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Archive for July, 2009

The story in the Los Angeles Daily News does not provide sufficient information to determine the cause of the recent NSF checks issued by the City Controller’s Office.

Changes in bank ownership should be seamless and not result in unpaid checks.  The Routing and transit numbers encoded on the checks for the purchased bank are automatically directed to the account of the new bank.  Internal controls are in place for business or government accounts to assure that sweeps are made in accordance with the instructions of the issuer, in this case the City. I have managed the transition of accounts between banks- there is no reason why this should have occurred.

I cannot determine from the limited information if the City Controller’s office was partly culpable, but I cannot rule it out.  One thing that should be reviewed is the cash management process at the City.  Well run entities stay on top of cash requirements and the balances in their disbursement accounts at the banks.  Even though Wells Fargo may have erred, it is possible that the oversight function in the Controller’s Office could have nipped this in the bud through procedural due diligence.  Someone could have been asleep at the switch.

If any of you have further information, please let me know.  The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils has formed a City Financial Review Committee.  The initial objective of the Committee is to gain an understanding of the processes used by the City to manage its financial activities.

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Two candidates have been branded with the unflattering designation of carpetbagger.  Should we really get worked up over it?  Consider this: if Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, decided to rent an apartment in Valley Village and run for the CD2 seat, would anyone complain?  Personally, I would urge him to take on the full responsibilities of the City Council and the Mayor.  We would be much better off.

OK, that is an extreme hypothetical example, but we should think twice before dismissing a candidate simply because of residency.  A candidate’s entire resume and inherent abilities should form the primary criteria for fitness. 

Residency should be considered, but let us not make it a litmus test.

Let me weigh in on this one issue as it relates to Paul Krekorian and Chris Essel.  Both have only recently rented apartments in CD2; however they do have social and political connections to the Valley.  We should question how relevant those connections are and can they ramp up quickly enough to serve us adequately.

Krekorian’s family has had a strong presence in the Valley since the 1930s. He has stayed in touch with events on this side of the Hollywood Hills.  His Assembly District covers the north part of the Council District.  Although everything south of Valley Glen is in Feuer’s District, there is an overlap of issues, particularly as they relate to real estate development and allocation of City services to our region.  I have generally heard positive comments about his involvement from my contacts in the 43rd District.

I had the opportunity to talk with Paul over the weekend.  I was impressed with his sincerity, although I sensed he was not as familiar as I would have liked on SB 1818 and its adverse impact on our quality of life. Although he is experienced in dealing with the financial crisis at the state level, I am not certain if he has gauged the politics of the City’s grim fiscal challenges.  The same forces that kept him focused on the California budget probably prevented him from grasping the enormity and complexities of the Los Angeles budget.  To his credit, he did salvage the City’s share of the gasoline tax, but the dynamics among the Mayor, City Council and the municipal unions are more intensely personal in nature than the partisan ideological differences he faced in Sacramento.  The battles are as different as a knife fight vs. an Olympic fencing match. Day to day local involvement is critical in understanding the mess here; by that measure, he is at a disadvantage vis-à-vis all the other candidates.

I have to question whether Mr. Krekorian is aware of the Neighborhood Council boundaries.  As of July 30th, his website lists Valley Village as one of the communities in his Assembly District; it is actually part of Mike Feuer’s District. This is a small matter, but it is a sign he is not intimately aware of the City’s demographic profile.

I have not had the opportunity to meet with Chris Essel, so I must totally rely on other sources to evaluate whether residency is a major factor in her ability to represent CD2.  I have requested a meeting.

Chris was born and raised in the Valley, so her ties based on family presence are comparable to Krekorian’s.  I do not have adequate information to put together a complete timeline of her residency in the Valley.  At one point she did live in Studio City, so I will give her credit for being at least casually familiar with life in CD2.  However, I am certain that her focus has been south of the Hollywood Hills in recent years- years that have been tumultuous for the people on the hot side of Los Angeles.  She has been absent from any involvement in the South Valley Neighborhood Council network- she has not made any overtures to VANC.  Krekorian, on the other hand, has appeared and talked at length about traffic issues on Riverside Drive.

