THE WAY THINGS ARE — LA Can’t Be Fixed By Tinkering

(This article was published Tuesday Jan. 21, 2014 on CityWatchLA.com)

Is it any wonder that two vibrant cities from the West – Denver and Seattle – are in the Super Bowl, their fans frenzied, while Los Angeles doesn’t even get to compete since the city’s leadership refused to modernize the historic Coliseum, chasing the Rams and Raiders out of town.

To punctuate the point, those same city leaders gifted the Coliseum under legally questionable circumstances to the region’s wealthiest private university, USC, while approving a scheme that nobody wanted, made no sense and will never happen for a football stadium right in the middle of downtown.

The football fiasco is just one of a thousand examples of a generation’s failure of leadership that has turned Los Angeles into the first big western city that looks like a lot of Rust Belt cities back east.

A city in decline, a city on the road to becoming the next Detroit with far more people living in poverty than live in the now bankrupt Motor City, a city with 40 percent of its population living in misery without hope, a city with poor schools, aging infrastructure and no plan for revival – those are among the findings of the LA 2020 Commission led by Mickey Kantor.

Release of the long-awaited report entitled “A Time for Truth” that was supposed to provide a road map to a better future was botched, dismissed by the media and politicians as nothing new, as in ‘everybody knows that’ so what are you going to do about it.

The mayor barely took note of it while the business, civic, labor and political leadership snickered, comforted by the knowledge that nothing of substance would change no matter what recommendations come out of the commission in 90 days.

Nothing surprising in that reaction, really –what would we expect from the generation of movers and shakers, influence peddlers and profiteers, rich and powerful insiders who bear responsibility for the state of the city?

An apology? A recognition that what they have wrought is a failure? Did you think what passes for the establishment in this soulless city was going to stand up as one with the Kantor Commission and lead the charge to reform the political structure, empower the communities to create a healthy balance of interests, structural changes that create transparency, efficiency and accountability?

I checked in with several of the public-spirited private citizens and found they all agree things are broken but they have their own solutions, their own ways of doing business – the same old ways that made them so important and influential through these decades of decline.

Leadership and unity is not going to come from above now any more than it has during recent decades when the only thing that got fixed was the LAPD, reforms that were carried out by the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts – the same way schools were integrated in Little Rock in the ‘50s and Alabama in the ‘60s.

So surely the people in the communities would rally around the commission’s agenda and fight for the reforms that would let them achieve their many and varied goals to make their neighborhoods safer, their schools better and their opportunities to earn a decent living greater.

But that isn’t what has happened.

The Neighborhood Councils are silent except for the endless grumbling amongst themselves. The citizen watchdogs on the DWP are listening to utility’s managers more than the public. The Valley Vote secessionists aren’t even talking about the possibility of real reform, preferring to fantasize about a tunnel from Westwood to Van Nuys. Hollywood residents don’t care about anybody else’s problems, only their own war against high-rise development in their neighborhood.

Unlike Denver and Seattle, or San Francisco and San Diego whose teams also got into the NFL playoffs, LA isn’t really a city at all, just a lot of people lost in their own little worlds without any sense of being part of something greater than themselves.

That’s what cities are about – being New Yorkers or Parisians, Chicagoans and Londoners, a sense of sharing something more important than one’s own private interests. That’s what is so lacking, has always been so lacking in Los Angeles, a spirit of the place that made us all feel like we mattered and shared something with our neighbors near and far.

LA can’t be fixed by tinkering. It needs a grassroots revolution and a new generation of leadership that can offer something more than greed and advantage over others.

‘City In Decline’: LA’s Shameful Media Shares the Blame

(This article was written for City Watch LA (link)

I read a copy of the Kantor Commission’s LA2020 Report early Tuesday and thought, “Oh my god, important people in this town have finally noticed how the city is going to hell.”

It was a “bombshell,” — prominent, rich, powerful people speaking out and ready to mobilize the community around an agenda for change.

A dream come true to me and Joseph Mailander and John Walsh and so many thousands of others who have known for so long: LA is declining. Get the word out. The bastards are robbing us blind. Their public stories have nothing to do with their private stories. The city is going to hell.

And then reality bit.

Even before the press event, the once promising reporter Dave Zahniser was up on the LA Times website with a short story  that apparently was based not on reading the report, but on getting briefed on its contents and given a ‘money’ quote so he quickly get to the point:

The commission members are all dirty, so as the righteously superior man he sees himself to be, he had every right, every duty, to smear their reputations with any means necessary.

Just look at the evidence: The report said that the DWP, like the harbor and airports, needs major investment that goes far beyond cleaning up unfinished business to the question of how LA competes successfully in the booming Pacific Rim, creates jobs and economic health and a prosperous future.

The mayor gets first shot –“We appreciate this report and look forward to the next one,” a Garcetti aide said.

Then we get the hinge of the story: A key contributor to the report was Austin Beutner, a commission member who served as Villaraigosa’s ‘jobs czar’ at City Hall. Some of the commission’s members have been doing business at City Hall for years — and had interests that made their way into the 2020 report.

Is that why the report’s comments about failing schools and transit programs, about long delays on such worthy projects as the Burlington Northern rail yard which was stalled – purely for political reasons — for eight years although it could reduce truck traffic, pollution, costs, delivery times.

By the way, Zahniser shares, did you know Burlington Northern is “a company that was represented by Kantor, a corporate lawyer?” Because the report says: “Competitive ports have all made major improvements, while Los Angeles bent to the will of special interest groups and NIMBYism.”

Zahniser was “referring to the concept known as ‘Not in My Backyard.’”

He suggested Austin Beutner, Thomas  Sayles and Brian D’Arcy were guilty of a conflict of interest  because they were formerly DWP’s CEO and Chairman and D’Arcy is currently the powerful boss of the city’s most powerful union. But he doesn’t mention IBEW’s political blackmail strategy or that the union is currently involved in political scandal.

Instead of connecting the dots of wrongdoing the LA Times chose to use innuendo and guilt by association to damage the reputations of these men – and their report – without offering the slightest connection between their roles and the DWP and the rail yard.

Needless to say, the pack all followed Zahniser’s  lead as if the issue had been discussed by them in advance and an agreement reached to see as old hat everybody knows it ho-hum.

Under a story with the interest killing headline word “Rehashes,” the Daily News made it doubly clear this is not important, old news.

Reporter Dakota Smith captured the political moment with this setup:

“The reaction to the report seemed to mostly be met with the refrain: ‘So, what else is new?” 

“I didn’t learn anything from this,” said Steve Soboroff, Los Angeles Police Commission president. 

“This is stuff that has been out there.”

Really? Steve Soboroff, one of the most successful business-political players of his generation, a man who has been inside the heart of the game of running the system for everyone’s mutual  benefit whatever that turns out to mean and getting fabulously rich and now back in the game as the mayor’s man.

Nobody gets the party line straight like LA Weekly’s Hatchet Man Gene Maddaus  who dismisses the report, saying it “reads like a Chamber of Commerce op-ed stretched out to 20 pages … It recycles talking points. Where to begin with this thing. How about with the fact that there’s no executive summary.”

No executive summary. Can you imagine? What is a poor journalistic to do?

He then goes on to a lengthy critique of writing and structure of the report which was put together with the help of a journalist (a rival of sorts, perhaps?).

