Mon, Mar

Los Angeles, City of Ideas: A Love Story

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-May 30 marked 28 years since I’ve moved to LA with a bunch of suitcases and ideas. What was the initial attraction? LA to me is a land of ideas and possibilities. The guy at the gas station is a member of SAG and your dentist has a screenplay. People leave hometowns and even countries for the possibilities. There’s a different kind of energy here than you might find in the bustling streets of New York. Driving through Topanga toward that first slice of the coastline or through Laurel Canyon to Sunset is unlike what you’ll experience in any other city. 

Our history is young compared to Boston or London. There are no brick buildings where colonists gathered to plan the break from England. What we do have are relics from the early days of the studio system, Spanish colonial revivals and examples of Art Moderne. As millions of veterans returned from the Second World War to create a residential housing boom in our city, Arts & Architecture Magazine commissioned major architects of the day to design the Case Study Houses, brilliant minds like Richard Neutra, Raphael Soriano, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, Eero Saarinen, A. Quincy Jones, Ralph Rapson, an experimental program that ran between 1948 and 1966. 

LA’s signature Googie architecture in the fifties and sixties was a tribute to the car culture and Jet Age futurism. Coffee shops, gas stations, car washes, and other commercial designs featured cantilevered roofs, starbursts, and hard angles. Sadly, many of the best examples of Googie architecture and significant examples of other schools of architecture have not been preserved, although the LA Conservancy works to nominate buildings for Cultural Historic Status. 

I first fell in love with our city’s unique mix of architectural styles when I was writing for a real estate website about six years ago. Since then, I’ve taken tours of the Case Study homes, Pasadena’s Bungalow District, and taken walking tours past the bungalows and apartments that were the homes of many Hollywood icons. 

There’s something uniquely special about strolling through Grand Central Market, (photo above.) where Angelenos have been buying delicacies and flowers since 1917, when Broadway was LA’s commercial and entertainment district. The history of the market reflects the city’s history and immigration patterns. Buying Bob’s Donuts, fresh fish, or peanut butter at The Farmers Market on Fairfax is another tradition that pays tribute to our city’s past. 

When I became aware of the aggressive tactics of developers who seem to have a stronghold on the City Council, I was disappointed and concerned. I’ve watched historically relevant buildings fall to ugly strip malls, boxy apartment buildings, and parking structures during the past 25 plus years since I first moved here. Would developers finish off the city, leaving only tract homes and McMansions with minimal setbacks? Is there anything that can be done to stop this takeover? 

Through a series of introductions, I began to cover the grassroots activists throughout Los Angeles who gather in offices, living rooms, and coffee shops to protect their neighborhoods. The energy of ideas in motion that first attracted me to Los Angeles is alive in every person and every group gathering recall signatures and meeting with those charged with protecting the interests of constituents to let them know the rollover in favor of developers with deep pockets is unacceptable. 

Los Angeles, like many cities, faces challenges including a lack of affordable housing and public transportation, increasing traffic and homelessness but for every challenge, there are Angelenos who are passionate, driven, and applying creative ideas toward solutions.

And that just may be what I love most about Los Angeles.


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

LA’s Sweet New Expo Ride and LA Times Sour Coverage

TRANSIT TALK--Why is the Los Angeles Times so negative towards the Expo Line? The Times does some worthy reporting: they have an international bureau with needed reporting on the Middle East catastrophes, they believe in the threats of global warming and climate change, they cover state and local news with a fair amount of unbiased reporting. But before, and since, the opening of the Phase II of the Expo Line, their articles have focused on the negative. There is little to none of the local boosterism one would expect from the major hometown newspaper. (Photo above: Happy Expo Line rider.) 

The published letters to the editor have been negative about the new train line, and so far none have been positive. I know at least one Times reader and subscriber who sent in a positive letter-me, and would gladly have my letter not published for someone else in favor, but there is nothing from the Times. 

Is this a Chicago situation? The Times is owned by the Tribune of Chicago, buying the paper from the Chandler family, and there is a history of animosity from Chicago towards Los Angeles, and California, before the purchase. In the 1980s, Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote an article chastising the fern loving wimps of California, and then seemed to like the idea of the state disappearing in an earthquake. Why such animosity and wishes for mayhem, destruction and death on such a large scale? 

After the Tribune purchased the Times a character trait emerged in the paper. It was one of telling us in Los Angeles who was in charge and that we in Los Angeles needed lessons to know this. Within the first weeks of the purchase the Tribune, excuse me the Times, posted on the front page of the sports page how the Chicago Cubs were doing, as if we didn’t have two major league teams of our own, and as if we cared.  

After a heavy snowfall in the local mountains they posted a photo of a cabin covered in snow with the caption it was just like New England? No it’s not, it is just like Southern California. The lack of understanding of Southern California … with seemingly little effort to try … remains an acidic riddle. 

Eventually the Tribune people seemed to have read the memo that Los Angeles is its own place, with its own history, and long ago passed Chicago as the “Second City,” and is indeed an international city unto itself. But these latest negative articles and letters about the Expo Line seem to indicate the new Tribune Publishing Chairman Michel Ferro has steered the Times back into their perceived role of Los Angeles second to Chicago. 

A Times preview article reviewed the Expo Phase II route, and made particular note of the 17th Street Station in Santa Monica which will serve Santa Monica College. (I will also be using this station.) Of all the stations mentioned, this was the only one where walking distance was discussed, one-half mile to Santa Monica College as if this was a burden. The publisher did not do homework, this station is served by the Santa Monica Bus Lines 41 and 42 to take students to SMC, and the college has their own shuttle to the school and back to the station. The bus stop is across the street from the station.  

Moreover, any regular transit rider knows that a one-half mile walk is routine and not an issue. If one has a disability with walking, then it could be an issue, but solved with Santa Monica Buses and Santa Monica College shuttle. If someone is able-bodied and not able to walk one-half mile, then here is a great way to get into shape through walking. Indeed, walking is always involved with riding transit, particularly in Los Angeles, and this is good, it is about exercise, and seeing the city on a human level and not behind the wheel. 

The Times focus was on driving to stations and parking to ride, and then I guess just walk across the street to the destination. In a previous article I wrote of the need for parking at light rail and subway stations, but in West Los Angeles property is expensive and money could be better spent on maintenance of all transit, and building more. I use buses to get to train stations in the day when demand for parking is highest, and in evenings I drive to stations since bus service greatly declines or just stops.  

There was the photo of a man at a station next to a dog. Only certified service animal are allowed on trains and buses, and they must be on a leash. If no a service animal they must be in a closed carrier. I saw none in the photo. Indeed, city law states all dogs must be leashed when on public grounds, which a light rail station certainly is. Surely someone at the Times knows this, and should have not allowed that photo which will encourage people to bring their unauthorized, unleashed dogs to the trains.  

Then there are the three letters to the editor complaining about MTA in general, and Expo Phase II in particular, and as of today, not one positive letter. The woman in the first letter voices her concerns about trains traveling near schools and along pedestrian walkways, as if this is a problem. Crossing railroad tracks are like crossing streets: look both ways, don’t cross when the signals say no crossing, cross when safe. 

There is no mention of the hundreds of schools along streets and very busy boulevards which put students and others in danger from vehicle accidents, and pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by vehicles. Students are subjected to the health issues of breathing in vehicle exhausts, including dirty diesel engines, from traffic near the schools with schools near freeways subject to greater health risks. The light rail trains run on electricity and do not generate vehicle exhaust.  

This woman then disparagingly compares the transit systems of Los Angeles to New York. Perhaps she is unaware of the history of Southern California which once had an extensive urban rail system which became neglected and hastened to its demise by General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires so the trains could be replaced by buses. This decision was made by corporations with headquarters and major offices in New York, along with the financiers behind this, so New York could be complicit in the demise of our rail system. While this woman cannot be blamed for not knowing this history, the Times, as the paper of record for the city should know, and should have qualified this statement. 

The second letter laments that no train currently goes to LAX. Valid point. However, it is in the news that Metro and LAWA are pursuing a people mover into LAX from the Crenshaw and Green Lines. If this letter writer doesn’t know this, fair enough, but for the Times, the paper of record, to not acknowledge this is a neglect of their duties. This letter writer voices opposition to upcoming Proposition R2 for increasing transit projects. I favor it, but the Times responsibility is to present both cases, and it didn’t happen with this letter. 

The third letter laments the time it takes for the crossing arms to close off roads to traffic while a train passes. He would like to shorten the time. Repeatedly there are news accounts of horrible accidents nationwide between trains and vehicles that cheat the crossing arms and try to sneak across the tracks before the train passes. 

These accidents lead to horrible multiple injuries and deaths. If the reader thought the time was long now to wait for the train to pass before the crossing arms lower and then raise, the wait would become all day, if not longer, if there is a tragic accident between a train and vehicle, and traffic is prohibited from crossing the tracks effectively sealing off the streets. With the current wait times Metro seems to be on the side of caution, and they are right. The letter writer may not be aware of these situations, but surely the Times, which is in news business would know of these stories, and has not presented any counter argument to this.  

I’ve ridden Expo Phase I often. I’ve ridden Expo Phase II and will be regular rider. It is fantastic, it is a game changer, it is an accomplishment for the city, it is a great day and one made for local boosterism. Can there be improvements? Absolutely. But this is not the time to throw out negatives after negative as the Times has been doing. The Expo train is in Los Angeles, not Chicago.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra)



LA: Just a Matter of Time before No One is Safe

JUSTICE INTERUPTED--Just before 9 pm on Friday, May 13, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Hollenbeck Gang Enforcement Unit shot and killed 28 year old, Roberto Mark Diaz during a routine gang suppression patrol triggered by major increases in gang related shootings throughout the Hollenbeck Division. 

Diaz ran from police officers, pulling out a handgun and fired in the direction of the two police officers. The police officers returned fire and killed him. One police officer sustained a gunshot wound to his shoulder area and a second officer injured his back as he darted away in his attempt to avoid being struck by gunfire. 

Diaz, a hard-core gang member, had an extensive criminal arrest and conviction history having served time in state prison for Armed Robbery and Ex-felon possession of a firearm. Diaz, with his noted violent criminal history was classified as a “low- level, non-violent” criminal offender, currently supervised by the Los Angeles County Probation department under AB 109. He was last released from Los Angeles County jail on April 22, 2016 after having served 10 days for a probation violation under AB 109. 

When the “Officer Down-Officers need Assistance” call went out, Chief Charlie Beck’s mainstay, Ruby Malachi, Captain of the Community Relationships Division, wasted no time heading for the crime scene. Prior to the LAPD’s Force Investigative Division, Officer Involved Shooting Team and their Scientific Investigative Division arrival, Malachi had already breached the crime scene tape -- trampling through the crime scene. 

