Friday, September 30, 2011

LA’s ACE Program Cuts Both Ways

CityWatch, Sept 30, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 78

RETHINKING LA - “Don't worry,” said the trees when they saw the axe coming, “The handle is one of us.”

LA’s proposed Administrative Citation Enforcement (ACE) Program is positioned as a panacea capable of curing all that ails the broken City of Los Angeles, including the ongoing budget crisis, collapsing infrastructure, threats to public safety, quality of life issues, courthouse backlogs, overworked and understaffed municipal departments, and a full generation of inefficient code enforcement that has left the landscape of LA littered with billboards, pot shops, and busted sidewalks.

High horse advocates of the ACE program have become so enthralled with the idea of efficient code enforcement that they have missed the parallel journey of Council File No. 05-1853, a City Attorney initiated draft ordinance which would make residents responsible for sidewalk repair.

In other words, as the residents of LA are distracted by the promise of the proposed ACE program, the City Attorney is working to return responsibility for the city’s broken sidewalks to the property owners who will then find themselves on the enforcement end of the newly armed ACE program.

The City Attorney has a strong motivation for getting the ACE program underway and then for shifting responsibility for sidewalk repair to property owners due to the pending settlement of a class action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit which is scheduled for court approval on October 20, 2011.

The current proposed settlement would commit the City of LA to the implementation of a 25 year plan for bringing the City of LA’s sidewalks into ADA compliance. Under current budget conditions, this is hardly a promise the City of LA can make but by shifting the responsibility of sidewalk repair to residents and then arming the City Attorney with ACE enforcement efficiency, the people of LA will soon discover that ACE is the sword that cuts both ways.

The ACE program was initially presented with strong claims of revenue enhancement potential. City Attorney presentations to community groups pointed out that currently, fines go to Sacramento but under ACE, the City of LA gets to keep the money.

Charges that the City of LA was only interested in balancing the budget on the backs of those who can afford it the least have prompted a CLA directive which clarifies that the purpose of the ACE program is to improve code enforcement, not to generate revenue. Of course, saying so doesn’t make it so, but it’s a nice gesture that is only contradicted by reality and the words of Councilmembers and Department managers.

The ACE program is billed by the City Attorney’s office as an alternative to the current system that treats municipal code violations as misdemeanors, resulting in a clogged system that currently has a backlog of 10,000 cases.

ACE is positioned as a simple administrative process of municipal code violation enforcement that will foster “timely compliance with the law in order to protect public health and safety and provide a fair and effective administration of justice.”

The proposed ACE program includes provisions for City Attorney inspectors with the authority to issue Administrative Citations for code violations that they witness. This power is buried in a draft ordinance that lacks clearly defined roles, authorities, and oversight for the proposed Enforcement Officers and is a significant weakness in a proposal that grants unprecedented power to the City Attorney’s office.

Proponents of the program have seized on ACE as a remedy to the quality of life issues that include barking dogs, loud parties, loitering, dirty sidewalks, gambling, filming without a permit, dogs on the beach, fireworks, dog defecations, and curb numbers getting painted without a permit.

Opponents of the program counter that the ACE program is complaint driven, that it results in more uneven application of the municipal code, that it results in selective enforcement of the law, and that it sacrifices due process in return for revenue generation, all at the expense of those who can afford it the least.

The judicial element of the ACE program is made up of Administrative Hearing Officers who are either under the oversight of the City Attorney’s office or completely independent of the City Attorney’s office, depending on whether you are listening to City Attorney representatives on Council Phone or on the Larry Mantle Show on KPCC. When you consider that the proposed ordinance gives the Administrative Hearing Officers subpoena authority, it seems reasonable to delay the ACE proposal until this issue is resolved.

When the Committee expressed concerns about the proposed subpoena authority, Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter jumped quickly, too quickly in fact, to defend it by saying “this allows those charged with a citation to call witnesses.” To hear him speak, it sounds like the cited party will end up with subpoena authority. Regardless, he was unclear on whether this was at the discretion of the Hearing Officer or if it was a right of the cited party. Again, it seems reasonable to delay the ACE proposal until this issue is resolved.

At every turn, the proponents of the proposed ACE program extol the virtues of a system that “decriminalizes” Municipal Code violations, allowing residents to simply pay a fine and go on their way. Missing is a discussion of the due process that also disappears and the resulting system that limits the rights of the charged yet expands the powers of the City Attorney.

Administrative Hearings are final for the residents of Los Angeles and if the ruling is against them, “no further appeal may be filed pursuant to the provisions of this Code.” Yet if the ruling is in favor of the resident, the City Attorney can still pursue “any and all remedies provided by law.”

While the decriminalization of the actual code violation is touted as a benefit, the result is a swift journey to judgment where the failure to abide by the Administrative Order or pay the Administrative Fine is subject to “criminal remedies, civil action, injunctive relief, specific performance, and the recordation of a lien or a notice of the Administrative Violation against real property.” The penalties, coupled with the threat of enforcement, are hardly in scale with decriminalized violations. Again, it seems reasonable to delay the ACE proposal until this issue is resolved.

Charges that the proposed ACE program, as drafted by the City Attorney, is nothing more than an employment strategy with a funding stream are hard to ignore when the draft ordinance provides for the recovery of “reasonable attorney’s fees and all costs.” If the ACE proposal is truly an efficient program, the City Attorney’s office should be experiencing savings, not elbowing its way to the feeding trough in an embarrassing display of bureaucratic gluttony.

This past Monday, the proposed ACE program made another appearance at the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, drawing a standing room only crowd that spoke passionately about the ACE program, with 16 members of the public in favor of ACE and 14 members opposed.

The City Hall spin team watched the Committee send the ACE motion back to the City Attorney for a systemic overhaul, a “continuance” that was erroneously referred to as “unanimous endorsement.” The split audience was also referred to as supportive, completely dismissing the positions of those who showed up to protest.

The proposed ACE program, as presented by the City Attorney’s office, fell far short of the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst standards, enduring 14 recommendations for adjustment from the CLA and a fairly significant round of detailed concerns from the Committee, resulting in a continuance to Monday, October 3, when the City Attorney will return with another version of the proposed ACE program.

The original motion that put the proposed ACE program in motion was made in January of 2010 by Councilman Koretz, seconded by Councilman Parks, and positioned as an opportunity to create “a more efficient and effective code enforcement program through the use of administrative citations, as an alternative to legal action.”

The long journey to this week’s continuance has been one of Budget and Finance Committee instructions and City Attorney responses, a see-saw battle that pits the original intentions of Councilman Koretz against the desires of the City Attorney’s office.

The City Attorney’s draft ordinance does not restrict, limit, or specify which Municipal Code Sections would be covered or enforceable under the ACE program, in spite of prior instructions from the Committee to specify participating departments and relevant code sections.

Councilman Englander asked Chief Deputy City Attorney Carter if the proposed ACE program applied to LA’s entire Municipal Code and he received a very quiet affirmative answer, prompting another directive to the City Attorney to prepare a list that limits and clarifies the appropriate codes.

