Great Minds: Hiltzik and Modesti Question AEG’s One-Sided Stadium Deal, McIntyre Finds the Citizen Hero Who Stopped Red-Light Cameras

By Kevin Modesti in the Daily News

The debate over whether to build a $1.2 billion
superstadium in downtown Los Angeles has a lot of moving parts. But they
spin around one fixed assumption: That the city and one of its most
powerful companies should find a way to hitch their futures to football.

If it’s me, and I happened to find $1.2 billion under a cushion, I would not invest it in America’s (current) favorite sport.

Before last year’s Super Bowl, I wrote a news feature in which
parents, youth coaches and sociology-of-sports observers said
football’s long-term popularity is threatened by rising awareness of its
health hazards. They envisioned a tad fewer great athletes going into
football in generations ahead. Which could mean a perceptible slide in
quality – and watchability.

The article didn’t cause great trembling among football
promoters, who imagine themselves as tough and as indestructible as they
imagine middle linebackers to be.

But since then, when statistics showed ex-pro football players
to be 19 times more likely to suffer memory-related disease, headlines
have raised the issue’s profile.

In February, Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson committed suicide at
age 50 after years of mental and physical problems linked to brain
injuries. In early July, Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey died at 69
after a long battle with dementia. Two weeks ago, All-Pro center Forrest
Blue died at 65 after a 15-year fight with dementia.

(READ FULL STORY)       

By Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times

Take it from me: If you attend a City Hall hearing on the proposed
downtown pro football stadium/convention center project, you better be
spry enough to keep out of the way of the stampede.

I refer to the stampede by downtown politicians, business groups and
construction unions to drape the proposal with the label of that elusive
municipal quarry, the “win-win.” That was the case at a hearing last
week of the Los Angeles City Council’s ad hoc committee on the downtown
project, which convened to consider the tentative memorandum of understanding, or MOU, negotiated by city officials with AEG, the operator of Staples Center and the L.A. Live entertainment complex.

AEG, which is owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, is the promoter
of the project, which would be wedged next to Staples Center, L.A. Live
and the existing convention center. AEG’s president, Tim Leiweke, has
displayed a deft touch for making urban commercial developments work.
He’s also a master salesman. Under his leadership, AEG has built up a
reservoir of good will in the city, not least by spreading around
millions in political contributions. At the public event where AEG
unveiled its proposal in February, the slobbering by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosahttp://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hiltzik-20110731,0,1425488.column and other politicos was so copious you needed scuba gear to breathe.

So it’s perhaps encouraging to see that the city has refashioned AEG’s
original proposal to shift more financial risk off the taxpayers’
shoulders and onto the company. The council even refused Leiweke’s
demand that it meet a spurious deadline of Monday to approve the
tentative MOU, which in any case would still be subject to final
revisions. The ad hoc committee will meet again this week, followed by
another session of the full council a few days later, presumably for a
vote.

AEG has put the council under the gun to approve the tentative MOU
before it takes its summer recess in the next few weeks. The implicit
threat is that any greater delay could put the deal in jeopardy. Yet
nothing good can come of haste, and that sounds like a bluff. More to
the point, there are still lots of questions about whether the taxpayers
are as protected, and whether the project pencils out as neatly, as the
promoters claim.

(READ FULL STORY)


By Doug McIntyre in the Daily News

The City Council followed the unanimous recommendation of the Police Commission and also voted unanimously to end American Traffic Solutions’ abusive and extortive red-light camera rip-off.

We needed this.

With 180,000 tickets mailed to registered car owners since cameras first went up in 2004, a staggering $86 million has been sucked out of the economy by this blatant revenue scheme that produced zero public safety benefit – in fact increased accidents at some intersections – and cost the city over $1million a year to boot!

We can thank Jay Beeber for ending this madness.

Jay may not be famous like his singing almost-namesake, but anyone who cares about honest government should have “Beeber Fever.”

Beeber of Sherman Oaks formed Safer Streets L.A., which challenged the cameras and argued that measures like longer yellow lights could make intersections safer.

Jay Beeber proved we can fight City Hall and win, even against big money.

And American Traffic Solutions is huge money, with a $15 million contract on the line and possibly more considering the powerful client list represented by ATS’ lobbyist, Sage Advisors Inc.

Sage Advisors grabbed $150,000 representing ATS in City Hall. They also lobby for AEG, owners of Staples Center and the proposed downtown NFL stadium.

They also represent Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – the Department of Water and Power’s union –– whose head, Brian D’Arcy, is a kingmaker in L.A. politics.

Beeber wasn’t messing with lightweights when he entered this fight. And he won!

“You have to be relentless,” says Beeber. “And you have to know your stuff.”

(READ FULL STORY)

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The Naked Truth: In Politics, You Get What You Pay For So Look at Who’s Paying

The truth hurts so get out your Vicodin or whatever you take to ease the pain and face the political reality of our time:

Thanks to 10 times as much in political contributions anti-ethanol interests, the U.S. Senate last week flip-flopped and voted to end subsidies that enriched corn farmers. The $85 million senators got from entertainment companies has helped the upper house move forward in making it a felony to stream copyrighted material online, maplight.com reports.
No fewer than 18 California state legislators are holding fund-raisers this week for next year’s campaigns even as Controller John Chiang cut off their $400-a-day paychecks for failing in their constitutional duty to adopt a balanced budget by June 15. 
You can be sure every one of them as well as all but a handful of their cohorts will be carrying sponsored legislation written by and benefiting the same special interests that are so generously contributing to their campaigns.
Yet, even with new legislative districts drawn by an independent citizens’ commission, they are all odds-on favorites to win their elections since voters consistently have proven themselves unable to connect the state’s dire money situation, failing schools, cuts in services and aging infrastructure to the performance in office by that smiling, glad-handing panderer they elect as their Assembly or Senate member.
Hard as it may be believe, the corruption is even worse at the local level in Los Angeles where everything is for sale.
A case in point is Tuesday’s approval of food and beverage contracts to three current vendors at LAX who have provided generous funding to our local elected leaders and the lobbyists who have proven themselves over the years to be smarter and far more capable than the officials who do their bidding.