Malachi’s job is “community relationships.” Her latest endeavor is making videos of dancing police officers (the Running Man's New Zealand dance challenge.) Thanks to Beck, her newly created job duplicates efforts of all other Divisions (at a great waste of money to taxpayers.) Her job description does not include intrusion of crime scenes before they’re investigated. 

While Malachi’s officers were dancing in front of a camera, a woman walking through Lincoln Park in Lincoln Heights on May 9 (also in LAPD Hollenbeck Division) was approached by a Hispanic male who held a gun to her head, forced her into a public restroom and sexually assaulted her. Fortunately, the victim was able to give responding police officers an excellent physical description, including distinctive facial tattoos to police. Within a short time, Police officers from both the LAPD Hollenbeck Specialized gang unit and Detectives assigned to LAPD's elite Robbery-Homicide unit were able to identify Edgar Alexander Lobos and arrest him. Lobo is a 27 year-old hard-core gang member and ex-felon.

According to Captain William Hayes, Lobos had an extensive criminal arrest history that includes vandalism and domestic violence but was classified as a non-violent, low-level criminal offender and was under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Probation department under AB 109.

These are the most recent examples of the epic “fails” triggered by Governor Jerry Brown and his quest to empty out California State prisons.

Since the passage of AB 109, hundreds of “low- level, non-violent” offenders have killed, raped, assaulted, maimed and kidnapped innocent victims. In 2014, voters passed Prop 47 that Governor Jerry Brown touted as the Bill that would reclassify drug and theft crimes that involve less than $950 from felonies to misdemeanors. Now two years later, criminals have an easier time committing crimes because they know they’ll get no more than a “slap on the hand.” 

Both Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti have remained dreadfully silent while violent criminal offenders, hard-core gang members supervised and placed under AB 109 and Prop. 47 are being let out of prison after spending little to no time in prison and are reoffending in record numbers.

Both violent crime and property crimes rates are escalating with each and every passing day within the city of Los Angeles. 

Malachi’s Division could be just as effective with civilian clerical workers rather than $100,000 per year paid police officers who serve the City best by patrolling the streets -- not dancing in production videos. 

Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) criticized Beck for taking officers off the streets amidst a citywide rise in crime, which has seen violent crime rise 20.2%, property crime rise 10.7%, robbery rise 12.5%, and auto theft rise 17.1% from 2014 to 2015. Most or all are attributed to AB 109. In 2016, those numbers are, again, on the rise. 

On June 7, 2015, State Assemblyman Jimmie Gomez was asked if he was going to consider making amendments to AB 109. At the time, there were discussions relative to making amendments to the law in Sacramento that several deemed to be “broken.” Assemblyman Gomez's chilling response was, "Not on my watch. I will not consider making any amendments to AB 109.” 

For those who don’t know, crimes that fall under AB 109 are not always “low level, non violent” crimes. Many of the inmates' current convictions generally fit that description, but past crimes committed by some of these offenders have ranged from violent assaults to sexual offenses, child abuse and second-degree murder. 

As the November elections draw near, Governor Brown is using his campaign funds to gather signatures that would place the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” initiative on the November ballot. Brown’s duplicitous claim that his measure applies to only “non violent felony offenses” has the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), and a host of other organizations, engaging in a battle against this initiative. Brown amended the initiative that originally concerned only the reform of rules for juveniles being tried in adult court. His amendments now add inmates to the fray.

The California District Attorneys Association filed a lawsuit against the Governor in February 2016. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Attorney General Kamala Harris should not have accepted Brown’s January 25 amendments to the proposed ballot measure filed because “the filing is not an amendment of the prior initiative draft – it is a completely different and new initiative.” 

This does not bode well for innocent people who live and work anywhere in the state of California. The effects of both Prop 47 and AB 109 have been the abysmal failures that have left hundreds of innocent victims in their wake. In Los Angeles, Chief Charlie Beck sits smiling. He gave his support to both AB 109 and Prop 47 along with his support for Brown’s half-baked ballot initiative.

From all over the City, San Pedro, Harbor, Van Nuys, Mission Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, East Los Angeles and even Northeast Los Angeles, residents, stakeholders, community groups, community Police Advisory Board members. Neighborhood Councils and Neighborhood Watch Captains are demanding more patrol officers for their areas. Currently there are over 600 police officers who do nothing but clerical work within LAPD. Malachi’s Community Relationships Division has more than 100 officers who do nothing but photo-ops and videos.

It is patently dangerous for all citizens in Los Angeles and both Beck and Garcetti know this. 

Garcetti, for his part, believes training parolees to pick up trash on roadways can rehabilitate them. Each parolee will have a shot at a 90-day employment opportunity, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. Oh, and did I mention life skills training, cognitive treatment and therapy? 

On May 27, Garcetti spoke at a Press Conference in South Central about the debt of gratitude Angeleno’s should be paying prisoners. “When people have paid their debt to society, our debt of gratitude should be, not just thanking them for serving that time but allowing them a pathway back in,” he said. 

What? Garcetti should be thanking taxpayers for shelling out more than $47,000 per year to incarcerate each inmate who violated the rights on an innocent person in the commission of a crime. Common sense dictates that victims of violent crimes deserve “at least” some of the respect Garcetti offers to parolees -- something he neglected to offer! 

Perfect timing for such a stupid statement from the Mayor of Los Angeles -- as the City cries for more police officers to patrol the streets of Los Angeles and Brown wants voters to let even more dangerous, violent felons out of prison. 

(Caroline Aguirre is a retired 24-year State of California law enforcement officer, LAPD family member, community activist and Neighborhood Watch captain. Aguirre is a CityWatch contributor.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

Has LA Lost Its Confidence?

NEW GEOGRAPHY--Throughout the recession and the decidedly uneven recovery, Southern California has tended to lag behind, particularly in comparison to the Bay Area and other booming regions outside the state. Once the creator of a dispersed, multipolar urban model – “the original in the Xerox machine” as one observer suggested – this region seems to have lost confidence in itself, and its sense of direction.

In response, some people, notably Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, favor creating a future in historical reverse, marching back toward becoming a more conventional, central core and transit-dominated region – a kind of New York by the Pacific. Eastern media breathlessly envision our region transforming itself from “car-addicted, polluted and lacking in public transit” into a model of new-urbanist excellence.

Here’s a basic problem. Their LA of the future – the one that wins plaudits from places like GQ magazine – essentially negates the region’s traditional appeal, offering the middle and even working classes, a suburban-like lifestyle in one of the world’s great global cities.

Vive la difference

UCLA’s Michael Storper correctly notes how far the Southland has fallen behind its traditional in-state rival, the San Francisco Bay Area. Storper correctly traces much of this gap to the domination of the Los Angeles tech sector by aerospace firms and the fact that this area also had a broad base of nontech-oriented manufacturing.

Can we become a second San Francisco? Regions, like people, do not easily transform themselves into something else. For one thing, the Los Angeles area’s diverse industrial legacy tended to attract a larger share of historically poorer blacks and Hispanics than the Bay Area, whose population is 33 percent black and Hispanic. In contrast, 55 percent of the five-county Southland area’s population has either Hispanic or African American backgrounds, according to data from the 2014 American Community Survey.

Propelled by its better-educated population and more focused business community, the Bay Area’s tech sector is roughly six times larger per capita than the national average. The Bay Area’s large tech firms may move some employment to Texas, Utah, Arizona or abroad, but it’s highly unlikely that the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google will leave the Bay Area in the foreseeable future.

In contrast, Southern California’s industrial economy has faced persistent decline, and, to date, has no strong replacement source of employment. Los Angeles has lost half its manufacturing jobs since 1990, compared with a national decline of 24 percent, and 28 percent statewide. As occurred earlier in the Midwest, this has left a large stranded population with little prospects for upward mobility. No surprise that LA leads the region in percentage of people in poverty, when adjusted for housing costs, more than 25 percent, a rate higher than Mississippi.

Southern California cannot mimic the Bay Area’s economic structure any more than it can duplicate the north’s population profile. With the loss of many of its largest firms, particularly in energy and aerospace, the region’s future increasingly depends on small, often immigrant-run firms that rely on the diversity of urban form in the area. They often tap workers, logistics, and industrial space in the Inland Empire but rely on executives, designers, engineers and professional service firms that tend to concentrate along the coastal strip.

Some people, including much of the region’s political and economic leadership, see this dispersion as a prime source of Southern California’s weakness. They seem to neglect the fact that, according to Census Bureau data, the Los Angeles-Orange County area already constitutes the densest large urban area in the United States, packing in more people per square mile than either the San Francisco-San Jose area or greater New York, and about twice as many as in Portland.

Densification, often cited as the best way to lower house prices, simply does not address the issue of affordability. For example, an eight story high-rise in the Bay Area costs more than five times as much per square foot to build than a single-family house. Furthermore, Angelenos spend on average almost 50 percent of their incomes on rent, among the highest rates in the country.

More density, justifying investments in fixed-rail transit, won’t improve congestion, either. Eastern media accounts see the region morphing into the “next great transit city” But this vision has been something of a fool’s bargain. Well-connected developers, unionized construction workers and contractors who build transit systems have much to celebrate, but after spending $16 billion to build its rail and busway lines, the region’s core transit system – the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority – carries fewer riders today than it did 30 years ago.

Across the five Southland counties, these and other major projects (such as Metrolink commuter rail) have failed to keep transit’s work-trip market share from slipping, while, with virtually no public expenditure, more people work from home than take buses or trains to work. The traffic congestion relief promised by rail spending has not occurred.

Back to the model?

The attempt to densify LA, and turn it into some variant of an East Coast city, was always doomed to failure. People came and settled this region in an archipelago of villages, not around a single dominant downtown. Even now, Downtown Los Angeles shows little prospects for emerging as the area’s primary economic center. Downtown LA holds barely 3 percent of the region’s jobs, less than one-third the rate for San Francisco, and almost one-seventh the level in New York City.

“The future of Downtown Los Angeles is not professional services – it’s entertainment, it’s bars, it’s restaurants,” admits José Huizar, the LA City Council member representing Downtown and one of the biggest supporters of renewed development in the area.

Without a strong urban employment core, the entire current emphasis on traditional transit makes little sense. Instead, we should focus more on allowing the various parts of the metropolis do what makes the most economic sense for each one. For example, Los Angeles, still the big enchilada, needs to shore up its powerful entertainment and design center, as well as what’s left of its blue-collar base, such as the increasingly beleaguered seaport.

LA’s grand hopes of challenging Silicon Valley faces some serious headwinds. Its tech and engineering employment numbers over the past decade have actually decreased, relative both to Orange County and the Inland Empire, according to a recent analysis by Chapman University’s Marshall Toplansky and Nate Kaspi.

