WHO WE ARE--Recently, a homeless woman, making her point by shaking a can with a few coins in it, knocked on my Mid City neighbor’s door and asked for a donation. Bold? Desperate? The start of a trend? 

PROMISES, PROMISES-Nowadays, it’s almost impossible for developers to strike major deals with city governments without first negotiating some sort of community benefits agreement (CBA). Such agreements are typically legally binding deals involving developers, community groups and the local government in which a developer pledges funding or other assistance to a community in exchange for tax abatements, subsidies, regulatory changes or exemptions from the city for a project.

CBAs hold plenty of promise as a relatively new way for communities to hold local governments and private developers accountable. But so far, they’ve yielded a mixed track record. (One skeptical Silicon Valley city even rejected a Google CBA offer earlier this year.)

In New York City, CBAs have been a borderline calamity. See the Barclays Center/Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, or Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

There’s some hope, yet.

“At the end of the day, you can’t judge whether this process is going to be successful until 10 years from now,” West Harlem community leader Larry English told The New York Times in a 2013 story on the West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC), which got started with $76 million out of a CBA tied to Columbia University’s expansion.

For an idea of what could be ahead for CBAs, the University of California at Irvine’s Nicholas Marantz took a look back at the CBA tied to the development of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District (LASED), negotiated in 2001. The Journal of the American Planning Association recently published Marantz’s findings.

“The LASED CBA is widely regarded as the first in the U.S.,” Marantz writes.

Marantz examined two questions: First, have all the parties to the LASED CBA complied with the provisions concerning jobs, housing, and parks and recreational facilities. Second, if yes, did the developers provide benefits beyond those required under existing laws and regulations?

In the LA agreement negotiations, the community was represented by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice. (At one point, at least 29 organizations were involved, according to Marantz, so they formed this umbrella organization to negotiate on their behalf with the developer — a tactic that’s become commonplace in hammering out CBAs.) The developer was Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG).

The talks led to a mix of binding and non-binding goals. On jobs, for example, the CBA set a non-binding goal that at least 70 percent of permanent jobs in the LASED would be “living wage jobs” as defined by the CBA, while it set a binding pledge for AEG to submit an annual report to the city on the status of meeting the 70 percent goal. AEG did not comply with this public reporting obligation until 2014.

Marantz did not report finding any penalty paid by AEG for not meeting what was supposedly a legally binding goal. Furthermore, the CBA defined any job covered by a collective bargaining agreement as a “living wage job,” regardless of actual wages paid.

So was it worth it to fight for such goals around wages, binding or non-binding? According to Marantz, the answer may be yes, but not for the reason you might expect.

“Although the living wage goal was reportedly attained by 2013, the role of the CBA in attaining that goal is ambiguous,” Marantz writes. “The CBA, however, may have served as an important symbol in a long-term labor campaign that resulted in a stronger living wage law and the city’s 2015 adoption of an ordinance that would increase the citywide minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.”

On affordable housing, another common CBA focus area, the LASED CBA required AEG to provide $650,000 in interest-free three-year loans to specified affordable housing developers. It also required all residential developers in the LASED to either develop or subsidize one affordable unit for every five housing units in the LASED.

The development devil is in the details.

“Ambiguous language in the CBA ultimately allowed the LASED developers to fulfill the latter requirement in a way that covered only a fraction of the development cost for each required affordable unit,” writes Marantz.

Furthermore, Marantz reports, even though the CBA prioritized affordable housing for families, most of the affordable units completed in fulfillment of the CBA ended up being part of a college dormitory.

It’s worth noting that the LASED CBA isn’t just the first CBA in the U.S., it’s also widely cited as a model for many others, including a family of CBAs in the Los Angeles area (SunQuest Industrial Park, NoHo Commons, Marlton Square, and the CBA for the Los Angeles International Airport’s $11 billion modernization plan.)

All of those, in turn, have been cited by others: “Efforts in New York to replicate meaningful CBAs have been disappointing,” writes Good Jobs First NY. “Atlantic Yards, Columbia University’s expansion and Yankee Stadium attempted to implement CBAs but fell short of those modeled after the landmark agreements in California.”

Yet, as Marantz writes, “it is not clear that the LASED CBA yielded jobs, affordable housing units, or parks and recreation facilities beyond those that would have resulted from municipal mandates, federal regulations, and agreements between unions and employers.”

The real bottom line for CBAs may lie in their (generally) unintended effect of galvanizing marginalized communities to influence policies and resources beyond those tied directly to development projects. Like the living wage example above, for instance.

Marantz also points out that LASED developers provided only a fraction of the funds needed to construct the affordable housing, and parks and recreation projects in the neighborhoods surrounding the project. Most of the remaining funds came from multiple public sources as well as banks fulfilling obligations under the federal Community Reinvestment Act

“The LASED case thus demonstrates that a CBA can help direct resources to underserved communities,” he writes. “But only a small share of those resources may come from the developers who are subject to the CBA.”

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation

(Oscar Perry Abello is a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist writes about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. This piece was posted originally at Next City) Photo by Steve Jurvetson.  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

 

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

Has anyone seen reform at the DWP?  

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

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

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

Galperin has received no support from other elected officials.

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

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

●●●

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

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

●●●

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

 

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

●●●

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

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

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

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CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

NO ONE’S LISTENING--Since October, residents of Porter Ranch California have been exposed to dangerous contaminants from a massive natural gas leak that continues to seep into the air, causing a catastrophe the scale of which has not been seen since the 2010 BP oil spill.

