26
Sun, May

The Bulldozer Files: Developers and LA Politicians Show Years-Long Love for Skullduggery and Rules Bending

PEOPLE’S VOICE--When it comes to policy making for planning and land use in LA, politicians and top city bureaucrats don’t want you to know what secret moves they’re orchestrating behind the scenes to help their deep-pocketed developer pals. It was true in 2008, and it’s just as true in 2016. Startlingly so. 

That’s what one quickly realizes when reading the excellent 2008 LA Weekly feature story, “Bitter Homes & Gardens: City Hall’s ‘Density Hawks’ Are Changing LA’s DNA.”  It’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how development works in Los Angeles, and it’s another installation of “The Bulldozer Files,” in which we highlight important press coverage of LA’s ongoing land-use wars. 

Just like today, the LA Weekly found in 2008 that City Hall pols and bureaucrats were approving variances and zoning changes at eye-popping rates that few people knew about. Those approvals were helping developers, who are major campaign contributors in LA, become even richer. The paper noted: “The constant overriding of zoning protections has indeed been relentless — a binge of ‘zoning variances’ and ‘zone changes’ granted by longtime Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande, a little-known official who is the rear admiral of a pro-density flotilla inside City Hall that long predates [Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa’s administration.” 

The variances and zone changes — quite simply, permissions to skirt existing rules — are granted on a case-by-case basis, and LoGrande hands them out like candy. LoGrande did not return numerous phone calls from the LA Weekly. Four biweekly Planning Department reports, randomly selected by the Weekly from March, June, September and December 2007, show that requests to increase housing density or square footage rolled in at about 260 annually, slowing only as the mortgage crisis hit. Retired Zoning Administrator Jon Perica explains that while the sought-after density increases are subjected to design, environmental and compatibility review, “the Planning Department historically approves about 90 percent.” 

For anyone paying attention, and very few people are, LoGrande’s decisions — buttressed by the rulings of seven area planning commissions populated with Villaraigosa’s appointees — are why some corners of the city are taller and more congested than 10 years ago, even neighborhoods whose legally binding zoning plans were supposed to achieve the opposite. 

What’s worse, politicians and bureaucrats regularly pushed forward land-use policies that dramatically altered neighborhoods with little public debate or transparency. One of the few elected officials that spoke out about such secret governing was longtime LA County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. 

The LA Weekly wrote: “In fact, Angelenos don’t have a clue what’s been happening, or what’s coming. In the 32 months since Villaraigosa was elected, for example, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News have written only four stories about a plan to allow apartments without parking in order to squeeze in more units. The phrase “SB 1818” has appeared in just 14 articles. The mayor’s czar of zoning variances, Michael LoGrande, is virtually unknown — mentioned just six times in Los Angeles print media in the past two years. And the “superpublic” hearings cited by Blumenfeld were attended almost exclusively by lobbyists, a few activists and the occasional curious neighbor. 

“’There should be a debate!’ Yaroslavsky wheezes, a victim of allergies, dabbing his nose with a handkerchief. 

“The proponents of the density hawks, including the director of the Planning Department, and the real estate industry, and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce — they had the audacity to say that they negotiated the plan [with homeowners]. Not true, there wasn’t one neighborhood group that knew about it!” 

Today, any frontline community activist will tell you that such skullduggery still happens at LA City Hall, where politicians and developers continue to manipulate LA’s rigged and broken development-approval system for their own self interests. 

After years of chicanery, it’s either naive or insane or both to think that crew will suddenly reform itself. 

It’s why we need a community-based, citywide solution such as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The measure will finally start the process of truly changing the unfair development-approval system by giving citizens more substantive tools to protect their neighborhoods from overdevelopment and the numerous quality of life impacts that come with it. Such as traffic gridlock, the destruction of neighborhood character and the displacement of longtime residents — many of whom are working-class families and senior citizens — through gentrification. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, for example, stops the practice of developers writing their own environmental impact reports — an obvious and troubling conflict of interest. An EIR studies how a new project, such as a 27-story skyscraper proposed in the middle of a low-slung, working-class neighborhood in Koreatown, affects an existing community. 

It’s no wonder that developers and local politicians are worried sick that our community-based movement and citywide ballot measure will actually succeed. We’ll change the old way of doing business that brings them millions in profits and campaign contributions. 

So read more of the Weekly article. You’ll know why our fight is so important. 

And please join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and follow and cheer our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also send us an email at [email protected]

Together, we can create the change that LA needs!

 

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

The Ultimate Oxymoron – LA Lawmakers and Affordable Housing

EASTSIDER-Recently someone suggested I take a look at an LA Times article entitled, “California doesn’t have enough affordable housing, and lawmakers aren’t doing much about it.” 

It got me thinking. I honestly don’t know what “affordable housing” means anymore in Los Angeles. To the City Council, it seems to mean giving away public land and/or tax breaks and/or wholesale variances so that big developers can build more hundred-unit monstrosities by providing a handful of un-affordable “affordable housing” units. 

My first up close and personal experience with housing projects, which I guess is what the euphemism partly stands for these days, was Jordan Downs (photo above). In the late 60’s, I was a social worker in Watts assigned to the General Relief Intake program, (probably called something different today ever since President Clinton “eliminated welfare as we know it”), and obviously a number of the home calls I made were to the Jordan Downs housing project. 

The one thing I’ll give to this place is that it really was affordable. People could actually live there and, heck, usually the roofs didn’t even leak. And there were a lot of really nice people living there. Also a number of really sad and desperate people. I may have flunked the PC course, but I don’t exactly know what anyone expected when too many of the youth there got a crappy education, had extensive police records, and, over all, little hope of getting a (legal) job. 

What I really remember is that I was there on welfare too – it was just a different part of the same program. But since I was a white college educated Berkeley type, I was getting paid a heck of a lot more than the GR recipients I was trying to “help” navigate through the dense, complex paperwork needed to get a very few bucks and a lot of hassle. As I recall, what’s now DPSS was then called the Department of Charities. I kid you not. Brings to mind sad scenes out of a Charles Dickens novel. 

At the same time, Jordan Downs was very much better than a lot of the alternatives people had for housing in my world. You had to have an address to even apply for welfare, and some of the addresses were pretty rough. 

All this also reminded me of an article in the LA Times back in 2013 describing how the Jordan Downs Housing Project was going to be torn down. Comparing that article to the policy wonk LA Times piece about lawmakers and housing, who could resist? What a juxtaposition. 

And by the way, what’s this stuff about Jordan Downs being the worst? I remember the Aliso Village projects in Northeast LA, over on 1st and Clarence. That place was no joke. Of course, in celebration of the millennium, the City tore down Aliso Village around 2000. As I recall, the “new” Pueblo del Sol which supplanted it, attracted a more upscale crowd; the inhabitants of Aliso Village got dumped harder than folks did during the Chavez Ravine giveaway to the O’Malley’s (of Dodger Stadium fame.) 

My question is, what happens to the people who used to be able to survive in housing projects and other forms of actual affordable housing? Do they just go away? Do they die? Do they become homeless so that the City and the Mayor can then try to raise taxes to “help” them? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t see anyone writing about these realities. 

Where are the low wage, often undocumented, folks going to go? You know, the ones that the rest of us in LA depend on to provide all the services people don’t want to do ourselves, and don’t want to pay even a minimum wage for? Where will my friends in Northeast LA go when they lose their work? Will they quietly slip away, not to be seen again? People don’t want to talk about this issue. It’s as if something bad will happen if we even try to have an honest discussion. 

To put this in context, let’s look at the 2020 Commission. Remember that? The first part of its report, “A Time for Truth,” indicates that some forty percent of families in LA either make poverty wages or are unemployed. The poverty rate is defined as a very low $23,850 a year. If these folks pay $1500 a month for rent, then that would leave $5850 to pay for everything else for that year. Fat chance. 

So, it seems to me that we don’t have any affordable housing anymore. The tiny slice we do have is in the process of being developed out of existence. To be crude about it, the “old” housing project model is being dumped, along with the folks who lived there. The “new” affordable housing model seems to consist of big new developments, with median rents close to $3000 a month along with a few “affordable” housing units in exchange for all the sleazy breaks that the lawmakers can give their developer lords and masters.

As a long time Californian, I find these changes really depressing. And I wonder what happens when folks renting these new expensive abodes lose a gig, split from their partner, or get sick. Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I hope I’m wrong. 

If anyone knows about any real affordable housing that’s happening in the City of Angels, let me know. It would be a lot more newsworthy than the Mayor’s new budget. 

 

(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.

LA’s New Planning Reform Overlooks Serious Roadblock: City’s Credibility Problem

LA’S INCREDIBLE ZONING SOLUTIONS-A recent LA Times editorial, “LA’s broken planning system,” described how the City is now seeking support for its planning and zoning “reform package,” by proposing, once more, simply to update the City’s 35 community plans. Ostensibly, the promised updated plans will “head off” a proposed ballot initiative that would impose a moratorium on major construction projects. 

This proposed “solution” overlooks the City’s fundamental credibility problem: an ever-widening gulf between what’s promised and what’s actually delivered. In a recent example, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action prevailed against the City when the Superior Court found that, based on repeated mistaken City Attorney advice, LA’s building officials have been routinely ignoring the City’s adopted zoning standards for development of second units (“granny flats”) in single family residential zones. 

The City’s response? Not to follow its existing adopted standards designed to protect surrounding neighborhoods. Not to await the long-promised zoning reforms of its re:code LA study founded on extensive community input and customized for LA’s diverse neighborhoods.  Rather, the City proposes to “fast track” a proposed repeal of its adopted standards (which strictly regulate a proposed second unit’s size, location and visibility from the street), while replacing them with a very weak “one size fits all” standard that ignores any consideration of the surrounding neighborhood. Without any prior community input and study, the proposal is now scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on May 12. 

When a similar proposal was broached in 2009 under the tenure of former Planning Director Gail Goldberg, community meetings were swamped with homeowners wanting a voice in potentially major density changes to their neighborhoods. 

Under state law, second units must be approved on a ministerial basis if they meet the locality’s adopted standards. No public hearings can be held, no conditions of approval may be imposed to mitigate adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, and no second unit permit can be rejected, no matter how negative the ensuing traffic and infrastructure impacts. 

These state law procedural requirements are bad enough, but, if a locality does not have its own adopted standards, it must ministerially approve any second unit application that meets the lenient state ”default” standard. The Legislature specifically designed the “default” standard to be so utterly weak that any rational city would prefer to adopt and enforce its own local standards, rather than follow that lenient state standard. 

In light of the strong outpouring of citizen opposition to the Department’s 2009 effort, then Planning Director Gail Goldberg “pulled the plug” on the study and refused to send any repealing ordinance to the City Council. Most citizens assumed the issue had been put to bed at that point. But that was only the beginning. 

In 2010, in response to the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the Planning Department issued a behind-closed-doors administrative memo (ZA 120) ordering the Building and Safety Department (LADBS) to stop following the City’s adopted second units standards. Instead, ZA120 ordered LADBS to follow the weak state “default” standard for second units. 

In 2014, Los Angeles Neighbors in Action brought its lawsuit demanding that the City set aside ZA120 and resume following its adopted local standards. After almost two years of litigation, the Superior Court recently ruled that, since 2010, based on the City Attorney’s mistaken legal advice, the City has unlawfully been ignoring its adopted protective standards on a routine basis -- about 40 percent of the second unit permits issued by LADBS since 2010 have violated those adopted standards -- and ordering the City to stop using ZA 120 (and the state “default” standard) as the criteria for second unit permits.  

