My Sunday Column: Is It Time for Solutions to Real Problems Instead of Change for Change’s Sake?

Frankly, I’m fed up with politicians telling me, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” when they really mean you better not get in the way of them serving some special interest at the public expense.

I’m dismayed at seeing young people with Skullcandy in their ears, fiddling with an iPad mini while groping to answer their smart phone. Are they zombies programmed by unknown forces somewhere out in cyberspace?

I’ve had it up to here with “progress.” Who needs a $100-billion bullet train? Are bigger, smaller, brighter, lighter, faster, sleeker really better? Do we really need same-day delivery of every product we buy?

Call me a Luddite, call me an old fogey, but I’ve decided to make a stand, to make my No. 1 New Year’s resolution the launching of a new movement — No-Change.com.

I bought that website earlier this year in a fit of frustration as an outlet for my angst over the failure of government at all levels to face the realities of our time like the fundamental economic changes taking place and the public’s refusal to exercise their power to demand what they want.

It was going to be satiric, a biting commentary on planned obsolescence and change for change’s sake. But all this fiscal cliff nonsense and political blackmail to squeeze more money out of my wallet without fixing anything that’s broken has convinced me to play No-Change.com straight.

It’s not that I like things just the way they are or that everything was better the way it used to be — although some things really were better decades ago, and there are a lot of great things about the way we live today, like the artificial lenses in my eyes that not only replaced the cataract-damaged natural ones but left me no longer needing glasses.

But Windows 8 vs. Windows 7, iPhone 5 vs. iPhone 4 — do the changes really enhance our lives, or are they merely a way to add to the profits of mega-corporations by conditioning us to believe that we can’t live without the latest bells and whistles?

It seems to me 99% of so-called “progress” isn’t progressive at all, it’s just a commercial gimmick. We need to perfect what we got, to make perfect all the amazing tools of technology and medicine, to make life here on earth better for everyone — humans, animals, plants, the oceans, the land and the skies.

(READ FULL STORY)

The End of the Siege at Fort Hernandez: 100 Deputies Evict Family and Occupy Protesters from Van Nuys Home

They came early Thursday morning — 100 deputies in armored cars — to knock down the wooden wall around the front of the Hernandez family home on Leadwell Street in Van Nuys.

The 20 or so occupiers who have kept possession of the property dubbed Fort Hernandez for four months left peacefully without anyone being arrested. A fence was put around the property and it was padlocked.

Here’s reports at laist.com and the Daily News and by Leslie Radford at LA Progessive.

Philip Koebel, the Pasadena attorney representing the family, believes they have a valid lawsuit on several grounds against Bank of America which foreclosed on the property after rejecting loan modifications plans and may have turned over the title to Bank of New York Mellon at the last minute.

Countrywide, the bankrupt and discredited lender taken over by BofA, provided the mortgage to the low income family without a down payment and allegedly falsified their income information to make it possible for them to get an adjustable rate mortgage.

The Van Nuys Family That Dared to Fight the Banks — The 122-Day Seige Occupy of La Familia Hernandez

They call it Fort Hernandez, the house on Leadwell Street in the heart of Van Nuys that has become a symbol of resistance as La Familia Hernandez and their Occupier friends fended off eviction for the past 122 days as of Christmas Day.

It likely will be their last day of occupation.

A 100-minute meeting between Monday morning  between Sheriff’s Department civil commanders and three of Lupe Hernandez’s adult children – Javier, Brenda and Antonio – and their lawyer Philip Koebel bought them a last-minute reprieve from being removed by force if necessary from their house on Christmas Eve.

But deputies are due back sometime Wednesday, or maybe a few days later, with a court order to clear the premises of everyone – the family and the dozen or more supporters who have camped out on the lawn, built a high wooden wall around the front of the house and covered it with murals and political slogans.

Some will obey deputies’ orders and leave. Others will passively resist and face arrest. No one expects or wants violence but a large crowd of protesters connected to the Occupy Fights Foreclosures movement could descend on the house as they did in late October when LAPD officers bulldozed an earlier wall, used force against the protesters and brought in Children’s Services investigators because of the family’s youngest children.

It was the kind of heavy-handed harassment that helped put Fort Hernandez on the media map with coverage on TV and the press. The Sheriff is taking a different tack.

“It was extraordinary, the meeting with the sheriff’s officials, the most important I’ve ever had in this kind of case,” said Koebel, a Pasadena attorney who handles many eviction and tenants’ rights cases.

