Punishing the Poor, Soaking the Middle Class, Enriching the Rich — The Poverty of Our Politics

The Wall
Street Journal asks the question today
, “Public Unions: Is California Next? Serious
Californians, on the right and the left, know how much fiscal trouble they’re
in.”

Calling Wisconsin‘s public union fight “the battle of the century
in American politics,” writer Daniel Henninger notes Costa Mesa just fired half its city workers
and LA just negotiated a deal with unions representing most civilian workers
for increased employee contributions for pensions and health care. (
UnionsContractAnalysis.pdf)(CAO-ContractAnalysis.pdf)

The heart
of the story is San Francisco
where Public Defender Jeff Adachi got an initiative on the November ballot with
support from former Assembly Speaker and Mayor Willie Brown a measure that
would have forced public employees to pay a lot more for their pensions and
health care. It failed but the coalition Adachi put together is trying again.

“I’m
seen as a liberal progressive, a rage against the machine person,” Adachi
said. “If you care about social programs or the network of support
services, you have to understand that pensions and benefit costs are crowding
out all these services.”

After
talking with politicians on the left and right, the writer concludes: “Over the
years, the public unions ‘bought’ politicians from the smallest city to the
state capital in Sacramento.
California is
a blue state all right, but it just may be that it is turning blue with rage at
the inexorable destruction of its public life.”

What’s broken in California isn’t a secret. We can’t afford the government we have, not in our cities, our counties, our state. Our tax system is inequitable, our public servants cost too much. 

Yet our rage against the political machinery falls on the deaf ears of elected officials, beholden to unions, developers, contractors and other special interests.

As evidenced by the breakdown in negotiations on solving the state’s $26 billion budget deficit, it’s clear the politicians — left, and right– prefer gamesmanship to leadership no matter how much damage they do to the quality of our lives, our economic opportunity, our children, our futures.

They are more than willing to punish the poor, soak the middle class and enrich the rich.

But when it comes to solving the people’s problems, they are nowhere to be found. They disgrace themselves by their indifference to the public interest, their pandering to special interests.

Nowhere is this more evident than in LA where the annual renegotiation of civilian employee union contracts has left many in the workforce enraged at the prospects of making no financial progress when all factors are weighed over the next few years. 

Like the last two contracts, this deal hailed by city leaders as a “landmark” does very little to actually solve the problem of soaring deficits and pension and benefit costs that can never be met.

The consumer-driven high-growth economy that masked the escalating costs of government for so long is never coming back. 

The politicians cling to a hopeless fantasy of an economic miracle just around the corner. It isn’t going to happen. It is we who must change and face the new realities and rebuild our society in a more humane way that emphasizes the well-being of the people, all of the people.

Gov. Jerry Brown put on the table the outline of what must be done in this era of crisis: Waste and inefficiency must be reduced. The cost of entitlements must be reined in. The richest among us must pay higher taxes; it is their duty. Public workers must make major concessions, far greater than the ones they have so far been willing to take.

In the short term, we need to raise revenue and cut spending.

From what we see happening at City Hall, in Sacramento, in the nation’s capital, it seems clear enough that the politicians will not do what is right and necessary until they have created a catastrophe that awakens us to their folly.

It is only a matter of time whether we do nothing or continue our struggle to take back control of our government institutions and restore democracy to America. The only question is how much damage will be done, how much unnecessary suffering there will be, before the day comes when sanity returns.

The Curious Case of Bill Rosendahl and the Millions of LED Lights

It was enough to make our forefathers weep…

Here was the city’s political leadership, the fabulous 15
who rule over 4 million people in the entertainment capital of a world of seven
billion, cheered on by the business community as they groveled  before Maria Elena Durazo and other union
leaders who represent barely one in six workers – even less if you add in those
out of work.

The occasion was approval of a deal to tear down the
Wilshire Grand Hotel  and, with the gift
of more than a million square feet of city-owned land, rebuild it as a 45-story
luxury hotel and maybe someday a 65-story office/condo complex.

The beneficiary of this sweetheart deal was developer Jim
Thomas, the king of downtown skyscrapers, and the property owner Korean Air,
which gets to keep half the hotel tax, a second gift worth up to $79 million
over 20 years

To a man and a woman on the nation’s highest paid, highest
perked and highest staffed City Council, there was nothing but hyperbole in
praise of this development as if it will erase the city’s 14 percent
unemployment rate or the 14 percent unemployable rate.

Gift No. 3 was the creation of a “special sign district”
solely for this project to allow the buildings themselves to have millions of
energy-wasting LED lights embedded in their structures to sell advertising
worth millions of dollars a year.

Not just advertising but artistic displays of flashing
lights all the way to the top of the buildings for our visual pleasure. Yes,
this is about art for art’s sake, or so said Ed Reyes, the Council’s planning
expert who never saw a development he didn’t like. It’s just like the plan to
plaster the city’s parks with advertising signs in the name of beautification
of nature.

The Ban Billboard Blight folks objected to the
buildings-as-digital-billboards concept as nothing but visual blight and warned
they will distract freeway drivers but even they shied away from criticizing
the gift-laden deal itself.

No one said a word about the incredible waste of electricity
in a city that has appalling record of resisting in-basin solar energy and
faces billions upon billions of dollars in costs to rid itself of its
dependence for nearly half its power on cheap, polluting coal plants – costs
will send bills soaring for all those ordinary folks who matter so little.

Only one Council member questioned even a single element of
this $1.2 billion project, Bill Rosendahl., the same Council member who has
raised questions about the even more outlandish NFL stadium gift-giving plan
for AEG’s benefits.

Rosendahl wanted to know what the city’s cut will be from
the digital billboard display on Korean Air’s grand hotel at 7th and
Figueroa much as he wants to know what the city’s cut will be from the $700
million naming rights for the football stadium and all the digital billboards
AEG will reap huge profits from as part of the stadium/Convention Center
project.

Those are good questions.

Rosendahl pursued the profit sharing angle with persistence
but his timing was bad.

After years of bungling on billboard policy to the benefit
of the companies that have profited handsomely by blighting the visual
landscape, the Council has still not gotten around to even considering taking a
cut of billboard revenues.

Noting he gets a lot of heat over billboard blight from
constituents, the city’s wealthiest, Rosendahl even sought to reconsider Friday’s
approval as a matter of urgency of the project itself as part of the billboard
issue.

He couldn’t even get a second to his motion, showing just
why there is no reason to hope these city leaders will ever do the job of protecting
the public interest.

Rosendahl’s performance did not sit well with his
colleagues, the dangerously ambitious Dennis Zine even mocking him and glossing
over the fact that the Planning Commission itself rejected this billboard plan
only to have Reyes bring it back to life in committee.

And when the Westside Councilman actually broke the
unanimity of the Council and voted against the billboard plan, you could hear
the groan throughout the Council chamber packed by union members because it
will take a second vote next week for final approval.

Jan Perry who rests her case for her campaign for mayor on
what she has done for downtown developers in the last decade was fit to be
tied. She has set an April 1 deadline to hand Jim Thomas and Korean Air a
signed and sealed deal – an appropriate date for such a foolish deal.

Poor Bill, he was standing in the way of this train and got
out of the way just in time by taking a walk out of the Council Chamber so a
second vote on the sign district could be held with unanimous support and it
could be rushed to the mayor’s desk for a signature, forthwith.

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes today about Rosendahl’s
campaign of questioning the stadium deal, noting: “Rosendahl isn’t always as
good at following through as he is asking the questions, so we have to hope
he’s willing to knock some heads, so to speak…”

Rosendahl is “a pest” with all his questions, Lopez writes,
ending his column: “Let’s hope he doesn’t stop.”

Right Steve, not much of a hope, is it”

Expecting a good-hearted fellow like Bill Rosendahl to put it all on the line, be shunned by his colleagues and commit political suicide is above and beyond the call of duty even for the nation’s highest paid city official.

Questions is all you will get, questions that get no answers.

 

 

 

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Caretakers of a Greater Dream for LA

If we haven’t
already reached the point of no return, we will with approval today of the skyscraper
billboard passing as the new Wilshire Grand luxury hotel and the soon to be
approved mega-billboard passing as an NFL stadium/Convention Center.

The
twinkling of lights of LA down below that gave the city its night-time charm
will soon enough be a blazing LED light show of advertising images pulsing new
messages every six to eight seconds, consuming the electricity that could power
thousands of homes, making a mockery of slogans like “greenest city in America.”

