25
Sat, May

Neighborhood Politics

The Failure of Neighborhood Council Grievance Panels

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Grievance panels and election challenge panels are one and the same. And they don't work. 

In 2 different election/referendums, the appointed panelists were over ruled by the general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE). 

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Another One-Finger Salute to Neighborhood Councils

NEIGHBORHOOD SUPPRESSION-At a recent hearing of a Neighborhood Council Election Challenge Review Panel, the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) and the Skid Row Formation Committee testified before the Panel regarding three challenges on the Skid Row Neighborhood Council subdivision election. A special shout-out to General Jeff and his committee for their hard work in organizing an under-represented group of stakeholders in Skid Row. DONE and the DLANC were allowed 10 minutes each to speak against the challenges; the Skid Row Formation Committee, who filed the challenges, was allowed 10 minutes. 

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CD 7 Anti-Corruption Group wants Public Works to Stay Out of Politics

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Dear Council President Wesson and Board President Kevin James: We are writing you, as community advocates, to urge you to use your power to right a wrong that has tainted the City Council race in District 7 and threatens to undermine the public’s trust in city institutions.

The Board of Public Works was created to prevent the politicization of public works services, to ensure the city invests in public works projects according to residents’ needs, and to stay away from the corrosive influence of political machines, political campaigns and cronyism.

On Thursday, April 27, a person affiliated with Sylmar Graffiti Busters, a contractor with the Department of Public Works, was caught on security cameras trespassing onto private property in Sylmar (located at 13701 Sayre Street, 91342) and illegally removing campaign signs. The representative can be seen on video driving a Sylmar Graffiti Busters truck and wearing a vest like those worn by workers associated with this city contractor. In the video, the person walks onto private property through a gateway to remove signs that were legally placed there. The signs belonged to Karo Torossian, one of two candidates vying to become the next representative of Council District 7. As you know, the election is on May 16.

This breach of public trust was so blatant that CBS 2's David Goldstein investigated the misdeed and reported on it in a May 9 segment titled “Controversy Swirls Around Campaign-Sign Removals In LA City Council Race.”

We can reach no other logical conclusion than that this illegal act was perpetrated to benefit the campaign of Torossian’s opponent in the election, former Board of Public Works Commissioner Monica Rodriguez. Rodriguez has close ties with the organization in question and we have on good authority that she has met privately with their leaders and directors to discuss how they can help her campaign.

We hereby request an immediate investigation into this incident, and we demand answers on how the Board of Public Works plans to punish those involved in the misuse and misdirection of taxpayer dollars for private gain. Our communities already suffer by receiving an unfairly small share of city resources, which makes it all the more insulting to have beautification dollars being wasted on dirty campaign tricks to benefit a former Board Commissioner. This violation threatens to undermine our trust in city institutions and run contrary to the founding mission of the Board of Public Works.

We urge you to act quickly and do the right thing. This wasn’t a mistake. This wasn’t a fluke. It was a deliberate action taken to influence the outcome of an election. We would like a response in writing on or before Friday, May 12, detailing how you plan to address this matter. Please send it to [email protected]. 

(This letter, sent under the name ‘CD 7 Residents Against Corruption’, was signed by:  Chandra Prater, Abby Diamond, Hon. Patty Lopez, Dale Gibson, Doreen Przybyla, Pati Potter, Mary Ellen Eltgroth, and Alfredo Diaz)

-cw

Is Venice a Myth?

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Maybe there really is no there here — not now — maybe there never was.

Did we just all fall in love with the irascible Venice of our dreams? We imagine ourselves as the unique one — the interesting — the doers — we bask in the idea that we are the vibrant happening town overflowing with artists, one-of-a-kind, seriously intent on cultivating the feeling of being in a real place.

We smugly look at the ‘others’ with sad eyes. They, who hold urgent meetings to deal with a cracked sidewalk. We, the noble ones, superior human beings determined not to be swallowed up in that ‘good life.’ No utopia for us here! We’re Venetians! We thrive on the internecine development fights occurring on a near daily basis.

We thrive on the latest outrage inflicted on us by the city. We beat our chests to get the LAPD to take a report about a mugging on ‘the coolest street in America.’ And, we remind you, some schmo just paid 8 million bucks for a tear-down. We can only guess that he thought it was worth the price of admission to drink the best wine, eat the best sushi, crow about the endless new restaurants selling one kind of faux food or another, and who gives a damn if he has to wait a couple of days for the LAPD to get an officer out here to take a police report.

Over there, where the sidewalks don’t have a crack, three cop cars respond at once to the most minor crime. The biggest story there is the guy with his RV parked on the driveway for months — who knows, maybe they Airbnb there too. But, we unique ones — we’re tough! We’re tolerant. We’re patient. We’re loyal. We take all comers. One moment we grouse about the kid sleeping on a shop’s front porch, the next, we are trying to figure out if his puppy is getting its shots.

