Is Antonio Villaraigosa poised to be America’s first Latino president? Yahoo! News Wants to Know

You got to give credit where credit is due: Our beloved Antonio Villaraigosa has gone from being mocked as the 11 percent mayor, the freebie mayor and the FAILURE. mayor to become touted as the next President of the United States of America.

Yahoo! News promoted Antonio’s candidacy on its home page today linking to a story written by a staff writer named David Chalian under the headline “Is Antonio Villaraigosa poised to be America’s first Latino president?

Despite running the country’s second largest city and coming from the fastest growing voting demographic in America, the mayor himself is quick to wave off talk of a presidential run.

“The answer is no,” Villaraigosa replied when asked by Yahoo News if he wanted to be president one day. “I want to finish this job with a bang. I want to go out with my head up high. I want to say to this city, ‘I put everything into this job,'” he added.

“The job I’ve said to people I would like is I would like to be governor of the state of California,” he said. (Paging Jerry Brown.)

Modesty doesn’t really become Antonio or come across when he turns down the presidency  to become governor of the nation’s largest state.

And there are some minor obstacles mentioned in the article like his “rocky (and public) personal life, lack of a developed national fundraising base and occasional conflicts with portions of his political base” — no mention of  the mess the city has become under his leadership over the last seven years.

“Recall that Bill Clinton made it to the Oval Office with the personal baggage of infidelity and Barack Obama became the first nonwhite candidate to achieve the highest office in the land—you can begin to see how Villaraigosa’s interest in a 2016 run may yet develop . . .  Charlotte provides an opportunity to start road testing his brand beyond Los Angeles’ city limits.”

Charlotte, of course, is where the mayor as chairman will gavel the Democratic National Convention to order and show of his beaming smile and seductive charm to a national audience.

It has been an incredible run, from the dog house to the White House, almost as if there is some kind of tweet going around from the political operations desk to the media: Boost Villaraigosa.

He’s become a regular on Sunday morning network news shows and the darling of idolatrous reports by the New York Times, all of which seems to have raised his self-esteem.

“I think I’m going to take a time out. I’ll probably associate with a think tank or a university. I want to write. I want to read. I’ll probably speak around the country. I certainly get enough invitations,” Antonio said.

“I want to be part of a discussion about what I call the radical middle that says the way for us to forge ahead is to move ahead, and you can only do that by taking the best of both views and forge a consensus based on results and putting the nation first.”

Think tank? Huge speaking fees? Governor? President? The ‘radical middle’? Antonio?

You got to love the guy, he really could have been a contender if he had stuck to his job and really ruled from the middle instead of pandering to the rich, patronizing the poor and squeezing the middle to support a political machine that has only made things worse for nearly everyone.

What If They Gave a City Election and Everyone Voted: Would It End the Corruption and Restore Democracy to LA?

Pounding  away day after day at the foibles and failures of Los Angeles City Hall is known in the vernacular of newsrooms as beating a dead horse.

If you don’t know City Hall is a corrupt political machine that is ripping you off for no good purpose, you will never know because you prefer to pretend you are deaf, dumb and blind than to take action on behalf of your own interests.

The city’s leaders and the special interests who put them into power and keep them there are laughing all the way to bank about how passive and dumb you are. They vote unanimously 99.3 percent of the time, never really question anything and leave those who are paying attention no choice but to seek redress in the courts if they can get it.

Elections are almost as likely to produce a politically independent official as they were in the old Soviet Union and on the rare occasions that a Trutanich or a Krekorian wins with community backing, you can be certain that within six months they will be toeing the line and going along with the corruption like everybody else.

Already, five of the 15 Council members are retreads from the Democratic Legislative Caucus — Wesson, Alarcon, Cardenas, Koretz, Krekorian. Four others are former city political staffers — Englander, LaBonge, Perry, Reyes. Three are ex-cops — Parks, Zine, Buscaino. Two have done little in their lives outside of politics — Huizar, Garcetti. And then there’s Rosendahl, community relations executive for the deceased Adelphi cable system.