After only a week of visiting families in Porter Ranch, I am already experiencing the headaches, nausea and congestion that have plagued this community living at the center of one of the most significant environmental disasters in recent history.

Southern California Gas Co., or SoCalGas, has essentially ignored the impact to victims and its actions have instead added to their suffering. The company has refused to release air quality data that could be used to protect its residents, it has made relocation very difficult, and it has forged ahead with plans to expand its facility before the leak has even been contained.

The enormity of the Aliso Canyon gas leak cannot be overstated. Gas is escaping through a ruptured pipe more than 8,000 feet underground, and it shows no sign of stopping. As the pressure from weight on top of the pipe causes the gas to diffuse, it only continues to dissipate across a wider and wider area. According to tests conducted in November by the California Air Resources Board, the leak is spewing 50,000 kilograms of gas per hour — the equivalent to the strength of a volcanic eruption.

At this rate, in just one month, the leak will have accounted for one-quarter of the total estimated methane emissions in the state of California.

So it is no surprise that residents here feel sick. While I can escape to my home to recover from my symptoms, this community wakes up to conditions that cause vomiting, nosebleeds and serious respiratory issues daily. And no one really knows the potential long-term side effects of benzene and radon, the carcinogens that are commonly found in natural gas.

This dangerous environment is why the Los Angeles Unified School District unanimously voted last week to close two Porter Ranch schools and relocate their nearly 1,900 students and staff to protect their safety.  

SoCalGas’ response to this disaster is almost as alarming as the impact on the community.

The company has offered some assistance in relocating residents in the affected area, but those efforts are woefully inadequate. People have been told they have to wait, they are 300th in line and that they will not be able to relocate before Christmas. Many residents simply cannot afford pay for a hotel or apartment while continuing to cover home costs. SoCalGas does not even know exactly how long it will take to fix the leak, but the company’s CEO has said it will be at least another three to four months. Curiously, despite this admission, SoCalGas is only offering three months of relocation to those fortunate enough to receive a return call. 

The company has also refused to release the data from air quality monitoring it has conducted in the community, despite numerous requests from the public. The company is withholding vital information about the exact composition of the air — information that is critical for the thousands of residents who want to understand why they are so sick. That is why I have been out in the community distributing canisters that we hope will provide an independent verification of the toxicity in the air. 

And while Porter Ranch continues to suffer, SoCalGas is moving ahead with a project to expand the Aliso Canyon facility, even though the company still has no idea how the gas leak there started and is unsure of how to fix it. The company hasn’t even established any risk management or emergency response plans in the event of another leak. 

That is why I am working with the law firm Weitz and Luxenberg to seek justice for Porter Ranch and hold SoCalGas accountable for the physical and emotional damage they have caused, and to ensure that something like this never happens again. This community should not have to wait any longer to receive the justice and fair treatment it deserves.

The situation Porter Ranch residents are facing today is unacceptable. It is time for SoCalGas to acknowledge this fact, gather whatever resources are necessary to help every resident now, and provide answers about the health impacts to residents who have suffered for too long.

(Erin Brockovich is a renowned consumer advocate who works to help Americans everyday on multiple fronts. Her comments were posted first at Common Dreams.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

PROACTIVE PREPAREDNESS-Once again, the world has witnessed a mass shooting. Predictably, people across the nation feel the need to do something when such things happen. Soon after the tragedy in San Bernardino, armchair experts were having policy debates on gun control, immigration and mental health, even before all the facts of the incident were fully known.

But these debates divert our attention from immediate strategies that can and should be enacted now.

As a police officer with 35 years of experience, and one of the developers of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability  (MACTAC) plan for situations like the San Bernardino shooting, I offer up some strategies to deal with the reality that faces us.

We must prepare because the threat isn’t “coming.” It’s already here.

It is time for a national action plan involving law enforcement, educators, firefighters, paramedics, medical personnel and the security industry on how to deal with active shooter events—not only to address the incidents that have happened in this country, but the kinds of events we’ve seen in Mumbai in 2008 and in Paris last month. In Mumbai, ten shooters killed 172 people in coordinated multiple attacks. Over 120 persons were killed in similar planned attacks in Paris.

We need a national standardized response platform, much like what the National Incident Management System does for handling long-term disasters, on how to prepare, prevent and interdict multiple location attacks.

This plan, developed by an expert working group, has to be driven at the national level to ensure the same uniformity that we have in our responses to other disasters. We should look at the successes of Israel, the outstanding work by first responders in San Bernardino, and other security experts to, once and for all, develop a standardized response.

Right now, there is no standardized plan that takes in coordination with fire and medical response in hot zones, universally accepted terminology for all responders, and so many other important issues.

As noted author Col. Dave Grossman points out, we have entire fire codes designed to protect children in schools; yet few, if any, children have perished in school fires in the last 50 years. Just as schools practice fire drills, they must conduct active threat drills. Each school should have an active threat emergency plan that is clear and practiced.

Schools should be designed (or updated) to allow teachers to reasonably block and prevent an attacker from entering classrooms. Security systems should be layered and redundant. Doors should be secure and reinforced; alarm systems should be updated to include warnings about other dangers. Each school should have trauma kits that provide life-saving first aid equipment for serious injuries, not just skinned knees. Teachers should be taught basic casualty-care procedures.

