Sat, Apr

Duped Councilman Rationalizes Mayor’s Animal Bamboozle

CITY HALL--“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth.” Carl Sagan … meet LA City Councilman Paul Koretz. 

My last CityWatch article, “No Kill: LA’s Big Lie,” discussed Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent charade that LA Animal Services, the city’s shelter system, is approaching “No Kill” status. By any standard, including its own, the City kills thousands of healthy, happy and highly adoptable animals, thousands more that just need a little TLC, and doesn’t know what has become of scores of animals it dumped on other high kill cities. 

Garcetti and his minions deny the killing by attempting to redefine death. Measured as ever, he responded with telling silence. 

So I struck up an email conversation with Councilman Paul Koretz, whose decades-long career promising help for animals has delivered none.

His ban on elephant torture devices known as bull hooks started as a promise to ban circuses which exploit animals, then just those that exploit elephants, then all elephant torture devices, then just bull hooks. What we got – a ban on bull hooks that still doesn’t take effect until next year – was an impotent piece of nothingness, since the circus beat Koretz to the punch by stopping its elephant exploitation altogether by retiring them to a sanctuary last week.

When you are slower to help animals than the circus itself, you have failed. Even severely abused Peruvian circus lions were sent to a sanctuary in South Africa last month, but are still exploited at Staples Center, down the street from Koretz’s and Garcetti’s offices in LA City Hall. 

Koretz, whose committee oversees LA Animal Services, has turned a deaf ear to LA’s irrelevant spay/neuter law, and misuses public meeting rules to prevent issues from being heard before a large, televised audience watching City Council meetings. Case in point: a filthy tire repair business in Van Nuys has the city’s blessing to breed pit bulls and Chihuahuas … the two types of dogs LAAS kills the most. Years after it was brought to his and Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s attention, the problem festers and cannot be discussed during scheduled agenda items. 

Koretz agreed to field my questions but ultimately addressed only one of them. Here’s question #9: 

“A recent CityWatchLA article explained LAAS unwillingness to pick up stray and injured animals due to its negative impact on the city's "live release" rate, a statistic that is widely rejected by humane advocates because it doesn't take into consideration an array of qualitative factors. Is it actually LA's policy to no longer pick up strays or injured animals?” 

And here is the discussion that followed: 

Paul Koretz: “I have asked and have been told that is not true. When I have spoken to [LAAS GM] Brenda Barnette, (photo above with Koretz) I have not been told that we are leaving strays on the street to improve our live save rate.” 

In a separate email, I sent Koretz Barnette’s own published statement: 

Daniel Guss: “Please see Page 4 at the top. "Also, everyone needs to remember that if we’re successful at rounding up all the strays, it will place more crowding pressure on our shelters, rescuers and everyone else working to increase the live save rate." How do you compare this to what you say Brenda said to you in response to your question?” 

PK: “Did she really say that? When and in what context?” 

DG: “It is her document. It is dated (6/25/15).  In response to the protests. Her chosen words.” 

A day later, Koretz responded: 

PK: “Despite Brenda's quote, which she acknowledges but says it is out of context, LAAS is not avoiding picking up strays to artificially keep down the live save rate. They are picked up when seen, they respond to complaints, they patrol for them in problem areas, but we just don't have the resources to find and pick up every stray. And no other city anywhere picks up all their strays. 

So that is the response, and I have no reason to believe it is not credible. Although I wouldn't mind adding resources to find more strays in areas where stray dogs are still running in packs.” 

DG: “She took HERSELF out of context? I asked you about that exact verbatim quote. You indicated you asked her about it and denied it was happening. Where was the context lost and by whom?”

Over the weekend, Koretz responded with (depending on your level of cynicism) a semi-non-sequitur that either hedges, is a red herring or simply demonstrates his detachment from issues related to life, death and suffering. Question #9, like all the others, remained unanswered. 

PK: “Not defending. Just paraphrasing her response as I recall it.” 

And that was that -- with no further explanation from Koretz on this or any other question. He was duped again but chooses to rationalize and embrace the bamboozle.

Again, I refer you to Carl Sagan … “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.”


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

California: Environmental Leader or Liar?

ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS-California is supposedly the nation’s green trailblazer, but it’s also the third largest oil-drilling state, with Los Angeles having more urban wells (over a thousand) than of any other U.S. city. (Photo above: Warren E & P drill site, smack in the middle of homes in Wilmington, South Los Angeles.) 

Five-million-plus Californians - the rich and not so rich - live within a mile of a well. It’s our dirty little backyard drilling secret. Only it’s not so secret anymore. 

The easy oil is long gone. What’s left gets extracted by highly-toxic and water-intensive well stimulation treatments (WST) - hydraulic fracturing or acidization.  An oil derrick in the backyard is one thing, but when hazmat-suited workers use large amounts of hydrofluoric acid to access out-of-reach oil deposits alongside homes, schools and hospitals, it’s time to worry. 

Residents living cheek-by-jowl with WST operations complain of nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, skin rashes and high rates of asthma. 

Last July the independent California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) concluded the chemicals used in WST are hazardous and poorly understood. The council recommended establishing “science-based setbacks, or human health buffer zones to protect residents.” 

However, eight days before the CCST published its government-commissioned fourteen-hundred-page report, California state officials jumped the gun by proudly announcing the nation’s toughest (and first) fracking regulations (based solely on their own less exhaustive in-house impact assessment). 

Americans Against Fracking co-founder David Braun claims this timing overlap (and the fact the CCST disclosed other facts, such as serious water contamination risks from fracking because of California’s shallow aquifers) meant CCST’s report was intentionally buried by the special interest of Big Oil. 

For Braun and many environmentalists, the oil industry wields way too much political clout in the Golden State, spending an estimated $22 million annually lobbying legislators, including our illustrious green leader -- Governor Brown. 

As it turns out, while first-time-round 1970’s Governor Brown may have been the greenest Governor of them all, millennial Brown walks both sides of the fossil fuel divide. 

Yes, though our Governor can claim his “zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree” when it comes to reducing the state’s petroleum use, he’s extremely friendly to oil extraction and production.

It’s as if 77-year-old Brown operates in simultaneous parallel universes. This past December at the UN Paris Climate Change Conference COP21, there was eco-warrior Brown, describing in biblical proportions the catastrophes that will/are accompanying climate change -- plagues of beetles, powerful wildfires, mass exoduses of climate refugees. That Governor Brown exhorts other nations to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground.  

While back home the other Brown promotes fracking as the most efficient way to retrieve the states remaining oil. He’s also been loathe to regulate WST -- even when addressing the vital importance of water conservation in our drought-plagued state. 

For Braun, it boils down to the revenue stream big oil generates that helps balance California’s unwieldy budget, and pay for Governor Brown’s pet projects: The Delta twin-tunnels, and the state’s high-speed rail. 

But as Braun calls it, “If you’re a climate leader you don’t enable the worst climate polluters, that’s the bottom line.” 

A sentiment shared by fellow anti-fracking activist and actor, Mark Ruffalo. One of Ruffalo’s suggestions to deter oil production is “taxing oil extraction in California and using the money to transition to all-electric vehicles.” 

Such a tax would’ve worked nicely with the part of SB 350 that aimed to halve California’s gasoline use by 2030. It was the most ambitious renewable energy increase for the state so far. However heavy resistance from oil companies meant Brown lacked enough support even inside his own party, and the gasoline reduction part of the bill was defeated last October. 

Speaking at Pepperdine University in Malibu last month, leading U.S climate change activist, Bill McKibben, says when it comes to getting the world off fossil fuels “the resource that matters most is political will.” 

It’s the lack of a consolidated political movement that allows fracking and acidizing to continue unabated in California, according to Ruffalo. He believes when Californians rise up and declare enough is enough, it will embolden our Governor to say no to the oil industry. 

And any day now would not be a moment too soon. 

McKibben warns while human beings cope best with the kind of incremental change California is using to adapt to climate change, at the rate our planet is warming there’s no time for anything but a rapid and drastic shift from fossil fuels. 

Spelling it out, McKibben says it would take 400 Hiroshima bombs dropping daily to melt the Arctic ice-sheet as fast as it’s currently melting. 

Brown and McKibben talk the same big-apocalyptic-climate-change talk, we just need to push our Governor to start urgently walking the walk.


(Belinda Waymouth Environmental journalist and advocate, UCLA geography/environmental studies graduate, mother and surfer. This perspective was first posted at HuffingtonPost.com. )

Alert! Heartworm Disease Increasing in Dogs and Cats in LA ... Wildlife and Humans Also at Risk  

ANIMAL WATCH-Heartworm disease is a serious infection that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets--mainly dogs--but also cats, coyotes, ferrets, wolves, sea lions, seals and other animals. And, occasionally it infects humans. The worms mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring while living inside the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of an infected animal.  

It is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito. Heartworm cases are increasing in Los Angeles, according to a report updated on April 26, 2016, by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. 

This disease is NOT spread directly from animal-to-animal (or animal to human). Rather, infected animals are reservoirs for the disease but may not display symptoms. The transmission of the disease occurs when a mosquito bites and sucks the blood from an infected animal and then carries it to the next victim. 

Areas like California and Arizona, where heartworms have not been a problem, are now finding that building development and improved irrigation systems have also enabled mosquitoes to survive. Where there are mosquitoes, there are heartworms, experts advise. 

Three new species of drought-resistant mosquitoes are spreading throughout LA. County: the Australian backyard mosquito, the Yellow Fever mosquito and the Asian Tiger mosquito -- the latter two are also capable vectors for human viruses, such as West Nile and Zika, according to LA County officials. 

All three have transmitted heartworm in other countries, and therefore may spread heartworm here. They are black with white stripes, are “efficient” virus transmitters, biting multiple hosts, and are aggressive daytime biters.  They have a short flight range, averaging about one-quarter mile; however, strong winds can blow mosquitos a long way. 

Here are some tips to protect your pets, family and community. 

Mosquito Control.  Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so empty any outdoor containers in which water collects every two days and clean them thoroughly. This includes pet drinking bowls and birdbaths. Also, remove any uncovered bottles and jars or unused toys and planters in your yard. Throw away old tires lying in the backyard and clean gutters so rain will not be trapped. 

Mosquitoes lay their eggs on the inside of the container, just above the water level. The eggs can then lay dormant for up to several years while waiting for the right conditions to produce larvae. According to sgvmosquito.org, these mosquitoes can breed in a bottle cap of water. 

Unfortunately, Aedes have evolved in well-populated areas and like living in close contact with humans and in urban environments. So, the best prevention is to not make them welcome on your property or in your community. 