Orange County may have far better prospects for become a Southland tech center, boasting a somewhat higher percentage of both engineers and tech workers and a higher proportion of tech jobs relative to its overall workforce. In terms of STEM jobs, Orange County ranks about 20 percent above the national average, while Los Angeles, once a tech haven, is 12 percent below average. Orange County’s well-educated and significantly Asian population also approximates that of Santa Clara County, home base of Silicon Valley. Although not an entertainment power on the scale of Los Angeles, Orange County has an impressive entertainment, arts and design focus that has been growing steadily.

Ultimately, the future of the Southland may rest with what happens in the Inland Empire. Riverside County, for example, is the only Southland county, according to the state Department of Finance, to enjoy both positive international and domestic migration. At a time when millennials are fleeing the coastal counties, the Inland area has had the fastest growth in California among millennials, including those with college degrees. From 2000-12, notes demographer Wendell Cox, the two Inland counties added roughly 230,000 residents ages 20 to 30, compared with 130,000 combined for Los Angeles and Orange counties, which have three times the population.

Downtown Los Angeles, by the way, said to be the prime attractor of young people, boosted its millennial population by less than 5,000 during that time span.

The Inland area, with its more affordable housing, is best-positioned to revive the diverse, middle-class economy now under severe stress closer to the coast. It serves as an “escape valve” for people, and companies, who no longer can afford, or wish to live in, an ever more congested and expensive area so appealing to an important and affluent sector of the population.

To take advantage of it unique multipolar structure, Southern California needs to focus not on centralization but building on regional diversity. With the limited prospects for converting into a traditional transit-oriented area, we need planning initiatives that exploit such strategies as expanding home-based work, dispersing jobs to where people live, and even maintaining and improving the freeways that knit the region together.

Southern California can enjoy a renaissance, but it can’t do so by trying to become something it’s not – and never will be.

(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.


California Back in Big Oil's Crosshairs: Feds Quietly OK Offshore Fracking

ENVIRONMENT POLITICS--"This move paves the way for offshore fracking permits that were previously frozen and the dumping of toxic wastewater directly into the Pacific Ocean." 

Two federal agencies on Friday quietly finalized two reports, set for release next week, which found offshore fracking in California poses no "significant" risk to the environment -- paving the way for oil and gas companies to resume the controversial extraction method in the Santa Barbara Channel and imperiling the region's wildlife in the process, opponents said. 

The announcement Friday from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (OEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement puts an end to a court-ordered ban on offshore fracking in federal waters off the coast of California. The moratorium was put into place in January as part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), which challenged the Obama administration's 'rubber-stamping' of offshore drilling activity without an environmental review.

Environmental activists warned on Friday that kicking off a new round of drilling in the area puts wildlife at risk from chemical-laden wastewater and said they would be willing to file another lawsuit to keep it from happening.

"The Obama administration is once again putting California's beautiful coast in the oil industry's crosshairs," said Miyoko Sakashita, director of CBD's Oceans program. "Our beaches and wildlife face a renewed threat from fracking chemicals and oil spills. New legal action may be the only way to get federal officials to do their jobs and protect our ocean from offshore fracking." 

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch, criticized President Barack Obama for "doubling down on fracking, instead of providing climate leadership and protecting our communities and our environment." 

"This move paves the way for offshore fracking permits that were previously frozen and the dumping of toxic wastewater directly into the Pacific Ocean where Californians swim, fish, and surf," Hauter said. 

The news comes a year after a pipeline rupture in Santa Barbara sent tens of thousands of gallons of crude spilling onto public beaches and into the Pacific Ocean. The operator of the pipeline, Plains All American, has a history of wreaking environmental havoc throughout Southern California and elsewhere. 

And it also follows the recent signing of the historic deal reached in Paris last December to keep global temperature rise under 2°C, a goal that climate advocates say can only be reached by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and investing in renewal energy. 

"It's clear that Americans want an inspiring new vision for our energy system," Hauter said. "The president continues to indicate that he is not the person to fulfill that vision. It’s a vision that can only be achieved by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and moving swiftly to a system driven by energy efficiency and renewables."


(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams  … where this was first posted.) Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Who’s In Charge at LA’s City Planning, the Queen of Hearts?

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Queen of Hearts: Now... are you ready for your sentence? Alice: Sentence? But there has to be a verdict first... Queen of Hearts: Sentence first! Verdict afterwards. Alice: But that just isn't the way... Queen of Hearts: [shouting] All ways are...! Alice: ...your ways, your Majesty. 

Just when you think that the broken planning process in Los Angeles is back on track, obviously pushed by the likely voter approval of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative in March 2017, another foolish planning initiative sneaks up on you. Apparently oblivious to the April 2016 pronouncements from the Mayor and the City Council to begin an immediate and thorough update of the entire General Plan and Community Plans, on May 17 City Planning held a scoping meeting for the ”new” Hollywood Community Plan’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) .

Never mind that there is no actual project for the DEIR to evaluate. And never mind that local plans should follow, not proceed, the updating of the mandatory and optional citywide General Plan elements. Like the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” City Planning has decided to first prepare a DEIR to evaluate the future plan, then a detailed zoning ordinance to implement the future plan, then a new text to retroactively shape these implementation ordinances, and finally updates of the citywide General Plan elements in order to carefully guide each local Community Plan long after it has been prepared and presumably adopted

This approach to City Planning would sit well with the Queen of Hearts, who decided on death sentences before she rendered verdicts! In City Planning’s case it is implementing a Community Plan Update before it has been prepared. 

So, at least for CityWatch readers, let me describe how professional planners would and should proceed with the Update of the Hollywood Community Plan, as well as what should be considered in the environmental impact for this Update. 

Correct sequencing is of paramount importance. Common sense, as well as professional planning standards, leads to an inevitable conclusion. You cannot update local plans until you have updated the required and optional citywide General Plan elements. At present, only two of Los Angeles’ mandatory citywide General Plan elements are up-to-date: Housing and Mobility (Transportation). Four other legally required elements are seriously out-of-date: Noise, Public Safety, Open Space, and Conservation. Still other optional but absolutely important elements are woefully out-of-date. 

For example, the General Plan Framework Element, which ties all other citywide elements together, was prepared in the early 1990s, and it is based on 1990 U.S. census data. Its population forecasts for the year 2010 exceeded LA’s actual 2010 population by over 500,000 people. Other important elements, especially Infrastructure, Public Recreation, and Service Systems, date back to the 1960s. They are now a half-century old and, to say the least, ought to be updated before the grandchildren of the planners who drafted these documents are hired to implement them. 

There are very compelling reasons for correct sequencing, for looking at Los Angeles as a whole before burrowing into fine-grained local planning and zoning. Only citywide General Plan elements can answer such obvious questions as: 

  • How much realistic population growth will LA actually experience – as opposed to the grandiose thinking of the Southern California Association of Government, real estate developers run wild, and their ever-faithful City Hall enthusiasts? 
  • If there is population growth in Los Angeles and adjacent areas, when and where will it appear? 
  • What user demands on local infrastructure and public services will result from this population growth? 
  • What is the existing and anticipated capacity of local public infrastructure and services in these areas based on the City of Los Angeles’ Capital Improvement Program and other public budgets? 
  • How will these infrastructure and services systems deteriorate over time, and what are reliable maintenance programs have been funded to keep them operational? 
  • Where in Los Angeles is there sufficient residential, commercial, and industrial zoning capacity for existing and future residents of all socio-economic strata? 
  • What environmental concerns, especially the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, affect the nature and location of future public and private development? 
  • What esthetic considerations, especially the character and scale of existing neighborhoods, should be considered in local land use decisions for public and private investment? 

To ignore the answers to these questions, and to just blindly up-zone and up-plan local private parcels, as is happening again in Hollywood, is the height of folly. It is the obvious path to ensure that LA’s legacy of shoddy city planning, toxic air, polluted water, pot-holed and rutted roads, cracked and uneven sidewalks, and record traffic congestion will only get worse. 

The current approach also reveals the same hubris that blind-sided the City of Los Angeles with three lawsuits that in 2013 totally overturned the previous Hollywood Community Plan Update. In that case Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman threw out the entire Hollywood Plan, including the plan’s text, its Environmental Impact Report, and its lengthy ordinances to densify much of Hollywood through zone changes and general plan amendments. Judge Goodman’s decision also directed the City of Los Angeles to start anew, and it also resulted in the reinstatement of the even older 1988 Hollywood Community Plan. 

Now, apparently dusting off these discredited planning documents, City Planning is undertaking a comprehensive environmental analysis on a “new” Update of the Hollywood Community Plan that does not even exist. City Planning’s website still features the plan text rejected by Judge Goodman four years ago. The only new documents are two tentative, indecipherable maps of proposed plan designations, proposed zones, and a 33-page ordinance matrix of these zone and plan changes.  They are labeled, “Subject to change.” In other words, there is no actual project for the Draft Environmental Impact Report to evaluate and then compare to such alternatives as the existing 1988 plan, a downzoning plan reflecting Hollywood’s dwindling population, and the Alternative Hollywood Community Plan Update prepared by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. 

Environmental Impact Report: Once the citywide General Plan elements are updated and once there is a detailed, carefully defined Community Plan Update for Hollywood, what questions should the Draft Environmental Impact Report carefully answer? This is my first cut at those categories: 

  • What do Hollywood’s residents want for their community over the next several decades? 
  • What is the capacity of local commercial, industrial, and residential zoning? More specifically, what is the projected population of Hollywood if existing residential zoning is built out to its full legal capacity, without any discretionary actions to boost density? 
  • What are the actual population trends in Hollywood, as opposed to notoriously inaccurate and inflated forecasts from the Southern California Association of Governments? 
  • How much existing residential, commercial, and industrial space has been lost in Hollywood through demolitions to clear building sites for new projects? In terms of residential, what were the cost factors for this lost housing? How will these trends be continued or slowed by the draft Update’s zone changes and plan amendments? 
  • What is the status of major infrastructure and service categories in Hollywood in terms of existing capacity, forecast capacity based on incremental degradation, secured funding for maintenance and repairs, and changes in user demand for infrastructure and services? 
  • To what extent does the existing plan, proposed plan, and the DEIR’s alternatives address adaptation to climate change and the mitigation of the Green House Gases responsible for global warming and climate change? 

These questions are obviously a tiny part of what the eventual Draft EIR will investigate, but these are all important categories that were hardly considered in the 1988 plan restored by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, as well as in the 2012 Hollywood Update rejected by the same Court.


(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He welcomes questions, comments, and corrections at [email protected].)


Sanders to Trump: ‘Game On’… Let's Debate in 'Biggest Stadium Possible'

TRUMP DOUBLE’S DOWN--Donald Trump has doubled down on his challenge to debate Bernie Sanders, telling reporters in Bismarck, North Dakota on Thursday that he would agree to a one-on-one with the Vermont senator for "something over $10 million."