Especially upsetting were the mixed metaphors and the plain language intended to stimulate the widest possible discussion of the future of the city, a declining city.

The verdict on this show was provided by the LA Times: “Wait and See,” the paper editorialized.

For all those who care about a greater LA … better for everyone … this could be your last chance for a long time.

You can let the media, so seduced by the army of political operatives on government and consultant payrolls, decide the outcome by spreading confusion and muddling the issues for the next 90 days.

Or you can seize the day, walk through the door to a real public discussion, everyone invited.

Imagine how rich and informative a guided online discussion would be if everyone had a voice – and used it to speak up about things. And, with enough passion to be heard over the manipulated political din. LA’s media included.

Eric Garcetti’s One and Only Chance — His Moment of Truth

Back when it could have mattered, when a single decision that put the future of the city at risk was being made, Antonio Villaraigosa showed he lacked the courage to lead, his predecessor James Hahn already had shows he was incapable leadership and Councilman Eric Garcetti showed he was lost in a mind fog that haunts him today and threatens his ability to lead the city now that he is mayor.

It was August 2005 and on the table was a contract for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, who under boss Brian D’Arcy held the power of political life and death for every politician at City Hall thanks to the generous payroll deductions of the city’s highest paid workers that he used to make and break politicians.

It was a unique contract even by city annals, granting utility workers a guaranteed 3.25 percent raise every year for five years with an inflation escalator that could raise it to 6 percent — a guarantee of 16.8 percent with a lot more possible depending on inflation, as Beth Barrett reported in the Daily News:

“Faced with more than 200 DWP workers wearing T-shirts threatening a strike, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a controversial five-year contract that gives some of the city’s already highest-paid workers raises of up to 28 percent.

“The contract – approved 10-3 by the council – had been hotly debated for nearly two months, coming amid water-rate hikes, questions about union-wage parity, concerns about the city’s labor negotiating process and threats of a strike by Department of Water and Power workers. “

The contract was negotiated under Jimmy Hahn’s aegis but he insisted to the compliant  LA Times that they correct any reference to it being his responsibility, claiming he voted against it as chair of the negotiating panel although he never used his bully pulpit to stop it.

And so it was left to Villaraigosa to decide what to do.

He knew it was a terrible deal for ratepayers, the DWP and the city and told me so at the time.

But what’s a boy who was once so poor to do when his dreams have come true and he’s just become the mayor of America’s second largest city, will soon be living in a mansion with drivers, bodyguards, cooks, cleaners, servants, hundreds of staffers at his beck and call and have the opportunity to drink $1,000 bottles of wine, sit in the best seats at exciting sports and entertainment events for free, hobnob with the rich and famous and make whoopee with so many beautiful woman.

He signed off on the deal — and why not?

D’Arcy and the IBEW had funded his tough campaign to oust Hahn after one term? Who could take seriously the warnings of all the other city unions about the DWP wage premium or worry that the next recession might be the worst in 75 years?

Tony Cardenas, now a Member of Congress, called the deal “viable and fair” and guided it through the Council with the support of Alex Padilla, now a state senator and wannabe Secretary of State of California, and Wendy Greuel, who went to on to become City Controller and candidate for mayor, only to be defeated in no small part by the lavish spending of D’Arcy and the IBEW on her behalf.

Only one of the three Council voters against the contract is still around, Bernard Parks, and only two of those who voted for it, the irrelevant Tom LaBonge who has lived off the DWP his whole career, and Eric Garcetti, who has danced around the power of the IBEW for years only to find D’Arcy preferred the candidate who was “easiest to manipulate” over himself, the candidate who was “easiest to intimidate,” in this year’s mayoral election.

That is what sets the stage for the showdown over the current proposal for a new four-year contract with the IBEW that the City Council took public Friday.

Council President Herb Wesson paraded out six Council members who represent the Valley as if they give a damn about their community to sanctify the deal and conceal everything wrong with it.

No one is foolish enough to say it’s a bad deal, though only fools or people promised favors would call it “great,” people like VICA, the Valley business group.

In proof of its weakened position, the IBEW was offering to defer the 2 percent raise due in October for four years and to take no raises in the intervening years.  The union agreed to screw future employees with a retirement and pension package and wage structures that are more in line with what other city workers get — a deal that leaves literally hundreds of other issues unresolved.

It’s a “start,” everyone who lives off the system agreed, but it’s too late to start all over again.

It has taken decades to create these problems and the clock is ticking. We fix it now or at the least come a lot closer to what is desperately needs or the city where everyone lives on the edge is hanging over the precipice.

Eric Garcetti knows that. He has shaken up the lapdog DWP Commission by replacing four members who represented such special interests such as USC and the environmental green-washers with people who hopefully have a broader sense of public service than serving than people who sign their handsome paychecks.

He knows this is far from the deal the city needs just as Villaraigosa did back in 2005 when SEIU leader Julie Butcher publicly declared:

“During 2004 contract negotiations, city management told [us] there was no money in the budget for raises, and [we] took them at their word . . .

“What should I say to a mechanic who fixes police cars for a living when he makes 20 percent less than a mechanic who works across the street?” I don’t see how I can ever take the city at its word again.”

She didn’t, and is now managing SEIU affairs in Riverside County where a union official who understands our futures are all bound together cannot interfere with the feeding frenzy going on in LA.

Understand her union like others representing civilian workers had given up raises in the because of the continuing fiscal crisis while DWP workers got a 5 percent increase.

“They make choices,,” the bully D’Arcy declared in response back then. “If I brought my members zero, I would be hanging from that rafter over there.”

One can only hope there are rafters high enough and a rope short enough.

Then-Controller Laura Chick captured the popular sentiment at the time, saying: “Too often, the city of Los Angeles has been stuck in a time warp, making decisions in the same way over and over again, without stepping back and asking is this the best way to do this.”

Clearly, the outrageous DWP wage premium went back a long way.

Just since fiscal 1999, DWP workers had gotten 30 percent in salary hikes and civilian workers 25 percent – while the regional consumer price index had risen about 19 percent. It is now documented that the DWP wage premium is 30 and 40 percent higher than workers doing the same job for the city in other departments and close to that for many categories of workers doing the same jobs for other utilities in the region

On Monday night, three days after Wesson’s propaganda event in support of this puny deal, just 75 or so Neighborhood Council activists bothered to show up at City Hall to meet with the bureaucratic architects of the deal at City Hall, Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller and DWP CEO Ron Nichols.

The activists were not in a fighting mood, just asking questions and grumbling.

Despite being on duty as a Naval intelligence officer, Garcetti showed up for a cameo appearance, offered mild words of encouragement and unveiled a petition drive he started called Fix DWP.

“I don’t want to say, two years from now, that we rushed through this,” Garcetti said, suggesting Miller’s analysis that totally obscured key issues was “incomplete.”

“It did not include the importance of the issues that I laid out on work rules, it didn’t do the nuances on the fourth-year raise.”

Dakota Smith at the Daily News talked to Jeff Bruce of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council who likened the event to showing off an “open sewer.”

“The problem is that it is still an open sewer,” Bruce said.

Exactly. The stench fills the nostrils of every sentient person in the city.

