Archive for February, 2013

I am for putting strict limits on ammunition magazines as much as anyone else. It’s the next best thing to curbing ownership of military-style assault weapons. After all, an automatic weapon with limited ammo capacity cannot cause as much potential carnage as it would with a full clip when it is in the hands of a maniac…or even an irresponsible, but otherwise sensible person.

Everyone recognizes that no weapons ban will completely eliminate risk any more than a drivers license will prevent traffic deaths. Limiting firepower, however, will save lives and allow law enforcement a better chance of taking out a deadly shooter.

Passing legislation to limit capacity will be tough in the face of well-funded Second Amendment purists. I refer to them as purists because of their unbending belief that the Founding Fathers would have tolerated the potential of mass murder by individuals. It is reasonable to assume the framers of the Constitution could not have imagined the rapid technological advancement of the armaments industry. We’ve come a long way from a single-shot, muzzle-loading musket. They would have had a tough enough time grasping the availability of accurate and rapid-firing weapons in the American Civil War, much less the firepower in the hands of Seal Team 6.

The pushback from the purists can be overcome if there is enough support from the general population, but first, the politicians must recognize there is a wide range of views on the issue of arms ownership. It is not black and white. There are many citizens who would support curbs on deadly, death-spewing weapons, but they are also protective of the basic concept of the Second Amendment. I happen to interpret it as the right to protect oneself from deadly force. A well-organized militia is part of that concept, but it could apply to an individual who keeps a weapon available as a means of protection until law enforcement arrives.

It is important, then, to frame the debate in terms that do not threaten the broad views of honest, responsible citizens who would support limits on ammunition clips, if not on automatic weapons in general. The moment the debate shifts to, or even hints at, an either-or proposition on gun ownership, all hope will be lost of passing effective legislation.

That is why I am disturbed by City Attorney candidate Mike Feuer’s remark, as reported in the Los Angeles Daily News:

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s opponent, former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, testified before the committee in support of the measure, citing his background as author of a number of gun control measures during his years in the state Assembly and, before that, as a City Council member.

This is the next logical step in gun control,” Feuer said. “There is no civilian who has a need for a high capacity magazine.”

My concern may appear to be splitting hairs on Feuer’s choice of words, but you cannot be too careful when you are addressing such an emotionally charged issue. The wrong words will be played over and over again in 30-second media spots. And too many people react to sound bites.

It is a huge mistake to apply the term “gun control” in any way, shape or form regarding one of the top hot buttons in American politics. You may as well wave a red cape in front of a bull.

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Special science edition of Villagetovillageblog.com

Inspired by a recent report that spray-painting asteroids could eliminate potentially deadly cosmic threats to the earth similar to the recent incident in Russia, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that part of the proposed half-cent sales tax increase under Measure A would fund a mission to graffiti every known asteroid on a possible collision course with earth.

“This is the legacy I want to leave behind,” he said in a press conference from the International Space Station.

“Just think – every time people gaze at the heavens to observe shooting stars, they will think of me,” he continued.

A very profound statement, indeed. Many people believe the mayor has the potential to cause more destruction than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

Here’s how Villaraigosa’s plan would work:

The sales tax increase would be diverted to a gang prevention program, consistent with the objectives of improved public safety Measure A supporters claim will occur if the voters approve it. Therefore, there would be a legal basis for the program.

Only the best and most prolific graffiti vandals will be chosen in a rigorous selection process rivaling the one NASA uses for its astronauts.

“We will set the bar high for applicants. We may even recruit from the campuses that come under my Partnership for Los Angeles Schools,” the mayor claimed.

Only visionaries in the same league as Villaraigosa could combine two high priority objectives – public safety and education – in a bold, groundbreaking initiative. You might say it is one small step for city and one giant step for Villaraigosa’s comfortable retirement.

Measure R transportation fund will be used to develop a fleet of shuttles.

“There should be no problem in using these dollars for the fleet,” the mayor stated. He continued, “We will convert existing MTA buses for space travel and launch them from the backs of 747s already flying out of LAX. Using existing resources is the way to go.”

Plans call for naming the prototype shuttle Chaka.

Asked about the city’s financial and transportation priorities the mayor replied, “Would you rather have a subway to the sea and more cops, or be wiped out in a cosmic catastrophe?”

In my view, the space mission would be cheaper.

Is the mayor saving us from this?

Is the mayor saving us from this?

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Campaign Bytes

In the waning weeks of the Los Angeles mayoral primary campaign, it has been difficult to keep up with the forums and rhetoric.

Just as when I covered the CD2 special election campaign , the forums have evolved (or devolved) into a repetition of overused talking points, especially by the two more well-known candidates – Greuel and Garcetti. Greuel’s standard line is perhaps the most repetitive. She has stuck with her unsubstantiated claims of savings despite a consensus of disbelief from the media and her opponents.

So, I have started to look elsewhere for relevent information.

What caught my eye was the latest Survey USA poll which has Garcetti with 24% and Greuel with 20%. Perry and James are within statistical reach of Greuel, especially when you consider that undecided voters represent 15%. The last category would indicate that these voters have not been swayed by name recognition if they are still undecided at this point.

The statistic that really jumps off the page is only 44% of the likely voters favor the two most high-profile candidates. For all their money, if Garcetti and Greuel were one person, either would still face a runoff.

Perhaps Los Angeles voters are edging towards less trust in the established officials who have sent the city into a nosedive.

What is also apparent is James’ and Perry’s recognition that the road to the runoff is through Greuel’s base. The Valley is the key battle ground. Although Greuel has been associated with the Valley her entire life, the support she receives from the DWP’s IBEW local 18 union translates to higher utility rates for residents of the city’s hot zone.

Both Perry and James have increasingly made this an issue. Perry’s latest mailer to Valley residents portrays Greuel as a sellout to the powerful utility union who has driven up labor costs to where DWP workers are among the highest in the county and of utility workers nationwide. Of course, Perry, along with City Controller candidate Dennis Zine, also voted for generous wage hikes for the union representing the “Department of Wendy Power.”

Right now, Garcetti is the only sure shot to make the runoff. While odds favor Greuel’s advancement as well, it is less certain.

Garcetti simply has to play it safe until March 5….and he is doing just that. His TV ad is about as lackluster as you will find, avoiding controversial claims. Both James and Greuel have launched far better produced pieces, although Greuel’s is as filled with as much misinformation as you can cram into a thirty-second commercial. It ia very apparent that Garcetti simply does not want to make a major mistake and his relying on his opponents to do his dirty work. He is saving his real offensive for the runoff. It is a smart strategy, but one that does not educate the public.

Why would he want to do that?

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Time to choose

I have followed the Los Angeles mayoral campaign closely.

I have listened to many forums, read almost all of the articles in both the Times and Daily News.

It is clear to me that Kevin James is the only candidate prepared to deal with a city as dysfunctional as ours.

All of the candidates have been criticised by very respectable forum moderators and journalists for not proposing comprehensive solutions for the chronic financial crisis, one that has handcuffed this city for at least ten years. The crisis has led to a decline in the quality and quantity of services to the residents, so the criticism is well deserved. Unless City Hall can manage the taxpayers’ money, the prospects of satisfactorily providing for not only our core needs, but enhanced amenities as well, are unlikely.

However, that criticism should not apply to Kevin James.

A few of James’ opponents have offered a handful of one-off proposals that will contribute to reducing the scope of the city’s fiscal woes. One has offered nothing but pie in the sky promises that cannot be kept. Collectively, their ideas will barely scratch the surface of the problem, but they spin them with such assurance that many uninformed voters may be misled. And who can blame the voters? Many are busy with carving out a living in tough times to follow the campaign. They tend to support names they recognize.

By contrast, James recognizes the crux of the challenge.

In a city where compensation and benefits comprise close to 90% of the general fund, and where retirement and health benefits will soon absorb almost 50% of it, the solution requires overall salary and benefits reform.

Kevin James is the only candidate who has unequivocally called for across-the-board, simultaneous negotiations with all of the city’s public unions. He alone realizes you must cut to the chase and solve the primary problem in order to eliminate an expected billion-dollar deficit over the next few years. It is a challenge that will not be resolved by nibbling around the periphery, as the other candidates would like you to think.

Time is of the essence; therefore, a concerted effort aimed at reining in all labor deals is an absolute necessity.

Kevin James is not a fan of bankruptcy as a cure for years of fiscal mismanagement, but he is not afraid to keep the option open as a negotiating tool. Yes, bankruptcy is ugly, but it at least offers a structured and sustainable realignment of municipal finances.

