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Archive for December, 2013

Ten and Done

Ten years are enough. I am resigning from the board of Neighborhood Council Valley Village as of the end of this calendar year.

I was part of the founding board. That was back in October 2003. I have served as Treasurer from the formation.

I was a reluctant candidate that year. As a matter of fact, I entered as a write-in at the last possible moment.

The turnout in 2003 was somewhere around 20. It exploded in 2005 when mansionization became a hot topic. A pro-development slate bent on allowing mega-homes on small lots mounted an aggressive effort to control the board. They succeeded in winning a slim majority. My at-large seat was the most competitive as I was up against the slate’s heavyweight. I won by 11 votes. My opponent and I each racked up over 400 votes.

What I recall the most from that contest was the bitterness of the third place finisher. He mustered barely 70 votes. He was an attorney and threatened to sue me for allegedly engaging in “dirty tricks.” Quite an accusation when you consider I was away for almost all of the campaign while dealing with a serious family medical emergency. Nothing ever came of it, but he did file a protest through the Independent Election Administrator. No documentation was provided as there was no cause.

Mansionization continued to dominate the council’s agendas. Heated meetings ensued. Angry and divided factions filled the Colfax School auditorium. The pro-mansionization Orthodox Jewish community engaged in rancorous exchanges with the rest of the neighborhoods. It was an ugly time for Valley Village.

The pro-mansionization faction reached too far and passed a motion that would allow different floor area ratio standards, which would create two communities with divergent objectives.

The motion, although approved, was unenforceable, but it did galvanize the residents of Valley Village to come out in force in 2007. Over 1,000 votes were cast. The pro-mansionization slate was crushed. I received around 900 votes.

Along with my allies and colleagues, we saturated the neighborhoods with flyers in the days and weeks leading up to the election. We left nothing to chance. After all, the future character of Valley Village was at stake.

Since then, election turnouts have been in the hundreds. I have earned the highest vote counts over the last three elections. Overall, Valley Village has consistently led the north and south Valley NC regions in turnout. The total population of the community is about 23,000. I would be willing to bet we have the highest average per capita turnout in the entire system and higher than experienced in some precincts in citywide elections.

Mansionization was not the only battle we faced. Our board was firmly against Measure B, the selfish scheme of IBEW’s Brian D’arcy to featherbed his local’s employment numbers. We fought for the construction of the Orange Line, one of the most useful and successful of transit projects in the city. There were many other issues as well, but our involvement always had a common denominator – sound management and constructive participation at both the board and committee levels.

I am proud to have served the stakeholders and appreciated the opportunity to work with such competent colleagues. I also respect those who held opposing views – they stepped up to represent their constituents in the true spirit of grassroots activism.

I will remain an active stakeholder and continue to write about local and NC developments – there will never be a shortage of topics.

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Brian D’Arcy is refusing to turn over the records of the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, two stealth nonprofits operated by D’Arcy and his IBEW Local 18, along with Ron Nichols and the DWP. Together, the two organizations have spent over $40 million in ten years without so much as sharing a scrap of documentation concerning their operations. The public funds them; we deserve a full accounting.

I almost laughed when I read that Nichols was hiring an outside law firm to resolve the impasse over the lack of transparency clouding the nonprofts.

Nichols is part of the problem. He has been the DWP’s general manager for three years and has never expressed any concern over the secretive nature of the institutes despite serving on their boards. His silence was the subject of an earlier article I wrote.

Silent Ron is too close to the core of the scandal to be perceived as independent.

Nothing short of a truly independent investigation headed by the District Attorney needs to be in play.

Nichols and D’Arcy should be subpoenaed along with their colleagues on the boards, the management and the public accounting firm responsible for auditing the nonprofits’ financial statements. Although CPAs are required to maintain confidentiality when it comes to their clients’ affairs, court subpoenas and IRS audits are two major exceptions to the rule.

The refusal to hand over records amounts to brazen disrespect to the residents of the city and to the investors who purchase the DWP’s bonds.

What is D’Arcy thinking?

He has to believe this will not play well in the next round of labor negotiations four years from now. The members of the local should be concerned, too.

Ron Nichols should also be thinking about his reputation and demanding an investigation by the DA. Is he hiding anything?

This is no time to play nice.

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Would a sensible person start construction on a new home not knowing if there would be enough funds to finish the framing?

Let’s take that question to another level.

Would a sensible government spend billions on the first (and very short) leg of a bullet train without knowing if there is a reliable and predictable source of funding to complete the full length of the system? Not to mention, have it capable of operating at a virtually unimpeded high speed of 220 miles per hour?

Sensible is the operative term.

Even without the recent court decision which demands that the California High-Speed Rail Authority definitively identify the funding to complete the first segment, state politicians from both parties are becoming increasingly alarmed at the economics behind the project.

Existing federal grants and bond revenues are at least 50% to 60% short of supporting the construction of the initial phase connecting the San Fernando Valley and Merced. The shortage will be far greater if the estimated costs are as understated as critics contend. Don’t forget – we are talking many billions of dollars; not a sum the state can plug by tweaking a tax here and there.

With the federal government facing the prospects of wildly unpredictable costs of the ACA, don’t look to Congress to play the role of a rich uncle. Any attempt by the feds to bail out California’s boondoggle will be assailed by other states who have pressing needs of their own.

There is talk that Governor Brown may push to use cap-and-trade tax revenue to close the funding gap. Not only would that be opposed by many voters, it could be in violation of the high-speed rail bond covenants as a legitimate source of capital. Such a move was not contemplated by the architects of the rail bond measure approved by the voters.

According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News:

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian had been a staunch proponent of the high-speed rail project while serving in the Legislature. Looming, unanswered questions about how the state would pay for the train, however, ultimately led Simitian to vote against the train.

“High-speed rail is a vision I shared,” he said, “but I was not asked to vote on a concept. I was asked to vote on a plan that I believe is flawed.”

That statement says it all.

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The recent ruling by a federal bankruptcy judge to allow Detroit to file under Chapter 9 was an important lesson in economics.

For way too long, public union pension plans have been shielded from modifications by state constitutions. The Detroit bankruptcy exposed that protection as nothing more than a thin veneer. Unions have hidden behind these unsustainable constitutional protections as if money would never be an object.

It would not matter if all the laws of God and man were on their side, if there are insufficient funds to cover the net cash outflow, benefit cuts and/or increased employee contribution will be inevitable.

Plan participants have been kept in the dark and lied to by their leaders and politicians. Economic reality trumps guarantees in any line of work or service. To assume otherwise is the kind of stuff that creates bubbles. Think of the millions of Americans who lost their homes because they thought housing prices were somehow immune to downturns.

Here in the City of Los Angeles, public pension boards and union leaders have blind faith in the funding levels of their plans. While they whistle in the dark, the city is forced to contribute a growing share of the general fund to cover retiree benefits, a trend that is even more serious than it appears given higher streams of revenue flowing into the municipal treasury.

A point will be reached when the city will either have to cut services to dangerously low levels (layoffs would be a certainty) or insist on higher contributions from employees.

The only other option would be bankruptcy, but it can be avoided if the unions allowed gradual increases to employee contributions, thereby assuring the sustainability of their plans.

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I have made it a tradition to post a musical number for the Christmas and holiday season.

I like to mix it up, so here’s a jazz rendition of the season’s sound written and performed by Vince Guaraldi for a Charlie Brown Christmas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARCI8reFk1U

Some of you may remember Vince Guaraldi for his Grammy winning hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind. This year marked the 50th anniversary of its release. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAh4gYZdDUg

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