The glow
from downtown and then Hollywood
and eventually the Westside will pollute the sky for miles around.

LA will
finally have fulfilled the dark side of its promise, an anything goes playground
for the rich and powerful sporting themselves in pockets of spectacular luxury
surrounded by vast canyons of poverty.

They talk
about jobs, jobs, jobs but they really mean buy, buy, buy as if the era of
hyper-consumerism and hyper-commercialism was not on its last legs.

This is a
nation that has been losing good-paying middle class jobs far faster than they
are being created for decades, a nation that has seen its share of the global
car manufacturing market fall from 65 percent to 15 percent, its car capital
fall in population to what it was 100 years ago, its unionized work force fall
from 33 percent to 13 percent with much of that in an unaffordable public
sector.

The
American Century is over. Even our military might that consumes so much of our
wealth cannot triumph over Al Qaeda and the Taliban any better than it did the
Viet Cong 40 years ago.

We are
clinging with all our strength to a runaway culture, obsessed by the
shenanigans of celebrity creeps and sickos. . Even as we resist all change in
the way we live and work, we jump aboard iPads and G4 cell phones as if nothing
has changed.

Nowhere is
the madness of America
more evident than in LA.

We are
seeing a feeding frenzy at the public trough by developers, contractors, unions
nowhere what harm they do to the quality of the lives of millions and their
hopes for a better future.

It is
unstoppable.

We have
raised our voices in anger. We have begged for crumbs. The machine of our
political and civic culture has no more mercy than it has solutions to the
problems we collectively face.

We have
voted with our feet in far greater numbers that we have voted in ballot boxes.
The middle class has been fleeing for 30 years as white flight became everyone’s
flight – the ultimate exit strategy for disenchanted people.

For the
rest of use who have remained and fought against the tide, there is a dilemma.

Our efforts
to stop the destruction politically and legally have come to little or nothing.
The machine adapts and corrupts every hard-won reform.

Failure is
nothing but a learning experience for me. I’m from Cleveland and I know a lot about losing, a
lot more than I know about winning.

I have
failed at just about everything I ever did in life and my few seem like
miracles, inexplicable. Maybe that’s why I never stopped chasing my dreams.

For the
last 30 years, I have bombed City Hall with every word at my disposal. I used
what journalistic skills and platforms I had to expose abuses of the LAPD and
the corruption of City Hall.

For the
past three years, I’ve posted 1,403 articles, nearly one a day. I started the
Saving LA Project to protest against the tripling of trash fees on the promise
it would all go to the police -a promise broken from day one — and started the
citizen journalism project called OurLA.org. and the political action committee
LA Clean Sweep.

There
always was only one goal – to bring people from all over the city, from every
walk of life together, so they could bring to life the city of their dreams.

These
efforts all have failed. But so what? Life is like that. You struggle and fail
and you get up and struggle some more for the things you believe in.

And then
you wake up one day and inexplicably everything has change, maybe not the way
you envisioned it would be but for the better.

It’s all
just a matter of timing. The tide of history will force us all to change,
sooner or later, and come to terms with the new reality of living within our
means in a more modest, sustainable world that is less materialistic, yet gives
us all a greater chance at happiness.

What do we
do next?

Frankly, I
don’t know. I’m open to all suggestions about how we regroup and carry on the
effort to be the caretakers of a truly great LA that fulfills the hopes and
dreams of its people.

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My Sunday News-Press & Leader Column: Like it or not, change has arrived

You are the lucky ones and you probably don’t even know it. And if you do, you probably don’t appreciate it.

Hard times are here for cities across California, and they are going to get harder in the years ahead.

Costa
Mesa has sent pink slips to half its employees. San Jose is demanding
10% cuts in pay and benefits from its 11 employee unions, and that only
cleans up a third of its $105-million budget deficit.

The heart
of the problem is declining revenue and the soaring cost of pensions and
health care for city workers — more than a $1-billion bill for Los
Angeles next year, a quarter of its operating budget.

Burbank,
with an $8.7-million deficit in the coming fiscal year, and Glendale,
with a $15-million deficit, have their budget problems, too, but with a
difference.

