01
Fri, Mar

Los Angeles: School Days and Grenade Launchers

APOLOGIZING FOR THE MILITARIZATION OF THE LA’S SCHOOL POLICE--Come on, they aren’t tanks, they’re armored rescue vehicles. And the, uh, grenade launchers would only be used to launch teargas canisters. When necessary. And the M-16s? Standard police issue.

What a journey these Los Angeles teenagers, and the civil rights group Fight for the Soul of the Cities, had, to get from there — the ho-hum justification by (good Lord) the city’s school district police force, for the accumulation of surplus Defense Department weaponry — to here:

“Our recent meeting and dialogue has led me to review my actions as Board President during this difficult period. Upon reflection, I failed to understand the amount of pain and frustration our participation in the 1033 program could cause in the community and especially with our partners from the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the Fight for the Soul of the Cities...”

These are the words of Los Angeles School Board President Steve Zimmer, speaking in genuine anguish as he acknowledges that militarizing school district police has, to put it mildly, a serious downside. He continues, in his letter last month to the Labor/Community Strategy Center, parent organization of Fight for the Soul of the Cities:

“I now understand that especially in the context of the many conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color across the nation, our participation in this program may have created perceptions about the role of our district and our school police that my silence exacerbated. . . . I now understand that even the possession of such weapons in the context of this moment damaged trust that we now must all work to rebuild. Please accept my apology...”

This is an extraordinary victory — possibly the first of its kind in the nation.

It’s a victory for civil rights. It’s a victory for kids. But primarily, it’s a victory for absolutely basic common sense. The Los Angeles School Police Department — a police force whose sole responsibility is to maintain order in the public schools — has returned all the weapons, including grenade launchers, a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (i.e., a tank) and 61 M-16 automatic rifles, which it had obtained under the controversial 1033 program, to the U.S. Department of Defense.

It provided proof that it did so. And it apologized — to the children and teenagers in the Los Angeles Public Schools. The apology was an acknowledgement — oh, so painfully rare in 21st century America — that real order isn’t a matter of armed domination. It was an acknowledgment that education requires trust and trust is annihilated by the appearance of a military dictatorship.

The struggle with the School Board over this began in 2014, shortly after members of the civil rights group had gone to Ferguson, Mo., to show solidarity with the protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown.

“We come back from Ferguson and find out they have a tank, grenade launchers — it was a declaration of war,” Manuel Criollo, director of organizing at Fight for the Soul of the Cities, told me.

And thus began almost two years of sit-ins and protests. Hundreds of students participated. They refused to compromise or accept half-measures from the school board. “First they got rid of the grenade launchers,” Criollo said. “In the winter of 2014, they got rid of the MRAP tank. By early 2015, they argued that the M-16 was a standard police weapon. They said, ‘We no longer have military weapons’ — even though the M-16 is considered a cruel weapon by the Red Cross.”

But the students didn’t give up. When the School Board finally said it got rid of all its Defense Department armaments, they still weren’t satisfied. They demanded proof, and an apology. At a board meeting last February, “the activists spoke over the Pledge of Allegiance and demanded to be heard before other business could proceed,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The meeting was canceled. 

And proof eventually came, and so did Steve Zimmer’s remarkable acknowledgment that militarizing the school police force had been a mistake, wrecking that invisible and crucial quality called trust — wrecking the school system’s relationship with the communities it served.

As I read his letter of apology, I honor its painful honesty — “I failed to understand the amount of pain and frustration our participation in the 1033 program could cause in the community” — but at the same time I feel a stunned despair that such a decision was made in the first place. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more it rips my heart to shreds. Yes, yes, I understand that maintaining order in a big-city school system is an enormously difficult, complex undertaking. But, to reach out for tanks and grenade launchers?

Apparently the only assistance coming from the national government is military. There is zero peace consciousness at this level, zero guidance except to prepare for war.

As Criollo pointed out, the Los Angeles Police Department (which is separate from the Los Angeles School Police Department) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have thousands of M-16s and other equipment — MRAPs, a helicopter — from the 1033 Program.

“From our point of view, they’re on tactical alert to go to war with their own people,” he said. “We’re living in a country that’s not guaranteeing us a job, not investing in education. But trillions are invested in the military. This shows where their priority is. I think they’ve given up helping communities uplift out of poverty.”

I don’t think the nation has lost its way, but I think the government has.

(Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at [email protected] or visit his website at commonwonders.com.)

-cw

LA’s Digital Billboard War: It’s the Money, Stupid

BILLBOARD WATCH--The political debate over allowing new digital billboards in L.A. has little to do with issues like traffic safety, light pollution and energy use. In fact, it’s not even a debate in the classic sense but can be characterized as an interplay of two powerful desires. Clear Channel and other big billboard companies badly want to put up the electronic signs on city streets and freeways and the City Council desperately wants to find new sources of revenue. (Photo above: This Clear Channel digital billboard was shut off by court order in 2013.)

The stakes for the billboard companies are high. Digital billboards are big moneymakers, which means the companies are pulling out all the stops to sway the City Council in their favor. They’ve tacitly admitted that some of their existing billboards are blight by offering to remove them. They’ve promised free space both to city agencies and private organizations for public service messages. And most significantly, they’ve dangled the sweet-smelling carrot of revenue sharing in front of councilmembers’ noses.

The council, needing money to fix the city’s crumbling infrastructure and address it’s dire homelessness problem, is all ears. Or to be precise, those councilmembers who have never had angry calls from constituents about brightly-lit, constantly changing ads for fast food, movies, TV shows, and other commercial products and services hanging in the sky outside their windows 24 hours a day.

For those unfamiliar with the sometimes dreary history of billboard regulation in the city, Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor—now Outfront Media—converted 100 of their conventional billboards to digital before the City Council took heed of citizen complaints and called a halt in 2008 to further conversions. Four years later, the courts found that the city’s 2006 action allowing the conversions was blatantly illegal and ordered the signs shut off.

Faced with the loss of millions in revenue, Clear Channel cranked up a public relations and lobbying onslaught aimed at convincing city councilmembers to change course and allow the company to turn many of the digital billboards back on as well as put up new ones. Outfront joined that effort, along with the city’s third major billboard industry player, Lamar Advertising, which recently sued the city in an unsuccessful attempt for permits for 45 new digital billboards in West LA, Silver Lake, Eagle Rock, and the San Fernando Valley, among other areas.

The premises of this campaign were amply visible at a May 24 meeting of the City Council’s PLUM committee. Taking up citywide sign ordinance revisions that have been on the table in one form or another for seven years, the committee heard from a parade of billboard industry lobbyists and representatives of business, labor, and non-profit organizations all reading, sometimes literally, from the same script.

Digital billboards stimulate business activity, produce jobs, protect public safety, promote good causes, and offer a source of revenue for city programs and services. The five councilmen on the committee are educated and intelligent, and undoubtedly know that the first four claims are questionable at best, but the vision of money flowing into their districts without a dreaded debate over fee or tax increases is compelling. Furthermore, those aforementioned 100 digital billboards were clustered in only five of the 15 council districts, and guess what? None of the current members of the committee represented those districts, which means that their office phones never rung with constituent complaints about a billboard pouring out an endless loop of bright, eye-catching ads on their neighborhood streets.

But just how much money are we talking about? Tens of millions? Hundreds? Enough to fix the streets and sidewalks, build housing for the homeless, hire more police officers and firefighters?

To date, there hasn’t been any public discussion about the number of digital billboards that might be allowed, or what percentage of revenue from those billboards Clear Channel and others would be willing to share with the city. According to the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), the gross receipts, or business tax paid by billboard companies over the past three years ranged from $580,000 to $700,000. That works out to a gross annual revenue of $164 to $196 million per year.

Billboard companies are typically secretive about the amount of money they make from individual billboards, but figures from rate schedules available online as well as statements from company executives indicate that a digital billboard could generate at least six times the revenue of a conventional billboard of comparative size and location. A lot of money, in other words, but just how much the city might expect to get its hands on remains unknown, at least to the public.

Another question awaiting answer is how the city intends to permit new digital billboards or conversions of existing billboards, given that these are now prohibited. The City Planning Commission last year approved sign ordinance revisions allowing such billboards in a limited number of sign districts in high-intensity commercial areas such as downtown, Universal City, Warner Center and LAX, but PLUM committee members reacted to that restriction as if a dead skunk had landed on their desks, holding their collective noses, figuratively speaking.

One proposal floating about City Hall would allow companies to apply for conditional use permits to put up new digital billboards. For anyone new to City Hall nomenclature, that process is essentially as it sounds, where a proposed use is permitted by the city with conditions, on a one-by-one basis. In the case of a digital billboard, those conditions would ostensibly regulate location, size, height, brightness, rate of message change, and hours of operation.

Another possibility, repeatedly mentioned by Clear Channel lobbyists at public meetings, is for the city and billboard companies to enter into relocation agreements, as allowed by state law. How this would work in practice isn’t totally clear, although the ultimate objective would be to get a bunch of those digital billboards now dark or displaying static ad copy back into operation at new locations.

A third way has been proposed by City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who isn’t a PLUM committee member. His idea is to allow new digital billboards in exchange for revenue sharing and the takedown of existing billboards, but only on selected city-owned properties. The idea has generated some interest, although the billboard industry clearly doesn’t like the restriction, because lobbyists and their cohort of supporters in business and labor always speak in public meetings of the need to allow digital billboards on both public and private property.

At the May 24 PLUM committee meeting, there was also a brief discussion of the possibility of raising the gross receipts tax on billboard companies, and whether or not such a tax increase would have to be approved by voters. It wasn’t clear if that tax increase would be an alternative to allowing new digital billboards, or just another revenue source.

There is an elephant in the PLUM committee’s meeting room that members have been doing their best to ignore, although one did allude to it at the May 24 meeting. That is the legal jeopardy the city could be flirting with if it allows a significant number of new digital billboards outside those limited sign districts.

In 2002, the city approved a ban on new off-site signs, with exceptions for sign districts, specific plans and development agreements. The ink was hardly dry on the ordinance before legal challenges were filed in both state and federal court, and at one point the city was defending itself against more than a dozen lawsuits claiming that these exceptions rendered the ban unconstitutional.

After untold hours of labor by the City Attorney’s office, stacks of motions, and drawn-out hearings, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had the final word, ruling that the exceptions didn’t render the sign ban unconstitutional as long as they could be shown to further the city’s interest in promoting traffic safety and improving aesthetics. But that ruling which struck joy in the hearts of those working to protect the visual environment from saturation by commercial advertising came with a caveat.

In a 2013 report to the PLUM committee, City Attorney Mike Feuer referred to a warning from that court that too many exceptions could render the off-site sign ban vulnerable to legal attack. Those exceptions, he wrote, could mean that the ban “would no longer adequately improve aesthetics and traffic safety and would thus be invalid under the First Amendment.”

Feuer pointed out that the sign ordinance revisions then being considered by the committee addressed this issue by limiting the number of sign districts and their locations to high-intensity commercial areas zoned regional center or regional commercial. That’s what the City Planning Commission affirmed last year, and what the PLUM committee summarily rejected when it took up the matter earlier this year.