“They listened to what we had to say, all that’s wrong with this foreclosure, down to question of whether Bank of New York Mellon or Bank of America actually has title to the property and whether state law and bankruptcy law is being followed. Our hope is that they will give us the two weeks we have left to appeal the court’s order.”

For his part, Lt. Christopher Reed, head of the civil division who came from downtown to participate in the meeting, said his hands are tied.

“All we know is we have a court order to execute,” he said in the sixth floor hallway of the Van Nuys Courthouse. “In 99.9 percent of these cases, people leave voluntarily and that’s the end of it for us whatever else happens later in the courts. This case is different. We know that and are trying to be sensitive, help them find a housing alternative but their time is just about up.”

The family bought the house in 2006 with no money down and mortgage payments that they could manage because of an adjustable rate loan that would soon balloon right at the time Javier, 31, lost his job as a laborer.

He says the agent from Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo’s high-flying mortgage firm that went under in the economic collapse and became part of BoA, fudged their income numbers to make them eligible for the loan without explaining the high risk they faced when the interest rate began to rise.

“What did we know, it was a dream come true for us,” he said. “Now our best chance is going to be to go back to court and try to get our house back because the foreclosure wasn’t legal.”

Spirits were high on Christmas Eve at Fort Hernandez. They had won a victory against authority, a small victory to be sure in what Occupy Fights Foreclosure activists like Matt Ward see as a long struggle to force the banks to carry through on promises to provide loan modifications that keep people in their homes, to change the laws to protect the rights of tenants and home buyers, ultimately to change the world to the point everyone has a decent home.

“It’s not going to change over night,” he said. “But in a few months we’ve made a lot of progress. It takes people like the Hernandez family to stand up for their rights.”

On Sunday, Occupiers broke into the Lincoln Heights home of Soledad Corona, who was evicted Dec. 14 after a three-year fight, so the single mother and her family could spend the holidays in their house.

“Bank of America had announced in November that they would avoid foreclosures during the holidays. It turned out a blatant LIE,” according to a post on the Occupy Fights Foreclosures website. “  BoA continued their assault against families like the Corona family by fraudulently evicting them and none of 10 BoA officials we spoke in last few days, who continued to downplay their actions, gave us any reason why they broke their promise not to.”

For all the posturing at City Hall and in the Legislature about the evil banks and the unfairness of the laws, measures like the city’s protections for some tenants living in foreclosed properties and the state’s new Home Owner Bill of Rights, nearly 200 families face foreclosure in Van Nuys alone right now.

The Hernandez family is alone in fighting foreclsoure with the help of mostly young idealists who believe they can embarrass Bank of America into acting compassionately and government into taking strong steps, and attorney like Koebel who believes the laws support putting the family back into the house or paying as much as $100,000 to them under what’s called the homestead exemption.

“We just need our day in court but that could take four or five years the way the system works,” he said, “and the banks won’t be able to sell the property without a cloud over it. That’s the leverage we have.”

My Sunday Column: There’s no justice in this system — when the punishment no longer fits the crime

Consequences — there must be consequences for our actions, or there will be hell to pay. The punishment must fit the crime. Without that, at least as a shared principle, what do we have?

That’s what justice for all is all about: the balance between freedom and discipline, between crime and punishment, between the individual and the collective rights and interests.

That, I think, is a proposition that is in some dispute today on many levels, not the least of which involves the governor and Legislature’s enactment last year of Assembly Bill 109, a sweeping overhaul of the criminal justice system that was done without regard for the consequences, not even holding a public hearing where cops and prosecutors could have put their two cents in.

It was panicked reaction to years of reckless spending, lack of accountability and a series of judicial condemnations of prisoner maltreatment and overcrowding. All they cared about was getting 20,000 felons out of state prisons and dumping them onto our streets or into our local jails, 40% of them in L.A. County.

Ask Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa and his command staff about AB 109 and how they are having to spend $1 million a year on the problem despite $8 million less in their budget and 18 fewer cops on the force. You’ll learn a lot about consequences, the consequences to your safety as law-abiding citizens and the lack of consequences for career criminals as long as they fit in loosely defined and inconsistently applied definitions of the 3N’s — nonserious, nonviolent, nonsexual felonies.

“When you dismantle the state penal system and throw it on the backs of local government saying we are better equipped to deal with it — that is a farce. It’s not true. There are serious consequences,” De Pompa said in an interview last week. “They have overwhelmed the system. The result is public safety will be jeopardized for a long time to come. As law enforcement professionals across the county, we’re seeing the anecdotal evidence of violent crime that we believe will change the public safety landscape for a very long time.”

