Bruno, the LA Watchdog: Fetch the Bouncing Checks



Before I was rescued from the bushes outside Ron Kaye’s house and adopted by his wonderful wife Deborah, I was what you might call a “street dog,” living paw-to-mouth out of the garbage cans of the San Fernando Valley.
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It wasn’t always that way.  For a while, I picked up some junkyard gigs and actually made a living.  I got a weekly salary and was once offered a sub-prime mortgage by Countrywide for a Reseda doghouse.

And I had a checking account, although it often was overdrawn. That didn’t prevent me from writing checks, however, and local supermarkets looking for their money were often chasing me. I was constantly being lectured about being more careful with my account.

Looks like our new City Controller Wendy Grruel needs the same lesson.

According to Rick Orlov of the Daily News, who is often referred to the “dean” of the City Hall reporters since he’s been covering the place since Sam Yorty was in high school, about $6 million in city checks dated July 24 that were sent to vendors were returned for insufficient funds.

They bounced like the ball Ron sometimes throws at me in the backyard.  Six million dollars! Doesn’t Wendy know how to balance a checkbook? I bet Nick Patsaouras never asked her that during the campaign.

But Wendy is a good politician and told Orlov  the problem stemmed from a “processing error’ by Wachovia Bank.

 A $6 million “processing error?”  Former Controller Laura Chick, who reportedly also did some junkyard gigs before running for office, had the executives of Fleishman Hillard drawn and quartered for mistakes like that.

But Wendy is, well, nicer. A lot nicer.

“We are looking at the whole situation to make sure it is an isolated incident and won’t happen again,” Wendy told Orlov. I bet she served tea and little cakes during the interview.

I bet those Wachovia executives are shaking in the expensive boots they bought with their last bonuses.

Wendy’s flack Ben Golombek added that the problem relates to the transition as Wells Fargo takes over Wachovia’s operations this year. Wells Fargo bought Wachovia for $15 billion. I bet that check didn’t bounce.

Golombek said the city and Wachovia are sending letters of apology to those who received the bad checks. I doubt they’ll be accepted in lieu of cash at Ralph’s.

I’m just a dog, but isn’t there anybody in the Controller’s Office in charge of keeping an eye on this stuff – especially if the city’s bank was recently bought by another bank?

Laura Chick would have run down to the nearest Wachovia branch as soon as she heard about the deal and counted the city’s money. She probably would have left with a free toaster, too.

Woof!

A One-Way Ticket Out of Town — How New York Helps the Homeless

I have long harbored the idea that LA — where poverty has increased faster than anywhere else in America except Detroit — should pay people to leave town and start a new life somewhere else.

It’s not the kind of thing I’ve talked about much, given the fact were the Politically Correct Capital of America as well as the Homeless Capital — and the Meanest City in our treatment of the homeless.

But maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.
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New York City is already doing it. On Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg started a program of evicting some of the nearly 10,000 families housed in city shelters at a cost of $36,000 each if they break rules like staying out after curfew or refusing apartments offered them.

That brought up the subject of a program that the city has quietly run to buy one-way tickets anywhere in the world for down-on-their-luck families to start the lives over, places like Paris ($6,332 cost), Orlando ($858.40), Johannesburg ($2,550.70), or most frequently, San Juan, Puerto Rico ($484.20).

The city makes all the travel arrangements from visas to relocation loans, all it takes is for the families to agree and to have a relative who will take them in.

It’s a $500,000 a year program that has relocated 550 families since 2007.

Think about it: The mayor launched a dud $5 billion affordable housing plan that has managed to waste millions of dollars and achieve very little, LA would be a better city with fewer people instead of more crammed into ever denser spaces, poor people might actually find better lives in places without gangs, places where there’s steady work, places where there aren’t so many poor people that none of them stand a chance.

At $10,000 a family, a million dollars would help 100 families to relocate; a $100 million would help 10,000 families make a new beginning.

The savings in housing assistance, social services, educational and medical costs would more than pay the cost and leave a fortune to actually provide more help for those in need. We might even be able to identify what their problems are and actually give them the support they need to improve their lot in life.

The truth is LA has too many poor people.

For all that’s wrong with LAUSD, does anybody really know how to educate 700,000 kids with the vast majority coming from poor and/or immigrant families?

For all that’s wrong with the public health system, does anybody really know how to provide decent medical treatment where there are so many people without insurance or the means to pay to see a doctor for what ails them?

For all that’s wrong with City Hall, does anybody really know how to get rid of gangs that control whole neighborhoods or how to create enough good jobs to raise people’s standard of living?

