24
Mon, Jun

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.

Forget the Presidential Race - These Students are Getting Politically Engaged in Issues at School

EDUCATION POLITICS--“We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings.” The presidential primaries are putting a huge emphasis on political engagement among our youth, but some youth are cutting their political teeth on issues closer to home. 

At Venice High School, two students have started the Union of Venice Students to inform their classmates about their rights, especially the right to opt out of standardized tests. 

The students, Cobalt and Ruben, were inspired by the movie Defies Measurement, a documentary that traces the transformation of an Oakland, California school from a creative, nurturing incubator for students into a test prep institution. The documentary is a moving portrayal of corporate education reforms sucking the life out of a school. 

Armed with detailed information and plenty of passion, the Union of Venice Students is imploring their classmates to get engaged and opt out of the upcoming standardized tests.

I interviewed these courageous and intelligent activists after a copy of their no-longer-underground newspaper Venice Posted found its way to me. 

PS: So how did you get involved in student politics? 

Ruben: The school system is here for us. It’s always been a philosophy of mine, but with the student union, I felt as though it would be a powerful way for us to really kind of establish that philosophy among our fellow peers. Get more and more students involved in what’s going on in our education system. 

Cobalt: My focus on the union is awareness of rights. Because in state law, with education code and all that, there are all these rights that students have. But students don’t know they have these rights and the administration doesn’t recognize these rights. So that, I think, is one of the main forces of evil. 

PS: Evil is a pretty big opponent, but you don’t strike me as someone Waiting for Superman. How are you fighting evil? 

Ruben: Last semester I sent an email to our principal where my stance was on the Smarter Balanced test and I was kind of asking her why she was putting so much pressure on it. I told her Instead of focusing on these exams, we should maybe focus on making the school better. Ya know? Well, she really rebuffed it and kinda said, ‘oh, just meet with me in person’. I really wanted something in writing, too, to see what her stance was on it. 

PS: Why? 

Ruben: I felt it’s more clear what her position is and there’s no miscommunication, where, ‘I heard she said this.’ Having it in writing is what she said, to make it more clear. 

PS: Is this the first time you’ve considered political action? 

Cobalt: I’ve always been sort of saying ‘hey, I’ve got this right and I should be allowed to exercise this right’. It has gotten me into some trouble in the past.

One of the rules at school is you’re not allowed to wear hats that don’t have the Venice High School logo on it. But I always saw that as infringing on my free speech. So I have this hat with a red star on it that I bought when I was in China. And I always wear that. Then this year I got called out on it. I was in the Dean’s office for three hours while they basically told me that if I didn’t agree to follow this rule they were going to send me out of the school. That’s how that ended, I sort of stopped wearing the hat because I wanted to focus more on organizing this so we could have a larger body with more strength than just one person wearing his hat. 

PS: Kind of the opposite of a dunce cap. What else? 

Cobalt: The [administration] is putting in a lot of things to convince students that you’re better off taking the test. She’s bringing back the policy of Off-campus passes for seniors next year. The requirements are you have to have 3.0 GPA, high attendance, and you have to have taken the Smarter Balanced test. There’s also, I’ve heard talk of local businesses giving money to the school for every student that takes the test and some teachers are only going to sign you letters of recommendation [for college] if you take the test. 

PS: So is that the typical response from your teachers?

Ruben: We have an interesting response from teachers. Either you’re completely for the test or you’re completely against the test. That’s something we’ve noticed, a trend. Several teachers have approached us telling us to kind of quiet down, I want to say, with our distribution of our newsletter, and other teachers are completely endorsing us like ‘yeah, I’m with you 100%’. But they don’t want to put it out there and, really stay out of trouble with the administration. I thought that was an interesting trend. 

PS: Has the administration talked with you about your activism? 

Cobalt: Not directly. She went to [our teacher] and told him to tell us to stop. He basically said, ‘I’m not in charge of them. They have this right to do that.’ She’s never actually come to us directly. She’s always tried to go indirectly around or talked to someone else to tell them to tell us to stop. 

Ruben: More recently, she’s told all of my teachers. They’ve got pressure from the administration to tell us to stop distributing this newsletter. 

PS: New York State had 200,000 opt outs last year. How many did Venice High have? 

Cobalt: Last year, I feel like the bulk of the opt out movement was because it was happening at the same time as the AP tests, and not having anything to do with the whole standardized testing in general. 

We’ve noticed that it seems to be flipping around this year. A lot of the people who have been telling me, “oh yeah, I’m definitely going to opt out’, most of the people who I feel like  I’ve been hitting the most with this message are people who aren’t in AP classes. The people who seem to be in opposition to the movement the most are the ones who are in the AP classes. 

Ruben: I think they’re just trying to be as much of a scholarly student as they possibly can. 

Cobalt: There’s also a lot of propaganda going around about the test. Like if you don’t take this test your life is not going to be able to be good. You’re not going to be able to have a good college education. You have to take this test. It’s almost being brainwashed into some people that, this test, you have to take it. 

PS: Last election, someone named Marshall Tuck ran against our State Superintendent on the platform that the Ed Code is too long and cumbersome for adults to understand. What do you think? 

Cobalt: Ever since I’ve been getting into issues regarding free speech and stuff, I’ve gotten myself well versed in several sections of the Ed Code. 

Ruben: He knows them like the palm of his hand. 

Cobalt: Like, that one is Section 60615. I think it clearly says that these tests, you can’t be forced to take them, and the parent does have the right to opt them out. But I do feel like it should be worded as more of an explicit right and less of a ‘this is something you can do’. I feel like if it was listed as more of an explicit right, then that would, ya know, like all the things that are happening like with the principal saying, ‘you have to take the test in order to get this thing’, I feel like that would sort of stop because you can’t be punished for exercising your right. 

PS: After some parents sued their school district, LAUSD has actually told schools they have to send a letter home informing parents of the right to opt out. 

Cobalt: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve gotten that. 

PS: What do you think about the idea that parents just want to look at a school's overall test score to decide on a school for their kids? What do you say to them? 

Cobalt: For me, when I was looking at schools, we first were looking around and my mom had found this school because of the foreign language magnet. I had always been into foreign languages. She said oh let’s go here. We went to the tour, one thing we noticed on the tour was the tour was being run by students and they were all happy to be at school and they loved the program and they were all talking about the activities and the clubs they were involved in, the classes they were taking. 

Someone mentioned that there was a trip to China they took with the Chinese class and that’s really what got me to want to come to this school. And then I went to another school and the entire first hour of the tour was sitting in the library watching a presentation, a power point where they were talking about their curriculum and what they focus on and then going through their test scores, like a chart or graph of their test scores and you didn’t actually get to see the classes. What I liked about this school’s tour was that we went into a lot of classes. The other school, we didn’t go into any classes. It was just focusing on these scores and numbers that didn’t mean anything. 

PS: You’ve been handing out the opt out forms. Do people get it? 

Cobalt: Some people do. If they read the newspaper. I wanted to distribute it with the newspaper but I didn’t have enough copies printed. That was the only problem. So we’re going to have an Opt Out Day. We were originally planning to all stand out on the front lawn and make a large line and hand them out. Have a couple extra copies but then it rained that Friday. So we were stuck. 

PS: In the movie, we pretty much see how a school district’s obsession with test scores can suck the life out of a school. Has all the life been sucked out of Venice High School? 

Ruben: No, now it’s just two or three minutes of a teacher explaining why we have to take the tests. Not much of a curriculum change. 

Cobalt: I feel like that will be coming soon. This is only the 2nd year of Smarter Balanced, so I think that as the years go on, curriculum will start to shift to teaching to this test specifically. 

I’d always had the idea of, hey, teachers have a union. Maybe students should have a union. But then with the growing issues at the school, I decided, you know, I think we should actually start one. 

PS: What do your parents think? 

Ruben: They’re behind us 100%. 

PS: There’s no standardized test for student activism. So how do you measure your success? 

Cobalt: The way we distribute [the newspaper], is we go out in the hallways or after school out on the front lawn, and we just hand it to anyone we see. We look around and can see a couple people reading it. That’s what we like to see. 

Ruben: We’re adamant about not distributing during class time. To make sure it’s legitimate and we don’t violate— 

Cobalt: We don’t hand it out during class time because that can be disruptive. 

Ruben: We have a lot of mixed response. The more scholarly students are like, ‘You guys are crazy. Stop doing this nonsense. Take the test and get over it.’ 

Cobalt: ‘You can’t do this. You’re going to hurt the school too much’. I‘ve heard other people saying, ‘Man, I’ve just read this, everything is so right, I’m opting out right now.’ 

PS: What else did learn from the movie? 

Cobalt: In the movie, they said there was some law regarding statistics, that when you take a statistic that measures something and you really focus on it, then the focus shifts to the statistic itself rather than what that’s trying to measure. 

What I think is happening is this country, the education system, the people in charge of it, the government and all that, is focusing on these test scores, but they’re not really focusing on what these test scores are measuring: the quality of our education. 

PS: What do you think would be the best measure of your education? 

Cobalt: Personally, I don’t think that you can measure the true quality of one’s education. I feel like that’s just too complex of a thing. It’s multi-sided. You can’t actually accurately measure it with any sort of testing, or any sort of assessment. It’s something that develops within a person and they take that and go into the real world and put that in action. 

Ruben: I agree with him. We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings. We have different qualities. Some people have qualities in art. Some people love math. Some are more analytical. Some are a bit more closed minded. I feel like numbers, or choosing A, B, C or D really can’t measure what kind of human being you are. What’s your ranking as a human being? 

Note: The school principal did not respond to requests for an interview.