Do you know what the alternative is?

Virtual bankruptcy.

That’s where city services are allowed to erode to a level far below satisfactory. It is worse than bankruptcy because city employees will lose jobs and residents will lose services. Everyone loses.

A compensation structure that is flexible is what is needed. James is the only candidate willing to fight for it.

All city office elections are non-partisan for a good reason. Successful management of a city has nothing to do with party affiliation, ideology, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or ethnicity. Some would have you believe otherwise.

The job requires someone who can make sound business decisions. It also entails educating the public as to why those decisions are important.

James is not only able to use sound judgment, he can articulate his reasons. His opponents, on the other hand, are accustomed to mincing words rather than speaking substantively.

For the record, I am a registered Democrat – a true Blue Dog who believes in practical fiscal conservatism. I have degrees in accounting and economics, along with an MBA and a CPA. I have served in the Neighborhood Council system since its inception and have worked in industry for over three decades. I am not opposed to taxes or bond proposals, per se. However, our city government must show it will bring expenses under control by dealing with the chronic drivers of costs before such measures are introduced. The insider candidates in the race have shown no inclination to do so.

Don’t waste your vote on any of them. Vote for Kevin James.

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The Los Angeles Daily News endorsed Wendy Greuel for mayor, but also spoke highly of Kevin James. The paper went as far as calling Greuel vs. James a “dream runoff.” Eric Garcetti was dissed.

The Los Angeles Times endorsed Ron Galperin for city controller, but was also complimentary of Cary Brazeman. Councilman Dennis Zine was left out in the cold. Literally, only his tenure and supposed knowledge of city government was mentioned. It speaks volumes that no achievements were cited for the double-dipping, ex-motorcycle cop.

So, in the aggregate, only one insider (Greuel) was picked and three outsiders. There is some hope for the media.

It appears that Brazeman almost edged out Galperin for the Times’ nod. Here’s what the Times said:

Brazeman, who runs a marketing company on the Westside, recognizes just how wide the controller’s franchise became when voters adopted the new charter. His vision for the office is by far the most ambitious: He sees it as a way to prod departments to make the city a better place to live and work. Brazeman says he would use the controller’s performance audits to try to streamline business permits, fix streets, improve how the police and fire departments allocate their resources and hold down salaries and benefits for city workers.

For someone with no experience in local government, that’s a big lift. But Brazeman has shown as an activist in recent years that he’s adept at analyzing city operations and finances. He was an early critic of the Fire Department’s lagging response times, and his warnings about the city’s exposure to risk on the downtown stadium project led to important changes in the financing.

Such a statement would garner an endorsement 99% of the time. Instead, Galperin may have been the newpaper’s pick because of his experience as chairman of the Ad Hoc Commission on Revenue Efficiency.

I am acquainted with both Brazeman and Galperin. Brazeman has the grassroots credentials; Galperin is more connected with City Hall players, but that doesn’t mean Brazeman is unfamiliar with the layout in City Hall.

Can both of them muster enough votes to force a runoff – preferably a runoff that excludes the more widely known Zine? For the sake of the city, I hope so.

Greuel’s endorsement from the Daily News is a complete mystery, especially in light of the criticism her plans for hiring 2,000 more LAPD officers has drawn. She does not support the sales tax increase (Measure A) and favors the elimination of the business tax. How is she going to pay for the costly additions to the payroll?

As broad a consensus as one will ever see in Los Angeles city politics has questioned her math – Council President Wesson, Supervisor Yaroslavsky, Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry and Kevin James. Her plans have also been slammed in a trio of recent Times articles, including pieces by Steve Lopez and Jim Newton. Add to that Larry Mantle, who moderated the KPCC debate, and Autin Beutner, who did the honors at the Daily News/BizFed forum held at CSUN. Granted similar criticisms were aimed at other candidates, too, but Greuel caught the brunt; rightfully so.

This might be a once in a lifetime convergence of opinions, so what swayed the Daily News? Let’s just say it didn’t take much:

But in 2013, it was a different Greuel who showed up for a meeting with members of this editorial board. Lightly pounding the table to emphasize key points, she responded to criticisms with polite ferocity; this was the day opponents slammed her call for 2,000 more police officers, a goal she said had been misrepresented in the press as an unaffordable promise. She left little doubt she is sharp enough to realize the next mayor will be made or broken by his or her success at tackling the costs of city government.

