Mon, Feb

Mexican Cartels Have Seized Control of the U.S. Drug Market … Read What LA Cops Say

WHO’S DELIVERING YOUR DRUGS?-- The illegal drug trade in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the U.S.- and Mexico-based gangs pulling the strings have long captivated the media and eluded law enforcement. 

For years, Sam Quinones chronicled the Los Angeles Police Department's efforts to eradicate violent gangs from the city. And, as he wrote in our January/February 2015 issue, law enforcement tactics have seemingly paid off: Since 2008, Los Angeles gang crime has decreased by nearly 50 percent. Robberies and assault rates have plummeted, and attacks on black residents by Latino gang members have also drastically decreased. But despite the fact that gang visibility in Southern California has diminished, Mexican gangs are gaining ground across the U.S.   

A new analysis from the Drug Enforcement Agency shows that seven Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) have seized complete control of the U.S. drug market. Mexican cartels deliver drugs to more cities in the U.S. than any other transnational gang, including those from Asia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. 

Throughout the country, Mexican TCOs wield unrivaled power, dominating the trafficking of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana. Mexico is also the biggest producer of clandestine Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has been deemed responsible for 700 deaths since 2013.

Mexican cartels deliver drugs to more cities in the U.S. than any other transnational gang, including those from Asia, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. 

In Mexico, TCOs are largely to blame for the growing number of homicides throughout various parts of the country. La Jornada reported last month that 12 out of every 100,000 people are killed in incidents revolving around organized crime. Social science journals are catching on to the disturbing repercussions of gang activity: On January 5, Health Affairs published a study claiming that the rise in homicides in Mexico since 2005 has, in turn, decreased life expectancy among Mexican males. 

The success of Mexican TCOs in the U.S. is attributed to several factors. According to the DEA report, TCOs have devised a supply chain system so complex, it's often impossible for law enforcement to trace drug transporters back to their affiliates. They also use a variety of transportation tactics—from tractor-trailers, cars, boats, planes, and the infamous subterranean tunnels that run beneath the border. One creative strategy devised by the Sinaloa Cartel includes hiring older U.S. citizens to drive tractor-trailers loaded with drugs because they're less susceptible to law enforcement inspection than younger drivers. In Phoenix, Arizona, transporters carry drugs in backpacks and off-road vehicles through expansive and desolate desert and mountain territory. 

Not mentioned in the DEA report is the assistance TCOs receive from U.S. law enforcement officials. In the last 10 years, countless U.S. border patrol agents have been arrested for collaborating with drug traffickers. Just this past year, formerTexas "Cop of the Year" Noe Juarez, who allegedly had been working with Los Zetas since 2006, was seen on video selling illegal assault rifles to an undercover informant. Back in September, former special deputy Chris Mattingly of Bullitt County, Kentucky, was indicted on charges of trafficking more than 1,000 grams of marijuana and accused of working with Mexican drug cartels. 

But it’s really cartels' alliances with U.S.-based gangs, rather than law enforcement, that give the gangs their power. Mexican TCOs have teamed up with 46 stateside gangs. Los Zetas, for example, are affiliated with 12 gangs, including the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas,  The Crips, and La Eme ("The M"), one of the most violent gangs in the U.S., which primarily operates within prisons, according to Animal Politico. Then there's the Almighty Latin Kings, a gang boasting membership numbers between 20,000 and 35,000 that has collaborated with all seven Mexican TCOs. 

Yet what stands out most in the DEA report is the importance of location in the business of drug trafficking. The analysis draws special attention to ports of entry (POE), especially in California. "Some Southern California gang neighborhoods were once so self-contained that they resembled rural villages," the authors write. 

However, as Quinones points out, gang presence in Los Angeles is not what it once was. Quinones traced the shift to a handful of techniques adopted by the LAPD to curb gang activity. They enforced gang injunctions—making it illegal for gang members to loiter in groups. They urged officers to get involved in community policing—a method that encourages police to spend less time in their cruisers and more time creating proactive relationships with neighbors. 

While those techniques may have reduced gang numbers, the DEA report points to another factor driving down the number of gang members in the city: Many of them have recently relocated. Gangs are moving out of traditional metropolitan areas and settling in more rural and suburban locations such as eastern Washington, western Colorado, and North Carolina. Likewise, the report predicts that Philadelphia and Boston might soon replace Chicago and Los Angeles as prime drug trafficking hubs, as TCOs are eager to stay out of law enforcement's eye. 

(Julie Morse is Julie Morse is an editorial fellow at Pacific Standard … where this report was first posted. Previously, she covered women's issues in Mexico City.)




Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

What Does It Mean to be Anti-business?

GELFAND’S WORLD--I ran into an acquaintance the other day who made an interesting observation. His view was that a local organization -- it just happened to be a neighborhood council, but could have been any other local group or nonprofit -- was anti-business. His suggested solution was that the council include more business owners. I'm not sure if this is the best available remedy, but I think the overall question is of interest: Just what does it mean to be anti-business or to be pro-business? 

I think it's an interesting question because for me, it's never really been a case of being anti-business in general. It's always been some specific issue involving species preservation or danger to the public. But I'm willing to believe that there are some people who are genuinely anti-business as a core belief. But what does this mean? 

I asked a few people for examples of anti-business sentiment or behavior. Here are some of the answers they gave. 

The city of Los Angeles has what is called a Business Receipts Tax. Without going into the details, [http://finance.lacity.org/content/BusinessTaxInformationFAQ.htm] I'll summarize the feelings of one local business owner. "If you are going to start a business and you can choose whether to be in the city of Los Angeles or just over the line into an adjacent city, you will want to stay away from Los Angeles." It's considered that much of a negative. 

Here is another example. The county has a department that you have to get past if you are going to open a restaurant or other food service business. Honorable people who are trying to obey the law get trapped in an endless cycle of inspections and new demands, a process which drags out the process of new business development. One local business owner I know still spits tacks, at least figuratively, whenever I ask him about what the system put him through. Another local person actually died before he could get his gelato shop open, due to all the red tape. 

These are laws and governmental procedures that are directly anti-business. You can argue that the business tax and the health inspectors serve a purpose, and reasonable people can argue over where exactly to draw the line in each case. 

But that's not the question I was immediately interested in. I was more interested in the personal issue. 

What is the attitude or behavior of a neighborhood council board member that might be considered to be anti-business? I got a couple of specific examples. 

The first example was a board motion that my informant took to be ruinous to local businesses. In this case, it was an attempt to help the homeless by directly endorsing the idea of supplying them with small habitations, the ones referred to as tiny houses. 

The second example was a discussion supporting the idea of raising the minimum wage for hotel workers. 

I think you can debate the merits and demerits of these ideas for weeks on end, but it is obvious that a lot of business owners would oppose making it easier to create homeless encampments on their streets, and the hotel industry would oppose having a minimum wage imposed on it, particularly in the absence of a statewide or national minimum wage increase. 

When questioned further, various colleagues offered a lot of other broad topics that fit within the bounds of opposing business development. Fights over rezoning might be thought of as anti-business. For example, a substantial majority of neighborhood council board members opposed the Ponte Vista development here in San Pedro, based on its size and density. You couldn't be more anti-business than that, as long as you consider that it was being anti-business about one specific investment. (Disclosure: I was on a neighborhood council board at the time, and was a supporter of the position to oppose the Ponte Vista development as originally presented.) 

The Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council opposed a Home Depot development and won. A lot of people found this position to be meritorious, but we have to admit that its merit lies in the opposition to a particular business gaining a position within the community. 

One of our City Watch contributors has offered another example. The city of Los Angeles was distinctly unfriendly to Walmart with regard to it going into the Chinatown area. More recently, we've seen arguments over the redevelopment of the old Sportsman's Lodge. 

In several of these examples, the question involved whether to support or oppose a particular development. I suspect that reasonable people can have different opinions over whether a development such as Ponte Vista is, on the balance, more of a public good or more of a public negative. 

But I suspect that to the person who brought this idea up with me, this still isn't quite the right question, and definitely not the right answer. So allow me to hazard a guess as to what is bugging my friend and, I suspect, lots of other observers. 

It's not so much that a few neighborhood council board members are opposed to some particular real estate development at one particular time. The problem is that most of us simply don't attempt to put ourselves in the place of the shop owner or even the hotel. Because we don't try to think about their problems, we don't find ourselves in productive discussions about their plans. We don't go out of our way to walk the proverbial mile in their shoes. 

I suspect that it's this indifference that is annoying to the local business owners. They are used to the devotedly anti-business arguments, but seeing their complaints ignored entirely must be a little galling. 

It wouldn't be a useful discussion without bringing up one additional point. Most of us don't worry too much about business getting its way with government. That's because most of us see government -- pretty much all government from the city council all the way up to the congress -- as being bought and owned by business interests. Those campaign contributions come from some mighty deep pockets, and they speak loudly to our elected officials. 

Perhaps my old friend and I are both correct. The biggest developers get their way, but that doesn't do anything for the mom & pop store trying to stay afloat. The guy trying to open his ice cream shop gets endlessly delayed by governmental red tape, and the local town council doesn't come to his assistance. 

There are one or two points where I will probably disagree with my pro-business friends and colleagues. I strongly support the existence and expansion of labor unions as a macroeconomic device. They are the one way we may have available to keep the top 1% from owning everything instead of only half of everything. I don't think that this notion has anything to do with the survival of the mom & pop store on 6th Street in San Pedro or the shoe store on Van Nuys Blvd. 

I'm also in favor of rules and regulations that protect our health and safety. We've had some close calls with refinery fires in recent years, and there are a lot of methane and irritants getting into our air from the SCG gas leak. There is a kind of business that brings out the anti in me, and that is the business that endangers our lives. 

But the city of Los Angeles is becoming well known for being the place that is cold and indifferent to new business formation. The elected leaders claim otherwise, but it's been slow going on the road to less red tape. If this is so obvious to me and a lot of my friends, then perhaps we ought to make a little more effort towards cutting that tape. It should be low hanging fruit. 


It seems that the Cleveland-Los Angeles-Anaheim-St Louis-Los Angeles Rams are about to come into existence. In looking at the team's history, we find a nomadic organization that began in Cleveland but only stayed about a decade, moved to Los Angeles and stayed for another 3 decades before moving to Orange County, then went to St Louis for what will be another 21 years, and now will be, once again, in the greater Los Angeles area. 

It will be interesting to see whether the team remains in Los Angeles past its traditional quarter-century mark. It will also be interesting to see how a Sunday afternoon game impacts traffic on the 405, considering that this is the likely route for most ticket holders. Add that to airport traffic and the forecast is slow going. 

