Wed, Apr

Walkin’ the Walk: LAUSD Must Reverse the Cuts at Broadway Elementary!

EDUCATION POLITICS--Tens of thousands of people, including Los Angeles Unified School District Board President Steve Zimmer, (photo above) participated in a “walk-in” last week to show support for traditional public schools at a time when they are facing increasing pressure from — and loss of students to — charter and private operators. 

Staged in partnership with local and national unions and other interest groups, it was a great photo op for Mr. Zimmer. But the truth is that when the cameras are gone, the district too often closes the door when parents choose to walk away from non-traditional schools and walk into LA public schools. We know, because they are closing the door on us right now.

We are proud that we walked into the economically and racially diverse Broadway Elementary School  in Venice in 2010 when it was facing closure due to low enrollment. We stepped forward with time and resources to support the launch of a Mandarin immersion program at Broadway that was championed by Mr. Zimmer and was designed to help make this traditional public school more attractive, and to create the type of learning opportunities our kids need to compete in 21st century Los Angeles and the global economy. 

With the strong parental support, the program has flourished, and each year we have seen families literally camping on the street to enroll their kids. Broadway wasn’t closed, and the program was expanded from two classes to four, and there has been enough demand to support two additional classes for a total of six. The district’s response? They recently decided to cut the program

This is unacceptable and the district must reverse course and maintain four classes in a program that has been proven successful and for which there is proven demand. 

With this decision, the district is failing our kids. In the battle against charter and private operators, the district is shooting themselves in the foot. And here is a crucial stat: if the district stands by its decision to cut the number of immersion seats from 96 to 48, there will be an almost zero chance for new families to enroll their children in the program because 47 seats are already claimed by sibling-priority students. This directly disserves the local student population served by Broadway Elementary.

The district is trying to cover itself by stating that is not cutting program, but rather is keeping its commitment by creating two Mandarin immersion classes at Braddock Elementary School, which is located in an entirely different neighborhood. It’s a smokescreen – would cuts to the football program at Venice High be offset by a new football program at another school in a different neighborhood? We support expanding immersion programs across LAUSD. But expanding elsewhere does not change the situation at Broadway. 

Plans are being finalized for the 2016-17 school year right now. We are at the critical moment for the future of this program and the future of Broadway Elementary. And it’s a test as to whether the district will once again demonstrate itself to be a moribund bureaucracy more interested in perpetuating the status quo than increasing the quality of education for our kids – with the end result being the continued flight of involved and engaged parents to charter and private operators and relegating those left behind to a second-class education.

That’s why 240 current parents of Broadway Mandarin Immersion students and parents who want to enroll their kids in this program have come together to form Parents for Progressive Education.

We call on Mr. Zimmer to simply back a program that he himself called “a game changer.” We call on Superintendent Michelle King to send a strong signal at the beginning of her term that LAUSD will welcome involved and engaged parents at our schools and that the district is in fact serious about delivering the kind of innovative education our kids deserve and the district needs to compete. Restore these classes. And if there is anything you need, our coalition is here to not just walk in, but to rally around you with time, resources and support.


(Jennifer Pullen is president of Parents for Progressive Education and an LAUSD parent. This piece was posted first at LA School Report.)  Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

UCLA or USC? Where are You Better Protected Against An Active Shooter?

JUST THE FACTS-Your hard work and determination have finally paid off. You are graduating from high school with honors and have been accepted to both UCLA and USC, in addition to a number of other fine colleges around the country. Your family and friends are very proud of you. And you now need to choose where you will continue to pursue your education, where you will ultimately find a successful career – maybe one in which you can buy that Ferrari, Harley Davidson motorcycle, house in Malibu on Broad Beach road and that private jet to transport you around the world, visiting all those exotic places you have read about. 

Your imagination is carrying you to new and exciting heights. You think, after all the stress, studying and projects, you did it! You’ve made it and you are a shining star to so many people. In particular, your parents are filled with joy and happiness knowing their precious baby will now further his or her education – and become a success story that they can proudly share with all their friends. 

As the clock ticks and the days pass. You want to remain in the Los Angeles area and the time has come for you to choose between two universities…will it be UCLA or USC? 

Both locations have huge campuses and a wide variety of educational opportunities. You ponder the question, comparing the locations and opportunities for fulfilling your educational and social goals. 

Do you want to be around the Memorial Coliseum or Westwood Village?            

And now you consider your personal safety. You’ve heard stories about armed individuals entering school and college campuses with assault weapons, shooting and killing innocent students and faculty members. Having served in law enforcement for nearly 50 years, I have noticed a significant increase in aggressive and hostile behavior by some individuals in recent years. With that in mind, I will get to the point of my article. 

USC has a very professional, well-trained Security Force assigned to protect its students, faculty and university property. UCLA also has a professional and well-trained Police Force. The difference is this: the UCLA officers are permitted to carry assault weapons and other equipment to protect the UCLA population; the Security Force at USC is prohibited from having any type of assault weapon to counter an attack on campus. This difference is critical in an active shooter situation. 

Of course, the LAPD will respond to campus violence and will try and locate the building or section where there is trouble. But you must realize that the LAPD officers, while professional and well equipped with weapons to counter an active shooter, are not very familiar with the sprawling USC campus. Locating the hot spot situation takes valuable time. This is time that can save a life and stop an active shooter. Unlike the old days, active shooters have become more of a problem in our society; and hostage negotiations are not effective once the shooting begins. 

The City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles City Attorney classify the well-trained and professional USC Security Personnel as a civilian population that is restricted from having any weapons necessary to counter an active shooter on campus. So that is the difference between the UCLA Police Force and the USC Security Force…even though they are both established to Protect and Serve their respective campus and students. 

I believe that the City of Los Angeles would be wise to modify the current ordinance and permit the USC Security Personnel to obtain the weapons necessary to better protect their students, faculty and campus from an active shooter. 

(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. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


The Devil’s in the Details – LA Speculators Can Still Scam the System in the Build a Better LA Initiative

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In Los Angeles real estate speculators have refined their tool box of scams to either block or contain local neighborhoods when they push back against projects that are out-of-character, out-of-scale, exceed the capacity of local infrastructure and services, or that require a parcel level legislative action by the City Council for investors to pull building permits. 

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The Battle of Fallujah and Its Human Aftermath … Set to Music!

GELFAND’S WORLD--Being so damaged by the horrible memories of combat that you numb yourself with alcohol or try to take your own life … that's something that most of us don't understand. We haven't experienced our closest friends being shot to death in front of us, or endured the nightmares and depression that come from the grief and the guilt. But to a number of veterans of the Iraq War, these things are very real. The medical profession calls it PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Surely this is an inadequate set of words for the level of suffering that it represents. What used to be called shell shock and now is called PTSD is a syndrome that has resulted in broken lives and a substantial number of suicides among U.S. military veterans. 

The genesis of a new opera born out of an exploration of PTSD 

One Iraq War veteran by the name of Christian Ellis survived his own repeated suicide attempts and, during his extended therapy, met up with someone who asked him the traditional question, "What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?" Ellis explains that he joked, "Write an opera." He didn't realize at the time that Charles Annenberg Weingarten not only was interested in the answer Ellis gave, he also had the means to start the process that has resulted in the opera Fallujah. Ellis didn't actually write his own opera, but he had an opera written about him. It opens in Long Beach on March 12. 

