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Mandatory voting has been the buzz of social media of late, owing to the President’s comments that it could result in a transformation of American politics.

If you believe a law requiring citizens to cast a vote will make us better, more responsible and informed, you are misinformed.

Assuming the government could effectively enforce such a law – which is very doubtful – do you think once the person enters the voting booth he or she will spend more than a few seconds in deliberation? It is likely a blank ballot will be returned. Some would be returned with a vote against the party that supported the law. That’s about as much critical analysis as might occur.

That runs contrary to the assumption that the policy would help liberal Democrats. In the words of the President, “The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily toward immigrant groups and minorities… There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

The truth is, there are many voters who just do not care.

Look in our own backyard where our local elections rarely produce more than a 20% turnout. The stay-at-home set obviously cuts across all segments of the county and city, or we would be see much higher participation.

I have been active in local politics for over ten years and I can tell you that most people I meet, including a few who claim to have an interest in civic affairs, cannot name their officials nor distinguish the roles of the various levels of representation.

Perhaps had mandatory voting been a requirement when the Constitution was ratified, we may have seen a tradition of widespread participation take root. Of course, the right to vote was very restrictive in those days. You would think in view of that, high voter turnout would have become the norm as restrictions were eliminated.

For a great example as to why mandatory voting will not increase meaningful participation, you only need to go back to when eighteen-year olds were granted the right to vote. According to an insightful article in the Washington Post, there was a spike at first, but as the newly-minted voters reached their twenties, their turnout resembled the rest of the country’s. So much for roots.

Not voting is as much a right as voting.

We are horses who should not be forced to drink if we are not thirsty.

It’s bad enough we have suffered yet another system implementation disaster costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is insulting when those responsible for the failure downplay the impact.

It is equally insulting when another party uses it in an attempt to deflect attention from its own costly acts.

The DWP tried to soften the bad news of the failed implementation of its billing system. It wasn’t so bad after all, if you buy into the statement issued by Joseph Ramallo, the utility’s spokesman. Of the $681 million owed by ratepayers, only $245 million in arrears was due to the new system.

It’s like being told you were hit by a bus instead of a train.

Somehow, there is little remorse and no accountability for the snafu.

Sure, the City Attorney is going to sue Price Waterhouse Coopers – that’s good.

But let us not forget that DWP’s executive management had to sign off on the project. Normally that entails a thorough review of the test results, especially when the stakes are high.

If this is what we can expect from Marcie Edwards, it is time to post the GM job, yet again. Maybe she could run for the LAUSD Board. She will feel at home with the current members. If she had the slightest sense of accountability, she would have handled the public announcement of a fiasco of this magnitude instead of pawning it off on a spokesman.

The DWP used Tamar Galatzan’s excuse for the LAUSD’s failed system rollouts: “We were lied to!”

Management that assumes its is going to get the straight scoop most of the time shouldn’t be in management. There is such a thing as healthy skepticism and conducting an independent, thorough review.

And only D’Arcy would attempt to take advantage of the carnage and use it to deflect criticism of the chaos he has created over the years. By spending millions on city officials, he all but guaranteed excessive compensation for his IBEW Local 18 members over the years. His stonewalling of Ron Galperin’s limited audit of the controversial non profit trusts is further proof of his obstinance and disregard of transparency.

While Edwards is downplaying and D’Arcy is deflecting, the mayor is diddling.

For someone who won an election on the promise of reform of the DWP, Garcetti is not delivering. If anything, he appears to be caving under pressure.

Before he completely loses the political capital he won in the last election, he needs to take a firm, public stand and bear the pushback he will receive from the the union, management and their friends in the council chambers. In return, he will win the hearts and minds of the ratepayers.

If enough people pushback, there will be less tolerance for the status quo that is bleeding us.

The only excitement from last night’s election involved the LAUSD Board races. Three incumbents are heading for a May runoff.

There was no clear common denominator that would explain why, in an incumbent-happy city, three highly recognizable, well-funded candidates would be struggling.

Was it a battle between charter proponents and the teachers’ union?

To some degree, yes. But I believe there was another driver behind the support for the challengers – people are fed up by a parade of costly failures and scandals stemming from a lack of diligence on the part of the board. The voters recognize the complicity of the incumbents in at least $500 million in losses incurred by the district over the last few years, topped off by an FBI investigation of the I-Pad contract. It is apparent the current board members are prone to being duped.

First the numbers (by percent of vote):

Vladovic, 43%
Galatzan, 39%
Kayser, 36%

Vladovic and Galatzan were runaway, first-round, winners in 2011, so the results of last night reflect a significant change in their appeal to the voters.

