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.


My Sunday Column: As certain as the lights coming on — Electricity rates are going up and up for years to come

City Manager Scott Ochoa, armed with graphs and pie charts and a thousand details, spent 55 minutes offering a “relatively brief presentation” explaining why electricity rate hikes averaging 26 percent over the next five years are necessary or Glendale’s century-old utility will “effectively be out of business as we have come to know it.”

His efforts silenced skeptics such as the Glendale Chamber of Commerce at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, kept harsh critics like Herbert Molano from even bothering to attend and convinced the Board of Realtors to get aboard the plan for increases of 8%, 7%, 5%, 2% and 2% each year through 2017 — increases Ochoa insisted would put Glendale Water & Power on a healthy economic footing, improve service, meet rising state and federal standards and lead to only modest future rate hikes.

Here was one of the most important decisions that the City of Glendale, its 200,000 residents, thousands of businesses and its political leadership will make for a long time to come and it was left to the Armenian National Committee and its supporters, along with a handful of other residents, 32 in all, to publicly speak for everyone.

Not that anyone cared very much, with only 189 viewers tuning into the Council meeting online compared to the 2,462 viewers of the July 9 meeting where the Korean “comfort women” statue was being discussed.

Mostly, those who came attacked the plan as too expensive for the poor to afford — three bucks more a month. They argued it’s totally unnecessary — all the city has to do is stop raking $21 million off the top of electricity revenues and transferring it to the city’s General Fund and the utility would be in fine shape.

But as Ochoa put it: “The impact on the General Fund would be crippling,” noting that across-the-board cuts to make up for the lost revenue would mean eliminating 40 cops, 24 firefighters and cutting library, parks and community service programs sharply.

The frustration of ordinary citizens that had surfaced during a series of meetings around town was best put by Annie Jensen, an elderly woman in a wheelchair who rents an apartment near Pacific Park.

“This rate increase is going to affect our lives profoundly,” she said. “It’s going to affect every aspect of our lives…. I don’t have any solutions, but I’m just very uncomfortable with this rate increase…. I would just like you to keep uppermost in your minds the greatest good for the greatest number.”

It was the right point to make.

Glendale Water & Power has gone without an increase in base electricity rates for five years. It has been operating at a loss, has put off critical investments in infrastructure and even reduced rates during the recession.

Efforts to raise rates last year fizzled when the council got cold feet, although it was clear Tuesday that a slim majority was willing to back the front-end-loaded increases this time around.

But Councilman Frank Quintero announced he was “not persuaded” that the utility’s financial situation was as dire as it was portrayed and that the proposal “for me, it just doesn’t work.” Increases of more than 3 or 4 percent would be a hardship for too many people, he said.

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan, the council’s newest member, said he felt like “a gun is being put to my head” to approve the rate hikes when he really wanted to go back to the drawing board and reconsider everything about how the city operates.

This is what makes being a close observer of the machinations of public officials so amusing and infuriating: What they say in public often has little or nothing to do with what the issue is or what they really believe. It’s just politics and they are politicians who play to the crowd, one way or another.

In this case, it was easy to duck the hard question of what is the “greatest good for the greatest number” since it already was clear that Mayor Dave Weaver and council members Ara Najarian and Laura Friedman were ready to approve the rate hikes this week when the critics announced their opposition.

“At this point at the conclusion of the great recession, there are no easy tradeoffs to make,” Ochoa had said, anticipating the questions that would be raised.

“You cut $10 million three years ago, $18 million two years ago, $15 million last year from the General Fund. You’ve reduced your payroll from 1,842 employees 18 months ago down to 1,588 fulltime employees. It has not been at that level since the mid-1990s … we are extremely streamlined and lean, as an organization.”

Glendale Water & Power is in financial trouble after several year of losses, so “if we were to do absolutely nothing … by 2017-18, we would need to do something by way of divestiture or opt into some kind of regional type of joint-powers agreement to provide electrical service to our customers … in any event, we are effectively out of business as we have come to know it.”

It was a dire warning that Quintero dismissed out of hand, saying “I guarantee this utility will not go bankrupt.”

Friedman dismissed his guarantee, noting that even with the 8% increase this year, customers will be paying lower base rates than they did five years ago, thanks to a 10% reduction imposed during the height of the recession.

Even with the proposed increase this year, she noted, Glendale’s total rate hike since 2007 will come to 12.5% compared to Burbank’s 17%, Pasadena’s 31% and Los Angeles’ whopping 52%. For its part, Southern California Edison, the private utility, is seeking approval by the Public Utilities Commission of increases of more than 16% this year.

The reason we’re in this position is the utility has lowered rates at a time when its expenses have gone up,” Friedman said. “Now, we may have to sell the utility if we continue on this track. If we do a 2% or 3% rate increase, we’ll sell this utility in a few years … we will be in a place where this utility is bankrupt. Going slow is what has brought us here.”

If there are alternatives, opponents have until Tuesday night to come up with them — otherwise sharply rising electricity bills are as much a certainty as the lights coming on when you flip the switch.


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.



My Sunday Column: Water (wars) provide a lesson in government — and the reason why cynicism has won

Many government meetings are broadcast live and archived with a vast array of official records posted online. Mainstream media may be on financial life support, but more than half the adult population still reads a newspaper daily, in print or digital form, as part of their news overload from radio and TV and their blogosphere favorites.

We’ve never been so well-informed — or so cynical about our government and society.

Evidence of this is the long-term decline in voting, even with mail-in ballots. Polls show the vast majority of voters are unhappy with the endless political wars and the sense that they are working for the government, rather than the other way around.

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but it appears a lot of knowledge is even worse, as Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina argues in a new book titled, “Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics.”

I bring this up in the context of one of the longest-running political conflicts in Southern California — the water wars.

No subject is drier for most people than water, but the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — which supplies much of the water to nearly 20 million people across six counties — has a long history of interesting battles, mostly in recent decades between its two largest customers, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego harbors deep-seated grievances backed by lawsuits over the high price Metropolitan charges to pipe its allotment of water out of Imperial County and circuitously supply its communities — battles it nearly always loses, thanks to the clout L.A. has regionally.

The latest round last Tuesday was no different.

It seems that Metropolitan is awash with a $549 million surplus — 60% of that coming over the last two years — and with more than a $100 million in excess revenue expected next year. Not too bad for an agency selling 20% less water than in 2008 because of conservation programs and additional local supplies.

The surplus includes $75 million more than Metropolitan rules allow as the maximum for unrestricted reserves, so as bureaucrats suggested what comes naturally — spend it. They proposed using a third for capital costs, a third to pay down future unfunded liability for employee health care, and a third to be determined later.

San Diego wanted its share of the money back — more than $16 million — and to have the 5% rate increase due on Jan. 1 rolled back to 3%, which would add even more to the local kitty to ease rate-hike pressure or free up money for infrastructure.

Several other water agencies, including Long Beach, Beverly Hills, San Fernando and Fullerton, agreed with San Diego on most of the issues.

So did Burbank. Water officials sent a tough letter to the Metropolitan Water District on Monday, expressing how they were “disappointed, to say the least, to be informed so late about the rapid accumulation of funds in the Financial Reserve accounts … a surprise of this nature and magnitude is damaging to both our interests. It calls into mind our collective credibility.”

The city stood to get nearly $600,000 from the refund plan, and even more if the rate hike was reduced.

Glendale — with a refund of nearly $900,000, plus $300,000 more with the rate rollback — was ready to join the resistance, but had a last-minute change of mind. So Councilwoman Laura Friedman — the city’s member on the Metropolitan Water District board of directors — accepted the city staff recommendation and joined with L.A. in providing a 75% majority based on voting power related to the size of each agency.

“Basically, we felt it was a question of pay now or pay later,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa. “We liked the idea of getting money back, but it wasn’t enough to make a big difference in what we do, so paying down debt, reducing unfunded liabilities made some sense. We all have those issues.”

