Jay Carson, Steve Bing and Antonio’s Ethics Problem

Gang czar Jeff Carr got the top billing in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s shakeup in the leadership of his vast personal staff.

But the real play is the appointment of high-flying Jay Carson, the 32-year-old named to revive the mayor’s political fortunes in the newly-created post of Chief Deputy Mayor.
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The shakeup announcement (CarrCarson.doc) stressed Carr’s role and downplayed Carson’s and for good reason. Carson will be in the center of where the power and money are, the missing link in Antonio’s circle of ‘friends.’

The link that matters in this case is Stephen Bing, heir to a vast fortune who has thrown nearly $100 million into Democratic causes and campaigns, including Villaraigosa’s, and even more into buying his way into Hollywood movie making.

It was Bing who brought Carson to LA early this year in a top post in his Shangri La business enterprises. And it’s the Bing connection that creates a huge ethical cloud over Carson’s role as Chief Deputy Mayor, one that the mayor glibly kissed off at his press conference last week although serious questions need to be answered.

Not long after Carson joined Bing, the mayor threw himself across the tracks as head of the board overseeing the MTA and kept the staff from eliminating AnseldoBreda as a competitor for a $300 million rail car manufacturing deal because of the Italian firm’s poor performance on a previous contract.

The key to keeping the deal alive is the partnership between AnseldoBreda and Bing’s Shangri La Construction to build a rail car manufacturing plant with heavy public subsidies in the five-mile strip near downtown that the mayor has dubbed LA’s Green Tech Corridor and made the centerpiece of his second term.

Bing stands to profit handsomely from the project which is just the first step in reaping  billions of dollars in profits from construction of the California high-speed rail lines — deals where Bing’s political influence are sure to stand him in good stead.

Carson faces an almost impossible ethical dance since he worked for Bing and his duties as Chief Deputy Mayor include “Education, Housing & Economic
Development, Transportation, Energy & Environment, and Commercial
&
Residential Development,” according to the mayor’s press release.

Those are the most
controversy-laden areas of city government, the areas where special
interests with all their cash flow for politicians collide head-on with
the sentiments of many residents. Specifically, they are the areas of responsibility that come into play in Bing’s deals.

The mayor casually threw out that Bing will “recuse” himself from involvement in the Bing rail car deal.

But how is that possible?

He’s not a legislator recusing himself from voting on a measure because of a conflict of interest.

He’s the man in charge supervising the people developing strategies, cutting deals and implementing policies that affect Bing. How can they be insulated from being influenced by Carson and his clear connection to Bing?

Continue reading Jay Carson, Steve Bing and Antonio’s Ethics Problem

Abandoning Antonio’s Ship: Loneliness at the Top

You got to feel for Antonio Villaraigosa. He’s taken over the schools, launched his pay more for less water and power initiatives, tweeting hourly of his accomplishments and ignoring the city’s budget crisis, and now key players on his team are abandoning him.

Chief of Staff Robin Kramer is announcing her departure today at 10:30 a.m. in what’s billed as “a major announcement regarding his administration.”

In a brilliant managerial stroke, the mayor is naming gang czar Jeff Carr as his new chief of staff — what could be more righteous than to put a gang intervention expert into the middle of a gang of thieves.

In other words, Kramer — who has been in and out of City Hall from Richard Alatorre, Dick Riordan and now Antonio — has had enough after four years in the hot seat.

That leaves a lot of holes in the lineup.

Fire Chief Douglas Barry has retired.

Police Chief William Bratton has chosen to chase the green as a global security expert.

His lawyer Thomas Saenz — architect of his first failed school takeover plan and negotiator of his sweetheart labor contracts — has gone on to the more natural surroundings of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational
Fund.

Andrew Adelman, the head of the Building and Safety Department, has gone on injured reserve — a self-inflicted wound caused by accusations against him of date rape and other californications.

And sooner rather than later the plug is going to have to be pulled on DWP General Manager David Nahai who is finding it’s very lonely at the top of the nation’s largest municipal utility when everyone around you hates your guts.

The mayor is finding it’s tough being captain of a ship without a crew, of being the butt of so many jokes about being the city’s worst water waster when everyone else in town is getting slugged with soaring DWP bills even as their lawns are turning brown and it’s getting too expensive to turn on the air conditioning.

At the current rate of departures, there soon will be no one left to turn out the lights at the mayor’s mansion.

Not to worry. Unemployment is so high, the mayor will have no trouble finding jobless people to fill all his openings.

