Up in Smoke, Wendy’s $160 Million in Waste, Fraud & Abuse Claim — Video Ad for Kevin James Goes Viral with 105,000 Hits

With under five weeks to go, the lackluster race for mayor of L.A. is starting to get some luster.

This afternoon, writer James Rainey at the LA Times tore the heart and lungs out of the the campaign strategy devised by Wendy Greuel’s tax dodging consultant John Shallman, the guy with 13 state and federal liens against him in the last six years.

Here’s how Rainey started the story, which is rich in details and a spokeswoman’s denials:

At virtually every campaign stop, Los Angeles mayoral candidate and City Controller Wendy Greuel points to eliminating $160 million in “waste, fraud and abuse” she’s found at City Hall as a solution to the city’s fiscal troubles and evidence she would be a tough fiscal manager as mayor.

But most of the dollar total in Greuel’s claim, now featured in television ads, relies on two audits that depend on an accounting maneuver and a large revenue projection that the controller’s office itself said was unrealistic from the start.

Say it ain’t so, Tinkerbell, you of all people should know better than to claim credit for things that are not due to you. But then when most of your audits as controller are pale rewrites of what Laura Chick did, what can we expect.

Greuel, like other City Hall insiders running for mayor — Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry — get some pretty rough treatment from a Kevin James for Mayor video that was produced without his involvement by and independent expenditure political action committee, Better Way LA.

It’s called the “Fox in the Henhouse” and has an astonishing 105,400 views, according to You Tube’s counter, though it’s hard to believe that many believe actually are paying attention to the mayor’s race.

 

Did 2JobBob Fix the State’s Finances? Is He Really Dynamic? Why Citizen Candidates Don’t Stand a Chance in L.A.

You can take the word of Henry Waxman like the word of God what with him being the sixth longest serving member of the current House of Representatives at 38 years during which America has seen near continuous war and decline of the middle class, can’t you?

So when good old Hank tells you that the protege of his partner in Congress, the newly unemployed Howie Berman, “played a centrol role in bringing our state budget back into balance” and will provide “the kind of effective leadership we need on the L.A. City Council,” you believe him without question, right?

And when Zev Yaroslavsky — who has spent 37 years in city and county office and could have been mayor in 1989 except for the unfortuate campaign memo Berman’s brother Michael wrote that was racist, sexist and insulting to Tom Bradley — tells you “Bob Blumenfield is a “dynamic community leader who … has the vision and intelligence things to get things done for our neighborhoods and our city,” you stand up and salute, don’t you?

All aboard the 2JobBob bandwagon, as Waxman and Yaroslavsky do in their campaign mailings for him. How could the city survive if there were even one honest citizen in a sea of profession pols who sold out so long ago they don’t even know what it means to be an honest citizen.

As they are in all the other races, the business, civic and political leadership are lined up behind the pros. They like L.A. just the way it is. It’s been good to them and they think the candidates that are the easiest for them to manipulate for noble and ignoble reasons are what’s best for the city and it’s four million mostly disenfranchised residents.

Still, there’s always hope until the final tallies are in and voters in Council District 3 will have a chance to meet and hear from the candidates hoping to fill Dennis Zine’s open seat at a forum tonight at 6 p.m. at the old Dick’s sporting goods store in the Promenade Mall, an appropriate venue for the West Valley, at 6100 Topanga.

2JobBob skipped the last forum a week ago — you know the importance of his duties in Sacramento — but maybe he will deign to join business owners Elizabeth Badger, Cary Iaccino and Scott Silverstein along with city investigator Steve Presberg and accountant/lawyer Joyce Pearson this time.

Robert Greene, the LA Times editorial writer who grew up in the district, takes an interesting look at the race today in a lengthy piece that pays homage to 2JobBob’s credentials as a political hack and far too little to his manifest failings, like writing the last four budgets based on phony numbers while the state deficit soared to $25 billion.

That and his audacity to raise $600,000 from special interests for his Assembly re-election campaign in November — a job he didn’t want when he already was running simultaneouly for the City Council for twice the salary plus pension and five times the staff. If he wins, he’ll resign from the Assembly, leaving his constituents without representation for six months or longer and sticking taxpayer with a $2 million plus bill for special elections.

Greene writes: “So Blumenfield’s a shoo-in and has locked up The Times’ endorsement? No way. There are some serious questions about the baggage that Blumenfield carries with him.”

