My Sunday News-Press & Leader Column: Helping those who need it most

In the dark of night, they hide in alleys and parks, in places no one
comes, not even the cops. They are the invisible people who live on our
streets.

Even in the daylight when they wander down the sidewalk
with shopping carts overloaded with junk, we are likely to look the
other way and make them as invisible as possible.

They are the
chronically homeless — the mad, the sick, the jobless, the disabled, the
detritus of a society with too many rules, too many controls, too many
demands for conformity in a high-tech world that puts the competence of
all of us to a test.

Hopeless in most of our eyes, they are an
inspiring challenge to Natalie Profant Komuro and her team at Path
Achieve Glendale, a homeless program that provides shelter and help to
the hundreds of people who live on the streets of the city.

“We
could actually end chronic homelessness in Glendale,” Komuro tells a
skeptical visitor to the group’s shelter and office tucked away between
warehouses and parking lots near the railroad tracks off of San Fernando
Road and Los Feliz Boulevard.

“Our mission is to end homelessness one person, one family at a time. We try to make sure everybody has a roof over their head.”

It
is a daunting task that will put Path Achieve to a test this week when
staff and teams of volunteers head onto the streets at 4 a.m. Monday for
a three-day effort to find the homeless and offer them help to get
their lives back on track.

It’s called “Glendale Registry Week:
Homeless to Home,” part of a national effort to get 100,000 people off
the streets and into housing within two years.

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

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How They Wrecked Rec and Parks: Stealing $43 Million from Kids to Mask Their Bungling

Antonio Villaraigosa, with the full support of the City Council, introduced the revolutionary notion into city government that requires anybody who has any money to pay for all the services that their taxes had paid for all along.

Remember how he tripled the trash fee to hire more cops and then used two-thirds of the $36 a month homeowners were paying to cover the growing shortfall everywhere else?

Then, he introduced, with the full support of the City Council, the revolutionary notion that parks and libraries — unlike every other department in the city — should pay other city departments the full cost for all the support they get.

The result was that libraries were closed two days a week and parks programs gutted as the economy declined and City Hall proved itself incapable of getting a handle on soaring costs — 85 percent payroll, pensions and benefits — and falling revenue.

Since 2006, the mayor has bled $61 million from the Department of Recreation and Parks and has been “forced to lose over 500 full-time employees and the equivalent of
3
,000 part-time employees … (leaving) a significant void in professional and management experience which has caused the elimination of some services, the reduction of some programs,
and reduced hours of operations,” according to a letter and supporting material submitted by Recreation and Parks Department GM Jon Kirk Mukri.(RecParks-Impact.pdf)

This year the full cost recovery hits on the department amount to nearly $44 million — a quarter of its budget — to pay for water, electricity, pensions, trash and early retirements.

The Parks Department gets $138 million — more than 75 percent of its revenue — mandated to it under the City Charter from property taxes.

Voters over decades have designated giving parks and libraries alone among all city departments for a share of property taxes because they are so important to the health of the community.

What voters hath wrought, the mayor and Council hath put asunder by slugging them with outrageous charges to fund other departments.

Parks Department volunteer Kris Sabo spoke passionately Thursday to the Budget Committee for park users and Department Executive Officer Regina Adams methodically set out the case of what the mayor and Council have done to wreck the department.

The video of their presentations shows how the mayor’s office and City Administrative Office mumbled, dissembled and deceived in response to questions about why the Parks Department was used as a cash cow for other departments.

INDIRECT SUPPORT COSTS

 

FY 201112

Percent of

Budget

Water

$

7,000,000

 

3.90%

Electricity

$

9,000,000

 

5.01%

Retirement, Health & Flex Benefit Costs

$

19,871,624

11.07%

Trash Services

$

3,700,000

 

2.06%

ERIP Payout

$

4.300,000

 

2.40%

TOTAL INDIRECT SUPPORT COSTS

$

43,871,624

24.44%

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W(Rec)k and Parks, The Movie: Starring Barry “Commercial Signs Aren’t Advertising” Sanders

Rec and Parks Commission President Barry Sanders insisted to the City Council’s Budget Committee Thursday that plastering every surface in city parks with commercial messages isn’t advertising — it’s “recognition” that they love LA so  much they want to donate some money to beautify the trees and grass for the kids.

