Archive for April, 2013

The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils attracts not only the biggest names in local politics, but proves it can bring them together for the same event.

Ron Galperin and Jill Banks Barad strike a nice pose at the VANC debate.

Ron Galperin and Jill Banks Barad strike a nice pose at the VANC debate.

Fresh from celebrating her coalition’s tenth anniversary, founder and president Jill Banks Barad had all six runoff candidates on hand for a grand debate at CBS in Studio City. They were all present for the anniversary bash as well.

It’s a tribute to Jill’s reputation as an organizer and leader that candidates and officials beat a path to VANC events. Name one other person in the city who can forge a political cooperative spanning an area as broad and populated as the San Fernando Valley. I certainly can’t.

I did not expect to learn anything more about the candidates from the debate. They have been in the spotlight for months; their positions have been heard over and over again.

Moderator Dan Schnur introduced new issues into the mix – the composition of the 20/20 Commission and Governor Brown’s plan to redirect education funding to districts serving the poorest families – hoping to stimulate the mayoral candidates to veer from their standard responses.

Greuel and Garcetti both agreed that the commission was not representative of the city’s key economic segments, and they spoke carefully around Brown’s plan.

He at least raised a little disagreement between the city attorney candidates when he asked what they thought of allowing non citizens to serve as jurors. Trutanich felt that jurors needed to understand the American system of justice. Feuer was irresolute. He said he understood that a trial of peers in a city like Los Angeles might possibly include non citizens, but he had no opinion.

Schnur assigned penalty minutes for answers that challenged or attacked opponents. Afterwards, I told him his approach reminded me of an NHL contest. Almost every answer provided by the mayoral and city attorney candidates resulted in “power plays” with 30-second bonus responses awarded.

By contrast, the city controller segment was very civil. However, there was an interesting exchange about audits. Galperin accused Zine’s committee of sitting on audit recommendations; Zine claimed all audit recommendations had either been implemented or were being processed. If what Zine said was true, then where are the savings reflected? Either the audits are of questionable value or he overstated the status. Could very well be both.

The subject of negative ads by Greuel’s campaign produced some very personal exchanges. Greuel said Garcetti started it when he challenged her claims of waste, fraud and abuse. For the record, her claims were also challenged by the media. Garcetti replied, and correctly, that challenging positions or information put forth by an opponent is not going negative. On the other hand, ads depicting him wearing a crown are clearly negative.

Greuel has a history of running negative ads going back to the city controller campaign of 2009 when her campaign hit the airways with lies about her opponent.

And the race goes on.

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According to an e-mail thread published by the Los Cerritos News, Wendy Greuel sent her campaign manager John Shallman an advance copy of the city’s annual financial statements.

That’s right – before the public had a chance to glimpse the results, John Shallman had the report in his in-box.

Gee, do you think she could have at least cc’d Eric Garcetti so both campaigns had the information in hand simultaneously? Oh, what about the mayor and the rest of the City Council? It shows just how little Greuel thinks of the public and its elected representatives.

Greuel should be investigated for bypassing proper public disclosure. Deputy Controller Claire Bartels should also be questioned about her role. After all, this information is confidential until officially released.

According to the City of Los Angeles Governmental Ethics Ordinance

SEC. 49.5.3. Confidential Information. No current or former officer or employee
of the City shall use or disclose to any other person for pecuniary gain or personal advantage or privilege, confidential information acquired by him or her in the course of his or her official duties.

Wendy needs to answer for this.

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It is good that Mayor Villaraigosa wants the next mayor to cancel the last year of a five-year wage increase along with asking employees to contribute 10% of their pay towards health benefits. It is unclear as to how he plans to reduce the banked LAPD overtime. The $15 million allocated is not even close to the liability of $100 million projected last year.

You don’t build a budget around uncertainties, especially when the public unions have expressed no desire to offer or accept concessions.

The mayor’s proposed budget is a wish list, not a budget. It would not pass scrutiny in the real world. The City Council should reject it out of hand and insist the mayor propose specific cuts rather than speculative assumptions.

This budget is the equivalent of filing a frivolous tax return…..and you know what the IRS does when they receive one of those.