He cites the 2JobBob issues I have raised, repeatedly, links to what he calls the “hilarious video” made when I cornered him Blumenfield a while back with Presberg and Badger looking on.

 

Greene’s view of 2JobBob is pretty close to that of the city’s elite, he has experience (uncritically examined) and talks the talk of a politician so he will be able to down to the sewer of City Hall politics without being handed his lunch by the sinister forces that thrive on those kind of dark and dirty situations.

Where Greene makes strong and telling points is in his analysis of the shortcomings of citizen candidates in general and this group in particular — although again it is based on a belief that the system is workingfor the common good, a view which I clearly do not share.

So what is the critique and what is the challenging candidate’s platform? That being from Sacramento is corrupting, and you’re not from Sacramento? That’s not a critique. It’s not a platform. It’s not even a blog post. It’s at best a breezy reader comment on a blog post. A candidate for office must offer more. What does the “Sacramentization” of Los Angeles government mean? Why is it bad? Not just in image; why is it bad for city residents? Why is it not just provincialism unsuited for a city the size and sophistication of Los Angeles? Aren’t experience and knowledge of how things work in the capital good? Hasn’t the L.A. City Council been filled too long with sheltered locals who don’t have the first clue how to get state funding or sponsor a bill?

If Blumenfield — or Fuentes or Cedillo or anyone else — have both experience and baggage, how do those things balance? What experience in government and in getting good projects done, Mr. or Ms. Challenger, do you have to compare with the Sacramento transplants’? If you have not been in government, what have you done in the private sector that is comparable? What can you offer the voters to assure them that you won’t spend your entire first term wondering how the job works and getting fleeced by lobbyists, labor unions and others?

And don’t answer that you have been involved in your neighborhood council. That’s great, as far as it goes, but it’s evidence only that you know your neighborhood, not that you are prepared to serve your constituents as a council member.

I’ve spent time with four of the five challengers in this race and dozens of other citizen candidates in recent years and they almost all of them start sounding like the professional pros and don’t put together a coherent program of what they would do in office, as Greene points out.

Pearson and Presberg rise to something like his establishment level standards, he says, so maybe it isn’t really forgone conclusion that 2JobBob will get a free rise.

 

 

 

UPDATE: What It Takes to Be Mayor — Wendy for “All of L.A.”

UPDATE: Pit bull journalists Brian Hews and Randy Economy at the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper who broke the Assessor John Noguez story a year ago now have sunk their teeth into Wendy Greuel’s political consultant John Shallman. They have called into question the veracity of Shallman’s claim that tax liens against him are due to being ripped off by Democratic campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee, now in prison. Documents show he has been hit with 13 different state and federal tax liens going back six years and totalling $2.2 million.

In the first TV ad of her $3.6 million plus $667,000 of taxpayer money mayoral campaign, Controller Wendy Greuel says she “found” $160 million in “waste and fraud — your tax dollars squandered.”

She doesn’t mention it is only 2.5 percent of the city’s $7.3 billion budget and less than half the $350 million more in added revenue the city has this year or even just a fraction of the wast and fraud or that City Hall want to imposes a half-cent sales tax increase to raise $220 million more just to pay for all the salary increases they promised city workers.

“Every part of L.A. deserves a better city government,” Wendy says, and with the savings she can make since she knows where the money is, she will be able to create jobs, improve the schools and provide faster emergency response.

That’s all folks — all it takes to be the front-runner supported by so many prominent civic and business leaders is a vague slogan “All of L.A.” and a few statements without meaning and a pleasant personality.

Go Wendy Go!

Does It Matter Who Wins the City Attorney’s Race? Do We Even Need an Office Reduced to Irrelevancy?

Let me entertain you here in the entertainment capital of the world by handicapping the race for City Attorney — actually why the office has become irrelevant thanks to the power grabs of the mayor and City Council and their contempt for — and fear of — the current officeholder.

Carmen Trutanich: Outsider who trashed the insider, the least popular City Councilman of his generation, Jack Weiss, thanks to the passionate support of thousands of ordinary citizens who cared enough about the decline of the city that they got involved.

Unfortunately, “Nuch” acted like a stampeding bull in china shop, unaware that everyone inside City Hall hated his guts — nothing personal — simply because he wasn’t part of the political machine that has reduced them all to parodies of what elected officials should be.