"If we can raise for maybe women's health issues or something, if we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity," he said. "We have had a couple of calls from the networks already and we'll see."

Sanders responded by tweeting that he was "delighted" Trump had agreed to debate.

"Let's do it in the biggest stadium possible," he wrote.

The comments come after talk show host Jimmy Kimmel asked Trump on air Wednesday if he would debate Sanders ahead of California's June 7 primary—a question submitted by Sanders himself—to which Trump responded, "If I debated him it would have such high ratings. Take that money and give it to some worthy charity."

Sanders immediately responded, "Game on."

On Thursday, Sanders' campaign spokesman Michael Briggs told USA Today, "Of course we're interested. It was Bernie's suggestion."

The senator's campaign manager Jeff Weaver also told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that it would be "great for the American people to be able to see these two candidates on stage debating the important issues... I have to believe that this would be one of the most widely-watched debates ever in presidential politics."

"I hope... [Trump] doesn't chicken out on this," Weaver said.

Watch the interview:


Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have seemingly agreed to a one-on-one debate ahead of California's primary on June 7—or, as Politico puts it, "the debate the world has been waiting for."

Appearing on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Wednesday night, Trump said he would debate Sanders if the proceeds from the event went to charity.

"If I debated him it would have such high ratings," the presumptive Republican nominee said.

Minutes later, Sanders tweeted, "Game on." [[https://twitter.com/BernieSanders/status/735689625407131648 ]]

"I look forward to debating Trump in California before the June 7 primary," he wrote.

Sanders' campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs added Thursday that the Vermont senator "thinks a debate is very important to California voters." The news comes shortly after Sanders' Democratic rival Hillary Clinton reneged on a promise to debate him again ahead of the state's primary, which Sanders called an "insult" to voters there.

Writing for CNBC on Thursday, news columnist Jake Novak argues such a debate would be nothing less than Hillary's Clinton's "worst nightmare":

A Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders debate in the coming days before the June 7th California primary is getting closer to becoming a reality. If this happens, it will likely be a huge boost for Sanders, a mild aid to Trump, and -- to borrow the key buzz word of this election so far – a YUGE pain in the neck for Hillary Clinton.

For Sanders, this entire election has been a "nothing to lose" proposition. He was given no chance to even make a dent in Mrs. Clinton's inevitable coronation, er presidential nomination, by the Democrats. And as a lifetime Senate backbencher, he was not in danger of losing a chairmanship or leadership position. While it's basically impossible for Sanders to overtake Clinton in the delegate battle, the latest PPIC poll shows Sanders trails her by just two percentage points among likely California primary voters.

As of Thursday morning, no formal debate between Trump and Sanders had been arranged. However, Politico notes that Sanders is scheduled to appear on Kimmel's show Thursday night.

(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams… where this was first posted.)


Pit Bull Poll: Should Animal Services GM be Fired for Condoning the Adoption of a Pit Bull with a Violent History?

ANIMAL WATCH-A Pit Bull named Sammy with a prior record of repeated aggression and who had just bitten a Los Angeles Animal Services kennel worker in the abdomen, was released on April 28 to NovaStar Rescue, at the personal instruction of LA Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette. NovaStar states on its site that it started in 2012, lists only a PO Box address in Ola, Arkansas, and describes itself as “[a] small rescue in Ola, Arkansas. The main focus of NovaStar is to . . . save the pitties, the most loyal yet most misunderstood dogs.” 

“Sammy” was the name given to the dog by kennel staff. He was “Sodom” when he was surrendered to the shelter on January 28 by his owner, who reportedly gave the reason that the dog had “tried to bite him.” A behavioral memo that same day by an Animal Care Technician states, “dog growled and snapped more with acd [animal control device] and according to owner dog is a guard dog.” 

Sammy was described as a Male, Unaltered, Black and White American Staffordshire Terrier, Age: 5 yrs. Weight: 69 lbs. (Impound #A1608123) on PetHarbor.com, where he was listed for adoption to the public. 

During the time Sammy was being offered to a “forever” home, he was chalking up warnings by shelter personnel -- warnings such as: “dog attempted to bite through the kennel when I was lowering the guillotine door on the kennel next to his. be careful when anywhere near this dog;” “this dog is getting worse. lunges at kennel door, growling, barking, biting at door;” “THIS DOG IS VERY AGGRESSIVE. WHEN I GOT NEAR KENNEL DOG LUNGED TOWARDS FACE AND WAS TRYING TO BITE THROUGH KENNEL CAGE. USE CAUTION WHEN HANDLING THIS DOG….”


Click below to create your own question.

[sexypolling id="6"] 


Then on April 14, the memo reads, “DOG BIT AN ACT. RABIES OBSERVATION.” The rabies observation is a standard procedure required by the County Department of Public Health (DPH) when a dog bite breaks the skin. The dog is quarantined for ten days. (This is mandated whether or not the dog has a current rabies vaccination.) 

On April 24, at 4:28 PM, an e-mail from a private g-mail account was sent to Brenda Barnette, stating: 

“Attention Brenda and Mario: 

“I am providing you notice prior to the euthanasia of ID number A1608123 [North Central] that he has rescue interest. Pursuant to California Food and Agricultural Code section

31108 (b) you are prohibited by law to kill him/her. This is your official notice of rescue interest for ID number A16081234. DO NOT KILL HIM! 

“If you do, you will be in direct violation of FEDERAL CODE and will be prosecuted by intent policy and California Animal Networks will press charges. 

“Pursuant to section 31108 (b) of the California Food And Agriculture Code: 

“(b) Except as provided in Section 17006, any stray dog that is impounded pursuant to this division shall, prior to euthanasia of that animal, be released to a nonprofit, as defined in Section 501(c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, animal rescue or adoption organization if requested by the organization prior to the scheduled euthanasia of that animal. 

“Paperwork was sent in from NovaStar Rescue placing a hold on this dog. “PLEASE ADVISE. 


At 4:53 pm, April 24, Brenda Barnette responded, with cc’s to three LAAS staff/shelter personnel: 


Will the rescue pick him up Monday? I do not know if this dog is in danger, but you can’t put an indefinite hold on an animal. Please check, I notice that you gave two different “A” numbers.


It is surprising that -- considering the documented history of this dog -- -the GM would release it for adoption, first to the public (before it bit the Animal Care Technician) and then to a ‘rescue.’ Ms. Barnette could have easily determined that the above Fd. & Ag. Section did not apply, because this dog was not a “stray.” Additionally, according to legal experts, there are no federal laws governing this issue. 

So, was Brenda unsure of the law, or intimidated by the threats of an individual who does not appear -- nor claim -- to have a formal association with either of the groups she identifies in her email? 

Secondly, GM Barnette acknowledged that it was a dangerous animal by requiring under the condition of release, according to reports, that Sammy leave the state and be taken to Arkansas. 

Here is the LAMC Section that describes how an animal can be declared dangerous: 


(b) Dangerous Animal-Declared. The Department, after a hearing, may declare any dog or other animal to be a dangerous animal whenever it has bitten, attacked or caused injury to any human being or other animal. 

Apparently the GM’s order was not taken seriously by the local rescuer, because on May 15, Los Angeles Fire Department and LAPD responded to a small, unkempt older house on White Knoll Drive, Los Angeles 90012, (near downtown LA) at approximately 9 pm, where a pit bull was attacking a woman who “was visiting dog to determine if she wants to adopt from the rescue who had been fostering the dog.” That dog was later identified by LA Animal Services as Impound #1608123, “Sammy.” 

The victim was unidentified in the LAFD report, except for the first name, “Melanie,” at a 760-485-XXXX phone number. 

“Sammy” was alive but had been stabbed 19 times by a neighbor who heard the victim screaming. He was transported to an emergency clinic, where he was euthanized, according to the County Dept. of Public Health report.  

Ironically, on May 16, NovaStar Animal Rescue posted on Facebook: 

“For those of you who follow this rescue you probably saw the writing on the wall. Terre has been taking in more dogs than we have been able to place. NOVASTAR IS FULL. We cannot take any more pups. Please help!” 

So who is “Tiffany?” Is she a qualified rescuer under LA Animal Services criteria? Did she sign a release form that she was aware that the pit bull had attacked a human, causing bodily harm, and that he had exhibited a pattern of aggressive behavior? 

Since he was not transported out of Los Angeles, is the City potentially liable for injuries to the victim? 

If Tiffany was designated as a legitimate member of NovaStar Animal Rescue in Arkansas for the purposes of “pulling” Sammy, can that organization or the California Animal Networks, which Tiffany claimed would “press charges” if Sammy was not released, be held legally and/or financially responsible for the attack? 

Or is this just a symptom of a greater quandary? There is no state or federal law governing “rescuers.” There is no prior experience or training mandated, nor are there maintenance, health and sanitation requirements for privately housing multiple animals for adoption. There is also no prescribed inspection or monitoring of care and condition of the animals and no mandate for insurance or standards for temperament of animals sold/adopted to the public by rescuers. In California there is no permit or license issued to establish accountability. To become a “rescue,” all that is necessary is a nonprofit tax status, as defined in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. 

The safety and lives of not only adopters and their families and pets, but also the dedicated people who care for animals in shelters and humane societies -- and the rescuers, themselves -- need to be given more thoughtful consideration. At least five shelter employees at LA Animal Services have reportedly been injured in dog attacks in the last three months, two sustaining possibly permanent damage.

Rescuer Rebecca Carey, 23, was killed in her home in 2012 by dogs she had ‘saved.’ And, an 18-month-old pit bull, named Lily, viciously attacked her adopter and rescuer Patricia Agnello as she was placed in the car with her new “fur mom.” Lily was stabbed-death by a neighbor to save the women. 

Although there are highly responsible and competent rescuers all over the country who maintain high standards for both themselves and adopters, there are also those who act on emotion and make poor decisions as to how many animals they can adequately care for and which animals may not be safe to rehome. 

Based upon the rapidly increasing number of tragic attacks by adopted dogs (including the April 22 killing of a three-day-old baby in San Diego by a recently adopted Pit Bull,) isn’t it time the CA Food and Agricultural Code that mandates unsafe animals “shall” be released to rescues upon request be reconsidered by California lawmakers?


(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com.  She lives in Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

November Ballot: LA’s Proposed Transit Tax Doesn’t Add Up

TRANSIT PERSPECTIVE--Math is a funny thing.

Take averaging, for example. Mark Twain observed that if you have one foot in a bucket of ice and one foot in a bucket of boiling water, on average you’re pretty comfortable.

Similarly, consider subtraction. Somehow, government officials have calculated that subtracting money from your wallet for taxes actually puts more money in your pocket.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study of the economic effects of Measure R, the 2008 increase in the L.A. County sales tax of one-half of one percent to fund transportation projects.