Perversely, however, as noted above, the City has recently proposed repealing its adopted second unit standards, and, in their place, implementing the very weak state “default” standard. The City has put this repeal proposal on a “fast track” as an urgency ordinance and noticed a Planning Commission public hearing for Thursday, May 12.  

As the proposed second unit repeal ordinance comes to hearing, we must put LA’s planning establishment on notice that we will not tolerate the continuing broken planning system. The City’s repeal proposal is bad public policy:  

  • It would allow second units to be built anywhere in any single family residential zone with virtually no protective standards for the surrounding neighborhood, without any public hearings, and without any discretion for LA’s decision-makers to condition or reject inappropriate increased density. 
  • Contrary to the rhetoric behind the much-heralded re:code LA study (which is supposed to include customized zoning standards to take into account the diverse topography, density and character of LA’s neighborhoods), the City’s repeal proposal would replace the existing strict second unit standards with a weak “one size fits all” “default” standard. 
  • The proposed “default” standard is so lacking in protection for surrounding single family neighborhoods that Los Angeles, as a rational municipality, should not want to be required to implement its extremely weak provisions and should instead prefer continuing to enforce its own protective local second unit ordinances. 

As the City begins formulating its defense against the upcoming ballot initiative, we need to signal to the City that this kind of bad planning proposal -- at wide variance from its promised good planning goals -- is completely unacceptable.  

Please join me and many other citizens, homeowner groups and neighborhood councils in investigating and writing about the City’s proposed second unit ordinance repeal. Call or email your City Council representative (and any other Council members or Planning Commissioners you know) to ascertain their commitment to, or distance from, this repeal proposal. Inquire whether they believe that the City should retain its existing adopted second unit standards until such time as a better, customized second unit zoning reform proposal is recommended by the re:code LA study. 

Plan to attend the May 12, 2016 Planning Commission public hearing at 8:30 AM at City Hall, Board of Public Works, Room 350, 200 N. Spring Street, LA 90012.

 

(Carlyle Hall is an environmental and land use lawyer in Los Angeles who founded the Center for Law in the Public Interest and litigated the well-known AB 283 litigation, in which the Superior Court ordered the City to rezone about one third of the properties within its territorial boundaries (an area the size of Chicago) to bring them into consistency with its 35 community plans. He alsol co-founded LA Neighbors in Action, which has recently been litigating with the City over its second dwelling unit policies and practices.) Photo credit: Beverly Press. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Judge Rules: City of LA Can No Longer Keep Archer Girls’ School Emails Secret

A WIN FOR TRANSPARENCY-The truth about the behind-the-scenes battle over the Archer School for Girls’ building project may soon be revealed now that the City of LA has lost its fight to keep secret the contents of 146 emails written by or to city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin, during the heat of this controversy. 

The winner in this fight for greater government transparency is the Sunset Coalition, a non-profit public advocacy group organized to oppose the controversial $100 million Archer campus expansion project. The project was approved in August 2015 by the City Council. 

“The city and Archer wrongly withheld these emails in violation of the law,” said Brentwood resident Zofia Wright. Wright and her husband, David, are leaders of the Sunset Coalition. 

“The judge’s ruling is a major victory for transparency and open government,” added Wendy-Sue Rosen, president of the Brentwood Residents Coalition. “Now we will be able to see what the City has been trying to hide from the public.”  

The fight over the emails is one chapter in the Coalition’s larger legal fight to overturn the City Council’s decision to allow the Archer expansion project to go forward. 

In its lawsuit, the Coalition has alleged Archer’s massive expansion project will overwhelm Brentwood with its illegally large structures, jeopardize the health of its own students with toxic fumes and swamp already-paralyzed Westside streets, including Sunset Boulevard, with “tens of thousands” of additional vehicle trips. 

The LA Superior Court lawsuit argues that the campus expansion project – involving nearly a quarter million square feet of construction and tens of thousands of construction-related truck trips – will “significantly burden not only the nearby residential community, but also the entire west side of Los Angeles.” 

According to recent city records, Archer spent $985,016 to hire the law firm of Latham & Watkins and Sugerman Communications to lobby City Hall officials and influence their decision-making.

Initially, the city vigorously opposed full public disclosure of the contents of 173 emails sought by the Sunset Coalition and its plaintiff-partners, the Brentwood Residents Coalition, the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Assn. and the Wrights. The 173 emails were among thousands of City Hall documents initially delivered to Archer’s opponents in November. 

During their inspection of these documents, the opponents found these 173 emails that were heavily redacted or otherwise obscured without a valid reason. The coalition filed a motion to gain full disclosure of their contents. 

Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien agreed there was a problem and ruled that 146 of the 173 documents contained information that should be fully released without being censored. 

O’Brien noted that “many [of the emails] reflect public commitments, efforts for compromise, evaluation of community interests, balancing interests, and frustration and venting regarding efforts at compromise apparently overseen by the councilman’s office….Also many reflect internal on-going negotiations.” 

O’Brien observed that some of the email comments were so frank and revealing that it is clear the authors “never meant [them] for general circulation.” 

“This ruling could have a major impact on the way the city does business in the future,” predicted Coalition attorney Doug Carstens, a partner in the the law firm of Chatten-Brown & Carstens. “Public employees, including elected officials, must realize that their emails can be open to the public. After all, these officials work for the public, not the other way around.” 

Proposition 59, passed by voters in 2004, unequivocally established the public’s right of access to the writings of public officials.  Proposition 59 amended the state Constitution to provide: “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” 

“The public's right to access records of public agencies is enshrined in our state Constitution,” said Carstens. “Despite this, the City sought to keep documents from being disclosed. That attempt has been resoundingly rejected by the Court.” 

Carstens and Coalition members plan to soon begin a comprehensive review of the controversial emails. 

The coalition’s review of the mountain of documents released earlier by the city has already produced surprises. 

For example, early on in the Archer controversy, Bonin appeared to be an ally of the many Brentwood neighbors deeply concerned about the project’s impact on the community and on Sunset Boulevard traffic. But in the spring of 2015, only weeks before Archer’s project was scheduled for a council vote, project critics were blindsided by Bonin when he abruptly and publicly endorsed the school’s plan. 

Now, however, after reviewing the trove of documents and emails that were previously released, the Coalition has learned that Bonin in 2014 had already reached a private deal to support Archer’s plan even though he continued to falsely represent himself as an ally of concerned critics until the spring of 2015. 

“We had to sue,” said Zofia Wright. “It is the only way we can obtain the protections for the community that our elected leaders failed to provide in the first place.”

 

(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.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

It Still Shocks Me: Black Men Support Hillary

SOUTH OF THE 10--Although this is not breaking news, it still shocks me. The Clinton family came to the national attention of Black families in 1992 thanks to the Arsenio Hall Show. Then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton started blowing his saxophone on the popular night time talk show and we were hooked. Black folks dubbed him our “First” Black president.

After winning in 1992, President Clinton signed two laws into effect that have negative repercussions for Black families. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) which placed limits on how long a mother could receive welfare benefits and the The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 led to the creation of “three strikes”.

Decades later, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, former President Bill Clinton apologized to Black people for his role in the mass incarceration of Blacks.

Today, at least a half dozen Black men are lined up to be delegates for his wife’s bid for the White House. 

Bill Clinton said Wednesday that the crime bill he signed into law as President in 1994 worsened the nation's criminal justice system by increasing prison sentences. 

"I signed a bill that made the problem worse," Clinton told an audience at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual meeting in Philadelphia. "And I want to admit it." 

According to the NAACP, African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population, and have nearly six times the incarceration rate of whites. 

The Department of Justice paints an even grimmer picture. Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American, but they make up 35% of jail inmates, and 37% of prison inmates of the 2.2 million male inmates as of 2014 (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014.) 

Candidates wishing to be delegates for the 2016, are self-promoting on social media, hoping to garner support at the polls May 1. 

So, what do delegates do? 

Odest Riley Jr. says the role of the delegate is to vote at the Democratic National Convention, the sentiments of the residents who elected them. 

Millennials will play a large role this election cycle.

Brent Dominic Page, managing partner at the consulting firm Millennial Government Affairs, tells 2 Urban Girls: “It is important for Millennials to vote this election cycle because there is a lot at stake. Millennials are facing a contracting economy with little job opportunity. While there are no job opportunities they are forced into over $1 trillion in student loan debt. Millennials have the greatest political potential but a lot to lose. In this election Millennials will be a huge driving force at the polls. In 2012 23 million millennials voted so we expect to see an increased number for the 2016 general election.” 

Many millennials were integral in the passage of Proposition 47 due to their families being in prison on petty charges. 

The male candidates don’t fit the criteria and are not affected by Clinton’s crime bills but possibly know of someone in their community who is. 

With the 43rd Congressional District being home to some of the most underserved, poverty stricken people, the message being sent is, since those laws don’t pertain to me, then Hillary’s cool. 

It will be interesting to see how the delegates selected will be able to look other Black people in the face and sell Hillary Clinton as the person we need for our next President.

 

(Melissa Hébert is an alumni of California State University Dominguez Hills with a degree in Political Science and a member of LAAAWPPI. She is the editor-in-chief of blog 2urbangirls.com and host of the Urban Girl Show. Melissa is also President of School Site Council in Inglewood Unified School District and is the mother of two handsome sons. She can be reached at [email protected]) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 

California’s Big Chance to Set the Gold Standard for Marijuana Policy

POT AND THE LAW-- “Marijuana is practically legal in California already.” Every time I hear this, which is often, I cringe. You certainly wouldn’t hear this in any urban center from the people, largely black or brown, who bear the weight of our prohibitionist laws. You wouldn’t hear this from the patient with a debilitating illness who lives in a city that has banned medical cannabis and risks a federal felony charge by having his medicine delivered through the US postal service. You also wouldn’t hear that from the marijuana farmer in Humboldt who had her children taken away last year. 

Despite medical marijuana being legal in California since 1996, and an ounce or less decriminalized since 2011, we still make over 13,000 felony arrests every year, with a total of 154,547 marijuana arrests for felonies and misdemeanors between 2010 and 2014. Of those, 90% are male, and with a statewide population of 7%, African Americans comprised 22% and 18% of those arrested for felonies and misdemeanors respectively, despite the fact that black Americans use and sell drugs at approximately the same rates as white Americans. 

Fortunately, Californians will have the opportunity to support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), based on key lessons and guidance from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, DC, and Uruguay, and is consequently the most advanced marijuana legalization measure to date. 

AUMA establishes a clear line between personal use and commercial activity. If you are 21 or older, you can use, share, store, transport up to one ounce of dried flowers (8 grams of concentrate), and you can have up to six plants growing in your home. If you have any more product than that on your person you need to have a license, it’s that simple. And there are 19 different license types under AUMA, everything from indoor cultivator license to an outdoor cultivator, a manufacturer, tester, retailer, and the list goes on to a special micro license for small shops that can do it all, similar to a microbrewery or a boutique winery. 

AUMA eliminates or reduces most marijuana offenses, proactively and retroactively, only maintaining sales to a minor, transfer across state lines, growing on public lands, and home butane extraction as felony offenses. This is going to vastly reduce the hundreds of thousands of people caught up in California’s criminal justice system every year. As we have seen in Colorado and Washington, D.C., cumulative marijuana arrests rates dropped by over 80%, and 85%, respectively, in the first year after legalization. 

AUMA also has a smart bold formula for allocating the tax revenue it will generate when fully implemented, estimated by the nonpartisan LAO office to reach up to $1 billion. After ensuring the new law is adequately funded and evaluated, hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in the prevention of alcohol and other drug misuse, and the treatment of substance abuse disorders, with most of the money earmarked for youth. 

