the CHSRA Board and CHSRA management and to a zillion other government officials. 

Dear Chairman Richard: 

On behalf of the united communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which includes several hundred thousand residents, I'm writing to again convey that your Agency's follow-up on numerous public _*and*_ elected official requests is inadequate and disappointing. Despite your public statements about increased transparency and your use of the term

"harassment" to describe our many, many efforts to get responses from your staff on numerous matters, as impacted stakeholders engaged in the Authority's outreach program, we will not be ignored or marginalized. 

We call for the Authority to be accountable and responsive to our concerns and issues. The most important of those issues remains the continued inclusion of infeasible above ground segments such as above-ground E2, in ongoing environmental studies."

 

You can read the entire statement the SAFE website. Basically, he wanted to know why CHSRA hadn't had any public outreach in a year. They had promised to hold meetings starting at the beginning of this year. 

In the last week both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee accused CHSRA of fiscal malfeasance. Apparently one of the bids received from Spain's giant construction company Ferrovial, had pointed out that the financing for this Bullet Train, including all the monies from various government sources would probably not be sufficient to maintain the rail system and that public subsidies...meaning tax payers would be on the hook. In a study of 111 rail systems worldwide only three did not rely on subsidies. This little disclosure was inadvertently left out of copies of the Spanish proposal. 

Proposition 1A passed in 2008 approved $9 billion in bonds to build the rail system, stating it would have to operate without future public funding. That $9 billion has now mushroomed to $64 billion. 

The other source of financing was revenue from the Cap and Trade bill which, to date, has not generated its projected dollars. 

Not being an expert on railroad construction I asked De Pinto why we couldn't use the existing tracks with the reinforcement for high speeds. This way there would be little need for eminent domain environmental damage and seismic threats. 

He replied, "That's called the ‘blended approach’ and we can't get straight answers from them as it's too hypothetical and so many grade crossings would have to be altered, etc. It also causes a problem for them in that by law, they must travel from N. Cal. to S. Cal in two hours and forty minutes. The more they go the blended approach, the slower they go. But, it's cheaper for them and there are existing rights of way, so they do consider it in places. It's not going to use existing track here in the NE San Fernando Valley." 

So I asked, what could the speed be if they used existing tracks with modifications? 

He answered, "Every train/track situation is different country to country due to equipment, track layouts, etc. In California, they tout 220 MPH as their optimum speed and it's actually in the enabling ballot measure and legislation. 

"We know trains slow down around curves and approaching station stops. Based on all that CHSRA has said through the years, to expect 220 MPH through our community. That they would even propose such a thing demonstrates how out of touch and insensitive they are to local communities." 

There lies the elephant in the room. Scores of residents would not only have to live with huge, noisy and toxic dust conditions for years but, financially, it would place the values of their homes into a downward spiral.   

Just now, I received notice that the CHSRA sent "Permit to Enter" letters which indicated they will be conducting testing from June 2016 until December 2017. This is environmental impact testing for above-the-ground high speed rail. De Pinto notes in his letter to LA elected officials, that this testing is probably more like a three to five year project. SAFE is asking all their elected officials what they are going to do to protect these communities. 

There is a motion, which should soon be before the LA County Board of Supervisors, to remove all above ground routes from the existing plan and determine other alternatives. De Pinto's latest message, or as he calls it, his "rant", also suggests that those officials -- who are running for re-election or an open seat -- will be asked their position on the elimination of above ground tracks. The forthcoming election in November will have major consequences for those seeking to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley. 

The only elected official who has publicly supported SAFE is Assembly Member Patty Lopez who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District. 

This would make a great TV series. 

As always comments welcome.

 

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

 

Stage Watch: Hollywood Fringe … Struggling to Live Up to Its Glowing Self Claims

GELFAND’S WORLD--Silly me. Just a couple of weeks ago, I quoted the noble words that the Hollywood Fringe Festival uses to describe itself: 

"The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual, open-access, community derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community." 

Freedom of expression. That's an ideal that we broad minded types should support. The Fringe's glowing self congratulation goes on: 

"Participation in the Hollywood Fringe is completely open and uncensored. This free-for-all approach underlines the festival's mission to be a platform for artists without the barrier of a curative body. By opening the gates to anyone with a vision, the festival is able to exhibit the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

Diverse and cutting edge points of view. That's another impressive promise. 