Garcetti for all his ambition to attain higher officer should understand that, should understand that this is his make or break crisis: Four years from now he will be judged on whether he did the right thing now or his political ambitions will be crushed as certainly as Villaraigosa’s were when he could barely avoid a runoff in 2009 against Walter Moore and Zuma Dogg.

D’Arcy is probably correct that LA has neither the stomach nor the attention span to see this through.

There is a golden moment here for Garcetti.  Will he will catch it?

It would be tragic for the future of the city if he stops short of getting real change and then faces an alienated and empowered IBEW and its supporters.

He really has one shot, one chance to get it right. He needs to find the guts and to understand that real reform requires confronting the real problem headon and exciting the public to back him.

Dick Riordan failed because he loved the people but didn’t respect them; Hahn failed because it took too much work and imagination to transcend the shadow of his father Kenny Hahn’s outdated “pothole politics,” and Villaraigosa failed because fine wine and fine women meant more to him than fulfilling the hopes and dreams of those who believed and trusted him.

Who Eric Garcetti is will soon be clear.

But he needs to know that if he gives in here, nothing he does for the next four or eight years or for the rest of his life will be anything but ego-satisfying without consequence to the values he says he holds sacred.

But he if finds the strength and courage to win this fight, he gets to tackle the next big issue and the one after that and to build momentum with a growing army of ordinary people from all walks of life and backgrounds who only want a better life for the themselves and their families and neighbors and the city as a whole.

With a chance of greatness, with the opportunity to help LA finally find its soul that brings everyone together, it is unthinkable that Eric Garcetti would make the wrong choice — unthinkable but not impossible.

Is Half A DWP-IBEW Deal Better Than A Real Deal? It’s up to Garcetti — and You

It was unusual, unprecedented, an historic event symbolizing City Hall’s commitment to transparency, to an open and honest public conversation on an issue of great importance: The outrageous high wages and benefits granted over the years to the Department of Water and Power workers and the outrageous rate hikes imposed on customers, even the 20 percent who get hefty discounts, even the 40 percent hit with huge bills in the summer’s broiling heat San Fernando Valley.

Every element of that sentence represents a triumph for community activists, Neighborhood Councils and everyone else who has cared enough to try to do something to make L.A. a better city despite the reign of havoc of the tyranny of a minority majority that attained near absolute power over processes and information thanks to the bottomless pit of money coming from labor-business-developer special interests that profit handsomely from the public’s business at the public’s expense.

Nothing about the “unusual, unprecedented, historic” event would have been said previously, the event wouldn’t even been held if they weren’t afraid of the people, that something just might trigger a reaction that would awaken the zombied populace to action.

Friday’s joint meeting of two key Council committees was called to discuss in public the proposed deal between the DWP and its union, IBEW Local 18, to clear the way so DWP officials, with the “Rate Payer Advocate” so evidently in tow, could come forward quickly for approval of another series of major rate hikes on top of the 52 percent imposed for electricity in the last six years.

Propagandist Supreme Paul Krekorian, as the Councilman in charge, was proud to pay homage to the “unusual,unprecedented, historic” nature of this “open and transparent” event — words that had never before spoken in such earnestness in this Temple of Democracy, as the mayor describes it.

Assisted by rising City Council star Felipe Fuentes, he led the public and his colleagues through a more than three-hour performance worthy of theatrical awards though it did drag as he went on and on through the drudgery of having each and every highly paid member of the cast of bureaucrats formerly known as public servants — the CLA, the CAO, the CEO, the RPA, the CA — swear allegiance to the story that was so well scripted and choreographed with such attention to detail. It was hard not to wonder why they never work as hard to solve the people’s problems as they do to conceal them.

They intended to leave no openings in the logic and facts presented. Cynics, skeptics and heretics were lying in wait, ready to drive enough truth through such openings to catch the ear and open the minds of a populace so obviously blind to reality, or so oblivious to reality, that they were incapable of reaction to anything one degree less the a gun in the face or a massive earthquake.

Trying to penetrate the false premises and gross omissions of fact among so many other intellectual and moral flaws that seem to be part and parcel to politics these days was meant to be so challenging that few would try and even if anyone got past the numerous layers of deceit, they would find it took so long to explain that only people who already knew the truth would pay attention.

The reason the event was structured as “unusual, unprecedented, historic” was because those people who know the truth about what is wrong have found so many chinks in the armor protecting this concrete fortress that something could go seriously wrong. After all, they have been walking a fiscal tightrope for so long and are so deeply indebted to benefactors that they would sell just anything, cut any deal or say just about anything if they could last another day in hopes of the miracle that could save them from the consequences of their failures, their betrayals of the public trust.

It was a pandering tribute to the risk they face of inflaming public passions, yet some who some who could have shown courage groveled at their feet, some critics sought nothing more than time to talk the issues to death as they have been so comfortable doing for so long and, in a brilliant masterstroke by the Master of Ceremonies Herb Wesson, they were all reduced to being a claque clapping on his cue for the very people they should be shunning.

It has been more than 20 years, through at least three major recessions and four mayors, since DWP workers went without raises — some years getting 5.9 percent more, every year getting more, leaving everyone else on the city payroll, even cops and firefighters, and employees in other utilities, green with envy.

But this was different and everybody who profits from the public’s willingness to pay high taxes and fees and endure soaring rates was delighted by what’s good about the deal: The IBEW is willing to defer its 2 percent raise due in October for four years, agree to tougher pension rules and lower salaries for new employees only and accept at least a few of the reforms on pensions that other city unions have lived with since the recession hit five years ago — but not health care, overtime or more than 600 special advantages they enjoy among so many other issues.

“It’s a start,” said one city official after another.

The same sentiment was echoed by even the most critical and passionate opponents but they all added it was not an end, not a solution to what is broken. It is after all based on nothing but the same kinds of tinkering that has perpetuated this fiscal catastrophe for five years without an end in sight unless you believe the city’s fanciful claims based on nothing but the dream that L.A. will become the greenest, cleanest, most wonderful big city in the world, the No. 1 destination for everyone with money to spend in search of the greatest time of their life and for everyone without two pennies to rub together to try to do great things and find happiness and freedom.

The fatal flaw is that the deal on the table doesn’t solve the city’s or the DWP’s problems because it is based on the city’s failed policies over years. It is based on a hope and a prayer that 30 years from now, somehow, a miracle perhaps, everything will turn out just right with public employees wages and benefits in line with the revenue streams that treat everyone fairly and with high-quality services that engender a feeling across all the divisions of being part of something greater than ourselves.

But they had to admit the deal on the table would mean less than a 2 percent reduction in water and power rate INCREASES over the next four years — a period in which ratepayers are girding for hikes of 20 or 30 or even 40 percent. It’s better but it’s nowhere near good enough.

There’s no mystery to why it’s not good enough: Once an employer takes off the table the possibility of give-backs and wage reductions and real reforms of benefits and work rules, what leverage is there? Only to give away more, never less.

And that’s why the big lie they told matters so much.

Under the law, employers and unions are required to negotiate in good faith and provide a factual rationality to their positions. But if nothing comes of the negotiations, the employer can declare an impasse and impose its “last, best and final offer” as Glendale did to the IBEW union in union after long unfruitful negotiations. The offer cut everyone’s pay 1.75 percent and it stays in effect until the conflict is resolved.

