“Government’s biggest problems do not trace to ‘known’ crooks, but to those unknown, both outside and inside city hall” — Terry Francke

You have to wonder whether government officials have reached
the conclusion that the public really doesn’t matter anymore.

They have huge staffs at their disposal including batteries
of lawyers, unlimited amounts of taxpayer dollars and special interest cash and
teams of political consultants and advisers who practice the art of deceit,
deflection and denial as they create public stories that have nothing to do
with what is going on behind the scenes in back rooms.

Last Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors considered all
but eliminating public comment by limiting speakers to three minutes to share
their views on the entire agenda that can reach 60 items as it did that day.

They probably would have acted and approved the
unconstitutional limitation except that “respectable” people like the League of
Women Voters – not just the gadflies and rabble – objected, causing the
supervisors to take another look.

Now, Glendale officials are looking at barring the entire
city staff from talking to “known crooks” when they are the clock doing their
jobs.

The reason is gadfly Barry Allen was exposed for having been
convicted of running a counterfeiting ring in the 1980s when he was known as Allen
Barry Silbarman – a case of the watchdog being bitten by other citizen watchdogs.

The revelation prompted Councilman Ara Najarian to get the
City Attorney to draft a report on whether “there was a way to bar officials
from talking to Allen, his Vanguardian group, or others connected to criminal
activities,” according to Glendale News-Press reporter Brittany Levine.

“A few weeks ago I sarcastically congratulated some of our
department heads and a captain of our police force for attending and hosting or
being the keynote speaker at one of Barry Allen’s forums,” Najarian said. “I
find that to be a huge problem and at this point forward a dereliction of the
duty of the City Council to have this continue.”

That view doesn’t sit well with people who still think the
First Amendment means something despite so much evidence that would call it
into the question.

“Translating the desire to avoid talking to ‘known crooks’
into viable, constitutionally sound policy is probably impossible,” said Terry
Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware, an open government advocacy
group.

“Most people would probably agree that the government’s biggest problems do not
trace to ‘known’ crooks, but to those unknown, both outside and inside city
hall.”

Now that is a quote that ought to be chiseled into the front
of city halls everywhere, especially L.A. City Hall where lip service is paid
to the First Amendment even as every means available is used to squelch it,
especially in the way gadflies are treated like they are criminals.

The Occupy L.A. protesters were told over and over how much
the mayor and Council respected their rights to free speech and to seek redress
for their grievances, even promising them to stay at City Hall as long as they
wanted.

But when public opinion turned against the encampment, the
mayor ordered a massive show of force in evicting them and maximum use of
intimidation techniques in the name of “constitutional policing,” things like
leaving them standing handcuffed for seven hours, crammed for three days into
overcrowded cells, setting bail at $5,000 and then barring them from City Hall
as a condition of their release.

I attended the Occupy the Hood general assembly meeting
Saturday night on the lower steps on the West Side of City Hall.

Crime scene tape at the foot of the upper steps kept
participants from going any higher and three cops stood at the top of those
stairs watching a peaceful celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. and his commitment to non-violence.

There was no reason for the cops to be there looking down
from on high except to chill people’s exercise of their rights to speak and
assemble freely.

With the sophisticated technology now available in every police
car, cameras on every street and courts that have undermined our constitutional
protections, we need to take a look at where this is headed and to ask ourselves
whether the price we are paying for “security” is worth it.

Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Police Commission is holding a “special” meeting in the San Fernando Valley at St. Nicholas Church, 9501 Balboa Blvd. in Northridge for no apparent reason if you read the agenda containing a short list of routine matters.

The reason is Chief Charlie Beck’s incredible decision to stop impounding cars of unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured drivers because it is now politically correct to solve the problem of the nation’s lack of an immigration policy and the state’s refusal to allow licenses for illegal immigrants by allowing them to continue to operate vehicles even when stopped for a traffic infraction.

Only Commissioner Alan Skobin has objected to Beck’s rolling over to the mayor and other politicians on this without regard to the public safety, without even attempting to offer a public safety rational, without conducting any kind of study to determine how many fatal accidents, how many hit-and-run accidents involved unlicensed drivers, without allowing the commission and the Council to review his decision by calling it a change in procedure, not policy.

The corollary to squelching the the voice of the people is to keep them in the dark about their government. 
In this case, the public — egged on by KFI’s John and Ken and a Daily News editorial — doesn’t get to speak until the end of the commission meeting which CityView Channel 35 decide against broadcasting live and was unable Tuesday to say when or even if the meeting will ever aired.
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“Naming rights are a sign of the times” — Sunday Column for Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena Papers

Faced with a
threatened crackdown on abuses, Burbank Realtors are policing themselves during
a “probationary” period to preserve a city ordinance that allows them to put up
as many as four 24-by-24 signs announcing a weekend “open house.”

