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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]

It’s NOT a Business! It’s Our Water and Power!

BUTCHER ON LA--I’ve been reviewing LA’s documents for many, many years. Used to be the CAO had its own font. You’ll notice it If you look through old files. CLA reports all have a similar style. Again, you know it when you see it. Every public document has a date, always an author or authors, usually a signature. The DWP “reform” plan handed out at the beginning of last week’s Rules Committee meeting has none of these. It only just made its way into the council file. 

Jack Humphreville responded to my Facebook post that all 2300 words of the “recommendations” were ‘written by Council President Herb Wesson’.  

Ron Kaye followed up, got all Captain Renault: Shocked, I say!

But this is more than that. The Council vote to put a plan for the complete isolation and prospective privatization of the DWP is scheduled for Tuesday, Election Day. Surely CD 10 knows all the unions opposing many of these proposals will be out walking precincts. Before the full Council has even reviewed Herb’s “recommendations,” the EERC is set to issue bargaining instructions.

Who actually wrote the “recommendations”? Does it matter? Is it still smart, good government for Los Angeles to have a city charter? It would be so much easier (for them) if the city council could just make changes without a vote of the public.

Important terms: an ordinance -- a law -- can be adopted by the city council with a simple majority vote. It can be similarly rescinded with an aye vote of eight councilmembers. A charter change requires a winning vote of the people.

Let’s review exactly what is proposed for a charter-changing initiative screaming to this November’s ballot:

  • Increase the size of the DWP Board of Commissioners from five to seven (1a)
  • Change the length of their term from five years to three years with staggered terms (1b) (currently the charter encourages the use of staggered terms, allows departmental commissions to develop their own rules)
  • Authorize the council to adopt an ordinance to create new board structure (1b) (3)
  • Prohibit registered lobbyists from serving on the board (1c) (currently the charter prohibits anyone who is a registered lobbyist from serving) [Sec. 501(d)] (2) 
  • Require specific board member expertise in one or more of seven areas (1e)
  • Authorize council to establish ordinance to pay board stipends (1e) (board members to be paid with the amount to be set by Council after the charter change passes)
  • Add new due-process review to remove board members (1g)
  • Add new hiring procedure for the General Manager of the DWP utilizing the same process as for the appointment of the Police Chief [Charter Section 575(a)], an open search recruitment, competitive evaluative process organized by the City’s Personnel Department, with the board responsible for ranking candidates for the Mayor’s selection and Council confirmation (1h)
  • Create new analytical operation headed by an Executive Officer, with staff and hiring authority, to provide the board “added policy and fiscal analysis” (1i)
  • Increase budget of the Office of Public Accountability to 0.05 percent of revenues from the previous year’s sale of water and electric energy (1j)
  • Allow for the current incumbent Ratepayer Advocate to serve a second term without convening Citizens Committee (1k)
  • Move authority from Council to the Board for: (1l)
    • Franchises
    • Concessions
    • Permits
    • Licenses
    • Leases
    • Contracts
  • Require strategic investment and revenue requirement plan every four years -- beginning in 2020 (1m)
  • Allow Council to ask for informational reports regarding board actions “for review only” (1n)
  • Exempt all board actions regarding contracts from council oversight below an amount to be set by ordinance sometime in the future (1o)
  • Authorize the City to waive the provisions of civil service by negotiating with the DWP unions (1p)
  • Move salary negotiations from the City Council’s EERC to the Board of DWP Commissioners solely (1p)
  • Require the utility to change from bi-monthly to monthly billing by January 1, 2020 (1q)

And these proposed changes in the section of the recommendations delineated as “Non-Charter Recommendations”:

  • “Following the adoption of the ballot measure,” an ordinance establishing a monthly stipend of $2000 per month for the seven new board members, indexed to the relevant CPI (i.e., automatic raises) (2)
  • Also an ordinance to set the salary of the GM (4)
  • Another ordinance after the measure passes clarifying the roles and authority of the Office of Public Accountability (5) and some manner of “report-back” about changes to the role of the OPA that “could be further defined by ordinance.” (6) Hiring of exempt workers at the OPA also to be accomplished by ordinance (7)
  • City Attorney will consult with the Board and report back on the role of the Board in overseeing litigation, recommendations to strengthen the work of the City Attorney at DWP also by ordinance (8) (the proposal to replace the City Attorney with its own DWP lawyers appears to have disappeared)
  • CAO, CLA, Personnel Department, with input from DWP, come up with a hiring plan and an MOA with performance metrics, etc., within 60 days (9)
  • Request bargaining instructions from the EERC to the DWP with help from the CAO and the Personnel Department to negotiate with all the bargaining units at the DWP to change collective bargaining agreements to expedite current hiring and promotion practices (10)
  • Ordinance to increase the authority of the GM to approve contracts; exempt contracts less that a “certain amount” from council oversight) (11); recommends reports concerning contracts including charter regulations regulating the contracting of city work [Charter Section 1022] (12) 
  • Ordinance to increase the authority of the Board to enter into contracts without council approval (13)
  • Exempt the DWP from existing purchasing rules (14) (15)
  • Exempt the DWP from the Mayor’s Executive Directive 4, Intergovernmental Relations (17) 
  • CAO, CLA, DWP to determine a way to “allow the Board to assume all collective bargaining responsibilities with regard to the DWP bargaining units.” (18)
  • Request a report from the City Attorney to the City Council regarding outstanding litigation about the Power Revenue Transfer (19)
  • DWP, with the City Attorney, CLA, CAO, the Board of Public Works, and the Bureau of Sanitation to study and report back “with an analysis on creating a fully integrated water group.” (20)
  • DWP, with the City Attorney, CLA, CAO to report back on options to help Rec & Parks, non-profits “that provide publicly accessible open space, and low income seniors” help with water and electric bills (21)
  • DWP, with the CLA, CAO to report back on options to help ensure access to clean energy solutions not limited by geography or income (22)
  • DWP, with the CLA, CAO to study the feasibility of creating new executive level management position to advocate for the “interests of underserved low income customer market segment” (23)
  • Blanket authority to “make any technical modifications and/or legal corrections to the draft election ordinance, draft resolution, draft ordinance requests, and any other related actions” (24)

At the June 2 meeting of the Rules & Elections Committee at which these “recommendations” were introduced and briskly adopted, DWP General Manager Marci Edwards said that the DWP is a business.

It is not. It is the largest municipally owned and operated public utility in the United States, the power and water of the people of Los Angeles. Efforts to privatize, corporatize, or monetize the City’s assets stand squarely in the face of history.

This move is a privatization scheme, plain and simple. Every one of the problems at the DWP could be solved by greater public scrutiny, not less, with coordinated, strategic help from the rest of the City family.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and former chair of the elected charter reform commission reminded us in an LA Times op-ed last week City Council should retain oversight of DWP: “Like the airport and harbor, DWP is a proprietary department — essentially a business owned and operated by the city. It is undeniably a complex organization and reforms are warranted. But every broken water main and blackout reminds us that public accountability is indispensable.[Emphasis mine] 

(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild. She can be reached at [email protected])

-cw

  

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is ‘Hilton’

ENVIRONMENT POLITICS--As described in an earlier article, the Beverly Hilton, in what they are calling a “reconfiguration” of a project which won a referendum by 129 votes in an election with 569 documented cases of voter fraud, is using a California initiative loophole to try to build a 375-foot skyscraper in a city with a 45-foot height limit. 

While some of the false claims made by the signature gatherers of the skyscraper initiative very clearly attempted to give new horizons to the meaning of the word chutzpah, a recent development (no pun intended) also adds hypocrisy with a capital “H” to the mix.

As noted before, the use of the initiative process means that the Hilton, in their efforts to build the 375-foot skyscraper, doesn’t need to go through any of the reviews or public processes which would normally be required for any construction project, let alone a project of this magnitude.

While the Hilton is exploiting the initiative process to scrupulously avoid all municipal scrutiny, including environmental reviews, their neighbor to the west, on the site of the old Robinsons May, is also requesting a modification to its original entitlement. The project, owned by the Wanda Group, and known as One Beverly Hills, (as envisioned: graphic above) is seeking to convert some of the condos of the already entitled Richard Meier designed project to hotel rooms, not to add bulk, mass and height to the project like the Hilton. Playing the role of the good twin, One Beverly Hills is going through the City’s standard process, which includes various reviews, a supplemental environmental impact report and the ability of the public to raise concerns.

Despite disingenuous protestations to the contrary, the Hilton is trying to use the public planning process and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to stop the hotel project — and the competition— next door. In a 21-page letter to the City’s planning department, the Hilton raises a number of concerns and objections related to the One Beverly Hills hotel modification.

I can’t comment on the specifics of the Hilton’s objections at this stage. There is a process and those objections will be considered and addressed. But I sure will point out the utter irony in the Hilton’s use of the public process which they themselves are denying everyone else in connection with their own project.

With apologies to Gore Vidal, they have given hypocrisy a bad name.

Or maybe it’s not hypocrisy? Perhaps they are subtlety trying to convince the One Beverly Hills folks to come over to the Dark Side. Their utzing message would seem to be: “Hey, why bother go through the pesky review process when you could completely circumvent it with an initiative? Drop the application, buy signatures like we did, and come join us with ‘the Hilton Way’ in the fabuloso world of ‘Anything Goes’ development.

“Heck, you can even use our argument that we already went through numerous public meetings. You did, too! In fact, the changes you’re looking for might even be seen as less drastic than our own. We’re looking to build a 375-foot skyscraper in place of two buildings, adding bulk and mass to our project, reducing the amount of water we recycle and adding outdoor meeting spaces while you’re just looking to convert a few condos to hotel rooms.”

Now we can’t know for sure if the Hilton really is trying to win recruits for the Hilton school of development or just wants to make a little mischief. And in fairness to the Hilton, it should be noted that there are a few other parties who are trying to jump on the Hypocrisy bandwagon.

For example, in addition to a mystery objector, who had 87 pages worth of objections sent in anonymously, we have a couple of homeowner associations in Westwood who are expressing concerns about the project. These are the same moral authorities who expressed zero concern with the potential issues Metro’s tunneling under our High School could create. They’re clearly not concerned at all about our kids and they went to great lengths in the past to prove it, ignoring both logic and decency, not to mention the facts. They’ve been bought off by developers before, so maybe they’re just looking for another payday now. Whatever their motivation, you gotta give such bad neighbors credit for such a healthy sense of ego. One sometimes can just shake one’s head...

We also received a letter from LA Councilmember Paul Koretz. It’s difficult to say whether he raised objections to placate those homeowner groups — hey, it’s a lot easier to object to development in another city than in one’s own district, isn’t it? Who knows, he may have even been put up to it by lobbyists doing the Hilton’s bidding. The Hilton tried that ploy in WeHo, with their lobbyist having in fact drafted a letter ready for the signature of the WeHo mayor, who wasn’t about to be tricked.