But the Fringe seems to be having trouble living up to its own claims. As we have learned over the past two weeks, there is at least one point of view that is not allowable. 

To understand this story, we have to back up one step and explain that the Fringe has had an ongoing relationship with a website called Bitter Lemons. (Photo above, center: Colin Mitchell and Enci Box, Bitter Lemons founders.) During the rest of the year, Bitter Lemons reviews and publicizes local theater. While the Fringe is going on, Bitter Lemons helps to publicize the festival and the productions being staged there.

Back to the main question, which is how one manages to put forth a point of view that is so outrageous that it goes beyond the festival's realm of acceptability. Curiously, the point of view that the Fringe found so objectionable wasn't even a theatrical production. It was an editorial column published in Bitter Lemons. Colin Mitchell's column isn't even about the Hollywood Fringe. It's indirectly about a sexual and physical abuse scandal that happened in Chicago. Mitchell was reacting to a long article about a small theater in Chicago in which the lead actor got away with physical battery and the pushing of sexual boundaries. 

The Chicago scandal story that Mitchell reacted to is by Aimee Levitt, and appeared in the June 8, 2016 edition of the Reader (warning: this is a long and involved story, but worthwhile readiing for any would-be actors and actresses). In the small Profiles Theater in Chicago, an actor who evidently has charisma and some acting skills managed to run his cast and crew ragged, put women in situations that made them feel socially and sexually uncomfortable, engaged in staged fights that got all too physical -- bruising the actresses routinely -- and got away with his reign of fear for years. It's not immediately clear from reading the article whether the players put up with the abuse out of ambition (and fear) for their own careers, or whether it went even further, to some sort of Rasputin-like controlling relationship between the abuser and the abused. 

For some, this will be a tempest in a fairly small teapot, the teapot being small theaters, improv training, and the community of critics and reviewers who follow them. For others, those of us who are dedicated followers of the performing arts, it's of significance. When the integrity of the system is at stake, you take notice. In addition, the large number of young actors and actresses who are taking classes and trying to break into the business should be concerned. Their own safety and their right to retain their own dignity are what is at stake. 

The question involves sexual and physical harassment and what to do about it -- and who should be doing something about it . The question came to a head during the week of June 8 when the following things took place in the order given: 

1) The story broke in the Reader in its June 8 edition. The villain in the Reader piece is the leading actor at Profiles, one Darrell Cox. Just the physical damage to his supporting players sounds bad enough, what with one character or another being thrown violently against a refrigerator or thrown to the floor forcefully enough to cause the boards to creak. There is lots more in the Reader story. 

2) Colin Mitchell, the editor at Bitter Lemons, read the story and raised an interesting question. Where, he asks, is the personal responsibility among the actors and actresses who went along in their own abuse and degradation? Mitchell points out that they were all consenting adults, which turns out to be technically in error because one abused female was 17, but the point is accurate enough on the broader scale. At what point is it a moral obligation to set aside one's personal ambitions (or even fears) and take a stand for the greater public good? We might add to the question: What is the responsibility of the crew and potentially even investors in reporting violence and intimidation to the press or even to the legal authorities? 

Mitchell presented what I think is a strained argument. He says in effect that the actors and actresses who were victimized share some responsibility for not resisting, much less rising up in open revolt. Mitchell seems to have pushed a lot of buttons when he argued that they were all consenting adults. 

Obviously this is an argument of mixed merit. It is possible to be a legal adult without being entirely consenting, and lots of victims of crimes don't go right to the police. The Cosby scandal should be proof enough, if you don't want to familiarize yourself with the official statistics. 

But I think that Mitchell has raised an old but important moral question, even if he didn't quite get the wording perfect. At what point do bystanders -- or even victims -- have some moral obligation to protest and then to resist? It was a central moral question for my generation of post-holocaust Americans, with the explicit conclusion that Germans had an obligation to resist Nazi crimes. If Germans, under a totalitarian dictatorship, had some responsibility for the acts of their government, then it follows that Americans, in a much freer society, have some moral or ethical obligation to at least report on the sorts of activities that the Reader story exposed. One columnist from a major Chicago newspaper recognized this question and accepted some responsibility for failure to raise the topic in the public press at an earlier time. 