The issue of allowing exceptions to the sign ban for the purpose of raising revenue was directly addressed in an earlier ruling by the appeals court in a case called Metrolights vs. City of Los Angeles.  That lawsuit claimed that the city’s billboard ban was rendered invalid by the fact the city allowed thousands of exceptions in the form of ads in bus shelters, kiosks, and other items of street furniture.

The court ruled in favor of the city, saying that having a uniformly designed street furniture system could be shown to enhance traffic safety and aesthetics. However, the court warned that other purposes could undermine the off-site ban, specifically mentioning the raising of revenue, which “by itself perfectly legitimate state action, does not allow a state selectively to prohibit constitutionally protected conduct.”

Deputy City Attorney Michael Bostom also addressed the subject of getting revenue from digital billboards at a City Planning Commission meeting last year. Referring specifically to the proposed conditional use permit process, he said that while people tend to think of billboards as “a panacea for solving revenue problems in the city” the actual issue of generating revenue from signs is “highly complex.” He likened allowing new digital billboards in exchange for revenue to giving a developer permission to put up a building on private property only if the city was given one of the units in the building.

And at the last PLUM committee meeting on May 24, Councilman Felipe Fuentes alluded to a “privileged” communication to the committee from the city attorney’s office on May 16 about the “perilous ground” the city could be on through discretionary actions allowing new digital billboards. The four other members were presumably aware of this communication, although none commented on it.

Rewriting the sign ordinance was initiated by the PLUM committee in 2008. Of the current members, only Chairman Jose Huizar was on that committee, but he ought to remember that the major rationale was stopping the onslaught of legal challenges that were threatening to make the city wide open to new billboards, supergraphic signs, and other forms of outdoor advertising.

But that was obviously before the discussion was taken over by those who don’t see this advertising as something to be strictly limited and contained, but as a cash cow for the city.

Coming soon: LA’s Digital Billboard Debate, Part II: Sham Democracy

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

-cw

It is Now Trump vs. Clinton, So How Valid are Predictions of American Fascism?

GUEST WORDS--The word fascism has been widely bandied about during the current US presidential campaign, especially in negative campaigning against Donald Trump, the likely Republic candidate. Trump has been compared to Juan Peron and Benito Mussolini because of his flamboyant personal style and his racist comments. Those labeling him a fascist or neo-fascist point to his rampant bigotry against immigrants in general, and Muslims and Mexicans in particular, through proposed entry bans, wholesale roundups, mass expulsions, border walls, and labeling Federal judges as biased because of their ancestry. 

This is certainly part of what has constituted fascism in the past, and they also have precedents in American history, such as the Palmer Raids in the early 1920s, the incarceration of Japanese Americans at the beginning of WWII, and mass expulsions of Bracero program workers in the late 1940s and 1950s. 

But, we need to remember that history is definitely much better at helping us understand the present than accurately predicting the future. So what do our history books tell us about Mr. Trump, other Presidential candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, and the prospects for fascism in the United States? 

In the past, fascism, as it appeared in Italy, Spain, and Germany, was far more than anti-immigrant nativism and bigotry against religious minorities emanating from street thugs. In the 1930s it was a top down answer to deep political and economic crises at the national and global levels. It strengthened the executive function of government at the expense of its legislative and judicial functions. It also included intense patriotism, glorification of an idyllic past and intense state and street opposition to organized labor, liberals, socialists, and communists. Its program has also always included preparation for and pursuit of aggressive foreign wars, which is why some analysts surprisingly focus on Hillary Clinton’s militarism as another fascist danger in the United States. 

In terms of actual American precedents for fascism, we need look no further than the World War I administration of President Woodrow Wilson, the former Democratic governor of New Jersey. After his 1916 election as an anti-war candidate, he not only led the United States into “the war to end all wars,” but also successfully promoted three draconian bills through Congress: the Espionage Act, Sabotage Act, and Alien Act. These laws banned open opposition to US participation in WWI and to military conscription. As a result, many critics of the war were sent to jail and not released until the 1920s. Some of these provisions remain on the books, and the Obama Administration has frequently used the Espionage Act to prosecute government whistle blowers. 

President Wilson also promoted anti-Black racism by barring Blacks from entering the front door of the White House. He then hosted a White House screening of D.W. Griffith’s pro-KKK movie, The Birth of a Nation, a key step in the nationwide revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the late teens and early 1920s.   Wilson also used the Justice Department’s affiliate, the American Protective League, to set up a massive domestic spying operation, as well as to bombard the American public with pro-war, pro-conscription propaganda through his Committee for Public Information.  

Since the US has already had one serious brush with fascism, several renowned novelists have imagined what a fascist United States would look. This is why Sinclair Lewis wrote his book about US fascism, It Can’t Happen Here, in 1936, when memories of WWI were still fresh. Later Phillip Dick wrote The Man in the High Castle (1958), which imagined the U.S. occupied by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Most recently, in 2005, Phillip Roth wrote The Plot Against America. He carefully researched fascistic trends of the 1930s and devised a plot in which Charles Lindberg was elected President in 1942 and then signed anti-intervention peace treaties with both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. While Roth’s fascist U.S. did not have a domestic Holocaust, it did have anti-Jewish pogroms. 

So, this brings us the second decade of the 21st Century and the obvious question asked by Sinclair Lewis 80 years ago: Could it happen here? My answer is yes, and it could happen if either candidate becomes the next US president, a thesis that might surprise many readers. 

Pre-Conditions of Fascism already underway 

Based on historical patterns, many pre-conditions for fascism are already present. 

  • War: Our troubled planet already is reeling with military conflicts, and they are drawing in the current super-powers, China, Russia, Europe, and the USA. Other countries, like Japan, are re-arming, and many countries, like Germany and France, have growing nativist and anti-refugees movements. In this climate, it is easy to imagine many scenarios of extreme racism and military escalation drawing in many more countries, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia into Syria.
  • Economic Crisis: While we do not yet have a global depression, many key countries are economically stumbling. China, Russia, Japan, most of Europe, South Africa, and Brazil are all suffering from economic stagnation or recession, including rising unemployment. In all of these countries, and many more, much deeper economic and political crises are either already present or knocking at the door.
  • Weak Recovery: In the US, the “recovery” is the weakest since WWII.  Since the Great Recession of 2008-9, it has failed to take off even through the Federal Reserve Bank has kept interest rates at historically low levels and pumped over $4 trillion into the economy through Quantitative Easing.
  • Security State: In the US the trappings of a strong and increasingly authoritarian executive function of government are already in place. It is called the Security State. The NSA collects details on all telecommunications, and the US Post Office scans all mail. Furthermore, in the name of fighting terrorism, the Bush and Obama administrations have whittled away at many civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
  • Nativism: As anti-immigrant and anti-refugee nativist movements and policies grow in Europe, they also have their counterpart in the United States. It is not only Trump’s rants about Mexicans and Muslims, but also the government’s creation of enormous barriers to political asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq, as well as the Obama Administration’s record levels of incarcerating and deporting immigrants and refugees fleeing to the United States.
  • Police Surveillance: These trends are also visible at the local level through police department SWAT teams, police intelligence divisions, and fusion centers whose purpose is to monitor potential terrorism. It includes the LAPD’s Suspicious Activities Reports, whose vague terrorism indicators include people taking photos of public buildings and overheard conversations about public officials.
  • Corporatism: Another historical feature is extensive collusion between corporations, finance, and government. This was not only obvious in “too big to fail,” a Federal government program that pumped $13 trillion in public bailout money into the banking system according to Bloomberg News, but also the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute the Wall Street executives who played a leading role in the financial collapse of 2008-9.
  • Militarism: A final component that intertwines with the security state is the warfare state. The total US military and security budget has exceeded $1 trillion per year for the entire decade, when all military-related categories are included. Part of this warfare state is active participation in many military conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia), but also local training and US military bases in nearly 200 countries. 

With so much already in place, and with so many pre-conditions emerging, based on historical models, what should we expect? As the cliché goes, the answer is complicated, but it clearly depends on how rapidly the Federal government moves on foreign wars, economic austerity, surveillance, and mass deportations. If they get little push back, trends might proceed slowly. But, grassroots movements, like Black Lives Matter, already exist, and opposition to economic austerity, militarism, racism, nativism, police violence, and spying and surveillance, is likely to grow. 

The larger and more successful these movements, the greater the chance of authoritarian responses, such as those during WWI and the Cold War. We also know that fascist regimes have used street thugs, like those attacking counter-demonstrators and minorities at Trump rallies, and when they could not find or rouse them, they simply turned to Plan B, using cops as agent provocateurs and vigilantes. 

One scholar of potential fascism in the United States, Bertam Gross, in Friendly Fascism, argued that American fascism would have traits not found in Germany and Italy. For example, elections could be retained, such as in Iran. In this case, a Council of Experts vets all candidates for the Iranian Parliament and Presidency. While Iran does have political diversity and a high-level of voting, the approved candidates range from the far right to the center right. How different would this be from the upcoming Presidential election in the United States, featuring a closeted white nationalist, Republican candidate, Donald Trump facing off against a center-right military hawk, Democrat Hillary Clinton? 

Bracing for the Presidential election 

If there is a take-way from the discussion, it is that the term fascism needs to be grounded in historical analysis, and that it should not be restricted to one Presidential candidate, Donald Trump. At this point deepening global military and economic crisis could easily converge and draw in the United States with responses that would include some or all features of fascism. 

This is why the November election is, of course, important, but why it is incorrect to claim that a Trump victory ushers in fascism, while a Clinton victory blocks it. Independent of either candidate, the basic trends and the basic government institutions are already in place. After all, fascism cannot be reduced to a blowhard or military hawk winning a presidential election or a group of street thugs rushing the podium, grabbing the microphone, and then using the trappings of power to plunder the economy, attack the public, and scapegoat minority groups. Fascism utilizes all the institutions of the public and private sectors, including the military, the police, the spy agencies, the courts, and the media, to resolve a deep economic and political crisis. 

But, we also know from the historical record that fascist regimes do not exist in a political vacuum. Their freedom of action is limited because of foreign and domestic opposition. The Third Reich collapsed after 13 years when the Allied armies converged on Berlin in the summer of 1945. Mussolini might have been victorious in the 1920s, but the Italian partisans executed him and then hung him by his heals 20 years later at a gas station in Milan. 

So, if you are following this Presidential election closely and harbor legitimate concerns about fascist trends in the United States going into high gear after January 2017, then you need to pay close attention to and support the many types of opposition movements. These include organizations addressing civil rights, civil liberties, privacy and surveillance, climate change, economic inequality, health access, education access, police violence, military spending, foreign wars, and much more. They might be drowned out by election news until November, but they are here to stay, and their political role can become extremely important. 

They, just as much as any regime in Washington, will determine the long-term historical outcome of this election.

 

(Victor Rothman lives in Los Angeles. He can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

Is LA Having a Robin-Hood-Helps-the-Homeless Moment?

DEEGAN ON LA-Is LA having a “Robin Hood Helps the Homeless” moment in the face of an ever growing more-expensive-than-anticipated crisis involving people suffering from homelessness? Will we support the taxing of millionnaires to pay for homeless services? 