We are hiding behind programs that are more political slogan than meaningful, the “living wage” and “affordable housing” being prime examples.

I’m not talking about mass deportations or buying people one-way bus tickets to Wetumpka, Alabama. I’m talking about genuine support and enough money to start a new life.

I know it’s not realistic for the masters of LA’s failed experiment in municipal socialism (an oxymoron if ever there was one) but the dark vision of LA as Blade Runner City becomes truer every day as the disparity grows between rich and poor and the middle class flight continues unabated.

If it’s good enough for New York, it’s worth at least talking about in the once innovative City of Angels.

Bruno, the LA Watchdog: The Circus That’s City Hall

Bruno’s only interaction with the French was with a tan poodle behind a Burger King on Sherman Way.  She was cute, but somewhat haughty, and expected me to treat her like the current First Lady of France.
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Bruno?  No way. I’m American through and through. 

That’s why this morning’s stunner in the Dog Trainer by David Zahniser, who appears to be the last Dog Trainer reporter who does any actual reporting, put the hair up on my ugly back.

According to DZ (that’s how “insiders” refer to Zahniser, and this dog is definitely inside) the City Council is weighing a plan to issue a $30-million loan that would allow the owner of the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall to retrofit a theater so it can house a decade of performances by Cirque du Soleil.

Thirty millions bucks for a French circus! I thought we were broke.

According to the proposal, the CIM Group, which owns Hollywood & Highland but leases the Kodak Theatre within the mall, hopes to bring the acrobatic performances to the venue starting in 2011.

If you’re not outraged yet, listen to this: If you want to attend the French circus in Hollywood, which I thought was already a circus, it will cost you $110 per ticket.

And how much you want to bet none of the people hired to fill the 858 promised jobs would be able to pack the family in the car some weekend for French circus fun.  It would cost $440 for a family of four, before parking and getting the kids some crepes and miniature Eiffel Towers and Cirque du Soleil berets at the souvenir stand.

And there aren’t even any elephants!  Hear that Tony Cardenas?  There aren’t any elephants.

The folks at CIM Group really have huge testicules, as the French would say. (If you have to look it up, you’re too dumb for even this column.)  Who are these guys?  And why would they expect the taxpayers to help their business?  Who do they think they are? Phil Anschutz or Tim Leiweke? (If you have to look them up, you’re definitely not an insider.)

Council President Eric Garcetti has already thrown his support behind the loan, saying Cirque du Soleil will be a major tourist draw.

 “People will come to L.A. just for this,” said Garcetti, whose district includes the Hollywood mall.

I think Eric’s tights are too tight and they’ve cut off circulation to his brain.  (He does look a little like an acrobat, doesn’t he? Kind of lithe.)  Yeah, somebody’s going to fly here to plunk down more than $100 to see a show that plays all over the world.  Maybe Eric fell from his trapeze. Normally the guy makes sense, even if he did join the Navy when he was old enough to be an admiral.

Sometimes it appears the only person on our City Council with any brains – get ready for this – is Dennis Zine, who is obviously a Bruno fan.

Zine questioned the wisdom (wisdom?) of putting so much loan money into a single project. With Sacramento lawmakers raiding city redevelopment funds to balance the state budget, neighborhoods are at risk of losing money for economic development projects, he said.

Dennis is somewhat better looking than Bruno, but the guy’s got a similar bark.

Woof!

Why Council Debates Attract Gadflies Like Dog Poop Attracts Flies

What does it say about the nature of City Council debates that 95 percent of the public comments come from Zuma, Matt, Mike, Donna, Arnold, John and the rest of the cast of gadflies who somehow manage to show up for nearly every meeting?

No need to answer. It’s clear enough that Council debates are all but meaningless, ham acting and posturing, leading questions to bureaucrats, mugging for the camera, displays of expensive wardrobes, all a scripted show leading to unanimous votes on just about everything.

Only on rare occasions like the great elephant debate or billboard blight or developments that trash neighborhoods do ordinary citizens show up in numbers large or small.

Why would you waste your time talking to people who don’t listen or care what you have to say?

Council debates attract gadflies like dog poop attracts flies and for much the same reason.

Considering what a waste of time public comment is, it makes perfect sense that the Council will do its best Wednesday to swat even the gadflies from participating.

Council Rule 12, which sets vague and arbitrary rules for decorum subject to the interpretation of the Council President, is being toughened to eliminate the need for even warning before a speaker can be banished and extends the banishment from 30 days to 30 meetings, or 10 weeks.

