Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NC Leaders at the DONE Restructure Table; Keys in BudgetLA Plan Adopted

CityWatch, Feb 23, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 15

The City of Los Angeles is in flux and the resulting reorganization of the city is dividing the community into two groups, one is experiencing overwhelming crisis, the other is experiencing incredible opportunity. • Yesterday's announcement by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment was being combined with the Community Development Department was perceived by some as a step backward while others looked at it as progress. Either way it's an opportunity, one that the neighborhood councils must seize, quickly.

• However you measure the Mayor’s decision to combine departments and the DONE restructure proposal, the crisis produced on considerable success: leaders from at least 75 neighborhood councils participated in the BudgetLA Project and had a voice at the solutions table. The BudgetLA recommendations that the City examine outsourcing the NC funding program, outsourcing elections, turning training and mentoring over to NCs and including a critical volunteer assistance program were made part of the restructure package.

• The BudgetLA community has been meeting since the beginning of the year, tackling LA's budget crisis with broad strokes and with an eye for detail. Through it all, the consistent message is "everything is on the table and must be considered as we work together to solve the budget crisis, and that neighborhood councils must be at that table as partners in the process."

To that end, the BudgetLA community has experienced unprecedented success, first with Councilman Paul Krekorian's leadership in the Environment and Neighborhoods Committee and then with Deputy Mayor Larry Frank in the Mayor's Office. This time of crisis is also the time of opportunity and it is up to the community to rise to the occasion and to deliver a vision for Los Angeles, one that results from the public taking a leadership role in reorganizing LA as a Great City.

• This past Friday, and again on Saturday, BudgetLA representatives met with Deputy Mayor Larry Frank and presented the DONE re-org plan. This plan was adopted twice with a resounding vote from the community members in attendance at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition meeting and then again at the BudgetLA meeting.

Neighborhood Council’s have much to be proud of, including the fact that they have a place at the table as well as a role in the programming and staffing of the future Neighborhood Empowerment Department.

• In all, leaders from 75 of the 90 certified neighborhood councils participated in the BudgetLA meetings, debating much and looking for common ground. The plan that was presented to the E & N Committee and then again to the Mayor's office is simply the starting point, the beginning of the journey, one that has neighborhood councils taking a leadership role.

Neighborhood Councils have much to be proud of, including the simple fact that the community showed up with a plan and that it had an impact on the Mayor's office and the resulting reorganization of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. For those who call this a time for "triage" and refer to neighborhood councils as "under attack" the simple reality is this, the city is in the middle of a budget crisis and all departments and everybody feels as if they are under attack.

• Now, more than ever, we must work together to deliver a vision for Los Angeles that is based on a balanced budget, well defined priorities, efficient delivery of services, and effective evaluation of performance.

As for the Neighborhood Council system, the BudgetLA community has the opportunity to move forward as partners in developing a strategic plan for Neighborhood Empowerment based on a commitment to "grass roots civic engagement and volunteerism.

To that end, BudgetLA meets again this Saturday to review details of the Mayor’s DONE restructure –plan, consider other budget issues to target and work on next steps for the future of the neighborhood council system. Deputy Mayor Larry Frank and Special Assistant Attorney Jane Usher have been invited.

February 27, 2010
10:00 am
Hollywood Presbyterian Church
Upper Terrace Hall
(enter on Yucca, park on Yucca)
1760 N. Gower Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90028

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

Friday, February 19, 2010

NCs Finding a Seat at the Table

CityWatch, Feb 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 14

The journey has been long and it has often been tedious and fatiguing, but it has paid off.

When the CAO's recommendations for the neighborhood council system came up two weeks ago, the BudgetLA community turned out in great numbers and went to work, fighting in the Budget and Finance Committee and in the City Council and again at the E & N Committee. Committee Chair Paul Krekorian championed the NC cause and took the proposed cuts off the City Council agenda and out to Committee, demActive Imageonstrating that a strong relationship with an NC Champion was worth its weight in public comment.

The council sessions have been rugged, the people who have worked the phones, sent the emails, spoken in public comment, shared their victories, offered their commitment and stood their ground have made a difference and that is what the neighborhood council system is all about.

As of yesterday, City Council instructions for actions on items involving neighborhood councils include the directive "in consultation with the neighborhood councils" demonstrating a huge shift in the relationship of the public with the City Council.

The City Council is still weighing options on NC elections, NC funding, Rollover funds, Bankcards, Expenditures and the structure and staffing levels for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Departments including the City Clerk's office, the City Controller's office, the CAO, the CLA, the City Attorney, DONE, BONC and CDD are all working on reports for the future.