I’d apply but I work for love, not money.

Antonio’s Last Stand: Battle for LAUSD, City Hall

Antonio Villaraigosa has finally staked out his claim as the leader of Los Angeles; now all he has to do is lead.

He knows good and well what the No. 1 problem is: Public employee unions are out of control. They have gone from their rightful role as bargaining agents for workers to policy makers, successfully throwing their weight around in elections to the point that too many elected officials are little more than stooges for their interests.
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As the elected leader of the city, the mayor has the primary responsibility of resolving the financial crisis brought to a head by the economic downturn.

By stepping to the forefront of the movement to reform the school system, he has now fully asserted himself as the man responsible for ending the LAUSD’s 30-year record of failure.

The city’s financial troubles are far less complicated than the challenge of providing a quality education to nearly 700,000 children.

LA doesn’t have a revenue problem; it has a spending problem mainly caused by years of sweetheart contracts with its workers that no longer are affordable.

The mayor knew, and acknowledged knowing, that the sweetened retirement deal that he and the City Council offered the unions threatened the city with bankruptcy. He pulled it off the table last spring but then lost his nerve and gave in.

It has fallen apart now, which has left the Council shivering in its boots, or more likely basking in the sun on some faraway beach where its members have fled to escape their responsibilities.

Quite simply as the city’s financial bureaucrats have repeatedly said, albeit timidly, payroll costs must be reduced. Giving a bunch of cash and enhanced pensions to workers who are ready to retire anyway doesn’t achieve this. Furloughs and deferral of raises don’t achieve the permanent reduction in payroll costs either.

There’s no mystery about how to reduce payroll costs: You either lay off workers or you reduce their pay and benefits.

Continue reading Antonio’s Last Stand: Battle for LAUSD, City Hall

LA’s Great Educational Experiment: Breaking up LAUSD 50 Schools at a Time

Finally, after 30 years of failure to achieve a record of success and a can-do classroom culture, LAUSD surrendered Tuesday and took the leap toward real reform.

The school board voted 6-1 to open 50 new schools and those that are failing to competition by independent operators, charter organizations and LAUSD staff..
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The teacher, administrator and classified unions backed by ACORN, civil rights and community organizations complained about the process being too hasty and warned that charters are not the answer.

They threatened to sue and retaliate against board members who supported Yolie Flores Aguilar’s resolution entitled “Public School Choice: A New Way at LAUSD.”

Former Assemblywoman and school board many Jackie Goldberg, who many have blamed for turning LAUSD into an ideological battleground, passionately made the case against the plan, accusing the district of giving into the right-wing and abandoning their responsibilities.

Thousands of demonstrators chanting “We want change” gathered at LAUSD headquarters in support of the resolution which has the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the LA Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent Ramon Cortines, the Parent Revolution, MALDEF, United Way and a number of educational, civic and community groups.

Aguilar acknowledged the district is making slow improvements in test scores but noted only a third of third-graders are reading at grade level and it will take as long as 20 years to make substantial progress at the current pace.

“Slow and steady gains are not enough…we need rapid large-scale student-centered reform,” she said.

Tamar Galatzan, a candidate for City Council District 2, said she too was “fed up” with the slow pace of progress.

“I’m going to vote for this resolution,” she said. “We have a chance to succeed right now beyond the capabilites and limitations of our district…we are expanding our district in order to save it.”

Marguerite Lamotte was the only board member who voted against the reform effort but union backer Steve Zimmer eventually came out in support of the reform after stalling the vote for three hours with resolutions that sought to protect existing teacher union contracts and enhance the union’s ability to throw roadblocks in the way of independent operators.

Zimmer said he was “hurt and angry” that he had to “shatter the trust” of either the union or many of his constituents with his vote.

He insisted the process was flawed and failed to put the interests of children first but he believes in the role of families involvement in education. “I’m voting yes because I want to make  sure I’m part of the next step of this process.”

LaMotte said it was enough to be a board member to be part of the process and cast the lone no vote.

Passage of the change was a foregone conclusion despite the rallying of forces with the city’s most powerful labor leader, Maria Elena Durazo, tilting in favor of the plan and agreeing to head the committee which will work out details of a 10-step process designed by Cortines who will ultimately recommend who runs the schools under a four-year implementation program.

The Luckiest Generation: 50th High School Reunion

I got to the first event of my 50th high school class reunion when the cocktail party was already in full swing in a hotel party room jammed with some 300 elderly people.