 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect  and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Hello, Hello Miss American Pie, and Flag, and … Furutani Campaign Headquarters

GELFAND’S WORLD--Sunday saw an old American tradition brought back, the opening of a local political campaign headquarters. The idea seems like an anachronism, sort of like a dial telephone or bias ply tires, but there it was on a bright Sunday afternoon in San Pedro. In this case, it was the candidacy of Warren Furutani, who is running for the open state senate seat in a district that goes from the harbor in the south up to Watts and Inglewood to the north. 

Since the district is strongly Democratic, the question as to who goes to Sacramento would have been determined in the primary election in previous years. Now, with California's nonpartisan blanket primary, the top two vote getters go on to the November runoff, even if they come from the same political party. 

Furutani's main opponent is Democrat Steven Bradford, who previously represented the state assembly district that makes up the northern half of the senatorial district. Bradford is African American and has political strength in that end of the district, while Furutani is Japanese American and has his roots in the more southerly portion. 

I used the term anachronistic earlier, because we have all become adapted to the modern digital style of politics, based around nationally broadcast debates, internet news, and Facebook arguments. The other word that comes to mind is atavistic, because the local campaign headquarters is a throwback to earlier days. I can remember when we didn't have the internet or smart phones, and volunteers walked door to door handing out mimeographed fliers. (Were they mimeographed? How old do you have to be to remember the mimeograph machine?) 

But there are decent enough reasons to add some of that old time political technique to our modern technological campaigns. The opening of a campaign headquarters is a chance to energize the troops. The idea is to get people into a room together and pump them up with rousing speeches, a buffet, and one overworked coffee pot. Those same people will be asked to volunteer their time working the phone banks over the coming months. It's a chance for people to make an emotional and intellectual commitment to one candidate. 

For the volunteers, it is also a chance to mingle with elected officials and respected ex-officials. In this one room on this one afternoon, we heard from the state Treasurer, the former mayor of Cerritos, the former mayor of Carson, and the city councilman from San Pedro, Joe Buscaino. 

Some may remember that Buscaino won the open City Council seat just a few years ago by defeating Furutani, and here he was, giving an energetic introduction, telling us why we need Warren Furutani up in Sacramento. Maybe it was just the decent thing to do, but I get the idea that Buscaino genuinely respects Furutani. In fact, when they ran against each other, their campaigns were particularly clean and respectful, something surprising and nearly unique in present day politics. 

In a way, the opening of a campaign office is like a college reunion. I ran into people I'd known when I lived in Lakewood in a different century. There was Rick Tuttle, the former Controller of the city of Los Angeles, and there were Julian, Joy, Sergio, and Louis. There were also members of a younger generation who are feeling their political oats. There were a couple or three men who had run for major elective offices in the past few years and hadn't quite won, but were there because that's what office seekers do. 

This gathering was notable for the presence of Asian-American politicians including the former mayor of Cerritos and notably, John Chiang. Chiang has worked his way through state Controller to his current office as state Treasurer. He is being touted as a possible candidate for governor, and he got a lot of enthusiastic cheers as other speakers dusted off an old line, referring to him as "the next governor of California." Furutani could do worse than be touted by a statewide elected official like Chiang. 

In conversation, Furutani seems like a thoughtful person, and he demonstrated enormous patience listening to my extended inquiries about his campaign strategy, platform, and general interests. When I asked him what he is most interested in, he replied, "Education." That seems believable and appropriate, considering that Furutani previously held elected office on the school board prior to being elected to the state Assembly. He doesn't seem to be interested in blowing his own horn all that extravagantly, but the other speakers pointed out his accomplishments in protecting public education when he was in the state legislature. 

When I asked what the campaign is likely to be about, Furutani answered, "The environment." He brags that he doesn't take contributions from oil interests, unlike his opponent. He also reminded me that this district has oil refineries, of which at least one uses a potentially dangerous chemical additive that could have done a lot of human damage during the recent refinery fire. 

I tend to doubt that the oil issue will be all that telling in the coming campaign for the simple reason that Democrats are not going to go into vigorous attack mode against an industry that employs so many workers. Still, it was a good try, and suggested that liberal Democrats have to work hard to differentiate themselves from their equally liberal opponents. It's the mirror image of the Republican Party where campaigners fight to be more to the right than the other guy. 

In his own campaign speech, Furutani talked about being a fourth generation Japanese American, and how his whole family has its roots in the 35th Senatorial District. His family lived on Terminal Island until the Pearl Harbor attack, following which they were forced to live in what the authorities euphemistically referred to as a relocation center -- Furutani bluntly refers to it as a concentration camp -- in the southeast part of the country. Furutani is a graduate of Antioch University. He served previously on the LAUSD board and on the community college board prior to his election to the state Assembly. 

His choice of topics to push in this campaign include the old standards: the economy, education, and the environment. Interestingly, he also wants to concentrate on the way we treat the elderly. His campaign packages this collection into what he calls the "Four E's." 

It's true that lots of campaign headquarters have been opened and closed during the presidential primary season, but those were mainly created, funded, and maintained by national presidential campaigns. For the vast majority of the 20 or so serious candidates, those headquarters came and went and are now forgotten. The classical grass roots campaign headquarters, maintained on a minimal budget and featuring long-term local activists working for somebody running for local office is a different species entirely, Americana at its most activist.

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture, science, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

Hispanic Scholarship Fund: Amazing! Celebrates Students!

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Leaders in Education Awards (LEA) downtown Los Angeles. This is really an amazing organization. 

Founded in Los Angeles in 1975, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund empowers Latino families with the knowledge and resources to successfully complete a higher education, while providing scholarships and support services to as many exceptional Hispanic American students as possible. HSF strives to make college education a top priority for every Latino family across the nation, mobilizing our community to proactively advance that goal – each individual, over a lifetime, in every way he/she can. 

HSF also seeks to give its Scholars all the tools they need to do well in their course work, graduate, enter a profession, excel, help lead our nation going forward, and mentor the generations to come. As the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization supporting Hispanic American higher education, HSF has awarded over $500 million in scholarships and provides a range of impactful programs for students, HSF Scholars, Alumni, and parents.

Their mission is to empower Latino families with the knowledge and resources to successfully complete a higher education, while providing scholarships and support services to as many exceptional Hispanic American students as possible. 

This year’s Honorees are: 

Parents of the year: Angelica Prieto and Antonio Ramirez they emigrated from Mexico seeking better opportunities in the U.S.  They met in Dallas through family members and settled there to raise their children. They are currently supporting their family by working primarily in hospitality services at four different hotels. 

Community Partner of the Year: “Mexican American Legal Defense Fund”. With a mission “to protect and promote the civil rights of all Latinos living in the United States, MALDEF, which was founded in 1968 in San Antonio Texas, strives to implement programs that bring Latinos into the mainstream of American political and socio-economic life. 

Corporate Partner of the Year: The Southern California Gas Company. SoCalGas is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, providing service to 21.6 million consumers in more than 500 communities. Its 20,000 square mile service map encompasses central and southern California, from Visalia to the Mexican border. Headquartered in Los Angeles, it employs more than 8,400 employees. SoCalGas is a regulated subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego. 

Female Scholar of the Year: Kathleen Guerra, she is studying Mechanical Engineering at MIT. 

Male Scholar of the Year: Bill De La Rosa, he’s studying Sociology & Latin American Studies at Bowdoin College. 

Without the support of HSF these great students would not have been able to attend college, or it would’ve been more difficult for them. 

Wells Fargo, the bank has made an $8.1 million commitment to HSF, over the next 3 years, a significant portion allocated to HSF.net 2.0. On behalf of our scholarship recipients, past, present, and future, we are grateful.  Other partners are: Coca-Cola, The Walt Disney Company, Target, Univision, FedEx, P&G, Time Warner, Walmart and many other corporations. 

How much is a lifetime of open doors worth?  What does it cost to build this country’s next generation of leaders? It costs a lot! Yet, only $8.33 per month from donors like you will help a Hispanic student complete college and prepare to lead our nation.  That’s about as much as it costs to buy one movie ticket a month.   

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

 

Assuming Responsibility: USC Should Start a Homeless Shelter

OBLIGATIONS OF PRIVILEGE-This week, the Daily Trojan published its supplement issue, “It Takes a Village: USC and the Community,” in which we explored more carefully the issue of gentrification in the local community, the cost of living near campus and the rise of the University Village. We recognized that, as students at USC, our experiences are shaped not just by members of the University but by the surrounding community as well. However, it would be impossible to address USC’s relations with locals without mentioning crucial members of our community — the homeless population. 

Last year, a report from the Economic Roundtable stated that each month 13,000 Angelenos become homeless, in large part due to the effects of rising housing prices and costs of living. This finding has even prompted Mayor Eric Garcetti to declare a state of emergency in a quest to end the epidemic. 

These concerns should not be separate from the USC’s responsibilities. Given the University’s unique position within the city, it should adopt a greater role in aiding the homeless population. The University should start by contributing financially to local homeless shelters, or by starting one of its own. 

Whether we are aware of it or not, people of the transient community are intertwined with our daily lives. They travel on campus before the gates are drawn at night and off campus to the commercial food establishments students frequent. A short walk from campus, tents — that many consider shelter — line sidewalks along familiar streets. 

The University does provide some support to local community members. One academic enrichment program called the Neighborhood Academic Initiative prepares local students for higher education enrollment. The campus organization ‘Swipes Out Hunger,’ donates leftover students’ dining dollars to the local homeless population at the end of the semester. And in February, the Undergraduate Student Government hosted its first-ever Community Block Party which connected students and local community members. But the University has not created an initiative to specifically address the homelessness crisis which plagues South Central Los Angeles. 

Policy experts have, again and again, pointed to the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles as a key player in the city’s chronic homelessness. Los Angeles simply doesn’t have enough development, and skyrocketing demands for housing have led to excessive costs of renting or owning homes. As previously reported in the Daily Trojan supplement Wednesday, the ZIP code 90007 which surrounds USC, was the second-most expensive ZIP code for rentals in the entire county. By establishing a homeless shelter, USC would be providing much-needed relief for the thousands of Los Angeles homeless people who find themselves in circumstances in which living is simply impossible. 