For the south bay and harbor area, it's a blessing that the new stadium isn't going into Carson or the downtown area. I suspect that it's a mixed blessing at best for the west side. 

Kevin Drum has written an interesting piece on privacy vs. the right to use drones.  

Finally, in response to several comments over my last piece on humans confining themselves to constrained areas such as cities, rather than spreading out at low density over the entire ecosphere: I usually treat misunderstandings on the part of the readers as my own fault, since it is up to me to make the point clearly. 

In this case, the piece was not written to excuse lousy city planning, corruption of the regulatory process, or more to the point, the failure to consider ecological concerns in doing city planning. The fact that NYC doesn't have a lot of remaining indigenous wildlife is of some concern, but I fail to see that a city which averaged 20 stories would be any better than a city that averages 40 stories (or whatever NYC actually is) in terms of preservation of wildlife. 

Likewise, I can certainly agree that building tall, dense blocks of living spaces has to conform both to safety considerations as well as my proposed protection of the ecological space. 

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






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2015

How Much Are We Willing to Pay … to Help the Homeless?

PERSPECTIVES-There is no debate that dealing with homelessness will cost big money.

For Los Angeles, either a bond measure or tax would be required, but a super-majority of voters would have to approve it.

According to Council Member Mike Bonin, as reported in the LA Times, “I think if we can show that we have an actual strategy, they’d be willing to invest in it.”  

That’s an understatement.

There would be plenty of sentiment in favor of providing shelter and services for the homeless in our city.  Arguably, it is the largest segment of its kind in the nation – and growing.  The problem is no longer confined to freeway underpasses and rundown industrial corridors. People are camping in city parks and near public buildings in full view of all.

Closer to my home, the vicinity of North Hollywood Park, near the Amelia Earhart Regional Library, has become a magnet for RVs and blue tarps. This was not the case, at least the current scale of habitation, not that many years ago.

But what strategy should be implemented?

Voters will not be in the mood to throw $2 billion at the crisis without safeguards guaranteeing the funds will be applied effectively, with the most bang for the bucks.

The most important objective is recognizing the limits of such a financial commitment.  Not everyone in the homeless population will benefit.  A strategy that attempts to address all segments will fail.

Just as emergency medical responders employ triaging in dealing with victims of a disaster, housing and other assistance will have to initially target those who can benefit the most; others will have to wait or acquiesce to scaled down support.

On the lowest rung of the homeless ladder are those who do not wish to leave the street life behind.  They include the mentally ill, substance abusers and just the hard core who want to be left alone. Unless laws are passed making forced institutionalization possible, some persons will always choose life on the sidewalks.  Even with institutionalization, we would need the facilities, not to mention the staff and medical services to operate them. $2 billion would barely make a dent. Sadly, this is not a practical option.

The priority must be to rescue the ones who can – and want to be helped.

They amount to a very diverse group, in various levels of need. A one-size-fits-all solution will not work.

Traditional affordable or subsidized apartments are not for everyone.  Only those who are responsible enough to care for their accommodations should be eligible to occupy them.

Dormitories could be an option for those who will need acclimation to a structured life.  Supervision, security, education and medical services will be essential.  Underutilized city or county properties might be good choices for constructing dorms or repurposing existing facilities.

Lastly, we could consider tried-and-true campgrounds as short-term solutions.  The National Guard could design and construct camps. If we can house military personnel in tent cities in war zones, we can certainly create livable encampments in the greater metropolitan area.

The more realistic a plan the city can offer, the more likely the voters will support it.

The city must also consider offsetting the cost to some degree.  The most sizable piece of the general fund is compensation.  Retirement benefits have grown from 2% of the general fund to 20% in just 10 years.  That trend must be reversed, more so now in view of helping the homeless without disproportionately burdening the taxpayers.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs atVillage to Villageand contributes toCityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: [email protected].)





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Board of Supervisors Fiddles … While Proponents of Independent Jails Commission Burn

STRAIGHT SHOOTER--This is not a good week for people concerned about jail violence. First, the law enforcement liability numbers are in, and the results are worse than bad. There’s been a 43.4 percent increase in money paid by the County to deal with law enforcement liability including excessive force claims against the Sheriff’s department -- an increase of  $14.6 million over FY 2013-14 to a robust  total of $48.3 million for FY 2014-15. Second, the LA County Board of Supervisors is poised to adopt a motion this Tuesday, which will remove the last hope of the proposed Civilian Oversight Commission having any teeth or independence. 

Apparently, the Sheriff and Board-appointed Inspector General Max Huntsman are close to sort of being close to a sort of final Memorandum of Agreement which will determine the extent of any access the Commission may gain to internal records of the Sherriff’s Department. So much for unfettered access.     

To be fair, it’s not an easy task, setting up an oversight commission like the one proposed. But what’s unacceptable is that there were measures that could have been taken expeditiously, at the time that civilian oversight was first proposed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina in September of 2013. The best example is the concept of “golden key access.” 

I will never forget the first time I heard Miriam Krinsky, now one of Sheriff McDonnell's top advisers, explaining that concept after she'd been on a fact-finding mission to New York for the CCJV. On January 4, 2016 an op-ed in the New York Times, by Michele Deitch and  Michael B. Mushlin, struck the very same note: "The awareness by prison staff that a monitor could show up at any time would check employee misbehavior. The culture of a prison changes when outsiders shine a light on its operations and conditions."    

It is inexcusable for the Board of Supervisors to delay independent oversight measures that will save the county money and keep residents safer. Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Sheriff Jim McDonnell all ran on the promise to make meaningful civilian oversight a priority and a reality. What are they waiting for?  

(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.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

The ‘State of the Union’ … LA Skid Row Perspective

LA SKID ROW-The following is the type of “State of the Union Address” most Black folks would want to hear from the Black President of the United States of America in 2016 who happens to be termed-out and safe from any significant white retribution. 

“My fellow Americans…it is now 2016 and if there truly is a thing called “white privilege,” I can’t figure out why so many white people are struggling to live better than the rest of us. After all, they are the ones who conquered this country, set-up all the laws and rules, established civility and order and created Uncle Sam – ensuring that our military might has the best of all resources to make sure white people stay at the top of the food chain. 

Hundreds of years ago, whites enslaved Africans, brought them to this country and forced them into slavery. Today, Blacks remain at the bottom of the heap and still have not received reparations for the countless hours of free labor – work that allowed White Americans to pocket their savings and profits, thus creating “Financial White Privilege.” 

Today, those Africans are called “Black people” and while the Civil Rights Act exists, some might argue that the US Constitution still technically considers Blacks as 3/5 of a human.  

Whites have now encouraged other minorities, including Asians, Latinos and even certain “hand-picked” Blacks, to join them in looking down on the greater Black race, thus giving these supporters their own sense of “White privilege.” 

A lot of Black folks have a problem understanding is why are all these people are looking down at us when they themselves are struggling. 

Here in Skid Row, also known as “the homeless capitol of America,” the majority of the homeless and low-income population suffering from extreme poverty are African-Americans. On the other end of the spectrum, almost all of the Executive Directors and CEOs of the Skid Row non-profits are whites and non-Blacks. 

There is an obvious financial discrepancy between races and blatant the reasons why these differences extend into much deeper dimensions -- especially when one recalls the existence of a “Skid Row Containment Zone Policy” in the 1970’s…followed by the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic…which combined to drive Blacks to Skid Row in droves.  

We watch as Black athletes paraded to the world in the Summer Olympics in a “Our Blacks are better than yours” fashion. But “White privilege” continuously reminds Blacks in Skid Row that either, “they don’t know what they’re doing and/or saying,” or “they need a caretaker to help them improve their lives.” The latter helps “create jobs” to take care of Blacks, ensuring the “privilege” of job security for the non-profits who still make it a habit to look down on Skid Row residents and their efforts to improve where they live. 

Consider the plight of Skid Row residents who are in the process of creating the Skid Row Neighborhood Council. Instead of encouraging them and doing everything to help them (which would resonate into their personal lives helping to boost the necessary confidence, motivating them to “do-for-self” and improve their lives,) there is a hateful undertone which breeds self-doubt. It’s a wonder these neighborhood activists have actually gotten this far. 

And it’s not even the upper 1% of life’s totem pole who’s invoking “White privilege” over Skid Row residents, it’s the “middle-of-the-packers” who are acting as gatekeepers. 

So let’s update this. Slaves were prevented from learning how to read or write, Negroes weren’t allowed to vote or ride in the front of the bus, African-Americans weren’t allowed to own property and now the Black residents in Skid Row cannot create a governing body to help all Skid Row residents, businesses and non-profits. Wow. 

So which is it … should we be productive citizens in society … or should we just waddle around and let “White privilege” do it all for us? 

If it’s the latter, why are so many “White privilegers” barely living, keeping their heads above water from paycheck to paycheck, and all the while giving themselves a false sense of achievement by looking down on Black Skid Row residents? 

In essence, Skid Row looks the way it does because of “White privilege.” Those people have all the jobs that matter, get all the funding and make all the decisions. And then, “White privilege” conveniently blames Blacks for not helping themselves out of their own plight. Hilarious -- but not funny. 

If this sounds ridiculous, just know that we’ve been listening to the same line of thought ever since our ancestors were dragged off the first slave ship named “Jesus” (seriously). 

And now, “White privilege” has the nerve to say that “Black Lives Matter.” Why? Because they get paid and benefit in so many ways from “Black suffering.” 

And to be clear, there is no honor in law enforcement killing unarmed Blacks. Feeling empowered through the killing of weak, vulnerable humans is the same as not feeding a bull for months, cutting off his horns and then pumping it full of bullets. This type of killing only exposes the fear and weakness of the shooters who need to clip a bird’s wings to feel dominant. “Brotha Africa” was murdered in Skid Row last year in a manner similar to this. 

Skid Row’s state of affairs is not good. And there’s no end in sight. 

May God bless you and may God bless Skid Row!


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




Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Want to Save the Environment? Build Skyscrapers!

GELFAND’S WORLD--Stewardship is not a word we hear very often nowadays. The term is generally used to describe humanity's responsibility to preserve the natural world, most importantly all those life forms that are not human. As the species with predominant power, we have encroached on most natural habitats to some extent and to near totality for some. I'm going to go out on a limb here and make an argument that may seem paradoxical about how our stewardship of the southern California ecology can be maximized. 

First though, I think it's important to make the case that stewardship of the ecology is a human responsibility. That includes making exhaustive efforts to preserve the California Condor and desert tortoises along with all manner of other species both plant, animal, and microbial. Our stewardship extends even beyond the living things, to geological features, bodies of water, and something as evidently obvious as the concentrations of gases naturally found in the atmosphere. 