Glendale officials are grappling with how to get rid of unsightly tall poles
and oversized signs luring customers to fast food restaurants and other
businesses, even as they try to reduce visual blight by approving one digital
billboard in exchange for sign companies removing as many as 30 traditional
billboards.

 

Complaints about light
pollution from residents in the hills above the Rose Bowl prompted officials to
curtail night-time testing of the new scoreboard and electronic signage this
summer.

But for every effort to get rid of the proliferation of advertising messages
assaulting our eyeballs and powerful lighting that obscures the night sky,
public agencies are looking hard for ways to raise revenue from selling
sponsorships and naming rights and businesses are seeking ways to enhance their
bottom lines and get their messages out to customers.

It’s a sign of these hard economic times that battles over the visual landscape
are heating up just about everywhere, from sandwich-board signs offering daily
specials to giant digital billboards pulsating with ever-changing ads urging us
to buy this or buy that.

Little signs. Big Signs. Signs of all shapes, all sizes, all technologies, all
sending a message: buy, buy, buy. Buy products. Buy Services. Buy ideas.

The irony is consumers aren’t buying. People are too nervous about what the
future holds, so for the first time in decades they aren’t shopping until they
drop and driving the economy. The result is government has less revenue and
businesses are competing that much harder to win customers.

“It’s a trade off — what does business need to survive and what is the
threshold the public will accept,” Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, who has
been grappling with the signage problem for years. “We’re trying to strike a
balance by speeding up removal of old billboards and pole signs and recognizing
there are places like at the Galleria and Americana where we have a sign
district because it is a downtown urban environment.”

 

(READ FULL ARTICLE)

 

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Welcome to the China Century: My Sunday Column For Glendale, Burbank & Pasadena Papers

Longtime Los Angeles Teachers Union leader A.J. Duffy has changed his
mind. He’s fought against charter schools, but now he’s starting his
own; he’s protected tenure but now wants it easier to fire bad teachers,
even to limit the prolonged dismissal process to just 10 days.

The times they really are a-changin’ — something that is long overdue.

Labor Day weekend — the traditional end of summer, the start of the fall
football season, a time for at least a moment’s reflection on America’s
working men and women, and those who are desperate to find work.

The bedrock foundation of the modern labor movement was the demand for “more” — and not just more money.

“What
does labor want? We want more school houses and less jails. More books
and less guns. More learning and less vice. More leisure and less greed.
More justice and less revenge. We want more opportunities to cultivate
our better natures.”

That was the philosophy that Samuel Gompers
built the American Federation of Labor on more than a century ago, a
movement that reached its peak shortly after the end of World War II
when more than one in three workers was a member of a union.

Today,
it’s barely one in 10, one in 15 in the private sector, and public
sector unions have become a battleground over the cost of pensions and
salaries gained from the coziness between unions and the politicians
they help elect, relationships that could never exist between labor and
management in the business world.

From our city halls to
Sacramento, to Washington, the political cry is the same. “Jobs, jobs,
jobs,” our elected leaders of every stripe chant in unison, even as they
are in a stalemate over whether raising taxes for public works projects
or cutting taxes to free up capital for investment will do more to
create new jobs.

The truth is nearly $1 trillion in federal
stimulus money did not generate jobs as fast as they were disappearing,
in great part because government agencies swallowed up much of the money
to protect their jobs.

Even when they do invest in America and
job-creating businesses, they make a mess of it. Just last week, the
$527 million in government-backed loans to Solyndra, a solar power
company in Silicon Valley, went up in smoke when the firm ceased
operations and fired its 1,000 workers — a serious blow to our hopes for
a clean-energy industry that occurred because the company couldn’t
compete successfully against the Chinese.

For its part, corporate
America is flush with cash, but lacks confidence that putting its
capital to work will generate profits. The banks that brought down the
economy with their loose-lending practices and mortgage security schemes
are treating just about everyone as a credit risk.

It’s not like
the big corporations are over-taxed when 25 of the highest-paid chief
executive officers earned more last year personally than their companies
paid in federal income taxes, as the Institute for Policy Studies
reported last week. Of the 25 companies — including General Electric,
Ebay, Verizon, Boeing and Dow Chemical — 18 mocked our tax laws by using
offshore tax havens to hide their profits.

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Political money is wreaking havoc — My Sunday Column For Glendale News-Press & Leader

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” — Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, California Assembly Speaker, 1966.