Taking from the rich and giving it to the poor is a well known concept popularized in the 15th century legend of Robin Hood. He was a folkloric hero that saw the 1% not caring for the needs of the 99% and did something about it by taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Legend may repeat itself if the proposed “millionaires’ tax” makes it to the November ballot. 

The proposal is for a Local High Income Tax (aka “millionaires’ tax”) that will be equivalent to 1/2 % of personal income above $1 million per year. The projected revenue from this tax is $243 million, but will this make a dent in the problem? While much more is needed, this is a great start. The challenging part is getting it approved by the state legislature next week on June 16, and then getting the Governor to sign the bill that would allow the County Supervisors to put it on the November 8 ballot, where it must get a 2/3 majority vote to become effective. 

The legislative process is underway and urgently needs voter support through phone calls, letters, faxes and email to the legislative leadership in Sacramento. The deadline is June 16, but supporters are being asked to take immediate action -- today. 

What the County of Los Angeles is seeking is “the enactment of trailer bill language to grant counties the authority to seek voter approval to impose a special tax on personal annual income above $1 million to combat homelessness.” 

In August 2015, in response to the homelessness crisis which pervades Los Angeles

County, the County launched the Homeless Initiative, a countywide effort to develop a comprehensive set of county strategies to combat homelessness. 

On February 9, 2016, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a comprehensive set of 47 strategies which resulted from an inclusive planning process in which community organizations, cities and county departments all played key roles. 

The Board approved $100 million in one-time funding to launch the implementation of these strategies, but more is needed, on a continuing annual bass, to sustain the plan. 

This is where the millionaires’ tax come in -- to help fill the “housing gap” of 25,550 units that has been identified by LAHSA. This includes permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and emergency shelters. The County needs $450 million per year (not counting construction costs) to fill the gap. The $243 million annual Robin Hood tax revenues would fund about half of that need. It is a significant step in the right direction. 

The urgent call to action -- made even more urgent because the legislature will consider the trailer bill request next Wednesday, June 16 -- is for anyone that supports this legislation to enact a millionaires’ tax benefitting the homeless, should say so immediately. 

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stressed, “The people of Los Angeles County have made it known that the time to act on homelessness is now. Public support for a millionaires’ tax is overwhelmingly positive. We need to continue with this forward momentum, and so we are urging everyone to contact the Assembly Speaker, the Senate pro Tem and the Governor to allow the County the option to seek this vital source of ongoing revenue in the battle to end homelessness.”

Here’s what to say and who to say it to: 

“The (your name or the name of your organization) urges your support for trailer bill language (TBL) that would provide counties with the authority to seek voter approval to impose a special tax on personal annual incomes over $1 million dollars for purposes of providing housing and services for homeless individuals/families.” 

Who to contact: 

You can email and/or fax, or call in your advocacy letter no later than Monday, June 13th to the following elected officials that are decision makers for this legislation, and send copies of your email, for or letter to: [email protected] 

Governor Jerry Brown

Email - https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php or https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php

Telephone: (916) 445-4341

Fax: (916) 558-3160

 

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (916) 651-4924

 

Senator Mark Leno, Chair, Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (916) 651-4911

 

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (916) 319-2163

 

Assembly Member Philip Ting, Chair, Assembly Budget Committee

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (916) 319-2119

 

When you go to sleep tonight, think about how and where the homeless are sleeping tonight. Before you go to bed, go to your computer and send a message to the Governor and legislative leaders stressing your support for the Trailer Bill Language (TBL) - the Robin Hood Tax.

 

(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.

Hillary Generated Flashbacks and Reminded Me … Why I Hated ‘Mad Men’

MY TURN-Today's article was inspired by a letter I was writing my daughters, daughter in-law and granddaughters. My daughter, Hillary Hunn, added a post on Facebook Wednesday which literally brought tears to my eyes. It said, in part, "I give credit to my mom, Denyse C. Selesnick, and all the pioneering working women like her who blazed the trail to make a historic moment like this a reality. Thanks, Mom. #ImwithHer

I have gotten to know so many of you over the last three years so I hope you will forgive my taking the liberty of writing a very personal article on the significance to me of Hillary Clinton's nomination and speech on Tuesday night. For all you “Hillary Haters" -- why not use her as a place mark in our long march to equality? 

As a woman of "a certain age," I entered adulthood and a career at the time of the real "Mad Men." I watched the show only once, but it was for me a "reality" show in all aspects. I lived it...so I couldn't watch it! I know that many of you younger women, including my own daughters, never faced the situations that we "feminists" did in the sixties, seventies and eighties. You take for granted that you can be anything you want. Fortunately, my granddaughters will have an even more expanded universe to make their mark. 

You do not realize what women went through in those years. "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" were the programs on TV when I grew up. In my day, going to college was more about getting an MRS. Degree than an education. I have shared with you that my decision to be a journalist covering international news was made at the age of fourteen. When I divulged that to my mother, she scoffed and said, "Women don't have those type of careers." Girls from middle class families became teachers and social workers until they met "the one" and then they became housewives. This was the rule…not the exception. 

My parents were born and grew up in the UK, so not only did they have to embrace the entire Southern California ambience and culture...they had a daughter that wouldn't fit the mold. This was traumatic stuff. I'm sure they pondered the wisdom of their decision to immigrate here more than once. 

I met a guy and fell in love but warned him that I had no intention of being a housewife! I wanted to pursue a career and had already gotten a job on a small trade magazine. I also wanted a big family. I don't know if he really believed me but he said OK. I was twenty at the time and thought I could have it all. Even though we have now been long divorced, I know that I never could have done that climb up the ladder without his support. He was a terrific participatory Dad and I will be forever grateful. 

The husbands in our circle of friends used to make a lot of caustic comments, asking, “How could he let me engage in work-related travel and be in such a male dominated business world?” Once, I heard him reply, "She is not chattel mortgage. She does what she has to, as do I.” Being the only "working mother” both on my street and in my four children's elementary school, my kids were often asked by the neighbors if they hated me working. 

My best friend used to refer to herself as Mrs. James Smith. It took me a few years to convince her that she was Rita Smith...not Mrs. James Smith!     

Work wise, the magazine was involved in the manufacturing part of the apparel industry...not fashion. I can't remember how many times I was invited to lunch by a man I was interviewing and noticed between the time we had the interview and went to lunch that his wedding ring seemed to have vanished. 

One time, I was invited to a conference and was the only woman among 500 men. The featured speaker looked at me and said over the microphone, "Well gentlemen, there go the dirty jokes."

Looking back on some of the experiences and comments, I don't know why I didn't get mad. But this was accepted behavior and I felt lucky to be included in this male-dominated industry. I went to many events and probably 75% of the time I was asked when my boss was going to show. They confused “Denyse” with “Dennis.” No, I was not the “secretary.” 

When I became Publisher/Owner of the same apparel industry magazine, I was the only female publisher in the apparel/textile industry world-wide. When I sold them twenty years later, I was still the only female publisher in the industry world-wide. I know, this is too much information...but I wanted to set the foundation for my thoughts, not from books or articles...but from personal experience. 

Is Hillary Clinton a flawed candidate? Of course she is. One can't reach almost seven decades without making mistakes along the way. Don't your children complain about things they didn't like about their upbringing? If they haven't, they will. If it's any comfort, tell your kids that after they are 40 they can't blame their character defects on their parents…or so it says in the “parenting book” on page 89. 

Yes, Bill Clinton has been judged for his sexual peccadilloes and I'm sure that more than one of the gentlemen reading this have done the same. Monogamy is and always will be a controversial subject.   President Clinton's predecessors were not choir boys either, but no one seemed to care. Wasn’t he an intelligent, thoughtful man who left office with a surplus in the treasury, full employment and no wars? Didn’t he represent us well on the world stage instead of retiring? Doesn’t he have a 66% favorable rating? He must have done something right. The Clinton Foundation has done wonderful things around the world. I'm sure there are one or more journalists out there now researching this very topic. 

Hillary Clinton has also had some great achievements and some really debatable policies. But character assassination has no place in this election. You may not agree with her policies or where she sees the country going, but you can't deny the historical significance of her nomination. 

Even if she wins the Presidency and has a Congress like President Obama has endured, at least she is the most experienced candidate running. She’s built up tremendous good will around the world. It may be sexist to say, but women are much more collaborative than men. All that testosterone can sometimes get in the way. 

The first woman to run for President in the Republican Party was Margaret Chase Smith. She spent twenty-four years in the Senate and House of Representatives. But Barry Goldwater won that nomination and we know how that turned out. Shirley Chisolm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Can you imagine the effrontery back then of an African American woman having the nerve to run for President? 

Donald Trump implies that Hillary is physically weak and doesn't have the stamina needed. Perhaps he might have said the same thing about Indira Gandhi (India) Golda Meir (Israel) and Margaret Thatcher (UK). In fact, the 20th century saw 47 female heads of state who served as either Presidents or Prime Ministers. We Americans are late to the party. 

Frankly, after 2008 I thought I wouldn't live long enough to see a woman become President of the United States. I sat there on Tuesday night watching the election results -- thinking about my path and feeling fortunate that I have lived to see all these changes. We haven't yet elected a “lady mayor” in Los Angeles but we will still have two lady Senators from California. Every girl – no matter what age -- knows that she can aspire to be President, Fire Chief, astronaut, doctor, plumber and, as I like to describe stay-at-home moms, Domestic Goddesses. For that, we of the female persuasion owe Hillary Clinton and all those who came before her our gratitude. 

To quote Vice President Joe Biden, "It is indeed a big f@#$% deal!"

 

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

DWP Charter Reform: Still Not Ready for Prime Time

EASTSIDER--By the time you read this article, the LA City Council will have already decided to put DWP Charter Reform on the November 2016 ballot. The Rules Committee issued their Report and Recommendations last week, and on Tuesday the Council discussed and then adopted recommendations for a November ballot measure.

It is amazing how fast the Council can act when they want to … and put an end to any real public debate! Still, here are the reasons you should read the fine print and kick the tires before voting for this turkey. 

Back in March, the Pat Brown Institute hosted an important forum to talk about the latest round of “reform” of the Department of Water and Power. Aside from Council and Mayoral politics, what the Department itself needs, according to General Manager Marcie Edwards, are two basic changes. 

First, they need delegated authority to be able to execute contracts without months and months of going back and forth with the City Council, ham stringing the process of being able to run a business. And a big business it is, since the DWP is the largest municipal utility in the United States of America. Even though this turned into a big deal, I would ask a simple question -- who do you trust more, the LA City Council or the General Manager of the Department? I know, tough choice, but I think it’s the General Manager hands down. 

Second, the DWP needs the ability to hire and promote quickly to meet staffing problems, as more and more employees are retiring, including key managers, and as they need to quickly respond to short term crises, such as the recent billing problems.. 

For those who were unable to attend the event, the Institute has provided a summary report of the entire event. It’s worth reading. 

Without ever providing a real explanation, the Mayor, the Council Committee on Energy and Environment, and the City Council as a whole, seem to be ‘all in’ for ramming something through right now to put on the November ballot, even if it’s half-baked. My take away from the Pat Brown event was that DWP Reform is Not Ready for Prime Time. 

There are some three pages of actual Charter amendments in the recommendations, as well as some four pages of “Non-Charter Recommendations”, whatever that means. Or, as CityWatch columnists Julie Butcher and Jack Humphreville put it, some 2300 words of you-know-what. Later in this article I’ll go into some detail about all of this stuff thrown at us at the last minute, but for now, let us cut to the chase. 

Remember, what the Department itself says it needs is the ability to execute contracts in a timely fashion, with delegated authority up to a dollar maximum, and relief from the City Personnel/Civil Service bureaucracy to be able to fill positions quickly when needed, particularly managerial jobs and overall vacancies, so that they can respond to customer needs. 

Well, out of the seven major recommendations to be voted on June 7th (Board Structure, General Manager, Board Support, Ratepayer Advocate, Personnel and Hiring, and Monthly Billing), the DWP doesn’t even get half a loaf. There are some unspecified relaxing of the DWP’s ability to let contracts, but that is tied to a four year “strategic and investment plan” which in fact gives the Council more control over the Department than they have now. 

As to the proposed amendment on personnel and hiring, I can only say that my hat’s off to an absolute masterpiece of obfuscation, persiflage, and all round mealymouth platitudes. Clearly, over the years Council President Herb Wesson has mastered the art of writing a lot of words while saying nothing, and he has really outdone himself in this one. 

For example, the “salary setting authority”may” waive some or all of the Civil Service requirements “pursuant to a legally binding collectively bargained MOU”.   Then there are further requirements that the “waivers” would have to maintain “specific merit system standards” Finally the Council “may” but doesn’t have to, even designate the new DWP Board as the “salary setting authority” 

All the ambiguities in this language will likely guarantee years of arm wrestling and litigation between the City and its unions, with absolutely no guarantee that there will be an ultimate outcome any different than the current system. In the interim, the needs of the DWP to relax current Personnel/Civil Service regulations will go nowhere -- it simply lets the City Council off the hook for any responsibility for the mess they are creating. 

The reality is that if you read the words on Charter change for Personnel and Hiring, there is absolutely no guarantee of winding up with any of the reforms that the Department clearly needs in order to fulfill their duties to the ratepayers and function as a 21st century utility. 

Notwithstanding the above, in Monday’s LA Times, Herb Wesson has made it clear that he intends this package to go through as is.

As you can read by the heading, this version of DWP Charter Reform is even less ready for prime time than what came out at the Pat Brown Institute forum. 

What I am having a hard time understanding, though, is why the mad rush to jam something called DWP Reform through on this November’s ballot? To actually address the complex set of issues involved in transforming this huge utility that we all depend on for reliable water and power, the powers that be really better get it right, or the consequences to us, the governed, could be disastrous. 

In terms of politics, you can usually figure these things out -- some politicians are termed out and looking for the next gig, they are desperately trying to avoid big time heat that should properly be directed at them, or there is something buried in the 2300 words that is the real meat of the issue, and we’re not supposed to find it. 

If I had to venture a guess, it would be a combination of deflecting heat for the DWP rate increases (remember half the Council is up for election next year), and finding a way to lock in the transfer fees/Council pet projects that they use to balance the City budget. Remember, if the City loses the current litigation over the transfer fees, it could cost them over $1 billion dollars. 

Nothing like sliding in some language that will allow the City’s outside attorneys to continue litigation for a few more years until the incumbents are all termed out. Remember the Utility Tax debacle?

 ●●

You will notice that in the meat of this article I have not addressed the 20 “Non-Charter Recommendations” contained in the Rules Committee Report.   The basic reason is that by definition, any non-Charter Ordinances can be made or changed at any time by the City Council, so they don’t really have anything to do with the Charter changes that will be on the November ballot. 

And a number of these recommendations are silly. For example, they propose to pay the DWP Commissioners $2000/month, which is not going to be anywhere near the going rate for actual folks who understand the ins and outs of public utilities in the State of California. And their Ratepayer Advocate recommendations totally ignore the real need of the Ratepayer Advocate to have their staff positions designated exempt from Civil Service. 

Further, in the Personnel & Hiring section, they provide for the “CAO, the CLA, and the Personnel Department”, along with the DWP to “report back” to the City Council, within 60 days, “with a plan to address the hiring needs of the DWP.” The phrase snow in the wintertime comes to mind. If you can’t implement anything different from the current LA City Civil Service System until all the Charter change requirements are met, exactly what good does a report do? You got it. 

I could go on and on, but very few people would want to read the depressing details. It should be perfectly clear that the big time City Council DWP Charter Reform is simply still not ready for prime time. And nothing in these 2300 words of verbiage answers the question as to why there is this unseemly rush to the ballot box with a half-baked set of maybes. 

Of course I could just be paranoid, and there’s always the old Monty Python shtick about creating the illusion of doing something so the suckers won’t understand what you’re really up to. Or was that Yes, Minister? 

 

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

-cw

 

Deconstructing the NIMBY Myth

MY TOWN--The great advantage of buzz words is that people get to emote without thinking. That’s why many people love to hurl the invective NIMBY at others. 

NIMBY stands for “Not In My Back Yard” and refers to a person who objects to the building something unpleasant or potentially dangerous in their own neighborhood, such as a landfill or hazardous waste facility, especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere. 

Thus, if we stop and think, we see that NIMBYS want to prevent something unpleasant or potentially dangerous, like the Aliso Gas Fields near a community like Porter Ranch.  

Here’s the alleged bad part of NIMBYS; they do not object to the unpleasant or potentially dangerous thing being constructed elsewhere. Let’s stop again and think some more. Don’t we have a buzz word for people who tell other people how to live their lives? Butinsky is a too-common term. 

So, the good part of NIMBIES is that they would stop the Aliso Gas Fields and the bad part is that they are not Butinskies who should follow the gas company throughout California and always object. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? If someone wants to build a freeway through my home in South Pasadena, I am a NIMBY because I don’t also object the 210 Freeway through Pasadena?

●●

There is the charade that NIMBYS have stopped the Target Store from being constructed on the south west corner of Sunset and Western in Hollywood. A prime complaint is that the two groups that sued the City, La Mirada Neighborhood Association and Citizen Coalition Los Angeles (CCLA), do not live in the neighborhood and are outsiders.   Thus, these NIMBIES are actually Butinskies. Yes, it is an oxymoron to label a NIMBY a Butinsky. 

Where is La Mirada? La Mirada is one of the closest neighborhoods to the major intersection of Sunset and Western. It is within easy walking distance of the proposed Target. So maybe La Mirada is a NIMBY since this commercial area is contiguous to it. 

Did La Mirada say, “Do not build here?” No. La Mirada said, “Welcome Target. Yes, a Target would be a fine addition to our neighborhood.” CCLA said the same thing.   

It’s defamatory to call someone a NIMBY because they welcome a project. Myths, however, are great fun as facts play no role. It’s easier to engage in name calling than it is in fact checking. 

As it turns out, Target had no objection to building a legal 35 foot store. It was then Councilmember Garcetti who wanted Target to violate the zoning height limitation. The Specific Plan limited stores to only 35 feet and Garcetti wanted 75 feet. That was more than double the maximum height. 

Had Target been allowed to follow the law, the store would have been opened by 2010. That’s right, without Garcetti’s interference, we’d be in our 7th year of a shopping at Target, and Target would be approaching a billion dollars in sales? 

Does anyone think that Target preferred to have this protracted legal battle when they could have had a completed store before 2010? 

So who’s the real NIMBY? It’s Garcetti. The Court gave Target the go ahead to construct its store two years ago. La Mirada and CCLA are not stopping Target. The court is not stopping Target. The person who is stopping Target is Garcetti. If the City had issued a permit for a legal store two years ago, we’d have a Target by now.  

●●

Hollywood has a Community Plan. Community plans are supposed to set down the path for a community’s future. Community plans select a “Base Year Population” and from that population they determine how many fire stations, how many paramedics, how many parks, how wide the streets, how much housing, etc. we will need in the upcoming decades. 

Crucial to deciding all these things for the future is how rapidly the community is growing or declining. One does not need more apartments in a community when people are moving away. In 2010, Garcetti selected the Base Year of 2005 and said that Hollywood had 224,426 people, which was an increase of about 14,000 people over 2000. Quite an increase. Thus, he wanted Hollywood to add enough housing for 250,000 people by the year 2030. 

Hollywood did not have 224,426 people in 2005 and the population was not increasing, it was declining from a high of 213,912 in 1990 to only 1998,228 2010. Thus, no new apartments were justified, and planning on 250,000 by year 2030, was absurd. 

Five groups sued the City. None were NIMBYS, but all were called NIMBYS. None of them said, “not in my back yard.” None said, “We do not want a Community Plan.” The motto was “Garbage in, Garbage out.” The five groups merely asked Mayor Garcetti for a Community Plan that was based on facts and not on disinformation. 

The court rejected Garcetti’s Hollywood Community Plan because it was based on “fatally flawed data” and “wishful thinking.” None of the five groups were NIMBYS – they were citizens who devoted years of their lives to have the City tell the truth and make future plans based on facts and not on Garcetti’s pipe dream to Manhattanize Hollywood. 

Why dredge up the rejected Hollywood Community Plan? Because it’s back-filled with the same “Garbage in, Garbage out” data. Yes, the NIMBYS are alert and they’ve already discovered that there is no reliable data behind the new update to the Hollywood Community Plan. These NIMBYS should be re-named Fact Checkers. 

Here’s what the NIMBYS have found. The population estimates are based on the projects which Garcetti wants to build. Then, the City pretends that the apartments will be filled and that becomes the “population increase.” It’s circular reasoning. One cannot assume the conclusion in the premise. That’s Garbage in, Garbage out. The demographic data shows that Hollywood’s population is more likely to decline. 

When you hear the cry, NIMBY, you should be alert. NIMBY means that something bad or dangerous is happening. So, listen to the warnings of people who are fighting to protect the citizenry from bad government. If we had good government, there would be no need for NIMBYS.

 

(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.)

-cw

Coalition to Preserve LA Slams Gov Brown, Says His Attack on CEQA will be a Health Disaster for Children

PEOPLE POWER--The Coalition to Preserve LA strongly opposes Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to gut CEQA and Coastal Act environmental protections for virtually any urban project where developers agree to add an insignificant number of affordable housing units. We urge our supporters, and those who believe developers are the last ones who should decide their communities' fates, to tweet and call Gov. Brown immediately regarding Trailer Bill 707. Brown's twitter is @JerryBrownGov, and his phone is (916) 445-2841.

Brown's wrongheaded plan tosses aside the California Environmental Quality Act and Coastal Act, handing the wheel to developers who have shown that without environmental oversight they won't hesitate to place thousands of children in harm's way, create gridlock and destroy neighborhood character.

The Coalition is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 Los Angeles ballot to end developer control over what L.A. becomes. Contact us or donate at 2PreserveLA.org.

The Coalition this year criticized L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council for encouraging developers to erect family housing near freeways. These developments have been dubbed Black Lung Lofts. Brown's attempt to detour around CEQA will hasten these dangerous housing projects. [[http://www.laweekly.com/news/black-lung-lofts-2164048 ]]

In USC's watershed Children's Health Study of 3,600 children, scientists proved that children living near freeways suffer chronic lung damage, particularly within a block of freeways. UCLA researchers found a higher risk for premature babies. Experts say this tainted housing cannot be “mitigated” with air filters, trees or tighter windows — microscopic metal and rubber particles still lodge in the lungs and brain.

In 2007, USC researchers took the unusual step of urging Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Eric Garcetti and the City Council to act. They were ignored. The city has pushed for dozens of freeway-adjacent apartment buildings and condos.  In 2010, then-Councilman Tom LaBonge told LA Weekly, “It would be great if we could call a time-out and try to plan better, but it's not practical." Like the rest of the City Council, LaBonge pushed for more freeway-adjacent housing, insisting, "We need to save jobs."

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, gathering signatures for the March ballot, gives L.A. residents the power to “call a time-out” and shape what L.A. becomes. We believe environmental review is crucial to preserving public safety, fighting gridlock and ending the destruction of neighborhood character.

Gov. Jerry Brown should heed the researchers' warnings about the poisonous airborne rivers in California. Instead, Brown is engaging in a sweeping attack on CEQA that goes in precisely the opposite direction.

Under the guise of saving the environment, Brown has argued that cramming family housing into already congested areas reduces global warming. Now Brown claims that halting environmental review in congested areas is the best way to create affordable housing. While the City Council recently approved ineffective changes to address Black Lung Lofts in L.A., Brown must do better: end his war on CEQA and the Coastal Act and find another way to increase badly needed affordable housing units in California.

(Jill Stewart is Campaign Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. She can be reached at [email protected].)

-cw

California: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Says No on to Concealed Gun Carry

GUN POLITICS--A divided federal appeals court in California ruled Thursday that there is no constitutional right to carry a concealed handgun, adding to a division among the lower courts on gun rights outside the home.

By a vote of 7-4, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a California law that requires gun owners to show a good reason before they can get a license to carry a concealed handgun.

"The protection of the Second Amendment — whatever the scope of that protection may be — simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public."

The court declined to say whether the Constitution protects openly carrying a gun in public. It said that question was not at issue in the case.

Gun owners in two California counties challenged the requirement that they show "good cause," as defined by county sheriffs, before they could get concealed carry permits.

Thursday's majority opinion traced the rights of gun owners from medieval England to the founding of the United States and through the Civil War, finding that local laws almost universally prohibited carrying concealed firearms in public.

In 1897, well after the adoption of the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "the right of the people to bear arms is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons."

The appeals court said it followed the U.S. Supreme Court's method of looking to history to resolve gun rights issues.

"Because the Second Amendment does not protect in any degree the right to carry concealed firearms in public, any prohibition or restriction a state may choose to impose on concealed carry — including the requirement of 'good cause,' however defined — is necessary allowed by the Amendment," the 9th Circuit said.

Many states have similar restrictions on concealed carry, and the lower courts are divided on whether they violate the Second Amendment. So far, however, the Supreme Court has declined to take up the issue in the wake of its landmark 2008 ruling that found a right to own a gun at home for self-defense.

(Pete Williams reports for NBC news. This piece was posted most recently at Huffington Post

-cw

Build Better LA Scores Big: Exceeds Required Ballot Measure Signatures by Thousands

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE--The Los Angeles City Clerk's office has verified that a ballot initiative sponsored by Build Better LA has qualified, with a whopping 94,238 signatures that have been obtained -- far more than the 61,487 valid signatures required. Voters can expect to see the Affordable Housing and Labor Standards Ballot Measure on the ballot at the November 8 election, unless the City Council adopts the proposed ordinance, without alteration, within the next three weeks, as allowed by Charter Section 452. However, Build Better LA references the November election in their press release announcing the validation of the signatures. (Photo above: Training for BBLA signature gatherers.) 

The decision to be made now is either to go to the public for an up or down vote on November 8, or to let a majority of the LA City Council members vote the proposal into a law that can be signed by the Mayor. Will it be a few voices at City Hall, or thousands of voices at the ballot box? That is the choice. The decision must be made within the next three weeks by the City Council. 

The measure would incentivize developers to create more housing that residents can afford near transit, and to ensure that a percentage of residential units are set aside for low-income residents in Los Angeles on projects that receive discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments. The measure also includes a local hire provision that ensures a living wage with good job standards. It’s sponsored by Build Better LA, a coalition of business, labor, affordable housing and community leaders. 

"City of LA residents agree that the City is getting more and more expensive to live in each day. By having our proposal on the November ballot, Angelenos will have the best possible chance to vote on a measure that brings housing people can actually afford and good, local jobs they could rely on. Build Better LA puts our City on a path to a brighter future," said Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and convener of Build Better LA. 

Another ballot measure, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, being driven by Campaign Director Jill Stewart and underwritten by Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is being circulated by the Coalition to Preserve LA, which hopes to have it before voters at the March 2017 elections. 

It’s a simple three-point ballot measure attacking the current system with these key objectives: (1) it stops developers from hiring consultants to do their own EIR (Environmental Impact Report). The city would hire the consultants, but developers would continue to pay for them; (2) it prevents developers from making huge slashes in the parking requirements for their projects; (3) it calls for a two-year “time out” on all developments that do not conform to the city’s zoning. 

Both measures relate to the affordable housing crisis and zoning, two important issues that need as much public discourse as possible. This is why having them on the November and March ballots so important.

 

(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].) Photo: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Black Lives Matter Founder Convicted of Felony Lynching … Say What?

Last week, 28-year-old Jasmine Richards, the founder of Pasadena’s Black Lives Matter movement, was convicted of ‘felony lynching’. The California penal code refers to lynching as “the taking by means of riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer,” though the term brings up visions of KKK hangings in the southern states. Tuesday of this week, Judge Elaine Lu sentenced Richards to 90 days in jail with 18 days served, three years of probation, and one year of anger management.

What led up to this conviction and sentencing? On August 29 of last year, police had responded to a 911 call at a local park. The owner of a nearby restaurant had told the police that an unidentified black woman had skipped out on her check. Richards and other Black Lives Matter supporters were already in the park for a peaceful protest for Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old unarmed black teen killed by Pasadena police in 2012.

Richards and other Black Lives Matters supporters rushed to the woman’s side when the police were in the process of arresting her. Two days later, Richards was arrested for her attempt to pull the woman from the police.

The initial charges brought against Richards included inciting a riot, child endangerment, delaying and obstructing police officers, and felony lynching. By the June 1 trial date, the other charges were dropped and only the lynching charge remained.

Richards isn’t the first activist to be charged with lynching. Maile Hampton was arrested last April for “lynching” during a Sacramento rally against police brutality. Occupy Oakland activists Tiffany Tran and Alex Brown were charged with “lynching” in 2011 and the following year, Sergio Ballesteros of Occupy Los Angeles was charged with “lynching” when he intervened during an arrest.

However, in all of these other cases, the charges were eventually dropped.

Jasmine Richards is the first African American to be convicted of lynching in the United States, which her attorney Nana Gyami characterizes as politically motivated to stop activists from organizing and from speaking out to challenge the system.

At first notice, the existence of lynching laws in California seems out of character. Most of us think of lynching as the Jim Crow-era terrorizing of black communities in the southern states. Governor Jerry Brown removed the term from the California criminal code in 2015, probably at least in part due to the racist associations.

The state’s anti-lynching laws enacted in1933 when a vigilante mob of 10,000 stormed a San Jose jail to seize two white prisoners who had been confessed to the kidnapping and murder of a 22-year-old son of a store owner. Police guards were attacked by the crowds and in what reads like a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, the two prisoners were hanged from trees in a nearby park. No one was charged for the deaths but Gov. James Rolph, Jr. was prompted to sign an anti-lynching law.

The federal government had a pretty egregious record during the 1920s through 1930s until a national anti-lynching bill was passed in 1937 but that bill was squashed. California’s law was seen as progressive when the federal government has failed to act.

The lynching charges against activists like Richards seem exploitive and aimed at stopping social change. Violence certainly is not a preferred or legal way to impact social change but it appears that the members of the Black Lives Matter movement are the targets of intimidation, much like earlier civil rights activists.

Additionally, the legal precedent in this case is troubling. People v. Jones (1971) expanded lynching to include a riot of two or more people leading to their own escape. This has been exploited to include activists who resist their arrests, which are often unlawful. It’s important to note that California law states that interfering with police, which is how Deputy District Attorney Christine Kee described Richard’s actions, is a misdemeanor. To charge Richards with the lynching felony sends a message to activists and organizers that protesting is unlawful.

Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah comments, convicting Richards of lynching is “disgusting and ironic.” It’s hard to argue with that sentiment.

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

-cw

 

10 Important Steps for Launching LA’s General Plan Into the 21st Century

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-As a former Los Angeles City Planner who was part of the team that prepared the General Plan Framework element, I offer an alternative work program with ten basic steps to properly update LA’s General Plan. If followed, it would reliably prepare, adopt, implement, and monitor the City’s General Plan according to State of California law and regulations, as well as professional city planning standards. 

My alternative work program is based on two assumptions: 

First, the “no money” claim for avoiding this important work is pure bunk. For example, only last week the City Council unanimously voted in favor of $200 million in subsidies and fee waivers for a new downtown hotel.  This is obviously a great deal of money, but still much less than the $519 million that former LA City Councilmember Jan Perry boasted about in her efforts to financially support companies like AEG through City Council largess. 

Second, the purpose of updating, implementing, and monitoring LA’s General Plan is to improve the overall quality of life in Los Angeles, not to facilitate real estate speculation or reduce public health and safety to policing.


Step 1 - Demographics: The first step is to produce accurate citywide neighborhood demographic forecasts. This is because Los Angeles relies on the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and its inflated demographic projections for Los Angeles, especially the Hollywood Community Plan Update. These exaggerated forecasts resulted in Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman’s 2013 total rejection of the Hollywood plan’s text, EIR, zone changes, height district changes, and General Plan amendments. Furthermore, SCAG’s previous demographic forecasts for the General Plan Framework were 500,000 people too high for the element’s 2010 horizon year. 

Since this blunder, City officials have not yet bothered to investigate why this citywide forecast was so inflated. As for SCAG, its only explanation was an in-house paper that blamed its erroneous numbers on a failure to consider the business cycle, including the Great Recession, in its demographic methodology.  

Step 2 - Monitoring: Next, City Planning needs to establish the General Plan Monitoring Unit required by the Framework. Its tasks include accurate periodic measurements of employment, housing, population, infrastructure (maintenance, capacity, and user need), zoning buildout, and plan implementation. Without this information, it is impossible to know if or when existing or future plans perform as intended or require mid-course corrections. 

Step 3 - Re:code LA: City Planning should also freeze the current re:code LA rezoning program since the City of Los Angeles should not legally change the zone for every piece of property in Los Angeles before it updates its General Plan elements. General Plan implementation, such as zoning, should follow, not precede, the update of the entire General Plan. 

