Tue, Mar

LA Needs Reliable Public Transportation - Not Just Emphasis on Rail Lines

GUEST COMMENTARY--There was one heck of a birthday party Friday. After years of bated breath, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority finally opened its 6.6 mile, $1.5 billion Expo line light-rail extension, which stretches westward from its previous Culver City terminus all the way to Santa Monica. Adding to the hype, there were a host of celebrations near the new Santa Monica stations and a full day of free rides. 

But after the crowds clear, the confetti is swept up, people will have to pay full price for train fares again. We’re still going to have an extended train track. In fact, if Metro stays on track – no pun intended – to complete the decades’ worth of projects it has planned, Angelenos will have a pretty extensive rail system by 2040. 

It’s great that Metro’s push to get Angelenos out of their cars is finally leaving the station, so to speak. But there’s a caveat: Transit systems cost serious money to build and maintain. The Metro expects to drop $410 million on maintenance and security in 2017, an 8.6 percent increase from this year. 

Fortunately, they’re looking for more money to fund these projects and improvements. To this end, the Metro’s Board of Directors is working on a draft plan for a referendum to go on November’s ballot. The referendum proposes to extend half-cent Measure R sales tax approved in 2008 for at least 20 years and introduce another half-cent sales tax, Measure R2, to take effect for 45 years. If all goes according to plan, the Metro will end up with $120 billion in extra cash.

Los Angeles voters need to approve Measure R2 in November if they want to see further improvements in their transit system’s accessibility and reliability. But first, the Metro needs to amend its expenditure plan and make sure it uses its money for the benefit of as many Southlanders as possible, not just the ones who live and work near rail corridors. 

To that end, Metro needs to reach more potential riders by allocating more funds toward pedestrian, biking and bus infrastructure, as well as maintenance to ensure that their system is fast and reliable. That would come at a cost, namely a lesser emphasis on new rail construction. 

Hopefully the transit gods will forgive me for saying that, but it’s no secret that rail projects are costly and take a long time to complete. Just look at the Expo line extension. Even when they’re done, they primarily serve corridors of high-density, high-wealth development. This is all well and good; trains serve these areas well. 

But Los Angeles is a diverse place, and rail wouldn’t be the most effective option for all of its areas. Anyone familiar with my Metro columns knows that I’m big on buses and multimodal transportation as ways to reach people in lower density areas who wouldn’t otherwise utilize public transportation.

Case in point: Santa Clarita Valley residents recently voiced concerns about the returns their community would receive under the current iteration of Measure R2. San Fernando Valley leaders have shared similar sentiments about the attention their communities would receive. Lower density suburban communities like these would benefit more from bicycle and pedestrian paths and improved bus infrastructure. These projects would be faster, easier and cheaper to implement than rail and would have a wider reach.

For example, the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit corridor, completed in 2010, runs through one of the busiest and most congested corridors in the city. And yet it only cost $31.5 million to install, a fraction of what the Expo extension cost. 

But try telling that to Metro. A full 35 percent, or $42 billion, of Measure R2 is currently earmarked for major rail construction projects. By comparison, only 4.5 percent, or $5.4 billion, is going toward street improvements and biking infrastructure, with another 1 percent allocated for bike paths along the LA River. Bus system extensions are only getting $350 million. That’s chump change. Let’s say that Metro reallocates $2 billion away from rail construction and gives an extra billion each for multimodal and bus expansions. That adds up to $7.75 billion, or 6.5 percent of the total sales tax revenue. 

In the shadow of big rail, that’s still chump change, but the boosts to the non-rail transit system would be anything but trivial. The extra cash could go a long way in planning new bus routes, improving street and fleet maintenance, improving the convenience and reliability of bus service and establishing more bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure.

So yes, rail systems are a worthy investment for the more urbanized areas of LA, and you can bet that I’ll be living it up at the Expo extension’s grand opening. But when that shiny new rail line starts to lose its luster, Angelenos still need a fast, reliable and convenient way to get around the city. Measure R2 can give them the option they need. But first, Metro needs to change its track.


(Chris Campbell writes for the Daily Bruin where this was originally posted.)  Illustration: Annie Chan/ Daily Bruin. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Cable Users Beware! This Time Warner Mega-Merger Just Created a 'Price-Gouging' Monster

CABLE WARS-The maligned merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks is complete, which means the three companies have now become the country's second-largest cable provider, despite months of warnings from consumer and open internet advocates who assailed it as the creation of a 'price-gouging' monster. 

Charter ultimately paid $55 million to purchase Time Warner Cable and $10.4 billion for Bright House Networks. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) approved the acquisition earlier this month with several caveats -- including a ban on data caps and TV exclusivity deals that would harm competition -- but opponents warn that the deal is still bad news. 

"[T]here is some solace that, if rigorously enforced, these conditions should eliminate the more egregious harms this merger could cause while creating a baseline for acceptable industry behavior," Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer said at the time. 

However, he added, "It is hard to cheer for further media and broadband consolidation, regardless of what conditions the FCC or DOJ might adopt." 

What does the merger mean for the average consumer? As Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at the advocacy group Free Press, wrote in a blog post earlier this month, "Charter will need to hike prices to pay down the nearly $27 billion in new debt it took on to complete its merger. That’s a burden that amounts to more than $1,000 per average Charter customer." 

Free Press president Craig Aaron also previously warned that the merger, which he called "wasteful and costly," undermines FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's "oft-stated priority of competition, competition, competition." 

"It hands far too much control over the internet's future to a cable giant with the incentive and capability to gouge its customers with higher and higher prices," Aaron said. "It gives cable monopolists like Charter and Comcast the power to throttle the nation's burgeoning video market and stifle innovation at the edges of the network."


(Nadia Prupis writes for Common Dreams where this report was posted earlier.) Photo: AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Here’s How to Drive Up Transit Line Ridership … EXPOnentially

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--For those with any understanding of the politics and psychology of transportation--and this November's half-cent sales tax measure for more transportation/transit, it's not hard to connect the success of the Expo Line with the success of the "Measure R-2" initiative.  

And for my neighbors in the San Gabriel Valley, ditto for the Foothill Gold Line.  So, while everyone is (rightfully so) in the Expo Line celebratory mode: 

1) Ridership must be high even when it's not free, and it should be done as a common sense mobility effort, not as a civic duty. 

To those of you reading this who envision transit ridership as a civic or even theological imperative, this may bother you to read this, but whether it's Chicago or San Francisco or Washington, D.C. or New York, transit ridership is ultimately a common sense/self-interested/capitalistic attraction to those who use it.  It should be a no-brainer to avoid mind-boggling traffic, and THAT is the best way to promote ridership. 

Sunday afternoon after a fun backpacking trip in the San Gabriel Mountains, the I-10 freeway was still an ugly and infuriating 40 minute trip from Downtown to the Westside, so the lengthy Expo Line transit time is still quite competitive with the freeway and/or streets of the Westside and Mid-City. 

It will please you all to know that the LADOT, Big Blue Bus and Uber/Lyft industries are very much aware of the need for connectivity--and help is on the way.  It certainly WILL be a trial and error experience with respect to buses and DASH line connections...but it should be remembered that the Green Line, which "goes from nowhere to nowhere", still has one of the highest riderships of any transit line in the nation because of bus and Blue Line connectivity. 

With more businesses and housing projects moving next to the Expo Line stations as a free market strategy (it's amazing what human ingenuity and self-interest will do outside of government interference and dictates), it's certain that the Expo Line will reach high ridership levels faster than anyone can predict.  Even the Westside neighborhoods that fought the Expo Line are seeing home prices go up, according to my friends in the real estate biz. 

And I will NEVER back down from this last statement: to the women who want to ride transit, speak up!!!  If the County Sheriffs have an insufficient presence, then raise the cry.  If nighttime businesses and eyes/ears next to the transit station are so rare that certain stations pose a safety problem, speak up!!!  But if we have enough riders to ride this train, then this will be a safe and convenient ride for ALL of us.

2) What IS your civic duty if you're a transit advocate: Speak up for betterments! 

It's not Metro's fault that the City of Santa Monica rejected the advice of the Expo Authority to have a street-running Expo Line in Downtown Santa Monica, and it's not Metro's fault that the local opposition in the Westside rejected a compromise rail bridge at Overland Avenue (it HAD to be a $300 million tunnel or nothing...so they got nothing after all their lawsuits), so the length of the ride can't be helped much in the Westside. 

But the Westside trip is fairly speedy.  It's the Downtown Los Angeles street running portion of the Expo Line that can be worked on.  It's incumbent on us all to fight for signal prioritization for trains to make the Downtown portion of the ride faster--or, for that matter, anywhere on any portion of any line where light rail trains run.  The rail crossing guards should not be overly long (drivers have rights, too), but trains should have priority at crossings. 

And with respect to parking, it's NOT inappropriate to both encourage alternative, non-automobile access to the Expo and other light rail lines, as well as to demand the private sector come up with parking, bicycle, bus and pedestrian amenities to access the line.  Bundy/Olympic, Exposition/Sepulveda, and Venice/Robertson are ripe for such private sector sponsorship.  If Culver City can do it, then so can Los Angeles and Santa Monica. 

Finally, with respect to sidewalks, it's time the rest of the City's grassroots consider following the lead of the Mar Vista Community Council:  we REJECTED the 30 year timeline the City came up with to repair our City's sidewalks.  Forget THAT nonsense--we favor a 7-10 year timeline.  Perhaps the City should prioritize the sidewalks within 1/2 mile of each of our rail/transit stations! 

3) Be a Transit Advocate, not a Transit Bully. 

After fighting the car-only culture for years, it's not appropriate to be those who demonize automobiles and their taxpaying, commuting, hard-working drivers. 

It would be doggone nice for all of us to be able to avoid using a car to get to work, but that doesn't always work out.  Ditto for groceries, dropping the kids off to soccer practice, etc.  I hardly could have gone backpacking last weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains via a bus, could I? 