Councilman Koretz acknowledged the concerns of the public about due process, uneven application of the law, the vulnerability of a complaint driven system, and the risk of selective prosecution, all of which prompted him to insist that the ACE program be unfolded slowly as a pilot program, an instruction that has met resistance from the City Attorney. Koretz’s final position was that the LAPD was the only department to be involved in the initial “pilot” phase and that the Housing Department and Animal Services would be the next two in line.

Committee Chair Parks acquiesced to Koretz’s suggestion that the program start slowly with the LAPD, expressing disappointment that the pilot didn’t include Housing and Animal Services, and pointing out that the current budget already included anticipated revenue from Animal Services code enforcement actions. Parks was firm in his contention that the Department of Building and Safety was an unsuitable participant in the ACE program because the department was “in a quagmire.”

Councilman Englander noted that if the City of LA is about to get busy enforcing municipal code such as the prohibition of gas powered leaf blowers, it should first start by putting an end to its own code violations, referring to the City’s use of illegal leaf blowers.

The irony to having the LAPD serve as the test pilot for the proposed ACE program is that the LAPD’s new division facilities are all built in violation of LAMC 12.21, the same section that is used to cite residents for land use violations. In fact, a significant number of people that spoke in opposition were there with complaint driven 12.21 violations that had resulted in threats of “liens, garnishment, and other legal actions” all because of over-in-height fences.

There is no doubt that the City of LA is mired in a tremendously inefficient system of code enforcement but to embrace the current ACE program is to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

To those who stand ready to call in their neighbor for that barking dog, pause for a moment and look out the window at your sidewalk. If it is broken, remember that the sword cuts both ways and while your neighbor is muzzling his dog, you will be repaving your sidewalks.

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

LA’s ACE Program Comes with a Big Tip Jar

CityWatch, Sept 27, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 77

RETHINKING LA - When City Hall starts a conversation by invoking a recap of “these challenging economic times” you can count on another cut to city services, another increase in fees and fines, or a combination of both.

The City Attorney’s proposed Administrative Citation Enforcement (ACE) program is a classic example of the City’s commitment to balancing the budget on the backs of the public while reprioritizing the delivery of city services that can be monetized.

LA’s proposed ACE program is positioned as a “broken windows” solution to crime prevention that also decriminalized minor code violations and allows LA’s residents to simply pay administrative fines for their wicked ways, thus avoiding the burden of due process and judicial oversight.

This hollow commitment to crime prevention and compassionate enforcement is a transparent and thinly disguised attempt to generate revenue at the expense of those who can afford it the least.

The “broken windows” theory of crime prevention was first presented by social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling in an article titled “Broken Windows” that offered this example:

“Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.”

If the City Attorney is a true believer in the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention, surely we can expect the ACE program to also focus on the people responsible for the broken streets of LA and the broken sidewalks of LA. But this is not the case.

The City Attorney’s “broken windows” argument is a red herring that distracts the public from the larger failings of City Hall and the ever dwindling delivery of city services, instead focusing on the residents and squeezing those who can afford it the least.

As for the notion that the proposed ACE program would decriminalize small code violations, if the City Attorney was sincere, he’d do what he’s doing now, refuse to prosecute them as crimes. But the ACE program actually treats the violations administratively, levies fees and fines, and then treats the payment of the penalty criminally, expediting the process by limiting due process.

During the Dark Ages, it was a common tradition for those on the way to the gallows to “tip the executioner” in the hope that the process would be swift and painless, in fact some even paid to have the axe sharpened.

LA’s proposed ACE program provides the City Attorney an enforcement fee, an administrative fee, and even sharpens the procedural axe so that the code enforcement process can be swift and painless, perhaps even fatal, to those who are already struggling to stay afloat financially.

LA’s proposed ACE program is the beginning of the Dark Ages for the residents of Los Angeles, an era where justice goes to those who can afford to pay while those who are already suffering in “these challenging economic times” will be subjected to liens, garnishments, and criminal prosecution, simply for failing to tip the executioner.

One of the most common justifications for the City Attorney’s scheme is the common City Hall claim that there is a legal requirement for the City to investigate all complaints and to prosecute accordingly. Yet when the CA’s office, the Council offices, and the investigating offices are challenged on this claim, none of them can produce the legal statute to support this position.

The fact is, LA’s proposed ACE program is built on a complaint driven system that is rebranded as “community policing” but in reality is the empowerment of neighbor against neighbor without the necessary checks and balances.

LA’s proposed ACE program is often compared to programs in other cities such as San Diego but no mention is made of the fact that code violation complaints went up after the implementation of their ACE program went into effect.

LA’s current complaint driven system is already out of control with no checks and balances and the proposed ACE program simply expedites the operation of a broken system.

Consider the City’s handling of four houses that sit side by side in East Hollywood, right in the middle of a gang injunction zone. The first home, the third home and the fourth home were all subjects of complaints from one neighbor for over-in-height fences. The city cracked down and levied fines ($325), fees ($550), penalties ($1925) and asked for a variance ($4800).

Meanwhile the second house is abandoned, the front yard is filled with vehicles and the building is filled with squatters. Yet the city doesn’t respond. There’s nobody to fine, no resident to pay the penalty, no funding source for inspections, no owner to pay for a variance.

The same complaining neighbor has turned in homeowners throughout the community for violations that have resulted in investigations and actions that exceed other communities by a ratio of 60 to 1. This isn’t justice or even a prioritization of public safety, it’s simply turbo-charging a complaint driven system that results in the uneven application of the law and selective prosecution.

LA’s priority is Public Safety and it is imperative that the different departments and agencies that have a piece of the public safety mandate work together.

Creating paupers out of victims who build fences to protect their homes, their property and their families is no way to address public safety, it’s a naked attempt to fund failing departments.

The current proposed ACE program has been stripped of most references to revenue generation but the truth remains, it is a classic example of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s cost recovery mandate taken to the point of absurdity.

In fact, the ACE program’s development included much debate over the revenue in the Code Compliance Fund, initially under the City Attorney’s control, now under the City Council’s control, demonstrating that the essence of the ACE program is funding.

This position was echoed at Saturday’s Congress of Neighborhoods when Ray Chan, Executive Officer of the Department of Building and Safety clearly articulated “The new fee structure helps the General Fund so the General Fund can provide funding for the function of the Department.”

Code enforcement starts at home and if City Attorney Carmen Trutanich were serious about enforcing the law, he’d start with City Hall. He would insist that the City of LA abide by the Federal mandate to bring the streets and sidewalks up to ADA compliance and he’d put the focus where it belongs, on the criminals, not on the residents.

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Streets are for People

CityWatch, Sept 23, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 76

RETHINKING LA - Talk is cheap and it’s hard to get people’s attention in a world that is filled with noise that comes from all directions via texts and tweets and blogs and billboards and mailers and editorials and advertisements and public meetings ad nauseum.

It’s tough to be heard above the urban din but all that changes each year when artists, activists, architects, planners, educators, business operators, and community organizers put a quarter in the meter and proceed to transform a curbside metered parking space into a temporary park, just for the day, as part of Park[ing] Day LA.

That’s the moment when a great dialogue takes place on open space, green space and public space, a discussion that continues long after the meter has expired and the park has been dismantled.

