Thursday, December 22, 2011

Looking Forward: Confessions of a Proud Father

CityWatch, Dec 23, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 102

RETHINKING LA … AND LIFE - Three weeks ago, my wife Enci and I welcomed our newborn son, Sydney István Box, into the world.

I’ve been led to believe that the miracle of birth is actually a common occurrence but from where I stood, it was a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime experience that rocked my world.

Sydney arrived a wee bit early, we were expecting him on the 8th, but as it turns out, no amount of planning could have prepared us for our firstborn child.
We were expecting to make some adjustments to our schedule, our priorities, our routine, and our activities but I was in no way prepared for the changes that took place within me.

I was standing in City Hall shortly after Sydney’s arrival, poised to pick off slow passersby and subject them to a few photos of my little miracle when a Councilman stopped to congratulate me, offering his insight into the journey of a first-time father.

“It doesn’t change who you are, it doesn’t change your philosophies or your beliefs, you’re still you. But ... it certainly changes your perspective and you’ll be a better man for it.”

As I look back over the past year, I realize that it’s true, Sydney has changed my perspective and I now see things just a little differently.

My campaign for a City Council seat was an exhausting experience with an outcome that left me depressed and disillusioned, but now as I look back I see a journey that was rich in new friendships, partnerships, and lessons learned that I can’t wait to share with Sydney.

Disputes between neighbors resulted in struggles with city departments over enforcement priorities and led to a campaign within City Hall for relief. While the fight is far from over, I now look back and realize that the journey to a solution resulted in new friendships, neighborhood alliances, and battle scars that all tell a story I can’t wait to share with Sydney.

Neighborhood Councils from around the city came together to work on issues, filling City Hall with the clamor of neighborhood, regional, and citywide initiatives to improve the quality of life in LA. At the time, I was overwhelmed with motions and votes but in looking back, I realize that the real action was the forging of relationships, that LA is really just another small town full of our friends and I can’t wait for Sydney to meet them all.

I recently attended three City Hall meetings in one week, just to advance a simple and long overdue Single Use Bag Ban into LA’s municipal code, a frustrating experience that is far too common but an essential part of the process. During the journey, I was inundated with advice and counsel from friends and strangers, all of it related to Sydney and my new role as his father.

It reminded me that the people of LA are much bigger than the motion on the agenda that often divides us, that we have much more in common than the debate on the floor indicates, that we collectively have enough wisdom to guide even me, the clumsy new father, as I set off on this new journey.

From the woman who whispered in my ear “Your job is to stand by your wife and encourage her. I mean it!” to the tired man with a toddler who urged me to “Nap when you can!” I have been blessed with support and insight and guidance from all quarters and my perspective has changed.

I look back over the past year and I see new relationships that came out of conflict, I see wisdom and insight that resulted from the obstacles that we encountered, I see my community expanding with new friends and allies who have clearly communicated that I can count on them.

The past three weeks have been intense, not just because Sydney joined us, but also because we have been overwhelmed with good wishes and encouragement from far and wide.

Thanks to Sydney, I’m filled with optimism and can’t wait to share my world with him. Thanks to you, I’m filled with confidence that it’s a world worth sharing and I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Merry Christmas from the Boxes!

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

LA City Council’s Plastic Bag Charade

CityWatch, Dec 20, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 101

RETHINKING LA - Faced with a choice between leading and following, LA’s City Council took another look at the proposed ordinance banning single use bags and chose to step aside, taking on the role of spectator as the issue gets studied again and again and again.

LA’s history of grappling with the issue of single use bags goes back years, an embarrassing legacy of skilled sidestepping and risk-aversion that has frustrated community members who attend meeting after meeting in the hopes that the City Council will move forward.

This past week, the issue came up in three different meetings, first in City Council where a full-house crowd was given a full 60 seconds per speaker to make their case.

Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold called out the City Council for failing to act on its prior commitments.

Friends of the LA River spoke of the immense burden on the river’s ecosystem and the incredible amount of volunteerism that is squandered in an uphill battle against plastic bag pollution.

Balancing the pro with a bit of con, employees of one of LA’s plastic bag manufacturers turned out to plead for their jobs, begging the question, what kind of industry is LA attracting and supporting?

There was tension in the air as Councilwoman Jan Perry took pains to remind the City Council and the audience that the proposed single use bag ordinance was on the agenda in her Energy & Environment Committee, a point that she drove home pointedly.

The turf war over single use bags continued this past Friday, first in Committee as Perry presided over a body that acquiesced to her contention “We have questions that haven’t been answered.”

Perry wanted to know how this ban would impact low-income families, senior citizens, people without access to reusable bags. Has the CAO weighed in on any potential costs? What are the chances of a lawsuit against the City of LA? What about any CEQA requirements? Has the City of LA done an EIR?

Perry’s final blow was to ask if there was an outreach plan for the proposed ban, as if the City of LA has a rigorous standard for connecting with the community on the issues that impact the quality of life in our communities.

All this was done with a straight face and the Energy & Environment Committee allowed the proposed ban to hobble downstairs to City Council Chambers where the real charade took place.

Councilman Zine stood to challenge the proposed ban, feigning confusion between a plastic bag with handles and a plastic bag for fruit. “I just don’t get it, they’re all plastic,’ he sputtered, “how do I shop for fruit if you ban plastic?”

Zine’s Sophistry was balanced by Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s dismissal of the fictional issues and his call to action. “The City Council acted on this issue before I was elected. Since then the City Council has acted to ban plastic bags and here we are again.” Rosendahl declared “I'm tired of constantly studying this to death. It's a no-brainer that those plastic bags are toxic and cause issues to our ecosystem."

But, the die was cast, the public had been teased and three meetings had taken place, allowing Councilmembers to posture and primp and clamor for the high road, all as they allow the ordinance banning single use bags to get away, again.

Many of the single use bag ban supporters were hoping that a ban in Los Angeles would resonate, stirring support for a statewide ban, while others held out hope for a statewide ban, allowing LA to follow rather than lead.

As it turns out, neither scenario is likely at this point and it is surrounding cities such as Long Beach and Santa Monica that are following the lead of LA County with bans that rely on existing EIR work and standards that have survived legal challenges.

The ban is supported by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, 18 Neighborhood Councils and the California Grocers Association. LA’s Board of Public Works unanimously approved a report urging the Mayor and City Council to adopt a citywide ban on single-use carryout bags.

Zine’s cloud of confusion was disingenuous at best, easily addressed by a glance at the ordinance itself and existing clarification that allows for bags to hold produce and meats while requiring free reusable bags for low-income and elderly.

As the proposed ban sinks back into committee wasteland, perhaps the place to start would be a ban on single use bags in City Council chambers.

After the Councilmembers had taken turns waxing eloquent on the evils of everything from single use bags that clog our waterways to plastic manufacturing beads that litter our landscape, their actions began to speak louder than their words.

As the noontime hour approached, a city staffer delivered lunch to his boss as he sat in Council Chambers. It arrived in a single use plastic bag that held a single use Styrofoam container full of food that was eaten with single use plasticware, washed down by a beverage that arrived in a single use container.

It’s been seven years since the City of LA initiated the charade that now consumes the time and energy of the community while allowing the City Council to avoid producing real results.

This is a vivid reminder that the people of LA must pay attention to what the City Council does, not what they say!

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Fix is In: A Tale of Two Bans

CityWatch, Dec 16, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 100

RETHINKING LA - Over the past year, two groups of community activists have been aggressively drumming up support for their respective causes, one fighting for a ban on advertising in city parks while the other pursues a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Both groups have worked the neighborhood council circuit with success that allows them to argue their case before City Council while holding handfuls of resolutions of support in the air.

Both groups have aligned themselves with like-minded organizations that lend their professional non-profit advocacy seal-of-approval to the cause, joining activists at the podium with an air of credibility that is supported by data, science and objectivity.
Both groups held events around town to engage the public who signed petitions and followed organizers to commission meetings, committee meetings, and eventually to City Hall where, some charge, all is for naught because when the fix is in, the fix is in.

This past week, LA’s City Council took public testimony on the proposed plastic bag ban, prompting Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold to point out, “This body acted in 2008 and committed to moving forward with a ban on single-use plastic bags.”

The City Council responded by taking testimony from a full house of proponents and opponents before continuing any Council discussion and action on the single-use plastic bag ban issue until their last meeting of the year on Friday, December 16, 2011.

In an odd bit of Kabuki Theatre, the issue went to City Council over the objections of Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry who had the issue agendized in the Energy and Environment Committee.

Whew! Three Council hearings in one week for an issue that has languished for years.

Optimists hold that this enthusiasm bodes well for the single-use plastic bag ban. Pessimists point out that by holding multiple meetings with public testimony, the Council can proceed with discussion and action during the last meeting of the year without the clutter of public comment.

In either case, this journey of anticipated success is in sharp contrast with the travails of those who sought a ban on advertising in city parks, an uphill battle that was made more difficult because of the potential to fatten the city’s coffers with revenue from the park advertising.

The campaign to ban advertising in city parks was mobilized when LA’s Rec & Parks Commission signed a deal with Warner Bros. that allowed signs promoting a “Yogi Bear” movie in return for $46,000.

Community activists rose to the occasion in a battle that saw LA’s City Attorney grapple with Rec & Parks Commission President Barry Sanders over the definition of advertising and the legality of park sign districts.

As the Parks Commission appeared to back down from its plan to sell advertising rights in city parks, it was a media investigation that revealed the plan that would allow the non-profit LA Parks Foundation to sell advertising in popular areas such as Griffith Park and Venice Beach.

In a clear demonstration of contempt for Griffith Park’s status as America’s largest urban wilderness park  and of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots for conservation, the Mayor looks at Griffith Park and sees a potential sign district with revenue potential.

As community activists continue to fight for a ban on city park advertising, the Mayor is pursuing an overhaul of LA’s sign ordinance that will create “innovative revenue sources” such as wilderness advertising.

When Colonel Griffith J. Griffith gifted the City of LA with the land that became Griffith Park, it came with conditions including a requirement that it remain open and free of charge, “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people.”

Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry has defended the proposed sign ordinance revisions that would allow advertising in public parks, most recently coming under fire at the Venice Neighborhood Council when she said “It provides opportunity for funding to continue in the parks and I think we should let them do it.”

Perry alluded to “opt-out” options that she indicated she would be willing to include in the sign ordinance, saying “I’m not interested in jamming something down people’s throats that they don’t want.”

If only it were that simple!

In both cases, community activists have engaged in journeys that are exhausting, filled with meetings and hearings that turn out to be tests of patience and endurance.

Weeks turn into months which turn into years. City staff members come and go, Commission members shuffle seats, City Council committee assignments change, and through it all, the issue is kept alive by community volunteers.

It’s a “Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t!” scenario that sees activists sit for hours in the hope of delivering a compelling argument in the 60 seconds that is typically allocated to speakers when a decent crowd shows up for public comment.

Failure to attend a meeting provides “silence is consent” coverage to the City Council, allowing them to conduct the legislative sleight of hand that is the hallmark of a body that votes unanimously in predetermined outcomes 99.3% of the time.

It’s been a long year and as the City Council looks back, typically with a celebratory tally of the motions they have passed, it remains to be seen whether the single-use plastic bag ban will materialize or if LA’s parks will turn into sign districts.

One thing is for certain, the unsung heroes in these battles are the individuals who stand up and engage the Mayor and the Council in the process, however flawed it may be, and defend our neighborhoods, our communities, and our city by fighting the good fight! Even if that process inevitably leaves those heroes with a sense that the fix is most likely in.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

LA's Scandalous Housing Authority: For Better or For Worse

Photo: KCET’s SoCal Connected/LA Weekly
CityWatch, Dec 13, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 99

RETHINKING LA - The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is the latest department to fall victim to the oversight and accountability scrum that starts when the media shines a spotlight and concludes when the public gets bored.

Along the way, the City Controller and the City Council will elbow each other out of the way in an effort to get to the press conference where they will ask "How did someone get away with this?" and they will declare “They cannot walk away and say ‘I don't know.’” and then conclude “It seems like there was no one in charge ... we need to get to the bottom of it.” (Zine, Cardenas, Greuel)

(Ed note: Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter on Monday to the Board of Commissioners overseeing the HACLA urging reform.)

There are three things wrong with the current scenario over at HACLA, in addition to the $1.2 million pay-off to the terminated GM and the ongoing investigations into corruption, malfeasance, incompetence, and failure to perform.

First, it’s old news yet the folks at City Hall react as if this behavior is unique, rare, and shocking. It isn’t. It’s business as usual in a city that allows departments that are “flush with cash” to conduct business with little, if any, interference from the Department of What-the-Hell!

It was HACLA’s current CEO, Ken Simmons, who excused the financial indiscretions of the past by explaining that the agency was “flush with cash.”

During last year’s budget hearings, the LADOT’s Acting GM, Amir Sedadi, defended the large number of bonuses in his department by explaining “Our contract allows it.” Forget about the staffing reductions and the dramatic budget cuts, it was business as usual in a department that was “flush with cash” that comes from parking revenue.

This sense of entitlement is the norm, not the exception, as evidenced by city employees from many different departments who appeared before City Council during the staffing cuts and proclaimed, “You can’t cut me, I’m special funded!”

Second, it’s a familiar pattern of abuse that occurs because oversight and accountability can’t find a  place in departments that get their marching orders from the Mayor, implemented by General Managers who serve at his pleasure and condoned by Kabuki Theater Commissions armed with rubber stamps.

The charade of citizen oversight allows the Mayor to reward supporters with impotent positions of honor and to fast track ambitious allies on a trail that meanders from the Taxi Commission and the Transportation Commission before hitting the lucrative Public Works Commission payday that comes with an annual salary of $123,317 plus car!

Third, it’s an example of the disparity between the “flush with cash” departments and the “general fund” departments, one that keeps the public embroiled in budget crisis triage while Airports, Ports, and Water & Power operate as if sovereign nations.

Add to the mix any department that has federal, state and county money, (Housing, Transportation, Public Works, etc) and these are the departments that are operating with Mayoral impunity, partnering with private sector in deals that benefit Mayoral allies while the public debates broken sidewalks and collapsing infrastructure.

Periodically, the public catches a glimpse of the departmental debauchery that squanders LA’s financial future while failing to deliver on the departmental mandates and the Mayor begins the sacrifices, typically starting with General Managers who have worn out their welcome.

Over the last few years, Mayor Villaraigosa has sung praises to newly appointed General Managers, only to leave town while they receive their walking papers and parting gifts, souvenirs of a tour of duty as Mayoral cannon fodder.

Ultimately, the controversy at HACLA is something that local landlords know about, they’ve been complaining of abuses at the hands of HACLA for years. Neighbors know of the problems because they watch squatters run rampant in City of LA properties while nothing is done. Residents know of the departmental failures that result in a lose-lose situation that punishes participants at every turn.

HACLA is responsible for more than a billion dollars of public money that is meant to be spent providing affordable housing options and supportive services to the people of Los Angeles.

While the City of LA continues to balance the budget on the backs of the people it serves, departments such as HACLA continue to enjoy the “For Better” side of the relationship while the people of LA suffer through the “For Worse” end.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Occupy LA: A Salt Lick for Bullies

CityWatch, Dec 9, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 98

RETHINING LA - When the LAPD descended from Dodger Mountain and surveyed the battlefield, they must have felt like Goliath who looked at David and bellowed in rage “Am I a dog that you send a boy with a stick?”

The 1400 LAPD were wrapped from head to toe in protective armor that still smelled of mothballs, their training in hostile enemy conflict was untested, and their supervisors had warned them of biohazard dangers and provocateurs.

As hundreds of officers in paramilitary gear surrounded City Hall Park and fought to hold back spectators, media, and folks who had arrived in support of Occupy LA, a SWAT style team descended from City Hall in search of their enemy.

They found their neighbors, peaceful protesters who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked and chanting “We  Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

At this point, the shortcomings of a training  program that focuses on war and ignores peace were revealed. The bullies embedded within the LAPD found freedom to exercise their demons, to act on the rage they felt when they were denied the opportunity to unleash their skills on a violent enemy.

Faced with a docile crowd, the LAPD gave the instructions to disperse and many of the Occupy LA crowd simply walked out of City Hall Park. Most of them made it to the far side of the LAPD skirmish lines with the exception of some who actually followed the instructions carefully, only to find themselves faced with LAPD officers who then arrested them. This can be chalked up to confusion in the fog of war.

By this time, the Occupy LA camp had been reduced to debris by the LAPD, canopies shredded, belongings scattered, tent poles broken, and the demonstration of power was underway.

The LAPD made an announcement directing those who wished to be arrested to sit on the ground and some sat while others simply walked away.

When the time came to arrest those remaining in City Hall Park, the LAPD asked them to stand and walk out of the park. These people were charged with “failure to disperse” while those who remained seated on the ground qualified for the harsher charge of “resisting arrest.”

Zach Behrens, Editor of KCET, reports that fully 50% of the LAPD ranks have been hired in the last six years, an indication that the gung-ho LAPD of old is now filled with young officers who have been trained in the “constitutional policing” promise of Bratton and Beck.

That training failed to materialize, whether in the actions of those who used pain coercion tactics on peaceful protesters or in the failure of LAPD officers who witnessed their partners as they transformed into vindictive bullies who reveled in petty displays of terror.

The peaceful protesters had prepared for this moment, they had attended workshops where they learned how to communicate peace while subjected to pain and humiliation and yet they were shocked at the commitment to terror they experienced at the hands of the LAPD.

Patrick Meighan offers a well written first person account of his experience as an inner-circle protester, one who saw ankles twisted, wrenched, and then stepped on as bullies began a long evening of small violations that revealed a failure in the LAPD’s ability to train and control its troops.

Tyler Lyle had a different vantage point and his first person journal of his experience as an arrestee also reveals a dangerous and unchecked presence of bullies within the LAPD.

Many have argued that an arrest, by definition, is an uncomfortable experience that starts with the deprival of freedom. The stories of the Occupy LA arrestees are dismissed as the naive complaints of those who failed to weigh the risks when they set out to protest and to participate in voluntary arrest.

On the other hand, the law is quite clear that when an individual’s drive for satisfaction motivates them to inflict injury and pain on another, a serious law has been broken, one much more severe than failure to disperse or resisting arrest.

Was it necessary to use a bean-bag shotgun on an individual in a tree? Perhaps it was poor supervision and simply the wrong tool in the wrong hands.

Was it necessary to use hooks to pull the platform out of the tree, potentially causing protesters to fall to the ground? Again, maybe the supervisors gave bad instructions and perhaps the officers were poorly trained in the fine art of rescuing cats from trees.

Was it necessary to carry protesters out of the park and then toss them to the sidewalk face-first? Hard to dismiss this one as poor supervision, it’s starting to look like resentment and anger empowered bullies to begin acting out.

Was it necessary to zip-tie wrists so tightly that circulation was restricted, causing pain and nerve damage? This is a failure on the part of the supervisors and an opportunity for bullies to quietly inflict major pain while reveling in the cacophony of voices begging for relief.

From the arrestees left to sit in their own waste to the loud music played by the bus drivers to the petty denials of rights and the infliction of a punitive process, the first person accounts of the LAPD’s performance during the liberation of City Hall Park sound an alarm, we are surrounded by bullies in search of victims.

There is no excuse for the behavior of bullies and they have no place in a civilized society, whether at school, on the streets, in the workplace, in a park or in City Hall

Bullies are simply unacceptable.

Even worse than the behavior of bullies is the failure of witnesses to act, to stand up for the victims.

As the LAPD’s sweep of Occupy LA’s encampment took place, it is reported that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood to the side and observed the hostile arrest of a peaceful occupation, one that reportedly included the antisocial behavior of bullies.

It is on Villaraigosa’s shoulders to account for each and every bully who allowed a passive adversary to inflame their bruised ego in such a way that they acted out and intentionally caused pain and injury to satisfy their sadistic personal demons.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

LAPD Caught Using Deadly (PR) Force

CityWatch, Dec 6, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 97

RETHINKING LA - As the dust settles on the now gated community of City Hall Park and the accolades over the LAPD’s “peaceful” engagement fade into background noise, it is apparent that the LAPD’s PR team is still working full force and with deadly force.

The first casualties occurred within the ranks of the embedded media, the “legitimate” media who were given access to the LAPD’s operations with a few strings attached. Apparently the conditions included avoiding tough questions and agreeing to act as a tool for the LAPD as the conversation continued.

LAPD media dies on the battlefield and a co-opted PR machine rises in its place.

Consider the recent LA Times report on the identities of those arrested during the removal of Occupy LA from City Hall Park. Did the LAPD feed this to the Times the way they “release” data on gang members as a mechanism for building an injunction case? Why did the data include employment information but nothing relevant such as the reason for arrest, whether charges had been filed, if the person had been released, and the bail amount?

While family members visited different jails in search of their loved ones but encountered a lack of information and a wall of “It takes time to process this many arrestees!” The LA Times was able to print a list of names on December 1, 2011 that included detail such as occupation, age, race, and location of residence.

How is the LAPD so clear when it comes to feeding the press but so confused when it comes to helping families find loved ones?

The second casualty was the LAPD’s commitment to Community Policing, a law enforcement strategy that relies on a partnership between the community and the police.

While the LAPD claims the high-road for restraining its forces from using pepper spray and batons, the “shock and awe” display was a clear “us vs. them” approach that positions the LAPD as the liberating army, not the partners in public safety.

When it takes 1400 police officers in military grade riot gear to arrest 300 protesters who have trained publicly in non-violent protest strategies, it is evident that the LAPD has no confidence in its ability to forge relationships, negotiate a peaceful process of arrests, and treat people with respect.

It’s important to note that the Occupy LA protesters initially engaged the LAPD and other law enforcement officers with cheers of “One of us!” and “We’re all 99%!” but that faded quickly as the LAPD worked hard to offend all, including spectators and non-pool media.

Officer Escamilla is captured on video pointing his shotgun at a reporter who yelled “You just pointed your weapon at me, that’s not necessary!” The LAPD officer in riot gear responded by leaning in and saying “Don’t worry about it!”

The LAPD’s “shock and awe” approach to Occupy LA is reminiscent of the LAPD’s approach to gangs under Chief Gates, one that depended on significant force and a “gung-ho” approach to policing.

If the LAPD’s military approach to Occupy LA is any indication, the people of LA can expect them to use this recent engagement as an argument for increasing their budget, their authority and their occupation of the City of Los Angeles.

The third casualty of the Occupy LA movement was the LAPD’s memory. Ten years ago, during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the LAPD came under fire for its handling of people arrested during everything from a bike ride, a concert, protests, and the convention itself.

The City paid out huge settlements based on the way arrestees where handled after their arrest, including the street detention, the bus trip, the multiple strip searches, the denial of access to lawyers and family, and the lengthy custody resulting in release with no charges filed.

In other words, the process becomes the punishment and the punishment comes without conviction.

The recent Occupy LA stories of the LAPD’s inability to smoothly process the detention of 300 protesters mimics the experiences of the 70 detainees during the DNC in 2000 who were awarded almost a million dollars simply based on the punitive process. And yet, the LAPD still relied on the LA Sheriff’s Department to transport the arrestees and the LAPD still concluded their engagement with no evident plan for processing the anticipated detainees.

Now that the LAPD’s PR machine has slowed down, perhaps the people of LA could share in a moment of silence as we mourn the recent casualties of the LAPD’s military engagement, including LA’s “legitimate” media, any delusions of the LAPD’s commitment to community policing, the LAPD’s connection with history and its ability to learn from the past.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:        Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy LA: The Death of Mainstream Media

Photo by Alex Thompson 
CityWatch, Dec 2, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 96

RETHINKING LA -The LAPD’s full-force eviction of Occupy LA from City Hall Park left a very crowded high road in its wake as the Mayor, the LAPD, and the occupiers all shared credit for their commitment to respect, restraint, and cooperation as the two month long occupation came to an end.

An estimated 1400 LAPD officers participated in the well planned operation to evict the Occupy LA encampment which had swelled to about 1000 participants who had prepared for the confrontation with training in nonviolent civil disobedience.

As the LAPD shed its hard core reputation and as the Occupy LA movement held to its nonviolent principles, it was the media who caved in and who were left behind as casualties on the battlefield.

Two nights earlier, the evening of the Mayor’s deadline, it was the media who drew the LAPD’s first threat of arrest when they swarmed to the Occupy LA encampment in such numbers that they prevented Commander Andy Smith from crossing the street from LAPD headquarters to City Hall.

The next night, the LAPD sent an email to the limited number of  “legitimate” media contacts in their files, giving two hour notice of a meeting where the LAPD would conduct a lottery to select the dozen media representative who would have access to the Occupy LA eviction.

While the notion of “legitimate” media is a subject worthy of great debate, it’s safe to say that the era of print, radio, and television dominance has long passed. The LAPD’s commitment to an antiquated paradigm of communication is in stark contrast to its demonstration of innovation in tactics and operations.

The LAPD participates in a notification service known as Nixle that allows the public to opt-in for law enforcement and public safety communications. Several days before the Occupy LA eviction, the LAPD sent out a message inviting the public to text “OLA999” to 888-777 in order to participate in the LAPD Occupy LA Information Messaging System.

The LAPD then sent a message on the 24th saying there would be no eviction that night and another message on the 28th asking the Media to move their trucks from Main Street.

