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Archive for the ‘State and local politics’ Category

Last Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a debate between two gentlemen in the race to replace termed-out Fran Pavley in the 27th SD. It was sponsored by the American Association of University Women (San Fernando Valley Branch), NOW and the League of Women Voters. Representatives from four West Valley Neighborhood Councils were there.

Henry Stern, who serves on Pavley’s staff, and Steve Fazio, a long-time small businessman in the San Fernando Valley, faced each other at the Westfield Mall, fielding questions from a panel and the audience.

The civility was refreshing.

The 27th is not my district. My reason for being there was to hear where the two opponents stood on California’s misguided and bloated high-speed rail project, particularly Mr. Stern’s view.

I met with him shortly before the primary. We discussed a number of issues, including HSR. I was impressed by his overall pragmatism, especially when it came to transportation priorities.

He stated then that he was supportive of commuter rail in general, but the HSR project was poorly conceived and planned.

I was wondering if he would stick to that position, especially when Lt. Governor Gavin Newsome recently flipped his stance. Perhaps Newsome buckled under pressure from the unions and contractors who stand to benefit from this financial debacle on rails, a project that is absorbing critical cap-and-trade funds.

If anything, Stern doubled down and recommended that the plan be put before the voters again.

He emphasized that HSR was putting the cart before the horse. What good would it be if we did not first develop intra-city transportation?

To be fair, Fazio also voiced strong opposition.

But if we are going to kill HSR, it would die a quicker death if there were more Democrats behind the effort to do so. That’s why candidates such as Stern and Patty Lopez, who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District, could further nudge others within their party to stop it before there is too much more money wasted.

Patty Lopez is engaged in a stalwart campaign, a rematch against party-insider favorite Raul Bocanegra. Despite her solid voting record along party lines, as well as getting several bills important to her constituents passed, the Democratic Party is supporting her opponent.

I’s all about money. Bocanegra spent lavishly on his colleagues’ campaigns in the 2014 election. He was an ATM for established members of the legislature. You don’t mess around with one of the good old boys, especially when he raises dough.

Yet, she stands a chance.

Bocanegra garnered only 44% of the primary vote this time compared to 62% in 2014 – the same year Lopez upset him in the general election. Perhaps money doesn’t buy as many votes these days. A measurable majority of voters did not support him.

A passage in a San Francisco Chronicle article about Lopez says it all:

“It’s nice to have an outsider in Sacramento,” said Lea-Ann Tratten, political director for the Consumer Attorneys of California, one of the few interest groups that have donated to Lopez.

“It’s refreshing. And frankly I think we need more of that. But that’s not how Sacramento works. It’s very much an insider game.”

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State Senator Bob Hertzberg is a smart man; smart enough to know the power of language. According to his bio, as an undergraduate English major, he wrote a 400-page handbook titled A Commonsense Approach to English.

To paraphrase a quote attributed to the late US Senator Everett Dirksen: A deft turn of a definition here, and a subtle re-characterization there, the next thing you know, we are dealing with some serious money!

And that has been Hertzberg’s game plan since he returned to the legislature in December 2014.

He introduced SB 8, a bill cloaked by a seemingly harmless name – the Upward Mobility Act. The senator described it as a tool to “modernize” the state’s tax structure. He admitted it would be designed to yield another $10B in tax revenue.

The bill died, but that did not stop Bob from reintroducing a replacement: SB 1445.

As SB 8 proposed, this new bill would extend the application of sales tax to services, a direct hit to all segments of society – the middle class, most notably. As he did with SB 8, he is characterizing it as “modernization.”

The only thing being modernized is the state’s access to our wallets.

But the “serial hugger” is not stopping there.  He again whipped out his English to Taxation dictionary to conjure up SB 1298.

His objective is to do an end run around Prop 218’s requirement for voter approval of tax increases by redefining “sewer service” to include stormwater projects. Perhaps “serial wordsmith” would serve as a better moniker for him. Please read the excellent editorial concerning 1298 in the Daily News. 

The bill has a worthwhile objective.  It is designed to encourage recovery of stormwater. No one is arguing with the benefits it offers to our drought-stricken state.

But it is dangerous to override the benefits of government transparency and the legislative process.

Californians are being asked to pony up more cash to fund a growing list of expensive projects.  In Los Angeles alone, we are being asked to pass a permanent increase in the sales tax for the MTA.  The city and county are considering spending over a billion dollars to provide housing to the homeless.  There is also the trainwreck of HSR absorbing funds that could be used to enhance the state’s water capacity.