The L.A. County Chamber of Commerce and other supporters of the keep-the-money, keep-the-rate-hike strategy offered similar arguments, stressing the point that nobody knows what the future holds: drought, water shortages, tougher environmental regulations, higher costs for the State Water Project, and Gov. Jerry Brown‘s $14 billion plan for massive twin tunnels through the Sacramento Delta.

In other words, Metropolitan has your money and it’s keeping it as a kind of “rainy-day water fund” just in case.

My instinct is that Burbank was right to want the money now and Glendale was wrong to go along with the crowd.

I may be biased, since San Diego Water buys a small ad on my blog and I’m a long-time critic of the L.A. DWP’s multitude of abuses. But I’ve talked at length with Ochoa and Friedman, and I think they should have stuck to their guns and taken the money now — especially because Glendale, like most cities, is in the process of imposing a series of utility rate increases.

Given the obstacles California voters — for good reasons — have put in the way of government raising taxes, I know it’s easier by far to raise rates and fees because all it takes to justify them is to run up the costs of providing services, even if they come from higher payroll costs, loose contracting practices, sloppy management or dream projects for a perfect world.

If they spend the money, they can, under the law, recover every penny from you.

That’s what got so many of our cities, counties and the state in so much trouble over the years. Just because they can do it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.


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 (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:



My Sunday Column: Giving into IBEW Blackmail or Fighting It — With Rates Soaring, the Moment of Truth Is Near

In Glendale, utility workers found their paychecks a little smaller last week — the price of the inability of their union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, to negotiate an initial contract two years after winning the right to represent them.

Down the road, Pasadena Water and Power workers are all steamed up over the city’s resistance to give in to their demands on terms for a new contract that would move them closer to matching the sweetheart deal enjoyed by their union brothers and sisters at the L.A. Department of Water and Power thanks to IBEW business manager Brian D’Arcy, the perfect model of a ruthless old-fashioned union boss.

Seen by many big shots as the “smartest and toughest guy at City Hall,” D’Arcy is having an unusual run of bad luck.

He gambled millions of dollars of his member’s money on getting a patsy elected L.A. mayor — an over-the-top play that backfired, made the union the target of negative ads and media criticism, and was widely blamed for the defeat of Wendy Greuel, who had the backing of nearly all of the city’s business, labor and civic elite.

Now he faces contract talks with new L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, who owes him no favors and will be emboldened to hold the line on wages and benefits at a time when the economic recovery remains fragile and ratepayers are being socked with a steady stream of big rate hikes.

All of those factors may have come together to convince D’Arcy — better known for making threats and obscene gestures to reporters than giving interviews — to sit down for a lengthy chat with L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison, who produced a revealing Q & A last week in which the union boss, in typical fashion, blamed everyone else for what went wrong and deflected all responsibility for anything except to enrich the IBEW and its members.

Greuel’s consultant was “tone deaf” and ran a “crappy campaign.” His critics are the “right-wing apparatchiks” who see union workers as the “enemy.” Utility workers have it hard because they have to deal with “pretty cranky people all day long” — you know, like the people who pay the bills for inflated salaries and benefits and expect good service.

“My responsibility is to look after the welfare of my members,” D’Arcy declared.

Really? That’s all?

Is that any different than the bankers and speculators who brought down the economy, wiped out the savings and nest eggs of millions, foreclosed on their homes and then got bailed out by taxpayers?

Or the companies that poison the air, the water and the land in the name of profits?

Or all the politicians who have turned public service into self-service, selling their votes to the highest bidder?

Greed is accepted these days but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. It is a symptom of how we have lost our moral compass, forgotten that our fates are all bound together; and D’Arcy is a symbol of what has gone so wrong.

It’s too early to celebrate how the laws of karma have caught up with D’Arcy, but it has been a long time since anyone stood up to his bullying the way Glendale did in imposing its year-old last and final offer that included the 1.75% pay cut that took effect last week.