With staggering sums from special interests pouring into campaigns for
office at all levels, it’s become perfectly clear that political money
is toxic, corrupting our democratic institutions instead of nourishing
them.

What we see in the disconnect from our lives in the nonsense in
Washington and Sacramento is repeated at the local level all too often.

The
corrosive effect of money from big business and big unions has produced
a political machine in Los Angeles that makes it almost impossible for
ordinary citizens to compete for elective office, for the will of the
people to be heard except in extraordinary circumstances.

Even
Glendale has seen the corrupting influence of big money with revelations
that people connected with the scandal-plagued affordable housing
developer Advanced Development & Investment Inc. contributed more
than $100,000 to city election candidates.

The result is
alienation of voters reflected in low turnout on election days and the
loss of faith in our government institutions — problems that have been
compounded by Supreme Court decisions that treat spending vast amounts
of money by individuals, corporations or organizations to influence
election results as simply a 1st Amendment right to free speech.

The
irony of “free” speech and billion-dollar campaigns for president and
$150-million campaigns for governor seems to be lost on the court.

It
has not been lost on Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, who has been
pushing for campaign finance reform for several years and has rounded up
support for a major overhaul of the city’s laws on raising political
money and ethics. It comes to the full council on Tuesday.

“The
point is just to level the playing field and to give all the candidates
the ability to get their message out in proportion to the real community
support they have and not let someone with a few big donors blow
everyone out of the water,” he said.

The proposed ordinance
makes major changes in an effort to make elections fairer, reduce the
likelihood of corruption and allow council members to establish
officeholder accounts with up to $10,000 to pay for various costs
directly associated with the service in office.

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Karmageddon: Making traffic problems worse — My Sunday Column for the News-Press and Leader

No sooner did we survive
a doomsayer’s warning of the rapturous Armageddon on May 16 then we were
confronted with dire warnings of something worse: spending an entire weekend
stuck in the worst traffic gridlock anyone, anywhere has ever seen.

It’s “Carmageddon” weekend — 53 hours of traffic hell from this Friday night
until next Monday morning.

 

That’s when the 405
Freeway link from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside will be entirely
closed down from the 10 to the 101, forcing the normal half-million drivers who
go through Sepulveda Pass on a hot summer weekend to stay parked at home or face
expectations of nightmarish gridlock along alternative routes.

Nothing could be worse in this home of the car culture, where driving alone is
regarded as an inalienable right, where buses and trains so poorly connect
people to where they actually want to go.

The hype, the drama — it’s so L.A.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga and Ashton Kutcher tweeting warnings. Erik Estrada
doing a public service announcement on YouTube. A “Carmageddon” page on
Facebook. A “Carmageddon” website. The Getty Center and the Skirball Museum
closed all weekend. Thousands of people downloading Waze GPS so we can track
where the cars are, and where they’re not.

The fear. The anxiety. It will build-up all week and then…?

Carmageddon likely will turn out to be a dud like the traffic disaster that
didn’t happen during the 1984 Olympics, or how we barely noticed how much worse
the gridlock was when the freeways collapsed after the Northridge Earthquake 10
years later.

The real problem is we have the worst traffic congestion in the nation, come
rain or come shine, all year long; and the worst public transit system to go
along with it.

When we build rail lines, we cut bus service and raise fares. We tax ourselves
to death — 1.5 percent on every transaction — for a system that fails to offer
adequate connections and frequency of service.

This isn’t about Carmageddon; it’s about “Karmageddon” — the consequence of
inconsistent and incoherent public transportation policies for the whole region
for most of a century.

 

(Read Full Story)

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Advertisements for Myself: Radio, TV and Newspapers

Here’s my Sunday column for the Glendale-Burbank News-Press & Leader, followed by links to appearances on NBC’s “The Filter with Fred Roggin” and on Kevin James’ show on KRLA 870:

The Political System Only Serves Itself

Drive down any main
street and it is hard not to notice all the empty shops, the “Going Out Of
Business” and “For Lease” signs, the proliferation of 99-cent and dollar
stores.

Book stores and record shops have largely disappeared. Major electronics
retailers like Circuit City are long-gone, Fry’s greets customers with leaflets
declaring they’ll match any Internet price and now Best Buy plans to wall off a
quarter of its giant stores and rent the rest of the space to grocers, beauty
suppliers — anybody with a buck.

 

Is it any wonder
retailers are struggling?

Competing for precious tax dollars, cities have green-lighted just about every
type of shopping center project for years, over-building — much to the dismay
of small, local shopkeepers — as mammoth national chains take an ever greater
share of the market.