On weekends, local law enforcement should train on the very campuses they may be called upon to defend. Persons responsible for other facilities, such as governmental offices, should follow the same planning and preparation steps.

It is time for law enforcement and first responders to be more resolute than ever in confronting and stopping this evil. Legislation is needed to mandate that law enforcement first aid curricula are updated, giving responding law enforcement cutting edge first aid skills to deal with gunshot and other traumatic wounds. Best practices developed by our military in casualty care are slow to be implemented by law enforcement.

Officers should be issued individual first aid kits that provide them with such things as tourniquets, chest seals and clotting gauze. Tactical training should be mandated for cops not only on confronting a deadly attacker, but how to provide medical care under fire.

Law enforcement agencies within cities and municipalities must train together. Without working out tactical challenges ahead of time, chaos would hamper response. For instance, at an attack at a school, it is critical to team up school police officers as guides for other law enforcement personnel because school officers have essential knowledge such as the campus layout, access to keys, whereabouts of personnel and children.

We have all seen photos of hundreds of police officers at the scene of a shooting. Since there may be attacks in multiple locations, law enforcement and other first responders must have disciplined deployment schemes to avoid over-deployment of personnel at one incident leaving the remainder of the city unprotected from another potential attack.

The plan has to be in place and practiced. Precious time is lost organizing when bullets are flying.

Emergency managers must leverage the resources of the entire first responder community.  Educators, medical, firefighters, law enforcement and security industry personnel need to work out details ahead of time in the event of a shooting disaster. In some jurisdictions, fire and police do not even agree on common terminologies during victim rescues.

Venues that claim to be gun-free should either enact viable common-sense security measures or quit wasting time and resources on feel-good but unproductive practices. My wife (also a cop) and I conduct our own security test do this when we go to venues where they search bags for guns. They have never found the Beretta 9mm pistol in her purse. Meanwhile, I walk through security, fully armed, and I’m never searched.

However, many venues with metal detectors prevent anyone, including off-duty police officers, from entering carrying a concealed firearm. Police officers are trained to protect people. Their firearm is a tool of the trade. An FBI report on 160 active-shooter events found that off-duty police officers, as well as other armed persons, have interrupted the active shootings in at least seven instances.

Amateurish security measures are insufficient. Security at major gathering places needs to be seriously escalated to protect against the legitimate threat of active shooters.

It is time for action by those who can invoke change. The federal government should place heavy emphasis on developing a national response plan for multiple active shooter scenarios. The LAPD’s Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability could be the stepping-off point for that discussion. States should mandate that care under fire be a part of every law enforcement curriculum. School districts must concern themselves with active threats as much as they do fire drills. Emergency managers should focus on active-threat scenarios and mobilize the emergency response community plan and train together so that when the day comes, they are ready to roll.

As we have seen time and time again, the threat is real. Evil will visit again. We should make preparations to meet it.

(Richard Webb is a Retired LAPD Commander and one of the creators of the Multiple Assault Counter Terrorism Action Capability (MACTAC) program and author of LAPD’s guiding documents to deal with multiple location active shooters. Since his retirement, Rick created Peak Policing Strategies LLC. He welcomes comments from readers.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

 

Vol 13 Issue 105

 

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

ANIMAL WATCH--On January 1, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will begin recording all animal-abuse crimes reported by local law-enforcement agencies to its national database as “top-tier”—placing them on the same level as arson, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking and murder, rather than grouping them into the “other offenses” category.  

This great news was disclosed earlier this year when the FBI announced that it was re-categorizing crimes against animals as "crimes against society.”  The animal crimes that were regrouped to Part 1 offenses are intentional abuse and torture, gross neglect, sexual abuse and organized abuse, which includes dog fighting.

Does this mean we can now call the FBI instead of LA Animal Services to report an animal being beaten or starved or a staged cockfight or dog fight in progress next door?

Unfortunately, many reports by the media and enthusiastic animal activists have been misleading. In a desperate desire to believe there is a panacea to end animal suffering, someone even commented that this decision by the FBI signals an “end to animal cruelty, because the federal government is now in charge."

So that we do not have unrealistic expectations and—more importantly--so that this FBI decision does not become a diversion from holding local agencies accountable for responding to reports of animal cruelty or neglect and for prosecuting all such crimes, it is important to accept that this change by the FBI in how animal crimes are categorized is just that. It is merely a step up in existing reporting methods.

It signifies an important new recognition at the federal level of the importance of crimes against animals—including both abuse and intentional neglect. It also indicates that the Feds are undergoing a change in attitude that mirrors the societal shift to consider pets as family members and violence against animals to be as egregious as violence against humans.

What it does NOT mean is that all animal cruelty has suddenly become a federal crime, John Sibley explains in The Myth of the FBI and Animal Cruelty. It does NOT mean that there will automatically be a change in how animal crimes are prosecuted or that sentences will become harsher.  It also does NOT mean that the FBI will now become involved in local cases—other than those that include violations of federal law. 

FBI stats capture statistical data, not individual identities of perpetrators or those accused of crimes. This means that the reports will also NOT be of help to shelters in making adoption decisions.

Wayne Pacelle of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) describes the importance of this recognition on A Humane Nation blog:

“The proper identification of animal cruelty crimes in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, once in effect, like the tracking of hate crimes and other important categories, would be national in scope. Within the FBI system, every incident would be reported, whether or not it results in an arrest or conviction…Having proper data on where and with what frequency cruelty is occurring would help guide lawmakers on policy decisions and law enforcement and nonprofit agencies on allocation of scarce resources.”