Step 4 - Update all General Plan Elements: After these steps, City Planning should address the six citywide, non-Land Use elements that the State of California legally requires, beginning with the four oldest ones: Conservation, Open Space, Public Safety, and Noise. The remaining two citywide elements that are up-to-date, Housing and Mobility, must then be amended to assure consistency with the updates of the other General Plan elements.                                                                                                                                 

Step 5 - Update Existing Optional Elements: The next step is to review and update existing optional elements to make sure that they, too, become fully consistent with the mandatory elements. The General Plan Framework and Air Quality elements are the most high profile, but older optional elements should also be included, especially Service Systems and Infrastructure, which are now celebrating their 50th birthday. 

Step 6 - New Optional Elements: After that, City Planning should prepare two new optional elements that many California cities have already pursued: Climate Change and Economic Development. The Governor’s Office for Research and Planning has already prepared extensive guidelines for these optional elements. 

Step 7 - Update Community Plans: Then, with those previous six steps concluded, City Planning should address the Land Use element, more specifically LA’s 35 Community Plans and two District Plans. The city’s current proposal, to update the Community Plan elements before City Planning updates the citywide General Plan elements, is clearly out-of-sequence. This is because it is impossible to accurately update local plans without fully understanding citywide trends in Los Angeles related to infrastructure, services, zoning capacity, and demographic trends. 

Step 8 - Local Zone Changes: With this process well underway, City Planning should determine what local zoning should be changed as a result of a properly sequenced planning process. To undertake these comprehensive zone changes first, which is the City of LA’s current approach through re:code LA, is also obviously out-of-sequence. 

Step 9 - Infrastructure Spending: Like all other California cities, Los Angeles has a five year Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  The CIP lists all proposed public improvements, and the City Planning Commission is charged with confirming that these infrastructure investments faithfully implement the policies of the General Plan. This never happens, and it must become one of the CPC’s major recurring tasks. 

Step 10 - Annual Monitoring Reports: Finally, with these nine work program steps completed, the General Plan Monitoring Unit must prepare thorough annual reports that measure housing, employment, and population changes, and then recommend how these data should result in amendments to the General Plan's various elements, as well as all implementing programs. 

It is many years since the City of Los Angeles has taken on even some of this work program, but the necessity, expertise, and potential financial resources are all available. As already directed by the City Council in its April 14, 2016, resolution, let’s get this process underway.

 

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

Why, What’s the Difference

GUEST COMMENTARY--Several months ago as I was driving through the City of San Fernando I noticed that there were no “cars for sale”. As I continue to drive in an attempt to get home to Pacoima it also became obvious to me that there are no parking lots on the lawns of single family residents nor were the streets being used as auto repair shops. 

I decided to ask “why?” I drove to the San Fernando City Hall and inquired. A young woman asked me could she help I replies “Yes.” I asked “Why are there no cars for sale on the streets of San Fernando?” She ask me to wait a minute and made a phone call. A young man entered from the rear and I repeated my question. 

He laughed and asked, where did I live? Once I said Pacoima, he really had a good laugh, and replied: “We enforce the laws in San Fernando, we all live under the same state laws, the difference is the City of Los Angeles don’t enforce the existing laws.” 

I didn’t need any additional explanations, the reason for the steady creeping decadence and crud in the city of Los Angeles is the failure of the city’s code enforcement agencies. It matters not what laws are on the books, if they are not enforced they are worthless. But then, I read almost daily the city council is steady making new laws. For what, they cannot enforce the ones they have now. 

Since that initial drive through San Fernando, I have been there many times. There are no peddlers on the street, I never see individuals cooking and selling food from carts on the streets or in the parks. Nev-er saw an 18 wheel tracker trailer parked on the streets of San Fernando. 

Why, what is the difference, two communities in such close proximity, yet one is clean, the other in a steady decline into “Third World Status”.

 

(Morris Eichon and Edwin Ramirez are co-publishers of the Pacoima Today Newsletter.)

-cw

Who is Really Funded by the Developers and the Oil Companies?

POWER POLITICS--California’s Senate District 27 comprises some of the most beautiful and valuable real estate in the country. From the beaches of Malibu to the Santa Monica Mountains to the flat lands of the San Fernando Valley and beyond into Ventura County, it is treasured by environmentalists and coveted by their mortal enemies — the developers. 

In order to build in what is called SD-27, California's 27th Senate district, you need to be “entitled” — you need to have the right. Those rights are called “entitlements” and the lawyers with the right connections, the ones who can get you those entitlements, are considered royalty. When one of them decides to run for office the gloves come off. 

The Rezniks are the king and queen of entitlements. They have gotten entitlements for billions of dollars worth of real estate deals, so when Janice Kamenir Reznik abruptly decided she was entitled to the State Senate seat vacated by Fran Pavley she just took for granted that the other candidates would politely get out of her way. After all, Reznik & Reznik specialized in entitlements. 

They had helped Shappell Industries, the developers of Porter Ranch, get all their entitlements to build next to the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage yard, now the largest natural gas storage facility in the Western U.S.  But now all those homeowners are entitled to is righteous anger and reimbursement for the cost of moving out until the leak was capped and for the cleanup of the oil slime that coats their homes.

But let’s start at the beginning:  

As hubby Ben points out, in an interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, "There were no land use lawyers back then." In 1979, when Shappell approached Reznik & Reznik for help with some land use issues, Ben and his partner, Janice, had created a whole new specialty – land use litigation - and we all know the rest.  

Janice blames lack of oversight for Porter Ranch, noting on her website that "the debacle in Porter Ranch, which is part of the 27th District, revealed that the legislature was asleep at the switch." 

But when the facts are revealed, it seems that the developers of Porter Ranch were not into disclosure. When Porter Ranch was permitted, the environmental report didn’t mention that oil field just down the road, as the Daily News reports.    

Ben and Janice were there "in the trenches" as Ben revealed to the Journal back in 2011, making sure those switches stayed turned off! During the 1980s the Rezniks represented virtually all the biggest developers, according to the LA Times. If you live in the Valley, just look out your window or maybe just inhale and you can experience the results of their labors, or as Janice calls them, “accomplishments.” 

Expanding their reach soon after Porter Ranch was built, the Rezniks went after the oil companies themselves - not as adversaries but as clients, hiring a former SoCalGas company regulatory attorney to head up their brand new Energy and Utility Division! So as methane wafted over SD 27, where Janice plans to reign, we know whom to thank - the Rezniks.  And don't be fooled - the firm name is Reznik & Reznik - the first is Ben and second is Janice - or is it the other way around?  

But the Rezniks weren’t through with the Valley – there was still Ventura Boulevard – the charming, historical low-rise walkable Main Street of the San Fernando Valley.  Remember when the afternoon sun hit the Encino backyards north of Ventura? Well thanks to the Rezniks the sun shines there no more.  Finally the City Council stepped in and created a plan to limit the height of buildings along the Boulevard – but not before Reznik extracted an exemption for his client’s 172-unit apartment building in Encino.  The LA Times reported on the negotiations. 

And on the Encino project in particular: When homeowners objected to the scale of the project, “Ben went nuclear,” the Times reported, cynically threatening to add subsidized (read Section 8) housing to the plan.  He got 150 units and he and his developer client headed right to the bank. 

In 1997, facing cash-flow problems, the Rezniks headed to the West Side, leaving behind a complaint about violations of their profit sharing plan and their office building which was put up for sale – but not their home.  Too bad the Reznik’s division which represented management against labor wasn't there to defend them.   

Reznik even went so far as to use labor negotiations to try to weaken CEQA – a long range goal: “That’s part of where the reform needs to take place so you can avoid a situation where CEQA is used as a leverage tool for someone to gain other advantages that have nothing to do with the environmental welfare of the community at large,” Reznik said, according to DTLA News. In 2015 Reznik predicted CEQA reform.  Sorry, Ben.  Even Jerry Brown can’t help you with this one.  

But even at Jeffer Mengals, where he oversaw over $20 billion in real estate deals, nothing was too petty for Reznik.  When his client Norman Bench Advertising lost its exclusive contract to manage the bus benches, Patt Morrison reports that Norman started removing all the benches leaving mothers, children, the old and infirm to stand for as long as it took to for the bus to come.  Nice work.  L.A. scrambled to get another firm to rebuild them. 

But let’s be fair - the Rezniks represented homeowners too - like this sheik who wanted to build an 85,000-square-foot mega mansion in Brentwood. The sheik filled the profile of the Rezniks' typical client - he had big problems and deep pockets! Vanity Fair called their article on the project "There Goes the Neighborhood"! .
Ben and Janice are a team. They raise money together – whether from developers or big oil (Chevron) aka the California Dental Association whom you can thank for all those mailers!   The Resniks use their connections well and if they get control of the gold mine that is SD 27 you can kiss CEQA goodbye along with much of what is left of our open space.  And if the developers want CEQA “reform” what will Chevron demand?    

If you want to trust SD 27 to Team Reznik then you know how to vote.  Maybe we would be better off with the Barrows … of Bonnie and Clyde.  

 

(Dorothy Reik is  head of Progressive Democrats for America of the Malibu/Santa Monica area and  a member of the California State Central Committee. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of CityWatch or its other writers or contributors.)

-cw

 

It’s OK to Smoke or Sell Pot in LA … as Long as You’re Not Black or Brown

POT POLITICS--Hakeem Brown is unique. In the state of California, where black owned cannabis businesses are rare, Hakeem Brown owned and managed a licensed medical cannabis dispensary in Vallejo from 2009-2012, when it was shut down as part of a multi dispensary raid. The raid was deemed unlawful and the city was required to return the money seized during the police action.

Brown used this money to open up a new garden to grow for patients in Napa. This garden was raided and Brown was arrested for possession with intent to distribute despite possessing documentation confirming the medical nature of the garden. For four years the case has dragged on, with the judge limiting the ways in which those who were Brown’s patients can testify on his behalf.

Stories like Hakeem Brown’s are too common in a state that has allowed medical cannabis use for decades and is known for its lassie-faire attitude about cannabis. In fact, cannabis remains illegal in California, but you wouldn’t know it by witnessing its flourishing industry. The cannabis culture on display in incubators and expo halls is a far cry from what is happening on the streets of the Golden State, where in 2014, there were over 13,000 felony arrests for cannabis, with black and Latino people overrepresented among them.

Cannabis has been a non-incarcerable offense in California since the 1970s, and possession of less than an ounce has not been an arrestable offense since then. However, the subjectivity of “possession”, vs. “possession with intent to distribute” enables police to use “evidence” such as an empty baggie or a certain amount of cash to take a non-arrestable offense and flip it to a potential felony. Or, as in the case of Hakeem Brown, claim that cannabis grown for medical purposes is simply a front for illegal dealing. 

In the city of Oakland, black people comprise 25% of the population yet 78% of those arrested for possession with intent to distribute. On the other hand, white people comprise 35% of the population and only 8% of those arrested for possession with intent to distribute.

The racially disparate policing of cannabis crimes is not new information. Multiple reports have highlighted this pervasive practice. In 2011, then-Governor Schwarzenegger passed a law moving simple possession of an ounce or less to an infraction. Now considered on par with a traffic ticket, guilty parties simply had to pay a fine, no court appearance, no criminal record.

This change in penalty classification also came with downsides. Now data on marijuana possession offenses are no longer collected at the state level, which means it is now much more difficult to measure whether unequal enforcement persists after marijuana possession was reduced to an infraction. Additionally, as with traffic court, the fees added onto the fine can be hefty and can be more burdensome for some to pay than others.

In a collaboration between the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU of California, racial data on who is getting infractions were obtained from the cities of Los Angeles and Fresno and analyzed to determine whether there were racial disparities in marijuana possession enforcement. Data collected from Los Angeles and Fresno show that blacks were respectively cited for marijuana possession infractions 4 and 3.6 times more often than whites. The disparity is worse than the rates at which blacks were arrested for simple possession of marijuana prior to 2011, when possession was a misdemeanor offense.

In 2010, black were 2.2 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. Latinos were cited for marijuana possession infractions 1.4 times in Los Angeles and 1.7 times in Fresno more often than whites. It is likely that these disparities are actually greater. California has a long history of data collection challenges regarding Latinos, who are often classified by law enforcement officers as white and thus undercounted.

Most marijuana possession citations are issued to young people in both jurisdictions, particularly in Los Angeles. The mean age for those receiving marijuana infractions is 26.58 years old in Los Angeles and 28.82 years old in Fresno. In both cities, the majority of marijuana possession infractions were issued to individuals 29 years of age and younger.

Hakeem Brown was lucky. He was found not guilty at his trial in April. While he was fighting for his freedom, others were planning for the green rush. The infraction and arrest data in California show that there is a bigger issue at stake than industry. The harms of cannabis prohibition persist in California, and they do so most for young people of color.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which will give California voters the opportunity to legalized regulated marijuana this November, allows those in jail for marijuana offenses that will no longer be punishable by arrest to petition for release, and for those on probation or parole to have their records expunged.

It also allows those with drug felonies to not only work in the industry but to be business owners. It’s far past time to stop the bleeding of prohibition that has been centered in our most vulnerable communities, and legalize cannabis in California. Once we move cannabis into a regulated market, we can slowly dress the wound left by decades of disparate enforcement by making a place in the industry for those like Hakeem Brown who have been on the front lines and have the scars to show for it.

(Amanda Reiman is the manager of marijuana law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.  Follow Amanda Reiman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AmandaReiman

-cw

Coffee … and Odd Excuses … with Council President Wesson

POLITICS--I had the good fortune in recent weeks to discuss my commentaries from CityWatch and elsewhere on KFI AM-640’s Sunday Morning with Elizabeth Espinosa. It is surely coincidental that the all-powerful LA City Council president Herb Wesson invited me for coffee and a chat prior to a Council meeting last week.

Under his leadership, Council’s inauthentic meetings lack genuine public debate that result in preordained, orchestrated unanimous votes. Imagine flipping a coin 15 times and it always coming up heads….for every agenda item. That is the essence of Los Angeles City Council and the unquestioning local media enslaved to it.

Historically, those who do not go along with the Wesson Way get politically disemboweled like former Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernie Parks, who were ostracized and had their assignments and Districts’ best assets carved into the hands of Wesson allies, i.e. all the other Councilmembers. While Perry finagled her way back into a peachy political gig after terming out of office, Bernie went on to his pension-rich retirement.  

Read more ...

Why California Now Matters So Much to Bernie Sanders and the Entire Democratic Party

TUESDAY PRIMARY--Bernie Sanders and his California supporters not only expect to win big in next Tuesday’s primary, but say Democrats will not pick their nominee until July’s national convention.

“It’s a floor fight in Philly,” said Galen Swain, a semi-retired engineer standing at street corner Santa Cruz on Tuesday hoisting a “Honk for Bernie” sign near a big hall where Sanders was to speak. “I’m absolutely certain we will close the gap on her [in Tuesday’s primary]… This is a gut check for Democrats. Do they want to run a candidate who has the FBI for a running mate?”

The feistiness of Swain’s comments were commonplace at Sanders’ rally in this mid-California coastal city with a large state university. While Swain’s swipe at Hillary Clinton was referring to her use of a personal server for e-mails while Secretary of State—which has led to an ongoing FBI investigation—his larger point was about the Democratic Party’s superdelegates, the office-holders and allies who account for 15 percent of the national convention delegates.

“We want to make the case to the Democrats that your superdelegates are going to have to make a decision,” Swain said, referring to the emerging fact that neither Clinton nor Sanders will cross the threshold needed for the nomination until the superdelegates vote. “You gotta choose right. Will you select a flawed candidate or a guy who’s been adding numbers to your party?”

That declaration was the latest to emerge in a campaign year where most precedents have been upended. On the Republican side, Donald Trump’s rise blindsided the GOP. On the Democratic side, Sanders’ rise and continued success has also upended the process, which his supporters now say is about to enter an uncharted phase: pressing superdelegates.

“The superdelegates have never before had to be the deciding vote,” said Bruce Jones, who will be a national convention delegate for Sanders from California’s 14th congressional district. “And at this point, what Bernie says is let’s go to the convention, and on the floor, and in front of all the Bernie delegates and Hillary delegates, let them make a principled decision.”

“One of the things that’s really upsetting is this thought that the media will call this election early before the superdelegates vote,” said Jones, who was giving away buttons, selling t-shirts and snapping pictures of backers next to a big Sanders cutout. “Bernie Sanders is, without a doubt, the most popular candidate in this election. The other two are the two most unpopular ever.”

Campaigning To Win

On Tuesday, Sanders only encouraged his supporters to join his revolutionary bandwagon. He went first to Santa Cruz, where it has been decades since a major presidential candidate held a rally and a local convention hall was packed hours before he appeared. A large crowd was herded to an overflow area where he briefly appeared on a stage and spoke before going inside. 

“This campaign is asking you and every American to think outside the box—outside of the options that Congress and the media often give us,” Sanders said, then ticking off the issues that he’d address if elected president. Those included campaign finance reform, immigration reform and citizenship, Medicare-for-all national health care, free tuition at public colleges and universities, and an energy policy that addresses climate change and creates jobs.

“What this campaign is ultimately about is to revitalize American democracy,” Sanders said. “A poll came out the other day. The overwhelming majority of people in this country—Democrats, Republicans, Independents—are disgusted with the current political system. They feel helpless. They feel that their voices are not being heard. They feel that elected officials are listening to the needs of wealthy campaign contributors but not to the needs of ordinary Americans.”

“What this campaign is about is changing that dynamic,” he continued. “It is about creating a political revolution. And all of you are the political revolutionaries. And that means that we have all got to understand that democracy is not a spectator sport… That means the understanding that every person here is extraordinarily powerful if you choose to use your power. But if you moan and grown, and throw things at the TV, that ain’t going to make much difference.”

“Four-hundred and seventy-five delegates are up for grabs. And I want to see our campaign win the vast majority of those delegates,” he concluded. “So I would hope that on June 7th, we have the largest voter turnout of any Democratic primary in California history. If that happens we are going to win this thing, and we will win it big.” 

Sanders then told everyone to vote next week and predicted he’d win if turnout was high. Inside the packed arena, he also repeated the contention that the superdelegates would have to pick their presidential nominee, because neither he nor Clinton would cross the party’s threshold to win the nomination based on the delegates awarded by primary voters and caucus participants. Superdelegates comprise 15 percent of the national convention’s attendees and are elected democrats, party officials and key allies.

“No candidate – not Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders – will have received the number of pledged delegates… that he or she needs to become the Democratic nominee,” Sanders said inside the hall. “The message to the Democratic leadership is that if the Democratic Party is to be the party of working people and young people and the middle class, they’ve got to open up the doors.”

Breaking the Mold

The determination of Sanders’ team to carry the nominating fight past California is causing great consternation among Clinton’s team and superdelegates—whose loyalty also is to the Democratic Party and who have spent years working inside it.

“When you run using language like this is a revolution, you have to expect a few revolutionaries will show up,” said Deb Kozikowski, a superdelegate from Massachusetts and vice-chair of that state’s Democratic Party, reached by phone on Tuesday.

Kozikowski said that superdelegates and party officials like her were paying careful attention to what was going on with Sanders. She said that Sanders had to ask each state party to put him on the primary or caucus ballot, which they did after he pledged to not bolt and run as a third-party candidate, and also after pledging that he would support the eventual nominee.

The thinking in Democratic Party circles at that time was that perhaps Sanders would get four or five percent of the delegates, she said, and his eventual embrace of the nominee would help contribute to a winning margin in November. Nobody, she said, foresaw his popularity, his message’s power, nor how angry the electorate has become. “Nobody ever figured he was good for more than 4 to 5 percent, but he’s at 40 to 45 percent [of the delegates].” 

Despite upending expectations, Kozikowski said that “automatic delegates [superdelegates] have never swung a nomination away from the individual who gets the most pledged delegates” in the primaries and caucuses. “The automatic delegates are in the same position they have always been — to give their nomination to the person who gets the most delegates.”

Why California Now Matters

Sanders is not just campaigning hard to win California, but to try to change the party’s nominating process. And he might win the Golden State, as polls last week put him two percentage points behind Clinton and attendance at his rallies—many thousands at a time— have consistently outdrawn Clinton’s events. New Jersey, the second most delegate-rich state to vote next Tuesday, is solidly behind Clinton, according to polls giving her a double-digit lead.

Where this goes is anybody’s guess. Should Sanders lose California where 475 pledged delegates are at stake, Kozikowski hopes he would start speaking to his supporters about the need to back Clinton and work inside the party. Making that transition takes time, she said, but depending on how the state votes, Kozikowski hoped that Sanders would shift toward that conversation.

“I’ve been trying to be circumspect in my remarks to give people enough opportunity to ease into what’s happening,” she said. “Until it happens, you cannot take it away from people who are in it [backing a candidate like Sanders] from a pure heart standpoint—They really are. They really believe this is their one chance to make America something they can really feel good about.”

Kozikowski, who is 61, said she hoped that his supporters and delegates would come to see that change is possible and laudable if it comes in smaller increments than Sanders seeks—which, obviously, is what she sees in Hillary Clinton. 

But Sanders supporters on Tuesday said almost the opposite—that more sweeping change is what is needed now, and that the Democratic Party should welcome the energy and vision of their candidate and his messengers.

“We aren’t going there [to Philadelphia] to be window dressing at the convention,” said Sanders national convention delegate Jones. “We aren’t going there to hold up signs and show unity… We are going there because we are principled and as long as Bernie is running in the race, he’s our candidate.”

And when asked about a Clinton-Sanders ticket, he lit up and replied that she’d make a good vice-president.

(Steven Rosenfeld writes for AlterNet. This piece was posted most recently at TruthDig.) 

-cw

 

Viewpoint: California Governor Wants End Run Coastal Protection Laws

GUEST COMMENTARY--The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) protects the environment by giving the public a voice in government projects and ensures that environmental effects of a project are mitigated. The Coastal Act requires oversight of development in California's Coastal Zone.

Now Governor Brown wants to disregard these laws so that development can occur without disclosing environmental impacts about the development to the public.

Don't let the Governor get his way. Help oppose Trailer Bill 707, which creates a broad exemption from CEQA and the Coastal Act for new development.  
 

(Trailer bills are pieces of legislation that change policy as part of the budget process. That means that these bills do not go through various policy committees necessary to vet legislation, and can fly under the public's radar.)

Trailer Bill 707 would allow housing development to be approved "by-right." This means there would be no local government review, no public hearings, and no environmental mitigation. This by-right provision would even make sure the California Coastal Act couldn't be applied to protect the coast from development impacts.

This trailer bill will create a large policy shift, and will not help make housing affordable. In fact, the bill could make housing affordability worse.

Don't let the Governor further his agenda to weaken the state's bedrock laws that ensure full disclosure about large building projects and their environmental impacts.
 

Don't let the Governor ignore the public's right to be a part of the process of environmental review.
 

(Kyle Jones is Policy Advocate for the Sierra Club of California.)

-cw

 

Spiraling Orthodox Church Expansion has Neighbors in a Panic

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Chase Street in Northridge is a throwback to earlier times. Many of the neighbors have passed down properties for generations. Residents still raise chickens and farm animals on the large properties. The neighborhood is home to Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #782, El Encanto, a barn that had been converted into a residence by General Harris Malasky back in 1947. Neighbors say the barn has been preserved exactly as it has been for over 75 years. 

Valerie Collins grew up in this neighborhood. She rode horses nearby and speaks about the now gone walnut groves. Like the other longtime homeowners and residents, she is concerned with protecting the integrity of her neighborhood. 

Back in 1998, St. Mary & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church was built in her neighborhood. The church expanded to include a 58-unit senior apartment complex with 52 parking spaces, as well as a 40,480 square foot school on Roscoe Boulevard. 

Valerie shared with me that the church had removed 170 trees in the process of initial construction when they only had permission to remove 68 trees. “This also was a shady deal where they took the trees out over a Christmas holiday weekend when there was nobody around to notify,” the neighbor says. 

When the church had filed permits to expand the school and build two additional three-story senior apartment building, Valerie and her neighbors gathered 650 signatures forcing the hand of the city, which sent a zoning administrator from Valencia to the zoning meeting. Valerie says the zoning administrator put the brakes on the proposals until the church brought back “up to date” plans. (Expansion plan photo right.) 

The Chase Street neighbors say the church never came through with the updated plans. The neighbors who signed the petition are notified of proposed changes. “The city doesn’t notify you if you don’t say anything and then, people do whatever they want,” she warns. 

The church has installed a basketball court with windows directly overlooking a neighbor’s yard. Neighbors say the church regularly asks them to get rid of their animals or move the pens away from the senior apartments. Valerie will be joining the neighborhood council to address concerns she has about the future of her neighborhood. 

“I’ve lived in this neighborhood since I was four and I’m now 67,” she shares. “I’ve seen changes; some have been good but this hasn’t done anything for the community and that’s one of the things that is a stickler with me.” 

Valerie expresses concerns about the traffic brought by the church, especially during events and holidays when there isn’t adequate parking in the area and families run across the busy four-lane Roscoe Boulevard. 

She adds, “We pay taxes and this bring our property values down. We’ve lived here for generations and hand the properties down to our kids. We have to figure out what land use rules and the variances are. Nobody notified us about the initial apartment building. The city allowed it to be built over a historic monument!” 

The Chase Street neighbors aren’t necessarily closed off to development. “We don’t want more than stories and we want something that looks nice that goes with the land and the area,” she explains. “Our area is quaint and we want to keep it that way.” 

For now, the longtime resident is waiting to see what happens next as the church continues to buy up more land. “We don’t want a school or three-story apartment building right over someone’s property. It’s not right. Quality of life should come first for the people who live here and take care of the land.”

 

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

-cw

Punk Rock is Thriving in the Backyards of South Central and East Los Angeles

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is a documentary feature film honestly and sincerely portraying this vibrant ‘DIY’ community in Los Angeles. (Angela Boatwright) It features a new wave of loud, fast bands such as Psyk Ward, Rhythmic Asylum, Las Cochinas, Corrupted Youth and more.

The intimate and honest documentary, which made its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in January as one of the 20 feature-length selections, zooms in on the genre's local promoters, musicians and devout fans — predominantly Latino teens and young adults — who find meaning in the thriving punk-rock scene of South Central and East Los Angeles.

It earned critical kudos for its behind-the-rage look at young punk rockers making a homegrown scene. Helmed by first-time director and longtime punk rocker Angela Boatwright, it is now available on iTunes.

Punk rock is thriving in the backyards of South Central and East Los Angeles. A cobbled-together family of Hispanic teens and young adults comprise the scene: bands, fans, production, marketing, and security interwoven into a sub-culture of thrash and noise and pits. The sense of belonging is palpable; emotional bonds fostered among good families and those broken, poverty and wealth, adolescence and maturity, with the music emanating a magnetic chorus for all to sing together. ‘Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is a documentary feature film honestly and sincerely portraying this vibrant ‘DIY’ community.

Inside the backyards and small rooms of this music community is a palpable sense of belonging, as noted in the trailer. "A lot of bands that have heart are poor and come from dirty, scummy, prostitute-filled, bullet-flying, filthy places that people go by as they're driving on the freeway," says one person, as clips show fans finding hope amid poverty and crime. Another adds, "The message is: You're not alone out there."

Randall Roberts from the Los Angeles Times argues that for decades a low-budget, high-energy punk rock scene has been burning through the backyards and empty lots of East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and South Central Los Angeles.

If the new documentary “Los Punks: We Are All We Have” is any indication, the neighbors aren’t too happy about it. But the kids with mohawks keep coming anyway.

Boatwright, a professional still photographer, has shot musicians for years, and when she relocated to Los Angeles after nearly two decades in New York, she started scoping the city for projects.

“I was looking for like-minded people,” she said over coffee with Roberts in downtown Los Angeles. “I grew up into hardcore, metal and punk, and I knew L.A. had a really rich punk history. I thought, ‘I wonder what’s going on?’”

A resurgent punk scene that has thrived in and around the city since its birth in the late 1970s had blossomed once again in the shadow of the corporate music world. Each weekend, young promoters were organizing gigs away from the clubs and concert venues by booking bands in dirt lots and empty garages.

Directed by Angela Boatwright, the doc is produced for Vans: Off the Wall, Fusion and AOP Productions, and includes Doug Palladini, Eric Douat, Isaac Lee and Juan Rendon as executive producers, and Agi Orsi as producer.

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

-cw

June in LA: ‘Bumperstickers the Musical’, Hollywood Fringe, One-Woman Shows and More

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Hollywood Fringe hosts nearly three hundred theatrical performances in the month of June. It describes itself as an annual, open-access, community-derived event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts. That makes for plays, comedy acts, songs, and the odd magician or two, with allowance for nudity, political radicalism, occasional sanctimony, and lots of experimental writing. The catalog (see the link above) gives fair warning as to productions that push the envelope. 

The way to experience the Fringe is to show up on the day of your liking and take in two, three, or four performances and finish at the bar in Fringe Central. To make this approach possible, the Fringe encourages its productions to keep ticket prices low, typically in the five to fifteen dollar range. You might think of an afternoon and evening at the Fringe as ATM-accessible. 

Since the Fringe is open-access, that means that the piece you start out with may be dull, but sixty minutes later you may find yourself at a production that comes alive. My pick so far is the peculiarly named Bumperstickers the musical. The concept seems a little strange at first -- think of all those bumperstickers and build a musical with a heart around them -- but this group makes it work. They throw in some witty words and some pretty good tunes (music and lyrics by Gary Stockdale), and let rip. The organizers did a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo and, I've got to assume, that contributed to the full house on opening night. 

The plot, such as it is, is hung around 9 cast members who are sitting in traffic on the freeway during a typically jammed LA morning, listening to the radio and every once in a while noticing a bumper sticker. The bumper stickers are ones we remember, signifying the various social, political, and religious attachments automobile drivers wished to communicate to each other, ranging from the assertive (God said it, I believe it, that settles it) to the more embracing (coexist). Each such sticker provides the jumping-off point for a song-and-dance number. Using this conceit, the script allows itself to explore our modern society in ways alternately comedic and touching. 

Saturday night's show had a full audience who clapped along, tapped their feet, and cheered the actors. Performances of note were contributed by Jennifer Leigh Warren, who performed a gospel number expertly, Eliot Hochberg, who brings life to the role of the truck driver exhibiting the notorious old bumpersticker Gas, Grass, or Ass, Nobody Rides for Free, opera singer Jahmaul Bakare who makes fun of My Other Car is a Porsche, and Zachary Ford as the various radio announcers we listen to during rush hour. Lamont Dozier Jr. brought new life to the "I heart" bumper stickers we've grown to hate, and the remainder of a cast filled by talented professionals made for an enjoyable 90 minutes. 

On the same Saturday afternoon, I saw magician Nick Paul, who explains that he performs at the Magic Castle and cruise ships, and who does something tricky and a little scary when he pulls a giant inflated balloon over his head during a card trick. I also wandered into Vincent Deconstructed, nominally a play about Van Gogh near the end of his short life, and approximately at the level of a college drama society performance. There was overacting characterized by gasps and pained pauses, and some credible Italian accents. To adapt an old line, the characters were given too many words, all assembled in literary style in grammatically correct, complete sentences. People don't talk like that in any century. 

I'm looking forward to a production of The Owl and the Pussycat directed by friend and colleague Todd Felderstein. 

Summer Shakespeare and something almost about Shakespeare 

Tom Stoppard created his magnificent comedy/tragedy/satire Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in the 1960s. Coincidentally, it was first performed at the greatest of Fringe festivals in Edinburgh in 1966. This summer, we are lucky to have it back, in Orange County at the American Coast Theater Company. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern takes the titanic upheaval depicted in the play Hamlet and views it from the standpoint of two characters who are mere courtiers. How would ordinary people cope with the supra-human emotions -- and emoting -- of such as Ophelia, Hamlet, and Claudius? What do normal people feel in the presence of such an earthquake of feeling? Stoppard takes a shot at it with skill and humor. 

The same company is alternating Stoppard's play with Hamlet, using the same cast. Hamlet is being directed by Jeremy Aluma, who directed a clown's version of Hamlet recently, as well as Lunatics and Actors, which excerpts parts of Hamlet as performed by mental patients. It will be interesting to see how Aluma interprets Hamlet as undiluted tragedy. 

Finally, a list of nearly five dozen Shakespeare productions around town this summer can be found at the Shakespeare in LA website. 

Addendum: Cell Phones 

The recent report on cell phone radiation effects (or lack thereof) on rats has resulted in the usual hype. Careful analysis of the results can lead to various conclusions, ranging from the silly (cell phone radiation results in longer life on the average) to the concerned (cell phone radiation may result in cancer sometimes). Here is a careful analysis, albeit a long one, by cancer researcher David Gorski, who suggests that the design of the study and the results suggest that we are looking at false positives, that is to say, that the small number of tumors observed are chance results.  There will be a lot of discussion of these results over the next few months, but the take-home lesson is likely to be that they are inconclusive.

 

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

More Articles ...