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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