Maybe that’s our secret. We are not a myth. You can throw anything at us—we deal with it all like conquering soldiers — we don’t quit. Just don’t make us live where all the houses are white and the roofs are red. We reject their architecture police. We crave the distinct place. The big idea! Where else will you find impromptu cocktail hours form on a Sunday afternoon where regulars migrate like they were magnetized — all living that idea that this place is real. In this crazy topsy-turvy world our craziness is almost charming. No matter how Aspen-like we are becoming, the kernel of uniqueness is alive. But we sure have to put up with a lot of **** to live this vibrant madness. We don’t want that groomed HOA controlled neighborhood here — don’t clean us or polish us!

Corner lots sell for 8 million, lofts rent for 40K — one creative marketing company is even renting two of them on the street now — hot dog trucks park illegally for days, the line is around the block for $5 ice cream scoops and $4 donuts. And yet, they come. They come because they feel alive and that’s why we are not a myth—where else can you say that?

We old Venice denizens just want the cops to show up when we call them… and the Rooster truck to take a hike.

(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are Co-founders of ImagineVenice)

-cw

Make your Voice Heard! Get Involved!

NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--After the releases of the City o Los Angeles Budget Summery on April 20, 2017, we went out into the community to get their perspective on the city's Budget Proposal.

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NC Budget Advocates: ‘Mayor Has Made Little Budget Progress Last Four Years’

NC BUDGET ADVOCATES--According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) California is now the sixth-largest economy in the world, surpassing France, thanks to the healthy state economy. This claim to fame dims when looking over Los Angeles city finances. 

According to the white paper released by the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates on March 8, the City's revenues have increased by $1 billion (22%) over the last four years but the City has made little progress in addressing the financial issues that have historically impacted its budget for the last four years. The City continues to have a Structural Deficit. A structural deficit occurs when expenditures such as salaries, benefits, and pension contributions increase faster than revenues. 

In January 2017 the City Administrative Office (CAO) Stated Los Angeles has a $224-million budget deficit heading into this 2017-18 fiscal year. Due to the recent labor agreements, high dollar court settlements and funding for housing/homeless services piling up expenses. This deficit jeopardizes expansion of city services in the future, the CAO report suggests. Several Los Angeles city departments could also be impacted by projected $245 million deficit. 

The city's deficits comes from lawsuit payouts, including a $210 million settlement to resolve a 2012 case in which advocacy groups made claims that required accessibility features for disabled residents were not included in housing that received public funding. 

In 2016 the city controller's office issued two reports showing a projected budget deficit of $170 million, from "property tax in-lieu of sales tax" receipts, a bond repayment mechanism known as Proposition 57, a ballot initiative passed 13 years ago. 

In 2014, the city reported being $95 million in the red due to overtime wages. The deficit needs to be addressed directly and in the 2017 white paper the NCBALA suggested implementing a Back to Basics Plan. The Budget Advocates urge the Mayor and the City Council to develop and implement a "Back to Basics" ordinance. The resulting increase in transparency and accountability will begin to restore Angelenos' trust and confidence in City Hall. This Back to Basics Plan should include, but not be limited to, the following: 

  • Create an independent "Office of Transparency and Accountability" to analyze and report on the City's budget, evaluate new legislation, examine existing issues and service standards, and increase accountability. 
  • Adopt a "Truth in Budgeting" ordinance that requires the City to develop a three-year budget and a three-year baseline budget with the goal of understanding the longer-term consequences of its policies and legislation. (Council File 14-1184-S2) 
  • Establish a "Commission for Retirement Security" to review the City's retirement obligations in order to promote an accurate understanding of the facts and develop concrete recommendations on how to achieve equilibrium on retirement costs within five years. This Commission will also address the Buffett Rule and the investment rate assumptions of the pension plans. 

For more detailed information on the White Paper and NC Budget Adovcates: NCBLA.com  

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: [email protected].) [[hotlink]

-cw

LA’s Neighborhood Councils Bombarded with More Election Changes

ENOUGH ALREADY--Neighborhood Councils are being asked by the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) to weigh in on the elections starting in 2018. This is necessitated by the City Clerk’s inability to conduct the NC elections in 2020, which requires a shift to odd numbered years starting with 2019. 

The choices being offered by DONE are: 

(1) Conduct the 2018 elections as scheduled. Board members elected would have a three year term. 

(2) Extend the current board term for one year and conduct the elections in 2019 

(3) Conduct the 2018 elections for a one year term and then have another election in 2019. 

Option Number 2 should not be considered. What publically elected official/governing body can vote to extend their term after an election? It is self-serving for NC Board Members to be asked to vote on their own term extension. The NC Stakeholders should be a major part of this decision. As Stakeholders, we feel totally disenfranchised by this unfair option. 

Options 1 or 3 are acceptable, as neither of them changes the rules after-the-fact. These should be the only options under consideration. 

Where is the Outreach to the Stakeholders? Shouldn’t they be engaged in the decision that affects the terms of their NC Board Members? When the Stakeholders voted in the 2016 election they were told it was for two year terms (with the exception of the few NCs with four year terms). 

The unspent NC funding allocations from 2016 (estimated at $2.4 million) should be carried over exclusively for the 2018 Election Outreach. This is a more meaningful use of these dollars, as it promotes more civic engagement on a local level. Outreach was always the primary purpose in the Charter for the use of the NC funding. It is time to get back to the basics. 