Whatever the origin of Councilmember Koretz’s letter, we should remember that this is the same guy who ignored our own concerns when the Century City North Specific Plan was violated to create significant traffic on behalf of a favored developer. This is the same guy who allowed a 40+ story skyscraper to be built directly next to the High School and whose concern for our kids is only matched in its absence by former county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. While it’s true the pay-to-play nature of urban planning and development in LA might be considered to be extenuating circumstances, this is Beverly Hills, not LA, and certainly not Chinatown.

There are enough heapin’ helpings of hypocrisy to go around, but the Hilton itself definitely does take the first prize. Perhaps we should call that prize “the Con-rad.” They are availing themselves of a public planning process to object to a neighboring development, while they are denying everyone else the same opportunity in connection with their own scheme to build a skyscraper which is 70 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty (including the base) and over double the height of the highest building in Beverly Hills (or Niagara Falls for that matter).

Just another reason for the voters of Beverly Hills to reject a project which has already been described by some as “the Skyscraper of Greed” when it comes to the ballot later this year.

To paraphrase the incomparable Vin Scully: so when people write the name Hilton in capital letters in the history books of overdevelopment, that “H” stands out even more than the I-L-T-O-N. The H in “Hilton” stands for “Hypocrisy.”

(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

Billboard Violence and Our Kids: When will LA’s Sign Companies Get the Message?

BILLBOARD WATCH--On Wednesday morning, people traveling busy Lincoln Blvd. in Venice could have seen the bus shelter ad pictured at left above while listening on their car radios to news of a UCLA professor being shot to death in his office. Whether or not that grim news would have triggered any reflection upon the propriety of using the city’s public sidewalks for a display of men blasting away with guns is impossible to know.

However, that particular bus shelter ad, just one of many placed around the city to market the upcoming Universal Pictures movie, did generate complaints about its location, across the street from the grounds of an elementary school and a charter high school. In response, the company that contracts with the city to erect and maintain bus shelters and other items of street furniture replaced the guns-a-blazing movie ad with a public service message featuring Smokey the Bear being hugged by a young boy obviously grateful that the iconic ursine has helped prevent yet another forest fire.

Would it be churlish to intrude upon that heartwarming scene by pointing out that last year a total of 2,677 kids in the U.S. were murdered, killed accidentally, or died by committing suicide with guns, and that another 14,822 were injured by guns?

Ads for movies and TV shows with the firing or brandishing of guns are a staple of street furniture and billboard advertising, and often show up near schools, playgrounds, and other places where young people congregate. A few years ago, one showing a sniper firing a rifle appeared on a billboard directly across the street from a Westchester elementary school, and another depicting an actor waving a gun was placed in a bus shelter in front of Venice High School, just steps from where a student was shot and killed the year before.

In those cases, as with the movie ad on Lincoln Blvd., the sign company responded to complaints by replacing the ad. One might ask, however, if putting such ads there in the first place reflected a deficit in corporate responsibility, and if the quick replacement of those ads was more a reflection of the companies’ public relations acumen than an admission of poor judgment.

The city’s 20-year street furniture contract held by a joint venture of Outfront Media and JC Decaux doesn’t prohibit ads that show the shooting or brandishing of guns, and these depictions are a staple of the movie and TV advertising that is a pervasive presence on bus shelters and billboards. The city cannot regulate the content of billboard advertising on private property, and the street furniture contract doesn’t come up for renewal until 2021.

Should—or would—the sign companies voluntarily limit advertising with depictions of guns? What about movie marketing departments and ad agencies, where this advertising is designed? Should—or would—they think about the images that saturate the city’s visual environment for people of all ages and inclinations to see?

Hey, City Hall!  Take a Hike! Our Sidewalk ‘Fix’ is NOT Settled!

ALPERN AT LARGE--While it's not hard to conclude that the City Council and Mayor of Los Angeles presumes we're stupid and uninformed (and, perhaps because of our perpetually-low voter turnout and continued re-election of underperforming incumbents, their conclusion is understandable), there's something we can all agree upon:  our sidewalks are horrible, dangerous, and an insult to high-taxpaying Angelenos. 

An excellent summary of the thirty-year settlement of the City for a class action lawsuit on pedestrian rights-of-way for the disabled was written by Joe Linton of Streetsblog LA.  But seriously ... 

... Thirty years?  How can any reasonable adult with an IQ of 80 or higher accept that "fix"? 

Particularly, when the LA City Council voted without discussion to allow the Related Cos. developers a $198.5 million financial aid package for a high-profile downtown hotel project across from Walt Disney Concert Hall.   

As stated by David Zahniser of the L.A. Times, the Council voted 12-0 to allow Related to keep half the nearly $400 million in projected tax revenue over 25 years--a figure that normally flows into the general fund, which pays for police, firefighters and other city services. 

To be frank, we DO need Downtown development--but our sidewalks need fixing (and, of course, our parks, roads, infrastructure, and police/fire services).  So without trying to prioritize our sidewalks over other City services, it's not hard to point out the horrible timing of this giveaway right after the City Council and Mayor FAILED to come up with a sidewalk "fix". 

No, Mayor Garcetti and our City Council leaders, your faces should NOT be pointed heavenwards with a sense of satisfaction and "job well done" with respect to "fixing" our sidewalks.  Please take my advice, and wipe that collective smile off your faces and look downwards, at the sidewalks, and recognize that as we move forward into the next election cycle and "Measure R-2" you're NOT done. 

You didn't FIX anything, and not certainly with a "fix" that Angelenos would accept. 

In my last CityWatch piece, I described how my son and I (he was just a baby when I started the fight for the Expo Line) took a walk up Westwood Blvd. and down Sepulveda Blvd. on Memorial Day. 

The sidewalks were dreadful, and these were clearly within walking range of two of the most critical and contested and utilized Expo Line stations on the Westside.   

It's not hard to conclude that those Westsiders who fought the Expo Line legally should have placed higher priority on the sidewalks as mitigation for the Expo Line.  To their discredit, they did not. 

It's also not hard to conclude that the City of LA, who are often led by the same folks with leadership positions on the Metro Board, should prioritize the sidewalks that will be most frequently-used by transit riders. 

The Mar Vista Community Council just unanimously approved a motion supporting an expeditious speeding up of the sidewalk repair "fix" to 7-10 years, and NOT the ridiculous 30-year timeline.  They will soon vote on another motion to prioritize the sidewalks on major thoroughfares within 1/2 mile of all rail transit stations over the course of two years.  I am guessing that this motion will be similarly received. 

This isn't just a Westside issue--if sidewalks within 1/2 mile of any Eastside Gold Line or San Fernando Valley Orange Line Busway aren't fixed, then they darned well ought to be.  Now.  NOW! 

So to reiterate: 

1) Expedite and refinance the sidewalk "fix" to 7-10 years, and use private contractors to jumpstart this process.  Don't prioritize the City's union workers--prioritize the taxpayers for a change.  And fix/replace any trees along the way, because the ficus trees will only rip up the new sidewalks; native trees will get the job done, and are long overdue. 

2) Prioritize sidewalks within 1/2 mile of all rail/busway stations with a two-year deadline.  If we're going to celebrate the opening of the Expo and Foothill Gold Lines, and fighting to get Metro Rail into LAX, then we better make sure they're pedestrian accessible.  ALL of our wrecked sidewalks are a disgrace, but a two-year expedited focus on major transit stations makes sense. 

Because what DOESN'T make sense is for the City and County to benefit from Measure R-2, and to expect Angelenos to deal with unsafe and unusable sidewalks for up to 30 years...and we do NOT have to vote "yes" on Measure R-2 this November. 

 

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

-cw

 

What's Filling Your Mailbox This Week?

GELFAND’S WORLD--It's the most beautiful time of the year, at least if you happen to be a printer. It's not such a beautiful time if your mailbox is small. Mine can barely handle the stack of glossy political mailers that arrive every day, each shiny card more shameful than the last. 

Let's start with the worst of the lot and its dreaded asterisk*. 

Slate mailers -- less honest than TV infomercials 

Slate mailers are those miniature pamphlets that come with heroic sounding names like Law Enforcement Recommendations, or California Senior Advocates League, or claim to represent the interests of independent voters. One that arrived the other day is titled the Coalition for California Newsletter. These mailers are actually businesses that collect money from candidates for endorsing them. Not all candidates pay, but most of the names you see are essentially paid advertisements. 

How do you know which candidates paid? If you look at the fine print on the bottom of any of these mailers, you will see something like the following: Notice to Voters. This document was prepared by Voter Newsletter, a project of the Coalition for California, not an official political party organization. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an * 

So if there is an asterisk by somebody's name, that means that the candidate paid to be listed. In the Coalition for California mailer, there are 11 candidates listed, and 10 have that asterisk. In another slate mailer that arrived this week, there are 9 candidates listed, and every one of them has the asterisk. 

Slate mailers may be the only places other than newspaper endorsements where you see the names of judicial candidates. In the 2 mailers I've described, every single judicial candidate has that asterisk. This is not necessarily a horrible thing -- after all, judicial candidates don't usually have a lot of campaign money to spend, so slate mailers are one approach to name recognition. The problem for you and me is that we don't know whether the publisher of the mailer has applied any standards of merit to the candidate choices. I compared the names in the two slate mailers to the L.A. Times candidate endorsements. The slate mailers on average had about half their judicial candidates coinciding with the Times endorsements, and about half the time not. 

This implies that the slate mailers are indiscriminant about the merits of their judicial choices. Money talks when it comes to slate mailer names, particularly in down-ballot races such as judicial offices and state legislative races. 

Just in case you'd like to know the L.A. Times endorsed candidates for Superior Court Judge, here is the list: Schreiner, Zuzga, Kaddo, Townsend, Santana, Berger, Solorzano. 

Glossy mailers from campaigns also have their negatives

How about the glossy mailer that asks, "Which candidate for congress gave a government worker special government recognition for his work managing a government building with a daycare center for small children, even though he was a convicted sexual predator who had just been sued for sexual harassment?" 

How about that -- a congressional candidate arguing that her opponent is soft on child molesting. Interestingly, this piece came from the campaign itself rather than from some anonymous pac. It says so right on the page, "Paid for by Barragan for Congress." 

You may recall that Nanette Barragan is running for congress against Isadore Hall in one of the only open seat races. Hall seems to have a few negatives himself, in that he is an effective politician who has been successful at fundraising, including raising money from oil and gambling interests. But absent a really convincing argument by Barragan's campaign as to the substance of this allegation, it's reason enough to cast a protest vote in favor of Hall. We shouldn't be rewarding what appears to be classic political sleaze. Maybe I'm wrong and Barragan's campaign can make a convincing case, but the attack is not compelling so far. 

Illogic raised to political posturing 

There's another level of shame when it comes to political mailers, not so low as to call your opponent a pervert, but low in the intellectual sense. The best examples in today's mail are a couple of glossies from the campaign of Steve Napolitano, who is running for county Supervisor against Janice Hahn. Here is what one of them says: 

"LA County is home to 11 of the 30 worst traffic bottlenecks in the Country. Janice Hahn has held office in the City of LA and Washington, D.C. for 15 years, and LA traffic has only gotten worse. It's time to get moving -- in a new direction." 

