DWP Blackmail: Brian D’Arcy’s Monetary Terrorism

“They’ve been having a Mardi Gras (in City Hall) over the past three years.” — DWP union boss Brian D’Arcy on why IBEW members deserve a 3.25 % cash payment and raises up to 4 p% for the next few years while other city workers are losing money or getting nothing.

“Unlike us, they have the ability to strike. No. 2, when
they go to management, management has the option of increasing the
utility bills.” — Police union leader Paul Weber on why cops get no raises and lose overtime pay while IBEW workers get a lucrative new deal after getting  5.9 % raises the last two years
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Your elected leaders from the mayor on down stood up and saluted the city’s workers Friday as they approved a series of deals that fall $100 million short of balancing the budget four months into the fiscal year and leaves a $400 million deficit next year.

In the name of “shared sacrifice,” the civilian workforce gave up raises in this year of 1.7 % deflation and agreed to temporary cuts that total a 4.4 percent lost of income.

The cops also gave up raises this year as well as agreeing to take time off instead of getting paid for overtime, a step that will cost thousands of officers a big chunk of their income.

The engineers union is being hit with the loss of a day’s pay every two weeks through furloughs and the firefighters are at an impasses in their negotiations.

It’s a different story at the Department of Water and Power.
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D’Arcy hardly even had to raise the specter of a strike or threaten to retaliate against his bosses at every level to give him what he wants. He is no better than a hoodlum on the street putting a gun in your face and robbing you blind.

Not so, says the mayor. The lucrative agreement for D’Arcy “provides the shared sacrifice that the mayor has asked for,” says his spokesman Matt Szabo.

Vital city services are being slashed and your utility bills will soon reflect what it costs to pay blackmail to D’Arcy and the DWP.

Rate hikes of 10 percent a year for the next five years already are planned but even that won’t generate enough money.

Continue reading DWP Blackmail: Brian D’Arcy’s Monetary Terrorism

Pray for LA: Only Fools Would Gamble It All on an Economic Miracle

The City Council will vote unanimously today to give final approval to deals with most of its work force that leave the future of the city seriously in doubt.

The pacts with the 22,000-member Coalition of City Unions and the 10,000-member Police Protective League at best put off for a year or two the day of reckoning in hopes that there will be an Obama economic miracle will get consumers spending freely again and fill the city coffers with dollars.

Leave it to Bill Bratton to put what is going on in clear perspective:

“The toughest issue will be the budget  We can survive
for a couple years on lean budgets without really stalling the
momentum, but if it goes on for more than two or three years, the
challenge for the chief will be how to deal with morale, how to deal
with aging equipment, how you deal with facilities that aren’t as
maintained as well as they have been.”

What he’s saying applies to all of city government, not just the LAPD.
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City Hall’s strategy, such as it is, involved deferring payments of hundreds of millions of dollars,  borrowing every cent it can and spreading out debt repayment, putting off raises to employees, robbing one fund to pay bills in another, time off in lieu of overtime, furloughs instead of pay cuts and selling off revenue-producing assets like parking structures.

It all adds up one gamble compounded by another and there’s no certainty the strategy, such as it is, will even provide enough cash to get through the last eight months of this fiscal year let alone next year when the looming shortfall is twice the size of the $400 million currently facing the city.

“Yes, we are kicking that can down the road. We’re saving the money now
and hoping we’ll have the money to pay it off in the future,” Maritta Aspen, the city’s senior labor relations specialist, told the Times.in an article laying out to the public for the first time terms of the deal with the police union.

The two-year contract is supposed to save $72
million next fiscal year by cutting overtime to just $15 million — equivalent to more than 1 million hours, according to a confidential report
obtained by The Times.

For the 25 percent of officers, mainly patrol and homicide detectives, who work more than 400 hours of overtime a year — expanding their income by a quarter — that is a big hit. Expectations are rampant in the LAPD that many trained officers will jump to other police agencies to maintain their incomes.

What is amazing is that City Hall doesn’t have a clue even now what impact this deal or the one with the coalition for the early retirement of 2,400 workers to be named later will have on services to the public

They are merely buying time and hoping for an economic miracle no economist believes is going to happen.

They have lacked the political will to deal firmly with the problem that city government costs too much and delivers too little. They have soft-pedaled the truth to the public and city workers so when the bills come due, the repercussions will be severe.