We respectfully urge that there be no extension of terms and funding allocations remain with the NCs for the 2018 Election Outreach.

 

(Judy Price Valley Glen community activist.  Lisa Sarkin Studio City community activist.)

 

-cw

Venice: One Step Forward, Two (or Three) Steps Back

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Despite challenges from two local residents to unseat the current council person, our councilman gets to continue his benign neglect of Venice for another six years.

There is nothing sexy about our issues. None of them will grab any headlines. They are just the mundane; people camping on sidewalks, selling out of cars and on blankets on the sidewalk, Airbnb’s continue to decimate our housing stock, food trucks are parked illegally all day running their compressors and spewing food smells into homes as they pay the ‘rent’ from that rare parking ticket. Enforcement issues continue to pile up — unenforced.

The enforcement issue is very unique in Venice. This couldn’t possibly happen in Brentwood. Their residents wouldn’t put up with the stuff we endure here for a minute. You won’t see a campground on any one of their sidewalks. The scofflaws here are so certain that nothing will happen to them, they continue their creative ways to avoid compliance of city codes, whether it is using property (despite numerous citations) as a moneymaking billboard or a restaurateur determined to avoid compliance with his building permit(s.)

Problems linger and linger. The effort to stop the Bonin-supported land grab of the Sr. Center at Westminster Park for a homeless storage operation continues. Short-term rental syndicates still plunder our housing stock and the ABC is still considering an alcohol license for a so-called ‘bakery’ that slams right up to residences. Alas, the ‘gold rush’ continues. There is so much money being made in Venice now that it is just about blasphemy to speak against our new warlords. 

Many individual groups are working to fix things in this community. Not much progress is being made despite lawyer involvement in a multitude of neighborhood struggles. Residents put in endless hours working to protect our quality of life in this town but they are pretty much on their own.

The big money people get what they want in Venice. Snapchat (photo above) comes to the head of the pack for the antagonism that operation generates. They are like an octopus. Landlords give them other people’s precious parking spaces and they take over entire residential buildings and units for their commercial use. 

Their quasi-military force is now seen all over Venice. Created to protect the “Snapsters” from the unwashed who might hassle them a bit while at the same time, they claim to like our “culture” and love “being part of the community.” You are what you do and the truth is quite the opposite. They demand protection to live and work here. 

Their security force, in the minds of many, represents exactly who our super new rich people are. They are our new elite. We call them our eiliterati. They certainly are not Venetians. They eat our food, drink our wine and throw some money around where it shows for PR purposes. They keep the streets around their venues cleaner. But does Venice need theirs or any private security force patrolling our public streets? 

They are grazing here.

We need to mention our latest newcomer: Adidas is moving into the old Hal’s restaurant space… they announced their arrival on the front of the building with signs that proclaimed they will be “defining Venice.” Adidas heard the very loud cries of community outrage and quickly removed the signs. Not much more can be said about that huge display of corporate hubris — especially while authentically Venice-grungy Abbot’s Habit is in its final countdown to make room for the next new soulless shiny object.

In the meantime, all that fairy dust will continue to float on our ocean breezes. When it floats out to sea and stays there, what will Venice be left with beside lots of vacant buildings and apartments?

Maybe that will be a good thing.

 

(Marian Crostic and Elaine Spierer are Co-founders of ImagineVenice)

-cw

Make a Difference … Be a Budget Advocate

NEIGHBOROOD COUNCILS BUDGET ADVOCATES--Do you want to get more involved? Are you already advocating for your community? Come be a part of Democracy in Action: Budget Day 2017. 

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have invited citizens of Los Angeles to make your voice heard on local City Services, the city’s fiscal budget and how your money is spent. Every community is different and every community has their own set of problem areas. Here is your chance to let the Mayor’s office, Los Angeles City Council and the City Hall Departments know exactly what matters to you the most! 

As elected officials to the City of Los Angeles, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates represent each and every stakeholder in the City of Los Angeles. We invite you to come work side by side with the Budget Advocate to help pinpoint the problem areas in our city as well as highlight the areas that are successful. 

The 36 Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, representing 12 regions throughout the City, will be in attendance. Make your voice heard and follow our progress throughout the year. 

The NCBAs meet twice a month, the first Monday of the month at 7 PM and the third Saturday of the month at 10 AM to discuss the City’s Budget and finances. The NCBAs also meet with most of the departments and issue departmental reports throughout the year. The NCBAs also issue an annual White Paper, usually in March, that contains their recommendations regarding the departments and the Budget. The departmental reports are part of the White Paper. 

For more information and to check out the 2017 white paper, visit NCBALA.com

Please register for this free event:

 

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: [email protected].)

-cw

South Bay Rises Against the Fossil Fuel Status Quo

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The Donald Trump administration may be committed to rolling back regulations that protect the environment, but Harbor Area and South Bay residents are ready to fight. The action at the South Coast Air Quality Management District meeting on April 1 regarding the PBF Energy Refinery in Torrance, is just the latest example.