Here's another: "Homelessness has reached epidemic proportions in Los Angeles -- and Janice Hahn has done nothing to solve the problem." 

Napolitano is doing the oldest number in the book by finding a couple of irritating social problems and blaming his opponent for not doing enough. Traffic and homelessness, and each the fault of Hahn. Right. To borrow the old joke, my irony meter is melting down, because Napolitano is County Supervisor Don Knabe's Senior Deputy. If these problems are getting worse, why don't we blame Don Knabe and, by extension, Steve Napolitano? 

It's interesting that Napolitano isn't pounding on the one element of policy that is actually at issue. Over the past decade, the members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors have held the line on spending. This was during an era when the Los Angeles City Council got the city into trouble over structural budget deficits. It remains to be seen whether the new group of county supervisors will continue to hold the line fiscally, or whether they will get into overspending the way the city did starting in 2007. Hahn will have an important role in how this question plays out, assuming that the odds hold and she wins.

 

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

-cw

 

A Tip from a City Hall Vet: Pay Attention to What’s Not Being Said

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--In last week’s CityWatch column I speculated that City Hall’s sudden, slipshod effort to again update the Hollywood Community Plan, is intended to promote three hidden agendas: 

  • Create a template for the subsequent updates of LA’s 34 other Community Plans, as well as two District Plans.
  • Create a backup to re:code LA, the current program to rezone the entire City of Los Angeles, in case it falters.
  • Undercut the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which is headed for voter consideration and likely approval in March 2017.   

Neglected topics: After attending the May 31, 2016, meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM), and reviewing City Planning’s report to PLUM presenting their work program to update LA’s Community Plans, Environmental Impact Reports, and General Plan Amendments, I think the evidence is now overwhelming. There is little hidden about their hidden agenda because the silence is deafening. (Photos above: Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee. They reveal the real, underlying issues by what they don't say.)  

How can we be so sure? We only need to look at this long list of important topics related to the update of the General Plan, to future General Plan Amendments, and to Environmental Impact Reports (EIR’s) that the PLUM Committee and the City Planning report glossed over: 

  • Successful lawsuit against the Hollywood Community Plan:   In 2013 Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman rejected the Hollywood Community Plan Update that the City Council had unanimously adopted. He ordered that the Plan’s text, EIR, and implementing zoning ordinances be rescinded because of the plan’s shoddy and inflated demographics. The City Attorney did not contest Judge Goodman’s ruling, and, as a result the City Council rescinded this Community Plan Update template and reinstated Hollywood’s previous 1988 plan. 
  • Updating the non-Land Elements: The General Plan’s mandatory and optional elements extensively examine the city’s public infrastructure and services, yet the City Planning report and the PLUM committee never mentioned any of these elements. Nevertheless, they must be properly updated before local community plans can be updated. As indicated in the City Council’s April 14, 2016, resolution regarding the necessity of updating the entire General Plan, without a timely, comprehensive, examination of citywide planning issues, it is impossible to properly update any Community Plans. 
  • Public Safety Issues: One of these outdated elements is Safety (1995). It is absolutely critical for a city whose elected officials have been far too blasé about seismic safety (“The Big One”), as well as the already observable impacts of climate change on the Los Angeles region. 
  • Climate Change General Plan Element: Many California cities have addressed these newer public safety issues by preparing an optional Climate Change General Plan element that focuses on both climate change adaptation (i.e., resilience) and mitigation. While the City of LA has two Climate Action Plans, one prepared under Mayor Villaraigosa, and the other under Mayor Garcetti, it does not yet have an integrated set of planning goals and programs to guide and monitor either of these climate action plans. 
  • Monitoring Unit: The most important discretionary General Plan element, the General Plan Framework, required the City of Los Angeles to establish a General Plan Monitoring Unit charged with the production of annual monitoring reports. The Council and City Planning failed to establish this monitoring unit, and in the 20 years since the City Council adopted the Framework, City Planning has only issued four incomplete monitoring reports. Yet, without these reports, updating existing plans is pure guesswork. In their absence there is no way to determine if the old plans have been implemented and if their implementation programs have effectively met the plans’ goals. 
  • 1968 Citizens Commission Report and Law Suits: In 1968 the City of Los Angeles issued a report from a Grand Jury investigation and appointed citizens commission entitled, A Program to Improve Planning and Zoning in Los Angeles. It became the basis for the two Charter Reform Commissions planning recommendations, and it required Community Plan amendments to be comprehensive, as opposed to the City Council’s current approach of spot-planning, spot-zoning, and intricate zoning ordinances appended to Community Plan Updates. 
  • Re-Code LA:  This program, which aims to rezone all private parcels is Los Angeles, will be nearly completed before any Community Plan updates are prepared and adopted, yet zoning is one of the primary implementation tools for Community Plans. As I have repeatedly written, this places the cart before the horse because the planning process is sequenced in reverse order.   In fact, based on the latest Hollywood template, the zoning ordinances that implement Community Plans will be drafted before the Community Plans themselves are completed.           

The not very hidden agenda items: While my list of important missing issues related to the update of Community Plans is hardly definitive, these “structured absences” from City Planning’s report and the PLUM Committee’s discussion lead to several inescapable conclusions. 

The most important excluded topic was the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. If/when Los Angeles voters adopt it, it would force City Hall to update all General Plan elements, including but not limited to the 35 Community Plans. It would also prohibit parcel level legislative actions, such as zone changes and General Plan amendment for individual lots. And, it would also require all ministerial actions related to building permits, as well as all discretionary actions, to be consistent with the General Plan. 

Once adopted, this Initiative would box in the City Council’s actual city planning process: accommodating investors’ whims through special ordinances. This truncated approach to city planning self-limits itself to discretionary actions for the private parcels that comprise 20 to 40 percent of each community. In this world city planning becomes lot-by-lot zoning and planning ordinances driven by the financial computations of private investors/City Hall players/major campaign contributors. 

In March 2017 this game would grind to a halt because the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative would stop it. That is why it is now imperative for public officials intent on salvaging their business model to lock in as much up-zoning and up-planning as quickly as possible, as well as to preserve the City Council’s future right to spot-zone and spot-plan on behalf of major contributors. 

While I realize this sounds like bribes and corruption, I am a city planner, not an Assistant District Attorney, so I will let others make that call. But, one historical footnote can guide us. In the late 1960s the Grand Jury and the Citizens Advisory Committee that carefully examined the City of LA’s zoning and planning practices, did more than successfully recommend many fundamental changes. Their work also resulted in the prosecution and incarceration of a City Councilmember.

 

(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].) 

-cw

 

Spending the Marijuana Tax

CALIFORNIA ECONOMY--While most attention focused on the marijuana initiative will revolve around whether the drug should be legalized for recreational purposes, there is a discussion to be had about the tax that would be applied to marijuana if the initiative passes.

The proposal carries an excise tax of 15% above and beyond sales and use taxes imposed by state and local governments. In addition, there is a tax levied in the cultivation stage on marijuana flowers and leaves measured on a per ounce basis. According to the fiscal impact calculated for the initiative summary, the revenue generated from the marijuana tax could be hundreds of millions of dollars to over a billion dollars annually.

Most of the money is dedicated for specific purposes covering administration of the law, treating serious substance abuse, training law enforcement on applying the law, black market prevention, and providing environmental cleanup for public lands damaged by illicit marijuana trade.

Dedicating tax revenue for specific purposes is a familiar tool to get initiative measures passed but doesn’t enrich the general fund, which provides government’s basic services.

In Colorado, the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, tax revenue has been dedicated to a number of purposes as well, but the main priority for the revenue is the basic government service of education. In 2015, the state raised $135 million in taxes and sent $35 million for school construction with additional revenues dedicated to other school grants.

The Tax Foundation recently reported that the Colorado collection of taxes on marijuana started slowly but exceeded expectations last year. The effective tax rate in Colorado is 29%, determined by state officials as too high to squelch black market purchases of the weed. The state will drop the tax a couple of points next year in hopes of dealing with black market sales. 

This all begs the question of how the marijuana tax issue will play in the coming debate over passing or rejecting the California initiative. I suspect the tax argument will be of minor significance to voters given where the tax money is going.

Assuming those who intend to use the product and want to do so legally are willing to pay the tax, a new tax dedicated to general purposes might drum up more enthusiasm from non-users who are tired of hearing about all the tax plans floated this election season to fund basic government services.

The recent PPIC poll found support for legalizing recreational use of marijuana among likely voters, 60% to 37%. However, less than half of the adults asked (45%) said the generated tax revenue should be used as dictated by the initiative. There were no questions in the poll to determine if the money would be better spent in other areas.

With a crying need for transportation funding, for example, an argument could be made that new revenue would serve an important general purpose.

Too late for this initiative to change the ground rules if the measure passes. However, a future initiative could re-direct some or all of the marijuana tax funds.

But, first the measure has to pass and there will be opposition focused on the overriding issue of legalizing the drug.

(Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds  … where this piece was first posted … and President of the Small Business Action Committee.)

 

Please Get Off the Fence

EDUCATION POLITICS--Yesterday, the LA School Board agendized boardmember Ref Rodriguez's recommended changes to Prop 39 implementation. A copy of the resolution. 

The Board heard public comment from parents. This is what I saw and what I said.

I don't know who the blonde haired, blue eyed woman wearing the sport coat was. When the board members were an hour late, she huddled with three Latina moms and asked if they could hang just a little longer. She said the board members were on their way.

The reporter from the LA Times interviewed them but refused to acknowledge the woman in the sport coat.

Once the meeting started, two of the moms made public comment about how important it was for charter schools to keep their funding. One said the teachers union is trying to keep their schools from getting money for special ed. Stealing was mentioned. Another explained how much better special ed is in the charter school. The teachers at the regular school had tried to put her child in a special class. Now he has art.

Then I spoke. Here are my prepared remarks, and here is an audio recording of my four minutes. I sound strident, but damn. I can't believe we are fighting this fight. 

"I noticed that this resolution seeks to find an impartial group of people currently working on co-located campuses. As a parent who has been a charter parent co-locating, as well as a traditional host school parent, I wish you luck in that. You have all heard about the fences that divide co-located campuses. If you come to our schools, you won’t find anyone sitting on that fence. There are people firmly planted on one side or the other.

"So the best we can hope for is a balanced group from both sides of the fence: of people pushing for more privatization through charters, and those of us who seek support for our district public schools.

"I would request that you include in your discussion concrete examples in real life, many of which we have sent to some of you:

- The misrepresentation of waiting lists, including charters asking the public to sign even with no intention of enrolling in order to game the system to get more Prop 39 space. You check our work; you count the students in the classrooms we say are unavailable. Check the work on the waiting lists and make sure they’re official.

