Archive for October, 2009

Paul Krekorian and Chris Essel appeared at an appeals hearing at Van Nuys City Hall concerning the 11933 Magnolia SB1818 project in Valley Village.  By all accounts they were very supportive of the community’s effort to fight the project.

I spoke with Paul Krekorian on Friday evening at his campaign headquarters before he left for the KRLA debate.  He told me he was shocked at how the community was steamrolled by the CPC, especially by the bullying tactics employed by the City Attorney’s office that discouraged even a continuance of the appeal until the residents of CD2 had an elected City Council Member to represent them in the dispute.

Curbing runaway development is critical to quality of life in the Valley.  This is one area where Krekorian has superior skills over Essel, in part because of his legislative and legal background.

Nevertheless, I thank both of them for their appearance and support.  They displayed a spirit of cooperation rarely seen in the midst of a hotly contested election.

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Density hits a new high, or is it a new low?

The trend in everything seems to be to pack them in like rats. 

The ship, which is fives times larger than the Titanic, should have been named the SS Magnolia Boulevard.

Worlds Largest Cruise Ship

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Just a quick recap on the Krekorian/Essel debate broadcast on KRLA’s Kevin James show.

I listened to the debate at the home of former CD2 candidate Pete Sanchez with a handful of Valley Village residents.

The radio format is more productive than the live forums in that more ground is covered.  I can’t thank Kevin enough for dedicating the time to host  these events.

The debate was segmented into four topics: runaway film production, the city’s infrastructure (namely DWP’s), the budget crisis and development.

There were no meaningful differences in the first two topics.  Both candidates touted their own efforts at curbing runaway production and voiced their support for a DWP rate payer advocate.  For what it’s worth, Chris referred to the RPA as the inspector general.  I assume she was referring toCouncil Member Smith’s vision of the position.

Regardless, most people realize there is much work that needs to be done in defining the appointment process and the duties.

Krekorian and Essel both also stated they opposed Measure B on the grounds that there was no public comment and was flawed.  Krekorian stated that he helped defeat an Assembly Bill that was as impractical as Measure B.

The infrastructure discussion strayed off topic when the two argued over who was more aligned with the establishment.  Chris cited Krekorian’s role as Assistant Assembly Leader and Krekorian countered with some of Essel’s contributions coming from 336 of Villaraigosa’s allies.

The answers became evasive when the subject of the city’s budget came up.

Krekorian talked around Kevin’s very direct question concerning employee raises.  Kevin asked , “if you can only provide a raise to one group, who would it be -police, fire or civilians? 

Paul answered that he was proud of all of his union endorsements but safety would come first.  I assume that means civilian employees would not receive a raise given those choices, but it was a very roundabout and indirect answer to a very direct question.

Essel received a different question.  Kevin asked if she thought the City Council’s actions over the last few years contributed to the current defict, which the LA Times claimed is still at $100 million after all of the most current decisions have been considered. 

Chris answered that the City Council should have addressed the problems much sooner.  She would call for workforce reductions (it was not clear as to whether she meant what had already been determined  as opposed to additional cuts), a two tier pension system and increased employee contributions to benefit plans.

When asked how she would prevent the Council from deferring problems to future periods, she said she would fight for timely treatment of issues; however, she was not specific as to how she proposed to accomplish that.

On balance, Essel was a little stronger than Krekorian on the topic.

What ground she gained on the budget issue was lost on the topic of development.

Both candidates went on record of opposing development that could not be supported by the existing infrastructure.  However, the specter of her work on the CCA and CRA returned to haunt her.  Essel admitted she wished her name had never appeared on the notorious CCA press release in support of SB1818.

In their closing statements both traded barbs about the other being the insider.  Krekorian emphasized his recent endorsements from both Tamar Galatzan and Mary Benson as evidence that he is not part of  the city’s establishment.

I managed to ask the last listener call-in question of the evening: since 80% of the general fund is related to compensation and safety must be a priority, how will they close the budget gap without seeking significant concessions from the civilian unions?

Both of their answers were disappointing.  Krekorian said if we establish a good working relationship with the unions, they will cooperate, but he did not say if he would seek concessions. 

Frankly,in my opinion, the civilian unions have been treated well over the years, but I have not seen any willingness on their parts to make meaningful long term commitments to reining in labor costs. 

Chris Essel said she would rather rely on increased revenues to close the gap.  Just as Krekorian’s answer skirted the issue of labor costs, Chris’ answer ignored economic reality -tax revenues are decreasing and will likely remain stagnant for a prolonged period of time.

