Saturday, September 27, 2008

CityWatchLA - Brown Out at the DWP

CityWatch, Sept 26, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 78

City Ignores the Law
By Stephen Box

Legendary rock band Van Halen, at the peak of its popularity, was taken to task by the media when it was discovered that Van Halen’s contract contained a provision that called for a backstage bowl of M&M’s, but with all of the brown ones removed. Often dismissed as Urban Legend, Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth confirms the story as true, quoting article #126 of their production contract which specifies “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

As for the charge that this was evidence of the lavish and whimsical demands that Rock Stars made on promoters, Roth responds the ban on brown M&M’s was far from frivolous and was instead simply a quality control measure, implemented to guarantee adherence to a contract that was complicated and included complex technical specifications.

In short, when the band arrived in town, they would stop backstage and look for the bowl of M&M’s on the craft service table. If they found brown M&M’s, they knew it was time to line check the entire production because there were sure to be technical problems. Sometimes they might be minor, sometimes they might threaten to destroy the show and sometimes they might be simply dangerous.

There’s a lesson here for the members of the public who attend meetings covered by the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state law that guarantees the public the opportunity to participate in government meetings and deliberations.

Simply announce to the Security Staff at the entrance that you are a member of the public attending a public meeting. The Brown Act specifies that the members of the public have the right to attend public meetings without having to provide their name or any information.

Last month I attended the DWP Commission meeting in order to appeal to the Board to lift the ban on cyclists in Griffith Park during the DWP Festival of Lights in November and December.

I approached the Security Desk and was asked to sign-in. I smiled and identified myself as a “member of the public, here to attend a public meeting.” The guard didn’t smile and instead informed me that I needed to show identification and sign in. I responded that I was a “member of the public, here to attend a public meeting.” He repeated his position, I asked for a Supervisor, the Supervisor supported the Guards position and I showed identification and signed.

When it came time to speak before the Commission, presenting my claim that the DWP is violating state law (CVC 21) by banning cyclists from the streets while leaving them open to motor vehicles, I pointed out that the DWP was also violating state law, the Brown Act, by refusing to allow me to attend the DWP Commission without showing identification and signing in.

General Counsel to the DWP, Richard M. Brown (no relation to Ralph M.) responded quickly saying “you’re absolutely right! According to the Brown Act, the public has the right to attend meetings without having to identify themselves or provide identification.”

I pointed out that I was there to ask the DWP to stop violating state law at Griffith Park only to find the DWP violating state law at the DWP Commission. The remedy or “cure” for the Brown Act violation is to re-agendize the meeting and reconvene at a later date. I passed on requesting the “cure” but I did ask them to adhere to state law and lift the ban on cyclists in Griffith Park.

My request drew a meeting with Councilman Tom LaBonge, DWP staff and Recreation & Parks staff, all who reiterated that the ban on cyclists would stand.

At the next DWP Commission meeting I repeated the “I’m a member of the public and I’m here to attend a public meeting” request. This time it only took four members of the DWP security detail a consultation with the supervisor, a series of back and forth requests to sign in, a discussion with regards to providing me with an escort and …voilá…I was free to attend the DWP Commission meeting without signing in. This was progress!

I spoke my piece and then DWP Commission Chair Nick Patsaouras graciously noted that this was my second visit the DWP Commission on the same topic and instructed staff to put my issue on the agenda “so it can be resolved.”

As I left the meeting, I had the opportunity to chat with the Deputy Counsel to the DWP, Joseph A. Grajevich, and I pointed out that progress had been made but that it was still an ordeal to invoke the Brown Act at the DWP. He shook his head and said they were working on it. I reminded him that the law was 53 years old and at this rate, I was worried that they would never get to my real concern, the ban on cyclists during the DWP Festival of Lights.

He asked me who was in charge of the DWP Festival of Lights. I chuckled and responded “If it’s successful, there will be many departments responsible, if it’s controversial, it will be an orphan.”