About 50 of the 300 people in the room resolutely waved “Ban Toxic MFH” signs whenever MHF was mentioned by the board or speakers.

This meeting took place partly as a result of Torrance residents that became active following the former Exxon Mobil refinery explosion two years before PBF Energy took it over. In February, about 100 people marched in the rain to protest the refinery’s continued use of the alkylation catalyst, modified hydrofluoric acid or MHF. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and PBF Energy gave reports at the hearing. The main topics were the refinery’s MHF, and public opinion on the chemical.

Speakers explained that in 2015, shrapnel from the explosion nearly pierced a tank containing MHF; a rupture or explosion of the tank would have released gaseous MHF that could have affected 30,000 people.

“MHF not only burns because it is an acid, it is a systematic poison,” said Sally Hayati, panelist at the hearing and president of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance.

Fluoride ions from hydrofluoric acid easily absorb into human skin. They then bond with calcium in human bodies, making it unavailable; without calcium, cardiac arrest can result. Lungs can also fill with blood and water.

Laboratory scientists consider hydrofluoric acid to be one of the most dangerous chemicals to handle. Using EPA guidelines, Hayati and a team of other scientists determined that the worst case scenario from an MHF release would be lethal exposure.

Since the explosion two years ago, the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance has informed the community of MHF’s potential danger as a refinery catalyst. Their campaign has been successful, prompting government officials to respond to the will of the people.

“My No. 1 priority is to make the people safer,” said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, who represents Torrance. “I have introduced a plan to the Assembly to not just make [the PBF refinery] safer but all refineries. That includes a ban on MHF.”

Muratsuchi’s plan consists of five Assembly bills: AB 1645, AB 1646, AB 1647, AB 1648 and AB 1649. In addition to banning MHF, the other bills would call for real time air quality monitoring, a community alert system, more refinery inspectors and codification of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Interagency Refinery Task Force.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who was also present at the SCAQMD hearing, supports Muratsuchi’s bills.

“This is personal for me … it involves the safety of my constituents,” said Hahn. “It’s a common sense plan.”

Elected officials from Torrance, including the mayor, were in attendance as well. On March 28, the city council voted against a phase out of MHF. However, Mayor Patrick Furey told SCAQMD board members and the audience about two resolutions the council adopted. One encourages the refinery to adopt safety measures. The other supports regulations that include a safer catalyst than MHF.

Safer catalysts include sulfuric acid and solid acid.  Laki Tisopulos, an engineer with the SCAQMD, and Glyn Jenkins, a consultant with Bastleford Engineering and Consultancy, discussed each catalyst and its potential to replace MHF.

They said that sulfuric acid has been used instead of MHF to refine fossil fuels for decades. Out of the 18 refineries in the state of California, 16 use sulfuric acid. Converting the PBF refinery would cost between $100 million and $200 million.

Solid acid technology is newer. But Jenkins said that there is a refinery in the United Kingdom that successfully refines fossil fuels with it. The same refinery switched away from MHF because it was considered too risky. Like the name suggests, the solid acid process uses a solid catalyst. No acid clouds would result from an explosion, making it safer than either the gaseous MHF or sulfuric acid.

Tisopulos estimated that converting the PBF refinery to use solid acid would cost $120 million initially. Additional costs would come whenever the catalyst had to be replaced.

PBF Energy has not embraced the idea of switching catalysts. In an advertisement in the Daily Breeze, the company stated, “We are confident that the many layers of protection, mitigation steps, and safety systems we have in place allow us to operate the MHF Alkylation Unit safely…”

Their own estimate for converting to another catalyst was around $500 million.

“The discourse [between PBF Energy and the community] has been if the chemical is changed, we lose jobs,” Torrance Councilman Tim Goodrich said.

Fearing any potential job loss, various refinery workers and union members stood up during the hearing’s public comment section and said that they support the status quo. They feel the refinery is safe enough and that the explosion this past year was a fluke.

“…[T]here is no reason why MHF can’t be phased out while jobs are protected,” Hahn responded. “I believe the switch will accelerate newer and safer alternatives, innovation,  and lead to better jobs.”

Muratsuchi agreed. He said he doesn’t want to see the refinery shut down, but it should be safer.

In November 2016, the EPA inspected the safety of the PBF Energy refinery.

“They were not following their own safety procedures,” said Dan Meer, assistant director of the Superfund Division of the EPA.

The EPA released a preliminary report on the inspection in March.

“There are issues the refinery needs to address,” Meer said. “If I had to a rate the current risk, with 10 being an emergency situation, [PBF] would be somewhere between a 5 and 7.”

Meer went on to explain that PBF did not have permits to store certain chemicals it has on site. Management is also not effectively communicating with workers, which could be dangerous in an emergency situation. PBF has until the end of April to respond to the EPA and make changes. Otherwise, the EPA will take administrative and legal action.

“This is an urgent public safety risk,” Hayati said. “The refinery should not be in operation at least until the EPA verifies that procedures are being followed.”

Although the local United Steelworkers don’t want to change the catalyst, the steelworkers at the international level feel differently. A study completed by United Steelworkers found 131 HF releases or near misses and hundreds of refinery violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.