Many cities in California are like families living
beyond their means, buying houses, cars and toys they can’t afford as if
there was no tomorrow, as if the nation’s economic meltdown would pass
and what was normal would soon return. Well, tomorrow has come and
normal isn’t coming back for a long, long time — maybe never.

In
interviews last week, both Burbank City Manager Mike Flad and Glendale
City Manager Jim Starbird described in similar terms how their cities
have been “living within their means,” have money in the bank with large
reserve funds, and are working “strategically” to solve their financial
problems — though there will be pain for city workers and residents
alike.

“We’re blessed because of where we are from an economic
standpoint, but things are never going back to the way it was,” said
Flad. “We need to rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We
need to recalculate where we’re going to go, to redirect our
priorities.”

In Starbird’s words: “This is like what happened
after Proposition 13 — the public sector will never be the same. People
need to be aware the economy will never be the same as it was. They will
feel the loss of services, and the loss of quality in services, unless
we can reduce the cost of providing those services.”

(READ FULL STORY)

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Are We There Yet? Do City Hall’s Piecemeal Solutions Solve Anything?

Let’s start with the City Council taking up the heavily-subsidized Wilshire Grand Hotel project today as a matter of urgency on a special agenda with 24 hours notice and then look at yesterday’s “landmark” deal with six city unions.

They have one thing in common: They are offered as piecemeal solutions to big issues, one involving what downtown will look like in the future and other whether the city will survive its enduring financial crisis.

The Wilshire Grand deal provides $54 million to $79 in hotel tax rebates to the developers to build a skyscraper plastered with five-story digital billboards built into the structure itself and possibly a second even taller office/residential tower similarly adorned.

It is an example of spot zoning, making new rules for individual projects that become precedents for other project without a comprehensive analysis and public discussion of the implications of what we are doing.

In this case, there is no public discussion to speak of.

The Chief Legislative Analyst only released his report on what’s called the “subvention agreement” — subversion might be more apt — on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Council scheduled the special meeting and today will unanimously approve it unanimously after a perfunctory discussion.

Other downtown property owners and developers will demand similar subsidies and authority to put up giant digital billboards and get what they want by offering no public benefits other than “project labor agreements that ensure all workers involved are
members of unions.

The result will dramatically affect the future of downtown for better or worse. The only certainty is that is will be a brighter future — by millions of flashing LED lights.

The deal with the six civilian city unions announced Thursday with such great fanfare and hyperbole by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Council President and wannabe mayor Eric Garcetti is similarly a piecemeal solution to the much larger problem of city government costing far more than it has money to pay for.

What exactly the deal means in terms of solving even a portion of the budget crisis is far from clear as the numbers reported the LA Times, Daily News and Wall Street Journal wobble in various ways like the number of workers involved, the deficit for next year and the actual savings.

The mayor’s website offers its own set of numbers.

“The City and the Coalition of LA City Unions reached a tentative pension
and healthcare reform agreement that will produce $204 million in
savings to the General Fund and $396 million in total savings over the
next four years,” it reports in the opening paragraph.

It ends with this information: “The increase in employee contributions to retiree healthcare alone will
save an estimated $64 million over the next three years, $317 million
over the next 15 years, and $634 million over the next 30 years.”

How those numbers fit in with the City Administrative Officer’s report last week on looming budget deficits is far from clear: $350 million next year, $446 million the following year, $513 million the year after, and $548 million in .2014-15.

The mayor, for his part, mocked KPCC reporter Frank Stolze for being ignorant when he mentioned the deficit next year is $350 million — $500 million, the mayor insisted, suggesting he knows something the rest of us don’t.

The sound bite the media jumped on was this mayoral quote: “This is a watershed moment, make no mistake.”

His own website is even richer in hyperbole:

“Today, Los Angeles has a message for Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis,
and every city or state capital where public employee unions have been
vilified as the cause of budget problems and economic woes: Collective
bargaining works,” said Mayor Villaraigosa.  “Instead of railing against
our union workers and their rights to bargain, we invited them to the
table because they know — absent these concessions — our current
benefits are not sustainable.  Unions are our partners, not our enemies,
and I am pleased to announce that the Coalition of LA City Unions has
stepped up to the plate, worked with us, and done their part.”

“Landmark,” “watershed,” “historic” or whatever it is, the deal to nearly double the pension and health care contributions of 19,000 or 22,000 or whatever number of city workers it is from 6 percent to 11 percent doesn’t really solve anything by itself.