Will the Daily News answer this question: exactly what did Greuel say? Simply stating that her plan was misrepresented by the press offers no more substantiation than her claims of identifying $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse. Did her pounding on the table swing the News’ editorial board? She had better be careful with that table; she seems to invoke it enough. She’s almost driven Steve Lopez to the point of threatening to stab himself if she uses the term “going to the table” one more time.

I expect politicians to make promises that push the envelope, but Greuel’s statements jump the shark. They are intellectually dishonest and represent an insult to the sensibilities of the voters.

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As much as Christopher Dorner is deranged, he is still fully capable of applying logic….cynical logic.

I truly doubt he has any illusions of murdering all those with whom he has an axe to grind. It is the potential of fear and doubt he has created in the minds of his would be victims that probably provides the fulfillment his twisted mind demands.

There appears to be two schools of thought concerning the whereabouts of this ex-LAPD, ex-Naval officer: he is either still on the loose in the woods around Big Bear, or the abandonment of his vehicle near the town was a ruse to misdirect law enforcement – he could in fact be almost anywhere else at this time.

It is pretty hard to imagine someone of his size and description going unnoticed for too long. It is also difficult to believe someone not trained to deal with a winter environment could survive for long under the current conditions. I have cross-country skied for years and can attest to the challenge of traversing terrain and keeping warm in blustery storms, even though I am prepared and have the proper clothing.

That’s why I suspect a third possibility.

Dorner committed suicide, but he chose the spot carefully; a place where the body might never be found.

His thirst for revenge could be satiated by knowing there will always be lingering doubts about his whereabouts if his body is never recovered. Imagine living a lifetime of anxiety with the thought of Dorner appearing out of nowhere years from now, when least expected.

I hope I am wrong; that when I pick up the Sunday paper tomorrow, the headline will announce his capture or death.

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This is what Wendy Greuel means when she says she will “go to the table” to negotiate concessions with the city unions. She is talking about getting concessions from the residents to hand over to the SEIU and IBEW 18. Garcetti is not quite as generous, but allowing the unions to help him select the general managers further skews the balance of negotiations in favor of the employees.

Please read the article.

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So Wendy Greuel wants to add 2,000 officers to the LAPD without any identifiable source of funding beyond grossly optimistic projections of revenue growth for the city.

Is she delusional?

Absolutely not. Liars are never delusional. They will simply say whatever it takes to satisfy a personal need, no matter how misleading or false their words are.

Greuel will say anything to win the votes of the uninformed citizens. Those are the ones whose due diligence on the candidates or issues does not extend beyond the TV and radio commercials. It is a very effective strategy. If they hear a message over and over again, they will believe it. They will not bother reading the articles and listening to the forums where Greuel’s claims are challenged by everyone.

Asked repeatedly by forum moderators what she would do to raise enough revenue and cut costs to increase the size of one of the most highly paid employee groups in the city (around $149,000 per year including benefits), Greuel fell back on her stock answer: “she would go to the table” to negotiate concessions with the city’s family and pursue job creation.

Here is how the Los Angeles Times describes Greuel’s responses (as reported by Maeve Reston):

“Greuel answered in vague terms, as she often does, about the importance of eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse,” spurring job creation, eliminating the business tax “and putting everything on the table in negotiations on pension reform, health care costs” with labor leaders. She noted that she is auditing two pension systems to determine if the city is getting the best return on its investment.”

Her opponents at least propose specific targets in terms of employee contribution rates or, if the unions are intractable in their positions, to leverage the threat of bankruptcy as a means to secure adequate concessions.

Kevin James punctuated the sentiments of the other candidates in his closing remarks at today’s forum at CSUN when he said, “Where was the table for the last twelve years?”

Or as I entitled an earlier article: The Table Has No Legs.

I think Greuel’s family business is “Tables R Us.”

Neither could Greuel offer details – not even superficial assumptions – underlying her projection of 5% annual revenue growth.

Wendy has been asked the same questions about the hundreds of millions of dollars she claims she could save or produce by the best of moderators – Val Zavala (So Cal Connected), Larry Mantle (KPCC) and Austin Beutner, to name a few. You would think she would be able to answer these questions with some details by now, after all, at this stage, she should not be surprised when they are raised.