It doesn’t work that way in L.A. — or so every official involved swore on a stack of reports and studies.

All those highly paid bureaucrats who said exactly what the Council wanted to hear agreed that L.A. has such a cumbersome procedure for reaching an impasse and imposing wage and benefits conditions that a year would pass and under the city’s rules a new round of negotiations would have to start and take most of a year, meaning they could never reach the end point of imposing the “last, best and final offer.”


The two committees that met jointly were the Budget and Finance Committee — Krekorian, Englander, Koretz, Blumenfield and Bonin — and Energy and Environment — Fuentes, Blumenfield, LaBonge, Huizar and Koretz.

Could it be a coincidence that the Westsider Bonin and the Eastsider Huizar were nowhere in evidence, leaving only the six Council members from the Valley — members who with Nury Martinez carve up the Valley into demographic cohorts that dilute the representation of less than 40 percent of the city’s population by giving them nearly 50 percent of the Council members, all them beholden to special interests mainly over the hill?

It was not a mistake that this was the case. Council President Herb Wesson, driving for a rapid approval of a half-loaf deal — instead of the real deal that is sitting there for the taking — made it clear at the outset that it’s the Valley that could upset everything and that’s why he produced this spectacle.

As someone who has created a vast body of journalism relevant to what is being raised for nearly 30 years, I can say with certainty that the Valley no longer has any significance in the politics of Los Angeles. There is no leadership. There is no sense of place. There is no vehicle for the desperately needed conversation that could save the remnants of the middle class from city policies.

And that’s what makes so significant the comments made to the City Council by the Valley business community’s spokesman, Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.

Neighborhood Council leaders and community activists, even the all-powerful Central City Association, all testified to the Council that the deal on the table was a start but it was not good enough. More needs to be done and more time needs to be taken.


Yet, with six Valley Council members as witnesses, all of them elected on the power of money from the outside, the Valley business community called the deal “incredible” and “a great start that really could change the face of the city … it needs to be done by Oct. 1.”

That was an important goal of this farce: Disarming the Valley.

But not so fast. There is a surprising twist that leaves an opening for people all over the city from every walk of life and every political stripe to rise above the banality of what is on the table and recognize that we are at a critical crossroads that demands we rise above the b.s. and see how our lives and fortunes are bound together.

I have hardly written anything for a long time because I have beaten the horse of LA corruption to death and have nothing further to say, convinced that calamity is a certainty and that tragically it will be the most vulnerable who suffer, not the perpetrators.

Eric Garcetti has taken a stand against this half-loaf deal and shaken up the DWP Commission with four new appointees, including Jills Banks Barad, founder and longtime head of the Valley of Neighborhood Councils, She was one of Garcetti’s appointees to the DWP board year still had the courage to testify Friday that we need a better deal.

If you will not mobilize across this city now for a chance to demand real reforms of the DWP and of every aspect of the way the city is run, when will you do it?

My Sunday Column: Glendale’s decision, L.A’s problem — Running Municipal Utilities for the Public or the Union’s Benefit

This is a tale of two cities — yours and mine, each with its own water and power utility companies.

In your city, base rates for electricity did not go up for six years until the City Council narrowly approved a plan last week to raise rates by nearly 29% compounded over five years amid warnings that the utility could go broke by  2017

In my city, rates soared more than 50% during that same period of time with near unanimous votes of City Council every time in the face of warnings the utility could go broke without the money. Hefty increases are planned for the next five years as well.

In your city, Glendale Water & Power employees worked without a contract for two years, suffered the indignity of having their wages unilaterally cut by the city in June, and faced a significant reduction in the number of workers.

In my city, utility workers have gotten huge pay raises year after year — up to 6% for five years and as much as 4% more recently, even as many other city workers were getting nothing and having to pay more for pensions and health care. In addition, as many as 1,400 city workers were transferred to the L.A. Department of Water and Power to protect their jobs when the city’s General Fund was running out of money.

You live in Glendale, which has a long history of fiscal responsibility.

I live in Los Angeles, which has a long history of fiscal irresponsibility.

Lucky you, unlucky me!

“Our employees haven’t had cost-of-living increases since 2008. We have shared the increase in medical 50-50,” City Manager Scott Ochoa told the Council during last week’s debate on rate hikes.

“When you consider that our employees pay a greater share of their own employment than anybody in this region, and possibly anybody in the state, it will ultimately have an impact when raises are being given at different levels on three sides of us,” Ochoa said.

“It’s a situation where if we can’t afford it, we can’t give it,” he added, “and if we can’t give it, we’re telling our employees just not to ask for it. The council expressed its leadership on the subject by imposing on IBEW. And that has had its reverberations, not even in Glendale, but throughout the region still today.”

Glendale’s tough stand in the face of demands by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, has indeed reverberated in my city, where giving into the union’s bully boss Brian D’Arcy has become a fact of life and led to an astronomical IBEW wage premium.

Historically, in L.A., negotiations with the IBEW have amounted to nothing more than blackmail.

D’Arcy puts on the table a long series of demands for outrageous increases in wages and benefits and threatens to strike and cut off water and power in the nation’s second-largest city.

Officials elected with IBEW campaign cash, or those who fear that union money may be used against them, surrender quickly.

This time around, D’Arcy has given the city an ultimatum: Officials have until Sept. 1 to approve his offer for a new four-year contract, although the current contract doesn’t expire until a year after that.

It’s a sign of the changing times that the offer would defer the 4% raises due this October, saving $25 million, until the last year of the new contract and there would be no raises until then, although it will do nothing to solve the wage disparities with other city workers who also aren’t going to get wage increases.

City Council President Herb Wesson, the former Assembly Speaker who helped create massive deficits in the state, and his colleagues — most of them beholden to the IBEW for their positions — are in a mad rush to approve the deal quickly.

Wesson canceled the council’s regular meeting Friday to hold an extraordinary joint committee hearing to stage a public relations event to sell the deal so it can be approved rapidly without any serious independent analysis.

But the Glendale reverberation is fully in evidence.

Neighborhood Councils are holding an unprecedented citywide Town Hall meeting on Monday to discuss the situation. Activists who have played a major role in recent years in successfully pushing for reforms within the L.A. Department of Water and Power, including creation of a rate payer advocate, have called for a 90-day delay for further study and to organize opposition.
For his part, Mayor Eric Garcetti has signaled that IBEW’s proposal doesn’t go anywhere far enough to bring LADWP wages in line with other city workers or workers in other utilities.

And newly-elected City Controller Ron Galperin — the only independent voice serving in city elective office — dropped a bombshell on Thursday by releasing a report that exposed just how big the IBEW wage premium is.

Base salaries for utility workers at just under $95,000 a year are $216 higher than those for police and fire employees, but they get 16.6% more in overtime and other premiums compared to 9.2% extra for public safety workers and 1.2% for civilian employees.

On average, IBEW members are paid 20% to 40% more than civilian employees even when they do the same jobs like garage attendants, janitors and accountants.

Much of the wage disparity is caused by existing contract provisions that include more than 600 separate pay codes for overtime, hazardous situations, meal reimbursements, and bonuses for inclement weather, cement work and operating special equipment, Galperin reported.