The FBI currently tracks animal cruelty crimes in the 32 states which report their stats to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS.) 

Since not all states are certified and participating in this database, the federal report is not a complete profile of criminal activity nationwide. Unfortunately, California is not listed as a reporting state at this time. Thus, crimes against local animals will not add to the database which will help the federal government and non-profits determine were more resources are needed.

According to the FBI, the official definition of animal cruelty will be:

Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured, transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., using objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.

The FBI has finally validated what animal lovers have long known--that animal crimes, whether solitary or organized, have a significant impact on society. However, we cannot allow this validation to lull us into silence or apathy. It must motivate us to even more vigorously report any suspicion, indication or evidence of neglect, violent or otherwise abusive behavior, abandonment, lack of food, water or adequate shelter, chaining, hoarding, animal fighting, or any mistreatment of any animal.

Owning any animal imposes a legal level of care on every owner. Owning a dog in the City of Los Angeles is a privilege, not a right. It requires a license and that certain specific standards of care and attention are met. No training, discipline or punishment may be done in such a manner that the animal is harmed.

Too often, caring observers wait until an animal is visibly injured to call L.A. Animal Services to do a welfare check.  That may be too late for the victim. It is not enough to talk to neighbors and friends. Animal Control Officers have the powers and know the legal procedure for addressing issues with owners and/or entering a property to act on behalf of the animal.

Do not give up—continue to call and report any activity in which an animal (or a human) is endangered. Contact the City Council or Mayor, if necessary. If it is important to the FBI, it should be important to them.

If you see something, say something! 

 

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

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

                                                                         

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch and can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

COUNTERPOINT--I have been trying very hard not to weigh in on Dick Platkin's latest “Mansionization Crusade”  to limit our ability to build a modern home in Los Angeles. I spent 7-plus  years defending my neighborhood against his misguided mission to prevent the building of homes with attached garages or any other architectural features that don't conform to his vision of a proper home … and I'm tired. 

But in his last CityWatch article (“Mansionization at a Crossroads...”), he said something that should make sense to anyone who does want to engage in this battle. Make your voice heard!   

Talk to your neighbors. Sign Petitions. Talk to reporters if you can. Make appointments with your Councilman and speak to him, not one of his aids. Attend hearings. Write letters to your Councilman, the Mayor, the Planning Department. And if possible, talk to any political movers and shakers you might know or your neighbors might know that might have influence with the politicos.  Motivate your neighbors to do the same. 

Because in the end, this is a political fight and the deck is stacked against you. It doesn't really matter what you want. It only matters what your Councilman wants... or in this case, the entire City Council. And if they want to change the Mansionization Ordinance and severely limit what kind of home you can build, it will most certainly happen. 

If the changes Mr. Platkin proposes were just for his District, this would be a done deal because Councilman Paul Koretz is already “on board” and, like every other Councilman, Koretz is pretty much emperor of his own district. No Councilman would dare oppose another Councilman's control over his individual district without risking interference with his own district's management … at least that is what I believe. 

And don't depend on the Planning Department to do anything more than give the Council what they want. I know. In my district, we handed Paul Koretz and the Planning Department signed statements from the majority of property owners in the neighborhood opposing proposed zoning changes … but Koretz wanted the changes … so we were ignored and the zoning changes took place. 

There is only one way you can stop the proposed zoning changes. And that is to create enough political noise to make the politicians think twice; to make them wary of political fallout. Not an easy task when our representatives are typically deaf to anyone who is not a threat to their political image. But if enough people scream; if you can get the support of the right people; if you can get enough public visibility to make the City Council nervous … then maybe you have a chance. 

The sad truth is that the proposed zoning changes will do nothing to enhance the quality of life in our city. If Dick Platkin and his ilk really cared about Los Angeles, they would stop trying to impose their idea of a proper single family home on their neighbors and start fighting all the new condominiums, apartments, and hotels that are being built with little or no concern for the impact on neighborhoods or the city at large. 

Each one of these projects bring with them 300 families and 600 cars to one location and nobody seems to link that fact to our congested streets, horrendous freeway traffic, growing air pollution, and inadequate and overly expensive parking … not to mention the challenge of providing city services like water, gas, power, schools, etc. 

Yes, we have real problems in this city. Our leaders don't seem to be able to see beyond their term of office. They have no density plan whatsoever. How many people per square mile is reasonable? That question is not even on their radar. It seems to me we are building New York City West minus the subway. OK … maybe we are trying to build some mass transit, but do we really want to be like New York!? Not me! 

For the record, I have lived in Los Angeles and my neighborhood for almost 70 years. I live in a small home and have no ambitions (or money) to build a modern home. But I recognize that today's families need more space than most old homes can provide. Given today's economy, it is not uncommon to have more than one generation living together and sometimes even three (Parents, children, and grandparents). 

It is irresponsible and heartless to prevent families from building or expanding their homes to meet their needs.

 

(Charles Tarlow  is a Los Angeles homeowner, has served on a neighborhood council board and can be reached at: stillchugn@yahoo.com

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

 

 

OTHER WORDS—(Of all the issues we shine light on here at CityWatch, ‘mansionization’ sparks some of the biggest firestorms. Robert Eisele is a homeowner association officer in the LaBrea – Hancock community and provides yet another perspective.)

