A Mockery of Public Process: City Hall Kowtowing to AEG’s Ultimatum on NFL Stadium Approval

AEG’s Tim Leiweke issued his ultimatum to the city a week ago: Approve the basic terms of the deal for his downtown NFL stadium with all its tax breaks, massive loans and hidden subsidies by July 31 or its dead.

It did not take long for city officials to unconditionally surrender to his threat — not that anyone should be surprised since this has been a done (back room) deal from day one.

On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission started the process of fast-tracking the formality of making sure Leiweke and his Denver billionaire boss Phil Anschutz get whatever they want whenever they want it.

Using the frequently abused “Special Meeting” provisions of the law, the Planning Commission’s President, architect William Roschen, put this item on today’s agenda (Planning Agenda 6-9.pdf) with just 24 hours notice to the public of the 8:30 a.m. meeting:

Discussion of creation of a subcommittee to review and discuss with City staff the proposed Convention Center Modernization and Farmers Field Event Center Project. The Project Site is generally bounded by Chick Hearn Court on the north, Figueroa Street on the east, Venice Boulevard on the south and the 110 Harbor Freeway on the west.**

The bold face type and asterisks are the commission’s, presumably a nod in the direction of what passes for transparency at City Hall these days.

It’s as if the commission is saying, “See, we made it perfectly clear that we are creating a subcommittee so it can sit in the back room where the deal is being concocted and allow us to pretend we thoroughly examined what’s planned and can waive all laws, rules and policies that might queer this project.”

The only thing that makes this a matter of urgency that could justify a special meeting is Leiweke’s ultimatum — the second time he’s put a deadline on approval.

The last one expired in March without action by the city because it isn’t so easy to give away the farm for Farmers Field when libraries are closed, fire stations are shutting down, streets are crumbling and the financial situation is getting worse every day.

You have to wonder why city officials are even going through the pretense of a public process.

The mayor has been aboard for two years, probably because he’s guaranteed his own luxury box for the rest of his life, and only one Council member, Bill Rosendahl, has raised any questions about protecting the public interest.

The problem is constructing a narrative that justifies the city paying to tear down half its debt-laden Convention Center, borrowing $350 million more to rebuild it as part of “stadium/events center” to enrich an out-of-town billionaire.

We only have Leiweke’s gold-plated word that L.A. will be besieged with conventioneers and tourists by the millions because the NFL is back in town and that luxury hotels will sprout all over downtown thanks to Farmers Field.

What we do know for sure is that to get a luxury hotel at LA Live and rebuild the Wilshire Grand the city gave up hundreds of millions of dollars in occupancy taxes to the owners as well as granting them lucrative rights to giant digital billboards.
 
Leiweke, in his altruism, insists the low-wage service jobs created by the stadium and hotels will solve L.A.’s 14 percent unemployment problem as well as City Hall’s insolvency problem.

This is “the best deal
that’s ever been made for any city in the history of the NFL,”
he
says
, without a hint of irony that it’s the best deal ever proposed for the
benefit of AEG which will reap all the profits from having not one but two
teams playing at Farmers Field.

Red Light Cameras, Pink Toy Guns, Wayward Cops — Sanity in the City Hall Asylum

Hard as it may be to believe, there is a logical theory to the way L.A. city government is organized that is supposed to provide honesty and efficiency and balance the competing interests in a complex society.

The theory is the mayor provides vision, leadership and oversight to the
entire city government. The City Council makes policy and reviews the
actions of the various departments which each have their own independent
citizen oversight in the form of commissions. Top bureaucrats are held
accountable by their commissions and the elected officials while the
work force is insulated from political interference by civil service
rules.

Clearly, it isn’t working the way it was designed what with extensive evidence of waste, mismanagement, malingering, bribery and stealing not to mention politicians granting favors to friends and contributors from fixing parking tickets to tax breaks and subsidies worth millions.

The entire system has become politicized. Top managers are brow-beaten into submission by the politicians and their staffs. Commissioners are little more than shills for the politicians. Work place discipline has broken.

The result is corruption has become so rampant that the FBI is investigating and a federal grand jury is handing down indictments.

Every dark cloud has a bright spot and City Hall’s is the Police Commission which under the leadership of its president, civil rights leader John Mack, has brought independent oversight and leadership that has done more to restore the LAPD’s credibility than the mayor’s hiring 800 cops and putting them in civilian jobs.

On Tuesday, the commission took a series of actions that are worthy of note, starting with rejecting a recommendation from the department’s top brass to require that toy guns and BB sold in the city be pink or another color so cops wouldn’t mistake them for real guns.

Wouldn’t thugs, the commissioners asked, just paint their guns pink to get the drop on the cops? Duh, the brass didn’t think of that, case closed.

Then, there was the issue of cops of what do about cops who get caught drunk driving or committing other violations. Current practice is to let them off on “conditional own recognizance” for first offenses with a warning they will be suspended or face other discipline if it happens again.

The commissioners suggested it might be a better idea to actually intervene and determine if the officer has an alcohol or other problems and provide help and support so it doesn’t lead to more trouble. Duh, case closed.

The big news was the commission voted unanimously, all five of them — Mack, Alan Skobin, Richard Drooyan, Robert Saltzman and Debra Wong Yang — to kill the red light cameras that so infuriate motorists.

This is no small matter since the firm that provides the red light camera services, American Traffic Solutions, has shown it has real clout with the City Council in no small part due to paying $150,000 in the last two years to the lobbying firm, Sage Advisors, which also peddles its influence on behalf of AEG and IBEW Local 11 to name a few of its clients.

The Council, in supporting the program, ordered the LAPD to renew the contract for the red light cameras.

Nonsense, said the Police Commission, there’s no evidence the cameras improve traffic safety and the $400 fine for getting caught isn’t even enforceable in court so it amounts to a voluntary — and unfair — citation system.

Duh. The cameras will soon be gone unless the City Council chooses to strip the Police Commission of its authority on this issue and take jurisdiction in the next two weeks.Enhanced by Zemanta

How City Hall Is Gutting the Ratepayer Advocate and DWP Reform

Finally, three months after voters demanded total transparency in all aspects fo the Department of Water and Power operations and a Ratepayer Advocate to protect the public interest, the City Council will start to consider this mandate for action.

Councilwoman Jan Perry’s Energy and Environment Committee is considering reports today from the City Attorney’s office and the CAO/CLA about following through on creation of the Office of Public Accountability on the DWP and appointment of the Ratepayer Advocate.

That doesn’t mean anything will actually happen any time soon because the mayor and Council President Eric Garcetti — one of Perry’s main rivals in the 2013 mayoral sweepstakes — connived to water down the Charter Amendment voters approved on March 8 to the point it could easily become meaningless.

Charter Amendment I provided that the measure “become operative on July 1, 2011” but in City Hall’s brave new world language of deceit that doesn’t mean what voters thought they meant.

In a letter to Perry’s committee Monday (OPA-CityAttorney.pdf), Chief Assistant City Attorney Pedro Echeverria ruled the Council could not even begin to consider appointing a citizens committee before July 1 and can take more or less as long as it likes to slowly “phase in” the OPA by appointing an executive director, adopting ordinances, developing a budget. He wrote:

“The measure did not prescribe that Office of Public Accountability (OPA) operations were to begin by that date. A phased in implementation is inherent and unavoidable to some extent anyway, since the citizens committee could not be formed before that date, the Executive Director could not be appointed for lack of the citizens committee, and the other OPA staff could not be appointed for lack of of their appointing authority, the Executive Director.”

For their part, the City Administrative Officer and Chief Legislative Analyst sent Perry a memo Friday (OPA-CAO-CLA.pdf)recommending the very people who watered down the OPA/Ratepayer Advocate measure — the mayor and Council President — should name the five members of the citizens committee who will appoint the OPA  executive director.

Control is name of City Hall’s game — not reform, transparency or accountability — and despite the public’s demand for large doses of all three at the DWP, we are not likely much of anything except massive rate hikes, continued back room deals with favored contractors, more unjustified wage increases for IBEW workers and more transfers of city workers to the DWP payroll.

DWP watchdog Jack Humphreville took a charitable look at DWP General Manager Ron Nichols 51-page presentation Saturday to Perry’s committee and tallied up all the proposals for borrowing to fund improvements to the aging water and power systems and came up a total debt figure of $14.4 billion — nearly double the current debt burden.

DWP needs to regain the trust and confidence of the Ratepayers,” he concludes. “But the
longer DWP plays games, the more unpopular DWP will be with Angelenos,
not dissimilar to Pacific Gas & Electric’s relationship with its
constituency.

“And to add to the lack of credible information, we
need to ask Eric Garcetti, the City Council President, ‘Where is our
well funded, empowered and truly independent Ratepayers Advocate to
oversee the operations, finances, and management of our Department of
Water and Power?’ ” 

The answer to that question is becoming clearer: The OPA/Ratepayer Advocate will be put in place well after the decisions are made on borrowing, rate hikes and everything else and they will be fully under control of the mayor and council.

There is one ray of hope for reform, transparency and accountability and that’s Proposition 26, the statewide “stop hidden taxes” measure voters approved in November.

It makes many government fees and charges subject to the same two-thirds approval of voters that taxes are.

Just as they have spun Charter Amendment I to preserve the mayor and councils power in the face of demands for reform, the CAO, CLA, City Attorney and DWP are working overtime to find ways to protect the nearly $300 million in ratepayer’s money that is transferred annually from electricity charges to the general fund as “surplus” revenue.

If it’s surplus, it’s not a charge based on the cost of providing service. It’s a tax hidden as a fee so it is subject to a vote of the public with a super-majority required for approval.

Let’s see City Attorney Carmen Trutanich restore his reputation as the people’s attorney by taking a public stand on that — or do we have to sue City Hall to get a small measure of justice.

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“Depending on the kindness of strangers” — My Sunday News-Press & Leader Column

In the cynicism of our “Hollywood” mentality, we see all too often that
what matters most is who you know, not what you know and who you are.

But
in the moment-to-moment engagements of our daily lives, it sometimes
matters more how we treat the people we don’t know, or hardly know, and
how they treat us. It’s what gives a sense of intimacy, of community, of
being part of something greater than ourselves in a vast, sprawling
metropolis where so much that goes on seems cold and impersonal —
heartless, even.

Those thoughts came into focus last Wednesday with the drama that
unfolded when my wife left her purse on the Route 222 bus that dropped
her off outside the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, where she works.

You have to be pretty distracted to leave your purse on a bus, and she was.

Her
car was in the shop. She was running late, worried about missing the
Media District bus at the end of the Orange Line Busway in North
Hollywood, thinking about all she had to do to get ready to leave town
Thursday morning for a family event back East.

As she stood on
the curb at Lankershim waiting for the interminably long light to
change, she saw the Media District bus pulling away and fumed about how a
key point of bus-subway connection for thousands of public-transit
users could be designed in a way that maximized traffic flow for cars
and penalized pedestrians.

So she waited and waited for the next
Media District bus, shared her breakfast of strawberries and apples with
a homeless man, and found out from others at the bus stop that the
Media District bus she saw departing, the 9:17 a.m., was the last one
until evening rush hour. She would have to take the airport bus and
transfer to the Route 222 bus to get to work.

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City Hall’s Culture of Corruption — How High Will the FBI Investigation Go?

Corruption is insidious, a viral infection that turns cancerous if ignored over time — and that’s what has happened to the city government of Los Angeles.

For decades, the city’s business and civic leadership has stood by with a wink and a nod and sometimes their active participation as developers, contractors, unions and other special interests bought the politicians with campaign cash and reaped fabulous profits on their investments in the form of sweetheart contracts, subsidies, tax breaks and other lucrative benefits.
Surely, no one was surprised when the little people emulated the behavior of the rich and powerful, people like building inspector Joel Dellon who got caught back in 1989 taking bribes and kickbacks worth at least $22,500.
What’s interesting is that Dellon got the same kid-glove treatment big shots have gotten — 11 felony counts of bribery, grand theft and tax evasion were reduced to two charges in a plea bargain with prosecutors. Case closed, no further investigation.
Yet, just seven years later, the head of the Building and Safety Commission, Scott Z. Adler, a lobbyist and major property developer, was forced to resign when he came under criminal investigation for a soliciting a teenage prostiture, impersonating a police officer and conflicts of interest in connection with his official position. 
The next day it was disclosed that investigations had been under way “for several years” of a network of building inspectors suspected of taking bribes to approve substandard projects, and that one inspector had been arrested three months earlier.
Two days after resigning, Adler’s partner in their Bel Air lobbying firm, attorney Mark Armbruster, himself named head of the Environmental Affairs Commission by Mayor Riordan, terminated their business relationship that had proven so lucrative with $325,000 in city lobbying fees the previous year as well as useful to city politicians with the $21,000 in contributions from them.
Adler got off with community service on the sex charge and the uproar over lobbyists running commissions died down with tepid reforms and there was little fallout over the bribery problems in Building and Safety.
It was business as usual at City Hall, 
Politicians continued to be brought for a penny on the dollar of favors they provided, especially to developers. Lobbyists like Armbruster today are raking in more money than ever. Building inspectors still are taking their piece of the action. 
But one thing is different this time. 
The FBI — not the LAPD, not the District Attorney — are on the case. A federal grand jury has been impaneled. Electronic surveillance is being used. The little guys at the bottom of the corrupt food chain are squealing.
We can only hope that somehow the Obama Justice Department will take this investigation as far as it leads, even it it leads to the top.
The word coming out of City Hall and out of law enforcement circles suggest it will be tough to close down this investigation with a few fall guys as the pay–to-play probe of the Hahn Administration was.
It’s not just Building and Safety that is under investigation. Planning, Transportation, Housing and possibly other departments also have been swept into the federal investigation.
Like corruption, investigations have a way of going viral. It’s the only way it can be stopped.
Make no mistake about it: Little people don’t steal unless they see the big shots stealing because those are the people they take their orders from.