Amazingly, most members of the committee — whose failure to do their jobs as budget watchdogs as put the city in perpetual financial crisis — embraced Sanders proposal, expressed a willingness ignore the City Attorney’s legal advice and jeopardize the city’s sign law.

Bill Rosendahl drooled at the prospect of bringing millions of dollars in new revenue to the decimated Rec and Parks Department by selling signage writes all over the Venice Beach boardwalk.

Only Paul Koretz, acknowledging his constituents are outraged by the plan, seemed to be able to see what’s wrong with commercializing the parks selling fast food, kids’ movies and whatever else corporate America chooses to advertise for a fee.

W(Rec)k and Parks: Destroying LA in Order to Save It

The news out of Washington Thursday was that federal officials want to impose tough rules on advertising cereal, soda pop, snacks, happy meals and other foods to
children because of the epidemic of childhood obesity.42424.jpg

Cartoon
characters like Toucan Sam, pitchman for sugar-coated Froot Loops and sedentary online games, was cited as an example of using commercial messages to support unhealthy lifestyle and eating habits.

At LA City Hall on Thursday lies come sugar-coated routinely and truth is lost in all the hot air, the Council Budget Committee took the exact opposite of the childhood obesity epidemic by giving its seal of approval to Park Commission President Barry Sanders’ plan to plaster the zoo and city parks with the poison of commercial messages.

Sanders was thwarted last fall in covering every visible surface of three parks with posters promoting Warner Bros. “Yogi Bear” movie in exchange for a tax-deductible gift of $50,000 to the LA Parks Foundation, which Sanders also runs.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich invoked the city sign ordinance to stop the madness but Sanders has continued to line up “sponsorships” and “partnerships” and took his case to the Budget Committee where he found support from everyone except Paul Koretz who was squeamish about trashing the parks with advertising.

He told the Budget Committee that corporate sponsors wouldn’t donate to the parks unless they got “recognition,” by which he meant huge signs defacing the parks and not a 2-foot plaque thanking them.

Foaming at the mouth, Greig Smith denounced the City Attorney’s efforts as “egregious,” Rosendahl was befuddled about what the problem with advertising in the parks is and Bernard Parks thought that anything that brings in money is good.

They ordered Chief Legislative to show them how they legally can ignored their own attorney’s advice and cash on making sure kids playing in the parks get the message: Buy, Buy, Buy — That’s what life is all about.

What Smith and the other Council members ought to find egregious is their own behavior in singling out the parks and libraries — the only departments voters endowed with shares of property taxes to protect them — for budget-busting “full cost recovery” requirements.

Parks and libraries — already savaged with massive budget cuts that have forced sharp cuts in services and hours — are being hit with millions of dollars in bills for water, power, trash pickup, early retirement costs among others.

So why not sell fast food and mind candy to kids?

KCET’s SoCal Connected tore apart Sanders’ policy in a January report that came complete with documents showing just how commercial his plan was.

Last week, they updated their report in advance of the budget hearings:

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D.J. Waldie’s Home Run Shot: On McCourt, Zell and the Selling of LA

Few writers about Los Angeles have the knowledge, clarity of consciousness and eloquence as D.J. Waldie. In this article headlined “The Foster City” at Zocalo Public Square cuts through the fog around Frank McCourt, Sam Zell and much of the history of the city to reveal something true and important about our shared moment. Whet your appetite on these excerpts but read the whole article at Zocalo Public Square:

“Something narrow and coarse in the imaginations of the McCourts and
Zell and Selig and their business partners squeezed out any moral
dimension to their deals or any feeling for Los Angeles. But to question
how they acquired so much of our place so cheaply is uncomfortable for
Angeleños. Better to grumble about indifferent outsiders. Seen from
their perspective, Los Angeles has only market value, the sort of value
that sold Los Angeles to the world as one of the most successful
lifestyle products of the 20th century.

