Please note that not all the candidates were asked the same questions. In many cases, the format required new questions to be introduced after responses from three candidates. This allowed more ground to be covered.
The forum was filmed by a local resource. It was not a case of runaway production!
Some new topics and some confrontations between unlikely foes were in play at the Neighborhood Council Valley Village Candidate Forum tonight. There was also some flashing!
DWP bills that is.
Tamar Galatzan started the evening by waving her DWP bill, pointing out that despite her energy savings, she paid more than this time last year. Both Peter Sanchez and Michael McCue flashed their DWP bills later in the evening.
It was only appropriate because there was a question concerning whether the candidates would support the creation of a Rate Payer Advocate by the City Council. It was one of the few issues where there was unanimity. All were strongly in favor of establishing the position.
Mary Benson and Joe Essavi added that the current MOU, which requires input from the neighborhood councils before rate increases can be enacted, is being ignored. Paul Krekorian said the advocate concept works well for the PUC, so why not adapt it to the DWP. Peter Sanchez would rather see the RPA position defined by the public rather than the City Council. Tamar Galatzan said she would fight for a charter amendment authorizing the RPA. She also criticized Chris Essel for supporting Measure B.
As was the case at last week’s forum at Laurel Hall, a shot crossed the bow early in the proceedings. Zuma Dogg took issue with a remark by Mary Benson. Mary had mentioned that although she was an activist she did not have the luxury of time to appear at City Council meetings day after day. Her work took priority. Zuma Dogg assumed she was alluding to his lifestyle, one that allows him to appear before the Council frequently.
A Valley Village resident submitted a question concerning the emotional pain she endured when she was evicted from her apartment because it was purchased by a developer. She moved across the street and now stares at the vacant lot where her building used to be. To make matters worse, the site will probably remain vacant for a long time. Lives were disrupted and there were absolutely no mitigating circumstances.
Tamar Galatzan remarked, “This is what happens when plans are violated and developers are welcomed with open arms by the City Council. Older buildings are the true affordable housing.”
Chris Essel said it was a crime the building was destroyed. She went on to say that SB1818 “never should have been passed.” She vowed to build a coalition to undo the effects of the bill.
Paul Krekorian countered a little later saying that he was surprised to hear her even talk about 1818 (Chris Essel’s support of 1818 while Chair of the CCA has dogged her throughout the forums. Tonight was no exception). Essel ‘s riposte was equally sarcastic. She said, “If Paul Krekorian really wanted to fix 1818 (as an Assembly Member) then why hasn’t he done it?”
Mary Benson strongly stated that we need to be creating community plans, not facilitating developers.
One question where I felt the answers were generally disappointing had to do with why the politicos that run the city could not have backed local talent instead of outsiders. Tamar Galatzan’s answer was slightly better than the others when she reminded everyone that she has lived in CD2 for several years.
The recent LAUSD vote on allowing fifty schools to migrate to charter status or independent operation was briefly discussed. This was one question I wish could have been directed at all of the candidates.
Peter Sanchez cited Colfax School, where tonight’s forum was held, as a fine example of what could be achieved by a charter. Mary Benson stated that it was important to empower parents. This decision was a move in that direction.
There was general agreement among the three candidates who answered a question about redistricting CD2 so neighborhoods would not be split between CD2 and CD5. Mary Benson, Tamar Galatzan and Augusto Bisani were on the same page.
The carpetbagger argument came up by accident. Paul Krekorian made a slip of the tongue (perhaps a Freudian slip) when he said he was “almost out of town” instead of “almost out of time.” It got some laughs, but it touched off an exchange. Krekorian played off the slip. He said while he was living in Burbank, he was closer to Colfax School than was Mary Benson and at least did not have to parachute in from the Westside, alluding to Essel. Benson was quick on her feet saying that Krekorian’s move to his rented unit in Valley Glen was a greater distance than her distance to the school.
Perhaps the sharpest disagreement of the night was between Frank Sheftel and Paul Krekorian. Sheftel accused Krekorian of supporting the massive prisoner release being debated in Sacramento, Krekorain called him a liar. Sheftel also challenged Krekorian on his bill to cut runaway production claiming it did not include advertising shoots and other specialized productions important to the local economy.
There were two topics covered that each deserves a separate forum: instant run-off elections and replacing the City Council with boroughs.
Everyone was suspicious of the formulas that an instant run-off would require. There was also concern about the confusion it could create for the voters. Mary Benson exclaimed, “How could we depend on Los Angeles to implement an understandable run-off process?”
A borough form of government did not receive any support. Everyone felt NCs could fulfill the objective of a creating a decentralized city government. As much as I support having strong neighborhood councils, I see value in a borough system, too.
I will have to address that in another article one day.
There were a series of finance questions I wrote and monitored. You can view them here.
I already discussed the answers to the rate payer advocate question.
My question about the lack of accountability for gang programs and whether they were worth supporting found the candidates in general agreement. Tamar Galatzan, who is a neighborhood prosecutor for the City Attorney’s Office, described some of them as being run by gangsters and should be shut down immediately. Joe Essavi would rather have the money go to the LAPD. Chris Essel criticized the city for not following up on prior audits in this area. Frank Sheftel referred to the programs as “extortion” by the criminals who run them.
There was unanimous support for requiring the Chief Administrative Officer to have a CPA and relevant professional accounting and finance experience. Only one candidate supported requiring the same credentials for the City Controller. Most agreed that there were a sufficient number of CPAs on the Controller’s staff; leadership was a more important criteria.
The most technical financial question involved the city’s troubled civilian pension plan (LACERS). Most agreed that the current benefits should be maintained, but increasing the level of employee contributions was a concession that would be necessary to close the huge unfunded pension liability.
Tamar Galatzan, Peter Sanchez and Chris Essel also added that it was unrealistic earnings assumptions that undermined the plan.
Paul Krekorian said it was the job of the Chief Administrative Officer to negotiate with the unions. Quite frankly, his answer does not wash. The City Council approves offers to the union, as was done with the controversial Early Retirement Incentive Plan that has been criticized by the manager of LACERS and the actuaries as being unrealistic and unsustainable.
Please note: I have been very critical of Mr. Krekorian’s lack of action on the Calpers unfunded pension liability. His answer tonight reaffirmed my concerns over his willingness to deal with this problem –a problem that could bankrupt the city. In my opinion, he is putting the interests of the SEIU, a key supporter of his campaign, over the taxpayers.
The closing remarks also included some parting blows.
Paul Krekorian said it was easy to take cheap shots at those in public office.
Frank Sheftel criticized Krekorian’s characterization of his district as the San Fernando Valley Assembly District, implying it was a deceitful way of glossing over his significant representation of Glendale and Burbank.
Zuma Dogg asked if anyone would vote for him if he owned a marijuana clinic. That brought a sharp reply from Frank Sheftel who owns a dispensary.
To the best of my knowledge, up until tonight no one has challenged Sheftel on this subject at a forum.
Michael McCue said the City Council will never take the Neighborhood Councils seriously until we elect an NC activist.
Tamar Galatzan said this race is about the future of Los Angeles –we need to elect a person with some backbone.
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