Kayser had a close race in 2011, so the fact he is struggling again is not a surprise. He is also an opponent of charter schools and absorbed the wrath of their well-organized supporters, whose organization spent around $400,000 on ads targeting him. However, he also received $550,000 from the teachers’union – it’s not as if he was David vs. Goliath. It was a fair fight, as far as L.A politics goes.

Vladovic and Galatzan had all the advantages over their opponents: support of the pro-charter voters and big money. Galatzan, in particular, had deep pockets. The teachers’ union stayed neutral, too. Yet, their counts were anemic.

Despite holding the upper hand in resources, the two have much work to do. Galatzan is the more vulnerable. If her opponents in the race unite behind Scott Schmerelson for the runoff, she is in deep trouble.

Lydia Guiterrez, who has prior statewide campaign experience, is a formidable candidate and has a credible chance of unseating the entrenched Vladovic.

It can’t hurt public education to have a wholesale change at the LAUSD board. The current regime has wasted too many dollars. Others deserve a chance.

Sochi on rails

Last week’s tragedy along an at-grade crossing in Oxnard adds to the growing list of accidents involving trains and motor vehicles. Fortunately, no one was killed in this latest one, but there were severe injuries.

In almost all cases, these incidents are due to carelessness, recklessness or criminal acts. Given human nature, recurrences are inevitable. However, the possibilities can be greatly reduced with right-of-way improvements that eliminate at-grade crossings.

Some projects designed to do just that are underway, but they cover only a fraction of what needs to be done.

Funding is tight, which means the work will be piecemeal.

What is needed is a systemic approach that not only addresses safety concerns, but improves the efficiency, timeliness and comfort of commuter rail travel.

Measure R2, a half-cent sales tax increase is being planned for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would attempt to raise $90 billion over 45 years. At $2 billion per year, improvements will be slow in coming and, although increasing safety, may not have a perceptible impact on efficiency, timeliness and comfort. We will still be left with a mishmash system juggling passenger and freight service on shared tracks. Not a very attractive option for commuters.

While our local and regional transportation needs are being underfunded, California is doing everything possible to push ahead with High-Speed Rail.

Stop and think of the relative demands – ask yourself: how often do you commute locally versus travel to and from Southern California to the Bay Area? Over the course of the year, how long does you car idle on our clogged freeways and streets? Quite a bit more than the time you spend on the 5 or 99 traveling through the San Joaquin Valley.

Why are we throwing away $68 billion to supplement existing satisfactory alternatives for our infrequent north-south trips? By the way, commercial aircraft and cars have been becoming more efficient and safer. For example, since 2000, domestic airline fuel consumption has improved 40%. Within a decade, hybrid and electric vehicles will comprise a major share of the automobile market.

The State should stop HSR and cut off further funding. Instead, a bill should be introduced to fund rail improvements designed to create a well-integrated network of commuter trains and subways in all major metropolitan areas.

It’s about getting value for the money. $68 billion could create far greater benefits if applied to projects that move people through our major cities, rather than from L.A to San Francisco – or from Bakersfield to Madera. Less gasoline burned; less congestion.

HSR is political pork and payback for California’s oligarchs. It is a project straight from Vladimir Putin’s playbook.

We do not need Sochi on rails.

I only hope the members of the LAUSD Board of Education do not receive e-mails from Nigeria which offer “risk-free” financial opportunities. If that occurs, the school system will be bankrupt in short order.

You see, the current Board has no concept of due diligence or stewardship.

When a big-ticket project is put before them, it will receive the stamp of approval without regard to budgetary considerations and with no plan to evaluate progress.

For example, why not approve $90 million for a new payroll system? Let’s push forward. We are certain it will work; just tell us when it’s ready for implementation and push the start button. It cost another $37 million to fix the disaster that followed and disrupted the lives of many teachers.

A more contemporary example is MISIS – the replacement for ISIS (and who wouldn’t want to replace anything named ISIS!). Its cost of $130 million dwarfs that of the payroll system. This article, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a respected worldwide organization with over 400,000 members, provides a good chronology of the inept oversight and management that was the trademark for implementing the system. It may cost another $100 million to overhaul it and undo the errors to vital student records.

There are other examples of costly SNAFUs; you will find them in one of my earlier articles.

The reaction to major failures by the Board is usually of the day-late-and-dollar-short variety.