- The increased burden on the public district school that turns principals into multi-tenant property managers.

- An equitable allocation of classrooms—a charter classroom is considered full when there are 24 students and the district’s classrooms are sometimes well over 40.

"I share the anecdote of a charter parent confronting me on a public sidewalk near a shared campus and asking me, what is wrong with the charter, a vibrant vine, wrapping itself around the dying tree of the

district school?

 

"Lastly, the charter lobby informs parents of meetings like this so their voice will be heard. Please do the same. Tell your school communities that important policies like this are going to be discussed so that we have an opportunity to save our own schools and save public education. The public schools don't advertise; the charters do. Please do your outreach. It is odd to me that many charter advocates on the board and in the district proudly proclaim to be so, yet our district’s public school advocates remain quiet. We need you to speak up. Defend our schools. Defend public education.

Please, get off that fence."

There was no discussion among the board members. They will deliberate and possibly vote on the resolution at the next board meeting.

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

-cw

 

Hoop Dreams Dashed At Runyon Canyon Park

DEEGAN ON LA--Dreams of “ballin" in Runyon Canyon Park faded away Wednesday, when the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners rescinded their prior decision to allow for construction of a basketball court at the center of a very heated controversy involving the Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) support group, Council District 4, the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP), the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, and the surrounding community. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) stepped in and asked the RAP commissioners to reconsider their prior approval of the basketball court in the urban wilderness park, and that led to their decision to pull the plug on the project. The Friends of Runyon Canyon supported his request. 

The slam dunk that FORC thought would have been a welcome improvement as part of their plans for the park—-the installation of a basketball court in the rough terrain of the very popular urban wilderness park—turns out to have been defeated by a full-court press from the surrounding community that was too deafening for David Ryu and the Rec and Parks commissioners to ignore. Ryu ran for office on a pledge to listen to the community before making a decision and, on this matter, he got an earful, and a lawsuit. 

The dispute has not been without its moments, and there may be more, as some in the community have begun to mobilize a push to revoke the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between RAP and the Friends of Runyon Canyon, on the grounds that FORC has “lost the trust of the community”. At a meeting of the RAP Commissioners on June 1, several community speakers made public comments asking that the revocation of FORC’s MOU be placed on an upcoming commission agenda. It’s now up the commissioners to deal with that request, since they are the ones that made the deal with FORC to begin with. The spotlight now shifts to them, waiting to see what they will do. 

Losing their license, right now, is not a solution until FORC proves that they did not learn from their very significant mistakes, and have taken advantage of their second chance, by turning their program around and becoming a fully transparent team player, and reaching out to and reconciling with their opponents. 

The chips have now fallen, and the consequences for FORC, RAP and CD4 going it alone without having included the community in the decisions of what to do in the park, for which they have each apologized, are now clear. 

At FORC, the controversy has caused a change in their leadership. They now have a new president, and the organization may have a new attitude. In their May 17 letter to David Ryu they acknowledged that “the project was far more divisive than anyone ever imagined”. 

FORC’s leap-before-you-look approach, that tried to force the basketball court into reality without any public comment, seriously backfired and damaged their credibility and standing in the community. 

At Rec and Parks, the cancellation puts them in the awkward position of losing a significant donation to their program of public-private partnerships that would help bring revenue into their program. It may also make potential donors wary of becoming embroiled in a controversy if a community doesn’t “like” their gift. 

For David Ryu, this has been an affirmation of his stressing that extensive community outreach and buy-in is critical before taking action. He came late to this project that was launched by his predecessor, and may have been caught by surprise by what he inherited, but quickly responded to his constituents and got into action. In a few weeks he will complete his first year in office, and this could be a fitting way for him to close out the year with an accomplishment that delivers on his campaign pledge that what communities and neighborhoods think about projects matters, and they must, and will be, heard by him. 

Anastasia Mann, President of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, captured the sentiment that many should be sharing, when she said “Thanks to David Ryu and his staff for throwing themselves in the middle of the bullring. Very admirable, and also RAP for coming to the table. It’s a very rare occurrence to get a “mea culpa” from city government. We need to be very grateful to David Ryu and his team for taking the high road, and to RAP for supporting the cancellation”. 

The FORC support group, a public entity doing business as a proxy for the Rec and Parks department, has now revealed some of their finances on their website, but has not published their donor agreements, or the minutes of their board meetings. While they ask for donations, they do not say how many they have received, or who they were from or their individual value, leaving too many unanswered questions about who FORC is. 

Changing this, and becoming 100% transparent about their operations, could go a long way to helping them regain the trust of the community. They need to diffuse the strong opposition against their existence from certain parts the community that have already created the firestorm that led to the cancellation of the basketball court. 

The “community” is just one of the constituencies that FORC must satisfy. They must also maintain the backing of the RAP commissioners and Councilmember David Ryu. 

A requirement by Ryu and RAP for them to be more transparent and to populate their website with more data might help bring FORC into the sunlight. Channeled properly, FORC may wind up as a benefit to the community, and return them to their service mission that could help to restore the communities’ faith and trust in them, and help make Runyon Canyon Park sustainable for the future.

(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].)

-cw

Previous columns in the Runyon Canyon Park series: 

  • Backroom Plan for Basketball in Runyon Canyon Park Continues to Unravel … Tension Mounts

Tim Deegan May 5, 2016 CityWatch 

  • LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue

Tim Deegan April 21 CityWatch 

  • Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!

Tim Deegan April 11, 2016 CityWatch

 

 

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Is DWP Pretending We Have Enough Water … to Keep the Developers Happy?

GUEST WORDS--Hardly anybody outside of city government has heard of the 2015 Urban Water Management Plan, but this obscure document has huge implications for the future of Los Angeles.  The DWP is set to adopt the 2015 UWMP on June 7, in spite of the fact that the picture it gives of our water resources is largely inaccurate.  What's more, it's likely that city officials will use the DWP's absurdly optimistic projections to greenlight even more reckless development. 

For those who aren't familiar with the process, the preparation of the UWMP is mandated by the State of California.  Every five years, water agencies are required to create a plan that shows how they're managing their water resources.  It makes perfect sense.  I'm sure everyone reading this understands how important it is that we practice effective stewardship in this area. 

Unfortunately, the phrase "effective stewardship" doesn't really come to mind leafing through the draft of the 2015 UWMP.  A better phrase to describe the authors' conclusions would be "completely divorced from reality".  But let's start with some facts.... 

Here in LA we only get about 10% of our water from local sources.  Almost 90% of the water we use comes from outside LA, most of it the result of runoff from snowpacks in the Sierras and the Rockies.  Here's the bad news.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, between 1955 and 2015, April snowpacks in the Western United States declined 23% on average.  In other words, if you're thinking this is a cyclical drought and everything will get back to normal in a year or two, think again.  The snowpacks have been declining for decades, and all the current data indicates the trend will continue.  This means that the sources we rely on for almost 90% of our water are shrinking steadily. 

The 2015 UWMP acknowledges that we're getting less water from the Sierras, and that deliveries from the LA Aqueduct have been drastically reduced.  During the 2014/2015 period, the LAA brought us less than 14% of what it delivered during the same period 30 years ago.  And do you know how much water we got from the Aqueduct between April and September 2015?  Not a drop.  The LAA was dammed for months to comply with an agreement we've made with the people in the Owens Valley. 

So how are we going to replace the water we used to get from the LA Aqueduct?  The 2015 UWMP offers the usual talk about recycling and stormwater capture, both of which are certainly important, but I’ll talk about that later.  Right now, let’s focus on this section from the Executive Summary under the heading Water Transfers. 

“LADWP plans on acquiring water through transfers of up to 40,000 AFY [acre feet per year] to replace a portion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (LAA) water used for environmental enhancements in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The City would purchase water when available and economically beneficial for storage or delivery to LADWP’s transmission and distribution system.” 

The problem with this is, there’s no guarantee that the Metropolitan Water District, or any other water agency, will be able to spare 40,000 acre feet every year for the next 25 years.  The UWMP mentions transfers of water originally intended for agriculture in the Central Valley.  What?  Have they seen the photos of landscapes collapsing due to overpumping?  Are the farmers in the Central Valley just going to hand over 40,000 AFY?  To back up its claims, the 2015 UWMP offers a chart titled “MWD Forecast Supplies of Groundwater Storage and Transfers in 2040, Average Year (1922 – 2004 Hydrology) “.  Note the dates in parentheses.  They’re basing their calculations on conditions that existed well before the current crisis began.  And they’re using those figures to project water supplies 25 years into the future. 

Let’s move on to groundwater.  Historically the city’s aquifers have given us 10% to 15% of what we use in a year.  But according to the 2015 UWMP, we can boost that to almost half our supply by 2040.  Check out this statement from the Executive Summary. 

“The exhibits show that the City’s locally-developed supplies will increase from 14 percent to 49 percent in dry years or to 47 percent in average years.”  

This is a pretty amazing statement.  But it’s this next sentence that really knocked me out. 

These local supplies are not influenced by variability in hydrology, and will become the cornerstone of LA’s future water supplies. 

To say that our groundwater resources are not influenced by variability in hydrology is absolutely untrue.  It’s a ridiculous claim, and the people at the DWP know it.  Groundwater in LA, just like groundwater all over the world, is subject to constant variations in hydrological conditions.  This is especially true in the Western US given the ongoing changes happening to our climate.  For the DWP to make this statement at all is absurd, but to put it in a document that will be used in planning for the next 25 years is incredibly irresponsible.  

Adding to the uncertainty about our groundwater resources is the fact that about half of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are currently closed due to industrial pollution.  The DWP is planning to build treatment plants to purify the water from these wells, but nobody knows when they’ll actually break ground.  At this point they don’t even have the funding lined up. 

And this leads us back to the DWP’s plans for recycling and stormwater capture.  There’s no question that we need to pursue both aggressively.  To its credit, the DWP has already made some progress in both areas, and has ambitious plans for the future.  But let’s not kid ourselves.  At this point, the DWP’s recycling and stormwater capture programs are in their infancy.  The majority of the projects listed in the 2015 UWMP are still in the planning stages.  Making them happen is going to be a long, complex process.  The DWP rate increase will help, but nobody knows what the eventual cost will be.  Getting approvals for these projects will require cooperation from private interests and government agencies.  In other words, talking about these projects is a lot different from actually making them happen.  The 2015 UWMP claims that we’ll be getting half our water from local sources by 2040, based in large part on the assumption that all their plans for recycled water and stormwater capture will go without a hitch.  That’s simply not going to happen. 

To put all this in context, it’s not news that the City of LA is inflating its claims about access to water.  We’ve been doing it for decades, and so have many other cities all over the Southwest.  Why?  In order to promote development.  If you want to get investors to back construction in your city, you have to guarantee that they’ll have access to all the water they need.  So the 2015 UWMP is really just the latest chapter in our long history of lying about our water resources. 

