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Archive for October, 2015

Brian D’Arcy lost his appeal to block the Los Angeles City Controller from auditing two non profit trusts – the Joint Institutes for Training and Safety – who have received $40-million in ratepayers’ cash over 10 years and have nothing of value to show for it.

Now, they have not actually spent all of it.  The trusts have squirreled away a cash surplus of $11-million, enough to cover the inflated operating costs for almost three years.

A rainy day fund? That’s what D’Arcy and his minions want you to believe. DWP GM Marcie  Edwards appeared to be satisfied with that and other underwhelmimg responses noted in the progress report she issued about reforms at the trusts. She offered no rebuttals, not even a hint of impatience, but what would you expect from the person who referred to the half-audit Controller Galperin was allowed to conduct as “littered with accusatory innuendo and peppered with contradictory statements.”

So how are the reforms progressing?

Let’s start by saying none of what has been proposed is rocket science.

About the only definitive accomplishment was the trusts amending employees’ W-2s for gasoline reimbursements. It goes to show, even D’Arcy thinks twice about tangling with the IRS over unreported income.

How about eliminating no-bid contracts?

The Daily News reported: “The trusts “strengthened” their informal policy and will use multiple bidders “as appropriate.”  DWP officials would not provide additional details.”

A award process is not difficult to explain.  So why not share the policy?

The News went on to report, “The credit card practices were “reviewed and strengthened.” DWP officials would not provide additional details.

Pesky details.

Trust administrators would continue to be paid $220,000 per year.  Not only are they grossly overpaid, they are responsible for programs duplicating or overlapping those offered by the DWP.

Forget about consolidating the two trusts and requiring annual performance reviews for the employees.

Edwards would make a lousy teacher.  She would buy into “the dog ate my homework” excuse.

It is time for the city to replace Edwards as the one to track reforms. Appoint an individual from the private sector, independent of the utility.  Someone not afraid to speak frankly.  It need not – and should not – be a highly paid position. The individual could leverage off of the Ratepayer Advocate, the Neighborhood Council’s DWP working group, retired business people and local business schools.

The foot-dragging by D’Arcy is not going to end, so the city may as well take the gloves off.

There is only so much Ron Galperin can do.  Audits cost money and City Hall is unwilling to back him up and publicly push back to at least get the public incensed. There are probably many who do not have a clue as to how outrageous this overt diversion of ratepayer money is.

We need residents who will pressure officials to aggressively seek major concessions from the IBEW Local 18 in the next round of labor negotiations, to insist they do not accept a dime of contributions from the union and to disavow any public campaigning the union may perform on their behalf. The mayor and City Council need to jump off D’Arcy’s high-speed money train.

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The city family.

How often have we heard Los Angeles city officials utter that term?

It appears it is a term of convenience, as when politicians are trying to court favor from the elected volunteers who represent the 96 neighborhood councils chartered by the city.

The board members not only are required to adhere to the same ethics rules, the Brown Act and ADA regulations, among others, their well-paid counterparts at City Hall must observe, but also have to endure the incompetence of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, as useless a collection of functionaries that ever existed, and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners (BONC), appointees, most of whom tend to be more beholden to City Hall than the NCs they purport to represent.

An acid test as to whether the NC system is respected as a grassroots arm of city government might be upon us.

Much has been written lately about Council Member Felipe Fuentes’ eviction of the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council from the modest office space it has occupied at North Valley City Hall for eleven years.

The STNC and its stakeholders are in an uproar about the short notice, but even more so because Prince Felipe had committed to ousting the NC back in April, something he did not share with the board or its stakeholders until just a few weeks ago.

He did inform the City Council, though. He introduced one motion  on April 2 and another on August 28 to authorize moving two non-profits into the space occupied by STNC,  The motions falsely stated the premises were vacant.  All present at the horseshoe that day approved them. After all, who would have suspected Fuentes of withholding critical information. However, Paul Krekorian should have been aware of the deception since Sunland Tujunga was formerly part of CD2.  Mr. Krekorian supported one of the motions in committee and voted in favor of both in the full council.

According to the Foothills Record, the local paper serving the community, STNC is challenging the motions on the grounds of misrepresentation of the facts. The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition is preparing a letter of support for STNC addressed to, ironically, Paul Krekorian.

It is time for the Mayor and City Council to either prove they respect the NC system, or admit that the “City Family” is nothing more than a hollow expression.

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After pulling the rug out from under Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council by announcing he was changing the locks at the facility it used for its office and committee meetings, Fuentes caught some heat from neighborhood council activists.

He must have felt uncomfortable enough that he wrote a letter to the council’s board. STNC letter 10-5-15

It was not an apology.

If anything, it was insulting.

In his motions to the City Council for approval of his plan to allow two non profits to occupy space that STNC had used for eleven years, he stated that the premises were vacant – an outright lie. His letter repeated the bogus assertion:

“…buildings serving Pacoima and Sunland/Tujunga were completely devoid of city personnel and service providers….I have sought partners who provide essential service to our communities….The Sunland/Tujunga will be fully utilized by providers who have extensive service histories and knowledge of the issues facing our communities.”

I suppose, in his eyes, STNC is not part of the city family and has no history of serving the community.  The NC must have been invisible, too, since the building was “completely devoid.”

As I wrote earlier this week, I have no position as to which organizations would better serve the community from the building.

But you don’t give the bum’s rush to a long-time tenant with a record of service reaching back through terms of two previous City Council members.