That said, she has been deeply involved with the City, but where has she been when the Valley was coping with DWP imposed water rationing that has left our landscapes parched, dealing with gang related crime, fighting SB1818 and the Mayor’s crusade to turn Magnolia and Chandler Boulevards in miniature Manhattans, or halting mansionization?  She has been on the Westside, that’s where. It is all well and good that she has won the praise of the Doheny/Sunset community, whose residents hosted a $250 per person fundraiser so she could help us quaint folks on the other side of the hill, and earned a “meet and greet event” in Westwood, but she has to prove that the competence that guided her in her Paramount career is enough to offset her absence from the granularities of life in the diverse region that encompasses CD2.  That could take years for her to absorb, much less master.

Both Krekorian and Essel understand the economics of the entertainment industry, Krekorian from his legal background and Assembly committee assignment and Essel from her hands on experience at Paramount and involvement in industry groups.  Krekorian does have a leg up on Essel when it comes to business diversity.  As a resident of Burbank, he has witnessed the demise of the middle class that resulted from the departure of the aerospace industry and recognizes the importance of encouraging multiple industries.  While Essel’s knowledge of the entertainment industry is impressive, she appears to be a one trick pony when it comes to supporting business development.  We need to do more than curbing runaway film production; we need to attract manufacturing as well.  Krekorian is probably better positioned to deal with that.

I have only scratched the surface of these two candidates.  The comparisons I have raised here are primarily related to their knowlege and understanding of CD2 and a few of the matters affecting it.  It will be necessary for you to ask tough issue-specific questions at candidate forums. 

While residency should not skew our reactions to their candidacies, it would be fair to ask both of them if they intend to move their primary residences and families to CD2 if elected.  I think we all can agree that we want our representatives to be part of the everyday life in our own backyard while holding office.

Put that question on your forum agendas.

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There Will Be Blood.  

The title of the 2008 Oscar nominated film seems to be a particularly appropriate label that should be slapped on the 2009 California budget process.  Regarding this unprecedented budget process, there will be blood, and it will be on the hands of Governor Schwarzenegger and our state legislators for years to come.   

To achieve a balanced 2010 budget and close the state’s $24 billion shortfall, the legislature and Governor wielded their knives almost exclusively on the expense side of the balance sheet.  To avoid – at all costs – any increases to revenue (higher taxes), painful cuts were made to fundamental services that sustain our most fragile, including support for health services, Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, housing, as well as support for insurance assistance and preventative medical care.  Other items that make California attractive to residents and tourists alike – such as the state park system – were also decimated. 

The damage of this budget, and the actions of our governor and legislators, will be estimated and debated for weeks to come.  But the long term impact has yet to be quantified.  The ramifications will be severe, painful to most in our state, and in many instances cause irreparable harm to the most vulnerable among us.  Over many years the State of California has supported a comprehensive network of health and human services that ensured basic support for our citizens.  In a matter of a few months this framework has been destroyed.  Insult was added to injury today when the Governor used his “blue pen” to add another $650 million in cuts to child welfare, AIDS prevention and basic medical care. 

For many years to come there will be consequences of these 2010 budget decisions.  There will be blood.   And it will forever be on the hands of those who participated in these state spending decisions.  Some costs will be readily evident – a missed opportunity to attend college in 2010 or lack of access to a state beach or park.  Others, however, won’t be known for many years – and the potential impact is chilling.  What price do we assign to a child who cannot receive health care services, who then suffers increased illness over their lifetime?  How do we quantify the impact of reduced education support that in turn produces an increased high school drop out rate?  What is the manner in which we accurately convey the damage of dismantling an HIV prevention program that no longer uses trained experts in education and prevention to help reduce the spread of the disease in our state? 

Even more troubling is the cumulative impact of this year’s budget.  Once a park is closed, a domestic violence program terminated or an infant health service ended, who accounts for the added costs to re-start the effort?  What price do we assign to the loss of human capital that results when trained persons leave these human service programs?  Other than the actual dollars pulled from the 2010 spending plan, who will measure the broader “costs” we will incur?

Tough decisions were made this year in a very challenging recession.  No one can argue against that point.  Yet it is equally clear that, long after those responsible for sealing this budget deal have left their elected offices, we’ll still be counting the cumulative costs of this fiscal crisis.   The toll of this year’s budget on our state looks high now.  Just wait, it will only get worse.