I hope the mayoral candidates are put on the spot as to what they think of Villaraigosa’s attempt at handing off his problems and how they propose to deal with the scheduled raise and higher benefit contribution.

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Although polls for national races tend to be highly predictive, I do not necessarily buy into local polls.

Therefore, the most recent USC/Los Angeles Times Poll, showing Garcetti with a 10 point lead and Zine with a 12 point lead over their opponents, has to be taken with a grain of salt.

In an environment of diminishing voter turnout, the races could be decided by what side of the bed potential voters arise from. Simple distractions could determine if a registered voter casts a ballot, perhaps a bad day at the office or an argument with a significant other might be enough for someone to skip the process.

Having said that, the projected margin in the mayoral contest might represent a more plausible result than the one for city controller. The undecided category is only 10% for mayor, but a whopping 44% for controller.

I’m not surprised that the controller’s race has a higher proportion of undecided. The office is the least publicized of all up for grabs and, quite frankly, I believe is the least understood as far as the role it should play in the management of the city.

The city controller’s office has never lived up to its potential as a watchdog. Even Laura Chick, who actually did raise the bar of citizen awareness, did not follow through on glaring deficiencies in City Hall transparency. She had Mayor Villaraigosa on the ropes for his lies about using the trash fee hike to increase the LAPD to 10,000, then quickly pulled her punch and let the issue fall off the radar.

Wendy Greuel has used the office for camera time by reading press releases, but never following up. As a result, few of her claims of finding waste, fraud and abuse can be substantiated.

I doubt if many voters know what audits should cover, or how they should be prioritized. It is easy to list a finding; it’s another thing to determine the cost vs. benefits of implementing changes, or if there are appropriate resources to manage them if they are.

Dennis Zine, who leads Ron Galperin in the poll, only knows the status quo. He has never made anything resembling a significant contribution to the management of the city. He, as Greuel, is a friend of the public unions. In other words, he will not be an agent of change in the interests of efficient governance.

Ron Galperin, on the other hand, undertook an independent analysis of efficiency. He was not tied to major interests groups that would have skewed his findings.

I met with Ron one-on-one about two years ago in Century City. It was at a time when I was considering making a run for city controller. I was impressed enough by his knowledge and determination to feel 100% comfortable with staying out of the race. I knew that he would offer the voters an alternative to the consummate insider Zine.

So, to the 44% sitting on the fence, I urge you to vote for Ron Galparin. He is the firewall we need in the city controller’s office; not the wallpaper Zine represents.

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Feuer and Trutanich provide drama at Valley Village debate.

Feuer and Trutanich provide drama at Valley Village debate.

The only thing missing in tonight’s City Attorney debate in Valley Village was one of the candidates shouting, “You can’t handle the truth!”

The heat did match the final courtroom scene between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise on two of the subjects.

The first was Feuer’s controversial contract with his campaign manager John Shallman.

Feuer claims the Ethics Commission told him his contract passed muster. Trutanich flashed a document purporting that the Commission has no record of Feuer’s inquiry. Feuer countered that the Commission was not allowed to comment on his inquiry. Trutanich fired back saying if the discussion was confidential, it violated the Brown Act, which requires public transparency. He went on to chide Feuer about relying on an oral statement to support such a critical matter, implying it was sloppy practice.

I spoke briefly with Trutanich after the debate concerning the related court case filed against Feuer by an activist. He said the worst that could happen to Feuer would be the removal of his name from the ballot.

AB109, the bill that provided for the transfer of certain state prison inmates to local jails, produced almost as many sparks. Trutanich criticized Feuer for supporting the bill, even implying that some recent violent crimes could be traced to the law. He said the county jails are filled with AB109 prisoners as a result. For the legislature to characterize it as a budget balancing measure was misleading; it merely transferred the cost of incarceration from the state to local governments. Feuer pointed out that Trutanich supported the bill when it was first introduced and changed his position after it became law.

Both candidates agreed that marijuana should not be made legal across the board, but it should still be reserved for compassionate use. According to Feuer, Trutanich was too slow in dealing with the proliferation of the medical marijuana outlets while the city attorney jumped on Feuer about his lack of action when compassionate use was passed back in 1996.