It is only now he is offering assistance with STNC’s move (no new location has been identified). Undoubtedly, Fuentes acquiesced in the face of criticism.  Had he truly cared, he would have provided adequate notice and worked to find a new home for the NC months ago.

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For someone who purportedly wants to lead the charge to fight homelessness, City Council member Felipe Fuentes is quick on the eviction trigger.

Acting as if he were LA’s version of the Soup Nazi, Fuentes told Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council, “No space for you!”

My colleague at Citywatch, Denyse Selesnick, did an excellent job of summarizing the timeline of actions leading up to Fuentes’ sudden notice to Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council that the locks to the facility they share with the councilman’s office would be changed on October 15th.  The NC will be denied access to its small, 300-square-foot office space. That’s next week; close enough to Halloween to constitute trick-or-treat, with emphasis on the trick.

The space arrangement goes back to former council member Wendy Greuel’s days, when STNC was part of CD2.  Her successor, Paul Krekorian, honored the agreement. The memo of understanding does state that 30 days notice must be provided to the NC in the event the space was to be re-purposed.

Replacing city-chartered STNC will be two independent non-profits: LA Family Housing and the LA Conservation Corps. So much for being part of the “city family” – a term local politicians often use to describe an invisible bond among the components of municipal government. Make no mistake: STNC is an official part of the city’s structure of governance. Fuentes appears to believe otherwise.

Now, I am not taking a position as to whether the two non-profits are more or less worthy to occupy the space. Nor am I arguing that Fuentes can or cannot act on the termination provision in the MOU.

What I am saying is an entity created under the city charter deserves better treatment. The space arrangement has been in existence for eleven years, plenty of time for the neighborhood council to become ensconced in its setting, with a track record of assisting the community (including the homeless, I might add), and acting as a conduit between the public and the council member’s office.

Pulling the rug out from under STNC is not only disruptive to its mission, it will likely take a large bite out of its annual $37,500 budget.  Unlike the non-profits who will soon occupy the premises, neighborhood councils cannot raise funds.

To add salt to the wound, Fuentes did not offer any assistance to relocate STNC despite having leverage with the General Services Department. Surely, there were other options as far as city-owned facilities go or services to facilitate an orderly relocation.

Why would the council member act so recklessly?

As Denyse Selesnick suggested, it may have something to do with several STNC members who openly supported Patty Lopez in her successful challenge to incumbent Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra. They did so as private citizens; not in the capacity as elected board members.

Bocanegra was Fuentes’ former chief of staff who helped his former boss by placing Fuentes on his office payroll while he was waiting to take his seat on the City Council – a much better deal than unemployment!

Bocanegra was upset by Lopez despite an overwhelming advantage in money and organization.  It was undoubtedly embarrassing  to both men.

It also challenged Fuentes’ reputation as a person who pulls the strings.

It is reasonable, then, to assume Fuentes acted vindictively.  There is no other logical reason for treating duly-elected, respected  civic volunteers so callously.

Yet another example of City Hall’s disrespect for the neighborhood council system.

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Donald Trump first teased us with his tax plan, then disclosed a very vague framework of how it would lower taxes for most and reduce the deficit. His key assumption?  It would invigorate the economy and thereby promote growth in tax revenue.

While there is logic to the correlation between economic growth and lower taxes, the impact on the deficit is another matter.  No where did he offer any rudimentary analysis of how deficits would be reduced, much less by how much.  The Donald is supposedly wealthy enough where he could have engaged a think tank to model the plan and provide the public with some data to chew on.

But, no.

Just an example of political pablum designed to win votes from those easily seduced by the promise of lower taxes.

California State Senator Bob Hertzberg is doing his best Donald Trump impersonation with  SB8, a bill he introduced that would raise state taxes by $10 billion per year through a combination of subjecting most services to sales tax while lowering personal income tax rates – a regressive combination if there ever was one. The senator had the audacity to name the bill “The Upward Mobility Act.”

Euphemisms are usually concocted to divert attention from the true purpose of underlying actions, and Bob created a classic one.

According to the California Budget Policy Center update issued in April 2015, 36% of the state’s revenue came from sales tax in 2011.  48% came from personal income tax.  Any version of Hertzberg’s plan would likely close that gap.

My best guess is SB8 may not be as regressive as it appears, but, regardless, the additional $10 billion per year has to come from our pockets. But Bob, like Donald, is not sharing key details.

It would be nice to know what segments will bear the brunt of the increase.

I think he knows, at least he alluded to that when he suggested Governor Brown, who expressed skepticism of the bill, would like it if he knew the details.  As reported by the Sacramento Business Journal, Hertzberg said: “People are making assumptions on limited information and it’s just not accurate. The governor is a brilliant guy … I think he will like the proposal when he sees what it will look like.”

Please do share the details, Bob not only with the Governor, but with the public as well.

The senator has taken to social media to promote his bill. He cited an article in Forbes that complimented him for supporting the application of sales tax to services. The author correctly points out that higher-income earners pay more in gross sales tax, but fails to mention the disproportionate effect it has as income decreases. The article was not an endorsement of Bob’s bill – it supports a much lower sales tax rate on services and criticized him for keeping the already high rate unchanged.

The bill is dead for 2015, but Hertzberg will reintroduce it in 2016.

Trump will be out of the picture by then.

The tax stage will be all yours, Bob.

At least in California.

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