So be kind--some of the things I hear freak me out, and have no business in a civilized conversation with your neighbors.  If you have a problem with white people, black people, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, etc. then put a sock in it...especially if you want a favorable vote come this November for a half-cent sales tax to finish the job of a 21st Century transit system for L.A. County. 

The Expo Line was meant to bring us all together.  Be FOR something.  Let's DO this!


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



Gentrification Debate: Boyle Heights is the Heart of LA for Latinos … It Should be Allowed to Grow

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-Boyle Heights is the center of gravity for Latinos in Los Angeles but gentrification may be a problem. Like most of Los Angeles, Boyle Heights has long been a gateway community for people from all over the world; it once was the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in LA, according to a very interesting article by Scott Garner. 

Garner says that Mexican Americans have made their homes in this neighborhood since the 1800s, and the early 20th Century saw African Americans, Japanese, Russians, Poles, Serbs, Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe also settle on or at the foot of the bluffs on the LA River’s east bank. 

What brought them there was the lack of racially restrictive covenants that dictated who could live where in much of the city of Los Angeles. Even the neighborhood cemetery was open to burials of almost all, though Chinese Americans were shamefully relegated to its potter’s field. This openness helped Boyle Heights rapidly develop, especially from 1900 to 1930, as streetcars and the river’s viaducts knitted the once-isolated neighborhood into the city. 

Boyle Heights in the years after became an important center of Chicano culture, a historical moment still preserved by the neighborhood’s many murals. Today it remains a center of gravity for Latinos in Los Angeles. 

Residents of Boyle Heights are concerned about the possibility of widespread gentrification, which has led to some friction as the market has heated up. 

Tracy Do, a realtor at Compass, told Garner that she’s increasingly bringing clients to the neighborhood as an alternative to areas such as Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Glassell Park. She listed a three-bedroom Boyle Heights single-family residence this month and received more than twenty offers in less than a week.  

“It's certainly an up-and-coming neighborhood,” Do said, “and it's rising quickly in terms of desirability due to its distance from downtown LA and the Arts District specifically." 

In a seller’s market, buyers who are finding themselves priced out of Northeast LA are “turning to Boyle Heights for the next best thing.” And she noted that buyers who can afford only a condo in another neighborhood can get a single-family residence in Boyle Heights. 

In March, the median price for single-family homes in the 90023 ZIP code was $225,000, based on two sales, according to CoreLogic. In the 90033 ZIP, based on two sales, the median price was $233,000, and in 90063, the median price was $380,000, based on thirteen sales. 

Los Angeles is becoming slowly but surely a really expensive city to live in. We have to make sure that everyone who has a full time job in Los Angeles can afford to live here. This problem is not going to be solved just by creating more affordable housing. Shane Phillips, an urban planner in LA, argues that low vacancy rates is the real problem causing the lack of affordable housing, not high-rises. It’s a problem that won’t be solved by trying to prevent change. That’s the path San Francisco chose and now a shabby one-bed-room apartment there rents for $3,000 a month. 

I couldn’t agree more with Shane Phillips when he says that to solve this problem we are going to need a more humanistic approach to housing policy. We need to realize that when we reject adding more housing to our neighborhoods, we turn away real people who want to make a better life for themselves and contribute to our region’s success.


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

CA June Primary: Prop 50 Matters Not

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Are you immortal? If so, you might take some time to read and consider Prop 50. But if there’s a good chance you might die some day, don’t waste another precious second on this earth thinking about Prop 50, which appears on the June ballot here in California. 

Seriously, leave that part of the ballot blank. Or vote for it. Or against it. It doesn’t matter. 

You can stop reading now. 

For those who might want an explanation of why they shouldn’t care, I wasted my time reading the measure and ballot arguments. 

And here is a very abridged argument – hey, I have better things to be doing – of why Prop 50 doesn’t matter. 

It only applies in the rare circumstances when a legislator has broken the law or been indicted for a crime and the legislature wants to kick them out. (Photos above: Indicted CA State Senators Leland Yee, Ron Calderon, Rod Wright.) Vote yes, and it would take 2/3 to suspend a legislator, and the legislature could stop paying them. Vote no, and the status quo prevails: it takes a majority vote to suspend the legislature, and there is no provision to get rid of their salary. 

I guess you could argue about which is better -- but both sets of rules seem OK for me. I suppose I prefer the status quo -- maybe some legislature might try to make mischief and suspend the pay of someone they didn’t like in a Prop 50 world -- but really, why should this matter? 

The legislature put this on the ballot to show that it was responding at a time when three state senators were facing very different charges. But it’s pretty meaningless. 

And if you’re still reading this post here, you might think about getting a life.


(Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. This was originally posted at Fox and Hounds. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Beyond Politics: LA City Council President Wesson Stands up to Ku Klux Klan Acts (LA Pulse Poll)

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES-In what can simply be described as “an eye-opening reminder of American history,” any modern-day behaviors that resemble the hateful acts of the Ku Klux Klan create more controversy than a group of Black Lives Matters protesters at a Donald Trump campaign event in 2016. 

Only days ago, LA City Council President Herb Wesson was troubled by one of the many speaker cards he receives for public comment. A speaker card with racially-charged drawings on it stood out from the rest that usually only have identifying information for each speaker and the governing body they wish to address. But this time, a speaker card with drawings of a Klan hat with arms and legs holding a noose in one hand and, in the other hand, a picket sign with the words “Herb = N*gger” along with a primitive drawing of a man being lynched from a tree was on the front. On the back were the large words “F*ck Herb”-- obviously directing all this negative energy directly at the Council President and no one else.

LA Pulse

[sexypolling id="4"]  

The lone wolf in this matter is a City Hall regular who self-identifies “Wayne from Encino” (I can’t help but wonder how the community of Encino feels about its newfound attention.) 

As an outspoken activist who also frequents City Hall to address many Skid Row issues, including homelessness, I have come to recognize “Wayne from Encino” by face and demeanor. Almost every time he speaks during public comment (hiding behind freedom of speech protections,) he delivers a constant onslaught of vulgarity wearing his usual “uniform”-- dingy tan khakis and an equally dingy stripped t-shirt. Combined with his verbal undertone, he has always pointed out his displeasures about how the poor and homeless are treated in Los Angeles. I thought he himself may have been homeless or formerly was. 

To hear reports of him being described as “an attorney” following his arrest was shocking, to say the least. My immediate thought was, “If he’s an attorney and is always at City Hall commenting during various public comments in City Council and council committee meetings, when does he practice law and how many clients does he have?” 

Once the “speaker card-gate” situation had become public, all eyes were lasered on Wesson. How he responded would set the tone for everyone else. Would he be angered to the point where suddenly Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and others would swarm City Hall to take over any and all public meetings with loud, continuous dominating outbursts that would drown out all civic discourse? Would Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or other prominent Black leaders and clergy hold press conferences demanding “action”? While some may think this would be unnecessary acts of disruption, in this case, it all would be warranted

History has shown that when tensions are high and the potential for a sudden “release of bottled up energy” by the masses is present, those who exhibit natural acts of class are recognized for such. This is unlike former President George W. Bush who was ridiculed for his quirky demeanor immediately following news of planes flying into New York’s World Trade Towers during the tragic September 9/11 event. 

In this case, Herb Wesson should be publicly recognized for his uber-classy demeanor. Of course, he publicly blasted “Wayne from Encino” during a no-nonsense press conference that had to be done, but he didn’t take the City of Los Angeles down such a negative path that the entire city would come to a screeching halt. This is something that should be duly noted by Mayor Garcetti and the other City Council members -- whether they do it publicly or privately is up to them, but it should be done! 

Then, as other City business needs to be handled, Wesson respectfully returned his focus to his duty as a public servant and council president…. SMOOTH! 

An already scheduled City Council town hall-style meeting in South LA (in Wesson’s district) happened only days after this racial madness at City Hall. Wesson conducted business as usual. Instead of using the platform to spew hatred towards the Klan (or “Wayne”), which would have probably resonated with the majority African-American audience, he stayed on-agenda, including the controversial DWP rate hike possibility. 

The only mention Wesson made to the “other” issue was a simple joke about hoping not to receive any speaker cards with drawings on them. This generated resounding laughter from the hundreds of attendees. 

At the end of the meeting, however, Wesson did receive one speaker card with a drawing on it. It was a heart with the caption: “We got luv 4 you, Herb!” 

A fitting end and transition to what could have been an uncomfortable and distracting spectacle for the entire City of Los Angeles. 

It’s moments such as these that reinforce my love for my city, knowing that with class we can voice our displeasures, debate the issues and reach compromises in the best interest of the greater good, all in the same demeanor. 

Thank you, Herb Wesson, for showing us how it’s done! You’re a true leader…leading by example. 

And to those who don’t agree with me, just say something negative out loud about any of this and watch the city “turn up”! 

You have been warned! Show some respect….Or hate with class. Whichever choice you make, just know that Wesson has given us all an example to follow. 

Thanks, Herb.


(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own. ) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


A Softly Racist Message in LA’s Subway

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES-Legitimate cases of racism can be big and galvanizing. They can also be small, subtle and potentially cause greater harm to more people. You probably heard of the big one swirling around City Hall last week, and most likely missed the small one on your morning commute. 

The Los Angeles City Hall speaker card, at 5½ x 8½, is the stuff of mundane bureaucracy. It is used by members of the public to let city officials presiding over their many daily Council, Committee and Commission meetings know that someone wants to be heard on a given agenda item, or many agenda items, sometimes in confrontational but Constitutionally protected tones.  

While Herb Wesson, the City Council president with a genuinely warm soul, has implemented dictatorial, and perhaps illegal, ways to suppress public criticism (a subject about which I may write in the future), neither he nor anyone else deserves what happened to him a week ago.

One of those cards was intentionally submitted with brutally hurtful, racially tinged words and images at a Committee meeting chaired by Wesson, the first African-American to serve in that capacity. It was submitted by a vociferous gadfly infamous around City Hall for expressed opinions consistent with this sentiment over the past few years, although this appears to be the first time that any were labeled by city officials as a threat. Whether the gadfly committed a crime in doing this will be determined by LA District Attorney Jackie Lackey, also an African-American. 