Aside from these issues, the gist of the debate centered around the role the city attorney should play – one who develops policy for enforcement versus enforcement itself.

Feuer favors the former – use of risk management to prioritize litigation strategy and a focus on quality of life issues within neighborhoods. Feuer cited examples of his legislative work to combat urban blight caused by abandoned properties and reducing ammunition clip capacity. He is also in favor of beefing up the neighborhood prosecutor program, which he claims was neglected by Trutanich.

Trunanich proclaimed success in aggressively enforcing the laws as a deterrent to suits against the city. He personally “tries” the cases his attorneys bring before they go to court, claiming his court room experience in prior positions enable him to effectively prepare his staff for actual trials. On a few occasions, Trutanich emphasized Feuer’s lack of court room experience.

Trutanich was adamant that the city attorney should not set policy, but focus on enforcing existing laws. He reminded the audience that the LAPD is very capable of identifying situations requiring legal intervention and are in a better position to make those calls than neighborhood prosecutors.

One interesting point of agreement between the two: as a practical matter, the city should not relinquish its immunity on personal injury cases related to broken sidewalks.

Trutanich came across as the stronger of the two and offered more data, but confirming the accuracy of data is always tough in these debates unless one has time to sift through reports. However, he did seem to have command of the numbers. His court room experience no doubt gave him an edge.

Feuer made a curious remark in his closing statement. He told moderator Dave Bryan (KCAL) he remembered the days when Bryan accompanied him on his canvassing walks years ago, as if to imply there was a political connection between the two. There was a short pause after which Bryan reminded him that he was simply serving as a reporter. It was an awkward moment for Feuer.

Dave Bryan did an excellent job of keeping the candidates on subject. I would like to see more of him in other debates.

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Council Member Mitch Englander has taken his quest for a $3 billion bond measure on the road.

After being widely rebuffed in his first attempt to add a parcel tax to cover the debt service related to his street repair bond, he and Council Member Joe Buscaino are crisscrossing the city seeking input from residents, particularly neighborhood council members.

Or is he simply going through the motions?

You see, he has already asked the City Attorney to draft the language for the proposal. On the surface, that would seem to be a routine procedure, except for one thing: if the feedback he received from the speakers at last night’s public hearing on the bond at Van Nuys City Hall is any indication (and I believe it is based on my contacts in the NC system), then there is a major structural difference between what he wants versus the public’s wishes.

Everyone who spoke at the hearing generally agreed with the need for raising revenue. Some, myself included, insisted that as much of the funding should come from savings, such as reducing the cost of compensation and benefits, before resorting to an alternative means of financing. But even then, it would be impossible to cover the full cost from savings alone.

However, there were overwhelming objections to sticking property owners with the entire cost. The two council members were reminded that approximately half the city’s residents are renters – and they drive cars, too! Furthermore, landlords cannot arbitrarily pass the additional tax on to tenants as the two council members naively suggested.

So, why go to the City Attorney when the most critical component of the measure is being hotly contested?

Mr. Englander closed the hearing with a patronizing remark. He thanked those who, in his opinion, asked good questions. In another words, those who disagreed do not count.

We are already decades behind on street maintenance. What’s another several months? Let’s take the time to be sure all avenues of offsetting cost savings are realized and that the remaining cost is shared in an equitable manner.

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As part of the Earth Day observance on Saturday, NCVV organized the planting of thirteen ash and maple trees in Valley Village Park. The placement of the trees was coordinated with the Parks and Recreation department.

This was the second time NCVV has added trees to our community’s crown jewel.

Pete Sanchez of Valley Village Homeowners Association (Left) and Steven Stokes (NCVV) finish the final planting.

Pete Sanchez of Valley Village Homeowners Association (Left) and Steven Stokes (NCVV) finish the final planting.

NCVV Board Members, Tree People and a couple of helpers at the end of the activities.

NCVV Board Members, Tree People and a couple of helpers at the end of the activities.

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A debate between the City Attorney candidates sponsored by Neighborhood Council Valley Village, The Valley Village Homeowners Association and Mid-Town North Hollywood Neighborhood Council will be held this Wednesday, April 17, at Colfax Charter School. The school is located at the corner of Colfax and Addison in Valley Village.