For all the mayor’s happy talk about green jobs in the future, LA is losing more jobs than anywhere else in the country and our 14 percent unemployment is near the top. Storefronts and offices are empty, incomes are down, house are worth a third or more less than they were a few years ago.

None of that gives any reason for hope for years to come.

Yet, City Hall keeps on expanding social welfare programs and investing public money in luxury hotels, developments and entertainments.

Leaders of other cities are made of tougher stuff. They have imposed back-to-basics austerity budgets, protected vital services and put the public interest first instead of special interests. They have taken painful and often unpopular steps and jeopardized their political careers.

Only in LA would we tolerate leaders who take the easy way out for themselves no matter what the consequences to the city as a whole.

My only advice, like the wooden plaque with clasped hands on my office well says, is this: Pray for LA.

Pray that business and labor and the civic elite stand up one of these days with the rising tide of grassroots activism and we take back our city, hold those who have failed us accountable and bring some balance to our competing interests in the name of the common good.

Pray that we don’t see a breakdown in law and order as the lack of cops and the demoralization of the LAPD and the city work force sets in.

Pray there’s going to be an Obama economic miracle that makes us all prosperous and happy again.

The Curious Case of Charlie Beck and the Australian-made Police Car

Back in the spring, LAPD Chief Bill Bratton took Chief of Detectives Charlie Beck with him on a trip halfway around the world to check out what he wants as the next generation of patrol car: The Australian-made Holden Commodore.

Beck, now a near certainty to be named Bratton’s successor on Monday, has been the point man in pushing the Commodore as the replacement for the US-made Ford Crown Victoria that has been that standard police vehicle for years.
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It’s a curious case why the head of detectives would be in charge of steering this deal while the motor transport experts within the LAPD would be left out in the cold, not even given the chance to test the car’s performance.

Yet, the Commodore was put on display Saturday at the grand opening of the LAPD’s lavish but unnamed new Police Headquarters (although it was moved to the back of the building instead of being part of the ceremonies despite Bratton’s wishes).

So at 11 a.m. today, the chief will formally unveil the foreign-made car of his choice – a strange choice indeed when America’s car industry has collapsed even though Holden, based in Melbourne, is owned by GM.

Back in March, the Commodore with LAPD decals on it created a stir at the Australian auto show in Sydney with rampant speculation that a deal with LAPD would legitimize the car for police uses and lead to exports of as many as 40,000 vehicles a year to US law enforcement agencies.

Beck’s role in the car deal, his appearances in place of the chief at budget hearings and Bratton’s favoritism toward him has made it clear to nearly everyone involved that he will get the chief’s job on Monday over lesser Bratton favorites Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell and Valley Deputy Chief Michel Moore.

Continue reading The Curious Case of Charlie Beck and the Australian-made Police Car

DWP Calling: Your Money or Your Life (Or Why We Need to Know Where Our Money Goes)

Editor’s Note: The City Council, after a lengthy debate about Google vs. Microsoft email products, unanimously approved both the water and power bond plans of DWP without debate, setting the stage for further rate increases. Google email won unanimous approval to be City Hall’s email.

I’m not very careful about money but I have become quite observant about what’s going on at the Department of Water and Power which regards OPM (other people’s money) as so much water over the aqueduct.

But I took an interest when my wife pointed out that the DWP bill that arrived last week was huge even though we cut our water use in half. The problem was on the electricity side of the bill where I was startled to see that there was a 10 percent utility tax for power. Who knew?

That means that the city is getting the utility tax plus sweeping 8 percent more (up from 5 percent in 2005 when this mayor took office) out of the power side and using it in the general fund to pay its bills — 80 percent of which goes for salaries and benefits.

That’s a pretty heavy tax on electricity — 18 percent — and comes with a 7 percent sweep of water revenue.

Today, the council is set to approve measure that will insure my DWP bills — and yours — go even higher.

The DWP is seeking approval to borrow $980 million to fund $1.17 billion in upgrades to the water system and $1.57 billion this year and next to help fund a five-year, $5.8 billion capital improvements program for the power system. Together, they will cost more than $150 million dollars for 30 years to pay off.

The power system bonds are the more controversial.

“The Department intends to pay the costs of the distribution system projects, transmission system projects, and generation system projects with internally generated funds and through the issuance of revenue bonds,” according to the ordinance documents.