Making the argument that stewardship of all these things is our human responsibility is not as easy as one might think. The right wing position seems to be that our responsibility does not extend to preserving minor species, particularly when the existence of those species gets in the way of human industries. The protection of a complex habitat which includes the spotted owl might be the best known example of this political divide. 

I think that the argument ultimately comes down to morality. I find it astounding that some of my fellow humans think it's acceptable to abolish an entire species. As a naturalist once explained, a species is not only the currently surviving members, it is the entire history of that species, spread out over time, including its evolutionary development. You might think of the brook trout as the ultimate in a line of development that began with earlier fishes and before that, with ancestors that were only proto-fish. If you wipe out the entire population of brook trout, you have reduced the earth by that whole history and all of the living members. You have also made it impossible for future brook trout to exist. 

Most people, if put to the test, would agree that we ought to save a desirable species such as the brook trout. That is to put a human-centric view on the question. But what about other species that are not as likely to end up in our frying pans? 

The moral argument is that we as the predominant species don't have the right to abolish any other species. To take a different view is, to my thinking, arrogant. It is to assert a right of destructiveness that should be opposed.

There is of course a utilitarian argument that goes along with the moral argument. We survive as a species in a complex ecology that supplies us with oxygen, water, foods, and even the bacteria that grow inside of us and which help us to survive. Remove any one of those pillars, and our top end of the ecosystem crumbles. 

I don't think that the utilitarian argument is as strong as the moral argument, because you can always find a technical replacement for any one other part of the wider ecology. Humanity continues to survive just fine in the absence of the mammoth or the giant sloth. We might not do so well in the absence of bees, as so many people want to remind us, but I think it is obvious that some fraction of humanity would survive the calamity of bees disappearing in North America. But it would be immoral for us to allow honey bee extinction if we had any means to prevent it. 

The whole question of maintaining species survival gets even more complicated when you try to factor in the geographic requirements. Here in southern California, we have become aware that some of our four legged inhabitants need to migrate from place to place. These requirements stem from a number of factors ranging from seasonal hunting to the need to find a mate. For this reason, the various governmental entities have made an effort to preserve wildlife corridors in a region that has become a giant extended suburban expanse. It's important to preserve those wildlife corridors in order to preserve some species. 

Let's summarize the logic: We have a moral obligation to do our best to preserve the entirety of the complex ecology that surrounds us, and this sometimes requires the preservation of extended geographical areas, corridors, mountain sides, wetlands, deserts, and forests. 

The paradoxical point is that we don't necessarily have to preserve all such places, as long as we protect enough of each, and that the ones we protect connect up to each other sufficiently well. 

What is the biggest risk to this kind of preservation? It's obvious that it is us. All of us millions of humans have to live somewhere. 

Putting humans in a smaller area so as to preserve other areas for nature would seem to make sense. The question is whether we humans would like this kind of arrangement. I would argue that we do like the arrangement, and the evidence is that so many of us voluntarily choose such an arrangement. 

We call it the city. 

Our chosen behavior of living in close proximity to each other serves to concentrate our numbers in the fewest number of square miles. In so doing, we can potentially leave other areas as the equivalent of nature preserves. 

Whether the areas external to the city limits are actually protected is a separate question, but the sine qua non is that the largest number of people be concentrated in the smallest area. 

And thus we come to the paradox that encouraging the densest growth in our city is potentially the best approach to human stewardship of the surrounding ecologies. Our 400 square miles are covered with asphalt and construction to the point that hardly an acre of natural habitat is to be found, except in specifically designated preserves and ponds. But suppose we were to have the same number of people spread out over 800 or 1600 square miles. It's hard to imagine how spreading people out over more square miles would make the urban area a better way to steward the nonhuman species. We would just have twice or four times the area damaged to the point of ecological destruction. 

The corollary I'm making here is that adding high rise residential buildings to areas that are already part of the city doesn't do any additional ecological damage. By contrast, moving the boundaries of the city outwards and constructing new subdivisions from previously open land does damage to the wider ecology. It does so by erasing nature and replacing it with lower density urban development. 

It may very well be that as city dwellers, many of us would prefer to live in low-rise areas and to avoid the traffic problems and higher rents that accrue when high rise development ensues. But at least let's recognize that our human obligation to the rest of nature is best served by containing our mechanical civilization within boundaries so as to allow the remainder to flourish. 

Or to put it bluntly, the fact that I happen to live in an area of mostly one and two story abodes may be to my benefit, but it doesn't do much for the wildlife population. They don't live here anyway, and if some developer were to tear down my whole block and replace our humble lodgings with forty story towers, it wouldn't reduce the number of indigenous life forms, because they were removed long ago. But building upwards could potentially provide for more humans without plowing over more square miles of natural lands. 

Some readers may recognize that our civilization doesn't consist only of cities and nature. Much of the land mass is used for agriculture. It's actually a related argument, because tilled fields can coexist with adjacent wildlife corridors, and some kinds of agricultural activities can accept a good deal of wildlife. But that's another argument for another day.

Likewise, the fact that a dense city is a way to protect the lands beyond it  from excessive development is not an excuse for having chemically dangerous cities. The recent fiasco in which the city of Flint, Michigan allowed its water to become contaminated with lead is not an argument against cities. It is an argument against badly run cities. 

The argument that allowing density in cities is potentially environmentally protective is not an argument that all such growth is good. It is just one subset of a wider argument that humanity should adopt a policy to protect as much of the natural environment as we can. But if it is possible to contain most of our human population in constrained regions and in so doing, provide for a healthy, robust civic life, then we ought to be thinking about such things.


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






Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Los Feliz: Piñatas and Eviction Notices

RENTER RIGHTS--“It’s raining! It’s pouring! Evictions are soaring!” chanted the small but defiant crowd on the corner of Vermont and Franklin avenues in Los Angeles’ gentrifying Los Feliz neighborhood. Holding signs reading, “Honk if your rent is too high” and “Where will you go when you can’t afford your neighborhood?” the demonstrators had come to protest the Ellis Act eviction of the residents of 1655-65 Rodney Drive from their 12 rent-stabilized apartments.

Enacted in 1985, the Ellis Act provides a way for landlords to get out of the rental business other than selling their properties. Under this law, a landlord can evict an entire property’s residents with 120 days’ notice for most tenants, or a full year’s notice for senior citizens and disabled tenants. If the landlord tries to re-rent the apartment within five years, then the tenant has a right to reclaim his or her old apartment at the same rate they were paying when evicted. After five years, the landlord can then re-rent that unit at market rates.

With the last day of their notices coming up quickly, the Rodneyites have had to scramble to find new homes.

“I’ve been here for 23 years,” said evicted resident Mark Simon. “I moved here in November of ’92. And it was such a stable home for me, I never expected to move — as did so many of us. It totally shatters your system. I really, honest to god, have not had a great night’s sleep [since being evicted],” he added.

Speaking about the troubles faced by the residents in looking for new apartments, 10-year resident Roberta Morris said the problem is not just that everyone is simply paying a little above their old rents — “It’s whether you’re paying two or three times more.”

After chanting and picketing in a drizzling rain, the protestors walked down Vermont to the now-empty apartment of Walt Senterfitt for a press conference. Senterfitt and Morris spoke to the gathered crowd in front of piñatas emblazoned with the names of their landlords: Jeffery Scapa and William Silverman.

Senterfitt and Morris drew parallels between the decreasing amount of affordable, rent-controlled housing and the increasing number of homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles, pointing out that some of the evicted residents’ apartments were already reoccupied within mere weeks of being emptied. Although the evicted residents told Capital & Main that Scapa and Silverman insisted to them that this is okay because the new tenants are not paying any rent, the original residents are not so sure.

According to Simon, the residents’ troubles with Scapa and Silverman began when the two men first purchased the property in 2011. He said that Scapa showed up that very day offering the long-time residents $7,000 to move. When none of the residents took him up on his offer, he responded by informing them that they could no longer have furniture on their patios (even those only accessible from single apartments) and that they had to remove the air-conditioning units installed by a previous owner. After the residents retained an attorney, they did not hear from Scapa or Silverman until January of 2015, when they were given their Ellis Act eviction notices.

After concluding their talk, Senterfitt and Morris called the landlords on speakerphone, and were answered by a man who identified himself as William Silverman. Senterfitt informed him that he was on speakerphone in front of the gathered crowd and cameras, and began to question him. When Senterfitt asked about the Ellis Act evictions, Silverman insisted that he and Scapa were acting within the law. After Simon pointed out that the disabled and elderly residents had to retain a lawyer in order to get their legally required one-year move-out period, Silverman hung up.

Calls to Silverman and Scapa for comment were not returned as of the posting of this article.

Senterfitt pointed out that anyone could see, through an open door, that one of the newly emptied apartments was in the process of being renovated, remarking “that’s not what you do if you’re going out of the rental business.”

(Luke Dowling writes for Capital&Main … where this piece was originally posted.) Photos by Luke Dowling.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

Inside LA’s $1.85 Billion ‘Plan to End Homelessness’

HOW MUCH WILL LA PAY?--Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti stood in Skid Row pledging to devote $100 million in city funds to the "war on homelessness." Months later, details on where the money was coming from or what it exactly it would be put towards still eluded the public. It was heartening that city officials recognized the growing homeless population and an imperative to act on it, but the solutions were not grounded or all-encompassing.

This week, the city of LA released a comprehensive report on what strategies and financial costs would be required to systematically wipe out homelessness in Los Angeles.

The report calls the City Council's pledge of $100 million in homeless funding an "important first step," but would have to be "magnified significantly" over the next ten years to actually fund the end of homelessness in Los Angeles.

According to the report, to fully tackle the homelessness epidemic in Los Angeles, some $1.85 billion would have to be spent over the course of a decade, reports the LA Times  -- and that's a number that "primarily the price of building or leasing new housing units," but not the expanded services and workers to provide them the report also recommends.

Last year, City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer Miguel Santana and Chief Le­gis­lat­ive Ana­lyst Sharon Tso were put in charge of compiling the report that would act as a starting point for Los Angeles' first comprehensive plan to end homelessness in the city. The resulting document lays out several strategies officials believe will work in tandem to more effectively get people off the streets.

They offer the following as focal points for their plan:

Housing First
The report praises and advocates for a strong adherence to the Housing First approach, saying it "works to remove barriers to housing upfront in order to encourage better health outcomes for chronically homeless individuals." The Housing First philosophy is just as it sounds, putting the individual in long-term housing as a first step, and then applying social assistance to contribute to self-sufficiency.

