2009: Turning Point in the Struggle for Democracy

My last political engagement of 2009 came on the second last day of year, breakfast with state Sen. Gloria Romero. The subject was educating our children by mandating that parents – all parents everywhere in California – have the power under the law to play a direct role in how schools are run.

It was a far cry from how the year began with Jack Humphreville and his Solar 8 defending themselves in court against the lawsuit the mayor engineered to get the ballot argument we signed against the Measure B solar energy fraud removed from the voter pamphlet.

The underlying issue in both education and energy policy is the same, the same one that comes up over the 1,000 pot shops, the 4,000 illegal billboards, the disastrous city planning policies and the multitude of other issues that trouble the lives of the populace.

What is the role of ordinary citizens in determining public policy in Los Angeles and across California? Is it nothing more than the occasional right to choose among meaningless choices in elections controlled by big moneyed special interests?
Gloria.jpg
Gloria Romero offered her answer in the closing weeks of the year when she put her political career on the line and pulled off a dramatic victory by getting the state Senate to approve by a single vote a proposed state law that gives parents unprecedented power over the schools. The prize for California taking the lead in education reform could be as much as $1 billion for our troubled public school system from the pot of money in President Obama’s “Right to the Top” stimulus program…

She acted in defiance of one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento, the California Teachers Association, the umbrella organization for teacher unions that has dictated educational policies for most of this generation.

For a Democrat and Senate Majority Leader to twist arms and give courage to members of her party to back parental empowerment was an act of heroism we don’t often see from our politicians anymore.

The issue was the “parent trigger” – a measure backed by the Parent Revolution led by Ben Austin. It would allow for the takeover and even closure of failing schools when a majority of parents come together and support real change. The teacher union lobby is now throwing all its weight and money behind efforts to kill the “parent trigger” provision in the Assembly where intense negotiations have been under way for days.

Why Romero took her stand has a lot to do with where she came from and where she’s going.

She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Barstow where her father worked for the railroads and instilled in her the passion to do what she thinks is right. She has a nearly perfect pro-union voting record and a lifelong commitment to social justice yet she stood for the rights of parents against the power of teacher unions.

Now she is running for state Superintendent of Public Instruction and is certain to face intense opposition from the teacher union leadership fighting to preserve the status quo that has so badly served our children for so long.

She is one of my leaders of the year.

There are many others in so many walks of life, prominent people and ordinary citizens, who like Gloria Romero, have found the courage to stand up publicly for what they believe in.

I could name hundreds of people I know personally or from their work who have emerged as true leaders of this community. There are thousands of others like them unknown to me.

2009 marked a turning point in our history, I believe, the year when the people crossed over from the indignity of powerless negativity to pride in their power to get the kind of changes they want and believe will make their lives and the lives others better.

When you read through my month-by-month year in review you will see how community activists scored victories at the polls and forced our elected officials to back down on numerous issues and begin to obey the will of the people and respect the rule of law.

The collapse of the nation’s economy exposed for one and all to see just how mismanaged the affairs of our city and state and nation have been for too long because the politicians on both sides of the aisle have sold out to special interests while voters stood by passively.

It’s unbelievable that the Golden State and the city of unlimited dreams should be in such dire financial straits that dangerous criminals are being freed early from our prisons, teachers laid off and basic services slashed.

Real change rarely occurs without such catastrophes.

How we respond in such critical times determines the future and what I’m seeing is the birth of a truly democratic movement that is gaining momentum so fast that the thousand little cells of community organizations are coming together into a cohesive force that can end the cycle of failed pubic policies that have diminished our lives.

It hangs in the balance. The challenges are great. But we are entering the second decade of the 21st century and if we are not ready to create a more democratic society in which all of us are empowered and our interests and values respected, we never will be.

Those who have taken the step forward in their communities will have to redouble their efforts. Those who have watched from the sidelines will have to leap into the arena. Those in authority will have to change their minds about where their winds of power are blowing.