Only Eric Garcetti has the bucks to launch a TV ad campaign to counter Greuel’s lies. Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emmanuel Pleitez must rely on media coverage to reach the masses.

But Garcetti has stayed away from the airwaves. He is obviously banking his money for a runoff ad blitz. He is the only candidate who can be absolutely certain of making the runoff, so why spend now?

Greuel can afford to be lavish in her spending since she will reap the cash benefits from the super-pac affiliated with the DWP’s IBEW 18 union.

I’m sure Greuel will at least offer them the run of the “table” when it gets down to negotiations.

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Thursday’s Daily News/County Business Federation mayoral candidate forum might be the most interesting – and provocative – to date.

It will boil down to Austin Beutner’s skills as a moderator.

Mr. Beutner possesses the business acumen to challenge the candidates on their financial assumptions and strategic plans for the city. The question is, will he let the candidates slide and sidestep the questions, or will he follow-up until they provide a straight answer?

In particular, I hope he pins Wendy Greuel to the wall on her fanciful dreams of adding 2,000 officers to the LAPD on the premise she has uncovered $160 million in waste, fraud and abuse, not to mention her assumption of a robust 5% annual rate of revenue growth.

He should also press Eric Garcetti on the tax break for car dealers. Beutner should have him walk us through the underlying assumptions, otherwise Garcetti’s claim is nothing more than puffery.

The candidates must be made to substantiate their assertions.

If Beutner succeeds in flushing out the facts (or lack thereof), he will prove that he might have been one of the best candidates for the job.

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You would expect an executive to be able to explain the key numbers when presenting financial information.

How about the City Controller of Los Angeles?

I guess Wendy Greuel was never concerned with that aspect of management in her “private sector” experience.

Eric Garcetti was correct when he referred to Greuel as the “press release” controller. She can read what is on a sheet of paper – but explain it? Maybe it’s not in the City Controller job description. That’s probably a good thing for Dennis Zine, too.

It was clear Greuel did not have a clue about a $50 million difference between what she claims as a major component of savings she has identified and what her department’s audit report indicates. She babbled senselessly trying to explain it, then gave up. The KTLA video is worth a thousand words.

She brought back memories of Miss Teen South Carolina’s performance in the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant.

All kidding aside, it is apparent Greuel has no command of the numbers – the big numbers, not petty cash.

How would you feel if the CFO or the CEO of a company in which you held stock could not explain a significant transaction to the public? How do you think the stock market would react?

It brings into question Greuel’s overall claim of $160 million in identified savings. Her only proof is a list on her campaign website. Dare we ask her to substantiate the other items? You can go to the audit scorecard on her controller website (the same scorecard she alludes to in the KTLA video), but do not expect to be enlightened.

And who prepared the campaign website list? A campaign aide or one of her employees in the controller’s office? If it was the latter, then Greuel has further explaining to do.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, a Greuel campaign spokesperson stated that the auditors “felt compelled to highlight the $57-million figure,” an estimate of future losses related to the street furniture audit that is the basis of about one-third of her claim.

Did the auditors highlight the amount for the campaign staff to see?

If so, wouldn’t that be an ethics violation? A review of Greuel’s own calendar has already raised suspicions about her use of City Hall staff in her campaign.

If Greuel was not conversant enough on the subject to provide even a superficial explanation of the issue, who explained it to the campaign staff? John Schalmann?

On the other end of the materiality scale, Greuel’s list includes $880,000 related to NC spending. At a meeting of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition today, I asked the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment’s general manager Gracie Liu if she was familiar with Greuel’s claim. A good general manager would know if there were problems in her department amounting to almost a million dollars. Ms. Liu, unlike her predecessor, is competent and taking measures to improve internal controls at DONE.

She was unaware. Granted, she acknowledged that many neighborhood councils have not submitted reports and there are issues of missing documentation. That is a serious issue as it could lead to fraud, but most of it is likely due to lack of training of NC treasurers. The vast majority of the spending is probably legitimate. Controls are better today than a few years ago when a handful of NC board members misappropriated over $100,000. Greuel is counting all of it as waste, fraud and abuse before it can be proven.

Greuel is presenting the bluest of blue sky projections in an attempt to portray herself as the ultimate fiscal watchdog.

But she is the fox guarding the hen house.

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