Keep Pets Inside your Home at Night.  Mosquitoes feed the most at dawn, dusk and at night, so keep your pet indoors. 

Coyote Control.  Infected coyotes can be reservoirs for the disease. Do NOT leave food or water for coyotes or any animal outside. This attracts rodents, other wildlife and feral cats, which attract coyotes. 

Have Your Pets Checked for Heartworm. In 15% of the heartworm cases confirmed in Los Angeles County, the animal was not treated. Untreated pets may become ‘reservoirs’ and infect mosquitoes, and then the mosquitoes can infect more pets and/or people. 

A human can be infected by a mosquito that has fed on an infected dog but human infections are rare, with the greatest danger being that it can create a small mass in the lungs. “The mass itself isn’t usually a problem, but if it gets seen on an x-ray, it may appear very similar to a lung tumor, potentially leading to the use of more invasive diagnostic techniques (e.g. lung biopsy) to rule out cancer,” warns WormsandGermsBlog.com.  

However, lest we take human infection too lightly, a paper published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in May 2001 reports the fourth case of heartworm infection confirmed in a California resident--all of which were males.  A 28-year-old man had become lost in a an Ohio state park for 18 hours, wearing only shorts and sandals and claimed to have been bitten numerous times by mosquitoes.  

Doctors eventually determined that an orchiectomy (removing a testicle) was necessary. “Histopathology revealed a well-preserved immature male D. immitis, the canine heartworm, in a branch of the spermatic artery,” the report states. (J. H. Theis, A. Gilson, G. E. Simon, B. Bradshaw, & D. Clark; Am J Trop Med Hyg May 2001vol. 64 no. 5 317-322).  

Getting back to more common dangers and the prevalence of heartworm disease in Los Angeles, of the 187 cases reported between 2005-2014, 53% were “Confirmed,” 41% were Probable, and 6% were “Suspected.” However, the 2005- 2015 total shows that veterinarians had reported 258 cases, in 18 cats and 240 dogs—an increase of 71 cases. The majority of the cases (75%) had no symptoms at the time they were diagnosed. 

The graph on the L. A. County Public Health site shows these cases by year and the alarming increase in 2014, when laboratories were required to begin reporting cases. 

Approximately 60 percent of dogs travel with their owners, thus increasing the potential for heartworm exposure,” says Robert Stannard, DVM, with the American Heartworm Society. [

 But, in 29% of the cases in L.A. County, owners indicated the pet had not traveled outside of Southern California, so they had acquired the infection locally. 

Sadly, sick dogs are being brought to Los Angeles—often surreptitiously-- by “rescuers” or brokers for foreign puppy mills.  They are transported from countries or states which are heartworm-endemic to California, where there is no requirement for heartworm testing and they can become reservoirs for mosquitoes.  

Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs: 

The disease is rare in dogs less than one year of age because the microfilariae take five to seven months to mature into adult heartworms after infection. 

Unfortunately, by the time clinical signs are seen, the disease is usually well advanced,” according to VCA Hospitals.  

“The most obvious clinical signs of heartworm disease are a soft, dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness, nervousness, listlessness and loss of stamina. All of these signs are most noticeable following exercise, when some dogs may even faint or become disoriented. …In advanced cases, congestive heart failure may be apparent and the abdomen and legs will swell from fluid accumulation. There may also be evidence of weight loss, poor condition and anemia. Severely infected dogs may die suddenly during exercise or excitement.” 

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats: 

"It is necessary for a cat to be bitten by an infected mosquito in order to become infected with heartworms," VCA Hospitals remind us that it is a wise to keep cats inside at all times. 

The most common signs are a sudden onset of coughing and rapid breathing, signs that can also be caused by several other diseases. Other common non-specific clinical signs include weight loss and vomiting. On occasion, an apparently normal cat may be found dead, or may develop sudden overwhelming respiratory failure and heartworm disease is diagnosed on a post-mortem examination.” 

Treating and Preventing Heartworms in Your Pet: 

“Your veterinarian will select the correct drug and administration time based on your pet's condition,” says Ernest Ward, DVM. 

You can prevent your dog from getting heartworms by using a heartworm preventive. When a dog has been successfully treated for heartworms, it is essential to begin a heartworm prevention program to prevent future recurrence. With the safe and affordable heartworm preventives available today, no pet should ever have to endure this dreaded disease.” 

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

Across Los Angeles, Hope Remains for a Big Sanders Upset in the California Primary

TRUTHDIG--The day Bernie Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in the Indiana primary, I stopped by his Los Angeles headquarters, a rundown storefront in the Latino neighborhood of East Hollywood, and I talked with campaign volunteers preparing to register voters.

Ismael Parra, one of the volunteers, was hoping for a Sanders win in Indiana that night and, of course, wants one in the California Democratic primary on June 7. Such victories, Parra said, would give the campaign the momentum to stop Hillary Clinton on the first ballot of the Democratic National Convention, throwing it into pandemonium. 

“If we get through the first ballot, it will be crazy,” Parra told me on Tuesday. 

Parra and I spoke at an important time. The national media is all but awarding the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, and Sanders needs California to stay alive. 

Parra, a writer and member of the National Writers Union, is just one in a diverse group of volunteers I’ve met while following the Sanders campaign since early last fall. Their challenge is to propel Sanders to victory in California and win more of the state’s 548 delegates than Clinton does. 

Nasim Thompson, a volunteer in another Sanders storefront in a largely African-American neighborhood in South Los Angeles, has the same goal as she canvasses door to door and trains new volunteers. 

“We have energized volunteers and community members,” she said. 

From the beginning, activists like Parra and Thompson have made the Sanders campaign as much a social and economic movement as a political campaign. Led by its unusual and compelling candidate, the Sanders campaign has given voice to discontent among liberals about the Democratic Party elite. For the two terms of Bill Clinton and two more of Barack Obama, the rich businesspeople and the politicians and technocrats who served them have been the shot callers. They ignored those who felt left out of the ’90s prosperity and the mild recovery from the Great Recession. 

Resentment simmered, surfacing only in the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter, both generally ignored by the mass media. Along came Sanders to give it a voice, a sense of direction and an energy that make Hillary Clinton and her campaign look pallid by comparison. The Sanders team is now the Democratic Party’s activist base, and without its enthusiastic participation, Donald Trump may be elected president in November. 

On the afternoon of April 30, I tagged along while Sanders supporters marched through a down-at-the-heels portion of Downtown Los Angeles on their way to a rally at City Hall several blocks away. Drummers in the garb of Aztec Mexico led the march. Organizers were among the crowd, spurring the men and women on. “Are you ready to fight?” a couple of them shouted. I counted about 500 when the march started, but it soon doubled in size, the result, I bet, of days of campaigning on social media. 

I was impressed with the enthusiasm and organization required to bring out such a crowd. 

Organization was also evident the following day at an entirely different venue, the big Beverly Hills home of Lauren Steiner, high above the city in Benedict Canyon. Steiner is a hardworking and effective volunteer leader. Tirelessly pounding away on Facebook, she persuaded about 25 to 30 people to come her house for bagels before they headed to their congressional district caucus to vote for her and others for national convention delegate. 

As I watched them sign up for tasks and discuss the campaign, I saw some of the political currents that are shaping the campaign. 

One was how to treat Clinton. Some in the room reviled her. A woman objected to what they said. “What I don’t like is the negativity,” a woman said. “We are still Democrats.” A man replied, “I don’t have any loyalty to the party especially when it is headed by crooked Hillary.” 

Volunteer Julie Tyler said, “I’ve called people out on Facebook when they talk that way.” And Steiner said, “There is a way of talking about policies that isn’t hateful.” Looking ahead, Steiner and Tyler probably saw the danger, a Trump victory over disunited Democrats. 

Steiner brought up a more immediate problem -- connecting with the area’s African-American voters and growing Latino population. That’s been a Sanders weakness from the beginning and a possible roadblock to his final, all-out push in California. Clinton is leading Sanders 51 percent to 41.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of California polling. She polls well among African-Americans. Latino polling and results from earlier contests are mixed. With the primary election just over a month away, the campaign is setting up low-income outreach teams, but it may be too late. 

The future of the Sanders movement -- before and after the Democratic National Convention -- depends on these disparate volunteers. 

If Sanders wins California, it would be a big upset. Yet even if he does, he probably wouldn’t get enough delegates to force the convention into a second ballot and to stop a Clinton nomination. But what happens after the convention is important, too. Will the Sanders movement remain intact? Will Lauren Steiner, Julie Tyler, Nasim Thompson and Ismael Parra get behind Clinton for the fall campaign against Donald Trump? 

Their names don’t typically make it into the coverage of the presidential campaign by the national media, but these volunteers are the future of the Democratic Party and of progressives who believe in the electoral process. 

If Clinton is to have a chance of defeating Trump, she’ll need them at her side. She’s not going to do it by herself or with her elite backers and veteran political advisers. The Sanders movement is the Democratic Party’s activist base. Without them, Clinton could very well lose. 

Lose to Trump? Is that crazy? No.  

I wouldn’t put all of my money on Clinton’s plodding, cautious approach to our serious national problems. Nor would I bet on her annoying, condescending smiles when asked questions about tough issues like her Wall Street speaking fees. That won’t work against killer Trump.  

After the national convention and the November election, whether Clinton wins or loses, the Sanders volunteers shouldn’t drop out. They’ll have to translate the excitement for the Sanders campaign into enthusiasm for continuing to build a movement: the Sanders revolution. Hopefully, he’ll be leading it, as he promised.


(Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for Truthdig, the Jewish Journal, and LA Observed. This piece was posted first at Truthdig.com.)  Photo: YouTube. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Works … Here’s Why

BUTCHER ON LA-“Instead of sleeping on the sidewalks, they’ll help us to build the sidewalks.”

— Paul Krekorian, Los Angeles City Councilmember, Chair, Budget & Finance Committee, commenting at 2016-17 budget hearings. 

Last Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti “signed a landmark Executive Directive to restore core city services and create long-awaited job opportunities for LA’s most under-served communities, as his administration prepares to hire thousands of new employees. 

Executive Directive #15 was developed with a Back to Basics approach to strategically restore critical City services. The directive builds upon a historic labor agreement the Mayor signed in partnership with the City Council and the Coalition of Los Angeles City Unions this past March, which included long-term savings of more than $16 million for the City's budget, and a goal of hiring more than 5,000 new civilian employees over the next three years. The directive will also ensure that all Angelenos have equitable access to good paying city jobs. 

“With 46 percent of our City workers eligible to retire by 2018, LA has an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services to meet the 21st century demands of our residents…Today we start that transformation. As the third-largest employer in our County, we are prioritizing local hiring -- to ensure that every qualified Angeleno has an equal opportunity to apply for full-time city jobs. Everyone deserves a chance at success.”  