Projections for the five-year period show the DWP expects to increase power evenue by 50 percent from $2.9 billion this year to $4.4 billion in 2014. I can only assume that most of that increase is supposed to come by raising rates by roughly the same 50 percent which will make my DWP bill about equal to my mortgage payment.

Here’s the numbers in millions of dollars:
                          2009            2010            2011            2012           2013        2014
Revenue            $ 2.900         $3.242        $3.591          $3.873        $4.143       $4,405
Net Income        $ 407            $ 405          $ 428           $ 512           $ 593        $ 744
  
The revenue increase of $1.5 billion a year will also provide a bonanza to the general fund because of the 10 percent utility tax and the 8 percent donation of power funds.

Where that money goes is an even greater concern.

Thanks to the clout of union bully boy Brian D’Arcy, DWP workers got 5.9 percent pay raises in recent years and is set to do well in the next few years with terms of a new contract being finalized and expected to take effect this week.

Although there’s deflation in LA of nearly 2 percent, DWP workers are looking at 2 percent raises this year and from 2 to 4 percent raises the following three years depending on inflation plus some sort of cash payment for renegotiating the 3.25 raises due them this under the final year of the contract the mayor rewarded them with for the D’Arcy’s help in getting elected.

At the same time, the DWP payroll is being padded with what I presume is hundreds of workers being transferred from other city jobs as part of the plan to fill the general fund’s $400 million hole.

Additionally, tens of millions of dollars of city costs — like $3 million for new irrigation systems in parks — are being paid by the DWP. And political retreads like Wally Knox — the former Assembly member, DWP commissioner and Harbor consultant —  are being put on the payroll for something like $200,000 a year to work with community groups where he has zero credibility.

But I digress from the issue of borrowing the $1.57 billion that goes before the council today.

The DWP wants to negotiate privately for the sale of those bonds at a cost of $12 million to underwriters rather than throwing it open to competition for the best rates. This allows them to channel the bonds to favored private investment banks and to provide “meaningful opportunities for local and regional Minority/Women/Small Business Enterprises” — a noble if not cost-conscious goal. The same private sale is being used for the water bonds.

According to the documents, the $5.8 billion capital improvement program breaks down this way:

» Infrastructure and Power Reliability – $2.568 Billion
o Temporary Circuits Restoration
o Power Pole Replacement
o Cable Replacement; and
o Various Generating Station Improvements
» Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – $0.954 Billion
o Major Transmission Systems (Pine Tree; Barren Ridge-Castaic; Green Path North;
and the Southern Transmission System Upgrade)
o Existing Resources (aqueduct; Hyperion digestion; Lopez Canyon microturbines;
solar rooftops; landfill gas projects; and the Wyoming Wind project)
o Planned Resources (Wind, Geothermal; Biomass; and Large Scale Solar projects);
and,
o Various Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) projects
» Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) – $1.084 Billion
o Generating Station Repowering projects (Haynes; Scattergood; and Castaic
modernization)
» Generation and Infrastructure Improvements – $543 Million
o Repair as well as replacement of aging and inefficient equipment

In other words, $5 billion of the nearly $6 billion goes to fixing the infrastructure that the DWP has allowed to deteriorate or become obsolete because it really has been running a jobs program offering spectacular salaries and benefits and not operating as a municipal utility providing power and water.

That’s why LA has the least clean energy in the state and the most electricity from dirty coal-burning power plants.

Some projects in the renewable energy list are already online like Pine Tree windmill farm and some like Green Path North are already abandoned.

So the list of projects has no meaning at all. It simply represents a blank check for clean energy without any ability of the public to make sure it’s getting what it wants at the best price.

This goes to why so many activists are demanding creation of an independent Rate Payer Advocate’s office.

It’s why Neighborhood Councils should be able to name one of the five DWP commissioners.

And most of all it’s why the bond sale should not be approved, why no rate increases should be approved, until there is a full accounting of where DWP’s billions of dollars in revenue has gone and how i
ts rate increases and tiered-rate structures are impacting homeowners, apartment dwellers, different businesses, government agencies and various regions of the city.

The problem with the DWP is there is no transparency, no accountability and thus no credibility.

Fix those things and we can talk about how to fix the rotting infrastructure and actually pay for and get clean power.

Give ’em Hell, Nuch — We Need a Bully at City Hall

City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich took a beating last week in the press and at City Council for trying to solve the billboard mess created by City Hall over seven years.