Board Member Tamar Galatzan wanted an audit of why the rollout of MISIS was such a calamity. Excuse me, Ms. Galatzan, didn’t you and your colleagues think of authorizing an independent audit of the testing and results prior to implementation? That’s what is supposed to occur prior to the launch of important systems.

According to Howard Blume’s article in the LA Times, her reaction about the future of MISIS was, “But it might take us a little longer than we had expected or hoped to get there.”

Not a word of concern about the cost.

I attended a Neighborhood Council meeting where Galatzan appeared, purportedly in her capacity as a sitting LAUSD Board Member. She has been trying to make the rounds of NCs in her district lately. I am sure it is a coincidence that these visits fall close to the upcoming election on March 3rd.

I and other stakeholders asked her about the LAUSD’s history of failures.

Her answer: “We were lied to!”

I have no doubt administrators lied.

The sad truth is that those entrusted with any organization’s finances have to assume there is risk of misinformation, if not outright lies, when it comes to assessing performance and results before rollouts. The LAUSD Board does not get it. Did they not learn from earlier failures or from the well-publicized debacle of Kathleen Sebelius’ mismanagement of ACA’s implementation? They are disconnected from the real world. They are unaccountable and do everything to downplay the loss of many hundreds of millions of dollars – funds that could have been applied to address worthy objectives.

Despite their sorry record, it will be an uphill battle to unseat them on March 3.

If enough teachers get behind some of the challengers, there is a chance to force runoffs. I only hope the teachers and education activists will make a concerted effort to get out the vote.

When the City Council announced a “compromise” with Brian D’Arcy, boss of DWP’s labor union, over the scope and conduct of an audit covering two non profit trusts, my eyes rolled.

An audit with restrictions is not a legitimate audit.

I suggested a number of audit steps that City Controller Galperin could apply to make the best of a bad hand. Unfortunately, he was never given a chance. No surprise when you are dealing with people who do not believe in transparency.

An editorial in the Daily News provides an excellent summary of what Galperin was up against, so I won’t go into the details here except to say the objection D’Arcy’s people raised about the auditors’ extensive note-taking is enough to prove the union was never serious in its negotiations with the City Council. Kind of like Vladimir Putin’s strategy in dealing with the west over Russia’s interference in Ukraine.

Where does this impasse leave us?

The court has to rule on the union’s appeal of the decision that supported the city’s right to audit the trusts without restriction.

If the appeal fails – and it should – then the city will have leverage to conduct a real audit, including the power to subpoena anyone or anything.

But will the City Council go the whole nine yards if given the opportunity?

My guess would be no. After all, there was no sound logic in compromising to begin with. Why would the Council care now? It was obvious that politics trumped the public’s interests – D’Arcy’s history of directing millions of dollars to candidates for city offices saw to that.

Controller Ron Galperin and City Attorney Mike Feuer appear to be the only ones willing to push back. The Mayor,for whatever reason, seems to prefer standing on the sidelines despite being denied the right to appoint management representatives to the boards of the non profits .

It may take a while before the court rules on the appeal. Ron Galperin steadfastly wants to withhold the next $4 million installment. But there’s still $12 million in cash sitting in the trusts’ accounts we may be able to recover. The city should ask the judge to order the trusts’ assets frozen until the case is decided. It would be a shame if the funds were transferred beyond the reach of the city.

It is time for the Mayor and City Council to get on board with Feuer and Galperin to protect the interests of the residents and ratepayers. If they cannot do it on this issue, then what good are they?

Have you tried to schedule an appointment for a license renewal lately?

I received a renewal reminder in mid-January. The expiration of my license is March 18th.

Within a week after receiving it, I attempted to schedule an appointment at the DMV.  I tried several offices in the area – the earliest appointments were in early to mid-April.  Does me a lot of good.

I called Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian’s office for assistance.  The field rep confirmed my suspicion that the lack of timely appointments was due to the surge of applicants caused by the passage of AB 60, the bill authorizing the licensing of illegal immigrants.

Put aside the divisive politics for a moment.  When the legislature passes a bill that creates a reasonably predictable response – and certainly anyone in Sacramento could have figured AB 60 would send people flocking to the DMV – would it not make sense to staff offices accordingly, even extend hours into the evening?

Better yet, why not grant automatic 30-day extensions to those of us with the misfortune to have their renewals fall in this timeframe?

I suggested that to Nazarian’s field representative.  He doubted anything could be done.

“Why not executive action,” I asked.  Once again, he could not see that happening.

I guess Governor Brown is too preoccupied with laying track for HSR.

The rep did say he would pass along my suggestion to the Assembly Member.

My next stop – State Senator Hertzberg.

I will keep you posted.

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