The Mayor’s Executive Directive implements part of the 4-year collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the City and the Coalition of City Unions, ratified in March 2015, covering 20,000 city workers in six international unions.

Reverend William Smart, Jr., president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, and Alice Goff, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3090 and AFSCME District Council 36, explain the significance of the deal in the October 6, 2015 edition of Capital & Main:

“In an effort to stabilize the City budget, LA officials turned first and foremost to its workforce for cost-saving solutions. City workers stepped forward and made very real sacrifices, such as increasing worker pension contributions to the highest in the state; accepting more costly healthcare co-pays in order to lower healthcare costs; and taking voluntary early retirement. Five thousand jobs were cut, leading to severe cuts to City programs and services. 

“The ramifications of these cutbacks extended into our neighborhoods. Trees went untrimmed, alleyways were strewn with uncollected trash, cracked sidewalks were neglected and school intersections went unguarded, compromising quality of life and public safety. Middle-class City jobs, which for decades provided a higher standard of living for tens of thousands of people and brought new opportunity to communities of color, were put at risk. 

“Thus was born Fix LA,’  a movement that calls attention to the causes of LA’s economic hardship and puts a face on the serious impacts to communities. Over the course of a year, faith and community leaders, City workers and neighborhood groups united to create public awareness of the toll of the crash brought on by Wall Street’s abusive practices. We demonstrated at big banks to highlight their culpability in the crash of Wall Street and to their bad faith dealings with the City of Los Angeles. We held media events across Los Angeles to shine a spotlight on the unmet needs of neighborhoods. Our message has been simple: It’s time to fix LA. 

“City workers took those issues and concerns to heart and to the bargaining table. As part of its proposals, the Coalition of City Unions raised items that affected workers and residents alike. The Coalition platform included ideas aimed at improving services to residents, holding big banks accountable, creating jobs and job-training programs for residents and devising cost-saving and revenue-enhancing opportunities for the City. 

“The agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the Coalition of LA City workers is a true win-win. The newly ratified contract calls for the City to hire an additional 5,000 civilian workers by Fiscal Year 2017-18 and create a Strategic Workforce Development Task Force to oversee the process. The ripple effect of this provision is immeasurable. It represents true outreach to a local workforce, providing job training and access to quality civil service jobs. In turn, communities will begin to see a restoration of services. 

“The agreement also improves transparency of the City’s outsourcing contracts by establishing a public online database of City contracts and adding good government practices. Under the agreement, the City Council will establish a Commission on Revenue Generation, which will develop recommendations for raising City revenue through means such as enforcement of blight ordinances, commercial property reassessments and tax loopholes and other mechanisms. In addition the agreement protects quality, middle-class jobs by ending overuse of part-time workers, safeguarding health care and preserving retirement security, all in a fiscally responsible manner.

“With the economy recovering, and the City possessing the greatest reserve fund in its history, it’s time to rebuild and restore the essential jobs and services that have been decimated over the last eight years. Our communities deserve no less.” 

As reported in MyNewsLA.com Hope for homeless, ex-criminals: 5,000 new LA city jobs on April 29, 2016: “Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered city departments Friday to hire thousands of new employees over the next three years, with a focus on recruiting people who have been homeless, possess criminal records or face other challenges to finding jobs. 

“Under an agreement with municipal employee unions, the city has set a goal of hiring 5,000 people to fill thousands of jobs frozen as a result of an unsettled economy and to account for the fact that about 46 percent of the city workforce will reach retirement age in the next two years. 

“An executive order signed by the mayor Friday officially sets that hiring effort in motion and creates guidelines for city officials to follow when recruiting. 

“Garcetti said the city has ‘an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the way we deliver services to meet the 21st century demands of our residents.’” 

According to Councilmember and member of the Budget & Finance Committee, Paul Koretz, “Mayor Garcetti’s Executive Directive is a fine mix of the practical and the visionary.” 

He’s right! From the Directive: “[t]he recently adopted agreement with our labor partners in the Coalition of Los Angeles City Unions represents the ground breaking start to transforming how Los Angeles recruits, hires, and retains its employees so as to strengthen the delivery of City services with innovative workforce development strategies. The agreement sets a goal of hiring 5,000 civilian employees over the coming years. As the third largest employer in Los Angeles County-with a broad range of positions at all skill levels-the City has an obligation to ensure that every Angeleno has the opportunity to apply for good City jobs that put them to work now and set them on track for careers in the years ahead.

“Unfortunately, those opportunities are often not realized in the lives of people in our City who face the biggest barriers to full-time employment: the unsheltered; people with criminal records including those with a history of incarceration; veterans; and disconnected youth at risk of unfortunate outcomes. 

“Understanding that not all Angelenos currently have equal access to opportunity, it is essential that the City consider a wide range of populations while marketing, conducting outreach, and ultimately hiring for City jobs. The recently established Targeted Local Hire Task Force is working to create alternative pathways into the City workforce through trainee and vocational worker programs while reaching out to these communities. 

“Our future as a City depends on taking meaningful steps to lead on employment equity. It is our responsibility to ensure that all of our residents have a fair chance at success, and that begins with real prospects for gaining employment. This is not only the right moral course of action, but it is fundamental to Los Angeles's long-term economic development and the safety of our communities.” 

LA’s future just got a little brighter, thanks to is workers and its unions. Against all trends, Los Angeles is hiring!

As reported in an important recent read in the New York Times MagazineWhere Did the Government Jobs Go?”, “since the recession hit, private employers have added five million jobs and the government has lost 323,000. The country has recovered from the recession. But public employment has not.  

“The public sector has long been home to the sorts of jobs that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. These are jobs that have predictable hours, stable pay and protection from arbitrary layoffs, particularly for those without college or graduate degrees. They’re also more likely to be unionized; less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are represented by a union, while more than a third of those in the public sector are. In other words, they look like the blue-collar jobs our middle class was built on during the postwar years. 

“The public sector’s slow decimation is one of the unheralded reasons that the middle class has shrunk as the ranks of the poor and the rich have swollen in the post-recession years.”

And as reported in the New York Times, “Public-Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard: The Labor Department counts half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the recession in 2007. That figure, however, understates just how much the government’s work force has shrunk, said Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research organization in Washington. That is because it fails to account for the normal growth in the country’s population: Factor that in, she said, and there are 1.8 million fewer jobs in the public sector for people to fill.” 

But in LA, last Friday city workers stood behind Mayor Garcetti’s big prop desk as he signed this monumental order, a strong nod toward the future of the City, affirming labor solidarity and a mutual commitment to cooperation and collaboration, a unique and genuine willingness on the part of the workers to stand up for services and for the communities and neighborhoods of Los Angeles. 

On May 2, 2016 the unions of the coalition presented their analyses and recommendations to the Budget Committee. 

Chair Paul Krekorian set the tone: “As I said at the outset of these bearings, just a few short years ago this City was facing financial ruin. There was a former mayor predicting that bankruptcy was inevitable. We were looking at a $1 billion budget deficit. Over the course of the last four to five years, we’ve whittled down that deficit, gotten to a place of relative stability, avoided the parade of horribles. We did that in close partnership with city workers, in many respects, at their sacrifice -- in positions not filled, through furloughs, the rest, which also resulted in the sacrifice of city residents with correspondingly fewer services.” 

“We’ve gotten through the challenges that we’ve gotten through so far by making sure that we were partners with labor and not at war with labor,” Krekorian said, inviting the union and community representatives to “sit at this table, as full and equal partners, not just for two minutes of public comment.” 

Coalition Chair Cheryl Parisi led the presentation summarizing the historic and unprecedented agreement with LA labor to address the City’s crises of jobs and services. 

SEIU 721 researcher Dr. Molly Rhodes described the unique nature of the bargaining, “partnering with community organizations who are also fighting for services and good jobs.” Three specific examples of dramatic cuts in service to the public show up in the coalition’s PowerPoint. In FY2007-08 City traffic officers chalked up 90,478 hours of intersection control (traffic directing). In 2014-15 that was down to 27,622 hours. Similarly, the City cleaned and cleared 112,300 flood control catch basins in 2007-08, down to 73,772 in 2014-15. In 2007-08, when the City still had a division of “Urban Forestry,” it trimmed 97,341 trees. In 2014-15, only 13,351 LA trees were trimmed. 

Tree contractors have produced inflated bids, understanding that the City is desperate, and the Board of Public Works has been required to slow the processing of these contracts. There’s barely one operational emergency tree crew functioning and there’s no tree division like there was before the recession. 

Community member Tim McDaniel addressed the committee for ACE and as a member of the Watts Neighborhood Council: “Our recession started over 50 years ago. Certain areas of the City have been left to fend for ourselves. This is a good step in the right direction,” McDaniel said. “I’m glad to hear about the agreement to restore services and to do it by creating jobs people in South LA can fill.” 

Continuing, however, we have concerns about the $5 million contracted for trees and catch basin cleaning while unemployment is so high. The City is one of the largest employers in the region and it should set the standard when so many are living in poverty. “My grandmother has lived in the Watts area for 50 years and she deserves a lot better.” 

“Five thousand new jobs, targeted local hiring sounds good. I urge you to commit to funding one-third of these jobs this year. That’d be 1600 jobs.” 

AFSCME representative Teresa Sánchez summarized the opportunities: The Mayor’s Directive instructs all the City’s General Managers to fill service gaps by hiring city workers. Targeting the areas with the highest unemployment and the highest poverty, leveraging all the existing resources and making them available to all Angelenos at any one of 17 Workforce Centers, integrating these efforts with the nine campuses of the Los Angeles Community College District as well as the LAUSD, we’ve modernized the civil service process, hope to potentially touch every person in Los Angeles. Through the Strategic Workforce Development Taskforce and the Targeted Local Hire Workgroup – public bodies convened by the Mayor’s representative Jackie Goldberg, “universally loved and accepted,” linking together systems and infrastructure, proper mentoring and training, experience gained through years of welfare-to-work programs -- the biggest question is when do we start? 

AFSCME Local 3090 president Alice Goff focused her testimony on the need to fill vacancies and to best utilize civilians in the Los Angeles Police Department: The budget includes plans to hire 656 new police officers to net 525 – that’d put the LAPD at 10,500 sworn officers. The budget shows a current civilian vacancy rate of 15% -- 2800 positions – which was significantly lower at 11% at the height of the recession. 