 

In Charles Tarlow’s CityWatch article  “The Other Side of the Mansionization Debate” (24 Dec 2015), Tarlow attacks former city planner and anti-mansionization activist Dick Platkin by saying that the proposed amendments to the city’s Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) “will do nothing to enhance the quality of life in our city. If Dick Platkin and his ilk really cared about Los Angeles, they would stop trying to impose their idea of a proper single family home on their neighbors…”

Actually, if Mr. Tarlow lived next to a McMansion he might have quite a different opinion. In our La Brea Hancock neighborhood, houses of 4700 square feet have been built on 6700 square foot lots, spanning almost to the back fence of the property. These monstrosities not only peer into nearby backyards and destroy their neighbors’ right to privacy, they are also out-of-scale in terms of height, and their shadows often rob enough sunlight to kill portions of their neighbors’ gardens.

Quality of life? McMansion developers in our neighborhood have been cited by the Southern California Air Quality Management District for asbestos pollution while demolishing older homes, as well as for lead contamination. Not a single resident homeowner in La Brea Hancock has chosen to build a boxy, gigantic McMansion when enlarging or remodeling their home.

McMansions are the creations of real estate speculators and developers, and are not occupied by “more than one generation living together and sometimes even three,” as Mr. Tarlow suggests. In our neighborhood, they are usually occupied by couples or couples with one or two children. Sometimes, they’re even the second residence for affluent individuals who do not call Los Angeles their home.

Our neighbors organized against mansionization for one reason – to maintain their quality of life. It is a grassroots movement that sprang up in living rooms, not boardrooms or council chambers. Anti-mansionization activists are your neighbors, not your enemies. They are not out to dictate the style of your home, nor to stop you from expanding or building anew. All they are asking for is reasonable scale. Yes, you have the right to build a larger home.

In La Brea Hancock, on some of our corner lots, you could build a 3500 square foot home according to the proposed BMO Amendments. That is a large house. But if you – or more likely a spec builder – want to construct a monolith that robs your neighbors of privacy and sunlight, why not move to a neighborhood with larger lots where such homes are appropriate?

Property rights are important and they include the right for neighborhoods to organize and ask for changes in zoning laws. You can’t build a 7-11 in the middle of an R-1-1 neighborhood for a reason: It affects the quality of life in the neighborhood. In a like manner, the infestation of McMansions in neighborhoods with smaller lots destroys quality of life and, therefore, defeats the basic intent of zoning. That’s why, when polled, over 66% of La Brea Hancock’s residents supported zoning change to end mansionization. And that’s why, if the will of the people and not the developers is heard, the Baseline Mansionization Amendments will prevail.

Although it’s good that Interim Control Ordinances (ICOs) have temporarily stopped mansionization in certain neighborhoods, they’ve also had a counter-productive effect. The voices of many anti-mansionization advocates have been quelled by the effectiveness of the ICOs. But their efficacy is only temporary.

And now, realtors and developers – a tiny minority when compared to the citywide anti-mansionization movement – are roaring at City Planning meetings. If homeowners want the BMO Amendments enacted, it’s time to email their Council people and City Planning staff. Comments will be heard till January 11th.

And the developers’ lobbyists are growing louder, since they now see potential barriers to the speculative building of McMansions.

(Robert Eisele is a resident homeowner in the La Brea Hancock neighborhood, and serves as Vice-President of the La Brea Hancock Homeowners Association. He can be reached here.)  Photo credit: LarchmontBuzz.com.

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

 

AT LENGTH--In every crucible where there are actors with competing interests, there is conflict. Without conflict there can be no resolution, let alone an end to a crisis. Random Lengths has played critical and important roles in most of the crucibles that have transformed the Los Angeles Harbor Area in the past 35 years.

The first crucible, which proved momentous in this paper’s history before it was even founded, occurred on the night of Dec. 17, 1976.

At the time, I had just moved into a new place I rented on 32nd Street, overlooking Cabrillo Beach and the West Channel, just a half mile from berth 46 at the Port of Los Angeles.

My friend Patrick was setting up my stereo in time for my birthday party. As he tinkered with the sound system, a glimpse out a living room window facing the bay caused him to excitedly call me over.

“Wow, James, you’ve got to come see this!”

He said it with such intensity that I immediately ran to see what he was witnessing.

Outside, across the channel was a ball of fire rising above a dark column of smoke, hundreds of feet into the sky as a Liberian oil tanker, called the S.S. Sansinena, exploded.

As light travels faster than sound, we stood there in awe for several seconds before we were hit by the concussion of the explosion.

All of the windows of my new apartment were turned into glass shards, barely missing my face as I ducked for cover. It was a night indelibly etched into my mind without having to go to the emergency room.

The ship was built in 1958 and had just discharged its cargo of crude oil into the tanks of Union Oil that were once located at 22nd Street and Harbor Boulevard. The Sansinena was taking on ballast and fuel when the massive explosion split the ship in half and obliterated multiple port buildings.

The blast shattered windows for miles around and triggered a fire that spread across the dock and in the water around the tanker. The LA Fire Department soon arrived on the scene to contain the blaze and rescue the survivors—casualties included six dead, three missing (but presumed dead) and 46 injured.

The Coast Guard investigation later concluded that the incident was caused by flammable vapor buildup on the deck of the ship. The ignition source was never identified.

This happened just three years before the first edition of Random Lengths hit the streets in December of 1979. The front-page headline of that edition read: “GATX Chemicals Endanger Harbor Area Residents, Government Shields Conglomerate in Effort to Bypass Zoning Regulations.”

