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Archive for the ‘Neighborhood Empowerment’ Category

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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Jill Banks Barad is the Energizer Bunny of the NC system.

Few can bring together 200 NC board members, stakeholders and some of the highest profile politicians for an evening of food, socializing and debate as she can.

This being the Valley Alliance, most of the guest pols were running for seats with a footprint in the Valley. The candidates for Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat in the Third District – Bobby Shriver, Sheila Kuehl, Pamela Conley Ulich and John Duran – were the headliners for the evening.

Using a forum Q&A format, the candidates had a chance to express their stands on issues ranging from homelessness to county services.

They kept things civil. There were a few friendly jabs, but nothing as intense as what transpired in the mayoral campaign. It was, after all, primarily an evening devoted to mingling and giving the crowd a chance to get to know the candidates at a personal level. I have nothing but praise for how they conducted themselves – and everyone knows how critical I can be, so that is saying something. I will try to interview as many of them as possible in the weeks to come.

I had a chance to sit with a former preteen idol of mine, Sheila Kuehl of Dobie Gillis fame. The show was cutting-edge comedy for its day and would hold up well by contemporary standards, a credit to the writers, producers and the cast.

Candidates for Zev's seat square off at VANC's 11th anniversary event.

Candidates for Zev’s seat square off at VANC’s 11th anniversary event.

The highlight of the evening was honoring City Controller Ron Galperin with VANC’s “Got It” award, in recognition for the unprecedented contributions he has made to transparency with the control panel database and his relentless pursuit of answers in the DWP nonprofit scandal.

A special thanks to all the Neighborhood Councils in the Valley, almost all of them were represented, for contributing time, funds, supplies and, most importantly, camaraderie.

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I’ve been through two hotly contested elections while serving on Neighborhood Council Valley Village. Mansionization was the issue both times.

I never thought I would see more hard-fought struggles at the NC level again.

I was wrong.

The weeks leading up to the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council election were filled with personal attacks and innuendos. The playing field was social media and the pages of a local community newspaper, the owner and editor of which was a candidate for council president.

It would not be appropriate to quote some of the statements and comments here.

The Foothills Paper served as the voice of David Demulle, who challenged incumbent Mark Seigel and newcomer Tom Smoker, for the top office.

Seigel and Smoker ran quiet campaigns.

Demulle came on like Putin in Crimea. On the pages of his paper, he accused certain officers of the current board for misappropriation of funds and suggested one was behind a plot benefiting Scientology. He characterized yet another officer as an Orwellian villain, complete with a caricature that exceeded even the standards of bad taste. There were times when his choice of words in these attacks was crude. When there were references to seemingly legitimate issues, his message was usually wrapped in anger.

The same bitterness flowed over to a Facebook Group devoted to the community. Here again, mixed in were some potential issues worth debating and even some levity, but many of the accusations were unsubstantiated. As a guest, I personally refuted the financial misappropriation comments since I was familiar with the accounting process followed by STNC’s recent treasurers.

One Facebook comment was completely over the top. A candidate was said to have earned Demulle’s endorsement because she would perform a certain sex act another would not.

The perverse tone was not limited to groups attacking incumbents. A blog operated by an associate of STNC mocked the Facebook Group moderator’s physical handicap in a tasteless post.

None of these antics jived with how the candidates presented themselves in a formal public setting.

I had the pleasure of moderating one of STNC’s candidate forums. Overall, it was very civil. The candidates stuck to the questions submitted by stakeholders. There were a few jabs here and there, but nothing you wouldn’t hear at any other political debate.

Just how did the bitterness affect the results?

For one thing, the turnout about doubled from the previous election. There may be truth to the adage that any publicity is good publicity. Perhaps substitute effective for good.

As ugly as the campaign was, there appear to be some positives to take home.

The increase in turnout probably included many people of goodwill who would have otherwise stayed home. These voters may become regular participants in STNC’s work. That’s good.

How many of them might there be?

Allow me to do some very raw analysis by using some of the individual results.

David Demulle received 152 votes of 622 cast for president. If you assume that the 152 were persuaded by his publication, it is also reasonable to assume that many were turned off by his highly charged, negative tone and personal attacks; therefore, cast ballots against him.

A rough estimate of this backlash could be determined by comparing Demulle’s count against an unopposed candidate for executive office. Tomi Bowling received 460 votes. Bowling was demonized by Demulle in the Foothills Paper. The difference of 308 votes between them probably includes some measure of retribution. If it was about half, then most of Demulle’s support would have been offset. In other words, for all of his bluster, he could do no more than tread water.

It is worth noting that Bonnie Corwin came close to defeating incumbent Nina Royal for Treasurer. Corwin was backed by Demulle from the get go, yet seemed unaffected by his negative campaigning, probably because she herself ran a clean campaign based on her qualifications, not personal attacks. Accordingly, the voters seemed to be able to disassociate her from Demulle. Score a big one for the voters for seeing through the flak.

The biggest loser in this campaign was the local mainstream media.

Here was an opportunity for the Times, Daily News, Weekly and even the Patch to cover grassroots politics at its best and worst. Just a single story would have been appreciated. Do you think Rick Orlov, who specializes in local political news, could have spared a few words?

The Neighborhood Council election budgets can barely cover the cost of a mass mailing and an ad in one of the major papers. A little help from the media would be appreciated. It would be nice to have some independent reporting.

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The Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC), as with similar coalitions in various NC regions, can conduct its meetings free of the Brown Act’s regulations.

Overall, this is a good policy. LANCC meets once a month. Its members have enough on their plates beyond neighborhood council business. It is essential to have a process that allows LANCC to expedite time-sensitive matters (NCs could use a relaxed version of the Brown Act for the same reasons, but that is another story).

But this policy can be taken too far, as was the case this past Saturday, August 3.

Here is an excerpt from the agenda regarding mural ordinances under consideration by the City Council:

Discussion and possible action, Mural ordinance The PLUM Committee moved both (mural) ordinances versions as amended without recommendation to the full City Council, which is scheduled to consider them on August 20, 2013.”The Council File number is 11-0923.

Many Neighborhood Councils have considered this issue and a number have filed Community Impact Statements (listed on the agenda item below). Most, but not all, have objected to including single family residences and to a “one size fits all” approach for every neighborhood in the City.

There were absolutely no details provided for a proposed motion prior to the meeting, although the agenda did mention “possible action.” Such vague terminology would suggest no motion had been drafted, especially one by the officers who form LANCC’s steering committee.

But a motion regarding the mural ordinance had been drafted by LANCC’s Secretary Alisa Smith:

Mural Motion 8-3-13

Mind you, she did not bring anywhere near an adequate number of copies to share, or bother e-mailing it in advance, so most attendees had to rely on an oral presentation of the points – not exactly the best way to digest a complex motion.

The proposal did not gain any traction at first. For that matter, an alternative motion was made and passed. That motion directed LANCC to send an e-mail to all neighborhood councils to consider the issue and take a position as soon as possible due to the rapidly approaching hearing by the City Council.

It was a sensible motion and it should have ended the discussion on the subject.

Not quite. Terrence Gomes, President of LANCC, allowed Alicia Smith to have a second bite of the apple.

She offered a revised version of her motion.

The revision excluded single-family homes from the immediate lifting of the ban. Well, that leaves duplexes and 3-4 unit residences as fair game for murals. In a city like Los Angeles, there is usually no clear delineation among single- and multi-unit neighborhoods and very often there is a mixture on the same street.

The points in her motion regarding conflict resolution would also create a bureaucratic nightmare for the city and the neighborhood councils.

Even though any ordinance removing a ban against murals would allow communities to opt out, how long before that provision would be challenged in the courts? I raised that question and Len Shaffer, the former chair of LANCC and a retired assistant DA, affirmed that it was a plausible scenario.

The City Council could interpret this half-baked motion as a show of support for allowing murals in residential neighborhoods.

The motion was passed, probably in large part just to move the meeting along. It will be distributed among the neighborhood councils with a recommendation to give it consideration.

Earlier, Smith had referred to the existing mural ban as a form of “suppression.” I guess she must think Los Angeles is North Korea.

We have countless ways of expressing our First Amendment rights, but there is a line between free expression and creating a nuisance.

Imagine someone walking through your neighborhood, shouting about a grievance. Is it free speech?

Probably, so as long as he moves on. But what if he stands in one place for hours on end and continues to rant and rave? You would have cause to report him to the LAPD for creating a disturbance.

A mural is 24/7. It is silent screaming – all day long. Noise is not necessary to create a disturbance.

A mural can be offensive to anyone, for any reason, even when the artist does not have the intent to offend. Residents should not be subjected to visual blight in their neighborhoods.

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No catchy theme memorialized by Bobby Darin to this farce of a play.

While The Threepenny Opera featured characters who were corrupt or depraved, the Six Dollar Opera is an inflation-adjusted contemporary version featuring incompetent bureaucrats at Los Angeles City Hall.

The story began on March 20th. My wife and I attended a presentation by Food and Water Watch about the tunnels proposed to transport the California Delta water to Los Angeles. This plan could cost over $23 billion and adversely impact our already rising water bills here in Los Angeles.

To say the least, it is pertinent to the city and, therefore, the neighborhood councils.

As board members of Neighborhood Council Valley Village, we decided it would be worthwhile to attend. The venue was at CSUN and was free……except for the parking.