It’s a hopeful sign that the reverberation from Glendale’s stand has helped spark even this much debate, but it will test the new mayor’s toughness and the community’s ability to mobilize opposition to stop the City Council from accepting an offer made out D’Arcy’s “generosity,” as one member newly-elected with nearly $90,000 in IBEW money called it, warning that rejection could trigger “anger, frustration, disappointment and that can turn into a strike.”

It’s the same old tough luck story for the public: Give them the money or they strike.

(THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN SUNDAY’S GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

My Sunday Column: Glendale Power Assn. vs. IBEW — The 21 Power Plant Operators Who Stood Up to the Union Bullies

The moral premise of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 as often expressed by union boss Brian D’Arcy is clear and to the point:

“My responsibility is to look after the welfare of my members.”

That narrow worldview puts the IBEW on par with greedy bankers, polluting corporations and so many others in this narcissistic era and it has worked pretty well for employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Through good times and bad, they have gotten raises every year for the past eight years, sometimes as much as 5.9%, and overall make as much as 40% and 50% more than others in the city workforce.

In 2010, that promise of huge raises lured Glendale Water & Power workers to pull out of the Glendale City Employees Assn. and join Local 18.

But instead of pay raises, they have gotten pay cuts. And three years later, they don’t have a contract — which isn’t exactly looking after the welfare of members very well.

That’s what prompted Greg Strong to get the 20 other power plant operators to join him in signing cards to pull out of the IBEW and form their own labor organization, the Glendale Power Assn.

On Wednesday at a hearing before City Manager Scott Ochoa that is required under city ordinance, Strong got to make his case for recognizing his breakaway union, the IBEW got to state why their petition should be denied and other city unions got to have their say.

“We would prefer to choose our unit, our own representatives, our own organization. We have demonstrated that we can better represent ourselves,” Strong told Ochoa. “If we get recognized, I know these guys are ready. We feel we can best represent ourselves.”

Pressed to explain why other Glendale utility workers, especially maintenance and others who work at the power plant were not involved, Strong said there was interest from a lot of workers besides the operators but they are waiting to see what happens.

“Maybe they’re afraid to separate from the IBEW. There’s a big intimidation factor,” Strong said.

You can’t put it more gentlemanly than that.

Local 18 under D’Arcy’s leadership has earned a well-deserved reputation as a bully, threatening to shut off the water and power supply to L.A.’s four million people if city officials — many elected with millions of dollars from the IBEW — didn’t give into his demands.

His extortion tactics have created a “DWP wage gap” and contributed to soaring water and power rates even as L.A. deals with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a poverty rate of more than 25 percent.

The “intimidation factor” was clearly in evidence at Wednesday’s hearing both inside and outside the City Council chamber.

In the hallway, IBEW assistant business manager Gus Corona confronted Craig Hinkley, president of the Glendale City Employees Assn., for daring to suggest that all employees should “have the ability to be represented by those they feel most comfortable with” and for offering to welcome the power plant operators back into the fold if they want to rejoin.

In front of several witnesses, Corona threatened “to get” the city employee union and its president, an apparent violation of state law protecting public employees.

For his part, IBEW lawyer Bill Heine, chose to ignore the ground rules set out by Ochoa at the outset and repeated numerous times: This was not an adversarial hearing but a chance for each side to present their point of view and the facts supporting their position.

Signaling his intention to sue if the IBEW doesn’t win, Heine brought a court reporter with him and disrupted the proceedings dozens of times with objections about relevancy and materiality, demanded the right to cross-examine witnesses and called for Ochoa to be removed because of bias although the city has taken no position on the issue.

In fact, that was what the hearing was about, to hear presentations from all interested parties so Ochoa can decide, based on legal criteria, whether to recognize the renegades.

Under the city’s employee relations ordinance, a new union should be recognized by the city based on meeting a series of specifics such as assuring “employees the fullest freedom in the exercise of their rights” as well as their community of interest, the effect on efficiency of operations and the impact on the job classification structure.

Heine would have none of it, saying at the end of his lengthy presentation, “If there are any other presentations here, I should have the right to respond to those.”

“The process I outlined at 8:30 is the process we’re talking about here at 10:30,” Ochoa said, making it clear that he should make whatever statement he wants “here today right now.”

Ochoa finally lost his patience as Heine repeatedly interrupted Strong and Don Dorroh, vice president of the Glendale Power Assn., with objections to just about everything they said.

“So thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. Heine. Thank you, Mr. Heine,” Ochoa said, his voice rising to a shout to drown out the lawyer.

“If you would like, sir, what we can do at this point in time is to allow you to excuse yourself because you will still be allowed to make a written statement to us encompassing all of your past… fury about the inappropriateness of the statements and testimony provided by these two employees …

“Would you like to clear the room, would you like to clear the room. Then please, then please, hold on you will be able to make every objection within that written statement.”

It was all just theater to intimidate and set up grounds for a costly lawsuit. You can be sure that whatever decision Ochoa makes after receiving written submissions on Aug. 19 that he will do everything he can to make it defensible under city and state law.

There is no other way to deal with bullies.

(THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED SUNDAY JULY 28 IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS, AN L.A. TIMES COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER)

 

My Sunday Column: Valley Leadership Gears Shift — Krekorian Promises He’s “Ready to Focus on Substantial Priorities”

As the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments celebrated its third anniversary last week, one thing was perfectly clear: It was set up to fail by Los Angeles city and county officials and succeeding spectacularly at doing so.

Utterly nothing was achieved in those three years, so the politicians, as usual, found a fall guy to blame for their failure, the guy who did the work, Robert Scott, a longtime Valley business and community leader who served as the council’s executive director from its inception.

Without so much as a thank you for his efforts, Scott, a prominent figure in the Valley secession movement, found out he was being dumped in the same short email sent to other rejected applicants:

“The board considered each applicant’s proposal with a great deal of scrutiny. Ultimately, a unanimous decision was reached, which directed staff to commence negotiations with another firm…We once again thank you for your interest in working with the San Fernando Valley COG. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. Thank you.”

It doesn’t get much colder than that.

So who did the elected officials who sit on the COG board — seven L.A. Council members, county supervisors Michael Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky and one council member each from Glendale, Burbank, Santa Clarita and San Fernando —choose to replace him?

A lobbyist!

The audacity of the decision to hire Steven Afriat Consulting to lead a government agency created to bring more public transit and economic development to the region, to get grants and funding to solve the community’s problems, is astonishing on its face.

Afriat reported billings of $9.8 million over the last 10 years for lobbying L.A. City Hall and has a team of lobbyists currently registered to represent clients that include billboard companies, West Side developers, trash haulers and Walmart.

The Afriat website boasts it helped the adult entertainment industry force L.A. to repeal an anti-lap-dance ordinance, construction companies to win the subway tunnel and station contracts and advertising companies get “lucrative” street furniture and public transit contracts.

Now don’t get me wrong: Steve Afriat is a more honorable guy than most in his profession, but lobbyists are part of the process of money and favors that has corrupted our political system.

The meeting Thursday at Van Nuys City Hall began as these quarterly events usually do nearly half an hour late as board members straggled in.

Only six of the 13 elected officials who sit on the board attended, including Antonovich, who arrived late. Three L.A. council seats were filled by staff members, while the San Fernando member and L.A.’s Bob Blumenfield, Paul Koretz and Mitch Englander were no-shows.