Funds will also be provided to a Community Reinvestment Fund that will grow to $50 million annually to support diversion and reentry programs supporting economic development, education, housing, and legal services in communities disproportionately harmed by drug war policies. Also a first, revenue will be dedicated to a special Environmental Restoration and Protection Account to fund cleanup, remediation and restoration of environmental damage to our state’s public lands and watersheds. Additionally, funds will be used to staff and improve state parks. As with other recent measures, AUMA dedicates significant revenue to law enforcement, who will finally have both clear directives and sufficient funding to address those who continue to operate outside of the licensed market.

AUMA allows people harmed by the war on drugs to fully participate in the legal market. While a well-regulated legal market is certainly necessary to reduce the illegal market, as California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy chaired by the Lieutenant Governor noted, there must be opportunities for those who have operated in the illicit market to enter the legal market. Under AUMA, a prior conviction for possession, possession for sale, sale, manufacturing, transportation, or cultivation of any controlled substance shall not be the sole basis for the denial of a license. 

While AUMA is relatively prescriptive, there is also a good deal of flexibility masterfully woven throughout the law. 

For example, it currently includes a ban on large cultivator licenses (22,000 sq. ft.), as a way to give the small farmers a head start for the first five years. After which, the state legislature can decide whether they want to extend that ban by a simple majority vote or move to a fully open market. State and local tax rates can also change, subject to voter approval requirements imposed by state law. In addition, marijuana criminal penalties may be further reduced by a majority vote the state legislature, but they cannot increase them without a vote of the people. 

And importantly, AUMA prohibits the marketing and advertising of marijuana to minors and near schools or youth centers and establishes strict packaging and labeling standards, including warning labels and child- resistant packaging, to keep marijuana products out of the hands of children. Bringing an ensconced underground economy under the rule of law is no simple task but I believe we have designed the best model for our unique California landscape, a system that reflects the wide array of community stakeholders. 

Let’s get it right for California, and let’s make the Golden state the gold standard for marijuana policy and ending prohibition.

 

(Lynne Lyman is California state director for Drug Policy Action, one of five backers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). This piece first appeared in Huffington Post.) Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

CA Assemblyman Mike Gatto Wants to Make It Easier to Evict Renters

TENANTS RIGHTS--Democrat Assembly Member Mike Gatto (photo above) represents many tenants in his 43rd Assembly district, which includes East Hollywood, Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Burbank and Glendale. Yet, Assembly Member Gatto has become a landlord lobby front man by introducing legislation that would severely undermine tenants' ability to defend themselves in an eviction action. 

The landlord-backed AB 2312 (Gatto), would gut tenants' rights in an unlawful detainer actions by requiring represented tenants to deposit monthly rent in advance of trial with their attorneys. 

In fact, the landlord group Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles takes full credit for drafting AB 2312 and then giving it to Mike Gatto to introduce it on its behalf. 

AB 2312 is unjust and burdensome to tenants. There is no such requirement on any other group of litigants. The bill singles out tenants as a group and effectively discourages them from defending themselves. 

Many tenants face real barriers in accessing a bewildering legal system due to limited financial resources, limited English proficiency, cultural differences, disabilities, work demands, caregiver responsibilities, and/or lack of transportation options. To add a requirement that a tenant facing eviction be required to deposit the alleged rent owed into escrow adds to these almost-insurmountable burdens, and will create a "pay to play" justice system. 

There are many legitimate reasons why a tenant may not pay the alleged rent owed and will not have it available for deposit. He or she may dispute the amount of rent due because the payment was lost. (Photo right: Assemblyman Gatto.) 

Some tenants do not have checking accounts and pay by money order or cash, so that they no longer have easy proof of the funds once delivered. There are often misunderstandings with landlords over how payments have been applied to the amount owed. Tenants often (legally) pay out of pocket for necessary repairs and deduct such costs from their rent payments. Tenants may also (legally) withhold rent for ongoing habitability problems. 

Despite the myriad legitimate reasons a tenant could dispute the amount of rent claimed by the landlord, this bill would force the tenant to deposit the claimed amount just to get a lawyer. 

AB 2312 would strip many tenants of their right to an attorney, and with it, their ability to defend themselves in speedy, highly confusing eviction proceedings. 

  • ACTION INFO: The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear this horrible bill on May 3.

We ask that you contact the Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assembly Member Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), and urge that he do everything that he can to kill this bill.

Tell Assembly Member Stone that you are opposed to AB 2312 and urge they he and other Assembly Judiciary Committee members vote NO!

(Larry Gross is the Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

ADDA: Manson Groupie and Vicious Murderer Leslie Van Houten Must Not be Paroled

COMPASSION VS JUSTICE-On Aug. 10, 1969, Leslie Van Houten held down Rosemary LaBianca so fellow Manson-follower Tex Watson could skewer her with a bayonet. Then, she took a knife and stabbed the helpless woman 14 more times in the back. 

Nineteen times since she participated in the infamous slaughter, Van Houten applied for parole. Nineteen times, the state parole board turned her down. 

Until last week, when a two-member panel inexplicably recommended to grant her parole. 

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) vehemently opposes this mind-boggling decision, as does District Attorney Jackie Lacey. There was a very good reason the parole board denied her 19 times. How was her 20th petition any different? 

Van Houten's attorneys have painted her as a model prisoner. They said she earned bachelor's and master's degrees and ran self-help groups for incarcerated women. 

Maybe so. But let's not forget the facts. 

Van Houten brutally murdered an innocent woman while her cohorts carved up her victim's husband, wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca. She was sentenced to death; her sentence was commuted to life in prison only because the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. 

Even if she has been a model prisoner, her behavior behind bars doesn't mitigate the savagery of her crime. And time does not erase the fact that she willfully committed the crime. 

"We still suffer our loss," Leno LaBianca's daughter, Cory LaBianca, told the Los Angeles Times. "My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back." 

Van Houten's parole is not a done deal. 

The parole board's legal team has to review the recommendation. If they uphold it, Gov. Jerry Brown will decide whether she goes free or remains in prison. 

Sometimes justice means compassion, and compassion means justice. But not in this situation. 

The ADDA will keep you updated on the status of Van Houten's case. If it ends up on Gov. Brown's desk, we will provide you with information on how to express your opposition to freeing this brutal murderer.

 

(Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The

Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Metro’s New Sales Tax is Bold … Bold as in Chutzpah

TRANSPORTATION PRICE TAG--The headline reads “Metro details bold plan.” Of course, that’s the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority tooting its own horn on its own website.

No doubt, the plans for Metro’s sales tax increase are indeed bold, but perhaps the boldest thing about the plan is the extent to which it would tax county residents to the tune of more than $130 billion dollars over five decades. In other words, Metro’s plan is bold as in “chutzpah” rather than bold as in “visionary.”

That price tag is a lot of loot and should buy a lot of multimodal mobility.

One would think that in deciding how to spend $130 billion Metro could solve most of the county’s transportation problems. The problem is that Metro’s plan has been cobbled together with another objective in mind: getting the tax itself passed, rather than maximizing value for money, transportation-wise. That’s why we see various transportation incentive bones strategically thrown about the county, even though the individual projects might not all represent the best bang for our collective bucks.

While Phil Washington, Metro’s chief executive, is talking about using the money to build a transportation infrastructure “for the next 100 years,” the truth is that the upcoming ballot measure has been framed to deal with today’s political realities. Quite naturally, that means it is not necessarily the best plan for the next 100 years, though it might be the boldest, chutzpah-wise. The “bold plan” focuses heavily on — surprise, surprise — rail projects, described by the director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, Brian Taylor, as “shiny new things,” including an $8.5 billion tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass.

Of course, in the course of 100 years, shiny new things can easily become dull old things or even shiny obsolete things. Our children and grandchildren might very well be paying off Metro’s front-loaded spend-fest long after more efficient forms of transportation have transformed how we look at public transportation.

To avoid such an outcome, Metro should not focus on the technologies of the past hundred years. The proposal for spending the $130 billion is backwards-looking rather than forward-thinking and has very little funding set aside for new and developing technologies such as autonomous vehicles, which have the potential to revolutionize public transportation.

The City of Beverly Hills, with the unanimous approval of our Council, passed a resolution earlier this month to develop our own municipal autonomous shuttle system, which would provide on demand, point-to-point transportation within our City, thereby also solving the “first/last mile challenge.” We expect to have this system deployed before the first Purple Line station in Beverly Hills opens at La Cienega and Wilshire in 2023. As excited as we ourselves are about the potential of autonomous vehicles to transform public transportation into a first choice for mobility, it’s disappointing that Metro just doesn’t seem to get it. I’m not sure whether it’s simply a singular lack of vision, Metro’s single-minded focus on “Show me the money!” or a combination of the two.

Additionally, there is not a little irony baked into Metro’s “bold” proposal’s funding source. Sales taxes are notoriously regressive. Of the three main forms of state taxes, according to a recent report by the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy, sales tax hurts the poor the most. Poor people, who might benefit from the technological advances slighted by the Metro plan, tend to rely on buses, which themselves are given short shrift by the expenditure proposal. If Metro was really interested in social justice, one wonders why they wouldn’t have tried to figure out a financing mechanism, such as a tax on higher earners, which could fund a sensible transportation infrastructure buildout.

What, though, should one expect from a plan that bizarrely changes existing carpool lanes into toll lanes? Those billions in regressive tax money aren’t enough?

Despite the numerous flaws, Metro’s tax stands a good chance to pass. When one uses buzzwords such as “transportation upgrades,” the lesser informed tend to be rah-rah when they hear the outline of Metro’s proposal (something Metro is obviously counting on to get the ballot measure passed in a presidential election year).

Yet not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid. Metro board member and County Supervisor Don Knabe has pointed out that the proposal heavily advantages the city of Los Angeles, to the detriment of the other 87 cities and unincorporated areas of the county. This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the makeup of the Metro board, which gives Los Angeles outsize voting power and disproportionately turns the rest of the county into second-class transit citizens.

It’s time to finally make Metro accountable to the transit needs of the entire county — not just the most powerful part of it — through a fair recalibration of its board. It’s time to stop allowing Metro to treat the residents of the county like ATMs, and if Metro really wants to build multimodal infrastructure for the next 100 years, then it’s time for Metro to stop looking at the past and to start looking to the technologies of the next 100 years. Until all of that happens, the residents of the entire county should simply say “No” to Metro’s bold and brazen plan.

(John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor. This piece was posted earlier at the Los Angeles Business Journal and Huffington Post.)  

Here's Why the DWP Is Such a Stagnant, Bloated Mess

EDITOR’S PICK--If you claim that the L.A. Department of Water and Power is a bloated, bureaucratic mess, you won't get much of an argument. Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council president Herb Wesson and Councilman Felipe Fuentes have all said they want to make the department more "nimble" and "efficient" — and all are engaged in a debate over how best to do that.

But if you ask why the department is a mess, you run into trouble. To hear Fuentes tell it, the issue is political interference from City Hall and the city's cumbersome civil-service system. His proposed solution is to establish an independent governance structure and a new personnel system for DWP, both of which would separate it from City Hall. 

Yet a recent report from the City Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst offers a somewhat different diagnosis. The report finds that many of the causes of the DWP's inefficiency are internal to the DWP. Distancing the utility from City Hall would not solve those issues. 

For instance, the report finds that it takes as long as two years to fill a vacant position. Vacancies are subject to an internal "bid process," whereby the most senior eligible DWP employee who bids for the position is automatically granted the job. If a manager does not want that candidate, the position may remain vacant indefinitely. Hiring of supervisors also is subject to veto by rank-and-file workers, which is exercised routinely.

