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Archive for March, 2015

The Next LAvia

There have been WalkLAvia and CicLAvia.

The objectives of these two events were to encourage alternate transportation and open streets, making them pedestrian-friendly.

Whether they will change the culture of car-centric Los Angeles remains to be seen, but even their harshest critics would have to admit these people-oriented events are effective tools for making a point. So much so, it has inspired another group to adapt the concept – developers.

Without a doubt, developers are the movers and shakers of the city. Their money rivals that of the public unions when it comes to influencing City Hall.

To many, developers are greedy and out to destroy the character of our neighborhoods. The biggest ones have long struggled to change that image, but it is a challenge to put a smiley face on their activities. How can they connect with the residents on a human scale? Shopping centers and high-rises do not exactly provide a warm and fuzzy image.

Several of the largest developers quietly engaged the services of a marketing consulting firm to tackle the image problem.

The firm appears to have identified a commonality that all Angelenos are intimately familiar with and is associated with development.

The lowly porta-john, those blue booths of relief, are a required element of any project, from a major remodel of a single-family home to an office tower. No porta-john, no project. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University proved a tight correlation exists between porta-john rentals and construction activity.

Those same potties are the very ones we see at any major street fair, carnival or CicLAvia. They are familiar and comforting to us. It makes sense that they could help form a bond between developers and residents.

With that in mind, the mayor’s office authorized JohnLAvia to honor the development community.

A stretch of Magnolia Boulevard in Valley Village will be closed to motor vehicle traffic at a date yet to be determined. No parking will be permitted in order to line both sides of the street with porta-johns.

There will be entertainment, featuring Olivia Newton John. Food will be donated by Jons.

Popular carnival rides will be adapted to fit the theme. Can you imagine the thrill of spinning wildly on a tilt-a-whirl while strapped in a porta-john?

To raise funds for developer political campaign donations, kissing booths will be established in some of the johns where guests can pay to lock lips with whomever is on the other side of the door. You might call it a crap shoot.

Traditional family games will be offered as well – bobbing for apples is sure to be popular.

Unlike other crowded outdoor venues, no waiting in line when nature calls.

However, a concern has been raised that might kill the event. Some local residents believe such a large street party could attract prostitution. The LAPD quelled the concern by assuring officers will be ready to crack down on johns and bust all of them.

“That’s a deal-breaker,” exclaimed the organizers in response.

I’ll stay on top of this developing story.

Remember – you heard it here first….and maybe last.

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Mandatory voting has been the buzz of social media of late, owing to the President’s comments that it could result in a transformation of American politics.

If you believe a law requiring citizens to cast a vote will make us better, more responsible and informed, you are misinformed.

Assuming the government could effectively enforce such a law – which is very doubtful – do you think once the person enters the voting booth he or she will spend more than a few seconds in deliberation? It is likely a blank ballot will be returned. Some would be returned with a vote against the party that supported the law. That’s about as much critical analysis as might occur.

That runs contrary to the assumption that the policy would help liberal Democrats. In the words of the President, “The people who tend not to vote are young, they’re lower income, they’re skewed more heavily toward immigrant groups and minorities… There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.”

The truth is, there are many voters who just do not care.

Look in our own backyard where our local elections rarely produce more than a 20% turnout. The stay-at-home set obviously cuts across all segments of the county and city, or we would be see much higher participation.

I have been active in local politics for over ten years and I can tell you that most people I meet, including a few who claim to have an interest in civic affairs, cannot name their officials nor distinguish the roles of the various levels of representation.

Perhaps had mandatory voting been a requirement when the Constitution was ratified, we may have seen a tradition of widespread participation take root. Of course, the right to vote was very restrictive in those days. You would think in view of that, high voter turnout would have become the norm as restrictions were eliminated.

For a great example as to why mandatory voting will not increase meaningful participation, you only need to go back to when eighteen-year olds were granted the right to vote. According to an insightful article in the Washington Post, there was a spike at first, but as the newly-minted voters reached their twenties, their turnout resembled the rest of the country’s. So much for roots.

Not voting is as much a right as voting.

We are horses who should not be forced to drink if we are not thirsty.

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It’s bad enough we have suffered yet another system implementation disaster costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is insulting when those responsible for the failure downplay the impact.

It is equally insulting when another party uses it in an attempt to deflect attention from its own costly acts.

The DWP tried to soften the bad news of the failed implementation of its billing system. It wasn’t so bad after all, if you buy into the statement issued by Joseph Ramallo, the utility’s spokesman. Of the $681 million owed by ratepayers, only $245 million in arrears was due to the new system.

It’s like being told you were hit by a bus instead of a train.

Somehow, there is little remorse and no accountability for the snafu.

Sure, the City Attorney is going to sue Price Waterhouse Coopers – that’s good.

But let us not forget that DWP’s executive management had to sign off on the project. Normally that entails a thorough review of the test results, especially when the stakes are high.

If this is what we can expect from Marcie Edwards, it is time to post the GM job, yet again. Maybe she could run for the LAUSD Board. She will feel at home with the current members. If she had the slightest sense of accountability, she would have handled the public announcement of a fiasco of this magnitude instead of pawning it off on a spokesman.