Hurtful as the content may be, its author is an attorney well-versed in pushing the limits of free speech -- a subject in which the city has a losing record in recent civil cases. So making that case may be more challenging for Lacey than it appears. Regardless, the author immediately became the subject of negative media exposure, scathing social media criticism and potentially, a review by the California Bar Association. 

On the red line subway, several hundred feet below City Hall, is where you will find a more subtle, and possibly more harmful, long-lasting racist message. And it jumps at you if you take a second look. 

Depicted in an advertisement from American Career College are three good looking young faces. In the first photo on the left is an African American male, under whose image is “medical assistant – 9 months.” The center photo is an African American female, with “vocational nurse – 13 months.” And on the right is either a white or Latina female that says “registered nurse – 20 months.”

While this messaging, under the banner, “your time to change,” was probably not intended to suggest a limited potential for black men, it does precisely that because the ad’s progression shows both a black woman and a woman of another race going further in their education. This is what the phrase the soft bigotry of low expectations, is all about. It’s a term whose coining is attributed to Michael Gerson, ironically a white, Evangelical conservative Republican with Jewish roots, and speechwriter for George W. Bush, who used it in a 2000 speech to the NAACP. 

It is more likely a case of ill-conceived branding. Really bad branding. But someone looking at it and reading it, perhaps a young person of color, or not of color, might internalize its message forever. This could cause far greater harm than a City Hall speaker card. 

While American Career College could not be reached for comment, its Yelp reviews and cost, topping out at a whopping $66,525 for some Associates degrees, suggest that it is also a really bad choice for anyone seeking a better future. For a sliver of that money, they may find doors can open more widely by pursuing their education at Pierce College, Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles City College.

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and blogs on humane issues at ericgarcetti.blogspot.com. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch. The views expressed are those of Mr. Guss.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Whoa! Enough with the Tax Increases, Fees and Bonds - What are Our Politicos Smokin’?

 EASTSIDER-Looks like the LA City Council has started smokin’ some weed on the assumption that the Marijuana initiative will pass in November. Of course, math was never their forte even without mind altering substances. And as we know, the actual budget process is a closely held secret.  

Here’s the Problem: 

For context, we are living in the best of times if you’re an LA City politician. The developers are buying off elected officials at a record rate, housing and hi-rises are popping up all over like the giant popcorn bags at the movie theater (one refill for free), and as housing prices take off like the booster unit on a space shuttle, the city coffers haven’t seen life this good in years and years. 

So what are these math majors going to do when the economy tanks again? We all know deep in our hearts that the frothy bubble of LA’s housing market is simply unsustainable. If history is a guide, the Council will stick their collective heads in the sand like ostriches, wringing their hands in helpless angst. 

We’ve been here before in Los Angeles with the “great recession” of 2007-08 and it wasn’t pretty. The City Council was impotent and useless in their vain attempts to shift the blame and take fake actions. I see no reason it will be different this time. 

Folks will lose jobs; they will discover what these taxes look like, not to mention property tax assessments on an $800,000 home in places like Echo Park, Silverlake, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock and the other chi chi areas. That 3% interest rate on a bank loan isn’t going to do much good to reduce their property tax bills. 

And yet the Council can’t even balance this year’s budget! As Jack noted regarding the Mayor’s budget message, “on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti characterized his $5.6 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year as a ‘strong spending plan that is balanced and responsible, with a record investment of $138 million to tackle the City’s homelessness crisis.’”  

But “spending” is the operative word since the cumulative deficit over the next four years is expected to exceed $300 million as the growth in expenditures exceeds that of revenues. This compares to last year’s projection of a four year cumulative deficit of “only” $37 million.  

When you discount the typical press conference horse puckey, the City budget doesn’t even balance in these best of times. Remember, to make this turkey fly, the City is proposing significant DWP Rate Increases, a tax to pay for the homeless that they have generated by dumping folks out of their homes to pave the way for new developments, and a tax to fix the City’s sidewalks. Read Jack’s column about Garcetti’s gee whiz speech in what the Mayor didn’t tell us.  

And this litany doesn’t even count the proposed 1/2 cent additional Metro tax for the next 30 years, an LA County storm water tax, and a County parcel tax to fund Parks. All of this is on the November ballot, along with god knows what from the State. 

While a lot of the ballot measures aren’t limited to the City of LA per se, if you add all of the City, County and Special District proposals, we are in for a lot of liability. 

So, here’s a sample of what’s in store for us: 

Rate Increases at LADWP 

LADWP Increases of about 5% a year for five years (not including MWD ‘pass throughs.’) 

While certain core rate increases are really needed to fix infrastructure problems like broken water mains and power outages, there are add-ons built into the transfer money to City Hall that pay for their pet projects. And the Council knows it.  

The problem with the LADWP is that we don’t actually get to vote on any of this stuff -- the Council does all the voting. 

LA City Sidewalk Fix


We don’t know exactly how much this will cost, but the City has already entered into a billion dollar plus legal settlement on the issue, while they have only set aside a token of what is needed in this year’s budget. We know they will be back for more money, be it this November or by some sleight of hand. We’ll see if they are bold enough to actually do a tax increase.


A Billion Dollars in Bonds for the LA River


This was the much-hailed plan where the Mayor went to Washington and allegedly got a whopping $1 billion to fund the project. But most of the money has disappeared, leaving the City holding the bag.


So it looks like a Community Redevelopment Agency style bond money coming down the road. Not a direct tax increase, but guess who’s on the hook if the math doesn’t work out? Taxpayers. Remember that LAUSD bond measure we got hit with?


And by the way, the reality is that this project is only going to benefit the rich anyhow.


Attacking Homelessness


A Homeless Plan includes $100 million just for the City -- with no idea where the money will come from.


While the City has set aside $30 million this year, although costs will actually be around $100 million just for the City, both the City and County are looking for funding.


Maybe a new tax, or a fee, but the bill is going to have to be paid.


Metro Tax Increase


A Metro 1/2 cent sales tax increase


I particularly like this one, since they are essentially doubling down on the existing $9 billion 1/2 cent sales tax that produced a ten percent drop in usage.


How About a County Storm Water Tax


For those who track political goings on, this is the one that was laughed off the ballot in 2013 when it got tagged with a line to the effect that, “God made the rain, and it took LA County to figure out how to tax it.” Smart money says they will avoid the November ballot and go for it later.


The Takeaway


What I find galling is that all of these increases will definitely not benefit us middle and lower income folks.


Balanced budget? I don’t think so.


Here’s a thought -- hold on tight to your money, read the fine print, and don’t believe a word of the massively funded lobbyist campaigns that are going to be launched for the November ballot. AND VOTE! -- preferably for Bernie!


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

Update! Mansionization in Los Angeles: Bad News and Good News

PLANNING WATCH--First, the bad news. I live in the Beverly Grove neighborhood, and so far we have lost over 75 of our homes, or about 12 percent, to McMansions. The mansionization process was only dampened down recently through a new Residential Floor Area District (RFA), adopted in 2014 after a decade of hard campaigning.  

The good news is that my neighborhood is represented by the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA), a community organization that has steadfastly represented the residents of the greater Fairfax area on land use issues for over 50 years. During the past ten years, the BWHA has also been a leader in citywide efforts to restrict McMansions in Los Angeles neighborhoods because its own neighborhoods, especially Beverly Grove, became the epicenter of mansionization. 

This is why the BWHA strongly supports Councilmember Koretz’s original Council Motion, instructing the Department of City Planning to remove all Baseline Mansionization Ordinance loopholes that promote mansionization, such as the three alternative 20 percent bonuses, as well as the inexplicable exemption for 400 square feet of attached garages.  

This is also why community organizations, such as the BWHA, consider the second version of City Planning’s BMO/HMO amendments to be a major step in the wrong direction. Be reinserting so many prior and new loopholes, City Planning’s draft amendments again ensure that mansionization will continue – despite the City Council’s unanimous and straightforward instructions to finally stop mansionization. City Planning’s job, therefore, could not be simpler: prepare amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance that remove its loopholes. In fact, the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association prepared such a simple draft ordinance, and then submitted it to both City Planning and to Council District 5 over a year ago. 

Furthermore, our neighborhood has learned through the school of hard knocks that LA’s Department of Building and Safety is either incapable or unwilling to enforce existing mansionization ordinances and code violations, such as the consistent failure of contractors to post on-site demolition and building permits. 

It should therefore be no surprise when we predict that Department of Building and Safety will not understand nor reliably implement the complicated mansionization ordinance that City Planning is now unveiling at public hearings. It will be easily gamed by contractors and realtors since they are already emboldened by the City of LA’s current blasé approach to mansionization. 

The other good news is the firm position taken by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and David Ryu in their May 4, 2016, letter to the new Director Of Planning, Vince Bertoni. They implored Mr. Bertoni to stick to the purpose of the City Council’s May 16, 2014, motion: “It is imperative that the Planning Department achieve the intent of protecting residential neighborhoods well before the patchwork of Interim Control Ordinances…expires in March 2017.”  


