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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission 

PO BOX 7609

Mission Hills, Calif.  91346-7609

www.hopeofthevalley.org

818 392 0020 

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

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

 

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com) Photo: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your thoughts and ideas on this controversial situation. 

And I wish everyone a very Happy New Year. 

 

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at Zman8910@aol.com) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in transit ...

 

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

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village.  He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: fred.gwnc@gmail.com)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

 

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

-cw

 

 CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 98

Pub: Dec 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 99

Pub: Dec 8, 2015

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THE BUSINESS OF FAMILY LEAVE-Kirsten Calkins was about five months pregnant with her first child, working as an executive coordinator at a small nonprofit in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Like many working parents in the U.S., she worried about how she’d manage having less money coming in while she cared for a new infant.

Her employer, the International Association of Privacy Professionals, offered four weeks fully paid leave, then five weeks at 60 percent pay and then, if you could swing it, an additional three weeks unpaid.

But Calkins was lucky to become pregnant in 2015: the year companies, particularly in tech, woke up and realized that you can’t strand workers facing huge personal challenges.

In January, IAPP -- which counts many tech companies as members -- started giving all its workers 12 weeks fully paid leave after the arrival of a new child.

“The level of excitement is hard to put into words,” Calkins told The Huffington Post. “Not having to juggle a life altering experience like having a baby with budgeting for a new expense with less income. It was like a weight was lifted.”

The U.S. is one of a handful of countries that offers mothers no paid maternity leave. It is the only developed country without a paid leave policy. The lack of support causes a significant percentage of working parents to fall into poverty. It puts the health of parents and infants at risk.

Finally, in 2015, policymakers and companies started to pay attention -- we may someday look back and see this past year as a tipping point in the movement toward paid leave for all. 

A significant number of businesses -- from Adobe to Netflix to Microsoft to Goldman Sachs -- announced they would expand paid benefits for their employees. Twenty-one percent of companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management were offering paid maternity leave in 2015, up from 16 percent in 2011.

And, for the first time a U.S. President got serious about paid parental leave and sick leave. “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said in January’s State of the Union address. “And that forces too many parents to make [a] gut-wrenching choice.” 

The Department of Labor started offering grants to states looking to study how paid family leave would work. Three states currently have paid family leave policies in place: California, Rhode Island and New Jersey -- where the policy is so popular that Republican governor Chris Christie never followed through on his promise to get rid of it when he was voted into office. Eighteen other states are considering paid leave initiatives.

Political candidates, on both sides of the aisle, now find they can no longer ignore the issue. Hillary Clinton called for paid leave in her first major economic speech as a presidential candidate this year. She’d never pushed for it as a senator. One Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, is calling for a company tax credit for offering paid leave.

Candidates who support paid leave, were eight percent more likely to win, according to projections from The National Partnership for Women & Families, cited in a New Republic piece earlier this year. In Connecticut, Dan Malloy is believed to have won the race for governor on the back of his support for paid sick leave.

“It’s kind of a new thing. We’ve always pushed to increase quality of life for our members, but the spotlight has fallen on leave,” Robert Daraio, a local representative of the News Guild of New York, told HuffPost. Daraio helped negotiate four months' paid parental leave for employees at the liberal magazine The Nation in December. “We’re pushing for this in all contracts going forward,” he said.

It seems almost daily a company issues a press release announcing more time for parents and caretakers.

“It was a good year,” said Ellen Bravo, the director of Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit coalition of groups pushing for paid parental and sick leave in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the most outspoken proponents of paid leave, Bravo said that family leave came to prominence thanks to a spiral of factors -- most notably the Obama administration, as well as the many states and municipalities taking action on this. She credits “millennials,” -- young adults -- who are demanding employers give them paid time off to care for children and family members.

Some companies have always had this benefit, Bravo said. “The interest in making announcements public is what’s new. Part of that comes from their desire to say to millennials come here, we’re paying attention to this.”

In the business sector, tech companies fell over themselves in 2015 offering more generous benefits. When Netflix this summer announced it would offer 12 months of leave to new parents, regardless of gender, the news was widely picked up and a flurry of other companies raced to improve their offerings -- including Microsoft and Amazon.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is right now taking a highly publicized paternity leave that Bravo said set a great example for fathers, who are seen as a crucial part of the paid leave movement.

Banks got in on the trend, too. Private equity shop KKR and Credit Suisse both beefed up their offerings for parents this year.

“We knew it started in tech, but then we started seeing businesses in financial services and banking, which are typically conservative, saying we need to do this, too,” said Melinda Figely, who consults on human resource issues as a vice-president at NFP, an insurance brokerage with clients in banking. "As employers adopt it what they see is people actually come back to work in higher numbers and they're happier and less stressed."

One thing critical about the new momentum on leave: It's not just for birth mothers, but for adoptive parents, for fathers, and for those who need time off to take care of loved ones. Paid parental leave -- not "maternity" leave -- is the hot new thing for companies, Figely said.

The change stems from the country's opening up to gay couples in recent years and people of various gender identities, Figely said. "The barriers are coming down and people aren't so narrow in their thinking that there's one kind of family or only one way to do maternity leave."

Yet for all the positive momentum on leave, the data still looks bleak. An overwhelming majority of employers don’t offer paid leave. Most states don’t offer paid leave. The U.S. unpaid leave law -- the Family and Medical Leave Act  -- only covers 60 percent of workers.

About nine percent of workers who take time off to care for a family member end up on public assistance, according to Labor Department data cited by The New Republic. The Family Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.) that would pay for federally mandated leave by taking a few cents out of employee paychecks, is stalled out.

“We haven’t yet reached a polio moment or a moonshot moment where the country comes together and says we can’t let this go on anymore,” Bravo said. “The good news is we don’t need a vaccine. We know the solution. It’s a social insurance fund that can make this possible.”

Bravo hopes that by 2020, the U.S. will make this happen. “We need to do it.”

(Emily Peck is Executive Business & Technology Editor of The Huffington Post where this piece was originally posted.)  CSA Images via Getty Images.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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CityWatch

Vol 43 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2015

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