The DWP used Tamar Galatzan’s excuse for the LAUSD’s failed system rollouts: “We were lied to!”

Management that assumes its is going to get the straight scoop most of the time shouldn’t be in management. There is such a thing as healthy skepticism and conducting an independent, thorough review.

And only D’Arcy would attempt to take advantage of the carnage and use it to deflect criticism of the chaos he has created over the years. By spending millions on city officials, he all but guaranteed excessive compensation for his IBEW Local 18 members over the years. His stonewalling of Ron Galperin’s limited audit of the controversial non profit trusts is further proof of his obstinance and disregard of transparency.

While Edwards is downplaying and D’Arcy is deflecting, the mayor is diddling.

For someone who won an election on the promise of reform of the DWP, Garcetti is not delivering. If anything, he appears to be caving under pressure.

Before he completely loses the political capital he won in the last election, he needs to take a firm, public stand and bear the pushback he will receive from the the union, management and their friends in the council chambers. In return, he will win the hearts and minds of the ratepayers.

If enough people pushback, there will be less tolerance for the status quo that is bleeding us.

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The only excitement from last night’s election involved the LAUSD Board races. Three incumbents are heading for a May runoff.

There was no clear common denominator that would explain why, in an incumbent-happy city, three highly recognizable, well-funded candidates would be struggling.

Was it a battle between charter proponents and the teachers’ union?

To some degree, yes. But I believe there was another driver behind the support for the challengers – people are fed up by a parade of costly failures and scandals stemming from a lack of diligence on the part of the board. The voters recognize the complicity of the incumbents in at least $500 million in losses incurred by the district over the last few years, topped off by an FBI investigation of the I-Pad contract. It is apparent the current board members are prone to being duped.

First the numbers (by percent of vote):

Vladovic, 43%
Galatzan, 39%
Kayser, 36%

Vladovic and Galatzan were runaway, first-round, winners in 2011, so the results of last night reflect a significant change in their appeal to the voters.

Kayser had a close race in 2011, so the fact he is struggling again is not a surprise. He is also an opponent of charter schools and absorbed the wrath of their well-organized supporters, whose organization spent around $400,000 on ads targeting him. However, he also received $550,000 from the teachers’union – it’s not as if he was David vs. Goliath. It was a fair fight, as far as L.A politics goes.

Vladovic and Galatzan had all the advantages over their opponents: support of the pro-charter voters and big money. Galatzan, in particular, had deep pockets. The teachers’ union stayed neutral, too. Yet, their counts were anemic.

Despite holding the upper hand in resources, the two have much work to do. Galatzan is the more vulnerable. If her opponents in the race unite behind Scott Schmerelson for the runoff, she is in deep trouble.

Lydia Guiterrez, who has prior statewide campaign experience, is a formidable candidate and has a credible chance of unseating the entrenched Vladovic.

It can’t hurt public education to have a wholesale change at the LAUSD board. The current regime has wasted too many dollars. Others deserve a chance.

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Last week’s tragedy along an at-grade crossing in Oxnard adds to the growing list of accidents involving trains and motor vehicles. Fortunately, no one was killed in this latest one, but there were severe injuries.

In almost all cases, these incidents are due to carelessness, recklessness or criminal acts. Given human nature, recurrences are inevitable. However, the possibilities can be greatly reduced with right-of-way improvements that eliminate at-grade crossings.

Some projects designed to do just that are underway, but they cover only a fraction of what needs to be done.

Funding is tight, which means the work will be piecemeal.

What is needed is a systemic approach that not only addresses safety concerns, but improves the efficiency, timeliness and comfort of commuter rail travel.

Measure R2, a half-cent sales tax increase is being planned for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would attempt to raise $90 billion over 45 years. At $2 billion per year, improvements will be slow in coming and, although increasing safety, may not have a perceptible impact on efficiency, timeliness and comfort. We will still be left with a mishmash system juggling passenger and freight service on shared tracks. Not a very attractive option for commuters.

While our local and regional transportation needs are being underfunded, California is doing everything possible to push ahead with High-Speed Rail.

Stop and think of the relative demands – ask yourself: how often do you commute locally versus travel to and from Southern California to the Bay Area? Over the course of the year, how long does you car idle on our clogged freeways and streets? Quite a bit more than the time you spend on the 5 or 99 traveling through the San Joaquin Valley.

Why are we throwing away $68 billion to supplement existing satisfactory alternatives for our infrequent north-south trips? By the way, commercial aircraft and cars have been becoming more efficient and safer. For example, since 2000, domestic airline fuel consumption has improved 40%. Within a decade, hybrid and electric vehicles will comprise a major share of the automobile market.

The State should stop HSR and cut off further funding. Instead, a bill should be introduced to fund rail improvements designed to create a well-integrated network of commuter trains and subways in all major metropolitan areas.

It’s about getting value for the money. $68 billion could create far greater benefits if applied to projects that move people through our major cities, rather than from L.A to San Francisco – or from Bakersfield to Madera. Less gasoline burned; less congestion.

HSR is political pork and payback for California’s oligarchs. It is a project straight from Vladimir Putin’s playbook.

We do not need Sochi on rails.

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