Wage increases negotiated just a year ago are being deferred, not eliminated, in exchange for ending the furloughs of one day every two weeks. But layoffs may or may not still be needed.

Deals with police, firefighters and thousands of other civilians workers still need to be negotiated, and nobody even talks about the bullies of City Hall, the DWP’s IBEW union, which keeps on getting big raises and never is asked to make concessions even as water and power rates keep soaring.

Then, there’s the question of what it means in terms of public services that have been so severely cut over the last three years.

Rick Orlov in the Daily News reports Garcetti “said the city will be able to return to the service levels it previously had” thanks to the deal.

“What this means is we can fill the potholes, we can repair the fire trucks and get them back in service,” Garcetti said.

But will the libraries reopen, parks programs be restored, tree trimming resumed? He didn’t say because he doesn’t know. Nobody knows.

There’s no comprehensive plans to solve the budget crisis or for downtown development or for anything else for that matter — at least none that any of us ordinary citizens are allowed to know.

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Welcome to the New LA — Lighting up Downtown

When is a giant digital billboard not a billboard? When Jan Perry says so — and the City Council agrees with her.

That’s the heart of the sweetest of sweetheart deals that will allow big shot developer Jim Thomas and the giant Korean conglomerate Hanjin Group to tear down the Wilshire Grand and replace it with two tax-subsidized skyscrapers wrapped with five-story high digital billboards that will generate millions of dollars a year in revenue to the developer.
ginza.jpg
Tibby Rothman in the LA Weekly provides a hard look at the controversy, quoting various experts, activists and even City Planning Commissioners questioning creation of a special sign district just for this project and the impact of the digital signs.

“Ignoring opposition from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees to the City Planning Commission, on March 11 City Council members Paul Krekorian and Ed Reyes
embraced a plan for huge billboards on the Wilshire Grand project. They
relied on the argument that the huge advertisements, which would be 12
times larger than big digital billboards erected two years ago on main
streets, including La Brea Avenue, are not “billboards” at all, and thus
don’t fly in the face of Angelenos’ opposition to more billboard ads,
or run afoul of the City Council’s own 2002 ban on new billboards.

“The billboards to appear on two skyscrapers proposed at Wilshire
Grand, located at Figueroa and Seventh downtown, will be illuminated
with several million ultrabright LED lightbulbs, whose glow is visible
for miles.

” ‘What is being proposed by the developers is not a billboard,” Councilwoman Jan Perryassured Krekorian and Reyes as they sat on the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee
meeting on March 11. She told them that 5-story-tall product ads aren’t
billboards because they’ll be “fully integrated into the curtain wall
of the project.’ “

The plan is build a 45-story hotel now and a 65-story office/residential tower later if there is ever any demand for it with half the 10 percent hotel tax — $54 million over 25 years — staying with Hanjin, owner of Korean Air.

Property owners around 7th and Figueroa have objected to the billboard plan but the project is set for City Council approval on Tuesday as matter of urgency, according to Perry who says the financing agreement for the project expires April 1.

A project labor agreement has been approved with the hotel workers union and the construction trades all also aboard, helping the deal sail through without scrutiny in record time.

It’s only the beginning of lighting up downtown like the Ginza in Tokyo, pictured above, as AEG plans massive digital billboards on its proposed NFL stadium and on the rebuilt Convention Center — developments that will open up much of downtown to becoming a sign district numerous building plastered with digital billboards.

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KCET Exclusive: SoCal Connected Exposes Rudy Montiel and the LA Public Housing Scandal

rudy.jpgSix months in the making. KCET”s SoCal Connected reveals the truth about LA’s highest paid official, the $450,000-a-year Rudy Montiel, who was fired Monday as head of the city’s public housing agency, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

Hundreds of documents were obtained under the California Public Records and dozens of people were interviewed on and off the record to produce a shocking story of abuses.

Here’s the promo from the KCET website:

Show Me The Money: The Junketeer

Thu Mar 24 at 6:30PM on KCET
Thu Mar 24 at 9:00PM on KCET

Rudolf “Rudy” Montiel is out. The former head of
the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles had enjoyed a fat-cat
employment package while overseeing the agency responsible for providing
shelter to L.A.’s most vulnerable residents. Now he’s at the center of
controversy, but he may not be alone.

For this latest installment of our series investigating how city
agencies have been spending (or misspending) taxpayer dollars, we spent
six months reviewing documents of HACLA’s leaders. You may be shocked to
find out where the money’s going.

More Airdates:

Fri Mar 25 at 8:30PM on KCET
Sat Mar 26 at 6:00PM on KCET
Sun Mar 27 at 6:30PM on KCET

A New Deal for L.A. — Road Map for an Efficient, Responsible and Solvent City Government

“If you’re not going to vote to extend taxes, you’re not going to vote
to cut, you’re not going to vote to do anything to redevelopment, so,
what the hell are you going to do? By the way, if you’re not
going to do anything, why do you take a pay check?”

Gov. Jerry Brown threw out that question to legislative Republicans blocking approval of tax extensions, budget cuts and abolition of community redevelopment agencies to eliminated California’s $26 billion budget deficit and restore the state to financial solvency.

The same question should be asked of the nation’s highest, highest perked and highest staffed municipal elected officials — the mayor and City Council of the City of Los Angeles.

They have failed for three years to confront the truth: City government is poorly managed, disorganized, wasteful, inefficient and its incompetence is compounded by salary, pension and health care costs that are — and were even before the economic meltdown — unaffordable.

Yet, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council went on a hiring frenzy at the height of the housing bubble.

For the last three years, their response has been a pathetic juggling of the books, shuffling money between accounts, one-time solutions like furloughs and reams of documents, studies and debate without substantive action.

The business community, Neighborhood Councils, the city’s financial bureaucrats — even to a degree city union leaders — all now agree that drastic actions must be taken now or bankruptcy will become the only viable option by July 2012.

Here’s how Gary Toebben, head of the LA Chamber of Commerce, put it this week in his Business Perspective column headlined “Budget Deficit IV Now Showing in LA”:

When Hollywood
produces a sequel, it is because the first film was a hit. This spring’s
Budget Deficit IV, starring the City of Los Angeles, does not fall into
that category. What started out as a PG rated show three years ago and
gained little attention has turned into a horror movie that should scare
every resident and taxpayer of Los Angeles. 

Some
of the actors in Budget Deficit IV would like to make us believe that
while the plot is heavy with drama, calling it a horror movie is simply
crying wolf. They assert that the villain in Budget Deficit I, II, III
and IV is a character called the Great Recession and that if we are just
patient, that villain will be swept away as the economy improves.
Miguel Santana, L.A.’s City Administrative Officer, says that portrayal
of the current budget deficit would be fiction. 

Speaking
to a group of L.A. Area Chamber members last Friday, Santana said the
actual numbers for the past four years and the financial projections for
the next four years tell a sobering story about a budget crisis that
would have unfolded even without the Great Recession. Santana points to a
long-term trend line of increased expenses for personnel, programs and
retiree benefits that surely and steadily increased the City’s budget
obligations every year and laid the foundation for a budget deficit even
when the economy was growing robustly. The budget deficit tsunami is
rushing in on Mayor Villaraigosa, members of the L.A. City Council and
citizens of Los Angeles, and we can no longer avoid tough cost-cutting
decisions.”

In a series of reports released in the last week, Santana has provided a road map to financial solvency that involves the usual grab bag of cooking the books and fee hike tricks along with a massive restructuring of city government, elimination of non-core services and the workers who provide those services and negotiations with city unions on reducing the cost of payroll and benefits.

The key documents released in the last week are the third quarter financial report (10-0600-S60_RPT_CAO_03-18-11[1].pdf) on how to get rid of the nearly $50 million deficit remaining this fiscal year, the amendments to that report approved by the Council Budget and Finance Committee, and lengthy report entitled “Opportunity to Strengthen and Redefine LA City Government.”

“We are living in an ‘age of permanent fiscal crisis’ that is challenging all levels of government,” Santana opens his report.

He noted LA’s unemployment rate is 14.4 percent, one of the nation’s highest, and the deficit for next fiscal year is estimated at $350 million and rising rapidly year after year to $548 million by 2014-15 even with an expected 10 percent increase in revenue.

Year after year, Santana’s office has warned “it only gets worse next year” and it has and will continue to get worse unless drastic measures are taken — and carried out effectively.

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, a group of 20 volunteers led by Jay Handal, has dug deep into the city’s finances after many weeks of work and issued their own recommendations which were presented in person to the mayor who flashed his best smile and said thanks.

It’s called “Saving Jobs — Saving Services” (NC Budget Advocates.doc)and dovetails with a lot of the CAO recommendations, emphasizing increasing efficiency, generating new revenues, structural changes and reducing expenses.

The mainstream media ignored the report which was picked up only by Alice Walton’s The City Maven blog.

There are a few choice nuggets of City Hall incompetence noted in the report.

The LAPD.bought GPS systems for squad cars but
“the required software to operate the GPS systems was not purchased, thus making
the GPS systems inoperable.”

The Personnel Department’s Workers Comp Division is operating inefficiently on 26-year-old software, when it would cost $3.4 million to fix and help save the city millions every years.

Despite its bland bureaucratic language and occasional smiley faces, the CAO’s own road map for financial solvency is a far more damning indictment of City Hall’s failures — 219 pages of proposals to reduce spending by $440 million to $570 million requiring “responsible management and fiscal practices.”

Fiscal responsibility, core services, honesty, integrity, transparency — those were the core values embraced by every LA Clean Sweep candidate in the recent Council elections where voters chose instead to elect the same old faces of failure.

And that is the heart of the problem: Failure of leadership.

The business, civic and union leadership supported those faces of failure in the election.

Now, they have the chance to join with the community and provide the leadership needed to create a new deal for Los Angeles — a future that provide job security to city workers at an affordable cost, that protects basic services for healthy neighborhoods and a decent qualify of life for all, that preserves hopes for a better future for the city.

There is nothing in the record of City Hall to suggest that the leadership that is needed will come from within.

It will take a coalition of the rich and the poor, progressives and conservatives and everyone in between from every part of the city to force the changes that are needed and make sure they are carried out for the long-term benefit of all.

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Real L.A. News from the Virtual World: Mitch the Radical, Parole Breakdown, DWP Bullies

The Radicalization of Councilman-elect Englander: Power to the People,  Reform the City Charter, Throwing Officials Under Buses

It’s hard to believe this is the same Mitch Englander who got elected to succeed his boss Greig Smith just a short time ago.

There he was last week at a joint meeting of the Northridge and Porter Ranch Neighborhood Councils playing to an angry overflow crowd of residents angered by the city’s re-striping of Wilbur Avenue between Nordhoff and Chatsworth to turn four lanes into two for a left-hand turn lane and a bike lane.

Damien Newton at Streetsblog.com covered the event in great detail as the crowd of 450 — two-thirds in favor of restoring the past, a third pro-bike — as Englander scoffed at the idea of actually riding a bike himself to work and home, pleaded innocent to how it happened without the knowledge of the Councilman or his staff and complained about their inability to change the Department of Transportation decision.

What made the event even more noteworthy was Englander’s “jokes” about throwing retired and highly respected DOT General Manager Rita Robinson, and maybe even, the mayor “under the bus.”
He said he would work to strip the mayor to hire and fire general managers and return it to the City Council which was the city’s “governing body” prior to Charter reform a decade ago. For good measure, he promised Neighborhood Councils would never the slighted again on city actions affecting their turf.
You can listen to the crowd-pleasing Englander’s performance here (M Englander, under the bus speech 1, 03-15-11.mp3) and here (M Englander, under the bus speech 2, 03-15-11.mp3).


A Dysfunctional, Broken System: California Department of Corrections Parole Operation
 