They might just as well eliminate public comment altogether, convert the hallowed Council Chambers into homeless housing and conduct their meetings in a small studio. After all, the real business is done in back rooms where lobbyists, union bosses, lawyers, contractors, corporate executives and developers work out the details with Council members and their staffs.

Public comment is about as important as writing letters and sending faxes and emails — a waste of time.

We’d all be better off protesting in the streets or sitting down in front of the bulldozers. At least that would get media attention and the 83 percent of registered voters who are apathetic, defeated or ignorant might actually wake up and take notice.

Here’s a better idea; Council Rule 12A, Equal Time in the Back Rooms for the public and special interests.

Under this proposal, each Council member would post all contacts they and their staffs have every week, the issues discussed and the duration. The public would then have the next week to gain the same amount of access to find out what was discussed and to make their views known.

Put that together with “clean money” funding of election campaigns and you might have something that began to look like democracy and responsible government.

Today on OurLA: City Hall’s $100,000 Pension Club, Part Two

The greatest threat to the financial well-being of the City of Los Angeles and to the future of the city as a whole is the dark shadow of unfunded pension liabilities for public employees.
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The city’s three employee pension funds have lost billions of dollars during the current economic crisis and taxpayers are on the hook to make good on their losses and to provide pensions of 75 to 90 percent of city workers’ highest salaries and lifetime health benefits.

On Monday, OurLA.org — the new community-based news and information website — listed the names of the Fire and Police Pension Fund’s 286 retired members who receive six-figure annual payments.

On Tuesday, OurLA.org will reveal the list of other city workers who participate in the LACERS pension fund who are members the $100,000 Pension Club.

This information was made available under requests filed under the California Publc Records Act. The Department of Water and Power’s $100,000 Pension Club will be published as soon as the information is made available.

Lily Burk Murder Suspect: Classic Case of a “Non-Violent Offender” Being Freed from Prison

Charlie Samuel is the poster child for the kind of thugs classified as “non-violent offenders” despite a history of violent behavior — the kind of hopeless criminal who would be included in the governor’s planned release of 27,000 convicts to reduce prison costs.

Samuel has been arrested on suspicion of murdering 17-year-old Lily Burk, the Los Feliz teenager whose body was found Saturday morning in her Volvo at 5th and Alameda.
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Police arrested Samuel nearby 12 hours earlier on drug charges, according the Times’ LA Now.

The LA Sheriff’s Department Inmate Information website shows Samuel was arrest April 23 on a parole violation, booked at Van Nuys Jail and assigned to a drug treatment program. He was formally released June 24(SAMUEL1.htm).

LA Now quoted law enforcement officials as describing Samuel as a transient with a history of violent crimes and drug problems.

Los Angeles Assistant Police Chief Earl Paysinger said metro officers
detained Samuel, suspecting he had been involved in other criminal
activity. The officers canvassed the area, looking for evidence of a
possible crime but didn’t discover anything out of the ordinary.

This case raises all the right questions about what we’re doing freeing criminals who all too often plead out to lesser charges to avoid conviction for violent crimes — plea bargains that are all too common.

Here’s a guy who is living on the streets, doing hard drugs who got paroled and was left unsupervised by probation officers and released without anyone thinking of the possible consequences.

And now Lily Burk is dead because he apparently accosted her while she was running an errand and tried to rob her.

What in God’s name are we doing?

Drought Busters Report: Guess Who Was Wasting the Most Water in LA

If the DWP is to be believed — always a risky proposition — then we know who the worst water waster in town is: The City, of course.

According to today’s report from the DWP on the first month of its mandatory water conservation rules, there is an overall reduction in water use of 11 percent compared to June 2008 and 14.4 percent lower than June 2006 when the drought began.
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That was a full year before the mayor deigned to call for voluntary conservation and a full year before mandatory measures were imposed — measures the City Council wants to drill with loopholes for the rich, the poor, the sick, the horsey crowd, corporations with large expanses of lawn and most of all, itself, including the half-acre of grass outside the soon-to-open $500 million yet-to-be-named Police Headquarters.

But I quibble and digress.

The point is nothing was done for two years while the water supply evaporated and the cost of buying water boiled over, a time period during which cities like Long Beach shattering records for conservation.

And then LA imposes Phase 3 restrictions, the most stringent in the whole state, suggesting that the DWP didn’t plan for this crisis or is over-reacting to justify enormous rate hikes in the name of the absurd doctrine of “revenue neutrality” so it can keep on giving 6 percent raises to its IBEW work force.

Whatever happened to “shared sacrifice” or has it just become “screw the public” as usual.

But I quibble and digress again.

The point is today’s DWP announcement about how we did in conserving water during June so here’s the numbers:

Single-Family Residential: -16.8%
Multi-Family Residential:  -8.3%
Commercial:  -12.7%
Industrial: -3.4%
Governmental: -29.5%
Total Water Usage: -14.4%

You can look at these numbers in different ways.

For instance, you could say the city has done a fantastic job of conserving water, better even than homeowners who have been the only ones to reduce water use by a degree in recent years.

Or you could say that if the city can cut water use by nearly a third in just one month maybe the city has been the No. 1 water waster for years, squandering this precious resource as if we weren’t just a town out in the desert somewhere.

Given the fact that homeowners have led the way in water use reduction in recent years and the city has not, it seems to me to be the inescapable conclusion that the city is the problem.

Not to quibble or digress, but isn’t it time to check up on DWP General Manager David Nahai who was caught last year with his hose running as one of the biggest water wasters in town. I wonder how he’s doing, and if his water meter is working properly.

Exclusively on OurLA.org: City Pension Millionaires: The $100,000 Club

Go to OurLA.org — the new community-based newnewlapd.jpgnews and information site — to read the who’s who of City Hall’s $100,000 Pension Club.

Today’s exclusive report provides the names of the retired LAPD and Fire Department employees who are getting six-figure pensions under contracts that pay up to 90 percent of their highest salaries.

You can read who they are — all 286 of them — at OurLA.org. Coming Tuesday is the list of $100,000 Pension Club members who draw their monthly checks from LACERS, the pension fund for elected officials and most city employees.

Selling LA: The Pitchman, The Promotion and The Profiteering

What’s happening to LA is a crimeThumbnail image for avbillboard1.jpg but don’t count on anybody go to jail. The game is fixed.

The street furniture deal is one of the scandals that goes back a few years when they let a greedy private company assault our eyes with commercial messages — Consume!  Consume! Consume! — at the ground level.

Since then we’ve seen how our city leaders have sold us out to giant flashing billboards and 15-story-high hangings that have only one purpose: Sell! Sell! Sell!

They thrive off of the pennies on the ground from the profiteers in hyper-consumerism and yet they dare call themselves environmentalists.

They are our leaders, sworn to serve us, yet they are the betrayers of all that is good for us.

They tried to get a blank check for billions of dollars in the name of solar energy and yet the people saw through their lies and refused to give them what they wanted in Measure B.

They don’t care. They are going right ahead and prepared to spend as much as it costs — $10 billion or more — and stick us with the bill.

On that scandal-tainted street furniture downtown and perhaps all acrossThumbnail image for antonio-failure.jpg the city, you can see the mayor’s answer to LA Magazine’s declaration a month ago  that Antonio Villaraigosa is a failure..

“Successful,” it declares for all eyes to see, “Thanks, Mr Mayor For Fighting Against Dirty Energy. Coal gone by 2020. Successful.”

For a man whose whole life is filled with a trail of tears over all his broken promises to be declared “successful” for promising to get rid of LA’s putrid reliance on coal-powering power plants is laughable.

One can only ask who would have the shameless audacity to put up such a sign.

The answer is something called REAP. No, not the program the city uses to punish small landlords while bearing direct responsibility through its own Housing Authority for the worst slum conditions that demean and demoralize the neediest among us.

This is the Renewable Energy Accountability Project, chair and principal Jim Gonzalez who led the campaign last November for Prop. 7 the Solar and Clean Energy Act rejected by nearly two-thirds of Californians.

Its website lists none other than S. David Freeman as Principal Emeritus. Yes, the same David Freeman who once headed the DWP when it squandered millions of dollars promoting solar energy but failed to deliver any. Yes, the same David Freeman who is now Villaraigosa’s deputy mayor for the environment, LA’s Environmental Czar.

Quite a trick having your environmental czar able to get signs put up around town on a lot of that street furniture hailing your hollow clean energy promise — a political slogan that has no cost estimates or plan associated with it — and already declare you a success 11 years before anything has been done.

All we know is that the DWP, under the leadership of the mayor’s dutiful servant David Nahai, is overpaying for as much as 30 percent to mask its long-term failure to go green and is prepared to spend whatever you’ll pay to try to catch up with all the cities in California that are so far ahead in the clean energy transition.

This is about Money! Money! Money!

It’s about who gets it and who will pay the clique of politicians, consultants, contractors, lobbyists, unions and hangers-on who will profit.

The campaign is under way and, at this point, we can only wonder who supplied the money to REAP to pay for these street furniture signs declaring the mayor so successful in delivering on his clean energy promise.

Or did they even have to pay at all.