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation determined that over its 30-year lifespan, the Measure R sales tax will create $80.7 billion in economic output while costing each resident just $25 a year in higher taxes.

The Society of American Magicians prohibits them from revealing how this trick is done, but they can’t stop me from exposing the secret.

It’s done with mirrors. A typical dollar spent by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is counted three times: once when Metro hands it to a contractor, once when the contractor hands it to a union construction worker, and once when the worker spends it on rent, food, car payments or entertainment. They call these reflections the “direct,” “indirect” and “induced” effects of spending.

This “multiplier effect” would work if the money spent by Metro was earned by Metro. But it’s not. It’s earned by you, and then taken from you with a higher sales tax.

The study uses another trick, division, to determine that this higher tax costs each resident only $25 per year. Using multiplication instead, the 30-year cost of Measure R comes out to $3,000 for a family of four.

Figured another way, if the 10 million residents of L.A. County didn’t have to pay that $25 per year in extra taxes, they would have an extra $250 million annually, $7.5 billion over 30 years, to spend on whatever they personally find useful. Add the multiplier effect to those numbers, without government middlemen, for a true picture of what’s lost to higher taxes.

Now Metro wants taxpayers to cough up another $120 billion for more transit projects. The money would come from adding more years to the 30-year Measure R tax and hiking the sales tax by another half-cent per dollar, raising L.A. County’s sales tax rate to 9.5 percent for 40 years.

The transit agency would then borrow against the future sales tax revenues to start spending the $120 billion immediately.

Just how much is $120 billion?

It’s enough to pay for the repairs and deferred maintenance of every freeway in California for the next 10 years, twice.

It’s enough to build 120 desalinization plants like the one in Carlsbad that’s supplying 7 percent of San Diego’s water.

It’s enough to pay off the student debt of everyone who was enrolled in a four-year college or university in California in 2014. Seven times.

But Metro wants to spend $120 billion on a long list of public transit projects, even though ridership on public transit is declining. Metro boardings are down 10 percent since 2006 despite $9 billion of spending on rail.

Metro CEO Philip Washington says ridership will increase when the system is fully built out. “We’re not building for today,” he said recently, “We’re building for 100 years down the road.”

A hundred years ago, a telephone looked like a black candlestick. It didn’t have GPS or a camera. It didn’t have a keypad, or a dial, or Angry Birds. It didn’t even have a ringtone unless you count the bell in the box on the wall.

If the people of 1916 had designed a communications system for “100 years down the road” and racked up $120 billion in debt to pay for it, we’d still be paying taxes for something that was long gone; and we’d be wondering why our taxes are so high, and why there’s never enough money for road repair or water projects or education.

That’s what happens when governments run up too much debt, as ours already have—local, state and federal alike.

Multiply that by your children’s future, and then by your grandchildren’s future.

And when you see Metro’s sales tax increase for transit projects on your November ballot, don’t get taken for a ride.

(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece was posted first at Fox and Hounds.)


Los Angeles: Mayor’s Data Analyst Inspires with ‘Believe in Yourself’ Toastmaster Speech

POLITICAL PROFILES-Inspirational speaker, Juan Vasquez, a Data Analyst for the Mayor’s Office, competed in the District 52 Toastmasters International Speech Contest held at the Castaway Restaurant in the City of Burbank on Saturday, May 21. 

Vasquez represented Voces Latinas Toastmasters, a public speaking club that meets twice a month at the White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles. 

The criteria for participating in the high-level competition involved having won several prior speech competitions starting at the club level and having moved upward on the echelon, winning the area and division contests.

Vasquez competed with four other contestants, representing other Divisions in Toastmasters District 52. The winner will go to Washington DC in mid-August to the Toastmasters International Speech Contest, where this year’s World Champion will be recognized.          

Vasquez delivered an inspirational speech built around his running the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon in 4 hours and 19 minutes, prized with a medal. He vividly laid out a detailed continuum -- covering from the very start of his run to the finish line. He recounts his heartfelt experience of committing to a set goal and overcoming the mental challenges that crossed his mind while running. He did not win a trophy at this speech contest. Still, I was able to interview him to expand on his 2016 LA Marathon experience. 

One day, while chatting with his colleagues at City Hall, one dared Vasquez to run the LA Marathon. “The most I had run was 6 miles. In college, I played soccer with a small team for two or three hours a week,” he said. “Not very athletic.” 

However, Vasquez said that the LA Marathon seemed like an opportunity to prove to himself that he could accomplish things that he thought were impossible. “It’s a way to show myself what I could accomplish, and challenge myself to go far beyond what I thought I could do,” he said. 

In a six-week preparation period, Vasquez explained how he started with 8 mile-runs on the weekends and scaled it up to 22 miles. On weekdays he ran three to six miles a day followed by going to the gym “to work on strength-conditioning.” He and his two colleagues from work formed a support system to run on the weekends. “Our schedules sometimes conflicted but it was always nice to talk to someone who knew what it was like to run 16 miles on a Sunday.” 

Once the Marathon started, he elaborated, “I kind of got into my pace. I started feeling very comfortable, enjoying the environment around me, the food, the families, and the music.” Thousands of people come out to support the runners, he said. “A lot of it hurt and was frustrating. There were times when I asked myself, why did I do this?” He wore his headset as an aide to move on when things got difficult. “There was a point at mile 20 that was by far the most challenging, running two-miles uphill,” he said. “It was a great experience though.” The run started at Dodgers Stadium in Elysian Park and ended in Santa Monica Beach. 

Vasquez said that his two colleagues from the Mayor’s Office also crossed the finish line within 6 hours, their common goal was to complete the run. “But, we each had our own individual goals as to how we were going to do it. It was never about a competition between the three of us,” he explained. “We wanted to accomplish the big goal and we all did.” 

Running the LA Marathon has raised his confidence in the workplace and his ability to connect with people. “It gets me to put difficult things in perspective. If I have a difficult day at work, I say it was a difficult day, but it wasn’t 26 miles,” he said with a big smile. 

“It helped me realize that I should always believe in myself and that there might be other reasons why I might fail but never because of my self-doubt.” 

Juan Vasquez is presently preparing and looking forward to run in the Long Beach Marathon on October 9th of this year with a goal to finish under four-hours.

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

Hey, Butt Out of California, Chicago!

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA—Dear Chicago … Would you kindly remove your thick, stubby hands from my beautiful state? 

C’mon -- don’t try to look all Midwestern and innocent. You know exactly what I’m talking about. For years Chicago has been grabbing signature California institutions and screwing them up. 

I get a reminder of your mismanagement every night when I turn on the television to watch my local baseball team, the LA Dodgers. Of course, the Dodgers aren’t on -- they aren’t even available on televisions in nearly 70 percent of the Los Angeles market. The reason? Mark Walter of Chicago. 

Specifically, Walter’s firm Guggenheim Partners, a financial services company with headquarters in Chicago and New York, paid too much for the Dodgers -- more than $2 billion a few years ago. And to cover that price, the Guggenheim-owned Dodgers greedily sold TV rights to Time Warner Cable for a sum so high that other cable providers, understandably, refused to pay to carry Dodger games. So the majority of Southern Californians who don’t get Time Warner have been unable to watch Dodger games for more than two years. 

Walter, the Chicagoan at the head of this toxic deal, couldn’t even manage to get the games on the air for this, the final season in the career of esteemed announcer Vin Scully, thus separating LA from its favorite voice. And there’s this irony; since this deal also blocks internet transmission of games to anyone in Southern California, people in Chicago can watch Dodger games even while people in Los Angeles can’t. 

Then, in the morning, when I go out to my driveway to find out who won the game Chicago wouldn’t let me see, I encounter another local voice badly damaged by you Chicagoans: my latest copy of the Los Angeles Times

Since Tribune Company bought the Times in 2000, California’s biggest newspaper has suffered under waves of Chicago executives who made big promises while cutting the number of reporters and pages. What’s your secret, Chicago—how exactly do you produce so many corporate mediocrities? Full disclosure: I worked at the Times for the first eight years of this ongoing Chicago occupation, before quitting after meeting Sam Zell, a Chicago real estate billionaire who is simply the most profane and dishonest person I have ever encountered in a professional setting. 

More bad media news: Chicago now also owns the San Diego Union-Tribune; the latest Tribune chairman, Michael Ferro has been boasting that he has some virtual reality machine that will magically transform local newspapers into profitable global concerns. Reportedly, it achieves perpetual motion too. (How did our engineers in Silicon Valley miss this?) 

Northern California has also seen a disturbance in the force emanating from your town, Chicago. Two years ago, Chicago lured away the great California filmmaker George Lucas, promising lakefront land for a museum housing his art and Hollywood memorabilia. This choice was inexplicable on many levels, including the meteorological -- as the author Nelson Algren put it, “Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.” 

Fortunately for us, Chicago’s leaders are flubbing the whole deal—the project has been held up—and San Francisco seems likely to lure back Lucas’ museum by offering prime land on Treasure Island. (So shed no tears for the billionaire filmmaker.) 

Why do Chicago-California marriages go wrong? The short answer: clashing cultures. California burst on the scene quickly, with a premium on speed, while Chicago, in the words of novelist Neil Gaiman, “happened slowly, like a migraine.” 

Also consider that the defining poem of Chicago, Carl Sandburg’s 1914 masterpiece about the “City of Big Shoulders,” actually boasts that your city is “wicked” and “crooked” and “brutal.” California, requiring finesse, can’t compare to your city of butchers in these regards. (Just look at how Boeing, which moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001, has cut jobs in what’s left of California’s aerospace industry.)

Chicago’s inability to handle delicate work is perhaps most evident in the surprisingly difficult relationship between California and that Chicagoan in the White House. What should have been a natural alignment between a liberal president and a liberal state has been undermined by the deep-dish stubbornness of Obama. 

The president and his Chicago education secretary Arne Duncan should have been natural partners for California Democrats eager to do more for schools after years of cuts. Instead, California and Chicago fought bitterly, often because of Duncan’s inflexible insistence on imposing the same uniform policies on a state with so many wildly different regions. 

Obama also managed to alienate Silicon Valley, which supported his campaigns, by demanding that tech firms behave like appendages of his intelligence apparatus. And, for much of Obama’s presidency, his administration devoted more energy to deporting our undocumented friends and neighbors than to delivering on his promise of legalizing their status, so they can contribute even more to California’s success as an economy and society. 

Forgive me for also mentioning how Obama infuriated millions of California commuters who voted for him -- including yours truly-- with his knack for blocking rush-hour traffic during his endless political fundraising trips here. It’s as if he didn’t understand that our big cities don’t have an “L” elevated train like you do in Chicago to get around Secret Service roadblocks. These visits were almost always more about him taking from California (campaign dollars and Hollywood-tech cachet) than about giving anything, even his attention, to us. Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and Republican governors seeking to lure our companies to their states have had more public conversations with real Californians than Obama. 