Come next March, it will even be worse. Cardenas will join Janice Hahn in Congress. Garcetti and Perry are termed out and running for mayor, termed-out Zine for Controller.  Reyes also is termed out while Buscaino and Koretz are seeking re-election, which is to say they will be re-elected cause there is no indication voters really care what happens to them or their city anymore than the City Council.

For his part, Alarcon is a long-shot candidate for the Assembly and slightly more likely to go jail for his crime of perjury than than to win election to the Assembly against an aide to Felipe Fuentes who intends to lead a parade of more Democratic legislators who has miserably failed to solve the state’s budget woes.

Districts 1, 3, 6 (Cardenas), 7, 9 and 13 should be easy pickings for professional Democratic politicians, elected or staff, with vast sums of campaign cash at their disposal from unions, developers, contractors, consultants, lawyers, spin doctors and friends of lobbyists.

One of those failed legislators — Bob Blumenfield, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee that writes fictitious budgets, slams the door on open government and puts a gun to the head of the very people he despises, the taxpayers — isn’t just running for re-election to the Assembly, he also is running for Zine’s CD3 seat where I live in the West Valley.

Throw in Wendy Greuel showing uncommon audacity to run for mayor, Trutanich foolish enough to think he has even a remote chance of re-election against Assemblyman Mike Feuer or possibly Krekorian and Zine — despite a total lack of any qualification other than his prodigious ability to spew hot air — a heavy favorite against Cary Brazeman and Ron Galperin, both of who have actual expertise, real life experience and a commitment to tear apart the swindles at City Hall.

The takeaway from this is this:

If you are not going to show even a tenth of the courage of your convictions as the Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans and so many other hopeless oppressed peoples all over the world, you will get what you deserve next March in the city elections.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

My Sunday Column: ‘If elder statesmen won’t rise above the fray and do what’s right, who will?’

We need more from our leaders

Of all the fallen idols and soiled reputations of yesterday’s heroes, none stands out these days quite like Penn State’s Joe Paterno, stripped of his achievement as the winningest college football coach in history and relegated to a hall of shame.

Given what so often is passing for leadership these days, they should consider moving that bronze statue of Paterno — arms upraised in a V for victory — out of the damnation of eternal storage in a secret place to a prominent public space in the nation’s capital in Washington.

Call it the Failure of Leadership Memorial, or some label that puts those who dare to lead on notice that misdeeds by those in high positions do get punished — at least once in a while.

Paterno didn’t do terrible things to young boys, but he knew what assistant coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly did and he covered it up. He failed in his duty as a leader to stand on the high ground and do what was right, no matter what the consequences.

You can look almost anywhere in our society — from Wall Street to Main Street — and see people in important leadership positions failing in their duties to shareholders and stakeholders as they put the ends before the means, ignore common decency and justify doing what is good for themselves and their friends, no matter who else gets hurt.

Take a look at Gov. Jerry Brown and L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, two guys in their 70s who have engaged in politics at high levels most of their lives, who have all the money they need to live like kings of yore for the rest of their lives, who should have nothing to gain by serving any interest — not even their own — other than the public interest.

Yet, Brown is putting a gun to the heads of California voters: “Give me your money or your [quality of] life.”


My Sunday Column: Restructuring a Municipal Utility — Will It Work for the Public’s Benefit?

Like dominoes tipping over, one after another, cities — first Vallejo, now San Bernardino, next Compton — are seeking relief from their fiscal incompetence and reckless irresponsibility by hiding behind bankruptcy laws that leave creditors and employees in the lurch, and the citizens to protect and serve themselves.

You have to wonder how many others will follow suit as the state of California and the hundreds of government agencies under its jurisdiction keep on budgeting fictitious spending cuts, improbable tax and revenue increases and ineffective long-term public employee pension reforms as if the four-year recession soon will end and the good times are just around the corner.

With that as a backdrop, the drama in recent months over what is going on with Glendale Water & Power is worth examining to see whether city leaders are, like so many others, masking over problems or coming to terms with past mistakes to fix what got broken.