Expand Rapid Re-Housing
Rapid Re-Housing involves taking individuals and families that are homeless and giving them rent vouchers for a specific period of time in an effort to give them footing to get back into the private housing market. It is thought to be more successful with people who are not chronically homeless. (It's also been very effective for families with kids, early evidence shows.) The report calls for an expansion of the program to quickly reduce the number of lower needs cases in the city.

Offering More Shelters and Storage Facilities
One short term solution the report offers is an increase in shelters and modifications in the services they provide. Currently, Skid Row is the central hub for homeless, necessitating long and costly commutes for many. A greater number of shelters around the city would ease access to case workers, health and social services, as well as laundry and hygiene facilities and allow people to "easily connect to the services they need to manage their personal well being."

Also suggested is expanding a safe parking program for those living in RVs and the creation of a mobile shower program that would travel the city offering a chance to wash up as well as connection to case management.

Acknowledge the Demographics of the Homeless
The report recognizes the need to distinguish the different types of homeless individuals to more effectively cater to the unique needs of each group rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The report breaks down the homeless population into four demographics: individuals, families, youths, and veterans. Different services can be targeted towards each subgroup to maximize their individual effectiveness.

City Council asked the City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer (CAO) and Chief Le­gis­lat­ive Ana­lyst (CLA) to put an extra focus on homeless youth, LBGTQ homeless, as well as homeless individuals with pets that are often denied access to shelter due to the animal. People under these circumstances might require extra levels of service that fit their unique situation.

"No Wrong Door"/Coordinated Entry System
The "No Wrong Door" concept advocates that any city department that regularly comes in contact with the homeless could be equipped to connect those individuals with social, medical, or housing resources. Places like libraries and public parks would be used as access point to get people into social service programs.

Integrated into the "No Wrong Door" policy would be a Coordinated Entry System, a standardized entry into social services databases that would ensure "detailed and verifiable tracking of metrics at the level of the individual." Homeless data with this increased level of individual information will help the city better analyze the effectiveness of their programs.

Increased Accountability in Government
The report advocates for the creation of a "Homeless Strategy Committee" made up of the mayor, CAO, and CLA. In addition, the position of "Homeless Coordinator" would be created and filled with an expert in the field. The Coordinator would report to the CAO, acting as the point-person between City Hall and homeless services. The Homeless Coordinator would be in charge on enacting any city plans on homelessness.

In a move that might ruffle the feathers of NIMBYs all over town, the report stresses a need to revisit the land use policies of the city, citing a need for greater density. Part of the reason for the housing shortage has been city plans that skew towards lower density in the face of a growing population. The authors urge the city to analyze "existing residential and mixed-use zoning and land use capabilities citywide, creating new citywide residential zoning maps with greater density in areas most capable of supporting it." The report does recognize how controversial rezoning can be, so they make a note of suggesting city officials work with local communities to "reconcile these citywide maps with their existing local neighborhood plans."

Mayor Garcetti called the report "the blueprint we need to guide our decision-making process," but it remains to be seen how much of these plans will actually be enacted, as the price tag is certainly steep. Also unclear is what effect the proposed $1.8 billion in state funding for housing mentally-ill homeless people will have on the overall price. The report's authors suggest everything from state and federal grants to fees on real estate transactions to help foot the bill, but admit that funding might have to come from a bond or tax hike. Though Mayor Garcetti has talked a big talk about ending homelessness, proposing a tax hike might be a tough sell if he's running for mayor again in 2017.

At least one city official seems confident about public support for the plan. Councilman Mike Bonin told KPCC that he's "impatient" about enacting the plan, claiming constituents in his Westside district cite homelessness as a top concern, even higher than traffic. He added that "we have to do a lot of work to get those funding streams in place," but that "people are hungry for proposed solutions." Bonin thinks that if "folks really believe the city and county are working together," they would be open to funding such an expensive plan.

(Jeff Wattenhofer writes for Curbed LA, where this perspective was first posted.) Image via Tom Andrews / Curbed LA flickr pool. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

There’s Too Much at Risk: Latinos in LA Must Get Their Flu Shots!

LATINO PERSPECTIVE-In an Op-Ed last December, the LA Times brought to our attention the results of UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey which noted that only 43% of Californians received a flu shot in 2014. Worse, among Latinos, the largest racial or ethnic group in the state, only 37% were vaccinated, many of them in Los Angeles. 

The Opinion/Op-Ed illustrated that in early November, California had its first infant death of the year from the flu. It can be easy to forget that the flu actually does kill. Young, healthy adults might only miss a few days of work if they catch the flu this winter, but by skipping flu shots, getting sick and potentially spreading the virus, they are also endangering vulnerable children, many with chronic diseases, as well as the elderly with whom they come in contact. 

That statistic becomes even more troubling when one examines differences among first, second and third-generation Latinos. First-generation Mexican Americans — those born in Mexico, where vaccination is widespread and more commonly accepted than in the United States — are far more likely to get flu shots than those born and raised here. In 2014, only 24% of second-generation Latinos and 15% of third-generation Latinos in California received a flu vaccination, compared with 61% of first-generation Latinos. 

A Los Angeles Times study, using the California Health Interview Survey data, showed that even when taking into account factors such as insurance status, health status and characteristics such as education and age, the disparity in flu vaccination rates among Mexican Americans of different generations remains. 

This is an economic issue as well as a public health issue. One study estimated that in just one year, 2003, the flu cost the United States $87.1 billion in medical costs and lost wages. The Latino population is expanding in Los Angeles and California, and that means absenteeism and hospitalization costs associated with the lack of flu vaccinations will also expand if the generational patterns continue. 

There is one simple explanation for why vaccination rates among second and third-generation Latinos differ so significantly from those of their newcomer parents and grandparents. Mexico heavily promotes vaccination in general, and it has the highest rate of flu vaccination among people 65 and older in the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the U.S., however, many people aren't persuaded by public health campaigns for flu shots; they are suspicious of vaccinations, wrongly believing that shots cause health problems rather than prevent them. 

The flu vaccination message that has been so well communicated in Mexico needs to spread to Latinos and everyone else in California. Flu shot campaigns aimed at Latinos should particularly target second and third-generation immigrants. Now, such campaigns are mostly delivered in Spanish, though the Pew Hispanic Center has shown that English is the predominant language for the children of newcomers. Family-related messages are also important because many Latinos live in multigenerational homes, where the risk of spreading the flu to the very young, to the elderly, as well as to those with chronic diseases, is acute. 

We must agree with the conclusion of the writers of the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece (Mariaelena Gonzalez, assistant professor of public health and a member of the Health Sciences Research Institute at UC Merced, and Jennifer Mendiola and Van Do-Reynoso, both doctoral candidates at UC Merced) when they say that California and Washington should provide funding for new outreach to promote free or low-cost vaccinations; they should also fund additional research into the most effective forms of health communication for our changing population. 

The lack of wide-spread vaccinating among Latinos creates unnecessary dangers. Economic losses, due to the flu and the deaths associated with it each winter, are preventable with a one-dose vaccine. Los Angeles, a city that already has many issues to solve, does not need to add this unnecessary and preventable problem to the pile.


(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]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016  



Report Card: California’s Response to the Porter Ranch Gas Leak

CALWATCHDOG--Gov. Jerry Brown has intervened as activists, analysts and residents decried a massive ongoing leak in a Los Angeles-area gas pipeline. “More than two months after a natural gas leak began emitting large amounts of a greenhouse gas near a wealthy neighborhood here, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, ordering California agencies to move as quickly as possible to resolve the issue after previous attempts to stem the flow of methane failed,” the New York Times reported.  

“In declaring the state of emergency, Mr. Brown — who has been criticized by many residents for his slow reaction to the problem — reiterated all the state has been doing to help plug the leak and monitor air quality, as well as the state’s efforts to make sure the gas company paid for disruptions and damage caused by the leak,” the Times added.

An environmental mess

The disaster afflicting Porter Ranch, one of Los Angeles’s newest communities, has broken unflattering environmental records. Already “the largest recorded natural gas leak in California’s history,” according to the Independent, the leak has been “expelling an estimated 110,000 lbs of methane into the atmosphere every hour: about a quarter of the state’s daily methane gas emissions.” Tim O’Connor, California director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s oil and gas program, told the Independent that the leak was “far greater than the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster” in its aggregate impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Southern California Gas has conceded that its own judgment may well have been to blame for the breach. In a statement, the company revealed “it decided nearly 40 years ago against replacing an underground safety valve that could have cut off the gas leak when the storage tank first erupted in late October,” as the Fiscal Times observed. “Executives of Southern California Gas apparently concluded it was too hard to find replacement parts for the valve and that the underground storage tank wasn’t close enough to homes to warrant the time and expense. Instead, they gambled that the cutoff valve would never be needed. Now they are struggling to contain runaway greenhouse gas emissions that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and greatly contribute to climate change.”

Fumes and fury

The news has compounded outrage and frustration in Porter Ranch, where Southern California Gas has moved to help residents cope with — or flee — the fumes. “This is the biggest community and environmental disaster I’ve ever seen, bar none,” Mitchell Englander, the neighborhood’s representative on the Los Angeles City Council, told Bloomberg. “Life there is not on hold — it’s on the edge and it’s on the brink of pandemonium. People are living with fear, uncertainty and doubt.” What residents remain have been plagued by discomfort and illness.

“A shopping center by the freeway still bustles, but the longest lines are at a storefront that Southern California Gas established to assist residents with relocation, health problems, air-filtration systems and claims. The smell of chemicals added to natural gas — which itself is colorless and odorless — pervades the air. Homes of residents who’ve already received relocation assistance sit vacant, while signs warn of increased police patrols to ward off looters. Some residents and visitors wear gas masks.”

Health officials have issued reassurances that residents’ symptoms, including dizziness and vomiting, were only temporary.

Gov. Brown himself arranged to meet neighborhood representatives. Paula Cracium, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, told the Los Angeles Times “she and others at the meeting urged Brown to be more visible on the issue and to help with a major concern that will last long after the leak is plugged — declining property values.”

(James Poulos writes for CalWatchdog … where this perspective was originally published.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

I’m Happy Sheldon Adelson Wants to Own a Newspaper

TRADE WINDS--There is good news and bad news to report from the world of those whose business it is to relay the news. The good news is that the family of Sheldon Adelson, the casino-owning billionaire, bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest daily paper in Nevada, at the end of last year. The bad news, too, is that the Adelsons, who initially sought to hide their controlling interest in the Review-Journal, bought the paper.

The purchase is good news because it’s a vote of confidence in the continuing relevance of metropolitan newspapers. Adelson is one of the country’s wealthiest and most powerful business tycoons, with a net worth estimated at more than $20 billion. He is such an important Republican funder that presidential candidates half-jokingly refer to their bids for his support as the “Adelson primary.”