Ellis was put together with writer Heather Raffo. She is an unusual combination in the opera world, having one Iraqi parent, having herself lived in Iraq for a number of years, and also being a talented playwright. She wrote the words that were set to music by composer Tobin Stokes. 

Last weekend, the Long Beach Opera company previewed excerpts from Fallujah and also had veterans including Christian Ellis talk about their experiences in combat and how it affects their current lives. The panel was held on March 20, fittingly enough at the VA Medical Center, Long Beach. 

The historical background 

The Battle of Fallujah, or technically speaking. the Second Battle of Fallujah, has been described as the most intense urban battle of the war. Fought in the last part of 2004, it involved house to house combat. It went on for weeks. When you read the historical accounts, you find that Fallujah was a comparatively small version of the pitched battles of the world wars, but it was of comparable intensity to those who fought in it. It serves in the literary context as representative of all wars, and also stands for the experiences of this generation not only in Fallujah, but also in other battles. 

Using art as therapy for PTSD 

The panel discussion at the VAMC included Christian Ellis and two other veterans of Iraq, Michael Hebert and Jon Harguindeguy. Hebert and Harguindeguy are themselves PTSD survivors who have a passion for art and also find in it some measure of therapeutic release. Hebert's painting with the words Fallujah never fades is a particularly striking glimpse into the feelings of one vet. Harguindeguy's depiction of the open mouth of a commander -- drawn mainly as teeth and tongue -- is pretty much unique in depicting the experience of being ordered about under circumstances that require almost inhuman self-control. 

Besides having obvious talents, these artist-vets are both involved in programs that provide veterans the chance to draw and paint. Doing art seems to help some of the veterans to open up and begin talking about their own difficulties. 

Comments by panelists and also by one audience member suggested the surprising assertion that doing art may be a potential counterbalance to the experience of war or to stress in general. The audience member gave the example of Japanese samurai, who learned artistic skills in advance of becoming warriors. 

The opera itself as artful therapy 

Like Greek tragedies, opera can provide catharsis. This opera, as described by one of the cast members, is intended to do just that. 

The presentation at the VA included excerpts from the opera sung by those who will star in the world premiere. It's not possible for me to do a thorough review of the opera at the moment because I haven't seen it in the entirety, but what I did see and hear is strangely beautiful and also sadly emotional with bits of hope. At least two of the LBO panelists and members of the cast and audience were visibly affected, and this just from short musical excerpts. 

Long Beach Opera provides its own discussion which includes the following synopsis: 

Fallujah follows mothers and sons as they search for hope and healing in the aftermath of a war that changed their relationships forever. The opera provides a glimpse inside real hearts and minds before and after one of the Iraq War’s biggest battles. The result is an inspiring, mind-opening, and moving opera by  Canadian composer, Tobin Stokes and award-winning Iraqi American playwright, Heather Raffo. 

A recurring theme expressed by the panelists was guilt. How does a normal person deal with the fact that he was ordered to do terrible things and did them? It was obvious that some audience members had similar thoughts, as the killing was done in all our names. The theme was subtly evoked near the end of the discussion when the moderator opened the presentation to audience questions, but first asked what questions were off limits. 

The answer: "Don't ask us how many people we killed." 

Each generation signifies its own wars with art and music. Fallujah adds to this cultural history. 

Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for City Watch. He can be reached at [email protected]












Renting in Los Angeles: Dislocation, Dislocation, Dislocation

AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS (PART 2) --One block north of fabled Hollywood Boulevard, and a stone’s throw from the iconic Capitol Records Building, sit three rent-stabilized, two-story apartment buildings, known to residents as the Yucca-Argyle complex. (photo above) One building is peach-colored, one green and the third yellow. Each is organized around a small courtyard and in back is a parking lot for tenants’ cars. Together they are home to roughly 50 families, the residents ranging in age from young children to old-timers who have lived in the complex for more than half a century. 

By most measures the complex’s residents have it good. Living in one of LA’s more walkable and vibrant neighborhoods — where cafes, bookstores, night clubs, restaurants and clothing boutiques vie for consumers’ attention — they pay less than $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, beneficiaries of Los Angeles’s 1978 Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). In a city of extraordinary extremes, with neighborhoods like Beverly Hills populated almost exclusively by millionaires, and areas such as South Los Angeles by people living in poverty, these three Hollywood buildings represent something more optimistic: a mixed-income, mixed-race, mixed-class and tight-knit community amidst the cacophonous Hollywood scene.

And yet, if their landlord has his way, they will soon all be evicted, their apartments sold off and torn down by a developer whom the landlord has gone into partnership with to make way for a sky-rise that will be divided between hotel rooms, luxury apartments and retail stores. Even though 20 apartments will be set aside for “affordable housing,” many of the current lower-income residents will come nowhere close to being able to afford their new rents, since the affordable apartments will cater to those who earn half of the area’s median income, rather than the 30 percent level many older or poorer residents attain; and even for those who can afford the new rent, the developer has, to date, refused to guarantee they would have a “right of return.” He has instead told them, to their fury, that they will be given a few thousand dollars in relocation funds and will have to move “down the Red Line” — that is, to the Metro subway’s terminus in the San Fernando Valley, or elsewhere on the periphery of the sprawling city. 

Capital & Main left several messages with the developer, Bob Champion, of Champion Real Estate, but he did not return the calls. 

For LA Tenants Union organizer Dont Rhine, the unchecked development represented by projects such as Champion’s, even with the veneer of affordable housing built in, is a money grab. 

“Politicians hide behind affordable housing,” Rhine says. It allows them, he adds, to claim they are protecting low-income residents while in fact, at the urging of pro-development lobbies such as the California Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, they provide huge giveaways to developers. (Neither association responded to repeated phone calls requesting comments for this series.) Sitting in the Caffé Etc., on nearby Selma Avenue, with photos of Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart and other rock legends adorning the walls, Rhine gets into his stride. “It’s like butter on their guilt. But ‘affordable housing’ [in this context] isn’t real; it’s distracting.”

“It doesn’t make sense to take away perfectly fine rent-controlled apartments to build something new,” argues Sejal Patel, 37, a six-year Yucca-Argyle resident who makes a good living working on sustainability issues for an asset management company, but who, as a single person, can’t afford market rents in Hollywood today. “If I had to pay three times as much, I don’t know if I’d be able to save anything. I definitely can’t afford to buy anything.” 

Sejal’s neighbor and friend, Sasha Ali, who is exhibition manager at the Miracle Mile District’s Craft & Folk Art Museum, fears that on her salary she will be utterly priced out of Hollywood once her rent-controlled apartment disappears. Even the $10,000 in relocation money won’t help her for long.

“Maybe,” she reasons, “that will take care of me for a couple months. But it’s not, ultimately, going to help.” 

Similar stories are unfolding all over this sprawling city of cities, where 62 percent of all residents are renters. 

