Tue, Apr

Déjà vu! Is Transit for You?

GETTING THERE FROM HERE--I couldn't help but get a massive case of deja vu when I read the Times-reported decrease in transit ridership, and an excellent response by transit advocate Ethan Elkind

My advice, if you want to learn the whole picture, is to click on both links above.  No worries, I'll wait ... 

... I think it's important to appreciate both points of view yet scrutinize them carefully.  Ignore them at your peril, but don't take either approach as "gospel".  I think that the Times writers are doing their jobs, and very much enjoy reading the work of both Ms. Laura Nelson and Mr. Dan Weikel, but feel obliged to mention that I've seen an anti-transit bias from Dan Weikel of the Times for as long as I've read him. 

Yet while I also respect and appreciate Mr. Elkind's work and opinions, I think that he, too, has his own bias that should be understood, noted, and appreciated. 

And, of course, I have my own bias--yet I have striven mightily over the years to be a "transportation" advocate and not merely a "transit" advocate.  Which means that I am as bullish about smoothing out the 101 freeway for smoother flow, and widening the I-5 freeway to enhance mobility, as I am creating an Expo Line, a Downtown Connector, a LAX/Metro Rail connection, etc. 

I am also into innovative Uber/Lyft and telecommuting as I am major works projects such as the aforementioned freeway and rail projects.  Ditto for DASH and bus operations funding while wanting to create more parking, bicycle and other access to transit. 

But it's not about me ... it's about YOU.  Is transit for YOU? 

There are those who think that mass transit is something to be worshiped, with the car being the transportation anti-Christ.  There are those who think that mass transit is a form of wicked socialism that prevents us from being free. 

And then there are the rest of us who just want a choice and a cheap, easy way to get from here to there, and who really wonder about the above two groups.We want affordable mobility that's not too tough on the environment, and which allows us to live our lives and make a few bucks to get by. 

Transit being "free" is like health care or college being "free"...unless there are volunteers involved, somebody is paying for it.  Which isn't a concept too tough for most adults to grasp, unless some of us want it for free and demand that others pay for things for which we benefit.  That demand doesn't sit well with most Americans, although economic stresses are probably making enough of us frustrated enough to insist on a break. 

Hence the desire of transit advocates for higher gas costs (to "force people out of their cars") is probably the last thing we need to encourage more transit spending: 

1) If the price of gas goes down, then we lose transit riders--and the Times writers have their case proven in that people DON'T really want to ride transit. 

2) No one likes to be "forced" to do ANYTHING. 

So for any transit advocate or planner or transportation expert who bemoans the recent falling of gas prices, perhaps a good self-administered slap in the face (and I mean so hard that it stings for five minutes afterwards) is in order. 

Cheap gas means cheaper food, cheaper industrial costs, cheaper transit operations, cheaper airline costs, and a host of secondary benefits.  Wanting gas and food and other economic costs to go up is misanthropic--and if you hate people, then fine...but don't be surprised if they'll hate you right back. 

Or at least ignore you. 

I think that both Nelson and Weikel on one hand, and Elkind on the other hand, do us all a good service.  We need to confront why many of us either don't want to, or cannot use transit if there are other ways to achieve mobility.  Lousy service, fears of our physical safety, convenience, etc. are all valid reasons and must NOT be ignored. 

Yet until we have a completed Expo Line, and a Foothill Gold Line, we won't have Metro Rail (with all of the linking bus lines) reaching the western and eastern ends of the county.  And to be honest, until we get a Downtown Light Rail Connector and a LAX/Metro Rail connection, we will have a disjointed rail system as inconvenient our freeway system would be without the I-10 or I-110. 

So some hard lessons learned, and the ability to really LISTEN to both sides, are good for us all. 

Problems with transit DO exist, and yet our Metro Rail system DOES have a brilliant future.   

But everything from parking to buses to bicycle amenities will be needed for transit to work. 

(And why in Heaven's name is the Eastside Light Rail Extension not sufficiently linking up to Metrolink, now?) 

The Expo and Eastside/Foothill Gold Lines are alternatives to the freeways in which they parallel, so WHY is there insufficient parking for those driving long distances to get out of their cars to access the trains? 

Why are we using rail projects an an excuse for overdeveloping?  Why are we using freeway expansions for overdeveloping? 

And why are we overdeveloping at all, if it will undo the mobility established by any new transportation project. That phenomenon is as smart as spending 25% more after a 10% raise. 

So maybe transit is for you.  And maybe transit isn't for you.  And maybe transit is for you when it comes to some needs, but not for others. 

But let's keep theology out of this.  Neither cars, buses, nor trains have the numbers "666" engraved under them, and those who advocate for either of those forms of transit should use common sense and common decency in making their case. 

And I'll let YOU figure out whether you like my idea or not:  I am a "transportation" advocate, a "mobility" advocate, and an "economic opportunity" advocate.  I like ANY form of transportation that is smart, cost-effective, attractive, and something that enhances our Economy, Environment, and Quality of Life. 

(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.)


Has LA Animal Services Brenda Barnette Crossed the Line with Questionable Fundraising MOU?

ANIMAL WATCH-Was it an oversight or intentional that the new nonprofit proposed by General Manager Brenda Barnette to solicit funds for the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services was incorporated as “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation?” 

At the January 12, 2016 meeting of the Animal Services Commission, GM Brenda Barnette urged approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Los Angeles Animal Services and “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation, Inc.”, incorporated by former Villaraigosa-appointed Commissioner Maggie Neilson, CEO of Global Philanthropy.   

Brenda Barnette claims that the purpose is “…to support the work of the Department much the way the LAPD Foundation, the LAFD Foundation, the Library Foundation and others support the work of City Departments.” 

However, other city-department “supporting foundations” clearly mention in their name the agency for which they are soliciting funds. 

So why wasn’t “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” incorporated as “Los Angeles Animal Services Foundation” or “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Services?” Both are available according to the CA Secretary of State.   

Ms. Neilson’s glib response to the Commission after that question was posed in public comment, was that “they” can change the name later. She didn’t explain why a compatible name was not used at the outset. 

Whether it is a lack of experience or perhaps being advised not to create any roadblocks for Brenda Barnette, none of the three attorneys on the Commission asked any probing questions about the blank spaces in the MOU or about a business plan, goals or officers. They were effusive over approving essentially a “blank check.” 

This was the first meeting after the resignation of Commissioner Jennifer Brent -- a tremendous loss, because she was the only Commissioner with actual animal sheltering and nonprofit management experience. 

Another obvious incongruence clouds the transparency of this proposed financial-support agreement: 

The MOU states:

“… the specific purpose of the Foundation is to raise funds to support the mission of the Department…;” 

The Articles of Incorporation for the Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation state:  

“The specific purpose of the Corporation is to ensure every animal has a home and   that no adoptable animals are euthanized in Los Angeles.” 

But the official mandated Mission Statement of the Department of Animal Services is clear:

        “To promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of animals and people.” 

Deputy City Attorney Dov Lesel reportedly helped develop this MOU. Why would a nonprofit charity be set up with a statement of purpose not closely related to the Mission Statement of the agency for which it purports to raise funds? 

There are fundamental legal and functional differences between a public, tax-funded animal control agency, such as L.A. Animal Services -- which is mandated to pick up and impound stray/sick animals, maintain open-entry shelters, and enforce laws to protect animals and people -- and a private, donation-based “rescue,” which offers homeless animals for adoption after an owner relinquishes them or fails to claim them from the shelter. 

Would donors seeking to support the idealistic goals of “The Los Angeles Rescue Foundation” feel deceived that their money is spent on the public-safety obligations of a city animal-control agency, including humane euthanasia when necessary? 

Annual financial statements of “The Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” will be provided only to Brenda Barnette, the Department’s senior accountant, and the Commission. And, any other financial data or list of officers and/or employees will be provided only to the Department upon request, according to the MOU. 

One expert explained, “When a governmental agency, such as L.A. Animal Services, joins with an allied nonprofit to raise funds, they then have an unaccountable partner that is not subject to the scrutiny of CA Public Records Act requests.” 

L.A. Animal Services is definitely not cash-strapped or lacking in charitable funding. Although General Manager Brenda Barnette frequently claims she is hampered by a lack of funds, donors give generously and leave sizable bequests to support the homeless animals impounded at City shelters. 

According to GM Barnette’s report on January 26, 2016, there is a current balance of $2,288,560.00 in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund (AWTF), which is a carefully monitored and controlled charitable fund to assist the Department. (In fact, in late 2014, the balance was so high that Barnette was instructed by the Commission to spend $500,000.) 

The unrestricted current donations, which can be used for any existing program for the welfare of animals except spay/neuter, total $1,206,992.75.

The Animal Sterilization (Spay/Neuter) Fund shows a cash balance of $4,684,103.47 (as of 12/31/2015) from donations, grants, pet-adoption deposits, fees, and General Fund subsidy. 

In addition, the Department of Animal Services has a tax-funded 2015-16 operating budget of $43,950,107. 

The “Los Angeles Animal Rescue Foundation” is actually Brenda’s third (known) attempt to form a nonprofit. 

An August 13, 2014, report by Barnette to Mayor Garcetti regarding the creation of an Animal Foundation with former-Commissioner Maggie Neilson, is marked “Note and File.” 

It identifies that, “The General Manager is working with former Animal Services Commissioner Maggie Neilson, Partner and CEO of Global Philanthropy, to form "The Foundation," a public nonprofit to help support the work of Animal Services.” 

Then it took a strange turn -- proposing that “Part of The Foundation would use the abandoned South L.A. shelter as a job training location for community members…” Concluding, “Animal Services is working with Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals…” 

This is visionary; but, it is hard to grasp the nexus to raising money for an animal shelter. 

Former-Commissioner, Terri Marcellaro and GM Brenda Barnette were involved in forming the 2011 nonprofit, called “Friends of Los Angeles Animal Shelters” to solicit funds in the name of L.A. City shelter animals. Donor packages of up to $50,000 were planned to be offered by the Friends of LA Animal Shelters, according to their documents. 

Mr. Barnette was not entirely forthcoming in her report to the Commission about her involvement with this group.

Dov Lesel of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Administrative Office denied knowledge of an MOU or contract, in response to my inquiries; however, 187 pages of e-mails and other documents were obtained through CPRA requests.

A visit to the Friends of LA Animal Shelters website on November 14, 2012, showed under “Donate”: 

"Friends of L.A. Animal Shelters is the fundraising arm of the city shelters. If you give directly to the city, there is no guarantee your money will reach the animals. Any money donated to us is guaranteed to go directly to the animals."  (Note: This wording was changed soon after my CPRA was received by the City.) 

There was not then, and appears still not to be, an MOU or formal agreement with the City, although shelter animals are delivered daily (except Tuesday) to the Friends’ L.A. Love and Leashes adoption location at 1011 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica by L.A. City employees, using city vehicles, and picked up by 7:00 p.m.

There is no indication donated funds to these groups is given to L.A. Animal Services although they claim they are supporting the shelters. Nor do any of Ms. Barnette’s reports on the Animal Welfare Trust Fund mention donations from either group. 

Several questions need answers:

  • Was an MOU or formal contract ever entered into for this transport and/or adoption activity and to relieve the City of liability while the animals are at this location?
  • How many animals are actually being adopted at Loves and Leashes, since the City is investing a substantial amount of employee time and resources?
  • Under what authority is City property (animals) transferred to a new owner in an adoption processed in Santa Monica by other than a Los Angeles City employee? 

There is much discontent being expressed and questions arising about Ms. Barnette’s management performance and treatment of her employees. This is a time for her to either dispel the untruths or improve the issues that are creating discomfort for the Mayor. 

There are growing concerns among members of the City Council and the public about strays, animal protection and the condition of animals in the shelters. There is unpardonably slow response to calls for humane investigations of suffering, starving and abused animals. 

This is the time for Brenda Barnette to devote her attention to her duties and fulfill her obligations to the animals and residents of Los Angeles. Fundraising should be last on her list.                                                                       

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

Knock On Wood We Don’t Become Manhattanwood!

DEEGAN ON LA-Reform is in the air across the land, and it’s also evident in our city. The mood has been set by an angry national political debate that pits the 99% against the 1%, the haves versus the have-nots, and the far left against the far right. Here in LA, it’s more prosaic where there is a call to reform our out-of-control development plan for the city. People are angry and it’s bubbling up into lawsuits and litigation that have replaced reason. That must change. We must get a grip on land use. 

There’s a ballot measure planned for the November elections asking the voters to weigh in on the land use and development policies in our city. Already, leaked murmurs from City Hall are calling for appeasement and conciliation to prevent this from happening.  

But let’s not negotiate. The people need to speak on this one, not just compromise with politicians. Let’s get the issue out there to be fully vetted by the public; the public deserves to vote. Remember, it’s the people, not the revolving-door politicos, who make up the permanent government. 

Politicos at the root of the land use regulation problem have been served notice: fixing the mess they’ve made may be taken out of their hands if the proposed Neighborhood Integrity Initiative qualifies to appear on the November 8 ballot. It calls for a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning -- a hiatus for all the winks and nods and special zoning variance favors between the politicos and developers.  

Pro-growth advocates can be expected to do everything possible to halt this proposed ballot measure in its tracks. They are wealthy, enjoying unqualified political support at City Hall from the Mayor and City Councilmembers. This is why it is so crucial for the conversation to be elevated above the heads of the politicos to include the voice of the voters. If there’s a ballot measure in November the people will speak and the politicos will be forced to listen. No wonder the opposition is forming. 

The clock is ticking and the players are scrambling, some to advocate and others to assail. The stakes are as sky high as the developers want their new buildings to be. In the run-up to the November vote, they will face greater scrutiny and city planners will be held more accountable; politicos will no longer be the masters of their districts when it comes to land use decisions – decisions that, until now, have needed only their sign-off on a variance to skirt around any kind of land use rhyme or reason.  

Of all the players, the 15 councilmembers stand the most to lose. Financial support from developers is the high octane fuel powering the engines of many council offices and campaigns. Only one councilmember, David Ryu (CD4,) has a website showing the transparency of his dealings with developers who do business in his district. Knocked as a naive newcomer, Ryu may be the last man standing if the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is passed by the voters on November 8. He looks even better because the others look so bad. 

Anti-development sentiment is widespread but fractured. Each neighborhood seems to form its own splinter group with its own take on what’s good for them. Many have been tarred as NIMBY’s -- a stigma that needs to change. A good start toward changing this perception has been launched by the Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) and its Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a grassroots-driven ballot measure seeking to rein in “mega” development in Los Angeles over the next few years. 

According to CPLA’s Campaign Director Jill Stewart, "The November ballot measure will put a two-year timeout on all development that goes against existing zoning, and will force the City Council into a public process during that moratorium, to rewrite the 1980s-era General Plan. Most planning is spot rezoning that is done in back rooms then presented as a near-inevitability. We're seeing a huge number of older, affordable housing units destroyed to make way for luxury units, and destruction of neighborhood character, not to mention significantly worse surface street congestion.” 

The developers’ mantra seems to be “let’s make a deal,” and it’s the politicos who are brokering those deals. The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative says, “let’s deal the people in -- all of the communities and neighborhoods that are being drastically affected by your back-room moves. Let them tell us what they want by voting “yes” or “no” on the ballot measure.” 

Paving the way for the ballot measure signature drive is the start of the “Stop Manhattanwood” campaign that, says the campaign’s newly launched website, “is a new awareness and advocacy campaign featuring billboards and online elements to educate concerned citizens in Los Angeles and elsewhere about the impact that tremendous growth and overdevelopment in Los Angeles—particularly in the Greater Hollywood area—is having on the overall quality of life in the city”.  

For once, there is no Hollywood dream-factory hyperbole or political overstatement to this sobering fact: the land use policies of the city are a mess-- physical Hollywood is the epicenter -- though not the only area of concern. 

So who are the known principal players right now in the battle that is shaping up? 

There’s Mayor Eric Garcetti,who has a history being at the eye of the Hollywood overdevelopment storm starting as councilmember in CD13 when the wrecking ball started rolling, followed by his tenure as President of the City Council, and now as Mayor. Some say a run for Governor or Senator may be next for him. He has motive, means and opportunity to get the land use mess cleaned up – and maybe put smiles on the faces of voters. 

Next up from the city is Garcetti’s newly appointed head of the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP) Vince Bertoni, who brings more than 25 years of planning experience – including a previous stint at LADCP. When Bertoni was Deputy Planning Director in Los Angeles he oversaw the adoption of 16 historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZ) and a Hollywood community plan. 

Nobody has stood up to say he or she is “for the status quo, for uncontrolled development,” and willing to take that side of the argument. It’s no wonder. Although an opposition is forming to the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the fight will eventually be joined. 

So far there is no announced opposition, creating a vacuum allowing the advocates of reform to set the agenda and step into the empty space, claiming as much ground as possible before an opposition organizes and gets funded. The ballot measure team is off to a good start this week with twin programming launches -- both billboards and ballot measure awareness outreach. 

Leading advocates include the Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) President Michael Weinstein and Coalition to Preserve L.A. (CPLA) Campaign Director Jill Stewart. This is a tough and determined team involving an organization renowned for advocacy, inended on educating area residents about the growing problem in the city and region, and particularly in the Greater Hollywood area. 

An ad campaign using “Stop Manhattanwood” billboards has begun and can be seen at major intersections like Vine and Santa Monica; Cahuenga, north of Sunset (above the Jack in the Box); Sunset and Van Ness (near Denny’s); Melrose, west of La Brea; and at Western and Lexington Avenues. The campaign will run for three months, a prime time for gathering signatures for the ballot measure. 

Synchronized to this effort is the Coalition to Preserve L.A.’s Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, supported by a grassroots group that will be gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot. They must amass 61,486 signatures to qualify its measure for the November 8 ballot. A few days ago, the Los Angeles City Clerk informed the backers that they may begin circulating petitions.  

The Coalition to Preserve LA (CPLA) will soon start the ballot signature process to qualify the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative for the November election. They will visit groups citywide to discuss the ballot measure and solicit citywide buy-in from individuals for the fight. Their aim is to build a volunteer corps trained in workshops that will help get out the message, to spread the word to neighbors. It’s like a political campaign.  

So, the race is on. Nearly 100 years ago, when New York City was only a village, Rogers and Hart wrote the classic, “I’ll Take Manhattan, a song that has become part of  “The Great American Songbook.” A century later, people in our sunny city are singing a different tune – “I’ll Take Manhattan? No, you can have it!” 

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

Memo to LA’s City Council -- Stop Making Sweetheart Private Sale Deals on City Property!  

GUEST COMMENTARY-Just eighteen months prior to handing over (in a below-market private sale) the keys to an old firehouse (photo above) bordering Richard Weintraub’s proposed development site for Sportsmen’s Landing, the City slapped Mr. Weintraub with a $1.6 million lawsuit to recover several years’ worth of taxes that he, as a hotel owner, was required to but did not pay.  

Mr. Weintraub was quite effective at enforcing the first part of the law (requiring guests to pay the tax,) but when it came to turning the tax money over to the City, he was considerably more lax. No worries, though. On a motion from Councilmember Krekorian, the City agreed to Weintraub’s low-ball settlement offer—a 37% discount from what the City originally sued for.  

Apparently, that wasn’t enough special treatment for Mr. Weintraub, who, on July 15, 2015, told a group of Studio City residents that “in thirty years of doing this, this has been the least pleasant project I've had to deal with, and the least pleasant group of people, I've had to deal with.” 

No comment -- except to say that it’s time for the City to 1) close the loophole practice of selling City surplus property in “private sales” instead of public auctions and 2) put a shorter leash on the City Council’s power to hand-out amnesty-like lawsuit settlements to “well-connected” but law-breaking individuals.  

Meanwhile, things just keep getting worse. Last week a formal complaint I filed with the City Attorney protesting the City Council’s blocking of testimony from residents opposed to the Sportsmen’s Landing development was rejected without coherent rationale. 

Trust me…it won’t be the last word.


(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.) Photo: CBS News LA. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Obama Picks LA: First Up for Help Turning Permanent Residents into U.S. Citizens

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-It’s not a coincidence that the Obama administration has chosen Los Angeles as the first city to support the President’s effort to encourage qualified permanent residents to become U.S. citizens. 

Obama administration officials met here this past Friday with Mayor Eric Garcetti, local nonprofits and business owners to discuss ways to make this happen. 

The meeting was part of a multi-city tour by the White House’s Task Force on New Americans, that the administration previewed in a call with reporters Thursday. 

“To launch forward we must return to our core values as Americans and even in these tough times strive to embrace our role as a nation of immigrants, a nation of dreamers, a nation of hope,” Mayor Garcetti said on Twitter about the meeting, which was closed to the public. 

In recent years, California has moved repeatedly to provide rights, benefits and protections to immigrants in the country illegally, including in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, rules to limit deportations and state-funded healthcare for children. 

Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose have signed on to participate in the task force, as have cities in 25 other states. 

Senior Deputy Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the meeting will allow federal officials and members of Garcetti’s staff to coordinate with local leaders in business, nonprofit and community organizations. It also focused on how the federal government can make it easier for new citizens to integrate into life as Americans, according to the White House.

“Starting in California is a perfect kickoff from our perspective,” Chavez said. 

Chavez also praised several California efforts, including the partnership between U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Los Angeles Public Library system to create “citizenship corners” at every branch and hold citizenship classes, increased funding for citizenship and naturalization services by the Napa Valley Community Foundation, and targeting of individuals eligible for naturalization and connecting them with resources in San Francisco. 

Garcetti said that Step Forward LA, a program created in 2015 that helps people determine whether they are eligible to become citizens and prepares them for the citizenship test, has helped 45,000 people. 

There are an estimated 350,000 legal permanent residents in Los Angeles alone who are eligible to apply for citizenship but haven’t. In the greater area, the number soars to 750,000. “This isn’t an abstraction for us. It isn’t an abstraction for me,” Garcetti said. The biggest hurdle is the cost; currently the application fee is $595 (Add to that a $85 biometric fee for a total of $680.

Joining the White House’s effort is former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela (photo above), who became a U.S. citizen in July. He said he wants people to know there are resources available to assist people starting the process and to help integrate new citizens. “I am excited to vote in my first presidential election,” he said.


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


Phony Sustainability Arguments Used to justify High-Rise, Luxury Buildings

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--When investors decide to plunk their own money -- or more likely someone else’s money – into high-rise buildings, usually with luxury apartments or condos, their motivation is to turn a handsome profit. 

Despite their public persona, their investment decisions have nothing to do with self-serving claims about LA’s housing crisis, demographic trends, transit use, or land use policies promoting Transit Oriented Development. 

