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Archive for August, 2009

It pains me to see grassroots candidates either deliberately or inadvertently make remarks that hurt each other.

A few of you have become embroiled in arguments that have helped no one but Krekorian and Essel.

 I realize when you are allotted only a few minutes to speak at a forum and receive almost no news coverage from the mainstream media, it is easy to vent your frustrations with unintended consequences. 

 That’s life.

 However, the Mayor Sam Blog exploited the exchange between Mary Benson and Zuma Dogg; I countered.  I was not going to allow Krekorian supporter Mike Higby get away with falsely characterizing it as a general statement on the issue of homelessness.

 I am acquainted with Mary.  There is nothing in her character or background that would suggest she would want to denigrate the homeless or not care about them.  Zuma Dogg is on the battle lines day after day dealing with the City Council.  Both of them are committed advocates.

 It speaks volumes that Higby did not mention Krekorian’s outburst directed at Frank Sheftel.  If you recall, he called Sheftel a “liar” when Frank suggested that Krekorian would support releasing prisoners early in order to balance the state budget.

Frank’s statement was a perfectly legitimate challenge.  Early release is still on the table.  Who knows how Krekorian will vote?  Assembly Leader Bass is considering a smaller early release program than the Senate’s, but it is likely to still be sizable.  Krekorian will bow to Bass and vote whatever way she dictates.

 Note: The vote is scheduled for today in Sacramento.  The recent breakthrough in the Dugard kidnapping case may influence the vote and make any thought of early release unacceptable.

 All of you need to focus on the prize –someone needs to make it to the runoff.  If any of the grassroots candidates think intramural bickering will overcome the big money and union support behind Krekorian and Essel, please withdraw now and throw your support behind one of the others.

 There are about three weeks left until the election.  Perhaps it is time for a meeting of the minds so you can articulate the message that needs to reach the voters.

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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?”

Good question.

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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Here are the questions I asked of the candidates tonight.  Please see my field notes for the answers.

  • Former City Controller Laura Chick was critical of spending for gang prevention programs.  She cited a lack of accountability for these programs.  It appears the problem still exists.  Recently, a key member of Homies Unidos was arrested for racketeering. Another organization (Unity T.W.O) has failed to supply reports concerning its activities.  Will you pledge to authorize and support an independent review of all gang prevention programs and require them to submit specific objectives, business plans and an analysis of their accomplishments and failures before they receive another dime of money from the city?
  • By now, most residents have received their DWP bills reflecting the new tiered structure and higher rates.  More increases are coming and important costly decisions must be made concerning replacing infrastructure and sources of energy.  Would you introduce a motion to create an independent Rate Payer Advocate with the authority to examine any DWP data and report on the soundness of the Utility’s recommendations?
  • The Los Angeles City Attorney is required to be licensed to practice in all courts of the State for a period of at least five years immediately preceding election to the office (Section 270).  No special qualifications are currently required for the City Controller or the CAO.  Would you introduce a motion to the City Council before the next citywide election that would amend the Charter to require that the Controller and CAO possess both a CPA and professional experience in an industry or government position involving the application of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles?
  • Elected officials must make tough, painful decisions in order to manage government finances. As you are aware, an independent actuarial study has raised serious concerns over the efficacy and soundness of the recent Early Retirement offer proposed by the City Council to most of the civilian union employees.  Concerns were also raised over the unfunded pension liability that is projected to range between $2-4 billion, which is equivalent to almost a third to one-half of the current city budget.  Which of the following concessions would you most likely seek from the unions to put LACERS back on a sound footing (no other answers will be allowed):
  1. Maintain the current benefits but significantly increase the employees’ contribution rate to the plan.
  2. Decrease salaries and use the savings to reduce the pension deficit.
  3. Reduce retirement benefits for all current employees.
  4. Do not insist on concessions and instead press LACERS’ management to consider using more favorable investment earnings growth assumptions.

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Many people have been predicting a decline in assessed values for at least two years, but our Legislature and City Council have ignored the warnings and continued to grant generous compensation deals and failed to rein in spending.

Krekorian is the only legislator in the CD2 race, so he must accept some responsibility.  He has not and will not.

Galatzan still has to provide information regarding how the LAUSD approaches its fiscal responsibilities.  The school district is also impacted by declining assessed values.  As with the Legislature, the LAUSD was aware of the approaching storm and did nothing to build a firewall to mitigate the financial squeeze.

We need answers from both of these candidates about their roles in the buildup to the crisis.  After all, they will face the same problems in the City Council.

Experience in government alone does not qualify someone to serve.

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The investigative reporters will do their homework on Tamar Galatzan’s back-to-back LAUSD mailers.  I am certain they will find no violation of ethics.

The appearance of unethical conduct will be the issue among the voters.

There will be fallout, but will any other candidate benefit?

We have probably reached a tipping point in the campaign where the three “rich” candidates have a committed core of supporters who will not be swayed by any news.  I do not anticipate a defection from Tamar’s supporters, especially to either Krekorian or Essel.  A few may shift their votes to a couple of grassroots candidates.

The real damage to Tamar’s campaign will come from the uncommitted voters.  God only knows how large or small a pool they represent, but I would not be surprised if they amounted to almost one-third of the likely voters.

Given the reputation of the LAUSD, many uncommitted voters may resent the mailers and tend to vote for someone other than Tamar.

Who will be the primary beneficiary?

My guess is that they would tend to migrate to Pete Sanchez, Mary Benson and Frank Sheftel.  Based on my personal observations from the candidate forums, these three have earned the interest and respect of many of the attendees.

The people who attend the forums are the most motivated citizens in the district.  You have to figure that they have the power to reach out to close friends and neighbors.  It is this multiplier effect that can put a grassroots candidate or two on the brink of making the cut for the run-off, at the expense of either Essel or Galatzan.

The race has become more competitive.

I look forward to the Neighborhood Council Valley Village forum this Wednesday evening, the 26th.

Mailer-gate will most certainly come up in the exchange among the candidates.

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Anyone who has ever visited Lake Tahoe knows of its vibrant blue hue and clarity that can only be matched by waters adjacent to tropical islands.

I am a member of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.  This group is the most important community activist organization at the Lake.  It is dedicated to restoring the water clarity to the pre-development era of the sixties.

The group works closely with the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority, a bi-state agency whose commissioners are chosen by the governments of California and Nevada.

Here is a progress report.

Thunderbird Lodge- view of Catamaran

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Neighborhood Council Valley Village recently mailed 5,500 postcards to its stakeholders who reside in the CD2 part of Valley Village.  The card promoted the upcoming candidate forum this Wednesday evening, August 26th.

We received 130 back as undeliverable.  The reasons were almost all due to vacant apartments.

I do not have vacancy statistics for prior years, but 130 strikes me as being high.

Have these people moved for economic reasons?  I only wish I had a grant to study this.

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