Adelson is also hugely influential in Israel, where he owns newspapers and is close to the prime minister, and in China, given his casino company’s dominant presence in Macau. The fact that Adelson (his sons, technically) deemed their hometown paper a coveted trophy (they paid an inflated $140 million for it) is a sign that newspapers may be making a comeback, at least as billionaire status symbols. Ten years ago when I worked at the Los Angeles Times we practically begged deep-pocketed Angelenos to make an offer for the paper, but to little avail.

Business tycoons, like the rest of us mortals, are susceptible to trends and fads, and when someone like Adelson considers newspapers as desirable a commodity as sports franchises or yachts, other prospective buyers tend to follow. Indeed, Jeff Bezos’ 2013 purchase of the Washington Post may have done more than anything in a long time to make newspaper ownership cool again. And that’s what this industry needs—billionaires eager to rescue newspapers for their cool factor. Certainly no one has been rushing to buy them these days for their profitability.

The bad news, of course, is that Adelson’s injection of resources into the newspaper will likely come at the expense of its independence. Why, after all, does he really want to control the paper? You now have the wealthiest tycoon in the city’s leading industry controlling its largest news outlet. Adelson no doubt believes he is providing a civic good by ensuring the viability of the newspaper’s future, but he also has a strong agenda when it comes to litigation and regulatory issues affecting his casino empire, and how they are covered in the press.

Even if Adelson turns out to be a more benign owner than liberal critics are assuming he will be, it’s safe to assume that the Review-Journal will not be known in coming years for its aggressive reporting on the casino industry or on Adelson’s business dealings in Macau.

Debates about media ownership, about who controls the printing presses and airwaves, have long been an impassioned subject in this country, and for good reason.

By the same token, while Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post provided a needed boost in resources to one of the nation’s most important newspapers, it’s safe to assume that the Post won’t be taking the lead in covering how Amazon is altering the retail landscape and influencing legislation in various jurisdictions. But at least Bezos isn’t a Washington insider, giving his journalists a great deal more autonomy than their counterparts in Las Vegas are likely to enjoy.

Debates about media ownership, about who controls the printing presses and airwaves, have long been an impassioned subject in this country, and for good reason. The First Amendment doesn’t allow the government to directly control who can or can’t own newspapers, but Washington has for decades imposed media ownership limits via its power to award licenses to run TV and radio news broadcasters. The somewhat antiquated media ownership rules, and the public debates around them, blindly champion the ideal of so-called localism, of preferring media owners embedded in the communities they cover.

Adelson’s ownership of the Review-Journal suggests the potential downsides to local ownership of media. So does history: It was the local ownership of many TV stations in the deep South that blocked national network coverage of the civil rights movement a half-century ago.  (Photo left: Adelson)

At the same time, the critically-acclaimed movie Spotlight offers a veiled homage to the underappreciated advantages to out-of-town ownership. The movie, about the Boston Globe’s inquiry into the epidemic of Catholic priests abusing minors and its cover-up by the church, barely alludes to the fact that the newspaper was at the time owned by the The New York Times. Much of Spotlight’s dramatic tension revolves around the journalists’ willingness to stand up to, and upset, powerful local interests, but little is made of the fact that their institutional employer was insulated from such pressure by the fact that its owner wasn’t local.

Having worked at four different newspapers, I know there are always trade-offs when it comes to who owns media, and that the character of owners isn’t solely determined by whether they are local or out of town, individual or corporate. It is hard to come by truly judicious and independent owners who can act as truly neutral community arbiters. The profile of the ideal media owner, from a public interest standpoint, is an individual or family with deep roots in a community that is focused primarily, if not exclusively, on the news business, and won’t compromise that journalistic integrity to advance other business interests. Think of the Sulzbergers of New York or the Grahams of Washington.

Problem is, such owners are becoming an endangered species, given the challenges to the traditional newspaper business model. Many 20th-century newspaper-owning families were admirably principled and civic-minded, but it’s also true that they were making big profits that shored up their independence. In its present crisis, the newspaper business needs more people like Bezos and Adelson to enter the fray, to subsidize newsgathering with fortunes made in other businesses. The hope is that such individuals will do so because they believe it’s a worthy philanthropic cause, or because they think they can re-engineer the business model over time to make decent returns on a once distressed asset.

The worry, however, is that new owners will wade into the business not for those reasons, but to help their own pre-existing agendas. Which is why we should all keep an eye on what happens in Vegas. Contrary to Sin City’s marketing slogan, whatever happens there with the Review-Journal and its new owner is unlikely to stay there. It will help shape a national trend.

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





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016





A Tale of Two Cities: LA is Not New York …Yet

DEEGAN ON LA--Our city may have more billionaires than Manhattan, the fabled, silk-stockinged borough in New York City, but we don’t yet have what that Eastern city has:  a “billionaire’s row” where there is competition to see who can build the tallest building to house the richest owners. 

Aren’t we lucky? But for some, don’t we wish! (Photo above: NY Skyscrapers) 

“Tower Envy” has arrived -- along with the desire by some in powerful positions to make us look like Manhattan. 

Laid back Los Angeles has its share of high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs -- a big collection of family foundations and scores of “paper millionaires” who may have been serving you dinner last night and are still dreaming that their script will be the next big box office hit.

But we don’t have that many towers … for now. New York City has, by recent count, ten times as many towers as we have here in LA. And many say, “let’s keep it that way.”  But others say, “game on.”

It used to be that New York’s 1,250-foot tall Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. Now, there are two dozen 1,000 foot plus towers in construction or the planning stages in New York, several of them on Billionaire’s Row between the southern edge of Central Park and 56th Street.

Nowhere, in our own City of Gold, epicenter of the Golden State, do we have what our eastern cousins have on “billionaires row” (although we do have a “billionaires beach.”) And we don’t have a building boom breaking the 1,000 foot barrier. That would be equivalent to 100 floors! There’s lots happening on “billionaire’s row” in New York and it is causing some anguish.  We should learn from their pain.

Pro-growth supporters here in LA, those being accused of trying to turn our city into another New York, can take heart that the average height of our tall buildings is only 41 stories; theirs is 39 stories, but those are dubious bragging rights -- they have many more tall buildings than we have, ten times as many, as reported in tracking by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

A city of steel canyons shading it most of the day, New York City presents a stark contrast to sun-kissed Southern California. The direct sunlight, all day and all year, is one of our region’s true natural attributes, along with our mountains and valleys and the stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline communities from the South Bay to Malibu. Add in the surf and sunscreen and you have the complete opposite of “The Big City.” 

This is one of the things that attracts people here in the first place…a climate unmatched by most cities on Earth, a population that “lives and lets live,” and a pride that we don’t have to be anything more than what we are: a City of Gold. Why would we want to be a “City of Shade” like Manhattan? 

As the civic leaders and those in the third floor executive suite at City Hall, the politicos, developers and NIMBY’s all know: there’s a huge conversation going on about being LA -- laid back or New York “Manhattanized.” Low slung or vertical? Increased density or missed opportunities for growth? Or is it mix?

Two of the newest, and let’s hope freshest leading voices in this conversation will be recently appointed (subject to confirmation) Vince Bertoni as Director of City Planning, who is currently Pasadena’s Planning Director. He is replacing the longtime incumbent Michael LoGrande, who has has resigned. The other new voice is Jill Stewart, executive director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, who is leaving her longtime post as editor of the LA Weekly to take up her new advocacy position.

The Mayor has had a “tear-down” in LoGrande, and now he’s bringing in a “fixer-upper”in Bertoni, as well as the vocal opposition now under the leadership of Stewart. She is putting in place a “shadow” planning department that may have its framework created by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative ballot measure. 

So meet the new land use and development troika: Garcetti, Bertoni and Stewart.

What a great start to 2016. Everyone’s on notice: it’s not likely that we will experience the city planning chaos of 2015 that was marked by multiple lawsuits and equivocations. Politicos have to think twice about using their near-dictatorial powers over zoning in their council districts, making spot decisions and granting favors that go against the interests of the communities, and the community groups that must regroup to help to create a citywide strategy by aligning with the new leadership at the city planning department instead of automatically calling their lawyers.  (Photo right: Los Angeles skyscrapers.

The phrase, “I’ll sue you”, roared by community groups, should be tabled until the dust settles. We’ll have to see how the new planning director, the mayor, and the backers of the ballot measure arrive at a compromise. 

The new organization, CPLA (Coalition to Preserve LA) led by Jill Stewart, is influenced by the advocacy-experienced Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF.) It recently polled a group of concerned citizens and voters and learned that 72% of those surveyed expressed support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative that would create boundaries within which developers and politicos will need to operate. Poll info can be seen here.  

There could be little doubt that the slew of successful lawsuits filed by community groups against the city and developers may have triggered the ballot measure. Emboldened by these successes, it’s becoming SOP for litigation to be as common as an EIR for new mega projects. As the city rapidly densifies, the litigation element is a huge red flag. Another could the growing concern that we are not experiencing unparalleled growth and soon we may become victims of a housing bubble, followed by a crash

Both Bertoni and Stewart bring considerable talents to the face-off involving continuing the low slung, horizontal profile of our city or spiking it upward to the stars complete with towers in the vertical profile typical of growing cities everywhere. 

Stewart’s remit is more interesting than Bertoni’s. The organization she fronts has newer energy and a smarter approach – to go over the heads of lawmakers, supporting the rights of the public by letting them vote on land use and development policy in November. The clock is ticking as the qualifying signatures accumulate. That should make the politicos sit down for some serious talks.

Vince Bertoni inherits a city planning department seen by many as a co-conspirator in turning our beautiful city into an eyesore. Mansionization and towers have signaled the decline of the city’s Mediterranean identity and the concurrent diminishment of our quality of life.

Towers may be inevitable as our city expands and continues to densify. But, they should be planned in areas zoned for them. Thesezones need to be part of an integrated master plan rather than the “Wild West” approach that satisfies the politicos and developers but not the needs of the greater city.

We should be thinking about the future generations that will settle in zones that are yet to be determined. 

“Planning” is the operative word and it must be returned to the vocabulary of “growth.”

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





Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

All the Reasons Why the St Louis Rams Think the NFL Should Let Them Move to LA

STADIUM WARS--Decision time is drawing close for the NFL to pick a team or teams to move back to Los Angeles, and this week the three combatants—the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams—all submitted their official move requests to the league. 