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As the old saying goes, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

We all fall prey to that condition on many subjects; it is simply impossible for anyone to know enough about anything.

That is why I am concerned about the plan to have the City of Los Angeles transfer its e-mail service from Novell to Google.  I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination on the underlying technology. 

Stephen Box is.

He wrote an informative piece on the city’s e-mail migration on his blog, Soap BoxLA. The most meaningful point he made deals with the importance of training:

Missing from this City Council debate over Novell vs. Google is the simple fact that technology is no substitute for vision and skills. Learning to type fast does not make one a great novelist.
The strategy of “bigger and faster” upgrades coupled with enthusiastic and forceful campaigns, all employing the same habits and skills will only result in “more of the same” but delivered with “bigger and faster” enthusiasm.

As a consultant, I have seen the damage wrought by poor implementation and training.  It can be compared to putting an M-16 automatic rifle in the hands of a caveman.

If you want a local example of how hosed things can get, look what happened when the LAUSD switched its payroll system to SAP.  The final cost to the district to clean it up may amount to more than the system’s purchase price, which was already over the budget by around $40 million.  From conversations I have had with a few teachers, corrections are still being made to their checks.

I have worked with SAP modules and have found them to be powerful tools in managing finances. I have also seen a disastrous implementation of the system firsthand.  The interfaces were poorly designed and created an avalanche of excessive data into the accounts the company’s staff relied upon to analyze and reconcile financial activity.

When the City Council voted to switch to Google did any of the members ask to see an implementation plan?  Did any of them ask about the training required?  How about the availability of resources at the city’s information technology department?

I do not know if upgrading the current Novell system is more or less cost effective than Google’s cloud application –the City Council thinks so.

Here is what Novell had to say in an e-mail distribution (I am not in a position to judge the accuracy of the statement):

Setting the Record Straight on the Costs of Changing Providers for L.A.’s Email and Record Retention Software 
LOS ANGELES – Oct. 23, 2009 – Next week the Los Angeles City Council will vote on the proposed replacement of Los Angeles’s email and records retention software, Novell GroupWise.  With the city facing a massive budget deficit, the speculated budget benefits from switching to an untested application are enticing, but according to a recent Los Angeles City Administrative Officer report, the proposed system under consideration will actually cost taxpayers more than $1.5 million in the first year.  The reality is that the budget figures for GroupWise have not been presented accurately. Novell has provided accurate information on the cost, benefit, and entitlements that demonstrate the value of the Novell solution. Additionally, Novell is prepared to help Los Angeles reorganize and centralize its system to make it more efficient, find real costs savings, and reduce the direct cost of the overall service.
“In March, Novell submitted a reduced cost alternative that continues to provide the City with a robust and secure e-mailsystem at a lower price,” said Kent Erickson, senior vice president and general manager of Workgroup Solutions at Novell. “Not only does the City need to have a cost-effective email system, but also one that provides the most up-to-date technology and quality of service. Along with the safety of staying with a partner the City knows and trusts, and saving money in soft and hard costs, Novell is also prepared to provide GroupWise architectural and design services to the City, without additional cost.”
Currently the City of Los Angeles does not use the most modern Novell GroupWise version nor reflect the most cost effective architecture. The City is currently running GroupWise version 7, when GroupWise 8 has been available for almost a year. In fact the City has already paid for, and is entitled to, the most current GroupWise release, version 8.
With the move to GroupWise version 8, which will answer the concerns raised by city staff using version 7, the City’s email system can be easily upgraded and re-architected to provide the same centralized management noted in current ITA proposals, while reducing labor and system costs by 75 percent – with significantly lower levels of project risk.
All the new productivity-enhancing capability of GroupWise 8 can be made available without many of the risks inherent in moving to one of the other proposed systems, such as compromising the security of the user content, re-training the user base, incurring high migration costs, or risking total system downtime. 

I do know that implementing a major application when resources are being cut is a big risk.

Desperate times induce desperate decisions.

I am concerned that the City Council is attempting to balance the budget through a series of spurious, disconnected one-off decisions rather than a systematic and programmatic approach. 

The last thing we need is a self-induced disaster.  I fear we could be heading in that direction with the transition to Google.

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Sideways Tour, Virginia Style

Virginia’s winemaking tradition goes back at least to Thomas Jefferson’s time; however, commercial winemaking did not enter the scene until about twenty years ago.

The horse country in Virginia is one of the few places on the east coast where one can find a suitable climate for growing wine grapes.  Loudon County in DC’s Northern Virginia suburbs is arguably the center of this growing industry in the state.