Then why does any of this matter?  It matters because the situation has changed.   All through the 20th century, whenever we needed water we’d just reach out and grab it from somewhere else.  The LA Aqueduct, the State Water Project and the Colorado River Aqueduct were built to support development in rapidly growing cities throughout the Southwest, with LA being the biggest customer.  

The problem is, we can’t do that anymore.  The snowpacks in the Sierras and the Rockies are shrinking.  Water flowing through the Colorado River is declining.  Farmland in the Central Valley is collapsing.  And for the first time in its history, the LA Aqueduct has gone dry.  

This is why the DWP Board of Commissioners must not adopt the 2015 UWMP at its June 7 meeting.  For them, voting to approve this largely fictional document is just business as usual.  It’s what the City of LA has been doing for decades in order to insure that City Hall can justify any amount of development.  I’m not arguing that we should halt development.  What I’m saying is that we need to plan for future development based on a realistic assessment of the water resources we actually have.  The 2015 UWMP is far from realistic. 

Let me put this as simply as possible.  We need water to survive.  LA, along with the State of California, is in the middle of an unprecedented water crisis.  If we don’t change the status quo and take a long, hard look at reality, we could end up compromising resources that are crucial to LA’s survival. 

This is serious, folks. 

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

-cw

Hell No! No More Taxes, Fees or Bond Measures

JUST THE FACTS--Don’t be fooled and fall for all the talk and commercials generating from City Hall about More Taxes and Fees and Bond Measures that are being proposed by city leaders to address Transportation, the Homeless Crisis, Lack of Affordable Housing, Crime and myriad other social issues facing the City of Los Angeles and our region of Southern California. 

I will start with Transportation and the 7-day a week gridlock we face on our local streets and freeways. While we are glued to our cars, we are being pressed and encouraged to support a tax increase for the next 40 YEARS to address the freeway and roadway traffic gridlock in the region served by the Metropolitan Transit Authority. 

The problem is not the lack of connecting roadways and freeways and surface streets for us to use in our travels. It is the over development of residential apartments and condos in and around every inch of land that is available. 

The problem is that the rich developers want to chew up every inch of land to build apartments and condos at market rate prices. Nothing that is affordable for the middle class or senior population with many living on social security. When we examine our transportation gridlock, the answer is not more buses and trains to the rescue. 

At the present time, how many of you ever ride the public transportation on a regular schedule? I bet few of you reading this article are regular public transit riders. I know this since I have used the Orange Line, Red Line and Blue Line on occasion. Many of the rides are reflective of our marijuana culture. I know this because every time I have ridden the public transit lines, the area has a distinct odor of Marijuana. 

Many of the women I have spoken to state that they will never ride the public transit lines due to their fear of becoming the victim of a crime. So to conclude, spending our hard earned tax dollars on additional public transit lines will not reduce the congestion and gridlock on our roads. We are a car-oriented society and that is not going to change in the years ahead. 

Remember that it was the politicians and city planners and auto industry that scrapped the Red Line and other public transit systems from our region many years ago and pushed us into those nice cars with all the comfort features we have come to enjoy. Galpin Motors would not be the world leader in Ford sales for over 25 years if we liked and used public transportation. 

So, my recommendation is vote NO on any new tax proposal for more public transportation. Remember they want this tax to last the next 40 years. Our grandchildren’s children will be faced with this tax for many years to come.

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When Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a Housing Emergency almost a year ago, it was because he was forced to do something since the situation was and remains out of control, while negatively impacting communities all around Los Angeles. Since that time, we have not seen anything significantly done to address the problem. The only remedy is the request for more money. 

With an $8 BILLION DOLLAR-plus city budget, a few thousand dollars does little to correct the current situation. Recent reports by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority illustrate the growing homeless situation in and around Los Angeles County. 

Across LA County, homelessness has increased 5.6 percent and this is on top of the 12.4 % from the previous two years. What is truly alarming is that homelessness has increased 36% in the San Fernando Valley. With a 2% vacancy rate across Los Angeles, finding housing … especially affordable housing … becomes more and more difficult. And finally, of the homeless population increase, 25% are seniors who have been unable to find housing.

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My final review deals with the increasing crime trends in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. As the murders continue to increase along other violent crimes, neighborhoods buckle under to protect their families. There have been propositions that have contributed to cleaning out the prisons and putting the criminal element back on the streets. Prop 109 and Prop 47 are two of he measures that have been partly responsible for making our cities across California less safe. A new proposal by Governor Brown will continue the trend of putting more criminals on our streets. We have gone up and down with crime over the years. The recent trends show continued increases in crime. 

If you care about your city and county and state, take the time to vote in this Tuesday in California’s Primary Election. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

                

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Enough is Enough”! Energized Angelenos Kick Off Quest for Signatures for Neighborhood Integrity Initiative

CITYWATCH VOX POP-Cheering for an end to overdevelopment and new hope for community empowerment, activists from Venice to NoHo to the Wilshire District rallied in Frogtown on Wednesday to kick off signature-gathering for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a citizen measure aiming for the March 2017 ballot. 

The diverse crowd shouted “No More!” just outside the planned “Bimbo Bakery” luxury complex, which will dwarf the Latino enclave of Elysian Valley — and which sets a disturbing precedent for devoting much of the river to “waterfront” homes for households of $500,000 to $750,000 and up. 

Residents of Frogtown, or Elysian Valley, spoke out side by side with residents from the Westside, Hollywood, Wilshire District and Valley. 

Melissa Arechiga, an Elysian Valley resident whose parents were among the last families to be evicted during the infamous destruction of Chavez Ravine to make room for Dodger Stadium, told reporters, “We want to make sure that what happened at Chavez Ravine doesn’t happen again.” 

Arechiga worries that the box-like, 117-unit luxury project along Blake Avenue, just a few miles from Chavez Ravine said the so-called Blake Avenue Riverfront Project will destroy the character of the neighborhood and price out its working-class residents. 

Robert Leyland, an elected member of the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council, told the crowd in Frogtown that the “out-of-scale” Riverfront project was a hot topic during the recent ouster of Neighborhood Council members who worked closely with numerous developers who see Elysian Valley as hot. 

“The pro-development candidates lost, and the neighbors won” key seats in the Neighborhood Council elections, Leyland reported, to the cheers of activists from across LA. 

Jill Stewart, campaign director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said the 2017 measure, which needs about 65,000 signatures to make the ballot, is “hotly opposed by developers and City Hall politicians who have accepted millions of dollars from developers since 2000.” 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the City Council to create a General Plan for LA's aging infrastructure and to plan out the city's future based on real, not exaggerated, population projections. 

The City Council has shirked this core duty for more than a decade, leaving a Wild West system driven by wealthy, and often foreign, developers and their bankers. Current infrastructure plans at City Hall, for example, date from the 1950s. 

Stewart dispelled a key falsehood being publicly repeated by City Council members — “their lie that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative halts most development for two years.” In fact, the narrowly crafted two-year timeout affects “3% to 5% of projects in Los Angeles — those so far out of character for the community and its infrastructure that these projects require a full legislative exemption vote from the City Council,” Stewart said. 

She explained, to applause from supporters, that the vast majority of Los Angeles development plays by the rules. Nor will the measure slow down construction of 100 percent affordable housing, which is exempted from the timeout aimed at City Council mischief. 

What will face a tough time when the initiative is approved, Stewart said, are the kinds of giant, rule-bending projects that are now recklessly swamping entire neighborhoods with their impacts. 

Instead, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative brings in the community, forcing the City Council to work with the community, at meetings held only at night and on weekends, to update the 35 Community Plans — reforms that could protect the Los Angeles River, for example, from luxury condos now being planned behind closed doors. 

From Koreatown, attorney Grace Yoo gave a dramatic example of City Hall's secretive dealings: the proposed 27-story luxury Catalina Avenue skyscraper in a two-story neighborhood on a tiny street about the width of the one in Frogtown. Her group NAME TK and the Coalition to Preserve LA recently sued to halt the project, which has already destroyed affordable housing — and will mean the destruction of even more. 

“Enough is enough,” said Yoo. “The City Council needs to respect the community.” 

Stewart said the location for the rally was chosen because the luxury project approved on the river, a citywide resource, exemplified what’s wrong with City Hall’s out of date, developer-oriented General Plan and Community Plans. 

The geographic and ethnic diversity represented by community leaders at Wednesday’s kickoff showed the Coalition to Preserve LA campaign is reaching neighborhoods in all corners of LA. “This is a city-wide movement,” Stewart said. “That’s got to frighten our opponents — developers and City Hall.” 

Mannie Flores of the Pico-Union Westlake community said he was supporting the initiative because it will give greater control to a community fighting an uphill battle against displacement and gentrification. Even with the LA Unified School District on its side, his area is fighting hard to prevent an influx of restaurant-nightclubs, and drinking drivers, near community schools. 

Community plans, as sought by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and heavily influenced by residents, not by developers, could restrict locations of alcohol-serving businesses. 

Sylvie Shain, a community organizer, told initiative supporters the story of her fights to obtain justice for tenants, including a Vietnam War veteran, evicted from their homes on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood because the new owners want to turn rent-controlled apartment into haute hotel rooms. 

Echo Park artist Anne Hars caused a sensation when she shared with the crowd a flyer she designed on the spur of the moment to capture her views of the disruption caused by the overweening influence of developers. 

The flyer shows a developer directing a bulldozer to knock down a house as the family/tenants run for their lives. The flyer’s inscription says: “Welcome to Garcettiville.” (Photo above.) Hars is well-known for putting up balloons around homes that are slated to be bulldozed to make way for developers’ projects. 

Equally popular were the petitions that need to be circulated and signed by registered voters to get the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot. 

Questions and answers were also shared at the event. One question: can a petition circulator obtain signatures from folks who live outside their immediate neighborhoods? Answer: Absolutely. The only issue is making sure the signer is a registered voter and resident of Los Angeles. 

Another question: can my neighborhood council endorse the initiative? Answer: Absolutely. A Neighborhood Council may vote to endorse a ballot measure. But councils are barred from endorsing individual political candidates.

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

-cw

DWP Report Covering IBEW Non-Profit Reforms Comes Up Short

PERSPECTIVE--The DWP GM’s long-awaited report on the status of reforms at the Joint Institutes for Safety and Training, the two non profits who have eaten through over $40M of DWP ratepayer money, was released on May 12th.

As with her first report last September, General Manager Marcie Edwards failed to provide any substantiation of reported progress. This is in direct contradiction of promoting “the purposes of transparency and follow-up,” as she claimed in her cover memo of this latest report. 

It only remains to be seen if Edwards, who openly criticized City Controller Ron Galperin’s audit of the trusts, legally changes her name to Marcie D’Arcy.

Before I dive into the report, “Let’s do the numbers,” as Kai Rysdall of American Public Media’s popular Marketplace broadcast says.

Unfortunately, the Trusts have not published their audited financial statements since the end of fiscal year 2013, compelling me to rely on the IRS 990 filings for 2014 data. The 990s are short on detail, but there is enough to point to an increase in cash accumulation of $500K over the previous year.