The Rams have a plan to return to LA by way of a $1.86-billion Inglewood stadium, and the Chargers and Raiders have thrown their lot in together to lobby for a $1.7-billion stadium in Carson. Via the LA Times, we're getting a look at the argument one team, the Rams, made in explaining why they and their Inglewood stadium are the best choice for Los Angeles. 

The Inglewood stadium site has the best location, says the Rams; it's centrally located (between four freeways) and will be less than a mile away from a future Crenshaw Line station. The site will also have 12,675 dedicated parking spaces, plus "32,000 parking spaces available within one mile of the stadium and just under 42,000 available within two miles for large events such as the Super Bowl."

  • The Inglewood stadium would rise in an area that, for its association with the now-gone Hollywood Park racetrack and the recently renovated Forum, is already well-known to Angelenos. 
  • The site has all the necessary environmental approvals and has been primed for construction, so it's basically "shovel-ready" right now, according to the application. 
  • The nearly three-million-square-foot stadium would be the NFL's largest, and would be ready to go by 2019. (As the LA Times notes, the previously mentioned completion date was 2018. There's no explanation given for the new, later date.) 
  • But it's not the size of the stadium; it's how you use it. This one would accommodate two teams equally, offering each their own locker rooms, team offices, and owners' suites. (They are exactly the same in size, so no team would get the unfair advantage of larger locker rooms.) That means the Rams could share with, say, the Chargers, as they've said they're open to doing.
  • The clear roof and open sides of the stadium will protect football fans in "inclement weather" and be four degrees cooler in the seating area than an open stadium (excellent for those warm LA days).
  • The Inglewood stadium isn't just bigger than the one in Carson, it's got more seats from general admission up to the suites and club seats, which translates into more potential dollar signs for the NFL. The stadium would have 70,240 seats, plus room for 30,000 more in standing-room only conditions. It would also hold 274 suites and 16,300 premium seats. 
  • An Inglewood Super Bowl could make up to $50 million more than a Carson Super Bowl, say the Rams.
  • The NFL could take up in the multi-use complex rising up alongside the stadium (on the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack) and create a central "NFL retail and entertainment district" in Inglewood.
  • The neighboring event venue could possibly host NFL-related events like the annual draft selection. "Other potential NFL opportunities on the campus include an NFL retail store, a West Coast wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL-themed hotels."
  • LA was the Rams's stomping ground from 1946 to 1994, and people have not forgotten them. An LA Times poll taken in January 2015 showed that 62 percent of the more than 35,000 respondents wanted the Rams to come back to the city. 33 percent of poll-takers sided with the Raiders, and the Chargers only got 5 percent of respondents' support. The results of an NFL focus group in LA showed that "30 out of 53 respondents preferred the Rams to relocate, followed by 17 votes for the Chargers and 6 for the Raiders."
  • Rest assured there will be no money-related hiccups in the project because Rams owner/stadium developer Stan Kroenke is rich and can definitely pull this thing off, plus he's married to a Walmart heiress. 

(Ok, so what it actually says is "Mr. Kroenke, as developer of the Inglewood project, has a demonstrated ability to deliver on large real estate development projects," but they mean pretty much the same thing here.)

(Bianca Barragan is associate editor at CurbedLA.com, where this piece was first posted.)






Vol 14 Issue 3

Pub: Jan 8, 2016

LAUSD: The Year of Deaf Ears

EDUCATION POLITICS 2015--Under Bennett Kayser’s (photo) leadership, the LAUSD’s Budget, Facilities and Audit (BFA) Committee exposed details of John Deasy’s iPad program that helped lead to the former Superintendent’s resignation. Kayser was rewarded for his efforts with a campaign to unseat him that was heavily funded by the California Charters School Association (CSSA) and other corporate education “reformers.” After an election that included accusations that were not ethically sound, a $25,000 “Voteria” payout to one lucky voter and an attack based on Kayser’s Parkinson's diagnosis, Ref Rodriguez replaced Kayser (photo) on the Board. The effects of this change have already been felt in the District. 

Helping to force the resignation of a Superintendent placed on the Board by Eli Broad was an act that required a tenacity that does not seem to be possessed by the current BFA Committee. For example, after a presentation about the ways that the LAUSD Charter School Division is ignoring reports about violations of the ed code, the current Chairperson, Monica Ratliff, directed the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to look into the accusations. 

Had this instruction been followed, it could have been an important step in making sure that the LAUSD is properly regulating the charter schools under its jurisdiction. Unfortunately, instead of conducting an independent investigation, the OGC “communicated [these concerns] to the Charter Schools Division”, which was ironic considering the entire point of the presentation was to point out that the CSD was already aware of the accusations and that they had chosen not to pursue action. Not surprisingly, the CSD reported back to the OGC “that members of the Charter Schools Division have been working diligently on [these] concerns.” 

This conflicted with what the CSD had previously reported and the fact that corrective actions have still not taken place. With this type of inaction, is there any question how the Rodriguez affiliated “Lakeview Charter Academy was insolvent for nine years” without action by the CSD?  

Ref Rodriguez is more specific in his refusal to listen as he blocks  those who disagree with his viewpoints from his social media pages. Since his Facebook page and Twitter feed are promoted on his LAUSD hosted web site, this makes his censorship an example of government “abridging the freedom of speech”. The OGC tries to justify Rodriguez’ actions with the argument that “under the law, communication, even communication with a government entity, is not unfettered.” So much for the ability of citizens “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

As the department responsible for fulfilling public records requests, the OGC also utilizes its power to block the dissemination of information that can influence dialog within the District. Despite the District’s anticipation “that responsive records [would] be available on December 23, 2015”, the OGC has still not released information about Disruptive Parent Letters in response to a request that was made on August 17. 

Additionally, a response to a renewed request for information about the forced retirement of former Food Services head David Binkle has been delayed by the OGC for 14 days because “the District needs to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.” In previous correspondence they admitted that they were already in possession of at least two documents but would not release them because at that time they were part of an audit that was “the subject of an ongoing investigation.” 

A District that does not take complaints seriously, blocks stakeholders from social media accounts and refuses to release information to the public does not sound like one that is serious about its goal of “parent and community engagement”. Perhaps this goal is meant to be aspirational like “100 percent attendance” or “100 percent graduation”; achievements that are unattainable but that look good on paper. 

Under this scenario, the LAUSD only has to let the public speak but does not have to listen to what they are saying. However, true engagement requires much more, starting with an OGC that does not work against the interests of the people it is supposed to serve.


(Carl Petersen posts at Change the LAUSD and was candidate for the LA School Board. He is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)





Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Stories from the Front Lines: Los Angeles Planning Disputes Old and New




PLATKIN ON PLANNING--Old planning disputes are still with us: For those with memories going back to the 1980s or curiosity about that decade, the planning disputes now widespread in Los Angeles are an echo of what already took place three decades ago. Then and now, they include gentrification, over-priced housing and the lack of affordable house, rent control and rent stabilization, law suits against City Hall (AB 283), citywide initiatives (e.g., Proposition U) to restrain out-of-control real estate speculation, lack of sufficient infrastructure, mass transit, preservation of residential neighborhoods, overlay ordinances to chill out irate neighborhoods in lieu of citywide fixes, and repeated failures to consider adopted plans when dishing out zoning exceptions. 

In Los Angeles we may have lots of sunshine, but there is not much that is really new underneath that warm sun, such as the protection of single-family neighborhoods, including their character and scale. 

This is why all of LA’s official, legally adopted plans and policy statements, such as the City Planning Commission’s Do Real Planning, are uncompromising in their goal of preserving single-family neighborhoods. 

This not only refers to the basic land use, which is single-family homes, but also to scale and character. It is these policies, in fact, that gave rise the Historical Preservation Overlay Zones of which Los Angeles now has over 30, with many more in the cue. 

They also led to Specific Plans protecting residential areas, such as the Mulholland Corridor Specific Plan and the Mount Washington/Glassell Park Specific Plan. They also resulted in four Residential Floor Area districts, and over 20 short-term Interim Control Ordinances. 

Finally, the policies also prompted re:code LA, an ambitious program that will eventually rezone all residential areas of Los Angeles. Although the final re:code LA zoning ordinances are not yet completed , they are certain to bring forth a tsunami of controversy, especially if they change the use, character, and scale of residential areas. 

Hovering in the background, then and now, is a perpetual fight in Los Angeles between those who view their residences as homes versus those who view them as nothing more than a house. For the former, mostly residents and their neighborhood associations, a home is where they live and raise families, including the surrounding neighborhood. 

But, for the latter, houses and especially the land underneath them, are a commodity that can be bought, sold, or expanded based on a simple calculation: maximization of profit. Legally adopted plans and zones, as well as the myriad of overlay ordinances in Los Angeles, are not tools to protect homes, neighborhoods, and their residents, but regulatory devices that hinder the business of real estate speculation. 

The goal of these speculators is to, hopefully, sweep these ordinances and regulations aside, or, as a backup, make sure there are enough escape hatches embedded in new ordinances so they do not get in their way. 

While this difference between a house and a home might be the common denominator for nearly all of the planning disputes in Los Angeles, it is painfully visible in the disputes over the construction of McMansions in single-family neighborhoods, as well as the closely related construction of tall, narrow, attached homes called small-lot subdivisions.


Lessons from Beverly Grove: The neighborhood where I live and that I and other City Watch writers have written about, Beverly Grove, is a living laboratory for these protracted fights. Over a period of ten years and still counting, vocal brokers and contractors conjured up endless greed-is-good arguments to justify their business model. Spinning tall tales to gullible local residents that they were sitting on a pot of gold that could only be accessed through the construction McMansions, they would use third parties to buy small houses from desperate people, illegally demolish their homes, and then quickly build and sell a big, boxy spec house. 

But, just as quickly as the mansionizers could spin their yarns, local residents would rebut them. For example, claims of widespread public support for McMansions evaporated when residents went public with two independent surveys conducted by Council District 5. They both revealed that nearly two-thirds of local residents favored controls on mansionization. Likewise, when tea-bagger type arguments sprouted, such as “No one can tell me what do with my property,” we coolly replied that the purpose of zoning was to protect property values and the quality of life, not just give real estate speculators like them a free rein at the expense of their neighbors. 

Likewise, we also rebutted repeated claims that mansionization raised property values, while ordinances to stop mansionization would reduce property values. We showed that houses next to McMansions lose $50,000 -100,000 in value, even though the overall value of homes in areas protected by overlay ordinances, such as an RFAs and HPOZs, experience the same positive real estate trends as surrounding unprotected areas. 

One of the most ridiculous arguments we easily debunked came from the City Council no less: McMansions increase the supply of affordable housing in Los Angeles. The facts are exactly the opposite. The demolished homes were affordable, while the big, boxy houses cost far more than displaced residents could afford. 

Now that the Beverly Grove Residential Floor Area District has been adopted and enforced for over a year and half, we have other information to share with anyone concerned about mansionization and supportive of City Planning’s efforts to remove the loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. 

First, there is still a robust real estate market in Beverly Grove, with the small houses that used to be demolished now worth more than they were before the RFA. The realtors who predicted doom and gloom are as busy as before trying to buy houses for anonymous people who claim they want to live in our area. The same realtors even use the same gimmick of mass-produced hand-written offers to buy houses. 

Last, but not least, there are plenty of new home improvement projects under way in Beverly Grove, as well as new additions fully permitted by our RFA, and even some totally new RFA-compliant houses. These new houses are not only smaller than the McMansions that are now banned, but some of these new houses are extremely attractive, a charge never leveled against McMansions. 

In fact, we are happy to show any reporters or other doubters around our neighborhood how effective the Beverly Grove RFA has been and how a citywide version, supported by neighborhood groups across Los Angeles, could achieve similar results for nearly 4,000,000 people, rather than about 2000. 

Bottom line, Beverly Grove demonstrates that homes values are fully compatible with good design and the preservations character, scale, and quality of life. 

It also demonstrates that the reincarnation of Proposition U, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, would do far more to transform Los Angeles into a global city, than periodic waves of deregulated real estate speculation, whether McMansions, small lot subdivisions, or over height mega-projects.  

Blade Runner imagines what a deregulated Los Angeles would look like.


(Dick Platkin reports on local planning issues in Los Angeles for CityWatch. He is a former LA City Planner, who now serves on the Board of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association and the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council Planning Committee. Please send any comments or corrections to [email protected].) 






Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Hey, Who’s Killin’ My Post Office -- And Why?

EASTSIDER-Let me be clear:  I like my Post Office. I like the mail carrier that actually delivers mail to my door six days a week. I like the fact that there is one Federal office building in my area that makes me smile instead of frown; and I like the idea that in almost every community in the United States, large or small, thereisa USPS office, as well as mail carriers and a postmaster. They form a positive connection to my government, decent paying jobs with benefits, and are often the visual emblem of government, providing services to those who cannot or are unable to leave their homes. 

This is unlike the politicians who run my government, those whose services seem to largely include selling off public assets and granting tax breaks for corporations and the rich. 

The usual attack on the USPS states that it is inefficient and “people don’t use mail anymore.” That it’s somehow part of the “old economy,” replaced by smart phones, and most importantly, that it is economically unsustainable and would be broke were it not for massive infusions of cash from the federal government. This drumbeat has been going on for so long that if you ask someone in my neighborhood if the post office is losing money, most folks would say “sure!” Such is the impact of repeated media coverage over time. 

So when the Washington Post and the Brookings Institute (the number one rated think tank in the nation)put out hit pieces about the USPS going broke and the need for change, it came as little surprise to many. The facts, however, do not support the argument…it’s simply not true! 

Hey, somebody has to stand up for the USPS -- and clearly, it will not be the media, the once-reliable Brookings Institute or the political/lobbyist class. Forgive me, but this humble blogger can’t help himself. 

The truth is, the US Post Office was getting along just fine until 2006, when Congress passed its annual appropriations bill. Buried in it were a couple of real doozies from our bought-and-paid-for elected officials: the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” and the “Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund.” 

Have you noticed that whenever elected officials really sell us out it’s always with language that says the exact opposite of what the legislation does? 

What they really did was require the USPS to pre-fund years and years of anticipated retiree health care benefits. You got it. The Post Office has to pay about $5.5 billion per year into this bogus fund to prepay health benefits. This was done by the same Congress that stole Social Security Fund money for years, putting it into the General Fund to “balance” their phony budget. The same Congress that creates its annual “showdown in Washington” moment for television to increase the National Debt ceiling just to stay afloat. 

The take away from these articles is that the USPS is going broke, the politicians can’t fix anything, and the profitable parts of the USPS ought to be spun off to the private sector. Yeah, well, they “fixed” the Post Office all right. 

The scary truth is that this horsepuckey has been repeated so often, and in so many places, that our numbed citizens now actually believe it’s true. The exact opposite is the case. Only in America. 

Now, I understand theWashington Post article -- Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper) probably wants to privatize the operation so that Amazon and the private sector can “help” us become more efficient. 

By spinning off the profitable areas of Priority Mail and parcel delivery from the USPS, Amazon can cut wages, eliminate benefits, magically become bigger than FedEx and UPS and take over the world. Or maybe FedEx or UPS can become the biggest, or whatever. Even scarier, they plan to generate mergers and acquisitions activity by the financial services industry, enabling them to skim money off a load of corporate debt, possibly causing the next financial crash to be even bigger.  

What I don’t understand is theBrookings Institute piece. Over the years, Brookings has always had a reputation for middle of the road or even (gasp) a liberal bent. 

When Elaine C. Kamarck, a “Senior Fellow of Governance Studies” and “Director of the Center for Effective Public Management” for the Institute, wrote about privatizing the USPS in her article, Delaying the Inevitable,”  I read it with great interest. 

There are two fundamental problems with her piece. First, the conclusions of the article are based on a basic math error, evidently not Ms. Kamarck’s forte. If you take the roughly $5.6 billion annual prepayment for the fiscal year in question, the USPS actually made money. But instead, Kamarck took a bunch of these annual payments and clumped them together to come up with the $22.4 billion figure; then she used it in a single fiscal year analysis.  

The other bad assumption of Kamarck’s piece is not a simple math error, but rather the typical dismissal by pseudo-science economist types who “assume” that delivering the mail, with all that it entails, is an unprofitable and hence worthless act. This mind set is endemic only to people who live in a huge metropolis like Washington DC or New York City.  

If you live somewhere else, like McFarland, CA or Sanger, CA in the central valley, or Hayfork, CA in the Trinity Mountains, or in any small town in America, you know that the USPS performs vital services to the underserved. It’s a physical symbol of the Federal government that helps you. It’s a gathering place, where mail carriers actually go out and do something for the forgotten; it provides decent jobs with benefits to members of the community and it may just be there for us in a time of need.  

So, of course, the lobbyist and political elites want to get rid of the USPS; and they are closing more post office branches every year. But I have a better idea: how about blocking the politicians from putting these slimy pieces of “payoff legislation” into appropriations bills?   

For those interested in this issue, see the blog Save the Post Office for more information.


(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 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Path Sharing: Is This Really an Issue?

IT’S BEEN THIS KIND OF YEAR--Prominent in the LA Times “Burbank Leader” edition this morning was an article describing an apparently hard-fought compromise allowing cyclists to continue using a seventy-year-old bridge to cross the LA River between Burbank and Griffith Park. The issue? Horseriders preferred to ban cyclists altogether, claiming they “scared the horses.” And cyclists wanted to be able to pedal over the bridge, claiming…well, “I just wanna!”  

Burbank’s city council made a mostly good decision: cyclists can use the Mariposa Bridge so long as they walk their bikes across.

Sound oppressive? Well, the bridge is narrow, covered with a layer of soft dirt, and shared with powerful 1500-pound animals. Waling your bike for all o f a hundred and forty feet under those conditions makes sense to me.

I am no apologist for equestrians, though I rode horses a fair bit in the distant past. I suggest that a horse that is afraid of cyclists is a badly-trained horse. Let us look at the history of this precursor to the bicycle: for about 7,000 years, horses have been used in war, including the shooting wars of the last four hundred years.

This means that the average horse can be trained to go calmly into a battlefield where guns are blasting, bayonets flashing, bombs exploding, and people screaming in rage and pain. If they can be trained to endure that, they can certainly be trained to see a bicyclists without suffering an immediate and total nervous breakdown.

I suspect that equestrians use the “horses are nervous” argument to arrogate trails and other facilites to their personal use. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be walking on some trails, because it “makes horses nervous”! If that’s the case, your horse needs an animal psychiatrist. And anyway, how do you walk up to it to get on and ride?

But cyclists were asking too much here as well. It’s a narrow dirt-covered bridge; judging from the photo in the article, two cyclists would have difficulty crossing paths on it. It makes sense to walk. Especially as there’s not bikeway on the other side, at least not for several hundred yards. A shared-use trail—even if it’s shared only with hikers—is no place to shred.

This should not have been contested territory. The bridge is a public facility with a peculiar configuration that requires some compromises by all users. (Indeed, many hikers are made nervous by gigantic horses on the trails….)

A waste of time and organizational energy. With people dying in the streets, there are more important matters to attend to.

(Richard Risemberg is a writer. His current professional activities are centered on sustainable development and lifestyle. This column was posted first at Flying Pigeon.)  Photo: Roger Wilson/Burbank Leader.




Vol 43 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2015

If I were Los Angeles’ Homeless Czar

SKID ROW-With all the recent talk of a possible “Homeless Czar” who would lead the effort to solve homelessness in Los Angeles, I can’t help but begin the New Year with a resolution of my own. 

If I were named as Homeless Czar, here’s the first thing I’d do: I’d withhold the paychecks of everyone with jobs related to homelessness…period. Then I bet we’d get some solutions – and fast! Problem solved. 

Seriously though, everyone we look to for solutions for homelessness is receiving a paycheck -- including non-profit executive directors and CEO’s earning six-figure salaries, some as much as $200,000 to $300,000 a year. 

The Mayor and City Council also make six-figure salaries. Fifteen City Councilmembers each “earn” $250K. LAPD is “earning” a $1.5 billion budget for the current fiscal year. And so on. 

Add to this the money that comes from the Federal government (American taxpayer money,) as well as funding from the state and local levels, along with grants and donations from private foundations and public “do-gooders.” Think about it…there is a ton of funding being generated by the very presence of homelessness. 

It stands to reason that as long as homelessness continues, a lot of “leaders” will continue to get paid. Maybe there’s just no impetus for them to do anything significant at all…only enough to justify “earning” their paychecks. 

With that established, as the Homeless Czar, I would have access to internal documentation to support my theory. And that’s when I would drop the hammer! 

During my first press conference on the steps of City Hall, I’d boldly announce, “No one will receive paychecks until the desired results have been achieved.” 

I can guarantee that the necessary “sense of urgency” we’ve all been waiting for would instantly be present. All solutions -- coordination of efforts, outreach, healthcare, housing and shelter options and more -- would be quickly implemented with easily identifiable results: less homeless folks and less encampments on the streets across the City and County of Los Angeles. 

Voila!  Then and only then would paychecks for the “experts” be resumed. 

Unfortunately, this idea of mine is not the reality. But then again, neither are your promises to quit smoking, stop drinking, exercise more, lose 25 pounds, go back to school and get a better paying job. 