There was no line at the bar.

Drinks were cheap so I got a double and scanned the crowd, spotting an old girlfriend. Like 90 percent of us, she wasn’t skinny like she was back in 1959 when we graduated from Cleveland Heights High School.

She had run off to New York at 21, eventually married and raised a family while running an antique business with her husband and now lived in Florida where they relocated and were still working.

Life was good, prosperity, happiness, family and friends. The room was filled with people whose lives were everything they were supposed to be for a generation that came of age in the 1950s when rock-and-roll and the space age were being born, when ordinary people suddenly could buy houses and cars and kids were expected to go to college.

It seemed like nearly everyone in the class of 600 did go to college. The room was filled with doctors and lawyers and accountants and realtors and insurance agents, teachers and therapists of all types, engineers and executives and entrepreneurs, even a few writers and artists and musicians.

It didn’t matter whether they got all A’s or all C’s in high school. They had grown up in a middle class suburb and now were rich or at least upper middle class. They had scattered all over the country, more in California than anywhere else, and had traveled the world.

There were exceptions like one friend who grew up a pool stick in his hand and a deck of cards in his pocket. He had gone through hard times gambling his way into bankruptcy and blowing up a couple of marriages before straightening himself out 15 years ago with the help of Gamblers Anonymous where he was now a star helping others. He started his own insurance business, married again and now was a devoted grandfather to 14, retired, sober and happy.

I’m sure there were others who had struggles among those who were absent and beneath the surface of those who were present.

But the face we all put forward was the one of a generation whose dreams had come true — true enough anyway even if they didn’t quite fit all the pictures we held in our minds when we were young.

The Memory Book is filled with stories of marriages that have lasted more than 40 years, of loving grandparents, of adventurous travel, of happiness and success. It is the story of America in the post-World War II era of exploding wealth and hyper-consumerism, when father knew best and mom stayed home and took care of everyone’s needs.

By the time we got to college there was the “pill” and rebellion against conformity, social inequality and war but ours was a time of relative innocence and the lives of my classmates reflect that.

We are old now, retired or semi-retired for the most part, the pre-boomer generation with long life expectancies. Our children are gifted with greater affluence and even better educations than we had.

Our parents were the greatest generation, no doubt, overcoming the Great Depression and lack of education to achieve the middle class. We were the luckiest generation, spoiled and indulged, educated and liberated from many of the cultural restraints of the past.

As I skimmed the surface of long-dormant friendships that dated back to grade school, I kept searching for some answers to my own sense of self, then and now, and to who we had become. At times I felt like the same awkward, shy adolescent I was
back then.

I didn’t have any moments of epiphany and don’t think I found anything profound. Most of my classmates have become like the rich, protective of our wealth and status, desirous of perpetuating what our families have achieved.

But there was an undercurrent of something else in play, a sense of adventure that ran through most people’s lives as they followed their dreams wherever they led them. I’m sure there are some people for whom life has turned out badly but 90 percent of my class is still alive and kicking, younger and more vital than our 68 years of age might seem, often deeply involved in charities and community groups.

On the plane home I ruminated about my belief that we’re undergoing a fundamental change in American society that goes far deeper than just another economic recession. I couldn’t help wondering about how the lives of all those grandchildren will turn out in a world where economic growth has slowed and opportunity for material success become limited.

Two nights of partying with old friends and acquaintances gave me hope that there’s more to us than just preserving what we’ve attained. We are younger than our years and have much to give after spending the prime of our time looking after ourselves.

Once we believed you shouldn’t trust anyone over 30. Now, we probably shouldn’t trust anyone under 30. Our lives have taught us how to change with the times and maybe, just maybe, we will see how lucky we’ve been, how much we have to give back to help create a new America where everyone has the same opportunities that we in the Heights High Class of ’59 have had.

Measure B By Any Other Name Is Still a Blank Check for Defrauding the Public

There’s a fundamental difference between a publicly-owned utility like Southern California Edison and a municipally-owned utility like the LA Department of Water and Power.

You can guess which utility is more open about what’s doing, more accountable to the public and, in the case of SCE and DWP, more aggressive about going green.
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By law, SCE needs to be pretty transparent so that its shareholders and the public through its regulation by the Public Utilities Commission know what’s going on. Its management can be held accountable by shareholders and its board of directors, if not always the public in general.

By practice, the DWP is not only secretive but does its very best to obscure what it’s really up to and its management is far more likely to be called on the carpet by IBEW union boss Brian D’Arcy than any mayor or the City Council.