Not far from Sejal and Sasha’s complex, the historic Villa Carlotta building, with stunning old apartments and such original fittings as early Frigidaire fridges and Roper heating stoves, has already largely been emptied out by a landlord-developer partnership that invoked the Ellis Act to evict 50 renters, many of whom were artists, musicians and other creative types. Inside the Carlotta’s atria sits an increasingly out-of-tune grand piano, left behind by one displaced tenant as an eerie sentinel in the mostly empty building. 

As of this writing, only two tenants were still holding out, but their legal options were rapidly dwindling.

“This is home,” explains one of those holdouts, Sylvie Shain, a documentary filmmaker who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her Chihuahua named Brad Pitt, and who has spent the last year working full time on tenant advocacy issues around the city. 

“A person has a right to defend their cave, their home,” she says. “When a group of people gets displaced, there’s a collateral impact.” 

Down the road in Silver Lake and Echo Park, middle-class renters, priced out of their neighborhoods, look for cheaper options in Boyle Heights, an historically working-class, immigrant neighborhood. Located a few minutes east of downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights has been made more desirable by the arrival there of LA’s Metro rail system. So much so that long-time residents have either been evicted or have found that they can simply no longer afford market rents on newer properties. A two-bedroom Boyle Heights apartment now rents for about $1,900 – far more than a working-class person can afford. It is far more, too, than someone with $1,217 in Section 8 assistance can pay for a two-bedroom unit, as was the case for a person described to Capital & Main by Union de Vecinos, a group that has worked over the past couple of decades to organize traditionally disempowered tenants. The neighborhood’s original residents are increasingly moving to South L.A., Montebello, Commerce, Bell or even as far as the towns of the Inland Empire. 

Cruelly, current East Los Angeles residents are double-trapped by circumstance: If they make an effort to prettify their neighborhoods – painting murals in alleyways, creating community gardens, working on anti-crime initiatives – their improved environments lure in property investors and they end up being priced out of their homes; but if they don’t make the effort, their neighborhoods remain caught in vises of violence and insecurity. Likewise, when organizers in poor, Latino parts of Hollywood and East Hollywood organized beautification projects, real estate values soared and, organizers estimate, nearly 12,000 working-class residents were ultimately displaced. 

Under provisions of the state’s Ellis Act, landlords who claim to be leaving the rental business can evict tenants so long as the owners pay relocation costs to the displaced. Landlords have used the Ellis Act to evict residents in 308 units across L.A. in 2013; in 2014 that number went up to 725. And in 2015 another 821 units were emptied, according to the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID). Tenant-activists, who have correlated the numbers, have arrived at significantly higher estimates. 

Despite its liberal, progressive hues, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s administration has been unable to work out a way to stem the tide. True, it has declared a “homeless emergency” in response to the vast numbers of homeless Angelenos, and the mayor’s press secretary, Connie Llanos, argues that “One of the largest contributing factors to the City’s homelessness crisis is an underlying affordability crisis.” 

But City Hall hasn’t yet worked out a way to protect rent-controlled tenants from evictions without just cause or to use city authority to slow down the Ellis process – as have Berkeley, Oakland and many other cities. Absent such protection, many of these residents are simply an eviction notice away from homelessness. 

The mayor’s office recognizes that this is a problem, but has been wrestling with how to adequately respond, given that it is a stricture created at the state level. Mayor Garcetti, says Llanos, “called on [HCID] last year to create easily accessible online resources for information about which buildings have been taken off the rental market via the Ellis Act. These resources are now available through the City’s Zoning Information and Map Access System (ZIMAS). The mayor also secured grant funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies to build upon these awareness strategies. To stem the loss of RSO units through the Ellis Act, the mayor is leading efforts to aggressively enforce AB 2222, new state legislation that requires one-for-one replacement of affordable and rent-stabilized units to qualify for the State’s density bonus program.” 

Garcetti’s office argues that his enforcement policies have assisted almost 1,600 households in the first two years of his administration, helping evicted tenants receive about $19 million in relocation assistance from their landlords. It has also established a goal of building 100,000 new housing units over the next five years, of which at least 15,000 will have to be affordable housing. 

Many tenants’ advocates are skeptical about these programs, believing they are too little too late and don’t really address the scale of Los Angeles’ housing crisis, a crisis now engulfing entire neighborhoods in the sprawling metropolis. Some, such as Dont Rhine, argue that Garcetti has, in fact, co-opted organizers, convincing them to accept as inevitable changes that are fundamentally altering the city’s housing ecology and shifting power evermore towards landlords and developers at the expense of tenants and the working poor. 

“You don’t make change by talking to the City Council,” Rhine says. “You make change by shutting things down. That’s how we got public housing in the 1930s, because of ‘eviction blockades’ and other direct action.” 

In conversations with tenants around the city, Rhine and his fellow organizers have been discussing the use of direct action to prevent renters from being evicted, in much the same way as the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) organized protests against foreclosure-triggered evictions during the height of the foreclosure epidemic. “Those are the seeds we’re planting,” Rhine says. “It’ll eventually come to that, because where are people going to go?” 

“Good democracy depends on organized people making demands,” echoes Leonardo Vilchis, of Boyle Heights’ Union de Vecinos. “We need to keep fighting and offering a space for the voices of tenants to be heard.” 

(Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic, New York magazine, the American Prospect, Salon, Slate, the New Yorker online, the Los Angeles Weekly, The Village Voice, and the Daily Beast. This piece was originally posted at Capital and Main.) [[[   http://capitalandmain.com]]] Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Oscars are So Union: Louis B. Mayer’s Middle-Class-Friendly Nightmare

OSCAR POLITICS--If Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s legendary co-founder Louis B. Mayer (Photo above, with actress Helen Hayes) were alive today, he would likely applaud the boycott of the Oscars, but not necessarily in protest of the lack of racial diversity at Hollywood’s preeminent awards ceremony. It would be to rail against the presence of all the card-carrying members of the Teamsters, the Screen Actors Guild and numerous other unions of the film industry’s highly organized workforce.

As a fascinating 2014 Vanity Fair article reported, the Academy Awards were birthed in 1927 by Mayer and his fellow studio bosses in large part to head off labor disputes and discourage actors, directors and writers from demanding health benefits, pensions and residuals. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would do the dirty work of keeping costs down, while throwing an annual bash to celebrate Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars.

The Oscars eventually became a global sensation, but the union-bashing part of the plan didn’t go as well. By the 1930s, screenwriters, directors and actors had organized, parlaying their considerable clout into real economic power. Over the next several decades, tens of thousands of below-the-line industry workers -- everyone from grips and electricians to make-up artists and stylists to projectionists and sound technicians -- followed suit.

By the 1940s, Hollywood was a union town. Today, there are nearly half a million unionized workers in the U.S. entertainment industry -- a stark contrast to the decline of organized labor in most sectors of the economy.

With the gap between the haves and have-nots widening and the economic disparity separating the country’s top income earners and the rest of America a main tenet of this year’s presidential election, it’s important to recognize the overwhelming success of the organized entertainment industry. It is a prime example of an industry doing right by its workers - mostly middle-class earners just looking to make a living - while also enjoying huge financial success.

A large percentage of these workers are in Los Angeles, forming one of the cornerstones of the city’s middle class. As the Southern California economy was buffeted by the loss of good jobs in aerospace, manufacturing and other sectors in the 1990s, the film industry was a pillar of stability. While the phenomenon of runaway production has taken a toll, nearly 200,000 California workers are still employed in the film and TV industries, and those numbers may grow now that the state is taking aggressive action to keep productions here. 

How important are good union jobs to LA’s economy? Consider this: Between 2011 and 2013, L.A. County had the highest poverty rate in California, with a quarter of all residents falling into the ranks of the poor. In the City of Los Angeles, a much larger number, in excess of 45 percent, struggle to make ends meet with wages of less than $15 an hour while technically not qualifying as poor. L.A.’s minimum wage hike will help, but by the time workers benefiting from the law passed earlier this year are earning a $15 wage in 2020, the middle class will still be out of reach.

By contrast, the majority of below-the-line workers in Hollywood, while far from affluent, make enough money to support their families. Camera operators average $58,000 a year, animators and multimedia artists earn $60,000, electricians and lighting workers make $71,000. Less-skilled workers earn lower pay, but still make considerably more than they would doing comparable jobs in non-union industries.

Hollywood salaries would look a lot different if MGM’s Mayer and his fellow studio heads had prevailed back in the 1920s. Los Angeles, and the country, are far better off because they didn’t. 

(Cherri Senders is founder and publisher of Labor 411, a consumer guide to companies that treat their workers fairly. She can be contacted at [email protected].) 


Opponents of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative Find Themselves Between a Rock and Hard Place

VOX POP--A recent debate on the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative between Jill Stewart, Campaign Director for the initiative, and Larry Kaplan, Co-Chair of Communities United for Jobs and Housing, revealed the central dilemma opponents of the initiative confront in making their argument against the proposed ballot measure: they must defend the indefensible – Los Angeles’ broken planning system. 

The centerpiece of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is a two year moratorium on spot zoning to allow for community plans to be updated. The current practice of routinely granting exemptions from zoning rules on a parcel-by-parcel basis for new development has incurred the wrath of residents and neighborhoods throughout LA – and the disapproval of judges who have found the city in violation of their own rules. The ballot measure would force the city to play by the existing rules until such time that they are revised via an open and public process. 

Opponents of the initiative, many of whom come from the environmental and affordable housing realm, are placed in the awkward position of defending the status quo while, at the same time, conceding that spot zoning is an irrational way to do urban planning. 

In a video of the debate, hosted by the Stonewall Democratic Club on February 22, Larry Kaplan’s discomfort is sometimes evident. He remarked in his opening statement: “I think we all agree, first of all – let’s get it out there – LA’s planning process is not pretty.”  

“I’m not defending the current system, okay? We know it’s broken. Okay? So let’s try to fix it. This [initiative] might kill the patient,” Kaplan stated in the course of the debate. And this seems to be the crux of the opponents’ argument against the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, that it is a killer cure for what both sides of the issue acknowledge is a dysfunctional planning process. 

“I am not defending the current structure, it’s flawed.” Kaplan emphasized again later in the debate. “Like I said, somebody’s got a scratch on their arm you don’t chop the arm off.” 

Kaplan reiterated that sentiment at the end of his closing statement: “I’m not defending the system. It needs to be fixed. But, again, the cure here is much worse than the disease.” However, Kaplan and other opponents provide no suggestions or solutions on how they think the system could or should be fixed. All Kaplan offered was: “Let’s rock the boat, but not sink it.” 

Given the extraordinary amount of development taking place across Los Angeles – and the irritable mood of the electorate – the prevailing sentiment of many residents is that the boat Kaplan refers to has sailed into an iceberg and the only lifeboat available is the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. 

The Miracle Mile Residential Association videotaped the debate as part of our digital outreach to the residents of the Miracle Mile and the city at large. We encourage everyone to watch the debate and fully consider the pros and cons of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The future of Los Angeles is at stake.


(Ken Hixon is a Vice President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and the editor of the MMRA newsletter.)


Marilyn Monroe House Leveled … Ignites Effort to Recall LA Councilman Krekorian

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Residents dissatisfied with Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian’s record with development issues have launched a recall effort to oust the councilman from his representation of the 2nd Council District, which covers Valley Village, North Hollywood, and Studio City. Proponents of the recall effort allege that Krekorian has “demonstrated a marked bias favoring outside business interests over community sensibilities and community requests.”

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LADWP Reform: Why the Rush?

BUTCHER ON LA-“…[T]he people of Los Angeles desired the size but not the character of a modern metropolis … to combine the spirit of the good community with the substance of the great metropolis.”

~ Robert Fogelson, “The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930,” 1967. 

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LA’s Hypocrisy on World Spay Day: ‘Backyard Breeders’ Get a Pass

ANIMAL RIGHTS-It’s another LA City Council meeting with breathless declarations shining sunny sentiment on cloudy realities. This was spread on especially thick during Tuesday’s predictably dubious presentation for World Spay Day. 

Councilmembers jostled for camera time to praise puppies cuddled in towels by shelter volunteers.   But the pups’ mere existence was evidence of the city’s failed spay/neuter policy, non-existent outreach to poor communities and lackluster enforcement. 

“Please adopt a dog rather than buy one,” Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Bob Blumenfield echoed for their colleagues to the public. The pointless birth of animals, they correctly pointed out, results in immeasurable suffering. 

But here’s the reality: 

On a small side street in Van Nuys, a filthy tire repair business was sold breeder permits by LA Animal Services for pit bulls and Chihuahuas -- the two types of animals LA kills more often than any others, except for young and newborn kittens. For just the few hundred dollars paid to the city by such backyard breeders, the Councilmembers’ sweet sentiment disappears.

Councilmember Nury Martinez has known about this and similar situations since her first days in office but has taken no known corrective action. 

So-called “legitimate” dog breeders get a break in LA, too. Two years ago this month, Councilmember Mitch Englander honored a championship beagle breeder at a City Council meeting. But LA Animal Services has refused multiple public records requests for that breeder’s complete permit history.

At Venice Beach, you can still buy pit bull puppies from either the homeless or, as was the case not too long ago, at a breeder show which, when people finally complained loudly enough, was shrugged off by LAAS as having been permitted not by itself, but by Parks & Recreation. 

Recently, new Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson commendably asked LAAS for information about, among other things, the innumerable and infamous packs of homeless dogs that roam his impoverished District 8. But his closed-door policy toward rescuers who live the problem every day, and have for many years, limits his ability to effectively deal with the problem. Limit your information, and you limit your options. 

That’s because LA, like many other governments, uses cute and vague statistics like Woof Stat and Noses-In, Noses-Out that shield the real problems and their causes.

For example, until I recently exposed it, LAAS counted as “adoptions” the moving of 8,807 shelter animals from cages in one city-owned building to cages in the city-owned building occupied for free by the wealthy Best Friends organization. The city does not track (as it does with all other rescue organizations) what happens to animals who are sent there without traceable city microchips. It doesn’t want to know -- and doesn’t want you to know either -- what ultimately became of them.

LA appears afraid to confront its humane challenges. No politician wants to be the one on whose watch long-standing and misleading claims about animal life and death issues are exposed. 