The Councilmembers were, in effect, responding to the express concerns of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and other kindred neighborhood organizations intent on heading off another sham mansionization ordinance at the pass. Their concerns fall into six categories: 

  • The city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and Baseline Hillside Ordinance (BMO/BHO) failed because they contained too many bonus and exemption loopholes.       Despite the adoption of these ordinances, mansionization has relentlessly continued to ruin neighborhoods over the entire city. In this legislative round City Planning therefore needs to draft the new amendments correctly. This means removing all old and new loopholes that promote the construction of McMansions. If the proposed ordinance fails to do this, it will be the sixth bogus attempt to stop mansionization by green lighting over-sized houses through a host of loopholes that undermine the City Council’s intention. 
  • Mansionization eliminates affordable housing in LA’s single-family neighborhoods. As a result, it contributes to the housing crisis that most Angelenos, including elected officials, are painfully aware of. The mansionizers target smaller, affordable houses for demolition.       They then quickly and cheaply replace them with McMansions that are, on average, three times the size and price of these smaller, energy-efficient demolished homes.       These investors and contractors are now eliminating about 2000 such affordable houses per year, and this loss of affordable homes will continue until it is finally stopped through an effective mansionization ordinance, not another phony one. 
  • Attached garages and uncovered or “lattice roof” patios, breezeways, and balconies should be counted as floor space. As evidenced by LA’s existing McMansions, these exempted architectural features are standard McMansions features, and they substantially increase the size of a house. The amended BMO/BHO needs to totally close these loopholes and count attached garages and all patio, deck, and breezeway features as floor space. 
  • All square footage bonuses must be deleted. The City Council directive to City Planning was clear. Any bonus that promotes mansionization should be stricken since these bonuses can add 600 square feet or more to the size of a house. In some isolated cases these additions might be warranted, but all such cases must be treated as discretionary actions. City Planning must send out notices for them and then conduct a public hearing, followed by a written and appealable determination. City Planning must also spell out its reasons for increasing the size of a house through proper legal findings.       

Furthermore, any granted discretionary bonus should be based on the net livable footprint of the first floor, not uninhabited areas, such as garages and storage facilities. Finally, any mansionization procedure that allows the Department of Building and Safety to increase the size of a house through a secret ministerial decision must be eliminated. 

  • Interim Control Ordinances (ICO) now offer short-term protection to approximately 23 neighborhoods heavily impacted by mansionization, with other besieged neighborhoods also clamoring for similar ICO protection. In the event that the adopted BMO/BHO amendments are more restrictive than existing ICO provisions, the more restrictive provisions should prevail. This will prevent the contradictory situation of ICO neighborhoods, such as North Beverly Grove, that now have an ICO that is more permissive than the anticipated citywide mansionization amendments. 
  • Re:code LA should only proceed in residential areas once the City Council adopts simple and straightforward amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance and the Hillside Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. Folding citywide re:code zoning provisions, such as “side wall articulation” and “encroachment planes,” into the BMO and BHO amendment process slows down and undercuts the express directions of the City Council: quickly remove the loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. 

CityWatch readers can keep informed about amendments to the City’s two mansionization ordinances through the following website: nomoremcmansionsinlosangeles.org/.  You can also become a friend of the No More McMansions in LA Facebook page, and send an email to [email protected] to receive periodic updates.


(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who reports on planning issues for CityWatch. He is also on the Board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and welcomes questions, corrections, and comments at [email protected].) 


The Expo Line is Here! And, Here’s the Best Line of All: Thank You!

MILESTONES AND GRATITUDE--After 15 years of transportation advocacy--and, in particular, for the creation of a modern Southern California rapid transit system--there are times when nothing but "Thank You!" comes to mind.  With the arrival of the Expo Line for operational service to the Westside, this long-overdue light rail has been the result of years of struggle and sacrifice.  To all those who deserve it (and might or might not hear it), Thank You! 

To my wife and teenage son, the biggest Thank You of all is needed.  How many nights, weekends, and daytime meetings were needed for the leadership of Friends4Expo (who were, are, and always will be, truly my friends) to get the Board of Supervisors, and Mayor of LA, and state/federal reps, and the many neighborhood associations, to come together to support this line?   

For any sacrifices involved with having your husband, or your dad, missing in action at "some meeting"...Thank You.  And for my little girl--who was either not yet born, or too young, when the real battles for the Expo Line was fought)--who asked me a few months ago, "Daddy, I heard you had something to do with the Expo Line...right?" I hope my thanks to you as well will always be remembered. 

To a large degree, I'd like to think that the Expo Line was fought by so many Westside and Mid-City private citizens because (for those who remember the LA riots and racial unrest of the 1990's) they wanted a better future for their families, for their neighbors, and for their city and county...and maybe make a small difference for others to emulate to make LA County a world-class city. 

So, a big Thank You! is needed for Darrell Clarke, Kathy and Jim Seal, Julia Maher, Faith and Presley Burroughs, Bob Cheeseboro, Jonathan Weiss, the late Ken Ruben, Cathy Flanigan, Bart Reed and Roger Rudick.  If I forgot to mention any others in the central Friends4Expo leadership community, than my apologies.  You taught me a lot, and I thank you for putting up with me as I did what I could to bring West LA on board with Expo. 

And similarly, the neighborhood associations, the LA Neighborhood Councils, the nonprofit groups of Culver City and Santa Monica also deserve a big Thank You!  Ditto for the Crenshaw/Mid-City groups who--like the Westside--had to put up with and get past the grandstanders, the race-baiters, the racists, the elitists, and the opportunists to make the no-brainer-of-a-line become a reality. 

Thank You! also to those heroes of Metro who hung out with us during the years when no one would touch us with a ten-foot pole--in particular, David Mieger and Tony Loui.  Metro really is an example of "government that listens to, and works with, its constituents"...so don't go blaming them if their political bosses screw up. 

Thank You! To those many government officials and politicians that Friends4Expo (of which I was certainly one of the loudest and most pushy advocates) kept nagging to do the right thing.  Some of you jumped on board right away, and some of you had to be dragged...but it's clear that this was the right thing to do--including those who got into power opposing the line, and then changing their mind when it was obvious something had to change. 

Among those who particularly deserve our thanks are Councilmember Mike Bonin (and his predecessor, the late Bill Rosendahl), House Rep. Ted Lieu, and a host of politicians who now support, and not vigorously fight, for improved transportation as part of our normal budget/operations at a local and federal level.  Thank You! 

Perhaps yet another Thank You! goes to the supportive Mar Vista Community Council and Westside Village Homeowners Association, to say nothing of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, who played key and critical roles in the routing and features of the line.  The innumerable motions and meetings clearly were a series of group efforts.  I can only hope you all realize how grateful I am to you all. 

And to those Friends of the Green Line, a group formed along the lines of the Friends4Expo Transit, which began the increasingly loud advocacy to FINALLY finish the LAX/Metro connection...Thank You!  Bob Leabow, Matthew Hetz, Kent Strumpell, Daniel Walker, Alan Weeks, and a host of other heroes and thought leaders also taught me and the region so much.   

And for those who aren't here to celebrate (the late Bill Rosendahl and Ken Ruben come to mind), I'm hoping you died knowing this would happen...and if there's a Heaven then I'm sure there's celebration for all your exhaustive efforts there, too.  Thank You! 

Finally, for all those friends and family I might have lost touch with while working with so many wonderful people these last 1-2 decades...Thank You! and Sorry!  I hope you can forgive me.  No, I never forgot you--each and every one of you from school, college, work, etc. who I used to hang out with but got caught up with this noble endeavor to advocate for the Expo Line and for greater transportation/planning, in general. 

But...I won't be attending the celebrations this weekend, I'm afraid.  I am taking a day off to teach dermatology to middle students all day Friday, and will be with my son's awesome Boy Scout troop backpacking this weekend. These commitments are as important to me (particularly devoting my life to my family) as was the Expo Line effort which took over my life in 2000-2010, and still does, to some degree. 

To conclude, this piece is really NOT about me (it probably looks that way, but it's NOT).  Think about all the names mentioned here.  Think about your neighborhood association, neighborhood council, non-profit grassroots advocacy group, or other selfless leaders who throw their time, money, and even health at goals that are so much bigger than themselves, and never get thanked. 

So perhaps a Thank You! is in order for that next dogged, devoted, and dedicated volunteer who strives to do something greater than him/herself, and really leave something better for future generations. 

Because one person can, and does, make a difference by being FOR something.  And maybe that one person is YOU.


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


The Developer’s Mantra: “The Councilperson Loves My Project”

DEEGAN ON LA-The critical mass of frustration, distrust, a general unease about how zoning works, along with some successful lawsuits against building projects, has put “zoning” in the spotlight. Concern about fixing our broken city zoning process is what’s driving two ballot initiatives that may go before the voters in November and March. 

We’ve got to end what Gail Goldberg, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute and a longtime city planner in San Diego and Los Angeles, identifies as “the developer’s mantra,” recited whenever a developer goes to the city planning department: “The councilperson loves my project.” Goldberg adds, “…which is code for it’s going to get adopted, so don’t bother.” 

Two ballot measures may change this. In November, voters will be given a chance to vote for Build Better LA’s loophole allowing “hardship” cases to get zoning variances. In March, voters can weigh in on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative – a measure to put a moratorium on variances. Whichever ballot measure gets the most votes will be the ultimate winner. 

But first, each measure must qualify for the November and March ballots by amassing 65,000 registered voter signatures. Build Better LA, backed by a coalition of labor and housing advocates, just announced they have gathered over 100,000 signatures; they presented their package to the City Clerk on Monday, May 15 for verification in order to qualify for the November 7 ballot. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, led by the Coalition to Preserve LA, is still gathering signatures, but has still has some time before their filing deadline in November for the March 7, 2017 ballot. 

These two initiatives offer different slants on the cause of and proposed remedies to recognized zoning issues. 

The Build Better LA ballot initiative ensures that more people will have access to high-wage construction jobs and to housing that's affordable, according to Rusty Hicks, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and convener of Build Better LA. 

Zoning variances would be allowed on a case-by-case basis following a “hardship” appeal to the relevant Councilmember. If a developer gets a variance, they can either include affordable housing on the project’s site or provide it off site. A developer can also choose to write a check to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  

Said Hicks, "On behalf of the Build Better LA Coalition, we are grateful to the nearly 100,000 Angelenos who signed and have faith that our City can do better. The voters in Los Angeles will soon not only get the opportunity to vote on the future of our country, but they will vote on an initiative that brings housing people can actually afford and good, local jobs they could rely on.” 

The “guts” of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, scheduled for the March election, says Coalition to Preserve LA campaign director Jill Stewart, “is to force them (city council) to update the General Plan. One of the elements that is now fifty years old is infrastructure, and police and fire services that is 60 years old. We need to link these and the housing element together with growth, in the General Plan.” 