“Not any more. Too many deals have soured; too much of the city has
been taken into receivership. Even our citizenship – already problematic
– has been foreclosed. Deals under duress have taken too many of our
civic institutions from local control and put them in the hands of
monitors and special masters, raising another question we would prefer
to duck: Do we have the capacity to govern ourselves?”

————————————–

“Grudging compliance to special masters and appointed monitors may be
the best we have to give in a city fragmented by institutional barriers
and so distracted from civic concerns. Few of us want to see Los Angeles
as it is or what it should be; we’ve let others do it for us. This
city’s unaccountable political structure, its conception of power merely
as the means to another deal, and the city’s air of disconnected
neutrality have let thugs police its streets, unfeeling technocrats run
its services, and the McCourts loot its most-loved institution. And when
those faults became intolerable, others – not us – imposed their
solutions. We’ve come to expect this – and worse – from Los Angeles and
ourselves. “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” might as well be the motto
on the city seal.

“Los Angeles succeeded once, less as a place and more as a succession
of slick real estate deals that have reached the limits of our
landscape. Truthfully, we never needed a shared moral imagination until
now, when so many desertions from the common good have shown us how
little loyalty the once powerful had for this place. And no deal, no
special master, no court-ordered monitor can supply what we lack.”

D. J. Waldie is a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times and a contributing writer for Los Angeles magazine. He is the author most recently of California Romantica with Diane Keaton. He blogs for KCET TV at http://www.kcet.org/user/profile/djwaldie.

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The Tyrants’ Response to Rebellion at City Hall

So much for all that talk about the City Hall family.

Like tyrannical bosses the world over, the mayor and City Council reacted to the vote of “no confidence” by 43 percent of the civilian workers by taking immediate steps to crush the recalcitrant peasants with the full force of their authority.

How dare these little people, these second-rate lawyers, these clerks, park rangers, animal control officers, 911 operators, wastewater plant workers, lifeguards, these nobodies reject giving up 4 percent of their pay for health care and taking a 1.5 percent pay cut next year instead of getting a 5 percent raise.

Didn’t they understand it was an offer they couldn’t refuse?

Taking a page out of the Handbook for Bad Labor Relations, the city’s leaders acted swiftly to rejection of the deal by 6,300 workers — 43 percent of those covered by the contract — by ordering them to take 42 unpaid furlough days starting immediately unless they change their minds within a week.

Listening to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and Council members during the first day of hearings Wednesday on the $457 million deficit budget for next year you would have thought the city’s financial troubles were the fault of the workers — not the mayor and the city’s leaders.

That 80 percent of the City Attorney’s already decimated staff will be put on furloughs is Carmen Trutanich’s problem. No mercy. Criminals going free, civil cases lost because there’s no one to do the job? Not the mayor or Council’s problem.

The real victims, of course, are the taxpayers who pay the bills and have stood by powerless as union bosses and city officials cut deals for extravagant salaries and benefits for years. Now, they won’t even get the services they paid for.

This unprecedented rebellion against the unions’ and city’s leaders by workers doesn’t just happen.

For each of the past three years, the unions’ and city leaders have renegotiated contract after contract knowing full well the deals were phony, nothing but tricks to get through another 12 months before more cuts were needed.

This time 43 percent of the workers called them on it. Their trust was betrayed and they knew full well the budget problems only get worse and this deal would only last until the next round of budget finagling.

The workers didn’t bankrupt the city. The mayor and Council did. They have used every trick from early retirements, transfers and furloughs to get through each year without being honest about the problems and offering real solutions.