So they tripped him up at every turn, as if he needed any help falling on his face all by himself, took away tens of millions of dollars he needed to prosecute criminals, defend the city against all the lawsuits caused by the lack of discipline among its employees and the flagrant disregard of the law shown by the mayor and City Council whenever it suited its purposes.

Throw in some health issues and the result was “Nuch” was neutered and irrelevant to the point “Nuch” decided he didn’t like the job all that much so he broke his pledge to stick it out for two terms and ran for District Attorney, a move so stupid he ran third to two unknowns with little money and no name recognition.

Bye bye “Nuch,” you’d think but it doesn’t quite happen that way.

The political machine that has destroyed the city wants the ultimate PC liberal former Councilman and state Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who was given his walking papers as City Attorney a dozen years ago by Rocky Delgadillo, who did such a lackluster job he hasn’t been heard from since.

Mike is a smart guy, Harvard-educated as if you didn’t know, but he has a hard time telling the forest from the trees and he is a true believer in all things uber-liberal even when they make no sense and achieve nothing good except for serving the special interests that own City Hall

His lack of critical and independent thinking made him a seeming shoo-in to be City Attorney but God is a tough customer and sent an another vehicle crashing into Mike’s car, seriously injuring him and seemingly robbing him of the strength and vitality needed to vigorously campaign while giving poor “Nuch” the hope he needed to inspire renewed effort.

Then there’s Greg Smith, definitely not to be confused with the former Councilman Greig Smith when it comes to name recognition.

This Greg Smith is interesting guy — smart, tough, successful, an outsider who only has one big problem. He made a handsome fortune suing the City of Los Angeles and other cities in the region for their bungling incompetence in how they mistreated and mishandled personnel problems in their police and fire departments.

We’re talking tens of millions, hundreds of millions in judgments and settlements over the years with Smith’s share putting him in position to write a half million dollar check for his campaign to put himself in the running.

Let’s look at just one of my favorite cases, the one involving firefighter Tennie Pierce who unknowingly was fed spaghetti with dog food meat sauce in a firehouse prank that had become all too common.

I love the case because I had a big hand in convincing Antonio Villaraigosa to prove his manhood by vetoing the City Council’s approval of paying poor Tennie $2.7 million plus legal fees for the bad taste in his mouth, not that he noticed until everyone laughed at him, causing him terrible emotional pain and suffering.

Greg Smith didn’t represent Tennie, who wound up getting only $1.4 million in a settlement although the total cost to taxpayers still came close to original amount with legal fees and court cots.

Given how the Fire Department has been run for so long, the actual pranksters got off light but because of the public uproar the captains in charge of the station were hit with career-damaging month-long suspensions — giving Smith another slam-dunk case as their lawyer.

“Betrayed” by the Fire Department is how Smith, who was hoping for a $250,000 settlement, described his captain clients at the time. “They looked exhausted because of what they had to go through,” he said. “I could see the strain in their faces.”

Maybe he should have been looking at the strain on the faces of taxpayers who shelled out $1.6 million to pay the judgment, bringing the total cost to $5 million or so — for a plate of dog food spaghetti that half the population would have gobbled down for a few hundred bucks.

Smith is a sharp lawyer, the best of the lot, can the guy who got rich suing the city actually protect the city, especially when so many of the lawsuits stem from mismanagement in the police and fire departments he represented.

Finally, there’s city activist Noel Weiss who has fought City Hall and won on some renter rights issues and the outrageous attempt to squelch opponents of the Measure B solar energy boondoggle.

Good guy like so many of the citizen candidates but no money, no chance.

That is the bad news when it comes to who to vote for in the City Attorney’s race.

The good news is it doesn’t really matter.

To get around Trutanich and the many capable people around him, the mayor and other key departments have decided to dispense with his and his staff’s services as much as possible by hiring their own lawyers despite all the cuts in public services.

Bottom line: The City Attorney’s office has been gelded and can do neither great harm nor any good. It is merely a tool of a failed machine, designed to protect and serve the incompetence and corruption, and should be abolished entirely.

Today’s Question: Would Potheads Do a Better Job Regulating Marijuana in L.A. than the Dunderheads at City Hall?

REWRITTEN AND UPDATED AT 915PM MONDAY

A bunch of potheads could have done a lot better job of regulating pot shops in Los Angeles under California medicinal marijuana law than the City Council has over the last decade or so.