Another crucible was when the port’s attempt to raze Knoll Hill in order to expand berths 97-102 during Mayor Richard Riordan’s administration—berths now occupied by China Shipping terminal.

The port’s continued purchase of property on this small knoll overlooking the main channel near the Vincent Thomas Bridge portended the hill’s ultimate demise. This was to be just another one in a long line of port excavations of small hills of San Pedro to accommodate port industrialization.

An off-the-record phone call by a harbor commissioner tipped me off to the coming crisis precipitated by an impending action by the Harbor Commission board.

The loss of one more hill to port expansion and the further encroachment of industrial port operations with its air pollution on the community was just the last straw for some activists.

The acting port director, Bruce Seaton, responded to community concerns with an “aw shucks- let’s go have some Busy Bee sandwiches” approach, and was seen as patronizing and was rebuffed.

Only after a community forum—sponsored in part by this newspaper—did port staff began to realize there was significant community opposition. Private meetings were set up, but devolved when it became apparent that the port was bent on bulldozing its way through the hill and the community. The community responded with a lawsuit.

The San Pedro Home Owners Association, lead by Janet Gunter, Andy Mardesich and Noel Park with the help of the Natural Resources Defense council alerted the community and sued the port and won a game-changing appeal. That one major victory over the industrial expansion of the Port of Los Angeles ended what one harbor commissioner, John Wentworth, termed the “100-year war” with the community.

From that first story on the toxic GATX storage facility for petroleum products to the battle over the Port of Los Angeles petroleum coke export terminal to this story and most recently the redux of the China Shipping terminal dispute and settlement, Random Lengths has been on the side of the community reporting on the issues that affect this area the most, and in the process, giving voice to hundreds of community activists who have fought for years, often decades, to have economic and environmental justice issues settled, redressed or significantly mitigated.

These storylines started the 35-year editorial trajectory of this publication, going from reporting on the crisis to covering the ensuing conflicts, addressing issues of environmental injustice and the Port of Los Angeles’ responsibility of maintaining as sacrosanct local residents’ connection to their waterfront.

Along the way, Random Lengths has stood fast to its principles of free speech, open government and protecting the rights of the greater harbor area community. This has not ever been an easy job.

Also, on the front page of that inaugural issue was the paper’s mission statement, which read in part:

“What you read here you are not likely to find in other local newspapers, for we are not afraid of being controversial. On the contrary, we are committed to promoting an open dialogue on the important questions concerning our community [and] unlike other papers, we invite your participation, and in fact we depend on it.”

With the distance I now have from the writing of that mission statement and from my memory of having been at the masthead of this publication over the ensuing years, I can say with confidence that we have stayed true to that mission.

The Los Angeles Harbor Commission meeting on Dec. 17 is a crucible that brings Random Lengths full circle.

The Saving San Pedro’s Waterfront group, made up of local realtors, led by John Papadakis, is critical of Jericho Development and Ratkovich Co. The developers signed a 55-year lease with the port. It only develops 150,000 square feet of Ports O’Call Village.

During the public comment period, Papadakis remarked before the commission that, “This century began…with two great mayors in Richard Riordan and James Hahn…both had hearts of true servants when they adopted the Bridge to Breakwater promenade plan and began to plan and build it.

“They understood that our greatest resource our waterfront must be used to create prosperity, not poverty,” he said. “That the sea signifies life not the bringer of environmental crimes; that the people are the true owners and have the right of primary access to the water line, the highest and best use of the public shores that all people must economically benefit from the use of the waterline—not just one industry.”

Papadakis continued his scathing remarks. “This, the wealthiest port in the western hemisphere is housed in the only seaside slum in America,” he said. “That is a civic crime, commissioners. You’re crucifying this community on the iron cross of the cargo industry, by the orders of so-called leaders who are really public cannibals feeding on the dying carcass of the Harbor Area—for shame—by violating emission standards by intentionally choosing a deficient and unproven development team for the prime commercial opportunity at Ports O’ Call.”

Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian shot back. “It’s hard to sit up here and listen to this crap,” Arian said. “You live up there on the hill and you’re the slumlord in this town.” He then went on to say that, “If you want a fight, you got one and so do all you realtors.”

These remarks are reminiscent of those reported in the Daily Breeze almost 8years ago in an article titled “Revised LA Port plan derided at meeting” staff writer Donna Littlejohn wrote, “At last. It appears that the Port of Los Angeles has finally found consensus on its latest waterfront plan revision. Nearly everyone hates it.”

She proceeded to explain, “The new, scaled-down version unveiled at a public meeting this week drew scathing criticism, raising questions about the future of the 5-year-old dream of recreating San Pedro’s west channel with commercial and recreational uses.”

This continuing to echo what Papadakis envisioned as the grand “Bridge to Breakwater” plan.

This clearly sets the stage for the next conflict to come as the plans for the Ports O’ Call (photo above) development have not been discussed publicly for over two years. It also brings into focus the decades-long debate over the future of the Los Angeles waterfront that we have covered from the very beginning and brings some things almost full circle. The crisis of conflict continues.

(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News, the Los Angeles Harbor Area's only independent newspaper. He is also a guest columnist for the California Courts Monitor and is the author of "Silence Is Not Democracy- Don't listen to that man with the white cap--he might say something that you agree with!" He was elected to the presidency of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council in 2014 and has been engaged in the civic affairs of CD 15 for more than 35 years. More of Allen … and other views and news at: randomlengthsnews.com )  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw  

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 105

Pub: Dec 29, 2015

LA NOT READY FOR A SERIOUS SKID ROW CONVERSATION--While families across America come together this holiday season to spend quality time with one other, there are many who also choose to “give back” to the less fortunate. 

Every year since 2007, I have been in Skid Row on Sundays, but holidays are the worst time for the accumulation trash, debris and whatever remains from all the food that is handed out. It all ends up on Skid Row’s streets, especially near the missions. 

With many City workers off for the holidays, all of that trash builds up. One cannot help but wonder, where are all the trash cans? And, why doesn’t the City distribute additional trash cans before employees go home for the holidays? 

While these questions are valid, I couldn’t help but ponder a bit longer than normal about all the connected topics associated with trash in Skid Row. 

This has ultimately led to my realizing what the number one least-asked question in Skid Row is. 

My thought pattern goes something like this: trash and debris…leads to germs and bacteria…which leads to urine and feces…  Wait, I forgot to ask the question: 

Drumroll please… The number one least-asked question related to homelessness in Skid Row is: “Where do homeless folks wash their hands?” Boom! 

Years ago, the LAPD insisted on removing all the port-a-potties from Skid Row due to all the drug-related crime and prostitution occurring constantly in them. 

Instead, super-expensive Automatic Public Toilets (APT’s) were installed – FIVE for the entire 50-block Skid Row community. But there are so many moving parts in these self-cleaning restrooms that, combined with the 24-hour constant usage, the APT’s often are out-of-service -- even though they are serviced by contracted maintenance crews 3-5 times per day. 

Only one of the missions remains open for 24-hours. This means there are extremely limited restroom options in an area with a reported 10,000 to 15,000 residents, and of those, 2,000 to 3,000 are homeless folks sleeping on Skid Row streets.  

All of this means that homeless folks and residents living in missions or low-income housing who travel several blocks from home have to “get creative” when they have to use the restroom. 

In 2012, the City of Los Angeles was cited by the LA County Health Department for three violations, one of which was for a high concentration of urine and feces all over Skid Row. 

Going back to the “number one least-asked question,” even when homeless folks relieve themselves, whether it be in an alley or behind a car, where would they be able to wash their hands? 

People outside of Skid Row don’t even realize that a person living in low-income housing (in this case an SRO) who happens to be receiving GR (General Relief) only receive $221 a month; sometimes they don’t have money at the end of the month to by a bar of soap. This means there are even residents who have access to bathrooms who can’t wash their hands in a sanitary manner. 

With El Nino fast-approaching, along with the germs and bacteria that will travel with it, a much-needed holiday gift would be bars of soap and hand sanitizers. 

It would help tremendously if a responsible person or team could walk around pouring bleach into all the nooks and crannies where homeless people relieve themselves. (I say this holding my nostrils closed just thinking about some of the smells “passing” in the air. Pun intended.) 

Maybe Santa could drop off his elves for a few months before next year’s holiday season so they would be tasked with BPD (Bleach-Pouring Duties). 

I don’t think Los Angeles is ready to have serious conversation about everyday living in Skid Row. In February, 2016, both the City and the County of LA plan to release comprehensive strategic plans on homelessness. But I can almost guarantee that funding for hand sanitizer, soap or bleach will not be anywhere in these two separate documents. 

And by the way, why will there be two different strategic plans released the same time anyway? But that’s a whole different article for a later time. 

Right now, though, it must be made public as to just how easily germs and bacteria can spread in Skid Row. Since it is winter time, it won’t be considered offensive if volunteers wear gloves when passing out food, blankets or whatever. 

Fist bumps instead of handshakes are a must…anyway, it makes people seem cool. Even volunteers should carry hand sanitizer in their pockets and/or purses. 

While we appreciate it if you want to “give back,” there are many more realistic complexities that all should be aware of. 

Instead of “walking to end homelessness,” how about pouring some bleach to end undesirable smells? It’s a more realistic way to help. 

I hope Angelenos appreciate what a luxury it is to have a place to wash their hands and soap to wash them with. 

Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us in Skid Row!

 

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

-cw

 

 CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--If you are following debates over growth and density in Los Angeles, I strongly recommend you watch the new film, The Big Short.   Without giving away too much of the plot, it is about several financial analysts who saw through the bombast that lead to the mortgage-based real estate bubble that nearly devastated the global economy in 2008-09.   

The only thing that stopped that Great Recession from turning into another Great Depression was the United States government bail out of the banks.  According to Bloomberg News, it took $13 trillion dollars of public dollars to stem the red ink that flowed from sub-prime mortgages into the entire financial system.  

Now, less than a decade later, the cheerleaders of another real estate bubble are ushering in Act II.  As recently presented in City Watch (“If you want LA to continue Living in the Past, then the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative is for You”), we are once more being treated to the preposterous argument that unrestrained real estate speculation is an urban miracle cure.  It represents the present rather than the past.  It eliminates the cause of high priced housing: planning and zoning regulations.  It allows for vertical growth rather than horizontal sprawl.   It creates jobs.  It promotes transit ridership.  And on and on.   

So, let us actually look at Los Angeles to evaluate several of these often repeated claims for their “truthiness.” 