Park[ing] Day originated several years ago when Rebar, a San Francisco based art and design collective, transformed a metered parking spot into a park-for-a-day in an effort to make a public comment on the lack of quality open space in American cities.

For the last five years, Angelenos have participated and Park[ing] Day LA has truly crossed over from an aspirational journey into an implementation stage of development.

Valerie Watson, Chair of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s Complete Streets Committee, began her Park[ing] Day LA celebration at City Hall. She was joined by Councilmembers Huizar and Perry in a press conference announcing the city’s commitment to partnering with community groups in reimagining the streets of Los Angeles.

“DLANC has long supported and actively participated in annual Park(ing) Day events,” said Watson, “showcasing our efforts to promote the creation of world-class, sustainable, safe, and accessible public space, along with balanced, complete streets for Downtown residents, workers, businesses and visitors. It’s exciting to see Los Angeles build from this momentum to create our own innovative solutions to re-imagine our public realm.”

The DLANC Park[ing] Day LA installation included traffic calming, a bikeway demonstration and
a Parklet which is a new urban planning standard for green space that is built in the public right-of-way and is maintained by private property owners.

A local business owner looked out over the DLANC Complete Streets installation and asked “Why can’t it look like this every day of the year?”

Someday soon, it will.

The range of Park[ing] Day LA installations paid tribute to LA’s vast spectrum of creative talent, bringing to life the mantra “Streets are for People” in a wide variety of expressions.

A local High School Science Class took advantage of LA’s great weather and set up educational exhibits about urban gardening on Spring Street, embracing the “Edible Streets” concept that challenges traditional limitations of greening urban space.

Long Beach’s Office of Sustainability fed the minds of the community with a beautiful reading room on the street built from stacked apple crates filled with books from the closed Acres of Books which were offered to the community for free.

The Long Beach Depot for Creative Reuse promoted their philosophy of turning used or recycled materials into artwork and eco-friendly creative projects that stimulate the mind, feed the soul, and educate the public. At a glance it appeared to be an outdoor art gallery, and it was, but up close it was much more, a living lesson in repurposing and rethinking.

Long Beach’s Tiffany Tedesco brought the Bike Friendly Business District to life with a cluster of Park[ing] Day LA installations that was complemented by a Bike Tour led by League of American Bicyclists educator Chris Quint and local environmentalist April Eileen Economides. Bike tune-ups, bike portraits, bike parking and bike rides are all part of an approach to economic revitalization that celebrates people powered transportation and embraces public space.

Pacoima Beautiful (PB) got involved in Park[ing] Day LA as a tool for challenging a built-out local environment that discourages physical activity and is hostile to public health. The PB mission is three-part; to reduce local pollution, to revitalize the local community, and to train the next generation of community leaders.

The offices of Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes and Senator Alex Padilla joined Pacoima Beautiful on the streets as they brought their environmental justice program to life, a journey that was covered by Streetsblog LA as part of their coverage of the LA County PLACE grants and RENEW grants.

The DeLAB crew set up shop outside their favorite restaurant, Silver Lake’s LOCAL, and hosted PARK, designed by Silver Lake architects STANDARD and brought to life with elegant simplicity, paying homage to the iconic Hollywood Sign with “topiary” letters that resulted in Sunset Boulevard’s LOCAL PARK.

Echo Park’s Time Bank brought their vision for urban park space to the Circuit City Ruins on Sunset Boulevard, offering up the notion that a community garden, performance space, outdoor yoga and open-air classrooms might be a better allocation of land than the current chain-link fence and blight.

Global Green USA promoted Green Schools, SPOKE celebrated bike friendly businesses, AIA embraced Complete Streets, and DLANC promoted the idea of “flocking to, not speeding through, Downtown LA."

MetroDuo captured the Park[ing] Day LA experience on rail and visited the green space of Pfeiffer Partners architects, the NBBJ expression of “Rubber meeting the Turf” and SWA’s sun shelter made from recyclables.

Park[ing] Day LA was celebrated by many, from Inhabitat to LAist to ABC to KPCC to Echo Park Patch to Curbed LA to Streetsblog LA to UncoverLA to ArchPaper. In fact, the notion that “Streets are for People” seems to be getting significant traction, to the point that policy is shifting and Complete Streets programming is legitimized.

Park[ing] Day LA also had its detractors, some who grumbled “Streets are for Cars!” and others who simply struggled with the idea that urban life as they know it may soon include happy humans sharing public space in a newly greened urban environment.

The most vocal opposition to Park[ing] Day LA came from the City of Santa Monica which levied a $240 permit fee on the use of parking spaces, explaining that it was for safety reasons. “Imagine if a motorist tried to park in the space,” explained the Santa Monica Police Department, “and ran over everybody!”

Apparently the $240 permit changes the laws of physics and properly permitted celebrants are no longer susceptible to damage from motorists who can’t control their vehicles. Ah, Santa Monica, so much potential yet so much drama.

Park[ing] Day LA is celebrated around the world, on 6 continents, in 30 countries, and in 183 cities. Los Angeles is the proud host of temporary parks that challenge the current paradigm of urban space programming, resulting in innovative planning and policy that is slowly turning LA’s thoroughfares into Complete Streets that work for everybody.

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

Bell Tolls for Nuch’s ACE Program

CityWatch, Sept 16, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 75

The flotsam and jetsam left in the wake of Bell’s dramatic municipal meltdown should serve as a warning that City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich’s Administrative Citation Enforcement (ACE) program is a revenue enhancement scheme that replaces due process with “due on demand!”

The City Attorney’s office refers to the ACE program as a “promising proposal” that will provide “real-time and cost-effective enforcement” of our City’s Municipal Code, including “broken window” violations, while simultaneously generating revenue for the City.

Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter says the program will de-criminalize illegal construction work, illegal street vending, and other low-level misdemeanors and allow city departments to fine perpetrators instead.

Proponents of the program claim the streamlined process will divert tens of thousands of cases a year from backlogged criminal courtrooms, delivering justice swiftly and efficiently.

Critics point out that the “swift and efficient delivery of justice” comes at the expense of due process and neutral oversight, pointing out that the City Attorney will have authority over the Administrative Law Judges who will hear the cases, tipping the scales of justice in favor of the city and at the expense of its residents.

Arguments in favor of LA’s proposed ACE program typically include comparisons to similar programs in San Diego, Santa Monica, and Sacramento. Much is made of their successes but little notice is paid to the differences, such as firewalls between the prosecution and the hearing officers.

LA’s program would have the City Attorney’s office enforcing code violations and also hiring, training, and administering the judicial element of the program. It’s hard to call this anything other that a “judge and jury” scenario that is stacked in favor of enforcement at the expense of due process.

The most powerful argument against LA’s proposed ACE program looks to the City of Bell and examines all that went wrong with their turbo charged code enforcement program that also focused on efficiency and revenue enhancement at the expense of its residents.

The LA Times covered Bell’s code enforcement scheme and reported “Legal experts point to a lack of due process and judicial oversight in hundreds of ‘civil compromises’ in which plumbers, carpet cleaners and bottle-gatherers paid up to $1,000 for alleged code violations.”

The Times continues, “Experts said Bell's practice was unheard of elsewhere and legally questionable on at least two grounds: the failure to have a judge review the "settlements" and the seizure of property, which was often done on the grounds that cars, trucks and other goods were evidence needed for investigations that do not appear to have taken place.”

LA’s ACE program includes a provision that would allow the City Attorney’s office to retain the authority to prosecute the violations, while at the same time allowing it to take people out of the criminal court system and into an administrative program where the emphasis is on efficiency and revenue.

Critics claim that the ACE program, as proposed in Los Angeles, will allow a complaint-driven code enforcement policy to power a revenue generation process that imposes an administrative and financial burden on those who can afford it the least, the working class and small-business operators who already struggle to survive.

There is no dispute that code enforcement in the City of LA is a mess and that there are dozens of departments with some authority and responsibility over the administration of the law, the codes, the rules, and the policies of the City of LA.

The idea that City Hall could operate more efficiently is valid, but any steps in that direction must come with a commitment to due process and to justice. The moment revenue enhancement is positioned as justification for enhancing law enforcement authority, a dangerous line gets crossed.

LA’s ACE program has already crossed that line, one where the City Attorney’s office talks of “decriminalizing code violations” and “enforcing quality of life issues” but fails to acknowledge the absence of checks and balances, instead pitching the ACE program based on its budget balancing merits.

LA’s program has too much in common with Bell’s code enforcement program which was overseen by City Prosecutor Eric Eggena. In both cases the focus on revenue is transparent and at the expense of due process. In both cases, the pursuit of revenue from citations, impounds, and settlements is a powerful motivating force that operates at the expense of those who can least afford to fight for their rights.

The City Attorney’s mandate is three-fold; to provide legal advice and guidance to the City of LA, to improve the quality of life and public safety through prosecution of criminal misdemeanors and implementation of innovative crime prevention measures, and to effectively and efficiently represent the City in civil litigation and transactions.

If the ACE program is approved, the City Attorney will be able to add “Balance the City’s budget on the backs of those who can least afford it!” to the mandate.

Mayor Villaraigosa’s ill-conceived “cost recovery” mandate continues to relieve City Hall of an obligation to focus on the delivery of services, instead shifting the focus to revenue enhancement. The City Attorney’s ACE program clearly crosses the line and pits the City of LA against its residents and small businesses, positioning them as simple revenue generators.

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

Los Angeles: Liberty and Justice for … Some

CityWatch, Sept 16, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 74

Los Angeles is the Capital of Contradictions and all it takes is a fence to prove that point.

On the one hand, the Residents in East Hollywood have found themselves targeted by Building & Safety and the City Attorney because they dared to build over-in-height fences around their homes, their property, and their families in order to protect themselves from criminals.

On the other hand, the Residents of Runyon Canyon have the local City Council office supporting a fence that would protect an entire neighborhood against the threat of...gasp...tourists!

As the residents of East Hollywood plead for a reprieve from the City Attorney’s enforcement of the Building & Safety citations, their request falls on deaf ears while the residents of Runyon Canyon will have their case heard next week in the City Council's Public Works Committee.

East Hollywood residents have two gang injunctions in place but the City Attorney’s Neighborhood Prosecutor is unable to actually enforce the injunctions and abatement actions, leaving squatters, drug dealers, gangbangers, prostitutes and thieves free to work their trade. The City of LA is kept busy cracking down on the residents who build over-in-height fences to protect themselves from these people.

Runyon Canyon residents have endured “security issues such as loitering, littering, drinking and smoking” due to the popularity of the area for tourists, the folks who come from around the world to spend their hard earned money in our community. As Tourism moves to the #1 position in job generation, ahead of international trade, manufacturing plants, film and TV studios, aerospace firms, and colleges and universities, the City of LA responds by criminalizing tourists.

That’s right, it turns out that the tourists are a greater threat to the residents of Runyon Canyon than gangbangers are to the residents of East Hollywood.

The absurdity gets thicker.

In East Hollywood, the City Attorney’s office instructs locals to simply apply for a “Fence District,” something that doesn’t exist, that doesn’t have an application or implementation standard in place, that has no established fee, and that is simply a theoretical proposition at this point.

One might argue that there already are “Fence Districts” in place. For example, Monroe Street has 20 homes and 16 of them have over-in-height fences, resulting in a de facto “Fence District.”

While the legal experts debate the uneven application of LA’s municipal code, it’s important to note that 24 years ago, Van Nuys Municipal Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner dismissed an over-in-height fence case, noting the ubiquitous nature of over-in-height fences and calling for “standards to guide prosecution of these offenses.”

East Hollywood is still waiting on those standards while Building & Safety is still citing residents.

In Runyon Canyon, the City Council motion relies on the California Vehicle Code (CVC) which says in section 21101.4 that a local municipal authority can close a street to the public if it’s found that “there is serious and continual criminal activity” in the area recommended for closure and if it is determined that it is the traffic that contributes to the criminal activity.

The City Council motion clearly articulates that the “serious and continual criminal activity” in Runyon Canyon consists of “loitering, littering, drinking and smoking” but no mention is made of whether the tourists are on foot or in vehicles.

While the legal experts debate the nature of “serious crime,” it’s important to note that 17 years ago Judge Fred Cook of the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled against the City of Los Angeles and the Whitley Heights Civic Association in their gated community proposal, opining “we doubt the Legislature wants to permit a return to feudal times with each suburb being a fiefdom to which other citizens of the state are denied their fundamental right of access to use public streets within those areas.”

At the time of the Whitley Heights case, the City of LA had over 100 pending applications for street closures.

The debate over public space and private space is not new, neither is the idea that gated communities and walled off homes may have an immediate benefit to those on the inside but not to those on the outside.

While the debate over “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED) simmers, it’s imperative that the City of LA consider the rulings and decisions that have established legal precedent and that serve as the standard for City Hall actions and decisions.

Most importantly, the City of Los Angeles must treat the residents fairly and equitably, delivering city services consistently and applying the law evenly.

It’s not just the mark of a Great City, it the law.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Public’s Search for Parking, Nuch’s Search for Revenue

CityWatch, Sept 13, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 73

RETHINKING LA - Man’s search for parking, Nuch’s search for revenue The City of LA’s recent enthusiasm for citing Angelenos who park in front of their driveways, in their driveways, and on the apron approach to their property has stirred a citywide debate on blocked sidewalks, limited parking, and uneven application of the law. It was the abundance of blocked sidewalks in Westwood that originally drew the ire of mobility advocates who invoked the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and took the City of Los Angeles to court.

However, rather than simply direct the City of LA to enforce the California State prohibition against parking vehicles so that they block the sidewalk (CVC 22500), the City Attorney instructed the LADOT to enforce a municipal ban on “Parkway Parking” (LAMC 81.53) which applies to some vehicles that aren’t blocking sidewalks and excludes some vehicles that are blocking sidewalks.

There are two plausible explanations for the City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich’s decision to pursue the more complicated and less effective solution to the problem of blocked sidewalks, three if you count simple incompetence.

Last week’s City Watch article on this issue drew significant feedback, from the Palisades to East Hollywood to San Pedro, and the comments tended to be split between those who thought the City Attorney was fearful of losing another ADA case and those who thought the City Attorney was positioning another revenue scheme.