City Controller Ron Galperin is well-informed of the troubling claims, none of which were touched on in his recent “limited scope” audit, which turned out to be as pointless as the one conducted by his predecessor, Wendy Greuel. 

If LA truly wants to drive home the reality of pet population growth, they should show -- or allow others to record and show -- video of the shelters’ “bump rooms” after the latest slaughter, complete with lifeless bodies splayed on the floor. Then they should share it across social media.  

Such a graphic approach would not be unprecedented. 

In front of a packed 2013 City Council meeting, Councilmember Paul Koretz held onto an elephant torture device while playing a hideous recording of baby elephants tortured by circus handlers. The point was effectively made then, but not today because, while it seems okay to display animal abuse when it’s done by someone else, it’s not okay if it involves killing done by the city. 

And then there’s the phrase “no kill.” 

To the uninitiated, it actually means killing a substantial number of happy, healthy and highly adoptable animals. It is a righteous sounding thing promoted by well-intended people. But it is pointless unless you know what’s going on in your own shelters and streets. It devalues the meaning of killing by not counting killing as killing. 

Mayor Eric Garcetti has dangled the idea of a comprehensive external audit of LA Animal Services, but has taken no known measure to make it a reality. So far, it has been used only to discourage humane protestors from standing in front of his Hancock Park home, something that was done as recently as this weekend….which is now Garcetti’s excuse for not doing it at all. He refuses to embrace the truth.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, blogs on humane issues at http://ericgarcetti.blogspot.com/)

LA Councilman Fuentes: Reinventing Himself or Still the ‘Worst Legislator in California’?

EASTSIDER-Not that long ago, I wrote an article for CityWatch after the Audit Report was released on the DWP with the DWP recommendations for rate increases over the next five years. I suggested that the only place to stop the DWP Rate Increase avalanche headed our way was with the City’s Energy and Environment Committee. 

My theory was (and is) that all five of these committee members are up for re-election next year and they might be subject to pressure to back off of the transfer fees and utility tax that DWP gives to the City. Silly me. 

The Fuentes Cabal 

Shortly after my article appeared (and no, I am not so egotistical as to believe it had anything to do with his decision) the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Filipe Fuentes, announced he would not be running for re-election in Council District 7. Of course, the real reason that Mr. Fuentes announced his intention had a whole lot to do with the fact that most of his political allies and cronies in the Northeast San Fernando Valley are under investigation by the FBI and Grand Jury. This includes Congressman Tony Cardenas and his staffer Gabriela Marquez, as well as Fuentes staff member Tania Soto, CD 6 Councilmember Nury Martinez and her staffer Jim Dantona -- and last, but not least, Fuentes’ aunt and staffer Yolanda Fuentes Miranda. 

In spite of a nod back in 2010 from the LAWeekly as “The Worst Legislator In California,” the LA Times got it wrong as usual and endorsed Fuentes in 2013, fatuously claiming that he had “valuable background and experience in getting things done in the North Valley.” 

Right. I guess they meant “experience” like having almost half the bills he introduced in the legislature ghostwritten by those who bought him the seat. By the way, one of those was ghostwritten by the City Community Redevelopment Agency (remember them?) to expand the definition of ‘blight’ so the CRA could disenfranchise more poor people of color in the City.   

In defense of the LA Times, this was during the heyday of the Chicago Tribune ownership of the paper…so what else could we have expected? 

Anyway, Fuentes suddenly announced last month that he wouldn’t be running for re-election -- at age 44…during his first term…and with no explanation. What a guy. Well at least this should make the Sunland/Tujunga Neighborhood Council feel better after he kicked them out of their City offices. 

The Fuentes Governance Hijack 

There is a lot of good information in the Navigant IEA 2015 DWP Survey, particularly the some 51 pages of Volume 4, “Governance,” the result of a lot of time and money spent analyzing the Department. Even though it’s unlikely that anyone will read it, it contains a good analysis of a range of alternative governance structures including the pros and cons of each alternative. 

There is also a perfectly reasonable proposal in an LA Times article by two of the lead members of the LA2020 Commission, Mickey Kantor and Austin Beutner. Remember the 2020 Commission and Report -- the one Herb Wesson and the Council blessed with faint praise and then buried in a grave deeper than they dig at Forest Lawn? This is the Commission that recommended an independent Board to run DWP. 

The Commission suggested four steps: (1) cap the total amount of money that goes to the City; (2) use a portion of rate increases to help low-income customers; (3) separate the DWP hiring process from the LA City Civil Service System; and (4) establish an independently elected Commission, with subject matter expertise, that would appoint the General Manager and have complete control over rates and employee union contracts. 

But, oh no. Mr. Fuentes, that exemplar of self-serving politics, had just come up with his very own (four page) Motion for DWP Reform -- even as the matter was going in front of him as Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee (see Council File 16-0093 for the Motion.) Not only that, but that motion is also backed by another professional political operative, Council President Herb Wesson, and a fellow Committee member, Mitch O’Farrell.

The Fuentes-Wesson-O’Farrell motion essentially directs the City Attorney and CAO to come up with a November ballot measure based on their four page document. 

Are we to believe that this all comes along just as the E&E Committee is set to vote on the five-year DWP rate increases? C’mon, folks, give us a little credit for recognizing a political hijack when we see one -- in fact, that’s the title of a recent article by our own Jack Humphreville. 

So here we have the City Hall insiders once again diverting attention from the work they are bound to do -- voting on the DWP Rate Increase Plan in front of them – and employing a bait and switch operation to forestall any meaningful discussion by all of us on how to best change the governance of the Department of Water and Power. 

I shudder to think what’s in all of this for Mr. Fuentes personally, and what will come to light when it’s too late for us to do anything about it. 

I believe the timing of this sudden Motion is no coincidence, given that all five members of the Energy and Environment Committee are up for re-election next year -- well, except Fuentes. City Hall is usually incapable of moving with this kind of speed to run a Ballot Measure unless something really naughty is being contemplated by the pols. 

Is all this a cute way to take the heat off and have a 15-0 vote by the Council for a Ballot Measure so the Committee can say that they’re not the ones that did anything wrong? Will hearings be real and open discussions? Or will they be another giant kabuki dance with the usual guaranteed outcome? 

Remember this: No matter what smoke screens they put up, four of these five Committee Members are up for re-election next year. You should remind them that there are consequences for their actions. Call them on the details of the rate Increases, the transfer fees and the utility taxes -- not to mention pet projects. 

Demand openness and transparency, and (gasp) maybe even honesty in the Committee’s recommendation to the full Council. 

The Committee members are Fuentes (CD7), Cedillo (CD1), Blumenfeld (CD3), Koretz (CD5), and O’Farrell (CD13).


(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.

Hollywood’s Columbia Square: A Model for How Development Helps the Community

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD--With all of the recent attacks on developers by NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard) who don't want to see growth, I thought I would provide a case study on the positive aspects of new development. Columbia Square (photo above) is a perfect example. This $450-million, 700,000-sq.ft., mixed-use project by Kilroy Realty will have an "outsized" positive impact on Hollywood. 

One of the most historic buildings on Sunset Blvd., Columbia Square was the West Coast home of CBS for many years. (Photo right.) Built in 1938, it originated such shows as Jack Benny's Lucky Strike Program, the Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, and The Swan Show starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. When CBS moved their studios out of Hollywood in 2007, its future was in question.

Now, thanks to the work and investment of Kilroy Realty Corp., Columbia Square is shining once more. The historic buildings have been restored and renovated as the LA hub for Neuehouse, a New York-based creative workspace collaborative. Acclaimed New York architect David Rockwell, who also designed the interior of the Dolby Theatre, designed the space. Architectural Digest gave the facility glowing reviews in January. 

Writer Mayer Rus said of the space, "If you'd like a window into the leading edge of creative work (and play) spaces in 2016, you need look no further than the recently completed NeueHouse Hollywood, the West Coast counterpart to the original Manhattan office hub for the so-called creative class. ...the LA complex boasts a few attributes its Gotham forebear cannot claim: a building with an impeccable modernist pedigree; a site with a long and compelling history in the production of popular American culture; and the kinds of amenities one can enjoy only in a heavenly Mediterranean climate."

Rus continued in the Architectural Digest article that "there are a number of restaurant and lounge experiences, including alfresco dining on the roof terraces - in facilitating discourse and comfort in the workplace."

Not only has the historic building been preserved, which benefits the community enormously, but it is a place that visitors and residents can patronize and enjoy. Several restaurants have or are in the process of opening, including Rubies + Diamonds, Sugarfish, Sweetgreen and Paley.

Also preparing to move into Columbia Square is Viacom. CEO Philippe Dauman recently discussed the pending move into 180,000-sq.ft. of space with the LA Times. He noted that this will become the headquarters for their West Coast media networks and home base for about 700 employees from MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, BET, Spike, TV Land and Logo. It will provide them with new production stages, a lot of shooting space and a rooftop area for shoots with views of the Hollywood Sign. He noted that the Hollywood facility will be the largest mobile content studio in the industry. 

Besides Viacom, Kilroy has announced that Fender Guitar has leased 40,000-sq.ft. and will be moving their headquarters from Scottdale, Arizona, to Hollywood. These will be new, high quality jobs for Southern California and Hollywood.

After the loss of dozens of entertainment firms over the past 20 years, the announcements by Viacom and Fender Guitar send a great message that Hollywood is back. However, of even greater import is bringing more than 700 quality jobs to the community. Hollywood has an opportunity to show that with smart growth, it is possible to grow a community with balanced jobs and housing. We are building both. We currently have 1,800 housing units under construction and more in the pipeline. In addition, there are several hundred thousand square feet of office space in development as well as several hotels.    

This balance of different uses is what makes the revitalization of Hollywood so exciting. Locating jobs and housing in close proximity with nearby entertainment options and shopping are especially attractive to the Millennials who are locating here. When you consider the compact nature of Hollywood which makes it walkable, as well as its transit connectivity, one begins to see how growth can and should occur to make a community livable.

Due to this single project, we will see the preservation of a historic landmark, hundreds of construction jobs, hundreds more permanent jobs, new opportunities for dining as well as outstanding architecture. It is a win-win for the community. And it would not have been possible without the vision and investment of a developer. 

Let's keep this in mind when next you hear the negative attacks against development.

(Leron Gubler has been serving as the President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for the past 24 years. His tenure since 1992 continues to oversee the great comeback story of Hollywood.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Horsin’ Around: Yet Another Break for the Self-Entitled One-Percenters

BIKERVIEW--As you may know, the City of Burbank recently knuckled under to one-percenter pressure and banned bicycles from the Mariposa Bridge over the LA River. You now can’t even dismount and push them across: bicycles are not allowed in any way, shape, or form on this bridge. The reason: fear that they will “spook” the horses ridden by the ultimate in self-entitled privilege junkies, the Equestrian-(un)American community infesting Riverside Drive. 

Yes, from up on their skittish beasts, they literally look down on everyone else. So, no bikes on the bridge. Even though, according to a 1938 Burbank Daily Review article quoted in an LA Times report, this bridge “would be for ‘only equestrians, cyclists and hikers.'”

None of that mattered to the present-day pseudo-centaurs growling out bike hate: their horses are just too nervous to be anywhere near a bicycle. Somehow, though, horses have been trained to go calmly into war for millennia. Yes, they can put up with flying bullets, arrows, and spears, flashing swords and bayonets, roaring cannons, and screams of rage and agony all around -- but they can’t see a bicycle without suffering a heart attack. Maybe modern-day equestrians are just too lazy to train their beasts? 

In another extralegal assumption of privilege, horse folks actually made up their own official-looking signs “banning” bikes from the bridge long before Burbank’s city council (which had originally approved a cyclists-dismount provision) finally gave into their relentless kvetching. No surprise: I’ve actually had horse people tell me that hiking was prohibited on Sierra trails for the same reason. You know, just plain walking. This was untrue, by the way. 

The equestrians’ main argument is that bikes are prohibited on the dirt trails of Griffith Park, to which the bridge leads. This is true. But, a few feet from the park end of the bridge is a paved trail (AKA, a “road”) where bikes are permitted, and could be walked to. And, of course, the LA River bike path will soon be extended past the bridge. 

However, as CiclaValley reports, the very same Burbank City Council just met to consider accepting Metro funds to build a bicyclist- and pedestrian-only bridge about half a mile west of Mariposa, connecting Bob Hope Drive to the park side of the river. This is in anticipation of the bike path extension. 

No word yet on the results of this august body’s deliberations. Maybe they’ll quit horsin’ around and allow all the city’s denizens free access to the river and Griffith Park. Or maybe they’ll cower in fear of the stirrup set again and let the opportunity pass them by. 

We’ll just have to wait and see.


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


Hey Reporters! How about a Few Questions Please on the Harvard-Westlake Scam?

EXPOSED--Vegas odds are against an Oscar win this Sunday for indie favorite Spotlight (photo above)—which tells the true story of journalists in Boston who under the leadership of editor Marty Baron expose the Catholic Church’s systemic concealment of sexual abuse by priests. A loss for Spotlight would be good news for “soft-hitting” newspaper publishers but bad news for the public’s right to know. 

Let’s hope that Spotlight inspires LA’s fifth estate to stop turning a blind eye to this city’s growing scourge of “pay to play.”’ 

A good place to start is in Coldwater Canyon, where Harvard-Westlake, having just released a revised DEIR, is moving full steam ahead with its plans to build a widely opposed three-story parking garage, complete with flood-lit sports field on top and private pedestrian skybridge over the public thoroughfare of Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, with the purpose being, in Havard-Westlake Vice President John Amato’s words: “Our kids have to perform in front of audiences so we have to have parking for visitors, and we want to have all our parking in one location.” 

As reported in these pages over two months ago, the public official who wields near absolute power over the fate of the parking project—District 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian—has accepted donations from eighteen Harvard-WestlakeTrustees, with all but two giving the maximum $700 contribution and none disclosing their relationship to the school on the donation form.  

All but a few of the contributions were made on the same day—a feat which tops the virtually simultaneous contributions made to Mr. Krekorian by the same trustees and administrators on February 18, 2011, also with not a single trustee identifying his or her connection to the school. This activity resulted in a windfall for Mr. Krekorian's campaign committee from the school's trustees alone.  

