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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016

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.

 

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CityWatch

 

Vol 13 Issue 105

 

Pub: Dec 29, 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

 

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.

-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

 

                                                                         

 

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

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.)

-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

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

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

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