But it can happen. I believe that or I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing any more than all of you doing what you are to make LA a better city.

Here’s the highlights of 2009 as I have lived and written about it:

Continue reading 2009: Turning Point in the Struggle for Democracy

The Living Wage, Affordable Housing, Subsidies, Public Works and the Myth of Job Creation

In his desperation to save himself politically, the mayor has reluctantly reached out to the civic elite — people like former Mayor Richard Riordan, billionaire Eli Broad, LAEDC head Bill Allen — to create jobs, hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.

The mayor’s own efforts have been a dismal failure with the official unemployment rate among the highest in the nation at 14 percent and another 14 percent so devoid of hope they have given up the search for work.

He loves to talk about creating a “green corridor” but couldn’t bring home the cornerstone of his promise, an Italian rail car assembly (not manufacturing) plant, despite promises of subsidies and didn’t lift a finger to capture even a fraction of the billions in state funding for stem cell research.

He throws his muscle behind huge subsidies for luxury hotels and expensive entertainment venues with obnoxious digital billboards and gets nothing in return except guarantees of living wage jobs while corporations reap huge profits that end up in bank accounts far away.

He talks endlessly about streamlining the wearyingly complex permit processes for major developments but fails to follow through even as he arranges for massive public subsidies and does his best to exclude the public from any influence.

He gives tax breaks and other advantages to the entertainment industry but runaway production continues unabated.

He touts a $5 billion program to build affordable housing that hardly gets off the ground and never spells out just what affordable means. Affordable for who?

Huge increases in taxes, fees and rates are imposed for public works projects that keep the local economy from collapsing entirely but make no dent in the long-term problems of soaring poverty and the flight of the middle class.

And now he turns to the civic elite he shunned for four years to bail him out of the catastrophe his policies have created.

The business community assuredly will line up behind them as they use the tools at hand: More public works spending, hasty approval of development projects that will give us bigger malls and more high-rises along with more traffic congestion and greater demand for water and power that will require huge rate hikes.

The plain truth is these efforts haven’t worked for 30 years and they won’t work now.

Large corporations and high-tech industries don’t set up shop in cities with vast numbers of people who lack the disposable incomes to consume their goods and services and lack the skills to do their jobs.

If they want to do business in the region, they go to Santa Monica and Glendale and Pasadena and Thousand Oaks and most of the other cities that encircle LA, or the areas of LA like the Westside and the 101 corridor in the Valley where there is still affluence.

We have talked for three decades now about the failure of our schools, our gang-infested neighborhoods and the vanishing middle class and keep on using the same tools to reverse the trends.

It’s time we faced the truth head-on.You aren’t going to create sustainable jobs in a jobless recovery from the worst recession in a generation. 

Hard as it is to believe, LA is a city following the path of dying old industrial towns like Detroit and Cleveland — not the path of vibrant cities that endlessly regenerate like Chicago and New York.

Our governance system is hopelessly broken. City Hall for too long has been a jobs program, not a service provider. City government simply costs too much and does too little. The bills for that have now come due and we are slashing even those services in an effort to reduce massive deficits and avoid bankruptcy.

The real problem isn’t structural — it is leadership.

The civic, political and business leaders keep on supporting band-aid approaches to what is wrong and settling for crumbs that mask the severity of the problem for a little while.

Great cities require the belief of the people who feel their interests are being served today and will be in the future. That’s why they stay and invest in them.

If anything should be obvious it’s that LA long ago became a city of limits where “thinking big” no longer works. There isn’t enough land or other resources to support more and more development and more people.

We need to think small, to put the quality of our lives at the top of the agenda, to devolve power from City Hall to the neighborhoods, to empower our residents to bring to life a new city out of our extraordinary diversity and the shared belief in personal freedom that is the essence of what LA is all about.

Antonio Villaraigosa once held the promise of being the leader who could bring us to this promised land.