That was it, no more, nothing.

Maybe the LAPD felt so comfortable surrounded by old friends from the “legitimate” media that they went back to their “pager” notification protocols.

As the LAPD Public Information Officers (PIOs) and those media representatives selected to participate in the LAPD’s approved Media Pool surveyed the Occupy LA encampment on the evening of the eviction operation, the “legitimate” media’s tenuous grip on its Fourth Estate role weakened as most pool members agreed to abstain from phone calls and from Twitter activity.

Two members of the pool broke the Twitter embargo but @StoltzeFrankly stayed safe with tweets such as "#OccupyLA massive police operation against OLA begins.” and “#OccupyLA Police issue ten minute dispersal order.” while @AntonioNBCLA forgot the #occupyLa hashtag and has only 138 followers so his tweets failed to find an audience.

The concept of a Media Pool isn’t new, it’s often used in controlled spaces such as courtrooms and it involves selecting press representatives who agree to feed their reports to a pool so that all participants share in the information, releases, photos, video, etc.

The problem here is that the Media Pool consisted of only media outlets approved by the LAPD, an organization that was unable to explain the process for certification other than that it involved “a letter from your boss explaining why you need an LAPD Press Pass.”

The most disturbing failure of the “legitimate” media came when KCAL9’s helicopter coverage of the LAPD’s Dodger Stadium staging grounds went dark, victim to self-imposed censorship that came with the explanation "To protect the integrity of the police operation we are not showing you that shot right now."

As the anticipated battle between the LAPD and Occupy LA turned into a tightly orchestrated and well-choreographed display of professionalism and principle, the real struggle turned out to be one between the Main Stream Media and Citizen Journalism.

As the MSM kowtowed to the LAPD and traded their Fourth Estate cards for LAPD Press Passes, it was the public who fed the world with words, experiences, pictures, videos, commentary, narrative, interviews, and perspective. The tools were cell phones and mini-cams which fed Twitter, Facebook, and UStream.

The Main Stream Media television broadcasts required trucks and personnel which resulted in minimal coverage and maximum commercial breaks while reporters, tethered to their team, struggled to find the story.

The LA Times, to its credit, learned from the Citizen Journalists and rigged a UStream camera on top of their building for the night of the eviction, feeding a constant stream of video of the 1st and Spring intersection.

But, they were learning, not leading and it was individuals such as CrossXBones and Occupy Oakland Live who provided constant access to the encampment, to the police, to the spectators in the street, to the media, and to Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Beck when they stepped out onto 1st Street to recap the eviction.

Let there be no mistake, the City of LA has much to be proud of, including the LAPD which established a new standard for peaceful engagement and the Occupy LA participants who stayed true to the principles of peaceful protest.

While the issue of 1st Amendment rights continues to get debated and the issue of the 4th and 14th Amendments gets overlooked and forgotten, there is still room to celebrate the fact that the LAPD and Occupy LA both left the battlefield victorious and with no casualties.

On the other hand, the Main Stream Media fell on its sword and dealt itself a near-mortal blow that has robbed it of any claim of “legitimacy” and any hope of sympathy from the public it betrayed.

Rising to the occasion comes the Citizen Journalist, UStream hosts such as SkyAdams and Spencer, photographers such as Alex ThompsonAlfredo Hernandez, Ivan Therrien and Richie Thomassen, and countless contributors to Twitter and Facebook that kept the conversation going, even as the “legitimate” media went silent and betrayed its audience.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:       Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Los Angeles: Occupy Gridlock

Photo by wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com
CityWatch, Nov 29, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 95

RETHINKING LA - Commander Andy Smith reported for duty at 8pm on the eve of the anticipated LAPD eviction of the Occupy LA encampment from LA’s City Hall lawn. As he stood in front of the LAPD headquarters and looked across the street at City Hall, he did what any self-respecting Angeleno would do, he hopped in his vehicle and began the commute across the street.He didn’t make it.

One of the first LAPD crowd control demands was directed at the media who had turned out in such numbers that they literally blocked the street, making it impossible for occupiers to occupy and police officers to police.

"Members of the media,” came the announcement from the LAPD command vehicle stuck in the traffic, “you will be arrested if you are in the street."

This amplified announcement drew protesters like a salt lick draws deer, prompting Smith to turn the threat of arrest from the media to the pedestrians.

Smith made it into the middle of the intersection of 1st and Spring before he lost the battle to gridlock, this time caused by streets overflowing with pedestrians, many who came to watch the spectacle.

The mass of people in the street numbered thousands, many from the Occupy LA movement and many who came to witness the showdown between the Mayor and Occupy LA.

At one point the LAPD shut down surrounding streets and established a perimeter of LAPD presence including squad cars lined up in formation and skirmish lines of riot police in full costume, including helmets, masks, batons, and shotguns.

Riot Police in formation jogged up 1st street only to find themselves outnumbered by photographers who jogged alongside in an effort to capture a photo of “the moment of reckoning.”

It never came.

Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief of Police Charlie Beck had previously announced that City Hall Park would be closed at 12:01 am on the morning of November 28, 2001 (Sunday night/Monday morning) and that any Occupy LA occupants would be subject to eviction.

As it turned out, 12:01 am was the moment when the Mayor, the City Council, the LAPD, the community as a whole and the Occupy LA movement all missed their cue.

It was the squandered opportunity.

As the world watched, the Mayor failed to show up and to embrace the high ground as common ground by establishing that the demands of the Occupy LA movement are of greater importance than a debate over turf lawn and the sustainability of the occupation.

Villaraigosa missed the opportunity to grapple with the issues and to demonstrate unique leadership by declaring “We’re all part of the 99%!” and then moving the dialogue forward by championing the issues and demonstrating his ability to think big picture while addressing local needs.

Missing from the debate was the City Council who entered the fray early in the occupation but quickly exited when it became apparent that it might require taking a position on issues a little heavier than dog licenses and curb cuts.

The exception was Bill Rosendahl who showed up 12 hours in advance of “the moment of reckoning” to declare the Occupy LA movement “Democracy at its finest” before he urged the occupiers to “respect the law and leave peacefully.” The crowd responded vehemently with chants of “No way!”

Commander Andy Smith’s “Command Vehicle” approach to crossing the street demonstrated a complete failure to embrace Beck’s Community Policing approach to building relationships, one that left the occupiers in the dark as to the identities of LAPD leadership.

After two months of City Hall Park occupation, one would expect that the occupiers would be on a first name basis with the LAPD leadership and that the LAPD would know where to find the leaders of the “leaderless” occupation.

Four million Angelenos definitely have a vested interest in issues that include the collapsing economy, home foreclosures, corporate personhood, campaign reform, homelessness, collapsing infrastructure, unemployment, dwindling city services, and yet the response to Occupy LA has ranged from approval to contempt to the worst of all, apathy and indifference.

The Occupy LA movement definitely turned the national and local dialogue to the issues of the occupation but those most greatly impacted failed to seize the opportunity to move the power from the lawn and into neighborhood councils, through City Hall, up to Sacramento, and all the way to Washington.

As the world watched, the Occupy LA movement had its closeup, one that included live helicopter coverage of surrounding streets and the LAPD deployment activities as well as the crowds in the street, the Mobile DJ who pulled up to entertain, the Media trucks that competed with the LAPD for prime parking spaces, and the spectators who were separated by LAPD skirmish lines.

The Occupy LA movement Tweeted updates with such volume that the #OccupyLA feed was difficult to follow. UStream broadcast more than a dozen live video feeds from different vantage points within City Hall Park. Chat room chatter on the Occupy LA website allowed people from around the world to participate in real time. Facebook conversations were fueled by updates from occupiers and spectators.

In stark contrast, the LAPD’s Nixle.com notification system was silent.

The Occupy LA movement owned the moment and when it came time to present “the message” it fumbled, failing to seize the closeup moment by stepping to the spotlight and delivering a well rehearsed, tightly crafted list of demands and a passionate call to action.

The Occupy LA movement will move forward when it is willing to let go of the lawn and move to the high ground by establishing common ground with the people of LA, reaching out to those who embrace the same desires for a new system and establishing relationships that are focused on change.

The Occupy LA movement has earned bragging rights for its enviable accomplishments at City Hall, including the creation of a “complete” community that includes health services, a library, a university, childcare, a theatre, a zero waste strategy, food service, and public works.

But creating an alternative universe in the shadow of City Hall was never the objective, it was always simply a tactic for changing a system that has been failing the people of this country for too long.