 

That brings the total cash for the two trusts to $11.3M, pushing three times the annual contribution they receive from us, the ratepayers. Still no explanation is forthcoming as to what plans there are for this excess funding.

It is worth noting that the trusts are 501(c)(6) corporations.

IRC 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.

It would appear, then, that some of the $11.3M could work its way into political action. The Trusts previously reported they wanted the money for a “rainy day fund.” Not a bad idea, since it would help offset the $4M IBEW Local 18 poured into Wendy Greuel’s failed campaign for mayor.

The rapid growth in prepaid expenses from $75K to $991K over three years in the Joint Safety Institute raises questions. Is it an advance for a major program – or perhaps junkets for the next few years? A reconciliation of the account is in order. Ordinarily, prepaid expenditures tend to level out in most organizations owing to timing (as appears to be the case at the Joint Training Institute).

Edwards’ report pointed to accomplishments, but offered no evidence of what the specific steps were, not even a hint. It alludes to the establishment of formal spending and contracting policies, without sharing so much as a summary; the same for assurances that there would be adequate segregation of duties – a vital safeguard against fraud.

Perhaps the most pathetic admission is the failure to identify duplication of services between the two trusts. At the same time a dedicated manager has been engaged to invest the Trusts’ cash even though the city is capable of handling the role.

No justification was given for the $220K salaries paid to each of the administrators beyond being linked to the DWP pay scale. You would think the jobs could be consolidated.

Edwards did not question any of the assertions.

It is time to authorize another audit of the Trusts by the City Controller. This time, the audit should focus on the reform process and the so-called accomplishments. Otherwise, the report is nothing more than a “trust me” statement.

Would you trust an unaudited report from an organization with an unscrupulous track record?

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

-cw

Bernie and The Donald are Right! The Game IS Rigged, Particularly in California

EASTSIDER-So it’s political season again, and the other day I was wondering about two things for this week’s article. First was, how much does it cost to buy an Assembly seat in California? Second was, why in god’s name would Jose Huizar care about homeless people? Lucky me, the Internet (and CityWatch, of course) saved me yet again. 

Let’s do the easy one first -- our very own Council District 14’s Jose Huizar. Goodness knows he’s personally created enough homeless people with his propensity to do anything any developer wants, including wiping out affordable housing in the name of saving affordable housing, having the police sweep folks up out of Skid Row to make way for new downtown developments, and approving skybridges between the developments downtown so that the tenants don’t have to be bothered with the smell and reality of those living below them. 

When I saw in the LA Times that Huizar had become a champion of a one “B” as in Billion dollar bond for the homeless, I was momentarily perplexed. 

It was a good bet that guilt and remorse were not on his list of reasons for doing this, so why indeed would he, of all people, care? CityWatch to the rescue, in the form of Richard Lee Abrams’ very cool article last week about bonds for the homeless

Eureka! The answer is simple -- the scumbag real estate developers are in trouble!

I always wondered exactly who could afford the obscene rents in their new developments, and Mr. Abrams demonstrated the obvious answer: no one can or will. Vacancies are up, what’s left of the middle class is beatin’ it out of Dodge, and the developers are in a pickle. 

For example, I could never figure out who actually lives in the giant Orsini development on Sunset Blvd by the Hall of Administration, because it looked like about 10 people were actually renting in this monstrosity. 

Now I have the answer. No one really lives there. It’s just like the housing market when the banks kept churning out mortgage CDO’s way past the point of no return until the collapse. Here as well, the development machine has to keep on building until the bottom falls out. 

Gallopin’ Jose to the rescue. Since the only population statistic LA has that’s growing is its homeless population (thanks to the developers and City Hall,) so how to extract some money from them? After all, they don’t have any money. 

BONDS! Of course, let’s put a billion dollars of liability on the taxpayers, to fuel the developers’ machine. Of course it won’t actually work, as a recent LA Times article points out, but, what the hey, build them and don’t worry about who’s actually going to be able to get in. LA politics at their blatant worst. 

And that’s the tie in to my question about what it costs to buy an Assembly seat…as well as why our City is simply one giant ATM machine to the developers. 

See, at least I know what it costs to buy an LA City Council seat -- about $400,000 to $500,000 cash up front before you announce. Unless, of course, it’s a fight between two professional politicians contesting the same seat. But when it comes to buying an Assembly seat, I had no idea – but recent legislative changes got me to wondering. 

Dan Walters to the rescue, it turns out that the short answer is, the cost varies -- based on which District you run for, and what ballot initiatives will be on the November ballot! 

You see, back in 2011 the governor and the legislature changed the rules of the game for state wide runoffs and ballot measures. Courtesy of SB 202 (2011), ballot measures must appear on the November instead of the June ballot. Add in the “top two” primary system change from Proposition 14 (2010), and the June primaries became a sort of second-rate event. The real action comes in November. 

Here’s how the combination of these two changes revised the fiscal math of winning a seat in the California legislature. First, it made most of the elections a one party runoff. Since almost all the seats are gerrymandered to be guaranteed safe for either a Democrat or a Republican, the top two primary vote getters are usually from the same party. The old system saw the top Republican and top Democrat face off in November, no matter how many votes each got. 

Whether it was intended or not, this makes the buying and selling of legislative seats in the primary a lot less interesting because the runoff is usually the top two Dems or Republicans in a given District -- instead of our “old” two party everywhere system. Essentially, insiders only need apply. Makes you think that Bernie and the Donald are right about the system being rigged, doesn’t it? 

Prime example here would be between Kamila Harris and Loretta Sanchez in the Senate race to replace Barbara Boxer. They will likely be the two winners out of a field of some 34 candidates for that gravy-no-term-limit position, so the primary is just a warmup. Watch for party machinery, money and endorsements, arm twisting, those kinds of things. And Republican candidates probably won’t get bunch of votes. Parenthetically, I’m told the smart money is on Willie Brown’s pony in the race, Kamila Harris. 

The second change involves our initiative process – it’s where the money variable really comes into play because there’s a ton of money behind some of these initiatives. That money is usually going to go to one of the top two November candidates. 

As an example, let’s look at the 4th Assembly District, way up around Lake/Yolo/Napa Counties. There is no incumbent, and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D) has suddenly become the beneficiary of some $700,000 from front groups backed by Chevron and Valero oil companies. Wonder why? C’mon, no you don’t -- Big Oil has an interest in the outcome. 

And look at the millions of special interest dollars that will be spent on stuff like the billion dollar bond measure for the homeless. On top of that, right now, statewide, we have the pot initiative, maybe an extension of the Governor’s Prop 30 sales tax, bonds for Education, as well as the Metro 1/2 cent sales tax measure. And back to our 4th Assembly district race…just coincidentally, there’s also talk about an “oil extraction tax” on you know who.   

If you think that the players in these ballot measures aren’t going to give to their favorite politicians to curry favor (sounds nicer than buying their vote), then you still believe in the tooth fairy. 

And the Point Is... 

Like the headline says, Bernie and the Donald agree on one thing -- the game is rigged. And it is. This isn’t about Democrat or Republican, it’s about how politics really works in 2016, particularly here in California. Most of these state offices are locked in by political gerrymandering to be permanently (D) dem or (R) rep. My little traipse through reality is simply an explanation about how the political parties, special interests, lobbyists and political consultants manipulate us like Monsanto’s genetically modified food crops. 

So think about this article when you vote on the June primary ballot or in the November general election. Check out the results and see if I’m right in my analysis. Get disgusted, get angry, and get involved.

 

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

 

 

After All the Screaming: Quiet, Mobility and Open Space

THE EXPO LINE--Memorial Day, my son and I had the pleasure of a quiet, enjoyable walk in the area where so much hullabaloo over the Expo Line occurred over the past two decades. That highly-disputed region between Overland Avenue and the 405 freeway.  The trains were quiet, and pretty much hidden behind the sound walls. The main noise coming from children on their roller skates and a considerable number of bicyclists. 

Is this widened right of way, particularly near the Westwood/Rancho Park station, the "Palms Park West" that some Expo advocates (including myself) fought for?  No.  But the pedestrians, bicyclists, and skaters now have a nice new place to travel, and I dare say the children and their parents from Rancho Park and adjacent neighborhoods will be the biggest winners. (Photo above: Palms sound wall.) 

Is this widened right of way one big parking lot?  No--there is a lot of need, and very short supply, of good parking spaces (not free, but affordable and to enhance overall community access to this new light rail line) for the Expo Line.  This is particularly true for the "regional" stations at Bundy/Olympic, Exposition/Sepulveda, and Venice/Robertson but not so ideal for the "local/neighborhood" stations at Westwood/Rancho Park. 

The private sector can and should be expected to come up with transit-oriented residential development that requires parking spots for long-distance Expo Line commuters who live far away, but with financial incentives to keep those living near the line to minimize use of automobiles .  Workforce housing and senior/student housing advocates also have a golden opportunity for affordable and transit-oriented housing. 

The biggest problem, arguably, is the poor quality of the sidewalks on major thoroughfares such as Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards: 

1) Pity that all the screaming that Rancho Park and Cheviot Hills did, to the waste of hundreds of thousands of legal dollars from dues-paying homeowners associations, wasn't focused on redoing and repairing the sidewalks on Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards between Pico and National Blvds.  Pity also that consensus for a rail bridge over Overland Ave. wasn't fought for, but at least we can fight for better sidewalks and bus stations. 

2) Pity also that both the City Council and City Attorney haven't been able to come up with a legal answer to prevent the homeless from setting up quasi-permanent residence on the Sepulveda Blvd. sidewalks below the I-10 freeway overpasses.  The Exposition/Sepulveda station, however, is clean and free from graffiti, homeless encampments, and other urban blight...and we should keep it that way. 

The Mar Vista Community Council just unanimously voted for expedition of repairing our City's sidewalks from a woefully-insufficient 30-year schedule to a 7-10 year schedule, and starting with our sidewalks (particularly near our transit stations) would be a true no-brainer. 

The need for high-quality smart bus benches for the transit-dependent on Sepulveda and National Blvds. would also be a step up for those who must, and those who want, to access transit and mobility without their cars. Until that happens, it's just not fair to expect anyone to use bus transit unless they're financially forced to do so...and it's not like other cities and counties don't have quality bus shelters/benches. 

And while speeding up the line with signal prioritization Downtown for the trains is an issue, the ridership is still very high for the Expo Line (at least 45,000/day and counting) because Santa Monica, West LA, Culver City, the Mid-City, and Downtown LA are all key locations to access.  It's worth pondering how future Laker, Clipper and other sports teams' games will be impacted by the presence of the Expo Line. 

It's no secret that the first step is always the most painful...and hence we needed an Expo Line Authority to get this legally-difficult piece of infrastructure done at all.  It's also no secret that the reason that insufficient speed and mitigation for the Expo Line rests almost entirely on those who opposed the line, and not on Metro and the LADOT, who just wanted a convenient, safe, and attractive ride for those who wanted a new mobility option. 