The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, and the tsunami of a crime wave is yet to come as the full impact of prison realignment is felt — unless you think the politicians know more about crime than cops and prosecutors.

The recent arrest of N3 probationer Ka Pasasouk as the alleged gunman in the Dec. 2 quadruple murder in Northridge exposed just how precarious and flawed prison realignment is. At the Los Angeles County district attorney’s urging — now admitted to be a “mistake” — Pasasouk was allowed to enter drug treatment in September for a probation violation despite a long and violent criminal record.

Two others arrested as accomplices have criminal records in Glendale.

Glendale Police Capt. Michael Rock and Lt. Susan Heyn have compiled an 18-month log of incidents involving parolees and probationers and use a sophisticated database Parole LEADS 2.0 to stay on top of all 225 of them living in Glendale.

Most of the incidents involve drugs, theft, burglary, weapons possession that before realignment could have sent them back to state prison. Not anymore.

Instead of long periods under supervision by state parole officers, they now face probationary periods of just 12 months in most cases and are supervised by county probation officers whose caseloads have jumped from 40 to 1 to as high as 200 to 1.

“We caught two guys on parole recently burglarizing a home, but they wound up getting only eight and 10 days in county jail instead of long stretches back in prison,” De Pompa said. “The trouble is you get people with drug problems and mental issues who are unstable, homeless and you can’t you leverage them into the kinds of support programs they need because they know the consequences are not significant if they stick to property crimes.

“The sanctions through probation are really nonexistent for the most part. So what are they going to do? They’re going to take the path of least resistance, especially in this economic climate. What’s the path of least resistance? To go back to what they know best, a life of crime.”

(READ FULL STORY)

Don’t Forget Who Caused the Children’s Museum Fiasco: Make It the Museum to Public Accountability

Forgotten in the uproar over the latest lousy twist in the in the L.A. Children’s Museum tragedy is how it came to be built at Hansen Dam in the farthest north corner of the city instead of at the North Hollywood subway station where it would have been easily accessible to all.

That was the plan that Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Roger Snoble envisioned more than a decade ago when he lined up support to bring it to reality.

But then his plan got derailed by then City Council President Alex Padilla, now a state senator preparing to run for statewide office, who used his clout to bring the museum to his own North Valley district without regard to the obvious problem: It would take all day for students in much of the city to get to such a remote location and they’d need to get there by car and chartered bus.

How Padilla pulled off this idiocy tells you a lot about why the city – and the state for that matter – is such a mess.

Valley leaders kept their silence, happy to actually have a museum in their community, finally.

Mayor James Hahn was invisible as always and so in October 2003 every single City Council member stood up and saluted Padilla’s absurd plan to use the bond issue for parks to build the Hansen Dam museum with “80,000 square feet of interior space, 300 parking spaces, facilities for bus parking … the proposed location is not a densely populated area allowing for easy freeway access from all areas of the City.”

Those who supported the plan included then Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who went on to become mayor and oversee construction of a $40 million white elephant that sits unused and deteriorating, fenced off from public access.

Also aboard this waste of public money were Councilmembers Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry – all them wanting to be mayor, all of them cheerfully supporting indicted perjurer Richard Alarcon’s new plan to loot $8 million in ratepayer money from the Department of Water and Power and taxpayer money from the Sanitation Department — money that was supposed to go to hire cops when they tripled the trash fee.

The champion of two-faced politics, wannabe City Controller Dennis Zine has belatedly found the god of fiscal responsibility now that he wants his hands directly on the city’s purse strings.

Zine, joined by his understudy Mitch Englander, last week voted against the $8 million temporary bailout of the museum, saying afterward: “It reminds me of a bad project that goes bad… and keeps going bad… and you keep trying to save it.”

What a joke!

Zine like his colleagues voted unanimously for what was a bad idea nearly a decade ago and kept voting to keep it alive over and over to fund construction, approve of the lease, provide loans and revise the terms of the deal.

The museum never stood a chance of raising the millions in private money that was needed to build exhibits and maintain the museum.

Why would wealthy donors and foundations give vast sums of money for a project that they didn’t believe could ever be successful?

They didn’t and it flopped – a monumental symbol of so much that our city officials have done wrong over the years and continue to do wrong even as the public loses all faith in them and insolvency looms despite massive increases in rates and fees and a ballot measure to raise the sales tax on the March ballot.

Maybe they should go back to the drawing boards on where and how to build a Children’s Museum and turn this useless structure at Hansen Dam into a mausoleum for all of City Hall’s bad ideas and put plaques of dishonor on it shaming Padilla, Villaraigosa, Garcetti, Greuel, Perry, Zine and all the rest who went along on this ride to the farthest reaches of the vast and sprawling city.