Stewart added that the “the moratorium (on variances to the General Plan zoning rules now in effect) is a wake up slap in the face. It will only affect 3-5% of projects in LA.” 

The “moratorium” on variances sought by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative has been widely attacked as a halt to all building. That is both untrue and a sign of how desperate opponents are to derail the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. There are thousands of projects in development that will not be affected because they are “by right,” or otherwise meet zoning requirements without requiring a variance. 

That’s thousands of projects in the pipeline that the labor federation can hopefully fill with their union construction crews to help meet their goal of better paying local jobs for their members. Even if Build Better LA is not passed by the voters in November, they stand to make considerable gains in employment from the building boom underway as the city densifies. Their risk in losing the measure is not jobs – it’s that developers might be unable to plead “hardship” to their councilmembers to get zoning exemptions or variances. 

Controlling exemptions and zoning variances is at the heart of both measures. Build Better LA has a mechanism for obtaining variances if the developer can successfully plead his case to his councilmember that not to have an exemption would cause a “hardship.” The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative says that the 3-5% of projects that are currently out of zoning compliance must be put on hold -- the demonized “moratorium” -- until the General Plan is updated. 

It’s up to the electorate in November and March to understand the stakes. The wild card here is that the Mayor may induce the City Council to resolve the issues in order to pre-empt the ballot box. While they can do that, it could end up being wildly unpopular to remove the public’s voice from such a sensitive issue -- especially coming from the developer-centric Mayor and, with the exception of David Ryu, the developer-dependent city councilmembers. Politically, the Mayor and half the City Council (odd-numbered districts) are up for re-election in March 2017. They will need to face the voters on many development issues. 

Another important voice in the debate is Michael Weinstein, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation leader, who is marking his 50th year as an advocate, dating back to the anti-war protests in the Vietnam era. He is the initial backer of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

His take on Build Better LA is that “The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative supports union labor on projects; it’s not against the drive to get more union representation on job sites, but the problem with their initiative is that it essentially says that if the council decides there is a hardship, they can override the requirements of affordable housing. Such a huge loophole undermines the effort to control exemptions.” 

Weinstein continues, “What’s happening now that’s great in the city is that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative could really help to empower different voices across the city. I see that happening. Individual communities get discouraged until there is strength in numbers

In this campaign there is a consensus that the current system is broken. The Mayor has said so, the LA Times has editorialized. Those are steps in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that the Mayor and City Council put forward the skimpiest of fig leafs for reform of the current system. I’m not impressed at all with that very faint attempt to remedy a problem that we’ve identified. People will not ultimately be fooled by that

The bottom line is that we have recast the issue of development and spot zoning (variances) over the last six months in a way that has a profound impact on dialogue around these issues,” Weinstein emphasized. 

So it looks like the conversation has begun…finally. 

On April 27, UCLA's Ziman Center and the Urban Land Institute sponsored a conference during which several representatives (including Stewart and Hicks) spent 90 minutes in a thoughtful and revealing panel discussion about planning in Los Angeles.

Panelist Zev Yaroslovsky, a former County Supervisor and City Councilmember with decades of experience dealing with land use and development, who is now Director of LA Initiative at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, has not announced a formal position for or against either ballot initiative. However, he did go as far as to say during the panel that the Build Better LA ballot proposition will “weaken zoning laws.” 

Several days later another politico, CM David Ryu (CD4), led the rollback of a development project in his district by saying, “We must work to restore trust in government…what we have before us is the kind of action and the reason why the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is looming over our head. Lack of trust. Lack of transparency.” 

Between now and November when the Build Better LA measure should be on the November 7 ballot, and then between November and March 7 when the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative should appear on the March ballot, there will be many other voices in the conversation. This will be a great start to fixing the planning process and clarifying what we want Los Angeles to be. Do we want to continue our tropical suburban feel or continue on a growth trajectory toward becoming a more urban metropolis? We must decide how we are going to get to either destination.


(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Metro Did the Right Thing … Too Much Parking Can be Hazardous to Your Health

Metro’s Expo Line Phase 2 opens this Friday. Though there is a lot of excitement and praise for the line, the Expo extension from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica has also received some criticism. Note that Expo Phase 1 weathered its own criticism, and exceeded expectations.

Some critics are suggesting the line could be “doomed” due to a lack of parking. When Angeleno drivers say “parking” they tend to mean “free parking.”

Here’s an example from Laura Nelson’s Los Angeles Times article The Expo Line is finally coming to the Westside, but limited parking raises concerns:

“So how do I get to the station?” Liesel Friedreich, 64, of Pacific Palisades, asked when she learned the downtown Santa Monica station wouldn’t include dedicated parking for transit riders. “Isn’t the point to get more people with more money to ride the train?”

(Nelson’s article is overall a very good read and overall balanced. She goes on to quote a Metro official stating that “hulking garages and expansive lots can be unsightly, expensive, and ultimately not a tool for encouraging people to stop driving.”)

My first reaction to this quote is that it is just not news. Yes, some people are saying this, but the first question for the reporter is: how valid, applicable, or newsworthy is it? Yes, people who never rode transit and who will probably never ride transit regularly will spout off lots of self-serving rationalizations for why they’re not riding. If it is not the parking, it could be the time, the frequency, the location, the walk, the homeless people, the noise, or the yadda yadda. As a transit rider (cyclist and pedestrian), I hear these excuses all the time, and I don’t think they are news. They are a dog bites man story.

But let’s take a look at the question of how Metro should build parking so “people with more money” will ride the train.

Nelson and Metro call these monied folks “choice riders.” Theoretically this means that there are two big groups of transit riders: poor “captive riders” who have no other transportation choice, and rich “choice riders” who typically drive. Transit expert Jarrett Walker (at minute 26 in this video) calls this false dichotomy the single most destructive fantasy about transit. In real life, people form a broad spectrum, so “When we incrementally improve transit service a little bit – we improve frequency, we get a payoff. We get a ridership improvement.” Walker advises agencies to forget about the mythical “choice rider” and instead focus on the “middle 90 percent.”

Building parking to lure choice riders out of the Palisades is an expensive proposition. Parking spaces run $10,000 to $25,000+ each. Expo Line phase 2 does include quite a few paid Metro parking lots (from The Source): 

  • 17th St./Santa Monica College: 67 spaces,  of which 13 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Bundy: 217 spaces, of which 131 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Sepulveda: 260 spaces, of which 77 are monthly permits.

There are 544 new parking spaces. At a conservative estimate, that is at least a half-million dollars and probably closer to a million dollars’ worth of parking. Drivers who ride Expo regularly will purchase monthly parking permits, and Metro can and should adjust the price to ensure availability.

It is also important to ask: whom does investment in parking serve? According to experts doing Metro’s recent APTA review, investing in park-and-ride serves neither the environment nor low-income riders. From SBLA’s coverage:

APTA panel member Michael Connelley, of the Chicago Transit Authority, responded that easy parking encourages driving that first/last mile, and that it would be better to re-direct parking resources to instead fund convenient, frequent bus service. He also recommended that stations would be better served in the long run if parking were replaced by mini-village transit-oriented development. APTA panel member Brian D. Taylor, of UCLA, further responded that park-and-ride subsidizes higher income riders, decreases transit’s air quality benefits, and that charging [for parking] would help the agency’s bottom line, with revenues available even to build more parking if the demand indicates.

Look closer at the Downtown Santa Monica Station, which the L.A. Times references. There are 7,000 public car parking spaces nearby. They’re not free, and they’re not built by Metro, but they’re well-managed and available to Ms. Friedreich. There are also great Big Blue Bus connections and nearby Breeze bike-share hubs, the Expo bike path, and Santa Monica’s Esplanade walk/bike connection to the pier. In fact, Big Blue Bus in the process of implementing the biggest service realignment in the agency’s seven-decade history specifically to provide better connections for riders to the Expo stations. If these options aren’t enough, there are also taxis and ride-hailing companies, including Lyft and Uber, available and they operate 24-hours a day.

Metro has a limited budget and, in the words of CEO Phil Washington, needs to create a balanced transportation system. Investing heavily in parking would be at the expense of other things, such as bus service, bike-share, or walk or bike facilities. I think Metro has done a good job of balancing its investments in access to the Expo Line. By investing in parking, bus service, bike and walk facilities, Metro is giving Angelenos plenty of great choices.

The Expo Line is not doomed, but will be a great mobility addition for Southern California. Will more work be needed to optimize access to the line? Probably. Will the new line get Pacific Palisades drivers out of their cars? Probably only occasionally. I expect that it will serve tens of thousands of riders, improve Angelenos lives, health, and the environment.

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA. He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village. This report was posted originally at LA Streetsblog)


Let's Use the State Budget to Fight Rape

GUEST WORDS-As we craft our state’s spending priorities for the next year through the budget process, one proposal deserves special attention: clearing the statewide backlog of rape test kits. 

“Rape test kit” is the term used for the combined hair, tissue and fluid samples collected by medical professionals following reported sexual assaults. This is not a quick process, but an invasive and potentially humiliating process which victims of rape willingly endure in order to assist law enforcement professionals in bringing their attackers to justice. 

Results of rape test kits reveal a tremendous wealth of information about the attacker, including the rapist’s DNA. They provide valuable information and evidence leading to the investigation and arrest of those who rape, as well as their prosecution and appropriate punishment.  

Rape is an absolutely indefensible act that affects victims from all walks of life. Rapists are cowards and bullies who attack without regard to race, class or gender. It is a crime of the depraved. 

Civilized societies have a fundamental obligation to protect the vulnerable, and it is the vulnerable among us who rapists target. It is a primary function of government to perform the jobs which are beyond the scope of the individual. Providing public safety must always be among the top priorities of government. How well we protect the vulnerable is a measure of who we are as a society. It is the crucial test of whether or not we consider ourselves to be a civilized people. 