Or the way Pasadena did in rebuffing the IBEW tactic of packing the City Council chambers and denouncing officials for failing to invest more in infrastructure — as if they cared about anything other than higher wages and lucrative perks.

That’s a joke, of course, to anyone who has seen how D’Arcy operates, how he used threats of turning off the lights and busting politicians who got in his way to win contracts in L.A. with raises that gave his members a 40% to 50% premium over others in the city, and raised expectations of getting the same deals among utility workers throughout the region.

Apart from police and fire, utilities are the most important service provided by local governments that own their own water and power agencies. That includes cities like Glendale, Pasadena, Burbank and Los Angeles. All of them have to deal with the IBEW.

Each of these municipal utilities is seeking a long succession of annual rate hikes to provide the cash needed for long overdue capital investments in infrastructure, to cover the rising cost of increasingly scarce water supplies, and to meet escalating demands for green energy sources.

Glendale and Pasadena have scheduled hearings on rate hikes and L.A. is gearing for even sharper increases as pressure builds to end its reliance on cheap, dirty coal-fired plants.

A lot is at stake at a time when many, even in the public sector, are losing ground economically and America is increasingly a two-class society.

Blowing hot air as usual, D’Arcy told Morrison: “If you want to vilify me, I’m fair game, but vilifying my members is just wrong. They’re middle-class people, and somehow that’s a crime in this economy.”

The average wage of LADWP workers is $100,000 a year; for my money, that puts them in a pretty affluent class compared to the average person who is paying the bills.

You can sit on your hands and let D’Arcy blackmail your city officials, as he has done so often for so long, or you can stand up and visibly let them know it’s time to rein him in and look after the interests of ratepayers and taxpayers.

Or you’ll all be singing that old union song with an ironic twist in the lyric: “I’m working for the union, I’m working for the union till the day I die.”


My Sunday Column: Standing up to the town bully — Glendale Just Says ‘No’ to the IBEW and Union Bully Brian D’Arcy

The sparse front page of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 website expresses exactly the message Brian D’Arcy wants his members to get: Rotating photos of protesting workers waving “A DEAL IS A DEAL” signs.

It also features a “hot topics” box with a single four-year-old item about heroic workers, a one-sentence message with a mug shot of the union boss and a link to a story with the headline, “Union chief is wired into City Hall.”

The story is a three-month-old column in the L.A. Times by Steve Lopez calling D’Arcy “feared, coveted, respected, reviled” and talks about how the IBEW plans to spend millions of dollars to get Wendy Greuel elected mayor and put more compliant City Council members into office.

D’Arcy is the king of bullies and IBEW Local 18 is the club he uses to force the docile leadership of L.A. to surrender to the outrageous demands he throws on the bargaining table under threat of a strike intended to shut off water and power to four million people.

A lot of people call that blackmail. But extortion tactics have worked so well that D’Arcy — with 95% of the workforce under his control — wields as much clout in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as the general manager. It’s a fact that helped him in contracts with municipal utilities in Burbank, Pasadena and Azusa — cities under pressure to match wage rates at the LADWP, where workers average $100,000 a year, a 50% premium over other city workers for the same jobs and a 25% premium over other utility workers in the region.

Nobody says “no” to Brian D’Arcy. Until now.

On Thursday, Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa — after a year of being jerked around, threatened and harassed by D’Arcy and his minions during fruitless negotiations on an initial contract that long ago had reached an impasse — decided enough was enough.

He told the union the city was ready to unilaterally implement its last, best and final offer for Glendale Water & Power if the City Council agrees on Tuesday — an offer that includes a 1.75% pay cut.

Hooray for Glendale!

The pay cut doesn’t mean much will be saved this fiscal year, but it sets a lower salary benchmark for negotiations with the IBEW for next year. Martin Marrufo, the IBEW spokesman, did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

“The important part here is we are establishing a lower baseline and demonstrating our commitment to compensation and pension reform to all of our employees, that there are no protected classes,” Ochoa said. “And it signals to the community that we are equally serious in making sure we are negotiating for them in good faith. This is the city of Glendale, not the City of GWP.”