They could call it the Museum of Public Accountability.

My Sunday Column: Ara Najarian Ouster speaks of modern politics — Money, Power and the Cabal at the MTA

he way that Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and the cabalists of the San Gabriel Valley cities treated Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian over his Metropolitan Transportation Authority board appointment because he opposes the 710 Freeway tunnel project is symptomatic of a dangerous trend in our political culture.

We are seeing this kind of political thuggery in the name of righteousness in Washington, in Sacramento and in Los Angeles, where widely respected former Mayor Richard Riordan recently was humiliated publicly by the pipsqueak City Council President Herb Wesson for having the temerity to suggest real pension reform is needed to avoid bankruptcy.

Things have come to a pretty pass when we would rather cannibalize each other than respect each other, rather vilify our opponents than work out some kind of deal that balances our competing interests and values.

What happened to Najarian on the day before Pearl HarborDay was a well-orchestrated sneak attack by Alhambra Mayor Barbara Messina and Duarte Mayor John Fasana. It marked an escalation of a destructive war that started last summer when Antonovich summarily threw Najarian off the Metrolink board of directors over his anti-710 extension stance and replaced him with his strange bedfellow ally, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose South L.A. district has zero commuter rail service.

Ringleaders Fasana and Messina lined up opposition to Najarian across enough of the county to narrowly deny him the 50% support needed for his appointment based on a population-weighted vote.

“There’s just no compromising with some people — it’s just like what is going on in Washington now between theRepublicans and the Democrats,” Messina said. “We have been compromising for 28 years on this project. This vote was our opportunity to send a message to Najarian over his consistent attacks on the 710: ‘You’re sitting on a board representing all 87 cities, not just your sub-region, and you’re trying to sabotage this.’

“That’s not acceptable to us.”

Frustrated as she is by the widespread and long-standing opposition to the 710 extension from Alhambra to Pasadena, Messina insists the project is needed to meet air quality standards and get federal money.

“People don’t understand the significance of this. That’s the truly sad and unfortunate part. They have a not-in-my-backyard mind-set, a tunnel vision view, and it’s so not correct. We are really tired of it.”

Najarian — who has represented the region from Glendale north to the Antelope Valley and west to Agoura Hills and Malibu for six years and who won the unanimous support from those dozen cities for another term — had no idea about the plot when he arrived at the Dec. 6 meeting of the City Selection Committee that includes all 87 cities other than L.A. For years, the committee has approved the nominees from each region without question.

Each of the four sectors of the county gets one seat on the 13-member MTA board, the policy-making and contract-awarding body for tens of billions of dollars in transit and highway projects. The five supervisors and four L.A. city representatives make up the rest of the board.

“It’s such a pro forma, rubber-stamp thing that for the other cities to dictate this is just wrong,” Najarian said, noting his past support for light-rail extensions to Azusa and Claremont. “It’s just a power grab by the San Gabriel cities on a single issue that they don’t want to fight on its merits.”

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

City Hall’s Double Standard: Special Treatment for Special Folks like Andrea Alarcon, Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar

NEWS FLASH: City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced he had charged two former Memorial Coliseum employees – a warehouse worker and a payroll clerk – with misdemeanor embezzlement and conspiracy involved $3,800 early this year. “This kind of criminal activity should not be tolerated, especially in a public agency,” said City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.

Wait a minute – didn’t Coliseum General Manager Patrick Lynch, the kingpin of the vast conspiracy that wrecked our beloved historical landmark and looted its treasury under the supervision of city, county and state officials, cut a deal with District Attorney Steve Cooley to plead guilty to a single measly charge of “conflict of interest” involving $385,000 in kickbacks instead of facing 15 ½ years behind bars on 10 counts that included embezzlement and conspiracy just like the warehouse and payroll guys?. Didn’t our illustrious political leaders led the Coliseum deteriorate to the point they could justify gifting to our fabulously wealthy private University of Southern California.

I bring this up as just one of a thousand available examples of the double standard of treatment provided to the populace by our officials and to their friends and family.

Take the case of the lovely Andrea Alarcon, daughter of the indicted perjurer Councilman Richard Alarcon, who despite the lack of any serious credentials was handed a $130,000 a year job as one of the fivemember of the Board of Public Works approving billions of dollars in contracts.