Meanwhile, the BudgetLA community has a plan. It's a beginning, a place to start, but it's not a report, it's not a survey, it's a plan.

Plans are rare these days, especially ambitious plans that come with the commitment of the public.

This plan for the future of the Neighborhood Council System will be presented to the Mayor's office on Friday, February 19. If you care about the role of neighborhood councils in the future of Los Angeles, this is the meeting to attend.

There is a lot of ground to cover, from NC elections and NC funding to the core priorities of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we put all of our energy into being part of the solution as we take on the city's budget crisis and as we work together to position neighborhood councils as an asset in the journey to make Los Angeles a Great City.

Deputy Mayor Larry Frank hosts BudgetLA
Friday, February 19, 2010
3:00 pm
Mayor's Press Room
3rd Floor
200 Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

As for the NC agenda items that were in City Council over the last two weeks, Krekorian's recommendations were all passed unanimously, with an amendment to the rollover fund motion, giving neighborhood councils the opportunity to claim all money encumbered through January 29, 2010.

1) Committee recommends a) that the city report back to the committee within two weeks of the feasibility of a non profit taking over NC funding, b) making BONC the managing commission and moving DONE staff under them. “We have to move forward and study this,” Krekorian says. “We need to move. We are in a crisis.” Report back in two weeks.

2) Krekorian said "It’s clear to me this is a broken accounting system. This is a system that requires reform. Sweeping these funds into the reserve would not allow NCs what they need to meet their commitments. We need to move the funds into the unappropriated balance account, subject to certain claims. We also need a better verification process." Report back in two weeks.

3) Committee recommends that the NCs submit monthly accounting reports of bank cards to maintain the current procedure and improve transparency. Also moves that cash withdrawals from NCs be eliminated and that DONE report back, within two weeks, how that will get done. Report back in one week.

4) Committee recommends that DONE report back in 60 days.

5) Krekorian recommends total REJECTION of 50% cut in NC funding the CAO had recommended citing partnership with NCs as basis on which to move forward, calling that the “sweet spot in this issue.”

Krekorian vows to continue the discussion with the city and NCs for better, more efficient and transparent ways to move forward.

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

LA’s Budget Crisis: No Time for Flip-Flop Leadership

CityWatch, Feb 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 14

BongHwan Kim, the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, is experiencing a "moment of reckoning" brought to him courtesy of the city's budget crisis and the resulting debate over NC funding, DONE operations, core priorities and the delivery of services. Kim's "defining moment" is revealing him as a department leader without a clear direction or plan, evidenced by his contradictory comments and endorsements at the BudgetLA meeting on Saturday, the Budget & Neighborhoods Committee on Tuesday and the City Council on Thursday.

On Saturday, Kim endorsed a proposal to pursue a independent organization from outside the city family to administrate the NC funding program. This comment came at the BudgetLA meeting that also featured Lupe Solorio of Community Partners who introduced her organization as a potential "oversight" organization. It sounded like Kim was in favor.

On Tuesday, Kim sat at the Horseshoe and endorsed a proposal to direct the CAO, the CLA, the City Clerk, CDD, the City Controller and BONC to explore options within the city family to find a host for the NC funding oversight responsibilities. In some cases, the departmental reports came with requests for additional staffing. In no case, did they come with a plan. It now sounded like Kim was in favor of an "in-house" concept.

While it's true that the ability to entertain opposing positions is a sign of wisdom, it can border on doublethink when contradictory proposals get oscillating support with no more thought or explanation other than "It's important to explore all options." That may have been true in the days of research and forecasting but the city is in the midst of the battle and now is the time for decisive leadership with actions based that demonstrate commitment and confidence.

Thursday's City Council session gave a demonstration of the complete opposite as Councilman Greig Smith grilled Kim, asking if he could get the NC funding audit work done on schedule. Kim responded "I'll do my best." drawing the ire of Smith who went on the attack, suggesting that if that was the best answer available, Kim should resign and the Mayor should fire him.

Harsh words on a tough day. The City Council chose this moment to leave Kim hanging, leaving chambers to debate in closed session, returning to announce a motion to increase the call for layoffs to 4000.

Kim eventually found himself at the Horseshoe where he offered a new answer to Smith's query, "I will follow the instructions of the City Council and I will get it done if I have to do it myself."

Strong words but they come at the end of a journey that has too much ambivalence and not enough commitment to a vision and a plan.

LA’s budget crisis is no time for flip-flop leadership and vague answers. LA’s neighborhood councils deserve more.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NC Leaders Fashion DONE Restructure Plan: Head for Collaboration with the E&N and the Mayor

CityWatch, Pub: Feb 16, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 13

Armed with the City Charter in one hand and a plan for the reorganization of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment in the other, Neighborhood Council activists claim they can deliver significant savings, increase efficiency, and improve effectiveness, all in return for a place at the table.

The simple request is that the City Council and Mayor partner with the neighborhood councils in the re-organization of DONE and in the development of the three-year plan for the neighborhood council system.

This past Saturday, 88 people gathered in Hollywood for a BudgetLA meeting that featured a presentation on a grass roots proposal to reorganize DONE and to create a "hybrid" system that would focus on core priorities which include governmental relations, public relations, and training.

The plan is a starting point, one that presents the City Council and the Mayor with an opportunity to partner with the neighborhood councils in restructuring a neighborhood council machine that is cost-effective and user-friendly.

Tuesday’s (2-16-10) Education & Neighborhoods Committee is the first stop for the neighborhood council activists, one that will include a presentation of the DONE re-organization plan and a formal response to the five agendized CAO recommendations.

BudgetLA will meet with the Mayor’s office also this week for a collaborative effort at restructuring the DONE. BudgetLA is advocating a plan that reduces the Department staff to the number needed for basic and core services … and outsourcing funding, elections and training. In the BLA plan, NCs assume volunteer responsibility for some of the election and training programs.

The DONE re-org plan comes with the endorsement of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition on Saturday the 6th and BudgetLA on Saturday the 13th. The E & N Special Meeting response was endorsed by BudgetLA on the 13th.

Neighborhood Council activists have been in emergency meetings every weekend since the beginning of the year to tackle the budget crisis and to ensure that neighborhood councils have a role in the journey.

More than 250 participants … including leaders from 75 different neighborhood councils … have attended meetings featuring speakers such as Alex Rubalcava on pension reform, John Mumma from the Police Protection League, Julie Butcher of the SEIU, and Wendy Greuel, the LA City Controller.

Through it all, the BudgetLA commitment has been to inform the public, to engage the public, to empower the public and to get neighborhood councils a seat at the budget crisis solutions table.

Saturday's BudgetLA meeting featured special guests BongHwan Kim, General Manager of DONE, Jerry Kvasnicka, Independent Election Administrator, and Lupe Solorio from Community Partners. BH expressed his confidence in the re-org plan and his optimism that we could work together on core priorities that are cost effective and efficient.

Jerry Kvasnicka gave his assurance that neighborhood council elections could be conducted at a greatly reduced expense and with an increase in neighborhood council participation. Lupe Solorio offered financial oversight and out-sourcing options that include administration, training and accounting services.

In all three cases, the specifics of the re-org, the elections, and the financial oversight remain to be worked out but the message was that we have choices, if we work together to make them happen.

Ultimately, the neighborhood councils have a plan and it all starts with the Mayor and the City Council embracing neighborhood councils as part of the solution.

The journey starts Tuesday:

• Education & Environment Committee
February 16, 2010
3:00 pm
City Hall - Council Chambers
200 Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

To listen by phone: 213-621-2489

To contact the E & N Committee:

Councilmember Paul Krekorian
http://CD2Policy.wordpress.com- leave your comments online!

Councilmember Janice Hahn

Councilmember Dennis Zine

• Collaboration Meeting with the Mayor’s Office this week. Check www.budgetla.org for day, time and location.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

LADOT and City Planning revisit "The errors of the past!"

The LADOT and City Planning have a "secret meeting" planned for a select number of bike activists along with representatives from three city council offices, all in a clear demonstration that the public process is of low priority in the ongoing saga of the City of LA's Proposed Bike Plan. (aka the $450,000 two year long uncoordinated journey of professional malpractice led by the Department of "No!")

At issue is the meeting that is planned for this Tuesday @ 4:00 pm (shh! It's a secret!) where the LADOT and City Planning are intending to "preview" the new and improved Proposed Bike Plan, the one that Michelle Mowery, LA's Bikeways Un-Coordinator, referred to on KPCC Radio last week as having elements that the public hasn't seen yet. That doesn't speak well for the two year long process of gear-grinding and other infeasiBULL planning injustices.

There are two explanations for the upcoming "secret meeting" process for the Proposed Bike Plan unveiling:

1) The LADOT and City Planning have forgotten how the community meetings went in 2008, when community members complained vocally and with great enthusiasm about the fumbled opening process that was limited to four meetings of two hours each, light on dialogue and heavy on post-its and poster board. These meetings serve as a low point in the civic engagement process and perhaps the LADOT and City Planning completely forgot that to exclude is a huge mistake. Perhaps they forgot that excluding the public is a bad idea and the 'secret meeting" is the result of simple incompetence.