The recent audit by the Controller Maximizing Use of Civilians in LAPD to Increase Deployment includes numbers which should cause alarm. In 2008 a similar audit identified a large number of civilian jobs being done by sworn officers. Now the numbers are the same and the recommendations are the same: hire civilians. Following the 2008 audit, the Department civilianized one position. 

Our recommendations for initial steps towards efficient civilianization would save $21 million this budget year, moving 458 police officers who are doing civilian work. Right now, we’re down 62 PSR positions (911 dispatchers) with forced overtime at an all-time high. One of two classes of new hires (maximum 30 in each class) has already been cancelled. This hiring doesn’t address vacancies or natural attrition. Same thing with divisional records clerks, records and identification staff, crime and forensic professionals. 

We urge you to immediately hire 250 civilians, freeing up police officers to move back out into the field. 

David Sanders, SEIU 721, thanked the committee “for having us back again.” He shared a bit of negotiations history: They told us these were permissive, not mandatory subjects of bargaining, “that there was no place at the table for the concerns of the communities we serve.” And yet we came together to achieve this aspirational initiative. “This is do-able,” Sanders averred. “For example, the City has committed to $31 million a year in sidewalk repair. We are prepared to do the work and propose a detailed program of Insourcing starting with this critical sidewalk work.” 

Cheryl Parisi connected the loss of jobs to the diminution of services. The coalition agreement aims to stop the massive increase in the City’s use of part-time workers. “Just between 2012 and 2014 there’s been a 58% increase in as-needed hours,” Parisi testified. “This devolution from good jobs with job security and benefits to sustain a family have been replaced by jobs characterized as unbenefited, precarious scheduling, and a deliberate policy edict to churn workers, that is to schedule full-time jobs with part-time workers at 40 hours a week until 900 hours and then work furlough the employee. This has made good jobs poor jobs….In policy, this was solved on Friday with the Mayor’s Directive. 

“Departments have been told to move from part-time, intermittent workers to regular half-time status; the agreement provides benefits after one year of 1000 hours worked and prohibits intentionally scheduling to avoid the payment of benefits. 

“Now the budget needs to align with these policies. For instance, DOT’s budget includes an increase in as-needed hours, proposes an additional 100 part-time traffic officers who are not full service and are not transitioning into full-time jobs. In the Bureau of Sanitation’s Call Center the practice has been quite egregious, particularly as the bureau is special-funded, not reliant on the City’s general fund. The call center has added a second location, moved to 24 hour operations, without adding staff, and is actively working to “churn” qualified, trained employees. 

“The budget for Recreation & Parks shows an additional $1 million in part-time hours. Ironically, as the City seeks to fight homelessness, these policies have, in some cases, caused homelessness.

“The Coalition seeks greater budget transparency and asks that the City make clear jobs that are budgeted, filled, or vacant. Additionally, the unions expect funding for a Revenue Commission codified in the labor agreements aimed at exploring new and innovative streams of revenue.” 

Against all odds, in stark light of an Eeyore-ish CAO hell-bent on remaking the City in the image of the County (services provided by contractors, part-time, intermittent, seasonal, non-full time, unbenefited workers), optimism, hope, and investment win. As the Mayor says: “Each one of our workers embodies our City’s commitment to a life-affirming principle at the heart of the American Dream: everyone deserves a fair chance to be employed, earn an honest living, and achieve self-reliance. This aspiration will become a new reality for many of our fellow Angelenos with this Executive Directive.” 

LA is hiring! Start the application here or attend an event at Trade-Tech this week!


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

Don’t Believe the Fawning Press and Their Pitiful Icons

CITY WATCH EASTSIDER-I hear you asking, what do icons have to do with the press? Well, the normal meaning of “icon” may have to do with religious objects or graphic representations. But a secondary meaning of the word has to do with “a person or thing that is idolized.” That’s the Icon of this piece. 

Hillary Clinton is “Madame Secretary”, Dick Cheney is “Mr. Vice President”, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee are “Governor.” Heck, even Antonio Villaraigosa is “Mr. Mayor.” These “honorific” titles used by the media are being horribly misused. There is a vast difference between a former job title that has specific meaning, and the use of those job titles as misplaced gestures of respect toward people who no longer hold the actual offices. 

What the heck happened to a free press in what used to be a democracy? These titles are being used just like the titles of royalty were in the old days. Do it long enough and we will have a new class of termed-out or voted-out political royalty. Royalty? I think not. 

The television millionaire talking heads who “report” this drivel have to spend around an hour in makeup before they read prepared scripts from their teleprompters -- as if it were truth. Their print counterparts should take a big time editing class because any real reporting they do is doomed to get killed on the spike of “editorial review.” In either case, if they persist in honest reporting, the billionaires who own the media outlets have them fired. 

My god, Ida Tarbell, author of “The History of the Standard Oil Company,” and Frank Norris, author of “The Octopus,” would be rolling over in their muckraking graves. Upton Sinclair of “The Brass Check,” and I.F. “Izzy” Stone would be throwing up. Hard core gonzo reporters like John Ross and even Hunter Thompson would be shaking their heads over the end of honest reporting as we know it. They might just retreat to do some serious drugs. 

Take my current pet peeve: meaningless fawning. In our system of electoral musical chairs, a person runs for office, holds that office then leaves that office. The office itself, Mayor, Governor, President, Assembly/Senator, etc., is the title. The office remains the office before, during, and after all the frail human beings assume and leave their positions. The office is permanent, the occupants of the office change all the time. So when did these statutory positions suddenly become permanent honorifics for every person who has ever inhabited them?

These politicians are not royalty. They are a bunch of folks who got in bed with whomever was willing to buy them their public office; afterwards they revert to who they really were all the time – plain Hillary Clinton, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee…even Antonio Villaraigosa. Not Madam Secretary, Mr. Vice-President, Governor or Mayor. 

Why does the media act like a bunch of genuflecting lick spittles towards these folks? And why do we let them get away with it? On the media side, of course, it’s simple. The people who own the media want us to think of these people as true blue authority figures so we will believe whatever horse puckey they spout. It’s a fraud, pure and simple. And it’s bought and paid for Citizens United capitalism -- foisted on all the suckers who will unthinkingly assume we should believe ex-elected officials -- even when their words and deeds are blatantly unbelievable

If you and I can separate ourselves from our iPhones and Android devices for a few seconds, we can all see what I’m saying is true. These politicians are not authority figures. Increasingly, they are not even, by and large, very honest. Generally, they are simply folks who have some kind of weird narcissistic need to tell other people what to do in exchange for a bunch of money and a great pension plan. They are absolutely not role models. No mas. 

Remember the four phases of a politician who gets caught: (1) I didn’t do it, (2) I’m in rehab, (3) you can’t prove it, and (4) my plea deal was to spare my spouse and friends. Some role models, right? 

Now, I am not silly enough to argue that journalism used to be all about the truth. As Upton Sinclair proved beyond any doubt in his really cool book, “The Brass Check,”  all too many journalists have always been for sale. 

I should note the title of his book refers to an old custom in which the customers of a brothel were issued a chit (the brass check.) Written way back in 1919, it’s a must read to provide context for our contemporary media. Really. No one these days has ever heard of the book and I suspect that it’s not on the reading list for journalism/communications majors. However, it should be. 

Also, take a look at Izzy Stone’s attempts to make a living as an honest muckraking reporter, and how he was hounded, vilified, and trivialized for his entire career. Check out his great biography, All Governments Lie!   

Let these real reporters wake us up to do our own research. It’s easy these days. All we need is to spend a little time on the internet and our view of politicians will never be the same. Do a Google search on almost any of these folks (remembering to skip the first couple of pages that pop up since they’re mostly ads) and incredible bags of details will emerge. In fact, I can do better research online in an hour than I used to be able to do in a whole day spent in the stacks of a really well stocked library. Read and you will no longer believe the 15 second “sound bytes” that the mass media is trying to sell you! 

Try a little internet surfing and you will never view the news media and their products the same way again. C’mon, take a walk on the dark side and do a reality check on what you’re being fed as truth. Who knows, you might just turn into the next gonzo journalist or muckraker!


(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.

Who Will Redesign Pershing Square?

WESTWATER DOWNTOWN--Nearly three years after Councilman Jose Huizar announced his plan to re-imagine Pershing Square, the project’s leadership met to discuss the proposals, review all the public’s comments – and decide who will re-design the new Pershing Square; a decision which will be publicly announced on May 12. And, so, here is one brief story and two questions which they may wish to consider in their deliberations.

The brief story is how one of the teams arrived in DTLA via the world famous New York City High Line. Two community activists, Josh & Robert (as they refer to themselves in their book on the project) decided to save the High Line and soon unexpected found themselves running a non-profit and then, after Bloomberg was elected Mayor and the money started to come, they began to interview the perfect team to hire to realize their vision.

And among them was James Corner (proposal above photo) with his new firm and they were soon to discovered Corner had a unique way of seeing how all the parts of the project could both fit together and work together and they began to wonder if he might be the one to execute a design that would get the project built. And the projected starting heating up and soon even Zaha Zadid – right after she won the Pritzker Architecture Prize – entered the competition to design the High Line

But everyone they were to meet – including Zadid - convinced them more and more that Corner and his team had what it would take to make this project work. Their problem was - they were uncertain how city would react to someone who wasn’t a big name.   So, Josh wrote in their book – he went to ask the director of Planning for Manhattan - what they should do. And his answer was to ask Josh one question. “Do you want something that you know will be good, or do you want to take a risk for something great?” And as Josh writes, “When he put it that way, it was an easy question to answer.

That left just one more hurdle. The Mayor’s office. And here is Robert’s description of what happened at the big meeting. “It took says a lot about the Bloomberg administration that they were willing to take a risk and pick a team that would bring us such innovative and untested design to a public space in New York.”

And that’s how two neighborhood activists and James Corner and his team turned a decaying rail line that was scheduled to be torn down into one of the biggest tourist attractions in New York with over 7 billion dollars with of new construction surrounding it.

And now for our two really big questions which the Perishing Square decision should be asking themselves ask themselves, if they haven’t already; a question that has not been publicly asked – or debated.

With none of the construction money yet raised – and with no one knowing when current boom times will end (other than every day, we are a day closer to that day) – which of the four teams will be more likely to help the committee generate donations to help build the park – and which team would best be able to help solicit donations themselves for the project -even if the economy slows down?

And ever since the first Phase of the High Line – they have had one of the best track records in helping getting projects funded.

And, the second question is – which team has the best track record over the years in bringing in their projects – both on time – and on budget? Two statistics any major donor is going to research.

And, again, starting with all three phases of the High Line, the projects designed and built by - have consistently been on time and on budget – with one major exception; the project in Santa Monica came in under budget.

Now these two factors cannot - and should not – be a major factor in selecting the winner in a competition such as this.   But if two projects are very close in every other way and it becomes hard to choose between them, these are two questions which will need to be asked.

(Brady Westwater is a writer and a longtime contributor to CityWatch. He is president of Westwater Films and Media.)


So You THINK You’re Registered to Vote?

HELPLINE--In hopefully learning from the suspicious disqualification of approximately 125,000 voters in Bernie Sanders home town of Brooklyn during the New York primary on April 19th of this year, I would suggest that Californians who want to be absolutely sure they can vote and be counted in California's primary on June 7th take the preemptive precaution of avoiding any potential unpleasant surprises on election day by now checking their own voter registration status well before the May 23rd voter registration deadline.

All you need to do is go to the County Registrar of Voters office for the county you live in and click on the link "Online Voter Registration Status." If you find that for some reason you are not deemed registered, you can immediately rectify this situation by clicking on the link "Online Voter Registration" to immediately remedy the problem. So, for example, if you live in Los Angeles County, you would go to the Los Angeles Country Registrar of Voters cite and then click on either the link "Check if your registered" or "Register Now."

It is worth pointing out that unlike the restrictive voting eligibility rules in New York and elsewhere that played no small part in Bernie Sanders' losses in these states, California's somewhat open primary rules allow registered voters with "no party preference, unaffiliated, or declines to state" to vote in either the Democrat or Republican primaries.

However, this does not include people registered to the American Independent or other recognized political parties who would not be able to cross their own party line to vote for either a Democrat or Republican in the June 7th primary. Might this not be a good motivation for a Green Party member to at the very least change their registration to "declines to state" for at least the upcoming primary?

One cannot emphasize enough the marked difference between the relatively open primary process in California with the restrictive primary processes of New York and many other states where younger and first time voters, who are at the core of Bernie Sanders supporters, were blocked from voting by unnecessarily restrictive primary voting qualifications designed to purposefully limit the number of new and younger voters, who have clearly shown their disproportionate support for Sanders in the states he has carried.

It is my firm belief that the only way the corporate-donation-subsidized-politics-as-usual policies of a Hilary Clinton or her predecessors- be they Democrat or Republican- can continue to win in California and beyond from the likes of a Bernie Sanders and the revolution he has started is with a relatively small voter turnout.

Sharing the ideas expressed in this post with your own online networks can go a long way in dismantling and circumventing what up until now has been the continued corporate media success in marginalizing, devaluing and demoralizing what I believe to be the clear majority of voters, who want something more than just more political smoke and mirrors.

In a democracy- at least in theory- the majority is supposed to win isn't it?

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He was a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at perdaily.com. Leonard can be reached at [email protected])


Skyrocketing Taxes and Fees and No End in Sight! Can Anything be Done?

JUST THE FACTS-The Mayor, City Council and Department of Water and Power Commission have all approved recent increases in both the water and power rates for all Los Angeles City consumers. As we read about broken water pipes and aging power poles on a regular basis, we can understand the necessity to raise revenues to upgrade deteriorating systems. Yet this is just a preview of what to expect in the near future for Los Angeles residential and commercial consumers.   

The next rate increases will involve a vote of the public. That means that you have option of approving or rejecting the measures. But this can only happen if you are registered and take the time to vote. Currently, we are saddled with a 9% sales tax in Los Angeles and a portion of that is for our public transit system. 

Here’s a question about our public transit system: How many of you ever ride it in Los Angeles? I would guess that most of you never have. On infrequent occasions, I have ridden on both buses and trains. The stench of marijuana has been present nearly every time, along with the combative and hostile attitude displayed by some riders. This has turned many people off from riding public transit in our region. Many potential riders just don’t feel safe due to the lack of law enforcement presence on the transit lines, other than the ones who check for fare violators at transit stops. 

Politicians are moving forward with a proposed extension and increase in our region’s sales tax to fund an expanded public transit system as well as money to deal with the estimated 40,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. This will push our sales tax to 9.5% for the next 40 years. Yes, forty years. In addition, there is a proposal to extend the current transit tax for another 40 years. I thought it was interesting that City Hall described the increase as four decades. Maybe this softens the hit by saying four decades, instead of forty years, but the math is the same. 

This is a lot money, and for what? Many of us won’t even be here in forty years, but I know we have to plan for future generations. With that in mind, we should recognize that we have over-populated the city, pushing housing costs and rents out of reach of most young families. Can they afford to pay more taxes? 

Although the Mayor declared a homeless emergency months ago, there is a major lack of funds to help deal with the situation. One proposal is to link a fee to all new developments. This fee, to the tune of thousands of dollars, will just force up the cost of new development. As you can see, there seems to be no easy answer other than more and higher taxes and fees. But I say enough with that! 

I am opposed to any new tax increases to fund the transit tunnel under the 405 freeway or any other pie in the sky solution to traffic gridlock. The solution is more controls on over-development. Our city and county have seen an increase in population in all categories, including 40,000 homeless. Los Angeles County population is currently at 10,241,335, up 0.8% from 2015. Los Angeles City is currently at 4,030,904 people, an increase of 50,000 people since January 1, 2015. California’s growing population is now 39,256,000. 

There is no end in sight to the multiple and weighty matters facing our region. If you want to make a difference, you must get involved and voice your concerns to your elected officials. We are blessed here that most of our elected officials do listen -- to some extent -- to our concerns and issues. While Rome was not built in one day, we need to continue working to remedy the many issues facing all of us in the City of the Angels…… 

Clinton or Trump? We will soon know who will lead this country forward into the future.      


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

New LA Homeless Numbers: ‘Stark Condemnation of City Council Policies’

GUEST WORDS-The Coalition to Preserve LA said today that a sharp jump in homelessness in Los Angeles, as reported today, vividly points up the devastating effects of LA City Council practices that are driving tragic levels of human displacement and the demolition of 20,000 rent-stabilized apartments that can never be fully replaced. 

A map published this morning by the Los Angeles Times shows in vivid color the city’s heavy new concentrations of severe homelessness -- particularly in Downtown Los Angeles, Venice and Hollywood, areas targeted by multimillionaire developers for frenzied levels of demolition and luxury housing construction. 

Jill Stewart, campaign director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve LA, called the new data “a stark condemnation of the Los Angeles City Council’s policies to destroy working-class communities and replace them with half-empty luxury towers built by developers who give the City Council a lot of campaign cash.” 

A City of Los Angeles housing report from late 2015 shows that even as homelessness surges citywide, the Los Angeles City Council clings to policies that exacerbate the problem. The city itself admits that housing projects it approved during the past 10 years suffer from a huge vacancy rate of 12%, and that this empty “market rate” housing is aimed at households earning more than $100,000. 

Meanwhile, average people and the poor cannot find a place to rent. 

Older apartments are being destroyed at a fast pace instead of being preserved, and the City Council has no plan for preserving the older and inexpensive rental housing that acts as the safety net for LA’s working class and middle class. 

“The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March ballot will force the City Council to end its behavior of fanning this frenzy of luxury development,” Stewart said. “We are talking about a group of Los Angeles politicians who take huge sums of money from developers, encourage them to build massive luxury complexes that rent for $3,000 or worse, and then they ignore the displacement of longtime residents due to runaway gentrification they create.” 

In a City Hall affordable housing report released earlier in 2016, Stewart notes, the City does not mention its key role in driving up homelessness. 

Instead, the city report blamed this traffic trend on numerous factors that don’t lead back to City Hall.  

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



Machine Politics: Burke Crony Nate Holden about to Get a Payday?

GUEST WORDS--It’s open season on administrative agencies, people. Are you paying attention? 

The Coastal Commission’s longtime Executive Director just got fired. So did the highly respected Executive Officer of the local air pollution agency, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). Big money business interests and political machines are making their moves. 

And now, taking advantage of the turmoil, an old-fashioned Los Angeles County political machine is trying to pay off one of its members with a seemingly insignificant job. But the job is not trivial, and the machine’s move threatens to undermine the integrity of decision making about the air we breathe. 

The Hearing Board at the SCAQMD is an administrative law panel (snore, snore). It has significant powers, though. It can grant temporary exemptions from the air district’s rules. It can overrule the district’s decisions about whether a business gets a permit to operate or how many pollution trading credits a factory must buy. And it can issue orders forcing polluters to shut down or comply with rules. You don’t hear about it much, but the Hearing Board has recently had the Exide lead smelter, the Porter Ranch gas leak, and ExxonMobil’s Torrance refinery on its docket. 

Despite the importance of the Hearing Board, the political machine thinks it can dole out a slot or two on the 5-member board as $50,000-a-year favors to whomever it pleases. The machine crony on the Hearing Board now is the board’s medical member, an old doctor who has said virtually nothing during hearings and often doesn’t seem to be following along. Hosting a fundraiser for one of the machine’s next generation apparently helped the doctor get the job. 

Now the machine thinks it can give one of its oldest members the Hearing Board seat currently occupied by David Holtzman. Holtzman is a highly-qualified, experienced air pollution health scientist and public interest attorney who has been on the Hearing Board for almost three years with no complaints.  

His career in public service has focused on making complex scientific issues understandable to the public. Perhaps most notably, he managed responses to public comments and document updates for California’s health risk assessment of diesel exhaust, the first official document at any level of government to label diesel exhaust particulate matter a cancer-causing substance. 

Holtzman’s volunteer work includes time on a neighborhood council, a short stint with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and two terms as President of the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles (the first male president there), championing progressive electoral reforms and civic education. 

Bill Burke, the patriarch of one of the machine’s families, is currently chair of the SCAQMD’s Governing Board, which appoints the Hearing Board’s members. With all the recent turmoil, Burke may not be chairing the board much longer. And his longtime friend, the patriarch of another family in the machine, could use a job. And Burke thinks he can get away with booting David Holtzman from the usually-obscure Hearing Board to install his crony, Nate Holden. 

Yes, Nate Holden. The long-ago LA City Councilmember whose legal troubles from sexual harassment charges cost the City over one million dollars, and who got illegal campaign contributions from the private business known as the LA Marathon and controlled by Bill Burke. The machine lives on. Holden and Burke each have a kid in the state legislature. 

The ties between Holden and Burke make Holden uniquely unqualified to serve on the Hearing Board. Every case the Hearing Board hears has SCAQMD on one side, so the Hearing Board must be independent of the SCAQMD’s leadership. 

The Holden and Burke political families are entwined through monetary contributions, political endorsements, and close friendship. An administrative law judge, however, must be independent, beyond a reasonable doubt of the judge’s agency, because the agency is a party in every case before the judge. 

People say integrity and impartiality are incompatible with Nate Holden.  

The appointment vote is scheduled for early on Friday, May 6. You may want to communicate your feelings ASAP about the replacing a qualified judge like David Holtzman with a old-time politician like Nate Holden. So write to the AQMD’s clerk of the board at [email protected] and its new executive officer Wayne Nastri at [email protected]. (Contact information for individual SCAQMD Governing Board members is here.)  

Administrative agencies are important. It’s good that you’re paying attention.


(Lauren Steiner is a grassroots activist and organizer who has worked with Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, the California Clean Money Campaign, the Occupy movement, Food and Water Watch, Hunger Action LA, the LA Food Policy Council and many other groups. Currently she is the lead organizer of Los Angeles for Bernie Sanders trying to get him elected and advance the political revolution he is calling for.)


LA City Council Ignores Protestors, Unanimously Exempts Hollywood Target from City Height Rules

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Once again, the LA City Council displayed its unanimous voting tendencies – and its deep connection with developers. Wednesday, they voted to permit the construction of a controversial Target shopping center in Hollywood, which seems to be one of the epicenters of runaway development. Close to two years ago, a judge ordered work at the site to be stopped but times, they are a-changin’.

Following a 13 to 0 vote, the council revised planning and zoning rules to give heads up on the Sunset Boulevard Target’s 74-foot-tall retail center … more than double what the City allows and in the face of law suits and protests from the community. The city council has been pretty liberal with zoning variances, allowing for a Wild West, anything goes environment that seems to be friendlier to commercial interests than to constituents.

In 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. put the brakes on the council’s approval of the Target center. The judge said the council failed to demonstrate that Target would suffer an “unnecessary hardship” if the retail chain complied with the city’s height rules … which limit shopping centers at that location to no more than 35 feet. The construction was halted but is now expected to resume within weeks.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes part of Hollywood, is a proponent of the vote, which he says will bring in tax revenue. Challengers to the project say they’ll file another lawsuit, charging that an environmental impact report should have been prepared on the changes to city planning rules.

Proponents of the multi-story Target also cite increased commercial revenue, employment opportunities, and convenience as reasons to support the project.

On another front, the city council faces concerns that its approvals may continue to be challenged in courtrooms, which happened when a judge struck down a 22-story apartment building that had been approved by the city council. A judge also invalidated the council’s greenlight on the Millennium skyscraper project, ruling that the city didn’t properly assess impact on the nearby community.

Target was also at the center of a controversy over a city requirement that a child care facility be included in the project. In lieu of onsite facilities, O’Farrell told the LA Times, Target will absorb a fee for childcare services near the store. The Board of Recreations and Parks Commissioners will determine the fee. According to Target, the new store will bring 250 full- and part-time permanent jobs to the community. The store is expected to be completed next year.

Although commercial development may have the upside of increased employment, the continued path of unanimously approved development projects has left Hollywood and other communities in a whirlwind of constant construction. EIRs funded by independent sources or the city should be the rule, not reviews funded by less than objective developers themselves. The fox cannot be trusted to guard the hen house. Should neighbors and activist groups bring a lawsuit to put a damper on the project once again, they’ll join a long list of community activists who aim to maintain the integrity of the city.

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

Follow the Money! Home-Sharing Ordinance would Legalize Hotels in Residential Neighborhoods

NEIGHBORHOODS RIGHTS--While short-term rentals help a few people make ends meet by renting their home to vacationing strangers, the protection of the safety, stability and character of our residential neighborhoods is being threatened by a misguided proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance. Furthermore, it is a disservice to the legal system and system of justice to pass a law that you know is going to be disobeyed – and not enforced! 

RIGHT TO TAKE ACTION--Thousands of illegal short-term rentals of 30 days or less that are strictly prohibited by existing law are being openly advertised and rented in Los Angeles every day. The lack of inspections, investigations, and prosecutions reflect the lack of resources and commitment to enforcement on the part of the Department of Planning, the Department of Building and Safety, and the City Attorney. There is nothing new in the Draft Ordinance that provides any enforcement process against a Host that refrains from registering. 

Under a similar law passed February 2015 in San Francisco, it is reported that only 1,647 Hosts had registered by March 2016 -- out of an estimated 9,000+ Hosts with listings on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Flipkey. The only hope of containing this illegal activity is to afford neighbors and/or neighborhood homeowner associations the right to bring a civil action in Court for injunctive and monetary relief with the right to recover attorney fees and costs. And the private right of action should be based on the existing law in Los Angeles that completely prohibits short-term rentals -- not complicated by new issues proposed in the Ordinance that would be difficult to prove, such as whether a Host has resided at the property for at least 6 months or a limit on short-term rentals by a Host for no more than 90 days each calendar year. 

NO REASONABLE LIKELIHOOD OF ENFORCEMENT--The critical primary residence requirement is not capable of being disputed by the City and would be difficult even in a private right of action. What proof would the City Attorney require, and how would the proof be obtained, to show that a Host is not eligible to register because the property was rented out legally to four different persons for 60 days each during a calendar year? In addition, how would the concepts of “Host” and “Primary Residence” be made applicable to properties owned in the name of different limited liability companies organized in Nevada -- where no information is required about the ultimate owner? This is only one example of the impossible morass created by any attempt to regulate short-term rentals as opposed to the existing, clear, outright prohibition. 

Questionable Jurisdiction-Does the City have a legal opinion that it has the necessary legal jurisdiction over any Hosting Platform to be able to impose the requirements and impose the fines set forth in the Draft Ordinance? Is there jurisdiction if the Hosting Platform has no personnel, office, or assets in Los Angeles or even in California? It is delusional to expect that Airbnb will willingly help with enforcement. Time after time, they have testified before governing bodies throughout the country and refused to divulge any information about their Hosts. 

Hasn’t Airbnb asserted Federal law and the First Amendment as shields preventing them from being compelled to monitor and police their users, and from liability for content generated by users of their services? Is the City Attorney, who has not brought any cases against illegal Hosts, now ready, willing and able to take on the Hosting Platforms?

90 DATS TOO LENIENT-The prohibition on operating Home-Sharing for more than 90 days each calendar year is much too lenient. It would allow a constant stream of different strangers to occupy a home for 45 full weekends each year which is 87% of the year (assuming the 2 nights between Friday and Sunday equates to 2 days.) If an Ordinance is passed (which it should not be), the maximum permissible annoyance of neighbors should be 34 days, or 17 weekends per year which is 33% of the year. That would be both more reasonable and more enforceable. 

GUEST LIMIT--The provision in the Draft Ordinance limiting a rental to no more than one group of guests is not effective nor adequate. It would allow a 2 bed/2 bath house to be rented to a fraternity of 40 persons for a weekend, which should not be allowed. There should be a limit of 2 guests per available bedroom. 

SHORT-TERM RENTALS LIKE HOTELS--If the City is going to legalize what are, in effect, hotels in residential neighborhoods, the City should enforce the fire code, health, safety, insurance, and labor laws applicable to hotels. The rules should be the same - both for the protection of guests and to level the playing field out of fairness to competing businesses. 

New Ordinance is Not Necessary--The proposed Home-Sharing Ordinance is motivated by a desire of the City Council to collect hotel-type transient occupancy taxes, and by a situation caused by a complete failure of the City Attorney to enforce the prohibition against short-term rentals. Our residential neighborhoods were never intended to accommodate hotel-like environments with transient occupancy by strangers and the noise, parking, traffic, litter and other activities not usual and customary in a residential zone. 

The financial problems of a relatively few residents, and the financial problems of the City, must not be solved on the backs of homeowners who had a right to expect that the residential neighborhood in which they made a large home investment would not be commercialized in any manner. It is doubtful that the City leaders would be considering this Ordinance if the provision for tax revenue was not included -- as usual, follow the money. 

Threatening the destruction of the character and safety and cohesiveness of the single family neighborhood that has meant something since the beginning of urban zoning is not the answer. Enforce the existing law!


(Raymond Klein has been involved with land use and transportation issues for over 10 years on the Boards of the Brentwood Community Council and Brentwood Homeowners Association and is an occasional CityWatch contributor. Views expressed are his own.) Prepped for CityWatch by Llinda Abrams.

California: These Elections are Costing Us a Fortune! Can’t We Email It In?

CAMPAIGN FINANCE FLURRY-A rare competitive presidential primary in California and a crowded November ballot has spurred state action on election financing this year. 

Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed AB 120, which will help counties incur the additional expenses associated with the high turnout expected in the June 7 presidential primary, and to process the approaching deluge of petitions from interest groups seeking to qualify initiatives for the November ballot. $16.2 million will be divided among the state’s 58 counties. 

“It absolutely goes a long way to assisting us in juggling this kind of perfect storm: the initiatives colliding at the same time we’re producing ballots and tallying ballots,” said Neal Kelley, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. 

The last day for any measure to qualify for the November ballot is June 30. The Secretary of State’s office suggested that proponents turn in their petitions last Tuesday to ensure counties had enough time to verify the signatures by the qualification deadline. 

But proponents of several measures remain on the streets gathering signatures. Among the measures is the Justice and Rehabilitation Act backed by Brown and his allies. 

The money in AB 120, which passed the Legislature last week, creates a financial incentive for counties to get the signature-checking done more quickly--and gives campaigns more time to gather signatures. Counties would be eligible for some of the $16 million only if they verified signatures turned in as late as May 20 before the June 30 qualification deadline. 

Kelley, who is also the registrar of voters for Orange County, called the money “a huge help.” 

Secretary of State Padilla originally asked Brown for twice the amount. Lawmakers will consider the proposal during budget hearings for the fiscal year beginning July 1. 

The issue of how to pay for elections has been a source of tension between state officials and county officials, who administer elections. California Forward, thanks to a grant from the James Irvine Foundation, has been the studying the issue and will release its Election Funding Project in late May. 

“While these funds will help the counties navigate a busy and expensive political year in 2016, the long-term issue of election funding in California needs to be addressed,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd. “CA Fwd’s assessment will provide some guidance on how to construct a new state-county funding partnership that provides adequate resources with the right incentives for a collaborative and efficient elections system." 

CA Fwd surveyed the 58 California county election officials, who had some strong opinions about what needs to happen: 

  • Nearly all of who responded (96 percent) agree that California should adopt a different funding framework for elections. 
  • 88 percent think there should be more collaboration among counties in providing election services and procuring voting equipment. 
  • Our voting equipment is aging. 76 percent say they will need to replace their equipment within the next four years…nearly half of those needing replacement in the next year or two.

81 percent want to explore alternative funding methods for elections. 

CA Fwd also convened county registrars, surveyed the funding models in other states, and consulted with state advocates and staff in developing its assessment.


(Ed Coghlan is a contributing editor and special correspondent for California Forward and the California Economic Summit, dealing with all matters related to California's sputtering economy and how we as a state can get it back on track. He is a veteran of television news at all levels and serves as a media consultant in his spare time.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Bicycle Millennium Interrupted for Bike Month



May is Bike Month, something that always seemed odd to me here in SoCal. There is no defined “biking season” in the Southland, and the concept doesn’t make sense anywhere, really. If the good burghers of Copenhagen can ride to work through February snowstorms, if commuters costumed in goosedown and wool can clackety-clack their studded tires down Minneapolis bikeways in January, why do we in La-La Land have Bike Month? What, it was too cold to ride in December, when it was 80 degrees, or in January when it was 70, or in March, when the headlines read, “Drizzle Batters LA”?

So, while in cities with crappy weather, from Boston to Detroit to the baking heat of Phoenix, people who want to ride just ride, often on nice new bikepaths, here in LA we gear up for the start of a mythical window of opportunity that somehow makes cycling “practical,” in a region where the weather barely changes month to month.

And where what would really make riding practical—ie, more bike lanes and paths, and traffic calming—are dismissed as, oddly, “impractical.” So we keep shoveling money at more car lanes, and watch traffic grow worse and worse. For eighty years, we’ve built more lanes, and watched traffic grow worse. Making more room for bikes instead seems more practical to me….

But, Bike Month events are good PR, much needed in a city whose media and commentariat still devote extraordinary efforts to looking wide-eyed with amazement when some middle-aged cube dweller does something so unheard of as pedaling to work. So, I guess LA does need Bike Month, if only to get a few more folks actually to try riding, and see that it’s not in fact “impractical.”

CicLAvia is the prime force in allowing Regular Folks to try riding on real streets without having to get a prescription for anti-anxiety meds first. The event is patterned after Bogotá’s famous ciclovias, which have been a weekly occurence since the late Seventies, and now liberate 80 miles of that city’s streets every Sunday.

LA’s CicLAvias are (for now) much smaller and far less frequent, but they have a huge effect. And there’s one coming up on May 15th, bringing the love to the Southeast partions of Los Angeles county, including parts of LA proper, Huntington Beach, Lynwood, and South Gate.

There’s also the Bicycle Culture Institute’s LA Bike Fest, coming this Sunday, May 8th, to Grand Park downtown. This is a party, not a ride, but it promises to be one hell of a party, so get your tix now. There will be music, art, and beer! And rides will no doubt form up as the day progresses.

And the Los Angeles County Bicycle coalition has a roster of activities for the month, including Bike to Work Day Pit Stops on May 19th, the “Blessing of the Bicycles” on May 17th, and the Ride of Silence on May 18th, plus outreach, workshops, and more.

Farther west, Santa Monica Spoke lists a number of events, some ongoing, on their calendar; you might get a chance to try out the city’s Breeze bikeshare system while you’re there.

Metro, the county’s transit agency, co-sponsors many of these events, and runs a couple of its own, such as Bike Night at Union Station on May 27th. Check out their main event page at The Source for more.

And, of course, just get out and ride your bike everyday….

Wait— you say you already do?

Of course you do. Because every month is bike month, everywhere!

See you on the road …

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are focused on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  



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

DEEGAN ON LA-The aspiring streetwear-star with a bankroll meets the hard-bitten political operative. The result? Instead of working with each other’s vibe to make one and one equal two (a big win for the community,) we have zero. What they planned -- a basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park -- has unraveled, becoming a seriously controversial issue. This could not have been the intention when what many emphatically call a “secret, back-room deal” was put together. Yet we see what can happen when not enough daylight is cast on the process. Things get overlooked in those deep dark recesses. Instead of “what can we get?” it ends up being “what can we get away with?” 

Hubris and reckless behavior lead to missed opportunities to serve the community. Just consider the mocking statements that were recently published online. This includes, Ryus in our pocket. That’s why this (Runyon Canyon basketball court) went that far. LOL. Just a matter of time till we throw that basketball court in there. They just waiting for the right time playas”, and “Com’n man we run Runyon Canyon playaz! We do music videos up here. Smoke sessions up heya!” And, “Out with the Old and in with the New. Can’t stop it, Won’t stop it!” These public boasts were made by Mike Sabando, obviously a supporter of FORC’s (Friends of Runyon Canyon) plan to install a corporate-branded commercial basketball court in Runyon Canyon Park, but otherwise a random social media unknown. This is indicative of the chatter that’s been characterizing this star-crossed project. 

That Councilmember David Ryu (CD4) would be in Sabando’s pocket is hilarious, but the rhetoric shows how this controversy, and the delusion, is metastasizing instead of settling down. 

It’s been exactly four weeks since the lid blew off this situation when an unsuspecting public learned, what they say was for the first time, about development and commercialization plans in the park under the auspices of Friends of Runyon Canyon, a public benefit support group empowered by the LA Rec and Parks department to find “deals” to bring it revenue in exchange for “sponsorships.” 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) is a California 501-3 (c) corporation, whose status is granted by the Attorney General of California. It is considered a charity. Locally, they are supervised by the Department of Recreation and Parks. And the CD4 office has great sway over them, as well. 

What they themselves need now are some friends. It could be time for a make-over in how the community they are supposed to be serving views them. Nineteen public comments were submitted about FORC at a hearing of the Board of Commissioners of Recreation and Parks on May 4. They all amounted to the same request to the board: “Immediately dissolve FORC.” 

At this meeting, Catherine Landers, Ryu’s Hollywood deputy, confirmed that construction of the basketball court had stopped. This follows Ryu’s recent public announcement that, "Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park, and the department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks commissioners reconsider its prior approval of the project." 

FORC is likely come under more scrutiny because of its dual-status as a charity and city surrogate, due to the deal they made with the Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) making them a proxy of RAP in stewarding Runyon Canyon Park. That adds a layer of expected public accountability, transparency and engagement, the same as if dealing with a city official. 

FORC can no longer operate as a closed-door, candle-lit, membership-by-invitation organization with a $5,000 suggested donation -- a clubhouse for an elite few. Openness is their best offense as they struggle to get ahead of some very bad public relations. They granted branding rights in the park to a donor, but now their own brand is hurting. 

Both RAP and CD4 are aware that this is serious. Being a public benefit charity, and a proxy for the city, it’s easy to understand why there have been calls for much more oversight and transparency than FORC has been receiving or providing. Change must come, willingly or mandated, beginning with a program of transparency. 

Extra scrutiny is now being promised by grass roots activist groups like Runyon Canyon Defenders and others, that may have had investigators at the County Recorder, pulling plot maps and parcel information for an-about-to-be-announced acquisition of 2450 Solar Dr.   

The land acquisition is great for the park and for the wildlife, and has been in the works for many years prior to FORC entering the picture. 

Another player in this game, FORC’s streetwear partner in the park, is not regulated except by the economics of supply and demand. Their new product line, “Summer 2016 Dolphin Motorsports Legacy 1.1,” went on sale April 30. It cannot hurt their brand’s street marketing campaign to be in the midst of a controversy like the mess at Runyon Canyon Park when they are dropping their product into the marketplace. The four weeks leading up to that release has been a publicity bonanza for them. Their street cred may actually be increasing from being at the epicenter of this dispute. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” said P. T. Barnum, a 19th century American showman, prankster and circus owner. 

Right now, it feels like the math adds up to plus one for the streetwear brand and minus one for FORC. But the sum is still zero, even though the streetwear partner, who is a FORC board member, gave FORC a quarter-million dollars to provide park improvements. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that, apparently, it was never revealed or stated publicly during negotiations with Recreation and Parks that the donor was an insider board member who would benefit by receiving a corporate designation in the park -- along with a huge tax-write off and other benefits. 

“Neither staff nor I knew that the donor was a (FORC) board member during negotiations…” [that would receive value that] “would directly benefit his company,” states the RAP executive that conducted the negotiations. 

When asked by CityWatch, a FORC spokesperson denied that the board seat appointment existed during negotiations, even when challenged by being shown a timestamped social media screenshot from the donor captioned, “With my fellow board members the other night at one of our fundraisers for Runyon Canyon Park. I’m super excited to part of this organization and can’t wait to see some of our initiatives come to life.” (Like his corporate-branded basketball court!) 

This social media announcement was uncovered and verified by neighborhood activists, in classic political “truth squad” fashion, as being made at a FORC fundraiser held during the period that RAP was negotiating with the donor (a FORC board member.) who was then awarded valuable concessions by Recreation and Parks during the talks. It raises the question: was this self-serving insider dealing? Yes or no, it’s not the kind of shadow that people trying to brand themselves as philanthropists would want hanging over them. Google searches last forever. 

When the timestamp was pointed out, the streetwear star responded by erasing the caption. This is how cover-ups start…one small erasure becomes a termite and, before you know it, the house collapses. 

Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), a major player in this controversy that is in his district, has stepped in to lead the effort to clean up the mess. His goal is to refocus attention where it is needed -- on the future of Runyon Canyon Park, a regional park which must be readied over the next few years to welcome everybody, including millions of visitors and dogs. If Ryu plans to continue working with either of these players in determining the future of Runyon Canyon Park, he has his work cut out for him. He’ll need to help shift the debate from character assessment to park assessment. 

Boss Tweed, the head of New York City’s infamous Tammany Hall political machine (circa 1800’s), was famous for this political advice: “Don’t write it, if you can say it. Don't say it, if you can wink or nod.” The political pro at the heart of FORC seems to be mimicking Tweed when he starts an initial conversation with CityWatch by saying, “can’t we just make this story go away?” When told no, he then asked that nothing be in writing, wanting to just meet for coffee and talk, saying, “I hate using email.” 

So, are we in the shadows of disgraced politicos -- LBJ and his credibility gap, Nixon and his cover-ups, Boss Tweed’s manual of evasive tactics, and a twist of P.T. Barnum? Who and where are the political mentors to guide what started out as well-intentioned citizens, volunteers doing “the people’s business”? 

The spotlight will shortly be on one player who is trying to stay below the radar as things get more complicated – the councilmember who is the chair of the City Council’s Arts, Parks, and River Committee. He is a colleague and campaign consultant client of the FORC board member taking the most heat. In Tweed-speak, he might be the “grease” for this deal…he may have a key to the clubhouse. His committee has an appeal on its docket filed by lawyers to challenge the November 4, 2015 determination by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners finding that construction of a basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Article III, Section 1(y), Class 11, Categories 3 and 6 of the City's CEQA Guidelines. 