Like so many others who have held this sinecure over the years, Andrea Alarcon counts as “friend and family” like current board members Capri Maddox, wife of political operative  Kerman Maddox; Valerie Lynne Shaw, former Council aide and daughter of prominent black civic leaders; Steve Nutter, well-connected labor union lawyer, and Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza, well-connected environmental lawyer.

Alarcon is a special case given her history of putting the life of her daughter Cheyenne, now 11, at risk in recent years with penchant for alcohol and who knows what else.

Olympian in its detachment from the city, the LA Times, institutionally, thinks it would wrong to fire Alarcon because she suffers from addiction so is not responsible for driving drunk with her daughter or abandoning her at City Hall until late at night while she partied down the street in Little Tokyo.

The Times could be right. Alarcon shouldn’t be fired. She never should have been hired in the first place any more than the four other “pols pals” who are paid and perked similarly to channel taxpayer money in ways that benefit the unions, contractors, consultants and other special interests who fund the political hacks – the pols – who keep their own spectacular pay and benefits thanks to the generosity of their pals.

What makes Alarcon’s case so disturbing is how she was treated when she finally showed up cockeyed at the police station at 2 a.m. to claim her daughter. No problem, Children’s Services let her take her daughter home instead of taking her into protective custody like they would treat anyone else.

Did the cops test her for intoxication? Did the Police Chief, mayor or other officials intervene? We’ll probably never know what with child endangerment charges likely to disappear once she completes rehab at public expense.

No, don’t fire Andrea, lock her up for her own and her daughter’s safety. Fire Herb Wesson.

That’s right, the president of the City Council of the City of Los Angeles has disgraced the city and done something so unspeakable that no one in a position of authority or influence has the courage or independence to speak about it.

I, for one, do not want to live in a city where honorable people are treated by high officials the way Herb Wesson treated Richard Riordan before one and all in what should be a temple of democracy as Eric Garcetti likes to call it  – not a star chamber where citizens rich and poor are treated like scum unless they bring bags of money in tribute.

Double standard: Wesson’s colleagues didn’t call for his removal as president, didn’t submit a motion of censure, didn’t even mumble a public apology to a distinguished civic leader.

Then, there is the latest case, the little accident Councilman Jose Huizar had near City Hall with his city-owned Highlander SUV two weeks ago when he rear-ended retired Huntington Park cop David Ceja, who does some freelance investigative work for the City Attorney.

Ceja didn’t take no for an answer when Huizar refused to call LAPD to take a police report so he called himself and then watched for 2 1/2 hours as the Councilman sat in the police car sobering up before a breathalyzer was administered.

Double standard: You bet but we may get the truth since Ceja has filed a $500,000 claim against the city over what he believes in the spinal injury he suffered from the crash.

Scott Johnson at Mayor Sam’s blog has the complete story if you want to know more.

My Sunday Column: A termed-out 2-percenter — the political education of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino

Ask just about anyone who has hung around the state capitol a while — reporters, lobbyists, staffers — and they will tell you that 98% of our legislators forget who they are and why they are there within two years of being elected.

The external pressure to do the bidding of special interests that supply the campaign cash — and the internal pressure to do the bidding of party bosses who control staffing, committee assignments and the fate of legislation — are so great that few can resist becoming part of the culture of corruption.

Anthony Portantino  one of the 2-percenters. He’s no angel, as he likes to point out, but he has talked truth to power on more than a few occasions and taken some stands that require a degree of courage.

He is someone who dared to challenge for the Assembly speakership, someone who refused to back prison realignment and abolition of redevelopment because they were poorly crafted bills, someone who became the lone Democrat to vote against the 2011 budget because no one really knew what was in it, someone who Speaker John Perezpunished for his independence by stripping him of a committee chairmanship and slashing his office budget.

Yet, Portantino defiantly fought back, forcing Perez to release budget records showing how the Assembly spends its money and how it uses its funds as a political weapon to punish and reward.

“In Congress, all the leadership positions are elected, so there is a sharing of power,” Portantino said last week over breakfast at Conrad’s in Glendale. “Here there is no sharing of power because the speaker appoints the leadership team. Back in Willie Brown‘s and Jess Unruh’s day, they understood that to be powerful you had to share it. You had longtime members who had cache, who had the bully pulpit, who had power in their own right and had to be respected.”

Our meeting was kind of an exit interview for Portantino who was termed out after six years in the Assembly and was left with nowhere to go — at least for now — in the game of political musical chairs that has developed under term limits.

Carol Liu holds the Senate seat in the foothills area for four more years and his hopes of running for Congress fell flat when redistricting put him in Rep. Adam Schiff‘s district.

(READ FULL ARTICLE)