The Occupy LA movement will wither on the dusty and dead lawn of LA’s City Hall if it does not return its focus to establishing common ground by returning its focus to the systemic issues that resonate through the City of Los Angeles, the State of California and the United States as a whole.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at:      Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Charlie Beck’s Anniversary is a Walk in the Park

CityWatch, Nov 25, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 64

RETHINKING LA - Chief of Police Charlie Beck celebrated his second anniversary as LA’s top cop by walking the beat, this time through the Bank of America Plaza where he chatted with Occupy LA protesters who had set up a camp on the bank’s property.

Beck occupies a unique position in the world of Occupy protests and is one of the only Police Chiefs in the country to establish a relationship with protesters that is based on respect and dignity.
Los Angeles stands alone in its deferential handling of the Occupy LA protest, demonstrating a commitment to the constitutional rights of the protesters that is in stark contrast to the violent behavior in cities such as Davis, Portland, Oakland, and New York City.

Beck’s walk through the Plaza, just like his walks through City Hall Park, demonstrated a commitment to community policing, one that treats the Occupy movement as a community that deserves a relationship.

Beck’s commitment to “rule of law” policing is the foundation of his law enforcement philosophy, a position that he emphasized when he was just one of several applicants vying for the Chief’s position that opened up when Bratton left town.

During the confirmation process, Beck declared “We don’t break the law to enforce the law.”

As Mayor Villaraigosa approaches the end of his second term in office and the field of candidates who want to serve as Mayor of Los Angeles fills up, it is important to note that Beck is rumored to be considering retirement in 2014, meaning the new Mayor will be selecting a new Chief.

That means the people of LA must speak now to help the Mayoral candidates frame their public safety platforms in the context of selecting a new Chief.

That also means the people of LA must speak now to help the candidates for Chief of Police know what kind of community policing strategies are best for LA.

The candidates for Mayor currently include City Council President Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilwoman Jan Perry, Austin Beutner, and Kevin James.

Now is the time to hold these candidates responsible for establishing a position on the constitutional rights of the Occupy LA protesters.

The likely candidates for Chief of Police include Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, Deputy Chief Michel Moore, Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, Deputy Chief Debra McCarthy, Deputy Chief Jose Perez, Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs, Deputy Chief Jorge Villegas, Commander Sharon Papa, and Commander John Sherman.

They’re all veterans with long resumes, many of them have been through Chief of Police selection process before, but this is a new day in LA and the next Chief will either move us forward in a commitment to community policing or return us to the “war room” mentality of days gone by.

Now is the time to send a message to those in charge of LAPD operations, including Paysinger and Jacobs, that the world is watching and that they are responsible for defending the Constitutional rights of those who petition their government.

Now is the time to send a message to those in charge of LA’s relationship with Occupy LA, including Perez and Sherman, that the people living in City Hall Park are Angelenos and that the actions witnessed in Davis and Oakland and on Wall Street are not acceptable in Los Angeles.

Now is the time to send a message to those in charge of Bureau operations, such as Villegas and McCarthy, that their record for building community relationships is their strength and that partnerships prevail where tactical gear fails.

It is important to note that Mayor Villaraigosa is under pressure and as the President of the US Conference of Mayors, he declared in his inaugural speech "Mayors, we can't afford to be timid." As he develops an exit strategy and works on his next appointment at the federal level, it is reasonable to expect him to feel pressure to toughen up his approach to Occupy LA.

This will put pressure on Beck and his command staff to act decisively, perhaps while Villaraigosa is out of town, leaving the responsibility on the shoulders of the City Council President.

The time to speak up is in advance of the impending action, not afterward in a replay of the Davis pepper spray assault that has left a trail of damaged careers in its wake.

The world is watching and the City of LA has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is a new city, one that embraces the rights of its residents and treats people with respect and dignity.

It won’t happen by accident. It will only happen if the people of LA speak up, establish priorities and a commitment to the rule of law, and communicate their expectations clearly to the Mayor, the City Council, and the LAPD.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .) Graphic credit: punditkitchen.com

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy the Bill of Rights

CityWatch, Nov 22, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 93

RETHINKING LA - The Bill of Rights took a beating over the last several days, serving as a reminder that the rights we take for granted are the rights that go missing when we need them the most.

The most recent assault on the 1st and 4th Amendments came at the hands of University of California campus police as they responded to peaceful students sitting with their arms locked and heads bowed on the quad of the Davis campus.

Captured on video that has gone around the world over the weekend, the Lieutenant in charge of the UC Davis Campus Police riot detail stepped forward and held up a can of pepper spray, then proceeded to calmly spray the faces of the passive students, walking down the row of students with the professional demeanor of an exterminator spraying bugs.

The students who witnessed the pepper spray assault began to chant “Shame on you!” while maintaining their distance.

The video is disturbing to watch as the imbalance of power unfolds and riot police use pepper spray to “coerce” passive students who are sitting on the ground. Then an amazing thing happens, the witnesses begin to chant “Shame on you!” to the riot police who find themselves with no plausible opponent. Their power fails them.

As the police shuffle backwards, the witnesses conduct a “mic check” relay and echo the words of a speaker who announces “You can go!” The Lt. in charge stands with red cans of pepper spray in both hands, backed up by riot police with crowd control shotguns, and as the students give them permission to put down their weapons and leave, the riot police back up and depart.

The outrage was immediate yet the UC Davis Chief of Police, Annette Spicuzza, told the Sacramento Bee that police used the pepper spray after they were surrounded. “There was no way out of that circle,' Ms Spicuzza said. 'They were cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation.”

Chief Spicuzza’s recount of the incident was immediately contradicted by the video. She has since been put on administrative leave pending an investigation, along with the two UC Davis police officers who were captured on video pepper spraying the passive students.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi reportedly ordered the campus police to remove approximately a dozen tents that had been erected on Thursday in support of the Occupy movement and in protest of the heavy handed police treatment at other Occupy encampments.

Outrage over Katehi’s handling of the Occupy UC Davis camp resulted in calls for her resignation but none as powerful as the silent treatment that she received from hundreds of Davis students who simply sat quietly along the sidewalk as she walked to her car after a press conference.

The police action included riot police from other UC campuses as well as the City of Davis which begs the question, “Where on earth would students express themselves if not on the quad of their University?”

It also begs the question, “Who is training the riot police who operate on college campuses as if the schools are sovereign nations outside the law?”

The United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled in 2002 that the use of pepper spray on nonviolent passive protesters was plainly in excess of the force necessary under the circumstances, and no reasonable officer could have concluded otherwise.

Apparently Chancellor Katehi had no “reasonable officers” at her disposal.

The United State Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled in 2011 that the use of pepper spray and baton on a person who did not present a safety threat or flight risk was excessive under the 4th Amendment.

In both cases, the court held that the law enforcement officers were not entitled to “qualified immunity” because their conduct was unconstitutional.

The State of California is the employer of record for the UC Davis Police Department which makes everybody in California responsible for speaking up, not just as spectators or witnesses, but as the owners of the asset that these officers are charged with protecting.

The incident map for UC Davis indicates that the most common crime on campus is “bike theft” with “petty theft” running a close second. It is against this Mayberry background that the University of California as a whole must justify the presence of riot police on its campuses throughout the state.

Five years ago, the University of California paid out $220,000 to a student who was the victim of a Taser attack that was also captured on a cell phone in a video that went viral.

The UCLA police officer responsible for the Taser attack had previously shot and wounded a homeless man in a campus building, choked a man with his baton in front of a Fraternity house, been suspended from the UCLA police force and fired from the Long Beach Police Force.

Lest anyone think that the University of California is operating a simple security service, it should be noted that the UC Police starting salary is $65,556 while the LAPD starting salary is $48,462.

The UC Davis riot police actually get paid 35% more than the LAPD for a duty that typically consists of providing a uniformed presence on campus with occasional bike theft investigations, “elevator phone check” patrols and other community policing duty.

Calls to the City of Davis Police Department were met with immediate instructions to call the UC Davis Police Department, in spite of repeated requests to file a police crime report. Sgt. Frank Penedoro was quite specific in his refusal to accept a criminal complaint against the UC Davis officer responsible for the pepper spray assault.

The deferential treatment given to campus police is not unique to the small town of Davis and is actually quite common. For example, the LAPD has a memorandum of understanding with the campus police at USC that includes a division of duties and authorizes the USC campus police to respond to crimes in the surrounding community.

UCLA has a student, staff and employee population of 75,000 which means that the UCLA campus police are responsible for 25% more people than the City of Davis.

The University of California Police Force is not a small town force but is actually well-funded in contrast to the surrounding police departments. It also operates with inappropriate autonomy as is evidenced by the City of Davis Police Department’s refusal to respond to a report of a crime committed by a UC Davis police officer.