It’s a good thing he’s a tough guy from San Pedro and takes pride in being a pig-headed  bull in a china shop. He broke a lot of dishes again last week and hopefully his repeated references to the commission of crimes will soon be backed up with the evidence to produce indictments.

In the 10 weeks he has been in office, Nuch has demonstrated he has no more respect for the exquisite sensibilities of the Council than for the power of AEG’s Tim Leiweke, developers or anyone else.

Poor Ed Reyes’ trust is shaken by the breakdown in unanimous acquiescence , Richard Alarcon is saddened at seeing department heads told to obey the law, Greig Smith is outraged at the prospect the law might override sweetheart deals and Jan Perry, her voice quivering with emotion, is out for revenge.

Good work, Nuch. We’ve waited a long time for this, a city official who doesn’t give a damn Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Trutanich-Carmen.gifabout the niceties of the fine art of political corruption, whether misfeasance or malfeasance, and just wants to see an effective law in place to end the runaway proliferation of digital billboards that blight our landscape.

They call him a bully for standing up to the people’s interest. They
say he is abusing his authority for trying to bring control to billboards and marijuana shops, and end giveaways of public money without
public benefit.

Maybe the Neighborhood Councils and homeowner groups can learn something from Nuch and stop saying thank you every time a city official talks nice to them while picking their pocket.

It’s been 17 years since Rodney King, of all people, asked the question that is at the heart of what’s wrong with LA: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

King’s his plaintive plea came at the height of the 1992 riots that followed acquittal of the officers who beat him half to death a year earlier.

This time it’s not the poor who are looting stores, burning down buildings and firing guns into the night. It’s the middle class that is angry, people who vent their grievances without engaging in mayhem in the streets.

They are fed up with being treated like feudal peasants, of being squeezed for every dollar they have without getting anything in return, of seeing their neighborhoods wrecked by developments that turn the law on its head, of services being cut, their futures being mortgaged and theircity lurching toward bankruptcy.

They want to know how come City Hall gave hundreds of
millions of dollars in taxpayer money to AEG so the company could reap
billions in profits with arenas, luxury hotels and condos and expensive
restaurants 90 percent of the people can’t afford.

They want to know how come homeowners’ trash fees were tripled to hire more cops and most of the money was used for other purposes and now we’ve stopped hiring cops altogether.

They want to know how come they are being slugged with one water and power rate  increase after another and we’ve got water mains bursting all over town and the dirtiest power plants in California.

There’s a thousand other questions people have about what’s going on at City Hall so if anybody asks today why we can’t just get along, the answer is: City Hall is at war with its people, engaging in one dirty back room deal and bureaucratic dirty trick after another.

It’s clear nothing will change without a fight that brings City Hall back under the control of the people.
 
So give ’em Hell, Nuch! It’s about time somebody stood up to the power structure and starting getting answers.

AEG Gets Signs, Cop Hiring Gets Stopped, ‘Nuch’ Gets Slapped, Billboard Ban Gets Jeopardized

.Editor’s Note: Please observe how the two-minute warning clock doesn’t run when Tim Leiweke is speaking but it does when John Walsh is mocking him and the the City Council.

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Unable to get on with the job of fixing the city they have broken, the LA City Council kowtowed Friday to AEG’s Tim Leiweke’s bullying, repudiated the elected City Attorney Carmen Trutanich for his efforts to clean up the billboard mess they created over seven years, and then repudiated him for being a bully.

What a day it was! Only regular viewers can fully appreciate the ironies and absurdities:

* Leiweke who’s made billions off of the city subsidies of Staples Center and LA Live threatening to sue LA for hundreds of millions of dollars if he had to wait a week for a judge to rule on whether giving him six more giant billboards at the new Regal Cinema complex on top of the 16 already up would make the 2-month-old billboard ban illegal;

* The Central City Assn. and Chamber of Commerce lined up with ironworkers and IBEW electricians to demand the Council live up to their commitments to make AEG even richer because nobody else is creating jobs, union and living wage, and Leiweke gives generously to politicians and their favorite charities;

* One Council member after another, even best pal Dennis Zine, taking off the kid gloves and punching Trutanich’s chief deputy Bill Carter, accusing Nuch of violating their bond of trust by fighting for what’s right and legal;

* After spending most of three hours crucifying Trutanich before voting unanimously — a foregone conclusion — to reject Carter’s entreaties to let the federal court decide whether giving AEG all those billboards would make the ban unconstitutional, the council needed 10 minutes to agree to stop hiring cops, temporaily unless it becomes permanent;

* And finally for something entirely different, the agreed to throw a crumb to the populace by letting a couple of Westside farmer’s markets off the hook for newly imposed fees for two more weeks because the Chief Legislative Analyst couldn’t get around to sorting out the details of how the onerous new system is supposed to work before the law takes effect Monday.