The journey is far from complete. I’ll be at the next DWP Commission meeting on October 7 and I look forward to presenting my proposal to lift the DWP ban on cyclists.

I hope you’ll join me, not just in fighting for my cause, but also in claiming your rights under the Brown Act and in ensuring that those in power are reminded at every opportunity that the Brown Act is a real law and that we expect it to be enforced.

“See you in Chambers!”

(Stephen Box is a community activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

CityWatchLA - Is LADOT Violating the City’s General Plan?

CityWatch, Sept 12, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 74

LA’s Cyclists: ‘Count Me In’
By Stephen Box

LA Department of Transportation’s Bikeways Coordinator stood before a room full of cyclists gathered for a Bicycle Master Plan workshop and explained, with a straight face, that the City no longer did traffic counts on cyclists because “the company that did the counting went out of business.”

It was unclear at the time if this meant that there simply was nobody left to do the counting or if the technology of counting things has disappeared when the company went out of business.

LA’s City Council, in 2002, implemented a Bicycle Plan that directs the Department of Transportation to conduct traffic counts including bicycle counts at intersections along designated Citywide Bikeways for comparison purposes.

The Plan further specifies that traffic studies conducted as part of DEIR’s or other environmental clearances include bicycle traffic counts if the intersections are located on Citywide Bikeways.

The Plan further directs the DOT to undertake annual bicycle parking counts at public bicycle parking facilities.

The Plan concludes by directing the LAPD and the LADOT to track bicycle accident reports as part of Bicycle Plan monitoring. It also specifies the creation of an accident report map as a means of pinpointing safety enhancement needs.

And yet, as the City of LA is in the middle of updating the City’s Bicycle Plan, an element of the City’s Transportation Plan, all of which is part of the General Plan, the City has no data.

The Hawthorne Effect, tested in the 30’s, found that when something is measured, it improves and when it is measured and reported, it improves exponentially.

Other Cities have demonstrated the effectiveness of this principle by laying down a goal, establishing a starting point, keeping count and evaluating success based on performance.

Mayor Daley set out to make Chicago the most bicycle-friendly city in the United States. He established goals for improvement and he measured performance by counting and is responsible for installing 10,000 bike racks, more than any other city in the United States.

San Francisco’s vision to establish the highest per-capita bicycle use in North America includes having the Municipal Transportation Agency measures the effectiveness of this campaign by counting cyclists. The MTA reports that cycling on Market Street increased 31% from last year to this year, demonstrating that the City’s efforts to ensure that cyclists feel safe and welcome on the streets were successful.

Meanwhile, the LADOT can report with thorough detail where we stand on funding but when it comes to accounting for those dollars, nothing. No performance reports. Nada.

What happened to the Sepulveda Reversible project and were any cycling counts included in that project? How about the Safe Routes to School projects? Were cycling counts included to determine if the efforts were effective? How safe are our streets and how many cyclists have been injured or killed in traffic collisions on the streets of Los Angeles?

What is our record for moving people, not simply motor vehicles, through the intersections of Los Angeles? Do we even count people?

The only way the City of Los Angeles will ever improve conditions on the streets is if we evaluate based on performance, not simply the funding or completion of projects. Effectiveness has to be based on real numbers.

As for this cyclist, I know I count and I expect to be counted!

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:

Saturday, September 06, 2008

CityWatchLA - LaBonge: Lights Out on Cyclists in Griffith Park

CityWatch, Sept 5, 2008
Vol 6 Issue 72

But, It’s the Law?
By Stephen Box

Councilman Tom LaBonge declared the Griffith Park Holiday Festival of Lights "unsafe for cyclists" on Wednesday and reaffirmed the ban on cyclists saying "the cars would be moving slowly, the cyclists would be riding fast and the motorists would be distracted. It's just not safe!" With the Holidays fast approaching, LaBonge convened a long overdue meeting, inviting reps from the DWP and the Department of Recreation & Parks to sit down with Equestrians and Cyclists to iron out details for the upcoming Festival of Lights.