Our state and local governments have no grasp of prioritization.  Capital budgeting is completely absent in the minds of Hertzberg, his colleagues in Sacramento and counterparts at the local level.

Taxpayers have a right to weigh in on what needs attention and the means of paying.  To do so requires presenting the big picture of competing needs. Let the people decide what is most important and authorize appropriate funding levels.

We do not have unlimited funds; we can only afford what can be sustained without breaking the bank.

Sneaking around the voters and playing word games, as Hertzberg has been doing, is disrespectful to all of us.

 

 

 

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It is no surprise that Assembly Member Patty Lopez advanced to the finals in the 39th AD. More on that later in the article.

Henry Stern’s path to the general election in the 27th Senate District was less certain.

There was no doubt that Republican Steve Fazio would make it, but most figured a Democrat would come in second due to the large field of Democratic candidates carving up the vote. He finished with 26.5% of the ballots cast, behind Fazio’s 37.5%, but well ahead of his chief Democratic challenger, Janice Kamenir-Reznik.

Reznik held an advantage over Stern early in the evening when absentee ballots weighed heavily.

Two key endorsements abandoned Stern for Kamenir-Reznik: former County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Despite those two big name defections, Stern prevailed and appears to have a lock on winning the general. Fazio’s support is unlikely to grow significantly to where he can give Stern a run for his money. Supporters of the other candidates are likely to line up behind Stern, who is a senior staff member of Fran Pavley, the termed-out, current office holder.

The race makes you wonder about the value of endorsements from individuals

I had the pleasure of discussing a number of issues with Stern a few weeks ago. He is someone who appears to be receptive, especially on issues with a direct impact locally.

Patty Lopez, the Rocky of local politicians, appears to face a similar challenge to the one which confronted her back in 2014. Her opponent, Raul Bocanegra, a favorite of the establishment, with the backing of the State Democratic Party, and who outspent Lopez 10 to 1, finished the night with 45% of the vote. Lopez garnered 27%.

With that kind of spending and structural advantage, earning measurably less than a majority is unimpressive and points to vulnerability in the general for Bocanegra. He had almost 63% of the vote in the 2014 primary before falling to the Lopez’ indomitable grassroots push in the general, when he ran as the incumbent. He starts off in a weaker position this time around.

If Lopez can attract support from the pool of voters who supported other fine candidates in the primary, then Bocanegra could be in for a long night on November 8. A loss would all but destroy his aspirations to regain a seat anywhere. It is hard to raise money from deep pockets when you have burned through a small fortune in back-to-back losing efforts.

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There were two articles in Citywatch recently about the candidacy of Janice Kamenir-Reznik, who seeks the open seat to be vacated by termed-out Fran Pavley in Senate District 27.

There are five candidates, including Republican Steve Fazio, who stands an almost certain chance to make it to the general election. The district is moderately competitive owing to enough Republican or decline-to-state registration to rule out a walkover by a Democrat.

But Reznik faces a formidable opponent in Democrat Henry Stern.
The fact that it is an open seat makes it potentially even more competitive.

Stern is a senior advisor to Pavley. In that role, he undoubtedly has absorbed much about the workings of the district and the issues affecting the state.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was approached by a mutual acquaintance to chat with him. Even though I do not have a vested interest in the district, the potential for a competitive race got my attention. Not to mention that there are state issues in play affecting all of us.

It is likely that this will be one race I will follow besides what will be a marquee event in AD39 between Patty Lopez and Raul Bocanegra, who was taken down by Lopez in what had to be the biggest upset in modern times in California.

Stern and I sat down over coffee the other day and covered a range of subjects. It was not a Q&A; more of a discussion. And it was more process-oriented, framed by some key issues concerning both the state and local levels.

I will start by saying he impressed me by his focus on how things should get done. If you involve the public at the grassroots and level with them, there is a greater likelihood of turning out sensible legislation.

For example, he faulted the lack of transparency by the framers of Prop 47 (which allowed early prison releases)for not providing details as to when structural savings from a smaller prison population would kick in, and not dealing with funding resources localities would need to deal with the influx of former inmates. For that matter, he stated that poorly-crafted propositions were all too common.

Prop 1A, which authorized the sale of $9.5B in bonds to fund the start-up of high-speed rail, was another case where a half-baked plan was sold to the public. His boss, Fran Pavley, opposed the initial funding for constructing the controversial system in the Central Valley.