There’s a lot of ways to look at this but the one of my choice is Trutanich is a dangerous man and must be stopped.

At least that’s the view of the City Hall power structure which is not used to anybody having power not being owned by those who have power and money.

They accused him of threatening them with prosecution if they committed crimes, of failing to tell them the total ban on new billboards might queer their endless commitments to AEG, of engaging unprotected legal advice, of contradicting theadvice of his predecessor in the City Attorney’s office who went along with anything they wanted.

It was a feeding frenzy and many of the Council members were foaming at the mouth.

But no one rose to the occasion more than Leiweke himself  who strode to the public comment lectern without being called like ordinary citizens as if he owned not just the Council Chamber but the whole of City Hall and laid down the law as if God, him or herself, was speaking through him

You made commitments, you will honor those commitments, you will cost me hundreds of millions of dollars and ruin my financing based on all the corporations paying fortunes to advertise on LA Live’s digital billboard, you will pay dearly.

There was no doubt who was boss in this town.

Yet, Leiweke didn’t merit a mention in the LA Times online story headlined “L.A. Council ignores Trutanich warning, backs signs for theater at L.A. Live.”

Instead, the focuse was on Building and Safety interim general manager Raymond Chan saying he plans to issue the permits despite Trutanich’s warning in great part because he believes the ban passed in August does not
cover projects already approved and substantially underway, including
the AEG’s theater at L.A. Live.
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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also supports issuing the permits, said Jeff Carr, the mayor’s chief of staff.

The Times said that once it receives the permits, AEG will put up four giant movie posters, including at least one for the Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It,” which premieres Tuesday, which Carter repeatedly said already were legal as onsite signs, and signs for two of L.A. Live’s sponsors, Coca-Cola and Toyota. Even the Coke ad would be legal since it’s sold on premises.

Christine Pelisek at the LA Weekly’s blog picked up on Councilwoman Jan Perry saying had  been threatened
with criminal charges by Trutanich and arguing that AEG has had exclusive developments
agreements with members of the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment
District, including AEG, since 2001.

“I am not comfortable about being represented by a guy who might get
me turfed over to the District Attorney’s Office. I am doing my job.”

She also quoted Trutanich’s interview in the Daily News where he said:

“I’m just enforcing the laws. Right now there is a ban on digital off-site billboards. Where I grew up (San Pedro), when you said ‘no more,’ it means ‘no more.’ Up here in the central city, I guess it means something else.”

Who’s Killing Your Neighborhood? It’s Not a Mystery Anymore

For the last 18 months I tracked how the city dealt with the illegal conversion of a single-family home into a three-apartment tenement and wrote it as a 16-part mystery called “Whodunit: Who’s Killing My Neighborhood?”

Now, I learn from a second-hand viral email with the subject line “Accessory Dwelling Units” that it isn’t a mystery at all.

The City of Los Angeles is killing my neighborhood of single-family homes — and yours, too.

The email originated from Sylvia Lacy, senior deputy in Councilman Herb Wesson’s 10th District Field Office.

Hello to all, the attached notices are concerning the accessory dwelling
unit outreach in preparation for the City of Los Angeles to draft an
ordinance to comply with SB 1866 (sic AB 1866).  Questions should go to  Gabriela
Juárez at gabriela.juarez@lacity.org or  (213) 978-1337.
If you have any comments or concerns please send them to me. If your
neighborhood or Neighborhood Council has taken a position, please let me
know.  Thanks
Sylvia Lacy

Here are the attachments (FAQs.pdf), (WorkshopNotice.pdf), (INTERIM DEPARTMENTAL GUIDELINES FOR ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS.pdf).