The moderator will be Dave Bryan of KCAL9 News.

Carmen Trutanich has done some good. He aggressively tackled the blight created by supergraphic billboards and the danger they posed to public safety. He has been diligent in defending the city against lawsuits.

He recently announced he would require the removal of 100 digital billboards around the city.

He also came out against the mayor’s proposal to cut Neighborhood Council budgets, stating it would violate the City Charter. That’s good, but where has he been the last few years as the budgets have been steadily reduced?

On the other hand, he broke his pledge to the voters about not running for another office and embarrassed the city and himself with his threat to arrest a city council member. He did not help his image with his bluster about possible criminal charges against AEG over the Michael Jackson memorial service at the Staples Center. Although his intent in the latter issue was to recoup the city’s costs of providing services for the event, his antics were anything but professional.

As a career legislator and attorney, Mike Feuer knows the law, but he has no court room experience. Whether that is important to the effective management of the city’s equivalent of a law firm could be controversial. It is reasonable to assume it is important when it comes to assigning resources, prioritizing caseloads and evaluating risk. Presumably, though, he would have staff to assist him in those decisions.

Unfortunately, Feuer has been a member of one of the most inept legislatures in the state’s history. He has supported every unbalanced budget passed in Sacramento. His support of Proposition 25 made it even easier to pass unsustainable budgets. The only teeth to the proposition – the provision of no balanced budget, no pay for the legislators – were pulled soon after State Controller John Chiang blocked their pay for passing a bogus budget.

To make matters worse, Feuer informed the Neighborhood Council Valley Village that he did not object to a lawsuit by his colleagues to sue Controller Chiang for enforcing the no pay provision.

As a board member of NCVV, I have submitted a question about a recent topic – whether Greuel’s threat of a lawsuit against the Los Cerritos Community Newspaper is worth the time and effort of the City Attorney’s office to pursue. For that matter, does it defeat the objective of public transparency?

It should be an interesting evening in Valley Village.

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Tonight’s mayoral debate was hosted by the American Jewish University. The campus is situated at the top of Sepulveda Pass, overlooking the busy 405 – the freeway of perpetual agony and frustration.

As a showdown, it did not live up to the standards of The Gunfight at the OK Corral.

I hoped for substantive responses; little was offered.

Before I get into the Q&A, allow me to offer what appears to be the problem with this as well as all of the prior debates – the format.

The moderators ask the questions in a manner that elicits bullet point responses. It would be better if a subject were raised (i.e, pension reform, traffic), then let the candidates frame the questions. I can assure you this approach would cut to the chase and compel the candidates to address specifics.

It was no surprise to me, and probably not to either Garcetti or Greuel, that the first specific question was critical of how little attention education has been allotted so far. Mayor Villaraigosa’s speech at UCLA telegraphed that would be the case.

Greuel touted her “education bill of rights” covering assurances of safety, good teachers and protection from bullying. Garcetti stated he would fight for more funding per student and bringing communities into schools through adding nearby public facilities, and introducing vocational programs along with technology.

On traffic, both supported completion of planned public transportation systems. Greuel wants more left turn signals; Garcetti wants a transit tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass under the 405. Garcetti offered even more specifics. He cited the benefits of his great streets concept in Atwater Village, which creates desirable destinations within walking distance from a community. He also wants to target repaving 800 miles of streets each year.

How to involve Hispanics in LA affairs had both candidates touting their endorsements among Latinos. Greuel could only offer up the opening of her campaign field office in East Los Angeles and general goals of educational opportunities and new jobs. She did not provide any details. Garcetti wants an immigration affairs office, one of the goals of which is to raise English language proficiency levels. He was thankful for the 2:1 advantage he achieved among Hispanic voters.

Did they support the proposed $3 billion bond measure to resurface the city’s streets? Garcetti said patchwork repairs would not work, so he was open to the measure. Greuel said the $160 million in waste fraud and abuse could go towards street repairs. She did not address the bond measure. Garcetti challenged her assertion and reminded the audience that her figures were ridiculed by the Los Angeles Times and KPCC (for the record, so did I).