The utility’s general manager was replaced, water rates were increased, electricity rate hikes are being sought, a credit rating agency downgraded its water bonds, and the utility workers bolted from the city union to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — but have yet to get a contract, despite 19 negotiating sessions.

“GWP is in transition in every sense, from the labor standpoint, from the leadership standpoint, from a financial standpoint; but the takeaway for us is that at least we know where we are going,” City Manager Scott Ochoa said last week as he talked about the “fundamental restructuring” he is carrying out in the utility’s management and culture.

“Where GWP is going is where the rest of the organization already is. GWP is like the moon orbiting the earth. The attitude is, ‘We’re separate. We have our own money. We are doing our own thing.’ That’s what has to change going forward as we reconcile our finances, zero-out capital expenditures, and achieve cost attainment, better leadership, strong management — all those things are the future of GWP.”

The point man for carrying out the changes is Steve Zurn, the city’s public works director who is serving as interim GWP general manager and likely will get the position permanently in the fall after a top-down analysis of the organization is complete.

Most people take utility services for granted. Turn the faucet, the water flows. Flip a switch, the lights come on. But there are critics who question the need for rate increases, regard smart meters as a waste of $60 million, and denounce the $20-million-a-year transfer of “surplus” electricity revenue to the general fund — a common practice among public utilities — as an illegal tax.


Carol Schatz’s Mommy Was a Commie, So What Is She?

Life is too beautiful for words — 10 months after Occupy LA’s army of raw recruits took over City Hall Park to denounce capitalism, Wall Street and bankers in general — they have finally found a villain right here in “Chinatown.”

The Central City Association and Carol Schatz, its long-time boss who ingeniously brought giant corporations, billionaire developers and cynical union bosses into an irresistible force that looted the public treasury for decades to enrich themselves and then boasted successfully with the full support of corporate media and politicians how they turned downtown into an artificial carnival barren of shops and foot traffic on major streets.

Thanks to Kate Linthicum’s deadpan reporting in the LA Times about the daily protests by Occupy LA outside the CCA offices on Wilshire we have learned something so exquisitely amusing as to remind us that it’s the contradictions, the yin and the yang, the heaven and hell of it, that makes us want to shout, “I Love LA.”

“When she speaks about the role of businesses as job creators, she can sound like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney,” writes Linthicum. “But Schatz, 64, describes herself as a moderate Democrat. Her mother was a member of the Communist Party.”

Carol Schatz’s mommy was a commie back when they were called that, back when there were actual commies, before the fall of the Soviet Union, before China got greedy, before liberalism actually was a way of saying you believed in evolutionary socialism, before Carole Schatz and the CCS became synonymous with unbridled greed.

“We are so angry,” Schatz reportedly said about the protesters chalking the sidewalk and marring the view from her “bright corner office,” about camping out on her sidewalk overnight, about blocking the BMW and Mercedes from entering her garage — “absolutely frightening,” she calls it.

She calls them “young street people who are much more anarchistic” than back in October when they took over the grounds of City Hall and suggests  than the original protesters at City Hall, and says they have become tools of the LA Community Action Network that has long stood up for the poor who were supposed to get most of the billions of taxpayer dollars that went into building luxury apartments and condos, luxury hotels, luxury entertainment facilities and steel-and-glass skyscraper office towers.

Linthicum doesn’t really give the protesters much of a chance to respond but she does get the essence of it from Jessica Rey, a 23-year-old in a knit beanie, who gestured to the the CCA’s offices and said:

“This building right here is home to the (Central City Assn.). They take money from all these bankers and developers to basically buy out the City Council.”

Young, pot-smoking, idealistic — they aren’t as stupid about what is really going on as they were 10 months ago when they didn’t know what time it was. They know what time it is now.

‘The Hotness,’ the Community College Scandal and the Wendy Greuel Question: Is She Tough Enough to Lead LA?

On Oct. 18, 2010, Miki Jackson at the tabloid blog she runs with  John Walsh broke the story about the LA Community College District hiring as inspector general over its $5.7 billion construction program Christine Marez, an ambitious construction manager without auditing experience who had formed her firm just a few months earlier. 