We did not realize until we arrived that parking would cost $6.00. We charged it on our personal credit card.

As Treasurer, I submitted an approved demand warrant to DONE for reimbursement. The expenditure was also reported to the entire board as part of my monthly public financial presentation. The report was unanimously approved.

A slam dunk to get reimbursed for $6? Think again.

We supplied the receipt and information about the presentation. We learned some weeks later that a redacted copy of our credit card statement would be required.

No problem.

Then weeks went by. Nothing.

Finally, in early May, I received a voice mail that it was going to be rejected, but that message was rescinded within a day. It would be paid soon.

My wife and I traveled to New Orleans for a few days soon after that news. While in the Big Easy I received a call from a heretofore unknown person at DONE that the reimbursement was going to be rejected. Feeling frustrated, I asked questions as to why such a reasonable request would be rejected.

The DONE caller said the decision was based on a “motion.”

I wasn’t sure if anyone at City Hall had ever seen me dance and didn’t like my moves, so I asked just what did that mean.

She repeated, “It’s a motion!”

I realized I was up against an alien being from Remulac and asked her to elaborate.

According to her, the city passed a motion a couple of years ago that parking fees were unreimbursable.

I asked what employees did when they were on business and had to pay parking. She claimed that all parking fees had to be pre-approved.

So, I asked, if an employee was on business and had to pay an unexpected parking fee, he or she was out of luck? She could not answer that and was not even willing to look into it.

It wasn’t the six dollars – for that matter, I won $6.25 at the casino slots that night, so my net worth actually increased by a whole quarter! However, $6 could be meaningful to someone else.

It was just another example of the lack of respect the city has for its volunteers in the NC system. I was irritated by that to say the least.

I asked DONE GM Gracye Liu whether such a reimbursement could be formally approved by the board after the fact (keep in mind, it was part of the financial report they approved). Her reply was shocking – she would have to check with the City Attorney.

No wonder DONE cannot manage.

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When I compared the work of the City Council Redistricting Commission to how the Allies created Yugoslavia after the First World War, little did I realize the post would attract a modest but steady stream of views from that part of the world.

At least some people from the states once part of the most poorly defined nation ever created are now aware of the contrived process that shapes boundaries here in Los Angeles.

I wonder what kind of traffic I can generate by drawing a parallel between corruption in Los Angeles under Mayor Villaraigosa with corruption in Russia under Vladimir Putin? Let me tell you, at least the Russian people know how to protest against crooked leaders.  None of that camping in the park stuff of the Occupy Movement for them.  And they do it in the middle of the winter, too!

In the meantime, the dispute over the breakaway community of Toluca Lake goes on.

It may be time to call in a NATO peacekeeping force.

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Maybe Stephen Box has time to spare, or at least time to tackle all of the issues facing the city and the nation.

However, chiding neighborhood councils for not weighing in on issues such as Occupy LA, campaign reform and the city budget reveals his lack of appreciation for the limited time unselfish volunteers have to conduct business.

Box dismisses the importance of board discussions about the costly sidewalk ordinance that may cost residents thousands of dollars each and restrictions on the use of the purchasing card, which represents the only practical  means of spending for NCs.

Box says “neighborhood councils are preoccupied with their own elections.”

I suppose he believes they should roll over and tolerate the city’s failure to support elections.  Of course, there must be nothing wrong with pushing them to 2014 to save a few bucks.  So what if many current board members will leave before then and their replacements seated by a chaotic, unregulated selection process.  

In short, the neighborhood councils are in a battle for their existence.

Yes, I wish we could devote time to larger citywide issues, but priorities are what they are and the boards labor to push back against obstacles created by one of the most mismanaged city governments in the nation, a government that would rather see the NC system collapse.

Some of the best and brightest board members and active stakeholders are fully absorbed by monitoring and challenging the devious actions of the DWP and its powerful union, and the Public Works Department.  Rate increases planned by these two unrestrained juggernauts will cripple homeowners, many of whom are underwater on their mortgages.

NC Budget Advocates have become more of an independent voice in recent years and do not shy away from criticizing unrealistic assumptions while offering sound advice.

NC planning and land use committees are ever vigilant when it comes to fighting oversized projects.

There are the little things, too.  NC members cooperating and supporting the LAPD and LAFD. Organizing pet adoptions.  Supporting local school activities.

But all of that is not good enough for Box. 

And on top of that, the Pico Neighborhood Council dared to table a discussion on the Occupy LA until the next meeting!

I guess Pico NC and other NC activists don’t have as much free time as the former City Council candidate and can’t keep up with the pace of his personal agenda.

I have to wonder if Box’s candidacy was nothing more than a vanity campaign to promote his image and self interests.

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