They treated different classes of workers differently.

It’s one thing for cops to lose a lot of their cash payments for overtime. It’s another to lose 10 to 15 percent of pay through furloughs and watch DWP workers keep on getting pay raises every year.

The cold indifference of city leaders to the impact of rejection of this latest deal on workers and public services is symptomatic of all that’s wrong at City Hall.

They failed the public. They failed the workers. They take no responsibility for their failure, deflecting blame to the people they have betrayed.

Last month, roughly 43 percent of voters rejected the incumbent Council members. Now, it’s 43 percent of the workers.

It’s not enough to bring down this failed government, not enough to bring the city’s leaders to their senses.

But the trend is clear enough.

City Hall is losing the confidence of the people and its work force.

Nothing good will come from any of this until there is an honest and open public conversation about the state of the city, about what the diverse communities of the city want and need, about what the city can afford to provide.

They may be able to bully and beat these 6,300 rebellious workers into submission but the myth of the City Hall family has been destroyed. It will not be easy to restore credibility to a city leadership that behaves like tyrannical bosses the world over.

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Fixing LA’s Parking Problems on Paper — Not in the Real World

EDITOR’S NOTE: The city’s proposed Modified Parking Requirement District
(CPC-2007-2216-CA), has stirred widespread controversy for its possible negative impact on residents in many communities. The City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, April 28,
at Van Nuys City Hall, 14410 Sylvan St. Local activist Danielle Elliott, a Realtor who has closely followed parking issues for many years, wrote this article to encourage the public to attend the hearing.

 

By Danielle Elliott

When is a parking solution not a parking solution?

When the
proposed
Modified
Parking Requirement District ordinance (plan) to alleviate illegal parking is a
larger more extreme version of the original Ponzi scheme where parking spaces
exist – but only on paper.

Now the City wants to make phantom parking legal.

Since
2006, city officials from the Zoning Commission, City Council and Mayor’s
office have turned a blind eye to the illegal expansion of businesses without
requiring adequate parking to accommodate the increased traffic.
No real enforcement can exist since
spaces are not exclusive and are used by all the participating businesses.

Due
to lack of funds, staff and the need for diligent oversight, the City has been
unwilling to implement a legally mandated parking database, thus leaving the
oversight to those, who for their own personal gain, have a stake in the
outcome.

The
original plan,
Motion
06-2280,
proposed by Council members Jack Weiss and Wendy Gruel on the surface appeared as if
it was trying to resolve issues that plagued residents, visitors and businesses
alike. The motion was assigned to uber-planner, Tom Rothman who has been
working with business owners, developers and political interests since then to
satisfy their current need for cheap parking without any real vision for the
future.

With the new Modified Parking
Requirement District ordinance, parking is virtual once again.

Unlike a video
game, real people don’t reside in a virtual world. The plan satisfies a
voracious need to expand beyond capacity and for that reason is doomed to
failure. Commercial property, business owners and developers continue to
request variances to reduce their building’s parking requirements from a desperate
city more willing to accept the additional revenue from these variances than
meet the existing legal requirements or community’s real parking needs.

This city’s inaction shifts onsite
required parking offsite and the business owners hire oft times illegal valet
companies that are more than ready, willing and able to utilize shady business
practices to park cars any where and any way.

The plan is
a very short-term solution to a long-term problem. Exponential population
growth, lack of new public transit, cutbacks in existing transportation, poor
enforcement and city-approved parking reductions all have contributed to our
City’s parking problem.

Even more
egregious is that part of the justification of this “infill” of parking is to
reduce the environmental impact on the community. This is a specious argument.

Since more people are attracted to areas where there is perceived parking,
there will be more noise and pollutants for all, especially our children, to
breathe and to contaminate our homes. It is illogical to extol the praises of
this ordinance for making more “vibrant” with unsustainable growth already
high-density areas and call it healthy.

The plan is
a deterrent to change and progress. Designed for many areas where commercial
properties are functionally obsolete, these old buildings have no historical
value, significance or uniqueness that should save them for posterity.
Therefore owners have no incentive to bear the cost of retrofitting or building
a new structure with parking when they can shift the cost to other businesses
and share the offsite parking.

It artificially increases value thereby creating
a de facto subsidy for a few commercial property owners to pocket artificially
inflated rents. Small business owners also benefit because rent in these
buildings is still cheaper than in newly developed properties. Properties with
on-site parking demand higher rent and only high-end businesses can afford to
do business there. As for City parking structures – they are being sold to
offset the deficit. It is unlikely the City will build new parking structures
anytime soon.

For this
reason, the “Plan” establishes Universal Valet Zones. It is foolish
to believe the City can ban competition between valet companies. 

Universal Valet is a myth and has failed
wherever implemented because it can’t compete with fly-by-night valet companies
that under price their services. Even if the City Attorney drafted an ordinance
mandating that all valet companies comply with the same requirements, there
will always be a valet company willing to skirt the law and tie up parking
areas that the Universal Valet will eventually need to acquire thus keeping the
Ponzi scheme going.

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Continue reading Fixing LA’s Parking Problems on Paper — Not in the Real World

City Labor Deal UPDATED: 43 % Reject Deal

City Council President Eric Garcetti reported today that 5 of the 19 units of the Coalition of City Unions — 43 percent of the workers — rejected the deal requiring them to pay a portion of their health care for the first time.

The deal required them to pay 4 percent of their salaries instead of facing up to 36 furlough days next fiscal year. They would get the the $1,190 a month cap lifted on the taxpayer subsidy toward their health care.

The Council now faces a much tougher budget situation with significant disruptions to public services and confusion within city government.

LA’s Rite of Spring: Hiding the Budget Deficit


Every spring for the last three years, the City Council’s
Budget Committee has taken up the mayor’s spending plan for the next fiscal
year amid warnings that drastic actions need to be taken or next year will be
worse.

It’s next year again and things are worse – the budget
deficit for 2011-12 has swollen to nearly half a billion dollars, more than 10
percent of the entire general fund budget. And next spring, the deficit for the
following year will be even worse.

Bernard Parks’ Budget Committee holds its first in a
weeklong series of public hearing at 1 p.m. today to review the mayor’s
proposal that tries to undo some past mistakes like closing libraries two days
a week and leaving potholes unrepaired while making at least a dent in the
underlying structural deficit.

It is a fragile document, a house of cards that could
collapse if any one of a large number of variables goes wrong.

Start with the deal for members of the 18 units of the
Coalition of City Unions to start paying for a portion of their lifetime health
care by contributing 4 percent of their salaries – a $69 million savings to the
general fund this year.

The votes are coming in and at least one unit, the City
Attorney’s office voted 248 to 143 (LACAA PRESS RELEASE.pdf) to reject the deal which union leaders
negotiated under the threat of workers facing 36 furlough days over 12 months,
a 15 percent loss of pay.

If several other units also reject the deal, it will unravel
efforts to get police and fire unions to negotiate similar deals to increase
their contributions to pension funds.

Without those savings, there will be more furloughs, even
layoffs. Libraries won’t reopen, parks programs will be cut further, workers
won’t be at their jobs, city operations will become even more chaotic and
inefficient than they are.

It is all inter-connected.

Assume though that the savings from employee contributions
materialize for the most part and raises in salaries for many are deferred a
year, what’s left to quarrel about is just 15 percent of the total budget since
85 percent goes to salaries, pensions and benefits.

That 15 percent isn’t enough to fix the streets, trim the
trees or provide other basic services at an adequate level let alone provide
summer jobs to kids in gang-infested neighborhoods or get the homeless off the
streets.

We are all reduced to the status of starving rats fighting
over scraps.