The same request to report a crime was rejected by the UC Davis PD Watch Commander, Sgt. Beerman, who simply repeated “I’m not going to take a criminal complaint.”

The people of California should be outraged that the Lt. responsible for the pepper spray attack had a base salary of $116,454 last year while the cost of attending the University of California has more than doubled since 2005.

The UC Regents recently voted to approve tuition increases of 18% over last year’s rate due to a budget crisis but they contradicted that austerity commitment by approving large pay raises for University executives.

Our communities and schools are occupied by uniformed police departments that operate with autonomy, independently of local municipal oversight, and with riot gear that collects dust and provides overpaid and underchallenged officers with an incentive to “protect” themselves from peaceful demonstrators who simply exercise their 1st Amendment rights.

It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles take this opportunity to advise the City of LA on the appropriate procedures for honoring the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of the protesters who are part of Occupy LA.

The City of LA has a very expensive track record when it comes to handling protests. The City of LA paid out millions of dollars after the Democratic Convention when the LAPD was charged with “an orchestrated police riot.”

More recently, the LAPD came under attack for the “May Day Mêlée” which resulted in charges of excessive force from victims that included a National Lawyer's Guild observer and members of the press. The LAPD settlement was reported to cost $13 million.

Since then, the LAPD has earned accolades for its commitment to community policing and for its unique approach to the Occupy LA movement that includes passive observation and unobtrusive presence.

This peaceful occupation of City Hall should not be taken for granted.

It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles speak clearly and loudly to the Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Chief if they want the City of Los Angeles to fully support the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of those who petition their government, of those who protest, and of those who embrace peace while speaking out against injustice.

It was just last year that a city employee sat before the City Council and explained “the City of LA has no purview over the 1st and 4th Amendments, these are federal issues.” Not one member of the City Council said “Wait a minute...” Instead, this misinformation was allowed to stand unchallenged and a resolution in support of 1st and 4th Amendment rights was rejected.

The irony here is that even poll workers in Los Angeles are required to take a Loyalty Oath, committing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of California.

It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles take time from their busy schedules to pay attention for just long enough to remind the Mayor, the City Council, and the Chief of Police of their sworn oath of office and to let them know that in Los Angeles, we fully expect them to honor the Bill of Rights and to protect the people who exercise their constitutional rights.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .) Graphic credit: punditkitchen.com

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy LA: The Writing is On the Wall

CityWatch, Nov 15, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 91

RETHINKING LA - Occupy LA is slowly discovering that City Hall’s welcome mat has disappeared, that the Mayor’s gift of ponchos during the first rainstorm was more of a bon voyage gift than a welcome, and that the City Council’s endorsement was based on the hope that “This, too, shall pass.”

It has been more than six weeks since the Occupy LA movement took to the turf lawns of City Hall and during that time it has blossomed into a complete community that now includes a Library, a Theatre, a University, Health Care, Child Care, a Media Team, Peacekeepers, Governance, Entertainment, Public Works, Sanitation, and a host of other services, all accessible by visiting the Welcome Tent, the Occupy LA version of a concierge.

As Occupy movements around the country encounter resistance that has resulted in evictions and arrests, the Occupy LA protesters have enjoyed an environment of benign neglect from the occupants of City Hall.

The City of LA’s initial response the Occupy LA presence on the north lawn was awe-inspiring, one that revealed a kinder, more peaceful LAPD and allowed City Leadership to embrace a peaceful demonstration of First Amendment Rights.

Within days of the initial occupation, City Council President Eric Garcetti led a delegation of Councilmembers to the north lawn where they took turns addressing the crowd and where Garcetti wrapped the tour by telling Occupy LA “Stay as long as you need.”

The City Council jumped on the opportunity to demonstrate their passion for economic justice by issuing a proclamation in support of the Occupy LA’s peaceful expression of First Amendment Rights.

Since that initial “This is your City Hall!” blessing from LA’s leadership, the Occupy LA movement has settled into a round-the-clock occupation of the north and south lawns of City Hall in defiance of the ban on overnight camping in city parks.

There was a time when Los Angeles was a less hospitable free speech environment. In 1909, LA’s city fathers responded to the threat of class conflict with a ban on free speech from public streets that limited such activity to the Plaza.

Fans of free speech eventually found a home in Pershing Square where an informal outdoor debate society took root, initially referred to as the Pershing Square Philosophers in 1925 and by 1952 they were firmly established as the Pershing Square Country Club.

It was Mayor Sam Yorty that recognized the inherent danger in outdoor debate and in 1962 he declared that those who walk across the park "should not have their privacy invaded by men involved in loud harangues, by loiterers or by talkative crackpots."

Yorty’s solution was a park facelift that reduced the seating and resulted in a “non-loitering, walk-through park.”

It is against this rich backdrop of disdain for free speech that the recent actions of the LA County Health Department and the City of LA Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) must be examined.

Occupy LA at one time operated a robust food service operation but that ended as the result of what some would call “code harassment” by health inspectors. Some have suggested that limiting access to food and water is one of the simplest and quietest methods to ending the occupation.

Jon Kirk Mukri, General Manager of Rec and Parks, recently sent the Mayor a letter detailing the impact of Occupy LA on LA’s City Hall Park.

The letter is obviously a response to a request and its content lays down the foundation for a legal eviction, one that honors the free speech rights of the participants while addressing legally sustainable issues that can justify a law enforcement action.

Mukri’s letter opens by rebranding the City Hall lawn as City Hall Park, a simple twist that is repeated and supported by the claim that it has been a “park” since 1927. At two acres in size, City Hall Park was apparently restored to its “historic condition” during City Hall’s earthquake retrofit.

Along came Occupy LA and protestors began camping on the lawn in violation of the city prohibition against camping in city parks.

In 1993 a court ruling addressed the legality of municipal prohibitions against nighttime loitering in city parks and held them to be constitutional, offering several causes that justified the bans. Mukri’s letter relies on them all.

Mukri establishes that the long ignored turf lawns of City Hall are actually “City Hall Park” and that firmly establishes the rights and obligations of the City of LA to protect those two acres of parkland.
The 1993 court case addresses the charge that anti-loitering laws are often unconstitutionally vague because they punish status rather than conduct.

Mukri’s letter builds on this legal distinction, addressing conduct and the results that will establish cause when the LAPD is brought in to evict the Occupy LA protesters, not because of what they say but because of what they do and its impact on City Hall Park.

The court held that a “park” is “a pleasure ground set aside for the recreation of the public, to promote its health and enjoyment.” The court went on to support the authority of the city to conserve those places “in their pristine state, and to promote public health, safety and welfare in the usage of those parks.”

Add to that the courts position that closing a park at night is a responsible action that limits wear and tear on park facilities and one can see, Mukri’s letter claims every bit of legal support for an impending action.

Mukri claims that City Hall Park soil has become compacted and extremely dry, that trees and other plants are suffering from a lack of water and nutrients, that the landscape areas are in decline.
Mukri addresses public safety and liability and wraps it up by putting a price tag on the restoration of City Hall Park, calling it a $120,000 project.

Over the weekend, Mayors from around the country initiated Occupy evictions.

Portland’s Mayor brought in 300 law enforcement officers from a dozen different departments to evict 1000 Occupy Portland protesters, an action that resulted in approximately 50 arrests.

Similar actions took place in St. Louis, Oakland, in Salt Lake City, and in Denver.

One can only imagine how tough it must be for LA’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who also serves as the President of the Conference of Mayors. It was just a few months ago that he stood before Conference of Mayors and accepted his leadership role by declaring "Mayors, we can’t afford to be timid."

As Mayors around the country are acting aggressively to evict protesters and to confiscate mattresses, tents, and cooking equipment, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is slowly building a case and looking for an exit strategy that will return City Hall Park to its “historic condition.”

To think that it was not too long ago that City Council President and Mayoral aspirant Eric Garcetti stood on the north lawn and declared to the Occupy LA protesters “This is your City Hall.”

That was then, this is now.

The handwriting is on the wall.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Maybe They Should Occupy LA’s Neighborhood Councils

CityWatch, Nov 11, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 90

RETHINKING LA - The Pico Neighborhood Council came very close to being the first neighborhood council to offer an opinion on the Occupy LA movement but the agendized resolution in support of the “peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights” failed to make it past discussion and was simply tabled for another month.

Around the country, “Occupy” protests have encountered varying levels of resistance and opposition that has, in many cases, galvanized the protesters and given them motivation for refining their organizations and action.