Naturally, these rules make it difficult for the utility to hire people, or to consider candidates from outside the utility. That makes it more difficult to adapt to changing market conditions. All of these rules are the product of side agreements with the unions, and the unions would be loath to give them up.

"The primary disadvantage to removal of these rules is that negotiations will be very difficult," the report dryly notes.

"More than 95 percent of positions at DWP are IBEW 18," says Fred Pickel, the utility's ratepayer advocate. "They're the elephant in the room."

Pickel did his own report last year on the utility's billing fiasco, in which thousands of customers were overbilled and then forced to wait an hour or more to talk to a customer service representative. Pickel's report faulted the civil-service system and procurement processes but also blamed "labor rigidities." 

"The DWP has a management-labor relationship that is unlike that of any other utility known to [the ratepayer advocate], and the result is that some practices are decades behind the times," Pickel wrote.

DWP management employees are represented by their own bargaining unit. Of the 8,700 employees at the utility, all but 20 belong to a union.

For many important decisions, management and labor have an equal vote. Pickel argued that arrangement creates an "imbalance," which has made it impossible for the utility to evolve into the 21st century.

"When two partners each have a vote, it is self-evident that they also each have a veto," he wrote. "Vetoes are biased toward the status quo."

Andrew Rea, a consultant who authored yet another report on the DWP for the city controller, offered a different take on the union. In his view, the IBEW should be treated as a "partner" in making the utility more flexible, and solutions can come from deeper labor-management collaboration.

"The union is a key stakeholder and does a lot of good," Rea says.

That report has influenced Councilman Fuentes' proposal. Fuentes' plan would allow the DWP and IBEW to establish their own hiring procedures, unrelated to City Hall's personnel system. But it would not address the issues internal to the DWP that were raised in the CAO/CLA report or in Pickel's report. In public hearings to discuss DWP reform, the role of the IBEW is almost never mentioned, except occasionally by angry members of the general public. (Fuentes has taken $35,000 from the IBEW for his state and local campaigns.)

Pickel argues that the utility urgently needs to rebalance its relationship to its union.

"They have to be better at adapting to changing business environments," he says, citing the rise of rooftop solar as an example of new competition. "They’ve had a nice, comfortable, growing monopoly for 100 years. Now it’s not growing. It’s not projected to grow in the next five years. ... Lots of things are likely to happen in the utility industry."

(Gene Maddaus wrote this piece for LA Weekly  … where it appeared on April 21. He leaves the Weekly soon to write for Variety.)

-cw

Celebrating a Bike Ride, Celebrating LA

RIDING WITH RICHARD--It will come as no surprise to the readers of the blogs I infest, including this one, that I complain a great deal about The State of Things. The city’s roads, the city council, the LADOT, the incivility of discourse, the agreement among the Windshield Set willfully to ignore the pervasive evidence of Driver Privilege (which, like White Privilege, sets teeth to gnashing among those so privileged every time the subject is so much as mentioned) …

Today is different. Today I feel compelled to celebrate the mere all-suffusing joy of a bike ride along a dedicated path through a beautiful place and time…for we all need a break from the struggle now and then.

Sunday afternoon I headed west, as I usually do, but this day I chose not to visit anybody; I decided simply to ride along the Ballona Creek bikeway to the jetty between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey and look at the ocean.

Of course, I knew it was springtime—with jasmine sweetening the air all over LA, only the most obtuse would miss it—but I had forgotten that the Ballona Wetlands (saved from development by the concerted efforts of hundreds of ordinary folks like you and me) would be in bloom. And indeed, the world seemed a fabric of bright yellow flowers for miles and miles as I rode. Even my usual weary cynicism was shattered by the sight, on that cool and gray afternoon, so I took a few snapshots, which fill the rest of this page.

All I can say is that sometimes you’ve just got to get out and ride for the sake of your own soul. Do it soon: the bloom won’t last. Take the Expo Line to Culver City and get on the Ballona path and just ride. No need to hammer: the slower you go, the more you’ll enjoy. A little R&R to give you respite from the battle …

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

-cw

You and a Bunch of Parking Lots: LA Ugly Explained

GUEST WORDS--Why do people think of Los Angeles as ugly? Does it have to do with its scale? Its inconsistent architecture? Its departure from classical city forms? Or is it something deeper: a sense of apocalypse, of meaninglessness, a confrontation with the void?

“There are three great cities in the United States: there’s Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York — in that order,” wrote no less an authority on the built environment than BLDGBLOG author Geoff Manaugh in a much-sent-around reflection on the city. “I love Boston; I even love Denver; I like Miami; I think Washington DC is habitable; but Los Angeles is Los Angeles. You can’t compare it to Paris, or to London, or to Rome, or to Shanghai. You can interestingly contrast it to those cities, sure, and Los Angeles even comes out lacking; but Los Angeles is still Los Angeles.”

Manaugh posted that piece in 2007, less than a decade ago but still a time when Los Angeles' detractors as well as its boosters could argue, in all seriousness, that it may not, strictly speaking, count as a “city” at all. But what, then, to call it? I've heard “constellation of villages.” I've heard “megaregional core.” I've even heard varying numbers — six, seventeen, 72, 88 — “suburbs in search of a city.” In Manaugh's starker view, “LA is the apocalypse: it’s you and a bunch of parking lots. No one’s going to save you; no one’s looking out for you. It’s the only city I know where that’s the explicit premise of living there – that’s the deal you make when you move to L.A. The city, ironically, is emotionally authentic. It says: no one loves you; you’re the least important person in the room; get over it. What matters is what you do there.”

I once put Los Angeles with the internet and the United States of America in a group of things people hate if they can't filter. By that I meant that these wide experiential spaces offer no one experience in particular — or, more accurately, they offer a greater infinity of possible experiences than most spaces, leaving it to you to perceive and navigate your way to a satisfying one.

If you go to America or on the internet thinking you'll find nothing but base, meaningless, brain-deadening expanses, you'll find nothing but base, meaningless, brain-deadening expanses. If you go into Los Angeles thinking you'll find nothing but a bunch of parking lots, you'll find nothing but a bunch of parking lots.

Of course, in Manaugh's eyes or those of an observer like him — Reyner Banham, the famous celebrator of 1960s and 70s Los Angeles in the book The Architecture of Four Ecologies and elsewhere certainly counts as an antecedent — you could do worse than a bunch of parking lots and the liberation from surrounding expectations that attend them. “If you can’t handle a huge landscape made entirely from concrete, interspersed with 24-hour drugstores stocked with medications you don’t need, then don’t move there,” for “Los Angeles is where you confront the objective fact that you mean nothing; the desert, the ocean, the tectonic plates, the clear skies, the sun itself, the Hollywood Walk of Fame – even the parking lots: everything there somehow precedes you, even new construction sites, and it’s bigger than you and more abstract than you and indifferent to you. You don’t matter. You’re free.”

Today, those parking lots have begun to disappear. As anyone who's sought permission to put up a tall building or waited the years (or more likely decades) for a new train line to open there knows, Los Angeles doesn't change quickly, at least not by the standards of the world capitals of Asia of even much of Europe. But some decisive shift has happened, some tipping point crossed, in the almost nine years since Manaugh wrote his optimistically nihilistic ode to the city. Some of the areas formerly occupied by cars or simply awaiting the arrival of cars have turned into sites of activity: parks, businesses, places to live and work, construction sites signaling the imminent arrival of the foregoing and much more besides.

But some still believe in the eternal nature of all those Los Angeles parking lots, that landscape made entirely from concrete. Manaugh may have written that in a clearly hyperbolic register, but many others will, if you tell them so, unquestioningly swallow any preposterous yet apparently, er, concrete figure you give them: that 90 percent of Los Angeles' surface is covered with the stuff, for instance, a “fact” of mysterious origin that once got passed around the urban planning journals unchecked for a period of years. It must have jibed with the harsh ideas on which people — outsiders and insiders alike — still fall back when thinking about the southern Californian metropolis, or village constellation, or megaregional core: That it's all paved over. That you can't breathe its air. That it has no public space but its filled-to-solidity freeways. That it's ugly.

That last one has demonstrated special resilience. “I was driving down Sunset and I turned down one of the roads that leads up into the hills, and I stopped at this place that overlooks the whole city,” says the troubled young architect protagonist of Model Shop, Jacques Demy's 1969 cinematic venture into Los Angeles. “It was fantastic. I suddenly felt exhilarated here. I was really moved by the geometry of the place. Its conception, its Baroque geometry. It's a fabulous city. To think some people claim it's an ugly city when it's really pure poetry — it just kills me.” They claimed it then, they claimed it before, and they continue to claim it now.

But why? We might begin to understand by looking at the cities to which Los Angeles' detractors usually make their aesthetically damning comparisons: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Paris — the more classically “beautiful” cities, all of which adhere more closely to the traditional city forms seen throughout centuries of history and across the rest of the world. So perhaps this sense of ugliness springs from Los Angeles' unfamiliarity, from its departure from established forms: a fine hypothesis, so far as it goes, but it breaks down when applied to places that depart even farther. Nobody would think to mount an argument for the ugliness of newer, far-flung strip-mall-and-office-park suburbs like Irvine or Calabasas, which nowhere even try to replicate anything traditionally urban.

Look at Los Angeles piece by piece, though, and you'll find that it actually possesses most of the elements we've learned to take as the signs of a proper city, such as a downtown core with old buildings on gridded streets from which development grew outward along railroad tracks. There are broad boulevards and residential lanes, there are some urban parks (more now than there used to be, with others in the planning stages), there are industrial zones, there are currently or historically ethnic neighborhoods like Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Little Armenia, and Thai Town. Not does it take that much searching to turn up the usual volume of monuments and tourist traps.

But in other respects, Los Angeles looks — or more relevantly here, feels — different indeed than other cities, in large part because it grew fast and alongside America's widespread adoption of the automobile and whose construction thus necessitated an unprecedentedly large scale mechanical replication. Hence the equally persistent perception of the city as America's most car-oriented, of which you'd think a trip to the likes of Phoenix or Atlanta or Orlando would instantly disabuse anyone, but perhaps places like those don't raise the expectations of a capital-C City the way Los Angeles does (even if those entertaining the expectations do so expressly to feel them dashed). The aesthetic discomfort must arise from uncanniness: people find Los Angeles ugly for the same reason they find a face with features not quite the right size in not quite the right places ugly.

And in many eyes, those features also clash with each other. The archetypal reaction comes out of the mouth of Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall on a drive through Beverly Hills: “Yeah, the architecture is really consistent, isn’t it? French next to Spanish next to Tudor next to Japanese.” That thoroughly sarcastic line surprised me the first time I heard it, not because I believed Los Angeles had consistent architecture, but because I'd never before thought of architectural consistency as a naturally desirable quality. “There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime,” wrote hard-boiled crime novelist James M. Cain in 1933, more than forty years before Allen's assessment, of the houses people had built. “Nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, and that is the one thing the human imagination cannot stand.”

And so we find ourselves back in Geoff Manaugh's Los Angeles, which “is the confrontation with the void. It is the void. It’s the confrontation with astronomy through near-constant sunlight and the inhuman radiative cancers that result. It’s the confrontation with geology through plate tectonics and buried oil, methane, gravel, tar, and whatever other weird deposits of unknown ancient remains are sitting around down there in the dry and fractured subsurface. It’s a confrontation with the oceanic; with anonymity; with desert time; with endless parking lots.”