But for now, as of last Memorial Day, it was a nice day to walk, roller skate, bicycle, or just sit down on a bench and take in a new stretch of open space that used to be nothing but weeds and sawdust--and it's my guess that all the rumors of property values in Rancho Park and adjacent neighborhoods going UP are absolutely true now. 

The best end to a fight is often a calm, pleasant silence as a final "statement" and "resolution".  I'm glad we can finally enjoy this golden silence for now, and hopefully for the indefinite future.

 

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

-cw

A ‘Diet’ to Give California Drivers Indigestion

NEW GEOGRAPHY-In the past, it was other people’s governments that would seek to make your life more difficult. But increasingly in California, the most effective war being waged is one the state has aimed at ourselves. 

The Jerry Brown administration’s obsession with becoming a global model for reducing greenhouse gases is leading to an unprecedented drive to completely reshape how Californians live. Rather than focus on more pragmatic, affordable steps to reduce greenhouse gases – more efficient cars, rooftop solar systems and promoting home-based work – the goal increasingly seems like social engineering designed to force Californians to adopt the high-density, transit-oriented future preferred by Brown’s green priesthood. 

The newest outrage comes from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in the form of a proposed “road diet.” This would essentially halt attempts to expand or improve our roads, even when improvements have been approved by voters. This strategy can only make life worse for most Californians, since nearly 85 percent of us use a car to get to work. This in a state that already has among the worst-maintained roads in the country, with two-thirds of them in poor or mediocre condition. 

The OPR move reflects the increasingly self-righteous extremism animating the former Jesuit’s underlings. Ironically, the governor’s proposals to impose this road diet rest partly on expanding the California Environmental Quality Act, which Brown, in a more insightful moment, described as a “vampire” that needs a “stake through the heart.” Now, instead, the inquisitors seize on vague legislative language and push it to what the Southern California Leadership Council has dubbed “an undesirable and unmanageable extreme.” 

In essence, the notion animating the “road diet” is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit. It’s not planning for how to make the ways people live today more sustainable. It has, in fact, more in common with Soviet-style social engineering, which was based similarly on a particular notion of “science” and progressive values. 

Brown’s green political theology already has done much to devastate the state’s heavily minority working class. Despite its improved economy, California ranks the very worst in such measurements as poverty, once the cost of living is factored in, among all states, including Mississippi. By the most recent estimates, roughly one in three California households, largely minorities, lives close to, or in, poverty. 

The higher electricity costs caused by Brown’s policies impact the poorer, heavily minority inland areas, where residents are more dependent on heating and cooling than in the wealthier, and generally whiter, more temperate coastal areas. It also makes manufacturing and other blue-collar industries that employ them ever less competitive. The state’s policies have also made it, according to one recent survey, “the worst” state in America in which to be a trucker. Policies that make the roads worse won’t make that situation any better. 

Brown’s green jihad is also burdening housing development. Despite high prices and demand, California has consistently failed to build enough housing, both single-family and multifamily structures, largely due to regulatory constraints. What is being built, after leaping over numerous hurdles, tends to be very expensive, or, in the case of affordable housing, can be achieved only with massive subsidies. 

Some suggest that policies promoting higher density lead to more affordable housing and a lower cost of living. Given the high costs of building such housing, this notion is absurd. Indeed, research consistently shows that dense cities – Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco – are also among the least-affordable in the nation. 

Increasingly, California’s middle class is also suffering from these policies. High housing costs are already putting ownership out of reach even for fairly affluent families, something that does not bode well long-term for our human capital. Some tech workers have started to relocate, notably to lower-cost areas such as Texas and Arizona. Many more, suggests a recent Beacon Economics study, will migrate in the future, as they enter their thirties. 

In a sense, the “road diet” can be seen as the state adding insult to injury – and in a way that is seriously detached from reality. Los Angeles, for example, has spent $16 billion on a rail system, but the share of people taking transit in the entire region has actually declined. One has to be utterly delusional, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti arguably is, to think that anti-driving policies and transit will actually make Angelenos more mobile. 

But for the bureaucratic clerics at OPR, how regular people live does not constitute the Holy Grail. Instead, they want to use “the coercive power of the state,” recently celebrated by Gov. Brown, to make driving ever more miserable. OPR even is considering mandating devices on cars that measure mileage. Oddly, the “road diet” makes no distinction between electric cars, hybrids or economical cars as opposed to gas guzzlers. 

For the OPR, driving is intrinsically undesirable. Hence, road improvements are bad because they “likely lead to an increase in [vehicle miles traveled].” For most Californians, cars remain easily the more efficient option; in Southern California, the average transit commute takes nearly twice as long as driving alone. And federal data shows this to be the case across the nation, including in New York, the city with by far the nation’s best transit system. Indeed, Hong Kong, with its high density and high-quality transit system, comes the closest to the goals of folks like OPR and Mayor Garcetti, with work trip travel times 75 percent greater than in Los Angeles. 

Even as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gases, the road diet won’t be much help. In fact, ever more congested freeways – the likely result of the road diet – could actually increase carbon emissions, as well as other pollutants, something the OPR planners largely ignore. More pragmatic ways to address congestion and reduce greenhouse gases – promoting improved mileage, electric cars, ride-sharing as well as more telecommuting – can accomplish these objectives without purposely inconveniencing Californians. Meaningful greenhouse gas reductions, notes a report by McKinsey and Co., can be achieved without reducing driving and without living in denser housing.

Basically, the road diet, like much of the Brown agenda, will do little to suppress warming even as it succeeds in making Californians more miserable. For one thing, California is too small to have any measurable effect on a global phenomenon. Indeed, these policies could prove self-defeating, as they chase residents and industries to other states and countries with more energy-consuming climates and less-strict regulation. 

In a more rational world, such hostile policies would lead to push-back from the citizenry. But California is an increasingly left-leaning, one-party state where issues are rarely debated. Pockets of resistance inside the Democratic Party to Brown and his agenda – many of them minorities from the state’s interior – are being criticized by the state’s gentry class, an effort financed by the omnipresent hedge-fund billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his legislative minions. 

Sadly, it may be years before the public is fully aware of these issues, and what they mean for people’s daily lives. Voters may soon find that, if they pass a bond measure, such as one being proposed for Los Angeles that includes road improvements, that Gov. Brown’s planning elite will eliminate them. This classic “bait and switch” would leave drivers shelling out money for investments that don’t make their commutes easier. 

Ultimately, congestion will become more and more the norm, while governments pour ever more funds into transportation systems that don’t really take cars off the road. There will be manna from heaven – in the form of Sacramento spending – for politically connected developers, construction unions and contractors, as well as for those politicians they so generously fund. But for most Californians, the memory of greater mobility will fade into oblivion. 

Ultimately, only Californians can slow or reverse this unwise drive toward a society that is gridlocked not only on the roads, but also in terms of class and upward mobility. The middle-class dream of better incomes, good public schools and up-to-date infrastructure is slowly being erased by an over-reaching regulatory state that rewards the well-connected but devastates the middle class. This process can only be reversed when Californians finally stand up and say, as a people, basta ya! Enough already!

 

(Joel Kotkin is a R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston. His newest book is “The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us.” This was first posted at newgeography.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

There’s Much More to Next Week’s CA Primary than Bernie and Hillary

GELFAND’S WORLD--We have some crucial decisions to make next Tuesday, June 7, but most Californians seem to have forgotten about everything except Hillary vs. Bernie. The Barbara Boxer senatorial seat is open, along with the congressional seat currently held by Janice Hahn. 

Things are made complicated by the modified blanket primary that California now uses. Some of you may remember it from a previous election -- for any one office such as U.S. Senate, all candidates are listed, no matter what party or absence of party. This election, there are 35 candidates in your Voter Information Guide running for the Senate. The frontrunner is state Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose main opponent on the Democratic side appears to be Loretta Sanchez. There are 11 candidates listing themselves under No Party Preference, which is the term we now use for what used to be called Decline to State. On the Republican side, we find (blast from the past) Ron Unz and others. 

The gimmick is that for each office, the top 2 vote getters will end up on the November ballot, whether they are from different parties or from the same party. It's possible therefore that Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez could face each other in November, even though one would have gotten more votes than the other in Tuesday's primary. 

The June vote is no longer a party primary, at least in districts where one party has a strong majority in voter representation. 

Notice that your own party registration is also now moot (except for the presidential primary) because every voter gets to vote for any candidate of any party (or non-party) for each office except the presidency. Even then, those of us registered as No Party Preference are allowed to vote in the Democratic presidential primary if we choose. 

There is one congressional race that is of particular interest. Congressional District 38 is being vacated by Janice Hahn, resulting in a large number of candidates. Here are a few characteristics of this district: 

It runs from the harbor in the south (Wilmington and San Pedro) up through Compton and South Gate. 

It includes a bloc of African American voters to the north. 

Overall, it is approximately 70 percent Latino. 

The two contenders are Isadore Hall (African American) and Nanette Barragan (Latina). 

You might look at this district as having been crafted to be a Latino seat in the last redistricting. Nevertheless, Hall has accumulated an amazing collection of endorsements. You want mayors, state Senators, congressmen, Assemblymen? He's got them all. You want the Democratic Party of California and its subsidiary branches? He's got them. Hall seems to have been the heir apparent to Janice Hahn, because he got her endorsement for the race early on. 

Barragan seems to have come into the race a bit later, and (it is rumored), is the choice of the Latino caucus, who recognized that a seat that should by rights belong to them was heading elsewhere. 

But there is one thing about the Barragan candidacy that makes it interesting on a regional and even national level. Barragan is endorsed as someone who will fight against global warming. An organization called Climate Hawks Vote has given her a strong endorsement. The term Climate Hawks refers to those who don't and won't pussyfoot around about the reality of global warming. In an era in which conservative interests have been able to get away with either avoiding the issue ("I'm not a scientist") or outright lying ("global warming is a fraud"), it's time to recruit and support candidates who speak for scientific reality and our critical need to take action. 

The Climate Hawks Vote endorsement goes even further, painting Hall as a faux environmentalist, pointing out how he used the state senate's voting rules to make himself look more environmental than he really is: 

"By sharp contrast, her primary opponent fights for Big Oil. Last week during a critical vote on a fracking bill, state legislator Isadore Hall III was sitting on the sidelines with his friends at Western States Petroleum Association as the vote count seemed to stall at 19 (it needed 21 for passage). He told them his voting strategy - he would abstain so as to not cast the deciding vote, but if two others voted for it he’d have to go along so as to not hurt his reputation with the greens. Fortunately for Hall’s entirely undeserved reputation, two others voted yes, so he cast vote no. 22. He’s the number-two recipient of oil money in the state legislature last year.  Now he’s running for Congress in south Los Angeles."  

Hall, by the way, claims to be pro-environment, and refers to cap-and-trade legislation that has his name on it. Major environmental organizations endorsing Barragan don't seem to be buying into Hall's line. Instead, they refer to her leadership in beating back an initiative that would have allowed oil exploration off the coast of Hermosa Beach. 