Even with these contributions and other steps, next year
will be worse because  the cost to
taxpayers for salaries, pensions and benefits keep rising while revenue remains
flat and could even decline if the tepid economic recovery stalls.

Every spring the warnings sounded by Assistant CAO Tom
Coultas at the start of the recession keeps resonating.

And yet, the mayor and Council have not put forward a
comprehensive solution that will actually bring the budget into balance and
allow the city to more forward.

No less that former First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner has
told many people that he expects the city to run out of cash by next spring and
be forced into bankruptcy.

If this proposed budget doesn’t fall apart, City Hall may
survive the fiscal year and the house of cards might not come tumbling down
until the middle of the next mayoral election in 2013.

Short of economic miracle only dreamers hold out hope for,
the day is coming when LA can not pay its bills.

You would think the inevitability of that day of reckoning
would prompt the city’s leaders to stop procrastinating and dreaming and get
down to work starting today to develop a strategy that ends the city’s downward
descent.

MAY 5, 2009

DEC. 12, 2009

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Real L.A. News from the Virtual World: Union Concessions, Antonio’s Ethics, DWP Foot-dragging

Tough Call for City Workers: Pay a Little Now to Get a Lot Later

Today is the final day for most of the city’s civilian work force, members of the City Coalition of Unions, to decide whether to pay 4 percent of their salary for what is now lifetime health care fully paid by taxpayers.

The deal union negotiators and city officials have come up with would lift the $1,190 per month cap on the city’s contribution, requiring the city to pay the full cost of rising health care premiums (Health Subsidy Ordinance.pdf).

In the short term, the city frees up $69 million this year to help erase the nearly $500 million deficit — a problem the mayor has proposed solving for the most part with another round of one-time solutions, and bookkeeping tricks.

How Lobbyists Help Antonio Pay Fines for Ethical Misconduct

Here’s an excerpt of a letter sent out to help raise the money to pay the $42,000 in fines imposed on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, his six-figure legal bills, even to support his lavish lifestyle:

“We opened legal defense funds on behalf of the Mayor to pay the
penalties and his legal bills.  Of course, we cannot accept donations
from lobbyists or lobbying firms registered with the City, or from MTA
contractors.  But I was hoping that you might help us raise funds from
other sources.  The maximum contribution for an individual or entity is
$4,000 (that breaks down to $3,000 for the legal defense funds and
$1,000 for the Mayor’s “Officeholder Account.”)  A couple with a joint
account can double that an amount if both people sign the form.”

Lobbyists may not be able to contribute but the letter itself came from a lobbyist shaking down his clients to show how much they love the mayor and continued access to him for favors.

In some jurisdictions, this is called bribery. In L.A., it’s called business as usual. Jack Humphreville has the full story at CityWatchLA.

Foot-Dragging on DWP Rate Payer Advocate and Feed-in Tariffs

Rick Orlov in the Daily News captures the City Council’s snail’s pace effort to create the long-promised and voter-approved creation of the Rate Payer Advocate to protect the public from more unjustified DWP rate hikes.

Under the headline “DWP watchdog plan inches forward,” Orlov reports the City Council is still “trying to sort out how to get started” and :”how to create the citizens commission
that will hire the first executive director of the DWP’s new Office of
Public Accountability.
They also have to decide how that director will be hired – and fired.”

For his part, DWP GM Ron Nichols is taking the first timid steps to implementing a long-sought feed-in tariff that would pay residents and businesses a premium, even a profit, for all the energy they produce from rooftop solar installations.

While this has been done all over the world with great success, the IBEW has opposed the feed-in tariff and Nichols is cautiously hoping to start a small pilot program by the end of this year.

He has figured out the only question is, and has been, how much to reimburse for solar: “The most important thing appears to be the pricing,
what we pay back for the power that is generated,” Nichols said. “We
want it high enough to encourage people to install solar panels, but we
also want it to be realistic to reflect how the market will change.”

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