2) The LADOT and City Planning might remember clearly that the participation of the public raises the expectation and sets a standard for performance in excess of the departmental intentions. Bike Activists have long held that the Proposed Bike Plan process was flawed from the beginning, when the Bikeways Un-Coordinator drafted the scope of work, put it out to bid, selected the consultant, supervised the consultant, refined the initial Bike Plan proposals, implemented the infamous "Infeasible" status and then retreated into the "budget crisis" retreat that allowed a regrouping, this time claiming that there was no more money for the consultant. Perhaps the "secret meetings" is a simply calculated attempt to circumvent the public process and to get to the finish line.

Either way, this "secret meeting" is infeasiBULL!

City Council President Eric Garcetti, PLUM Committee Chair Councilman Ed Reyes, and Transportation Committee Chair Councilman Bill Rosendahl are currently participants in the "secret meeting" and their staff are collecting the names of "friendlies" (three per CM!) who can meet with LADOT and City Planning for a limited review of the Proposed Bike Plan. The Councilmembers would be well advised to reconsider their affiliation and inadvertant endorsement of this "briefing" that is, at best, a simple case of incompetence but at worst, a demonstration of subtrefuge.

The City of Los Angeles has a Bicycle Advisory Committee, one made up of 15 people representing the 15 Council Districts and 4 more people who represent the Mayor. The 19 members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee met just last week and the City of LA's Bikeways Un-Coordinator submitted a written report on, among other things, the Proposed Bike Plan. No mention was made of this "secret meeting" but that is probably because it is...a secret! How is it that the LABAC is left out of the loop? That's standard operating procedures for the LADOT and City Planning, both of which consistently fail to involve the very people our elected officials have designated as their representatives and advisors.

There is one more possible explanation for the "restricted" access of the "secret meeting" and that is the sheer size of the Proposed Bike Plan is too much or average mortals. At several hundred pages of bikeways planning fodder, light on vision but heavy on background information, the Proposed Bike Plan even has a diagram of a four-way stop intersection, just in case none of us have ever seen one. The Proposed Bike Plan has proven mildly interesting but painful to print, and even more tedious to read, all as one hopes that the vision for Los Angeles will magically appear if one simply sticks with it. Perhaps the "secret meeting" is limited to speed readers, those who can digest hundreds of pages of Proposed Bike Plan in a single sitting, offering insightful feedback and recommendations that will make us all proud and that will make LA a great place to ride.

That leaves us with three possible explanations for the "secret meeting" scheduled for Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm.

1) Incompetence
2) Subtrefuge
3) Technocratic Superiority

Regardless of the explanation, the "secret meeting" is a flawed process, consistent with the LADOT and City Planning journey, but completely unacceptable to the people of Los Angeles who deserve accountability, responsibility, and the opportunity to participate in the process and on the delivery of the final product.

This "secret meeting" is infeasiBULL!

LA City Council - "Failure to Deliver"

Los Angeles is a City that loves to order departmental surveys, concept reports, project studies, recommendations and proposals. What Los Angeles doesn't do well is deliver.

It's been two and a half years since the LA City council, over the objections of the LADOT, acted decisively and made it illegal to park in a Bike Lane in Los Angeles. Unfortunately the LADOT and the LAPD are still ill-equipped to enforce the ban and the ordinance remains irrelevant.

It's been a little over three years since the City Council approved the contract with Illium and Associates for Bike Maps which we argued would be redundant since the Metro does county-wide maps that are of better detail and quality than the city maps. The City Council moved forward and approved the $400,000 contract but that was the last movement to be made. Three years later, is Ilium developing those maps? Is Alta Planning also developing Bike Maps as part of the Bike Plan process?

Last year CM's Huizar and Perry said "I FURTHER MOVE that the Department of Transportation, in partnership with the City's Bicycle Advisory Committee and the General Services Department, be requested to develop a mass parking policy and designate an efficient place and manner to lock up large number of bicycles for individuals who come to City Hall as a part of a group." Maybe it was just a joke and we fell for it. Ha, ha! Seriously, how hard is it to lock up bikes at City Hall? Too tough for the LADOT to figure out. They study, we wait.

It's been over 18 months since CM's Garcetti and Reyes got all interested in Sharrows and said "I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council direct the Department of Transportation to develop a "Shared Lane Pavement Markings," also known as "sharrows," pilot program. So far, nothing except that the plan to engage in a study is almost underway. Meanwhile, Long Beach has put in colored Sharrows and the Department of DIY has put in homemade Sharrows.