Tony Braswell has been on the Board of the Neighborhood Council Valley Village since its inception in 2005.  He first served as Secretary and is now the President.  He is active in the fight against HIV through his work as Director for Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Research Institute. I am proud to count Tony as both a friend and fellow community activist.          Paul Hatfield

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This is a great overview of how Federal stimulus funds have been allocated in California. You can click on any county and find specific allocations by entity.

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The University of Richmond Spiders are projected to share the CAA title with Villanova.  Richmond returns eighteen players from lat year’s Division 1 FCS Championship team.  The season opens against Duke.

The Spiders now have two running backs in the NFL:  Tim Hightower of the Cardinals and Josh Vaughn of the Buccaneers,  Hightower is in his second year; Vaughn is a rookie.  In addition, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, who might arguably have the highest IQ in the NFL, is a rookie with the Falcons.

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While visiting Mr. Krekorian’s official state website, I noticed that Valley Village was listed as one of the communities contained within the 43rd District’s boundaries.  This is incorrect as Valley Village’s northern boundary is Burbank Boulevard and the eastern boundary is the 170 Freeway.  If you zoom in on the map, you will see where the 43rd District lies to the north and east of Valley Village.  I have informed Mr. Krekorian’s office of the error and requested that a correction be made.  It might help if others also call this error to the attention of his staff.

Valley Village is represented in the Assembly by Mike Feuer- the 42nd District.

FOLLOW UP NOTE: August 3rd

I heard back from Mr. Krekorian’s office.  They claim that there are a few addresses straddling the border with 42nd District on Burbank Boulevard, but will make the change so as not to give the impression that Valley Village is largely encompassed by his District.  

I applaud Mr. Krekorian’s decision to make the change. By doing so, he clearly shows respect for the unique character of the community.   That is something more politicians need to do.

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Would you invest in a company that was audited only once every five years and whose top executives were appointed by officials who were recipients of cash contributions from those affiliated with it? How about if the person responsible for supervising the audit received cash from sources with a vested interest in the company?  No, you say?  Think again.  You and all of your neighbors have a stake in such an entity- it is the DWP, the largest municipal utility company in the United States.

The Mayor of Los Angeles nominates Commissioners and the City Council confirms the appointments.  The Mayor also influences the selection of DWP’s executives and key staff.  The Mayor and many members of the City Council have been beneficiaries of campaign support, both financial and logistical, from the IBEW, the DWP’s primary union.  Wendy Greuel, the recently installed City Controller with the responsibility for conducting the DWP audit, received a late infusion of close to $200,000 to her campaign from the IBEW, helping her avoid a runoff when she ran for the position in March.  The DWP also transfers tens of millions of dollars to the City’s General Fund annually- funds that should be devoted to infrastructure improvements to water and electricity capacity, but are instead wasted by the City Council for unaccountable projects throughout the City (a recent court decision blocked the transferof the surplus margin related to water, but the electricity component continues). 

None of this facilitates independent oversight of this valuable asset’s management. If anything, it assures a conflict of interest will exist between our elected officials and the DWP unless something is done to break that connection.

We can eliminate this chummy relationship by introducing a Charter Amendment requiring the appointment of an independent Rate Payer Advocate (RPA). To be effective, the amendment must require that the RPA have full access to the DWP’s records and be funded from the DWP’s well endowed overhead budget. More importantly, the RPA would answer only to the residents of the City and serve for a specified term, out of reach of the Mayor, City Council, unions and the DWP Commissioners.

There are two ways to approve a Charter Amendment for the ballot:  the City Council can approve it, or by supporters gathering over 200,000 signatures of registered voters throughout the City.  The former would probably result in a watered-down version with less power assigned to the RPA; the latter would probably have more teeth.  However, even a City Council approved amendment could be effective if the Neighborhood Councils and other individual stakeholders have a strong say in formulating it through public hearings and community outreach.

The time has come for the RPA; if anything, it is many years overdue.  We are entering an era of water and energy deficiencies.  The solutions will require massive investment, along with a sensible and fair plan for raising the required capital.  If this is not the time for an independent watchdog, then when?

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