LaBonge cut right to the chase and asked the Equestrians what they wanted and they responded with a reasonable enough request. They want to ride horses through the Festival of Lights, "after dark!"

There was a bit of discussion on the logistics of automobiles and pedestrians and horses all in the same area and finally it was agreed that the Equestrians would ride along the river, come up by the Ranger Station and then ride through the Festival, but only from 5pm to 7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This compromise seemed to satisfy all parties.

Then LaBonge turned his eyes on the Cyclists and asked what they wanted and they also responded with a reasonable enough request. "Abide by State Law. When the streets are open to motorists, ensure that they are also open to cyclists." There was more than a bit of discussion and none of it moved toward a compromise.

Joe Salaices of Rec & Parks explained that the streets had been reconfigured to accommodate the motor vehicle traffic, leaving no room for cyclists. He went on to explain that cyclists are known to ride "25 miles per hour between the cars" and that the difference in speeds between the cars and the bikes is just too dangerous!

Kimberley Hughes of the DWP pointed out that there will be a Bike Night on November 28th so that "the kids can ride their Big Wheels, parents can teach their children to ride their bikes and families can enjoy the Festival together."

The Cyclists rejected the "Bike Night" offer, prompting Rory Fitzpatrick, LaBonge's Chief of Operations, to call it a stalemate. LaBonge again asked for a compromise but the cyclists simply responded by explaining that they have no authority to negotiate State Law.

LaBonge pulled out a memo from the City Attorney's office, unsigned and on plain paper with no letterhead, and claimed that it authorized him to ban cyclists from the Festival of Lights. He passed out copies of the memo and repeated his claim that "the streets of Griffith Park aren't City streets!

The meeting concluded with the following arrangements being made for the different user groups.

Pedestrians will have 14 nights of vehicle-free Festival ending on December 7th.

Motorists will have access to the Festival beginning on December 8th and running until December 30th.

Equestrians will have access to the Festival on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 5 – 7pm, also beginning on December 8th.

Best of all, this year, special provisions are being made for man’s best friend. The bridle trail will be set aside for the exclusive use of dogs (and their humans) on the 14 Pedestrian nights.

Ultimately, there are many ways to enjoy the upcoming 2008 Griffith Park Festival of Lights. Guests can come by automobile, they can walk, they can ride a horse, they can even come by dog sled. They simply can’t ride a bike through the Festival.

Somehow this makes sense to Councilman LaBonge, the self-proclaimed best friend of LA’s cycling community. LaBonge, on his website, proudly proclaims “We could solve so many of the challenges facing Los Angeles right now if more of us rode bikes. We could take a big chunk out of air pollution, traffic and our waistlines, too.”

He then turns around and asks the City Attorney for support in banning cyclists from the streets of Griffith Park, a request that is met with the simple caveat “it is by no means certain that a court would agree.”

The author of the “Bicycle Ban” memo suggests arguing “the closing is necessary for the safety and protection of persons who are to use that portion of the street during the temporary closing.” In other words, cyclists are banned in order to provide for the safety and protection of the permitted motorists.

Another proposed argument is the idea that the law allowing for the prohibition of certain vehicles (heavy trucks that might damage streets) get flipped and used to prohibit bicycles, again for safety purposes.

The final claim is that the Festival of Lights is a group activity, “specifically designed to attract and permit vehicles to pass through and view the lights” and that cyclists aren’t part of that group.
It’s hard to believe that LaBonge can read this memo and hold it up as a credible support for the ban on cyclists.

Ultimately, the Festival of Lights is an autocentric environmental nightmare that fills the park with idling automobiles, clogs the adjacent neighborhoods, chokes the air with exhaust fumes and causes congestion that is significant enough to shut down the freeway!

The Festival of Lights is also the City of LA’s gift to the people of LA, and to the horses of LA, and to the dogs of LA, just not to the cyclists of LA!

Cough, Cough! Here’s wishing LA Green Holidays!

(Stephen Box is a cyclist activist and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: