Green Revolution vs. Community Empowerment — Why Are They at Odds?

Ever since Measure B on solar energy got ramrodded onto the ballot last November, I’ve grappled with the question why the environmental movement prefers to cut deals with politicians rather than muster greater support from a public that embraces the green revolution.

A case in point is competing events on Saturday a few miles apart in the San Fernando Valley.

In Panorama City, hundreds of community activists will gather at the High School at 8015 Van Nuys Blvd. for a program than runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s put on by the Valley Regional Congress of Neighborhood Councils, an official city organization. The program is entitled “Building Networks and Plugging into Power” and features sessions called “Road to Empowerment” and “Empowerment Camps” with the goal of building skills that will expend the reach of NCs and their ability to influence public policy.

Just a short distance away in Sylmar at the Lakeview Terrace Library, 12002 Osborne St., three Valley legislators will hold their own competing meeting from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with “environmental and renewable energy experts” and “environmental justice leaders” to build support for solar and wind power initiatives. The public is invited to the event sponsored by the usual list of environmental groups.

“Together, we can cut air pollution that causes health problems and global warming, and create good new green jobs in our communities,” says the email announcement of the meeting.

The three legislators leading this exercise are State Sen. Alex Padilla (former City Council president), Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (former councilman’s chief of staff) and Assemblyman Paul Krikorian (who wants to represent Council District 2).

So I presume they know all about the Valley Congress of NCs and choose to stage their own meeting rather than participate in the city’s official community empowerment event and gain support from 31 NC representatives and other community activists.

I honestly don’t understand this.
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Everywhere I go around LA I find overwhelming support for renewable energy, conservation of resources, smart planning, better transportation, cleaner air and water.

Frankly, the green revolution and community empowerment ought to be allies in the fight against political institutions that have failed us over and over again. This isn’t an issue of ideology or partisan poltical advantage.

Or is it?

The meeting announcement sounds remarkable like the language used to try to foist Measure B on the ballot and many of the same players are involved

If you really wanted cleaner air and more renewable energy, wouldn’t you reach out to the general community for input and support rather than mobilizing narrowly-focused organizations?

Wouldn’t you work with the people struggling to bring real democracy to LA and full public participation to the political process?

I know I would.

Dropping Like Flies, Fighting Like Dogs, Passions Like Pit Bulls — Is City Hall Still Indestructible?

One day the head of the Police Commission resigns “unexpectedly” one day to spend more time in his private law practice.

Two days later, Fire Chief Douglas Barry “abruptly” hangs it up at age 55 after two years in his post. He spent 35 years in the Fire Department so he’ll draw most of his $258,000 salary and full health benefits for the rest of his life so who can blame him.

In between, ex-cops-turned-Councilmen Dennis Zine and Bernard Parks opened their guns on the scandal-shrouded city employee pension funds and the mayor’s role in naming a majority of the members of the boards that have overseen disastrous investment policies and insider dealings.

This is no small matter since three of the five mayoral appointees to the Fire and Police Pension fund have resigned in recent days over ethical questions but members of the closed City Hall power structure to point fingers is a rare event.

If the weren’t enough, the passions of the community are aroused and the masses — so easily beguiled and confused for so long — are suddenly challenging just about everything the city does.

Too many billboards, too little planning, 16 percent electricity rate hikes, 28 bump in water rates, 300 percent increase in water runoff charges, the monumental budget crisis — there’s no end city issues that have become battlegrounds.

Or more local ones like the La Brea-Willoughby neighborhood’s fight over the Gateway Project which just got committee approval and goes before the full council next Wednesday.

Or the decade-long battle over preservation of the Southwest Museum which will come up again June 16 when the Board of Referred Powers considers approval of the Autry Museum’s application to expand a new wing in Griffith Park.

Then, there’s Hollywood’s fight over a long list of building code violations like front yards that have become parking lots with open storage and fences that are too high.

The list goes on and on.They are signs of LA’s new political realities where the mayor can no longer count on a City Council intimidated into submission, where the Council is looking over its shoulder at an increasingly dangerous electorate, where the community is becoming increasingly emboldened to fight City Hall.

On Friday, as the video shows, the council led by an impassioned Richard Alarcon derailed the mayor’s plan for distributing $19 million in federal stimulus money for community development projects targeted to low- and moderate-income residents and left bureaucrats and mayoral staff speechless. 

Bernard Parks supported increaseing Janice Hahn’s share of the money while Alarcon fought for a greater share for himself and Parks and Dennis Zine presided over a delicious floor show that gave the mayor until Wednesday to come up with a revised plan.

Welcome to the rise of democracy in LA.

On Billboards, Busted Budgets and Bad Leadership

Just like that in 26 seconds without further adieu or debate, the City Council last week grabbed another $27 million out of the money we pay for electricity and put it into the treasury to help mask years of reckless spending.

Today, the council will put its final seal of approval on a budget that is a work of fiction. It won’t even stand up 26 seconds into the new fiscal year starting July 1.

By then, the Department of Water and Power will have gotten the green light to impose a variety of massive rate increases even as it absorbs as much staff as it can from other city departments and a long list of costs normally paid by other city departments.

Will the city’s cash cow be hit with furloughs, layoffs, buyouts, early retirements? Not in your lifetime.

The battle for City Hall has just begun but the opportunities for the public to win some respect and a seat at the table of power are many.

Since the City Council exposed itself as a bunch of know-nothings during the Billy the Elephant debate and its uninformed passage of what became the solar energy ballot Measure B, there have been clear signs that a degree of nervousness has intruded into their lives.

It hasn’t stopped them from sneaking what’s left in the $100,00 annual slush funds they award themselves into their office accounts in the new year but it has given them pause in moving too swiftly and carelessly on a lot of important measures like the new billboard ordinance that came up on Tuesday.

This is a legislative body (I hesitate to use the phrase deliberative body) that enacted into a law a billboard ordinance so full of holes seven years ago that corporate lawyers have run circles around it. Even when the city won in court, the council and mayor sold out the public interest and opened the door to nearly 1,000 of those truly annoying digital signs.

When then-Planning Commission President Jane Usher pushed for a tough ordinance to clean up the mess, the system went to work to scuttle her effort and eventually forced her to resign in disgust.

By then, the public was aroused and the council agreed to a three-month moratorium on implementing the hole-filled ordinance they had passed just six weeks earlier. Then, another three-month moratorium. And on Tuesday, they put off a decision until September.

What was interesting about the two-hour-long parade of people who spoke at public comment was the council’s patience in allowing them all a full two minutes. That’s because it wasn’t just the disgruntled citizenry coming forward. Labor and business were united in their opposition to any effort to clean up the visual blight destroying the human environment of the city.

Jobs and profits are at stake. The economy is bad. This isn’t the time to clamp down on illegal billboards or stop their proliferation. If those arguments were made about poisoning the air, land or water, the environmental lobby would have been out in force but since it is only the visual landscape that is threatened, they were nowhere to be found.

My point in raising this is that there is an unease at City Hall these days. The public is aroused and getting organized. City unions are refusing to embrace the idea of “shared sacrifice.” Business is hurting. City Hall can’t pay its bills and the state is about to take away somewhere between $70 million and $120 million in property taxes.

It all makes for lively politics and turns every issue into a contentious battleground. I keep thinking that someone in the political arena and will step forward and provide real leadership when it’s so badly needed. Desperate times have a way of bringing out the best in people, or the worst.

The months ahead will tell us who we really are and whether we care enough about our city to pull together for the greater good or whether we continue to put our narrow self interests ahead of the public interest.

I don’t know how it plays out but I do know the future of LA is at stake for years to come.

The Parent Revolution Comes to the LAUSD

A funny thing happened when Ben Austin was on his way to reforming LAUSD from within — his paid petitioners to qualify him for the school board ballot for the Westside got screwed up and he didn’t get enough signatures.

So Austin did a better thing. He went back to the Parents Union he started as an offshoot of Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter school organization and now he’s launching not a reform effort but a “Parent Revolution” to take apart the district school by school and put parents and teachers in charge.

“If 51% of the parents at your school sign the petition demanding a
better school, we will guarantee your child a great school, in your
neighborhood, within three years” — that’s the promise made by the organization.

“The Parent Revolution is about power, plain and simple,” Austin says on the group’s website www.parentrevolution.org. “It’s about taking power from bureaucrats, special interests, and — yes — politicians, and giving it to parents.  Because parents are the only people without a conflict of interest when it comes to the future of our kids.  We will stand with any leader who is willing to embrace — and be held accountable to — that agenda.”

On Wednesday, Austin will be joined by parents and children for the group’s formal launch at 8:30 a.m. at Gertz-Ressler High School and Richard Merkin Middle School, which are
both run by Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, a charter operator.

“Together, we call upon all the parents of Los Angeles to sign up, stand up, stand together and speak with one voice – together, we are going to take back our schools for our kids, our communities, and our collective future.,” he says in remarks prepared for the Wednesday’s news conference.

A lot of different efforts have been undertaken to break the 30-year cycle of failure at LAUSD. Charters have whittled away at the edges despite strong resistance from the vast school bureaucracy and the unions.

The only reforms I believe that can succeed either in the schools or at City Hall involve citizen empowerment.

From Washington, to Sacramento, to LA, the last 50 years should have taught us what happens when the public becomes powerless, given nothing but a choice between tweedledee and tweedledum candidates.

Special interests have taken over our country, bought our politicians and sold out the public interest. Until the people have a seat at the table of power, we will not have a balance of competing interests or be able to fix our schools or our city.

It seems so obvious to me and yet I keep waiting and waiting for even a single prominent politician to step forward and embrace the idea of real democracy

CD5 Election Snafu: Will We Ever Know Who Really Won?

The evidence is mounting that county election officials messed up the Council District 5 runoff election between Paul Koretz and David “Ty” Vahedi so badly that the issue will inevitably end up in court and a re-vote might be needed.

At first, officials denied there was any problem. Then, they admitted to a small problem with some absentee voters in CD5 not getting ballots with the Koretz-Vahedi race on them. Now it appears the snafu affected a wider area and was not just limited to absentees.

Koretz won the count on election day by 335 votes and widened his lead to more than 551 as uncounted votes started to be tallied — an almost insurmountable lead with 2,300 ballots still to be counted.

Westside activists have assembled this list of irregularities and want those with information to email “Westwood Hills-Terry Tegnazian” <terrteg@earthlink.net> or Laura Lake at SaveWestwoodVillage@hotmail.com:

1) Some absentee ballots did not have the CD5 race on them.
2) Some voters went to their normal polling place and were told they were not on the voting
roll and were not offered a provisional ballot.
3) 16 precincts were required to vote by mail only and the voters that tried to find a poll to
vote at were turned away.
4) Polling places that voters used in March 3rd Primary did not have voting booths with voter
guides with the 5th District race on it when voting provisionally.
5) Precincts were changed without notification.

Last week, officials acknowledged only 116 absentees didn’t get the right ballot but now admit the problem might be wider.

It’s impossible to know the full impact of the error since it’s not just the people who didn’t get a chance to vote in the election but how many would have voted if polls were where they were supposed to be, if people weren’t discouraged from voting because polling places weren’t open at all or provisional ballots given to everyone who asked.

“The County has been forthcoming and admitted they have never seen this mistake occur before, so we are in uncharted territory,” Vahedi said in an email.

Bruno Remembers Those Who Serve — Semper Fi!

By Bruno
L.A.’s Watchdog

I’m back and I’m barking.
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Ron tells me I’ve been missed.  That’s flattering, but I’ve been reading his blog in my dog house and figured one guy ranting at the top of his lungs was enough.  You didn’t need a dog.

And he and his mob of angry citizens have been doing OK.  Measure B failed. Jack Weiss is looking for a job and Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich – who some say bears a remarkable likeness to me – promises to shape up City Hall.  

As far as our mayor goes, he doesn’t need me to pile on. He knows what he needs to do.

I’m back because of Memorial Day.

In addition to scaring deliverymen and chewing anything I can get my mouth around, I read a lot.  I tossed LA Times – also known as The Dog Trainer — this morning when I got to the Home section feature on how to dump your “beloved” pet during the recession (I’m not kidding) and turned to the more complete and better written Wall Street Journal.

The story headlined “Stalemate” (it’s online) should be read by everyone who thinks the holiday is about barbeques and a three-day weekend.

The story details how a single company of U.S. Marines are slugging it out with a like number of Taliban in an armpit of Afghanistan called Now Zad.

A sample:

 “The Marines here now, Lima Co. of 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, number fewer than 300 men and are currently training their replacements. Being a sideshow to the main effort has meant a daily routine of dangerous patrols through a no man’s land littered with land mines, all the while accepting the fact that at best they’ll go home next month with a tie.

“Matthew Nolen, a 27-year-old Navy corpsman from Memphis, Tenn., insists that each man on his patrols carry two Velcro tourniquets. The assumption is that if a Marine steps on a mine, he’ll likely lose both legs at once, and the corpsman will have two arterial bleeds to stem. Some infantrymen wear tourniquets loose around their ankles, like bracelets, so they can get at them quickly.

“‘It’s not for me,” said Sgt. Roy Taylor, a 23-year-old squad leader from New Orleans. “It’s for the guy next to me.'”

They don’t let dogs like me in the service, but if I could enlist, I’d be a Marine. I clearly have a little Devil Dog in me.  And on this Memorial Day I’ll enjoy the steak bones but also remember that next year we might be mourning the death of some Marine patrolling Now Zad right now.

As of May 23, nearly 5,000 men and women serving their country have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/). If you have time before the barbeque, visit Arlington West (http://www.arlingtonwestsantamonica.org/index.html) beside the Santa Monica pier and stare out at the sea of black crosses representing each of them and remember what this day is all about. Take your kids.  I’ve got a buddy, Roy, a black lab on the Westside with a taste for Styrofoam, whose family goes every year.  I’m sure the kid in that family will never forget what Memorial Day is really all about.

The red crosses at Arlington West, by the way, represent 10 dead young Americans each. They ran out of room.

Woof.

Jane Usher Speaks Out: Taking Back City Hall from the Corrupt Political Machine

Jane Usher spent three years as president of the city Planning Commission trying to end pay-to-play development deals and bring intelligent growth to LA.

She fought for rules that would protect the quality of life in neighborhoods, to stop the visual blight of billboard proleration and finally quit in protest over the corruption that was destroying the city.

Usher was instrumental in helping Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich’s successful campaign for City Attorney and sees as the turning point, the moment where power shifts from the City Hall political machine to the people.

On Wednesday, she spoke to the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Watch Peter Vukovich’s videos of what she had to say and you will understand why we fight for change. There’s also a video of Trutanich talking to SOHA and making a commitment to stand with the people.

Wendy Watch: Is the New City Controller Right in Calling the Budget “Fiscally Responsible”

Many commentators have called the city budget approved this week a work of fiction based on false revenue and cost assumptions, and warned it will lead to drastic cuts in city services and could force LA into bankruptcy within a few years because it fails to solve the structural deficit and the looming public employee pension crisis.
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Councilwoman Wendy Greuel — a long-time Budget Committee member who will become the city’s financial watchdog on July 1 — has a rosier view . Here’s the email blast she sent out:


Dear Neighborhood Council Board Member, 
 
This week, the City Council passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2009-10 that
is both fiscally responsible and keeps our City safe.  We had to make
some very difficult decisions while keeping our pledge to maintain the City’s
public safety efforts. The cuts we did make were dramatic, but necessary to
balance our budget.  However, if we didn’t make these difficult decisions
now, it would have been even worse next year.
 
But it wasn’t all
bad news.  I am happy to announce that last night the Council approved my
recommendation to restore funding for Neighborhood Councils to $45,000 for
next year.  The Neighborhood Council’s will take the same cuts as the
Council, so we’re all going to have to keep working together to do more with
less.
 
As you know, Neighborhood Councils are very important to me
and I appreciate the many contributions that you’ve made to Council District 2
and the City as a whole.  That’s why I made it a priority to work with
the City Clerk’s Election Division and DONE to restore this money.  While
there will still be an overall cut shared by the entire City, my hope is with
these additional funds, neighborhood councils will continue the great work
they do to improve communities Citywide. 
 
I appreciate all
of your work and support through the budget process and look forward to
working with each of you to better serve our
communities.
 
Best,
 
Councilwoman Wendy
Greuel


Happy Days Are Here Again…The Worst Is Over — Maybe

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Obama Adminstration is jawboning signs of economic stability as hopeful indications that recovery is just around the cornerPersonally, I think things will get worse before they get better but here’s a report from the Realtors at yesterday’s CSUN/San Fernando Valley Economic Alliance Summit on the economy.

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Worst of the Reccession is Past, Home Sales Up

By ANA MARIA COLON, president, and David Walker
Southland Regional Association of Realtors®

 

The San Fernando Valley appears to be through the worst of the
economic recession and may show signs of recovery sooner than other
parts of the state and the nation, speakers at the fourth annual
Economic Summit said on Wednesday.
 
With foreclosures down and home sales up dramatically over year
ago levels, the speakers agreed that the economy appears to be in a
holding pattern. 
 
Businesses, which did their heaviest cutbacks last year, and
consumers are unsure if another wave of foreclosures is on its way. Or,
they wonder, if today’s relative calm suggests that the perfect storm
that battered the economy in 2008 – lead by a decline in home sales, a
plunge in prices and a lockdown in credit – has passed with brighter
days ahead.
 
“The housing market is no longer the driver of our economic
condition. The wind is out of that sail,” said Dr. William Roberts,
director of the Economic Research Center at California State
University, Northridge. 
 
“We’ve moved from an economy in recession to one that is sitting back waiting to see what happens,” Roberts said.
 
CSUN and the Valley Economic Alliance co-presented the 4th Annual
Economic Summit which drew 400 attendees for a daylong look into
multiple facets of the economy. The Southland Regional Association of
Realtors was a major sponsor of the summit, providing information on
the ongoing improvement in home sales and the apparent bottoming out of
resale prices.
 
Keynote speakers included Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Dale Bonner,
secretary of the California Business, Transportation and Housing
Agency. Johnson, the L.A. Lakers’ basketball legend and business
entrepenuer, was introduced by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Reports on each of their presentations will appear on this page in
coming weeks.
 
Roberts said that the Valley’s strength is in its diversity, both
in terms of the many faces of its residents and the wide variety of
businesses serving the community. That suggests, along with multiple
indicators, that recovery may appear here sooner than in other parts of
the nation. Economists generally agree that recovery won’t gather full
force until 2010. 
 
“Trust your instincts” when it comes to making economic decisions
such as buying a home, Roberts said, “but then look for confirming
data.”
 
A survey of local businesses found that only one-quarter of
businesses believe they will lay off workers this year. Twenty-three
percent of local companies plan to hire more workers while 51 percent
of Valley businesses think their workforce will be stable. 
 
That reflects a breath of optimism in what has been until now a rather bleak economic outlook.
Dr. Robert Kleinhenz, deputy chief economist for the
175,000-member California Association of Realtors, agreed that home
sales statewide are improving ahead of the rest of the nation.
 
“Real economic growth is not likely to happen until we get into
2010,” Kleinhenz said.  “Nationally, the housing market is dead in the
water, but California home sales are up 143 percent over 2008.”
 
“The question is whether sales will be sustained through the
year,” he said, “and there is concern about what may be a false bottom
in home prices.”
 
Based on sales and inventory, prices should be rising,  but the
presence of what some call a “shadow inventory” – distressed properties
held by banks but not yet on the market – has some experts wondering if
today’s calm will continue.

 

Trutanich: “We took over the city . . . We’re going to change the way politics is played”

Carmen Trutanich’s followers partied election night away at the Universal Hilton while the mayor and his good friend poor Jack Weiss huddled in a back room (appropriately) at Canter’s Deli secluded from their glum financiers and called it an early night as the returns flowed in.

Such is the joy of victory and the heartache of defeat.

Weiss must have been as fatigued as most voters from watching campaign consultant Ace Smith’s smear ads so he couldn’t make it to the City Council meeting Wednesday.– not that there was anything unusual in that.

The humiliating defeat of his “little brother” in the City Attorney’s race dashed any hope the mayor has about running for governor — a “slap” in his face, Councilman Bill Rosendahl told the Times.

But it’s not the last we’ll hear of Weiss. You can take the mayor’s word for it.

“Jack’s like a little brother to me, and he is because I sat with him
on the City Council. I saw his intellect, his integrity, his honesty,” the mayor told reporters.

The word on the street is that the mayor wants to name Weiss his deputy mayor for homeland security.

I know it’s hard to believe what with thousands being laid off or paid off and the city broke. My dog Bruno, who was homeless and jobless for so long but now provides excellent home security, is still yowling at the news.

If I interpreted his barking right, he said: “A dumb mutt like me has more intellect, integrity and honesty than either of them, and knows more about keeping people safe than hizzoner and his lapdog will ever know.”

In contrast, “Nuch” grabbed an hour or two of sleep took a celebratory lap around the city and ended up at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association monthly meeting Wednesday night where he was greeted like a triumphant Caesar returning to Rome.

There was fire in his belly as he got a standing ovation from the packed cafeteria at Notre Dame High School.

“I’m touched and overwhelmed,” he told the crowd. “I’m not going to let you down. We took over the city last night…We’re going to change the way politics is played in the city of Los Angeles.

“I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be one. I want to leave a legacy. I want to touch your lives by bringing you a better government.”

That ought to be scary enough to the City Hall political machine but he added that he will vigorously investigate and prosecute ethics violations in City Hall, working closely with District Attorney Steve Cooley, and seek state legislation, if needed, to end the pay-to-play corruption that pervades local politics.

Then, as he left to go to yet another event, he called Controller-elect Wendy Greuel and asked her to conduct a full audit of the City Attorney’s office — something current City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, with support from the council, went to court to block former Controller Laura Chick from doing for the last year.

A wounded mayor, a crusading prosecutor — this is going to be fun. Now if David Vahedi can beat Paul Koretz when all the votes are counted and a servant of the people could be elected to succeed Greuel in District 2 …