“The industry has the technology and expertise [to eliminate MHF and HF],” the report stated. “It certainly has the money. It lacks only the will.  And, if it cannot find the will voluntarily, it must be forced by government action.”

Los Angeles Harbor

The SCAQMD has plans to release an environmental impact report on the Tesoro Corporation’s desire to combine its Wilmington refinery with the former British Petroleum refinery in Carson. Environmental organizations view the report as flawed and will call attention to Tesoro’s plans at the Los Angeles People’s Climate March on April 29.

In 2012, Tesoro purchased the refinery in Carson. Tesoro’s expansion into that site would include adding storage tanks to hold 3.4 million barrels of oil.

Communities for a Better Environment and other climate advocates oppose the expansion. But the focus of the march will be to inform the people about Tesoro’s lack of accuracy and transparency in detailing the project’s impacts to the SCAQMD.

“Tesoro has said that this project is going to reduce emissions and will be ‘cleaner,’ but they admitted to their investors that they are switching to a dirtier crude,” said Alicia Rivera, a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment.

In a presentation to investors, Tesoro called the type of crude oil, “advantaged crude.” The advantage is that it is cheaper than standard crude. The new type of crude will originate from the Canadian Tar Sands and the Midwest’s Bakken Formation. (About 75 percent will come from North Dakota and 25 percent will come from Canada.)

“These fuels have different characteristics than what Tesoro is refining [in Wilmington] now,” said Julie May, senior scientist with Communities for a Better Environment. “They behave more like gasoline. They contain more benzene, which is a volatile organic compound that causes leukemia.”

The draft environmental impact report that Tesoro submitted to the SCAQMD does not clearly mention a crude oil switch. In a comment letter to the SCAQMD, May explained that this failure does not meet the California Environmental Air Quality Act’s project description requirements. Consequently, no one can properly analyze the switches’ impacts, environmental effects and risks to community and worker health and safety.

Another major reason Communities for a Better Environment wants to march against Tesoro is the corporation’s failure to properly evaluate the scope of the project. If the environmental impact report is approved, the refinery will receive fuel via ships traveling from Vancouver, Wash. Vancouver is the site of a rail-to-oil tanker terminal in which Tesoro and Savage Energy invested.

“That [terminal] is the bridge to bring dirty crudes from North Dakota and Canada,” Rivera said. “We call the rail cars that transport the fuel ‘bomb trains’ because some have derailed and exploded.”

Refineries and projects like this undoubtedly have an impact on Harbor Area residents. The challenge now for Communities for a Better Environment is getting residents to come out to the march. Rivera and other Communities for a Better Environment members acknowledged that many of residents are immigrants or working class people; for them, climate change is not always a tangible concept nor an immediate concern.

But Communities for a Better Environment is determined.

“We have youth members going to elementary and middle schools and colleges,” Rivera said. “We are pamphleting markets and Catholic churches. When we inform [people] about this project, they want the expansion to stop.”

On the day of the march, Communities for a Better Environment will circulate a petition to marchers.  Its purpose is to pressure the SCAQMD to take Tesoro’s EIR back to a draft stage. Then it can properly detail the project and allow for public input.

The SCAQMD has the authority to finalize the EIR before the march. But that won’t stop Communities for a Better Environment from trying to get the community engaged.

“We need to bring attention to local industries trying to expand in a time when they should be cutting down their emissions,” Rivera said. “Tesoro’s Los Angeles refinery is the highest greenhouse polluter in the state. If the project goes forward, it will be the largest refinery on the West Coast.”

 

(Christian L. Guzman is community reporter at Random Lengths … where this report originated.)

-cw

Westwood Must Learn from Measure S Failure, Promote Housing Projects

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The failure of Measure S, which would have put a two-year moratorium on development projects in Los Angeles, is a victory in the fight for affordable housing for UCLA students. But there’s still a long way to go.

It’s no secret Westwood has one of the highest rents in Los Angeles with an average of $4,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment – well above the average city rent of $2,650 per month. Because UCLA does not guarantee housing for fourth-year students, most UCLA students live off campus at some point during their college career. Although living off campus is cheaper than living on the Hill, off-campus housing prices are still unaffordable for most students, especially when rents are increasing.

But the trend of rising rent doesn’t have to continue if the Westwood Neighborhood Council gets involved. WWNC, which makes recommendations to the Los Angeles City Council about development projects in Westwood, has often opposed high-density housing, advising the council against approving development plans that would increase the amount of people who could live in Westwood. However, such high-density housing could lower rent prices in Westwood by increasing the availability of housing options and improve business in the Village.

Considering how expensive it is to live in Westwood and the number of students seeking affordable housing here, WWNC must take the cue from last week’s election that residents want to shift toward high-density development and help approve more high-density housing projects. They can do so by urging City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the neighborhood in the city council, to approve more affordable housing projects in Westwood. Doing so would not only give cash-strapped students much-needed relief from high rents but could also help businesses in the Village thrive by bringing in more people to patronize them.

The council’s opposition to high-density projects is not new. The Land Use and Planning Committee often uses the excuse that these projects have higher bedroom counts than apartments and therefore will not fit the local aesthetic, but this an arbitrary distinction. They often also cite overcrowding of the community and lower home values as reasons to disapprove of these projects.

Most recently, they advised the city council against granting a developer a Land Conditional Use Permit to build a fraternity house at 611 S. Gayley Ave., considering it a “boarding house” since it had too many rooms. But this “boarding house” could have housed many Bruins.

And it’s not just inconvenient – the lack of affordable housing in Westwood has undermined students’ well-being. Students wholive off campus struggle to secure reasonably priced housing. Additionally, the high cost of living off campus has led to problems such as greater food insecurity, since students have less money to spend on nutritious food and do not have the security of a meal plan.

 Expensive housing in Westwood has also hurt the broader Westwood community. Rising housing prices push low- and middle-income people out of the neighborhood since they cannot afford rent. Having fewer people in the village will further stagnate Westwood’s economy – one that should be vibrant but instead is sluggish. If Westwood becomes more of a destination to visit than a place to live, there will be fewer people walking around the village, and thus, less foot traffic for the businesses in Westwood.

In response to the damaging effects of unaffordable housing in the village, the WWNC needs to urge Koretz to fight for more affordable housing projects in Westwood.

He’ll listen. In fact, he often takes the neighborhood council’s advice on development projects, said Lisa Chapman, president of the WWNC. For example, in 2011 the neighborhood council convinced Koretz to not let the city auction off parking garages in Westwood to private bidders since Westwood residents wanted to maintain free parking in the Village. The WWNC should take similar action and represent its constituents who voted against Measure S by pressuring Koretz to approve high-density housing.

Of course, some WWNC members and homeowners in Westwood think higher-density housing will make the Village too crowded and undesirable. However, that belief is out of tune with what city residents think. The fact that Measure S failed indicates that most people who voted in Los Angeles think that fighting development projects is the wrong solution to housing problems.

Certainly,high-density housing will make Westwood more crowded, but current development with many low-level apartments and single-family homes shows that Westwood is not near capacity –meaning it could fit a lot more people with efficient development.

The choice is clear: Either Westwood can collect dust as an aging LA neighborhood or it can revitalize itself by opening its doors to more affordable housing. LA voters made their choice. It’s time for WWNC to follow suit.

(Emily Merz’ perspectives appear regularly in the Daily Bruin … where this viewpoint was first posted.)

-cw

Los Angeles NC Budget Advocates – Civic Hearts with Their Minds on the Money

UPDATE--Answering the call to be a Neighborhood Budget Advocate is not for the faint hearted. Recently the budget advocates met with Mayor Garcetti to discuss the White Paper, (research, recommendations for fiscal responsibility of city departments and offer alternative options for revenue generation), and of that group attendance more than 10 are new to budget advocacy. Who would be attracted to what some call a complicated game of find the money molly? 

We asked Amy Foell – Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, Ivette Ale – Voices of 37 Neighborhood Council and Brigette Kidd – Zapata-King Neighborhood Council three new budget advocates the following questions; 

What interested you in the role of the neighborhood council budget advocate? 

Amy Foell: I decided to educate and empower myself and my community through public service. It’s important to understand how our tax dollars are being utilized. Many Los Angelenos are not aware of how City Hall is spending our money collected from taxes. 

Ivette Ale: As the Treasurer and new member of my neighborhood council, I was seeking opportunities to learn more about the City budget and ways I can better serve. I attended Budget Day and I learned that Budget Advocates was a body that had a "seat at the table" in city government and to amplify the voices of stakeholders in my district

Brigette Kidd: My initial goal for running for a seat on the Zapata-King Neighborhood Council was to find out how I could get trees trimmed in the area that overshadowed light poles and stop signs which was safety issue; and also made some locations easy for tagging. I knew it wasn’t where you lived, but how you lived that could make a difference. 

Budget advocates play an important role by providing recommendations to how the City can run more efficiently, what was your role in the White Paper that was presented to the Mayor on March 8, 2017? What did you learn? 

Amy Foell: I researched assigned departments, interviewed department heads and co-wrote sections of the White Paper. I covered the Economic & Workforce Development Department as well as the Department on Disability. Each department has their own personality and level of openness towards BA’s objectives. I believe our City can bring in much more revenue by harnessing solar power and other sustainable practices. 

Ivette Ale: As the chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee, I organized a discussion with department leadership and drafted the subsequent recommendations for the Cultural Affairs Department. I learned that there are issues that span across several departments. For instance, access to the City's internet backbone and standardizing technology is a consistent problem across the board, for example the Cultural Affairs Department lack of tech support prevents the department from capturing revenue and maximizing use of facilities. 

Brigette Kidd: I chaired the Information Technology Committee. As Ivette mentioned technology is a major problem. The ITA is making some strides with the creation of the 311 app, but inefficiencies are from lack of communication from one department to another and that each department has different technology goals. The major road block is unifying departmental goals to create an intuitive, reliable and easy to update technology system that protects critical assets (water, utilities, sewage), and communicate across all departments while providing transparency and clear costs to tax payers. 

Why is it beneficial for others to get involved as a budget advocate or budget representative for their NC/area? 

Amy Foell: It would be great if every citizen had to take a turn as a budget advocate for LA. I would wager the positives would offset the negatives. Folks would gain a greater understanding of the various departments, monies allocated and spent. Amazing ideas and solutions would develop and voter turn-out would dramatically increase. This utopian vision may be a stretch goal, but a woman can dream. Just over a year ago today I was completely unaware of neighborhood councils and budget advocates. Today I’m a District B representative for Los Feliz neighborhood Council, co-chair of the environmental affairs committee, and a budget advocate. The learning curve is steep but anyone can do this because we all care about our home

Ivette Ale: Looking around the room at a budget advocate's meeting, it is evident that there are gaps in community representation. Becoming actively involved in budget advocates provides an avenue to legitimize, vocalize and amplify the concerns of our areas. But regardless of political background and identity, at the heart of budget advocates is a desire for transparency and accountability. It is an underutilized body with the potential to be transformative with increased, diversity and participation.  

Brigette Kidd: Learning how to challenge effectively. As a budget advocate you can challenge budget issues with research and facts. Get involved because you are either adding, subtracting multiplying or dividing. 

If you are interested in getting involved in your local neighborhood council or becoming a budget advocate check out Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate Responsibilities.  

 

(Adrienne Edwards and Brigette Kidd are Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. More info at ncbala.com.) 

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SG Valley Tribune Report: Trains Win Foothill Transit Race … Buses will Go

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--A year of record boardings on the San Gabriel Valley’s Gold Line train is suppressing bus ridership, causing a local independent operator to propose substantial reductions to lines that offer similar service.

As a response to a passenger shift from buses to the light-rail foothill extension running from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border for a year, West Covina-based Foothill Transit is proposing to slash bus lines, including Line 187, one of the most popular east-west bus routes that runs from Montclair to Pasadena, across the foothill cities of the San Gabriel Valley.

Foothill Transit will de-emphasize the connection between Azusa and Pasadena by splitting the line into two: an eastern and a western segment.

“With regards to Line 187 as it relates to the Gold Line, the Azusa to Pasadena ridership has really fallen off,” said Kevin McDonald, deputy executive director of Foothill Transit. “We are keeping the eastern portion, which will go to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and the Santa Anita Mall in Arcadia.”

Under the proposed restructuring plan voted for public consideration by the governing board on Friday, the agency will cut Line 187 in half, which will continue to run from Pasadena to Azusa. The split will also create Line 188, which will from Azusa to Montclair. (Read the rest.) 

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Hawthorne Council Defies Public, Extends Councilmember Terms for a Year

HAWTHORNE--In a move that stunned local residents, the Hawthorne City Council voted to extend their own terms by an additional year in the March 14th, 2017 meeting.

Under the guise of compliance with Senate Bill 415, city leaders swiftly made a motion to bring Hawthorne Ordinance 2136 from the table and called for an immediate vote. Ordinance 2136 serves to alter the election cycle of the City of Hawthorne by extending current terms by one year to accommodate the switch to even-year elections.

Two weeks prior, Councilmember Haidar Awad called for the ordinance to be tabled indefinitely due to public outcry, leading many residents to believe the ordinance would not be voted on.

Councilmember Nilo Michelin quickly objected to the motion on March 14th to bring the ordinance off the table and called for discussion. He was censured by Mayor Vargas because he was out of his seat during the motion. After a second objection by Michelin, Mayor Vargas called the vote again but allowed discussion on the Ordinance 2136 after.

“There are other ways to do this,” cited Councilman Nilo Michelin. “The state said that the elections need to be on even years by 2022. There’s nothing about extending terms. It could start in 2017 or 2019. It could be shorter terms.”

Councilmember Awad quipped that the residents in opposition were running for political office themselves, and only serving self-interests. After allowing Michelin and Awad time to speak, the Mayor again called for a vote on the ordinance which passed 4-1.

Up for re-election in November 2017 were Councilwomen Olivia Valentine and Angie English-Reyes. Valentine was appointed to council in a special appointment process after losing her seat by election to incumbent Nilo Michelin and newly elected Haidar Awad. Both Valentine and English-Reyes remained silent during the discussion, but ultimately voted to give themselves an additional year to fundraise and campaign.

BECOME INVOLVED

Several residents are gathering outside of City Hall on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017, prior to the City Council Meeting to speak out against sitting elected officials canceling a scheduled election and extending their own terms. Advocates for voting rights are encouraged to come and participate. The address to Hawthorne City Hall is 4455 W. 126th Street, Hawthorne CA 90250.

(Amie Shepard is an activist and a one-time candidate for Hawthorne City Council.)

-cw

Hollywood Target Project Back on Track

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--The city’s plan to put the unfinished Target project in Hollywood back on track moved ahead on Wednesday after the city council approved a plan in which Target will pay a $1.2 million in-lieu fee for employee child care.

The issue regarding how Target would satisfy the city’s requirement to provide childcare was one of the final steps for the project to receive approval to resume construction. However, the project still must clear a remaining hurdle in court before construction can begin again on the partially completed store at Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue.

The Los Angeles Superior Court must rule on a lawsuit filed by the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association, which contends the city violated zoning laws in approving the project because it exceeded allowable height limits. A court hearing on the matter is expected to occur soon.

The Los Angeles Superior Court previously ruled in favor of the neighborhood association and construction was stopped in 2014. Target appealed the ruling to an appellate court, and the city altered zoning regulations at the site to allow for a taller building. The La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association filed a second lawsuit against the revised zoning plan last year, and the appellate court sent the matter back to the superior court for consideration. (Read the rest.) 

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Exposing LA Planning System Abuse

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Thank you for your support Thank you for standing up for your property rights.  Thank you for being someone who wants to allow Los Angeles to flourish. If it were not for you, we would have never brought light to this abuse of the planning system.  We have received calls from other neighborhoods in which HPOZs are in process inquiring how to stop theirs.  The answer is to organize and stand up early enough in the process, not be afraid to speak out.  We did that. Without us taking a stand together, we could not have achieved what we did: a significantly liberalized Preservation Plan. Your energy gave us a voice. 

Yesterday’s Planning Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee was a stark reminder that even when it appears you have a chance, the cards may be stacked against you. It was a stark reminder of the inequalities of politics.  It was a stark reminder that we live in a great city which can make great errors in judgement. Government is a machine oiled with backroom promises and lack of discussion. Yesterday was a reminder of that.   PLUM’s decision to push the Miracle Mile HPOZ to City Council is an indication of everything that is wrong with our City government. 

What have we accomplished?  We prevented a horrible Preservation Plan from being adopted and instead we will have the most lenient in the City.  We made sure you can paint your house any color you like.  We made sure an arborist report will not be required if a property owner decides to remove mature trees.  We made sure that solar panels are permitted as per state law (and if they try to prevent drought tolerant, just let us know).  We replaced the language that would mandate transparent gates with allowances for solid.  Many additions that were prohibited under the old rules will now be allowed, including many second stories. And for those who don’t want to imitate ‘20s architecture, we forced the City to allow contemporary. To be sure, the language is still a mess, but it’s not what it was. 

What did we learn?  We learned that had we been involved and organized earlier, this abuse would likely never have happened. We learned that we could make a difference. And we learned that the people who were drawn to our group saw the future not as something frightening or repugnant, but to be embraced. That is why we are setting up Miracle Mile Forward. We look forward to seeing you all at future meetings - more information to come.

 

(Say No HPOZ is a citizen group formed to fight a proposed Miracle Mile HPOZ. They can be reached at [email protected].) 

-cw

 

 

Popular DTLA Gallery Think Tank Forced to Close … Ghost Ship Fire Blamed

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Less than two months after a horrific warehouse fire killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship artist colony in Oakland, city inspectors came knocking at the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles’ Fashion District.

On Jan. 18, two officials with the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety showed up unannounced to the art studio and event space, which also was home to 17 artists. As the inspectors made their rounds, residents frantically posted in a community Facebook group to try to find out why two strangers with clipboards were surveying the property and asking to look inside their bedrooms.

This wasn’t the first time city officials had discovered people were living in the commercial warehouse space at 939 Maple Ave. For more than a year, in fact, the city had known Think Tank was illegally housing residents. But it wasn’t until the tragedy in Oakland that the city took more forceful action.

“We knew once the Ghost Ship fire happened, we were like, ‘This is it,’” says Think Tank Gallery executive director Jacob Patterson.

After the inspection, the LA City Attorney’s office served an order-to-comply notice to the property owners, giving the gallery until Feb. 13 to either acquire a certificate of occupancy or have residents removed under threat of a criminal complaint. By the end of the month, all of the artists had moved out.

In the wake of the fire, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer assembled a warehouse task force along with building safety officials, promising an “aggressive response” to illegal-use commercial spaces. The city’s D.I.Y. community has been on edge ever since, and the threat of a widespread crackdown on underground lofts and warehouse spaces has left many artists in fear of eviction. (Read the rest.

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LA Citizen Advocates Meet with Mayor … Talk Budget

NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL BUDGET ADVOCATES--The City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates met with Mayor Eric Garcetti on March 8th to present and discuss their White Paper for the coming city budget fiscal year 2017 – 2018. 

The White Paper will contain priorities, recommendations to improve revenue generation, collection and operations and the efficient use of our tax dollars. 

The Budget Advocates take on the arduous task and spend hundreds of hours in meetings with city department and agency General Managers, and senior staff to learn, study and analyze their departments' strategic plans, operations, budget proposals and then develop recommendations. 

The Budget Advocates will next meet with and present our findings to the City Council Budget & Finance Committee followed by a presentation to the full City Council in the coming months. 

Please contact me if you wish to receive a copy of the Budget Advocates White Paper.or more information on the white paper please visit NCBALA.com, track our progress while we wait to see how our Los Angeles City Mayor responds.

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. She can be reached at: [email protected].) 

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