This is a point worth noting because the two leading candidates for mayor of this “world class” city — ranked 91st in the world and worst in America among tourist destinations for hotel accommodations — have taken their usual meaningless stands on the pot shop issue that is headed to the May runoff ballot.

Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, in a story Sunday in the LA Times, said they believed the answer to all the chaos they and their City Hall colleagues have caused on the issue is to get the federal government to reclassify pot as medicine.

In a city with 800 pot shops, one on every corner in some parts of town and most of them frequented mainly by young men and women wanting to get high rather than get relief from seriously illness, those would-be mayors duck the question and doubletalk around the problem.

They both ought to be disqualified from holding any further office but then both of them have never demonstrated any political courage or straightforward honesty. They aren’t leaders, they’re just professional politicians without any proven ability to lead this city through its unending series of crises or to solve even its most basic problems.

“The courts say wildly different things because there has not been clear guidance from the state or federal level,” Garcetti said, calling for a limited number of pot shops.  “You charge a fee so you have an enforcement mechanism, and where possible collect taxes.”

Fewer shops, fees, taxes — where were those proposals during his long reign as Council President when the 15 policymakers passed one illegal pot law after another and then repealed them, and repealed them even when they were upheld in court and never did anything to enforce any form of effective control

City Controller Wendy Greuel, reaching as always to show what a motherly and caring woman she is in contrast to the presumably uncaring and insensitive doltish male rivals she faces, called for “compassion.”

“I think when people voted in the state of California to allow medical marijuana, they thought they would go to their local CVS pharmacy and get itj,” said Greuel, who should have been challenged to produce a single voter in this formerly great state who actually thought such a ridiculous thought.

“They didn’t think about the impact it would have on neighborhoods. The bottom line is we have a right to regulate where marijuana clinics are in the city of Los Angeles…. The public is demanding that the government actually do their job.”

Yes, the public is and has been through all the years that Eric and Wendy and  Councilwoman Jan Perry created a sanctuary city for potheads as much as for illegal immigrants demanding that city officials — the nation’s highest paid — actually do their job.

Poor Perry only got a paraphrase from the Times saying that “she would take her policy cues from the voters in May.”

You really have to laugh at that one since if the voters decide the issue, it’s not supposed to be a “cue” about what to do, but an order.

Kevin James, a former federal prosecutor and radio talk show host, got off without being quoted on what he would do as mayor though he got take a well-deserved shot at his rivals, saying the confusion and legal wrangling over pot shops illustrated the dysfunction of the council.

“More pot clinics than Starbucks? Unbelievable,” James said. “Only this City Council could put a moratorium on 180 or so pot clinics — and it skyrockets to over 1,000.”

The fifth candidate, Emanuel Pleitez, a technology executive, set himself apart from the others by saying “politicians shouldn’t be in the business of setting numbers. Let the market decide.”

Maybe he’s right and we don’t need City Hall at all for anything — though even the accidental anarchist in me believes there needs to be an effective balance between law and order, and law and disorder.

Let’s just let every man, woman and child battle it out in a free-for-all in the marketplace — no way, amoebas never would have turned into two-cell creatures and all that happened after never would have happened if there wasn’t something else at work besides who kills the best and who eats who.

The operative word in survival of the fittest is what “fittest” means.

A lot of important people with money and influence think Garcetti and Greuel are the “fittest” to deal with the city’s complex problems at this point in time.

I say they should put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors on the line if they truly believe that.  Because the lives, fortunes and honors if a vast number of people without so much money and utterly influence depend on the actions they are taking on the cheap to put one of them into the mayor’s office.

 

 

My Sunday Column: Democratic Party needs to clear the air — Teachers, Armenians Say Mike Gatto Went Way Too Far

Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s political director sent out an email blast urging Democrats in the 43rd Assembly District to show up with “as many friends and family as possible” on Jan. 12 at the IATSE union hall in Burbank to elect a dozen delegates to the party’s state convention.

“Mike has endorsed a slate that is running, and there is another slate that has formed with individuals who have not supported Mike in the past. We would like to support the individuals who support Mike,” wrote Stacey Brenner.

Her efforts were rewarded with a massive turnout, 388 people in all, who carried the Gatto slate to an easy victory over two other slates put together by the teachers union and Armenian activists.

