Friday, July 29, 2011

Separating LA City Attorney’s Duties is Essential

CityWatch, July 29, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 60

RETHINKING LA - The recent debate over the City Council’s legal representation and the City Attorney’s obligations under the City Charter have dramatized the shortcomings of the current conflicted system.

Some members of the City Council would like a City Attorney that is loyal to their needs and their desires, not an objective legal presence with the potential to thwart their machinations. Their position is supported by Sec. 271 of the City Charter which directs the City Attorney to “represent the City in all legal proceedings against the City” and to serve as “the legal advisor to the City, and to all City boards, departments, officers and entities.”

Some members of the public have argued that the City Attorney serves the people of Los Angeles by enforcing the law, not protecting those who violate the law. Their position is supported by Sec. 271 of the City Charter which says the City Attorney “shall prosecute on behalf of the people all criminal cases and related proceedings arising from violation of the provisions of the Charter and City ordinances, and all misdemeanor offenses arising from violation of the laws of the state occurring in the City.”

This City Charter mandate to both defend and to prosecute would not be a problem if the law was never broken and if the need to negotiate legal actions never came up but not a day goes by that the City Attorney isn’t required to straddle both sides of the legal fence.

During the City’s recent budget drama, Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter made much of this dichotomy of loyalties when he pointed out that the City Attorney’s office defended the City’s right to impose furloughs on City staff even as the union representing LA’s Deputy City Attorneys condemned the furloughs.

Further clouding the debate is the position of Barry Sanders, Recreation & Parks Commission President and retired partner from the Latham & Watkins law firm, who defended his “Government Speech” park advertising scheme with a third interpretation of the City Attorney’s responsibilities. Sanders took the City Attorney to task for raising issues of legality, claiming that the City Attorney’s responsibility is to support Commission actions by working to remove legal obstacles, not enforce them.

Sanders singlehandedly made the case for the creation of a City Prosecutor for the City of LA.

Those involved in neighborhood councils have learned the hard way that the City Attorney has a client, it's the City of Los Angeles. NC Boardmembers can call the CA's office for advice but they won’t get support if their complaint is with the City of Los Angeles, that's when the public finds itself without representation.

The City Attorney owes fiduciary duties to the City's employees and its elected officials and that prohibits the City Attorney from taking any action against the interests of those people. The City Attorney may not even conduct an investigation that might reveal bad behavior by one of his clients, and if he does get such information during an investigation, he must hold it confidential.

Municipal authorities typically address this situation by having two separate offices. The County of Los Angeles has the District Attorney who owes no duty to the County Board of Supervisors while the County Counsel serves the Board and the Supervisors themselves.

In similar fashion, the City of Los Angeles needs two separate offices, one for the City Attorney and one for the City Prosecutor. The City Prosecutor would prosecute all the crimes which the City Attorney now prosecutes plus its jurisdiction would be expanded to cover felonies and grand jury investigations within City Hall.

The City Charter would need to clarify jurisdiction of the City Prosecutor and provide for felony investigations that involve the City of Los Angeles. Cities, counties, states and the feds can have concurrent jurisdiction, thus allowing the City Prosecutor to investigate and/or prosecute cases which involve or may involve the City, a City agency, or a City official. This must take place without divesting felony jurisdiction from the District Attorney or the State Attorney General.

As the people of LA continue the fight to establish a Ratepayers Advocate (RPA) and an Office of Public Accountability (OPA), it is important to remember that oversight and accountability means little, if anything at all, without enforcement authority and a mandate for prosecution.

Grassroots advocates have fought hard to bring the issues of open and transparent governance into the marketplace of ideas. Progress has been made but the impending success will be hollow if we do not continue the journey.

If the residents of LA are to move forward from awareness and into the arena of performance and accountability, it is essential that they are supported by a City Prosecutor that has the budget, the professional expertise, the legal clout and the mandate to do a meaningful job of representing the people.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City Hall Sharks Circling Neighborhood Councils

CityWatch, July 26, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 59

RETHINKING LA - The City of LA is almost one month into the first month of its 2011/2012 budget, a $6.9 billion behemoth that exceeds last year’s budget by $150 million and is the largest operating budget in the history of LA. The increase in LA’s budget is a quiet fact that was completely overshadowed by the City Hall budget drama of the last couple of years that has been used to justify significant cuts to city staff and services complemented by increases in fees, permits, fines, and penalties.

During the City Council’s contentious budget hearing earlier in the year, the heads of each city department appeared before the Budget & Finance Committee to defend their department, their staff, and their operating budget. One by one, from the offices of the City Controller and the City Attorney to the departments of Aging and Community Development, the City of LA’s org chart was shaken, squeezed and put through the budget wringer.

The public showed up to defend the city departments that were on the chopping block, arguing vehemently against cuts to the Police Department, the Fire Department, Recreation and Parks, Libraries, Cultural Affairs, Planning, and the many others that deliver the public safety and quality of life city services that Angelenos consider to be essential.

As the hearings progressed, the crowd thinned, and by the time the Neighborhood Councils were on the chopping block, the outcome was a fait accompli, resulting in a 10% reduction in annual budgets and the loss of all rollover funds. This action took place quietly and was complemented by the continued evisceration of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

Missing from the exchange was the deafening roar of support from the Police Department, the Fire Department, Recreation and Parks, Libraries, Cultural Affairs, Planning or any of the other departments who enjoyed the support of the neighborhood councils as they defended their budgets and their mandates.

The budget dust settled, neighborhood councils went back to work, rollover funds were swept and the new $40,500 annual budgets were allocated in order to fulfill their City Charter mandated mission “to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”

All of a sudden, the City Family rediscovered their affection for neighborhood councils and department heads came courting their budget buddies, demonstrating the fact that self-preservation has no boundaries.

In a city with a $6.9 billion operating budget, it’s an incredible demonstration of bold egocentrism that motivates a manager of a billion dollar department to ask neighborhood councils for a share of their meager pittance, a reward that can hardly be worth the manager’s time.

And yet the city family sharks circle the neighborhood councils, asking for money to pay for equipment and services that should be paid for with their own budgets.

The city’s budget grew by approximately $150 million this past year, money that funds the delivery of city services that include public safety and public works. Neighborhood councils collectively account for less than $4 million of the city’s $6.9 billion budget, a number that pales in comparison to the $1.2 billion Police Department budget or the $480 million Fire Department budget or the $133 million Transportation budget.

In spite of their limited funds, neighborhood councils still find a way to support the LAPD with volunteers and funding, they still find a way to train and equip volunteers for the LAFD, they continue to pay to clean streets, to pull weeds from sidewalks, to empty trash, to remove graffiti, and they continue to fund median strip improvements, speed humps, Sharrows, and planning outreach.

But, along the way, the burden of that $40,500 budget has distracted the neighborhood councils from their mandate of advising the City of LA on the delivery of City Services and has allowed then to assume responsibility for funding the departments that should be answering to the neighborhood councils.

There is something absurd about the largest departments within the city family shaking down the smallest members. Any financial benefit to the larger department is surely negligible relative to the time and energy it takes to accomplish but the process also reverses the roles, given that neighborhood councils should actually be advising the city departments on their budgets and operations. After all, it’s the City Charter mandate.

The larger absurdity is that City of LA department managers can find the time to chase funds from one pocket to another, foregoing the larger opportunity to perhaps engage in the efficient operation of their department or, even bolder, look for opportunities to engage the public in roles of oversight.

But if the City of Los Angeles is to consider the departmental shake-downs of neighborhood councils appropriate shuffling of city funds, there should be some protocols in place, rules that govern the transference of neighborhood council funds to the operating budgets of city departments:

1) Neighborhood Councils funding should be limited to City Departments that stood up for the neighborhood councils during the City of LA’s Budget Hearings and defended the volunteers who work so hard to fulfill their City Charter mandate of engaging the public in monitoring the delivery of City Services. When the General Managers and Directors of LA’s Departments and Bureaus stand side by side with neighborhood councils as partners, they should feel free to solicit funds for their departments.

2) Neighborhood Councils funding should be limited to City Departments that have Commissions with a seat that is set aside for Neighborhood Council representation. When the Police Commission has an NC seat, the LAPD should feel free to solicit funds for their equipment. When the Rec & Parks Commission opens up an NC seat, RAP should feel free to solicit funds for their programs.

3) Neighborhood Councils funding should be limited to departments that entertain reciprocal requests for funding and services. Of course, this is the way things were supposed to be before they were flipped, one where the neighborhood councils advised the city on the delivery of city services and the departments were actually responsive to the local priorities.

The absurdity of the biggest of the big going after the smallest of the small in order to fund services and supplies is predatory and does nothing to advance LA but simply allows the departments to consume the host.

The missed opportunity through all of this is for the City Family to take its collective eyes of the budgets of other departments and to focus on outside revenue sources that require community support as a key element in qualifying and implementing federal and state money that would go much further in funding city services.

Neighborhood councils are in an ideal position to serve as the funding partners on Office of Traffic Safety funding that would go directly to LAPD staffing and services. The impact of an OTS grant is much more significant that any NC contribution to LAPD office supplies.

Neighborhood councils are best equipped to conduct the outreach necessary to qualify for funds such as the CA Statewide Park Program that funded the creation of parks in underserved communities. The impact of a $5 million grant far outweighs the negligible benefit of a neighborhood council contribution for RAP outreach materials.

Neighborhood councils are perfect partners for the Transportation Department as the City of LA goes after Safe Routes to School funding, money that can be put to work improving the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhoods. The impact of proactive teamwork has the potential to deliver millions of dollars to our streets which far outperforms the current meager contributions that are made in desperate attempts to “prime the pump” and motivate a reticent department.

It’s time that City Hall and the city departmental leadership recognize neighborhood councils as partners in engaging the public in the civic process, as partners in departmental oversight and accountability, and as partners in great funding that supports the delivery of city services.

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

Angelenos: At Their Best When Things Are Worst!

CityWatch, July 22, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 58

RETHINKING LA - Jeff Bridges received an Academy Award nomination for his role in John Carpenter’s 1984 film “Starman” where he played an alien who concluded his visit to Earth by noting that humans “are at their best when things are worst.” Time after time Angelenos have proven this to be true.

When a Metrolink train crashed head-on into a freight train in Chatsworth, residents self-mobilized and gathered supplies and food to support the firefighters and public safety officers at the scene. Hopping backyard fences, they worked around the clock, meeting a need that needed to be met. They didn’t have to be asked.

Three years earlier, when a Metrolink train derailed on the Glendale/LA border, it was the Costco employees who were the first responders, self-organizing themselves and local residents to initiate the rescue operation. As the professionals showed up, the locals shifted to a support role and partnered in the rescue operation. They didn’t need instructions.

When fire ravaged Griffith Park in 2007, residents in surrounding neighborhoods were given evacuation orders but traffic was so backed up that many had to simply walk out of the hills. Strangers opened their doors and offered refuge, helping the displaced neighbors connect with their loved ones or find shelter for the night. It took five hours for the Red Cross to arrive at the Marshall High evacuation center and by then the volunteers had everything under control, including accommodations for animals. They didn’t worry about traffic, they simply showed up on bikes and on foot.

The Station Fire of 2009 threatened the Sunland-Tujunga community, prompting locals to mobilize as the authorities debated jurisdiction. LA’s Animal Services was just one of the City of LA’s departments that waited for authorization while locals used social media to spread the word, organizing equestrians to evacuate the large animals that stood on city land but were breathing county smoke. They didn’t worry about jurisdiction, they simply worried about lives.

Angelenos are resilient, innovative, and full of surprises. Time after time they step up spontaneously to demonstrate that LA is at its best when things are worst.

In fact, Angelenos have a strong record for getting involved without waiting for the worst to happen.

Angelenos serve as LAPD Reserve Officers, supporting the LAPD and lightening the load so that the department can operate more effectively. The Fire Department is supported by Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers who are trained to provide traffic control support, evacuation shelter management, and emergency medical care.

Unfortunately, when times are worst, the City of LA’s bureaucracy can also be at its worst, serving as an obstacle to the spirit of volunteerism that is celebrated in times of quiet but can discouraged in times of crisis.

Consider the current budget scenario, one that has seen city department staffing levels decimated and service commitments reduced to minimal levels. One would think that this is the time that city departments would welcome support and assistance from the community, yet that is not always the case.

The City’s Animal Services Department, an essential element of LA’s emergency preparedness, has been on shaky grounds for years, struggling to fulfill its public safety, animal health, and pet adoption mandates.

Time after time, emergencies such as the Northridge Earthquake and the Station Fire demonstrate the importance of anticipating the need to care for animals in times of crisis yet Animal Services is soft on its commitment to integrating with the LA’s emergency services network.

From the simple care of cats and dogs during an evacuation to the coordination of large scale transportation for horses and livestock, time after time it’s the locals that demonstrate a commitment to results without hesitation. Using everything from ham radios to twitter accounts to communicate, it’s the volunteers that share information, enlist help, locate secure staging grounds, and transport, feed and shelter the animals that are a part of our community.

Folks such as Paul Darrigo consider this type of behavior to be the foundation of a compassionate society and he can trace his volunteerism back to the day he rescued an injured dog, transporting it to the hospital after Animal Services failed to show.

Darrigo recognized then that Animal Services was limited in its ability to handle public safety issues, animal health concerns, shelter operations, and pet adoptions. In the spirit of self-mobilizing volunteerism, he went to work.

LA’s Reserve Animal Control Officer (RACO) program was dormant for years until Darrigo started visiting neighborhood councils throughout the city, enlisting support and soliciting funds to pay for the training and the uniforms of the reinstated RACO program.

One would think that this type of support would be celebrated at Animal Services, but the department seems to be on a rocky road that has seen General Managers come and go, the kill rate go up 30% in the last three years, and the City Controller schedule an audit to address her concerns of accountability and oversight.

Meanwhile, Darrigo continues to push for the opportunity to take on a volunteer project manager role that would include communicating with neighborhood councils, educating the public, raising funds, and coordinating the efforts of the multitude of volunteer rescue operations in the city. Unfortunately for Darrigo, and for the community, Animals Services has resisted his efforts.

This insulated behavior could be dismissed as a departmental reaction to recent charges of personnel issues that allegedly include theft and fraud.

Animal Services now joins Building & Safety, the Housing Department, and the Housing Commission as city agencies that are under investigation for allegations of wrongdoing. General Manager Brenda Barnette attributes these incidents to the failure of officials previously responsible for the department. Barnette was hired last year and claims to be engaged in a “robust and aggressive investigation.”

Darrigo considers the “department under attack” scenario as an even greater opportunity to be of service and says “The simple foundation of our government is civic responsibility and accountability and all I want to do is to support the Department of Animal Services.”

In a city of four million people, Darrigo believes that the real opportunity is in behavioral shifts that come from education, communication, synchronization and empowerment. He points to the actions of Angelenos during the recent Carmageddon threat and the success of water conservation efforts as evidence that the people of LA will do the right thing if empowered and educated. Darrigo says “One of the simplest ways to lighten the load on Animal Services would be to prevent the large number of feral animals and stray animals that challenge the department’s capacity.”

“It costs $150 to $250 to euthanize an animal,” he continues, claiming that “spaying and neutering costs less and educating the public is free. It makes no sense to ignore the real opportunity to engage the public and work on preventative steps that rely on volunteers.”

Darrigo’s most recent attempt to support Animal Services by promoting the City of LA’s “No-Kill” commitment at the upcoming Neighborhood Council Summit at City Hall was rejected without commentary by Barnette in a terse email that read “Thanks for your offer to represent the Department in the community. I'm going to decline your offer at this time.”

Barnette did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, understandable in the current audit conditions but also indicative of the insulated behavior that critics claim is a pattern at Animal Services, one that transcends the ongoing rotation of management.

The drama at Animal Services takes place in a city that is surrounded by a multitude of organizations that specialize in animal rescues.

Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve is home to 60 lions, tigers, leopards and cougars. Animal Advocates take care of injured wildlife that includes squirrels, possums, coyotes, foxes, deer, skunks and possums. Parrots First adopts injured birds and complements its efforts with education programs.

The Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats socializes feral cats and prepares them for adoption, and in doing so, calls it like they see it. “The cat overpopulation is not a cat problem, it is a people problem caused by uneducated and sometime irresponsible pet owners who abandon their cats or do not have them sterilized, causing a proliferation of cats being born on the street.”

In a city that is in the midst of a budget crisis, and in a department that is in the midst of a management crisis, it seems fair to suggest, as Darrigo does, that Animal Services should focus on its public safety mandate and simply invigorate the RACO program so that volunteers can address “the people problem” that will lighten the load on Animal Services.

“You’ve got a lot of people ready to volunteer but we live in a litigious society that has immobilized our city,” says Darrigo, “resulting in a bureaucracy that sees the avoidance of liability as an improvement over assuming risk and taking care of business.”

Humane societies are judged by the manner in which they care for their animals. Responsible city governments are judged based on their oversight and operation of municipal agencies in the delivery of services. Great cities are judged based on their ability to engage the population as partners in the management of municipal affairs.

Los Angeles, in its operation and management of the Department of Animal Services, has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to humane behavior, to responsible city government, and to recognizing its volunteers as the heroes who are at their best when things are worst.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

405 Closure: A Tale of Two Tweets

Vol 9 Issue 57
Pub: July 19, 2011

RETHINKING LA - The much anticipated weekend closure of LA’s 405 freeway caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth as the threat of Carmageddon loomed heavy on the horizon and officials unleashed a barrage of “stay home” warnings in every format imaginable including relentless email blasts, repetitious press conferences, and electronic sign messaging throughout the countywide freeway system. As the world watched,@Jet Blue airlines seized on the opportunity and offered “jetpool” flights over the 405 between Burbank and Long Beach airports for $4. This press coup drew a challenge from @GaryRidesBikes who suggested that cyclists could beat a jet in door-to-door travel time. @TomVanderbilt, author of “Traffic, Why we Drive the Way We Do” and Slate columnist, accepted Gary’s tweet as a Top-Gear style challenge and, as the world watched, the race was on.

Jet Blue passengers @OhaiJoe and @EzraHorne hopped in a car for the ride to the Burbank Airport, while@WolfpackHustle cyclists rode from Burbank to Long Beach in a #flightvsbike race that saw Jet Blue CEO@davidjbarger join the flight to welcome the racers. (rumors that the Jet Blue pilot was racing the cyclists for pink slips were unconfirmed)

Ignoring the “stay home” advice of the naysayers, Gary entered the race representing the pedestrian/mass transit mode and walked to the Red Line, where he rode for free to the Blue Line, transferred for the ride to Long Beach where he then walked the final leg to the Long Beach Lighthouse. Total cost - $0.00.

The Wolfpack cyclists, an elite group of athletes who averaged 24+ mph on the ride to Long Beach, took an oath to ride legally, as did Gary who crossed all streets with the signal, prompting Vanderbilt to tweet “Where is@garyridesbikes? Probably stuck at one of those epic LA pedestrian crossings. #flightvsbikes”   The cost of the Wolfpack ride included lots of coffee, donuts, and a celebratory refueling that may have included malted beverages.

As the dust settled, the cyclists won in 1:34, the ped/transit combo placed at 1:54, and @Jennix, who surprised the field with her stealth entrance on inline skates, showed at 2:34. Jenni is no stranger to long distance skating and leads “The Night Skate” rides on the streets of LA.

Meanwhile, the airline passengers enjoyed a record 12 minute Jet Blue flight, but experienced connectivity issues that included the traditional security maze and a taxi-cab driver who couldn’t find the Long Beach Lighthouse, the large navigational facility that is traditionally used as a guide to travelers. Joe and Ezra ended up walking the final leg for a 2:52 fourth place finish. Their $4 Jet Blue tickets included consolation prizes of cake, snacks, and Jet Blue gift bags.

@WolfpackHustle reveled in their victory by noting “Meanwhile... our politicians and police cowered and bit their nails, telling people to stay home and avoid this beautiful weekend.”

@JetBlue proved to be good sports about the race and asked for a rematch, this time racing from LAX to JFK.

As for the taxi-cab driver, his inability to help travelers in the first/last mile connection of multi-modal transportation demonstrates the big opportunity to be found in little solutions, such as the Wolfpack offer of $8 bike rides back to Burbank.

While other cities embrace bikeshare programs, pedicab networks, jitneys and streetcar connectors, LA continues to invest in transportation philosophy that is fully a generation behind in commitment to modal choices and connectivity.

If there is anything to be learned from Carmageddon’s peaceful non-appearance it’s this:

1) Angeleno’s are resilient and innovative - Time after time, whether it was the ‘84 Olympics, the Northridge earthquake, the Metro strike, or the shutdown of the 405, there are many ways to get around LA and it’s up to LA’s leadership to support great sustainable choices.

2) Great choices support sustainable behavior -  If LA’s leadership were to give walking and cycling the same support that they just gave the $1 billion widening of the 405 freeway, LA would experience traffic congestion relief at a fraction of the price and Angeleno’s would have great multi-modal choices.

3) Metro Works - Increasing service frequency and offering free rides through anticipated congested areas yielded positive results, demonstrating the folly of the recent Metro service cuts. Dollar for dollar, the cost of offering service pales in comparison to not offering service.

4) Celebrate the local economy - Theatres offered $4.05 tickets, bars offered $4.05 beverages, and neighborhoods citywide celebrated the opportunity to slow down to a local pace, enjoying the many local attractions that can get missed as one races to the Woodland Hills Costco.

5) Freeway Closures Rule - The success of the 405 closure had such a positive impact on life in the Los Angeles basin that some suggest it should be a regular event. A poll at Bitter Lemons yielded an 84% favorable response to the question “Should Los Angeles make Carmageddon a Regional Holiday and shut down the 405 once a year?”

6) Carmageddon is now Karmageddon - We reap what we sow and as Doug Failing, the Metro’s executive director of highway projects, pointed out “There is not a lot of elasticity in the system, even on the weekends.” The 405 closure just demonstrated the efficacy of a multi-modal commitment combined with a behavioral shift. A billion dollars of freeway widening is going to have a hard time competing with that kind of impact. The choice is ours.

Los Angeles just experienced a significant triumph of the Complete Streets philosophy, one that embraces all modes of transportation and commits to supporting choice as the essential element of a transportation system with the “elasticity” that our freeway system lacks.

As for next steps, it’s time to congratulate the State of California, the County of LA, the City of LA, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and everyone else involved with the 405 closure for demonstrating that when it matters, they can work together to make it happen. Now it’s time for them to put that same focus on making the streets of LA a great place to go for a walk, to ride a bicycle, to catch a bus, to hop on a train, to get to the airport, and yes, to drive a car.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

LA’s Developers are Above the Law

CityWatch, July 15, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 56

RETHINKING LA - Only in LA can a developer come to town with a $20 Billion budget, go to work on a construction campaign that impacts literally every neighborhood in the city, and not take responsibility for traffic mitigation, pedestrian and cyclist access, ADA compliance, roadway improvements, signalization enhancements, or simply adhering to LA’s municipal code.

This cavalier behavior is the work of the LAUSD, they’re LA’s largest developer, and they are above the law.

When the LAUSD’s building program gets implemented in a neighborhood, it doesn’t come with the expected community benefits that would demonstrate a partnership, it comes with an expectation that the local municipal authority will take responsibility for any street improvements and traffic mitigation.

The LAUSD spent $228 million on Central Los Angeles High School #9, aka the Visual and Performing Arts High School, and failed to deliver an ADA accessible school. The City of LA was expected to deliver the improvements that would support and encourage children as they walked and bicycled to school.

This isn’t the exception, it’s the rule, and the recent roster of newly constructed LAUSD schools that are on LA’s Safe Routes to School project list demonstrates LAUSD’s shortcomings when it comes to connecting with the community.

Simply put, if the LAUSD played by the same rules as the residents, they would build to code, they would include community benefits, and they would improve local streets to mitigate traffic and to support the kids who walk and bicycle to school. But they don’t because they are above the law.

Not to be outdone, the LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO), owner of massive amounts of property including the land surrounding more than 70 transit hubs, is developing mixed-use Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects such as Hollywood’s W Hotel & Residences and the Westlake/MacArthur Park development.

Hollywood’s TOD came with great promises of intersection improvements, community benefits, connectivity, and public space enhancements.

When the ribbon was cut, the truth was revealed, LA’s Metro is another developer that operates as if it is above the law, violating LA’s municipal code, ignoring community benefit obligations, and creating traffic issues that took the life of a pedestrian in a crosswalk within the first few weeks of operation.

Not to be outdone, LA’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is technically part of the City Family yet it operates independently, a privilege that comes from having a dedicated and protected revenue stream. The CRA uses incremental tax revenue to develop “blighted” neighborhoods, a designation that was almost applied to the entire city of LA. It does this with the bull-in-a-china-shop behavior that locals have come to expect from the CRA’s well-funded development partners. Land is condemned and seized using the unique “I can do better than you!” interpretation of eminent domain, and then the notion of “public use” is twisted and the public gets used, literally.

The CRA is consistent with the Metro and the LAUSD in its arrogant approach to development and it also violates municipal code, ignores its community benefits obligation, and develops property as if it is above the law. Based on results, it is.

Rounding out the slate of mega-developers is the City of Los Angeles itself. One would think that of all developers, the City of LA could be counted on to develop its projects with a strict adherence to LA’s municipal code but that’s not the case.

LA has several building campaigns in different states of completion, and they include libraries, fire stations, and police stations. Funded with public money, these projects are built with an admirable goal of “on time and under budget” but with disregard for the third commitment, “up to code.”

Funded projects have a momentum that allows them to proceed without the traditional obligations of community benefit, of accessibility and for connectivity, and of community oversight.

In the process of defending local residents of the East Hollywood neighborhood who were being cited by Building & Safety for over-in-height fences and other code violations, I visited several municipal facilities, some of which were out of code, including the new Rampart Police Station.

In the spirit of LA’s complaint-driven process for code enforcement I attempted to initiate a code violation complaint, only to discover that the City of LA is also above the law. Apparently, Building & Safety can’t take a code violation complaint on municipal property and developments and I was sent on a journey of “anywhere but here” as I attempted to hold the City of LA to its own standards.

The residents of Los Angeles live in a city that preys on itself. Public money is spent on projects that arrive with their own gravitational pull, bending the community to the will of the project. Schools, fire and police stations, libraries, transit developments, and infrastructure improvements should arrive wrapped in respect, not contempt for the community.

The City of Los Angeles has an obligation to enforce the law of the land evenly, and if it applies to the residents, it also applies to the largest developers in the city. Most of all, it applies to the City of Los Angeles.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011

LA’s Stealth Bike Plan

LA’s Bike Plan is of such importance to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that on July 1, 2011 he issued Mayoral Directive #20 and instructed LA’s departmental leadership to make the Bike Plan a priority.

Little did he know, the Bike Plan that was approved earlier this year was nowhere to be found.

And then, quietly and without any fanfare, the Bike Plan appeared on July 11, on the City Clerk’s website and on the LA Bike Plan website. No notice, no email, no press conference, no fuss, just a simple and subtle appearance that makes one wonder, why the sleight of hand?

The Bike Plan Implementation Team has been meeting for six months to discuss outreach, priorities, funding, interdepartmental synchronicity and other issues related to the deployment of LA’s Bike Plan, a tough task to accomplish without an actual Bike Plan.

On July 5th, at the July BPIT meeting, I asked about the Bike Plan and when we could expect to see the final version, the one that was approved by City Council and classified as an amendment to the City’s General Plan. The one that included all of the corrections, modifications, changes and additions.

Crickets chirped and staffers made excuses including “It’s at the printers and these things take time.”

A digital document held up at the printer?

It may have been the BPIT debate, perhaps it was the Mayoral Directive #20, we may never know what prompted city staff to quietly replace the old draft version of the Bike Plan with the final official Bike Plan. But it’s out in the open now!

Mayor Villaraigosa has been bragging about LA’s Bike Plan. Take a look at the final version of the Bike Plan and take it to your neighborhood council and work with them on local priorities. Most of all, imagine the day when we can point to the streets and brag about the fact that LA is the City with a Backbone!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brown Act Crusader Rosendahl Could Set the Standard with His Own Transportation Committee

CityWatch, July 13, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 55

RETHINKING LA - Councilman Bill Rosendahl is to be commended for his recent attempt to force the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Proposed Downtown Stadium and Event Center to conduct its business openly, transparently, and in compliance with California’s Brown Act.

That being said, his journey down the moral high road will be smoother if he applies the same open-door standard to the business that takes place within his Transportation Committee.
Rosendahl’s Brown Act campaign was set in motion when a representative of the Office of the City Attorney opined that “ad hoc committees of this City Council are not bound by the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act -- the state law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.”
Almost 60 years ago, an editorial in the Sacramento commented on the proposed Brown Act, saying:

A law to prohibit secret meetings of official bodies, save under the most exceptional circumstances, should not be necessary. Public officers above all other persons should be imbued with the truth that their business is the public’s business and they should be the last to tolerate any attempt to keep the people from being fully informed as to what is going on in official agencies. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case. Instances are many in which officials have contrived, deliberately and shamefully, to operate in a vacuum of secrecy.

Since then, the Brown Act has been revised, enhanced, clarified, amplified, debated, ignored, embraced, manipulated and periodically rediscovered.

Rosendahl’s recent rediscovery of the Brown Act resulted in his opinion that “while some may argue it is legal for the City Council to form ad hoc committees that have the right to waive or ignore public notice and information requirements, doing so would break faith with a public that rightly expects and deserves transparency in its government.”

Well said! Only Ralph M. Brown could have said it better, and he did, in the introduction to the Brown Act:

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

Rosendahl’s role as crusader for the Brown Act set him up for a symbolic win but a practical loss as his motion for transparency failed in City Council Chambers amidst protests and shock from Councilwoman Jan Perry who prefaced her comments by saying “Mr. Rosendahl, I consider you a good friend.” Then the Brown Act hit the fan and Rosendahl’s motion was sent to committee where those who voted in opposition to Brown Act transparency will control its progress.

Rosendahl has an opportunity here, one where he moves beyond simple Council Chamber debate and actually sets a standard for City Hall, starting in his Transportation Committee.

The City of Los Angeles engages in the business of transportation in a process that is within the oversight of the City Council’s Transportation Committee. The City of LA competes for federal, state, and local funds through competitive programs that include Metro’s Call for Projects and the Caltrans administered Safe Routes to School.

For years, LA's transportation strategies, funding applications, and project implementation have been controlled by the Interdepartmental Task Force Committee (“the Committee”) made up of representatives from the Mayor's office, the Council offices, the Bureaus of Street Lighting and Street Services, the Chief Legislative Officer's office, the Chief Administrative Officer's office, Transportation, Water & Power, and the City's Redevelopment Agency.

"The Committee" typically engages in the business of the people with three motivations, desperation, deadlines, and diplomacy.

Typical recommendations from “the Committee” come with the caveat that “there wasn’t much time, we did the best we could,” resulting in proposals made with a commitment to expediency over effectiveness. This cycle of desperation is the result of an ongoing inability to plan ahead for looming deadlines.

“The Committee” then dilutes any hope of a regional commitment to a strategic transportation plan by requiring that every council district get a piece of the pie, whether or not it makes sense.

All of this takes place in secret, away from the public, in spite of the fact that the City Council and the Transportation Committee have both directed “the Committee” to conduct its business openly.

Several years ago, the City Council directed the Transportation Committee, lead department on “the Committee,” to keep the City Council informed of its planning, priorities, and performance. That display of bravado failed to yield meaningful results, a position that the DOT defended by arguing “We had no time!”

Three LADOT General Managers in a row have tendered the same defense as they exclude the public from the process of proposing, prioritizing, and presenting transportation projects for funding, all as the Transportation Committee directs them to engage the neighborhood councils in the process.

One might argue that the participation of the public in the process might slow it down, a fair point to make that fails to acknowledge the simple fact that projects with community support perform better in the competitive funding process.

Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the current actions of “the Committee” fall far short of acceptable and are starved for the infusion of accountability that would come from opening the process to the public.

Years after the LADOT revealed that the City of LA had no Strategic Transportation Plan in place to drive the funding proposal process, the LADOT still meanders without guidance.

Years after the City Council demanded to be involved in the process, “the Committee” continues to offer tepid proposals that lack commitment, vision, innovation, community support or any hope of successfully competing for transportation funding.

For too long, the City of LA has relied on the “fair share” approach to transportation funding, arguing that it deserves the money simply because of its size. This has resulted in an internal process controlled by city staff that recycles old failed proposals and debating process in order to fund projects that lack vision, support, and efficacy.

It’s time for the people of LA to raise the standard for transportation planning, to participate in the process of planning, presenting proposals for funding, prioritizing projects and evaluating performance.

Rosendahl’s role as champion of the Brown Act demands that he seize this opportunity and open business of the Transportation Committee to the public by bringing “the Committee” from behind closed doors, opening its business up to the community, and embracing the public as partners in the business of the people.

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

Friday, July 08, 2011

LADOT: Driven to Distraction

CityWatch, July 5, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 53

RETHINKING LA - The City of LA’s Department of Transportation has been busy at work in our communities, removing crosswalks, increasing speed limits, dodging critical audits, and fixing tickets through the City Hall Gold Card program.

So busy, in fact, that they continue to miss the well intended and even better funded advice offered by the State of California on how they can bring Safe Routes to School money to the streets of LA, grants that would result in streets that are safer for children who walk and bicycle to school.

The federal (SRTS) and state (SR2S) Safe Routes to School programs have a simple mandate, to empower local communities as they work to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity. The funded projects include roadway and sidewalk improvements as well as education and encouragement programs.

The City of Los Angeles has a notoriously poor track record with Safe Routes to School programs and has repeatedly drawn the ire of the City Council for simply failing to perform. Four years ago Councilman Grieg Smith exclaimed "Our Department of Transportation is one of the slowest, most bureaucratic departments in the city, I am constantly banging my head against the wall to get them to do what I want them to do."

This outburst came in city council chambers when it was revealed that funding was in place to improve nearly three dozen of LA’s most dangerous street crossings for schoolchildren but the work had not been done. LADOT’s Assistant General Manager John Fisher defended the department by explaining that the department was busy with regular and routine projects. “Safe Routes to School programs are ‘special’ projects.”

David Anderson, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, said "Nothing is more important than the safety of children, which is why Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration are reviewing the projects administered by local agencies to determine actions for improvement."

Two and half years ago, the LADOT received a review from Caltrans that categorized LA’s proposals as “Boilerplate, cookie cutter applications with identical wording.”

The City of Los Angeles was taken to task for sloppy work such as attaching the same generic letters of support to each application in lieu of conducting actual community outreach and generating project applications with the participation of the impacted neighborhoods. “SR2S and SRTS applications must be prepared from the grass-roots ground-up, not from the top-down, as it appears the City of L.A. applications were.”

LA was also called out for disguising vehicular flow improvement projects as pedestrian and cyclist safety enhancements. “The City of Los Angeles consistently stuck to the same limited number of tools that generally favor traffic operation over safety.”

One of the reviewers wrote “As a resident of the City of Los Angeles it pained me to give low scores to my own city, but I did not feel poor applications could be given passing scores. Doing so would ensure no improvement in the future.”

That sentiment is rare in City Hall where the “Fair Share!” mantra reigns supreme and the commitment to quality proposals and efficiently implemented programs falls by the wayside.

The City of LA entered this most recent Safe Routes to School funding cycle on the “Red Flag” list, ineligible for funding because of a failure to implement prior funded projects. In short, LA qualifies for funding but fails to put that money to work on improvements and education that would make our streets safer for children as they walk and bicycle to school.

After exerting more energy beating the system than it would take to simply excel at the Safe Route to School program, the LADOT is now off the “Red Flag” list and in the process of delivering the current roster of Safe Routes to School projects, all of which work together to demonstrate a complete failure to improve since the last round of funding.

The LADOT is the lead department for LA’s Safe Routes to School funding. Theoretically, the projects can come from the community but, in practice, the process takes place within a committee made up of City Council and City Department representatives, resulting in projects that were recently approved by LA’s Transportation Committee with only cursory oversight.

The deadline for the current SRTS funding cycle is July 15, 2011 which leaves no time for active participation from the community on the prioritization of projects or input on the specifics of individual projects. LA will be submitting 10 infrastructure and 2 non-infrastructure proposals, apparently excluding parochial and private schools from the process as if those children don’t have the right to safe streets that accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

When staff from Caltrans, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the LA Unified School District (LAUSD) and Ventura County collectively take the City of LA to task for consistently failing to perform in the Safe Routes to School funding program, it’s worth taking a look at LA’s program.

When the City Council takes the LADOT to task for waiting until the last minute to involve the council offices in the process, it’s worth taking a look at LA’s process.

When the City of LA repeatedly conducts the business of the people in a manner that excludes the public while applying for grants that require the participation of the community in developing the applications, it’s worth taking a look at LA’s Department of Transportation.

Most importantly, when the LADOT is busy defending itself against charges of inappropriate use of Measure R funding, double-dipping on federal funds, and other roadside distractions that consume management energy and focus, it’s worth taking a look at our streets and asking Mayor Villaraigosa “Who’s in charge of making our streets safer for our children?”

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

Driven to Distraction II: LA Losing Millions in Transpo Funding

CityWatch, July 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 54

RETHINKING LA - For two decades, the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has distributed federal, state, and local transportation funds through a competitive “Call for Projects” process that typically elicits two responses; great proposals from the communities surrounding LA and a “deer-in-the-headlights” look of surprise from the LADOT.

This year is no different and the LADOT’s failure to compete is demonstrated by the ongoing expectation that the City of LA, representing 40% of the people in the funding area, will qualify for only 25% of the funding dispensed through the competitive process.

Several years ago, Wendy Greuel, in her capacity as Chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, took the LADOT to task for its feigned naiveté and it’s “We had no idea!” excuse as it claimed to be caught off guard by the funding deadlines.

Amid protests from community members, including a group of 15 cyclists who criticized the LADOT for excluding the public from the project selection process, Greuel discovered that the City of LA had no Transportation Strategic Plan. Funding proposals were based on short-term planning with no long-term regional vision to balance and guide the process.

Since then, the LADOT has seen a changing of the guard in the Transportation Committee and within its own ranks, allowing it to slip quietly back into a familiar routine of “We had no idea!” and the churning of old rejected project proposals that continue to yield the same poor results.

As surrounding communities embrace the Complete Streets mandate, implementing transportation innovations that increase capacity and throughput while taming traffic and increasing safety, LA continues to squeeze funding by using its “Fair Share” strategy.

In the current cycle, Long Beach has proposed a $22 million Complete Streets project that will include water reclamation features, traffic calming, pedestrian enhancements and bicycling improvements. Los Angeles, on the other hand, fought to exclude the Complete Streets standard from its recently approved Bike Plan.

Santa Monica applied for $2.5 million for a bike share program with 250 bikes at 25 docking stations located at transit stations and activity nodes, supported by marketing and outreach campaigns. Los Angeles, by contrast, continues to fumble simple bike rack installation on city owned property.

Burbank applied for $1.2 million for a Bicycle Boulevard that connects Burbank to Glendale, encouraging cycling for local trips. Los Angeles, demonstrating its timidity, excluded the Bicycle Boulevard engineering standard from its highly touted Bike Plan, choosing instead the softer non-commitment of the Bike Friendly streets.

Demonstrating a knack for avoiding the streets, the LADOT has proposed a project that will spend almost $600K promoting car-free day, begging the question “Why not simple focus on creating more walkable, rideable, transit friendly streets so people have options?”

Lest anyone wonder what those options are, the LADOT has proposed the development of a $742,625 interactive Board Game that will “inform the pre-construction and installation of Bicycle Friendly streets in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles.”

A Board Game?

If the LADOT and its Interdepartmental Task Force is lacking in ideas and inspiration for long-term transportation planning, it could chat with the folks who walk on the broken sidewalks, ride on the congested streets, stand on dirty sunbeaten streets waiting for mass transit, and pay the maintenance and repair bills caused by potholes.

In fact, Greuel agreed that the people of LA deserve to be involved in the process, pointing out that even the City Council had been excluded. She introduced a motion directing the LADOT to allow the City Council to participate in the prioritization of funding proposals.

Since then, the City Council has directed the LADOT to reach out to the neighborhood councils as they develop and prioritize the transportation projects that are submitted in the “Call for Projects” competitive funding pool.

All of which has resulted in yet another “deer-in-the-headlights” response from the LADOT and a hastily assembled list of transportation proposals that demonstrate a lack of long term planning, a failure to connect with the community, and an inability to compete with neighboring communities who continue to outperform in funding and on the streets.

Two years ago, Greuel declared that “LA could become the Silicon Valley of transportation innovation.” She moved on and Councilman Bill Rosendahl took over the Transportation Committee, declaring “the LADOT must solicit project ideas from the city's Neighborhood Councils.”

That was then and this is now.

As the communities surrounding Los Angeles innovate and implement, the LADOT continues to ignore the community, instead turning to Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers for inspiration, turning LA’s Transportation Strategic Plan into a modern version of Jeopardy, Risk, and Monopoly.

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

Fencing Competition

Photo credit: Curbed LA
CityWatch, July 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 54

BOX SOAP - A couple of weeks ago, the “Tale of Two Fences” story prompted a flurry of debate over the merits of over-in-height fences, the inequities of a complaint driven enforcement policy, the rights of individuals vs. the rights of the community, and public safety.

CityWatch covered the brouhaha in “LA’s battle over safety and too-tall fences”  and proposed public safety solutions in “Solving crime: one step at a time”  followed by some specific recommendations for the Mayor and City Hall in “LA: not an equal public safety provider”.

Fox11’s John Schwada took a walk through East Hollywood to visit the homes of the residents who were the subject of the seven-fold increase in over-in-height fence citations, stopping on Normandie to chat with Walter and Rubby about public safety, resulting in his “Tale of two fences”  report.

Through it all, the Mayor’s requested variance from the City’s 42” limit on fence heights was quietly approved, a journey that initially drew contempt from the LA Weekly and support from the LA Times, then more support from the LA Times, an evaluation by the Park La Brea News, then coverage of the variance grant by Curbed LA, the Huffington Post, the LA Times. The journey came full circle over the holiday weekend as the LA Times reversed its position with another editorial, this time taking the Mayor to task for turning another City of LA landmark into a security check point. Whew!

Meanwhile, in East Hollywood, the residents wait for the Mayor to join them for East Hollywood Street Beat, “Taking back the streets, one step at a time!”

CityWatch readers have offered up advice, some of it coming from inside City Hall and some from the perspective of neighbors who have fought City Hall.

“JU” advised “Nearly a decade ago, the City Attorney's Office arrived at a working solution that limited criminal prosecution of overheight fences to those instances that threatened public safety. In all other instances, a City Attorney hearing or other administrative proceeding would be the course. Alternatively, the violator would be referred to Planning to seek a variance or an overheight fence district.”

“JSP” proposed “There is a practical way to get a compromise on this issue with the City Planning Department's help.  It is easy to adopt some standards for front yard walls/fences which if followed, would allow a "by-right" approval with no cost or waiting other than a Building and Safety inspection for construction compliance.

The Planning Dept has already done this over 20 years ago with Mini-mall projects.  The current Code section allows for mini-mall project to be built by right if certain required standards are met.  The same idea would apply for over-height security structures.

For years, Zoning Administrators in Los Angeles have talked about changing the Code to allow for automatic approvals of modest, well designed front yard security structures.

Here are some of the likely features that could lead to an automatic approval subject to final Building and Safety inspection:

1) Wrought iron fencing not to exceed 6-ft with block pilasters for support not to exceed 8-ft,

2) Landscaping next to the fencing to beautify the appearance of the fence and provide some additional privacy as long as there is not a "solid" hedge behind the open fence design and the landscape is not taller than 3-1/2 ft.  Tree planted adjacent to the fence would have to be 3-ft apart for their trunks.

3) Any driveway gates would have to be pulled back from the sidewalk enough to allow a car  driver to see beyond the fence down both sides of the street when they drove out of the property, and

4) A concaved mirror can be placed at the driveway so that a car leaving the site can see oncoming pedestrians on the sidewalk.  Anyone who wanted to deviate from these conditions would file an over-height fence application, which is the current way to get an approval for the wall/fence over 42-inches in height.  As a Zoning Administrator for over 20 years, I did hundreds of over-height front yard structures so I can sympathize with residents who want an easier way to help provide security and privacy.”

“LONR” suggested “I believe if you check with Building and Safety, the rule on front yard fences is you cannot put up a fence of the same material that exceeds 42” inches in height. But you can put a fence no higher than six foot if the fence is two different materials.  For instance you can have a three foot block wall fence and then put up three feet of rod iron.  That is legal.  You cannot put up six feet of rod iron, brick, etc.  But you can put up a six foot fence as long as it is two different  materials. Not sure if you have to be able to see out.

So you can check this out for yourself.  And the Hollywood residents should know that they can put up a six foot fence but not all one material for example it cannot be all six foot fence of rod iron or all brick.”

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

Monday, July 04, 2011

LA: Not an Equal Public Safety Provider

CityWatch, July 1, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 52

RETHINKING LA - Mayor Villaraigosa’s recent success in navigating LA’s code enforcement and planning variance process demonstrates the uneven landscape of City Hall, one that favors connections and money while punishing residents of low-income and high-crime neighborhoods. Acting on the advice of the LAPD, General Services, and Homeland Security, Villaraigosa tendered a variance request for an over-in-height front yard wall last year, stirring objections from the Windsor Square Association and charges that the wall violates the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) standards.

In a demonstration of the traditional “ask for the outrageous, settle for the offensive” strategy employed by the professionals who artfully manipulate the city’s plans, zones, and codes, Villaraigosa initially requested a variance for a 96” wall and then conceded to a 65” security fence.

As of this past week, the Mayor’s variance requested was granted. Nicely played!

Meanwhile, the residents of East Hollywood continue to grapple with their own public safety issues while the Department of Building and Safety cites them for over-in-height fences, issuing fines, penalties and orders to remove the offending structures.

The Mayor’s demonstration of variance prowess has prompted charges of inequitable application of the law, after all, the residents are willing to pay the same fee that the Mayor paid, they’re willing to accept the same limitations that he accepts, they want the same protection that he wants.

In town hall and neighborhood council meetings, representatives of the City of LA’s “Department of No” have repeatedly placed obstacles in front of the residents while lecturing them on their responsibility for public safety.

The community has responded with a series of solutions that address the underlying issue of public safety while resolving the specific code enforcement drama.

1) Implement a “Due on Sale” policy that allows residents in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods to pursue over-in-height fence variances without the immediate burden of an oppressive $4800 fee.

2) Implement a Public Safety focus that requires the removal of over-in-height fences that interfere with public safety while permitting over-in-height fences that support public safety. If the City of LA can’t figure out the difference, it’s time to slow down and figure it out.

3) Return the Neighborhood Prosecutor to the community, implementing public safety strategies such as nuisance abatements and gang injunctions that would address the public safety issues that are prompting residents to build security fences in the first place.

4) Declare a moratorium on Building & Safety’s complaint-driven enforcement strategy in favor a systemic standards driven approach to code enforcement. Citing one neighbor while ignoring the other is the best way to divide a community and breed contempt for the law.

5) Declare a moratorium on enforcement of Planning’s simplistic “one size fits all neighborhoods” front yard fence standard. Develop context specific standards that address the different character and personalities of individual neighborhoods. Most importantly, address the unique needs of each community. From horse property to hillside property to homes on busy urban streets, fence standards should reflect the local environment.

6) Consider the City Hall scrum that must be engaged by the public, (Mayor’s office, City Attorney’s office, City Council office, City Planning, Building & Safety, LAPD) all in an effort to protect one’s family and property. Something so simple gets so complicated and then the City of LA trips over itself fining and adding penalties when residents fail to navigate the system.

7) Join the residents of East Hollywood for Street Beat, “Taking back the streets, one step at a time!” Thursday evenings through the summer, from 7 pm to 9 pm, neighbors walk, they talk, and they connect with the community.

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

Friday, July 01, 2011

Public Safety … One Step at a Time

CityWatch, June 28, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 51

RETHINKING LA - Modern police work is a scientific business, driven by statistical analysis of criminal behavior, resulting in a focused high-tech law enforcement response that delivers efficient crime prevention, suppression, and prosecution.
Or so we are led to believe.

There was a time when police officers walked the beat, talked to residents, chatted with business operators, greeted passers-by, and established community relationships on the street.

Times have changed. People walk less, they drive more, and law enforcement has gotten too big for its boots, literally.

In East Hollywood, a densely populated, low-income and high-crime neighborhood with over a hundred languages spoken, residents are taking to the streets and they’re inviting the Los Angeles Police Department to join them for a walk, a casual stroll through the community.

There was a time when “walking the beat” was a common community policing strategy but decades ago the patrol car replaced the personal approach and now most community policing arrives in an SUV, parks in the red, and takes place at community meetings, not on the street.

The most recent enforcement activity in East Hollywood has focused on the residents, not the criminals, as Building and Safety has engaged in a seven-fold increase in over-height fence investigations.

At Hollywood residents have received non-compliance letters, fines, penalties and orders to remove the front yard fences that exceed 42” in height. They argue that the fences are a response to criminal activity and a last-ditch effort to protect their property and their families.

The LAPD has experimented with a return to community policing on foot, most recently in the Skid Row area where Central Division made weekly “Walks with the Captain,” a tradition that resulted in increased connectivity and visibility, regarded as an important step toward the suppression of crime.

St. Louis actually did the numbers and found that the “Cops on Foot” strategy resulted in a 17% reduction in crime, a statistic that is almost as impressive as the fact that they also tracked interactions with residents, business operators, and passers-by.

Perhaps the weekly LAPD Comstat meetings should shift from a Division by Division analysis of criminal activity and start evaluating human contact, relationships developed and neighborhood discoveries that come from slowing down and chatting.

I know it’s a stretch to expect the LAPD to walk every street and alley in LA, after all there’s 6500 miles of streets and the broken sidewalks can be very dangerous. But the people who know what’s going on don’t always want to work their way through a phone directory, leave messages and call back. They simply want to talk and a casual walk in a densely populated neighborhood will result in face to face conversations that start slowly, eventually resulting in a flow of information.

In East Hollywood, there are elements that can’t be seen from a patrol car that’s rushing in traffic, but stand on the sidewalk for a while and people start to appear from under the trees and bushes on the Caltrans property along the 101 freeway. Stand at a bus stop in the blazing sun and it becomes evident why people don’t feel safe.

New York’s Albany applied the “Cops on Foot” strategy to its high-crime areas in successful effort “to build trust” and the community has responded by partnering with the department and offering information on criminal activity.

In the UK, the beat policing strategy is recognized as having an impact that is tough to measure statistically, but that is credited with reducing fear and insulating behavior that creates isolation in densely populated communities.

While the statisticians and criminal scientists debate the merits of foot patrols, the residents of East Hollywood are rebounding from the latest assault on their community by going for a walk, up Normandie Ave and through the neighborhood, one street at a time, one step at a time.

East Hollywood Street Beat, Thursday evenings throughout the summer, 800 N. Normandie, from 7 pm to 9 pm. Join LAPD’s Rampart and Northeast divisions, meet the Captains who are responsible for public safety, and make new friends on the streets of East Hollywood.

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

LA City Hall Confuses Growth for Development

CityWatch, June 17, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 48

RETHINKING LA - LA’s City Hall confuses growth for development.

There is a huge difference between growth and development, a distinction that is lost on the caretakers of LA’s future as they gamble on size over substance in a planning Ponzi scheme that is consuming our resources. Growth is simply an increase in size, something third-world countries are capable of doing to the point of absurdity, resulting in unstable governments, illiteracy, disease, high mortality rates, low economic development, high levels of poverty, low utilization of natural resources, the lack of a middle class and heavy dependence on developed nations.

Development, on the other hand, is an improvement in the quality of life for a community, regardless of increases or decreases in populations, and results in improved infrastructure, health care, education, economic opportunity and prosperity, arts and culture, justice and freedom, mobility, and a commitment to a sustainable future.

For years, City Hall has held fast to a planning strategy based on the assumption that the hordes were at the gates and that the population of Los Angeles was going to spike dramatically, straining the infrastructure of an already challenged city.

City planners stoked the fears in local communities, and politicos pushed agendas that paved the way for speculators, builders, and investors by softening restrictive code and supporting construction with public funds.

Mayor Villaraigosa went so far as to claim the construction boom [link] was an indication of economic prosperity and promised to name the “construction crane” the official bird of Los Angeles. The fact that LA’s biggest years for construction coincided with the slowest population growth in over a century was lost on Villaraigosa who continues to tout publicly funded construction sites as evidence of economic growth and employment opportunity.

The State of California doesn’t leave county and city development to chance, requiring all municipal authorities to adopt a General Plan that will serve as a “constitution for future development.”

It’s unfortunate that the term “development” is used so freely, diluting the impact of a word that at one time was used to refer to the implementation of goals and policies that improve the quality of life in a community. Now it symbolizes a commitment to growth at the expense of quality of life, an investment in construction at the expense of infrastructure, and all for a market that doesn’t exist.

LA’s General Plan has seven required elements; Land Use, Transportation (now referred to as Circulation), Housing (recently updated), Conservation, Open-Space, Noise, and Safety. In addition, LA includes elements such as Power Systems, Libraries, Public Schools, Sewerage and Wastewater, Cultural and Historical Monuments, and Water System.

None of this means much because the elements lack integration, have been adopted or updated independently of each other, and are fairly consistently ignored. In fact, it’s safe to say, the City of LA is being run as if the only thing that mattered was funding public safety at the expense of city services and infrastructure maintenance while projecting bold optimism in the restorative power of crony speculation.

Through it all, the members of the public most engaged in the civic process spend the bulk of their time on land use issues, from hillside construction to McMansions to parking to fence heights.

Even the most committed eventually tire and fall by the wayside, leaving scant few to fight the larger battle, a Mayor and City Council leading the City of LA into the future without the benefit of an updated General Plan, without a commitment to investing in infrastructure, and without the full delivery of city services.

The City of LA is looking more and more like a third-world country, broken streets, failing schools, high unemployment, a disappearing middle class, and an unstable government that is unable to deliver on its city service commitment. These are the symptoms of a city led by people who confuse a commitment to growth with a mandate for development.

It’s evident that the Mayor and the City Council are in denial, ignoring State Law and City Charter mandate by engaging in Community Plan updates charades that rely on fictional data that is contradicted by reality.

LA has within it the elements of a global city, capable of taking a leading position in culture, technology, communications, industry, economics, politics and human rights. All that’s missing is the leadership of the people to demand of City Hall a General Plan that commits to development as a refinement, not simply expansion, and a commitment to infrastructure and city services to support the Great City vision.

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