Friday, November 25, 2011

Charlie Beck’s Anniversary is a Walk in the Park

CityWatch, Nov 25, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 64

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy the Bill of Rights

CityWatch, Nov 22, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 93

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy LA: The Writing is On the Wall

CityWatch, Nov 15, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 91

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was then, this is now.

The handwriting is on the wall.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Maybe They Should Occupy LA’s Neighborhood Councils

CityWatch, Nov 11, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 90

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

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

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

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

But that never happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that didn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Occupy LA’s Greatest Opportunity: The Polls

CityWatch, Nov 8, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 89

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing from the dialogue were the hard questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It starts now and it takes place at the polls.

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

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Occupy LA Faces the Ultimate Opponent: A Jaded Audience

CityWatch, Nov 4, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 88

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

15 Candidates Jostle for Position in the CD 15 Election Line

CityWatch, Nov 1, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 87

RETHINKING LA - There is no shortage of aspirational leadership in the race to fill the empty city council seat that represents district 15, a meandering piece of real estate that stretches from Watts through the Gateway to Wilmington, Harbor City, and San Pedro.

The City Clerk has certified 11 candidates for the ballot plus 4 write-in candidates for a total of 15 candidates who are all vying for the city council seat that was vacated when Janice Hahn was elected to Congress this past summer.

10 of the 15 candidates appeared at the Watts Neighborhood Council Forum this past Saturday and demonstrated that the real challenge in this race is the need to stand out from the pack.

The field includes 2 ex-City Councilmembers, 2 CD15 staffers, an Assemblyman, a Police Officer, a Fireman, realtors, local business operators, and one who simply wants San Pedro to secede from the City of Los Angeles.

The race for the CD15 seat opened hard with Assemblyman Furutani and Union President Pat McOsker grabbing the reins only to be challenged by ex-Councilman Rudy Svorinich and surprised by LAPD Officer Joe Buscaino.

While those four candidates built huge war-chests and jostled for the attention of voters, several of the other candidates slowly found their rhythm and suddenly the race started to get very interesting. No longer was this simply a battle between moneyed insiders with connections, it was now a free-for-all in a crowded field.

The Watts Neighborhood Council CD15 Forum offered voters a chance to see the candidates in action and the candidates put on a show that was light on surprises but heavy in options, confirming to all that this race could go in any direction.

Jayme Wilson took on the big question “What about Watts?” and gave an answer that could be applied to any neighborhood, “I’m not going to tell this community or any other community what their priorities are, I’m going to listen and work with the neighborhood councils and community groups to understand the priorities. My job as City Councilman will be to find the money to do the things you want.”

Justin Brimmer attacked “the rule of 15” that divides city resources into even piles regardless of need and gave a compelling argument for his promise to implement a triage system that addresses need when delivering city services to local communities.

Wilson and Brimmer are strong performers in the race as evidenced by the informal polling of Experience San Pedro which give the race to Wilson while last week’s Harbor Area Neighborhood Council Forum straw poll gave the race to Brimmer.

Gordon Teuber found his footing when asked about the housing projects in Watts, taking time to attack Housing Department salaries, allay the fears of current residents who worry about displacement, and proceeding to lay a plan down for helping local residents buy and restore foreclosed properties.

John Delgado travels with his charming family and takes an “everyman” approach to the race, calling on the public to “Lean on me!” and to hold him accountable as he promises to work collaboratively to develop “One District, One Community, One Vision” for CD15.

Candice Graham brings passion to the race and she showed up early and stayed late, talking to any within earshot of her ideas on everything from jobs to crime to gangs to the economy.

Ex-Councilman Robert Farrell leads the field of 4 write-in candidates and his comments at the forum ranged from the circumstances that kept him in qualifying for the ballot to his support for two of the ballot qualifying candidates.

James T. Law qualified as a write-in candidate just days before the forum and his presence at the Watts Forum was a refreshing balance of idealistic passion and humble servitude.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters [link] was in the audience and several candidates took the time to give her a nod, demonstrating the complex nature of the many relationships that must work together in order to prevail in the CD15 race.

On November 8, voters will take to the polls to choose between a half-dozen front runners who are closely tailed by several candidates in position to capitalize on the common ground competition. If no candidate claims a majority of votes on the 8th, the top two candidates will then move to the Special CD 15 Runoff Election on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.

The Watts Neighborhood Council CD15 Forum was co-hosted by the Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club and covered everything from jobs, housing, transportation, public safety, gang activity, pension reform, the delivery of city services, and economic development. Videos of the event are available on YouTube.

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