Gatto, who lost eight of the 12 seats to these groups in 2010, expressed his delight on Facebook: “A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out and voted in the delegate elections today. I am so happy that the Gatto slate won 12 of 12 spots. I appreciate so much everyone’s hard work, and all of the support from the community.”

Responded one excited supporter: “Wow, sounds like the beginning of the Gatto Machine!”

That’s exactly what the head of the Burbank teachers union and a large group of Armenian Americans who attended the election felt — but in the most negative way imaginable.

They accuse Gatto’s team, led by Brenner, of using threats, intimidation, unethical tactics and racial profiling of Armenians to crush all opposition — actions that smack of machine politics, and that have made the Democratic Party appear to bear a striking resemblance to those they have so sharply criticized for voter suppression tactics.

In an email exchange, Brenner denied the accusations, saying incongruently that “Mike didn’t run a slate.”

“Mike endorsed a group of people running,” she continued, “just like he endorses people in other races … I did not challenge prospective voters. From what I saw, some voters were challenged because there was a concern that people were bringing Republicans to vote in a Democratic caucus.”

Later in an interview, Gatto political consultant Mike Shimpock said:

“We were merely trying to get our slate elected. No one was targeted based on ethnicity or for any reason other than we were questioning their eligibility to vote, which was well within the rules.

“In the give and take of politics, sometimes people get upset. If that’s the case, I know Mike is always open to resolve those conflicts.”

The teacher slate fell apart when school board candidate Steve Ferguson, who helped organize the successful 2010 delegate election, failed to show up, claiming Gatto threatened him.

“I got a call from Gatto and he made it very clear that he wanted me to abandon my slate and pass out literature for his slate or support for me in the school board race would be pulled,” Ferguson said. “So I just stayed away and knocked on doors.”

Burbank teachers union leader Lori Adams was so angry she fired off a letter to Gatto, copied to union leaders across the state, urging the assemblyman to stop using “unethical tactics.”

“My only issue is that you do not have the right to threaten a candidate in order to suppress a vote. That is not democracy,” she wrote.

Many participants came away infuriated, claiming Armenians were singled out by Brenner for challenges in an attempt to intimidate them out of voting — a claim that was given credence by the regional party official overseeing the election.

“There were 30-some challenges issued to voters, and it was relatively noticeable that most of the people who were challenged had Armenian surnames — whether that was intentional or coincidental, it certainly didn’t look nice,” recalled Karen Wingard, who oversaw two other delegate elections where there were no challenges or controversies.

“I doubt that an Assembly member who was a good Democrat would indulge in what appeared to be voter suppression. It had an unpleasant appearance. I have never seen anything like it so I emailed two party officials afterward about what happened.”

The phrase “good Democrat” came up a lot that day.

A flier circulated at the meeting attacked Garen Yegparian, an activist and columnist for the Armenian publication Asbarez, regarding his tough criticisms of the assemblyman in a six-part series of articles labeled “Grimy Gatto.” Noting his support for Republican election candidate and longtime friend Greg Krikorian, the flier questioned Yegparian’s party loyalty, saying in large black letters that he “SUPPORTS REPUBLICANS OVER GOOD DEMOCRATS.”

In an impassioned one-minute speech, Yegparian recalled saying: “I held up that piece of paper and said, ‘It’s all true except for one thing, Mike Gatto is not a good Democrat. Mike Gatto is a vile creature. We have to work to eliminate this blight from our district.’“

Zanku Armenian — a prominent community leader who writes an occasional online column for the Glendale News-Press — was more moderate in his language but no less angry over finding himself and his wife subject to challenges.

“The only person challenging anyone was Stacey Brenner,” he said, contradicting Brenner’s statement. “She was walking up and down the aisle essentially picking out people who looked Armenian because she thought those were people who would not support the Gatto slate.”

He continued: “It’s like such hatred toward certain people and they all happen to be Armenian. That’s what is so disappointing and troubling. [Gatto] has the right to support who he wants, but what he doesn’t have the right to do is achieve his goals through bullying and intimidation and outright violation of the party’s values. When the party turns a blind eye, it is fueling a cancer.”

At the least, there are a lot of hard feelings among Democrats in the district and, as Wingard observed, the appearance of serious misconduct. That ought to be sufficient for the Democratic Party’s leadership to fully investigate what happened and clear the air.

(PUBLISHED SUNDAY IN GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

When DWP Rate Payer Advocate Fred Pickel Speaks, They Don’t Listen Anymore Than When You Speak

Way back before Mayor Riordan fired him for being a windbag and empty 10-gallon hat, DWP General Manager David Freeman announced the largest solar energy program in U.S. history.

