SERVICE REPORT CARD--Got a gripe about street maintenance or trash pickup?  Graffiti or storm drains? Want to express your admiration for our local fire or police services?  Animal services or libraries? Had a particularly good or bad experience with another local city service this year?

The City of Los Angeles Budget Advocates have created a comprehensive survey for Angelenos across the city to weigh in on a wide variety of city services, which will help them with budget planning for the coming year.  The survey gives you a chance to let the city know what’s working for you and what isn’t.  Please take a few minutes to fill it out and add your voice to the planning process.  The deadline for responses is January 15. Everyone is invited to contribute.




Take the Survey in English  

Take the Survey in Español


(Elizabeth Fuller is the co-owner/publisher of the Larchmont Buzz.





Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough is enough. 

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

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

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

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


(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.)






Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

CAL WATCHDOG-Public employees at California cities and counties took home more than $36 billion in compensation last year, according to new payroll data released by the state’s chief fiscal officer. 

State Controller Betty T. Yee disclosed the 2014 payroll data from 54 counties and 468 cities, which included information on more than 600,000 employees. The disclosure is part of the controller’s latest update to the “Government Compensation in California” website. 

The open government online portal allows users to map compensation levels throughout the state, assemble charts, evaluate payroll trends and export data for in-depth statistical analysis. 

Vernon: Smallest City, Biggest Pay 

The state controller’s public employee payroll website has become a powerful tool for journalists and citizen watchdogs to identify wasteful spending and corruption in local government. 

Among the municipalities with questionable payroll data from 2014: the city of Vernon. Although it is the least populous city in California, with just 123 residents, Vernon has double number of employees. And those employees earn $103,601 per year in salary — the highest average salary in the state. Vernon employees also take home, on average, another $32,462 per year in health and retirement benefits. 

Vernon’s top salary is followed by the city of Hayward with $94,041 average salary, and Palm Desert at $89,582 in average salary. The state controller’s office notes that the average wages for city governments overall fell by 3 percent to $59,614. 

In 2014, the average salary for county employees increased by approximately 3 percent to $60,993. At the county level, the nearly 19,000 employees at Santa Clara County received the highest average wage, earning $78,486 per year in wages and $27,655 in retirement and health benefits.

Nine Local Governments Fail to Disclose Data

The controller’s office classified six cities as non-compliant entities for having “filed a compensation report that was incomplete, was in a format different than the one requested by the Controller’s Office, or was submitted after the reporting deadline.” San Francisco, the largest non-compliant entity joined the cities of Bell, Compton, Covina, Dana Point and Santa Ana on the list of non-compliant entities.

The counties of Modoc, Monterey and Riverside were the three counties, or 5.3 percent, that failed to file.

The city and county of Los Angeles remain the largest local government agencies. Los Angeles County employs 103,338 people with a cumulative wage of $7.2 billion in annual salary and $2.76 billion in health and retirement benefits. The city of Los Angeles paid out $4.5 billion in wages and $703 million in health and retirement benefits.

Yee’s latest disclosure builds on the work of her predecessor. In 2010, following the high-profile corruption case at the city of Bell, then-Controller John Chiang didn’t wait around for local governments to clean up their act. He ordered cities, counties and special districts, under Government Code sections 12463 and 53892, to share salary and other wage information with his office. Initially, some local governments balked, then dragged their feet in disclosing the payroll data.

To access State Controller Betty Yee’s payroll database, go to

Top 10 Highest County Employees in California

1. Faculty Physician-Contract: $1,360,744
Kern County

2. Faculty Physician-Contract: $1,295,929
Kern County

3. Orthopedic Surgeon-Contract: $1,092,651
Kern County

4. Chairman, Department of Surgery: $851,665
Kern County

5. Medical Director II: $775,999
Los Angeles County

6. Physician – VMC: $760,461
Santa Clara County

7. Chief Physician III Surgery-Neurological: $728,489
Los Angeles County

8. Physician: $727,864
San Joaquin County

9. Physician – VMC: $684,365
Santa Clara County

10. Physician – VMC: $658,745
Santa Clara County

Top 10 Highest City Employees in California

1. Police Sergeant: $592,652
City of Burbank

2. Fire Chief: $487,871
City of Richmond

3. Chief of Police: $487,644
City of El Monte

4. City Manager: $470,249
City of Lincoln

5. City Manager: $419,840
City of West Covina

6. City Attorney: $412,211
City of Escondido

7. Power Engineering Manager: $403,271
City of Los Angeles

8. Assistant City Manager: $396,548
City of Oxnard

9. City Manager: $395,501
City of Escondido

10. Police Officer (PERS): $393,573
City of Oakland

(John Hrabe is an investigative journalist, freelance writer and communications strategist with a decade of experience managing media outreach for local, state and federal political campaigns, public relations clients, and new media start-ups. This piece was posted first at CalWatchDog.comEdited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.





Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How LA Blew It in Technology 

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

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

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

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

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

The Growing Demographic Crisis 

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

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

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

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

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

Is There A Way Out? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Vol 13 Issue 100

Pub: Dec 11, 2015

EASTSIDER-Over the holidays is a great time for politicians to announce things that would normally get greater scrutiny during the year. After all, everyone is making family get together plans, traveling, and/or hiding from year end duties. In that context, along comes a Report from the City Controller with the spiffy name “Disposition of City’s Surplus or Obsolete Items and Equipment” and I lick my chops because I just know that there’s going to be some real gems buried within. 

The Controller’s audit report does not disappoint. The headlines in it say that the City isn’t monitoring its fleet vehicle system, and is spending more money than many of the vehicles are worth in maintenance. For cars there is a photo of a Civic Hybrid that cost $24,000 (new) but they have spent $44,000 to maintain and repair it. On the big iron Street Sweeper side, there’s a photo of one that cost $232,000 to buy -- but another $360,000 to maintain. 

Buried in the document, however, is a story that really interests me: back in 2011, Tony V’s City was broke due to the Mayor and the Council’s incompetent fiscal policies. They were desperate to make the budget look balanced. So, through a series of cuts, early retirements, and shifting employees to DWP and the like, they cooked the books enough to get a bond measure through and stay “solvent.” 

One of the brilliant ideas the Council had was to disband the General Services Department’s Salvage Section -- the folks who monitored the disposCWal of the City’s surplus and/or obsolete items. So guess what happened? Not much, and that’s the essential finding of how and why the City has no real system and has lost a bunch of money. Gee. 

The audit misses a fundamental understanding of how and why LA City’s bureaucracy operates the way it does, and the implications therein. At the top of the food chain are the elected officials, who, by current definition, make political decisions regarding oversight of the City. They do not make business decisions, unless you count getting developers, billboard companies, and the like to make campaign contributions to their coffers. 

I point this out to explain the impact of the City Council’s actions as they axed or crippled, year after year, every request by City Departments for vehicle replacement – and abandoned all oversight. 

So when these half-baked mandates trickle down to the troops, there is one lesson that almost every vested City employee has learned well:  as long as you “go along to get along” and don’t make waves, you will have a fine future and a pension with the City of Los Angeles. On the other hand, if you make waves, take risks, or (god forbid) make the elected officials look bad, your life will be very unpleasant indeed. 

Consequently, no one said anything

Looking at the guts of the audit, there are two fundamental lessons to be learned. First, over 80% of the money we are talking about comes from cars -- vehicle fleet maintenance, which represents 83% of all auction income, to be exact.  

Second, outside of vehicles, no one department or agency has responsibility or understanding of exactly what, if any, policy the City has regarding the sale or disposal of obsolete property. Thus it is hard to quantify the rest of the items discussed in the audit; they aren’t even tracked internally, or if they are, it’s by happenstance. 

For example, electronic equipment has its own website (CitiMAX) which almost no one uses. Most of the stuff that gets donated through it (surprise) is because of City Council requests, and even then, the amount of paperwork involving formal Council action is not cost effective. 

I am personally aware of this and remember well when the Glassell Park NC tried to get the City to cough up a computer for our use. No deal. And when the NC used its own funds to buy one, we had to comply with all the CitiMAX requirements of inventory, serial numbers and other information and justification. And now we know all this data went nowhere. So, well done, DONE, BONC and Council offices – thanks a lot. 

If there is a single takeaway moment in the report, for me it is the following: the auditor complained that, as they tried to obtain data, they were reduced to looking at individual employees’ Excel spreadsheets that didn’t even have a common template. Clearly, the Mayor’s “World Class City” is an emperor without clothes. 

The final report has a six point series of recommendations that require action by the Council and City Departments, although there is no reason to believe those points will survive the City Council budget process. For a copy of the full report, click here

For those of you with a mathematical bent, Pareto’s Principle is alive and well – 80% of the dollars comes from about 20% of the stuff. In line with this concept, I propose a variation on this idea -- two simple recommendations that would fix 80% of the problems identified in the audit: 

1) Reconstitute the Salvage Unit, staff it with competent people, give them citywide authority and responsibility. 

2) Hire a couple of “freelance” thirty-somethings or their equivalent (that is, no regular full-time employment), pay them enough to cover wages and benefits, then have them develop a simple, web based, data management system for centralizing everything that needs to be kept track of. Then make everybody use it. 

This would be simple and quick with a provable return on investment model. I suggest this be done immediately because, given their mind set, City Council is likely to come up with some stupid major IT project that they would then bid out to the usual “big name/bad result” corporate consultants…who contribute to their campaigns. 

Stay tuned...


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.)




Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

“Infill” is a Place, Not a Project

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

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

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

CEQA Lawsuits Against Transit Projects Matter

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

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

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

Renewable Energy

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

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

The Last Resort Rule

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

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

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

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





Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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