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Archive for May, 2010

If you are a fan of ABC’s Lost, yesterday was bittersweet.  The 2.5 hour series finale, with lead-ins starting at seven and followed by Jimmy Kimmel’s post-mortem, was the Super Bowl of all series finales.

Thanks to my daughter’s creativity, she won an invitation to E! Entertainment’s special event celebrating the series finale on Sunday. It was hosted by Kristin Dos Santos (play the video clips.  I appear briefly in one of them).  I attended as a guest of my daughter.  We got to watch the east coast feed and enjoyed a reception with a small group of fans from across the country.

It wasn’t until the final moment faded from the screen that I realized what the true meaning of Lost is:  it is an allegory showing us the path to salvation for Los Angeles.

At the heart of the plot is a parallel timeline where many of the characters have found fulfillment and success.

E!'s Kristen Dos Santos and Paul

It became clear to me  there must be an alternate Los Angeles where things work.  It is a parallel world where Janice Hahn is an enlightened leader guiding the City Council through complex motions improving the quality of life for all;  Eric Garcetti is an Admiral in the Navy reserve who while on duty scores a resounding victory over the forces of terrorism; Jan Perry allows Hurley, Lost’s most loveable character,  to open a Mr. Clucks fast food franchise in her district; Paul Koretz auditions for and wins the part of Hurley; it is where Richard Alarcon lives in his legal residence; where Bernard Parks and Miguel Santana can count to 4,000; and, finally, where Antonio Villaraigosa was elected Governor and is handing out property tax refunds because of the surplus he created through efficiencies and pension reform. 

We need to find this alternate world and induce its leaders to run for office in our dimension.  Better yet, we need to register its voters here. They will undoubtedly succeed where we have failed – electing competent officials.

Protecting my Dharma cache

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Residents served by the neighborhood councils of Encino, Greater Toluca Lake, Greater Valley Glen, Lake Balboa, Mid Town North Hollywood, Reseda, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Tarzana, Van Nuys and my home -Valley Village, will go to the polls to elect their board members.

Some elections and individual seats will lack competition as there are as many seats as there are candidates; a few might be sharply contested.  Regardless, it is overall turnout that really counts.  For the neighborhood councils to be taken seriously, city officials must see high vote counts.

I am very proud to be associated with Valley Village.  The vote counts in our small community of 22,000 residents has been at least several hundred per election since the founding board was seated in 2004.  Over 1,000 voted in our last election in 2007 – the largest per capita turnout in neighborhood council history.

A handful of our present board have been in office since NCVV‘s inception.  They are:

  • Tony Braswell (currently President, originally Secretary, then VP –  see ad in sidebar)
  • Ginny Hatfield (currently Vice President and still my spouse despite serving with me on the board for six years)
  • Your’s truly, Paul Hatfield (Treasurer from day one.  Who else would be gullible enough to fill that spot for so long?)

Some of the other members of the original board are still leaders in the community.  Pete Sanchez, our founding President, is now President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association.  He was also a candidate in the great CD2 election horse race, finishing in the upper tier and the only grassroots candidate to win precincts (two, to be exact).

Breice Reiner, our founding Vice President, now serves as Vice-President for VVHA. 

Stuart Simen, who retired from NCVV, still serves as our unofficial parliamentarian and is an occasional critic of my grammar in Village to Village (I thought I was through with those types after I left parochial school).

Other board members running for re-election are Dorothy Apple (Secretary and, I might add, realtor extraordinaire and baker of addictive brownies), Dave Bate, Joshua Levy,  Suzanne Lewis (see ad in sidebar), Lory Oberg, Steven Stokes, Jeff Walker and Marc Woersching.

I’m also pleased that Suzanne Lauer, contributor to Village to Village, is running as well.

Wherever you live, support your neighborhood council.  They represent the best voice you have in these challenging times;  in some cases, the only voice.

Check the election page for links to the City Clerk’s NC election page.

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The Studio City Neighborhood Council has mastered the art of unscripted drama, complete with voting members off the board.  As the World Turns has nothing on the last two meetings – uh, episodes – of the SCNC.