For what it's worth, the Los Angeles Times has given Barragan its strong endorsement, making Hall out to be a conventional politician who has taken money from the gambling, tobacco, and oil industries, and defended their interests. 

CD 38 is going to be an interesting election. And as noted above, even if one of these two candidates defeats the other next week, it isn't over. Second place is where you need to finish to be in the money. 

One other point that realists will have to confront: Either candidate, in winning the CD38 seat, is heading to a long streak of watching the Republican majority call all the shots. Unless some electoral miracle occurs, this candidacy is at least a 6 year investment in Democratic Party seniority, while waiting for the possibility of redistricting giving the House back to the Democrats after the next census. We can expect either candidate to vote pretty much the Democratic Party ticket in the congress. 

The U.S. Senate race could also lead to an all-Democratic runoff in November. Any reasonably well known Republican candidate would be expected to finish between Harris and Sanchez, thereby making it to the finals, but it's not obvious that there is such a person this year.

 

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

-cw

The Free and the Brave … Confronting the Challenges of a More Complex World

Most of us who have heard of the vandalizing of the Vietnam War Memorial in Venice are still in a state of shock, and are calling on the LAPD to reverse their decision to not investigate the case.  But there is good news: the army of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who are growing up in respect to our fallen military are a much better representation of who we are. 

Last year, a small army of over 4,000 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Explorer Scouts, Sea Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies, Camp Fire Girls, and other youth groups placed over 86,000 flags early on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend at the West Los Angeles Veterans Memorial Cemetery.  This year that number was even higher, and it reflected a more prominent co-ed presence than ever. 

The girls stepped up, and the boys stepped up even more, judging from the ocean of uniformed youths I saw there.  And THAT is the true America we live in--both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts led the ceremonies this year, with a special speech from Jimmy Weldon of "Yakky Doodle" fame (yes, he can still do that beloved voice, even at age 90).  Reverence was discussed, and its tie-in to Old Glory...and then the youths went to work. 

Memorial Day is special, and started shortly after the Civil War.  It was originally called Decoration Day, and became Memorial Day.  Unlike Veterans Day, the holiday dedicated to thank and honor those who served in the military, Memorial Day is meant to commemorate those who served and died for our everyday liberties. 

We live in an ever-more-complicated world, with the needs of Americans to be respected and balanced with the needs of non-Americans.  The prioritization of Americans in our world has much to do with our current presidential election cycle...and taking on the difficult issues is something our youth will have to grapple with as much as did older generations. 

Very recently, President Obama visited Hiroshima and discussed the "evil that fell from the skies" in the form of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Many in Asia, the Philippines, and the United States believe that this evil was of Imperial Japan's own making, and reflect concern that the "War of Asian Liberation" (as it is so taught in Japan) doesn't show that Japan "gets it" like Germany does with that latter nation's Nazi past. 

Many have viewed President Obama's visit as an "apology", and demand that he visit Pearl Harbor to apologize to those buried there.  Well, President Obama DID visit Pearl Harbor this weekend.  President Obama is from Hawaii, and knows all too well the nightmare that was visited on our nation that awful day of December 7, 1941. 

And while those of us who study history and civics might recognize that the nuclear bombing of Japan simultaneously ended the Second World War, saved millions of American and Japanese lives (the Japanese were in training to fight to the death, including women and children), and send a message to Stalin and the Soviet Union that the War was over for them, too...clearly, the two nuclear bombings cannot and should not be something we should be "proud of". 

And while even today, the remains of our nation's fallen youth still only now make it home from where they fought in the South Pacific in World War Two, and remain as a beacon of dignity and sacrifice in Normandy and other battlefields in Europe, the agony and ambivalence of war and foreign conflicts must always be taught, and never forgotten. 

So while Congress now debates whether to require young women as well as young men to register for the draft at age 18, the ambivalence and challenges of that issue must be debated...because there probably IS no right answer.  Perhaps women SHOULD serve (perhaps there would be fewer wars if they helped run the military), and perhaps both men and women SHOULD all be required to serve two years in either civilian or military roles. 

Perhaps, too, both history and civics should make a come-back as required learning every year in high school, instead of the elective and/or two years that are currently part of our high school requirements ... to say nothing of our woefully-incomplete college requirements.

But on these two issues, there is NO ambivalence: 

1) The disgusting individuals who secretly defaced the Vietnam War Memorial in Venice did more than just burn American flags to make a point.  They are the villains, the losers, and the miscreants who reflect the worst of our society. 

2) The army of boys and girls (and their supportive parents) who descended on the West LA Veterans Memorial Cemetery last Saturday morning to place an ocean of American flags made their own point, and they did it for all to see.  They are the heroes, who are the newest wave of Americans, and who are of all ethnicities and both genders...and they reflect the best of our society.

And it's not hard to figure out which group outnumbers the other. 

God Bless America, and may the memory of our fallen heroes, who gave everything for our daily rights, happiness, and quality of life--and our FREEDOM--live forever in our hearts. 

 

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

-cw

 

The 8150 Sunset Project: Rotten to the Core

GUEST WORDS--I am often asked by exasperated residents: “How can the city approve this (8150 Sunset) project?” My answers have changed over the years because the attitude of our elected officials has changed. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I first became involved in neighborhood work, I think city politicians like John Ferraro actually cared about residents.

Today the only thing most politicians care about is their next election – and who will fund it. And to get that funding from the deep pockets of the developer class they will approve almost any project and break every promise they make to their constituents.

The negative impacts on communities from rubber-stamping any and everything developers’ desire doesn’t concern city politicians, because they will be long gone before “it” hits the fan. Politicians are masters of musical chairs. They dance to the tune of term limits and – before the music stops – routinely shuffle on to Sacramento, Congress, the County Board of Supervisors, or maybe even run for Governor.

Sometimes they even run for mayor and pretend they had nothing to do with anything bad that happened while they were on the City Council.

If I sound angry, it’s for good reason: I am.

I finally had a chance to look at the 8150 Sunset Project and I cannot believe what I saw – and what the Planning Department recommends that the Planning Commission (and eventually the full city council) approve.

For starters, this project has been mysteriously designated as an “environmental leadership development project” – which mandates that any actions or judicial proceedings, including potential appeals, brought to challenge the approval under CEQA must be resolved within 270 days after certification of the record of proceedings supporting the approval.

This is what city hall was going to use to streamline approval for the downtown stadium if it had gone forward. How the 8150 Sunset project received such status is a complete puzzle. But, obviously, somebody must have known somebody ­– because the fix is in. This special status makes it very difficult for any person or group to challenge this project – no matter how neighborhood crushing it will be or how many rules the city manipulates or ignores to approve it.

Make no mistake about it: 8150 Sunset is a really, really bad project.

It will overwhelm the surrounding neighborhood and create problems for the City of West Hollywood, too. In a May 23, 2016 letter to the Hearing Officer the City of West Hollywood dumped a bucket of cold water on the project. 

West Hollywood is objecting to the proposed traffic light LA says it needs to mitigate the project. The problem is that where LA wants to put the new traffic light is in the City of West Hollywood at Fountain and Havenhurst Drive – and, of course, the City of Los Angeles can’t enforce a mitigation on an intersection outside their boundaries.

West Hollywood also objects to the exits from the project onto Havenhurst because the cut-through traffic will overwhelm the street. Likewise, they also object to the project connecting into their sewer line and the maintenance that would require.

There is also the matter of the City of Los Angeles granting a public easement to the developer which clearly constitutes an illegal gift of publically owned land. And to make matters worse, the city kicked in a surplus property at 8118 Sunset Boulevard to sweeten the deal.

Those of you who have been in L.A. for a long time will remember that address as the location of “Pandora’s Box.” Records show that the city tore it down in the late 1960s and turned the property into a traffic island in the middle of Crescent Heights that contains a bus stop. The public easement is the sweeping right hand turn from eastbound Sunset to southbound Crescent Heights.

The city is proposing to cement over the turn lane and unite the traffic island/bus stop with the northeast corner of 8150 Sunset. So, one day you will be able to use the right turn lane (that people have been using for generations) and the next day it will be gone. 

There will be no pesky, time consuming street vacation process to determine if the turn lane/traffic island/bus stop is needed. The city will just call in a few cement trucks to cover it over. But don’t worry, the city says it will still own the land beneath the cement – but the developer will maintain it (while using it for the benefit of their project).

What?

The wheeling and dealing between city hall and real estate speculators, the rule bending, the giveaways, the false promises to residents – this is the sort of crap that has millions of people rebelling against the political establishment all over the United States.

The 8150 Sunset project is rotten to the core and the politicians who made it possible should be ashamed of themselves. But, thanks to the game of musical chairs, politicians bet that they can move on to another office and put enough distance between themselves and the consequences of their decisions – distance that enables plausible denial and makes shame a moot point.

This project is the last straw for me.

I am finally at the place where many of my community activist friends have been for some time now. We have no confidence that city hall cares about anyone outside of what they call the “city family” – those that work for and promote the vested interests of city hall. The motto of the City of Los Angeles might as well be: “The people be damned.”

It is time for a new groundswell of opposition to business as usual in L.A. Maybe that will take another secession movement or maybe a new city charter that gives power directly to the people. But beyond ballot measures to remedy this sorry situation, I believe we need to develop a Federation of Neighborhoods with representatives from every neighborhood and community organization in the city.  We must stand as one against the corrupt power structure of city hall – otherwise, one project at a time, we will lose one neighborhood after another.  

This is a united we stand or divided we fall moment. 

As for the 8150 Sunset project, this is Councilman David Ryu’s moment. He has written that he knows the project is too tall and too dense, but he has to go beyond writing letters to the Planning Department.

Frankly, Ryu’s letter was disappointing. It was not what I expected of him – or the kind of letter John Ferraro used to write. Ryu must say no to removing the right turn lane and surrendering 8118 Sunset traffic island to this project. He must say no to the destruction of the historic Lytton Bank building just as his colleague Mike Bonin did with the Barry Building.  He must demand real mitigations and be prepared to stand up in council, vote no, and urge his colleagues to support him in opposing the project as presented. 

The city council has a long history of not opposing the vote of a councilmember on a project in their district. Ryu needs to remind his colleagues of that.

If any councilmember votes to approve the 8150 Sunset project over the wishes of Councilmember Ryu we must not forget their vote. 

If the Mayor Garcetti supports this project we must not forget his vote. 

The game of musical chair depends on the constant shuffling of offices on the part of politicians and the poor memory of the electorate. 

We must remember the votes on the 8150 Sunset project. 

A mindful and energized electorate can win against all the developer money thrown against them. Councilmember Ryu proved that when he was elected. Now he must deliver on his promises that put him in office. 

 

(James O’Sullivan is President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and co-founder of Fix the City … a non-profit, citizen association whose stated goal is its name … to Fix the City. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

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