Los Angeles has been a national leader in addressing the problem of untested rape kits. It wasn’t always this way, but the county has done an admirable job of clearing its own backlog. It’s time for other cities and counties to do the same.

This is why it’s so disturbing that we keep hearing reports about backlogs of thousands of untested rape kits throughout California. There are some legitimate reasons why a small percentage of rape kits aren’t tested, such as purported victims recanting accounts of their assault after rape kit samples have been collected.  But more often, law enforcement officials report that budgetary constraints force them to pick and choose among which rape kits are most worthy of being tested. This should never be the case. 

So at the time we shape our state spending plan for the next year, shouldn’t the analysis of back-logged rape test kits be a priority? The decisions we make reveal what we value and who we are as a people. 

The good news is that there’s bipartisan support to test these kits. I also support policies which will stop a backlog of rape test kits from accumulating again. It’s time to close the procedural loopholes which allow local law enforcement officials too much broad discretion when they assume results from rape kit testing will not reveal new evidence. 

Testing of all kits can reveal results that don’t match such assumptions. Moreover, processing this backlog of rape kits can help law enforcement establish a DNA database and see patterns of criminal behavior not evident from a single case. 

Criminal convictions for rape can help validate the suffering of victims and contribute to their emotional recovery. As it is with gratitude, justice not delivered is meaningless. Justice delayed is justice denied. It’s time to clear up the backlog of rape test kits in California. I have requested $10 million to be added to the state budget to clear this backlog. Let’s hope this budget item sees the light of day in the budget and is signed into law in June.


(Senator Huff represents the 29th Senate District covering portions of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties. Follow Senator Huff on Twitter @bobhuff99.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


LA Says Bon Voyage to Its Beloved Sport Chalet

RETROSPECTACULAR--When news broke that the Sport Chalet chain of stores was closing, it might have sounded to you like just another failure in a retail sector—sporting goods—that has seen more than its share of carnage.

But Sport Chalet had been different, in a way that embodied Southern California, and drew in people like me—athletes and outdoorspeople who needed a reliable source for sometimes hard-to-find gear and expertise.

One story goes that Sport Chalet founder Norbert Olberz, began his mountaineering and ski supply store by loaning customers equipment and asking them to return it, at which point they would pay a fair rate for the privilege. The first store was a converted furniture store on Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada, just down the mountain from some of Southern California’s busiest hiking trails. A second location soon followed, across the street in an old supermarket, where the dive shop was housed in the meat locker. Third was a former gas station nearby that, presumably, after Olberz decided to charge fees upfront, rented ski equipment.

This motley campus would be unimaginable today. But for the inexperienced merchant in 1959 it seemed a reasonable approach. Sport Chalet oozed idiosyncrasy. It was years ahead of other retailers in selling and renting oddities such as mountaineering gear, scuba equipment, and surfboards. That adventurous, spirit endured for decades. The centerpiece of the original store was a 20-foot-tall fiberglass snow-painted mountain peak that demonstrated “Cliff Cabanas” and “Portaledges,” the cantilevered sleeping bag harness system used by extreme rock climbers.

In the 1980s, when I first encountered Sport Chalet as an outdoors-minded kid in the San Gabriel Valley, that feel was the “closer” for me, a place that had anything I could ever want without it feeling sterile or anonymous.

I soon learned that the people who worked there actually used the things they sold! Sport Chalet was the retail equivalent of the local watering hole. Half the time a visit there was a visit, not necessarily a purchase. With the more unusual equipment came the conversations. Where was the customer going on his or her next trip into the outdoors? Had they been there before? Much of it predicated on adventure, not just a new pair of Nikes.

About 15 years ago, I was shopping for a new pair of hiking boots for a backpacking trip in the Sierras. Quickly I was interrogated, albeit in a friendly tone. “Are you going to be crossing streams? If so, that changes everything—you won’t want those, your feet will freeze. Unless you’re going later in the season. And ignore the advertising by the manufacturer, they’re all water repellent.” I was chastened, but educated and well prepared.

As a Sport Chalet loyalist, I was barely aware that other sports retailers existed. Yes, in a fit of madness, I once bought an air rifle at Big 5—and the guilt still haunts me 28 years later.

Someone can buy a basketball, a baseball glove, workout clothes, or weights anywhere, but the SC people actually knew what they were selling, knew how it worked, and why you should or, crucially, should not buy it. Employees were assigned certain departments and had expertise in their areas.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the scuba department where Sport Chalet staffers have served as retailers, instructors, dive masters, dive club sponsors, and dive buddies since the store’s inception. In scuba, Sport Chalet eventually had official authority. It has been the largest single certifier of scuba divers in California for decades.

Perhaps nowhere would expertise be more critical. If soccer cleats don’t fit, you exchange them; you can trade in the purple tracksuit for whatever is more fashionable. But buy the wrong-sized buoyancy control device and it’s a possible trip to the hyperbaric chamber. Wrong regulator or improper instruction of how to use it, say hi to the chamber staff again and say goodbye to a few thousand dollars.

Fifteen years ago, I enrolled in Sport Chalet’s Open Water Diver course, the entry-level scuba certification program. It was my deepest connection to the place, and I still treasure the experience. One instructor of mine had been with the company 20 years and brought with him years of experience as a Navy underwater explosive ordnance disposal diver, more than sufficient for this wandering underwater tourist. Other dive staff had years of commercial diving experience, and all were dedicated to sharing their love of the ocean. I witnessed a similar worker loyalty in the dive shop itself, where several employees stayed on for years.

Things started to change a few years ago when their flagship store in La Cañada moved from the converted supermarket to a brand new, big-box monstrosity a block away.

No longer was the dive shop in the old market’s meat locker; it was suddenly adjacent to the on-site pool. Okay, to be fair, that pool was a nice touch. The new place felt a step closer to Acme Sporting Goods, but it remained our one-stop shop for anything athletic. And as it finishes off a going-out-of-business sale, it’s still the only retail store where I recognize staff year after year. There won’t be its equivalent again. Amazon has seen to that.

Yes, it’s true that we can find anything SC had online, but that is cold comfort. I will miss the conversations and human connections that SC provided. Goodbye to Mr. Olberz’s faithful former furniture store.

(Dan Cunningham is a psychologist in Pasadena. This retrospective was posted originally at the excellent Zocalo Public Square.



Ill-Prepared LA Grovels for a Super Bowl it Won’t Get

The Los Angeles City Council, despite having no team, modern stadium or apparently, self-respect, voted unanimously on Wednesday to let the National Football League know that it would like to host a future Super Bowl. Lots o’ luck with that … 

With the next two Super Bowls already scheduled for Houston and Minneapolis, the three that will take place in 2019-2021 will almost certainly soon be awarded to Miami, Tampa, Atlanta or New Orleans, each of which has a team, modern stadium and fan base. 

When the Rams (formerly of Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis) move back to Southern California this fall, they will temporarily play in the renovated-but-still-crumbling ruins known as the LA Memorial Coliseum, where the Super Bowl was last played in 1973. When their new stadium in the mighty City of Inglewood opens -- most likely for the 2019 season -- it will be the venue to which the NFL eventually grants the Super Bowl hosting honors, once the facility has a few full seasons under its belt. 

The Super Bowl will not be awarded to the City of Los Angeles and what will then be the 97-year old Coliseum when there is a toddler-aged stadium a few miles down the 10 Freeway, a venue closer to the airport, the ocean and all that the Westside has to offer. 

The NFL is not averse to holding its big event in colder, more remote, unglamorous locations or even ones that do not have a team of their own. Super Bowl XLVIII took place outdoors in New Jersey in 2014. It was the third coldest in Super Bowl history. Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Pontiac landed the game despite not being hubs of comfort, celebrity, affluence or fun. And Pasadena, which hosted five Super Bowls, though none since 1993, was not a regular NFL city but still has the chops to host enormous events.   

As is so often the case with the City of Los Angeles, it is a perennial pigskin patsy or, as Pink Floyd sang, “it wants its pudding without eating its meat.” 

The last time a professional football was tossed anywhere near LA City Hall was a few years ago when now-former Councilman and Court Jester Tom LaBonge whipped one across the lawmakers’ horseshoe seating arrangement, boasting with certitude that Farmer’s Field would soon be built (read: wedged into) downtown LA to attract perhaps multiple teams and tourists to LA like flies to a dumpster. And you know how that turned out. 

Since Inglewood is about to become Southern California’s professional football destination, with the latest and greatest in stadium luxury, as well as immediate transportation access from the 405 and 105 freeways, LA’s and the Coliseum’s odds of landing a Super Bowl are optimistically somewhere between diddly squat and goose egg. 

Given all this, you have to wonder what LA City Council, the hallmark of integrity that promised to end veterans’ homelessness by last December only to realize that the problem was twice as bad as it thought, is thinking. Perhaps it just wants good press from those media outlets that blindly regurgitate its press releases. And it’s probably counting on the faith of constituents who always believe them when they do.

Like its seemingly futile pursuit of its third Olympics, which takes place in 2024, City Hall’s inability to get the NFL back to LA must be eating at them. It’s still seeking opportunities to congratulate itself for a job that it didn’t get done. A few months ago, when it honored Inglewood officials for “our” success in bringing the League back to Southern California, it became clear that the NFL is LA’s elusive, unaffordable ex-girlfriend for which city officials maintain a figurative (and perhaps literal, save Councilwoman Nury Martinez) priapism. 

It is time for LA to ease its grip on that fantasy and get back to work.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a writer who lives in Los Angeles and blogs on humane issues at ericgarcetti.blogspot.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Fraudywood: Hollywood’s Community Plan Redux … and We Don’t Mean that in a Good Way

Fraudywood #1--On March 1, 2012 CityWatch published, “Hollywood Becomes Fraudywood” explaining that the City was using bogus population data for its update to the Hollywood Community Plan. But even after the city attorney advised then Councilmember Garcetti that the Community Pan was based on false data and should be re-done, he refused to make corrections. 

Fraudywood #2--A year later on June 23, 2013, CityWatch revisited the issue in “Hollywood Becomes Fraudywood, Part 2.” CityWatch made clear that the population data being used by the city was fatally defective, that the city should stop any litigation before the court ordered a new update. Valuable time was squandered through Garcetti’s insistence that the litigation continue when everyone “knew” that the court would reject the Plan. 

The City of LA was adamant in its use of false data. Just as CityWatch predicted, Judge Alan Goodman threw out the Hollywood Community Plan in January 2014. 

As a result, the city reverted to the 1988 Hollywood Community Plan [1988 HCP] which was based on data from the 1970's and 1980's. Thus, we are now evaluating projects based on demographic studies that are between three and four decades old. It is ludicrous to approve projects in 2016 based on population data from 1980. 

Fraudywood #3--On April 29, 2016, the City of LA began work on a new Update to the Hollywood Community Plan, and once again used bogus data. The city says that its population figures come from the Southern California Association of Government’s 2016 RTP. As we reported earlier this month, the SCAG 2016 RTP has no population information for Hollywood. 

The public has the unqualified right to know the data upon which the city relies. The city is urging the public to approve massive construction projects while concealing the truth from everyone. 

Just as some grassroots organizations were correct in 2005 about what the official data would eventually say about Hollywood’s population, those same groups have a good idea what is happening at this time.   

What is the likely Population Situation with Hollywood? 

This time around, Hollywoodians Encouraging Logical Planning [HELP] (which sued the city over the 2012 Hollywood Community Plan) says that it expects to see Hollywood have a slight increase in population -- limited to primarily millennials, a blip in the population count that is temporary. It also expects to see fewer families in CD 13, while CD 4, north of Franklin Avenue, should be doing well except for the impacts from the various “disasters” in the Flats (CD13.) 

Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 1999. They have been lingering in urban areas longer than prior generations, due to high student debt, a depressed job market since 2008, and high housing costs. A significant number are living a kind of post-college dorm life existence by sharing expensive apartments in higher density neighborhoods. They are found in DTLA, and it seems that they are found in Hollywood, for instance, along La Brea in the new mixed use projects. 

The Millennials are Leaving, the Millennials are Leaving… 

The Millennials are departing and last year was probably their zenith. According to Dowell Myers from the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, the number of new-born Millennials dropped 25 years ago and continued to decline. Thus, two important demographic factors are at play. 

(1) There will be fewer Millennials in future years. In fact, their generation ends in 2019, so planning for them to be around to play out the “dorm life scenario” until 2040 is not prudent.           

(2) The Millennials tend to move away from urban areas in droves when they start families. They are reaching the family rearing age and starting to move away. 

The claim that Millennials would prefer to permanently live Dorm Style has been obviously bogus. When young adults transition to family life, major life style changes always occur. The demographic data showed that Millennials would desert the urban cores when starting families. For the upwardly mobile college educated Millennial, it is okay for “other people” to raise their families in apartments in DTLA or Hollywood, but they themselves tend to opt for a single family home with a yard in Austin, Texas. (They are more likely to gentrify and mansionize South Central than to remain in a tiny Hollywood apartment.) 

The Right to Accurate Information 

It is crucial for the public to have detailed and reliable population data about the composition of the Hollywood’s population and the trends which will play out in the next decades. If HELP is correct, then these mixed-use apartments are a glut on the market. It will be economic folly to construct more urban high rises in Hollywood. 

Also, construction in these Transit Oriented Districts is more expensive than locating apartments elsewhere. Land costs the most in these TODs. In addition, the taller a project is, the more stringent the building codes and the more expensive the construction costs. The mere fact that the city wants to concentrate apartments in TODs guarantees that housing prices will rise. 

The Public Wants Polices which is Lower Housing Costs 

Most people in Los Angeles think that housing prices should decease. Yet, the Hollywood Community Plan is based on bogus data which misleads the public to believe that we’ve got thousands of avid apartment dwellers descending on Hollywood. This type of construction significantly increases housing costs. 

In order to make meaning comments on the NOP, the public must be provided accurate population data and links to demographic studies which reliably forecast the future population changes. The City has had over two years since Judge Goodman’s January 2014 decision to provide this information. Right now the NOP does one thing – it misleads the public to support real estate developers’ desires to aggrandize their profits while harming everyone else. 

The City needs to retract its NOP and issue a new one with reliable data. The NOP has to also reveal its data sources and it has link them to the NOP so that the public can double check the information. 

The Recalcitrant City 

The City will refuse and here’s why. The demographic data shows that TODs are a disaster; they overburden infrastructure, they deteriorate neighborhoods, they attract so many cars that the traffic congestion becomes significantly worse, and the City has a habit of giving tax dollars to developers. 

Unless the City corrects itself now, the court will reject this new Hollywood Community Plan so that we will be stuck with the 1988 HCP until 2022.

City Hall’s Empty Promises – Homeless Numbers Continue to Plague LA

JUST THE FACTS-From the San Fernando Valley to San Pedro to West Los Angeles to Downtown, more and more homeless people occupy our local streets. In the meantime, “Emergency Declarations” made many months ago by elected officials to address the matter remain stalled due to lack of funding. All we get are empty promises to remedy the situation, followed by media releases containing lots of smoke with little action. We still lack the money to actually begin to remedy this situation that impacts thousands of lives, including many women and children. 

A recent visit to the Sepulveda Basin and a drive along Woodley Ave between Victory and Burbank Blvds., illustrates the number of cars, trucks and motor homes permanently parked along the eastside of the roadway adjacent to the park. These vehicles comprise yet another of the hundreds of homeless encampments throughout our region. Men, women and children are living in conditions that resemble a struggling third world country. 

It’s an understatement to say how sad it is that people exist like this. It is criminal for our elected officials to permit the situation to continue to grow, offering little relief or solutions beyond the taxes and fees imposed on responsible members of our diverse population. 

Like many of you, I am tired of seeing the city’s proposed $8.7 billion 2016-2017 budget go for administrative salaries and benefits. Too much money is spent on pet projects and too little remains for homeless programs, street paving or enhanced public safety programs to protect our communities where increasing crime is trending and the quality of life in our neighborhoods is deteriorating. 

There is much political talk from elected officials about what will be done to address the homeless situation. But, as they say, talk is cheap. Rather than establish priorities and work in a unified fashion, our elected officials on all levels of government rely on additional fees and taxes. While raising taxes and fees may be a likely answer, they need to be imposed on the rich and on developers. 

Of course, we are already seeing the push for more taxes for public transit operations and the expansion of transit lines, especially the 40-year sales tax increase for bus and rail transit. Soon, we will have an almost 10% sales tax in our region. But will this bring about real change and a reduction in homelessness? Or will it just add to the pot of cash that will be washed away, disappearing down the financial black hole at City Hall. Time will tell. You should watch this closely. I for one am not supporting any new fees or taxes without an ironclad plan that includes oversight by credible people with a history of dedicated community service and who have the ability to say no to a plan that wastes our hard earned money. 

I am doing my part to help with organizations dealing with mental illness and the homeless, serving on the Board of Directors of the San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center, Inc. and on the Board of Directors of the Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. While I may rant and rave about the homeless situation in our communities, I am also working with groups that are dedicated to impacting the situation on a personal level. 

If you have the time, if you are tired of seeing your community fall apart, then I urge you to get involved in any group dealing with the homeless problem. They can all use additional people who are dedicated to creating a better Los Angeles for all of us. 

Additional note:     

Even a marriage made in heaven sometimes has a few bumps in the road. But when those bumps become too severe, divorce is sometimes considered the only solution. Many of us have found ourselves in this situation. But before you decide to become “single” (and maybe happy again,) you should consider all of the options carefully. The only people who truly make a profit in a divorce are the attorneys handling the case. 

Attorney Ronald M. Supancic, who has been practicing family law since 1970, contacted me and asked that I let readers know that he provides a free service to those considering a divorce. It is called “Divorce Workshop” and is conducted on the 2nd Saturday and 4th Wednesday of each month at 21051 Warner Center Lane, Suite 100 in Woodland Hills. Areas discussed include protecting yourself in court,child custody, spousal and child support guidelines and the divorce process and related costs. For additional information please go to: The LawCollaborative.com or call 888 852 9961. 

I welcome your observations and comments.


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

California Primary: More On the Table Than Bernie, Hillary and Donald (New Poll)

POLITICS-California is expected to have a considerable upsurge in voter turnout in both the June primary and November elections. Over 600,000 Californians have registered to vote online or updated their registration in the past three months alone. Secretary of State Alex Padilla has warned Gov. Jerry Brown that county election agencies may be overwhelmed. Padilla is appealing to the governor and the Legislature for an extra $32 million to assist county elections officials and his agency.

The presidential primary and ensuing election in November have been capturing the interest of the previously disenfranchised voter but there’s much more at stake in the primary than seeing if Trump and Hillary can top off the delegates and “feeling the Bern.”

Following a 2014 triple threat of state legislators charged with perjury, bribery, and other violations, the state legislature has voted to place Prop 50, the California Suspension of Legislators Amendment on the ballot, which would allow the legislature to terminate the salaries and benefits of suspended legislators with a two-third vote if the provision is included in the suspension resolution.

 The June primary includes a Top Two Primary election for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat. State Attorney General Kamala Harris, endorsed by the California Democratic Party, and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) are expected to capture the top two spots. The June ballot will also include Top Two primaries for congressional, state senate, and local races to advance to the general election.


[sexypolling id="4"] 

The November ballot is expected to have as many as 18 ballot initiatives, seven of which have already gathered enough signatures to make it to the ballot. One of the most prominent proposals is Gov. Brown’s measure to revamp prison parole and juvenile justice laws, pending the completion of signature gathering this week and the California Supreme Court removes a legal obstacle.

Other measures include an initiative to fully legalize marijuana that is backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, and others. Newsom is also behind a measure that would place new background checks for the sale of firearm ammunition and is also a supporter of a measure to raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack.

In addition to Prop 50, legislators have contributed to the ballot measures with a repeal of Proposition 227, a 1998 initiative that limited bilingual education in the state. As of last week, lawmakers have also moved ahead an advisory measure on whether Congress should overturn the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which loosened campaign finance laws.

M*A*S*H actor Mike Farrell and other death penalty opponents seem to have gathered enough signatures to place a measure to repeal capital punishment on the ballot, while pro-death penalty proponents may qualify a measure to expedite cases through the legal system.  

One of the first initiatives to qualify for the November ballot is a proposed state law that would require condom usage by actors performing sex scenes in adult films, a measure written by LA-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Continue to follow CityWatch for California and Los Angeles news regarding both the June primaries and November election.



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



California: A Primary Worth Watching

There were two articles in CityWatch recently about the candidacy of Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who seeks the open seat to be vacated by termed-out Fran Pavley in Senate District 27. 

There are five candidates, including Republican Steve Fazio, who stands an almost certain chance to make it to the general election. The district is moderately competitive owing to enough Republican or decline-to-state registration to rule out a walkover by a Democrat.

But Reznik faces a formidable opponent in Democrat Henry Stern. The fact that it is an open seat makes it potentially even more competitive.

Stern is a senior advisor to Pavley. In that role, he undoubtedly has absorbed much about the workings of the district and the issues affecting the state.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was approached by a mutual acquaintance to chat with him. Even though I do not have a vested interest in the district, the potential for a competitive race got my attention. Not to mention that there are state issues in play affecting all of us.

It is likely that this will be one race I will follow besides what will be a marquee event in AD39 between Patty Lopez and Raul Bocanegra, who was taken down by Lopez in what had to be the biggest upset in modern times in California.

Stern and I sat down over coffee the other day and covered a range of subjects. It was not a Q&A; more of a discussion. And it was more process-oriented, framed by some key issues concerning both the state and local levels.

I will start by saying he impressed me by his focus on how things should get done. If you involve the public at the grassroots and level with them, there is a greater likelihood of turning out sensible legislation.

For example, he faulted the lack of transparency by the framers of Prop 47 (which allowed early prison releases)for not providing details as to when structural savings from a smaller prison population would kick in, and not dealing with funding resources localities would need to deal with the influx of former inmates. For that matter, he stated that poorly-crafted propositions were all too common.

Prop 1A, which authorized the sale of $9.5B in bonds to fund the start-up of high-speed rail, was another case where a half-baked plan was sold to the public. His boss, Fran Pavley, opposed the initial funding for constructing the controversial system in the Central Valley.

Stern and I agreed that there was nothing wrong with the concept of HSR, but the plan was unrealistic and the assumptions unsubstantiated, plus there are far more important priorities facing the state ranging from education, infrastructure and water, to the problems of homelessness. Cap-and-trade funds could be applied to considerably more effective environmental improvements (if indeed the train would even produce a measurable net effect on the clean air in our lifetimes, a criticism often cited by opponents).

On a local level, he claimed to be very supportive of Neighborhood Councils and strongly urged making the voices of residents a priority when it comes to determining development. Stern said that was a key difference he has with Resnik. He also did not support the density bonuses allowed under SB1818 due to the unintended consequences of of the bill’s implementation.

He was strongly concerned over how CEQA has been subverted in the interest of development.

Stern expressed his dismay as to how Porter Ranch was ever approved for development given the adjacent gas field. He supports a fee to be paid by Sempra- one that cannot be passed on to customers – to cover the damages suffered by the residents. He did acknowledge it would take oversight to assure the cost would be fully absorbed by the gas company.

As I mentioned earlier, this will be a race to watch in both the primary and general.

I will cover it in greater depth.

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



Billboard Companies Love LA’s City Officials: Half a Million Dollars Worth in First Quarter of 2016

BILLBOARD WATCH--Billboard companies spent $507,000 lobbying Los Angeles city officials in the first quarter of 2016, according to City Ethics Commission records. Those companies and their executives also donated a total of $9,800 to seven city councilmembers running for re-election in 2017. (Photo above: Billboard company lobbyists Morrie Goldman, left, and David Gershwin. Clear Channel paid Goldman’s firm $90,000 and Gershwin’s $45,000 in the first quarter of 2016.)

As usual, the big spender was Clear Channel Outdoor, which paid four different lobbying firms a total of $240,000. The company, one of the city’s big three along with Outfront Media and Lamar Advertising, has been pushing the City Council to lift the current ban on putting up new digital billboards or converting existing billboards to digital.

Other companies with major outlays to registered lobbyists were Regency Outdoor, $56,000; Outfront Media, $53,000; and Lamar Advertising, $37,500. The three companies are also members of the L.A. Outdoor Advertising Coalition, which spent $50,000 lobbying city officials on behalf of billboard issues during the quarter.

The city councilmembers getting billboard company contributions were Bob Blumenfield, Joe Buscaino, Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell, and Curren Price. O’Farrell was the top recipient of this largesse, with $3,500 in contributions. Cedillo and Blumenfield each received $2,100, while Bonin, Buscaino, and Price each got $700 donations.

Bonin has been one of the council’s most vocal opponents of allowing more digital billboards, while Cedillo, a member of the committee that considers sign legislation, has proposed allowing new digital billboards through a conditional use permit process. The others haven’t taken a public stand on the issue, although O’Farrell and Blumenfield both represent districts with significant anti-billboard sentiment.

Registered lobbying firms are required to make quarterly reports of payments received from clients, but those reports don’t include any detailed information about lobbyist contacts with elected and appointed officials. However, the City Ethics Commission is currently studying proposed changes in the lobbying ordinance, including a requirement for much more detailed reporting.

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


Why Winning Pershing Square Design Is a Win for All Angelenos

DESIGN--For Agence Ter's redesign of Los Angeles' Pershing Square, this rendering shows a human-scale view from the middle of the square looking out.

Rarely does anything with a photovoltaic canopy, a “great lawn,” no fewer than 13 design collaborators, and an estimated $50 million budget qualify as simple. But, relative to its competitors, that’s exactly what the winning design in the Pershing Square Renew competition is.

If all goes according to plan, by 2020, Los Angeles’ Pershing Square will be flattened, scraped clean and reintroduced to a public that has long crossed the street to avoid it.

Located in the heart of downtown, Pershing Square has aspired to be one of the country’s great public spaces — and failed miserably. [[https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/los-angeles-pershing-square-design-makeover ]]   Twin forces of urban decay and atrocious, unwelcoming design have conspired to drive away would-be visitors for decades, leaving the square a notable exception in downtown’s steady revitalization. Nonprofit Pershing Square Renew was founded two years ago by developers and other stakeholders, including City Council Member Jose Huizar, who decided that enough was enough.

The organization sponsored a design competition that received submissions from a star-studded list of locally and internationally recognized design firms, each with expertise in architecture and landscape architecture. Out of 10 semifinalists, four finalists were chosen last month. Yesterday the team led by Paris-based Agence Ter was announced as the winner. 

In many ways, the choice was obvious. Agence Ter’s design was the only one that met Pershing Square Renew’s guidelines.

Pershing Square is currently encumbered by bunker-style walls and various follies that, notwithstanding the ugliness of their early-1990s neon paint jobs, physically separate the square from the surrounding streets. The competition called for the opposite in the redesign: something that would open the square up and welcome visitors rather than intimidate them.

“We’ve said very clearly: Don’t approach this as the next wonderful portfolio piece that’s going to win awards,” Eduardo Santana, executive director of Pershing Square Renew, said in December.

That’s why it’s curious that the three other finalists submitted visions that I see as grossly over-designed. Fussy, even. The team led by James Corner Field Operations would have built an artificial hill on the square’s south side, thus creating exactly the type of barrier that Pershing Square Renew sought to eliminate. The teams of wHY with Civitas and SWA with Morphosis also operated heavily in three dimensions, with raised lawns and undulating structures.

The Agence Ter design is almost entirely flat, lowering the surface of the square so that it is flush with the encircling sidewalks. It aggressively bids adieu to the 1992 design’s purple tower and yellow walls with nothing more garish than trees and grass.

Its brilliance, or at least adequacy, is evident in a single rendering (top photo). It is not of a dramatic bird’s-eye view or of some cute feature like a grotto or miniature mountain. Rather, it is a human-scale view from the middle of the square looking out, such that the square’s grassy lawn visually blends in with the Biltmore Hotel across the street, with trees framing its Beaux-Arts entryway and a rectangular water feature lined up with the front door, as if the hotel and square had been built together. (They were, for the most part; one has just aged better than the other.)

Of the six official renderings that each of the four teams submitted, the Biltmore view is the only one of its kind — the only one that truly connects the square with the city.

The other designs also accommodated the subterranean parking garage that currently sits below the square more generously, making way for its curb cuts and protuberances. The Agence Ter design would spend a large portion of its $50 million budget to shave off the top five feet of the garage, thus achieving a double-benefit: a properly elevated square without extra funds to build ridiculous structures.

It’s hard not to speculate that the star power than went into the competition’s designs was, in fact, their undoing. Despite Pershing Square Renew’s calls for modesty, each included barriers and design flourishes that directed attention toward structures and away from people and the surrounding city.

They took their cues from the type of disembodied starchitecture that downtown Los Angeles knows so well — Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Broad Museum, and Rafael Moneo’s cathedral, to name a few — and refused to give the city what it desperately needs: an inviting vernacular streetscape in which people can live rather than another object at which they can gape.

It’s notable that Agence Ter is French and is, therefore, amply familiar with the great, and simple, public spaces of Europe.

Pershing Square will never be Hotel de Ville. It may never even be Bryant Park. Indeed, until backers come up with $50 million, the new Pershing Square may never be built at all. But, by opting for flat instead of flash, Pershing Square Renew has already elevated the prospects for public spaces in Los Angeles.

(Josh Stephens is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Planning Magazine, Sierra Magazine, the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is a contributing editor to the California Planning & Development Report and Planetizen. His website is joshrstephens.net. This review was posted originally at Next City.) 


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