Two-term COG Chairman Ara Najarian of Glendale set the tone at the outset by asserting they had made “some progress” and expressing hope that there will be “modifications to our voting procedures” — a reference to the fact that the COG is paralyzed by a unanimous vote rule that gives veto power to any of the 13 members to make sure those little cities don’t get away with anything.

It was then time to elect a new chair. Only L.A.’s Paul Krekorian was nominated, prompting concern from Antonovich aide Jarrod DeGonia who asked if he could abstain.

“You need it unanimous,” he was told.

Antonovich arrived at that moment and murmured his assent, so Krekorian took over as chairman.

Acknowledging there had been “growing pains,” he promised he was “ready to focus on substantial priorities,” such as transportation and economic development.

With that, Santa Clarita’s Marsha McLean nominated herself for vice chairwoman, but the one-for-all, all-for-one unanimity rule came up again when Burbank’s Jess Talamantes also was nominated. McLean got only two votes and graciously withdrew.

Talamantes talked about how they had “gone through a lot of tough terrain,” but he “sees a bright future for the San Fernando COG working together. We can make this happen…if we work as a team.”

It was time, then, to ratify the hiring of Afriat Consulting, specifically Jaime Rojas, a former head of the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as executive director for just under $46,000 a year.

 

The COG’s year-end financial report was presented showing it has $75,000 in the bank — an amazing figure considering that each city and the county puts up only $10,000 a year without regard to size or number of votes, a total of just $60,000.

 

Most of the surplus came from the highly successful “Mobility Summit” that the ousted Robert Scott organized last fall to get funds so the COG could get grants and hire experts. But the board couldn’t agree unanimously on how to spend the money.

 

“What a pleasant surprise to have $75,000 in our account balance,” Najarian said disingenuously, since the surplus was old news.

 

I talked at length last week with Afriat and Rojas, who both have deep roots in the Valley community, and swear they didn’t take this gig for the money. They think they can help move it forward and avoid the conflict-of-interest problems inherent for a firm that does so much business in the various government agencies in the area, including representing Santa Clarita in fights with L.A. city and county.

 

“We know what the reality is with the COG, but we owe it to where we live and where we work to see what we can do to make things better,” Rojas said. “We see it as an opportunity to build on the foundation Bob Scott built to make this as important an agency as the COGs elsewhere in the county.”

 

Time will tell but the plain fact is the COG has been a waste of time and money, only lightly attended by elected officials, with rules and funding that ensure failure.

It will be another three months before the COG meets again, so we won’t know if anything will change at least until then and whether the promises to get the Valley region a fairer share of public resources are real, or just more hot air.

(THIS COLUMN WAS PUBLISHED SUNDAY JULY 12 BY THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

Adios, Antonio, Fare Thee Well

You got to love Antonio; he would have it no other way.

The bane of his life back when he was first running for mayor in 2005, even well after he got elected, was the LA Times and others incessantly calling him “the first Latino mayor of Los Angeles in modern times.”

He often brought the subject up with me because at the Daily News we refused to belittle him as if he were some kind of token of affirmative action, a racial-ethnic category to be checked off so everybody was put in their proper box, the cohort that chained them to their genetic and demographic code.

So you had to laugh at the Times’ farewell to Antonio on Saturday where he is shown poignantly hugging chief of staff Gaye Williams in his empty City Hall suite of offices with a photo caption that says “he is proud that his status as ‘the Latino mayor’ is no longer the main focus of conversation about him.”

That phrase also serves to set up the first quote, the money quote, in the Times’ coverage: “Almost nobody in this town describes me as the Latin mayor. I love that.”

Some people never did. They chose to see something better in the punk from City Terrace who pulled himself up by his bootstraps with the seductive charm of his personality and inspired hope in the city, hope that we somehow could dream together and find the lost soul of this godless city, hope that he captured in his first inaugural address:

We come here to transcend our differences, to meet our collective challenges, and to define our mutual dreams, to take a stock of who we are and what we stand for, to remember where we came from, and to decide where we need to go.

Los Angeles is not only the one city that best embodies bold dreams. It is the destination of people’s imaginations, all around the world, whether or not they ever set foot here.

Fellow Angelenos, I’m asking you to dream with me, because our city not only represents America’s greatest hope. We also face many of its most daunting challenges.

Seen from the Hollywood Hills at night, L.A. spreads out like a field of diamonds. And it truly is. But we also know that this shimmering vision obscures a darker truth. We know that there’s a whole world of frustration lurking in the shadows between the lights, where too many parents fear for their children’s safety, where too many people are denied the opportunity to fully develop their God-given talents, and where too many families are swimming against the tide of a declining quality of life.

For so many who matter in L.A., the rhetoric in his speech about “thinking big” like the Chandlers and their pals and the big shots had for a 150 years were the words that resonated and turned out to be the words he meant.

But for me, the words the meant something to me were about dreams, hopes and ideals that could lead to a better city, a better world.

With a guy like Antonio, we latch onto the part we hope is real so what I took seriously was what I felt reflected the man I had come to know over the years, a flawed man like all of us, but one who understood what was wrong and what needed to be done to fix it.

The problems were big: There was a failure of leadership over a long period of time that had allowed the police to get away with murder literally and figuratively, allowed City Hall to become a self-service cafeteria for public servants and their friends, allowed the streets and sidewalks, the pipes and power lines to age and fall apart.

Most of all what was wrong was that LA was a great place but it still wasn’t a city. There was no transcendent vision that we could all embrace, a recognition that our lives are all bound together, that we could rise above efforts to divide us by our race and religion and neighborhood and class and sexual preferences and anything else that can be used to compartmentalize communities of interest and keep them from finding common ground.

“We need a new spirit of Los Angeles,” Dick Riordan called it often, suggesting there might once have been a unifying spirit to the city. But I doubted it.

Antonio was our last and best hope, I believed. We had reached the point of no return where over a quarter century “white flight” had become “middle-class flight,” where the needs of the soaring numbers of poor people had overwhelmed the schools and the services system — genuine community needs that were used to justify to justify the decisions that for deterioration of the quality of life in neighborhoods.

The tax base had eroded, leaving City Hall increasingly dependent on a begrudging  middle-class fed up with being stuck with the bills and getting worse services.

And then came Antonio — the man who captured the imagination of so many from all across the city, the man who could excite 50 staunch Republican ladies and gentlemen in the Valley lined up to shake his hand and wish him well in reaching out to every community with respect and open the doors and windows to a healthier public conversation and a greater city for everyone.

Those were the days, there early days.  

It took Antonio barely a month to make his choice on who he was — he signed off on a 6 percent a year for five years pay raise dealwith the DWP’s union, Brian D’Arcy’s IBEW. It was Jimmy Hahn’s dirty deal, not his, the start of putting politics over public policy.

And the politics dictated putting political stooges and men of questionable character in charge of the city’s most valuable resource, the DWP. They inevitably increased City Hall’s share of electricity revenue by 60 percent to nearly 20 percent of total bills. Then, the monthly garbage charge to homeowners (only) was tripled to play for police to protect the entire city but only a third of the money made it to the cops — the rest went down the drain of political, not policy, decisions.