The cast of tonight’s show was only slightly different from last month’s, but tonight’s featured character was board member Lisa Sarkin, who also serves as corresponding secretary. She was the subject of a removal petition filed by stakeholders.  This was in sharp contrast to the petition to remove Michael McCue, which was filed by members of the board.

While McCue’s petition focused on behavior, the core of Sarkin’s involved an alledged Brown Act violation and possible conflict of interest between her activities with the SCNC and the Studio City Residents Association.

See the complaint here.

Once again, it was a full house.  You can’t beat controversy as an attendance inducer.

The public comments by local stakeholders, as well as by a few representatives from other Neighborhood Councils, were generally in favor of Ms. Sarkin.  However, her opponents showed more passion and drew louder applause.

The acoustics were terrible; as a result, some comments were very difficult to follow.

A dispute over proposed floor area ratios seemed to be the motivation behind the complaint.  Stakeholders in favor of larger homes were at odds with SCNC’s and Sarkin’s position to limit the size of homes.  Sarkin was criticized for pushing for smaller limits while she herself supposedly resides in a relatively large home.

Others claimed a special meeting held on March 17th to address floor area ratios was inadequately broadcast to the community – only twenty-four hours notice was provided, although that appears to be within the council’s bylaws.   Whether such a short notice was appropriate for a critical land use issue was also raised.  Note: the same March 17th meeting was also a backdrop for some of the accusations against McCue.  So much for the luck of the Irish – perhaps it would have been better had the meeting been held on Cinco de Mayo.

Sarkin’s supporters praised her commitment and dedication to the rights of stakeholders – particularly those that lived adjacent to McMansions.

One particularly heated moment came when a speaker ripped Sarkin for the angry statement she made at the McCue hearing when she told the attendees that the issue was none of their business and they had no right to an opinion. Judy Price of Valley Glen attempted to explain the point Sarkin was trying to make.  (With all due respect to Price, only Sarkin can explain what she meant by it – she did not, nor did she respond to a request to apologize for it).

Perhaps the most intelligent remark of the evening came from a board member (I did not get a view of his name tag).  He said the bylaws are flawed when it comes to matters of removals – “you can’t get to the merits (of the case),” he stated.  He suggested that due process is not addressed. This gentleman was the only member to abstain from the otherwise unanimous vote to keep Sarkin.

I made a similar point in my article about the McCue hearing – no neighborhood council is equipped to handle removals, much less in a single meeting. 

In summary, two removal hearings with two different results in two months.  In my opinion, the verdicts were inconsistent.  There were insufficient facts to support removals in both proceedings.  The SCNC members should have unanimously abstained on both votes.

It is unfortunate that the City Attorney’s Office did not see fit to have a deputy attend and assist with the process, or at least observe what I believe were two grossly mishandled affairs.  In the end, SCNC provided ammunition to those that would like to diminish the role of the neighborhood council system.

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Council Member Paul Krekorian told participants at last week’s Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils meeting that he returned $800,000 of discretionary funds to the city’s general fund.  He said it represented virtually all such monies allocated to his office.

City Controller Wendy Greuel is asking that the city ends the practice of providing discretionary funds, some of which comes from the sale of city assets, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Council Districts where the assets were located.

This raises two questions:

  • If the city sells assets (i.e, parking structures, meters)  won’t a few City Council districts earn a windfall?
  • If Controller Greuel is truly committed to eliminating the process, shouldn’t she disclose the amounts she had at her disposal when she served in the Council?  It has been less than a year since she occupied the seat in CD2, now held by Krekorian. 

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting Greuel spent the money inappropriately, but if she is going to take a firm position on this practice, she should open the books on how Council Member Greuel used the funds.

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I congratulate Council Member Smith for having the courage to cast a politically incorrect vote.

The City Council’s approval of an Arizona boycott is an example of politically driven reactionism.  Now, I don’t care if the Council wants to pass a motion condemning our neighboring state’s controversial immigration law, but I do care about the consequences of using economic leverage as a weapon against another sovereign state.

Boycotts can be a two-way street.  Did the Council even research the volume of bilateral trade between the two states?  Perhaps someone should consider the potential for business lost to companies in California.  That would be nice given the dire economy on this side of the Colorado River.  Arizona has economic problems of its own, much like California it was due to the collapse of the real estate market. We need to cooperate with our adjacent states to stimulate business, not suppress it.