The funny thing is, if I really were named the Homeless Czar, I believe I could actually do the job in a relatively easy fashion. All I’d need is complete compliance from everyone. 

Unfortunately, you’re stuck now with the other guys – the ones with the “comprehensive strategic homeless plans.”  But if nothing else, I would make them earn their paychecks. 

Happy New Year!


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




Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

Westfield Village: West San Fernando Valley is ‘Fielding’ the Greed

JUST THE FACTS-Westfield Corporation spent $350 million on the development and construction of the Westfield Village in the West San Fernando Valley community of Woodland Hills to benefit the people in the San Fernando Valley and, of course, as an economic boost for their own company. With all the upscale dining establishments and numerous stores, including a brand new Costco, the concept was intended to create jobs and be a destination for shopping and relaxation for Valley residents and visitors. There are very few cultural spots in the West Valley; the “Village” was designed to fill the gap.   

But there are problems.  First of all, there is the paid parking situation. For the entire Village. While you can receive one courtesy hour free, additional time (three hours) must be obtained from either the Costco or another establishment. However, some shops don’t provide any validation at all for their customers. 

As you can imagine, most people who shop at Costco purchase large quantities of merchandise and roll their shopping cart to the parking lot. Unfortunately, many Costco shoppers must park on the upper level of the multi-story parking structure and then struggle to get to their cars and load their items before driving away. This is inconvenient for most shoppers who, once arriving at their vehicles, must follow long lines to exit the parking structure. If you forget to get your parking ticket validated, you must pay to exit the lot. For this reason alone, many Costco shoppers have informed me that they prefer other Costco locations in the Valley such as the ones on Tampa and on Sepulveda Blvd. in Van Nuys. 

In addition to the tiered parking situation, Westfield operators want to charge for parking along the surface lot adjacent to Topanga Canyon Blvd. This is taking advantage of the good people of the San Fernando Valley; no other shopping center in the entire Valley charges for parking. 

I suggest that Westfield re-examine its parking policies. They should provide free parking for shoppers willing to visit their centers and spend money. 

One of the first businesses to open at Westfield Village has already closed its doors. I had the opportunity to meet the family that owned and ran the dessert shop, “Confexion.” They invested a large sum of money and hoped to make it work. Unfortunately, the store did not do well and closed shortly after opening, a sad situation since they put their heart and soul into the venture, in addition to a considerable amount of money. 

Given the expensive rents and other costs associated with Westfield Village, I project that more stores will close in the near future.  

The Westfield Corporation purchased a large segment of property along Topanga Canyon Blvd between Vanowen and Oxnard, buying all the existing stores, investing considerable dollars to improve the neighborhood. Their next phase of development is the Promenade site on the southern end of the property. Currently, there are homeless people residing in this mostly abandoned shopping center. 

Rumors are circulating that Westfield intends to develop hundreds of residential units, both apartments and condos, as well as some retail on the site. The surrounding neighborhood has become more and more congested with large condos and multi-story apartments. And as road become more crowded, additional market rate residential units will only cause more gridlock and frustration for the public. I am considering filing a court action if Westfield proceeds with the housing development. 

I welcome your thoughts and ideas on this controversial situation. 

And I wish everyone a very Happy New Year. 


(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 at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

What Did NOT Happen In 2015

PERSPECTIVE-The issues of utility rate increases, homelessness, street paving and sidewalk repairs dominated 2015 on our local scene.

Has anyone seen reform at the DWP?  

Mayor Garcetti was swept into office over two years ago, in part because of the blatant support for his opponent by Bryan D’Arcy, boss of  the DWP’s powerful IBEW Local 18 union.

His election raised hope for long-overdue reform at the largest municipal utility in the nation, one that has been so badly managed by City Hall appointees and corrupted by D’Arcy’s grip on elected officials.

It was false hope. His pick for the DWP’s GM, Marcie Edwards, did nothing to institute change; no one was fired for the IT atrocities that caused so much woe for many ratepayers – and has still not been resolved. She also sided with Bryan D’Arcy in the non-profit audit controversy, showing contempt and disrespect for City Controller Ron Galperin, the only one in the city who has shown resolve in dealing with the incompetence and corruption at the utility.

Galperin has received no support from other elected officials.

Dr. Fred Pickel, the Ratepayer Advocate has been no help at all.  The only advocating he has done has been on behalf of DWP’s management.   Rates are going up, but cost control is absent.  Compensation at DWP should be frozen and the surplus transfer to the city should be ended, until infrastructure is upgraded.

It won’t happen because the City Council will bend to D’Arcy in the next round of wage negotiations.


Homelessness is much talked about, but the city only knows about promising big dollars to address the spreading crisis.  The number of homeless has grown by 12% since Garcetti took office.   

A $100 million commitment for 2016’s budget will not go far if Garcetti and company pursue their pro-developer strategy that reduces affordable housing.  For every new unit created, there will likely be one eliminated. That’s not progress.


There is no commitment to attracting employers who offer middle-class jobs.  It’s all well and good to attract high-tech jobs, but most do not have the skills to fill those positions.  They are likely to employ as many outside the city as they do residents.


A lack of middle-class jobs will shift more people into the working class poor category.  These people will require rent subsidies to survive in an increasingly hot rental market, further undermining efforts to deal with homelessness.


The city finally made a commitment to repair streets and sidewalks, but it took a lawsuit.  The settlement requires the city to invest $1.4 billion over the next 30 years to cover repairs.  That’s not as robust as it seems since costs will escalate over that span of time, due in part to contract awards that will likely favor well-connected labor unions. That’s business as usual in LA.

Only when all of these problems boil over and directly affect the everyday lives of a majority of residents will you see pushback and a voter revolt. Even then, I wonder if that will be enough to break the cycle of apathy that passes for participation.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs atVillage to Villageand contributes toCityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: [email protected].)




Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015


Is It the Homeless or Homelessness?: 2015’s Intractable Problem

GELFAND’S WORLD--The public question that has inspired the hottest rhetoric this year of 2015 is what we do about the homeless. Notice the wording there -- it's not really about homelessness as an abstract problem, it's about the people, or as some would have it, those people. It's about them having encampments. It's about them pitching their tents and parking their shopping carts along the city sidewalks. Saturday's LA Times ran a front page article by an architecture critic about the use of the freeway overpass as the new skid row. 

The increase in the apparent level of public homelessness in the area inspired a firestorm of complaining, concern, debate, and just plain bickering. One concern was that offering services such as meals to the homeless is a formula for attracting even more homeless people. 

We've had public forums on the issue where the discussion got heated, to put it mildly. We've heard a lot of partial approaches. Perhaps those partial fixes are better than nothing, but a little thought should convince us that there is no single, inspired solution to the problem. That's because every approach violates some principle, either economic, moral, or aesthetic. 

We all understand at some level that allowing people to eat and sleep for free reduces their incentive to get up in the morning and go to work for money. Some people at public forums seem to treat the problem as exactly that simple. You can hear it in the complaints about how the free dinners will only serve to bring in more of the homeless. These remarks usually finish with the worry that if we invite people for free food, they will stick around. 

 The underlying message, generally unspoken but plainly not unthought, is that allowing people to live for free goes against our values, sometimes abbreviated as the free enterprise system. If people can get jobs, even low paying jobs, then they can at least pay for their next meal. Also unspoken is the obvious thought, "If I have to work for my food and shelter, then why should we as a society set aside some group to be free of these requirements?"

Of course this argument breaks down if there are few jobs to be had and too many people looking for jobs. That was the case in the great depression of the 1930s, and it was certainly the case in Los Angeles for part of the recent recession. It seems to continue as a problem even now, although the economy has been improving slowly over the past five or six years. We can insist that people try to function in a free market economy, but it is obvious that there are some who fail. At this level, avoiding the homelessness issue strikes many of us as immoral. We clash, at least intellectually, with those who would prefer to put them all on a bus and send them somewhere else. 

At the level of simple reality, most of us realize that southern California is the somewhere else that the homeless come to, when they aren't from here anyway. 

Another way that the argument breaks down is when large numbers of children are affected. In this case, the potentially hungry ones are not responsible for their own situation. They are just victims. 

There are some homeless people who either could get some level of employment, or would have been able to be gainfully employed had they not wrecked their lives along the way. Those who avoided education in order to play around, and those who have spent many years engaging in recreational drug abuse, fit into that category. Another group who spent years in low level crime fit the category as largely unemployable. 

There are different kinds of homeless people, from the economically unfit to the mentally ill to the wanderers. No one approach helps them all, and no approach seems to be a full solution for any one category. We're left with half solutions at best. We should admit to that fact and agree that since we have compromise solutions at best, we should get on with creating the correct compromise. Let us create a societal agreement that will help people as best we can without destroying the economic fabric, and get on with it. 

What sort of compromise shall we engage in? I think that we have some clues from a recent column here in CityWatch by General Jeff.  He asks the simple question, where do people go to wash their hands? Extended a bit, the idea of basic sanitation as a civic necessity becomes obvious. As a society, we might decide that there are certain minimal comforts that everyone should have. To start, we should begin with General Jeff's comments and decide that drinking fountains, toilets, and soap and water are available, even on the streets. It's not such a bad idea even for the rest of us who have homes to return to, because we might be out on the streets, or in a place where there is no McDonald's men's room. 

The solution, such as it is, bridges the difference between the angry authoritarian approach and its opposite. 

We might also decide that there is some minimal amount of square footage that should be available for people to put down their blankets and doze. We can debate over where such places can be allowed, and whether there should be some form of encampments, but there ought to be some place for the weary man to put his head. 

And it doesn't have to be on the local park bench or in a residential neighborhood. This limitation by itself would remedy some of the gripes by people who have homes in residential neighborhoods and by business owners who currently deal with homeless encampments right outside their front doors. Down here, the Port of Los Angeles has seven thousand acres of land and lots of old warehouses that are no longer of much use. 

Since we have lots of homeless people and they have to sleep somewhere, we ought to think long and hard, and develop the compromise that allows for sanitation in the city and sleep for the weary. 

The big compromise will necessarily have to deal with the other big question of how to limit rewarding indolence, since that is a theme we hear repeatedly at the public forums. The big compromise requires that we provide people on the margin with some level of incentive to make good. My guess is that the social decision will be to make homelessness a little more comfortable and a lot more sanitary, but not as comfortable as life for working people. That's how the society as a whole dealt with welfare over the years. Its is far from a perfect solution, but it is something. 

Meanwhile, the real heroes are the social workers who talk to the homeless every day, trying to talk them into coming indoors and every once in a while, convincing someone to accept mental and social services.


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






Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

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