Maybe he still can but not as long as keeps on looking to enrich his friends and allies at the expense of others, not as long as keeps looking for his next job, not as long as travels the world rather than attending to his duties, not as long as he keeps thinking the people are fools who will fall for hollow promises.

I dream of a city where every individual feels empowered to affect the course of public events, where people feel an ownership stake in their city’s public life, not categorized as stakeholders to be manipulated.

I believe LA can reinvent itself as a free city where people come first and freedom and mutual respect flourish in place of greed and selfishness. It seems to me that is the destiny of LA, the logical outcome of all that has come before. The alternative of a city separated by grotesque differences or wealth and poverty is unthinkable.

Maybe I’m wrong and there’s another way but I haven’t heard anyone propose anything that isn’t already a tried and proven failure.
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Who Owns Our Schools — Unions or Parents?

schools.jpgThe battle over control of public schools in LA and across California is heating up with legal, legislative and political battles on many fronts.

President Obama’s “Right to the Top” initiative, sharp cuts in state funding, competition from charters, parent demands for better schools (see article below) are fueling the education debate. Get up to date at OurLA.org and share your views on the state of the schools in the comments section or by submitting articles to me at ron@ronkayela.com.

Reform LAUSD: Don’t Let Them Pull the Trigger on the ‘Parent Trigger’

Mayor Villaraigosa boasted today on Twitter that he’s hired a new education czar Joan Sullivan who “in 2003 raised the money to found the Bronx Academy of Letters High School, and instituted parent engagement programs…That got 80 % parent turnout at school events.”

Let us now praise what is praiseworthy about the mayor these days: His commitment to parent empowerment.

Having floundered in efforts to reform LAUSD, the mayor last summer got aboard the Parent Revolution, the non-profit led by former Deputy Mayor Ben Austin, to organize families to spearhead the takeover of failing schools from the bureaucrats and educators who have failed their children for so long.

Whether the mayor was just playing more politics with the idea that parents should have direct power over the schools or really meant it is now being tested in Sacramento.

Last Thursday, the state Senate passed by a single vote legislation to implement President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education reform policies and make California eligible for $700 million in badly-needed aid to our underfunded schools. 

Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg and Sen. Gloria Romero were instrumental in the getting the measure passed with a key a provision backed by the Parent Revolution – the so-called “parent trigger.”

The parent trigger would force school districts to close or drastically revamp badly failing schools – the largest number of them in LA – or allow children to transfer to another district when 51 percent of parents at any school sign petitions.

Needless to say, the education establishment is appalled at the idea and the California Teachers Association is pulling out all stops to have it deleted from the Assembly version that comes up for a vote early next year.

There is a telling irony in the politics over the parent trigger.

Republicans, often criticized as elitist and anti-democratic, are all for giving parents so much power.

Democrats, who like to portray themselves as the party of the people, are pretty solidly standing with the CTA, one of Sacramento’s biggest spending and most powerful lobbyist groups.

Negotiations now under way with a deadline of Christmas Eve to come up with a final Assembly bill and unless some Democratic leaders show the same courage as Steinberg and Romero showed in the Senate, the measure will be gutted of its most important reform.

The mayor boasts often about how much clout he’s got and how valuable are his trips to Washington and Sacramento – if not South Africa, Iceland and Copenhagen – in getting benefits for LA.

Here is his chance to shine by pressuring his friends in the Assembly. And it’s your chance to let our Assembly members know you believe in people power and the right of parents to decide what’s best for their children.

Don’t let them pull the trigger on the parent trigger.

Contact these key Assembly members by email at this website or by telephone at:

http://www.parentrevolution.org/

The Granny Flat Gambit: Vigilance and the Struggle for Self-Governance

“A people cannot have the consciousness of being self-governing unless they attend themselves to the things over against their doors.” — Benjamin Ide Wheeler.

Those immortal words of the autocratic president of the University of California 100 years ago do not pop up on google but they are found chiseled on the Main Street facade of City Hall as if a warning to the populace that their values and interests will not be served unless they are vigilant.

It is pretty clear by now to anyone paying attention that the people of LA are becoming more vigilant; that the consciousness of our situation together is growing; that self-governance is within our grasp.

Solar energy, billboards, marijuana stores, DWP rates and many other issues have stalled and forced the connivers at City Hall to redraw the schemes, to back down in some cases and even to reverse course.

In Copenhagen with his entourage at the admitted cost of $120,000 in precious taxpayer dollars, the mayor got aboard the bicycle fancier and bike rights movement agenda back home and peddled as fast as could his love of a more natural lifestyle that consumed less fossil fuel and resources with the exception, of course, of fine wines.

On Friday, the City Planning Department announced in an email to angry mob of homeowners that plans were being abandoned to legalize Accessory Dwelling Unites (ADUs) — granny flats in backyards, converted garages and houses turned into tenements — in every residential neighborhood except those occupied by the hillside-dwelling rich and the open spaces of the equestrian crowd.
           

Friday, December 18, 2009 2:25 PM

From: Gabriela Juarez <Gabriela.Juarez@lacity.org>

Hello,

We are emailing you because you have requested to
be placed on the

Interested Parties List for Accessory Dwelling Units. 
We wanted to

advise you that we have discontinued our work on ADU’s, per the
attached

status update.  The permissive state standards will continue to
apply.

Thank you for your participation in this effort.


Juarez is the point person in the Planning Department who was assigned by her boss Tom Rothman to guide the granny flats ordinance through a public hearing process as quietly as possible so they City Council could approve it unanimously before anyone really knew what it meant.

The strategy might have succeeded a year ago as it has no many times for so many years. But this time the vast network of computers linked by viral email spread the word and the Granny Flat Gambit popped up on OurLA.org and replicated on blogs and suddenly there was an uproar.

They envisioned their single-family housing tracts with people everywhere, cars all over the place, backyards without any privacy.

City Planning documents claimed the ordinance was “mandated” by a six-year-old state law AB 1866 but City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich put the lie to that.

Continue reading The Granny Flat Gambit: Vigilance and the Struggle for Self-Governance

Your DWP: Hollow Promises, Cheap Talk, Insider Deals, Mismanagement, Secrecy, Illegalities, Lost Credibility, Waste…FAILURE!

Under the leadership of the mayor, the DWP has asserted repeatedly that it is a $4 billion-a-year business, not a municipal utility owned and accountable to the public.

If so, its stock would be falling sharply and ripe for a takeover with liabilities mounting, its products faulty and obsolete, its costs out of control, its management in disarray and consumer confidence at all-time low.

Just look at the facts, a litany of long-term mismanagement, lack of transparency, sweetheart deals with unions and contractors, failure to upgrade the water and power systems, illegal actions and ratepayer ripoffs.

On Thursday, state officials announced the DWP agreed to pay other utilities in California  $112 million for price gouging during the 2000-01 energy crisis when then — and current — General Manager David Freeman overcharged for our utility’s cheap and dirty coal power.

It was Freeman who turned over most of those ill-gotten gains to the city’s general fund depleted by the impact of the dot-com boom, even as he squandered tens of millions on a phony solar energy plan that a decade later still hasn’t generate enough electricity to light my little neighborhood and turned over running the DWP to union bully boy Brian D’Arcy.

Then there’s the $130 million in water revenue his successors — perpetuating his policy of using the DWP as the city’s cash cow — illegally put in the general fund and still haven’t refunded and the $150 million owed families over the deadly disaster at the Utah mine it partially owns.

Is it any wonder that the DWP has let the water system deteriorate to the point that pipes are bursting all over town or that it is so far behind in the clean energy race that it is paying huge premiums to try to catch up and meet the state-mandated goal of 20 percent renewables by next December and the mayor’s politically-inspired artificial target of 40 percent in 2020?