Incredibly, Mr. Krekorian did not return the $20,950 he garnered from the recent contributions. On the contrary, he used the money to obtain public matching funds from the City, so that each Harvard-Westlake contribution was in effect supplemented by $500 of taxpayer funds. In other words, literally the very same people who are having their quality of home life intruded on by the school's plan were made to match the Harvard-Westlake influence-peddling donations. 

LA residents may disagree as to whether Councilmember Krekorian, given his power over the fate of the parking garage project, should return the eighteen contributions he received from Harvard-Westlake Trustees, togthether with all of the matching funds he obtained through use of the Harvard-Westlake money—if only to remove any appearance of partiality.  

Whatever one’s opinion, it would seem obvious that Mr. Krekorian should have been asked about it … by a media that has been strangely silent. Not a single reporter has said a word to Mr. Krekorian. It’s been seventy days since the facts were known. What is the press waiting for? How is their silence not an abnegation of their duty to serve the public’s right to know?

We can only hope that Oscar Sunday will inspire someone to step up to the plate. If not, hopefully editor Marty Baron will help out.


(Eric Preven is a CityWatch contributor and a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District. Joshua Preven is a teacher who lives in Los Angeles. Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch. )


Did Ross Perot Just ‘Trump’ the Bush Family?  

POLITICS-This 2016 election cycle will certainly be one for the history books, and one for the historians, sociologists and political scientists to evaluate and study for decades to come.  But while no one can really encapsulate the "Trump" phenomenon in a single bullet point, here's a talking point to consider:  Donald John Trump's original flirtation with presidential politics was with the 2000 presidential election ... as a Reform Party candidate

The Reform Party ... as in Ross Perot.  Yes, THAT Ross Perot--the man who hated former President George Herbert Walker Bush and his clan so much he helped President Bill Clinton get elected ... twice ... and who was virtually made irrelevant in his failure to prevent the passage of the NAFTA trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. 

So is Donald John Trump the living revenge of Henry Ross Perot, that same Perot who once stated that "War has rules, mud wrestling has rules - politics has no rules"? 

Do both Republicans and Democrats in very large numbers regret the election of both George Bush the Elder in 1988 and George Bush the Younger in 2000? 

If NAFTA could be repealed today, and was up for a vote to that effect in Congress, would it be repealed? 

Numerous third party presidential and other movements have been tried and failed for virtually the entire history of the United States, but as with the Progressive Party of 1912 (also known as the Bull Moose Party) of Teddy Roosevelt the Republican Party was and is split among those who were fiercely pro-American with respect to economic and political power, but wanted more economic competition and welfare for the needy. 

And a split Republican party led to the election of Democratic Woodrow Wilson, whose terms in office have been both praised and derided aplenty to this very day. 

Hence we have a Republican "Establishment" (hated by the Republican "Base" as being too much in the pocket of Wall Street) that is now in shock and panic mode with the fall of the Bush Family and is scrambling to do anything (ANYTHING!) to gather behind one candidate...who will probably be Marco Rubio. 

Close your eyes, listen to the screams of the anti-Wall Street/Establishment cries of the Tea Party and pro-Trump crowds, and it might sound frightfully similar to the complaints of the Occupy Movement. 

Open your eyes, and you'll see that these same crowds despise the socialism and leftist extremes of the Occupy and Bernie Sanders movements:  these crowds are ardently anti-Wall Street but equally ardent pro-American and pro-capitalism. 

Which can be confusing as heck to anyone trying to figure this out--even "The Donald" was confused when MSNBC anchor described to him the description of a candidate who appeared to be Trump himself ... but was actually Bernie Sanders! 

So is Donald Trump a closet Socialist, a male version of Hillary Clinton, and a secret, wannabe Democrat with "New York Values" as promoted by his Republican detractors? 

Hardly, if anyone's read his writings over the course of his entire life.  He despises socialism but hates crony capitalism and wants a fair playing field.  He's repeatedly threatening to prosecute Hillary Clinton for breaking the law, and his hatred of the Bush Family mirrors that of the aforementioned H. Ross Perot. 

And his unwavering support of American exceptionalism and American worldwide hegemony goes beyond that of Ronald Reagan to the principles of Teddy Roosevelt. 

So IS the ascendancy of Donald Trump merely an attempt to achieve a Republican Party that is more akin to the Reform Party of Perot?  Certainly, the colossal waste of money and effort to promote Jeb Bush's failed candidacy is emblematic of an out-of-touch GOP leadership that apparently forgot that former President G.W. Bush was persona non grata and out of sight at both the 2008 and 2012 GOP Presidential Conventions. 

Furthermore, the willingness to achieve reform in this nation--first within the GOP, and with "Exhibit A" being the Iraq War, which proved to be such a painful drag on the nation (and especially within the Republican voting base)--reform is a phenomenon that is hard to ignore. 

Everyone appears to believe in one way, shape, or form that "reform" is needed, and that "business as usual" just won't be tolerated during what appears to be a Second Gilded Age. 

(And for those who never learned post-Civil War History, the Gilded Age of the late 19th Century was an era of political and economic excess that created horrific income inequality and ushered in the union era ... look it up

So it appears that the GOP is being dragged kicking and screaming on its way to a historical cleansing that will be one for the ages. 

But if Trump does win the GOP nomination, then one can look forward to him taking "reform" to the Democratic Party next--because as Iraq was to the Bush Administration, "Obamacare" is to the Obama Administration. 

The "Affordable Care Act" is set to die an unavoidable death on its own economic unsustainable principles, and if it is not repealed then it will inevitably be gutted and undergo dramatic revisions--and for President Obama to hope for a sensible health care debate once he's gone is commensurate to concluding that his very presence and tone with Congress prevented a sensible debate during his tenure. 

Perhaps President Obama was so desperate to have ANY form of health care reform that he was willing to have such an acrimonious passage of the ACA and force the issue to finally be confronted by Congress, but the ACA is anything but "affordable" and is perceived by so many to be economically harmful that we might see Congress remain Republican because of the ACA blunders in the same way that Congress became Democratic because of the Iraq blunders. 

Which may lead many Democratic and other political analysts wishing that--with the fall of the Bush Family--there was a better and more successful option for toppling the Clinton Family than the well-meaning but potentially unelectable Bernie Sanders. 

Because the Democratic Party inevitably needs reform, too.


(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.) 


Los Angeles … and the State: Caught in Affordable Housing Crisis

EDITOR’S PICK--California’s housing crisis is a complex one, as befits a state with a population of close to 40 million people, spread out over 163,696 square miles, and with some of the country’s largest cities and fastest growing population hubs, as well as some of its most rugged rural areas.

Los Angeles’ Skid Row sprawls just a few blocks from the skyscrapers of downtown and showcases one of the developed world’s largest concentrations of long-term homeless people. They live in tents and jerry-rigged shanties along the sidewalks and in vacant lots, surround social service agency buildings and provide a vista of misery stunning in its intensity. Only a few miles away, middle- and working-class tenants are being driven from their rent-controlled homes into the exurbs or onto friends’ and relatives’ couches. The causes of this diaspora are developers seeking to capitalize on Hollywood’s soaring real estate values and the city’s “densification” development strategy that prioritizes large-scale, high-end housing developments over new affordable housing for middle-income families and the working poor.