On the plight of the homeless, Garcetti offered an example of his success dealing with chronic homelessness. His Hollywood Forward program reached out to the homeless on an individual level. It was able to get people off the streets one at a time and keep them off. Wendy once again fell back on her $160 million savings claim as the source for homeless program funding.

Things got a little testy when it came to neighborhood revitalization. Greuel criticized Garcetti for taking too long to approve the Hollywood Community Plan. He countered by saying he did not want to have just anything built. He also emphasized his opposition to the two proposed skyscrapers near the Red Line station that would dwarf any other building in the community. Garcetti pointed to the blight created by Valley Plaza in the heart of Greuel’s former Council District (he incorrectly identified the area as Valley Village – it is in North Hollywood).

Both promised to ask the public unions for concessions on day one in office. Greuel claimed she kept warning the Council about pension costs. Garcetti said more than warnings are needed and that he had won $308 million in pension reforms (it is worth noting that pension costs were already on the rise during Greuel’s years on the Council).

Did they have any “shoot for the moon” projects? Greuel wants economic opportunities centered around the college campuses. Garcetti desires expanding his great streets program, including capping of a below-grade segment of the Hollywood Freeway and using the cover as a park. What was more interesting was his proposal to offer a financial incentive to individuals or organizations to analyze traffic data and create solutions for our gridlock.

The advancement of social equality had both candidates agreeing on the need for education reform, with Garcetti stressing vocational training, including maintaining an aviation mechanics training program in Van Nuys.

Garcetti criticized Greuel for her unrealistic proposal to add 2,000 additional police officers. He would keep the LAPD at 10,000, but with more overtime, which he claims would be more efficient for solving crimes.

Perhaps the next question should have been reserved for last. What’s the difference between the two?

Greuel said her work in the private sector and service as City Controller, where she manages a large staff, is good preparation for the office. She said goals are important and accused Garcetti of “demonizing” unions. Garcetti chided her about the $3 million in support she has received from the DWP’s IBEW union. The support would diminish her independence. He also said her “goals” and “plans” are unclear.

They were both in favor of limiting medical marijuana shops and keeping them away from sensitive areas.

Likewise, they were both on the same page as far as reducing stray animals – applying fees to spaying and neutering services.

Both want an NFL team, but there was no strong recommendation about the stadium location.

The most important question of the evening was which of three major issues would be a priority: potholes, pension reform and traffic.

Greuel favored traffic because it could lead to more revenue. Garcetti went with pension reform because the savings could be used to relieve traffic problems. He received the evening’s loudest applause with that answer.

Overall, while both candidates were short on specifics, Garcetti’s responses contained somewhat more detail.

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North Korea is threatening to nuke the United States, but in Los Angeles, City Councilmen Mitchell Englander and Joe Buscaino are back at it with their threats to bomb property owners.

Why worry about North Korea when we have these two gentlemen?

They are prepared to exercise the nuclear option by implementing a parcel tax to cover the debt service of their bond proposal.

The pair claims the cost per property, assuming a value of $350,000, would start at $24 per year and peak at $120 in ten years. Cheaper than the damage we incur to our cars from streets that resemble the Oregon Trail; at least that’s what the good councilmen say.

Instead of being relieved by the promise of the so-called savings, we should be upset that we have paid a hidden tax on our cars all these years with nothing to show for it.

If the parcel tax were the only increase property owners faced in the years to come, perhaps it would not be that big a deal. However, we face a steady stream of utility rate increases. On top of that, tax increases will always loom due to ever-increasing union benefits (because it is unlikely the council will ever require a sufficient level of employee contributions). Sidewalk repairs are estimated to cost $1 billion – no telling what financing scheme will be used for that sum.

It is not as if we can compensate for years of deferred maintenance and neglect without going into debt and paying for it with new sources of revenue, but before we absorb another penny in taxes – especially a tax that hits a single class of residents – we must insist the city deal with the structural deficit caused by generous retirement benefits for city workers. These benefits account for the fastest growing cost component in the general fund.

Mayoral candidates Greuel and Garcetti should take a position on this issue.

We deserve an answer.

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