Chrysilis Winery Vines -Med Resol

Enterprising souls, some of whom were raised in California’s wine country, converted existing farmland and pastures into vineyards.  With weather far more variable than anything in either Northern or Southern California they faced a challenge that defied all odds of success.

Most of the wineries went with the flow –they selected grapes better suited for the region.  An example is the Norton grape, which was unique to Virginia and is only found in a few areas outside of the Old Dominion.

Before taking a one day tasting tour through the region, I did not know what to expect in the way of quality.  Most of my old memories of wine from the east were the sickeningly sweet Taylor wines from New York State.

My expectations were set for the equivalent of Deux Piasse de Charles; they were exceedingly surpassed.

Many of the wines were in the dry to medium-dry varieties.  Tastes vary from year to year mainly due to the rainfall quantity and timing.  Keeping the grapes dry right before and during harvest is a challenge.  Sometimes fans are brought out to the field to blow away the droplets.  This year, it rained right before harvest, but strong winds followed eliminating the moisture from the skins.

The rain also affects the acidity of the soil.  There is little anyone can do about that.

I would imagine a vintner with years of experience in Virginia would find producing wine in California a relaxing endeavor by comparison.

We visited three wineries:  Chrysalis in Aldie, Doukenie and Hillsborough, both in Hillsboro.  The latter two are located in higher elevations relative to the region, making for a different growing environment.

Road to Chrysilis Winery- Med resol

Almost all of the wineries handle their own distribution and regularly sell out.  After all, the production is limited to hundreds of acres at each vineyard.  Revenue is supplemented by hosting concerts and other events.  Chrysalis appears to be the fastest growing of the group and is expected to expand to 400 acres soon.

The towns of Aldie and Hillsboro are as quaint as you will find anywhere.  The latest building in Hillsboro dates back to the 1880’s.  Old stone fences still mark many of the farm boundaries. 

Aldie VA fall color- med resol

The region was known as Mosby’s Confederacy during the Civil War.  Colonel Mosby, the legendary Gray Ghost, raided Union supply and communication lines with impunity.  He was never captured and, for that matter, never surrendered.  He simply disbanded his battalion after Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  A side note –he ended up working as a high level lawyer in the Grant Administration and was appointed as the US Consul to Hong Kong.  Very ironic considering the headaches he created for Grant in the late months of the war.  Also, some of his battalion was recruited from the county from where my ancestors hailed.  I have to research if any Hatfields served with him.

Despite the on and off light rain, the fall color was still vivid.  Although I would have preferred sunlight, the misty haze over the hills created a surreal landscape resembling a fine watercolor.

It felt like a world away, but it was still within commuting distance of the city.

I highly recommend a visit when you travel to DC.

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This picture says it all. 

The location is in India.

Think twice before you plug in a new small appliance.

India's DWP

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A healthy e-mail discussion regarding the Rate Payer Advocate was started by Terry Anderson of the Greater Valley Glen Council .  There was a suggestion that the RPA be an elected position rather than an appointed one.  Most of the e-mail traffic appears to favor the appointment route; the consensus is that special interest money would determine the outcome if it were decided at the polls.

The major concern even proponents of an appointed RPA have has to do with the independence of the candidate(s).

I share that concern; here’s how we might be able to alleviate it.

An open application process should be used, with technical qualifications determined by the DWP Board of Commissioners and the City Council, with input from the Neighborhood Councils.  No one who has served as an elected official in the last ten or so years should be eligible.

The candidate should be vetted by three groups: the City Council, The DWP Board of Commissioners and a panel comprised of a representative of each Neighborhood Council region, selected by vote of each NC Board from the respective regions.

Each group would have one vote.  The question, then, would be should a unanimous vote of the three be required to confirm the appointment, or just the concurrence of any two?

Regardless, the public debate this process would generate would make it tough to sneak a political hack into the position.

Once appointed, the RPA would serve five years and would answer only to the public.

Funding was also a concern.  I would fund it and the support staff by eliminating Cindy Montanez’s advisory position that pays $150,000 a year and reduce payments to the Conservation Strategy Group or other lobbyists by at least several hundred thousand dollars.

I hope this will be discussed at the next LANCC meeting.

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Boy, could I relate to this story.

Steve Lopez discussed the pros and cons of ditching Los Angeles for the unsurpassed natural setting of Lake Tahoe.

My nirvana is on the Nevada side on the northeast shore.  I, too, wage an ongoing internal debate over the benefits of swapping Los Angeles for the Lake.