Stern and I agreed that there was nothing wrong with the concept of HSR, but the plan was unrealistic and the assumptions unsubstantiated, plus there are far more important priorities facing the state ranging from education, infrastructure and water, to the problems of homelessness. Cap-and-trade funds could be applied to considerably more effective environmental improvements (if indeed the train would even produce a measurable net effect on the clean air in our lifetimes, a criticism often cited by opponents).

On a local level, he claimed to be very supportive of Neighborhood Councils and strongly urged making the voices of residents a priority when it comes to determining development. Stern said that was a key difference he has with Resnik. He also did not support the density bonuses allowed under SB1818 due to the unintended consequences of of the bill’s implementation.

He was strongly concerned over how CEQA has been subverted in the interest of development.

Stern expressed his dismay as to how Porter Ranch was ever approved for development given the adjacent gas field. He supports a fee to be paid by Sempra- one that cannot be passed on to customers – to cover the damages suffered by the residents. He did acknowledge it would take oversight to assure the cost would be fully absorbed by the gas company.

As I mentioned earlier, this will be a race to watch in both the primary and general.

I will cover it in greater depth.

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When State Senator Bob Hertzberg announced his tax proposal, SB8, in late 2014, he made no secret of using it as a tool to raise taxes by a net $10 billion – that is, per year.

The senator tried to pass it off as “tax modernization.”

He even gave the bill a deceivingly benign name: the Upward Mobility Act. Loosely translated, that means the Up Your Wallet Robbery initiative. I would have been at least conciliatory towards it had he been straightforward and called it a tax increase, rather than obfuscating its purpose. Hertzberg has generally been a straight-shooter in his career, so this slight of hand attempt was out of character, making it all the more disappointing.

A year later, it effectively died. It received no traction in Sacramento. Governor Brown shrugged it off; the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, which Hertzberg chairs, did not deem it worthy to progress. It officially died January of this year.

He said he would reintroduce it.

He did in February – SB1445.

This time, Hertzberg made no fanfare, perhaps learning a lesson from the bad publicity he created with SB8. For that matter, the bill contains only intent language at this time. It appears he is playing it close to his chest.

Does he still want to raise $10B?

As I stated in an earlier article on the subject, Hertzberg needs to share how the bill would impact each segment of the state’s taxpayers.

He did not in 2015, although he must have had an idea. One does not arrive at a figure as large as $10B without having at least penciled it out in some detail.

Let’s see what he does this year.

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When voters get angry at a politician, some turn to the recall process.

There have been over 150 recall attempts in California; nine made it to the ballot, five succeeded in removing an official. The best known effort ran Governor Gray Davis out of office.

Five out of 150….a poor return by any measure.

The latest attempt is underway in my own backyard. A group of Valley Village residents want to start a recall process against City Council Member Paul Krekorian. He is accused of allowing the premature demolition of a 1930’s era structure, which briefly served as a residence for Marilyn Monroe before she rose to fame.

You can argue until the cows come home, or Marilyn, if the property was historically significant, as the group claims. Indeed, the developer pulled the trigger on razing it before approval was granted by the city.

Regardless of what Krekorian’s role was, or was not, the math of this recall attempt runs overwhelmingly against success.

The recall group would be required to get signatures from 15% of the registered voters in CD2, or around 18,000+.

The largest turnout in CD2 in many years was back in 2009 in a hotly contested race between Krekorian and Chris Essel. It was a race I covered extensively in my blog, including a blow-by-blow account of almost every debate, and, boy, were there a bunch of them, held in every corner of CD2.

The campaign was ugly and generated much media coverage. Very large sums of money were in play, including union contributions from IBEW Local 18. You know, Brian D’Arcy’s boys and girls – the same ones who gave us those free-wheeling non-profit trusts who have used $40M of our money to pay for junkets and steak dinners. Allow me to digress, but I am still waiting for DWP General Manager Marcie “D’Arcy” Edwards’ reports dealing with reforming the trusts.

For all of that hoopla, rancor and treasure, the turnout was around 15.5%.

So, what are the odds of getting good signatures from 15% of the registered voters for a low profile, and likely little-publicized campaign?

You do the math.

I am sure there are quite a few residents in CD2, as in any district, who do not even know who their council members are.

“Sign what?”

“Who is Krekorian?”

There is a time and a place for recalls. When there is an adequate body of evidence strongly supporting the possibility of malfeasance, start circulating the petitions.

But it requires due diligence to build a case.

Aggrieved citizens would better serve themselves and the public by focusing on developing and funding alternative candidates for scheduled elections.

It takes work, but the sooner started, the better.

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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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