The extremes of poverty and affluence do a strange dance in L.A.’s housing story, as they do in San Francisco to the north.

Says tenants’ organizer Dont Rhine, a Hollywood-based artist who cut his teeth in the world of activism working for ACT UP in the 1990s, “There are a lot of renters who are frickin’ pissed off. I’ve not seen anything like this since the AIDS crisis. It’s affecting mental health and physical health.”

By contrast, in the Central Valley deep pools of poverty in cities such as Fresno — the core of which has the third highest poverty rate of any large metro area in the country — perpetuate the existence of slum housing. Twenty years ago, in a deal that then-President Bill Clinton carved out with a conservative Congress, the country’s political leadership eliminated 100,000 units of public housing. Years later, in 2011, the California legislature, at the urging of Governor Jerry Brown, scrapped a program that had funneled billions of dollars from the state into local redevelopment agency grants. Today, while Fresno’s Housing Authority and nonprofit homebuilders such as Self Help Enterprises try to provide decent, affordable housing for the lucky few, the need massively outstrips the supply. Tens of thousands of families are poor enough to qualify for housing vouchers, affordable housing in mixed-income units or public housing, yet most will never be provided an apartment or house.

Roughly 67,000 families in the Fresno area are on waiting lists for these programs. With each year, as federal investments in housing lag, the problem gets worse. Making the matter ever more urgent is the fact that it is in Central Valley towns that much of California’s population growth in coming years is predicted to occur. Absent huge investments in affordable housing, a growing number of Californians in the valley a generation from now will be living in slums, at the mercy of a private rental market utterly indifferent to their basic needs and dignity.

In Orange County, widespread affluence has pushed up real estate values beyond anything affordable to the low-wage, service-sector workers, many of them undocumented, who cater to affluent residents’ consumption needs. As a result, with years-long waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers (for qualified recipients who pay up to 30 percent of their income on rent, with the difference, up to a certain rent threshold, paid for by the government); with a paucity of affordable housing units being built; and with vast shortages in public housing, many residents double, triple or quadruple up, creating some of the most overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions in America.

“Where should I go with no job?” asks Santa Ana resident Concepcion, an undocumented immigrant who has run through her legal options and is at risk of imminent deportation. She lives with her husband and three children inside a tiny room within a small house, in a poor part of town. Recently, a teenager living near the house drew a gun on a police officer and, to Concepcion’s horror, she saw heavily armed SWAT teams swarm past her window. “Low-income housing?” she asks. “I’m ineligible. It’s either here or under a bridge or the public library, where the homeless are.”

It’s a choice many Santa Anans have had to make. When the city surveyed the transient population recently, it found more than 400 people living on the streets surrounding Civic Center Plaza – and another 400-plus living along the Santa Ana riverbed. There are, according to Judson Brown, the housing division manager for the city’s Community Development Agency, only 185 shelter beds for the homeless in Santa Ana and, of these, nearly three quarters are only available during the cold winter months.

In the Bay Area one town after another has witnessed spiraling real estate dislocations as San Francisco’s soaring property market continues to create spillover effects in neighboring counties. In the city itself, family apartments in traditionally immigrant and working-class neighborhoods such as the Mission District have been converted into million-dollar pads for young techies, an ongoing problem driven by the presence of many of the world’s top tech companies in Silicon Valley just a few miles to the south.

Across the bay in Oakland, gritty neighborhoods in that city’s west and north are rapidly being gentrified; there’s some good to this – in lower crime rates and more vibrant economic activity – but also a lot of bad. Historically African American and Latino areas are bought into by a wave of disproportionately white and Asian-American gentrifiers, as they and investors snap up any and all properties that come onto the market. Existing residents find that they can no longer afford exploding rents and are pushed ever further from their places of work and the schools that their children are enrolled in. People with precious few resources to begin with are uprooted and, in essence, told to start afresh.

As a domino line of towns is hit by the Bay Area real estate boom’s shockwaves, so the dislocation spreads further afield. In the last few months, long-time working-class residents in Redwood City and other cities in the vicinity have almost overnight been swept aside by a tsunami of real estate investors taking advantage of their proximity both to Silicon Valley and to San Francisco. Absent a coherent affordable housing development strategy in these towns, local housing activists fear that low- and moderate-income families will no longer be able to stay in the city.

 This series is the story of California’s housing crisis, a crisis that shows no sign of abating. We have decided not to focus on long-term homelessness here, because it is a complex saga involving a discussion of mental health services, addiction treatment and the ways in which foster care kids, veterans and ex-prisoners are too often cast aside by the broader society, that merits a later series unto itself.

Instead, in this series we will mostly look at those who have roofs over their heads, but whose situations are increasingly precarious.

The affordable housing crisis did not occur in a vacuum, but has its roots in both the last recession and in laws written years before that tilted California’s housing relationships in favor of landlords and developers. When the housing market collapsed eight years ago, it was homeowners who bore the brunt of the calamity, with entire neighborhoods destroyed by foreclosures. Today, with California’s real estate market rebounding, owners are again accumulating paper wealth. Increasingly, as property values soar, especially in thriving coastal cities, it is renters who now bear the greatest pain.

As mentioned, Governor Brown’s scrapping of California’s redevelopment agency program — a response taken against the state’s post-2008 financial crisis — deprived local housing budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars overnight. Not surprisingly, as more people find themselves priced out of quality housing, they are bumping up against the realities of catastrophic under-investment in decent affordable housing — a situation in which slum landlords are filling the void.

Renters are also confronting California’s Ellis Act, which provides a mechanism whereby property owners can evict rent-controlled tenants, demolish homes and rebuild the properties as upmarket homes. And they are grappling with the state’s Costa-Hawkins Act, pushed in the 1990s by many of the same conservative political lobbies that propelled Proposition 13 to victory in 1978, and which forbids cities to rent-stabilize properties built after 1995. How bad is the housing crisis in California?

Last year the chair of the state agency responsible for programs that create affordable housing stepped down under pressure when activists revealed he was evicting tenants from property he owned in order to replace its rent-controlled units with luxury ones.

In the coming days we will tell the tale of the struggling middle class and working poor in an era in which public investments in affordable housing have shamefully lagged, and in which politicians have too often catered to the needs of developers rather than to those of renters and lower income homeowners.

We will also explore the economic and health implications of substandard slum housing; the policy implications of growing wage inequalities in a high-cost real estate environment; and the dangers to the social fabric posed by the recreation of housing conditions that would have been all too familiar to Jacob Riis, the social reformer who photographed New York’s slums more than a century ago.

(Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic, New York magazine, the American Prospect, Salon, Slate, the New Yorker online, the Los Angeles Weekly, The Village Voice, the Daily Beast, and Rolling Stone. This important series originated at Capital and Main … where it continues throughout the week.) Photo credit: Ted Soqui



Transitioning Transit to a Transracial Experience   

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--Let's start by warning anyone reading this that if you're big into political correctness, this article isn't for you.  If the concept of Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter is tough for you, then this may not be the article for you...and maybe you're part of the problem affecting our City, State, and Nation.

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