But as Reyner Banham argued, “the fact that these parking-lots, freeways, drive-ins, and other facilities have not wrecked the city-form is due chiefly to the fact that Los Angeles has no urban form at all in the commonly accepted sense.” Or rather, it has no urban form — and certainly had no urban form in 1971 — legible to the average urbanite. Observers like Banham and his intellectual descendants have made a solid start on teaching us how to read what we'd previously considered unreadable cities, but work remains to be done, not least because the form of these cities themselves keeps shifting. It also holds true for cities like Toronto (reflexively considered Canada's New York, but on a deeper level its Los Angeles) and Seoul (where I live now), both of which also routinely get called ugly, and both of which also rank among the urban places I enjoy most in the world.

The aspiring appreciator of any of these cities must, in a sense, learn to read their languages — not the languages of their road signs and advertisements, but the grammar, vocabulary, and vernacular of their built environments. Banham, born and raised in Norwich, famously declared that, “like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive to read Los Angeles in the original.”

That may have sufficed 45 years ago, but the urban language of Los Angles has greatly expanded since then, and now we must read it differently. The city itself may still not strike you as beautiful, and you may find yourself face to face with the void there, but at least you don't really have to drive anymore.

(Colin Marshall blogs and writes about world cities for the Guardian. He also produces the video essay series The City in Cinema and hosted the world-traveling interview podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture. He's currently at work on the book A Los Angeles Primer: Mastering the Stateless City. This perspective first appeared on byline.com.)  Photo: Colin Marshall. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Racist Public Ed Alive and Well at LAUSD

EDUCATION POLITICS-According to the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." That is unless they have been systematically and purposefully subjected for generations to what remains a measurably inferior racist public education model specifically designed to assure their non-attainment of potential and the "unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," which in no small part is dependent on the achievement of such an education.

Predominantly students of color continue to exclusively be subjected to a non-education system of rote regurgitation of multiple choice answers with little or no writing or analysis. Their Pearson lessons consist of fragments of texts comprised of words and concepts they have never been taught. What most educational reformers ignore, who either have never been in an inner city classroom or do not care about dealing with the subjective reality they would find there, is that both teachers and students in these schools have an acquired aversion to the Socratic method of dialogue between teacher and student and the critical thinking it is designed to stimulate in both the student and the teacher.

The teacher's excuse is that they are faced with students who arrive in their class already years behind grade-level and their peer group. The majority of these students have continually been socially promoted grade after grade without prior grade-level standards mastery. Teachers now faced with this reality and no administrative plan or support to do otherwise have opted in their own Pearson subsidized self-defense to give these unprepared students multiple choice busywork to preempt the chaos that would be sure to follow from the boredom of students whose youthful vitality and potential has never been addressed in school. Can anyone explain to me the educational value of a word search on a grid of mixed letters?

As for the student, who has been socially promoted into subsequently harder grades with few if any critical thinking skills ever having been taught to them, the very act of now trying to educate these students in a relevant educational process that is asking them to think and not just choose A, B, C, or D is a destabilizing activity that will more than likely lead to a classroom rebellion against an activity of thinking they have never been asked to engage in before- perfectly predictable and understandable.

Social promotion or fraudulent credit recovery programs that offer students with profound academic deficits a passing grade in courses they objectively cannot pass by any honest measure is only deferring the students failure, while wasting the precious time of their youth, which could be more profitably used by honestly identifying and teaching the necessary academic foundation standards they literally have never been taught.

As for White folks- 94% of whom are out of public education- they literally have no idea as to the abysmal level of their local public school, because 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they are still able to avoid going to these schools by putting their children in private schools. Probably the quickest way to improve public education would be to require attendance for all in public schools as is done in Finland- the best educated country in the world.

Human beings are creatures of habit. And it is not easy work to finally teach a minority student what they should have been taught from pre-kindergarten and beyond. But there is literally no other alternative to doing this, if we want to finally break the cycle of racism in the United States.

Racist inspired underachievement has become such a part of American society that one does not even question why such a large part of the African American community- that which is under-educated- still speaks with an accent, while other immigrants have long since been incorporated into the fabric of American society.

Truly successful public education reform can only take place where there is both recognition and factoring in of the damage that institutionalized public education racism over generations has made our present day dysfunctional public school reality.

(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])

-cw

 

Want Another Transpo Tax? Answer Me These 5 Questions First

LA TRANSPO: THE ‘HOW’, THE ‘WHAT’ AND THE ‘WHERE’--There is probably no shortage of LA County residents who want more funding on transportation, but it's the "how" and the "what" and "where" that leaves the voters flustered.  Big-ticket items like "rail to LAX" and "rail line between the SF Valley and the Westside are attractive, but what about the bus and sidewalks that are supposed to help us use rail?  And are freeway/road motorists to be shown ANY love, here? 

So, with the understanding that it's by far too early to "just vote no" on any proposed "Measure R-2 sales tax", because we DO need more funding for transportation, here are some key questions for this tax's promoters to consider: 

1) Reaching for more rail lines is a good thing, but do we have our current rail lines properly maintained and spruced up with sufficient amenities to please the voters and future riders? 

Every advocate of the Expo Line and of rail in general acknowledges either the lack of rail cars, lack of parking, lack of security, lack of bicycle/pedestrian amenities, and--most importantly--the lack of bus connections to make our growing rail network a "winner" to serve a new generation of riders. 

After all, the Expo Line (which cost over $2 billion) wasn't just for those who already use transit, it was for everyone who paid for it.  It's understood that the "smart planners" all agree that the rail network is better for some than for others, but disenfranchising voters/taxpayers at this time doesn't seem too politically smart. 

Does it take a failure this November for the "smart planners" to acknowledge they're not as "smart" as they think they are? 

It may not be sexy to favor operations and amenities over new projects, but if it's deemed by enough voters that our rail system isn't ready for prime time do the "smart planners" really expect to convince taxpayers they should pay for more of that? 

2) The Rail Connection to LAX is a great and long-overdue idea, but its glaring lack of connections already has more than a few community leaders angry--particularly with those regions not served by that rail connection. 

The "Friends of the Green Line" project long ago concluded that the best way to assure a regional approach to LAX and Ontario and other airports was to create the very LAX/Metro/People Mover connection now being built under the leadership of Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, and others.   

So maybe it's not fair to look at "the glass half empty" rather than "the glass half full" because LA World Airports, Metro, and the LADOT are all doing the right things for the immediate future.  They deserve ample praise for their amazing turnarounds and progress...yet there are two glaring deficits/gaps in this Metro/LAX connection: 

a) The lack of a true LAX to Downtown/Union Station rail line.  The indirect Crenshaw Line serves the needs of that corridor, and goes back to the historic purpose of that line, which was to develop that underserved corridor. Yet while the needs of residents living south of the I-10 go underserved--thanks to CityWatch for more representation there--the need for the rail right of way to be more than a bikeway will best be addressed NOW.  Talk it up as part of the reason to vote "yes" this November!

b) The lack of a true LAX rail link to the Westside, and to Orange and Riverside Counties.  The South Bay deserves an expedited Green Line extension to connect to LAX (which was predicted by the "Friends of the Green Line" group to be the second-most favored region to want a connection to LAX), but what about the Westside?  What about the Green Line in the east that fails to connect to Metrolink and SoCal in general? 

3) Speaking of a lack of a Metrolink/Metro Green Line connection, how IS Metrolink to be funded and introduced to L.A. County residents who want access to/from the greater SoCal region? 

Are there enough funds proposed in a "Measure R-2" to create a seamless connection between Metrolink and MetroRail both at the eastern end of the Green Line, and for both the Foothill and Eastside Gold Lines?  Are we supposed to continue to accept the endless blather of how "Metrolink has different governance than MetroRail" so that their obvious connections aren't created. 

Orange and Riverside County residents are just like LA County residents:  they don't give a rip about any excuses as to WHY the MetroRail and Metrolink connections to LAX, Ontario, Burbank and other airports aren't being created.  They just want them to be created...and they'll demand the county leaderships to work together to plan, fund, and build these links ASAP. 

4) Do drivers no longer exist in LA County to merit tax/revenue support? 

Uber and Lyft have their roles in ways that "smart planners" never really expected--which goes to show us all that the human spirit can do things that Big Government can never dream of (and yes, you can be liberal as well as conservative to draw that conclusion). 

Ride-sharing reduces car trips and allows an economic and mobility boost in all sorts of ways.  Raising revenue, encouraging job formation, improving our environment--these are all things that should be embraced.   

So is throwing up the rail projects as the sole top billing a smart way to pass "Measure R-2"?  Seriously...can't freeway improvements and road repairs be part of how this November tax is promoted?  And are auto commuters to be so maligned that their votes and opinions no longer matter? 

5) What about the role that Sacramento and Washington have to play in our transportation needs? 

Both the state and federal governments have shirked their legal and moral roles in funding our transportation needs, and the likelihood of promises to MATCH our local funding efforts is a vital winner to convince concerned and tapped-out voters and taxpayers.   

Because if our state and federal leaders don't promise to fight for matching dollars for LA County's efforts to "save itself", then the question of whether we're fixing or fueling the lack of state and federal largesse for transportation projects to benefit LA County will doom the November tax altogether.

 

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

-cw

The Great LA Housing Scam

CITY HALL--Los Angeles City Hall is making pawns out of its homeless. It’s a shameless mess, but it isn’t that the way it always is – the poorest are the most abused? 

The problem from the City Hall viewpoint is that developers are not making enough money. As City Hall watchers know, tending after the profits of real estate developers is City Hall’s mission in life. CityWatch wrote about one example back in 2013 and a follow-up article in 2014.  

As the City’s own HCID department noted in November 2015, there is a 12% vacancy rate among apartments constructed in the last decade. That segment of the market is particularly important as it reflects the newest additions, frequently in dense areas such as Hollywood. As we may recall, for years the W Hotel condos could not sell even 20% of their units even after a dramatic price slashing. 

Some people call the manic CRA building in Hollywood the “Edsel Mistake.” In the mid 1950's, Ford Motor Company came out with the Edsel, but it entered an overly saturated market.   Also, it looked like an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon.   So too with these Hollywood Projects. Built in the modern 'Dreck' Architecture style, they also were aimed at a market which was saturated. 

Just as Millennials were reaching the family rearing age, the expensive Hollywood units came on-line. Like all prior generations, Millenniums move away from apartment living when they start families. Thus, all these projects, which were based on the false data that City Hall was feeding developers in the early 2000's, are still in the construction pipeline. But, the Millennials are already leaving. 

Ford was smart enough to stop constructing Edsels, but Los Angeles developers were not as bright. Thus, they continued with all their plans to build, build, build. In the developers’ defense, however, it was easier for Ford to retool the factories to produce different automobiles than it was to shelve a 10 year old plan to build a massive mixed-use project. 

As we recently learned, City Hall hit upon a brilliant idea. Demolish old rent controlled units and create a Homelessness Crisis. Then, the Mayor can ride to the rescue with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Affordable Housing subsidies for building Affordable Housing. Wisely, Mayor Garcetti did not phrase the program in terms of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Billionaires. He’s not dumb. He’s helping the homeless — by giving hundreds of millions of dollars to billionaires. 

As we recently learned, the plan is working to perfection. The Mayor has a plethora of homeless people for photo-ops and he has a grand cause – give more money to the developers or more housing for the homeless. One must admire the ingenuity. 

Just where will the Homeless live while these fabulous new accommodations are being constructed? The streets, preferable back alleys. We need just enough homeless visibility so that voters are duped into increasing their taxes in order subsidize the building of luxury units while pretending to help the poor. 

City Hall has one overriding concern – more profits for developers. Everything at City Hall is seen through this lens. They cannot help it. For 15 years, the City has singled mindedly pursued this objective, and each year Los Angeles deteriorates a little more. In 2016, Los Angeles leads in all the bad indicators and lags in all the good indicators. 

Salt Lake City housed its homeless. Let’s not make the most vulnerable among us into pawns in a real estate shell game. Have we no shame?

 

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

-cw

New Kind of Grassroots Activism Hits LA: Lawsuits and Ballot Measures

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Whether we’re LA natives or adopted this city as our own, most of us love Los Angeles, from the majestic canyons winding to the sparkling Pacific, a hike through Runyon or Nichols Canyon just minutes from the energy of Hollywood, even a summer evening drive along Mulholland with the city and valley lights below. 

But if you gather even the most fervent of Angelenos, you’ll hear a range of complaints from skyrocketing rents to Sig Alerts that last far beyond rush hour and what activists refer to as the Manhattanization of Hollywood. 

Problematic quality of life issues have given rise to a trend of grassroots activism, lawsuits, and ballot initiatives throughout the city. Just last week, the nonprofit advocacy group Fix the City filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the City Council over the Catalina Tower project, a 27-floor mixed use apartment tower approved for a residential street in Koreatown, despite the lack of a full environmental impact review and analysis of subsequent traffic impact. 

The nexus of post-recession development and the housing crisis has brought on more than a few campaigns to halt what is seen by some as a Wild West growth with sloppy spot zoning and variances on one side, countered by arguments that the city’s general plan from twenty years ago doesn’t address the need for density in housing to reflect the current housing shortage. 

At the center of it all is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s (AHF) campaign to stop mega-developments and a lawsuit against the city over its approval of the Palladium Residences, two residential towers that would be built next door to AHF’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters near a Metro Red Line stop. The lawsuit argues that the project violates the city charter, California Environmental Quality Act, and other laws. The developer is also named in the suit, which opposes the height and density of the project. 

Investors of the $324-million project counter that the Palladium Towers would provide needed housing and that the towers are similar in scale to other Hollywood buildings along major corridors. 

The nonprofit and the Coalition to Preserve LA have been collecting signatures for a March 2017 ballot measure that would place a two-year moratorium on many developments that don’t follow existing planning and zoning rules. AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein defends the AHF position as a gentrification/social justice issue. AHF and supporters of the measure say mega-developments replace existing rent-controlled units and force out tenants, many whom are senior citizens or on fixed incomes. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, as the ballot measure is known, would halt spot zoning and create a plan to update the city’s Community Plans. The initiative would also put an end to developers handling the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports and would restrict a developer’s ability to reduce parking requirements for residential units and off-site parking for commercial establishments. 

The NII isn’t the only nonprofit group working on ballot initiatives. The Build Better LA Coalition is working to get a housing affordability and high-quality job ballot measure. The initiative, which launched in February, would provide incentives to developers to create affordable housing near public transit and tie discretionary zone changes or General Plan amendments to setting aside a percentage of rental and for-sale projects for low-income residents. The initiative also includes a local hire provision. The Build Better LA Coalition has wide support and endorsements by dozens of community organizations advocating for immigrant rights, environmental sustainability, low-wage labor rights, and educational justice. 

To deal with the explosion of short term rentals (STR) and the impact on local residents, a group of homeowners, tenants, and business owners have formed Community Above Profit (CAP.)  The group’s mission includes protecting Angelenos from the STR boom through organization and resources; educating the public on their rights and what can be done to prevent neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by STRs; and informing city leaders of problems STRs are causing in communities. Toward the third goal, the group has drafted an ordinance to provide solutions. 

No matter which side of the issue Angelenos support, the growth of grassroots activism brings the discussion to the table, providing increased transparency in development and other issues facing the city. We can work together to impact change, balancing neighborhood issues with the challenge of affordable housing, transportation, and environmental concerns.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Gearing Up: Shouldn’t LA City Planning be Doing the Same?

PERSPECTIVE--I saw first-hand the reaction of a neighborhood group to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. Jill Stewart, (red jacket above.)former managing editor of the LA Weekly and now the campaign manager for the proposed measure, delivered a crisp presentation about the initiative to the Valley Village Homeowners Association on April 20th. 

It was not a one-way affair; Stewart fielded at least twenty questions from the roughly fifty members in attendance for the Association’s quarterly general meeting. The questions reflected a strong interest in the subject. Her answers were frank and there appeared to be no reservations about them from the attendees. Thirty-six signed up to receive more information about the initiative. 

As with any ordinance, whether initiated by the City Council or through a ballot measure, subsequent enforcement is critical. 

For example, even though I am pleased with the proposed draft ordinance to deal with the problem of short-term rentals, will the city apply adequate resources to assure compliance if the proposal becomes law? God knows there is little or none in my neck of the woods. One such rental was cited by the City Housing Department last September. It was referred to the City Attorney’s office soon after, but continues to operate today. 

Section 11 of the NII enables an aggrieved person to take legal action against any violation of its provisions. Therefore, it would behoove the city to adequately staff its Planning Department to ensure thorough and timely reviews of developer requests for amendments. 

Stewart told the audience that developers are not going to pack up and leave the city rather than work within Neighborhood Integrity Initiative’s rules. The city will still be a good place to build, as it has always been. 

I can tell you that builders still find Valley Village desirable even though the community has a formidable Specific Plan, especially with regards to multi-unit housing, the SB 1818 density bonus notwithstanding. 

What about the additional planners the city should hire? 

Stewart pointed out how large the mayoral and City Council staffs are – around 500 in total, a number higher than that of the entire White House staff (I confirmed 474 from a 2015 report provided to Congress). She suggested shifting some of the budget over to Planning. Checking the Planning department’s 2015-16 budget, it has 268 authorized positions of all types. It is not typical to have executive support staff outnumber employees of a department providing a critical service. 

It will be interesting to learn of the feedback from various homeowner associations and neighborhood councils around town as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative organizers make the rounds. 

If they have the same success in reaching out to them as Stewart appears to have achieved with Valley Village, then they will develop a diverse network comprised of knowledgeable people with a passion for protecting their quality of life.

 

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

Mexican Puppy Mills Filling the Gap Created by the LA ‘Puppy-Mill’ Ban … There’s a Better Solution

ANIMAL WATCH-On April 20, 2016, the 2013 “Puppy Mill Ban” that prohibits the sale of any puppies, kittens or rabbits from retail stores in Los Angeles, other than shelter or rescue animals, became permanent, with the removal of the sunset clause.

With the customary puffery and halo-polishing that surrounds passage of any animal law, Councilman Paul Koretz assured the media that puppy mills were being impacted by the trend-setting “new business model” operating successfully in the City and offering only shelter animals for adoption, although his PAW Committee report lacked documentation other than the Best Friends’ heavily subsidized NKLA (No-Kill L.A.) adoption center.

Is Koretz factoring in the ongoing $15, $25 and “No Adoption Fees” events such as the “Black Friday Weekend Special” at the NKLA Adoption Center, which are an important aspect in making this “new business model” viable?

Is he considering the $300,000 Best Friends paid last year alone to encourage its NKLA partners to remove more animals from city shelters, according to L.A. Executive Director Mark Peralta, during his October 2015 report at the LAAS Commission meeting?

Koretz failed to cite any statistics on the number of adopters who were converted from buying a pet store puppy to adopting an adult mixed-breed shelter dog or whether any adopters were even asked this question.

He did not identify any independent former or new pet shops that are thriving under his law, which was also expanded to allow dog kennels, called “pet shops” with unlimited shelter animals to be maintained in any C-2 location in the city without a Conditional Use Permit.

Has Koretz even considered other sources that might now be providing purebred puppies or is he naïve enough to believe the potential closure of only eleven (mostly small) pet shops that sold live animals in Los Angeles changed the mindset of purchasers who want a purebred animal?

It was not long before the same activists who protested in front of Los Angeles pet stores and promoted the original ordinance (CF 11-0754) in 2013 appeared at LA Animal Services Commission meetings to demand that the Internet be regulated, and lamented (as predicted by opponents of the ban) that market-savvy puppy mills were offering to ship adorable puppies of any breed directly to buyers in LA. Imagine that!

Ironically, on April 20, the same day Paul Koretz and the LA City Council were basking in their humaneness, Los Angeles media ran the news that 23 puppies and young dogs being smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico at San Diego were intercepted by Border Patrol.

Daniel Canedo, the driver of the sweltering SUV in which the dogs spent 5-1/2 hours with no water in covered crates, said he was bringing them to Los Angeles.

All the puppies were unconscious and two appeared to be dead, according to reports. But, soon fresh air and cool water provided by San Diego Animal Services brought some of their limp bodies to recovery. Others required more extensive veterinary care to survive.

In a posted YouTube video, these do not appear to be animals taken from the streets. Most were estimated at only six to eight weeks of age. Many of them shared a similar appearance -- enough that they could have been from the same litter -- or the same puppy mill.

Although ignored by Los Angeles officials when passing the puppy ban in pet shops, the Mexican puppy-mill pipeline, which purveys especially small-breed animals to be sold in parking lots or any public location in Los Angeles (for cash), is not new and is reportedly growing.

There’s an established nexus between the upsurge in Mexican puppy mills and historical efforts to shame pet stores that sell Midwestern puppies, rather than enforcing the California state laws that strictly regulate the conditions and care of animals in pet stores.

As early as 2004, LA Times reporter Richard Manosi wrote that untold misery was resulting to animals and unsuspecting purchasers as an explosion of puppy mills in Mexico rushed to fill the gap caused by pressures on American consumers not to buy purebred puppies from pet shops selling puppy-mill puppies from the Midwest, according to Mexican Puppy Mills Breed Grief to Southland  (LA Times, June 26, 2004.)

In October 2010, the National Geographic republished a report on the growing problem, entitled, Sick Puppies Smuggled From Mexico for Sale in U.S., in which animal agencies and federal Border Control inspectors worked together to compile a statistical estimate of the extent of puppy-mill smuggling operations. 

During the two-week operation in 2006 the officers found 362 puppies being brought across the border that looked less than three months old, the investigation found. Ill animals were seized by local animal control agencies and later adopted. However, the healthy ones were left with the smugglers because it is not illegal to bring dogs into the U.S. from Mexico. 

Federal law requires that any imported puppies be isolated until they are old enough to be vaccinated for rabies (formerly four months, but California law was changed in 2013, lowering the age to three months.) Puppy peddling of these smuggled animals can generate profits of more than $10,000 a month, animal control officials said.

You would think the news of the April 20 smuggling incident would bring cries of alarm and outrage from Los Angeles animal-welfare groups, such as Best Friends, and legislators (especially Councilman Koretz.) Mr. Canedo was merely charged with 23 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and issued a citation.

Could their lack of concern over the future of LA’s underground puppy market be influenced by the fact that Best Friends has announced that at the end of 2016 it is moving on from Los Angeles and will not seek renewal of its rent-free lease of the Northeast Valley Mission Shelter?

What impact will this have on the shelters from which it reports having taken over 17,000 dogs and cats from 2013 through 2015 (2015 figures projected), according to their September 8, 2015 report?

Perhaps Councilman Koretz wasn’t told by Best Friends or Jim Bickhart, former Mayor Villaraigosa’s aide and Koretz’ current political advisor, that this “new business-model” pet shop is not really new, although both were aware. It has already failed twice in LA. 

The following is excerpted from a media release posted in its entirety by Rabbit Advocacy. It was issued on March 16, 2009, by Lisa Dulyea, Best Friends staff, announcing, “Grand Opening of Woof Worx features animal shelter rescued pups.”

“Best Friends Los Angeles Programs (BFLA) hosted an event March 13 to celebrate the grand opening of the first rescued pets store resulting from A Puppy-Store-Free LA.”
  

It explains, “Best Friends has been hard at work to find an alternative, and collaborated with Woof Worx (formerly Pets of Bel Air) on the idea to sell wonderful, healthy, purebred puppies that come from local shelters. For a mere fraction of what it would cost at a traditional pet store, people can adopt one (or more) of these dogs, support a business that’s doing the right thing, and save a life.”  

A later paragraph reads, “We are so thrilled to be partnering with Jamie Katz, the owner of this beautiful store, and to support her in her efforts,” says Elizabeth Oreck, BFLA manager. “We truly believe that traditional pet stores that sell dogs from puppy mills will soon be a thing of the past, and that a store like Woof Worx will become a national model for cities all across the country.“ 

There is no exact date when Woof Worx closed, but it was after raving reviews by celebrities at the opening and sometime before any Yelp review was posted.  

Just before that, at the January 26, 2009 LAAS Commission meeting, then-General Manager Ed Boks took a more cautious approach and received approval of a Letter of Agreement with “The Puppy Store” on Melrose Blvd. to create an “experimental, short-term pilot program [February 1 through September 1, 2009] to determine the feasibility of working with private pet stores to adopt animals for resale.”  

Boks’ report explained, “…if The Puppy Store can successfully execute and sustain a high-end pet store and achieve a reasonable financial return by selling only pets from shelters and rescues, it may become the model for other pet stores to follow.” 

There’s no specific date that shows when The Puppy Store closed, but a call to it a few months later revealed that the number was disconnected.  

Along with the “puppy mill” ban, Councilman Paul Koretz destroyed the ability of Los Angeles to regulate the very animals it claims to protect, and which are now part of an underground and Internet market that escapes monitoring or regulation.

 

The State of California enacted the Polanco-Lockyer-Farr Animal Protection Act to assure the humane treatment of any animal in a pet store and assure that purchasers knew the origin of the animal and were informed about spay/neuter. 

The legislative code is HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE SECTION 122125-122220.

Here’s just one section: 

Every pet dealer shall deliver to the purchaser of each dog or cat at the time of sale, written material, in a form determined by the pet dealer, containing information on the benefits of spaying and neutering. The written material shall include recommendations on establishing a relationship with a veterinarian, information on early-age spaying and neutering, the health benefits associated with

spaying and neutering pets, the importance of minimizing the risk of homeless or unwanted animals, and the need to comply with applicable license laws. 

We can read this and weep over what Los Angeles has lost and the suffering to animals and pet owners that is already resulting. 

Wouldn’t animals and their new owners have been far better represented if Councilman Koretz had demanded that Los Angeles Animal Services strictly enforce all laws available to protect them in City-permitted pet stores and, for those that violated these provisions, assure fines were levied and/or revocation of their permit to do business was publicized?

That could have started an on-going conversation with the public, with parents and with children -- who often are the reason a pet is sought -- about the benefits of adopting a shelter animal that needs a home. 

Instead, we have condemned even the compliant pet stores who provided what our State laws required, and who might have been convinced to obtain their purebred pets locally, and be governed under the State’s Polanco-Lockyer Pet Breeder Warranty Act. 

Instead, Koretz made local businesses the “bad guy” while opening the door for puppy mills that we cannot control.

                                                           

(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.

Los Angeles and the Politics of Ugly

PLANNING GONE AWRY-If there are two words that joined together are a classic oxymoron, it is aesthetics and Los Angeles. Like most large cities, Los Angeles suffers from a number of forms of visual pollution, disorder and banality, including cheaply built buildings with mediocre to poor architectural quality, sign and billboard clutter, miles of overhead utility wires that further add to the clutter, a lack of consistent street trees and streetscape improvements and streets with cracks, fissures and broken down sidewalks. (Photo above: Walls of power lines line both sides of Lincoln Blvd.)

This ugliness is most evident in the unsightly commercial strip highways that crisscross Los Angeles, non-descript looking multifamily residential and commercial developments and inner city decay. As with most cities, the ugliness is not evenly distributed but is class based. It is tied to private incomes

and wealth. Los Angeles does have a few elite communities for the top 1-2 percent that are gorgeous, perfect in every way, and some additional communities for the upper middle class that are reasonably good looking but have some flaws. But beyond these top tier communities for the upper 20-25% the visual quality of the Los Angeles drops off precipitously. For the bottom 75% Los Angeles is a ugly, banal, depressing sprawl.

The smaller cities surrounding Los Angeles are nowhere near as unattractive. Most of them have buildings with higher architectural quality, business identification signs are controlled and billboards are banned, the utilities are underground or along adjoining alleys, there is a consistent canopy of street trees and street medians are often landscaped and their streets and sidewalks are in a better state of repair. This results in jarring contrasts when one crosses the boundary of one of the smaller cities and enters Los Angeles. 

Examples of such contrasts are driving south on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills and then entering an ugly looking section of La Cienega in Los Angeles, traveling east on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and then entering a miserable looking section of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood that has been neglected for decades, driving south on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and then encountering an ugly section of the Boulevard in Venice and traveling northeast on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City with its lush tree canopy and attractive, landscaped buildings and then encountering a barren section of Jefferson with few street trees and older, deteriorated buildings on the other side of the boundary line in Los Angeles. 

And there is the contrast between the banal and ugly Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles and the attractive looking Washington Boulevard a block to the south in Culver City. In the San Fernando Valley there are the same jarring contrasts when one drives west from Burbank into Los Angeles along Magnolia, Burbank or Victory Boulevards and Vanowen Street. Indeed, one can tell when one is entering Los Angeles because that is where the ugliness begins. 

For the most part, efforts to improve the aesthetics of Los Angeles have been sporadic and insufficient. 

The City of Los Angeles has never had a deliberate, comprehensive program to improve its appearance. With the exception of the small fraction of the LA covered by Historic Preservation Overlay Zones and the handful of Specific Plans that have design standards and design review boards, architecture is unregulated in Los Angeles. 

LA is a wide open free fire zone that allows the construction of buildings that are nondescript or downright ugly with the usual architectural “style” being the ubiquitous stucco boxes that lack the façade variations, ornamentation and sloped roofs that make a building charming and attractive. The only requirements that most new buildings in Los Angeles have to meet are the engineering standards in the Building & Safety Code to ensure that buildings are structurally sound so that they will not fall down during an earthquake. 

The planning system of Los Angeles is incapable of creating the beautiful grand boulevards that one sees in the cities of Europe and in some of our older, east coast cities. Creating such boulevards would require that buildings have a consistently high level of architectural quality and similar styles. 

While the City Council, after decades of voting it down, finally banned new billboards in 2002, thanks to the leadership of then Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, approximately 5,630 billboards remain in the City. These existing billboards cannot be removed due to a State law, A.B. 1353, that was quietly approved by the State Legislature in 1982 and which prohibits the removal of existing billboards through amortization schedules. Also, the 2002 ban on new billboards contains loopholes, such as sign district overlay zones, that still allow for the introduction of new billboards. Even though the City Council did enact an on-premise sign ordinance in 1986 that prohibits new rooftop signs and reduces the size and height of other business identification signs, a number of signs erected prior to 1986 still remain to clutter commercial streets. 

While underground utilities have been required in new subdivisions since 1966, there are still many miles of existing, unsightly overhead wires in the older sections of Los Angeles put up prior to the 1960s that are untouched by that requirement. A proposal for a program to underground those wires will likely be met with resistance due to its cost and that DWP has higher priorities for its funds that involve converting its electricity sources from coal and oil to green technologies and replacing old, leaking water mains. 

Similarly, a program to systematically plant street trees along the City’s major highways, to have a consistent canopy as in Beverly Hills and Culver City, will also probably face resistance due to its cost. Because the Great Recession of 2008-2009 reduced the City’s tax revenues, the City of Los Angeles had to severely cut back the number of miles of streets resurfaced each year and has spent almost nothing on repairing broken down sidewalks. A welcome development in this area is the recent settlement of a lawsuit involving unsafe sidewalks that requires the City to spend $1.3 billion over 30 years on a program to repair broken sidewalks. And with the economic recovery that has been underway since 2009 that has increased tax revenues, the City has been able to allocate more funds to resurfacing streets that have unattractive looking cracks, fissures and potholes in their roadways.

A key question regarding aesthetics in Los Angeles is why have the smaller cities been so much more successful in preserving and enhancing their appearances than Los Angeles? Because the business interests that profit from the creation of ugliness operate throughout the Los Angeles region, not just in Los Angeles, the smaller cities have faced the same pressures for “uglification.” Yet, for the most part, the economic interests have been kept under control in the smaller cities. In Los Angeles there has been insufficient countervailing power to keep special interests such as developers and the sign and billboard companies in check on aesthetic issues. 

Two City bureaucracies, DWP with is many miles of overhead wires and the Bureau of Street Services that does not have a program to plant a consistent canopy of street trees, are also complicit in the creation or non-alleviation of ugliness. One explanation for the inadequate aesthetic safeguards in Los Angeles is that, because the City is so large, the residents of individual communities who would like to take control of the appearance of their communities have been out voted by the rest of Los Angeles, unlike the residents of the smaller cities have a much greater voice and influence with their City Councils. 

However, this explanation is unconvincing because the Los Angeles City Council in effect operates as 15 separate cities with residents only having to obtain the support of their local councilperson with the rest of the City Council deferring to what a Councilperson wants for their district, which minimizes being outvoted. Another explanation is that the large size of Los Angeles, with each of its 15 Council districts representing approximately 253,000 residents, results in high costs for campaigns for Council seats. This in turn makes candidates for the City Council dependent on campaign contributions for developers and other business interests, resulting in politicians placing the interests of their campaign donors over those of their constituents. 

This is a partial explanation. However, a more likely factor is the political/planning culture of Los Angeles. As in most places, city planning in Los Angeles is highly politicized. It is an aspect of democracy and politics with the quality of planning being done depending mainly on the quality of the citizen activists that put pressure on City Hall. 

Unfortunately, for the most part, the activists have not been concerned about aesthetic issues but rather focus most of their attention on individual development projects that they deem to be out-of-scale and incompatible with the character of their communities. Their opposition has been to excessive density and height and the resulting traffic congestion. 

Other activists have been concerned about threats to the natural environment. Rarely have they been concerned about architecture, sign and billboard clutter, overhead utilities or the lack of consistent street trees along the major streets. And the only persons protesting broken down sidewalks are those who have been impacted by them, who have tripped over uplifted sidewalks. Hearing few if any complaints about aesthetic issues from their constituents, City Council offices then conclude that these are not problems that deserve their attention. It will require a major expansion of the range of concerns expressed by the homeowner associations, neighborhood councils, environmentalists and individual citizens in order to generate the political will needed to address ugliness in Los Angeles. 

If the political will were to be found for a comprehensive program to improve the appearance of Los Angeles, what would the program consist of? At a minimum, a program for aesthetic improvements should consist of: 

  1. Standards for architectural quality for all commercial, industrial and multifamily residential  buildings built in Los Angeles, as with Beverly Hills and San Marino. This would involve Planning Department staff checking building plans against standards of architectural quality for each identifiable architectural style, with the style to be selected by the developer. However, if a community decides that it would like to limit the range of acceptable architectural styles in order to preserve or enhance its character, it should be permitted to do so. 
  1. Enactment by the City Council of the sign and billboard ordinance approved by the City Planning

Commission that continues the 2002 billboard ban and contains very few loopholes. New billboards that are smaller and placed against the sides of buildings to minimize clutter would be allowed only if a much greater number of existing billboards are taken down. 