Occupy LA has faced one of the most potent of enemies, an ambivalent audience, one that is most likely to respond with a tired dismissal based on aesthetics or a weary look of disbelief as issues such as unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness, collapsing infrastructure and a collapsing economy are presented as a call to action.

There was a time when neighborhood councils were considered the ones most likely to storm City Hall and to demand accountability and performance, rallying support from around the city and “occupying” City Hall with grassroots power that simply would not be ignored.

But that never happened.

Almost six years ago, neighborhood council leaders gathered at the DWP and formed a citywide congress that prompted Councilwoman Janice Hahn to declare “This is a historic day. You will be leading this city into the future.”

The LA Times, which still covered neighborhood council activities back then, acknowledged the difficulties in rallying a citywide organization by noting that as Hahn wrapped up her keynote address, "bickering broke out among the 25 representatives from the 32 neighborhood councils that had joined the congress."

“This is chaos!” said one man in the audience. “These are the people who are going to lead us?”

Since then, the number of neighborhood councils in the city has grown from 64 to 95. The Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which supports the neighborhood councils, has been decimated by budget and staffing cuts.

LA’s City Charter defines the purpose of neighborhood councils as “To promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”

As the Occupy LA movement surrounds City Hall and addresses the economic crisis that threatens our fiscal stability and our quality of life, there are many that believe that this is exactly the message that would resonate with neighborhood councils.

It was in this spirit that Scott McNeely prepared the Occupy LA resolution and presented it to the Pico Neighborhood Council.

McNeely is well known for his work in the local community to improve the quality of life. He served as President of the Pico NC for years and as a member of Budget LA in the fight for city services.

In many ways, the Occupy LA resolution represents the substance of what neighborhood councils have been fighting for over the last several years. Pico Neighborhood Council was in position to be the first neighborhood council to simply offer an opinion, a nod, a gesture of support.

But that didn’t happen.

On an agenda that included the City Clerk’s survey on NC elections, the Mayor’s Budget Advocates, and the proposed Sidewalk Ordinance, the Occupy LA resolution came last. The night was long and the board discussions included a lengthy debate over the need for business cards and how to handle spam emails to NC email accounts.

When it came time for the Occupy LA resolution, the first obstacle came from Co-Chair Maryann Yurkonis who objected “I don’t think this is an appropriate action. It’s not that I disagree with the Occupy LA movement, I don’t think we should weigh in on this.”

This prompted a debate hinged on the simple proposition “A discussion of the merits of this Resolution is a valid exercise and it is appropriate to vote on it.”

Proponents of the process argued “To call this an inappropriate action is to rely on a definition of our role that is too narrow.”

After some of the most passionate discussion in an evening that was light on debate, the Pico NC Board voted to claim its authority to entertain a Board Resolution. The presiding Chair then tabled discussion on the Occupy LA Resolution until the December meeting.

The issue of whether or not neighborhood councils should have an opinion on Occupy LA hasn’t come up much over the last six weeks. The City Council motion in support of Occupy LA was passed unanimously four weeks ago, stating clearly “by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Los Angeles hereby stands in SUPPORT for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by "Occupy Los Angeles.”

The Central City Association weighed in, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce had an opinion, VICA contributed comments. As for the neighborhood councils, they were silent.

A month has passed and the only grumblings to be heard typically address the loss of the turf lawn surrounding City Hall and the inappropriateness of camping without a permit.

As for the First Amendment Rights of the Occupy LA movement, neighborhood councils have been silent.

As for the issues that Occupy LA has raised, neighborhood councils have been silent.

As for calling on the City of LA to conduct its elections according to “clean money” principles, neighborhood councils are preoccupied with their own elections.

As for calling on the City of LA to ban lobbyists from the legislative process, neighborhood councils are preoccupied debating their own advisory role.

As for calling on the City of LA to balance its budget honestly and without breaking the backs of the residents who can afford it the least, neighborhood councils are preoccupied with their own funding issues.

Neighborhood Councils throughout LA have an opportunity to take a stand and to take their rightful place in the governance of this city, even if it is limited to offering advice to the Mayor and City Council.

The world is listening and it’s time for neighborhood councils to speak.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .) –cw

Tags: Neighborhood Councils, PICO Neighborhood Council, Occupy LA, City Council, City Charter, Scott McNeely, Janice Hahn

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Occupy LA’s Greatest Opportunity: The Polls

CityWatch, Nov 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 89

RETHINKING LA - Occupy LA’s greatest opportunity to impact the policies and actions that are responsible for eviscerating the middle class, for destroying our economy, for unleashing predatory greed and for selling political access to the highest bidder is to mobilize voters at the polls on election day.

In LA, that’s today in Council District 15 as the seat that was occupied by Janice Hahn is filled, or potentially filled, by one of the 15 certified candidates, 11 on the ballot and 4 as write-ins.

So far none of the candidates have made a strong play to embrace Occupy LA and at the same time, Occupy LA has failed to lay down campaign positions for the Candidates.

The Occupy LA movement has established a strong presence on the outside of City Hall, creating an environment that is a microcosm of a healthy community, complete with health care, child care, education, sanitation, security, food service, and a system of participatory government that raises the standard in its commitment to the individual.

But the refinement of the Occupy LA village will only result in a higher quality of life on the outside of City Hall, no small feat, but it’s still on the outside of City Hall and not on the inside where the dangerous policies and actions are taking place with unfettered abandon.

Now is the time for the 99% to move inside and to ask the hard questions of the Mayor, the City Attorney, the City Controller, the City Council and the City Department managers who are at the helm of the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world.

Now is the time for the 99% to identify the candidates for office who can account for their policies and actions and who have a demonstrated commitment to economic justice.

To be sure, the Mayor and the City Council have pandered to the Occupy LA crowd and they were treated like Rock Stars by a fawning audience who acted as if backstage access was a fair trade-off for failed leadership that has resulted in the surrounding collapse of a great city.

Missing from the dialogue were the hard questions:

Why is Los Angeles the Capital of Unemployment, where have you been and what are you doing about it?

Fully 11.7% of LA’s workforce is sitting idle, a rate that is 44% higher than the national 8.8% rate of unemployment. This situation is compounded by the City of LA’s poverty rate of 19.1%, which is 44.7% higher than the California poverty rate of 13.2%. [link]

Why is Los Angeles the Capital of Home Foreclosures, where have you been and what are you doing about it?

One in every 293 housing units in Los Angeles received a foreclosure notice in 2011. Five states account for 53% of the US foreclosure activity and of those states, California leads the pack and continues to show increases in default notices.

The recent increase in new foreclosure actions is attributed to the prior slowdown as a result of robo-signing and other documentation problems, a situation that foreshadows more bank repossessions in the coming months as the default process picks up. [link]

Why is Los Angeles the Capital of Homelessness, where have you been and what are you doing about it?

Fully 6% of LA’s population without a home. LA’s homeless population of 23,539 includes 8,131 Veterans, an increase of 9% over the last two years. African Americans represent just 9.6% of LA’s population but make up fully 43.7% of LA’s chronic homeless population.

The City of LA’s population of 3,792,621 is just 1.2% of the total American population of 308,745,538 yet its homeless population is fully 3.6% of the national homeless population of 649,917, fully three times the rate of homelessness as the rest of the country.

Why is Los Angeles the Capital of Collapsing Infrastructure, where have you been and what are you doing about it?

LA is leading the nation in collapsing infrastructure with fully 64% of its major streets in poor condition against a national average of 23%. This failure is complemented by 10,000 miles of sidewalks that are a full generation behind in maintenance, resulting in nearly half of LA’s sidewalks in need of repair with a projected price of $1.2 billion. This situation has resulted in debate over responsibility and an American with Disabilities Act class action lawsuit filed against the City of Los Angeles.

Adding to the threat of collapse is LA’s sewer system, on the one hand an engineering accomplishment, on the other hand a neglected network of 6,700 miles of sewage pipes, nearly a third of them more than 80 years old.

Why is Los Angeles the Capital of Dwindling City Services, where have you been and what are you doing about it?

Los Angeles is currently enjoying the largest municipal operating budget in its history, one that actually increased by 1% over last year and now exceeds $7 billion, yet is referred to as the budget that requires the citywide reduction in city services while residents pay more in fees, fines, penalties and permits.

LA’s 2011-2012 budget was presented as a response to “the most difficult financial circumstances in generations” and came with a claim that the budget addresses more that $1 billion in budget deficits, reduces the workforce by more than 4,000 positions, and stabilizes revenues. The Mayor and City Council then went on to cut the Police Department by $100 million, the Fire Department by $50 million, and the surviving City Departments by an average of 10% each while eliminating positions and implementing cost-recovery mandates that resulted in the restricted delivery of city services to only those who can afford to pay extra for them.

Mayor Villaraigosa delivered 100 ponchos to rain-soaked campers and City Council President Eric Garcetti sang a few rounds of Kumbaya but nobody has accounted for the lack of political leadership that has allowed Los Angeles to take its place as the Capital of Squandered Potential.

Now is the time for Occupy LA to demand that candidates for office, whether local or citywide, firmly commit to fair elections that belong to the people and are free of special interest money.

Now is the time for Occupy LA to identify candidates who recognize that people aren’t property and that corporations aren’t people.

Now is the time for Occupy LA to reward candidates who demonstrate integrity with positions that allow them to bring much needed oversight and accountability to City Hall.

Now is the time for Occupy LA to work to elect candidates who embrace the human rights that have been trampled on by a power structure that rewards unfettered greed.

Now is the time for Occupy LA to shape the argument in the upcoming elections, moving from Rock Star politics to a real referendum on human rights and economic justice.

Today’s election in Council District will probably result in a run-off special election between the top two vote-getters on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

If Occupy LA is to move beyond the demonstration phase and into the “take a seat in City Hall” phase of changing the world, it will start with an aggressive campaign to impact the outcome of the City Council District 15 race.

Occupy LA’s ability to organize in the CD15 race will send a clear message to the Citywide political aspirants that Occupy LA truly represents the 99% and that the Occupy LA platform is the substance of political success.

It starts now and it takes place at the polls.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Occupy LA Faces the Ultimate Opponent: A Jaded Audience

CityWatch, Nov 4, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 88

RETHINKING LA - From New York’s Wall Street to LA’s Spring Street, the Occupation movement has spread from city to city with a message of discontent, one that starts with a long list of grievances, a very long list.

Opponents have employed a variety of tactics in their efforts to rebuff the protest actions, ranging from subtle acts such as depriving campers of their shelters to outright aggressive police force that has resulted in injuries and arrests.

Through it all, the Occupy LA movement has faced the most dangerous of opponents, a local audience that ignores the City Hall encampment for the most part, paying attention only long enough to sprinkle participants with contempt for shortcomings such as odor, style, and appearance.

In some ways, the Occupy LA movement has earned its keep simply by providing the LAPD with an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the world as a police force capable of negotiating a peaceful co-existence with those intent on demonstrating on public property.

At the same time, the Occupy LA movement has revealed the petty nature of LA politics. In the early days, Mayor Villaraigosa donated ponchos (paid for with public money?) to wet campers and City Council President Eric Garcetti declared “Stay as long as you need, we're here to support you.”

The honeymoon has since ended and the Mayor has said he won't put up with the demonstration indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Council has gone back to more pressing issues such as levying liens on residents and raising the penalties for barking dogs.

Critics of the Occupy LA movement are quick to complain that the agenda lacks refinement, clarity, and cohesiveness. Fair enough, it’s a pretty unwieldy list of complaints that brought people to the lawn, one that tends to meander as the result of allowing so many people to raise their voice.

But this is hardly a valid complaint. Anyone who spends more than a few minutes listening to the disjointed protests can figure out quite quickly, it’s about economic justice. If that’s too restrictive, let’s just call it justice.

No critic has gone so far as to oppose justice, yet when the people of Occupy LA start offering examples of our collective failure to ensure economic justice, they get criticized for going on and on through a list of grievances that literally does not stop.

The Declaration of Independence was long on complaints, dozens of them, and yet light on solutions save for the idealistic commitment to doing better. It took years for the long process of warnings, reminders, appeals, and petitions for redress to result in an action and then it took another decade to agree on how to move forward as a country.

Critics also complain that those occupying the public space surrounding LA’s City Hall are full of complaints but light on solutions. Again, an accurate charge that merely acknowledges the reality of an informed problem solving process that typically begins with the identification of the problem.

Is the person that sounds the fire alarm also responsible for providing the water? Does a medical patient complaining of symptoms also have to diagnose the malady in order to get treated?

The idea that only those with answers are allowed to ask questions is simply an argument for maintaining the status quo. It’s an objection posed by those who have a vested interest in maintaining the course.

Most of all, it demonstrates a willingness to ignore the problems by focusing on the messenger instead of identifying those responsible and putting the spotlight on them.

Critics continue by pointing out that Wall Street isn’t the only guilty party, that an equal amount of blame should be levied on the regulators and on Congress. This is also an accurate appraisal that merely spreads the net of guilt to those in power everywhere, including City Hall.

This ultimately brings the responsibility full circle and demands that we all account for the circumstances that allowed for the current economic crisis, one that continues to destroy lives while the critics complain about mismatched tents and drum circles.

After all, it is the people of LA who are willing to accept an absentee Mayor who is currently busy auditioning for his next gig. It is the people of LA who allow the City Council to abdicate on their responsibilities and instead spend inordinate amounts of time on the campaign trail. It is the people of LA who ask so little from their City that when actual work gets done, it’s considered “overtime” effort.

Wall Street is an amorphous entity that is easy to focus on but the real culprit is anyone who accepts mediocrity from City Hall, from Sacramento, from Washington, and from “the system” that allows financial bullies to prey on the public.

The critics should be careful because they’re culpable, in fact we all are.

Critics charge that the damage to City Hall’s turf lawn is justification for tossing Occupy LA from the high moral ground and evicting them from the green space. While it’s true that the occupation is responsible for killing the lawn, there are some that would consider this to be an improvement to City Hall, an opportunity to break from the wasteful tradition of turf lawns in favor of a more sustainable landscape.

In fact, the debate over City Hall’s turf lawn merely puts a spotlight on the City of LA’s ongoing pattern of mediocrity.

In a city that prohibits gas powered leaf blowers, why does the City of LA continue to use them? In a water challenged state that regularly imposes water rationing, why does the City of LA water the lawn to the point that it grows mushrooms?

Occupy LA should be thanked for challenging the turf lawn status quo and for giving City Hall an opportunity to rethink its commitment to unsustainable landscaping.

The LA Times took Occupy LA to task for destroying the lawn while one of its garden writers applauded the same behavior, concluding with a wish: “May protestors camp long enough that they indeed snuff the lawn around the Los Angeles City Hall. Then, may the City Council not only thank them, but also seize the moment to remove what remains of the cynical green skirt around their high white tower.”

The City of LA is not known for its ability to create great public space or for its ability to encourage people to share public space. The three sides of City Hall with Occupy LA activity all include “City Hall Employees Only” signs.

Occupy LA is challenging the sterile nature of City Hall’s lawns, redefining public space and causing a discussion to actually take place. They should be thanked, not criticized.

Critics hold that big-picture targets such as the Federal Reserve and Global Warming are such distant targets as to become irrelevant and Quixotic in nature. This is a good point but it only illustrates the need to continue the discussion, not to shut it down.

It is incumbent on the City of LA to ask what role it plays in the larger picture. As the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world, it seems reasonable to expect our leadership to go beyond 100 ponchos and a couple of verses of Kumbaya.

The Occupy LA movement is an incubator of discontent and while it focuses on refining its organization, its greatest contribution is the ongoing debate that is taking place in the press and in the community over its purpose, its presence, and its impact.

The City of LA is in the midst of an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions. LA is home to record levels of home foreclosures, homelessness, unemployment, and economic distress.

Yet the people in the best position to do something about it are somehow able to look past reality and instead focus on the smell of Occupy LA’s participants or on abstract discussions of the legality of an occupation of public space.

Meanwhile, the critics forget, we live in a city that is already occupied.

Los Angeles is occupied by educational failure, home to an educational system that fails to produce skilled and educated adults for LA’s workforce, resulting in the ongoing cycle of unemployment and crime.

Los Angeles is occupied by housing failure, home to record foreclosures and host to empty properties that blight communities while families go homeless.

Los Angeles is occupied by unemployment, home to record levels of people who simply can’t find a job in a market that is filled with competition from surrounding counties.

Los Angeles is occupied by an economic crisis, home to a hostile environment for small businesses that is long on obstacles and short on solutions.

Most of all, LA’s City Hall is occupied, on the inside, by people who believe that they can balance the city’s budget on the backs of the people who live here and who own businesses here. They propose to balance the city’s budget by increasing fees, fines, and penalties. They plan to collect this money by levying liens and garnishing wages.

They have no plan for increasing employment, for eradicating homelessness, for ending the home foreclosures, for producing a skilled workforce, for stimulating the economy, or for doing anything other than Occupying City Hall while LA spirals out of control.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)