Fri, Sep

Englander Watch: Quid Pro Quo. Pay-to-Play. No Matter the Name, It Still Stinks

CORRUPTION WATCH--I fear that today's shocking revelation in the Los Angeles Times about Mitchell Englander flying down to Arizona with a staff member for a Taser fundraiser, concurrent to the company seeking a major body worn video contract with our city, may be the tip of an iceberg. First of all it's not okay. 

Regardless of the contorted logic and twisted thinking that the downtown lobbyists and their pack of lawyers will put forward, it is still not okay.  

As for the council members who will come out to defend or may feel sympathy for Mr. Englander (photo), claiming that the disclosure requirements were too confusing, we ought to demand, as some of us have, that the Ethics ordinance be rewritten, immediately   

And without any disrespect intended for Common Cause or Clean Money or other groups trying to bring accountability, while indirectly seeking political support from the very group they help regulate, we should be sure to include in any discussion, a reasonable number of outraged residents with a modicum of street smarts, to help explain what quid pro quo means so that your average eighth grader could grasp the concept.

But make no mistake, Mitchell Englander is the man of the hour and he should receive the strongest possible sanction. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whom the council member crassly honored as the CD12 Pioneer woman in April, ought to remove any endorsement from Englander's campaign website as should the City Attorney Mike Feuer, and both should team up to provide the public with an overview of what they are doing to help enforce state bid rigging laws … or, admit that they’re not really paying attention.  

One excellent way to avoid bid rigging is to avoid bidding and competition altogether. Unfortunately, that is in direct conflict with the public's best interest. We need to make that clear.   All too often, good journalists are left with bad campaign finance laws scribbled down by the Englanders, Knabes et al. and the public must endure a chorus of "it's perfectly legal" on the opinion pages.  

Enough is enough. 

Council member Englander should put all of that Taser money he received and put it into a special city ethics fund. 

Taser should also be fined, and, in exchange for the right to participate in fair and open bidding, the company should be required to provide 15 state of the art body worn video cameras, to be worn by ALL 15 members of the City Council during the several months it will take to have a fair and reasonable RFP.  As Englander himself put it in September 2013, just after teeing Taser up for a near-exclusive trial, it's a "great opportunity to set the record straight, to give us extra eyes and ears" where we obviously need them. 

The Lobbyists, including Arnie Berghoff, mentioned in the Times article, who shares an office and presumably bunk-desks with the regularly highest grossing lobbyist firm, Uncle Harvey dba (Englander Knabe & Allen), ought to explain just how deep the relationship between Taser and the council member really is, and make a substantial voluntary deposit into the aforementioned special city fund.  

Politicians trying to score political points by being anti-cop is truly unsavory. What's far worse is politicians like Mitchell Englander, who pretend to have the cops best interests, while doing real damage to the brand.  By selling out Main Street to Wall Street … and Taser … Englander has violated something most good cops hold near and dear and work hard to deliver every single day: FAIR and HONEST protection and service to Los Angeles citizens.


(Eric Preven is 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.)






Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

Terrorist Threat at LAUSD: The Dilemma

MOM’S POV--News junkie that I am, I was awakened by a 6 am push feed notification from the Washington Post. LAUSD schools would be closed due to a threat received by a school board member. As of Tuesday afternoon, the threat appears to have been some sort of hoax, per Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) who serves on the House Intelligence committee. 

My daughter atten ds high school in Las Virgenes Unified School District, which chose not to close schools. I was notified by a robocall and at least two emails that our schools in LVUSD would remain open. 

New York Police officials stated a similar threat had been made on New York City schools but the threat was deemed not credible. “We cannot allow ourselves t raise levels of fear,” New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said. New York mayor Bill de Blasio commented that the threat appeared to be “so generic and so outlandish” that the New York officials were not taking it seriously. 

Rep. Brad Sherman shared that the author of the email claimed to have “32 jihadist friends” ready to attack with bombs and rifles. He claimed to be a devout Muslim who had attended an LA high school where he had been bullied. Sherman had been given a copy of the email by a school board member. 

When I was first aware of the alleged threat, like most parents, I questioned whether to send my daughter to school. Most of her soccer classmates were staying home. I made the decision to send her to school and to be available by text. 

By early afternoon, the threat had been deemed a hoax but the experience did raise some issues for me. How do we handle these potential threats? Do we allow these threats to paralyze our society, which is, aside from violence, the true aim of terrorists? How do we explain this to our kids? 

We are pretty fortunate to be living in a country where terrorist threats are not part of our typical day. In plenty of countries around the world such as Israel people face the possibility of terrorism or war on a daily basis. However even in our own country, in cities like Chicago, homicide is at an all-time high. 

Certainly, we live in unsure times when terrorists cells and even rogue disengaged gunmen attack in places where we have always felt safe, in schools, religious institutions, theaters, which is exactly what terrorists want. 

For parents, setting your children free as they grow up has always been one of the biggest challenges, that first time we allow our kids to go to the mall with friends or to drive by themselves, even when we send our toddlers to preschool or kindergarten for the first time. Setting all of this in the milieu of potential terrorist threats, whether domestic or ISIS, escalates our anxieties and worries to a new level. 

I think of all the parents in other countries or cities who face the threat of violence as part of life, the real terror in not knowing if your child will arrive home safely at the end of the day. It’s so easy to point fingers at everyone we perceive as a threat. We have candidates like Donald Trump riling supporters with his plan to exclude all Muslims from entering the U.S.

Most of us have seen the images of refugees risking their lives so they and their families can live in peace, far from the daily threats of violence or with basic human rights. I hope we can remember that fear we felt Tuesday morning, unsure of our children’s safety and we can think of those parents for whom threats might not have turned out to be a hoax.

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





Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

Harvard-Westlake School Pays to Play … Stokes Resentment in Coldwater Canyon

DEVELOPMENT POLITICS-Politics is local but Los Angelenos are sick and tired of seeing local interests steamrolled by downtown powerbrokers willing to do whatever it takes to achieve City Hall cooperation.  

One such controversy has stoked deep-seated resentment in Coldwater Canyon where residents who would very much like to be settling in for a cozy El Niño are instead bracing themselves for a battle against a new private parking garage, athletic field and pedestrian bridge over a major public thoroughfare in Studio City.  

Speaking about Harvard-Westlake School’s request to have the three-story 750-car lot and bridge over Coldwater Canyon Boulevard, school Vice President John Amato said, “Our kids have to perform in front of audiences so we have to have parking for visitors, and we want to have all our parking in one location.” 

In LA city politics, the closest thing to absolute power is the ability of a city councilmember to make or break a land-use project in his or her district. Two days after telling his constituents who live in the area 24-hours a day that the school's bridge over Coldwater was a "challenging issue for the community," District 2 Councilmember Paul Krekorian received (most on the same day) donations from eighteen Harvard-WestlakeTrustees, with all but two giving the maximum $700 contribution and none disclosing their relationship to the school on the donation form.   

This activity resulted in a $20,950 windfall for Mr. Krekorian's campaign committee from the school's trustees alone. All but a few of those contributions were made on November 3, 2014 and though we saw references to "homemaker," "investor" and "stamp collector," not one of the contributors identified his or her role as a school trustee. This tops the virtually simultaneous contributions made to Mr. Krekorian by the same trustees and administrators on February 18, 2011, also with not a single trustee identifying his or her connection to the school.  

There is no more effective way for a 501c3 non-profit to lose its tax-exempt status than by contributing to a political campaign, so writing a check from Harvard-Westlake School is something only a fool would entertain. But having that many trustees make donations on a single day violates the spirit, and possibly the letter of the federal law that prohibits 501c3s from engaging in political activity. 

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

Article II of the City of Los Angeles Code of Ethics states that persons in public service "shall not give occasion for distrust of their impartiality or of their devotion to the city's best interests."  How could Mr. Krekorian affirmatively state that he is impartial while taking so much money from a highly interested part y...  or in this case, parties?  

The answer, shamefully, is the public was never supposed to connect the dots and figure it out. 

Obviously taking large donations and submitting them to the matching fund compromises impartiality. But it does more than that. It also erodes basic trust and the public's faith in our politicians. The Ethics Commission, the very office which approved the dispensing of the public matching money should take responsibility to rectify the unacceptable status quo. A good start would be to close the loophole that allows for this type of stealth donation. Trustees with business before the city should be required to disclose that relationship. If the hard ban on political activity for 501c3s makes that impossible, the loophole will be effectively closed. Next item... 

Councilmember Krekorian should do now what he should have done a year ago -- return the eighteen contributions he received from Harvard-Westlake Trustees. Of equal importance, he should return all of the matching funds he obtained through use of the Harvard-Westlake money. Harvard-Westlake ought to amend its 990 tax filings appropriately, checking the correct (and honest) box that indicates that they have indeed been engaged in lobbying -- nearly a million dollars in lobbying for what has become...a bridge too far.  

The smart people, and there are many at Harvard-Westlake, ought to realize that a parking structure on the campus side of the public roadway would be just fine. Any digging in the hillside in question will merely be digging a hole for the school's reputation. 


(Eric Preven is 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.)




Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

The LAUSD Conspiracy – A Cult of Conformity

EDUCATION POLITICS-In looking at LAUSD's latest defamatory attack on nationally acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith, (photo) one can only surmise that those running the District are starting to run scared. Esquith's billion dollar lawsuit brought by lawyer Mark Geragos has too great a probability of bankrupting the District if it’s allowed to be tried in the forum of a neutral court. 

The LAUSD smear machine (aka "LAUSD investigative team") has been given their marching orders: do not find the truth, but rather, get the goods on Esquith --even if they have to fabricate or distort the facts. 

After years of war against teachers and other certificated and classified employees (whose only crime was to question district policy or make too much money,) LAUSD has an amoral group of administrators and outside contractors in place, seeking to supplement their income or position, even if they have to lie, fabricate, or distort evidence to do so. 

By examining the recent indictment of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for first degree murder of Laquan McDonald, we are reminded of how deceptive public entity cultures like this work. 

After a 13-month cover up, we saw what happens when an organization is allowed to investigate itself. In this case, it came to a pre-ordained conclusion of innocence because that was the only explanation acceptable to those whose loyalty to the organization took precedence over commitment to truth and the rule of law. 

This same self-dealing culture has existed for generations at the LAUSD, to the preclusion of good pragmatic public education. No administrator could ever have gotten to a position of power unless he or she showed a willingness to fabricate lies and subordinate truth to support LAUSD’s party line. 

LAUSD has put out for public consumption the fact that "the district's investigative team, which includes former LA Police Department detectives, [has] launched an investigation." They do not emphasize the "former" status of these LA Police Department detectives, who are either retired from LAPD or moonlighting for LAUSD as a second job to supplement their income. LAUSD seeks to cultivate the appearance that this is an LA Police investigation, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

The corporate-owned press continues to selectively report only the "facts" as LAUSD presents them, instead of asking questions like…has any LAUSD investigator ever found a teacher they were investigating innocent? Or, how many of these "LA Police Department detectives" have found evidence of LAUSD administrative wrongdoing among personnel who are still working for the District? 