Two years later, he had no choice but to keep the labor peace by giving 5 percent raises to other city unions to cement his power even as he was politicizing every department by brow-beating top bureaucrats into submission and demanding total obedience from citizen commissions.

The rest is history.

When the recession hit in 2008, the city’s payroll costs and obligations were far greater than its revenue streams. His answer was to squeeze the public even harder with hikes in rates and fees, to pull out all stops for a sales tax hike for the subway-to-sea, and other rail projects, a billion-dollar HOV lane through Sepulveda Pass.

What had been pay-to-play under his predecessor became an organized pandering to the interests of developers, contractors, consultants and labor unions with Eric Garcetti as City Council President making certain that no criticism was tolerated by demanding unanimity from his colleagues 99.4 percent of the time.

It is no more Antonio’s fault than the fault of every office holder, and the business, civic and labor elites, and the community leaders who accepted the flattery and petty favors as if they were peons grateful from the generosity of the lords of the manor.

It is the fault of all of us for our pathetic efforts at resistance, our myopic preoccupation with our own little interests without seeing the pattern of abuse and how it was hardening up into a headless political machine that was just as greedy as all those who exercised money and greedily amassed wealth throughout the city’s history.

Antonio Villaraigosa could have been somebody; he could have been a contender for bigger things. He could have been great.

The pundits and professors, the insiders and observers all agree he wasn’t as bad as mayor as his critics say or as good as his acolytes say.

They credit him with expanding rail lines, pressing for education reform, overcoming DWP and labor resistance to green energy, a bigger police force and blame him for his failure to show courage in the economic crisis, for failing to create jobs while handing millions in taxpayer subsidies to developers and the wealthy, for putting politics ahead of policy.

We didn’t hire Antonio to be a manager of the bureaucracy. He was unqualified for that job, lacking any managerial experience. He wasn’t even smart enough to pass the bar exam despite four tries. He was the 11 percent mayor who partied in public and in private at the expense of special interests.

No, the Antonio we elected was supposed to be a leader, somebody who could inspire us to “transcend our differences, to meet our collective challenges, and to define our mutual dreams,” somebody we could dream great dreams with, somebody we could help our city fulfill its destiny as “America’s greatest hope.”

Antonio Villaraigosa didn’t live up to the expectations he created but who could in a city where those who wield money and power now as always serve themselves and the millions of ordinary people are so easily divided and conquered.

The funny thing, the sad thing, about his story is he living like a king these last eight years in a mansion with servants and drivers and bodyguards and hundreds of people at his beck and call were enough to make him feel that he achieved success beyond his wildest dreams.

And he did. We just didn’t know that’s what he meant when he said “dream with me.”

So don’t cry for Antonio. Don’t for a second doubt that the laws of karma are as inexorable as ever.

Antonio’s punishment is that he still needs to live like a king and the only way he could rake in the dough to pay those kinds of bills is to spend his life in his official capacity as the “former first Latino mayor of Los Angeles.”

You watch he will be reinvented as America’s Latino Ambassador to the world of corporations and foundations who will pay him well to front for them so well just as he did for similar interests in his hometown.

He’s made friends all over the world in high places and in low places, people who understand the choices he made and why he made them.

So do I. I think he did a helluva job playing the part he created. The test of the man is what he does now that’s he’s just a has-been like so many of us. I wouldn’t under-estimate the genius of the man.

Adios, Antonio, fare thee well.

Zine Slip-Slides Away with Double-Dipping Pensions as Council Readies to Nuke Hollywood with Millennium Project

The 80 percent who don’t vote and the 90 percent who don’t even pay attention are right – nothing can be done about the political pestilence that is eating at the soul of the city.

A century ago, the great muckraker Lincoln Steffens wrote the “Shame of the Cities” about how a little corruption helped cities to work better for the common good but pervasive corruption destroyed the quality of life and economic opportunity.

It’s why I became a journalist. It’s why I believed that information could set people free or at least create a balance of interest, values and needs.

I was wrong. It can’t be done when a system is so impacted as the politics of Los Angeles.

For two hours Wednesday, the City Council and a cadre of his constituents who personally benefited in one way or another from Dennis Zine’s years of public self-service celebrated him as a tireless worker for the public benefit – a sentiment that was clearly half true since Dennis is the epitome of opportunism, a man finally rejected at the polls as he should have been so long ago when he wept on street corners to save the disgraced Police Chief Daryl Gates or himself with a female officer on a police union junket.

It was an orgy of self-congratulations as every Council member with the notable absence of his onetime boss, the former Police Chief, Councilman Bernard Parks, offered personal tribute to the greatness of the man – all of which amounted as much to praise of themselves as Zine’s tireless efforts to aggrandize himself with anyone who would listen and take a gift of the city’s money.

In truth, Dennis is no more a villain than any of the rest of them, just more shameless which ought to be the title of he sequel to Lincoln Steffens book: “Los Angeles: City Without Shame.”

Exhausted by their self-indulgence, the Council soon retired to a close session for lunch and drinks with Zine in the back room supposedly to consider the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s idiotic proposal to create an unbelievably costly and wasteful city health department, offering no more argument than that sexual practices among some are still so reckless syphilis is almost as rampant as it is in Russia.

And without public fanfare to agree to pay $4.1 million to the the two newspaper delivery women wounded in a barrage of pre-dawn gunfire from half a dozen LAPD officers on a stakeout to protect a commander from retaliation by Christopher Dorner.

What was left on the table, tabled in fact for another day, was the plum of city business that actually has the few who still care and believe reform is possible aroused to action despite the irrelevance of their concerns to Zine and his imperious colleagues.

It is the Millennium Project in Hollywood – a massive development that will be the centerpiece of transforming Hollywood into an imitation Times Square in New York or Ginza in Tokyo, driving up property values that will force long-time businesses and residents to flee to West Covina or beyond.

Here is the concluding passage of a 56-page challenge to what the ethically challenged Planning Commission and morally-challenged PLUM Committee (Reyes, Huizar and Englander) have approved in the face of numerous legal problems. It was submitted by land use and public interest attorney Robert Silverstein and his associate Daniel Wright and will undoubtedly form the basis of a lawsuit. (READ FULL LETTER MILLENIUM–6-18-13 FINAL Objection Letter for PLUM)

 THE CONDUCT OF CITY PLANNING OFFICIALS AND THE CITY ATTORNEY VIOLATE THE GOOD FAITH OBLIGATIONS OF THOSE WHO HOLD PUBLIC OFFICE.

The way in which the Millennium Hollywood Project entitlements are being processed by City officials marks an alarming departure from their mandatory duty to carry out the responsibilities of their offices with “disinterested skill, zeal, and diligence, and primarily for the benefit of the public.” Noble v. City of Palo Alto (1928) 89 Cal.App.2d 47, 51; Clark v. City of Hermosa Beach (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 1152, 1170.

It is a fundamental principle of law that public officers must obey the law, Wirin v. Parker (1957) 48 Cal.2d 890, 894, and they have absolutely no authority to decide to ignore laws they are duty bound by their office to carry out, whether or not they disagree with them. Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco (2004) 33 Cal. 4th 1055, 1079-1082.7

Our Supreme Court long ago confirmed that acceptance of election or appointment to a public office carries with it the duty to exercise good faith and diligence, even if the law does not expressly state it. San Diego County v. Utt (1908) 173 Cal. 554, 559-560. The Court of Appeal confirmed this principle in holding that a public officer is, as a result of holding his office, duty-bound to discharge those responsibilities with integrity and fidelity to the public that he or she serves. Terry v. Bender (1956) 143 Cal.App.2d 198, 206.