The FAQ from the Planning Department explained clearly what an accessory dwelling unit is:

Q:. What is an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)?
A:  An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), also referred to as a granny flat, secondary dwelling unit, cottage housing opportunity {ECH0), or other-daughter residence, is an apartment that can be located within the walls of an existing or newly constructed single-family home or can be an add-on to an existing home.It can also be a freestanding structure on the same lot as the principal dwelling or the conversion of a garage or a barn.

In other words, the tenement conversion in my neighborhood is about to become legal in every neighborhood in the city — every neighborhood except those “in a Hillside area, Equinekeeping District, along a Scenic Highway designated in the General Plan, or where the width of the adjacent street is substandard,” according to the Interim Guidelines.

Unbelievable, I thought. Now, I almost feel sorry for the couple that got fined $10,000 for converting the house in my neighborhood into a three-apartment tenement. It turns about they were premature and not greedy enough. If they had waited until this is enacted,  they could have filled in the swimming pool in back and put up another building with two more units for a total of five.

The person who sent me Sylvia Lacy’s email sounded this alarm: “To add to the seemingly endless number of issues we must consider. It looks like the state mandated “granny flats” within R1 areas (with some limitations – see attached). It looks to me like this is one step toward the elimination of true single-family neighborhoods.”

It’s been coming for a while.

The state legislation that makes this possible was AB  1866, a density bonus/affordable housing measure that took effect July 1 2003 with bipartisan support and the support of then Assemblymen Paul Koretz and Herb Wesson and then Sen. Richard Alarcon — all now City Council members.

The FAQ from the Planning Department says this measure is being developed “in response” to AB 1866. No one should be misled by the phrase into thinking the legislation “requires” the city to destroy single-family home neighborhoods. Here’s what the law says:

SEC. 2.  Section 65852.2 of the Government Code is amended to read:65852.2.  (a) (1) Any local agency may, by ordinance, provide for the creation of second units in single-family and multifamily residential zones.

“MAY” — that’s the operative word.

So the City of LA is doing this because it wants to. It is exempting “hillside” neighborhoods because it wants to.

Understand, this is the same Planning Department that wants to increase the fees for homeowners and community groups to appeal its decisions on development projects by up to 2,000 percent.

It already has held two public meetings on this at the Yucca Community Center and the Braude Constituent Services Center and plans only one more on Saturday, Nov. 7, 10 am – 2 pm at the David M. Gonzales/Pacoima Recreation Center, 10943 Herrick Avenue in Arleta.

The workshop notice says that for more information, please contact Gabriela Juárez at (213) 978-1337 or by email at gabriela.juarez@lacity.org.

Can there be any doubt that the city is at war with the middle class, with home owners, with the ordinary people who pay most of the city’s bills?

Aren’t there laws against this sort of discriminatory conduct? Doesn’t the Constitution protect us all equally from the actions of government?

I guess it really is time to move as so many people are saying. Or to fight.

It’s a lousy time to sell a house so fight we must — or maybe just convert our houses in tenements, reap the profits and let the city go to hell.

Sense and Nonsense: The Planning Appeals Debate

There’s something about Greig Smith that never ceases to amaze me and makes me worry that his chief of staff Mitch Englander will be more of the same when he succeeds him in 18 months, much as Smith was more of the same when he took over for his boss. Hal Bernson.

They never saw a development in their Northwest Valley they didn’t like as long as there was some juice in it of one sort of another.

Smith represents the city’s more conservative district, one with as high a ratio of home ownership as any in LA, yet when it comes to soaking the middle class for more money to feed the city treasury, he’s the No. 1 tax-and-spend liberal.

To Smith, any services the city provides to homeowners are subsidies so he leads the charge to triple the trash fee on single-family homes with a promise to use the money solely to hire more cops for the LAPD, which by necessity puts most of its resources into providing services to areas with low percentages of homeowners. But police services are a legitimate expense, not a subsidy.

On Wednesday, he put his full weight behind increases of up to 2,000 percent in the fees charged homeowners and community groups to appeal planning-related actions, arguing that the city shouldn’t be subsidizing such things because they are so widely abused to stop development projects.

Besides, he said, the under-funded and under-achieving Planning Department needs the money since its staff has shrunk from 400 to 290 and half its workers are being furloughed once every two weeks and it could drop below 250 when the early retirement deal is finalized.

It’s as if Smith wasn’t a power on the Budget Committee that slashed planning funding, wasn’t a Council member who put planning officials on furloughs and engineered the early retirement deal.

Only one Council member, Richard Alarcon, stop up and pointedly showed that Smith was talking nonsense, if not a hypocrite.

As expected, the Council lost its nerve in the face of a public outrcy and backed down Wednesday on increasing the appeals fees — for now.

But you can be sure these people will be back in due course with a new plan to raise the fees and find other ways to squeeze money out of the middle class. They are desperate for cash and too weak to confront the simple truth that City Hall costs too much and delivers too little.
 

Three Years, Five Months, 68 Days … and Now 24 Hours More To Figure Out Planning Appeal Fees

I thought I’d seen just about everything from this City Council but my eyes were opened by Tuesday’s debate over a plan to raise fees for homeowners and neighborhood and community groups to appeal Planning and Building Safety decisions by 200 to 2,000 percent.

This is a City Council that isn’t worth the $180,000 a year they are paid. They aren’t even worth half that as community activists are proposing to put on the ballot next year. They aren’t worth 10 cents.

What was before the council was an urgent ordinance to fix “typos” and backed off somewhat from the astronomical appeals fees approved unanimously Aug. 12. It also was supposed to fix the open meeting law violation that was used to sneak it through — something that was sure to lead to a lawsuit that could nullify the ordinance months or years from now.

What it didn’t fix was the blatant constitutional violations represented by onerous fees intended to stifle the due process rights of ordinary citizens to challenge city decisions that ruin their neighborhoods and destroy the quality of their lives.

When Richard Alarcon is the people’s hero, nailing the illegal anti-democratic nature of this measure, and when Tom LaBonge is the voice of reason, saying he doesn’t think anyone is “comfortable” with it so put it for another day — you know this was as ill-informed and muddled a debate as you’ve ever seen. 

For 90 minutes, the Council circled around what this was about in a confused and pointless discussion that left them even more dumbfounded than usual, if that’s possible.

In the end, they agreed, unanimously, to revisit the issue Wednesday and seemed to agree to keep citizen appeal fees to the $75 to $300 level they have been instead of up to the $6,188 level that was proposed.

But that’s only a temporary decision. The intent is to come back with a new fee schedule that moves toward “full cost recovery” — City Hall’s policy of making the shrinking middle class and homeowners pay the bulk of taxes and pay again for everything they get in services from the city.

There ought to be a law, maybe there is if the nation’s civil rights laws apply to ordinary law-abiding people. 

A dozen or so community activists spoke out against the measure at the outset of the debate, people from the wealthy hillside communities to the Eastside, from Neighborhood Councils and environmental justice groups.

When people from all classes and backgrounds come together like this, as you’re seeing so often these days, you know the winds of change are blowing and the discontent with City Hall’s failure is growing.

Not everybody sees that, of course. Some are oblivious.

Ed Reyes, the Council’s point man for developers, and Bernard Parks, the Council’s point man on fiscal irresponsibility, for instance, argued the proposal dates back three years, that a consultant was paid $100,000 to come up with the fee schedule and public hearings have been held since April.

So everyone should know about this measure. Only everyone didn’t know about it, not the Council or the public.

That’s because the language on agendas hid the appeals fee issue from the public and Neighborhood Councils and other community groups were never actively brought into the process.

The best the Planning Department could do was say that information was posted on its website and emails sent out to NCs. Developers, in contrast, were brought into discussions about the increased fees they face and how they would get better and faster service for their money while the community would for the most part be silenced by the high appeals fees.

You can be sure developers, their lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and PR advisers were given all the access they wanted during the three years, five months and 68 days that have gone into the process of killing democracy in LA.

It is a sign of the times that the Council has once again back down in the face of public opposition. They are afraid of the people and the growing cohesion of activists that is rapidly building into a full-scale revolt.

They have good reason to be afraid. Their neglect and incompetence has allowed the budget deficit to threaten the city’s future, billboards and marijuana stores to flourish without regulation, the DWP to gouge the public to put into the pockets of a union that is out of control.

The list of their failures goes on and on and so does their list of attacks on the rights of ordinary people to be treated fairly and to get a government that serves them.

There are only so many grievances the public will bear before they awaken and do something about what’s wrong, even in LA.

Mechanics of Power: Squeeze Plays and Double Talk

For years, the policies of City Hall have chased away middle class jobs and residents to the suburbs and neighboring states.

Home ownership has fallen from more than 60 percent to barely 40 percent. The living wage  has replaced the good wage. Major banks have run away along with movie and TV production.

The San Fernando Valley saw a 50 percent rise in poverty rates in the ’90s and the numbers will be worse across the city in the next census.

Crime is down but gangs still control whole neighborhoods.

Subsidized downtown development and soaring public sector payrolls have sucked the wealth of the city while traffic congestion and air quality remain the nation’s worst, the schools remain among the state’s worst and the infrastructure — water and power systems, streets and sidewalks — are decaying from lack of investment.

It’s not a pretty picture but it’s going to get worse and fast.

On Tuesday, the City Council intends — having bungled its first attempt two months ago — to take another stab at stripping ordinary citizens of their constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances, specifically planning decisions.

Under the ordinance adopted unanimously, of course, on Aug. 12, fees to appeal planning decisions and Building and Safety actions were supposed to skyrocket from nominal amounts to thousands of dollars except for developers of major projects. They would get a reduction on many of the appeals they file.

What was wrong with the ordinance, apart from many of the fees — apart from various typos and fees being supposedly being incorrectly listed — is that the public wasn’t given proper notice that the fee schedule affected appeals. Most of the public discussion and the agenda notice only referred to application fees which were raised to guarantee developers speedy processing.

Attorney Robert Silverstein objected strongly to this Brown Act violation and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office, which conceding nothing, agreed the measure should be fixed and reconsidered.

So it comes back before the Council as Item 23 on Tuesday, with changes like “full cost recovery” is now replaced with only charging applicants and abutting property owners 20 percent of the cost and other “aggrieved parties” 50 percent.

“The draft ordinance was initiated in response to a complaint that the appeal fees were
not properly described on the City Council agenda… it is our belief that appeal fees
should be reasonable to allow for broad community input,” explained Planning Director Gail Goldberg.

How does raising appeal fees from $1,000 to $3,000 or from $400 to more than $5,000 when a nearby property owner objects to a development “allow for broad community input?”

In fact, it squelches community input — and that argues the Green LA Coalition is “contrary to the City’s commitment to environmental justice,” according to a letter to the Council sent by school board member Nury Martinez and environmentalist Bill Gallegos.

“These
excessive fees will unfairly exclude low-income residents and
non-profit organizations from the planning and land use decision-making
process…With the approval of the 1999 City Charter, the
people of Los Angeles codified their right to appeal City land use
decisions. 

“The appeal process serves as an important point of resident
involvement in planning and land use decision-making, and has a long
history of preserving the quality of life in Los Angeles and protecting
the health and safety of its residents.  The appeal fee hikes deny
low-income residents and non-profits their fundamental rights to
appeal.”

Arguing the fees violate the state and US constitutions, Attorney Richard MacNaughton formally protested to the Council (Planning-MacNaughton.doc)as the lawyer representing  various residents in Hollywood as well as community based
organizations such a Hollywoodians Encouraging Logical Planning (H.E.L.P.),
Friends of the Hollywood Grove HPOZ, Friends of The Oaks ICO among others.

MacNaughton says the ordinance infringes on the right of people to protest and is unconstitionally vague, noting there is “no rational” reason a property owner two doors away from a development faces triple the fees as one next door.

When citizens
object to the City’s actions, they are exercising their constitutional right to
petition the government,” he writes. “The City has the burden to prove that any and all
limitations on the right to petition the City serve a compelling ‘state
interest.”‘This tiered fee system has no legitimate governmental purpose…

The proposed
ordinance is unconstitutional in that it cannot survive the strict scrutiny test
due to its infringement on the people’s right to petition the government and its
vagueness. To pass a measure that is unconstitutional on its face invites
litigation and wastes the City’s resources.

“This
unconstitutional proposal should be defeated.”

You can write your Council member at the email addresses below to try to stop this or you can join the lawsuit afterward if it passes:

councilmember.reyes@lacity.org,
councilmember.zine@lacity.org,
councilmember.labonge@lacity.org,
councilmember.koretz@lacity.org,
councilmember.cardenas@lacity.org,
councilmember.alarcon@lacity.org,
councilmember.parks@lacity.org,
councilmember.perry@lacity.org,
councilmember.wesson@lacity.org,
councilmember.smith@lacity.org,
councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org,
councilmember.huizar@lacity.org,
councilmember.hahn@lacity.org,
councilmember.rosendahl@lacity.org