The revenue scheme theory has two parts, the immediate and the long-term.

A source within the City Attorney’s office explained that tickets written on CVC violations resulted in less revenue to the City of LA than tickets written on LAMC violations. Anyone who has been following Nuch’s ACE program knows that the City Attorney considers the LA Municipal Code as a checkbook that can be used by his office to balance the budget.

A property owner in Westwood who has been involved in this battle over “apron parking” for decades revealed that one of the working “solutions” to the ADA battle is a permitting process that, by her calculations, would generate more revenue from her tenants than the property taxes on the apartment building.

In either case, the focus is on revenue, not results, resulting in a long drawn out journey that does little to keep the sidewalks clear for the mobility challenged but does lots to generate revenue for the City of LA.

The ADA lawsuit theory also has two parts, the City’s track record with ADA lawsuits (not good) and Nuch’s solution to the blocked sidewalk dilemma (also not good).

Earlier this year, a Federal Judge agreed with ADA advocates who contended that the City of LA had failed in its ADA obligations to provide the disabled residents of LA with 1) an emergency evacuation and transportation plan, 2) an emergency notification plan, 3) an emergency shelter plan. In all three cases, the City of LA’s key failure was “accessibility.”

More recently, a different Federal Judge agreed with ADA advocates who charged that the City of LA had allowed the sidewalks to deteriorate to such a degree that they presented an access and mobility crisis for the disabled.

The City of LA agreed to 1) install curb cuts or access ramps at 1,000 intersections within the year, 2) spend $4 million per year to improve pedestrian crossing in high-risk areas, 3) bring the entire city into compliance within 25 years, 4) complete a citywide survey of ADA needs, 5) form an ADA compliance advisory committee.

It’s against this backdrop of ADA issues and resolutions that the City Attorney finds himself negotiating for a settlement to the current lawsuit filed against the City of LA, one that addresses Apron Parking as the problem, not blocked sidewalks.

Nuch has rolled over, allowing the plaintiff to frame the debate in such a way that “Apron Parking” is defined as "the practice of vehicles parking in driveways so they protrude onto the pedestrians rights of way, leaving insufficient space for persons with mobility aids to pass."

An outraged recipient of an LADOT citation argues “This is like defining "Street Parking" as "the practice of parking on the street parallel to the curb so the car protrudes onto a driveway opening, leaving insufficient space for persons with cars to pass into their driveways," Or, "metered parking" as"the practice of parking in a metered space without paying the meter." It is a fallacious definition. 

Nuch continues with the smoke screen by pointing toward Sacramento and asserting that LA’s problem requires State legislation to solve, ignoring the simple fact that the State of CA already expressly authorizes municipal authorities to implement a process that would allow owners or lessees to park in front of their driveways. (CVC 22500 and CVC 22507.2)

As for the concerns brought up by Councilman Koretz on the State’s silence on “Apron Parking,” the legal standard of “silence is consent” has been around since the 14th century. In other words, that which is not forbidden is permitted.

Based on the actions of Koretz in City Council, it is apparent that he believes that there can be and should be ADA compliant “Apron Parking” in the City of Los Angeles.

Why then is the City Attorney insisting we need state legislation before we can implement a program? 

At the Magic Castle, this would be referred to as misdirection, an integral element of sleight-of-hand. Of course, at the Magic Castle, the audience knows that it’s simply the illusion of reality.

At City Hall, the misdirection keeps the LADOT citing vehicles that have nothing to do with blocked sidewalks, using a municipal code that has long been up for revision, demonstrating that the behavior isn’t wrong, it’s just citable.

The City Attorney’s misdirection also keeps the City Council pontificating on the false dichotomy between an apron parking system which fully protects the rights of the disabled and the legitimate parking needs of neighborhood residents. The irony here is that in some cases, it is the disabled who are negatively impacted by the current apron parking restrictions.

Whether Nuch’s misguided instructions to the LADOT are part of a simple scheme for increased revenue to the City of LA or a poorly executed response to pending ADA litigation, the result is the same, the sidewalks are still blocked but the aprons are clear.

The issue has resonated through the Palisades, resulting in a community action that addresses the LADOT’s inability to apply the law in the context of the environment. When the issue is blocked sidewalks and there are no sidewalks, why is the LADOT citing people for parking in their driveways or in front of their driveways?

The LADOT’s citations for LAMC 81.53 violations carry a first time penalty of $58, a late fee of $116, and cost $141 for the second offense.

In times such as these, it is absolutely arrogant and cavalier of the City Attorney to avoid the real ADA issue of blocked sidewalks in favor of a revenue scheme that has significant negative impact to the residents of Los Angeles.

Watching Nuch fumble the “Apron Parking” issue brings the words of former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter to mind, “I used to believe in conspiracies, until I discovered incompetence."

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Time to Curb LA’s City Attorney

CityWatch, Sept 9, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 72

RETHINKING LA - LA’s City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, is a solution in search of a problem and his heavy-handed response to LA’s “apron parking” drama demonstrates that it is “Nuch” that needs to be curbed, not the Angelenos who park their cars in their driveways between the street and the sidewalk.

For as long as there has been a shortage of parking, Angelenos in densely populated neighborhoods such as those around UCLA have parked in their driveways, between the curb and the sidewalk or between the sidewalk and the building. As the number of vehicles increased, some residents started parking on the sidewalks. Eventually the fine line between parking on the apron and blocking the sidewalk got blurred and now that the City Attorney has entered the fray, he has come down on the wrong side of the line.

This practice of blocking the sidewalk with a parked vehicle is prohibited in the California Vehicle Code in a section that clearly articulates the violation: CVC 22500 No person shall stop, park, or leave standing any vehicle whether attended or unattended...(f) On any portion of a sidewalk, or with the body of the vehicle extending over any portion of a sidewalk...

Unfortunately, the LADOT has had more important issues to address and their failure to enforce simple “blocked sidewalk” violations has resulted in a pedestrian hostile environment in some communities, one that is literally unbreachable to those with limited mobility. It has also resulted in a legal action against the City of LA that invokes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which holds municipal authorities responsible for maintaining ADA compliant infrastructure in the public right of way.

The City Attorney, on the receiving end of the ADA legal action, jumped in feet first and started giving legal advice and operational direction to the LADOT, resulting in a strange sequence of actions that raises a few questions and fails to effectively address the blocked sidewalks of Los Angeles.

1) Does the City Attorney give legal advice to the City’s many Departments or does he actually direct them?

The recent actions of the LADOT does not seem to reflect a General Manager acting on the advice of the City Attorney but a Department that gets its marching orders from the City Attorney. When did this shift in authority take place?

Not even the City Council “directs” the LADOT on operations, instead relying on recommendations and requests for reports, reviews, studies, and other “nudges” that typically consume energy and staffing but fail to direct the General Managers who answer to the Mayor.

In fact the City Council attempted to address the “apron parking” issue in 2007 but their calls for LADOT enforcement of blocked sidewalks were ignored.

2) Does the City Attorney look for the most difficult route to a solution or did he just miss the obvious?

The opportunity to enforce CVC 22500 (f) would directly address the concerns of the ADA advocates who are focused on blocked sidewalks but instead, the City Attorney went off on a legal goose chase that invokes the nebulous “apron parking ban” and then rests on shaky legal ground.

Current citations are written as violations of LA’s Municipal Code 80.53 which says: “No person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle within any parkway.” Why start a debate over the definition of “Parkway” when it’s not the issue. The issue is blocked sidewalks.

The City of LA defines “parkway” as “that portion of a street other than a roadway or a sidewalk” and goes on to clarify that the term "parkway" is defined as the area of the street between the back of curb and the sidewalk that is typically planted or landscaped.

3) If the LADOT’s recent enthusiasm for enforcing the City Attorney’s interpretation of LA’s “apron parking” ban is meant to demonstrate equal application of the law, why did the LADOT wait until the end of UCLA’s school year to begin enforcement?

The LADOT’s selective enforcement of the City Attorney’s directive missed the issue of parking congestion and blocked sidewalks in Westwood. Instead it resulted in a July 25th citation for a couple who reside miles from UCLA in a neighborhood they have lived in for decades. 20 years ago they approached the City of LA’s Department of Transportation, receiving permission from “Robert Moran” to park parallel to their double-wide driveway, “as long as the vehicle wasn’t on the curb, sidewalk, or the planted parkway area.”

Then, without so much as a warning or a heads up, the mid-city residents were cited for parking parallel to the curbline, in front of their own driveway, in the same place they have parked their car for decades.

The irony to the LADOT’s misguided use of LAMC 80.53 is that is fails to address the vehicles that are pulled forward toward the building but fail to clear the sidewalk. The sidewalk remains blocked and the LADOT misses an opportunity to actually be effective.

4) If the City Council has a track record demonstrating past and present attempts to resolve the “apron parking” dilemma by clarifying LA’s Municipal Code, why doesn’t the City Attorney partner with the City Council in separating the issues?

As long ago as 1975, LA’s City Council has attempted to resolve the issue with an ordinance that would specifically permit the parking of motor vehicles “between the street and the sidewalk, in those cases where the vehicles does not protrude either into the street or fully or partially block the sidewalk.” The motion died on the vine for lack of interest.

Several years ago, LA’s City Council again took up the issue, this time in reaction to a campaign initiated by Michael Dukakis who was a visiting UCLA professor in the Department of Public Policy for the School of Public Affairs.

The pressure to clear the sidewalks by enforcing the “Apron Parking” ban was met with equal pressure to maximize parking inventory by maintaining the status quo. Again, any legislative or enforcement activity simply faded as people moved on.

Last month, in response to complaints from the residents who were on the citation end of a flurry of LADOT parking enforcement activity, the City Council again took up the issue, this time advancing a “recommendation” that would “INSTRUCT and REQUEST, as appropriate, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and the City Attorney to report back on:

a. potential State legislation to correct apron parking problems.

b. potential creation of a program to deal with parking in driveways in a way that is
compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

c. a program to allow apron parking that is ADA compliant.

d. meeting with plaintiffs and creating a program in cooperation with the plaintiffs.

Missing from this brouhaha is the simple strategy of sending the LADOT off to enforce the state prohibition against blocking a sidewalk and allowing the “apron” or “parkway” debate to fade into oblivion where it belongs.

5) If the City Attorney was serious about the pending ADA legal action that is the direct result of blocked or inaccessible sidewalks, why is he silent on the issue of LA’s broken sidewalks?

The City of Los Angeles enacted LAMC 62.104 in 1974 and accepted responsibility for the damage to the sidewalks of LA caused by city owned trees, placing responsibility for those repairs with the Department of Public Works.

Why is the City Attorney addressing the City of LA’s ADA issues by instructing the LADOT to go after the residents while avoiding the larger issue of LA’s responsibility to maintain its sidewalks in good repair?

By the way, the City of Los Angeles defines “apron” as that portion of a driveway approach, exclusive of side slopes or driveway curb returns, extending from the gutter flow line to the property line.

The California Vehicle Code doesn’t mention a ban on “apron parking,” the LAMC doesn’t mention a ban on “apron parking,” it’s only the City Attorney who says “apron parking in the City of Los Angeles is illegal and subject to enforcement.”

Perhaps it’s time for the City Attorney to do the homework and to rely on the specific bans that actually exist, such as blocking the sidewalk, blocking a driveway without permission, and blocking the street.

The debate over street parking and the use of public space is a worthy topic, one that will never get addressed as long as the City Attorney and the LADOT act in concert to cloud the waters and avoid the real issue, which is the blocked sidewalks in LA that are in violation of ADA requirements.

It is important that the City Attorney focus on the ADA issue at hand and that he act to bring the full spectrum of sidewalk access into compliance by focusing on the sidewalks, not the aprons. His current action is simply an engineered conflict that diverts the discussion from the issue, “ensuring that pedestrian rights of way are kept free of temporary or permanent obstructions.”

Most importantly, it’s time for the City of LA to clarify the role of the City Attorney and to put an end to common refrain, “I’m only acting on the City Attorney’s direction.” Especially since the City Attorney is unclear on the law, on due process, and on the notion of equal application of the law.

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

East Hollywood Answer to Crime: Take a Walk

CityWatch, Sept 6, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 71

RETHINKING LA - Thursday evenings in East Hollywood are for walking and all summer long, residents from throughout the community have gathered at a different neighborhood each week to walk, to make new friends, to partner on public safety, and to share stories of the past and hopes for the future. The East Hollywood Street Beat was born out of frustration. Local homeowners had responded to the recent crime wave in the community by building over-in-height fences to protect their families and their homes.

This last ditch effort to combat crime didn’t prompt the City Attorney to partner with the LAPD in the enforcement of Gang Injunctions or in Abatement Actions. Instead, it drew the wrath of LA’s Department of Building & Safety which went after 177 homeowners, citing them for code violations that generate revenue but fail to address public safety.

The City Attorney partnered with Building & Safety in levying fines, fees, penalties and variances that cost $350, $550, $1925, and $4800, all so that a homeowner can keep the fence they built to protect their home and family. This City Attorney action came with threats of “lien, garnishment, and other legal actions.”

It was against this backdrop of bureaucratic selective enforcement and misguided priorities that yet another attempted robbery took place. The family who called the police received a lecture from responding LAPD patrol officers on crime prevention measures that included securing person and property against criminal attack.

The demonstrated disconnect between the LAPD’s advice and the City Attorney’s actions sent a clear message to the residents of this low-income and high-crime community that public safety was a Do-It-Yourself project.

It was on that night, just as the LAPD patrol departed and the long warm summer nights arrived, that the East Hollywood Street Beat was born, a simple movement to encourage local residents to walk the streets, often and everywhere.

The following week, as the Street Beat gathered in the first of the 11 different East Hollywood neighborhoods, the LAPD arrived in a patrol car with the ominous advice, “This is a tough neighborhood. Be careful!”

The LAPD officers were invited join the Street Beat but they rejected the invitation, explaining, “We need our tactical gear and we're not at liberty to leave our vehicle.”

East Hollywood is a border town, one that rests between the LAPD’s West and Central Bureaus, resulting in oversight from three different LAPD divisions - Northeast, Rampart and Hollywood. A crime at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard & Normandie Avenue can involve all three divisions, creating a bureaucratic maze that is difficult to navigate.

It took some coaxing from the community, and some support from Chief Beck, Assistant Chief Paysinger, Deputy Chief Perez, and Commander Villegas, but it wasn’t long before the Street Beats had the full support and participation of the LAPD.

Rampart’s Capt. Sanders joined the Street Beat for a Normandie Avenue BBQ, Northeast’s Capt. Murphy demonstrated some serious diplomatic skills as the Street Beat walked to Barnsdall, and Hollywood’s Capt. Girmala toured Thai Town while engaging homeowners in one-on-one discussions of their public safety issues.

In a neighborhood that is filled with traffic that moves at blistering speeds, the opportunity to slow down life to a walking pace gave locals a unique opportunity to share their concerns with the LAPD. On one evening, the LAPD dropped from the walk twice, first as the Street Beat walked through a domestic violence scene and second when it walked through an illegal drug sale.

This was a clear demonstration of the underlying issue that prompted the over-in-height fences in the first place. If locals can’t walk their neighborhood without walking through criminal activity, they insulate their families, they isolate their children, and they do what’s best to protect their homes.

As the Street Beat headed north on a residential street a few weeks ago, it passed an apartment building that had been the subject of “man running with gun, gang activity, drug sales, and prostitution” reports, all in the day prior to the walk. While the LAPD expressed frustration that they were limited in their enforcement authority, the City Attorney was unable to offer Abatement Action support because of “budget cuts.”

It was the contrast of the City Attorney’s laissez-faire attitude to the transactions between criminals in a REAP property occupied by squatters against the City Attorney’s actions against homeowners who act to protect themselves by building fences that struck the Street Beat participants as an example of a City upside down in priorities.

Along the way, the East Hollywood Street Beat transitioned from a “take back the streets” public safety initiative into an “embrace the legacy” community pride initiative.

LANI and studioneleven, the folks behind the Virgil Village Traffic Calming project, joined the Street Beat to share the community’s vision for turning Virgil Village into a more walkable street with great public space and parklets that encourage people and supported the local economy.

The legacy of Route 66 was a reoccurring theme on the walks and different community leaders took turns in sharing their connection to “America’s Main Street.” From the old Jay's Burgers to the last library built by Carnegie, from the old Campus Theatre to the Hollywood Star Lanes where the Big Lebowski was shot, Route 66 was always full of surprises.

The Street Beat visited the Melrose Church (est 1905), Immaculate Heart of Mary (est 1912), Kairos and theRussian Orthodox Church, enjoying a bit of history, a bit of perspective, and great company from new friends who joined the walks.

To suggest that going for a walk is a virtuous activity is not new. Einstein said that going for a walk was key to problem solving. Native Americans contend that walking in the shoes of another is the key to understanding. Nietzsche claimed that all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

The East Hollywood Street Beat is joined by other great community walks.

The Big Parade is a two-day walk through Los Angeles that starts at Angel’s Flight and ends at the Hollywood Sign. Led by Dan Koeppel, also famous for his tours of LA’s hidden stairs, the Big Parade is equal parts community building, athletic endeavor, and history lesson.

The Great LA Walk is an annual event that starts at One Wilshire and follows Wilshire Avenue west for 16 miles, until it simply runs out of land. Led by “Mike and Maria” of Franklin Avenue, this urban safari is “part discovery, part gawking tour and part epic celebration of LA’s grand boulevard.

Each year 66 Productions leads a series of walks that cover the western 66 miles of Route 66 in walks that average 6 miles each. The Route 66 tours focus on the history of “The Mother Road” and they come right down Sunset to Santa Monica Boulevard where they turn west and walk right through East Hollywood where they may end up joining the Street Beat.

The East Hollywood Street Beat continues to walk on Thursday nights, this week in Kingsley Vista with friends from the LAPD’s Hollywood Division.

“Walk the streets,
meet your neighbors,
stroll with the LAPD,
make new friends,
take back the streets,
one step at a time.”

Next East Hollywood walk:

Thursday, September 8, 2011
7 pm - 9 pm
802 N. Normandie
Los Angeles, CA 90029

For more information on the East Hollywood Street Beat, call 213-422-7694.

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

Does Jan Perry Know What's Best for LA?

CityWatch, Sept 2, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 70

RETHINKING LA - LA City Councilwoman Jan Perry is a seasoned veteran of City Hall, having served as a deputy to Councilman Mike Woo and as Chief of Staff to Councilwoman Rita Walters, and she has a reputation for solving problems and getting things done. As she revs up the engine on her Mayoral campaign, her greatest obstacle is defining herself as a candidate with a citywide vision.

In many ways, Perry brings to life the axiom “A strength exaggerated becomes a weakness.”

As her mayoral campaign warms up, Perry recently stopped by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council to talk about her resume, speaking quickly from notes that detailed her exploits downtown.

Missing from her presentation was any reference to the fact that she used to work in East Hollywood as a CD13 staffer and that she knew the issues. An audience member turned to his neighbors and said out loud “Who is this lady?”

On the one hand she is credited with a direct approach to communication that is open and forceful.

On the other hand, she is criticized because her direct approach to communication can be abrupt and impersonal. Two sides of the coin.

Perry cut her City Hall teeth as a planning and land use handler, one who demonstrated a knack for shepherding projects through the byzantine process of funding, development, and implementation. She gets high marks for “handling some very complicated cases” said Woo.

On the one hand she is credited with having strong relationships with the business interests responsible for much of downtown’s transformation that includes adaptive reuse, a commitment to the arts, and supporting quotidian retail that satisfies the residential needs.

On the other hand she is criticized for erring in favor of the developers and investors at the expense of a larger and longer term vision for downtown.

Downtown residents, business operators, and community advocates speak highly of Perry, pointing at her commitment to a “24/7” downtown, one that is active and alive around the clock.

Perry’s staff get high marks for access and responsiveness, demonstrating an enviable track record with constituent services. Says one downtown resident “I'm not particularly politically savvy, nor am I really that interested to be honest, but I would say from my experience I find her to be refreshing and progressive - one of the good ones. She "gets" it. Really action and results oriented, not just lip service.”

On the one hand downtowners are pleased that they can count on the Perry and the CD9 office for support with local events, community groups, specific land use issues, code enforcement, film location issues and other quality of life issues.

On the other hand, critics call this the sign of a broken city, claiming that it shouldn’t take City Council intervention to get the trash picked up.

Downtown’s Pershing Square was once dismissed by detractors as a “daycare for the homeless” facility and its 145 year history includes lots of ups and downs. If it wasn’t for the lucrative parking facility underneath, Pershing Square would probably have transitioned into a Forever 21 warehouse by now if not for the die-hard vision of the community and the support of Councilwoman Jan Perry.

On the one hand Perry is credited for embracing the belief that  “Art and Culture can save the world!” and that vision is evident in the current programming at Pershing Square which includes a world class concert series, movie nights, holiday ice skating, bike tours, and the activities one expects from a Great City.

On the other hand, Perry gets called out for solving the immediate problem but missing the larger crisis, a lack of leadership in community planning.

Council President Pro Tempore Perry took a hard line on public health with her proposed moratorium on fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods, a move that Slate Magazine referred to as “Food Apartheid.”  Perry’s commitment to fighting obesity and heart disease drew accolades for bravery but mockery for its impact on the marketplace and free choice.

On the one hand Perry is one of the only Councilmembers to take a hard stand on public health and its relationship to food choices and access to healthy and fresh produce.

On the other hand, Perry must reconcile her handling of the former South Central Farm,  a 14 acre community garden that was bulldozed in a day, displacing the food source of 350 farmers, their families, and the thousands who benefited from the garden over its 15 year life.

Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s Academy nominated documentary “The Garden” tells the chilling story of the South Central Farm and Jan Perry’s role in balancing the interests of the property owner, the city, the developers, the community, and the farmers. In the film, a City Hall insider addresses the farmers and explains Perry’s failure to support the farmers, saying candidly, “You don’t matter because you’re not voters.”

Perry is no stranger to the City Hall tug-of-war that takes place between the many parties who work the system with a life-long commitment that transcends term limits and trumps philosophical differences with campaign contributions.

Perry’s track record with the ill-conceived Measure B movement demonstrated a skill for lining up the power elite and mowing over the public process as if it were the right thing to do. Once Measure R had been soundly defeated in referendum, Perry shifted slightly and has now taken a public role in holding the DWP accountable for rate hikes, budget excesses, and the implementation of an Office of Public Accountability.

On the one hand Perry is given credit for embracing environmental issues such as solar, water reclamation, and green building standards. This is complemented by her support for a Ratepayers Advocate.

On the other hand, if Perry were any good at wielding her bully pulpit to move LA forward on green issues and accountability, there would be a track record for success to show for it. No green roofs? No ratepayers advocate? No kudos!

Jan Perry is credited with taking a hard line stand against the machinations of one of LA’s toughest power-brokers, the IBEW’s Brian D’Arcy, earning her credit for fighting the good fight in support of open and transparent governance. On the one hand, this action was more than symbolic, it was a lonely battle with costly ramifications due to the IBEW’s war chest and ability to punish candidates who cross D’Arcy. Perry earned the respect of many.

On the other hand, as Perry led the charge for downtown’s Farmer’s Field, Rosendahl’s request that the Ad Hoc Committee on the Proposed Downtown Stadium and Event Center conduct its meetings according to Brown Act rules (public participation, notification, etc) prompted Perry to protest publicly in City Council chambers. Even fans were taken aback as she pointed at Councilman Rosendahl and feigned umbrage as she rejected his claim that the public had a right to witness the activities of the Farmer’s Field Ad Hoc Committee.

Ultimately, Jan Perry is a collection of strengths, some so extreme they have the capacity to bring her down as she moves to position herself from provincial ruler to citywide leader.

Her greatest obstacle is one of balance, can she find the sweet spot between pugnacious street fighter and charismatic visionary? Can she find the middle ground between facilitating the best interests of developers and protecting the positions of LA residents?

Most importantly, can Jan Perry go big, can she move beyond a “What’s good for downtown is good for LA!” meme and demonstrate that she has a vision for Los Angeles as a whole, from the harbor to the Westside, from the far reaches of the valley to the eastside of LA.

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

The Spirit of 66

CityWatch, Aug 30, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 69

RETHINKING LA - A young couple from Barcelona rented a car in Chicago and set out on a self-guided tour of America’s historic Route 66, a journey that would take them along the “Mother Road” where they planned to visit the old filling stations, eat at the homey diners, stay at the rustic motels, shop at the dusty Museums, and collect Route 66 experiences.

Ramon and Cristi were still in Illinois when they stopped at Staunton, a small town of 5,000 people that is host to Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, a classic roadside attraction that offers Route 66 tourists a collection of rabbits, both furry and VW, as well as Route 66 memorabilia galore.

The young couple wandered in, soaked up the Route 66 charm, made a $5 purchase with a $20 bill, and were given $5 in change. They were shorted $10 by the shopkeeper.

Tourists getting shortchanged is hardly news these days, but this took place on Route 66, America’s Main Street.

Rich Henry, the proprietor of Henry’s Ra66it Ranch, reports it wasn’t until the young couple had left that he realized his mistake. “They didn’t say anything,” he wrote when he appealed to the Route 66 mailing group for help, “I wish they would have.”

Rich put out the word to his network and urged everybody on Route 66 to keep on the lookout for “a young Spanish couple in a white vehicle” and then he pleaded “please give them a $10 bill and I will reimburse you ASAP for it.”

Within hours he started getting responses. From Amsterdam, “I cannot help from Holland but have to say that this is spoken like a true gentleman.” From Webb City, Oklahoma, population 300, “We thought we found your couple, they did not speak English nor did they understand why I was trying to give them money. Turns out “Raul and Laura” were driving a red Chevy, we’re still looking!”

Ramon and Cristi continued on their journey and travelled through Missouri and into the southeast tip of Kansas where they stopped in the small town of Galena, population 3287, at an old service station run by “Four Women on the Route.”  Out in front of the station is an old tow truck named “Tow Tater” that served as the inspiration for the character “Tow Mater” in the movie Cars.

Melba Rigg was on duty as the young couple from Barcelona pulled into the parking lot and she was ready when they came inside, first making sure it was Ramon and Cristi and then presenting them with a $10 bill. “It was so cool...they looked me like I was a nut...’this lady is giving us free money’...when I told them why, they took a few minutes and then they understood, they were so nice...I told them we were a big family!”

Rich Henry got the word from Melba that his debt had been paid and he wrote “What a nice ending and I feel better for it.” Yoda, another Route 66 mailing group member, chimed in, adding “What a great end to this story! Route 66 is not just tarmac, it’s a living, breathing network of people stretching over 2448 miles!”

Well, they were both right and they were both wrong. It was great but it wasn’t the end, not by a long stretch of Route 66.

Ramon and Cristi continued on their journey where they encountered Route 66 strangers who treated them as old friends. Passing through Afton, Oklahoma, population 1073, they met Laura Kane of the Route 66 Afton Station who reports “They couldn’t understand why everywhere they went, people were offering them $10. They indicated that the folks on Route 66 must be the nicest and most honest people in the world.”

The folks in Phelan, California kept on the lookout in anticipation of their Spanish guests, this time with a microphone in hand instead of a $10 bill. In the words of James M Conkle, editor of the Route 66 Pulse, “This story is really what Route 66 is all about.”

By now, Ramon and Cristi have probably made it to California, winding through Highland Park and China Town, meandering down Sunset Boulevard and then turning onto Santa Monica Boulevard for the drive to the Pacific Ocean.

The folks in East Hollywood were watching for them, in fact Linoleum City actually had the red carpet out, but in all that traffic, there’s a good chance the tourists from Spain probably slipped by and made their way to the end of Route 66.

Except that’s not possible because Route 66 never ends, it’s the place where great adventures start and it’s the journey where great friendships are made. Most importantly, to generations of people from all over the world, Route 66 will always the road of new beginnings.

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