But what about the perceived immorality of the new law?

The City Council and Cardinal Roger Mahony compared it to Nazism.

Oh, please.

The Wiesenthal Center weighed in on the comparison.  While the organization expressed displeasure with the language of the immigration bill, it took issue with the Nazi Germany connection. 

On the subject of comparisons, why doesn’t anyone ever accuse opponents of practicing Stalinism?  Uncle Joe’s systematic starvation of Ukraine led to 7 to 11 million deaths, not to mention millions of others murdered throughout the Soviet Union and occupied Eastern Europe.  It would be equally over the top to equate that with this matter, but our officials are playing for votes – there aren’t that many Ukrainians in LA (for the record, I’m half).  It would be another story if our Council were located in Calgary, Alberta.

Then there’s the matter of who the Council boycotts.  The track record is one of inconsistency. How do you justify boycotting Arizona but not China? 

Let’s see, besides its long history of human rights violations, there is China’s economically harmful practice of piracy. It costs the international economy, particularly California, billions of dollars.  Is the City Council going to boycott China?  Too late for that – the city gave approval for a Chinese electric car manufacturer to set up shop in LA. That should offset a bit of the piracy haul.  Perhaps we will grant the Somalian pirates a franchise to operate off of the harbor.  That would cut down on container shipments and help clean up the air at the port.

Janice Hahn’s plea to the Dodgers to close down their practice facility in Arizona is yet another example of political pandering at its worst.  I wonder if Janice will be watching the Lakers when they play on the road in the upcoming round of the NBA playoffs?  I think the feed will be originating from ……….Phoenix?

I think the Council needs to block the broadcast lest the airwaves turn us into Nazis.

Also, don’t turn on the TV.  Some of the power comes from Arizona.

Postscript:  Council Member Paul Krekorian attended tonight’s Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils meeting.  He was asked how he felt about the boycott.  Mr. Krekorian said he was not in attendance; therefore, he did not cast a vote.  However, he did state his position quite clearly:  although he believes Arizona’s law is bad, there was no need for the City Council to weigh in.

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Go to the election page and read the May 12th update concerning Michael McCue’s bid to reclaim his seat in the upcoming NC elections scheduled for May 27th.

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When the City Council approved a wage deal with the Coalition of City Unions last year, it abdicated any responsibility it had to protect the taxpayers.  In a city where over 80% of the general fund is related to compensation, to surrender the most important tool in the budget kit – layoffs – represents complete surrender to the labor unions.

David Zahniser of the LA Times pointed out the impact of the layoffs proposed in the mayor’s budget.  It will cost the city over $32 million due to the poison pill in the contract – so much as one layoff will trigger a series of deferred raises.  Pretty powerful poison.

Poison pills would be fine for James Bond in the event he were captured by SMERSH or SPECTRE. I’m sure he would prefer them over Goldfinger’s laser beam.

However, the pills are ill-advised when the interests of the city are at stake. In this case I wish we had handed them to the Council Members who approved the deal. 

Now, the Budget and Finance Committee appears to be ready to swallow them.  Chairman Parks announced an additional thousand layoffs will have to occur to offset the mayor’s overly optimistic budget assumptions for the sale of parking rights.

Although the compensation savings from the layoffs will be greater than the payout to the coalition employees, one cannot ignore the contempt for the taxpayers the Council showed when it approved the contract.   $32 million is a lot of change to leave on the table during tight economic times.

The Times article went on to quote CAO Miguel Santana: “If there’s one lesson we learned this fiscal year, it’s that the sooner we act, the less painful it is for both our workers and our constituents.” 

Interesting choice of words.  Who is Santana referring to as “constituents?” 

It can’t be the taxpayers. We are the only ones who have felt the pain so far.

According to the Times, Council Member Koretz thought the $32 million made sense when the layoffs were being pitched at 4,000, not the much smaller number being considered now.  One wonders where Mr. Koretz’ sense was when he voted for the poison pill.  He was probably sitting on it.

The damage is done.  There is no undoing the City Council’s capitulation to the civilian unions – again.

Before this is all over, we will all need some pills.

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