He spent tens of millions of dollars of ratepayer money on lobbyists, consultants, public relations manipulators and community relations operatives but the nation’s largest municipal utility never got around to building any solar energy.

Hardly a year has gone by since then that the DWP lied to the public, wasted ratepayer money and failed in one initiative after another to build enough solar energy to reduce its dependence on cheap and dirty coal for nearly half the city’s energy.

The main reason is IBEW union bully Brian D’Arcy thwarted all efforts because you don’t need his overpaid and underworked members for solar energy. That’s why they tried to extort as much as $4 billion from the public for a massive in-basin rooftop solar program that would be owned, installed and operated solely by DWP workers.

Unlike the City Council and the last two mayors who submitted to D’Arcy’s blackmail tactics in union contract talks, voters rejected the infamous Measure B.

A long time has passed since Freeman’s first solar foray and a lot of DWP general managers have come and gone and a lot of money has gone down the drain without public benefit to produce just 50 megawatts of rooftop solar, just 1 percent of the city’s energy use.

One of the main stumbling blocks was the refusal of the IBEW and DWP management to implement the only policy that has ever worked successfully anywhere to get individuals and businesses to install solar energy panels — feed-in tariffs that pay customers for the power they generate and feed into the power grid, programs that can eliminate power costs and pay for the installation in five to seven years.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Jan Perry tried to get the City Council to review the DWP Board’s approval of a feed-in tariff policy that would pay those who install solar an average of 17 cents a kilowatt with peak demand fees reaching 35 cents — a huge premium on the 11 cents it costs on average for other sources of energy.

Rate Payer Advocate Fred Pickel was given 24 hours to review the policy when the fees were increased at the last-minute by nearly 14 percent when be believed they should have been cut by an even larger percentage.

Pickel has been undermined in repeated ways as he made clear in his gentlemanly testimony that fell on the deaf ears and dead minds of the City Council, thinks likely not giving him reports, ignoring his advice, making it hard for him to hire staff.

His position was created in the uproar over Measure B and the outrageous rate hike demands of the DWP and approved overwhelmingly by voters — points that should be remembered by anyone contemplating voting for Eric Garcetti for mayor since it was he who hid a critical report about what was wrong with Measure B and then weakened the role of the Rate Payer Advocate.

When you watch these videos you will see how Pickel is treated as if he were as irrelevant and you the ratepayers and voters and how General Manager Ron Nichols has become like all the other DWP heads who preceded — an empty suit glibly carrying the water and power for those in charge, be they union boss D’Arcy or the political machine itself.

 

Do You Have Better Chance of Winning the Lottery Than Finding Greatness in Greuel, Garcetti, Perry or Zine?

LA Times’ distinguished columnists Steve Lopez and Jim Newton took up important if thorny challenges in recent columns – examinations of the role of the professional politicians running for mayor and city controller.

For his part, Lopez dismisses the outsider candidates Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez because they’re not insiders, wishes really good candidates like Zev Yaroslavsky, Rick Caruso or Austin Beutner had jumped in and is skeptical that insiders Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry can overcome their past performance and rise to the occasion as mayor of a troubled city.

“It’s only fair now to ask Greuel how she can be expected to act more responsibly as mayor, particularly after picking up recent support from police and DWP employees”” he writes. “The business-friendly Perry, meanwhile, has her own potential conflicts, and one can wonder whether Garcetti will be able to stand up to the developers or union chiefs who write him checks.”

What the city needs, he says, is someone who combines the limited virtues of Richard Riordan (audacity), James Hahn (focus) and Antonio Villaraigosa (hustle).

“Los Angeles has had mediocre mayors. It’s had decent mayors. Isn’t it time we had a great mayor?”

He begs the question he asks by not offering a clue about whether he thinks Greuel, Garcetti or Perry is capable of greatness – or even in the same league as Riordan, Hahn and Villaraigosa.

Newton does something similar in the controller’s race by letting Dennis Zine blow hot air all over him with non-stop bluster in response to the columnist’s previous article in which he said the retired traffic cop “seemed an odd fit with the office of city controller.”

He gives the tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear blowhard free rein to outline all the things he would do as controller – fiscally responsible and good management things he never stood for as a councilman and bombastic police union leader who wept for the TV cameras when chief-for-life Daryl Gates was finally being held accountable by the city’s civic leaders and the press.