“The vote by the
Los Angeles City Council concludes, for now, the effort to bring celebrity
chefs and a more local flavor in food to LAX, which has received poor marks in
consumer surveys. And it closes the book on a debate in which rival bidders
staged protests and public tastings to make their case,”
David Zahniser reported in the LA Times..

Just take the most prominent winning bidder, Host International — which for 50 years has been the provider of food and drink at LAX which is generally regarded as one of the worst airports in the world to be stuck in for hours.

Last year, Host lost out entirely to SSP America, a local firm that promised to bring man of the city’s greatest chefs to the airport but City Attorney Carmen Trutanich warned that Host might sue and win so the process was started all over again and the winners this time were that same old contractors, Host, Delaware North and Camacho.

SSP America got nothing this time around.

“The finest chefs the city
had to offer were awarded by LAX a contract, only to have it stripped away with
the weapon of powerful
… lobbying (and) backroom
deals,” said Rod White of Bertha’s Soul Food, one of the companies that were part of SSP America.

The lobbyist for Host for the last seven years at least has been John Ek, whose firm Ek & Ek has taken in nearly $100,000 a year from the airporti vendor as part of the more than $1 million a year in revenue it gets for representing firms doing business with the city, everyone from billboard and real estate companies to taxicab and parking lot operators, city ethics records show.

Remember when the boycott of Arizona over its crackdown on illegal immigrants was the most important moral imperative facing the City Council?

That’s what makes it so hard to understand why guys like Tony Cardenas — the future Congressman — and Richard Alarcon — the soon to be state legislator or state prisoner as the case may be — so passionately tried to protect Scottsdale-based American Traffic Solutions costly and useless contract for red-light cameras.

These are the cameras installed two to a Council district with little regard for traffic safety that capture signal-crashers who face fines of $480. The only problem with the program is that it doesn’t reduce accidents as much as extending yellow caution lights a second and the courts don’t recognize the citations as valid so only the uninformed pay the penalty.


Nonetheless, political veterans of local and state politics like Cardenas and Alarcon appreciate all the help they’ve gotten from Sage Advisors — a lobbying firm headed by Chris Modrzejewski that takes in an average of $750,000 from city business on behalf of such clients as AEG, IBEW Local 11 and 18, Thomas Properties and, of course, American Traffic Solutions.

The Police Commission voted unanimously to end the red light camera farce but after a couple of hours of debate Tuesday, the Council deadlocked 6-6 on overruling the commission with debate resuming today.

So here’s the truth you don’t want to hear: Democracy doesn’t exist when every level of government has been taken hostage by moneyed interests with selfish agendas.

You can whimper and whine. You can struggle and fight. You can believe the lip service or ignore what’s going on altogether. Nothing is going to change until we reach the point of calamity or there is a sudden mass awakening that gets us to put aside the petty ideological conflicts used to keep us weak and separated.

Sadly, I think calamity will happen first.
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Why Haven’t 50,000 Motorists Caught on Camera Crashing Red Lights Paid Their Tickets?

Here are the facts, M’am, just the facts, you tell me the question.

LA contracted with a private company to install red-light cameras at 32 of its 4,300 intersections to catch scofflaws. The company went bankrupt and now is owned by a firm from Arizona, the state the city is boycotting, and its contract is up.

In five years, the program has chalked up a $1.5 million loss for the city because two-thirds of the $466 fine goes to the state and county and nearly one in five of the tickets for red-light crashing — fully 50,000 of them worth nearly $6 million — have gone unpaid.

You can’t renew your license or car registration if you have unpaid tickets.

One final fact: The Council took the boycott issue off the table and clearly intended to extend the contract for 10 months although accidents are actually up or the same at half the 32 intersections..

So what’s the question? Here’s the question that leaped to my mind:

How come 50,000 motorists haven’t paid their tickets?

The answer is simple: Most of them are driving without a license and don’t register their cars so they can laugh at the law and the law-abiding with impunity.

For the most part, they can’t get licenses or register their cars because they are illegal immigrants — the class of people Arizona is cracking down on and the reason why LA is boycotting everything to do with our neighboring state. Some estimates are as high as 25 percent of motorists here are unlicensed, unregistered and uninsured.

In 45 minutes of nonsensical debate by the Council and dissembling by the LAPD, the focus was almost entirely on public safety, whether the cameras help or hurt. The answer was largely mixed and certainly far from definitive.

Yet no one ever asked how come 50,000 motorists haven’t paid their tickets.

The answer, of course, would have made the boycott as silly as the red-light cameras that lose money every year, persecute the law-abiding and don’t prevent accidents significantly even in the handful of places were they are installed.

Understand that for all the talk Wednesday about public safety, the same Council resisted sending four helicopter officers to a training conference in Arizona last week and forced the Chief of Police to cancel it.

So much for public safety is all the matters.

The vote was 13-0 to extend the contract with Jan Perry absent and Lt. Eric Garcetti tweeting from his Navy reserve duty assignment.