Instead of giving the homeless needed support, the University’s actions are contributing to part of the problem. Construction has increased property values, displacing local residents and contributing to rising rents. And for all the rhetoric that the University uses in support of its local community, so many of its actions indicate to community members that they are unwelcome. For one, the gates that surround the University Park Campus are not just ugly urban design — they are exclusionary to our community members. They are a visual symbol that, when 9 p.m. comes around, the University doesn’t want those from the community around. 

It’s time for the University to turn this image around, and prove to the community — including the homeless — that it is also part of our Trojan Family. 

USC wouldn’t be the first top university to establish its own homeless shelter. Called the Y2Y Harvard Square, Harvard University’s student-run homeless shelter offers advocacy, outreach and other service programs to the local homeless population. During the winter months, it serves men and women in the local Cambridge community. If the University supported it financially, a similar operation in South Central Los Angeles could have considerable impact on the local community. 

With a nearly $5 billion endowment and in its role as a premiere research university, USC has unmatched economic and social resources, some of which it owes to the surrounding community. It should use this opportunity to redefine what it means to be a socially responsible institution. 

(Lily Vaughan is a USC freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs on Fridays. This piece is was first posted by the Spring 2016 Editorial Board of the Daily Trojan.)   Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Fix the City Takes LA to Court Over K-Town Catalina Tower … Planned for 27 Stories in a 3-5 Story Neighborhood

“A POSTER CHILD FOR WHAT’S WRONG”--Fix the City, a nonprofit advocacy organization, has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court challenging the Mayor’s and City Council’s approval of the controversial 27-story 269-unit luxury apartments known as Catalina Tower in Koreatown. (See graphic above.) 

The suit names Michael Hakim/Colony Holdings as Real Parties in Interest. 

This project is the poster child for what is wrong with the planning approval process in Los Angeles. The Mayor and City Council actually approved a project that their own City Planning Commissioner called a “tumor.” 

That’s because the 27 story project was approved in a neighborhood that has predominantly two to five story buildings. 

In the name of the need for increased density, neighborhoods are being destroyed in violation of the law. The City’s traffic is already unbearable. Its first-responders are asked to do more with less - with response times suffering as a result. Residents are asked to go to extreme measures to conserve water while the Council and Mayor approve huge projects that will consume tens of millions of gallons of water. (This one consumes 29 million gallons per year). 

Mayor Garcetti claimed in his State of the City Address that “we’ve transformed City Hall from a place of closed doors and backroom deals, to one of openness and accountability.” 

The Catalina project is the poster child not only for bad planning and violation of city laws but also for mysterious backroom deals. Nothing has changed in City Hall. 

The lawsuit alleges that: (1) the General Plan Amendment was not legally initiated by the City; (2) the project was dead-on-arrival because the developer never appealed the CPC rejection; (3) it challenges the failure of the city to require an Environmental Impact Report for this massive project, and (4) it asks that the City comply with its General Plan Fire/Emergency Section – Mitigation Measures mandate to “require that [the] type, amount, and location of development be correlated with the provision of adequate supporting infrastructure and services.” 

Adding more density to a city already collapsing under its own deteriorating infrastructure is as wise as trying to put out a fire with gasoline. It is time for city leaders to remember that they not only have to obey the law, they have an obligation to protect and respect those of us who already live here. As Koreatown goes, so goes every neighborhood. 

(Laura Lake is a board member at Fix the City.) Graphic credit: KCRW radio.

-cw

Another LA/American Icon Bites the Dust:  Playboy Magazine

EXCLUSIVE TO CITYWATCH--Condemned by some as pornography and lauded by others as the empowering of women, Playboy was the quintessential men's magazine. It was the first to combine intelligence and wit with pictures of pretty girls … and Wow … what a combination.  (Photo above: Playboy new and old. Marilyn Monroe was first Playboy cover.) 

Hugh Hefner created a formula to allow us “Boomer Men” (and several generations beyond) to hold our heads high while appreciating female beauty and, at the same time, providing a platform for social discourse. Yes, Playboy was fantasy to the endmost degree, but it was also a force for social and political change. 

From hard hitting contemporary interviews to political and social satire, Playboy consistently supported civil rights and personal freedom. Its editorial page pulled no punches. 

It also supported the arts showcasing writers and artists from many different and diverse disciplines such as Photography, Painting, Drawing, Music, Dance, and Theatre, to name a few. 

And there were articles about sports and liqueur, and fashion, and social graces in the mix. 

Of course, Sex was the driving force that allowed Playboy its platform. It catered to young adult male fantasies while at the same time infusing Hefner's own social values. And yes, much of it was sophomoric and silly, but that does not demean the real and positive things Hugh Hefner was doing … like shining light on injustice and supporting civil rights … like promoting freedom of speech and fighting censorship … and always supporting women's causes … something playboy's critics never acknowledge. 

"What am I talking about?" I hear you cry. "Like Hefner, Playboy is still alive".  Alas, I beg to differ.  The magazine is alive in name only. 

Just recently I received an offer I couldn't refuse. A Playboy subscription at a ridiculously low price. They were practically giving the magazine away. As a previous subscriber to the magazine (albeit not for many years), I accepted the offer and received my first issue this month. I was expecting a nostalgic stroll down memory lane, but was appalled to discover an homogenized magazine that had little resemblance to the Playboy of old. To their credit, they did have an interview and a few articles … and there was a pretty girl on the cover, but that is all that remains of the iconic magazine. 

If Hugh Hefner was dead, I would say he was rolling over in his grave, but he is alive and I suspect has nothing to do with the magazine … his name positioned as Editor in Chief not withstanding. 

Disclaimer: 

I don't know if Hugh is actively involved with Playboy or not. And, of course, my critique of Playboy Magazine is only my opinion. 

In conclusion: 

I raise my glass to Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Magazine of Old… and say Thank You.  Thank you for my first glimpse at the beauty that is woman.  Thank you for the many cartoons and jokes that made me laugh.  Thank you for the many articles that informed me and made me think.   Thank you for the stories that entertained me.   Thank you for always holding up sex as a positive force in the human experience.  And thank you for always supporting women's rights. 

To Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine of old; Farewell and I salute you!!

 

(Charles Tarlow is a CityWatch contributor and lives in Los Angeles.)

-cw

When You’re Trying to Get from Here to There in LA, Color Matters … Let Me Explain

TRANSIT TALK-Change the Purple Line before it’s too late. Metro is proceeding with the construction of this subway extension. From the Metro website, “From the current terminus at Wilshire/Western, the Purple Line Extension will extend westward for about nine miles with seven new stations. It will provide a high-capacity, high-speed, dependable alternative for those traveling to and from LA’s “second downtown,” including destinations such as Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood.”  

This is all wrong. I do not mean the route of the subway, or the station locations, I refer to the color of the line. It is all wrong. Why? It shares tracks, stations and maps with the Red Line. These two colors are too similar in the color wheel. This leads to confusion for riders.  

It is the same for Blue and Expo Lines which share lines, and both have shades of blue. For Expo it’s an Aqua color. 

While similar colors may work from a design standpoint, and look attractive on maps in a designer’s and Metro offices, for the rider in a train station or on the train this color scheme is a disaster. 

Differentiating between two very similar colors is difficult in dimly lit places, such as the 7th Street Metro Station, terminus for the Blue and Expo Lines and in some subway stations.  

There are also problems of how well the colors print, and how badly the colors wear over time.  With colors fading over time into similarities of each other, red and purple look the same, as do blue and aqua.  

There are those who have difficulties with colors. A rider standing in a busy Metro station trying to read a Metro map where two separate lines have very similar colors is difficult enough in the best of days, but for those with color identification problems, or any vision problems, in dimly lit stations, they are faced with unnecessary obstacles. 

Quick and easy identification of a light rail of subway is critical to the rider, particularly if the rider is new to the system. The sole mission of Metro is not to only build rail transit. Another critical mission, and indeed responsibility of Metro, is to take into consideration the complete riding experience, from those exploring Metro transit for the first time, to seasoned riders. 

Metro and its designers have been using a black background for the rail line maps. In Metro stations this creates a visual black hole with two dots of similar color barely poking out from the blackness and the visual competition in the stations. It is worse when these posters are in shaded areas. This does not quickly communicate to riders which rail line is which color. 

This is no small problem. Two rail lines of similar colors leads to rider frustration, anxiety, especially for transit riders, including this transit rider, and it does lead to riders to taking the wrong train, which this transit rider has done. 

I have done this with the Red and Purple Lines. I’ve spoken with riders on the Expo Line who took the Blue Line because they couldn’t separate blue from aqua.  

Once on the wrong train, the rider, once they come to the conclusion they are on the wrong train, then needs to exit at the next station and then wait for the next train traveling in the opposite direction to get back to the station which will get them onto the correct train. This is a colossal waste of time, and does much to discourage more people from riding Metro trains in the future. 

I have a suggestion to stop the Purple Line coloring of the subway. Don’t use purple. True, the color has already been designated by Metro for this extension of the subway, but it is better to change it now before the line is built. This cannot be too difficult for Metro which in the course of a few years changed its name from RTD to MTA to Metro. Those changes must have cost a nice sum in printing costs, and other changes throughout the organization. 

Give the color purple to the Crenshaw Line where no color has yet been designated. The Purple Line in the Leimert Park/Crenshaw Black American centers would not be lost in name association to the movie of the same name.  

Take the aqua color and give that to the wrongly colored Purple Line. Then, for the Expo Line, go back to the original color proposed by for City Councilman Bernard Parks: rose. Rose is a lovely color. 

With these changes the subway would have two distinct colors: red and aqua, and the Blue Line and Expo light rail lines would have two distinct colors: blue and rose.  

These changes will go a long way to easing the frustration and anxiety of riding transit in Los Angeles. Another way to look at is that this is good for the rider. Doesn’t Metro want that?

 

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

-cw

 

‘Seeing’ My Brother on the Venice Boardwalk

HOMELESSNESS: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE--I lost my brother Steve last week. He died of cardiac arrest at 63. Steve was the black sheep of our family of six children. He did not go to college and struggled to make a living building decks and remodeling bathrooms and kitchens. If my parents had not let him live in a converted garage behind their house in Santa Monica, he would very likely have ended up like many of the folks we see living on the street in Venice – and he certainly would have died much sooner than he did. 

From an early age Steve abused drugs, alcohol and food. Although he was from a family of walkers and runners, exercise was not in Steve’s vocabulary. Alcohol and food exacerbated his late on-set diabetes, required three-times-a-week dialysis for the last 11 years and led to the loss of his eyesight in his early fifties. 

He had been living in an assisted living facility in Culver City when he paused to sit down in the lobby, passed out and never woke up. 

His life was not without laughter, love, pleasure or accomplishment, though these were rarer after the dialysis started and his sight was gone. 

For many years I have looked at the homeless population in Venice as though I was looking at countless Steves struggling with substance abuse, limited skills, and self-defeating behaviors. The human tendency to get stuck, to become habituated, both to addiction and to a status quo, is the dominant thread I saw in Steve and also in those living on the Boardwalk and Third Street and behind Ralphs. 

To those who question my sympathy for the homeless, this column is an acknowledgement that my experience with Steve hardened me. Living close to an addict for most of my life made me acutely aware of how easily our “help” is counter-productive and simply enables self-defeating behavior to continue. It also made me see how obstinate a human being can be in pursuing their own destruction. My parents’ enabling of Steve kept him from the street but also kept him from successfully confronting his addictions and a fuller life. A stint in AA was promising but did not last. We all stood by, feeling helpless as he descended into renal failure, blindness and loss of mobility. 

For me, the corollaries abound in Venice. Public feeding programs at Venice churches and along the Boardwalk invite more homeless here while offering just enough to keep them ensconced on the street. Handing out blankets only makes the campers a little warmer while still living in a dangerous, exposed setting. Providing showers, toilets and a place to use a computer without engagement with a case worker and a path to a bed encourages the camping to continue. Allowing tons of personal possessions to take over portions of Venice Beach and local sidewalks assures the campers stay nearby. Mandating a right to live on a sidewalk further habituates the homeless to being homeless while creating noxious conditions for nearby residents (just as Steve became more obnoxious to those around him as his disease progressed.) 

The decades-long failure of Los Angeles City and County to devote the funds, services and housing to the un-housed population compounded the nightmare exponentially. Now, Councilman Bonin has presented his plan to help all those who have not been as fortunate as my brother to have a roof over their head. As with the City’s overall plan, it is a grand vision – but also without much funding. Mike’s leftist tradition shines through on each page; he proposes initiatives that salve the liberal conscience but that in some instances will not solve the problems we face. 

With two fundamental facts staring Mike in the face, he blinked and defaulted to ideology. The first fact is that if City authorities make it easier and easier to live on the street it will be much harder to get people off the street. Mike exaggerates what the courts have ruled and opposes enforcement options that are still legal, such as returning to enforcement of the City’s “no lying, sitting, sleeping” on a sidewalk ordinance. The second fact is that the longer people are on the street the more habituated they become to it. As the City Council removes almost all vagrancy laws little leverage remains to nudge people into case management, rehab programs, shelters or shared housing. Despite all the lofty goals, the lack of funding and of enforcement in Mike’s plan will condemn most of the more than 1,000 souls now on Venice streets to remaining there. 

The most poorly thought out proposal is to turn the Westminster Senior Center into a storage facility for homeless possessions. This location has previously been used as a campground by transients and some of them have relentlessly preyed upon the nearby residents. The LAPD has only in the last year kept the park relatively clear and addressed the crime in the area. Drawing transients to this site on a daily basis will certainly result in renewed camping around the center and in nearby alleys and more opportunistic crime directed at the residents. 

It makes far more sense to rent warehouse/office space in the industrial strip along Del Rey Avenue between Washington Boulevard and Maxella for use as an intake center for the County’s Coordinated Entry System (CES), with storage – both voluntary and involuntary – as an ancillary element. This location is removed from residences, would draw transients away from the impacted areas on Venice Beach, and offers a site for case workers to enroll homeless into the CES, which tracks and coordinates all governmental contacts with homeless individuals. It also allows social workers to develop and carry-out tailored placements into services, secure benefits and housing. Storage without engagement just leaves folks on the street. 

Similarly, Mike’s proposal to re-purpose the Venice median parking lot between Pacific and Dell as subsidized housing for the homeless misses the stated target in several ways. 

While Venice is indeed losing affordable housing due to rising rents, the proposed subsidized housing on the median lot will be for those at the very bottom of the economic ladder, not the college students, cashiers, teachers, nurses, security guards, artists, etc., who cannot afford an apartment in Venice. Adding more subsidized housing for the homeless will not address the loss of this type of work force housing in the least. 

When asked if Mike had identified any other city parking lots or land in CD 11 for similar homeless housing, Mike’s chief deputy Chad Molnar said Mike “started in Venice because the homeless population is greatest there and (Venice) is losing more affordable housing at a faster clip there.” But Venice already has twice as much subsidized housing per capita as any other community in Council District 11.* It is long overdue for other communities in CD 11 to step up and offer their parking lots for homeless housing to match Venice’s track record. 

Venice has a large transient population not because of higher rents in recent years; I bet Bonin’s staff could not find more than ten people living on Venice Beach who were forced out of apartments in Venice by rent increases, which are limited by rent control to three percent per year. Venice has this large population due to the beach, sun, drugs, fast food outlets, and most importantly, lack of enforcement and failure to stop the storage of tons of personal possessions along the Boardwalk, which is not allowed, for example, in the park next to City Hall. 

The amount of housing required to house Los Angeles’ homeless population is staggering to contemplate and even more bewildering when one considers the time it will take to fund, design, acquire sites and construct it. Whatever units could be built on the Venice median site would be a drop in the bucket compared to the vast number of units that are required. They also would not be available for many years, while the encampments in Venice fester and continue to ruin the quality of life of nearby residents and business owners. 

It makes far more sense to take the funds available for that project and master rent apartment buildings in less expensive areas of LA County (as OPCC in Santa Monica does) and operate them as shared housing with four beds in each two bedroom apartment and a case worker on site. This would truly implement the “Housing First” concept and allow the social service agencies in Venice to quickly move some of our campers into housing. 

The other nonsensical aspect of using the median site for subsidized housing is that it runs counter to Venice’s need for parking. The one message I heard continuously from the Coastal Commission in our years-long battle to garner overnight restricted parking was that Venice desperately needs an over-arching plan to develop far more visitor serving parking spaces. An automated parking structure on that median lot, with one subterranean floor and two above ground would start to address the Commission’s concern. 

Finally, as I pointed out in an earlier column, affordable housing, even for those initially homeless, cannot be built without its own dedicated parking without inevitably robbing parking from Venice residents who now use it. As former homeless tenants improve their lives they acquire jobs, mates, occasionally children and cars. So, on this site, a significant amount of tenant parking will be required, which will cut into either the number of units that can be built or the number of parking spaces left for visitors and current residents. The City can finance far more units on less expensive land inland. 

Mike, may I suggest that you give up both the storage use on the Westminster site and the homeless housing project on the Venice median site.  Instead, focus all your attention on enrolling our street campers in the Coordinated Entry System, get case workers working on each and every case every day, fund the agencies that have a track record of master leasing inexpensive apartment buildings wherever they find them, and get on with helping people get off the Boardwalk, Third Street and from behind Ralphs now. 

*This information was provided by the City Housing Department to the VNC Ad-Hoc Committee on Homelessness several years ago.

 

(Mark Ryavec is president of the Venice Stakeholders Association. This first appeared on Yo!Venice.com.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Obfuscation Leadership … Translation: What Recovery

POLITICS--It's amazing how cute the headlines can be, both in how they're being written and presented, and in how we're supposed to read and take them at face value.  Ever get the idea that we're all being tooled?  No worries...you're not alone...and I am happy to help with translating the double-speak for you. 

1) From the Public Policy Institute of California:

The California Economy: Underemployed and Discouraged Workers  

Translation--With all due respect to the Millennials, who've never known a robust economy, and who don't realize how life is so wonderful with a full-time job and benefits, and who've never known anything but part-time jobs, most of us are underemployed.   

Those of us older folks who remember the Reagan and Clinton eras, back when both conservatives and liberals alike showed much more kindness and respect towards their fellow Americans, and when bipartisanship was a reality and not just a buzzword, respect the need for an adult and his/her family to have a respectable, affordable lifestyle based on pay, benefits and retirement. 

California's rich and powerful elites are doing fine, so why aren't you.  You've got part-time work, you're out of the unemployment figures, so rather than work like hell for an economy with "real" jobs, just lower the bar and tell everyone you're fine...and diminish those declaring we've got a service economy from hades to be haters, bigots, and whiners. 

2) From Fortune Magazine:

UnitedHealth Hasn't Given Up on Obamacare Altogether 

Translation--All the King's Horses, and All the King's Men, won't stop Obamacare from being financially sustainable unless we're all willing to pay 2-3 times more for our health care while getting 2-3 times less. 

But hey, why try to fix the problem, and replace a financial whirlpool into chaos, when it's easier to just demean and defame those who are simply pointing out the Emperor Has No Clothes.   

United and all the other creepy, self-serving health plans who (in large part) got us into this mess, and who wrote this politically-and-not-economically driven "Affordable Care Act" are now bailing out because (gasp!) they're losing money no matter how much more we're all being asked to pay into the system, and because (gasp!) the competitive/capitalist approach to health plans fighting to reduce costs and improve care isn't part of the ACA. 

And the plans that United will stay with?  Those similar to the ones that those who have health care through their employer now have.  But improve FULL-TIME employment with benefits to really fix the problem?   

Well...did you read the first translation above about underemployment?  Easier just to blame the evil conservatives and Republicans instead of focusing on reality, right? 

3) From The Sacramento Bee:

Medi-Cal set to expand coverage to undocumented children

Translation—No ... our taxpayer dollars would, never, never, NEVER pay for those not here illegally!  No, those who employ workers illegally, or the legal residents/relatives paying for and sponsoring their families, couldn't possibly be asked to clean up their mess. 

After all, we were promised by our government leaders this would neeeeeeeeeeever happen, right? 

How much nicer to have the rest of us pay for their mess, and decry those who want more Medi-Cal funds to go to cancer and autoimmune disease and disabled native-born and legal immigrants as bigots, monsters, and Nazis.  After all, why should an African-American child born in South LA have a higher priority for our tax dollars than an "undocumented" child whose parents and parents' employers knowing broke the law? 

4) From NBC News Online:

Most Americans Live in Areas With Unhealthy Levels of Air Pollution, Study Finds 

Translation--The LA/Long Beach area tops the list of unhealthy regions in our nation, which means that those who have been encouraging waves and waves of development and population influx, without ignoring the science of having too many people in too small a condensed region, are anything but environmentally smart or even friendly. 

But isn't it so much easier to blame those asking how we can allow so much population influx and development without enough water and space?  After all, asking to have enough infrastructure to sustainably accommodate hordes of new residents is the same as opposing affordable housing and racial justice, right? 

Because there's nothing so politically successful when trying to ram a bag of flaming razor-blades down the throats of those playing by the rules, and demanding we all play by the rules, than to demean and defame those trying to point out the obvious. 

Final Translation: Yes, we're being led by liars and cheaters and scoundrels. 

But if you don't like it, then leave.  After all, look what a great job we did in kicking out the generations who built this state to what it is now.  Yes, their money and resources and jobs are in Texas and all sorts of other states, but at least we don't have to hear them all complain anymore, so the problems they decried aren't really true, after all. 

And if you try to take action to fix the lawbreaking, science-defying, truth-smashing efforts we're shoving down your throats?  Well, look out...because next we're coming for YOU.

 

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

-cw

My Solution for LAUSD’s Failed Public Education Model: Bring Back Vocational Training!

EDUCATION POLITICS-Whether it's Donald Trump or those misguided souls continuing to set the course for public education "reform" at places like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), what they have in common is the complete inability to deal with objective, quantifiable reality in explaining how they intend to achieve their goals -- or whether these should be their goals in the first place. 

My favorite unchallenged feel good lie about public education -- with literally no basis in fact although it remains an unattainable goal at LAUSD and elsewhere -- is that, "All students will be going to college." This flies in the face of reality: the total capacity of all U.S. colleges and universities amounts to only 30% of all high school graduates. College and universities could not accommodate LAUSD's specious goal, even if its graduating students had a mastery of all K-12 prior grade level standards -- which they do not. 

The fact that 75% of those arriving at junior colleges in California cannot even pass the prerequisite junior college entrance exam -- and are therefore forced into taking remedial rather than college level courses -- somehow fails to prompt anyone to question how they “got” these passing grades in high school, how they passed the high school exit exam, and how they received a diploma attesting to supposed K-12 mastery. 

We have arrived at a point of political correctness in which even a mention of easily quantifiable Latino and African American (premeditated) underachievement can get you labeled a racist. We are supposed to go along with the delusional belief that what remains an over 90% de facto segregated public education system (sixty-two years after Brown vs. Board of Education ruled that such a system is inherently unequal) can somehow change at LAUSD. The only thing that’s been unequivocally and predictably achieved is learned underachievement and inferiority among Latino and African American students. 

There's a saying that people who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. There was a time, starting at the end of the 19th century and going up through the 1960s, when public education was seen as the great social equalizer against inequality and poverty. A big part of public education’s achievement was the enforcing of academic excellence. This was done without today's completely self-delusional social promotion that destroys academic excellence. Our current policy has led to the failure of public education. And without white participation in the system, there seems to be no accountability. 

A big part of the once well-rounded public education system was a vibrant industrial arts and vocational program that provided professional training for the 70% of students who were not going to college or for those who had no way to support secondary education without a skilled profession that enabled them to pay for it. 

Automotive, wood, metal, electrical, print, and many other types of “shop” fulfilled this function. These courses created a real life context in which some students who might be struggling with English or math comprehension in a traditional classroom could find out just how smart they really were when they could master skills in shop and other vocational classes that offered practical application. 

But the magnificent potential of shop classes that taught valuable trades and skills was sabotaged in the 1970s and beyond. These industrial arts classes became an over-enrolled dumping ground for predominantly minority students who were disrupting other classes, stopping other students from learning. Rather than see that there was an understandable racial imbalance in these classes, the simplistic LAUSD administration choose to close all the shop classes, pushing the lie that all students were “going to college.” 

What these administrators understood – similar to the manner used by Donald Trump to sell his vacuous program -- is that human nature is such that Johnny's minority parents would rather be told that 9th-grade Johnny is going to be a doctor or a lawyer -- even if he doesn’t know his times tables -- than to be told the uncomfortable truth. 

So now we are faced with a reality where 60% of the mostly uneducated 2.4 million people behind bars in this country are African American or Latino, which, unless you are a racist, can only be attributed to a complete and utter failure to provide them with the educational skills needed to be gainfully and legally employed contributors to our society. 

At a cost of $78,000 a year to deal with school dropouts in the juvenile justice system and then comparable costs once they graduate into our now privatized for-profit prison system, shouldn’t we try to bring back what once was a vibrant industrial arts and vocational education program in our middle and high schools? 

When the Bernie Sanders campaign talks about a new ‘New Deal’ to rebuild America's infrastructure, does it occur to anyone that the welding, electrical, plumbing, woodworking, masonry, and other trades no longer have the skilled workforce that will be needed? To become a state certified welder -- a profession in which there is a critical shortage -- it takes about six months of training to be able to pass the state exam and begin work at a $40,000 a year trade. 

All around Los Angeles there are richly constructed buildings and monuments to our heritage that are now in advanced decay. How is it that older countries like France have learned to maintain their heritage, realizing that doing so is fundamental to their society's continued advancement and well-being. 

Something as mundane as LADWP’s $1000 subsidy for more efficient pool motor replacement program or a serious conversion to residential solar panels that would supply most of our carbon-free electrical needs, would go a long way toward finding gainful employment for young people who are unnecessarily swept up in the criminal injustice system. 

What stands in the way of this no-brainer winning program that could help develop the skilled workforce we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure are vested corporate interests and the school administrators they hand pick to maintain a failing system of public education. At the base of such a system that is built on corporate greed is the truly racist not-so-secret belief that Latino and African American students can't learn. It's a simple choice: people or profits.

 

(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]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Legalizing Prostitution: A New Election Issue?

MY TURN-If you are bored to tears with the political candidates platforms of "breaking up the banks, building a wall, following the constitution as it was written, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants" and so on, I have a brand new topic for the next Presidential debate. It’s a subject that none of them have discussed … and it’s as old as civilization itself: legalizing prostitution. 

I’m sure that none of you were expecting that to be a political issue, yet California State Attorney General and Senator wannabe Kamala Harris received a gift from State Judge Jeffrey White who ruled against a suit brought by a San Francisco-based advocacy group, Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project, against Attorney General Harris and the district attorneys of four counties in March 2015. 

According to a post in CalWatchdog.com, the suit claimed that prosecuting sex that is “part of a voluntary commercial exchange between adults” violates the state and U.S. Constitutions. 

Harris must have breathed a sigh of relief since her argument was almost the same as the Judge’s. 

"There is no fundamental right to engage in prostitution or to solicit prostitution,” wrote Harris in her motion to dismiss the case. “Neither is prostitution or solicitation expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.” But shortly after Harris filed, the Supreme Court ruled, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that same-sex marriages were constitutionally protected — a decision that plaintiffs sought to use to their advantage against Harris. 

I found one interesting part in the Plaintiff's submission: Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit to challenge California’s intrusion upon their fundamental liberty interest in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex. The Supreme Court’s jurisprudential theme of shielding private, sexual relationships from governmental oversight,” they wrote, claiming that the ruling’s treatment of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, allows individuals to engage in intimate conduct without unwarranted governmental intrusion.” 

According to the Associated Press, prostitution has been illegal in California since 1872, with a 1961 update increasing the state’s $500 fine to $1,000 — while leaving in place the original punishment of six month’s time in jail. Rounding out his decision, White also rejected plaintiffs’ claims that their rights to free expression and to earning a living did not extend to using illegal activity to do so. 

So here it is... the great moral dilemma. One of our political parties advocates keeping the government out of the Doctor /Patient relationship (unless it comes to women’s health) but they have this obsessive interest in our sex lives. 

I would pay to watch a debate with the five Presidential candidates discussing the pros and cons of legalizing prostitution in the U.S. 

Taking a much needed break from the Neighborhood Council election morass and the National Election Circus, I decided to see what countries have legalized prostitution. At the same time I wanted to see if the sky has fallen; if the population has turned into pillars of salt; if AIDS fatalities have risen; and what other mayhem might have occurred. 

Here is what I found: 109 countries have deemed it illegal. Along with the United States, (with the exception of Nevada (where it is legal but restricted) and Rhode Island (that passed a law in 2009 making it a crime,) such “progressive societies” as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Russia, China, Viet Nam and Saudi Arabia are all examples of countries that have declared prostitution illegal. 

The seventy-seven countries practicing such debauchery include: Canada, Cuba, European Union, Israel and Switzerland. Five countries have no laws for or against it; and eleven countries have restricted laws that include regulating locations imposing strict health requirements, minimum ages, the prohibition of brothels, and outlawing sex slavery and "pimping." 

If we look at it from an economic point of view, according to the book, “Prostitution: Prices and Statistics of the Global Sex Trade” (available from Amazon for $2.99,) it is estimated that prostitution's annual revenue is $168 billion. 

Annual dollar sales in the world’s top ten prostitution markets are: 

China: $73 billion

Spain: $26.5 billion

Japan: $24 billion

Germany: $18 Billion (Legal Industry)

United States: $14.6 billion

South Korea: $12 billion

India: $8.4 billion

Thailand: $6.4 billion

Philippines: $6 billion

Turkey: $4 billion 

In many countries where it is legal, taxes are paid for "services rendered." The website ProCon.org presents both sides of different issues using experts in the various fields. In the case of prostitution, both sides make strong arguments.     

Looking at “moral dilemmas,” we know that moral standards in American society have changed over the past twenty years. Whereas racial inter-marriage was once illegal, it is now an accepted and common sight. Legalizing Marijuana will probably appear on the November ballot. Marriage to members of the same sex is the law of the land. Who knows what other moral issues will disappear? 

Personally speaking, we have such important challenges that need to be met...locally, nationally and internationally. I would think government intervention into our sex lives should be way down on the list of priorities. And it would not be a reason to either vote for or against Kamala Harris in the Senate race. 

As always....comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA’s Mayor and The ‘Dishonest’ Mistake

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-We all mistakes, mostly honest ones, because we are in a hurry, lack information or just figure out problems poorly. But prominent public officials cannot be let off the hook so easily. After all, they have their immediate staff available to investigate a full range of public policy questions, as well as the backup to fact-check claims and investigate all alternatives. Furthermore, in addition to resources down the hall, they have access to experts in the departments and agencies that report to them, as well even more experts in academic institutions and think tanks who are only a phone call or an email away. 

Thus, when public officials make mistakes, in this case Mayor Eric Garcetti with his repeated claims about LA's housing crisis, I can only conclude that it is a "dishonest" mistake. Through press releases, statements, and his recent State of the City address, Hizzonor has remarked again and again that by gradually updating Los Angeles' community plans, he can solve LA's housing crisis that includes sky-rocketing rents, a growing lack of affordable housing and an increasing homeless population. His prescription, as follows, is straight forward enough, even if most of it is not spelled out in detail: 

  1. Despite the Hollywood Plan’s demise in Superior Court due to its inflated population forecasts, subsequent updated community plans will be used to massively up-zone large swaths of each community plan. 
  1. Real estate investors will then charge in and build large amounts of housing in each newly deregulated neighborhood. 
  1. Some of this new housing will be affordable. 
  1. Most of the new housing will be high end, but this over-supply will suppress housing costs for all other types housing. 
  1. The new luxury housing will eventually deteriorate and also become affordable housing. 

Why do I call these frequently made claims “dishonest mistakes?” 

First, the City of Los Angeles does not have current and accurate information about its own population. There are no realistic population forecasts, especially for local neighborhoods. It relies on data from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), and these data are incredibly inaccurate. 

For example, in 1996 and again in 2001, based on SCAG data, the General Plan Framework predicted that the 2010 population of LA would be 4.3 million. In fact, the population was about 3.8 million, or 500,000 people fewer. When similar inflated numbers were misused to turn the update of the Hollywood Community Plan into a tool to up-zone and up-plan much of Hollywood, the Superior Court threw the proposed plans and zoning ordinances out on their ears. 

Second, the City of LA does not have current and accurate information about the housing potential of existing zoning. Earlier assessments indicate that current zoning could support a population of between five and eight million people. Without this information, as well as population forecasts, there is no way to determine if any particular neighborhood needs its local real estate up-zoned to meet future population growth. 

Third, the City of LA does not have current and accurate information about the capacity of local public services and infrastructure to meet the needs of existing residents, much less greater numbers of future residents in a particular neighborhood. Nevertheless, the General Plan Framework is crystal clear that up-zoning and up-planning can only proceed where there are sufficient public services and infrastructure. 

Fourth, the Mayor's approach to housing that advocates demolishing what exists and replacing it with new market housing will wipe out far more affordable housing than it will construct. In fact, this is already happening, with about one unit of new affordable housing replacing four demolished older units. In other cases, such as single-family homes, McMansions cost about three times the price of the less expensive homes they demolish to create a building site. 

Fifth, there are no data supporting the Mayor's claim that an unregulated housing market will produce affordable housing. Investors target the most lucrative housing alternatives available, which is luxury housing. Investors will not plunk down money for housing projects that are either money losers or just scraping by. 

Sixth, there are also no data supporting the claim that in Los Angeles, over time, pricey housing declines in price and becomes affordable -- what the Mayor's courtiers call “filtering.” On the ground, the opposite is the case, with all types of residential real estate increasing in price over time, even when controlled for inflation. 

Seventh, the Mayor's approach ignores the real causes of LA's housing crisis, which is just a local expression of a national trend, and in some cases, an international trend. These causes include the elimination of government programs to fund, and in some cases, to build and operate public housing.

In addition, increasing levels of wealth and income inequality leave most of the US population with less purchasing power in constant dollars to spend on housing. 

Finally, this trend also includes large amounts of foreign investment in US real estate, especially residential projects in large US cities like Los Angeles. When Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Saudi oligarchs and princes park their money in the US, it goes into luxury projects, not into affordable housing. This investment not only reduces the amount of affordable housing, but tends to pull up the price of all levels of housing. 

With such compelling information readily available, why then do Mayor Garcetti and his kindred spirits make so many dishonest mistakes when it comes to planning reforms, zoning, and housing issues in Los Angeles -- even when these ideas have been rejected by judges in successful law suits against the City? 

While only the fly on the wall knows for sure, my guess is that the Mayor and his circle of contributors, advisors, lobbyists, publicists, and on-call experts are so linked to private real estate investors, that they will not let facts, experiences, or contrary viewpoints cloud their vision of a Los Angeles where real estate speculators have free rein.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City planner who reports on local planning issues for CityWatch. He welcomes comments and corrections at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

LA Politics: Like that Old Saying ‘Talk is Cheap’

JUST THE FACTS-Those who say they support the men and women of the LAPD really don’t show it in their actions, deeds or public comments. Recently I attended the “Twice a Citizen” dinner celebration for our Los Angeles Police Department Reserve Officers. Hundreds of LAPD Reserve officers and guests attended this annual banquet in Hollywood. Reserve officers included doctors, airline pilots, attorneys, actors and many from other professions. 

Chief Charlie Beck attended the dinner, along with a number of Assistant Chiefs, Commanders, Captains and other members of the Department. What was notably missing were all the members of the Police Commission as well as elected officials. It seems that not one elected official in the City of LA could find the time to show support for our LAPD Reserve officers. Their vocal “support” of the dedicated men and women of the LAPD Reserve Corps end up being truly empty words. 

Police Commission President Matt Johnson and his fellow commissioners are the appointed heads of the LAPD. They review Department policies and practices; and they carry out a variety of other responsibilities that impact the men and women of the LAPD. In addition, they dictate policy directions to Chief Beck -- directions that become orders and modifications affecting the way the LAPD delivers service to the people of Los Angeles. It’s interesting to read stories that detail the following recent crimes and then wonder why the Police Commission, particularly Mr. Johnson, seems totally out of touch with illegal activities taking place throughout the City: 

*Women found stabbed to death in South Los Angeles apartment. 

*Beloved worker found bound and fatally shot inside Laundromat in South Los Angeles. 

*LAPD and Sheriff’s Department Command Staff criticized for handling of wild LA police pursuit. 

*4 shot in South L.A. while setting up for BBQ. 

*Man with gunshot wounds dies in liquor store. 

*Family ID’s body of woman found off freeway. 

*Police seek clues after driver shot in Van Nuys. 

*Horse beaten and shot to death and left on Sylmar street. 

*2 women sentenced in shooting death of young father outside church. 

*Man found shot to death inside alley in South LA. 

*Man shot, wounded during carjacking in South LA. 

*3 wounded in Pacoima shooting. 

*Mayhem in East Hollywood as robbery suspects crash into 4 cars; 3 in custody. 

*20 year old beaten and stabbed to death near Sylmar High. 

*Three teen boys shot in Pico-Union area. 

*Three people shot, wounded in South LA. 

*Hunt for assailants who attacked four in separate South LA shootings. 

*Vigil held for Los Angeles murder victim as search for killer continues. 

As you can see, very serious crimes are happening throughout Los Angeles, committed by very violent people. One would think that Mr. Johnson and his fellow commissioners would be concerned about victims and their family members who’ve been impacted by the ever-increasing crime numbers. 

Operating with less than the budgeted 10,000 officers, the LAPD must police the sprawling City of Angels, a task made more frustrating when the Department sees that the Commission members and especially its president, Mr. Johnson, push forward their policy on officer-involved shootings. They seem more concerned with protecting criminals than our officers. 

Mr. Johnson and his anti-police attitude will only force members of the LAPD to think twice before engaging in a situation causing him or her to draw a weapon. It’s a sad state of affairs when those who are sworn to protect and serve are not adequately supported by those who set policy for them. As I have mentioned before, it may be time to arm yourself to protect yourself and your family.            

Perhaps someday we will have elected officials and police commissioners willing to let those who commit crimes know that it is wise to cooperate with the directions of the officers who are sworn to “Protect and Serve.”

             

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

LA Councilman Puts the Brakes on Runyon Canyon Basketball Court … as the Growing Pains Continue

DEEGAN ON LA-It suddenly looks like Runyon Canyon Park may be morphing from being a regional wilderness park hosting 300,000 dogs and 1.3 million people per year into what may become it’s opposite: an urban recreation and sports center, with amenities that include the installation of a professional-level basketball court, the existing hiking trails, and a feared-to-be modified dog park. 

It may also have a precedent-setting corporate sponsorship and branding agreement, that could be the first of many times the Department of Recreation and Parks, and their partner Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC), make cash deals for corporate naming rights in the park. Growing pains are already evident. 

The explosion of Runyon Canyon’s popularity is relatively new, according to regulars, and it is drawing attention from many constituencies -- including the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council and surrounding community, the private non-profit support group Friends of Runyon Canyon, the Rec and Parks special department handling corporate sponsorships in our parks, and beleaguered Councilmember David Ryu (CD4), who both inherited the current problem and then got whipsawed by a plan for a possible conversion of the hillside park from being a peaceful and sylvan retreat, away from the dense urban sprawl surrounding it, into what a forthcoming “Vision Plan” hopes to be able to create at the nature preserve.. 

A statement from Ryu’s office has just been released: 

Per my request, the Department of Recreation and Parks will halt construction of the proposed basketball court at Runyon Canyon Park. The department also agreed with my recommendation to have the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners reconsider its prior approval of this project.  

This project was initiated before I became the Councilmember of the Fourth District and it is clear that community concern regarding this project needs more robust consideration prior to any further action.  

The park has been open since 1984, although, “nobody used to care. But now with the celebrity thing, people want to have that rub off...it's got buzz as hip and cool, to be able to go home and say I saw a star at Runyon Canyon,” explains Daniel Overberger, an 11-year yoga teacher at Runyon Canyon. 

The proposed basketball court, a sponsored gift by a hip clothing company that wants to brandish its logo on the court, stating that its product line is “unique and ingenious…embodying exclusivity." It wants to reach who they believe are the hip consumers who use the park. 

According to the contractor’s documentation, it is called a “basketball facility” and includes a “regulation-sized tempered glass backboard - same exact piece of glass used all the way up to the NBA level.” The new court will “bring an authentic arena feel to the backyard.” 

So then how do you mix together dogs, hikers, yoga, and a basketball facility that mimics NBA standards and feels like an arena? This is giving people lots to talk about. The future of corporate commercialization of the park is uncertain, although that has been strongly denied by city officials. However, the City Council has not yet pre-empted the building of the court by offering a motion with an ordinance specifically forbidding commercialization and branding in city parks. 

The Canyon’s growing pains will take careful nurturing so that all its users will be assuaged and satisfied. Close-by neighbors as well as outside visitors, who according to FORC comprise eighty percent of the park’s users, should be able to benefit from this natural civic resource. 

David Ryu and his partners -- Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, Friends of Runyon Canyon Park, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and clothier Pink Dolphin -- have their work cut out for them, responding to feelings that range from anger and near-depression to exhilaration. 

Nobody has yet provided a big picture solution to the future sustainability of this 136-acre pristine wilderness park that includes 90 acres dedicated to off-leash dogs, smack in the middle of Hollywood. It’s in one of the most densely populated areas of our city, containing dozens of high density land use projects on the drawing boards. Unless the rhetoric cools down and collegiality heats up, arriving at a consensus about what the park should be is going to be tough. A homogenized view will be the only way all parties can emerge feeling whole. Give and take will be needed to reach a happy medium and move on. 

Leadership is required and the responsibility is David Ryu’s, the only elected official who is directly part of this controversy. He is the highest ranking public steward of Runyon Canyon Park. As one regular at the park said, "David Ryu can be the hero or the villain. If he does what the people want, he can be the hero of CD4. If he doesn't, his career is finished." 

Ryu can facilitate a conversation concerning the public and private partnership concept to help explain its needs and the benefits. He has had “town hall” meetings with the community about the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Park circulation plan to improve parking and utilize shuttles, and how Metro can manage traffic for the Miracle Mile as construction of the Purple Line Extension gets under way. 

To gain a stronger buy-in from community members, the public needs to understand how envisioned private-public partnerships can offer funding for improvements for city parks. Guidelines need to be set for what donors can expect, short of branding and commercialization. Underwriters should be philanthropists, not merchants. 

Ryu knows how to organize and lead community groups to reach consensus. Partnering with Recreation and Parks leaders, there should be an effort to provide education about the private-public partnership program. Creating what charities rely on as “best practices” could be very helpful. 

There are potentially millions of human visitors and dogs coming to Runyon Canyon in the next several years and the park and the community must be ready for them. As our city continues to densify, parks will grow increasingly important as a refuge from the urban confinement that surrounds most of us. 

To complicate things, a lawsuit has been filed by Citizens Preserving Runyon, against the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners; respondents were named as being Friends of Runyon Canyon (FORC) and contractor B&W Holdings, LLC, dba, Digital Interiors, the company awarded the job to construct the basketball court as well as other jobs. 

According documents filed with the Clerk of the Los Angeles Superior Court on April 18, the lawsuit asks: 

(1) That the Court issue a writ of mandamus directing the City and its departments, including Recreation and Parks, to set aside their approval of the Project and to require preparation of a legally adequate environmental review, as well as adequate notice and a hearing, before any re-approval of the Project; 

(2) For a temporary restraining order, and preliminary and permanent injunctions enjoining further construction and completion of the Project until this action can be decided on the merits; 

(3) For costs of suit and attorneys' fees according to law; 

(4) For such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and appropriate. 

Litigation is either settled or it drags on. If an EIR is ordered, the process could go on for many months. This will give plenty of time for considerations about “the deal” at the center of the controversy -- how it came about and what legitimacy it has in light of the public outcry against political leaders and park officials. The lawsuit alleges a failure by the City to give the public “due process” consideration – many saying that they did not want the basketball court but were not given a chance to weigh in. 

The donation of $260,000 by clothier Pink Dolphin includes $122,534 for repair of a retaining wall, according to MOU documents obtained from the City, showing the bid from contractor Digital Interiors. Unknown, but possibly discoverable in the lawsuit, is how many contractors actually bid for the job and where Digital Interiors’ bid fits into the range of bids received. The document shows that the contractor is contributing a drinking fountain, valued at $9,800 as a “discount” to the overall bill. 

Important to note is that there is that no free-and-clear cash benefit will accrue to the city from this donor transaction. The total amount of $260,000 is allocated to costs. Increasing the value of this or any gift might be a better philanthropic gesture, allowing the city to reinvest additional funds into other park needs. This could also help offset the perpetual benefit the donor gets from a permanent branding of the basketball court, displaying its corporate logo in the park. Despite the fact that their maintenance endowment will only run ten years, their logo will remain as a permanent commercial. 

An added benefit for the donor would be a larger tax-deduction for charitable giving. The value of what is being branded by a corporation -- a sports facility in a very popular city park -- may have been very seriously underestimated. 

Perhaps LA Recreation and Parks Department’s Partnership and Revenue Branch could use instance as a precedent in the future: paying costs and gaining a surplus for other park needs should be part of all sponsorship negotiations. 

How hard of a deal did the Rec and Parks department and FORC try to make behind closed doors, or did they settle for the first quarter-million dollars that walked in the door? It seems that, from reading the contractor’s documentation, the contractor may have said, “This is what it will cost you,” and the city said to the donor, “This is what we need to pay the contractor.” If so, that’s a “passing the tin cup” style of fundraising, just to get by, instead of setting a higher threshold and saying “we’re worth it.” 

A trained and experienced development officer from a major philanthropic institution (and our city is full of them) could lead the sponsorship negotiations for the city. Setting the bar higher is something to consider for either permanent staff or for consultants providing training on how to raise money for charities. It may be unfair to expect program managers and analysts in the city’s bureaucracy to understand the complications of successful fundraising. More growing pains. 

It should be a civic pleasure to support our great city. Feeling of a little bit of financial pain comes along with the benefit of a sponsor’s branding, promotion and tax write-off. Donors need to understand that they are playing in the Big Leagues in LA. We cannot be beggars. Ask the Mayor if the City is worth it. 

Some question FORC’s role as advocates for the park. “An advocacy organization that encourages heavy construction without an Environmental Impact Report is not fit to protect a Nature Area. An advocacy organization whose violations trigger costly lawsuits from aggrieved constituents has no mandate or moral authority to represent Runyon Canyon. FORC's persistent sneakiness, mendacity and arrogance have destroyed the public's trust,” offers Michael Konik, a 23-year resident of Vista Street and a longtime volunteer trash cleaner at Runyon Canyon. 

When he took office nine months ago, David Ryu withheld $600,000 in disbursements to the community earmarked by his predecessor. Ryu will also receive an additional $1 million in discretionary funds for this year, so he could be sitting on up to $1.6 million dollars to use at his discretion. He has formed a Discretionary Funds Task Force to advise him how to support community projects with this bankroll. 

Some of that CD4 money, an estimated $122,534, could be budgeted for fixing the retaining wall, considered to be a public safety hazard. This would shift the financial burden from the corporate donor to the well-funded city council office that stewards the park. And it would remove one of the arguments for making the deal with this donor in the first place. 

Realistically, if Pink Dolphin needed a new home for its quarter-million-dollar gift there are many charities that would probably jump at the chance to benefit from its philanthropy. Anyway, the company could “bail,” believing that the negative public relations backlash is not worth the “branding” opportunity. They also may not have known how many issues were sidestepped in the rush to accept their money -- and what could be involved with an EIR, if it gets to that stage. 

Hollywood legend Francis Ford Coppola has said, “A contract is only a starting point.” It’s not unreasonable to argue that either Pink Dolphin or the city might reconsider what could be seen as a less than favorable deal, especially as the process for arriving at that deal is examined in the lawsuit. There’s also the possibility that the city will lose the lawsuit and the donor deal will die. 

Severing the basketball court donation right now might be a preferable option, especially if the retaining wall can be paid for by David Ryu. As long as the branding and basketball court continue to be the main conversation point, it distracts attention from the very serious business of creating a sustainability plan for the park. 

If FORC is as good as it looks, money should not be a problem, especially when combined with David Ryu’s approximately $1.6 million in discretionary funds (subject to any allocations already committed by him.) None could be found on his discretionary funds website A request for Ford Theater Trails, appearing in the April 2016 minutes, appears to be in abeyance. 

A source that requested anonymity claims that, in addition to the Pink Dolphin donation, FORC collected other donations in 2015 totaling $94,000 ($51,000 in checks, $40,000 through Pay Pal, and some stock donations.) They should have no trouble attracting other sponsors as plans for more park improvements unfold. When they incorporated, FORC’s goal was to encourage not one major donor but many donors to assure the ongoing financial support for Runyon Canyon Park. 

The Friends of Runyon Canyon Park have alluded to a “Vision Plan” that will help shape the future improvement and sustainability of the park. This is a critical working document that may be presented soon. When that happens, the whole community will be able to deal holistically with the future of the park, and not just in the wake of the current controversy. 

They (FORC) have a chance to work closely with Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, using Councilmember David Ryu as a facilitator -- a role that suits him. Hopefully, that will help as more growing pains emerge.

 

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

 

Federal Judge Steps Up for the Homeless, Changes the Way Police Seize Their Property

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-One of LA’s most dubious distinctions is that the city and county have the highest population of chronically homeless people in the country, almost all of whom live on the streets, according to a November report by the US Housing and Urban Development Department. Since 2013, LA’s chronically homeless population has grown by 55% to 12,536. Over a third of the nation’s chronically homeless live in California.

Back in September, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared a homelessness state of emergency and the city is working on finding innovative solutions to fund affordable housing projects. 

In the meantime, many of the homeless are subjected to seizure of the essentials they need to survive. A US Circuit Court judge ruled last Wednesday that local police have been overreaching in their confiscation of property without due cause. The LA Times reported the injunction prevents the city from seizing property without sufficient notice. The injunction also orders the city to sort and store confiscated items of value. 

The plaintiffs of a lawsuit that led to the injunction are four Skid Row residents, along with the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Los Angeles Catholic Worker, who hoped to include the entire city in the injunction that only covers Skid Row and surroundings, where more than 1,300 tons of personal property were confiscated in 2015.

Judge James Otero said, “The city, in many instances, appears to be confiscating all property, without differentiating the types of property or giving homeless people a meaningful opportunity to separate essential medications or medical equipment from their other property.” 

The city argued that the officers had provided notice before seizing the property and that some of the plaintiffs were exaggerating. Judge Otero responded that “some of the individual defendants appeared to take away property from a person lying on the sidewalk, visibly suffering physical pain.” 

The city has been tweaking an ordinance allowing for the confiscation of items left in public areas. An earlier law was struck down by court order in 2012 when it was found to have violated the Fourth Amendment rights of homeless individuals. Business and homeowners in the area have pressured the city and the police to remove the shopping carts, tents, and encampments of a growing homeless population. 

The most recent changes to the ordinance permit homeless people to keep only the possessions they can fit in a trash bin but the lack of adequate storage space precludes this. Homeless individuals tend not to be stationary so they’re left with no other storage space but the sidewalk. The city has two storage bins where the homeless may store property but space is limited and some items might not fit. Instead of coming up with additional options, the city has pursued property seizure, despite rejections in court. 

City Councilmember Mike Bonin addressed his concern about the cost of future lawsuits a few weeks ago but he voted for the recent changes nevertheless. Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, who represents the current plaintiffs, has profited from suits against the city, taking in $1.7 million over the past few years. 

As the city continues to address the affordable housing issue, the number of chronically homeless in Los Angeles is unlikely to decrease, especially as rents continue to skyrocket. Instead of fending off lawsuits and trampling over rights, the city should focus on temporary solutions to the storage issues. Any changes should also offer an agreeable solution to business and homeowners, as well.

 

(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.

-cw

DTLA Bike Lanes: The Good the Bad and the Clueless

CYCLE TRACKS--As Joe Linton reports in Streetsblog LA, downtown’s Los Angeles Street will soon see a protected cycle track replace the plain-paint bike lanes that connect Union Station and First Street. 

This is an undeniable Good Thing. I gladly celebrate any upgrade in bicycle facilities in any parts of the city that see, or that could see if they weren’t so daunting, lots of folks going about their business on bikes. It’s not just “One Less Car” anymore; it’s well-proven that urban bicycling improves productivity at work, boosts public health, and raises small business income. It also re-stitches the civic fabric, as people come to view their city as something more than traffic jams, and their fellow denizens as people, not just shadows behind a windshield in the next lane over. Making safe places to ride in through urban areas means that more people will ride -- and the various, albeit incomplete, bike lane networks in the central city are showing it to be so. Bikes are everywhere, and their riders are just about anyone. 

But LADOT is quoted in Linton’s article as stating that that particular stretch of Los Angeles Street was chosen because it was an easy sell: it’s mostly government offices along the route. In other words, it represents a sort of failure of nerve, and one that degrades DOT’s mission of providing access to all. How? Well, while it’s nice that all the bureaucrats can ride more safely to work and back now, and that LA can test yet another cycle track (there are several in town already), Los Angeles Street has absolutely zero accommodation for bikes where it counts, in the Fashion District. 

I ran a tiny clothing company for several years, and I still dabble in the rag trade. I have made probably hundreds of trips up and down Los Angeles Street, on foot and by bike, and I can tell you, after a decade of observation, that that street and its neighboring roadways absolutely swarm with bikes. Beaters, cruisers, fixies, road bikes, folders, homemade cargo bikes, just about every damn sort of pedal-powered two-wheeler, all duking it out in mixed traffic all day long. Yet the Los Angeles street bike lanes, now as before, stop at First Street. The Fashion District, where bikes are a significant part of the traffic mix, begins around Third and stretches south to at least Twelfth Street. 

Bad … and clueless. Really, we don’t need to “test” cycle tracks: they’ve already been tested, all over the world and in several parts of LA itself. Plenty of data has been published showing that they smooth traffic, boost safety, entice hordes of new riders onto the streets and are good for business. 

We don’t need more “tests.” We need to rationalize our roads, because the present arrangement is killing us, directly and indirectly. Another “pilot project” is little more than a delaying tactic by an agency that’s afraid to do its job.

 

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

Airbnb LA Style: The Draft Ordinance

EASTSIDER-There’s a lot to like in the Draft Short Term Rental Ordinance.  Check it out to see the exact text. In a nod to the City of Santa Monica’s Ordinance, the City of LA uses SM’s reference to “Home-Sharing” in categorizing the type of allowable short term rentals. Further, it requires the type of disclosures from the Hosts that we’ve been urging for some time. 

LA City Council has even adopted the Santa Monica idea of regulation through requiring registration and a tax certificate (fancy for hotel tax.) This provides the critical data necessary to track and enforce the Ordinance. 

Recognizing the lawsuit that is still giving City Attorney Feuer an identity crisis, the Draft Ordinance also specifically holds that renters of units cannot participate in Home-Sharing without an express approval by the landlord. That was the underlying issue in the case which proved for once and for all that short term rentals are not legal in residential zones. 

For the poor decimated folks who have been zapped from their rent-controlled apartments or their “affordable housing,” the Ordinance finally makes it clear that RSO units and designated affordable housing are exempted totally from any short term rentals. Pretty much a case of “after the horse left the barn” and “oh gee, what part of the zoning laws didn’t you understand?” But you gotta start somewhere. 

The Ordinance also provides for enforcement and fines for violation. 

Don’t Get Too Giddy 

Understand that Airbnb, HomeAway and their progeny are going to go nuts -- just like they did over the City of Santa Monica’s Ordinance, and for the same reason. 

Using Pareto’s law, around 80% of Airbnb’s profits come from around 20% of the listing entities -- entities that are in the vacation/party house business as a business. Eliminating those players from the mix seriously affects Airbnb’s bottom line – which is serious for this bunch of wannabe billionaire venture capitalist types who desperately need that IPO to monetize their wealth and fortune. Tank the profits, tank the IPO. 

So we can expect a fierce, incredibly well-funded, and uber-coordinated push back as the Draft Ordinance moves forward. 

Which brings me to my next point. If we want this Ordinance to pass, if we want to patch some holes and ambiguities in the Draft (like Santa Monica did in expressly prohibiting Vacation rentals,) then we are going to have to fight for it. 

Many of you will remember the PLUM Committee hearing that was held way back in August of last year. It was a serious food fight that had so many people attending that they had to use the Council Chambers to hold all of us. And of course, Airbnb was there in force. 

Going to the Hearing 

The City Planning Department knows that this Ordinance is contentious. Witness the fact that the Public Hearing is going to be held in the large auditorium next to the new LAPD building -- Deaton Auditorium, 100 W. 1st Street, LA 90012. And they’re even holding in on a Saturday -- May 21 -- starting at 10:00 am so that regular people can attend. Be there. 

Not to be cynical, but the elected officials in the City of Angels respond best to two things: (1) incredible amounts of heat, as in lots and lots of citizens getting up and attending meetings, writing to Councilmembers, telephoning, emailing and such, and (2) Money. Of the two, we can never outspend Airbnb with their billions. 

But what we can do is suit up, show up, and provide the backbone for our politicians to stand up to Airbnb. They need to do the right thing for the actual people who live in Los Angeles. In this regard, I honestly believe that our Councilmembers finally understand that if we let Airbnb destroy the character of our neighborhoods, then we will have destroyed the City of Los Angeles. 

After all, in its immense and sprawling structure, only neighborhoods truly define the City. 

Hope to see you there. 

For Contact Information on the Ordinance and the Hearing:

Matthew Glesne, Housing Planner

City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning

Policy Planning and Historic Resources Division, Citywide Unit

200 N. Spring Street, Room 667, Los Angeles 90021

[email protected] | 213-974-2666

 

(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.

 

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