Zine tells Newton he “could retire, feed pigeons under the park bench” although with roughly a quarter of million dollars in city pensions and millions in the bank he probably could find more interesting ways to spend his senior years.

“But he sees potential for the controller’s job, the opportunity to demand more from the city, to hold others accountable and make them better too. ‘If you’re a quarterback and you throw that bomb, and there’s no receiver, it’s incomplete,’ he said.”

Newton’s conclusion: “Who could disagree?”

He too begs the question he poses.

I bring this up because columnists are given literary license and exemption from the strangling conformity of corporate journalism’s rules so it seems a disservice to lead us to the water by raising important questions without at least offering some answers.

In contrast, the New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks tackles the weightier subject of President Obama’s second inaugural address on Monday and finds “it has to rank among the best of the past half-century … an argument for a pragmatic and patriotic progressivism.”

But Obama “misunderstands this moment.” he says, America is no longer “a young and growing nation … We are now a mature nation with an aging population.”

Brooks concludes:

“Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past.

“Obama made his case beautifully. He came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive. But I’m not sure he rescrambled the debate. We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.

“But at least the debate is started. Maybe that new wind will come.”

Brooks gives us food for thought, a way out of the gridlock and decay, a line down the middle. It is at least a finger pointing the way, not a finger in the eye obscuring out vision.

My Sunday Column: A few people can change a lot in a community … Look at the Political Awakening in Pasadena

The radical community organizer Saul Alinsky, whose insights are used today as much by those on the right as on the left, once wrote:

“If people don’t think they have the power to solve their problems, they won’t even think about how to solve them.”

At a time when apathy and defeatism seem so rampant, when the antics of Kim Kardashian, the staged dramas of unreality TV and the tarnishing of our heroes are the center of public attention, what has happened in West Pasadena in the last year shows what can happen when a few people change their minds and think they do have the power to solve problems.

It started with the closure of the lone fire station in the affluent San Rafael neighborhood, tucked in the southwest corner of town adjacent to Northeast Los Angeles, when some residents of Glen Summer Road decided to fight back.

Instead of just grumbling, they went to work organizing their neighborhood. Like town criers of yore, they sounded the alarm in person and on the Internet and created enough of an uproar that the city stationed an ambulance on their street and agreed to build a new earthquake-safe fire station.

Then, last spring, there was the announcement that their local elementary school would be closed because it sits atop a seismic fault and more people starting thinking they could do something about it and got involved.

A month later, the community learned authorities wanted to extend the Long Beach (710) Freeway with a tunnel under their homes or maybe right down the middle of the street that runs through the Arroyo Seco, so they linked up with neighborhood groups from Garvanza, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, South Pasadena and north to La Canada-Flintridge.

Now it’s the Rose Bowl going professional with the city looking to lease the historic stadium to the National Football League if a team moves to the L.A. region, more than doubling the number of dates that massive crowds and traffic would descend on the area.

“It all starts when you see numerous times of injustice and you finally just have to speak up,” says Dr. Ron Paler, a founder of the San Rafael Neighborhood Assn. and a moving force in bringing together communities that cut across city boundaries as well as economic and cultural differences.

“You suddenly find that the people in your neighborhood, in Pasadena, even outside of there, people are connecting, people who would normally be sitting at home and stewing, maybe firing off a letter but not knowing who and how to organize,” he said. “What we’ve seen is people on your street and the three streets away and miles away, they’re talking to each other and connecting to each other by social media and the Internet and especially by email to get involved and fight a cause.”

These efforts have forced officials to work hard to find an acceptable solution to the school closure and stymied plans to extend the 710.

Now the fight is the Rose Bowl which the Pasadena City Council voted recently to move forward with planning to provide the venue for an NFL football team at least for the five years it will take to build a new stadium in downtown L.A. or the City of Industry.

Demonstrating repeatedly over the last six months that they can get hundreds of people to public meetings and rallies, these new activists have now turned to the courts to challenge governmental action, suing on environmental grounds to block leasing the Rose Bowl to the NFL.

The Linda Vista-Annandale Assn. joined with the San Rafael Neighborhood Assn. with financial support as well from the West Pasadena Residents Assn. to form a united front to oppose going from 12 events a year to as many as 25.

And then Michael Vogler, a West Pasadena attorney with no record of community activism, was inspired to add a new wrinkle to the campaign by organizing nearly three dozen others to join him in filing papers to recall Councilman Steve Madison — who represents the area — from office.

“When he voted yes, I thought it was the most remarkable thing I’ve ever seen in Pasadena,” Vogler says, noting more than 80% in Madison’s district voted against a 2006 ballot measure on the NFL. “It didn’t pass the smell test. People are angry and feel betrayed. It was what triggered my involvement.”

Vogler accuses Madison of having a conflict of interest in voting for the NFL deal because his national law firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, represents or has represented the league, several of its teams and other sports-related businesses for years.

“He should have recused himself at the least on an issue (that) I think is the most important in West Pasadena in generations and for generations to come,” Vogler said..

“The NFL operating at the Rose Bowl will fundamentally change the neighborhood and the recreational uses of the Arroyo Seco for a very long time,” Vogler said. “It’s the people of Pasadena vs. an oligarchy of billionaires. Who does our councilman work for — his constituents or the NFL? That’s the issue that it distills down to.”

Make no mistake, there likely would not be a recall, a lawsuit over the Rose Bowl, transportation officials going back to the drawing boards or local officials seeking solutions to the people’s problems if a few people had not gotten to work for change and gotten so many others thinking they had the power to fight for better solutions.

The Art of the Political Holdup: Raising Taxes to Fix Street and Storm Water Systems without Fixing the Corruption of Power

Tracy Rafter, founder of BizFed representing tens of thousands of businesses in LA County, and Jack Humphreville, community leader and LA watchdog, laid out a long series of questions to the Board of Supervisors Monday.

 

Supervisor Gloria Molina eloquently exposed all that is wrong in the proposed storm water runoff property tax increase.

 

It was like enduring a colonoscopy, two of them actually.

First, the deadbeats of the City Council on Tuesday killed — but only for the moment — the insulting proposal handed to its most junior and obedient members to carry: An ill-conceived and unstudied plan to soak property owners in an iniquitous manner to the tune of $3 billion or $4 billion or $5 billion (who knows?) to fix the streets neglected for nearly 60 years.

Then, the County Board of Supervisors allowed, reluctantly, a couple of hundred angry citizens to speak for five  or six hours, a minute at a time, about the insulting, ill-conceived and unstudied plan to soak property owners in an iniquitous manner to the tune of $9 billion (or is it $15 billion) to finally fix the storm water runoff problem after decades of neglect so the pollutants don’t reach the sea and ruin our beaches.

Anybody who doesn’t think those are worthy goals are not worth listening to — a point so clear and obvious nobody among all those opposed to either or both taxes ever questioned the goals.

What they questioned is in the integrity and competence of their government officials — a point of view that was only opposed by those who supported the taxes because they benefited financially, ideologically or in other ways personally, like environmentalists, hillside homeowners and other rich people, S-M Conservancy King Joe Edmiston, unions and  trade associations that would get all the billions of dollars in work.

The politicians have not offered a single justification, accepted an iota of responsibility or a word of apology for letting these and other vital problems get so out of hand for so long.

All they wanted was your money, specifically your money if you happen to own property — something that means to them you must be rich so it’s fair to stick a gun in your face and hold you up.

It’s like the Sheriff of Nottingham robbing Robin of Sherwood Forest at sword point, which is what drove him to made adopt the revolutionary posture in the first place.

The revolutionaries in these cases were homeowners, railroad executives, small business owner, school districts and nearly every city in the county except the City of Los Angeles that has never seen a tax it doesn’t love, never seen a tax it wouldn’t kill for, never seen a tax it wouldn’t foreclose your home for, never seen a tax it didn’t desperately need to pay employee salaries and provide the grease that feeds a corrupt system of contractors, consultants, lobbyists, lawyers, P.R. execs and other selfish special interests.

What’s telling is that both the city and county backed away from putting the tax hikes before voters because they couldn’t answer the most basic questions about the proposals: How they came to decide on the amount of the taxes, what projects would be funded, what protections would be put in place to protect the taxpayers’ money from being stolen.

Worst of all, they had to admit in both cases that amount of increased taxes they sought were picked because they thought it was as much as the public would bear. Incredibly, the money would be insufficient to the city’s streets and do nothing to fix the sidewalks and in the county’s case only solve part of the storm water runoff problem.