It’s a strategy not without risk. You can be sure that what happens will be watched closely by officials in other cities with IBEW contracts — even L.A., which despite its monumental budget problems, has won only modest concessions from other city unions in great part because DWP workers keep on getting richer.

In one of his first acts as mayor in 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa signed off on wage increases of up to 30% over five years for the DWP, and later for up to 4% a year even during the recession. It was a no-brainer for other unions to get 25% increases over five years in 2007.

Glendale has faced some cuts in services, but has also won significant concessions from its unions, even getting them to agree to pay some of the city’s share of pension fund contributions, and is in as good a position as any city to weather the continuing economic volatility.

But giving in to D’Arcy would endanger the deals and healthy relationships with other unions.

“We are not hell-bent for a fight,” Ochoa said. “What demonstrates that is we continued to talk with them, ‘OK, we’re at impasse, but for purposes of settlement, we’re willing to throw other things on the table.'”

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how D’Arcy responds and the union explains what has happened, since it convinced a majority of Glendale Water & Power workers to join the IBEW with the promise of the lucrative wages and benefits enjoyed by LADWP employees.

It will be no less interesting to see how City Council members respond Tuesday night with the IBEW no doubt out in full force.

(This column was published in the Sunday Glendale News-Press)

Greuel Says She Didn’t Mean It When She Promised Union Bosses — ‘I’m gonna stand with labor, not stand up to labor’

Oops, the lady in question doth protest too much, claiming she misspoke when she begged for and got the mayoral endorsement Tuesday of Maria Elena Durazo’s County Federation of Labor with the help of union boogeyman Brian D’Arcy.

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus reported at 5:15 p.m. that he got an audio recording of Wendy Greuel telling the unions: “I’m gonna stand with labor, not stand up to labor.”

At 6:30 p.m., Greuel called Maddaus to amend her remarks, claiming that her script prepared in advance read: “I’m gonna stand with labor, not stand up to labor by demonizing them.”

“That was what I had in my remarks. When I said them, I forgot that part of it,” Greuel said. “The way it was paraphrased was not how I meant it.”

Say what?

She’s gonna “stand with labor” but she’s not going to stand up to labor “by demonizing them.” So how is the lady who denounces her opponent, true blue liberal Democrat Eric Garcetti as if he were one of the Koch brothers going to “stand up to labor”?

The answer, of course, is she isn’t. She’s not going to stand up to unions — all of them coming up for new contracts — that are pouring millions of dollars into her campaign with the same expectation that so many in the business community are: Greuel is the sure bet to get spectacular returns on their investments while Eric Garcetti can’t be trusted because he has a mind of his own and sometimes changes it.

Labor is making her dream come true, and she will make their dreams come true even if it bankrupts the city and costs their members their jobs.

To this point,  she has not offered even a single specific about how she’s going to clean up the budget deficit, or pave the streets, or restore parks and library hours or pay for the 2,000 more cops she’s gonna hire.

Garcetti has done no better and his record as Council President for six years before and during the economic crisis was disastrous, one-time fixes to the budget, hot air and smoke concealing the failure to come to terms with reality and pious declarations that were idiotic like City Hall is a “temple of democracy” when it’s just a failing political machine.

The scene of Greuel’s unconsciously blurting out the truth about where stands came during the endorsement meeting with the Federation of Labor where DWP union boss D’Arcy was throwing around his ample weight in support of her just as he is spending millions to buy the election for her.

Pushed by Maddaus to answer questions about what voters might think, she said: “I do stand with labor, but we’re not always going to agree… I would say the same thing to the Chamber of Commerce.”

So the question is if she stands with labor and she stands with the Chamber, when and how can she stand with the city’s four million people, the vast majority of them not labor or the Chamber.

Could it be that Wendy actually stands for nothing, could it be that she really is the “easiest to manipulate” as so many of her prominent supporters describe her in defending their backing?

The clock is ticking and hopes for tomorrow being a better day for L.A. are fading.