“Community College District Chooses the “Hotness,” AKA Christine Marez, for their new $701,680 inspector general post,” said the headline.

” ‘The Hotness’is now Marez describes herself, with photos of her clinging to a shinny stripper pole at the Playboy Mansion and in numerous sexy shots from Vegas,” the post began. “Having gone to her ‘myspace’ page and looked at her ‘revealing’ shots I would have to agree she is not guilty of false advertising … Marez lists her interests as ‘men’ on the page — we are sure the interest is returned. She has a Facebook page too — that ones a little tamer — but she asks everyone to wish her luck — as she tries to land the big LACCD fish. Seem like she didn’t really need luck — not when you’re ‘The Hotness.’ ”

A few days later, I followed up on Miki’s report — unlike the corporate media — and set up my article with the headline “Wanted: A Thousand Citizen Watchdogs.”  I traced how our local government agencies — the MTA and LAUSD — had gutted inspector general positions that were created in the wake of scandals and predicted accurately that the momentum to create a Rate Payer Advocate to clean up the DWP would be weakened dramatically by the time it got on the ballot in March 2011 — a crime against good government that was the handiwork of wannabe Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Marez was not without some qualifications:  “USC-trained electrical engineer who says on her Linked In site that her experience includes 10 years as a “senior construction manager” at the DWP, eight years with an engineering company with the last three as a consultant on LAUSD’s construction program … For the past four years, she lists herself as “Director of Policies” on construction.”

A February 2009 LAUSD audit of the Facilities Division where Marez worked found a lot of problems:  1,277 contractors earning $186 million — 1.7 times the cost of full-time employees. It noted the lines of authority between staff and consultants were “blurry,” causing a “lack of accountability” with consultants like Marez being hired routinely as  staff.

A consultant was indicted and the head of the Facilities Division eventually resigned but Marez — whose 2010 New Year’s resolution was to “double my income” — landed on her feet, formed the firm Policy Masters in May and got the lucrative IG contract in November, beating out Ernst & Young and Deloitte, giant firms with vast experience.

“My new firm is at the top of the list for an amazing contract!! Asking for your love and support,” she said on her Facebook page.

Just days after Marez got the IG job at LACCD, City Controller issued her audit on the school district’s construction program “giving a clean bill of health to the district — and presumably Marez, who shared responsibility for its policies and standards.

“While we found some potential conflicts of interest during an earlier era at the district, it appears that the LAUSD under its current leadership has made significant progress in reforming the process for awarding construction projects,” said City Controller Greuel. ”The district still has room for improvement, but they appear to be on the right path.”

A year later, in October 2011 with Marez on the job for 12 months, the LA Times tore apart the Community College construction program in a series entitled “Billions to Spend: Part 1 — Waste throws wrench into Los Angeles community colleges’ massive project.”

“Poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy work dog the sprawling system’s bond-financed construction program” declared the secondary headline.

It wasn’t so much news at the time except for the details since State Controller John Chiang already disclosed two months earlierin August 2011 that the nation’s largest community college district “could not produce complete and timely records, spent funds outside voter-approved guidelines, ignored its own procurement rules, failed to plan effectively, and provided poor oversight of bond funding.”

“Local voters raised their property taxes for a major investment in workforce development and higher education,” said Chiang. “Shoddy fiscal management and sub-par oversight of a project of this magnitude will undermine the public’s trust and threaten billions of public dollars.”

Chiang did not stop there, his audit criticized the lack of citizen oversight and the appointment of Marez as inspector general.

The oversight committee, he said, “which is required to issue annual reports, failed to issue any report for seven years. The latest report was found to be virtually meaningless, noting only that the committee members had met and providing no evidence that they thoroughly scrutinized bond expenditures.”