Another mentor must now be David Ryu. This mess is in his district, and, while he is slowly taking steps to clear it up, time will tell if he’s able to pull the variety of disparate, discordant interests together to find a solution that makes sustainability of the park as the top priority. Populations and demographic shifts are variables that will continue to bring new voices into any civic conversation, but the raw earth and nature -- the park -- remains the constant. It must be protected and improved for everybody. 

FORC has a chance to be a star, but must first become a transparent player; its website should include every minute of every meeting, a full financial disclosure report, the agreement with the streetwear donor and any other donors, and an accurate listing and biography of its directors and their terms of office. In addition to their fundraising, they must start “friend-raising” in the community that uses the park. As a quasi-public agency they must not discriminate about who can be a member and should open their doors to all. 

David Ryu can seek full public disclosure by FORC today. He does not need anything but the inherent power of his office to demand that. The credibility of FORC, and their fiduciary role as a fundraiser for the city, is on the line. They are at a turning point, poised to do great things. 

Waiting for a lawsuit to be filed in order to bring a motion to the City Council so it can act on the issue may be a purely technical response. The lawsuit, filed on April 27 and prepared by Citizens Preserving Runyon, is waiting in the wings, held off only by David Ryu’s request to RAP for a review of the situation. But the threat of looming litigation is not the only leverage Ryu has: he can use his bully pulpit. 

With the appeal now pending in Committee, there will soon be a step forward in clarifying one key issue -- CEQUA compliance. CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

It’s time to move out of damage control and into a proactive stance about how to make Runyon Canyon Park the best public resource it can be for all communities. It’s time to move the conversation from silly remarks on social media to serious talk among the professionals that are charged with protecting our parks. It’s time to open dialogue with all the communities that FORC, RAP and CD4 serves. 

A lot has happened in 30 days. Much of it good. 

Other articles in this series include: Lessons Learned from the Runyon Canyon Dispute? Time will Tell!” and LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue.” 


(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.

Action Alert: LA Looks to Scale Back Some 'McMansions'

SPEAK UP--Across Los Angeles, homes are being torn down and replaced with bigger houses, called "McMansions" by some. Now the city is considering a plan designed to keep the number of supersized homes in certain areas in check.

To prevent some new homes from blocking views and changing the look of neighborhoods too dramatically, the LA Department of City Planning has proposed changes to a 2008 citywide "mansionization" law. 

The amended law would scale back or eliminate certain building bonuses and exemptions that could lead to overly large homes. For example, homeowners could no longer get a bigger space allowance for including energy-efficient features. And certain patios and porches larger than 150 square feet would count toward the size of the house, the current limit is 250 square feet. 

The 2008 law is "not ... working as well and some neighborhood groups thought there were certain loopholes that developers were taking advantage of," said Principal City Planner Tom Rothmann.

Complaints about outsized homes have been growing in recent years. The city, needing time to amend its mansionization law, offered a temporary fix last year to about 20 neighborhoods in LA predominantly on the Westside and in the southern San Fernando Valley. Two-year building limits went into effect in 15 neighborhoods identified by their councilmembers as having a high rate of mansionization. Five other neighborhoods were being designated as historic zones and got two-year moratoriums on building and demolition permits. 

The planned changes to the citywide ordinance will cover the rest of the city's neighborhoods, ranging from Brentwood to South LA. 

The proposal is creating concern within the building industry. 

Changing the law would jeopardize jobs, said Tim Piasky, CEO of the Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California.  

"There’s a cottage industry out there that is buying older homes and remodeling them and bringing them to current standards," he said. 

The city is also eroding homeowners' rights by preventing them from adding size — and value — to their property, said Piasky. He acknowledged that some houses may offend sensibilities, but said they’re in the minority. 

"You’re impacting all of them just to address a few outliers," Piasky said. "I think that it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater." 

Not all neighborhood groups are pleased with the proposals, either. The group "No More McMansions in LA." is urging its members to e-mail or call lawmakers and let them know the proposed changes to the mansionization law don't go far enough

After four public hearings, the city planning commission and the city council's Planning and Land Use Committee will review the proposal before it goes to the full council for a vote. Rothmann said if all goes as planned, the changes could be adopted by the fall. 

The planning department will take public comment at the first hearing on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. 

The other hearing dates are: 

  • Monday, May 9, 7-9 p.m. - Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center
  • Tuesday, May 10, 7-9 p.m. - Felicia Mahood Multipurpose Center
  • Monday, May 16, 7-9 p.m. - Marvin Braude Constituent Service


(Josie Huang writes for KPCC Radio    … where this piece originated.) Photo: Reed Saxon/AP.

Tell Us What You Think … in 30 Seconds or Less: ½ Cent Transit Tax?

WHAT’S THE ISSUE? Metro thinks you should cough up another half cent in sales tax to help provide for $120 Billion worth of transit projects. That’s what Metro thinks. CityWatch wants to know what you think … it will take you less than 30 seconds. If you feel you don’t know enough about this ballot measure, Steve Hymon over at The Source sums it up for you below the LA Pulse Poll.

If the election were today, would you support a ½ Cent Sales Tax increase to pay for $120 Billion worth of transit projects over the next five years?

[sexypolling id="1"] 

STEVE HYMON AT THE SOURCE-A long list of transit projects, road improvements and commuting options could be built over the next five decades under a $120-plus billion spending plan Metro released for a potential November sales tax ballot measure. Here’s the link to a PDF of the report and attachments on metro.net. 

The spending plan would also devote billions of dollars to pedestrian and cycling projects, commuter rail, transit operations and programs to keep the Metro transit system in a state of good repair. The plan, too, would return billions to local cities — money those cities could spend on their own local transportation projects and transit services.

The big theme here in one sentence: we’ve come a long way in building a modern transportation system in Los Angeles County but we still have work to do.

Many transformative projects are part of the plan. If the ballot measure goes to voters and is approved, the sales tax would begin in mid-2017 and target the following highway and transit projects to be completed in the plan’s first 15 years:

Transit projects (first 15 years) 

  • Construction of an expansive rail station/transit center where Crenshaw/LAX Line riders will transfer to a people mover (which LAX is planning to build) that will serve LAX terminals.
  • The Purple Line Extension subway to Westwood (a decade earlier than currently planned).
  • A potential rail line or bus rapid transit project on Van Nuys Boulevard north of the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley.
  • A new ExpressLane and bus service along the 405 spanning the Sepulveda Pass. A second phase of the project would add a potential underground rail line between the Orange Line and Purple Line. A third phase would extend the project from the Purple Line to the LAX area.
  • Grade separations and improvements for the Orange Line busway in preparation for a mid-century conversion to light rail.
  • A potential light rail line between Artesia and the Green Line in South Gate. A second phase in the 2030s would extend this new line from the Green Line to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
  • A bus rapid transit project on Vermont Avenue between Hollywood and 120th Street, which includes the stretch of Vermont between the Red/Purple Line and the Expo Line.
  • An extension of the Gold Line from Azusa to Claremont.
  • Bus rapid transit between the Orange Line and Red Line in North Hollywood and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

Highway projects (first 15 years)

  • Purchase of right-of-way for the High Desert Corridor, a potential new freeway, energy and high-speed rail corridor between the 14 freeway and State Route 18 in San Bernardino County.
  • A project on the 710 South between the ports and the 60 freeway to improve congestion, ease truck traffic and improve the movement of freight. It will be built in two phases, with the second phase in the next 15 years of the spending plan.
  • New lanes for the 71 freeway in Pomona between Interstate 10 and Rio Rancho Road.
  • ExpressLanes on the 105 freeway between the 405 and 605.
  • A new carpool lane and truck lane in each direction on the 5 freeway between the 14 freeway and Lake Hughes Road in the Santa Clarita area.
  • SR 57/SR 60 interchange improvements.

An active transportation project in the first 15 years is completing the Los Angeles River bike path between downtown Los Angeles and the western San Fernando Valley.

Other projects to be built in the second 15 years of the plan: an extension of the Green Line to Torrance; an extension of the Eastside Gold Line to South El Monte or Whittier (the other branch could be built later as an option to accompany an additional 10 year extension of the tax); direct HOV connectors for the 60/105 and 405/110 interchanges; new auxiliary lanes and ramp improvements on the 405 in the South Bay, and; an extension of the 110 ExpressLanes to the 405.

Projects in the final 10 years of the plan: a potential northern extension of the Crenshaw Line to the Purple Line, West Hollywood and Hollywood; bus rapid transit on Lincoln Boulevard, and; an extension of the Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink Station.   

The full list of projects can be found in Attachment A of the report posted above. A description of the major projects is in Attachment H.

Please keep in mind these projects are on top of the three under construction (Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega and Regional Connector) and the one that is about to open, the Expo Line to Santa Monica (May 20).

The potential ballot measure would ask voters to increase the countywide sales tax by a half-cent for 40 years and to continue an existing half-cent sales tax (Measure R) for 18 years. The staff report will also provide the Board with scenarios for taxes running longer than 40 years.

The Metro Board of Directors will decide at their meeting next Thursday whether to formally release the draft plan to the public and begin a public review and input period. If the Board releases the plan, Metro would hold community meetings and Telephone Town Halls across the county this spring.

Another point of emphasis: This is a draft plan for public review. It could change. The Metro Board will have the final say on the spending plan and whether to put a ballot measure before county voters. That decision is scheduled to be made at the Board meeting on June 23.

Why do I use the word ‘potential’ when discussing some of the above projects? Because Metro still must complete environmental studies for those projects. The spending plan seeks to provide enough funds for more expensive alternatives that were not previously fully funded.

The spending plan for the potential ballot measure is based on input from stakeholders across Los Angeles County. Metro staff selected projects to be funded and the order in which they would be built based on wide-ranging criteria. Among them: improving travel times, increasing safety, providing better access to transit for those most dependent on it, reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change and creating and maintaining local jobs.

Something else that is crucially important to understand: having local funds is the key to building anything these days. Local dollars attract state and federal dollars. That’s how things get built in the 21st century. Example: Metro used local funds to help secure nearly $1.9 billion to help build the Regional Connector project and the first segment of the Purple Line Extension.

To say the least, this is an ambitious plan. I encourage everyone to read the staff report and attachments. There is a lot here to digest. We’ll try best to answer your questions in the comment sections. And we’ll certainly be posting a lot about many aspects of the plan in the coming weeks.

(More from Steve Hymon at the Source)

Ten Billion Dollar Bob: a New Strategy?

PERSPECTIVE-When State Senator Bob Hertzberg announced his tax proposal, SB8, in late 2014, he made no secret of using it as a tool to raise taxes by a net $10 billion – that is, per year.

The senator tried to pass it off as “tax modernization.” 

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