Even the chains now are being hit hard by the impact of the boom in online,
mostly tax-free business. Amazon and eBay may be the giants, but there are
hundreds, thousands of other websites offering free shipping, no sales tax and
low prices because they don’t carry the cost of stores and sales help.


TELEVISION:

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NBC’s “The Filter with Fred Roggin is back on the air at 6:30 p.m. on Friday nights on Time Warner Channel 225 as part of the network’s experimental statewide news programming. 
Last Friday, the topics for discussion at the opening of the show were the death penalty, drunk driving and public employee salaries with Burbank Internet talk show host Jose Hernandez and me as the debaters.

ADIO:

KRLA 870 talk show host Kevin James and I held our weekly chat, 

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about city politics, touching on a variety of issues and people including Janice Hahn, Herb Wesson and Assemblyman Mike Gatto.

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My Sunday Column for the Glendale/Burbank News Press & Leader: Making an effort to connect

Nobody was ever delusional enough to think Arnold Schwarzenegger was
some kind of saint, but the disclosure of his love child with his
housekeeper and how she remained part of the family household for a
decade shatters what little was left of his public image after the
pathetic end of his political career.

Incredibly, there are
people who thought of Osama bin Laden as some kind of holy man, an
apostle of moral righteousness, and not the fanatical murderer he was.
It turns out he not only was shacked up in secluded luxury with three
wives, but the owner of a vast collection of pornography — fuhsha in
Arabic — to keep things lively.

Then, there’s the case of wealthy financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head
of the International Monetary Fund and favorite to be the next French
president who is under house arrest on charges of attempting to rape a
maid in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.

It’s a crazy time we live in, like no other in my lifetime.

The
wretched excesses of the rich and famous barrage our minds from every
direction: the press, TV, radio, magazines, the Internet, the buzz among
our friends and co-workers.

Does it really mean anything to us
that Ashton Kutcher has taken over the lead on TV’s top sitcom from the
bombed-out Charlie Sheen?

Surely, it fills some void in our lives
when news that General Electric manipulating Congress so it pays no tax
on $23 billion in profit barely creates a ripple, when the Big Oil
companies reap tens of billions in windfall profits and fight with all
their might to preserve $2 billion in tax breaks.

The stock
market has fully recovered from the economic meltdown caused by the
greed of Wall Street and the bankers, yet they are richer than ever, and
millions of people are still unemployed and you can’t sell your house
for 60 cents on the dollar.

Arabs are dying in the fight for
freedom from Libya to Syria, yet it’s rare when more than one in six
voters right here bother to cast ballots in local elections where
critical decisions are being made that directly affect the quality of
our lives, the value of our property, our jobs, our businesses, our
personal safety.

Maybe it’s just me and the effects of old age.
But a few days of serenity celebrating my 70th birthday on Catalina
Island has done nothing to change my mind that powerful forces are in
collision, and the world we live in is changing forever.

(READ FULL STORY)

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My Sunday News-Press & Leader Column: Like it or not, change has arrived

You are the lucky ones and you probably don’t even know it. And if you do, you probably don’t appreciate it.

Hard times are here for cities across California, and they are going to get harder in the years ahead.

Costa
Mesa has sent pink slips to half its employees. San Jose is demanding
10% cuts in pay and benefits from its 11 employee unions, and that only
cleans up a third of its $105-million budget deficit.

The heart
of the problem is declining revenue and the soaring cost of pensions and
health care for city workers — more than a $1-billion bill for Los
Angeles next year, a quarter of its operating budget.

Burbank,
with an $8.7-million deficit in the coming fiscal year, and Glendale,
with a $15-million deficit, have their budget problems, too, but with a
difference.

Many cities in California are like families living
beyond their means, buying houses, cars and toys they can’t afford as if
there was no tomorrow, as if the nation’s economic meltdown would pass
and what was normal would soon return. Well, tomorrow has come and
normal isn’t coming back for a long, long time — maybe never.

In
interviews last week, both Burbank City Manager Mike Flad and Glendale
City Manager Jim Starbird described in similar terms how their cities
have been “living within their means,” have money in the bank with large
reserve funds, and are working “strategically” to solve their financial
problems — though there will be pain for city workers and residents
alike.

“We’re blessed because of where we are from an economic
standpoint, but things are never going back to the way it was,” said
Flad. “We need to rethink what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We
need to recalculate where we’re going to go, to redirect our
priorities.”

In Starbird’s words: “This is like what happened
after Proposition 13 — the public sector will never be the same. People
need to be aware the economy will never be the same as it was. They will
feel the loss of services, and the loss of quality in services, unless
we can reduce the cost of providing those services.”

(READ FULL STORY)

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