A more fundamental question is, why are local, state, and federal agencies ceding control of their investigatory function to LAUSD -- which is a self-interested party to Esquith’s $1 billion civil lawsuit alleging criminal conspiracy and other charges against the LAUSD administration? 

The hallmark of all LAUSD investigations is that they investigate themselves, deviating from any notion of legal objectivity. And what they do investigate never seems to go anywhere, like in the case of the iPad scandal under former Superintendent John Deasy or the sexual harassment investigation against current and habitually retiring Superintendent Ramon Cortines. 

In my own case, when I filed a whistleblower complaint against my principal Janet Seary and her superior, Jan Davis, for graduating students with low elementary school math and reading ability, the LAUSD's Office of Inspector General allowed Seary and Davis to investigate themselves. Not surprisingly, they found they had done nothing wrong. The fact they were given this case, in which they had a clear conflict of interest, was never addressed by the District or any other authority. Now, the Esquith class action lawsuit is finally bringing these actions into the light. 

But my favorite illustration of LAUSD's one-sided railroading of teachers, along with anyone else questioning LAUSD's often illegal behavior, was given by my then Vice Principal Rene Martinez. Asked under oath why he included in my evidence file only the ten negative letters from my students (that were obtained through a rather intimidating process) and none of the five positive letters, he said, "They did not go to the charges against you," showing how one-sided the LAUSD's investigatory process remains. 

It is very telling to look at the LAUSD’s modus operandus as it goes after "enemies":  neither Mr. Martinez nor Mr. Johnson from the LAUSD Office of Inspector General had any idea what “exculpatory evidence” meant. True to LAUSD culture, Mr. Martinez has been made principal of his own school and he should continue to do well as long as he remains unfettered by the truth – or as long as Esquith is not successful in finally bringing accountability to LAUSD. 

Let’s consider the recently released incriminating evidence alleging that Mr. Esquith engaged in improper sexual activity with his students. Before getting into the purposefully prurient nature of these charges, it is worth asking: 

  1. Why were all charges against Esquith not brought immediately? 
  1. Is it a mere coincidence that the more Esquith stood up for himself against LAUSD, the more egregious the heretofore unmentioned subsequent charges were? 
  1. What was the relationship between Mr. Esquith and the student bringing the charges? Were they good students or bad with a score to settle? 
  1. Why bring these "new" charges against Esquith now, instead of allowing the class action trial    process of discovery and testimony under oath to determine in a neutral forum who is telling the truth? 
  1. Under what circumstances was the testimony of prior students against Esquith made? Were these circumstance neutral, as required by the standards set up in the McMartin Preschool case, where falsely accused teachers and administrators were vilified by false charges for close to 10 years before it was revealed that the students were manipulated into making their testimony? 
  1. How is it that Esquith’s alleged improper sexual behavior going back to the 1970s is only now seeing the light of day, now that LAUSD is faced with a billion dollar class action suit? 

Any teacher can tell you is that there are several things that might allow Mr. Esquith's comments to be viewed as acceptable, given the subjective reality that all teachers face. First, students transitioning from childhood into young adulthood like to flirt. It is important and completely normal for students to flirt with their teachers and others, still knowing that they are safe. I cannot think of any conscientious teacher I know who has not been flirted with or who would ever take advantage of a young person's vulnerability. 

A second issue that every teacher I know encounters with both male and female students is that many students have a poor self-image, making them feel incapable of even trying to do the assigned work. In trying to help a student overcome a poor self-image, it is entirely possible that an excellent and empathetic teacher like Esquith might tell a 14-year old student that she was, "beautiful, elegant, dazzling, sexy, and gorgeous," especially if this could help her accomplish something she believed she couldn’t do. In this context, what Esquith is alleged to have said is more than justified. 

For 30 years, Rafe Esquith taught in a lower socio-economic neighborhood, even though he could have done better financially, had he taken one of many offers to go elsewhere. But he chose not to. Rather, he chose to set up a foundation ensuring that students of modest financial means could have access to education programs. He wanted to help them go on with their education after graduation, encouraging them to work hard and master the rigorous traditional public education he was trying to give them. 

But in quoting an email out of context, where Esquith refers to himself as "your favorite ATM," the district is seeking to imply some false negative motive on the part of Esquith, when sainthood is a more reasonable conclusion. 

There is an insane irony to the fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, which should be dedicated to the highest traditions of open intellectual pursuit, remains a closed and insular bastion of cult-like behavior -- a place where those who question it are targeted for removal and destruction. As constituted, LAUSD’s leadership only seems concerned with mindlessly defending its failed public education policy along with its obscenely extravagant financial privilege against anyone like Rafe Esquith who is foolish enough to intelligently question them.


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




Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

Christmas: a Tale of Refugees, a Subversive Parable

GUEST WORDS--The news out of the Middle East is relentlessly disheartening these days, but the other day I reread this amazing story from a while back about a child in the region whose birth was so threatening to his country’s ruling elite that the king slaughtered untold numbers of infants to make sure the boy would never grow up. 

Luckily, the boy’s stepfather learned of the king’s intentions in a dream, so he whisked his family away to exile in a neighboring country. Once the evil ruler died, the refugee family moved back to their homeland and settled near the Sea of Galilee, where a growing number of followers came to recognize the young man as the king of his people and, indeed, their savior.

The songs I hear in my local drugstore and on the radio tell me over and over again that Christmas is about joy. And, of course, it is. But that’s only half the story. The Christmas tale, which appears in only two of the four Gospels—in two very different versions—is a lot richer and more challenging than we generally choose to remember.

Every year around this time, I try to get my head and heart prepared for the holiday season. I ask myself what I should think about as Christmas approaches. What do I want to learn? How do I want to grow? I guess you could say it’s my personal version of Advent.

A year ago, I was so ill prepared for the season that I went to visit my good friend Frank McRae, who has studied the Old and New Testaments, to request guidance. He considered my question, went silent for a moment or two, and suddenly slammed his palm violently on the table. “He was born in a manger!” he yelled. “And yet they found him! Those three wise men didn’t let the humble surroundings distract them. They knew greatness when they saw it. It helped that they came from the East, from far away. They didn’t share whatever local prejudices there may have been against a child of humble parents in such humble surroundings.”

In one fell swoop, my friend turned my Christmas into a meditation on discernment, the need to see clearly, and to recognize goodness around us, in whatever shape or form.

In their wonderfully insightful book, The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus’ Birth, New Testament scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan encourage us to understand the Christmas story for what it is: a parable, a metaphorical narrative whose truths lie not in its factual details, but in the multiple meanings we can find in it.

Of course, Jesus himself was famous for his parables, the best of which subverted conventional ways of seeing the world. These parables, Borg and Crossan write, “invited his hearers into a different way of seeing how things are and how we might live.” In other words, as invitations from Jesus to see differently, they were also opportunities for people to change their lives and circumstances.

Today’s popular Christmas stories are often sentimental and viewed through the gauzy lens of warm and fuzzy childhood memories. Unlike Easter, which more clearly invites believers to meditate on notions of sacrifice, repentance, and transcendence, Christmas is more likely to be focused on gift-giving family togetherness than on individual faith and transformation.

But the story of the birth of Jesus is clearly more than sentimental. It’s about the weak and the wise outsmarting the powerful. It’s about the humble and faithful turning the world upside down. As Borg and Crossan argue, these are not tales designed to safeguard the status quo.

So this year, as I celebrate the birth of Jesus with the ones I love, I will also be thinking about where exactly I stand in a world that clearly needs fixing, and whether I’m doing my part to help turn it upside down.

Because whether or not there has ever been a war on Christmas, the Christmas story is itself about conflict. And each December 25, we are given an opportunity not only to welcome joy into the world, but to declare which side we are on.

(Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square. … where this column originated.)





Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

Is Los Angeles: a City Of Losers?

NEW GEOGRAPHY--When I arrived in Los Angeles four decades ago, it was clearly a city on the rise, practicing its lines on the way to becoming the dominant metropolis in North America. Today, the City of Angels and much of Southern California lag behind not only a resurgent New York City, but also LA’s longtime regional rival, San Francisco, both demographically and economically. 

Forty years ago, San Francisco was a quirky, backward-looking town, a haven for the gilded rich and hippies, a quaint but increasingly insignificant town. The Dodgers and the Lakers ruled the California sporting world. 

Today things couldn’t be more different. San Francisco and its much bigger southerly neighbor, Silicon Valley, have morphed into the global epicenter of the technology industry, with 25 tech companies on the Fortune 500. In contrast, Los Angeles County, which has almost twice as many people, is home to only 15 Fortune 500 firms total. 

Meanwhile, the Giants and the Golden State Warriors have become consistent winners while the Dodgers, Angels and Clippers disappoint and the Lakers are painfully unwatchable. 

Although there is a desire to repeat LA’s success with the 1984 Olympics and bring football back to town, that would only put a happy veneer over the city’s core problem: the long-term decline of its business sector. In 1984, the city had a strong and highly motivated business elite highlighted by 12 Fortune 500 companies who could help sponsor the games and provide management expertise. Now there are only three within city limits, with the departure of major corporations such as Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum and Toyota, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. 

In contrast, the Bay Area is full of thriving companies and successful entrepreneurs, many of them astoundingly young. Of the 30 richest people in the country, five live in the Bay Area; Southern California has only one, the Irvine Company visionary Chairman Donald Bren, and he’s in his eighties. The Bay Area accounts for the vast majority of American billionaires under 40; if not for Snapchat’s founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, as well Elon Musk, who lives in LA but spends much of his time working in Northern California, where Tesla and Solar City are located, LA would be off the list. 

This unfavorable contrast with the Bay Area, sadly, is not just a recent development. Since 1990 Los Angeles County has added a paltry 34,000 jobs while its population has grown 1.2 million. In contrast, the Bay Area, which added roughly the same number of people during the same time, gained a net 500,000 jobs, mostly in the suburbs. In 1990 Los Angeles had around the same number of private-sector jobs per person as the Bay Area, roughly 410 per 1,000; today Los Angeles’ private-sector jobs to population ratio has dropped to 364 per 1,000 while the Bay Area’s has grown to 415. Worse yet, while the Bay Area has increased its share of high-wage jobs to 33 percent since 1990, Los Angeles percentage fell to 27.7 percent. 

How LA Blew It in Technology 

As recently as the 1970s, as UCLA’s Michael Storper has pointed out, L.A. stood on the cutting edge not only in hardware, but also software. Computer Sciences Corp. was the first software company to be listed on a national stock exchange. In 1969, UCLA’s Leonard Kleinrock invented the digital packet switch, one of the keys to the Internet. 

In 1970, IT’s share of the economy in greater Los Angeles and in the Bay Area was about the same (in absolute terms it was bigger in LA). By 2010, IT’s share was four times bigger in the north than in the south. 

Storper links the decline in large part to the strategies of the biggest high-tech companies in the L.A. area: Lockheed Martin, Rockwell and TRW focused on defense and space, essentially becoming dependent on government spending. In contrast, the Bay Area technology community, although also initially tied to Washington, began to move into more commercial applications. In the process they also developed a huge network of venture capitalists who would continue to help found and finance fledgling firms. 

Today the San Jose area enjoys the highest percentage of workers in STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics-related jobs) in the country, over three times the national average. San Francisco and its immediate environs, largely as a result of the social media boom, now has a location quotient for STEM jobs of 1.75, meaning it has 75% more tech jobs per capita than the national average. In contrast, the Los Angeles area barely makes it to the national average. 

Southern California remains an attractive to place to live, but it’s hard to imagine it as the next Silicon Valley. L.A. had its chance, and, sadly, it blew it. 

The Growing Demographic Crisis 

Storper and other critics suggest that Los Angeles failed in part because it tried to maintain high-wage blue collar industries while the Bay Area focused on information and biotechnology. The problem now, however, are the factors in L.A. that drive industry away, such as ultra-high electricity prices and a high level of regulation. Even amidst the recent industrial boom in many other parts of the country, Los Angeles has continued to lose manufacturing jobs; Los Angeles’ industrial job count stands at 363,900, still the largest number in the nation, but down sharply from 900,000 just a decade ago. 

This decline places LA in a demographic dilemma. Like the Midwestern states that lured African-Americans to fill industrial jobs during the Great Migration, LA attracted a large number of largely poorly educated immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America. These people came for jobs in factories, logistics and home-building, but now find themselves stranded in an economy with little place for them outside low-end services. 

Although inequality and racial disparities also exist in the Bay Area, the issue is far more relevant in Southern California. The Bay Area’s population is increasingly dominated by well-educated Anglos and Asians. San Francisco’s population is 22 percent black or Hispanic; in Los Angeles, this percentage approaches 60 percent

Poverty and lack of upward mobility are the biggest threats to the region. In Los Angeles, a recent United Way study found 35 percent of households were “struggling,” essentially living check to check, compared to 24 percent for the Bay Area. 

recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality found that, once adjusted for cost of living, Los Angeles has the highest level of poverty in the state, 26.1 percent. Rents are out of control for many people who are struggling in an increasingly low-wage dominated economy. In fact, Los Angeles is now the least affordable city for renters, based on income, according to a recent UCLA paper. 

Is There A Way Out? 

Despite these myriad challenges, Los Angeles, and indeed all of Southern California, is far from a hopeless case. It is unlikely to become the next Detroit and is better positioned by natural and human resources than it’s similarly troubled big city competitor Chicago. It still enjoys arguably the best climate of any major city in the world, remains the home of Hollywood, the nation’s dominant ports and a still impressive array of hospitals and universities. 

At least some of the city’s leadership has begun to recognize the challenges facing the region. “The city where the future once came to happen,” a devastating blue ribbon report recently intoned, “is living the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out.” 

This recognition might be the first step toward a turnaround, but the area really has increasingly little control over its own fate. Today San Francisco and its immediate environs, despite its much smaller population, is home to virtually every powerful politician in the state: both its U.S. Senators, the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General. Not surprisingly, state policies on everything from greenhouse gases, urban density and transit to social issues follows lines that originate in, and largely benefit, San Francisco. 

Most troubling of all, the local leadership seems clueless about how to resuscitate the economy, or even how this vast region actually operates. Neither another Olympics nor getting a football team or two will make a difference. Even worse is the effort by Mayor Eric Garcetti to densify the city to resemble a sun-baked version of New York. 

This has been part of the agenda for developers, greens and most local academics for the better part of 30 years. But the problem remains: Los Angeles, and even more so its surrounding region, is not New York, nor can it ever be. It is, and will remain, a car-dominated, multi-polar city for the foreseeable future. After all, the vast majority of Southern California’s population growth — roughly 75 percent — came after the Second World War and the demise of the Red Cars, LA’s  much lamented pre-war transit system. 

Some outside observers such as progressive blogger Matt Yglesias now envision LA as “the next great transit city.” Yet in reality, despite spending $10 billion on new transit projects, the share of transit commuters has actually dropped since 1990; today nearly 31 percent of New York area commuters take public transportation, while 6.9 percent do so in Los Angeles-Orange County. 

People take cars because, for most, it’s the quickest way to work. Few transit trips take less time, door to door than traveling by car, not to mention the convenience of working at home. The average transit rider in Los Angeles spends 48 minutes getting to work, compared to people driving alone, at 27 minutes. 

This reflects L.A.’s great dispersion of employment, which is not compatible with a transit-driven culture. In greater New York, 20 percent of the workforce labors in the central core; in San Francisco, the percentage is roughly 10 percent. But barely 2 percent do so in Los Angeles. The current, much ballyhooed revival of downtown Los Angeles then is less a reflection of economic forces, than the preferences of a relatively small portion of population for a more urban lifestyle and as market for Asian flight capital. Its population of 50,000 is about the same as Sherman Oaks or the recently minted city of Eastvale in the Inland Empire. 

Rather than seek to become someplace else, Los Angeles has to confront its key problems, like its woeful infrastructure, particularly roads, among the worst in the country, and a miserable education system. These are among the likely reasons why people with children are leaving Los Angeles faster than any major region of the country. 

Yet Los Angeles is not without allure. Overall Los Angeles-Orange has grown its ranks of new educated workers between 25 and 34 since 2011 as much as New York and San Francisco and much more than Portland. 

Perhaps most promising is the region’s status as the number one producer of engineers in the country, almost 3,000 annually. This raw material is now being somewhat wasted, with as many as 70 percent leaving town to find work. 

What Los Angeles needs to do is to provide the entrepreneurial opportunities to keep its young at home, particularly the tech oriented. As the Bay Area has shown, it is possible to reshape an economy based on pre-existing strength. For LA the best regional strategy would be based on a remarkably diverse economy dominated by smaller firms, a population that, for the most part, seeks out quiet residential neighborhoods and often prefers working closer to home than battling their way to what remains a still unexceptional downtown. 

One place where Los Angeles could shine is in melding the arts and technology. Unlike New York, which has relatively few engineers, Los Angeles still has the largest supply in the country. The Bay Area may be more appealing to nerddom, but is unexceptional in the arts. This revival will not come from the remaining suits in LA; roughly half of workers in the arts are self-employed, according to the economic forecasting firm EMSI. 

This entrepreneurial trend will continue since, with the studio system clearly in decline, as large productions go elsewhere, digital players such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple as well as Los Angeles based Hulu have become more important. Los Angeles could expand its arts-related niche by supplying the content that these expanding digital pipelines require. 

Given the corporate exodus, and the difficult California business climate, overall L.A.’s recovery must come from the bottom up, and be dispersed throughout the region. According to Kauffman Foundation research, the L.A. area already has the second highest number of entrepreneurs per 100 people in the country, just slightly behind the Bay Area. 

The next LA can succeed, but not by trying to duplicate New York or San Francisco. Instead there’s a need for greater appreciation why so many millions migrated here in the first place: great weather, beaches, suburban-like living and entrepreneurial opportunities. Only when the local leadership rediscovers the uniqueness of LA’s DNA can the region undergo the renaissance of this most naturally blessed of places.


(Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

Homeowners, Voters and the DWP Rate Increase

EASTSIDER-If you’re like most Angelenos, you’re worried about the upcoming DWP rate increases -- fearing that you are going to get fleeced, and frustrated that you can’t understand how it works. So here’s a very short primer that I hope is understandable, along with some suggestions as to what you can do. 

The basics: Over the next five years, DWP is looking for about 5% per year in water rate increases, and about 4% per year in power rate increases. That translates into roughly $1.2 to 1.4 billion in increases over the five years, depending on how you count a couple of variables. 

The really interesting part is that the DWP doesn’t particularly care how much any individual ratepayer pays in their bill. It’s basically an engineering company at heart, so what they really care about is the total number of dollars they will need over the five-year time period to do their job. Period. 

Who pays what and how that money is divided up into the rate structure for water and for power is of secondary interest to the people who have to do the actual work. 

What’s not needed: The hundreds of millions of dollars that the City grabs as a ‘transfer fee’ each year and the millions of dollars in “feel good pet projects” Council members shift over to the DWP – projects that you and I have to pay for in our DWP bill. We need to stop this ripoff! 

Guess who makes the decisions as to how much you and I will pay individually? The politicians, of course.  After looking at how other utility companies do their billing, hiring a bunch of consultants, and getting input from the Ratepayers Advocate, the DWP Board then votes to send recommendations to the LA City Council. Abut for practical purposes, it’s really the Mayor and the City Council that decide.  Remember, the Mayor appoints every single DWP Board member, and if they fail to do his bidding, they get zapped.  

You have probably heard me say that these new funds are mostly needed to fix the crumbling infrastructure (largely thanks to past manipulation by City Council,) and to pay for legislation requiring a high percentage of renewable energy over this same time period. Every time the Mayor, the City Council, or the State Legislature gets that old ‘feel good green hot flash’ impulse, they impose yet another set of unfunded mandates that the DWP has to implement. And of course, you and I are the funding for these unfunded mandates. 

I can make probably make enough changes in my own water/power needs to offset some of these increases, and can then marginally afford them. But if you talk to my 90 year old mother-in-law who gets about $1000 a month in Social Security, she’s not so thrilled -- nor can she absorb these increases.  All she gets from the politicians is a bunch of hot air and no help. For her and many other Angelenos, the bottom line is the cost, and she’s hurting. 

So let me give you the political math about DWP rate setting, along with some suggestions as to what we can do about it. All my politically savvy friends say that in the era of 10% voter turnouts for LA City elections, homeowners, representing about 40% of the overall population, are far and away the largest percentage (60%) of people who actually bother to vote in municipal elections. 

Why is this important? Because something like 90% of renters do not pay a water bill directly. Big apartment buildings have ‘master meters’ where there is no individual breakdown of use by unit.   Couple that with the Apartment Owners Association findings that about 78% of LA City apartments are subject to rent control, and you discover that there is unfortunately no reason that renters should pay attention to how much water they use -- and according to the LA Times, they don’t. 

Now if you are a homeowner in the Valley, where temperature swings are higher and lot sizes are much larger, you may take a double hit. The proposed new 4-tier system hits people with larger lots in higher temperature zones more than other ratepayers. 

So now you know that homeowners, particularly those in the Valley, have some proof that they are getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. But are we doomed? And who can fix this? 

Remember, the DWP as an entity has no stake in the answer to these questions – all they want is their $1.2 to 1.4 billion over the five year period. It’s a political exercise. So forget the DWP Board of Directors, unless you like spinning your wheels and getting blown off. Don’t forget: the Mayor owns them. 

Of course, you could try to influence the Mayor himself, that is, if you could actually find him in between his jet setting travel schedule and photo ops. Good luck with that. 

Or, and here’s my proposal:  take a look at the LA City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee. That is where the proposed DWP Rate Increase goes after the DWP Board votes on them in December or January. That is where the proposals are subjected to the political process before the full Council votes on the final rates. And that is one of the few places where politics can still count in modifying ratepayer increases. 

And guess what? All five members of this committee are up for re-election in 2017. The Chair is Felipe Fuentes (CD7), and the other members are Gil Cedillo (CD1), Bob Blumenfield (CD3), Paul Koretz (CD5), and Mitch O”Farrell (CD13). These five are the most vulnerable of the pack, because the voters can actually hold them accountable for their actions. And face it, until a councilmember or two pays the price for ignoring us (as in, losing their sinecure), it will be business as usual for our “go along to get along” elected officials.  

Forget the details about the proposed DWP rate increases. Let’s talk about the “transfer fee” and the pet projects and why everybody doesn’t get treated the same way in their bills. 

Consider talking to all of the homeowners you know and the people and community groups they know. Start focusing on these five elected officials. Demand equal treatment in deciding who pays what for water and power rates. Tiers are not legally mandatory. Get rid of them. Make a stink. Demand answers about these issues from the members of the E&E Committee. You may discover that councilmembers don’t know as much as you think they should. Get excited and start talking about Valley Succession again. Whatever works! 

This fight may be uphill, but it is not a children’s campaign. If you do the political math of who owns homes and who votes, we are one whale of a special interest group. We know we are being used and we know we can do something about it at the polls. Heck, we might even get a fair rate structure. 

For more information about the DWP, its budget, and rate structure go to this link.  

(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.




Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

The Best Way to Honor LA’s LGBT Latino’s: Make Sure the Lexington Project Happens

LATINO PERSPECTIVE--‘Circus Disco’ the 40 year old Hollywood nightclub that was founded decades ago to welcome Latinos and men of color who were shunned at other gay nightspots, is now being considered for demolition to make way for a multi-million dollar, mega mixed-use development project that would include 695 residential units and 1,391 parking spaces on the almost 6-acre site. (Photo: proposed Lexington) 

According to the Los Angeles Times when historic preservationists learned that the soon-to-be-shuttered club could be torn down for new development, they grew alarmed that another vital piece of Los Angeles' gay history could be lost to the bulldozers. 

To protect or at least commemorate Circus Disco, they proposed that the city recognize it as a historic monument, a step that could make it harder to demolish or alter the cavernous building. Such a status would not forbid demolition but could delay and complicate plans to redevelop the site with hundreds of new apartments. 

On February 24, the City Council approved an ordinance that certified the EIR and made a zoning change allowing residential use of the proposed Lexington site, which was restricted to industrial and commercial. The ordinance was approved 14 to 0; Councilman Jose Huizar was absent. The ordinance goes into effect April 8, but LGBT Latino advocates and historic preservation experts want the council to reopen the EIR and have it amended to include historical and cultural information about Circus Disco and have a discussion about what should be done with the property. 

“The fact that Circus Disco is on Survey LA  and a potential historic resource means it should have been included in the EIR,” said historic preservation attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley. “It sounds like it’s an inadequate EIR. The city council needs to re-open it and supplement it to include this information.” 

Jonathan Menendez, who directed the 2012 documentary “Gay Latino LA” and has been researching Los Angeles’ gay Latino history – including Circus Disco – for eight years, said, “Obviously that EIR is false. I completely support the city council amending it.”   

“Circus is so important because the space has meaning. It’s a sacred cultural space,” Menendez said. “The space is meaningful because for gay Latino men it’s a home away from home. If you destroy that cultural space, you destroy a cultural landmark.” 

Disco has tremendous historical and cultural significance to the LGBT Latino community.

Anthony C. Ocampo, a Cal Poly Pomona sociology professor, said Circus Disco is vital for some gay Latino men coming out of the closet. 

“As a result, Circus plays a tremendous role and crucial role in creating community for gay men of color. When they first come out of the closet, it’s a safe space,” Ocampo said. “You find people like you. I’ve had gay Latinos refer to Circus as going to church. It was that essential to their life. 

I agree with those who say that Circus Disco has an important historical and cultural significance to the Los Angeles LGBT Latino Community; but for Ocampo to say that demolishing Circus Disco would erase gay Latino history is nonsense!  

Our history should not depend in one building. The plan should recognize the property's history, and it can be commemorated with a plaque. 

In a letter to the Cultural Heritage Commission, Avalon Bay senior vice president of development Mark Janda said the company disagrees with the idea that Circus Disco is a historic monument and emphasized that hundreds of new apartments at the site could help chip away at L.A.’s housing shortage. 

Mr. Janda is right there is a housing crisis in Los Angeles, the lack of it it’s the main  reason rents continue to go up.  Latinos are greatly affected by the shortage of housing in this city.

What we have to do is to make sure that the Lexington Project is well planned, and that it will take into account traffic, parking, the environment, and our quality of life. 

If we truly want to honor our LGBT Latino Community we should support the Lexington Project and make sure that LGBT Latinos in Los Angeles and Latinos in general have access to a decent quality of life. This project will help ease some of this housing shortage, and will make it easier for Latino families in Los Angeles to afford rent in this city.


(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])





Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Alcohol, Tobacco, Guns and Sex … Staples of Outdoor Advertising in LA

BILLBOARD WATCH--Students coming to Animo Venice Charter High school by bus from areas like Inglewood and South LA get off at a stop on Venice Blvd. and walk a half mile north on Lincoln Blvd. to the school campus. One a recent school day, this is what they’d have seen on their way to morning classes.

First, a bus shelter ad for the new James Bond movie, Spectre, featuring actor Daniel Craig holding a gun as if he is prepared to do business with it. A few blocks further, a 600 sq. ft. billboard ad for New Amsterdam vodka, featuring a Marilyn Monroe look-alike who appears to be engaged in some serious partying. And, just a block-and-a-half from the school, signs for Marlboro and Camel Crush cigarettes at the edge of a 7-Eleven parking lot, placed as closely as possible to the sidewalk without actually impinging on the public space.

The students on foot and the people in cars creeping along highly-congested Lincoln Blvd are not the only audiences for the signs. Across the street from the bus shelter is a Boys & Girls Club. Three quarters of a block up the street is a church, and across the street from the church is a preschool. Those institutions are just 400 ft. from that Clear Channel billboard with the vodka bottle and model with her mouth open wide and bare arms thrust into the air.

Of course, the students and others don’t always see these pitches for alcohol, tobacco, and action movies with lots of gunplay. Ads change. Over the past several years, the Clear Channel billboard has displayed ads for Beck’s beer, for the TV show “The Strain” with the notorious image of a worm crawling out of woman’s eyeball, and for the online video streaming site “Crackle” with an image of a woman holding a smoking gun.

The billboard has a valid permit but is 10 ft. higher than allowed by the permit, according to city inspection records. Which means, of course, that it can be seen from a greater distance by motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians on that busy thoroughfare.

Lest anyone wonder about the relevance of the 400 ft. distance, Clear Channel is a member of the Outdoor Advertising Association of American (OAAA), which has “Code of Industry Principles” stating, among other things, the following:

We are committed to a program that establishes exclusionary zones that prohibit stationary advertisements of products illegal for sale to minors that are intended to be read from, at least 500 feet of, elementary and secondary schools, public playgrounds, and established places of worship.

Nothing about this is surprising. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 37 per cent of outdoor ads for alcohol and 25 per cent for tobacco were located within 500 ft. of a school, playground, or church in Los Angeles. But the OAAA does say that its “Code of Industry Principles” are voluntary, and there’s plenty of evidence that L.A.’s big three billboard companies—Clear Channel, Outfront Media, and Lamar Advertising—have chosen to ignore them.

There’s also plenty of evidence that the billboard company clients—corporate purveyors of alcohol, fast food, soda, violent movies—design many of their ads to appeal to young people like the students who walk Lincoln Blvd to and from high school each day in Venice.

The First Amendment’s free speech guarantee means that billboards on private property are free to display almost anything in ads, no matter how distasteful, harmful, or otherwise antithetical to a community’s physical and mental health. Fortunately, cities are also allowed to limit the number of billboards, or even prohibit them altogether, and many have done so.

Los Angeles made at attempt in this direction in 2002, when it banned new off-site signs, i.e, those advertising products and services not available on that site. Unfortunately, that ban was riddled with exceptions and proved vulnerable to legal attack. And Clear Channel and the other billboard companies are still lobbying city hall and going to court for the right to put up new billboards, especially the digital variety.

And a final thought:  Did anyone at Clear Channel or the ad agency or the company producing New Amsterdam Vodka think about the propriety of using a blonde Marilyn Monroe type to market booze, given that serious addictions to alcohol and drugs likely contributed to cutting short that actress’s life?

The following is a sample of studies by researchers at UCLA, USC and elsewhere into the links between outdoor advertising and public health. (click on title to read full report)

Clustering of unhealthy outdoor advertisements around child-serving institutions: A comparison of three cities. UCLA School of Public Health, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, American University: This study of outdoor advertisement in Los Angeles, Austin, and Philadelphia found that unhealthy ads—alcohol, junk food, depictions of violence—were clustered around child-serving institutions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. It concluded that zoning and land use regulations should protect children from unhealthy commercial messages, particularly in neighborhoods with racial/ethnic minority populations. 

The Prevalence of Harmful Content on Outdoor Advertising in Los Angeles: Land Use, Community Characteristics, and the Spatial Inequality of a Public Health Nuisance. American Journal of Public Health, April 2014. | This year-long study of billboard advertising in seven selected areas of Los Angeles found that at-risk communities and communities of color hosted more harmful content—alcohol, fast food and soda, gambling, gun-related violence, and sexism—than more affluent communities.  

Outdoor advertising, obesity, and soda consumption: A cross-sectional study. Lenard Lesser, Frederick J. Zimmerman, and Deborah A. Cohen. BMC Public Health, 2013. | This study by researchers at UCLA, the Rand Corporation, and Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute of 220 census tracts in Los Angeles and New Orleans found a strong correlation between the percentage of outdoor advertising promoting unhealthy food and beverages and the rate of obesity among residents of those tracts.  

A Cross-Sectional Prevalence Study of Ethnically Targeted and General Audience Outdoor Obesity-Related Advertising. UCLA, Johns Hopkins University, University of Texas, University of Pennsylvania, American University, Public Health Institute, California Dept. of Public Health: | This study of areas offering contrasts of income and ethnicity in Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; New York City; and Philadelphia found that low-income and ethnic minority communities were disproportionately exposed to outdoor advertising for fast food, soda and other products that can promote obesity. 

(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected]. ) Photo credit:  Mayor Sam’s Sister City





Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

The Future of Land Use Comes Down to Choice … Your Choice

ACTION ALERT-The future of land use and development in our city gets down to a choice: do we want a horizontal city, mimicking what we know -- the low slung buildings and sometimes NIMBY attitude toward development. Or do we want a vertical landscape, where towers triumph? Strong cases can be made for both, each with its pros and cons.  

There’s no end to the number of people who want to live in LA and enjoy our perfect climate and laid back lifestyle. Against that demand is a significant housing shortage -- a finite and dwindling supply of affordable housing. It seems that every time a rent-stabilized pre-1978 building is torn down, often unscrupulously by invoking the Ellis Act, it’s replaced with a bigger building with smaller units and higher rents, forcing the relocation of previous tenants who cannot afford to stay. 

Neighborhood groups are flexing some muscle by joining the conversation. Developers and politicos are becoming accustomed to strident pushback, as evidenced by the recent epidemic of litigation against development. Much of that is centered in Hollywood -- ground zero for development and densification. Rules once created by legislation are being replaced by rules based on litigation. 

Imaginative messaging has become one successful weapon in the arsenals of both developers and communities. Developers are using Hollywood storytelling skillsto gain acceptance for their projects. More and more, communities are successfully mobilizing at the grassroots level. 

Redevelopment of a block at Sunset and Crescent Heights provoked a neighborhood crisis when it was announced. However, this has become a textbook example of how to win hearts and minds. The project’s original, controversial design was changed once Frank Gehry was brought in. The message to the community was that what Gehry was planning would be different -- as evidenced by the installation of two models of the 8150 Sunset project in his massive survey show on view now at LACMA. (Model photo above.) 

The models show a group of three buildings isolated on a plinth. Nearby, a second, more dramatic and storytelling display incorporates the model within the context of the whole hillside, so that perspective can be presented. Lots of visitors are spending time studying these displays at this very popular exhibition. 

This is a smooth presentation, located in a subtle, hushed museum gallery context. It comes across as interesting and effective “advocacy” instead of a hardcore sales job. As a bonus, it didn’t hurt that this pitch to skeptical hillside neighbors who objected to the architect’s first version, were reminded that they would now have a Frank Gehry work of art to look at. Most works of art are memorialized in a museum setting after they have been created and gained an audience. This flips the sequence: the project’s three buildings are displayed as a significant work of art even before being built. 

What other living architect has taken over most of a massive exhibition pavilion at one of the country’s most visible museums? Talk about reinforcement and Hollywood image-making! 

Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami sold his “Multicolore Monogram for Louis Vuitton” handbags during his MOCA exhibition. So it’s no wonder LACMA is now allowing Gehry’s exhibition floor to be an exchange of sorts. For the developers, it’s much more imaginative than fighting with neighbors who are protesting or even litigating against them. This is an example that other developers may want to think about: how to be a storyteller – presenting their projects in a venue where they can tell their story -- a location that goes beyond the traditional community meeting. Hollywood, as one of the image-making capitals of the world, presents lots of opportunity for development conversations to come. 

But then how do you fight against development when you don't have the powers of persuasion on a grand scale such as this? Answer: you have to be a guerrilla and use grassroots techniques that require hustle, imagination and drive. Until last week, when the LA City Council approved Historic Cultural Monument status for 118-124 N. Flores St. in Beverly Grove, (popularly known as theMendel Meyer house,) it was uncertain that a grassroots campaign to achieve that goal would succeed. 

During the summer, tenants at the Los Flores property were evicted by the landlord who used, (and many say unfairly,) the Ellis Act to evict them. The goal was to tear down this building that would eventually be ruled a historic-cultural structure; the landlord wanted to build a bigger building with increased rental potential. All but two tenants, a couple, took the money and moved. Steve Luftman, however, got to work, waging guerrilla warfare (almost like Abbie Hoffman,) against the development establishment. 

What Luftman did should inspire anyone facing eviction under suspicious circumstances: say no and fight back using every means possible that substitutes for money. Namely, engage the neighbors and the community, make a case at the land use committee of the neighborhood council and solicit the support of your councilmember. Use the media by repeatedly sending out stories and updates to the press; open an email address and use other digital resources like social media. 

In addition, you can hold a demonstration at the subject building, file for historic cultural monument status, go to every hearing that has anything to do with your project and make public comment, and most of all, don’t give up! 

Steve Luftman didn’t give up and now the Mendel Meyer house has been granted historic cultural landmark status. The building will not be demolished. 

The Edinburgh Bungalow Court, (photo) not far from Luftman’s building, now awaits a hearing by PLUM (LA City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management committee,) and a vote for preservation by the full City Council. “This has been an incredible fight, and it’s not over yet,” says tenant Heather Fox, co-organizer with Brian Harris of the efforts to protect Edinburgh Bungalow Court. A developer wants to replace it with a small lot sub-division. 

The Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously in support of Edinburgh Bungalow Court’s Historic Cultural Monument status on November 19, with lots of community backing and strong supportive remarks to the committee by Councilmember Paul Koretz. 

Fox and Harris also enlisted the support of the LA Conservancy, once it was clear that Survey LA http://preservation.lacity.org/survey had flagged Edinburgh Bungalow Court as an excellent example of a Hollywood bungalow court. 

In the last two months, other guerrilla techniques used to gather community support for Edinburgh Bungalows included a demonstration outside the Bungalows, a canvassing of the neighborhood, handing out flyers, knocking on doors, and stopping to chat with people in the community at every chance. Advocates even set up a lemonade stand on the corner outside the Bungalows; they made yard signs and started a Facebook page. 

Their neighborhood council, Mid City West, supported the preservation with a board motion. By the November 19 Historic Cultural status hearing date, they had 200 petition signatures and 91 letters from people who live and work in the community. Over 30 people showed up at the hearing to speak, including the councilmember, LA Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage, and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance. 

“We have met so many wonderful people who really care what happens to their neighborhood, and are so grateful for the enthusiasm of the community and especially for the concern and active part of our city councilman Paul Koretz,” says Fox, describing the grassroots, community-led fight for preservation of this structure from demolition. 

Moving to a grander scale is the proposal by The Coalition to Preserve LA to launch a Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure in an attempt to better manage the spread of new developments in Los Angeles. 

Key elements of their plan include a proposal for a construction moratorium for 24 months for city-approved projects that aim to increase some types of density. During this period, review and updates of community plans would be conducted. 

City employees, rather than developers’ staff, would be in charge of preparing an environmental review of major development projects. 

The city’s community plans would be reviewed and become consistent with the city’s General Plan. 

The General Plan will not be allowed to be amended by what is popularly known as “spot zoning” --where developers are able to get separate variances for a single project. 

The Coalition is ironing out the final language. Then the matter will either be considered by the full City Council – or sent to the voters as ballot measure. Which alternative will be used is yet to be determined. 

Leaders of the Coalition to Preserve LA include Michael Weinstein, Ballot Measure Proponent and President of AHF(Aids Healthcare Foundation); Jacqui Shabel, Hollywood Neighborhood Alliance; Jack Humphreville, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); Helen Berman, UN4LA (United Neighborhoods 4 L.A.); John Campbell, Save Residential Hollywood; and Miki Jackson, Ballot Measure Proponent. 

No matter which side of the “horizontal versus vertical” development debate you are on, you can expect lots more noise from each side. This kind of public dialogue is both healthy and an affordable, so add your voice!


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




Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Next LAUSD Superintendent Must Sign Pledge, MUST Listen to the Community

EDUCATION POLITICS-It’s decision time at LAUSD.  With the end-of-year departure of Superintendent Ramon Cortines, LAUSD has some decisions to make. What are LAUSD’s policy goals for the next few years? Who is the leader to help LAUSD meet those goals? 

Thursday afternoon, on December 3, about 100 parent and student advocates rallied on the steps outside of LAUSD Headquarters to tell the School Board the next superintendent must value the voice of the community and fight for increased fairness in the district. The advocates, organized by Community Coalition urged LAUSD superintendent candidates to sign an equity-oriented “Pledge to the Community” and embrace the principles of fairness and community involvement expressed in the pledge. The advocates also encouraged the Board of Education to use the pledge as a tool for evaluating the superintendent candidates. 

The students and parents at the rally came from South LA and the Eastside--areas where we know too many students are not making it to graduation, and those that do graduate aren’t ready for college. These student are not getting the resources they deserve, and the next superintendent needs to do a better job of making sure all students in LAUSD have the tools to succeed. 

One of the most powerful speakers at the rally was Takara Haslem, a junior at Crenshaw High School and a youth leader at Community Coalition. Haslem hopes to be the first in her family to go to college, but repeatedly has been assigned to the incorrect A-G college prep classes causing her to miss valuable weeks of learning. She wants a superintendent who values the education of all students, no matter their race or ethnicity. 

“At times, I lost over two weeks of learning in important classes like History and Algebra,” Haslem said. “When my counselors finally placed me in the right classes, I had to work extra hard to catch up, to make sure that I could still be college-ready. This is not fair! Why do black and brown students need to work harder to be college-ready when adults are the ones making the mistakes?” 

Haslem worries her younger siblings will face the same challenges when they come to Crenshaw in a few years. 

The “Pledge to the Community,” developed by leaders from InnerCity Struggle and Community Coalition, calls upon the next LAUSD Superintendent to create a healthier learning environment for our students. By signing the pledge, the next superintendent would commit to prioritizing community involvement, addressing racial disparities and acknowledging the need for developing strategies targeted specifically at schools in high poverty areas that have previously lacked necessary funding. 

In addition to these broader commitments, the pledge also asks the next superintendent to commit to implementing specific policies to ensure LAUSD students are prepared for college and career: A-G Readiness for All; continued progress on school discipline reform, putting a greater emphasis on restorative justice programs that help students heal rather than simply suspending or expelling them; and full implementation of the “Equity is Justice” resolution urging greater investment in schools with the highest need. The “Equity is Justice” resolution was passed by the School Board in 2014. 

Davona Watson, a senior at Wilson High School and a youth leader with InnerCity Struggle, explained at the rally why it is so important that the next superintendent understand the need for a positive school climate and restorative justice programs, which encourage students to take responsibility for their actions and resolve conflicts with their peers. 

“Restorative Justice allows guidance for both students and adults to build a thriving environment where students can feel comfortable, safe and be heard,” Watson said. “Although we have made much progress, we need this policy to be more than a slogan that is generally misunderstood and rarely applied.” 

This past weekend executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, who is conducting the superintendent search, began meeting with the candidates. This follows a series of meetings between the search firm and key community stakeholders including parents, students and staff from Community Coalition and InnerCity Struggle. 

We hope that both the Board of Education and the executive search firm were listening to the voices on Thursday calling for change --the voices of Takara Haslem and Davona Watson asking for a superintendent that will make students like them a priority. It’s decision time at LAUSD, and we hope LAUSD’s next superintendent will make the decision to sign the “Pledge to the Community,” and make equity and community involvement a priority.


(Henry Perez is Associate Director of InnerCity Struggle.  Sandra Hamada is Director of Youth Organizing and Programs at Community Coalition.) Prepped for CItyWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Goodbye, South Los Angeles

MILLENNIAL PERSPECTIVE--Watching condos overrun my hometown, I began to ponder my own gentrifying impact as a temporary resident of South Los Angeles. Each year, tens of thousands of students flood into the poor, gang-ridden area of South LA to attend the University of Southern California (USC). 

It’s an awkward image, an eighteen year-old jumping into his Maserati while mothers and their children dig through trash bins at the campus center. 

Years from now, USC will have displaced most of the latter demographic. Returning alumni, including myself, will hardly recognize the setting of their college memories. 

Recently, USC has taken huge steps in terms of altering South LA, undertaking what is arguably the most impactful development project in the area’s history. Officially breaking ground in September 2014, the USC Village Project will replace an inexpensive, unadorned shopping center with a $650 million hub of posh stores, restaurants, and student housing. Of course, the project means something very different to the USC student body than it does to permanent residents of South LA, most unable to afford groceries at the incoming Trader Joe’s.   

Thomas Sayles, the USC administrator appointed to handle community relations regarding the Village, has fervently contended that the project will serve the community, including perks such as local hiring, street lighting improvements, and the construction of a new fire station. Throughout the approval process, USC emphasized that the project will increase low-rent housing availability for local residents by providing more on-campus student housing. 

In reality, USC’s claim that this project will increase low-rent housing vacancy in the area lacks substance. For the 2015-2016 academic year, sample costs for living in USC residence halls, including parking, were quoted at $17,007.  Living in an apartment several blocks from campus, my total rent, parking, and utility costs will come out to less than $10,000 for the same school year. Certainly the USC administration realizes that students are unlikely to choose to remain in expensive university housing beyond the typical freshman year experience, rather than save thousands of dollars. While the university boasts the support of the local residents, this is clearly more of a public relations perk than a priority. 

The first rumblings I heard about the USC Village Project came in the middle of my freshman year, once I’d spent just enough time at this university to grow fond of the old “UV.” Here, a charismatic albeit rundown food court held dining options from an impressive variety of cultures. Sandwich Island, a personal favorite, was run by a Chinese couple who’d have your sandwich made before you could say “sprouts.” Sure enough, the USC Village will replace the only dining options near campus for less than five dollars, not to mention the only space that was truly shared between USC and non-USC-affiliated community members.   

As a student at a large, inner-city public high school in a neighborhood not so unlike South LA, I was exposed to the sort of homelessness, poverty, and crime that USC fears will deter potential students from enrolling. Being exposed to such harsh realities early in my life greatly influenced my perception of the world, marking my plans for the future with a sense of social responsibility. Unfortunately, I’ve found that USC students are much more divided from their neighbors than my classmates were from the people who lived around our high school. Remarks from my peers about the “dirty hobos” lining Figueroa are frequent. USC, as an institution committed to training future world leaders, should be focused on battling such fear and ignorance by building bridges between students and South LA residents, not tearing them down. 

Certainly, the USC Village will alleviate a few of the greatest challenges to the institution in its competition for academic status. The Village will make complaints about the lack of quality shopping and dining options around campus obsolete. The new “UV” will create a buffer between USC and the sort of senseless violence that took the life of a student who was on his way home from a study session in the summer of 2014.  It will, however, only increase the divide between USC students and the low-income residents of South Los Angeles. 

Here is a lost learning opportunity for young people to truly build a community with people from different walks of life. All in all, the USC Village Project is inconsistent with the university’s mission to teach students “to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.”


(The author of this piece is a white undergraduate at the University of Southern California. She requested her name be withheld out of concern for retaliation.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Elephant at Hollywood Party Prompts Councilman Ryu to Demand Changes in Exotic-Animal Permits

ANIMAL WATCH-An elephant walking up Weidlake Drive to a late-night party on Saturday, November 15, at a house in Hollywood Dell, caused concerned residents to call LA Animal Services, LAPD and the Fourth District Council Office. As a result, Councilman David Ryu is asking for a report from LAAS on closing a “loophole” in the City’s exotic-animal permitting process. 

One neighbor reported being  “concerned that the elephant was agitated,” the Councilman said in a letter to the department that was read into the record by his Director of Policy and Legislation, Nicholas Greif, at the November 24 Animal Services Commission meeting. (Photo: Elephant at party example is from a Blake Edwards Hollywood party in 1968.) 

Representatives of the Hollywood Dell community were also present to testify. The first, Mary Ledding, described how perplexed she was by being unable to find a listing of issued permits on the LA Animal Services website. However, according to the Councilman’s letter, “…organizers of the party at 6447 Weidlake Drive said that they had a permit for the elephant. And they did.” 

Councilman Ryu wrote, “I find it hard to believe that our permit system for exotic animals is meant to be allowed for late-night parties in the City of Los Angeles. I do not believe that bringing an elephant up the rutted roads of this hillside street to a loud party is humane treatment …” 

Skip Haynes told the Commission he has lived in the area for over 15 years. He said he attended the meeting to support the LAPD Senior Lead Officers who responded regularly to “party house” incidents. He voiced concern for the animals and what will happen as a result of proposed development and the increasing number of “party houses” in residential communities -- houses that are not used as homes, but merely rented out for events such as this. 

Haynes, co-founder of Citizens for LA Wildlife (CLAW), said that on June 6 a similar party was held at the same house and a full-grown lion was clearly visible to neighboring properties. An earlier event involved a giraffe; and reportedly no proof of a permit was produced  He also voiced concern about the damage that can be done by large transport vehicles or, as in this case, walking an elephant on aging, narrow canyon streets. 

George Skarpelos, who serves on the Board of Directors of Hollywood United Neighborhood Councils, stated, “Using animals as 'props' in this manner is not the type of thing we want to see.”  He also expressed great concern over alcohol consumed at these events and how that may impact the treatment of the animals. He stated that Councilman Ryu’s office had promptly contacted LA Animal Services and asked that this item be placed on the Commission agenda. 

In a subsequent e-mail to Councilman Ryu, George Skarpelos wrote, “I believe the letter…sent to the commissioners was a forceful indictment of this ridiculous craze and certainly gave weight to the community's concerns.”  He also noted that Councilman Ryu’s policy director Nick Greif, “… gave very clear and valid reasons for restricting the permitting of these animals.” 

Senior Lead Officers Ralph Sanchez and Tracy Fields of the Hollywood Division voiced apprehension over how public safety is compromised when wildlife is used in a private party setting. They explained that, if any emergency arose in the area which required a helicopter and/or other emergency equipment to be brought in, there is a very real risk of the animal becoming frightened and out of control. 

Captain Martin Wall of California Fish and Wildlife advised me by phone that, while a company may have the proper permit(s) to provide wildlife for events, the animals and public safety are always the first concern. He agreed with the LAPD officers that an emergency could cause a chaotic scene in which the elephant could become alarmed and “stampede,” injuring itself and humans and also damaging emergency-response vehicles and equipment. He stated that the local jurisdiction can develop an ordinance to establish restrictions on how wildlife permits are used. 

I am withholding the name of the company (obtained from the Council office) which provided the elephant at the party, in order to avoid giving them free advertising. However, the services listed on their website include “Exotic Animal Rentals” and are vividly described on Google as the,“Cutting edge of extreme party themes and over-the-top events. Party, prop and exotic animal rentals…” 

LA Animal Services did not provide a written report at the Commission meeting. General Manager Brenda Barnette was present and confirmed that a permit had been granted, but she seemed uncertain as to the process or details. According to an attendee at the meeting, when they called Animal Services to report the incident that night, they were told by the dispatcher that only one officer was on duty and there would be nothing that could be done about an elephant at 11:30 p.m. 

Animal Services Commission President David Zaft issued the following statement in response to my request for the Board’s position on the concerns expressed by Councilman Ryu and residents about the City’s permitting regulations: 

"I and the other Commissioners were extremely concerned to learn that some individuals are bringing elephants, giraffes, lions and other exotic animals into our residential communities to use as party props. Such behavior manifests an outright disregard both for the well-being of these magnificent animals and the safety of our communities. 

“The Board has asked the Department of Animal Services and the City Attorney's Office to take swift action and propose changes to the Municipal Code to make sure this sort of reckless activity is stopped, while the humane and safe use of such animals for legitimate and limited purposes may continue when properly permitted." 

Councilman Ryu affirmed in his letter that, “It is important that our City maintain a clear and easy to use exotic animal permit system for legitimate filming purposes.” However, he added, if the purpose for which animals are permitted is “disrupting the quality of life of residents and the animals, then this is a loophole that must be closed.” 

For more information contact:  Phyllis M. Daugherty at [email protected].


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




Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Stopping CEQA Litigation is Critical to Reaching California Climate Goals

PLANET WATCH--As the Executive Director of the California Infill Federation, and in my former role as the leader of the California State Senate, I was inundated with anecdotes about how often California Environmental Quality Act lawsuits were used to try to block or leverage (often for non-environmental purposes) environmentally beneficial projects like transit, infill housing, and infrastructure.

Defenders of the CEQA status quo dismissed each anecdote as an irrelevant anomaly, and extolled CEQA’s policy value in protecting public health and the pristine natural environment. Serious political debate was thwarted by this anecdote-versus-dogma stalemate.

The stalemate was broken last summer when the law firm of Holland & Knight published “In the Name of the Environment,” a report describing the more than 600 CEQA lawsuits filed statewide over a three year period (2010-2012).  The report confirmed the widespread litigation abuse of CEQA against environmentally beneficial and benign projects in existing California communities for non-environmental purposes.  The report demonstrated that:

  • Projects designed to advance California’s environmental policy objectives are the most frequent targets of CEQA lawsuits:  transit is the most frequently challenged type of infrastructure project, renewable energy is the most frequently challenged type of industrial/utility project, and housing (especially higher density housing) is the most frequently challenged type of private sector project.
  • Debunking claims by special interests that CEQA combats sprawl, the study shows that projects in infill locations within existing communities are the overwhelming target of CEQA lawsuits. For infill/greenfield projects, 80 percent are in infill locations, and only 20 percent are in greenfield locations. CEQA litigation abuse targets  core urban services such as parks, schools, libraries and even senior housing.
  • Sixty-four percent of those filing CEQA lawsuits are individuals or local “associations.  CEQA litigation abuse is primarily the domain of Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) opponents and special interests such as competitors and labor unions seeking non-environmental outcomes.  Only 13% of those filing CEQA lawsuits are environmental advocacy groups with a prior track record of filing CEQA lawsuits.

While the mainstream media reported these remarkable statistics, none of CEQA’s traditional status quo defender’s reported or even acknowledged the existence of this important report – until UCLA law professor Sean Hecht challenged one of the report’s core findings, which is that CEQA lawsuits are often aimed at precisely the types of projects that are critical to achieving California climate goals, including infill development, transit, and renewable energy.  But while environmental advocates generally view addressing climate change as an urgent priority, Hecht’s critique boils down to, “CEQA may cause meddlesome delays to important climate projects, but so what?”  And he entirely avoids the other core conclusion in the report, which calls for ending abuse of this great California environmental law by the many who file abusive lawsuits solely to advance a non-environmental agenda.

“Infill” is a Place, Not a Project

Hecht first takes exception to the report’s methodology of categorizing “infill” as a location, namely property within an existing community.  The report demonstrates that of the CEQA lawsuits that challenge projects located in either “infill” sites (within existing cities and established communities in unincorporated counties) or “greenfield” sites (in unincorporated county areas that are often criticized as “sprawl” into agricultural or open space lands), a whopping 80% of CEQA lawsuits targeted projects in “infill” locations.

Hecht argues that “infill” should be defined not as a location but as a type of project, such as transit-oriented development.  Mr. Hecht’s infill-as-project-type definition is wholly at odds with a broad range of established infill-as-a-location definition, including for example the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the US Green Building Council (which developed the LEED rating system for green buildings and neighborhoods, and whose members include for example the Natural Resources Defense Council).

It is also noteworthy that “In the Name of the Environment” uses the same definition of “infill” as has been used in other Holland & Knight CEQA studies published more than two years ago to track the pattern of projects (and judicial outcomes) for CEQA appellate court decisions; this consistent methodology allows for a direct comparison between reports.  Although more than 60% of reported appellate court decisions over a 15-year study span involved projects on infill locations, the new study shows that an even higher percentage of infill projects are actually targeted by CEQA lawsuits.

CEQA Lawsuits Against Transit Projects Matter

Hecht next concludes that since “only four or five” transit projects were challenged during the study period, the report does not make the case that climate-critical transit projects were a notable target of CEQA lawsuits.

In fact, the report shows that anti-transit CEQA lawsuits were the most frequent type of public infrastructure CEQA lawsuit during the study period, surpassing both highway projects and local roadway projects, and that twelve  transit projects were targeted by CEQA lawsuits: the Bay Area Berryessa Extension, Capitol Expressway Light Rail, Third Street Light Rail, San Francisco transit plan, Westside Subway Extension, Regional Connector Transit Corridor, Light Rail Maintenance Facility, Crenshaw-LAX Transit Corridor, Gold Line and Expo Line, Perris Valley Line Project, and the High Speed Rail Project.

Hecht’s dismissal of the importance of ending CEQA litigation abuse against transit ignores the tens of thousands of riders who remain unserved, and hundreds of tons of pollutants including greenhouse gas emissions that continue to be generated by traditional automobile commute patterns, by CEQA litigation abuse against transit projects.

Renewable Energy

Finally, as Hecht frankly acknowledges, “To be sure, there are legal impediments and regulatory hurdles that affect the development of renewable energy projects.  But CEQA is not the only such impediment, nor the most serious one.”

Again, Hecht’s willingness to set aside the urgency of addressing climate challenges by simply accepting that renewable energy projects face “legal impediments and regulatory hurdles” that include CEQA demonstrates a complacency with the status quo that is fully at odds with the environmental community’s urgent pleas for dramatic change to address what they present as a climate emergency.    Hecht simply – and without any rational basis – dismisses the relevance of CEQA lawsuits filed by competing unions seeking to control jobs at the same renewable energy facility.  Why is this non-environmental abuse of California’s premier environmental statute, which has the effect of threatening or even derailing projects dependent on time-sensitive public funding, acceptable to established environmental advocates such as Hecht?

The Last Resort Rule

Hecht’s critique follows advice offered by other prominent law school professors such as Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz:

“If you have the facts on your side, hammer the facts. If you have the law on your side, hammer the law. If you have neither the facts nor the law, hammer the table.”

Hecht has neither the law nor the facts on his side: the report unequivocally demonstrates that CEQA is in fact abused for non-environmental purposes, and CEQA litigation abuse is aimed at environmentally critical as well as environmental benign projects that are core elements of the state’s climate leadership efforts.  Hecht should stop hammering the table.  The report deserves a thoughtful dialogue, and CEQA deserves thoughtful reform to end CEQA litigation abuse for non-environmental purposes.

(Don Pereta is the Executive Director of the California Infill Federation, and Former President Pro Tem of the California State Senate. This piece was posted first at Fox and Hounds





Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

Giving Thanks in Portland … and Los Angeles

TRANSIT TALK-Without a doubt, we Angelenos are the lucky ones … the soft and sunny surroundings and the diverse and creative vibe. 

Grateful for that and an inveterate traveler with TSA Pre-check, last week I went out of town to give thanks for my family and friends and that I live in LA. 

While it's true that I was on vacation, as tends to happen in the smartphone world we live in, I was still working. My destination, Portland, Oregon, is just that kind of place. Maybe it's the caffeine but more likely it's the countless small and large steps the city has taken to make life for city residents and guests that much better. 

After arriving, I had hardly walked a block and I was posting photos to Instagram and jotting down notes about the things I was seeing. While I never need an excuse to travel, my latest trip was unusually generative and encouraging about urban life in one of America's best cities for complete streets living. 

Portland has taken to heart the challenge of making the city a better place to live car-free. Portlanders have embraced the challenge to be disruptive by questioning the status quo in the provision of city services, transit operations and what we mean when we say “community.” While I saw plenty of traffic on the 5 Freeway, and not just at rush hour, I also walked all over including the Pearl, the Alphabet District, Northwest and Northeast Portland and rode the new TriMet Orange Line from Pioneer Courthouse Square downtown to Southeast Portland. 

On a clear day, Portland's fifth MAX (Metropolitan Area Express light rail) line, the Orange Line, offers stunning views as it crosses over the Willamette River, of Mt. Hood and the Cascades. According to TriMet, Tilikum Crossing (photo above) is the only bridge of its kind in the U.S., designed to carry light rail trains, buses, streetcars, bicyclists and pedestrians. Forgive the fact that I am drooling as my transit envy gets the best of me. 

What's not missing from the bridge? You guessed it, private cars. 

Something else I saw in Portland that I think could work well in LA are the semi-permanent food truck encampments that are sanctioned by the city on empty lots and parking lots downtown and elsewhere. 

The clusters or "pods" of food trucks, typically face outward from the lot creating little food districts for locals and tourists alike. I saw this both downtown and in Northeast Portland along Alberta Street.

Of course Portland with its 1979 urban growth boundary (UGB) which limited urban development to 229,999 acres (later 254,000 acres) in the Portland metropolitan area, is hardly boundless Los Angeles. But why not cultivate, rather than battle L.A.'s food truck explosion by embracing them on downtown parking lots and empty lots as Portland has done? 

While LA fights over the merits of a single downtown L.A. Streetcar, Portland has transformed its downtown as well as countless outlying neighborhoods into pedestrian havens with quiet, clean (and locally built) light rail lines that make car ownership obsolete. Close your eyes and you can pretend you are in Europe with often better, and cheaper, coffee, beer and wine. 

My advice to all: Go away more often. Not just so there will be fewer commuters trying to get to work -- but because there's so much to see and learn from other cities that are struggling, like LA, to make themselves better places to live. 

It's true that some Portlanders are putting 'No Californians' signs on their houses, but Angelenos are no strangers to that sort of “us versus them” thing. So, I say to those holding the purse strings at CityHall and Los Angeles Metro who are making decisions about our transportation and urban future … get to Portland and see what they are doing before they shut the gate! 

Yours in transit ...


(Joel Epstein is a senior advisor to companies, law firms, foundations and public initiatives on communications strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR), recruiting and outreach. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be contacted at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams. 





Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

LA’s Homeless: NOT ‘Home for the Holidays’ – Too much Talk, Too Little Action at City Hall

MY TURN-Lately, there’s been lots of talk … and meetings … and promises coming from Los Angeles City Hall. But little to no action. Many of us familiar with City Hall history know that this is nothing new. 

Our elected officials have had much to say about the current homeless situation in LA that is being described by some as an “emergency.” Others are calling Los Angeles a “Shanty Town.” When I drive around, I see homeless camps nearly everywhere. 

Recently, I recently visited Taix Restaurant on Sunset Blvd. near Alvarado to give a speech to a law enforcement group. When I exited the Hollywood Freeway to proceed north on Alvarado, I was amazed to see such a large homeless population living on and blocking the sidewalks under the Hollywood Freeway. There were tents and a variety of other items erected for shelter, blocking the sidewalks. It was impossible to walk on the public right of way. This is all reflective of a Shanty Town – it’s just out of control. 

On a recent drive down Woodley Ave., adjacent to Woodley Park in the Sepulveda basin, I saw motor home after motor home parked on the street with people living inside. This is a tragic situation, to say the least. 

There’s been so much political talk about finding money to address the homeless situation in Los Angeles, but it seems that nothing noticeable is being done to reduce the problem and negative impact on our neighborhoods and communities. Currently, I serve on the Board of Directors of Hope of the Valley, a group dedicated to addressing the homeless situation in the San Fernando Valley.  There are dedicated community members serving with me, trying to have an impact on the homelessness. But it’s not an easy task for a private organization to put a dent in the problem. 

The City and County of Los Angeles say they are dedicating millions of dollars to address the growing homeless situation, but I see a lot of talk with little action. A CityWatch article on November 18 discussed how Los Angeles and New York have announced new programs to tackle the homeless situation. Los Angeles City Council initially approved a plan that would permit public buildings to be used as shelters. These buildings, which are vacant municipal structures and parking facilities, would be selected by councilmembers in consultation with residents. 

The plan being discussed would also permit a limited number of people living in their cars to stay overnight in designated parking lots. I am sure this program will bring loud complaints from neighborhood councils and residents living on the Westside and other upper class communities. Realistically, I don’t think this approach will fly in LA.  In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $2.6 billion plan to create 15,000 new housing units for homeless over the next 15 years. Empty promises? Just imagine how many homeless people will living in New York over the next 15 years. And like New York, Los Angeles needs action now – not in 15 years. 

In September 2015, Mayor Garcetti declared the rising homelessness in Los Angeles a ‘’State of Emergency,” giving it status equal to a national disaster. This declaration came with a proposal for $100 million for housing and other programs.  

As of January 2014, the National Homeless Count stood at 578,424. Out of that number, 44,539 were residing in Los Angeles County. The number of homeless in Los Angeles City is currently listed as 26,000 - an increase of 3,000 from two years ago. It is estimated that, out the 26,000, there are 18,000 currently living on the streets or in cars and other vehicles.  

In November 2015, the Los Angeles City Council further discussed the homeless matter. More motions were passed and nothing has happened to date. 

If you’re going to point fingers at those responsible for inaction on the homeless crisis, don’t blame the members of the LAPD. The Police Chief and our officers are following directions from City Hall and our elected leaders. The praise or blame should lie with those elected to serve the people of LA and not with a police force that has been limited in its ability to “Protect and Serve” all the people of Los Angeles.  

With all this in mind -- and with the Christmas Holiday approaching -- if you are interested in helping a private organization that is truly dedicated to addressing and helping the homeless, consider sending a contribution to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. All contributions are tax-deductible and I can assure you that your funds will be put to good and productive use. 

Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission 

PO BOX 7609

Mission Hills, Calif.  91346-7609


818 392 0020 

There are other Rescue Missions around Los Angeles that also deserve your consideration and contributions. These groups are doing what the city has consistently failed to do.  

I wish all of our readers a very Happy Holiday Season … Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.  May your Holiday Season be filled with family, friends and good times.


(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

Malign Neglect: Shaming the City to Keep Bike Lanes Safe

BIKE RIDERS’ EQUITY-I’ve written before about the City of LA’s fire-and-forget policy towards bike infrastructure -- how it throws down a stripe or two and then leaves them to fade away under the scrubbing of thousands of car tires -- or ignores tree branches hanging so low over bikeways that riders are forced out into fast traffic. 

It may have been as a result of that post that the branches I photographed on the York Boulevard bridge were recently trimmed…though my fervent hope is that the city remained innocently unaware of my rant and simply got around to doing what it should have done weeks earlier: trimming them out of regard for the facility’s users. 

In case it’s the less desirable option -- that they were responding to a public complaint -- I will note another instance of such neglect, this time in the near Westside. You see it in the photo above -- a barely-serviceable bike path alongside Jefferson Boulevard between National and Rodeo, overgrown with handsome but misplaced pampas grass that pushes cyclists out into high-speed traffic. The broken glass that litters the lane doesn’t help, and both those conditions should have been addressed long ago as part of a functioning civic administration. 

This particular bit of road may belong to LA or to Culver City, or alternately to both -- the online maps I found were not granular enough to determine who owns which portion -- but in any case, cities have a duty to maintain the ability to travel freely on public roads for all users, not just occupants of motor vehicles. The “malign neglect” to which they subject cyclists reveals what our public so-called servants really think of us, if they remember us at all. 

Add to that the engineered-to-kill unmarked mixing zones where many bike paths veer across right turn lanes with not even a hint of a marking or sign -- see my article on Conflict Zones  -- and you could be forgiven for thinking that city administrations are acting as collective hit men for a public raging to clear the roads of anything but cars, cars, cars. 

Mayors and councils make grand plans left and right, whisper sweet nothings into the future’s ear, but in the end, they’re in bed with the car-addled past they can’t let go of. If there really were an “all-powerful bike lobby,” our bodies, our neighborhoods, and our economies would be much healthier.

But we can’t seem to distract our “leaders'” from the chrome tramp that’s got them by the lugnuts….


(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.




Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

CalPERS: A Betrayal of Public Trust

EASTSIDER-Recently the folks at Naked Capitalism posted a damning article about CalPERS hiring a sleazeball outside fiduciary Counsel, based on the staff recommendations carefully crafted by its CEO, Anne Stausboll. (Photo) 

This got my attention, so I started to give the issue a closer look. 

First, you should understand that for the majority of classifications in a big state system like CalPERS, selection of employees is governed by the California State Personnel Board. That system is designed, however imperfectly, to put the public service in charge of our hiring process instead of the folks on top being able to hire their buddies, or worse. That’s why we have a civil service examination process; that’s why we have the requirement that agencies can only hire from those on a ranked examination list. 

The fly in this ointment, however, is exempt jobs -- such as the outside fiduciary counsel to CalPERS. For these types of jobs, there is no statutory requirement to go through the State Personnel Board, nor is there much specific legal criteria for hiring, other than the requirement that the CalPERS Board must take the final vote to hire. 

At the same time, this is an immensely critical job -- in fact, many of the very problems of corruption and manipulation which got Anne Stausboll her job in 2008 had to do with exactly this kind of issue -- fiduciary responsibility. In the prior case, then CEO Fred Buenrostro wound up charged and convicted of fraud and manipulation when he played footsie with Board member Alfred Villalobos, as they manipulated the pension fund’s investment decisions. I should note that Villalobos committed suicide in 2015 as he was about to face trial. 

Had the fiduciary counsel to the Board been doing their job back then, (or for that matter had key staff employees stepped up,) the fraud and manipulation would have been much more difficult to conceal. Moreover, the Board might have been able to take affirmative action in a timely manner, avoiding hundreds of millions in damages to the fund and over a decade of litigation. In fact, since Ms. Stausboll was the Chief Operating Investment Officer from 2004-2008, she can’t very well claim that she doesn’t understand such issues. 

So, within this context, let’s see how CalPERS handled the selection of their new fiduciary board counsel Robert Klausner, whose claim to fame would seem to be that of a “pay to play” scheme with Jacksonville’s Police and Fire Pension Fund. In addition, he represented the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, home to such paragons of governance as the infamous Huey ‘The Kingfish’ Long. And just to put the icing on the cake, Mr. Klausner is not even licensed as an attorney in the State of California! 

Back to the analysis. First, I asked myself, how would a topnotch CEO handle the hiring process of such a key position for a Board of a $300 billion agency with over 2700 employees? Normally, you would go out and find a reputable consultant who manages these types of employment decisions as their main job function, and who have a proven track record. In conjunction with staff, they would prepare a list of minimum qualifications and desirable qualifications, reference lists, and outreach methodology. 

From there he or she would develop a pool of at least 10-20 potential consultants, and set up an interview panel of people who are knowledgeable in the subject matter, but who do not work for the agency in any capacity. That interview panel would then meet and score the potential consultants, usually with face-to-face meetings. There would be a scoring sheet process used to limit the final list of candidates to three or four. 

From there, the CEO would present a final list of candidates to the Board, answering any questions, and have the Board conduct the final interview process to determine the ultimate hire for outside fiduciary counsel. Typically an appointment such as this would be for a three year period, which guarantees a timely and periodic review process. 

Notice that such a process keeps the staff out of the hiring decision, insulating both themselves and the Board from any hint of impropriety, and providing a timely feedback loop. 

Now let’s see how Anne Stausboll handled it. First, CalPERS Interim General Counsel Gina Ratto sent out with a memo in March 2014 to “All Interested Parties” regarding the search for an Outside Fiduciary Counsel. The stated purpose of the search was to find someone who would “advise the CalPERS Board of Administration on questions of fiduciary duty.” 

However, three paragraphs later, the position was redefined as “CalPERS outside fiduciary counsel respond to opinion requests from the CalPERS Board and staff, directed through the System’s General Counsel.” (Emphasis added) My reading of this language is that the fix was already being put into place, giving the outside fiduciary counsel a de facto dual reporting relationship -- with everything going through or vetted by the CalPERS General Counsel. You know, the one the CEO controls. 

We next discover in an August memo that the General Counsel and Deputy Counsel have signed off on an analysis that carefully sidesteps how bad the selection process has been. For example, we discover that outreach has been negligible -- they report that in looking for fiduciary counsel for the largest public pension plan in the United States for a five year contract, only ten firms have provided bids. And yet “staff” seemed to be overwhelmed by this number and had to set up a special Interview Panel! 

Buried in this document is the fact that “staff”, whoever they are, had winnowed down the overwhelming number of 10 applicants to five who would be eligible to be interviewed by this special panel. There is absolutely no explanation as to what process, if any, was used to cull out half of the applicants. 

Even better, let’s see who was on this interview panel: Anne Stausboll and a large subset of her executive management team -- Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel, Deputy General Counsel, and Senior Investment Officer for Real Estate, virtually all of whom had been hired by and/or report to CEO Stausboll. This panel interviewed the five firms and then, based on their internal “consensus”, wound up recommending two firms for Board consideration. 

I wouldn’t be this harsh except that this hiring process was hardly the “open and transparent” new CalPERS that the CEO promised when she took over from her indicted predecessor in 2008. And note that the staff recommendation was for only two, not the traditional three, firms to be considered by the Board -- with a throwaway line in the memo that, if the Board really wanted to be bothered with three firms, they could consider the other of the two current fiduciary outside firms. 

At the Board meeting, the Board was given a push by staff to hire the bright and shiny new Florida law firm of Robert Klausner -- instead of the old and boring incumbent firm, Reed Smith. I should point out that Robert Klausner is not even licensed to practice law in the State of California, yet the minimum qualifications for the position clearly require attorneys who are licensed in California. 

The staff response to such quibbles is that Mr. Klausner employs attorneys who are licensed in California. How reassuring. Just like their glossing over Klausner’s scandal ridden past, as reported in the Naked Capitalism article, even though the solicitation document required the following:


“Please provide a description of legal proceedings (including grand jury proceedings) brought against the firm, any of its business entities, or persons or entities providing services to, or on behalf of the firm or any of its business entities as part of the proposal...”


C’mon folks. This process was embarrassing -- just read back to how an actual honest to golly neutral hiring process should work. And then note how staff slid this mess over on the Board without much push back -- except for JJ Jelincic, one of the two system wide Board Members, who stood out by pushing back against this travesty of a hiring process. Kudos to him.


Jelincic’s reward was to be marginalized. If history is a guide, the “go along to get along” faction of the Board, as well as staff, will be looking to try and get rid of him for actually doing his job as a Board member. 


On that note, I was personally surprised at the tepid questioning of this process by Richard Costigan, the designated representative of the California State Personnel Board. If SPB staff tried to run an examination or hiring process as inherently fixed as this one was, they would be hammered and rightly so.


Just in case you think I’m being an alarmist, one of Mr. Klausner’s first acts was to suggest that the Board meets too often -- that they should consider quarterly meetings. You betcha. While it is true that some things work best in the dark, this is a startling position for someone who purports to be the brand new fiduciary counsel of the new “open and transparent” CalPERS. 


If you are a beneficiary of CalPERS, or part of the 1.7 million folks who are a part of the CalPERS family, you should be worried. These are our pensions, and we -- and ultimately the taxpayers of the State of California -- are on the hook for these monies. If the Board and staff are going to ignore their fiduciary responsibilities as they have in the past, we are potentially in a world of hurt. Consider sending an email, picking up a phone, or (gasp) even writing a letter to the Board and/or your elected State officials.


(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.




Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015


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