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Good News, LA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Stop tearing down rent controlled apartments. 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Pot Legalization Initiative 

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

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

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

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

Affordable Housing 

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

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

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

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

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

Are LA Politicians Selling Off Our Neighborhoods for Campaign Contributions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, we can create the change that LA needs!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Whistleblower: City Cooked the Books to Attract the Rams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is reason to doubt it.

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

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

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

Not likely, thanks to the federal courts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That should keep everybody up at night.

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



Save Valley Village: Living Room Activism in Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Vets and the Price of Racism at Brentwood School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speak up and demand CHANGE at the Los Angeles VA. 

God Bless America and the Veterans Revolution!

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



LA’s Streets Are No Work of Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.

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