Is it any wonder that Freeman wants advance approval for virtually unlimited electricity rate increases and doesn’t have a coherent or detailed plan to put before the public?

It was just a year ago this week that the mayor’s lawyer sued the Solar 8 to squelch citizens who questioned Measure B, the DWP scheme to own, install and maintain billions of dollars in large-scale rooftop solar in the city.

Voter rejection of that costly boondoggle did nothing to stop DWP from moving forward on virtually the same plan with a few crumbs offered to the business community, private sector labor and environmentalists.

To the degree that hapless ratepayers know what’s going on, the only certainty is that we will get the bill for a program that is ill-conceived and does little to solve the problem of having the nation’s dirtiest air and dirtiest power-generating system.

Continue reading Your DWP: Hollow Promises, Cheap Talk, Insider Deals, Mismanagement, Secrecy, Illegalities, Lost Credibility, Waste…FAILURE!

ERIP, Final Tally: Over-Subscribed by Nearly One-Third

The deadline for applying for the city’s costly Early Retirement Incentive Program passed at 5 p.m. Wednesday with more than 3,100 workers seeking the deal limited to 2,400.

Read the full story at OurLA.org — the community-based news and information website for Los Angeles. OurLA.org is an innovative non-profit site that relies on citizen and professional journalists and needs your support and participation

LAPD and the Mishandled Millions


Warnings about how Bill Bratton’s LAPD managed the public’s money percolated out of the grimy walls of Parker Center from time to time, runaway overtime, loose spending controls, the Police Foundation slush fund, secret licensing deals.

But Bratton was untouchable even when Controller Laura Chick reported two years ago that the LAPD’s money management practices were “stuck in the 1950s” and needed to be “completely overhauled” to protect the “fiscal integrity and transparency” of the $1 billion a year department.

That’s what makes the first internal audit conducted in response to Chick’s report so interesting.

It was completed in August and got a management response of sorts by mid-September and got buried on the desk of Police Administrator III Gerald Chaleffchaleff.jpg for three months until his patron, Bratton, was safely out of town so he didn’t have to deal with nasty headlines like “LAPD mishandled millions.”

Chaleff was once a brilliantly successful criminal defense lawyer, who earned fame and fortune protecting the rights of the Night Stalker, the Alphabet Bomber and the Church of Scientology. He became part of the legal team investigating the LAPD after the Rodney King beating, and president of the Police Commission.

Mayor Riordan removed him from the commission in no small part because Chaleff had helped turn the abuses of CRASH Officer Rafael Perez into the biggest scandal in LAPD’s modern history and then used it to justify the federal court consent decree.

“Top Cop” Bill Bratton was one of the consultants on the consent decree which helped him get the job as LAPD Chief and that helped Chaleff get the job as LAPD’s top civilian in charge of the consent decree, risk management and other administrative duties.

Loyalty is important on the thin blud line so it isn’t any wonder that Chaleff sat on an embarrassing audit until Bratton made his getaway or that Bratton’s favorite, Charlie Beck, jumped over so many others to get to be Chief of Police or that Chaleff got promoted to Special Assistant to the Chief.

What is wondrous is that when the day of reckoning came on Tuesday, the team of women cops and civilians from the audit division sat before the Police Commission and tried to explain why their report was suppressed for three months.

But Chaleff was nowhere to be seen.

The point person on the witness stand was Capt. Jodi Wakefield who downplayed the significance of the audit and offered ample assurances that the system was being fixed and the LAPD won’t mishandle its money anymore.

Acting Commission President Alan Skobin and Commissioner Robert Saltzman kept demanding a clear explanation about why the report didn’t reach the Chief’s desk or the Police Commission for three months.

Poor Wakefield stuttered and dissembled and couldn’t get out more than “my boss” had it, by which she meant Gerald Chaleff, the missing man.

Continue reading LAPD and the Mishandled Millions