Mitchell's editorial is not deeply nuanced, but the seed of the post-holocaust argument is there, however little it is explicated. Mitchell asks in essence why the bruised and exhausted actress didn't just walk away, at the cost of removing a starring role from her resume, but at the gain of preserving her safety and dignity. 

There is a counterargument to Mitchell's position. Several, actually. But I will argue more from the rhetorical standpoint than from the psychological. One way to look at this whole sorry affair is that new rules and systems need to be put in place that protect theatrical newcomers from predators. That was the position developed in the Reader story. If you take this approach, you don't need to obsess on whether some actress was complicit in her own abuse. Not everybody is or can be a hero, and we as a society should protect even the naive and the young. Especially the naive and the young. 

Some of the criticism of Mitchell's editorial takes the argument much further, pointing out that victims in abusive relationships lose control at some point and can't be expected to be able to resist. I think that this argument is less persuasive following a careful rereading of the Reader piece, but it is not entirely lacking. 

3) Within a couple of days, a substantial number of people submitted angry and often caustic comments to Mitchell's piece. You can read them right below Mitchell's article. Here is one example of an outspoken reply: 

"This is white male privilege douchebaggery at its ugliest. Misunderstanding basic psychology of the predator and how he grooms victims. Blaming the victims. Then shaming the victims.

Shame on YOU for perpetuating a culture that blames those who are harmed.

"Sickening, puerile, privileged, cretinous behavior." 

4) Apparently the outcry became wide enough and loud enough to get back to the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Hollywood Fringe Festival sent out an email announcing that it was severing relations with Bitter Lemons. So much for all that noble language in the mission statement quoted above. 

5) Shortly after, Bitter Lemons announced on its website that it had fired Colin Mitchell as editor in chief. Enci Box, the publisher of Bitter Lemons, put up a long explanation  which is worth reading, as it goes into the experiences an actress endures both in looking for work and in the theatrical experience itself. 

What I have been able to figure out by exchanging emails with the Hollywood Fringe and with Bitter Lemons is limited. The Hollywood Fringe explains, "Thanks for getting in touch. We have ended our media partnership with Bitter Lemons. The decision was a board-voted and staff-supported response to the editorial piece. That's all we'll be commenting on at this time. Thanks." 

This is an open admission that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is willing to engage in its home grown variety of censorship when it dislikes some particular message enough. 

As for Bitter Lemons, it was caught in the middle of this minefield, what with advertisers pulling their business from the Bitter Lemons organization. 

The Fringe makes another argument to the effect that it needs to be a safe space for all the performers working in its productions. I can see that the Fringe productions should be physically safe, but I suggest that they go too far if they mean to suggest that every performer be psychologically safe. That is an attitude that directly contradicts the idea of " the most diverse and cutting-edge points-of-view the world has to offer." 

The argument that has been made in various forms is that Mitchell's column was hurtful to some readers. Taken further, this argument implies that some ideas are too dangerous to be allowed. Otherwise, the comment would be, "I strongly disagree with your position and wish to reply." 

Were Colin Mitchell's words and ideas hurtful? Possibly so. Undoubtedly so for at least some readers. But the idea of protecting freedom of expression is that this is a fundamental liberty. It is so fundamental that we dare not go so far as to protect people from having wounded feelings from hearing others' thoughts. As a nation, we've taken it so far as to protect the rights of modern day fascists wearing swastikas to parade in an area where holocaust survivors were concentrated. It's not that the United States is insensitive to the feelings of holocaust victims, but that we treasure freedom of speech as a core value. 

By the way, this is not meant to argue that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is obligated to follow the precepts of the First Amendment as if it were a governmental agency. It is not. It is a private organization and can legally hire or fire companies like Bitter Lemons as it sees fit. But it is also fair for us to point out that when the Fringe wraps itself in the flag of expressive freedom and brags about the untrammeled right to present material that is completely open and uncensored, well then, perhaps it ought to think about trying to live up to its own standards. 

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

-cw

More Articles ...