These fundamental precepts of public service have been discarded by the way the City Planning Department, the CPC, and City Councilman and soon-to-be-Mayor Eric Garcetti have overseen preparation of a scheme to break the “social contract” with the stakeholders living and working broadly in the City of Los Angeles, and specifically in the vicinity of the proposed Millennium Hollywood Project.

Since when does CEQA allow a developer not to commit to particular project before analyzing it for potential impacts and required mitigation?

Since when can the City Planning Director require a nearby property owner at Hollywood & Gower to seek and obtain a variance from the Advisory Agency’s regulation requiring 2.5 parking spaces per condominium unit, but the Millennium Developer is allowed to proceed as if the Advisory Agency’s regulation does not even exist?

Since when did the City of Los Angeles determine, in direct violation of CEQA mandates, that it could override the specific study directions given by Caltrans, a responsible agency under CEQA with specific rights and duties?

Since when does the City participate in the obfuscation of life and safety issues related to the proximity of an active earthquake fault within the Project site? The total lack of substantial evidence to support the false conclusion that the Hollywood Fault is far away from the Project site, the failure to address the data from Dr. Dolan of USC, and the suppression of the California Geological Survey’s 2010 Fault Map which shows active faults across the Millennium Site, shock the conscience. It most certainly does not comply with the requirements of CEQA or State law regarding building in, near or on an earthquake rupture zone.

Since when can a developer who has business before the City’s Planning Commission think he can “facilitate” his Project entitlements through the City by hiring the President of the City Planning Commission to work on the very Project Mr. Roschen and his Commission colleagues were asked to consider and approve?

Since when does the City Planning Department staff think that it can grant itself in a Q condition the power to approve secret variances from Project conditions imposed by the CPC, and unilaterally interpret the “intent” of those project conditions – in direct violation of law, including Terminal Plaza Corp. v. City and County of San Francisco (1986) 186 Cal.App.3d 814, 830-835?

Since when did the City of Los Angeles and the City Attorney conclude that they could allow a developer to write special development regulations that explicitly state that when adopted by the City (in a development agreement, and now a Q condition contract) the developer’s regulations would “prevail” over the City’s own Charter and Municipal Code?

And finally, since when did it become a policy and practice of the City to ignore applicable state and local laws en masse to approve completely inappropriate real estate projects while ignoring all duties of public trust, fidelity and good faith, and thus requiring communities to sue the City to compel its compliance with laws which our California and United States Supreme Courts say they must obey as public officials?

The City has committed a gross violation of the public trust in allowing the Millennium Hollywood Project to get this far. The law requires that City officials carry out their mandatory duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community by denying this Project and the subject EIR.

X. CONCLUSION.

On behalf of Appellant, its constituent groups, dozens of supporting neighborhood associations, and hundreds of thousands of Hollywood and City of Los Angeles residents, we urge you to reject the Project and its EIR entirely.

Why Government Robs You Blind: Because It Can — They Make and Enforce the Laws and Frighten You into Submission

Between pass-throughs and rate hikes and surcharges and transfers to other uses, you might have noticed your bills for water and power have been soaring for years.

You ain’t seen nothing yet — utilities are the certain cash cow for government at all levels, a reservoir of money that can be used just about anyway your elected officials want if they are lucky enough to operate their own water and/or power systems like the LADWP.com (a web address that makes clear it’s a business, not a government agency).

What with the Colorado River supply evaporated and the Owens Valley in revolt against being dried out for the benefit of LA and the state incapable of resolving the endless water wars between north and south, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is your broker, your advocate, your protector.

Not an honest one to be sure but it’s all you got to be confident that when you turn the tap, water of a heavily chemicalized nature will flow.

This is a desert after all and if you were down to your last drop of the precious fluid, you would pay just anything for it.

That’s the viewpoint adopted by public and private agencies increasingly in recent years to drive up your water rates dramatically with even sharper increases on the table and planned for years to come with the likelihood that more of your water will come from recycled what you flush down the the toilet and other reuses that require even more chemical treatment.

Now the MWD like the LADWP and other water agencies have decided to squeeze every cent they can from you under threat that you will be left high and dry if you don’t pay up.

Of course, you know nothing about this.

MWD is as obscure as a critically important public agency could be. It supplies most of the water to nearly 20 million people who are represented by political appointees from six counties of Southern California.

The MWD is awash in your money. Here’s the annual percentage increases imposed  since 2008: 6%, 14%, 20%, 7.5%, 7.5%, 5% and 5% more come Jan. 1.

Wow, you might say, water is getting really expensive. But that isn’t the case. The main problem is you are using less water even in these dry times when rainfall and snowpack are low.

The MWD supplied 2.26 million acre feet of water in 2008, 2.16 million in 2009, dropping to 1.77 million in 2010 and staying in that range with 1.70 million acre feet anticipated this year and next.

It is the charges to cities and water companies that have soared while the MWD budget itself has remained more or less the same at $1.8 billion a year.

What has changed is the reserve fund, the rainy day water fund to deal with the unforeseen.

The 7.5% rate hike in 2012 produced a surplus of $97 million but that didn’t stop the MWD Board — dominated by LA and its satellite cities sort of like the Soviet Union and its satellite countries — from rejecting calls for a modest 3 % hike this year, imposing a 5 % increase instead.

The result is a windfall surplus of $217 million in the 12 months ending June 30 and a reserve fund so awash in cash that it has $549 million in the bank — $75 million more than it is allowed to have in reserve by its own rules and state law despite metrics on debt, costs and infrastructure needs that are as healthy as they have ever been.

So why does the MWD want to hoard even more money by changing the rules they made and sticking to a 5% rate increase that will add even more money?

And why does the LADWP which fought for nearly 50 years to eliminate property taxes as a major source of revenue rather than water sales now want  to slug homeowners and businesses with increased charges when LA has by far the highest property valuations?

It’s politics, all part of a back room deal you’re not supposed to know anything about, part of a grand scheme being hatched in smokeless rooms by the governor, legislators and power brokers in our cities and counties.

All they want is your money anyway they can get it even as in this case they don’t even know what to do with it.

Only one major organization is fighting this, the San Diego County Water Authority, whose paid “Get the Facts” advertisement outlining its long war over MWD policies is in the upper right hand corner of this page.

You can read the letter they sent to MWD officials here (2013-0605_MWD Board Items 8-1 and 8-2-1) and you can read the MWD board’s motions here (06112013 BOD 8-1 B-L-1) and here (06112013 BOD 8-2 B-L-1).

What San Diego wants is to have the $75 million in surplus charges returned to the agencies — all of which are seeking higher and higher rates for water as well as power — and could use the money to reduce the burden on their ratepayers.

It would mean a 21 percent refund or nearly $16 million to LA, nearly 22 percent or more than $16 million to San Diego that has long-standing grievance over MWD’s unfair  charges for transferring its water supply from the desert and relative amounts to all the cities and agencies that rely on MWD that offers no serious explanation of why it wants to hoard the public’s money. Here’s the chart: