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.

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 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: Activism and the 710 Freeway Tunnel — How People Power Has Stopped the Machine for 60 Years

Joanne Nuckols has put the people she calls “transportation bullies” in their place for decades.

She reels off the long, sordid history of South Pasadena’s fight against extending the 710 Freeway through her town, lawsuit by lawsuit, injunction by injunction, community action by community action, as the grassroots movement spread to include residents all along the corridor.

On Saturday, Nuckols and dozens of other activists joined by a cadre of elected officials from Glendale, La Cañada, Pasadena and South Pasadena were to stage a rally and press conference at Blair High School in Pasadena before the start of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s community meeting intended to sell the public on the virtue of a multi-billion-dollar, four-mile tunnel from Alhambra to Pasadena.

It has been a tough sell for 60 years, but transportation officials keep trying, with the full support of those who would benefit most: the engineers, contractors, truckers, unions as well as the politicians they keep in office.

“It’s so exciting to be involved, it’s like a revolution,” said Nuckols, who has been active on transportation issues almost since she and her husband moved to town in the late 1960s. “They treated us like we were just a little fly they could swat away. The defining moment came in ’73 when we got the first injunction against the freeway.”

Saturday’s protest, coming on the 14th anniversary of yet another injunction that blocked freeway construction, was called because of the fire that occurred a week ago in the northbound tunnel connecting the Pasadena Freeway to the I-5 when a tanker spilled 8,500 gallons of gas and set off an inferno, causing damage that will take a long time to repair.

A similar fire occurred six years ago in Santa Clarita when two dozen trucks crashed and burned in the southbound I-5 bypass tunnel — an event that prompted Nuckols and other activists to create a banner and yard signs to show “what can go wrong in a tunnel.”

Doug Failing, who was regional Caltrans director at the time of that crash but joined Metro as its highway construction expert after passage of the Measure R sales tax for transportation, is the target of much of the criticism from the No on 710 activists.

“You ask questions and you get no answers,” Nuckols said. “It’s like they’re tone deaf. They try to feed us this pablum, but we’re not eating it. They just ignore the fact that those tunnels should never be built and will never be built.”

The anti-freeway movement gained momentum and much broader support last summer when Metro included a possible tunnel or surface route on Avenue 64 through much of L.A.’s Eastside and the San Rafael neighborhood in west Pasadena.

All along the route, people got organized and forced Metro to abandon the plan that affected them directly. But they didn’t stop there; they kept working with other neighborhoods to pack meeting after meeting to challenge transportation officials, the community relations firm they hired and their technical experts, as well as rounding up support from the Pasadena City Council as well as La Cañada-Flintridge and Glendale officials.

The coalition now has multiple websites as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep everyone informed and involved.

“It’s very multilayered and complicated, but we have different guerrilla groups that go out and deal with different issues as part of the overall umbrella group.” Nuckols said.

“What’s so incredible is we get no response from Metro to the information and questions we raise,” she added. “That’s one of their big problems. They think we’re going to go away, but our group is just growing.”

One of the strongest supporters of the No 710 Action Committee’s campaign has been former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who reached out to Nuckols even before he first ran for a seat on the La Cañada-Flintridge City Council.

“The fight against the 710 has turned from a local issue into a regional issue of significant importance precisely because of the mounting public activism and the horrible approach taken by proponents,” said Portantino, one of the political figures who was slated to be at Saturday’s protest.

“Nothing gets folks more engaged and active than a poorly acted charade and MTA’s advocacy for a project that most folks feel will negatively impact the San Gabriel Valley and the city of Los Angeles,” Portantino added. “As a result, neighbors from across the region are seizing the moment, the initiative and making a difference.”

With a new L.A. mayor in Eric Garcetti, who is on the record as opposing the tunnel and has hired former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole, a long-time 710 opponent, as a top aide, the Metro board has the votes to kill the tunnel project once and for all and end the waste of tens of millions of dollars on something that is never going to happen.

In this rare case, where the people have gotten so well-organized, so informed, so strong, it should be clear that they are going to keep on truckin’ against the 710 gap project for as long as it takes.

The “transportation bullies” and the greed merchants who want this should be shown the door and the $780 million set aside for this boondoggle should be used to expand rail and rapid bus service in the region, synchronize lights and take other steps to improve the flow of traffic and movement of people.

That’s what people want, the people who pay the bills for all of this.

(THIS COLUMN WAS WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS AND OTHER LA TIMES COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS)

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.

My Sunday Column: The Valley’s Missed Opportunity

The meeting started late and it started badly, with a 10-minute argument about approving the minutes of the last meeting. Then it headed downhill.

Issues that were raised were sent to committees for further study, though no one was quite sure which members were on them or when they would be able to meet.

Welcome to the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments — a three-year-old coalition that was supposed to finally, belatedly, bring the cities of Glendale, Burbank, San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Los Angeles together to develop plans and raise funds to solve transportation and other regional problems like every other part of the county has been doing for so long.

But the Valley COG is not like the others. It was set up to fail.

There are 13 members: one council member from each from the smaller cities, seven council members who represent parts of the Valley in Los Angeles, and the two Los Angeles County supervisors who carve up the region, Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky.

Amazingly, every one of them has veto power. Even more incredibly, each of the smaller cities contributes $10,000, the same amount L.A. and the counties contribute, for a total annual budget of $60,000, a fraction of the funding provided to other COGs.

As the dysfunction has become painfully apparent in the last six months, it was inevitable that the politicians would need to find a fall guy.

Since the only employee is Executive Director Robert Scott, there were no other candidates. For more than a quarter century, Scott has been a driving force behind efforts to organize the Valley politically and economically, the last man standing from the Valley secession movement when others have moved on or been co-opted by the downtown power structure.

The focus of last week’s meeting was the same as several previous meetings: Find candidates to replace Scott, who has irritated some with his aggressive efforts to change the voting rules and get enough funding so the COG can get projects moving.

There are 18 candidates, including Scott, who will be considered at a special meeting June 17 or 24, depending on whether all 13 members can make it.

Getting members to meetings is a big problem, even though they are only held every two months, and on Thursdays, when there are no conflicts with other meetings.

Last week, only five of the 13 members showed up — Chairman Ara Najarian of Glendale, Jesse Avila of San Fernando, Marsha McLean of Santa Clarita and Paul Krekorian, one of the L.A. seven, and Yaroslavsky. Three others sent aides so they had a quorum.

Through a series of reports, the two professional politicians — Krekorian and Yaroslavsky — expressed repeated irritations that bookkeeping and financial operations were not up to the high standards they are used to in their giant governments with tens of thousands of employees.

There was some good news from the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority: Money left over from local projects can be used in the region — a long list that does not include improvements to the Ventura (101) Freeway through the Valley, as Coby King, chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., noted in a presentation.

“It is one of the most congested routes in the world,” King said, adding that “not talking about the 101 doesn’t do anything to fix the 101 … I know it’s a political hot potato, but we need to stop ignoring it.”

Yaroslavsky, long-time MTA board member and representative of much of the Valley, demanded King be specific: what problems, what solutions?

“If we approve something this global, than anything is possible,” he warned, recalling that proposals a decade ago to double-deck or widen the freeway created an uproar. “It could be interpreted by some that we are looking to get back into what was politically explosive in 2002 … I don’t know what this means, other than trouble.”

Added Krekorian: “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here. There’s been a lot of studies over the course of decades. There have been task forces convened, summits held.”

It was agreed, unanimously, to find out what’s already in the files and to consider, down the road, convening a task force to propose specific fixes someday.

With that, Santa Clarita’s McLean triggered another round of hand-wringing by asking for support for a resolution urging the Valley legislative delegation to vigorously oppose Gov. Jerry Brown‘s plan to “borrow” $500 million dollars earmarked for local governments from the cap-and-trade program.

“We all know how well they pay back loans,” she said. “Once it goes into the general fund, we have no say in it. It just disappears … I don’t know what you need to know beside that.”

Krekorian needed to know a lot, raising unanswerable question after question about possible effects on state finances and casting doubt that a “generic statement, ‘Don’t take our money'” would be taken seriously in Sacramento.

“We just don’t have enough information to make an informed decision … I don’t have anything in front of me,” he said.

But he gave in when it was pointed out that Bob Blumenfield is chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee and councilman-elect for the West Valley. He will be joining the COG board on July 1.

The Valley COG represents a missed opportunity for a region with more than 2 million people, 20% of the county.

It’s why the subway ends as it reaches the Valley, why light rail skirts Burbank and Glendale, why every other part of the county is getting major transit projects.

Unless the rules of the Valley COG are changed dramatically, the region will remain badly underserved — exactly the way officials downtown in the county Hall of Administration and L.A. City Hall want it to be.

(THIS ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE SUNDAY GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

My Sunday Column: Brains, talent, too much ambition — Paul Krekorian Angers Many in Little Armenia by Role in CD 13 Race

In the costliest and most vicious City Council race of the Los Angeles election season, the battle for Hollywood has shattered beliefs about Armenian solidarity, with Paul Krekorian‘s role seen as causing deep rifts in the community.

Little Armenia in East Hollywood is a key battleground area where Krekorian’s endorsement of labor union darling John Choi and the heavy-handed tactics that are being employed against Mitch O’Farrell, a popular council staffer, have enraged many local community leaders.

They claim Choi, a new resident of the district, with Krekorian’s help, hired Armenian campaign workers from Glendale to staff phone banks and walk door-to-door to confuse thousands of newly registered voters who are mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“Choi workers are telling voters they’re calling from my office and going to people’s homes and using my name and saying that I’m for Choi and telling old people that they’ll lose their low-income housing and benefits,” said Sam Kbushyan, son of a prominent Little Armenia restaurateur and the third-place finisher in a primary field of 12 who more than doubled Armenian voter registration during his campaign.

Choi, for his part, has repeatedly denied the accusations, claiming its actually O’Farrell’s workers misrepresenting themselves.

Kbushyan’s harsh words are repeated over and over by Little Armenian community leaders who are working hard to elect O’Farrell, a veteran staffer in mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti‘s council office who is highly regarded in the neighborhoods as responsive to their concerns.

Between them, Choi and O’Farrell got barely a third of the votes in the March primary. They have raised close to $800,000 combined, gotten $436,000 in public matching funds, and received, at last report, nearly $800,000 in independent expenditures, with Choi having better than a 2-1 money advantage.

“They’re calling Paul a traitor — it’s so unfair of them to ignore all that he has done for the Armenian community as a private citizen, a Burbank school board member, a state Assemblyman and now a councilman,” said Krekorian spokesman Jeremy Oberstein.

He suggested Kbushyan and others prominent in Little Armenia groups are not authentic community leaders and pointed to Krekorian’s original statement of why he was backing a candidate in the 13th District, especially one perceived as an outsider being promoted with union money to consolidate power on the council.

“John Choi has shown he knows what it takes to preserve vital city services like street paving, filling potholes and building parks despite budget cuts. He’s my choice for City Council because we need strong leaders like him in the tough days ahead,” Krekorian had said.

Others in the community offer a different take on why Krekorian, who represents a North Hollywood-based district in the East San Fernando Valley, would put his credibility on the line in this race.

“He’s trying to show to the unions that he did something they wanted, that he supported John Choi, so later, when he runs for mayor, they will support him. It’s all politics,” said Edgar Makhshikyan, a long-time resident who co-founded the Little Armenia Chamber of Commerce and heads the Little Armenia Homeowners Association.

“When Sam Kbushyan was the candidate we had no problem, we were all together and working hard for him and for our community. Then, after the primary, Paul Krekorian got involved and because of him, we have these problems.

In contrast to Choi, O’Farrell is seen as “a good person, an honorable person who has helped us every time,” said Garo Keurjikian, honorary mayor of Little Armenia and owner of a towing and auto repair business.

“I don’t want trouble, but Krekorian is dividing the community. It’s a dirty business. They just want to take votes from the old ladies and confusing people. They are doing the wrong thing. I don’t like that.”

In its endorsement of O’Farrell, the L.A. Times sounded similar concerns raised by the Little Armenia community leaders, noting Choi’s lack of history in the district and his deep union ties.

The Times said, “It was troubling during the primary when he promised at an endorsement meeting with the Service Employees International Union: “You are going to be on the inside. We are going to decide who to open the door for.”

For my money, that goes directly to why Krekorian unnecessarily got involved. I helped him win the special election to City Council after a long discussion about issues and values and watched him do all the right things for six months as he used his intelligence to learn the nature of the L.A. political game.

Then, he became its most eloquent and articulate defender of its most preposterous policies that ignored the concerns of residents, policies that served the unions, developers, contractors and the corrupt political machine itself, rising day by day to positions of greater importance and influence.

To my mind, he’s got that “lean and hungry look” that makes those with too much ambition dangerous. That’s sad, since he has the brains and talent to stand on his own and be a real leader, instead of a panderer to special interests.

(THIS COLUMN WAS PUBLISHED SUNDAY IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

Elect Mike Feuer as City Attorney — Who Better Than a Crook as L.A.’s Chief Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Officer

Putting weaklings without courage like Greuel or Garcetti into the mayor’s office is a problem, a big problem.

Putting a two-faced scoundrel like Zine in the controller’s office as the public’s watchdog when he’s nothing but a yapping Chihuahua is a joke.

But even worse is the near certainty that you the electorate, lapdog to the rich and powerful, will elect a criminal suspect as this second-rate city’s chief prosecutor and law enforcement officer. It is no laughing matter.

Back in the days when he was a City Council member, Feuer made the radical leftist Jackie Goldberg look a Republican and showed so little respect for the law and public policy despite his Harvard law education that he thought it was smarter to pay millions of dollars a year to people injured in trip-and-fall accidents on the city’s crumbling sidewalks than to repair them.

Somehow he fumbled the 2001 City Attorney election, losing to Rocky Delgadillo but found a new calling as a state Assembly member where he supported the spending sprees that have jeopardized California’s future, and backed gutting the California Environmental Quality Act for the benefit of AEG’s now deceased Farmer’s Field project and to squelch community concerns about transit projects in L.A.

His crowning achievement was authoring AB109 to empty the prisons of supposedly non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders without effective monitoring or support – a radical reform of the criminal justice system that has allowed the freed felons to engage in murder, mayhem and rape across the state.

But none of those acts are criminal – just disdainful of the public interest.

No, the crime of Mike Feuer is this:

City Ethics Ordinance, Section 49.7.28.C, “Requests for Matching Funds Payments,”“A candidate who makes a request for matching funds payment and knows or should know that the request is false…is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall return all matching funds received as a result of the request.  If the candidate holds or is elected to office, the false request constitutes a violation of official duties and, if it is deemed appropriate by a court under Charter Section 207 (C), shall be removed from office.” — City Ethics Ordinance, Section 49.7.28.C, “Requests for Matching Funds Payments,”

What Feuer did was conspire with his political consultant John Shallman to make a mockery of public financing of political campaigns.

Under the terms of their deal, Shallman — who is desperate for cash since he faces huge tax liens and debts after being robbed blind in the Kinde Durkee scandal – agreed to take $1 as payment starting in February 2012 through March 5 of this year with a $50,000 bonus if Feuer won outright in the primary. At least that’s what they claimed when questions started being asked.

The value of Shallman’s services over those 13 months was between $200,000 and $300,000 but Feuer did not report it as in-kind contributions at “fair market value” as state law requires, a deceit that allowed him to stay just under the spending limit to qualify for $300,000 in public matching funds for the primary and even more than that in the runoff.

Feuer has shown his legal skills are not all that great in changing his story and double-talking his way around this problem.

He claimed he got “verbal” non-binding approval from someone in the City Ethics staff for a scheme that somewhat parallels the crimes Councilman Martin Ludlow committed in winning election in 2005 before being forced out a year later as he faced felony charges in both state and federal court.

Because Shallman didn’t report his in-kind contributions and now has a contract of a sort with Feuer (for $15,000 a month since their finagling was exposed), they potentially both face felony conspiracy charges, not just misdemeanors – not that anyone in an official capacity has shown any interest in doing anything about this.

The see-no-evil Ethics Commission took a pass on responding to formal complaints about the Feuer scheme. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the runoff against Feuer on Tuesday had to recuse himself, leaving it to District Attorney Jackie Lacey who responded by announcing she was endorsing Feuer for City Attorney — not investigating him for criminality.

That left enforcement of the law to private citizen and long-time community activist Laura Lake.

A little known provision of the City Charter allows for the public to act as a “private attorney general,” which the Ethics Commission says provides for “an additional layer of oversight, public involvement and accountability” and allows private citizens to enforce the City’s ethics laws if the city fails to do so in a timely fashion, usually meaning 40 days.

Here are key provisions of the city ethics rules in the Charter:

(2) Civil Enforcement.

(A) Any person who intentionally or negligently violates any provision of this section shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney or by a person residing within the City. Where no specific civil penalty is provided, a person may be liable for an amount up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) for each violation.

(B) Any person who intentionally or negligently makes or receives a contribution, or makes expenditure, in violation of any provision of this section shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney or by a person residing within the City for an amount up to three times the amount of the unlawful contribution or expenditure.

Injunction. The City Attorney on behalf of the people of the City of Los Angeles or any person residing in the City of Los Angeles may sue for injunctive relief to enjoin violations or to compel compliance with the provisions of this section. The Court may award a plaintiff or defendant who prevails his or her costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees; provided, however, that no such award may be granted against the City of Los Angeles.

On Jan. 18, Lake filed a formal ethics complaint. Six weeks later, Shallman claimed in an LA Times interview he was being paid only $1 with a bonus to be determined later.

On March 20, Lake received a letter from the Ethics Commission stating there are no records showing written advice or opinions about Feuer’s contract with Shallman.

A week later, she filed a lawsuit, alleging Feuer violated the law. The next day Feuer announced he was “voluntarily” changing his contract with Shallman because he’s such a great consultant – not because of Lake’s lawsuit.

In subsequent days, Feuer’s story kept changing.

One day, he said he “didn’t think it was necessary” to get the ethics staff’s verbal approval in writing despite clear language in the law that informal advice is not binding. Another day he claimed there was the $50,000 bonus provision in the original contract.

What really matters is that city ethics laws were created to provide a level playing field for candidates and to provide full transparency for campaigns in the city.

For too long, the Ethics Commission has handed down little more than slap-on-the-wrist punishments for violations. If Feuer gets away with this, public financing of campaigns will be dead and ethics laws will be decimated.

Even when Ludlow was forced out of office and prosecuted, he got off with probation and was celebrated as a hero by many of the most powerful and influential people in the city who raised funds for his legal defense.

In Feuer’s case, the best hope is that voters will somehow wake up from their dream world and reject this self-styled advocate of clean and honest elections and supporter of a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign contributions.

If he wins as expected, he will have made a mockery of democracy and provided a fitting end to the pretense of the rule of law, not men.

Someday maybe Mike Feuer will be seen as the living embodiment of the triumph of the tyranny of the majority.

In the meantime, L.A. deserves to have a crook as their chief law enforcement officer, doesn’t it?

Public Be Damned: LAX Expansion and the Culture of Greed

In this the fifth anniversary month of my citizen activism, I thought the desolation of this election season and the futility of all that I have done – Saving LA Project, OurLA.org, LA Clean Sweep, 1902 blog posts and more than 100 newspaper columns – had silenced my voice.

And then a friend called to remind me the City Council today was taking up the long-delayed expansion plan for LAX, construction of a new north runway to accommodate super-jets at the expense of long-term disturbance of Westchester and other Westside communities and abandonment of a regionalized air traffic policy that would benefit all of Southern California.

It is an issue I’ve followed for 20 years or so and never understood why anyone in their right mind would try to salvage one of the world’s worst airports – landlocked and ocean-locked, bereft of public transport access – unless there was an ulterior motive that had nothing to do with the public interest.

The motive, of course, is the motive for everything that happened in L.A. for the last 150 years: GREED.

The business community, the labor leadership, the civic leadership are all aboard the plans for LAX, public be damned, congestion be damned, the environment be damned. There’s money to be made so why share any of it with the nobodies out in the Antelope Valley, Inland Empire or anywhere else.

Only Rosendahl (and his successor Mike Bonin) stood against the nonsense of the LAX “modernization” scheme if you discount the opportunism (Mayor) Garcetti and (Controller) Zine in casting safe “no” votes and the phony hand-wringing from the weak-kneed Koretz who rolled over as usual to the power structure.

The worst part is the EIR they approved 10-3 for the $652 million project to move the north runway 260 feet closer to residential neighborhoods for what LAX officials admitted was only a marginal safety increase, more convenience than safety in fact, totally lacks plans for traffic impact during years of construction that includes major re-routing of Lincoln Boulevard.

But who cares – more passengers means more jobs for hotel workers with their “living wage” deals, and more revenue for hotel operators blackmailed into those deals, more union construction jobs guaranteed under city-enforced project labor agreements, more business opportunities in the most congested part of the city, county and region instead of out in the boondocks.

It’s all about who profits and who holds the keys to power no matter how much harm is done to the quality of life for vast numbers of people.

This is what L.A. is about – money and power. It’s why the L.A. County Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Civic Alliance, the L.A. County Federation of Labor all aboard to this high-flying flight to oblivion.

They are united behind Greuel for mayor and mostly for Galperin for controller, which is why Garcetti and Zine are siding with the begrudged community that came out in force with support from the city’s lowest paid unionized workers in the SEIU.

They have been united for decades now, feeding off the public, turning L.A. into a horror-show with the nation’s dirtiest air, worst congestion, bursting pipes and rutted streets, deteriorating neighborhoods, pervasive gangs, poor schools, soaring poverty, dying economy and a rapidly declining quality of life.

These are your masters. You are their slaves. You suffer the consequences of their actions, pay their bills and when it all gets to be too much, slink off with a whimper and whine.

L.A. – don’t you love it?