Sat, May

California Political Parties: RIP

POLITICS--Are both political parties collapsing in California?

Over the past few years the release of Secretary of State data showing a drop in Republican registration has become a routine news story in California.

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Monster Porter Ranch Gas Leak a Monster: Largest in US History!

ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE-According to a peer-reviewed study just published in the journal Science, the nearly four-month leak released roughly 100,000 tons of methane -- effectively doubling the methane emissions rate of the entire Los Angeles Basin. Southern California Gas Co. said it stopped the leak earlier this month. State Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources engineers confirmed the leak was halted last week. 

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LA’s Housing Crisis: What Can We Really Afford?

HERE’S WHAT I KNOW-Since 2000, the cost of housing in Los Angeles has outpaced income growth by four times. Conventional financial advice suggests spending no more than a third of a monthly paycheck on rent or mortgage payment but more than half of Southern Californians spend over 30% on housing, leaving many Angelenos cash-strapped for food, healthcare, transportation, and savings. 

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East LA Latinos: Not be Voting for Trump Anytime Soon

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--As Donald Trump comes closer to clinching the nomination more people start to worry and pay closer attention. If you mention the name Donald Trump in East Los Angles you will now get a reaction, this is according to an article by Steve Lopez from the Los Angeles Times. 

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Clear Channel’s Rogue Billboards Skirt LA’s ‘Code of Principles’

BILLBOARD WATCH-Several months ago, we wrote about a Clear Channel billboard on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice that violated an outdoor advertising industry code regarding the proximity of alcohol ads to schools and places of worship. That ad for New Amsterdam vodka was recently removed, but what’s displayed now on that 52 ft. high, 624 sq. ft. sign? An ad for Camarena tequila. 

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Is LA Losing Mass Transit Riders or are We Messing with the Numbers?

TRANSIT TALK--Regarding the purported 10% drop of mass transit passenger ridership, I will quote from Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review. “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’” As one who has difficulties with numbers I know how it feels. 

But here’s a statistic attributed to myself: I am a regular transit rider, going back to 1992. I own a car for use, but my commitment to trying to reduce the worst air pollution in the nation, and the continuing and very worrying threat of climate change from burning carbon gases (how’s this February, 2016 winter heatwave working for you?) keep me riding transit. 

Wendell Cox’s attempt through statistics to rebut Ethan Elkins’ criticism of the original Los Angeles Times article which started this noise has left me quizzical. And his buyer’s remorse over his amendment to Proposition A, a measure providing nearly all of the local funding for rail systems for a decade of construction, left me disappointed. 

I followed Cox’s link to newgeography.com which provided statistics to back up his buyer’s remorse and to buttress Thomas A. Rubin’s statistics against the construction of the region’s rail network. 

Again, I am lousy with numbers, but in that article I followed, as I could, the statistics on the change of transportation patterns: 

Census Bureau data indicates that the employment access share of transit in Los Angeles County has declined modestly, from 7.0 percent in 1980 to 6.9 percent in 2013 (including Metrolink). Driving alone increased from 68.7 percent to 72.7 percent, while carpool commuting dropped from 16.8 percent to 10.0 percent. Outside of driving alone, the largest increase occurred in working at home rising from 1.5 percent to 5.2 percent (Figure 3). Unlike transit, working at home requires virtually no expenditures of public funds. Transit one-way work trips increased 77,000 daily, while driving alone increased by 947,000 and working at home increased 182,000. Carpools suffered a large loss. 

Using my admittedly unprofessional statistical abilities, I did some basic math and made my own interpretations. While newgeography points to a modest decline in the “Work Trip Share” of transit -- 6.9 percent down from 7.0 percent -- I would say that the needle has barely moved. However, while drive alone increased four percent, it was offset by an almost four percent increase of working at home. But carpooling decreased by nearly seven percent. Walking decreased nearly one percent, and other remained the same. 

Where did that six percent decrease in carpooling go? 

If the increase of driving alone is offset by working at home, and carpooling suffered a dramatic loss (which further bolsters the point that widening the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass will not pay off) and transit ridership was nearly the same, how could it be that there was a 10 percent drop in transit ridership? 

Again, I’m lousy with math; there may be an answer somewhere, but I don’t see it. 

Furthermore, I completely disagree with Rubin and Cox’s refuting the idea of counting transit trips as “unlinked trips,” where every bus ride is considered a separate ride. As a transit rider, mostly buses, I support the unlinked trips counting of transit. 

Before I go into my personal experiences, I must ask: when counts are taken of freeway capacity and gridlock, what methodology is used? Once a vehicle enters any freeway, is that considered the entire trip for every freeway, or if I drive on the San Diego 405 Freeway and then get onto the Santa Monica 10 Freeway, would that be considered two trips on two separate freeways? 

Planning for budgets for freeway maintenance should depend how many trips are taken on each freeway. If all freeways are considered one, then the very short Marina 90 Freeway, which always has open lanes, should have the same wear and tear as the 405, and therefore receive the same maintenance funding. I know from driving on both that these two freeways are not in the same condition. The 405 is rutted, bumpy and gridlocked while the 90 Marina Freeway is not. The 405, due to greater use, requires a greater maintenance budget than the 90 freeway. 

So, my experiences as a transit rider tell me that each trip on each and every bus or train should be counted separately, because, as a rider, I will make a transfer to a bus on a street separate from the previous bus, and those need to be counted as separate trips. I may transfer from one transit agency, say Culver City, to another agency such as Metro or Santa Monica. I assume that, when planning their budgets, these three independent transit agencies only count ridership on their buses or trains – the latter of which are exclusively Metro’s. 

Today I rode six buses: in the morning it was Culver City, Regular and Rapid 6 northbound; Metro 720 westbound; and Santa Monica No. 1 westbound. In the evening I took the Santa Monica No. 3 Rapid southbound to another Culver City No. 6 northbound to a bus stop different than the one I used in the morning. For each bus ride it was a walk to the bus stop, wait, board the bus, pay the fare (through the TAP card, but that’s another story), and depart the bus. After that, I had to walk to the transfer bus stop, wait, board, pay fare, and exit. Again and again and again. All separate trips. 

I am not complaining, because that is the nature of transit riding. This leads me to question the everyday transit riding experiences of Rubin and Wilcox. If, day in and day out, they rode buses and rails, they would know the personal experience of separate transit rides. 

What is very disappointing is Rubin’s anti-rail stance and Wilcox’s buyer’s remorse for rail. Indeed, a great number of transit riders today are low to moderate income, as they assert, but Rubin and Wilcox seem intent on keeping them in the less favorable rider experience of bus use only. 

I have nothing against buses. I rode six today. They are my transit mainstay. 

Modern buses are a huge improvement over those I rode when I started riding transit in 1992. But there are limitations on their carrying capacities; they not only offer a lower transit riding experience, they also provide hindrances to it. 

Rails are much smoother than the streets, and so is the ride. It’s worth every penny. The expense elevates the ride for lower and moderate income riders. The entering and departing trains provide a quantum leap for the better at the train stations; they are more expensive to build and maintain than buses and bus stops, but again, they offer better treatment for lower and moderate income riders. 

I have exited buses that put me into a hole in the sidewalk. I have had to leap from a bus to a sidewalk to avoid stepping into a gutter full of water. I have nearly tripped over tree roots or broken sidewalks, or when the bus door opens, I have stepped onto a grassy sidewalk parkway which may be wet; and when sprinklers are on, we transit riders must walk out the door into the spray, trying not to slip on the wet grass. 

These are not good transit experiences, and if you’re low income, or maybe just down on your luck, it’s the last thing you want or need. 

I wonder if Rubin or Wilcox and other mass transit officials and experts have had these kinds of daily experiences that do not show up in statistics. 

I know from driving and taking transit that, during the ever expanding rush hours, traveling by rail is as fast, and sometimes faster, than driving. The benefit of having extra time is priceless. 

Absolutely, rail cost more, but the major cities of the world, the cultural capitals, dynamic and exciting mature cities where people are visible in the streets and not sequestered in the cocoons of vehicles, have extensive passenger rail networks. 

The increase of rail construction cannot be confined to statistics. Its importance rises far above just the aspiration of being a better city and seeking the inspiration to make the city more humane and less mechanical. The question is, do we make ours a world class city, or do we remain middling, muddling along and not trying to improve transit rider experiences? Finally, do we do what is of benefit to all, and particularly for lower income people? That cannot be put into statistics.


(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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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