  1. A strong request from City Council to the State Legislature that it repeal A.B. 1353, which prohibits the removal of existing billboards through amortization schedules. Because a repeal of A.B. 1353 will face very strong opposition from the billboard industry lobby in Sacramento, Los Angeles will need to put together a coalition with many other cities and counties. Upon repeal of A.B. 1353, the City Council should then require that all remaining billboards in Los Angeles be removed in accordance with amortization schedules that allow sufficient time for the billboard companies to recover their investments in their signs. The City Council should expect and plan for lawsuits from the billboard companies over any ordinance that removes billboards through amortization schedules. However, billboard removal through amortization schedules is constitutional and has been periodically upheld by the courts. 
  1. A major program by the DWP to underground overhead utilities in Los Angeles, to be financed by a temporary surcharge on DWP bills. To reduce the cost the program should be limited to undergrounding the wires along the major and secondary highways and some collector streets which, due to their high traffic volumes, are the most visible parts of Los Angeles. To further reduce the annual cost of the program should be spread out over 20-30 years. 
  1. A major program by the Urban Forestry Division of the Bureau of Street Services to systematically   plant street plant street trees along the major and secondary highways of Los Angeles, where there presently are gaps in the tree canopy or trees that are too small. To reduce the annual cost, this program should be spread out over 15-20 years. 
  1. Increased budget allocations for street resurfacing, to resurface all streets with cracks and potholes on an accelerated schedule.   In addition, implementation of the recent court settlement requiring the City to establish a program to repair broken down sidewalks. 
  1. Economic and planning studies on the feasibility of bringing about the redevelopment of the City’s

many unsightly commercial strip highways into grand, mixed use boulevards, as called for by the Framework Element of the General Plan. Enactment of plans and ordinances containing incentives to bring about their redevelopment. 

  1. Economic development programs to bring new and higher paying jobs to deteriorated low-income communities, to raise incomes so that it will be more feasible for developers to redevelop those communities. The development programs should look into the feasibility of re-industrializing Los Angeles, to offset the de-industrialization that has taken place during the past 40 years. Also, the City Council’s recent action to require a higher minimum wage in Los Angeles will assist in raising incomes in poor communities.   

Of the items programs on this list, five (No.s 2,3,4,5 & 6) are directly under the control of government and are not closely tied the health of the economy of Los Angeles. The remaining three (Nos. 1, 7 & 8) are dependent in part on whether development activity can be redirected towards the low income communities. Standards for architectural quality, for example, will have a minimal impact if there is little or no new construction for the standards to regulate. And the commercial strip highways in low income communities cannot be improved if there is no new development along them. 

The large accumulation of ugliness in Los Angeles is, in the end, a result of a lack of political will, of insufficient countervailing power against the economic interests and government agencies that have created it.  It will require expanded citizen activism to overcome opposition from the interests that profit from the ugliness and the inertia of the City’s bureaucracies. The limited amount of such activism in the past is the main reason for the unattractiveness of much of Los Angeles. As Shakespeare said in his play, Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars. It lies with us”.

 

(John Issakson is a planning activist living in Los Angeles.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

LA Planning Commission Gets the Finger … Council PLUM OK’s Digital Boards 

BILLBOARD WATCH-Despite the unanimous opposition of the City Planning Commission, an LA City Council committee is pushing ahead with a plan that could ultimately result in new digital billboards going up in a wide area of the city. 

Last fall, the planning commission approved a new citywide sign ordinance that restricts the brightly-lighted signs with rapidly changing ads to special sign districts in a limited number of high-intensity commercial areas. At a meeting this week, the council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee (photo above) turned a cold shoulder to that idea, and directed three city departments to jointly develop detailed proposals for allowing the currently prohibited signs outside those restricted areas, either on city-owned property or on both public and private property. 

Committee chairman Jose Huizar (left, above) said these proposals need to include revenue sharing to the city, funding for sign law enforcement, and the removal of billboards blighting various neighborhoods. This is an about-face from 2015, when Huizar was running for re-election and his answer to a candidates’ questionnaire seemed to support restricting digital billboards to sign districts. 

Committee members Felipe Fuentes and Marqueece Harris-Dawson both complained that the City Planning Commission’s restriction of new digital billboards to sign districts wouldn’t result in the removal of billboard blight from their districts, in the east San Fernando Valley and South LA., respectively. 

The ordinance approved by the planning commission requires that new digital billboards in sign districts be offset by the takedown of existing billboards in surrounding communities at a square footage ratio of ten to one. In that ordinance, sign districts are only allowed in 22 areas of the city zoned regional center or regional commercial, such as downtown, Universal City, Warner Center, LAX, Century City, and the Coliseum/USC area, among others. 

There are no sign district-eligible areas in Fuentes’s district, but there are two in an adjacent district, in Van Nuys and Panorama City. The ordinance approved by the Planning Commission doesn’t limit the required billboard takedown to a specific distance from a sign district, and commissioners discussed expanding the takedown area to the entire city, although that provision wasn’t included in the final version of the ordinance. 

At the committee meeting, Harris-Dawson called many of the existing billboards in his district “a big, giant sore thumb.” That district includes a sizeable sign district-eligible area in the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza commercial area, and under the planning commission’s ordinance a new full-size digital billboard could be put up there only if 10 full-size billboards or a larger number of smaller billboards were first removed in the surrounding community. 

Neither Fuentes nor Harris-Dawson mentioned the fact that a city survey has shown that more than a hundred billboards in those councilmembers’ districts have either been erected or altered without required permits. In a letter to the PLUM committee last year, City Attorney Mike Feuer said his office was ready to help take enforcement action against many billboards across the city that fall into that category, but to date the committee members haven’t responded to that offer. 

There was little discussion by committee members about the city’s prospect of getting revenue from new digital billboards, although that’s been a central point of a vigorous lobbying campaign by a coalition of billboard companies that wants to put up an untold number of new digital billboards along freeways and city streets. That coalition includes the three largest billboard operators in the city -- Clear Channel, Outfront Media and Lamar Advertising. 

Councilmember Paul Krekorian has put forth a proposal to allow new digital billboards on city-owned property in exchange for a share of revenue and the takedown a certain number of existing billboards, but the councilmember’s proposal leaves details such as the exact number of new billboards and their locations to be worked out. 

Councilman Gil Cedillo, a PLUM committee member, floated a proposal two years ago to allow new digital billboards in any commercial area through a conditional use permit process. And Clear Channel, which owns 84 digital billboards that have been shut off by court order since 2013, has pushed for city permission to relocate some of those billboards, ostensibly to locations where they aren’t as likely to generate complaints from nearby residential neighborhoods. 

All those proposals got a firm thumbs down from the Planning Commission, whose members agreed that any digital signs should be restricted to sign districts where their size, brightness, and hours of operation could be strictly regulated to minimize potential traffic hazards, light pollution, and adverse affects on surrounding residential neighborhoods. 

The major billboard companies have long opposed these restrictions, and while none have publicly commented on Krekorian’s proposal, it’s unlikely that they are happy with the prospect of being allowed new digital billboards only on a limited number of properties owned by the city. 

In fact, Lamar Advertising sued the city in 2013 for the right to put up 45 new digital billboards in specific locations in a wide area of the city. The Louisiana-based company won a favorable ruling from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, but the California Appeals Court overturned that ruling earlier this year, upholding the city’s right to ban those signs. 

Another 2014 proposal, by committee member Mitchell Englander, called for granting “amnesty” to all unpermitted and out-of-compliance billboards in the city, but there was no mention of it at this week’s meeting. The Planning Commission emphatically rejected the idea, calling instead for the city to begin enforcing the law against all illegal billboards. 

Neither Englander nor Cedillo commented on the planning commission’s action during this week’s PLUM committee meeting. Both councilmembers, as well as Huizar, have received significant financial support from billboard companies in their past election campaigns. And Englander has gotten a number of campaign contributions from billboard companies and their lobbyists in his current bid for election in November to the LA County Board of Supervisors.

 

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

LA City Council Soapbox Evades its Own Sexual Misconduct Failures

HYPOCRISY POLITICS--The best way to understand LA City Council shenanigans is to watch its meetings as I sometimes do -- hanging upside down on my Teeter inversion table. It clarifies the revisionist, upside-down declarations of politicians living in a bubble. 

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Councilmembers honored the “well-respected” alums of a local high school that included a felon awaiting sentencing who used to run the LA Sheriff’s department; a late LAPD chief whose abuse of the poor and minorities led to a deadly riot; an innately dishonest former city attorney; and a compulsive gambling sexist. #Charming 

It was as if the city’s fifteen lawmakers were reassuring themselves that their malfeasance of today will be blurred and distorted by future Councilmembers. 

Last week, their latest delusion surrounded a presentation to declare it Denim Day in Los Angeles, which raises awareness of the horrors of rape. But oh how the Councilmembers scattered when the public reminded the viewers of City Council’s own record regarding sexual harassment charges. 

In language that is utterly constitutional, but too colorful to share here, gadfly and former teacher John Walsh correctly cited City Council’s endless rubber stamping of liquor licenses “for convenience,” especially in poor communities, that contribute to crime -- including, but hardly limited to, rape. 

Also cited was the city’s incessant licensing of, and failure to close down unlicensed businesses marketing in human sex trafficking in which the victims are, if not raped in a stranger-on-stranger sense, are coercively raped by fear of pimp violence or economic harm.  

Councilmember Paul Krekorian, an attorney whose children includes a young daughter, who regularly attempts to throw public commenters off their timing by suggesting that aired concerns are “off-topic,” was unable to silence the critics in his appeal to the deputy city attorney who makes such determinations.  

Krekorian, who currently faces a recall effort, bounced animatedly in his chair and hurriedly walked in protest toward Council President Herb Wesson’s elevated podium despite the city attorney’s ruling, as the subject turned to the accusations of sexual harassment and coercive sexual misconduct of fellow Councilmembers Mitch Englander and Jose Huizar -- both of whom are married fathers of young women and girls, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid by the city in settlements and legal fees related to those accusations. 

It continues to be lost upon our city officials that it is inherently sexual harassment, and coercive rape, when a boss has sex, whether once or a hundred times, with anyone who works in his or her office.

Even if it was a “consensual” relationship, it is coercive rape if the consequences of not having sex with the boss could result in economic harm to, for example, a single mother or a staffer who wants some day to run for office and seeks her boss’s endorsement. 

That is what may have happened when Francine Godoy, a former staffer in Huizar’s office, sued the city for sexual harassment. From 2006 to 2013, her salary jumped 280%, a rate considerably faster than others in his office received at a time of claimed city cutbacks, because she and Huizar (a graduate of Berkeley, Princeton and UCLA Law School) had a “consensual” relationship, according to him, in which she also sought his support for a political run. The taxpayers eventually paid $200,000 in legal fees, while it is unknown whether or how much Huizar may have paid Godoy to settle the case. She moved on to another job in the city, and he breathed a sigh of relief. 

Council President Herb Wesson, who has referred to Huizar as “my best friend” and supported his re-election, also held his head and urged the deputy city attorney – to no avail – to silence the speakers when the subject turned to Councilmember Mitch Englander. 

Englander is also in denial about sexual harassment claims by former staffer Melody Jaramillo against himself and his chief of staff John Lee. 

Englander has said that the $75,000 settlement paid to Jaramillo was for financial and legal expedience, yet he earlier favored squandering $600,000 to defend the city in the damages phase of David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg’s winning 1st Amendment suit against the city rather than paying him even a sliver of that amount for expedience. 

The men who approved these settlements, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Wesson, who are fathers or grandfathers of young women and girls, have yet to publicly condemn any of these specific actions – let alone declare the inappropriateness of having sex with the office staff – because, at LA City Hall, protecting their own, not your own, seems to be Job #1.

 

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

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