The audit also examined the district’s creation of an Inspector General for bond funding. The Inspector General position was designed to be an independent entity guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse. But when establishing this position, the district ignored its own procurement rules and – at least in appearance – compromised the integrity of the new role. LACCD ultimately selected an outside consulting firm that was formed just before the district went out to bid on the contract, led by a principal with no audit or legal experience, and who was not qualified under the Principles and Standards of the Association of Inspectors General. The LACCD’s selection process also rated nine of the eleven respondents (companies) as more qualified for the work, but could not explain why they were removed from consideration. In addition, the chosen consulting firm’s proposal cost $250,000 more annually than an international auditing firm’s proposal.

And now today, July 18, 2012, our own City Controller and wannabe Mayor Wendy Greuel delivered her own judgment on the LACCD’s hiring of its Inspector General — the never named Marez  — saying the “evaluation process for the selection was flawed.”

“Some of the District’s actions are very troubling,” said Greuel in her press release.

“Everyone needs to play by the rules and clearly deviations from the procedures hampered the competitive bidding process. Our community college system is a valuable asset to Los Angeles and an essential part of educating our city’s future workforce.  LACCD must ensure that taxpayer funds are spent effectively and that proper procedures for contractor selection are adhered to.”

She acknowledged that “Policy Masters, Inc. was selected for the contract, despite not having experience in directing audits and investigations or a history of successful work elsewhere as a firm since it was newly established. ”

You can read the full audit of the leading candidate to rule this troubled city here but you really won’t learn anything that Miki Jackson didn’t tell you way back on Oct. 18, 2010.

But then who am I to argue with someone who ends her press release urging LACCD officials to “take a series of steps, including revising its policies and procedures, to help prevent the district from entering into another flawed RFP (request for proposal) processes” and boasting what she has achieved for taxpayers in the last three years when City Hall has consumed nearly $22 billion of their money.

“Controller Greuel has conducted more than 60 audits and uncovered nearly $130 million that the City has lost to wasteful spending, fraudulent activity and abuse of government resources over the last two years.”

Political Doubletalk: The Perfect Is Not the Enemy of the Good, At the End of the Day Comes Just Another Day

The lazy policymaking decisions made by our political leaders are matched only by their lazy use of language, clichés without meaning intended to soothe the minds of the unwary without actually saying anything.

“At the end of the day … “

That’s one of their favorites as if we a-re too dumb to realize that the only thing that happens at the end of the day is that a new day begins, a new dawn when the mistakes and unfinished work of the day before can be corrected and completed. It’s a way of shutting off debate, not opening up the conversation to further discussion

“The perfect should not be the enemy of the good … “

Of course not, it should be the inspiration for the better than just what we’re settling for because it’s easier than achieving the truly good, the great. It’s nothing but an excuse for not trying harder to make things better, a way of creating a false sense of urgency so we don’t take another day, another week, another month to consider how to improve what is on the table.

A local political figure recently asked me, earnestly I believe, what I would do to make government more transparent and stimulate civic engagement and participation.

I’ve given those questions a lot of thought for a long, long time since shedding light on the darkness that government prefers like things that grow under rocks and doing everything I can do with headlines and stories to excite the passive populace.

Start by looking at the staff reports, motions and ordinance proposals in the City Council agenda, any City Council, and it will be quickly obvious that they are intended to support the result sought by staff and/or the pols – not to provide all the information and competing points of views.

Government doesn’t want controversy, doesn’t want the public calling and writing their offices, and doesn’t want dozens of people lined up to give them a piece of their mind. Officials want closure on what they already decided on outside of the view of the public as if they were a private business can make its decisions behind closed doors and take its chances on the results of its action being discovered later when they more often than not have the advantages of power and position to prevail even if caught doing wrong.

The politicians love having the gadflies represent the voices of the people. They can cut them off, insult them, pull the plug on them, and count on the fact that they are gadflies who inevitably will get carried away with themselves.

So if government wants public participation, the public has to have ready access to all the facts, all the arguments, all the implications short- and long-term to policies and actions and except in rare emergencies to have ample time to examine the record, to converse with each other, to create a dialogue that would lead to consensus, compromise, acceptance.

The Internet makes democracy in a much grander sense than we have known possible. Yet, it is only haltingly used, carefully controlled for the benefit of those in office – not the public at large.

A major move is under way to squelch even the gadflies from talking at meetings, with tight time limits and elimination in Los Angeles of remote access to public comment. Even public access television has been killed in LA and elsewhere, turning out public channels into the nothing but propaganda resources in support of those in power.

The decline of newspapers, television and radio news creates the need, the moral imperative for government officials, to utilize the technology now available to inform the public about just about everything on a daily basis – and not in the self-serving way it is being done now.

If you want public engagement, public participation, you have to tear down the wall of secrecy the same way the Berlin Wall was torn down.

Officials are not going to do that. It has to be done because you the people want to take back your government.

It needs to start with those already active in community: Business groups, neighborhood groups, service clubs, volunteers, school activists – nothing will happen unless you start a new conversation, an inclusive conversation, and organize yourselves into a unified force demanding change, demanding transparency and honesty, balance of interests, values and needs.

If you want power, you have to take it. It is there for the taking but there is no evidence even those who are participating really want a share of the power.

LOADED FOR BEAR: ‘Glen Bearian’s’ popularity adds pressure to a very public wrangle

It was right at 9 a.m. Sunday when I arrived at the quiet cul-de-sac just above Foothill Boulevard where “Meatball” or “Glen Bearian” or whatever you call a 400-pound black bear who has discovered the joy of suburban garbage was nestled comfortably in the cradle of branches of a tall pine tree.

“He’s at least 75 to 100 feet up there,” said Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz as his officers explained what was going on to a family leaving their Frederick Avenue for church. “It’s a good thing it was early Sunday. No TV helicopters, no huge crowds, no social media feeding the buzz.”

Just a few of us cops and two reporters with our smartphones snapping pictures and videos and two California Department of Fish and Game officers with tranquilizer guns pointed at the 400-pound intruder who was back in town for a feast after a 25-mile trek from the forest where he had been dropped off back on April 10 following his last foray into disturbing the peace and calm.

Since then, “R-210” — as the yellow tag affixed to his ear back then identifies him — had become something of a folk hero, a wild beast in suburbia who posed a threat to himself and others, grounds to take him into custody for a psychiatric examination if he were human.

As Meatball peered down from above, he seemed to be calculating what his chances of escape might be and what route offered the best chance to elude the gathering storm of creatures down below.

A bunch of kids gathered atop a garage roof, neighbors came out and began snapping pictures, a small crowd of passersby gathered down at Foothill, a CBS reporter and two cameramen were all over the story as a couple of search and rescue officers cruising by joined in as the number of officials built up.

“He could stay up there a day, a week if he wants to,” said Fish and Game Lt. Marty Wall. “It’s a tough situation. We can’t tranquilize until he’s got both feet on the ground and then it can take five minutes or 30 minutes for him to fall.”

Tough is right.

Wall and his team are operating in the fish bowl of publicity. Nothing goes viral like a good animal story and the beastly bears of the suburban wild are about as good as it gets. It’s why I reached out to Lorenz — the only city public information officer I ever met who carries a gun — reminding journalists at least half intentionally of their social responsibilities.

“I want to stalk the wild bear, ridealong with your volunteer naturalists or whoever is going to track him down,” I told him last week.

Sure enough, the call came early Sunday.

“He’s up a tree. Get here fast.”

My interest was purely journalistic. I loved the dilemma facing the state wildlife officials who are dealing with these kinds of problems a lot these days and, in this case, were dealing with a high-profile bear situation that threatened to turn into a public relations disaster.

What if they have to kill — or even inadvertently kill — Meatball? Worse, what if they hesitate and someone, a human someone, gets hurt or killed?

It would be an understatement to say Fish and Game officials were focused intensively on their mission to get the bear down from the tree and out of harm’s way as safely as possible.

They blocked his escape toward Foothill with a cop car. They cut off his route through an alley with a Fish and Game officer. They got the press and bystanders to move back and then they opened fire.

Bean bag guns, one round after another, pop, pop, pop, pop.

I think Meatball was more annoyed at the sound than the impact, but he moved down a branch and got zapped in the butt with a bean bag gun shot from behind and then another full frontal and all of a sudden he was clamoring down the tree and off and running.

This bear is no fool. He ran the only direction humanoids hadn’t covered, crashed through a fence and was off and running right along the wash behind the houses as one and then another tranquilizer dart hit its target with half a dozen officers in pursuit.



THE MOST RUTHLESS GAME: Take It or Leave It — My Sunday Column

Here’s a challenge for all you NIMBYers, naysayers, malcontents, apathetics and ignoramuses to contemplate: Put yourself in the shoes of an elected official trying to do what’s best when the power brokers have given you the choice of getting nothing for your community or going along for the ride and maybe getting something.

The easy response is that you would tell the crooks and liars, the special interests and the greed merchants, to go to hell. I know I would, but who would vote for me?

It ain’t that easy in the real world.

Just ask Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, a veteran on the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink, and chairman of the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments — roles that make him the guardian of the transportation interests of the region’s 2 million people.

Najarian faced a dilemma last month when the downtown L.A. power brokers were steamrolling all opposition to get the MTA board to put on the November ballot an extension of the 2008 Measure R 0.5% sales tax for another 30 years so all the prospective revenue through 2069 can be borrowed against and spent now.

The problem is that this region from Glendale through the San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley — with nearly 20% of the county’s population — will get just 5% of the more than $80 billion that Measure R and Son of Measure R will generate.

For Burbank and Glendale, in particular, it means all that money will provide little more than some long-needed fixes to the Golden State (5) Freeway.

“It’s clear the valley was not getting its ‘fair share,’ that we’re putting in a lot more than we’re getting back, compared to other regions like the Westside and downtown,” Najarian said last week after moderating a forum that brought warring county Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich together to debate the pros and cons of the transportation tax proposal.

“I faced making a decision: ‘Do you want to support an extension on this tax that will make commuting in the county better, but that will not give you in your region — the tri-cities and the valley — much to show?’ It was a tough call.”

What Najarian did was to cut what he thought was the best deal possible, getting a commitment from the valley council of governments and most MTA board members to support a rapid transit bus that would connect the Orange Line busway in North Hollywood to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line light rail in Pasadena — the “missing link,” as it has been called — as soon as money becomes available.

His decision to join in an 8-3 vote in support of extending Measure R did not sit well with Antonovich, who took over as MTA board chairman last week and exercised his authority to boot Najarian off the board of Metrolink, the only public transit system that links Burbank and Glendale to the world beyond.

“It was a strong blow and I didn’t think I deserved it,” Najarian said. “The egos on that board are incredible. The power plays — it is theater. I’m just a little guy from Glendale trying to get the best deal I can for the region.”

Transportation is as ruthless a game as there is in L.A. politics because of the money. Billions are at stake on who wins and who loses, who decides the contracts, who gets the benefits — contractors, unions, engineers, lobbyists, consultants of every type and variety, and most of all, the career politicians who live very well on the generosity of those who get rich on taxpayer money.

It’s L.A. Noir — the dark side of public policy . . .


Battle of the Political War Horses: Transit Tax Measure R-2 with Your Future Quality of Life at Stake

Like two old war horses going to battle each other yet again as they have done so often for so long — Antonovich and Yaroslavsky, two county supervisors, politically untouchable, masters of the game of power.

This time there is so much at stake — billions upon billions of dollars for public transit and highways that will affect the quality of life throughout the county for decades to come.

The setting for Monday’s combat between Antonovich and Yaroslavsky was a forum put on by the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments — a one-year-0ld quasi-governmental agency that for the first time brings Burbank, Glendale, Santa Clarita, San Fernando and the 1.4 million residents of the LA who live north of Mulholland Drive together to try to fight for their common interests.

The operative word is try. Unlike other COGs that cover almost the entire county, the Valley COG must have unanimity to act and gets almost no funding from the two county supervisors or from its seven LA City Councilmembers who are members. None of the Valley members even bothered to show up Monday.

The issue was the recent decision by the MTA board to ask voters to approve extension of the Measure R one-half percent sales tax approved for 30 years in 2008 for another 30 years until 2069 with the goal being to borrow all 60 years of projected revenue and spend it now to speed completion of the projects promised four years ago. (see timeline below or view file MTAprojects)

Antonovich, noting he was joined in MTA opposition by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, talked about the promises that were abandoned after passage of Measure R-1: Extension of Gold Line to Claremont, Green Line to LAX among others.

Along with Councilwoman Marsha McLain of Santa Clarita, he condemned the continued use of 2004 population numbers for divvying up transportation money when LA is losing population and the North County and East County are gaining population.

Most of all, Antonovich sounded like a populist Democratic, calling the decision to go forward a “rush to judgment” and referred to much of what is going on as “stupid.”

He said Measure R-2 was going forward without re-evaluating the original project list and bringing all the communities in the county into the discussion. He noted the MTA board is stacked against the county’s 87 cities with six million people get four seats while LA with four million people also gets four seats.

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For his part, Yaroslavsky also stuck to his talking points mainly focused on this being an historic opportunity to expand public transit: the subway to Westwood, the Expo Line to Culver City and Santa Monica, the Crenshaw Line, the Orange Line busway extension to Chatsworth and the downtown connector which will finally provide a link between the various rail lines and subway.

Low interest rates — assuming bonds can be sold for revenue 60 years out — and high unemployment in the construction trades provide the chance to build badly-needed infrastructure in the next 10 to 12 years instead of decades from now.

He dismissed questions about equity, fairness, even if these are the most worthwhile projects, arguing to reopen the discussion now could blow the chance to put the construction industry to work and build critical infrastructure while we can.

Yaroslavsky-COG-1   Yaroslavsky-COG-2   Yaroslavsky-COG-3   Yaroslavsky-COG-4

It wasn’t a close call on who was right from where I sat as someone who fought against Measure R-1 as unfair to the Greater San Fernando Valley which was served by my newspaper.

The charts above supplied by the SFV COG show just how great the disparity is: 37 percent of the people in LA get 13 percent of the Measure R money, 15 percent of the county’s population gets 5 percent of the money.

The reason traffic congestion is so bad throughout the county is precisely because we have not thoroughly discussed and evaluated with full public involvement our options, our goals, our needs, values and interests.

It has always been about who makes the money, the contractors, unions, developers, designers, engineers, consultants, lobbyists and so on — and not about the greatest good for the greatest number.

I get Yaroslavsky’s expediency: it’s so frustrating going back to the table when everyone who shows up has his hand out demanding more without regard to others interest.

I get Antonovich’s newfound commitment to open and transparent democratic processes: His record of getting what he wants is impeccable.

But look at their records: Yaroslavsky with Marvin Braude got kudos for a no-growth ballot measure that did little or nothing to stop the city from becoming one of the densest in America and with the MTA mired in one scandal after another, he got the one-half percent sales tax for subways abolished — something he help restore with Measure R-1 and now with Measure R-2.

For his part, Antonovich helped scuttle any hope of the Valley ever getting a light rail by muddling the issue and fragmenting political support with his ballot referendum on monorail all the way to Pasadena.

By then, the whole political system — including the elected officials who represented the Valley — had killed the legal commitment for a subway across the Valley, which left the Valley with no choice but to accept the busway or get nothing at all. The fact that is the singularly most successful transit project dollar for dollar is testament to the public’s willingness to use transit if it works even modestly.

If the money for Measure R-1 and R-2 had been spent to build busways and rapid buses, street cars and some light rail, LA County could actually have an efficient public transit system that would get millions of people out of their cars within a decade because it would have high frequency and good connectivity — the critical elements that the current plan does not achieve.

In fact, bus services are being cut year after year, fares are rising, and only modest gains in ridership are being achieved.

A decade from now when the taxes have already been spent for the next half century, we will facing even worse congestion, according to MTA projections, and will still be asking when do we get a public transit system that works.