Developers invoke these arguments, especially proximity to transit, when they happen to coincide with their projects. This is why the same high-rise, luxury buildings shoot up in many neighborhoods where the only transit service is a bus line. Examples of these luxury buildings can be found in many LA areas, such as Warner Center and Century City, where the entire built environment is based on cars. 

In fact, in Century City a new 40-story luxury high-rise apartment building is soon opening, and it will be totally oriented toward automobile driving. It not only caters to the tiny percent of tenants who can afford its lavish apartments, but its full range of tenant services conspicuously includes on-call chauffeurs for its fleet of luxury cars. In addition to these and related amenities, it also offers Mayor Garcetti an opportunity to include its 283 rental units in his construction goal of 100,000 desperately needed new residential units in Los Angeles.  

For a precedent, the same LA Times article examines a new San Vicente Boulevard apartment building on the border of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles – not far from Century City. Already open, it offers concierge service for all possible needs, consciously mimicking the services provided by a five star hotel, including attendant parking and fully stocked pantries in each unit. If this luxury life style appeals you, be prepared to dig deep into your pockets. The typical apartment rents for $12,000 per month, and a penthouse unit is slightly pricier: $40,000 per month. 

To put this rent structure into perspective, once LA’s minimum wage reaches $15/hour and if you devoted half of your salary to rent, you would need at least 13 full time jobs to sign a lease for the basic units. The penthouse, in contrast, would require you to simultaneously work around 42 full time jobs. 

For moderate luxury units -- $2000 per month or more for a small single -- such as the many new, transit-adjacent apartments on the Miracle Mile, you would only need two full-time minimum wage jobs to make your rent. It is almost affordable in comparison to the San Vicente Boulevard project. To be fair though, you would have a Spartan life style if you had dependents or chose to spend less than half of your take home pay on rent in order to indulge yourself in a sumptuous life style, perhaps a full breakfast at the nearby International House of Pancakes. But, either way, in 2023 you would have walkable access to a future subway station, and you also could help the Mayor reach his goal of 100,000 new housing units for Los Angeles. 

When these high-rise, high-rent apartment buildings HAPPEN to be in Hollywood or on Wilshire Boulevard and similar places served by transit, they are only transit adjacent, not transit oriented. This is why we should not take the investors, builder, realtors, and their slick or naïve boosters at their word when they flaunt buzzwords like housing crisis, transit, elegant density, and transit-oriented development. They are just being opportunists who know little and could care less about affordable housing, transit, transit-oriented development, and sustainable city planning.  

If they truly believed in sustainable city planning – what I call the successful density of New York City versus the poorly performing density of Los Angeles -- they would insist that METRO engage in the same land use planning it once pursued through contracts with LA City Planning -- when they planned and built the original MetroRail subway in the 1980s. When done right, this planning should include heavily subsidized affordable housing projects at transit stations. 

This planning also needs to address the critical barrier to transit use, the first and last mile (i.e. getting people to the transit station). And, METRO and the City of LA need to make sure that all transit stations have a full range of standard amenities, such as snack bars, news stands and newspaper racks, dry cleaners, small grocery stores, bathrooms, and ATMs, as well as park ‘n ride, kiss ‘n ride, bus stops, cab stands, bicycle parking, and pedestrian friendly streets and sidewalks radiating out in all directions from transit stations. 

Furthermore, all of this should be built during mass transit construction, not ignored forever (Purple Line Extension) or only addressed several decades after the transit lines became operational (Blue Line and Green Line). 

The bottom line is that the real estate speculators, the City of LA, and METRO have yet to demonstrate any interest in the planning and construction that turns Transit Adjacent buildings into an important component of Transit Oriented Communities. If this is changing, then I hope diligent CityWatch readers can share the evidence. Until then, however, any claims that these projects are sustainable should be dismissed as phony baloney. They are nothing but super-sized buildings for super-well off people with super-sized cars.  

There is one thing, however, that is sustainable about these projects: their marketing campaigns.


(Dick Platkin is a former Los Angeles city planner who reports on planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He welcomes comments, questions, and corrections at [email protected].)


Porter Ranch Homes Built On Foundation of Campaign Money

DEALING IN DEVELOPERS-Here’s a question for you: Does campaign money affect the actions of government officials? You may be laughing, but it’s a deadly serious question. About 2,500 families have been relocated from their homes in Porter Ranch and over 1,400 more have asked to be moved. They have been sickened by the catastrophic natural gas leak from a well about a mile from their front doors. 

The story of how those front doors ended up so close to a working natural gas storage facility begins with $245,000 in campaign donations. That’s how much the Porter Ranch Development Co. gave L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the LA City Council between 1982 and 1989, when the 1,300-acre project was under consideration. 

The mayor gave his approval to the Porter Ranch development late in 1989, and the council followed, unanimously, in mid-1990. 

Yet somehow, none of the city officials remembered to tell the public that just north of the proposed residential and commercial development, there was a massive underground natural gas storage facility, and right next to that, a working oil field. 

It’s instructive to view the timeline for the Aliso Canyon oil and gas facilities above Porter Ranch: 

  • 1938 – Oil is discovered in Aliso Canyon
  • 1972 – Sempra Energy (parent of SoCalGas) turns a depleted oil field into an underground storage facility for natural gas. The company buys gas in the summer and stores it at Aliso Canyon so it can be delivered through pipelines to local customers in the winter.
  • 1982 to 1989 – The Porter Ranch Development Co. donates over $245,000 to LA City Council members and Mayor Tom Bradley.
  • 1989 – The Termo Co. of Long Beach buys the North Aliso Canyon oil field and develops it into an active drilling site, which it remains today.
  • 1989 – Mayor Bradley gives his approval to the Porter Ranch development after reaching an agreement with Councilman Hal Bernson, an advocate for the project, to have the developer provide affordable housing and new freeway ramps.
  • 1990 – The City Council votes 14-0 to approve the development after listening to three hours of comments from local residents about trash, traffic and sewage.
  • Oct. 23, 2015 -- SoCalGas discovers a leak at one of its injection and withdrawal wells, SS-25, at the Aliso Canyon facility above Porter Ranch. The company is unable to stop the leak despite seven attempts to plug the well by pumping fluids down the well shaft.
  • Jan. 6, 2016 -- Gov. Jerry Brown declares an emergency and directs state agencies to implement tough new regulations to verify the safety and condition of all gas storage facilities. He asks for daily inspections of well heads, pressure measurements, and regular testing of safety valves. Meanwhile, a quartet of bills is introduced in the state legislature to toughen oversight. 

The crisis might have been prevented if the same safety regulations now being rushed into effect had been thoughtfully implemented in 1990, before thousands of Porter Ranch homebuyers closed escrow. 

It’s fair to ask: Why didn’t that happen? 

Would you like to guess how much money Sempra Energy has donated to state candidates and campaign committees in California just since 2001? 

More than $12 million. And that doesn’t count local candidates, like city councilmembers and county supervisors. 

Governor Brown was one of the candidates who accepted generous donations -- $79,200 between 2010 and 2014 -- from Sempra. Were his decisions ever influenced by that financial support? Maybe not, but last year Governor Brown vetoed six bills -- passed unanimously by the Legislature -- that would have reformed the California Public Utilities Commission by making it harder for the commissioners to be cozy with the utilities they regulate. 

One of the utilities regulated by the sometimes-cozy commissioners is Sempra’s SoCalGas.

Public trust is a fragile thing. As the emergency in Porter Ranch continues, investigations are underway into what happened, who is at fault, and how similar incidents can be prevented in the future. 

A lot is riding on every decision. 

When a catastrophic event puts public health at risk, no one should have to wonder whether government officials are acting in the best interest of the public, or whether they’re molding their decisions to help a campaign donor. 

There’s only one way to be sure. 

Everyone in California who holds a public office or is currently running for one, or both, should immediately stop accepting campaign contributions from Sempra Energy. 

The clean-up in Porter Ranch starts now.


(Susan Shelley is an author, former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. This piece originally appeared in Fox and Hounds.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Valley: ‘Young Women Put Up For Sale … On Our Corners’

HUMAN TRAFFICKING LA STYLE--As the FBI mobilizes to crack down on Bay Area sex trafficking in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl 50, community leaders met at California State University Northridge last week to tackle sex trafficking in the Valley. Just hours after the event, the Valley Bureau Human Trafficking Task Force apprehended and arrested several suspects now charged with pimping and pandering. LA Council Member Nury Martinez joined LAPD and federal investigators on the undercover sting operation in Van Nuys that led to the arrests. Martinez was present in the sting’s final hours and during the arrest and investigation. 

Late last year, the LA City Council led by Martinez created the Valley Bureau of Human Trafficking Task Force to end decades of prostitution and trafficking along the Sepulveda and Lankershim corridors. “With the help of law enforcement and many resources within LAPD, we were able to dismantle a large and complex prostitution ring,” said Lieutenant Marc Evans of the Operations Valley Bureau and head of the task force. 

The task force worked with LAPD Major Crimes, Foothill Vice, Detective Support and Vice Division, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the investigation and arrest.   

“Valley residents are fed up with seeing young women put up for sale on our street corners,” said Councilwoman Martinez.  “As the only woman on the LA City Council, I take it very seriously and personally that I be the voice for these young girls and all women who are victims of human trafficking.” 

Thursday’s arrests were the result of the exceptional coordination of both local and federal law enforcement agencies.  The investigation focused on a brothel that had four locations.  Search warrants were served at those four locations throughout the valley on Thursday evening, including two in the Sixth District that is represented by the council member. 

According to Kim Roth, executive director of Strength United, California has emerged as a magnet for sex trafficking of children. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are among the nation’s 13 high intensity child prostitution areas identified by the FBI. 

Up north, the FBI opened a Human Trafficking Operation Center last week, coinciding with the start of Super Bowl week. A trial run in October resulted in the rescues of six children in the Bay Area, the youngest victim at 12 years old. 

High-profile events like the Super Bowl are lucrative opportunities for sex traffickers and criminal activity, according to Michele Ernst, a spokesperson for the FBI. “It’s market and demand,” she says. 

Betty Ann Boeving, the executive director and founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition estimates that less than 10 percent of those in the sex industry choose to participate. “Most are being forced against their will. Many are underage girls. This is the business of rape for profit,” she says. 

“I’m looking forward to shining a light on human trafficking in the Valley,” said Councilwoman Martinez. “We will raise awareness on all possible solutions going forward.  I’m committed to fighting human trafficking in the San Fernando Valley.” 

The efforts led by Martinez and others will hopefully continue to expose the problem of human trafficking in the Valley, as well as on a national and global scale.  

ACTION INFO--Strength United is a comprehensive social service organization that operates through CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education.  It provides 24/7 support and crisis intervention, along with long-term counseling, victim advocacy and prevention-education programs to individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, child maltreatment and other crimes 

Compton’s STAR (Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience) Court, which provides referrals to specialized services for underage victims of sex trafficking.  

Journey Out works with survivors of human trafficking.   

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.)


Us Grammas Gotta Stick Together: Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton for President

MY CAMPAIGN COMMON SENSE-Madeleine Albright once said, “I'm not a person who thinks the world would be entirely different if it was run by women. If you think that, you've forgotten what high school was like.” 

I should be a Bernie Sanders voter. I’m left of most. I embrace his positions on just about everything. He’s running a positive, inspiring campaign, mobilizing and organizing. Pretty much everyone I love and respect is “feeling the Bern.” 

It’s taken me a long time to get here. I’ve never particularly liked Hillary or Bill Clinton (except for that one time when I got to hear him speak in person at whatever convention was in Los Angeles – the one where he introduced himself walking down that long, long corridor – Oh, my!)

In 2004, after hearing now President Obama speak at that convention and thinking I was the only one hearing him at that hour, whatever that hour was, I became an early, enthusiastic Obama supporter. I was so inspired by his candidacy that I hit up then Councilmember Garcetti to help get 17-year old Steven Butcher to Montana to work the primary and to Westmoreland County in western Pennsylvania for the general election – exciting, positive campaign experiences that’ll last a lifetime! 

But I am also old enough to remember 1980. My first plane ride across the country to register voters for Barry Commoner and to collect signatures to qualify the Citizens Party for the ballot in Virginia (“No-Fuck” is the correct pronunciation of the city named Norfolk; back then, we had to send people to the county registrar on Tuesday afternoons, the only time folks could register to vote) and then in many other states. We were young and it was so much fun! 

I can’t believe I was shocked at Ronald Reagan’s election the morning after that Election Day. Working to re-elect President Jimmy Carter would’ve been a much better use of that kind of youthful exuberance, and I rue the political work I did that season. 

This election feels like 1980 to me. 

Stephen Breyer is 78; Antonin Scalia is 80; Anthony Kennedy is 80; and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 83.

“Everything Planned Parenthood has believed in and fought for over the past 100 years is on the ballot,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, announcing their first ever primary endorsement. 

This year, SEIU has it right: “Hillary Clinton has proven she will fight, deliver and win for working families,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a statement announcing the endorsement from the 2-million-member union.

All things being equal -- this is where I’ve come to on this election. I understand things are not equal and I’m not even sure what it means. For me? I guess it means Why the Fuck Not? All things being equal, let’s elect a woman, qualified, experienced, tested, mature, smart, and wise. Why the hell not?

I agree with Joan Walsh (The Nation, “Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton, With Joy and Without Apologies,” January 27, 2016): “I’m tired of seeing her confronted by entitled men weighing in on her personal honesty and likability, treating the most admired woman in the world like a woman who’s applying to be his secretary.” 

Responding to Sanders’ misstatement lumping Planned Parenthood in with “the establishment,” Walsh calls on decades of feminist history: “Yes, Planned Parenthood and NARAL have worked hard to become respected political players in the last 30 years, because the women they represent need political clout, not just services. But I’m old enough to remember when feminists were told that our issues -- ‘cultural’ issues like abortion and contraception -- were costing Democrats elections, so couldn’t we pipe down for a little while? Now we’re the establishment?” 

Brendan Quinn lists Clinton positions I support in the Blue Nation Review, April 13, 2015:

  • She’s pro equal rights for LGBT Americans
  • She opposes using “religious freedom” to justify cutting access to healthcare and discrimination
  • She understands economic inequality – and wants to fix it
  • She thinks anti-vaxxers are stupid
  • She supports gun control
  • She knows the criminal justice system in this country is broken
  • She wants to fix Citizens United
  • She supports other women in the climb towards equality
  • She supports American Workers
  • She’s Pro-Choice 

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

All things being equal -- us grammas gotta stick together. Like Secretary Madeleine Albright says: “"I think there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."


(Julie Butcher writes for CityWatch, is a retired union leader and is now enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


UTLA Wants a Dues Hike but Continues Selling Out Its Rank-and-File to LAUSD

EDUCATION POLITICS-The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has carried on a disingenuous and premeditated war for the last ten years against thousands of expensive high seniority teachers. This has occurred while their union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has done nothing to defend them -- something they are obligated to do and have the power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement. And now, the self-dealing UTLA "Power Slate" leadership running the union has the chutzpah to ask for more dues, even as it continues to sell out its membership by colluding with LAUSD administration to attack senior teachers. 

In 2006, then LAUSD head of Office of Risk Management and Insurance Services Director David Holmquist -- now Chief Legal Counsel for LAUSD -- laid out in the Health and Welfare Benefits: Retiree Health Actuarial Valuation Update and Retreat Preview Presentation to the Audit, Business and Technology Committee how senior teachers salary and benefits were pushing LAUSD into the red he subsequently decided to go after them. Over the next 10 years, Holmquist systematically targeted senior teachers while UTLA leadership hasn't lifted a finger to help them. This group accounts for 87% of all teachers who have been hit with false charges and prematurely forced out of their careers.

Instead of bringing one unified legal action in defense of these senior teachers (as UTLA has power to do under the LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement) UTLA instead divided up the claims of these similarly targeted teachers. UTLA is paying their law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, to walk these teachers through the dismissal process, encouraging many to take early retirement and without advocating on their behalf as they had the power and legal obligation to do. (see below) 

2008-2011 LAUSD-UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement 



1.0 Grievance and Parties Defined: A grievance is defined as a claim that the District has violated an express term of this Agreement and that by reason of such violation the grievant's rights under this Agreement have been adversely affected. Grievances as defined may be filed by the affected employee or by UTLA on its own behalf or on behalf of an individual employee or
group of employees where the claims are similar. On filing a grievance on behalf of a group, UTLA need not specify the names of the employees, but must describe the group so that the District has notice of the nature and scope of the claim. 

Instead of defending its rank and file, a union's primary function, UTLA leadership converted a substantial part of its strike fund into political contributions without notifying the membership or any of the committees. And then they pleaded poverty. 

Since even before the administration of UTLA President Warren Fletcher, UTLA leadership has habitually lied, saying that it carried member defense insurance with a company that was actually no longer in business. They even campaigned for ratepayers to join the union by assuring them they would be covered by this insurance policy that never existed. 

Initially, UTLA was self-insured when the number of LAUSD targeted teachers was small, but over the last 10 years with literally thousands of teachers being targeted for removal by LAUSD, UTLA has continued to do absolutely nothing to defend these predominantly senior teachers. Instead, they have allowed teachers to be systematically targeted and removed on false charges by LAUSD. This continues unabated to this day. 

If a hike in dues was necessary to defend teachers, why did UTLA leadership wait 10 years until thousands of senior top salary teachers had been targeted and removed by LAUSD? All this did was empower LAUSD administration to go after even more senior teachers, cutting significantly the dues that could have been collected by UTLA. 

Why was this allowed to happen? Simply stated, there has been no continuity of leadership advocating on behalf of teachers’ best interests. The union’s law firm, Trygstad, Schwab & Trygstad, has been allowed to run UTLA for 43 years without any written agreement between them and the union. Officers come and go, and like a mirror image of LAUSD leadership, UTLA's entrenched bureaucracy keeps selling out its members. 

If the present proposal of 30% dues increase becomes policy, future increases could be instituted without rank-and-file voting. Without this agreement, were national affiliates to raise dues in the future, UTLA could still at that time conduct a vote of the entire membership so they could determine whether they wanted to have their dues raised or not. This provides leverage to ensure that their affiliates would have to provide sound rationale for any dues increase. It would also provide leverage to UTLA leadership, who could pressure affiliates into advocating a clear message to justify the need for a dues increase. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in May, as expected, defendant CTA will undoubtedly seek to raise dues on UTLA members later this year. One should never give up a right to vote - as UTLA is now asking its membership to do. 

This current vote on raising UTLA dues includes an online option, but to date UTLA has not allow delegates to vote via online voting options (in violation of the online voting initiative,) since this would encourage greater rank and file participation and the likelihood that the raising of the dues proposal would not pass. 

Furthermore, the decision to use an outside vendor to conduct the vote was done secretly by the Board of Directors, and the House of Representatives was never informed or allowed to weigh in on that decision. Traditionally, any election run by an outside vendor must also been overseen by the UTLA Elections Committee -- yet the Board of Directors unilaterally decided to exclude the Elections Committee. 

For months, UTLA leaders have been claiming that it can't buy group legal insurance for housed teachers, because UTLA can't offer differing services to each affiliate. This claim, on its face, is false, since each affiliate already offers differing discounts on auto, travel, and other insurance services -- these services are not and have never been identical. UTLA has not responded to this criticism, which was pointed out months ago. 

It has been well publicized that UTLA aspiring leadership met secretly with then Superintendent John Deasy at Drago Restaurant in the middle of the last big UTLA election. UTLA Power Slate leaders have claimed this meeting was to discuss problem principals, an explanation that, on its face, doesn't make sense. Why meet at Drago and not LAUSD or UTLA? And why was former President Fletcher intentionally not told about the meeting? It seems more likely the meeting was to agree to delay talk of a pay raise in exchange for allowing candidates time off to campaign during school hours. As a result, a pay raise was delayed for an extra year -- money directly taken out of teachers pockets as UTLA leadership colluded with management.

It is also worth mentioning that for years UTLA leaders were reimbursed by UTLA for money they paid into the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) -- in effect, allowing them to double dip and they did not report this on their taxes. UTLA leaders claim this policy is no longer in effect, but there is nothing in writing to support that assertion. 

Adding more self-dealing to the fire, UTLA continues to claim that it fights the "charter privatizers." But right now former UTLA President John Perez and UTLA Staff Member Michael Bennett serve as the Board President and Vice President respectively of Montague Community Charter School. To date, UTLA has not disclosed their compensation levels and whether or not they are receiving any additional compensation from other outside entities such as the California Charter Schools Association. On a related note, both were former UTLA Officers who benefited from the STRS kickback. As Mr. Perez was a UTLA leader for over 10 years, he received over 10 years of this kickback. 

In general, UTLA has continued to operate with an air of secrecy; it doesn't even disclose to members how they spend money. In fact, in 2015, at a UTLA House of Representatives meeting, one member asked, at the microphone, for more detailed budget and expense information -- more than the four page document provided to elected members of the House of Representatives. 

At the time, UTLA Treasurer Arlene Inouye, a member of the Union Power Slate stated in response, at the microphone, "If we provide that to you, we might as well be giving that to the district." What is UTLA so afraid of? If they want a 30% dues increase, the, at a minimum, shouldn't they tell us right now how they have been spending – or not spending -- our dues money? If UTLA is responsible, why not celebrate that by operating transparently -- and asking LAUSD to follow UTLA's example. Instead, UTLA is silent about district waste and contracts, and is even under federal investigation into how they may have misappropriated money from the strike fund: 

National affiliates have done a terrible job over the past twenty years advocating for public education, which is why we find working conditions to be what they are today. Their big solution is to organize a "walk in" in February, another do nothing photo op. In Detroit, on the other hand, rank and file teachers are organizing sick outs without the support of their union leadership. We need to start fighting affiliates cozying up to privatizers, union-paid holidays disguised as host conferences, bloated bureaucracies, spending millions on meals and travel, and now they want to give themselves even more money. 

Under these circumstances, do you really want to give a blank check to UTLA and their national affiliates who have stood by for years allowing professional teachers to be savaged by LAUSD and districts like it around the country? I urge you to vote no. 

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



What’s Causing Metro’s Declining Ridership - And What’s Next?

TRANSIT TALK--In my circles, there has been a lot of discussion swirling around Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times article, “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California,” by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel. 

The Times’ authors cast a disparaging light on recent downturns in ridership: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county’s only transit option.” The article further asserts a number of causes for declining ridership, including “a changing job market, falling gas prices, fare increases, declining immigration and the growing popularity of other transportation options, including bicycling and ride-hailing companies,” and also immigration patterns and new drivers licenses for the undocumented. 

The internet has already responded to the Times

  • Steve Hymon at Metro’s The Source, responds citing national trends and touting transit’s promising future, though Hymon ultimately concludes that Metro can do better. 
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? hosted a discussion with Loren Kaye, Denny Zane, and Brian Taylor. Taylor blames a lack of agreement on policy goals that results in a “distorted” system that favors cheap car travel. 
  • Railtown author Ethan Elkind notes that the Times graphic misleadingly emphasizes Metro’s 1985 peak ridership.  
  • Jarrett Walker criticizes the Times for identifying an “accelerating” trend out of what is actually “very noisy” but largely flat ridership data. Walker emphasizes that the current one-year decline in ridership is not a “trend” yet; labeling it one is presumptuous. 
  • Matt Tinoco at LAist echoes Elkind and Hymon and questions the role of changing demographics, including gentrification in L.A.’s core.  
  • Eric Jaffe at CityLab points to new research that disputes the article’s claim, made by transit critic James E Moore that, “It’s the dream of every bus rider to own a car.” 

At yesterday’s Metro board meeting, CEO Phil Washington asserted that transit ridership is cyclical and that LA’s decline is in line with national trends. He also stated that he would be responding via a planned Times guest editorial. 

There are a lot of keystrokes already stricken on this, but, nonetheless, I’d like to weigh in with some ideas and some questions, and to further hear from SBLA readers on what you think. Like the Times list, I don’t think that there is one smoking gun cause, but plenty of interacting and overlapping factors that influence ridership.  

Overall Investment – Transit vs. Cars

My first thought upon reading the article was to blame declining ridership on a disparity of investment between transit infrastructure and car infrastructure. The U.S., California, and Los Angeles continue a long pattern of spending huge budgets to support driving, and not so much for transit. Governmental regulations, including parking requirements, also require massive private investment to serve cars, with little to no provisions for transit. 

Collectively, we pay people to drive, and so people drive a lot. I am skeptical that even Measure R’s significant transit investments will move LA County toward a greater transit share because Measure R also provides billions of dollars for highway and road expansion. 

Yonah Freemark touches on these disparities in his study showing that light rail investment did not increase transit mode share. Freemark concludes: “But spending on new lines is not enough. Increases in transit use are only possible when the low costs of driving and parking are addressed, and when government and private partners work together to develop more densely near transit stations. None of the cities that built new light rail lines in the 1980s understood this reality sufficiently. Each region also built free highways during the period … These conflicting policies had as much to do with light rail’s mediocre outcomes as the trains themselves — if not more.” 

Compared to steep bus ridership declines in neighboring Orange County, Metro’s success in keeping ridership declines minimal can be seen as a success story. Metro was able to stave off more severe service cuts and greater fare increases due to Measure R. This brings to mind the futility in the Red Queen’s statement to Alice in Wonderland: “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Metro is expanding rail transit (and highways) as fast as it can, but its bus service remains largely unchanged, and therefore declines as public subsidies prioritize other modes. 

Too Soon To Judge Measure R

The Times article does review earlier events, but the article names and critiques Measure R (2008) and a future R2.1 which is expected to go before voters in November, 2016. It is possible to be critical of Metro’s priorities, but probably not Measure R itself. At least not yet. There is a long lag time for massive capital projects, so the rail that Measure R is building is just not done yet. The first Measure R-funded rail line will open in March, and the second opens in May. 

Metro has been operating under earlier sales tax measures – Prop C (1990) and Prop A (1980). There is a longer-term case to be made that when Metro focuses on rail building (since the mid-1980s) that other modes suffer, more on this below. 

Buses Matter – Fares and Service

The unacknowledged elephant in the room is Metro bus service. The Times notes correctly that 75 percent of Metro’s ridership is on the bus. Overall transit ridership has been largely flat since Metro began building rail in the 1980s, despite three successful property tax measures. The Bus Riders Union and others have shown that huge capital projects tend to divert Metro resources away from their core bus service. 

The Times acknowledges this in this quote from Brian Taylor, the director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies: “There’s been lots of focus by transit agencies on shiny new things, sometimes at the expense of bus routes which serve the primary constituencies of transit agencies: low-wage workers….lots of resources are being put into a few high-profile lines that often carry a smaller number of riders compared to bus routes.”

Since at least 2008, when Measure R passed, the push to expand Metro rail has meant that bus service has been flat, slightly declining through twice-yearly “service adjustments” and declining slightly in proportion to population growth. Especially since 2008, Metro’s top priority has been an accelerated rail construction schedule. This has, as I say, sucked the air out of the room. Bus service has declined slightly since 2008 (with no new rail mileage yet), resulting in a corresponding slight decline in ridership. 

If Metro is not going to expand its bus service (I wish it would, but that will take political will), then it will need to run bus service as efficiently and effectively as possible. Public transit expert Jarrett Walker stresses the importance of running a frequent service network, which will “serve more people without more money.” This is exactly what Metro is planning to do this June, with its Strategic Bus Network Plan. There are a lot of details still to be finalized, but that should be a small positive step forward for bus ridership. 

Another huge bus ridership factor is fares. Metro’s peak ridership periods correspond to periods of low fares. The last year of declines is in part attributable to September 2014 fare increases.  

If Metro’s goal is solely to expand ridership (and it isn’t) then Metro needs to go back to basics and pay as much attention to its core bus service as it does to its “shiny new” rail service. It is not possible to lower fares and greatly increase service, but if the agency is prudent fiscally, it can and should incrementally grow its bus service, keep fares as low as possible, and reap increased ridership. 

Gas Prices

Metro’s budget analysis showed very little correlation with gas prices. Other analyses finds a greater correlation. With gas prices currently in unusually strong decline, this previously weak factor is likely helping pull ridership downward, too. 

The Future of Metro Ridership

Metro ridership is in decline due to a host of factors. Some of these are outside Metro’s control, including gas prices and national transportation funding. Some of these are controlled by Metro, including fares and service. 

The leadership needs to come from the top, Metro’s board of directors, and its CEO. Phil Washington makes a very promising statement in the Times article, telling the reporters, Metro’s goal is to convert 20% to 25% of the county’s population into regular transit riders. 

Unfortunately, according to Census data (specifically, American Community Survey data), LA County transit commute share hovers just above 7 percent. Metro should be setting mode share goals (what percent of transit riders do we want?), reporting on them, and tailoring investments to realize goals. This is difficult to change abruptly, with lots of road funding embedded in Measure R, but the agency does have discretionary funds, and can shape the next sales tax measure with Washington’s stated goal in mind. 

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA.  He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Why We Let Sports Teams Break Our Hearts

SPORTS POLITICS--When I was growing up in Mexico, I rooted for a scrappy, financially troubled soccer team named Atlético Español that ultimately broke my heart by being relegated to a lower division and fading out of existence. I envy Mexican friends who can still root on the same teams they did as kids (and as I am still able to do in the NFL—Go Steelers!).

The power of sports fandom can at times seem irrational, especially to those who, blessed with an immunity to this potent virus, can utter those devastatingly inhumane words: “It’s just a game.” As the novelist Nick Hornby wrote in the opening of Fever Pitch, his wonderful memoir of growing up an Arsenal fan in England: “I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”

Sitting in a Phoenix sports bar watching the Carolina Panthers utterly dismantle the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game, I witnessed this pain of which Hornby spoke, and which I had felt in my core the previous week when the Denver Broncos knocked my Steelers out of the playoffs. The atmosphere in the bar went from celebratory to funereal over the span of two quarters. By the end, we were at a wake, talking in hushed tones, awkwardly reaching for some reassuring words of consolation for each other.

“Well, they had a good season” sounded a lot like the variants of that line you often hear at funerals: “He led such a full life.” At least no one said: “It’s only a game.”

So why the depth of passion among so many sports fans? Part of it, to be sure, is our appreciation and love for the sport being followed, and that sport’s central role in the sliver of our lives we can devote to leisure and entertainment. But I think that is only the tip of sports fandom’s iceberg.

The depth of our passion and commitment as sports fans comes from our sense of identity, how we connect to our past selves, and how we remain connected to the meaningful places in our lives, and to the people around us. Sports fandom, like religion, is fueled by nostalgia and a yearning for permanence in a world that is inherently impermanent.

Which is what makes the disappearance of Atlético Español so traumatic for me—the fatal version of the disruption alluded to by Hornby, alongside the pain. When I tune into Liga MX and see so many of the other teams Atlético used to play against still around, it’s as if I’ve been edited out of a picture I thought I was in, as if the moorings tying me to my childhood in Mexico have been irreversibly cut.

Back in America’s version of football, many people are stunned that, after a deluge of scandals in the last couple of years (brain injuries, star players involved in off-field crimes, allegations of cheating, franchise owners eager to bilk cities for sweetheart stadium deals), the NFL’s ratings continue to spike. Ratings for this past regular season and playoffs are up from a year ago, at a time when audiences for almost everything else keep fragmenting.

When NBC launched Sunday Night Football in 2006, the telecast ranked ninth in primetime ratings for the season. Ever since 2011, Sunday Night Football has been the undisputed primetime leader. A remarkable 14 of the 15 most watched TV shows last fall were football games, and the six highest-rated broadcasts of all times are Super Bowls (the M.A.S.H. 1983 finale is clinging to the seventh spot).

The NFL has done a brilliant job of leveraging fans’ nostalgia and desire to remain identified with the places they’ve moved away from. Hence the need to keep franchises in places like Green Bay and Buffalo, even if many of their fans cheer them on in warmer climates, and for a business model that makes all franchises competitive.

Parity means most teams will have moments of glory, enough to deepen an entire generation’s engagement with their ancestral NFL tribe. But the league puts its long-term success at risk when it lets teams move around for short-term gain, as it recently did when it allowed the Rams to leave St. Louis for Los Angeles.

We live in an age when we share fewer narrative threads in common, and when fewer narrative threads endure throughout our lives. Holidays help, including the upcoming observance of Super Bowl 50. I remember my mother in her later years turning on the NFL on Sundays to have games on in the background, because she liked to hear “the sounds of fall,” or because it connected her to her son if the Steelers were playing, or to her beloved Boston if it was the Patriots.

The Star Wars cultural phenomenon springs from a similar nostalgia and yearning for recurring shared narratives in an age of impermanence. Its fandom feels sports-like. I took my 11 year-old son to see The Force Awakens on opening weekend, with a lump in my throat at the realization that he is the exact age I was back when the first (or fourth, if you insist) Star Wars came out. Naysayers who complained that the plot of the new film too closely mimics the original Star Wars completely miss the franchise’s appeal. I don’t begrudge successful Steeler seasons because I have seen them before; I thrill at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown following in the footsteps of Steeler greats Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. And so it is with Rey’s journey echoing Luke Skywalker’s.

We all yearn to tap into these stories and memories that have defined us. As the Red Sox-obsessed protagonist in the Hollywood adaptation of Fever Pitch, played by Jimmy Fallon, asks his less-devoted-to-Fenway girlfriend:

Do you still care about anything you cared about years ago?

(Andrés Martinez writes the Trade Winds column for Zócalo Public Square, where this column was first posted. He is also Zocalo editorial director and  professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and a fellow at New America.)


Does Eric Garcetti Deserve a Second Term?

LA WATCHDOG--Although the mayoral primary for the City of Los Angeles is over 400 days away, two credible candidates have surfaced to challenge Mayor Eric Garcetti in the March 7, 2017 election. While their chances of ousting an incumbent who has hauled in over $2.2 million in campaign contributions through June 30, 2015 are remote, they will certainly raise questions about Garcetti’s record of kicking the can down the road over the last 31 months.   

The first to announce his intention to run was Mitchell Schwartz, a Democratic fund raiser and a committed environmentalist who is concerned that the City is not dealing effectively with the homeless epidemic, increased crime, our failing streets and deteriorating infrastructure, and out of control real estate development.  

Steve Barr, the founder of Green Dot Charter Schools, is also considering a bid as he is frustrated by Garcetti’s unwillingness to address the mess at LAUSD out of fear of offending the politically powerful, campaign funding teachers unions. 

Even though the election is more than a year away, it is not too early to start holding Mayor Garcetti accountable for his lack of progress in solving many of the pressing issues facing our City.  

In August, the Los Angeles Times gave Garcetti a Gentleman’s C, saying that he “remains as appealing and articulate as ever, but his inclination to avoid tough or controversial decisions is undermining his ability to address the very serious problems facing the City.” 

In July, Columnist Steve Lopez of The Times also went after the “smooth at the podium” Garcetti for “waffling” on a number of key issues facing our City, including our streets and sidewalks, real estate developers, mansionization, and, of course, our Department of Water and Power.

Garcetti will also have to address the financial issues facing the City, including how the budget deficit over the next four years ballooned to over $400 million as a result of the new labor contract with the civilian unions.  

The Mayor has also failed to develop a financial and operational plan to efficiently repair and maintain our lunar cratered streets and broken sidewalks despite his “Back to Basic” promises. 

Equally disturbing is Eric’s failure to endorse the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission which called for an “Office of Transparency and Accountability” to oversee our cash strapped City’s finances and a “Commission on Retirement Security” to review our City‘s retirement obligations in order to develop “concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.” 

There are a number of ballot measure facing our waffling mayor, including the reform of our Department of Water and Power which will require voter approval of the $220 million Transfer Tax, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that is opposed by campaign funding real estate speculators and developers, the County’s proposed half cent increase in our sales tax to fund even more transportation projects, and a possible $100 million bump in our real estate taxes to finance the City’s homelessness plan, an amount that approximates the increase associated with the new labor contract with the City’s civilian unions. 

Garcetti will also have to tell the voters if he is willing to serve as mayor until 2022 if he is reelected or whether he will be out on the election trail if he runs for Governor or Senator in 2018. 

Hopefully Mitchell Schwartz, Steve Barr, and other qualified candidates as well as the press will ask the tough questions and demand concrete answers over the next 400 days. 

Let the debate begin. 


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected])



Why We Need to Carefully Monitor Infrastructure in Los Angeles

PLATKIN ON PLANNING-Concerns over LA’s mounting infrastructure problems are everywhere. Is it structures that will fail in El Nino floods? Coastal facilities that cannot withstand the rising seas caused by climate change? Sidewalk repairs that will cost $1.5 billion? A proper urban forest whose bill is close to $1 billion? 

Or is it street repairs estimated to cost $3 billion?  Several billions of repairs scheduled for LAX? Or is it $15 billion to repair century old water mains and sewer pipes that burst with alarming frequency? Perhaps it’s the 405 Freeway widening that cost about $1.3 billion? The $250 billion in across-the-board infrastructure categories that are certain to fail within minutes of “The Big One”? 

The answer is that this and much, much more is the basis for LA’s growing infrastructure and public services crises. Furthermore, these crises extend into public facilities such as fire stations, libraries, and schools – structures that can hopefully be replaced before they become unusable or even crumble, much like the recently shutdown apartments at the Pacific Beach in San Francisco. 

These are some of the reasons why the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council presented a panel discussion on the linkages between infrastructure and the Los Angeles city budget at its Wednesday meeting. 

Hopefully other CityWatch writers can give us the lowdown on what Zev Yaroslavksy, Kevin James, and Ron Galperin had to say on this topic. Until then, I will write about what they should have said, but probably did not. 

Established process to link infrastructure and budgeting: To begin, Los Angeles, like all California cities, has an established process for connecting the planning, construction, maintenance, and monitoring of public infrastructure to the City’s budget. On paper, at least, it begins with the city’s legally required General Plan. In its entirety, its different elements should address all infrastructure categories. Furthermore, some cities also prepare an optional, Public Facilities and/or Infrastructure Element to make sure nothing is left out. Once upon a time LA did prepare these optional elements -- but that was in the 1960s. Fifty years later, those elements are ready for the planning museum. 

In addition, all General Law cities in California must monitor their General Plan through an annual report. Los Angeles, which is a Charter City, is not subject to this State requirement. Nevertheless, LA has legally committed itself to a comparable monitoring program and annual report through the General Plan Framework Element and its Final Environmental Impact Report. For those who care to look, the contents of this mandated report are described in great detail in the Framework’s Chapter 9, Infrastructure and Public Services.  All of the city’s infrastructure categories are listed there, as well as specific instructions on how the City should monitor each of them through its annual report. 

Since the General Plan, especially Chapter 9, carefully describes and analyzes LA’s anticipated infrastructure capacity and needs, it should be the guiding North Star for any discussion of infrastructure and budget. As most of know, however, LA’s General Plan desperately needs updating, especially the elements and chapters dealing with infrastructure and public facilities. Instead of infrastructure, however, the current, minimal General Plan update process focuses on zone changes for private real estate projects through appendices to new Community Plans. 

How infrastructure and budget should be linked: This is what the Los Angeles City Charter actually has to say about the General Plan, and it reinforces the State of California’s requirements that this document must carefully address infrastructure and public facilities, including the role of each City Department.   

Sec. 554…The General Plan shall serve as a guide for:

   (1)   The physical development of the City;

   (2)   The development, correlation and coordination of official regulations, controls, programs and services; and

   (3)   The coordination of planning and administration by all agencies of the City government, other governmental bodies and private organizations and individuals involved in the development of the City. 

While we know the Department of City Planning must prepare the different elements of the General Plan, these documents must then be subsequently reviewed and approved by the City Planning Commission. The final step, the City Council’s review and adoption, is really a prelude to the next steps, which are the implementation of the General Plan and then the monitoring of the rollout and impacts of the General Plan. 

In terms of implementation, each City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is one form of implementation. According to California’s new, draft General Plan Guidelines: 

“Many cities and counties prepare and annually revise a 5- to 7-year capital improvement program (CIP). The CIP projects annual expenditures for acquisition, construction, maintenance, rehabilitation, and replacement of public buildings and facilities, including sewer, water, and street improvements; street lights; traffic signals; parks; and police and fire facilities.” 

The CIP should, therefore, be considered an important implementation program of the General Plan: 

“Capital facilities must be consistent with the general plan (Friends of B Street v. City of Hayward (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 988). The network of publicly owned facilities, such as streets, water and sewer facilities, public buildings, and parks, forms the framework of a community. Although capital facilities are built to accommodate present and anticipated needs, some (most notably water and sewer facilities and roads) play a major role in determining the location, intensity, and timing of development. For instance, the availability of sewer and water connections can have a profound impact upon the feasibility of preserving agricultural or open-space lands.” 

To ensure consistency with its General Plan:

“Each year the local planning agency is required to “review the capital improvement program of the city or county and the local public works projects of other local agencies for consistency with their general plan” (§65103(c)). To fulfill this requirement, all departments within the city or county and all other local governmental agencies (including cities, counties, school districts, and special districts) that construct capital facilities must submit a list of proposed projects to the planning agency (§65401).65103.” 

After this annual review is completed, City Planning should then submit it to the City Planning Commission (CPC) for review and approval. It is the CPC’s job to confirm that the Capital Improvement Program is, in fact, consistent with the General Plan. In LA, however, their load has been considerably lightened because the Planning Department does not appear to have undertaken any reviews of the City’s capital projects, including those consolidated into the CIP. There is, therefore, no staff report for the CPC to consider regarding infrastructure. Case, unfortunately, closed. 

Capital Improvement Program: Applying all of this information to the City’s budget, which is prepared by the City Administrator’s Office and the Mayor’s office, is the next link in the chain. But, how would this even be possible, if the City Planning Department and the CPC do not comply with State requirements to review and approve the City of LA's Capital Improvement Program? This document compiles the separate capital budgets of each of the City’s departments that either construct or maintain the city’s infrastructure. 

The planning and related budgetary challenge is to therefore integrate these totally separate capital budgets into one comprehensive document. Since most cities suffer from a “silo” phenomena in which each City department has, in effect, a separate planning, budget, and monitoring process, we cannot underestimate the role of City Planning to integrate this material together through the General Plan’s elements, annual monitoring reports, and annual CIP evaluations. 

To be clear, the three annual infrastructure reports that City Planning prepared in the late 1990s should not be confused with either of the two reports that the City Planning Commission and the City Administrator’s Office need to make detailed connections between municipal infrastructure and municipal budgeting. 

To begin, the CIP review report is not simply an inventory of infrastructure projects. It compares those budgeted projects to the General Plan’s growth forecasts, including scheduled and necessary maintenance, as well as changes in user demand. Whatever their other virtues, the old reports never touched on these issues.

In addition, the General Plan Framework obligates the City Planning Department to prepare another report for the City Planning Commission. This annual monitoring report could include the previous CIP report, but it also needs to review the General Plan’s demographic assumptions for population, housing, and employment. And it also needs to inventory and evaluate the roll out the programs that implement the goals and policies of the General Plan. 

While this is a tall order, it is exactly what is necessary if LA’s planning process is to comply with the law and serve as a guide for the City’s budget, including how it addresses infrastructure and public services. Without this information, the city is, essentially, flying blind. 

Consequences of poor planning: How could the City Planning Commission possibly assess the city’s infrastructure needs without the annual monitoring report mandated by the General Plan Framework? In addition to a report on municipal infrastructure, that report should address maintenance schedules, changes in user demand for public infrastructure and services, available infrastructure and services to support private development, the rollout of General Plan programs, the success or failure of these programs, and any changes in the General Plan's underlying demograpahic assumptions. 

This is certainly a tall order, but over a century ago, a famous American architect and city planner, Daniel Burnham, spelled out this challenge with a quote that has withstood the test of time. 

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” -- Daniel Burnham 


(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who writes on local planning issues for City Watch. He also serves on the boards of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. He welcomes questions, comments, and corrections at [email protected].) Cartoon: LA Daily News. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Number One Reason Why LA’s Homeless Population Keeps Growing

GUEST WORDS-In the City of Los Angeles, apartment buildings built before October 1, 1978 are under rent-control. All across Los Angeles there are people living in one-bedroom apartments paying around four hundred dollars a month in rent when, in reality, the fair market value of that apartment is twelve hundred dollars a month or more. As of 2016, the citywide average fair market value rent for a one-bedroom is $1,950. 

Around the year 2000, the Los Angeles Housing Department decided that landlords are a great source of revenue for the City. All of the sudden, landlords were under attack by the LAHD. Housing inspectors would visit apartment buildings and cite landlords for the most minor code violations such as little bits of peeling paint. And the city started collecting lots of money from landlords. 

If the city is limiting a landlord’s cash flow through rent-control, it is very hard for that landlord to pay the mortgage, the real estate taxes, the utilities and then, after all those expenses, properly maintain the building. But the housing department was not concerned about what was fair because they started to prosecute landlords; many went to jail for not spending money they didn’t have and were even held back from collecting. 

As the years went on, it became common knowledge among landlords that one could go to jail and lose one’s property if the LAHD came after them via the City Attorney’s Office. Once landlords saw the writing on the wall, they started selling their properties in large numbers. These older properties were gobbled up by developers who in turn evicted the tenants, tore down these older buildings and built condos that would generate a higher cash flow. After selling their properties here, landlords began investing their money in cities that were business friendly. Since 2000, more than 200,000 affordable housing apartments (older buildings) have been torn down and replaced by expensive units. 

The tragedy here is the many of LA’s working poor, the elderly on fixed income, the disabled and families on public assistance were losing their low-rent apartments. Once a person loses his or her four hundred dollar a month apartment, and that person cannot afford to pay at least double or triple that rent he or she will become homeless. 

So now the City of Los Angeles wants to raise $100 million to fix a problem caused by the LAHD. If you own any type of business or if you own real estate, there are people in City Hall planning to create a new tax or fee that will take more of your money away from you. You need to be aware of what they are discussing in the Budget Committee and the Housing Committee. If they start taking your money to clean up their mess, you must remember them and vote them out of office in the next election. 

If you want to receive updates on this matter, so you can call LA City Councilmembers directly and tell them your opinions. Also, for more information check with The Fair Housing Coalition 


(Bill Hooey is President of The Fair Housing Coalition in Los Angeles. His email is: [email protected].) Photo: KABC News. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Feckless Feuer Dilemma: To Enforce Airbnb Law or to Pretend to Enforce Airbnb Law

EASTSIDER--First, hats off to Chen (a landlord) and her attorneys, Rosario Perry, Steven Coard and Lisa Howard for legally proving what we all knew to be true -- Airbnb’s are illegal in LA City residential zones. They took this case all the way through the Appellate Division, no inexpensive undertaking. As a result, the Appeals Court Decision is certified for publication; it is now case law for the City of Los Angeles. 

Of course, this is Los Angeles City where nothing is as it seems. The fly in the ointment is mostly City Attorney Mike Feuer who has consistently refused to prosecute Airbnb zoning cases. Under the Charter, he gets to make the call -- not the Council Offices and not you or me. One can only hope that Airbnb has already given mightily to his next election campaign. 

So now, Mr. Feuer has a choice: to enforce or to pretend to enforce. Based on his prior actions, I’m afraid he will continue to put impediments in the way of enforcement, citing excuses such as, “we can’t prove it,” or, “there is not sufficient first hand evidence by a city employee” -- and so on. As a result, I give him a vote of no-confidence since he has refused to take on any of these cases. Clearly, he has the legal authority to do so. And thus the moniker, “Feckless Feuer.” 

Courtesy of the City Charter, here’s how it works. In most large cities, a separate attorney handles legal advice for the elected body; another attorney functions as prosecutor. In LA County, you have the District Attorney who prosecutes and the County Counsel who acts as legal advisor for the Board of Supervisors. Makes sense. 

But in Los Angeles City, of course, that would make too much sense, so instead we have a situation where the Office of the City Attorney is both prosecutor and legal advisor to the LA City Council, as well as to the Mayor and city departments. 

Historically, the City Attorney’s Office has a symbiotic relationship with the Council in the way it performs these two functions. They are all part of the elected officials “together” club. But this has not always been the case. Mr. Feuer’s predecessor, ’Nuch’ Trutanich, was famous both as a loose cannon and for publicly refusing to do the City Council’s bidding. I loved him because he shed a bright light on who inside City Hall had power over what. He made for great stories! 

Unfortunately, in the case of Mr. Feuer and Airbnb, I suspect that the City Attorney and the City Council are in quiet agreement not to prosecute short-term rental cases. That way, the Council gets to pretend that they want to enforce the zoning laws -- which we all know is a farce, since they only do that when it helps developers – and instead, blame inaction on the City Attorney who then gets to adopt a bogus policy to tank these code violations. He can tell the council exactly what they want to hear: “No prosecution on zoning cases because we can’t win because…fill in the blank.” 

In support of my jaded outlook, let’s see who actually made the motion to adopt rules and regulations (including taxation) of short-term rentals (aka Airbnb): Council President Herb Wesson and Mike Bonin. Hmmm. Herb never met a dollar he didn’t covet and he’s an absolute master at behind-the-scenes dealing. The motion was seconded by CD 11’s Mike Bonin. As Bill Rosendahl’s Chief-of-Staff, he has been involved in the district for a while…even as Venice turned from a cool neighborhood with affordable housing into a strip of Airbnb hotels

Mr. Bonin wasn’t too interested in this problem until the axe had already fallen on all the under-represented renters. So it’s fair to question how vigorous his advocacy will be now -- other than to move forward in obtaining taxes from all the dot.com app folks. 

Even though Mrs. Chen and her attorneys did us all a service by proving that the Emperor has no clothes, there are at least two ways that Feuer can still do us in during the process of enacting a Short-term Rental Ordinance. First, his weapon of choice to date, as previously discussed, has been to decline to prosecute violations of the zoning regulations. 

Second -- and get ready for this one -- it will be the City Attorney who will handle the actual drafting of the short-term rental ordinance. Anyone want to guess how many ways there are for him to “fix” the issue by exempting Airbnb from any liability? 

You can help, though, because sooner or later, there will be a draft ordinance that magically appears and will be vetted through the Council Committees. So ignore the summary information and read the Ordinance language! The details of what’s really going on will be buried in there somewhere. 

Show up at hearings, write or email your Councilmember. Generate so much heat that even the Los Angeles City Council will have to listen to its neighborhoods. Maybe then they will have to represent the citizens, instead of outside special interests. 

Stay tuned. 

(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.) Photo: LA Times.

So, Exactly WHY are You Counting the Homeless?

REPORT FROM SKID ROW-As a homegrown Angeleno, I’m proud to see my fellow Angelenos have the conscience and desire to make sacrifices to help those of us who are down on their luck. Unfortunately, I can’t understand why these same Angelenos “go unconscious” when it comes to discussing the “Homeless Count.” 

Exactly why do you count homeless people during the Homeless Count? The common answer seems to be, “Because I want to help the less fortunate.” 

In hopes of furthering the conversation, we need to probe the topic a little deeper. 

Let’s start by establishing that if you volunteer to count the homeless, you’ll find that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and all of its employees and non-profit community partners will be getting paid to stand around and watch you do their jobs for them. 

Think about it. What would they do if nobody volunteered? You guessed it, they’d have to do it themselves. 

As a Skid Row resident and community activist, I have to question why LAHSA counts homeless folks in the middle of the winter instead of in the middle of the summer when homeless persons and families step out from their nooks and crannies and become more visible – something that automatically helps create a more accurate homeless count. 

You may remember a few years back how ridiculous Home for Good’s questionable marketing scheme called “Walk with Kobe Bryant and End Homelessness” sounded. Yet every year, tens of thousands of folks truly believe they’re doing the right thing. We in Skid Row sadly shake our heads as we watch folks “go unconscious,” thinking they can somehow “walk” and another person’s homelessness will magically go away – and they don’t even “walk” in Skid Row or in places where homeless people live! 

We contacted Kobe Bryant and told him not to taint his legacy by taking part in this fallacy. He listened and no longer participates. 

We’ve also been extremely outspoken about the numerous flaws in the Homeless Count. Why is it that this used to happen only every other year, something that strongly suggests that there’s no sense of urgency whatsoever? This year they will begin counting the homeless every year. We are making a difference in how “they” operate. 

Another flaw in this system is that the Homeless Count has occurred during the last week of January, but the actual numbers usually weren’t released until October. We complained about this and in 2015 they released “early indicator stats” much sooner. Think about it: the homeless you count who are living in tents on the sidewalks, in encampments under freeway overpasses or in abandoned houses or other deserted areas in January, probably won’t be there in October of that very same year. So what’s the good in counting them? 

It’s just plain lazy for Angelenos to brag about how they “helped” count the homeless -- as if this makes a difference. But exactly how does this make a difference? And what happens after you turn in your clipboard? Right, you go home -- ironic indeed! Yet the homeless remain homeless and once again you’re “allowed” to clear your conscience. 

LAHSA staff gets paid to create this “escape from obligation” for you. It’s a win-win for everybody except for the homeless folks continuing their struggle to survive. Wow. 

The Homeless Count has taken place every other year since 2005, which means there have been six counts total to date. 

Last year’s count concluded that there has been a 12% increase in all homelessness in LA County since 2013. Yet, how many new low-income housing units have been built in the interim? And how many homeless folks have been “helped” out of homelessness since 2013? Exactly. 

Will the Homeless Count show an increase or decrease this year? Let’s look at it this way: If there aren’t any new low-income housing units coming online, how could the “count” show a decrease? 

The only way this year’s Homeless Count could show a significant decrease in numbers is if the non-profit “community partners” evict recently housed folks in big numbers to make room for the current homeless folks. And since evictions are not counted, we have no way of getting to the bottom of this. Just know that this concept creates an ongoing cycle which benefits everyone who collects paychecks connected to homelessness. 

If you’re counting and not asking these probing questions, you will end up being part of the problem. You need to ask yourselves exactly why you count the homeless? And who are you helping?


(General Jeff is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

Sixth Street Shuffle

WHOSE ROADS ARE THEY ANYWAY?--Sixth Street in Mid-City Los Angeles is, plain and simple, a dangerous street. From Fairfax to Rossmore, it’s four lanes with no center turn lane and few left turn pockets. Motorists use it as an alternative to Wilshire and, as most of them are typical scofflaws, they speed, swerve, and blow lights with abandon. Several pedestrians have died on that stretch, many have been injured and light poles have been regularly knocked down by out-of-control cars. It is common to pass by debris fields indicating a recent wreck -- all along this stretch. 

I know this. I live on a block abutting Sixth Street and, most days, I travel it several times a day, usually on foot or by bike, sometimes in a car. I have seen bodies lying in the street. I have seen drivers speeding at over 70 mph on this neighborhood collector. 

The city’s approach to Sixth Street has been unequivocally hypocritical: a road diet has been planned for it -- but only from Fairfax to La Brea. One LADOT engineer I spoke to about this several years ago stated that, east of La Brea, Sixth was “too narrow” for a road diet..

But yesterday, during a personal survey of the road, I noted that the entire stretch from La Brea to Rossmore forbids parking entirely, thus making that segment of the street effectively wider. 

In other words, it would be very easy to install a 4-to-3 road diet with bike lanes on the entire distance from Fairfax to Rossmore, and thereby win the road design trifecta by: 

1) Slowing speed-demon drivers with a narrowed lane space

2) Moving the numerous left-turning drivers out of the way of through-travelers 24/7

3) Providing an alternative to driving by making bicycle travel more comfortable through the district 

Road diets, as has so often been shown, will often increase the average speed of motor traffic on a street, even if incrementally; and it will vastly increase its throughput of foot and bike traffic. This is no longer a matter of hope or conjecture; it has been measured repeatedly. Average speed is what counts. Peak speeds between traffic clots mean nothing – that is, except danger and delay. 

So what is happening with Sixth these days? Ha! The road diet has been put on hold because of fears that subway construction on Wilshire will send “too much traffic” over to Sixth. Yes, rookie Councilmember David Ryu has wrapped himself in the mantle of term-out Tom LaBonge by declaring that cars shall be your only god in the Miracle Mile. So he continues to hold back a simple painting project that could add capacity to this deadly street while preventing the carnage that has become typical in my neighborhood.

It’s a damn shame, especially in a city that loudly proclaims its adherence to the principles of Vision Zero. 

Perhaps Ryu and the rest of the council’s Neanderthals think that that means zero cyclists on the road with no one ever crossing the street on foot. You could be excused for thinking so. This “malign neglect” of Sixth Street is but one more example of LA’s backwards thinking.


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

Neighborhood Council Impedes Westwood Boulevard’s Revival

GUEST WORDS--Westwood Boulevard 2.0: where bicyclists ride in their own lane beside wide and smooth sidewalks, shaded outdoor patios surround fully occupied restaurants and shops, and exercise stations, small library stands and charging docks stand on street corners.

This upgrade is possible. Mayor Eric Garcetti put in place the “Great Streets” program in order to recreate and take advantage of an often-underrated asset in Los Angeles, our streets. In April 2014, Westwood Boulevard was one of the first 15 streets chosen to receive grant opportunities and access to different resources through the mayor’s office in order to get quick improvement results. The opportunities are smaller in nature — like free-standing exercise stations or parklets — but ultimately do contribute to a street’s overall appeal.

But these projects are set back and held off because different departments involved do not list Westwood Village as a priority. This is especially true of two institutions: the Westwood Neighborhood Council and the Westwood Village Improvement Association, also known as BID.

Currently, BID is working with the WWNC in bringing to life an up-to-date boulevard central to their community, but the latter is holding the former back and not aiming to reimagine a better Westwood.

The “Great Streets” program is not being taken advantage of as it should be. Westwood community leaders are hindering improvements that could potentially revive the Village. These institutions should work to find compromises that could recreate Westwood Boulevard as a distinct street in Los Angeles.

Westwood Village used to be the go-to spot after dark, with its numerous theaters, playhouses, restaurants and shops. Today, locals dressed for a night on the town would trip and fall on their walks down the dimly lit and cracked Westwood sidewalks. The bar scene is weak, with Santa Monica and West Hollywood grabbing all the limelight. And vacancies line the streets, with homeless individuals using the abandoned storefronts’ roof for shelter.

Yet even given this, some are hesitant to change. Jerry Brown, president of the WWNC, said that he does not think that Westwood Boulevard should have been chosen as a “great street” and that the council does not have any specific proposals with regards to making a better boulevard, besides basic upkeep such as fixing sidewalks and tending to the vacancy issue.

This means that BID is limited to practical plans due to the WWNC rejecting its more creative ideas. While the plans do address specific issues on the boulevard such as these cracks and vacancies, these plans do not reimagine it into the one-of-a-kind boulevard that it could be.

Instead of shutting down these ideas, WWNC should be open-minded to the idea of temporary implementation of the projects, so that they can later be assessed as successful or not.

And this isn’t something new. In the past, WWNC rejected BID’s proposal for a bike lane, even when presented in the context of this initiative, on account of traffic and safety concerns. Additionally, it rejected a compromise for share arrows, in which signs would be put up to remind drivers and bicyclists to share the road.

Addressing maintenance, as the WWNC wants to do, is only part of the problem. Westwood Boulevard is the gateway to what used to be a popular Mediterranean-themed village. The goal of any Westwood officials should be to bring back the city to what it used to be.

To deny Westwood Village’s heyday period and not aim to go above and beyond in restoring such a history is unfair to the citizens who elect these leading officials, as well as the students who live within and around the village itself.

The effects of the “Great Streets” program peek in and out of Westwood Boulevard’s image, between Wilshire Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue. A solar-powered bus bench with a USB charging station, newly painted crosswalks and installed parking meters for bikes were all added with the help of the program and the mayor’s office.

This initiative is an opportunity to breathe new light into Westwood Boulevard, and possibly, the entire Village.

Shani Shahmoon writes for the Daily Bruin… where this piece was first posted.) Graphic credit: Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin


Lawless America: Poisoned Water in Flint

EDUCATION POLITICS-The annual commemoration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King -- a national holiday that most employers except the government ignore – is marred by a glaring disconnect between the rhetorical “feel-good” civil rights dream of Dr. King and the stark underachieving reality of Black America. This is accentuated when juxtaposed with the incessant illegal behavior of local, state, and federal legal authorities who do little to address the injustice imposed on Black communities. 

Some injustices are a result of civil negligence, resulting from an unintentional act or omission when there is a duty to act. Worse, however, is criminal negligence that results when there is a clear and unambiguous illegal action such as what happened in Flint, Michigan with the city's water supply. This happened because of a reckless disregard of an easily ascertainable truth, namely, when the city connected the Flint municipal water supply to the known polluted Flint River, something that amounts to assault, battery, and probably worse criminal acts. Until those responsible for this see the inside of a prison cell, these actions to save money will continue unabated, no matter how many people of color have their lives destroyed in the process. 

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the execution-style killing of a non-threatening criminal subject caught on police video in Chicago (and covered up for over a year by public officials including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who was more concerned with his re-election than seeing that justice was done,) or Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s appointment of Emergency Manager Kevyn D. Orr, who, while charged with saving Flint, a city in fiscal despair, wound up poisoning it with a polluted water source not fit for human consumption. These cases and myriad of others like it will never result in long prison terms for such criminal behavior. 

What adds insult to injury is that the American ruling class is never held accountable for its crimes. An additional affront is the fact that our corporate-dominated government will have to pick up the cost of this ever increasing criminal behavior – behavior that those guilty of these crimes should be forced to pay for both monetarily and criminally. 

Building a Belmont High School on an irremediable toxic waste dump is soon forgotten as long as innocent predominantly Latino children are the ones who go to school on the site. And O'Melveny and Myers are not held accountable for their conflict of interest in representing both LAUSD and the developer of this public works project designed to screw the public. Yes, fundamental to all of these public scandals are the conflicts of interest – cases where the career and financial well-being of a few powerful people is systematically placed over the needs of the public. The only fiduciary duty these government leaders seem to have is to themselves, their corporate cronies – and never the public. But has it always been this way? 

And of course, the granddaddy of these kinds of illegal and dangerous schemes, in terms of their sheer magnitude, remains the credit default swaps and sub-prime scams. The corporate criminalsin those cases not only got the government to bail them out; they got them to pay their bonuses. 

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

Joy Picus … LA’s Longest Serving Councilmember: Not about Potholes, It’s about Vision

MY TURN-History does repeat itself. This is why scholars and smart politicians review episodes in history to help them find answers for today's challenges. Even though the issues we face today may appear different...they are just basically the same with some new twists. 

Given all the chatter surrounding the California Coastal Commission and its effort to discharge its current manager, I thought I'd talk with one of the Commission’s initial proponents, former City Councilmember Joy Picus. (Photo: ribbon cutting ceremony at Griffith Observatory in 2006) 

The California Coastal Commission was a grass roots effort initiated in part by the American Association of University Women, League of Women Voters and other civic organizations. They gathered enough signatures to get Proposition 20 on the ballot in 1972 and it passed. Picus was one of the more involved activists. The main goal was to save the California coastline from over-development and to preserve its beauty for future generations. This early interest in the environment would play an important role during her public life. 

Proposition 20 gave the Coastal Commission permit authority for four years. Then the California Coastal Act of 1976 extended the Coastal Commission's authority indefinitely. This state authority controls construction along California’s 1,100 miles (1,770 km) of shoreline. The Commission is composed of 12 voting members, 6 chosen from the general public, and 6 appointed elected officials. The panelists are neither paid a salary nor a stipend for their work; it is a very political body with various degrees of interest in preservation. 

Picus was a native of Chicago and started her political science studies at the University of Wisconsin. She and her long-time husband, Gerald Picus, a physicist, then moved to Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. 

She became active in the Parent-Teacher Association and League of Women Voters and served as president of the Valley branch of the American Association of University Women. She was also employed for three years as community relations director for the Jewish Federation Council. 

In the late sixties and early seventies women were pretty much relegated to the" back benches." Picus, like many other women, was influenced by Betty Friedan's 1964 book, the Feminine Mystique

Her political career began in 1973 when she challenged the incumbent City Councilman, Donald Lorenzen, in LA Council District 3. Lorenzen won in a tight election that demanded a recount; the vote was 27,575 for Lorenzen and 27,027 for Picus...a matter of 548 votes. 

She took on Lorenzen again, and though he kept referring to her as a "wild-eyed environmentalist”... she won! "The big surprise was that this middle class democratic woman beat the incumbent in a district that voted 80% for Ronald Reagan," Picus told me. 

She was the first woman to hold a City Council seat in the San Fernando Valley. District 3 covered the southwest corner of the Valley, including Woodland Hills, Tarzana and parts of Encino, Canoga Park and Reseda. 

She remains the longest serving City Councilmember... a total of sixteen years. Because term limits came into play soon after she left office, that record of longevity still holds. 

I asked her what it was like being a female politician in those days. She said that there were several women on the City Council during her sixteen years. She became accustomed to the double entendres and occasional outright propositions by both city officials and the public. A recall campaign against her was started by the fire and police unions since she was thought to be "anti-labor." But she said that she was able to have a collegial relationship with most of the men and the women went out of their way to help each other. 

In 1981, the Los Angeles Times wrote about District 3: 

Although the district is largely white and middle class, it is complicated and anything but homogenous. A study in contrasts, it has expensive ranch homes in Woodland Hills that are minutes away from shack-like dwellings in Canoga Park, a largely Hispanic barrio dating from the early 1900s.” 

Picus became a "hero of local conservationists" since she pushed builders to provide more open space for parks. She also supported transportation projects, called attention to the need for waste recycling, and opposed oil drilling in the Pacific Palisades. 

Those were heady days in Los Angeles politics that produced more than its fair share of political scandals. Armand Hammer, the multimillionaire industrialist, wanted to drill oil off the Pacific Palisades Coast. But the Palisades had always had a strong community organization and they convinced Picus to fight the drilling. When it came up before City Council it passed 9 to 6. The big surprise was that the new Mayor, Tom Bradley, vetoed it. In order to over-ride the veto, they needed ten votes. 

She recalled fondly that all of the sudden she became very popular and was invited to all the Armand Hammer social events; everyone was putting pressure on her to change her vote. He finally stopped inviting her and drilling off the Pacific Palisades never happened. 

Developing policies and programs on behalf of working parents and their children was another priority for Picus. She authored the city's Child Care Policy, which made Los Angeles one of the first cities in the country to hire a full-time child-care coordinator. 

She also spurred the opening of a child-care center for Civic Center employees in Downtown Los Angeles, financed by the city and federal governments. In 1989, she persuaded the City Council to create preferences in city contracts for companies that offered child-care benefits to their employees. 

The City Hall South Children’s Center was named the Joy Picus Learning Center in 1996. 

Picus was named "Woman of the Year” by Ms. Magazine in 1985, a result of her successful drive to include an historic "pay equity" plan in the city's collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME.) She was the only politician to receive the award that year. 

Also known as "comparable worth," the effort refers to upgrading pay rates for jobs that were paid lower wages because they had traditionally been held by women. The magazine credited Picus with "helping bring about a $12 million pay equity agreement between the City of Los Angeles and 3,900 of its employees, most of them women." 

According to an old Los Angeles Times interview, Picus was dubbed by some as a "Mary Poppins," because of the " 'flighty impression' she sometimes conveys." She replied that her "preparation for political life came from activities primarily with other women," and so in the beginning she was not "taken as seriously" as were the men. She emerged, the reporter wrote, "as a woman of enormous ego and drive, with tremendous energy and determination." 

Today Joy Picus remains active and involved. She is still serves on the boards of several civic and cultural groups. She keeps track of what goes on in the City politically. She notes that some of the things she and her colleagues tried to change are still status quo

The point of this article is to not just revisit the past, but to remind our City Councilmembers that great things have been accomplished in the past by prior City Council colleagues. 

The job is not just about fixing potholes or passing zoning changes – it’s about having the vision and persistence to tackle the big challenges. And much more than worrying about the next election! 

As always comments welcome…


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


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