Dishing out planning and zoning exceptions to super-sized projects allows us to be modern, to no longer be stuck in the past.   Really?  If we have learned anything from the recently concluded Paris climate summit, it is that modernity means dealing with climate change, not thumbing our nose at it through zoning approvals that allow mega-project after mega-project to proceed despite their unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  

Yes, the claims that high rise, mixed use projects in Hollywood and elsewhere are “green” (i.e., low carbon footprints) is belied by their Environmental Impact Reports.  Like the Hollywood Community Plan -- overturned by Superior Court Judge Alan Goodman -- all of the mega-projects’ Draft Environmental Impact Reports reveal that these projects will generate unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  Why?  Because they are automobile-oriented.   These buildings are only transit-adjacent, which does not, in any way, make them transit-oriented.   

They all have large parking structures to serve the needs of their well-heeled, car-loving tenants and condo-owners.  These tenants are, in fact, the least likely demographic group to use transit, even though many of these proposed and/or approve projects are close to METRO Red Line stations.  If these projects contained significant numbers of affordable units, they could eventually become transit-oriented developments because those tenants are more likely to use transit.  But, in LA this is not happening because the City Council long ago rejected inclusionary zoning provisions that would have mandated approximately 20 percent affordable units in all new apartment projects. 

In addition, the Hollywood area and other potential transit-oriented areas, such Korea Town and the Miracle Mile, suffer from two more deficits never mentioned by the groupies of real estate speculation.  Enthralled at appearing “modern,” these hucksters overlook the obvious.  Los Angeles does NOT have a dense mass transit system, nor does it have dense local services. 

Dense housing needs a dense transit system for local residents to regularly take transit.  This is why cities like New York, with its transit-oriented built environment, generate such high levels of transit ridership.  That city’s subway system, augmented by busses, has an astounding number of alternative origins and destinations.  In contrast, Hollywood residents only have a few Red and Purple Line destinations:  NoHo, Universal Studios, Koreatown, and some parts of downtown Los Angeles.  Many busy Los Angeles destinations will not be mass transit accessible for many decades – if ever -- such the Sunset Strip, downtown Beverly Hills, Westwood, Veterans Administration, UCLA, USC, Century City, Venice, and much of Santa Monica, to cite just a few popular destinations. 

Dense housing also needs dense public infrastructure and public services to effectively dislodge those who can afford to drive cars out of their vehicle.  As again demonstrated by New York City, a city needs wide, well maintained, ADA-compliant, sidewalks covered by trees and free of overhead wires and billboards, for residential density to achieve its intended low carbon goal.   

In the same vein, transit-oriented communities also need well-serviced local parks, schools, community gardens, and libraries.  Finally, these communities also need a full array of nearby private services, including restaurants and bars, dry cleaners, medical offices, grocery stores, drug stores, hardware stores, and clothing stores. 

When the Los Angeles neighborhoods targeted by investors for high density, such as Hollywood and Koreatown, provide these amenities, then the anticipated benefits of large, tall, mixed-use buildings could eventually appear.  Until then, however, to approve and then build these enormous structures is an invitation to failure.  The reason that the boosters overlook this is not quite a mystery though.  Like the commercial enterprises they shill for, their focus is short-term.  Once the Council dishes out the zoning and planning entitlements they need, and the buildings they ballyhoo are built, they are on to their next commercial project.   Their approach is antithetical to long-term planning, which is why real estate speculators and their supporters view planning as a barrier, not a manual for crafting a much-improved Los Angeles. 

Mega-projects help solve LA’s housing crisis by channeling billions of private investment into local real estate projects.  If this claim were true, Los Angeles would already be far better off, but it isn’t.  Building expensive homes and apartments does not increase the supply of affordable housing.  There is no linkage between these two real estate markets.  An analogy told to me by one correspondent explains this simply and straightforwardly:  building lots of Ferraris does reduce the cost of Hondas.  

Furthermore, the actual situation is much worse because new luxury housing often replaces affordable houses that are quickly bulldozed out of way – often illegally -- to assemble building sites.   For example, the Department of Building and Safety issues at least 2000 demolition permits per year for single-family houses.  They are almost all smaller, older “starter houses.”  When the wreckers leave, these new building pads quickly sprout over-sized houses that cost three times as much as the ones they replaced.  

The job creation myth.  Nearly every Statement of Overriding Considerations issued by the City Planning Commission and City Council cites job creation as the rational for ignoring the generation of unmitigatable levels of Green House Gases.  In these cases, though, talk is cheap because these decision makers never require a monitoring program to determine if the perpetually promised jobs actually appear.   Similarly, they never revoke zoning and planning approvals when the promised jobs do not materialize. 

While it is theoretically possible that some of the mega-projects will generate significant numbers of jobs, it is highly unlikely.  The free market approach to job creation has already failed miserably in Los Angeles.  While the Los Angeles area has had moderate population growth since 1990, job creation has been stagnant.  In fact, according to KPCC, there has been no change in the number of local jobs in over 25 years.   

Other CityWatch writers will undoubtedly debunk the alleged benefits of large commercial projects in Los Angeles requiring special zoning and planning exemptions.  I trust, though, that presenting the facts regarding the myths of modernity, construction of affordable housing, and employment is enough to take the wind out of the boosters’ sails and encourage wide support for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.  

 

(Dick Platkin is a retired LA City planner who writes on planning issues for CityWatch.  He welcomes comments, corrections, and questions at rhplatkin@gmail.com. )

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 104

Pub: Dec 25, 2015

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