By Robin Sax, co-authored by Caroline Aguirre, retired parole agent, Women In Crime Ink
In late August 2009, the arrest of parolee Phillip Garrido exposed just how broken and dysfunctional the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has become. Investigative findings, as published by California State Inspector General David Shaw and the State Attorney’s General’ office, concluded that a number of parole agents over a period of nine years had failed to do their jobs properly surrounding the parole supervision of Phillip Garrido. A registered sex offender, Garrido has been charged with the kidnapping and rape of Jaycee Dugard. To date, the state of California has paid out a sum of $20 million dollars to Jaycee Dugard. Numerous other law suits are pending in which CDCR is named as defendants.
Then there was John Albert Gardner, also a registered sex offender, who admitted earlier this year to the horrific rape and murder of both Chelsea King and Amber Dubois.
As noted in the Investigative report findings by State Inspector General David Shaw:
“This report concludes that during the department’s parole supervision of Gardner, it did not identify Gardner’s aberrant behavior, including unlawfully entering the grounds of a state prison, a felony as well as numerous parole violations. Had the department identified Gardner criminal act and parole violations, it could have referred them to the District Attorney’s or the Board Of Prison Hearings for appropriate actions. Successful prosecution of Gardner could have sent Gardner back to prison , making it impossible for him to have murdered Amber Dubois and Chelsea King.”
Right after the arrest of Phillip Garrido, Matthew Cate, Scot Kernan and Robert Ambroselli, top administrators for the CDCR, openly stated to numerous news media outlets that parole agents had done a good job.
DWP Ratepayers Vote with Their Wallets
By JACK HUMPHREVILLE, LA Watchdog at CityWatchLA
Ron Nichols, the General Manager of our Department of Water and Power since January 24, is charged with orchestrating a massive turnaround and restructuring of the nation’s largest municipally owned utility. Over time, DWP has been victimized by, among other things, the failure to invest in its infrastructure; political meddling; a self serving, politically powerful Union Bo$$; promotions based on who you know, not merit; and serving as a dumping ground for over 1,600 unqualified City employees.
To implement the necessary changes, Nichols must establish a quality management team with the necessary management and technical skills that will direct the reorganization and transformation of the DWP.
To establish his authority, on February 4, having been at the helm for less than two weeks, Nichols ordered the dismissal of the politically appointed Raman Raj as the Chief Operating Officer. Raj, often referred to as the Chief Political Officer, was unceremoniously escorted from DWP’s Hope Street headquarters after he decided not to accept a six figure “Martinez” severance package.
Over the next ten years, the DWP, its management, and its many professional employees will be charged with implementing a $60 billion strategic plan that is responsive to the needs of the existing infrastructure and the significantly increased regulatory requirements. At the same time, DWP must provide Angelenos with reliable water and power at affordable prices. 
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Half-Million-Dollar LA Housing Chief Axed — The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

Rudy Montiel lived like a king in Rancho Cucamonga while the poor people he was supposed to provide decent housing for often lived in squalor in substandard buildings.

In his seven-year reign of the perpetually troubled Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles drew multiple salaries and bonuses amounting to nearly half a million dollars a year from an ingenious scheme involving separate low and moderate income housing entities. montiel.jpg

He also got 10 weeks vacation plus a San Bernardino County house.

He should have been fired a long time ago for the excesses of his self-service, the long stream of lawsuits and critical audits, and  the failure of his $1 billion-a-year public housing empire to provide decent living conditions for the poor.

The end came Monday night, the LA Times reported, when the HACLA board fired him, saying they had lost confidence in his leadership — an action that comes days after Montiel said the board members should repay the agency for their own extravagances at the expense of the poor.

CBS-TV Channel 2 reported last month that HACLA board members took their daily travel allowance while on junkets for the agency plus charged extravagant meals and booze to their agency credit cards — $150,000 in all in the last two years.

The board did the right thing for the wrong reasons in firing Montiel and now should do the right thing for the right reasons in resigning themselves for failing to provide oversight to this state-created city agency — much like the Community Redevelopment Agency — and abusing their positions.

The mayor naturally has been invisible throughout this controversy under his watch and the City Council only stepped in briefly in November when the complaints of protesters were aired and Bill Rosendahl, summoned all his moral outrage, to ask over and over, “Where’s Rudy? Where’s Rudy?” (watch video)

What’s wrong with HACLA is no mystery.

Montiel himself was brought in from Texas after a long succession of scandals involving abuses of employees and theft of public money.

Critical federal audits and other abuses well documented here continued under his reign even as complaints grew about his outrageous salary and benefits and the agency’s failures to meet the needs of the poor.

None of that mattered to anyone at City Hall until protesters surrounded Montiel’s home last September and harassed his family while he took video of them and called the cops, eventually retaliating against some of those involved by having them evicted from their units.

Therein lies the moral of the story if you want City Hall to respond to your concerns: You have to engage in acts of disruptive civil disobedience to get their attention. At least, it has worked for the poor, the homeless, the minorities and the unions.

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