Perhaps that’s why SCE is approaching 20 percent of its energy from renewables and DWP about half that percentage, why DWP depends on dirty coal for 40 percent of its electricity and SCE about half that.

Certainly, it’s why a 75-word press release was issued Tuesday by Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar announcing DWP had contracted to build a “large-scale solar power project in Imperial County…(that) will have a generation capacity of 55 megawatts.”

And why a few hours later, SCE itself put out a press release announcing First Solar will build two large-scale solar power projects in Riverside and San Bernardino counties in Southern California…among the largest of their kind…(with) a generation capacity of 550 megawatts of photovoltaic solar electricity, enough to provide power to approximately 170,000 homes.”

SCE notes it “is the nation’s leading purchaser of renewable energy and, in 2008, delivered 12.6 billion kilowatt-hours of energy to its customers from renewable resources – about 16 percent of its total energy portfolio. In addition, the utility delivered more than 65 percent of the solar energy produced in the United States for its customers in 2008.”
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The best boast DWP can make is that it generates more pollution from coal-generating power plants than any other municipal utility in America.

Not to worry, General Manager David Nahai has a plan to catch up. But it’s a secret so he can’t tell you about it. The culture of the DWP and Nahai’s own mindset require secrecy above all else so that only insiders who might benefit personally or politically are allowed access.

All you the public need to know is that it’s going to cost you a ton of money.

The DWP, for instance, doesn’t mention anything about the First Solar deal on its website or much else of use to anyone who wants to understand what it’s doing. The last press release posted came three weeks ago and declared — prematurely, if not falsely — that its new water shortage measures “successfully” reduced consumption.

The website Greentech Media  in an article by Ucilia Wang at least supplies some sense of the economic game DWP is playing in signing a power purchase agreement, quoting Mark Bachman, an equity analyst at
Pacific Crest, as saying First Solar “is likely to sell the power plant
to investors before project completion. But the city has an option to
buy the power plant after it’s put in service for seven years.”

What we’re really seeing is Measure B all over again. Except they not only don’t want a public debate about what they’re doing, they don’t want another public vote because they know it would be rejected soundly.

But it’s the same blank check for billions of dollars without planning or analysis.

And it has got the same No. 1 goal as Measure B: Protecting IBEW jobs and its industry-leading wage structure, which by the way is set to rise 3.25 percent higher on Oct. 1 thanks to the sweetheart contract the mayor and City Council awarded four years ago with provision for wage hikes as high as 6 percent.

In general terms, the DWP needs to reduce its huge load of carbon pollution and the easiest way to do that is to upgrade coal plants to natural gas, which has the key benefit of preserving IBEW jobs. But that isn’t renewable energy, just less polluting.

So wind and solar come into play to meet the 20 percent renewable energy quota by next year no matter what they cost.

It doesn’t matter what they cost as far as the DWP is concerned. They have won DWP Commission approval to remove the 4 percent cap on rate hikes for renewable energy, the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor or ECAF.

The ECAF allows for rate hikes to be passed through to ratepayers without going before the City Council or facing meaningful debate or cost analysis.

DWP expects rates to only increase 10 percent a year but they could go far higher since utility officials in their desperation to catch up with other utilities paying above market prices for renewable energy. And that doesn’t even taken into consideration rate increases needed to cover the under-funde DWP pension which faces a $450 million annual shortfall — a fact that officials have done their best to hide from the public.

The council has taken jurisdiction over lifting the cap on ECAF rate increases because it’s already a hot-button issue for the citizen watchdogs on the DWP Committee that led the successful fight against Measure B, the kind of issue that is likely to explode in the faces of the politicians when people see their water and power bills soaring higher than their mortgages.

A lot of effort is being put into creating a Ratepayer Advocate office for the DWP but the real solution is to put someone in charge who actually knows how to run a utility, has the short- and long-term interests of the ratepayers as the primary mission and is backed up by city officials who have mustered the political will to bring the IBEW into line with the city’s financial realities.

Anything less will lead to a public revolt against policies that cost too much and fail to achieve the clean environmental goals that are widely desired.

Bruno, the LA Watchdog: Why Van Gogh Cut His Ear Off

Bruno has only two pictures on his doghouse walls: A shot of the woman who rescued me from life on the streets, and a painting of some buddies and me playing poker.
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An art expert, I ain’t.

But I know a good story when I hear one like the one in the Dog Trainer today on the Los Angeles County Museum Art, not because of the art – I leave that to Big Dog Eli Broad — but because the guy who runs the place makes a $1 million a year.

And some of that is our money!  And you thought we were broke just because we’re letting dangerous criminals out of prison by the thousands and our lives are in danger because firefighters have to take extra time off the job to keep the city’s checks from bouncing.

LACMA gets a lot of money from the public, about a quarter of its $74-million operating budget from L.A. County in 2008 — including $201,432 toward the salary and benefits of Michael Govan, the museums director.

dogspoker.jpgI wonder if he likes pictures of dogs playing poker?

In fairness, and Bruno always tries to be fair, the guy apparently gets high marks for fundraising, which according to him, he does almost every night.

He definitely does not, however, get high marks for media relations. Dog Trainer reporters Alan Zarembo and Mike Boehm asked him about his fund raising schedule.

“Do you have any idea how much that costs in baby-sitting?” he replied.
 
The reporters added that he said it “jokingly,” but it sounds to me like the jokes on us.

Bruno has no puppies around the house, but I imagine if I was pulling in a million bucks a year with taxpayer help, he wouldn’t joke about paying the teenager down the block $5 an hour for watching the kids – especially to reporters!

And for the record, Govan has only one kid.

If it would help, Bruno would babysit for free and teach the kid to play poker.  Most kids, however, find me kind of scary.

Woof!

Where in the World is Antonio Villaraigosa? Africa, Iceland, Topless Pool at Caesar’s Palace…

antoniiotmz.jpgMaybe we’d be better off if the mayor was still running for governor.

That way at least he might muster serve energy to pay attention to the city’s affairs instead of his own. At least to protect his record.

Ever since he declared he was committed to deal with LA’s financial crisis and many other problems, the mayor has been on the road partying.

Africa. Iceland. And now Las Vegas where TMZ got this photo of him with girlfriend Lu Parker, the TV news anchor, at the topless pool at Caesar’s Palace last Monday when he was speaking at the Clean Energy Summit. So there may be more to his passion for environmental issues than just political advantage and billions for his pals.

Meanwhile, there’s a $300 million to $500 million hole in the city budget, the early retirement deal they cut is falling apart and, like the mayor, the City Council is on vacation, too.

Shameless is taking on new meaning. Just say LA.

Follow the Money: Essel’s Trail in CD2 Race Leads to City Hall Interests

The battle lines are drawn for the Council District 2 special election on Sept.
22 and if money talks — and it usually does in politics — Chris Essel
should be unbeatable.
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She’s raised nearly $200,000, which is more than the rest of the nine candidates combined.

Her list of 495 contributors
includes such luminaries as Barbara Steisand and Vlade Divac and his
wife, studio executives and many others in entertainment industry
interests, real estate and development interests, construction company
and trade unions, lawyers and consultants of various types and even a
wives of lobbyists thrown in.

You can read the full story at OurLA.org.

Bruno, the LA Watchdog: Love and Excess in High Places

If you’re a city official looking for a place to fall in — or out — of love, you might want to pick someplace other than Osteria Mozza.
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And don’t think you can compromise by patronizing the Pizzeria Mozza next door either.

How do say sieve in Italian?  And I’m not talking about the kitchen utensil.  The waiters seem to have a hotline to reporters and the place is usually surrounded by paparazzi, which is definitely Italian for something too vile for even this dog.

It’s hard for a dog like me to believe, but I’m told by a very reliable source, who’s actually been to Italy, that the best dish at Osteria Mozza is the grilled octopus appetizer. I’m not sure what octopus tastes like (remember, I’m a dog!), but seems to make some men behave like Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The mayor is a regular at Mozza, whic is not far from the Hancock Park mansion where he lives. He’s been there many times with his pals and his girlfriend, former Miss USA and TV reporter Lu Parker. I’m sure a classy couple like them must like the octopus as they run up those big tabs he signs for.

Just this week, the LA Weekly’s Jill Stewart reported our soon to be former Police Chief Bill Bratton had an emotional dinner with his wife Rikki Kleiman that left her in tears, and so upset her that she had to be escorted out by one of his aides.  (Always good to have an armed aide around if you’re going to upset your wife.)

But the hottest rumors this week surround Andrew Adelman, our chief of Building and Safety, who has hired big time lawyer Mark Geragos to help him deal with the investigation of sexual impropriety, to put to mildly.

Continue reading Bruno, the LA Watchdog: Love and Excess in High Places