Personally, I am not ready to forego life in the city altogether; then why is it I always hate leaving Lake Tahoe?  If only I could extend my trips by a few days each, perhaps I would feel differently.

Here are some benefits that the Tahoe Basin has over L A:

The roads are excellent and maintained regularly, especially on the Nevada side.  Although there is heavy snow, its removal is prompt and reliable -light years faster than it takes to get a pot hole fixed in LA.

There is plenty of shopping in the near vicinity, with every major store available in the greater Reno/Carson City/Tahoe area.  We could hit all the major stores we patronize in L A within a mile in Reno.

The airport is excellent in terms of access and connections.  It is a window to the world.

There are four seasons, each beautiful in its own way.

With the four seasons, there are year-round sports and outdoor activities.  You can usually play golf in the dead of winter by driving down to Reno or Carson City, although some winter storms have been known to drip significant snow doen there.  There are four major ski resorts and several smaller ones within easy reach.  Some of them offer mountain bike trails in the summer.

The region will be bidding on the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Swimming in the lake is a refreshing and clean experience.  The water is 99% pure.  It takes a little getting used to the temperature, but I do it and I’m a wimp.

The restaurants both at the lake and in the towns below are comparable to the quality and selection here in L A.

Quality shows are also available at the major resort/casinos.  The Peppermill Resort in Reno was recently expanded and rivals top Las Vegas hotels for comfort and service.

The air is clean and the temperatures are moderate relative to the season.  Even down at Reno and Carson City, a hot day is more manageable than in the San Fernando Valley.

Although housing is relatively expensive at the lake, you can find excellent housing on the outskirts of the metro area, a mere thirty minutes away.

Hospitals are ample for the population and found close to every community.

The University of Nevada Reno, while it won’t be confused with Harvard, conducts top notch environmental research, has a medical school and hospital, a full liberal arts and sciences program and big time Division 1 athletic programs in all major sports.

Sacramento is only two hours away, accessible by train, air and highway; San Francisco is only four hours away.

I can go on and on.

The area is not totally free of problems.  The south shore was over developed many years ago and has some criminal elements with urban connections.  The casino culture attracts a certain undesirable element, as you would find in any city offering gambling, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

The north, west and east shores are relatively free of major crime.  Bear break-ins are a bigger threat than burglaries, although if you use some common sense, you can avoid those encounters.

Given the sorry state of Los Angeles and California governance, Northern Nevada looks more and more attractive.

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As many of you, I receive countless e-mails from people claiming to be deposed dictators, former cocoa merchants, bankers and widows with hidden furtunes….and they are willing to share 50% with you!

I usually exchange the most creative e-mails with a close friend.  They are entertaining.

However, I stumbled across this web site.  It is a must read for all of you who appreciate the genre of those loveable million-dollar missives.


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Showing reruns of the Brady Bunch in sweeps week would not be a good strategy for a major network.

So why is the Essel campaign regurgitating flyers from the primary?  Is it lack of money?

I don’t think so.

There were two campaign flyers on my doorstep when I returned home yesterday evening.  The one showing four smiling faces of average citizens, apparently none of whom live in the Valley, and the Krekorian “gift list” claiming he received $26,000 in services and favors from benefactors.

Perhaps these two flyers were in Essel’s inventory and she is being a good environmentalist by recycling them.

Well, how about using the blue bin instead?

This is the runoff, the sweeps period of the local election entertainment network.  Candidates need to offer fresh material with new negativity.  I yawned when I read the retreads last night.  Thank God the Yankee-Angels game was being aired.  Even a one-sided affair on the diamond was more interesting.

I shudder to imagine what the Krekorian campaign will offer.  I do not believe he can come close to matching his opponent’s war chest.

My advice to Krekorian: do not use the flyer with the old picture of Bill Clinton and you.  It looks like Eddie Haskell shaking hands with an inebriated Boris Yeltsin.

The candidates need to reenergize their core supporters -perhaps the old flyers might accomplish this objective, but if they want to have any hope of attracting supporters of the other eight individuals who ran in the primary some imagination will be required.

There are over two-thousand potential votes on the table.  They do not represent the partisan loyalists of unions, developers and other institutions that voted by mail and were swayed by the glossy mailers. No, this segment is comprised of independent citizens who scrutinize the issues.

I know that both Krekorian and Essel have been working the former candidates for endorsements, but that will not be enough.  They need to deliver an intelligent message with specifics as to how they will tackle the critical issues facing the city.

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