Cleaning Up the Mess at the Santa Susana Field Lab — Without Input from Local Residents

Editor’s Note: West Hills activist Chris Rowe has worked for years to provide an independent analysis based on extensive research into the environmental problems at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory where nuclear and rocket fuel research was conducted for decades in the hills above the West San Fernando. In this article, she questions when the local residents most impacted by the problems were not given a say about what needs to be done to clean it up.

“Why
the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Needs a Complete Environmental Impact
Statement”

By Chris Rowe

Today at City Council, Agenda item 35, is a meeting in
Closed Session regarding a lawsuit called:”

“NRDC, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and the City of Los
Angeles v the Department of Energy”.

The City Council is being asked by the City Attorney to
weigh in on a decision that they were victorious in related to that suit in May
2007. In May 2007, Federal Judge Samuel Conti, in a Motion for Summary Judgment,
ruled in favor of the plaintiffs (NRDC, Committee to Bridge the Gap (CBG), and
the City of Los Angeles. Judge Conti not only sided with the plaintiffs, but he
awarded them “costs, disbursements, and attorney fees”. (1) (2)

Over the past 20 years, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory
(SSFL) has had demolition, decommissioning, remediation throughout the site. In
AREA IV, the area subject to Judge Conti’s orders, there are only 290 acres
(all owned by The Boeing Company) but all subject to the Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS). In AREA IV, there have been more than 200 structures over the
past 55 plus years (the nuclear research began there in 1955). Many of these
structures were used for nuclear research and other energy related
research.  Today, only about 25
structures remain in AREA IV.

Judge Conti’s ruling for an Environmental Impact
Statement was based on the fact that he found that the Department of Energy had
violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As a result of that
ruling, the Department of Energy has been working with the environmental
agencies and groups to meet the requirements necessary for the EIS. Many local
community members are very involved in many aspects related to the Santa Susana
Field Lab cleanup – whether it is by attending technical meetings with agency
leaders, site visits with the agencies to see what still remains, or in
planning for this site to eventually become parkland.

The Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) – the
lead agency at the time for the cleanup of the chemical contamination at the
SSFL site – wrote a Consent Order for Corrective Action in August 2007. All the
Santa Susana Field Laboratory “Responsible Parties” – the DOE, The Boeing
Company, and NASA are subject to that order, and are actively complying with that
order today. (3)

In October 2007, California’s Governor Schwarzenegger
signed into law – State law SB 990. This law mandated a cleanup to the highest
cleanup standard that is achievable – rural residential or agricultural – whichever
is the stricter cleanup standard. It also put DTSC as the lead agency for the
cleanup of the whole site – both the chemical and radiological cleanup. (4)

For two years following SB 990 becoming law, DTSC worked
with the DOE, Boeing, and NASA to try to incorporate SB 990 into the existing
2007 Consent Order. In November 2007, the statute of limitations ran out on SB
990, and The Boeing Company filed suit in federal court regarding the
constitutionality of the law. The Boeing Company had previously signed a Letter
of Intent of with the State of California offering to clean up the site to a
suburban residential standard and donate their portion of the SSFL property to
the State for parkland. (5) (6)

Continue reading Cleaning Up the Mess at the Santa Susana Field Lab — Without Input from Local Residents

Town Hall Forum Tonight: Zev, Wendy, Jane & Dennis — Candidates for 2013

Town Hall Forum tonight

 Public Service in Lean Times

Discussion by public officials of how the current
(and likely long lasting) budget situation
will affect local government.

Panel members:

Dennis P. Zine, Councilman  3rd District
Zev Yaroslavsky, County Supervisor
Wendy Greuel, City Controller
Jane Usher, Assistant City Attorney
Moderator: Ron Kaye, Former Editor, 
Los Angeles Daily News

Bring Neighbors…Bring Friends…Bring Questions

Refreshments and Social Hour: 6:15 pm
Tarzana Property Owners Assn. Annual Meeting and Town Hall Forum: 7:30 pm

Braemar Country Club
4001 Reseda Blvd.

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