To be fair, in other contexts Chicago pig-headedness has obscured California’s own failings. No one really talks about our state budget problems anymore given the length and bitterness of the struggles over public finances in your city and state. Yes, we did elect an Austrian action star as governor, but he -- unlike a couple of your recent governors -- never went to prison. And our pension problems and a recent spike in crime don’t look nearly so daunting compared to the size of those problems in Illinois. 

All of this begs the question: Why do you keep meddling in our state’s challenges when you have so many giant problems of your own? 

Please, for our good and yours, butt out of California, and get back to doing the things you do best.

Like screwing up our connecting flights.


(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square ... where this column originated.) Photo: Dr. Scott M. Lieberman/AP Photo. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Good News, LA!

BUTCHER ON LA--“The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.” – Phil Ochs 

When we bought our first house in Highland Park in 1992, I used to go outside early in the morning for a cigarette and chat with the old, old-timer who lived at the top of the street. I don’t remember his name but we were amazed to discover he grew up on the same street as my mom – Peshine Avenue in Newark, NJ. I especially loved his stories about our little northeast LA street: “That house? Long ago it was the only one on the street. This whole area here? It was a little ranchero. That house’s been here since the mid-1800s. Ever wonder why all these lots are so long and narrow? (I hadn’t.) ‘Cause there used to be a redline stop at the bottom of the street. You could hop on the train on Figueroa and ride all the way to the beach.” 

Read more ...

Don’t be Fooled: Councilman Trying to Score Billions for His Developer Buddies and You are Paying for It

HOMELESSNESS POLITICS--Councilmember Huizar’s call to give $1 billion to real estate developers should surprise no one. As reported here and elsewhere, the City has manufactured a homeless crisis for one purpose: to justify giving those billions to their developer buddies. 

The Bond Ploy--Don’t be fooled into thinking that the taxpayer is not paying for the bonds. The money has to be repaid. That’s the nature of a bond. Wall Street banks lend the City a billion bucks and we repay them $1.25 Billion. Sweet deal for the developers and sweeter deal for Wall Street. Not so good for taxpayers. The City is already floating hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds through its HCIDLA department to give to the real estate developers to construct apartments for the homeless. Gee, I guess that just slipped Huizar’s mind. 

Each billion we borrow for developers to build apartments for the homeless uses up the City’s credit. When we borrow too much, Wall Street raises our interest rate. We still have to pay for the $1 billion lawsuit which is forcing us to fix out sidewalks. We have billions of dollars of unfunded liability for the pension funds. The DWP just raised everyone’s rates and they will raise those rates for the next four years.   

Why So Many Homeless Now?--How did we get so many homeless? The city tore down their homes, throwing thousands of people onto the streets. 

Why did the City tear down their homes? The apartments constructed during the last decade have a 12% vacancy rate. Five percent is equilibrium. Thus, developers are in a financial squeeze. They are “building into a glut.” Also, 2015 was the top year for millennials to move to urban areas. Twenty-five years ago the birth rate for millennials peaked and ever since then it has been downhill. The demand for new apartments is steadily dropping which means each new apartment the developers build will be vacant. With that type of future market, lenders do not want to loan money to the developers, but if they do, the interest rate is a very high to reflect the escalating risk. 

The Future Looks Bad for Real Estate Developers--Things are bleak for developers. The millennials are moving away from urban areas and away from apartments. The millennials have entered the child rearing age, and like all prior American generations, they prefer single family homes with yards. Thus, they pack up and they leave their urban apartments. If you’re going to move, the time to do it is when you’re starting a family. In 2016, there is a plethora of great jobs all over the country with a rapid diminishing number of decent jobs in LA. That’s why our middle class is exiting. 

New people are not moving to LA. One reason is the migration of millennials away from all urban areas; they are the largest group on the move. We are not attracting foreign immigrants so there is no immigrant demand for apartments. Each person or family who leaves Los Angeles creates another vacancy. Thus, our housing stock increases with each departure. 

This demographic trends means financial disaster for developers. They have over-built apartments and are beyond the saturation point. 

LA Apartments at the Saturation Point--The City never tells you about the “saturation point.” We have saturation points for a variety of things like sugar in coffee, traffic congestion and housing. There comes a point when coffee can hold no more sugar and we can tolerate no more sugar. So too with traffic. When traffic congestion mounts, fear of terrible schools dooming your child’s future, the prospect of your employer moving elsewhere, and the deterioration of the city’s infrastructure and the constant threat of more taxes all find our emotional saturation point. Something’s got to give. That’s been happening to a lot of Angelenos lately. The people who can afford to leave LA move elsewhere. This is particularly true for families. 

With the 12% vacancy rate, developers realized that the saturation point has been reached. But they are powerless to prevent people from moving away; they cannot prevent employers from relocating to other states. They do, however have one group of people for whom they can construct apartments: the homeless! 

Huizar’s Plan to Bail out his Developer Buddies--The problem is that the homeless have no money. But, the taxpayers have an endless supply of cash. After all, we gave Wall Street over $3 trillion to rescue the bankers from the Crash of 2008. 

So now the people are being duped into thinking that we have to build new apartments for the homeless. Huizar is silent about immediate solutions which would eliminate the need to construct more apartments, such as: 

(1) Stop tearing down rent controlled apartments. 

(2) House the homeless in the 12% vacant apartments. That’s thousands of units into which we could move them. 

The reality of the homeless population is that some are easier to house than others. There are the mentally disabled, the drug addicted and the alcoholics. While they merit help, it is not as simple as providing a decent place to live. However, those whom the City intentionally made homeless by tearing down rent controlled apartments can have their problem solved overnight. Just give them a key to a home, and after that, provide follow-up services if needed. 

Why Huizar Wants Taxpayers to Borrow Billions--Why build more apartments when we already have more than enough vacancies? Because the purpose of the City Council is to transfer tax dollars from us to the developers. By housing the homeless in the available apartments, we would give no money to the developers. 

Thus, this entire Affordable Housing matter is a giant scam to transfer your money to the billionaire developers rather than housing the homeless in places that are vacant. In many instances, we have already given the developer millions of dollars in subsidies. 

Let’s see a City Council motion that calls for the homeless to be housed at the high rise at 5929 Sunset Boulevard. (Photo above.) It is vacant and we’ve given the developer over $20 million. The developer owes us.


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

Dateline Sacramento: Ballot Measures Like Weeds in the Nov Election Turf

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-My column last week detailed Prop. 50 and the slew of initiatives possibly headed for the November ballot. Election officials across the state are not only prepping for the June 7 primary but are also making decisions that will impact just how many choices you’ll have to consider for the statewide ballot come the first Tuesday in November. 

County elections workers are busy checking the hundreds of thousands of signatures collected during the past months to determine whether or not backers collected enough valid signatures to move forward. The propositions ask voters to weigh in on everything from gun control to the salaries of hospital employees in what would be the most jam-packed ballot since 2000. Much of this hinges on random samplings of signatures. Depending on random sampling results, Secretary of State Alex Padilla could order that every signature be checked, which would not be completed by the June 30 deadline to qualify for the November ballot and would be delayed until November 2018. 

Eight measures are already headed for the November ballot, although the statewide minimum wage initiative will likely be withdrawn since Governor Brown has already signed a minimum wage law last month. Five of the ten measures checked appear to have cleared the random sampling and reports have not come in for the remaining five. 

An advisory ballot measure, which asks voters for their opinion on federal campaign finance laws could be placed on the ballot by the Legislature, which would boost the number of statewide propositions to eighteen.

Pot Legalization Initiative 

One the initiatives that appears to be headed for the November ballot would legalize recreational marijuana. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, if passed, the measure could generate more than $1 billion annually for state and local governments. The Legislative Office Analyst’s office speculates the passage of the measure would lead to an increase in marijuana usage and thus, require additional funds spent on drug treatment. 

State lawmakers recently held a hearing on the measure, which is supported by former Facebook president Sean Parker and others. If passed, the possession, transport, and use of up to an ounce of marijuana would be decriminalized for adults over 21 if used for recreational purposes. The measure would levy a 15% tax on retail sales. According to supporters, some of the funds generated would go to increased law enforcement and drug treatment programs. Supporters also argue that the measure would reduce the cost of keeping offenders in jail or prison. 

Opponents of the bill argue that the decriminalization might increase home invasion robberies and Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) expressed concern that the proposal is an initiative instead of legislation that could be refined by legislators. The California Association of Highway Patrolman and other law enforcement groups argue that the measure could lead to an increase in DUIs and drug-related accidents related to marijuana use, which they say would not lead to a savings for law enforcement. 

Legalization of recreational marijuana may not be the tax revenue panacea it appears to be. According to Business Insider, since Colorado and Washington State first legalized pot, both states saw an upswing in medical marijuana licenses, probably as a result of the increased sales taxes on recreational marijuana. The legalization hasn’t necessarily impacted the black market for the same reason. While the increase in marijuana usage may not necessarily lead to increased need for drug treatment, the increase in driving under the influence of THC (the active ingredient in pot) has increased in both states. It’s important to take a balanced look at the potential pluses and minuses. 

Affordable Housing 

The lack of affordable housing is a pressing issue in Los Angeles County and members of the Assembly and Senate continue to urge Gov. Brown to dedicate funds toward affordable housing programs. At a budget hearing last Tuesday, Assembly Democrats asked for $650 M allocated to rental housing subsidies for low-income workers, as well as tax credits and housing for farm laborers, half of what some in the Assembly had already requested. Senators are also requesting $200 M in funding to combat homelessness. The governor has not included either request in his revised budget, stating that housing subsidies aren’t cost efficient.

Governor Brown is supporting a $2 billion bond promoted by Senate leaders that would reallocate existing funds toward services for the homeless. The governor’s housing affordability plan centers on loosening developer restrictions, a move that is unpopular with both labor and environmental groups.

The governor’s plan, supported by economists and academics, rests on the premise that the crisis reflects lack of housing to meet needs. His plan would streamline the development process but is dependent on how his plan could override local government restrictions. Exempted from detailed local government reviews are urban projects that would reserve at least 20 percent of their units for low-income residents; if the projects are near public transit, that percentage is reduced to 10 percent. The caveat is the property must already be zoned by local government for high-density residential projects. 

The Governor’s plan might be an effective strategy for adding to the housing supply, which may, in turn, decrease costs but does not take into consideration parking and traffic considerations that would impact quality of life in existing neighborhoods. Developers and those who own these buildings must be held accountable to make sure units are affordable and there needs to be a substantial net gain in the number of affordable units to counter the increased traffic and parking issues. 

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

Are LA Politicians Selling Off Our Neighborhoods for Campaign Contributions?

PAY FOR PLAY-Since 2000, the real-estate industry, which includes deep-pocketed developers, has shelled out at least $6 million in campaign contributions to political candidates in Los Angeles-- each election season, the industry pours hundreds of thousands into local campaign war chests. Developers expect, and receive, big favors in return. Neighborhood activists say it’s a sure sign that our city’s development-approval system is rigged and broken — and desperately needs true reform. 

“Six million dollars is just the tip of the iceberg,” says City Hall watchdog and CityWatch columnist Jack Humphreville. “When you bundle all the lobbying fees by the real estate developers, lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and all their cronies, the campaign contributions are just a drop in the bucket. And this does not include helping fund the pet projects of the Mayor and City Council.” 

In fact, developers consistently pay their lobbyists hundreds of thousands to woo City Hall politicians and bureaucrats to win approvals for mega-projects. 

For the massive NoHo West project in North Hollywood, (note aerial photo of proposed project above) employees for the development firm Merlone Geier gave $6,500 in campaign contributions to LA politicians between 2008 and 2015, and the developer paid $240,182 for a City Hall lobbyist to schmooze with the City Council, the Planning Department and the Building and Safety Department. 

In Koreatown, developer Michael Hakim, who wants to build a 27-story residential skyscraper in the middle of a low-slung, working-class neighborhood, paid $41,400 for a lobbyist to chat up LA Planning Department officials so he could get a big gift from the City Council: a special “General Plan amendment” and a “height district” change. 

Hakim also agreed to give $250,000 to City Council President Herb Wesson’s so-called “Community Benefits Trust Fund,” a kind of slush fund that Wesson can use to curry political favor and pay for his pet projects. Hakim has given $3,900 in campaign contributions. 

“Those campaign contributions over the past decade show that City Hall has been selling out our neighborhoods to developers,” says Grace Yoo, a prominent Koreatown social justice activist and attorney. “Our development-approval system is clearly rigged and broken, and we need to fix that with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.” 

What do developers get for spreading around such eye-popping cash to win height district changes and General Plan amendments? Many of them stand to make millions in profits. At the same time, their mega-projects often bring about the demolition of affordable housing units. 

The Los Angeles Times recently found that “more than 20,000 rent-controlled units have been taken off the market since 2001, city records show. The removals peaked during the housing bubble and then bottomed out in the recession, but they have risen significantly since then.” 

The paper concluded: “Looking to cash in on a booming real estate market, Los Angeles property owners are demolishing an increasing number of rent-controlled buildings to build pricey McMansions, condos and new rentals, leading to hundreds of evictions across the city.” 

Alice Callaghan, a longtime, highly regarded homeless advocate who works in Skid Row, says such developer greed seriously impacts everyday Angelenos. “Developers are reaping huge profits by lining the pockets of City Council members and the mayor while taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill to shelter those made homeless by these greedy developers and politicians.”

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, however, looks to level the playing field, and give Angelenos more say in how their communities are developed and shaped. 

Humphreville, Yoo and Callaghan all support the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which will be placed on the March 2017 ballot. You, too, can join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking onto our Act page right now, and following and cheering our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also send us an email at: [email protected]

Together, we can create the change that LA needs!


(Patrick Range McDonald writes for 2PreserveLA.org.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

TSA Canines are Just a ‘Dog and Pony’ Show … Focus should be on Screening

SECURITY POLITICS-The reason Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security lines across the country have become excruciatingly long is because TSA is not opening and staffing all of its screening checkpoints.  

The TSA has directed resources and personnel away from screening to non-screening functions including behavior detection officers (BDO), the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program and passenger screening canine teams. 

In order to immediately reduce overall wait time for travelers, TSA must redeploy its non-screening resources-none of which have been proven effective and all of which cost exorbitant monies-and personnel back to the screening checkpoint so that all lanes are open and fully staffed ahead of the busy summer travel season.  

"On a daily basis, only a handful of the screening checkpoints at a terminal are open while the remaining checkpoints are closed," said Marshall McClain, a canine police officer at LAX, President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association and a co-founder of American Alliance of Airport Police Officers (AAAPO). 

"Passengers will be shocked with empty checkpoints in lines that last over an hour and a half-causing missed planes and extreme frustration.  They are wondering what the problem is.  TSA has the ability to staff these closed checkpoints but they are diverting resources and personnel to things like BDO, VIPR and passenger screening canines -programs that have shown to not enhance security, waste taxpayer dollars and take away from the TSA's core function of screening.  

"By opening and staffing all available screening checkpoints with non-screening BDO, VIPR and TSA canine personnel, wait lines could be significantly reduced.  In order to fortify security at the screening area, the TSA should simply abide by the law that's already on the books that requires an airport police officer be stationed at the screening checkpoint but should provide added flexibility and allow the officer to be within 300 feet of the checkpoint and do away with the blanket waiver to the law that the TSA Administrator can issue." 

Recent calls by those with a bully pulpit, but without the understanding of how the process works, assert that TSA's passenger-screening canines reduce wait times and improve security.  As the on-the-ground law enforcement officers, many of whom are canine handlers, that patrol some of the country's busiest airports, AAAPO police officers have seen no evidence to support this claim-we have seen quite the opposite, as has the American public and Congress.    

The stated purpose of TSA's passenger-screening canines, or vapor wake dogs, are to detect explosives but they have an extremely high rate of false-positives that result in secondary screening of these individuals which ultimately delays screening wait lines even further and requires the use of additional TSA resources.  TSA's passenger screening canine teams do not have a high degree of detection accuracy and have never positively identified explosives on a traveler.  They may look good but they are only a dog and pony show which jeopardizes safety.  Furthermore, the dog's nose goes "blind" within half an hour.  

When a TSA passenger-screening canine alerts to explosives on a passenger (which have all been false-positives to date), TSA protocol calls for that individual to continue through the crowded screening checkpoint so that TSA can conduct secondary screening. Logistically, allowing a person who is suspected of having explosive material on their body to continue through the screening area jeopardizes the safety of surrounding passengers, particularly as they are clogging up the lines and causing a chokehold with more people to potentially injure if they do indeed have explosives.  More time is lost because secondary screening involves more TSA resources.  It is a lose, lose, lose scenario. 

"The argument has been made that TSA's passenger screening canines can allow passengers to go through the screening process with shoes, belts and coats," said Frank Conti, a canine police officer and First Vice President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association.  

"However, this does NOTHING to improve security at airports since these TSA canines are consistently yielding false positives-this process is scary and only provides a false sense of security.  Law enforcement canine teams, who have the underlying police training to immediately identify the level of a threat and respond accordingly-by isolating the suspect-and have the capability to mitigate the problem before it reaches a sterile area and/or plane, should instead be used to fortify screening at airports." 

"There is no doubt that screening wait times will surge this summer and that responsibility lies firmly with TSA," said Paul Nunziato, President of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association and co-founder of the AAAPO. 

"Over the last several years, the TSA wasted billions of dollars and has done nothing to promote safety.  The result has been that TSA has stopped focusing on its primary goal of screening and began programs such as BOD, VIPR and canines to 'spend all the money Congress gave them,' according to former TSA Administrator John Pistole.  

“TSA should screen passengers and luggage and put their money and manpower into doing this to the best of their capabilities.  They've taken their eye off the ball and we are seeing the consequences.  Right now it's just an inconvenience-soon it could be a nightmare scenario where a real threat gets through to a plane-and no one wants that to happen.  

“It is beyond clear to any traveler that all TSA needs to do is fully staff all screening lanes at terminals.  This is absolutely something they can do if they take their canine team, BDO and VIPR people and put them at the checkpoint-yes, it really is that simple."


(Jasmyne Cannick is a Los Angeles activist and writer and handles communications for LAAPOA.)

Whistleblower: City Cooked the Books to Attract the Rams

SPORTS POLITICS--Another lawsuit has emerged in the aftermath of the NFL's decision to move the Rams franchise from St. Louis to Los Angeles.     

Inglewood's former budget manager accused city officials of juggling the books to paint an inaccurately rosy picture of city finances to help persuade the NFL to move the Rams there, and of firing her when she blew the whistle.   

Read more ...

Want to Win the Poverty and Homelessness Battle? More Jobs … Fewer Tax Hikes

SHOCKING STUDY--In 2007, about a year before the economy crashed, the Gallup Poll found that 28 percent of Americans had at some point worried about becoming homeless.

It’s worse today. A new UCLA study found 31 percent of county residents worried about becoming homeless. Even among people earning between $90,000 and $120,000, 1 in 4 were afraid they would one day live on the street.

The fear is a symptom of a stagnant economy. If people felt confident that they would always be able to find a job, some kind of job to pay the bills, everybody would be sleeping better at night. Instead, there is widespread anxiety that unemployment could be imminent, devastating, and at an ever-younger age, permanent.

When economic stagnation is the problem, a tax increase is not the solution. Higher taxes drain away resources needed for growth and job creation. Beleaguered businesses shrink, close or leave. Poverty spreads like water on a marble floor.

So it’s particularly depressing to see the city and county of Los Angeles plotting to raise taxes in the name of helping the homeless.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed $8.75 billion budget includes a pledge of $138 million to help get homeless people into affordable housing, but the future of Garcetti’s 10-year, $2 billion plan to house the homeless depends on persuading voters to approve a higher sales tax, more borrowing, or a new transfer tax on real estate transactions. None of those proposals reached 50 percent approval in a recent poll conducted for the city. They’d need a two-thirds vote to pass.

L.A. County’s proposed budget would spend $100 million to help the homeless, about one-fifth of what county officials say is needed. A poll on how to pay for it found 76 percent support for a half-percent tax increase on income over $1 million, about 67 percent support for a half-percent increase in the sales tax or a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana, and 47 percent approval for a $49 parcel tax added to property tax bills.

But can the problem of homelessness be solved with higher taxes?

There is reason to doubt it.

The Skid Row Housing Trust recently opened an affordable housing development to serve homeless veterans. “The Six” provides 52 units of permanent supportive housing, but it cost $16.7 million, about $321,000 per unit.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says 46,874 people in L.A. County are without a roof over their heads. To house each of them in a place like “The Six” would cost $15 billion.

Suppose we paid it. Would Los Angeles then be free of homeless encampments? Would the sidewalks be clear for pedestrians? Would red lights be just red lights, and not a 30-second Dickens novel?

Not likely, thanks to the federal courts.

In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Los Angeles over enforcement of a section of the city code that allowed police to arrest people for sleeping on the street. The city lost. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Constitution “prohibits the city from punishing involuntary sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.”

The courts have also protected panhandling, calling it a First Amendment right. Last year, cities in Maine and Illinois were told they could not ban panhandling on the medians at intersections or in a busy downtown area.

So Los Angeles taxpayers could spend twice the city’s annual budget on housing the homeless and still have no legal way to stop a new wave of people from replacing them on the streets.

Homelessness is not one problem and it doesn’t have one solution, unless you’re a politician searching through polling data for a way to get voters to support another tax increase. Nobody likes homeless encampments? Bingo!

What’s needed in Los Angeles is a comprehensive effort to improve the business climate so people can find good jobs or run small businesses profitably. Every government policy that burdens businesses or consumers with higher costs reduces hiring, deepens poverty and puts more people at risk of living in vehicles, shelters or tents.

Sadly, our elected officials think of businesses not as engines of economic well-being, but as cash registers to be robbed by government do-gooders. They would rather have their picture taken in a homeless shelter than get out of the way and let people earn a living.

That should keep everybody up at night.

(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece was posted most recently at Fox and Hounds.) 



Save Valley Village: Living Room Activism in Action

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-This past week, I was honored to be invited to a meeting of some of the core members of Save Valley Village, a group that has been laser-focused on ensuring neighborhood integrity and fair development. Each member is facing his or her own battles, including invasive demolition of houses or buildings in their backyards or steps away from their own homes. (Photo above: demolition of Marilyn Monroe house in Valley Village.) The support and advice the members shared with each other touched me. This is at the heart of democracy and what makes our country great. It’s easy to feel disillusioned and that we have no power when it feels like politicians in Washington, Sacramento, and City Hall rubber stamp the needs of special interests while ignoring the average voter. But activists like the folks at Save Valley Village and other groups we are profiling are proof that this doesn’t have to be the case. 

At the heart of the agenda was a rather obscure definition of “major remodel,” buried in a 1991 memo for a non-conforming project. It seems developers and contractors have been taking advantage of this loophole, submitting the wrong permits that promise to save existing houses and instead tear down the structures, saving just a couple of two by fours and nails. 

One member explained how the city eases the path for developers. The zoning administrator can give bonuses and enforcement is discretionary at best. When neighbors have called to complain that builders are “breaking laws and mandates, Building and Safety makes excuses that they’re understaffed.” 

In one case, the yard of a home next to a project was flooded and developed mold. The neighbor called 311 but the employee refused to take a report. “As per Krekorian’s MO, the developer demolished without a permit. There was to be a cultural hearing the very next day,” said the frustrated member. Although Vince Bertoni, former head of Pasadena’s Planning and Community Development Department, has replaced Michael LoGrande as planning director, little seems to have changed. 

The rash of demolitions in Valley Village and nearby areas has led to environmental concerns, a loss of oak trees and historic properties, as well as rental evictions, a dearth of affordable housing units and increased traffic, all concerns for Save Valley Village residents who were preparing for a public hearing to address the Horace Heidt Estates apartments’ proposed expansion on Magnolia and Hazeltine. 

Another project addressed was the Hermitage/Weddington project. Per Save Valley Village, Urban-Blox (Raffi Shirinian, David Dual) has decided to move forward with the planning project. 

A 21-year resident is in litigation with property owners because “their grandson tried to sell the property to developers behind her back, aware that the owners had an agreement to sell to her.” The resident “has lived, run, and breathed this property and was very close to the original owner who had built it.” 

The developers now propose to remove a public street, demolish a single family home with guest house, a rent-controlled triplex, and another five units in one of the first buildings that was developed in 1934. The ensuing project would also destroy over three dozen trees. 

Community members attended the first public hearing on March 29 in opposition. Save Valley Village turned in over 200 pages of evidence of non-compliance, requiring the developers to do a full EIR. They also turned in piles of letters in opposition from the community, historians, naturalists, arbor consultants, non-profits and “all kinds of public voices.” Each of the hearing attendees signed a pink sheet that promised delivery of a letter of determination, listing the time frame for appeal. Once that date has passed, there’s no chance for appeal. 

As of last week, not a single resident has received a letter of determination, which the city claims to have mailed. In fact, not a single resident even received notice of the initial March hearing. Save Valley Village is unable to file appeals as of yet without sending a representative to the department of planning, which is charging for copies on top of making it difficult to access the information. 

“We lost three buildings down the street, a total of 19 rent-controlled units, because nothing was posted anywhere. The city has refused to show us records and made it impossible to appeal the project,” shares a disgruntled member. “They have also destroyed 14 trees, which had bird nests in them. Birds are still circling where their home was. Urban-Blox has never actually built anything. They work with a guy named Steve Nazemmi who is in a dozen or so projects in Valley Village that he has demolished.” 

Although these skirmishes against developers seem to pop up like gophers or moles -- uphill battles with lack of transparency from developers, the city’s Planning Department and the Building and Safety departments -- Save Valley Village and other groups around the city are dedicated to continuing to protect neighborhoods and the quality of life in our city.

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

Our Vets and the Price of Racism at Brentwood School

VOICE FOR OUR VETS--Brentwood School, the private elitist school for children of the wealthy and powerful ($37,000 tuition) has made national news that exposes its underlying racist attitude. Here are two examples: 

Brentwood School holds a privileged lease for its 25-acre athletic complex on Veterans VA property that was deeded exclusively as a National Home for disabled and homelessness Veterans.  Los Angeles is our nation's capital for homeless Veterans while Brentwood School's lease was adjudicated in Federal Court to be "unauthorized by law and therefore void." 

The VA, along with Brentwood School, appealed the Judgment.  VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald met privately behind closed doors with two of his personal wealthy and powerful friends -- Bobby Shriver and Ron Olson -- both are attorneys and neither are Veterans, and they unilaterally agreed to vacate the Judgment with a counterfeit settlement agreement that promised to end Veteran homelessness by the end of December 31, 2015.  

Los Angeles is still our nation's capital for homeless Veterans and Skid Row is the capital for all homeless in Los Angeles with more than 90% being Black, that includes countless war-injured and impoverished U.S. Military Veterans that need to be housed and cared for on this land instead of Brentwood School's athletic complex, UCLA's baseball diamond, City of Los Angeles's "rent free" public dog park, etc. 

While the federal judgment was fraudulently vacated, Brentwood School has plans to expand its athletic complex instead of being evicted.  Now the School has been embarrassingly exposed for student's racist assault on Blacks and the Los Angeles VA is complicit in all of this. 

Bobby Shriver has a very serious conflict-of-interest as he has children that attend Brentwood School and he must be banned from any participation of any nature on Los Angeles VA property. 

The VA police have special privileges to use the Brentwood School athletic complex while all Veterans in general are prohibited from entering on property deeded in their exclusive behalf, and there's a so-called "sharing agreement."  

This is disgracefully corrupt and Mr. McDonald along with Ann Brown, executive director of the Los Angeles VA, must resign or be fired posthaste. 

The most corrupt VA in the nation continues to get more corrupt, and now it allows racist tenants on VA property with a "sharing agreement" that has been adjudicated "unauthorized by law and therefore void." 

These same corrupt co-conspirators continue to ignore their responsibility and promise to end Veteran homelessness in Los Angeles. 

Speak up and demand CHANGE at the Los Angeles VA. 

God Bless America and the Veterans Revolution!

(Robert Rosebrock is Director of The Veterans Revolution, Captain of the Old Veterans Guard, and Director of We the Veterans … and a occasional contributor to CityWatch)



LA’s Streets Are No Work of Art

TALKIN’ TRASH--It was only Tuesday but it was shaping up to be another great week in LA. The transformational LA happening, CicLAvia Southeast Cities was on the books, having blessed Huntington Park, Walnut Park, Southgate, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood and Watts, with its boundless energy and the joy of ten miles of car-free streets. 

Like earlier CicLAvias, this one introduced thousands of Angelenos to neighborhoods many knew nothing about -- other than the evening news’ caricature of drug- and crime-infested areas unsafe at any time of day. 

And the beat goes on with Metro’s Expo Line opening to Santa Monica this Friday. 

At times like this, everything seems so possible in the capital of the Best Coast. 

So why is it so hard for the City of Los Angeles to take care of the little things like picking up the trash?

Last week I took a walk from my apartment near Olympic and Western in Koreatown north through the neighborhood and East Hollywood to Sunset Blvd and Normandie and back again. What I saw wasn’t pretty. In the years that I have lived in Koreatown I can’t believe the things I have seen people do with their trash. 

The rodent-infested homeless encampment under the 101 near Monroe at Normandie is emblematic of our problem. But heaps of trash and discarded furniture on Hobart, Harvard, Ardmore, Kingsley and other area streets also attest to our utter failure to conquer what should be a relatively modest challenge for City Hall. 

I love, and regularly use, MyLA 311, the City’s excellent free app for reporting bulky item pickup and other services. And it works well. But clearly, not everyone is using the simple app. 

Nor should they have to. L.A. Sanitation is out and about, or should be, all of the time. Why should Sanitation workers wait for a call that may never come telling them that some bonehead has left his transmission on the curb? If you see something, say (and DO) something should apply to LASanitation as well as transit riders and airline passengers. 

Like dogs, too many Angelenos seem to use their rubbish to mark their territory. Too many of us throw our beer cans, bottles, diapers, condoms, butts and worse out the windows of our cars and trucks onto the street. Or maybe they just open the door, dump out their trash and drive away. Or not. How do I know? I’ve witnessed it again and again. 

If only there were a special place in hell for people who don’t know how to treat Mother Earth. Are the schools in LA and in all U.S. cities and other countries we Angelenos come from really so bad that they don’t teach students to put trash in bins and not on the streets? It’s a miracle that the polluters haven’t yet killed off all of our flora and fauna with the oozing motor oil and car parts they leave behind after the lube job at Joe’s Curbside Auto Repair. 

Where is LA Sanitation, Code Enforcement and the LAPD when these “people” are dumping their auto parts and construction debris on our streets and the empty lot across the street? 

I know the dumping in KTown by locals and visitors pales in comparison to what the fracking and coal companies are doing to the world on a daily basis, but it still sucks. 

Sure, keeping our city clean is a partnership and the public has a big role to play. But it’s also a basic city service and if the government can’t take care of the little stuff like litter, how can it expect us to have any confidence in its management of the real challenges like jobs, the economy, schools, policing, homeless services, transit and infrastructure? 

I like our gifted, committed Mayor and many members of the City Council. But don’t they see what I see every day out my window? Don’t they believe in sanctioning illegal dumping and enforcing the law? Don’t they believe in accountability at LA.Sanitation? And when will we see those promised regularly serviced trash and recycling bins on our streets? 

Cleanstat, the Bureau of Sanitation’s cleanliness scoring of every street in the City (they drove all of LA’s public streets and alleys) is a work of art; but our streets aren’t. 

Now is the time to get out and pick up the trash. Garbage collection and enforcement can change our landscape and mother knows we need to. 

According to the Cleanstat website, Los Angeles is leading the way as the only big city in the U.S. conducting a regular cleanliness assessment of every city street. 

Assessments are nice, but I don’t need no stinkin’ assessment. I can smell it.


(Joel Epstein is a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), recruiting and outreach. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


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