It's been 18 months since CM's Greuel and Garcetti were inspired by the bike-share programs of the Great Cities they visited, returning to LA and commanding "I THEREFORE MOVE that the City Council instruct the Department of Transportation to examine the feasibility of creating a bike sharing program in the City of Los Angeles and submit recommendations to the Transportation Committee within 45 days." Tough talk! New Transportation committee Chair Rosendahl liked it so much, he gave the same instructions to the LADOT last week.

Meanwhile, on February 24, Claremont and Covina will be cutting the ribbon on "Bikestation Claremont and Bikestation Covina, the first bicycle and alternative transportation center “network” in the United States."

It would be great to have the City Council's Transportation Committee visit Claremont and Covina for the Bikestation ribbon cuttings but the 24th is an important day in LA, everybody will be on the 10th floor as LAPD Chief Charlie Beck visits the Transpo Committee. Will he have the Hummer vs. Cyclist report from last year?

It's been almost a year since a group of cyclists encountered a motorist behind the wheel of a Hummer, sans license plate, and ended up in a Wilco Tango Foxtrot encounter. Three times the Transportation Committee has directed the LAPD to appear to report on the incident and the subsequent investigation but in all three appearances the LAPD neglected to bring the actual LAPD report, resulting in a lot of "I don't know. I'll have to check." responses. Will Beck produce the report? Will Rosendahl follow up on the failure of the LAPD to respond to his instructions?

It's been over a year since the City Council embraced the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and boldly directed "the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Planning Department, Department
of Public Works, and Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, in consultation with the City Attorney and the Los Angeles Police Department, to report with recommendations on how to
incorporate the principles enshrined in the "Cyclists' Bill of Rights" into the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan and other relevant documents and practices." That went nowhere fast.

The City Council has demonstrated clearly that it is incapable of following up on the many instructions it puts in play. Hence the need for community oversight. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that LA's Budget, the delivery of services, and the civic process itself be open and transparent. The public must be at the table.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

LA Times confuses "mishap" with "Violation of State Law"

The LA Times, elbow firmly on the pulse of our community, just reported that "Warren Olney, longtime host of the public-affairs shows "To the Point" and "Which Way, L.A.?" on KCRW-FM (89.9), is off the air this week after suffering injuries in a bicycle mishap Thursday."

Perhaps the writer missed my post entitled "Words Matter" and doesn't realize that terms such as "mishap" become the obstacles that we must overcome in our battle to draw attention to the cavalier behavior of motorists toward cyclists. Soft words neutralize acts that are dangerous, illegal, and a threat to the cyclists who ride in an environment that allows motorists to diminish their responsibility by allowing the "I didn't see the cyclist!" defense in an auto assault.

To be fair, the LA Times is hardly alone.

Enci and I were recently on Washington Blvd, early in the evening, when we came across a scene that always makes our hearts skip a beat; paramedics, police, lights flashing and a bike lying in the middle of the street. We immediately circled the area, looking to see if the cyclist was a friend. Such is life in LA, the land of anonymity sprinkled with moments that personalize the experiences, both good and bad.

It turns out that the cyclist had been doored by a motorist 1) who was apparently unable to park next to the curb and 2) who opened the door into traffic without looking to see if the lane was clear. The Culver City Police were there and the motorist was explaining "But I never saw him!" to two officers and a supervisor who nodded with apparent understanding. They chatted and the motorist left the scene.

As for the cyclist, he was in fair shape and they loaded both him and his bike into the ambulance and transported him to the hospital.

There are three problems here:
  1. The Culver City Police didn't take photos, draw diagrams, pace off the scene or consider the bike as evidence. They just made sure "the debris" was picked up and that the street was clear.
  2. The Culver City Police told me that the City of Culver City didn't have an 18" ordinance requiring motorists to park within 18" of the curb. That may be true, it's just irrelevant. The requirement is a part of the California Vehicle Code, and doesn't require the local authority to bless it, just enforce it.
  3. The Culver City Police also seemed unaware that it is a violation to "door" a cyclist and when I mentioned it to the officer in response to his explanation that the motorist didn't see the cyclist, he asked "Are you a lawyer?" When I said no, he chuckled, patted my shoulder and told me to have a good evening.
Ignorance and condescension, what a combination! The investigating officer didn't know that the motorist's behavior may have been not only contributed to the cyclist's injuries but may have also been a violation of the law.

Washington Blvd. is a brutal street for cyclists with fast traffic and lots of conflict, ie. driveways, sidestreets, turning vehicles, and car doors opening into the traffic lane.

As Culver City engages in its Bike and Ped Master Plan process, it would be great to put some emphasis on the Education of those responsible for Enforcement and to work on supporting cyclists and their right to ride the streets and to get home safely at the end of the day, just like anybody else.

I'm sorry to hear that Warren Olney was doored and I hope he heals quickly and is back on the air soon. I'm also hopeful he can draw attention to the safety threat that "dooring" represents to cyclists and that he can speak up for others, especially the anonymous cyclist who took a door on Washington Blvd. a couple of weeks ago.

Most of all, I want the Culver City Police Department to get familiar with the California Vehicle Code and to make the streets of Culver City safe for cyclists. They have quite a journey ahead.

CVC 22502(a) requires a motorist to park the motor vehicle within 18 inches of the curb;

CVC 22517 prohibits a person from opening the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

CityWatchLA - Find a Bright Spot and Clone It

CityWatch, Feb 9, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 11

Fast Company magazine features an article by columnists Chip Heath and Dan Heath that proposes a counter-intuitive approach to problem solving, especially when the problem is one of significant size.

Find a bright spot and clone it.

That's the first step to fixing everything from addiction to corporate malaise to malnutrition. A problem may look hopelessly complex. But there's a game plan that can yield movement on even the toughest issues. And it starts with locating a bright spot -- a ray of hope.

As the City of Los Angeles grapples with a budget crisis that calls for complex solutions of revenue enhancement, of systemic efficiencies, of budget cuts, and of staffing reductions, I looked to our neighbors for that "Bright Spot" and I found Long Beach.

Long Beach and Los Angeles compete for the same money and yet somehow Long Beach seems to come out ahead of LA. For example, LA and LB both submitted proposals to the Metro during the Call for Projects, asking for money to install bike racks on sidewalks throughout the respective cities. Both Long Beach and Los Angeles were awarded money but Long Beach's award exceeded LA's by a factor of 40 to 1 per capita.

The result is that Long Beach received money from the Metro's Call, paid their Public Works employees to install the bike racks, and went to work improving the quality of life in their community.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles took the smaller award, gave it to a contractor, decided that supervising the contract was too much work and suspended the program, citing the budget crisis as the cause.

Long Beach put their city employees to work with a well-funded program, Los Angeles churned paper and folded.

There are a couple of Bright Spots here that should serve as "Rays of Hope" as we look for long-term solutions to the budget crisis.

Long Beach filed ambitious requests for funding. The project is simple, the installation of inverted-U bike racks, but the request was comprehensive and it did three things; it put people to work, it served as a traffic congestion solution, and it contributed to a street revitalization program. With half a million residents, Long Beach has a population one eighth the size of LA but they asked for five times as much as Los Angeles (40 to 1 per capita) and they prevailed because they had the audacity to think big and to go to work. It took no more time or energy or paper to ask for the larger amount of money.

It took a simple commitment to actions that resonate.

A bike rack may not seem like a comprehensive solution to our budget crisis but if installing them puts people to work, if the money to pay people to install them is there for the asking, why aren't we putting in more bike racks?

Is it time to shift from a problem focus to a solution focus? is it time to look for flashes of success?

We can deliberate, we can pontificate, and we can negotiate but if we want to change course, it's important that we look for success stories and bright spots, then we must duplicate them.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)

CityWatchLA - NC Leaders Prepare Plan to Save City Money, Restructure DONE (Video)

Wendy Greuel @ LANCC Feb. 6, 2010 - Complete + Q&A by Michael N Cohen.

CityWatch, Feb 9, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 11

This past Saturday, more than 60 neighborhood council representatives from around the city gathered at the LA Neighborhood Councils Coalition forum to hear City Controller Wendy Greuel and LA Police Protective League Director John Mumma offer their perspectives on LA’s budget crisis.

When the dust had cleared and the speakers were gone, Shawn Simons stepped up with an audacious proposal, one that offers to restructure the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), move the NC funding program to an independent organization (Video) that services non-profits and community groups, and to deliver budget cuts in excess of the CAO’s recommendations.

All of this is in anticipation of Tuesday’s City Council session (10 a.m. at City Hall) when the CAO’s recommendation for the NC funding will be considered. On the City Council agenda is a proposal for the neighborhood council funding program that will the eliminate the “rollover” policy, transfer of all suspended “rollover” funds, eliminate of the bankcard system, revise the definition of allowable expenditure categories, and apply a 50% cut to annual neighborhood council funding. (LANCC Proposal )

After considerable deliberation, the LANNC participants acted with an overwhelming vote to advise the City Council:

1. LANCC wants the City Council to consider outsourcing the fiscal responsibilities of DONE to a non-profit, public service corporation (such as the California Community Foundation).

This is recommended because of DONE’s difficulties in creating and managing a satisfactory accounting system for the NCs. These difficulties are well known to NC Treasurers all across the City. They were documented in the Controller’s recent audit of the NCs.

2. LANCC wants the City Council to know that LANCC is developing a proposal for an alternate organization for DONE with much greater involvement of the NCs in the areas of Public Relations, Government Liaisons and Training (Education).

We heard and began development on such a program, one designed to save the City an additional $ 3.4 million for a total of $4.7 million in budget cuts.

3. In consideration of the above, LANCC will ask the City Council to send the C.F. #09-0600- S159 Items (9 – 10(e)), (9 – 18), (9 – 19), (9 – 20), (9 – 21) to the E&N Committee for further review and deliberation; deliberations which involve the NC Stakeholders in the process of devising, refining and presenting a more specific restructuring proposal.


• City Council Meeting-Tuesday (10 a.m.) at City Hall. Decisions on budget recommendations including cuts NC funding and DONE

Monday, February 08, 2010

LA's Best Bike Plan - The plan with a Backbone!

The Backbone Bikeway Network is a simple yet significant commitment to supporting cyclists and their fundamental need to travel to the same destinations that attract those using other modes of transportation. Cyclists travel across town from east to west, from north to south, and the Backbone simply establishes a basic framework of priority corridors and a strategy for supporting a cyclist's freedom to move. This is the foundation of LA's Best Bike Plan as articulated in the vision statement "Every street is a street that cyclists will ride."

The Backbone requires little, if any, funding in order to become a significant improvement over the status quo. The City of Los Angeles already provides many services that are key to making the Backbone the foundation for cross-town cycling, including law enforcement, routine maintenance, and prioritized repairs. Now is the time to focus them on the removal of obstacles so that the Backbone flows.

Imagine if the LAPD would use the Backbone Bikeways Network as a training tool to reinforce with the patrol officers that cyclists ride the streets, that they have the right to take the lanes, that they need to get to the same destinations as others and that they are a part of the traffic mix, not an exception. Couple this "learning opportunity" with enhanced law enforcement and speed limit enforcement and cyclists would enjoy an already funded but inconsistent public service, one that would contribute dramatically to the success of the Backbone.

Imagine if the Bureau of Street Services would give the Backbone priority maintenance, sweeping the curb lanes and keeping the gutters cleared, something that typically happens on secondary streets and side streets in residential areas but rarely on the larger cross-town routes. Just like in snow country, there should be a hierarchy of streets that receive maintenance attention. It would benefit all modes to put the focus on the Backbone, especially cyclists. Clean curb lanes allow a cyclist to ride a straight line because they don't need to dodge broken glass and debris. Cyclists will be able to give more attention to the traffic around them if they can spend less time watching for obstacles.

Imagine if the Bureau of Public Works gave the Backbone priority repairs, conducting street work and revitalization according to real priorities of traffic rather than political pressure. In Hollywood, we've got side streets getting resurfaced but the section of Santa Monica from the 101 Freeway to La Brea has a curb lane that is simply un-ridable. Wilshire Blvd. has a curblane that has cars and buses dodging asphalt drift and potholes which is unsafe for everybody. None of this is good for the efficient flow of traffic.

The real immediate impact of the Backbone Bikeway Network is that it provides the City of Los Angeles a focus point for the delivery of services and an opportunity to invest in "human infrastructure" instead of more cement. The significant value to be gained from the implementation of the Backbone Bikeway Network is the change in attitude, in philosophy, in actions and it starts with an investment in education, encouragement, and enforcement.

During conversations over the Backbone, many suggestions have come up about the different opportunities to implement engineering solutions ranging from the "floating bike paths" to the "K-Rail separation scheme" to simpler bike lane and sharrow solutions and that is a conversation that will take place over time. The solutions will result from a robust process and they remain to be seen.

For now, I recommend that the Backbone be established with great wayfinding that serves as a confirmation and as an "invitation to ride." Great cities such as Munich, Sydney and San Francisco have wayfinding signs that direct cyclists to the popular destinations and have simple distances and route identities labeled. The establishment of the Backbone and the supporting signage is the foundation of LA's commitment to connectivity and to supporting basic access and mobility.

As for additional enhancements, this is the time to position a commitment to "neighborhood pilot projects" as the next layer of Backbone effectiveness. Now is the time to get sensitive to the community and the local environment and to use this as an opportunity to engage the public in the development of innovations instead of tired template solutions.

I'm guessing that Alex has a different idea for Venice Blvd. than what Mihai might propose for Wilshire/Westwood. I'm certain that Ron will have a great solution for Santa Monica through Beverly Hills that will be nothing like Jeremy's ideas for Wilshire in K-Town. I know Enci has ideas for Hollywood, that Dan has plans for Sunset and that Mark can certainly make Vermont a better street to ride.

Regardless of what these folks come up with, we can rest assured that it will pale in comparison to what Josef has in store for Figueroa Avenue in Highland Park. The ideas and the solutions will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and will address the many unique circumstances that occur throughout the LA area. But they all have one thing in common, the Backbone commitment to facilitating and supporting cyclists as they ride to same destinations as everybody else.

The Backbone foundation supported by "human infrastructure" allows us to position "neighborhood pilot projects" so that innovations with community support can be implemented, increasing through-put with speed moderation, limiting friction by enhancing curb lanes, calming traffic with road diets and traffic calming, enhancing capacity with speed management and synchronization, and enhancing connectivity with local communities by involving them in the process.

The League of American Bicyclists has a Bike Friendly America program that evaluates communities based on the "5 E's" which are Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement and Evaluation. Cities such as Portland and Boulder have achieved Platinum status, while San Francisco and Seattle have picked up Gold awards. In the LA area, Long Beach, Claremont, Santa Clarita and Santa Monica have all received slight nods from the League.

A couple of years ago, the Bike Writers Collective started pushing for the inclusion of Equality as the 6th E, a campaign that paralleled the efforts of Long Beach cycling advocate and CABO Director Dan Gutierrez who has been pushing for "Equality."

Imagine if we left the LAB behind and went beyond the "Bike Friendly" concept, instead using the Backbone Bikeway Network to lay down a LEED street program that went beyond the "6 E's," adding the Environment and the Economy as standards for performance. LEED standard streets would be vital connectors, not dividers, they would lose the "traffic sewer" status and instead became lifelines that enhanced the quality of life in a community instead of imposing a state of siege on a neighborhood.

LEED standard streets would have a positive impact on street life, on the reduction of crime, on the improvement of health, on revitalizing property values, and on the local economy. The benefits of a Backbone Bikeway Network go way beyond simply access for cyclists and is the foundation for a new approach to mobility.

The Backbone Bikeway Network is an important opportunity for the City of Los Angeles to embark on a journey of commitment, a journey of innovation, a journey of community building and it all starts on the streets of LA.

The change we want will take place because we ride, not because we want to ride or because we think about riding or because we plan to ride, it will take place because our actions will change the character of Los Angeles, and the development of that "human infrastructure" is of greater value than all of the cement and paint in the world.

As for me, I'll be riding the Backbone and I'll see you on the Streets!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

CityWatchLA - Getting LA’s Priorities Straight - Sounds of Silence

Catherine MacKinnon (Actress/Producer)

CityWatch, Feb 5, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 10

Catherine MacKinnon visited LA's City Council twice this week, both times working her way through the standing-room-only crowd to take a seat in the second row and to participate in the review of the CAO's budget recommendations. Once seated, she didn't look at the Councilmembers much and she didn't hear a single word they said.

She can't. She's deaf. Catherine sat for hours, focused on the team of sign language interpreters who took turns translating the proceedings for the deaf members of the audience. The pace was so fast that the interpreters worked like a tag team and were still both mentally and physically exhausted. Like lots of other members of the public, Catherine was there to protect jobs, and in Catherine's case, it included the jobs of the people who were translating for her.

Catherine was there to oppose the CAO's recommendation to "Eliminate the Department of Disability."

She was also there to fight for the Cultural Affairs Department and when her turn came to stand before the City Council to argue her case, she stood silently but signing feverishly as an interpreter spoke on her behalf.

She argued passionately as a deaf actor/producer, contending that the CAO's recommendations would have a negative impact on the many members of the artistic community who revitalize communities and contribute to the economy. She argued in favor of a commitment to access as a basic human right. She argued that a commitment to the arts is essential to a healthy community.

By way of example, the NoHo Arts District has benefited dramatically from the contributions of the artistic community and is now a destination community featuring great transit, city-center development, and lots of great entertainment opportunities including the Deaf West Theatre.

In a City that has abundant theaters, all competing for an audience, the Deaf West Theatre has quite a following. In fact it has a huge audience.

American Sign Language is the third most common language in the United States, surpassed only by English and Spanish. It's estimated that the deaf and hard of hearing population in the Los Angeles area exceeds one million people.

Catherine, like many others, depends on the Department of Disability in order to gain access the full Los Angeles experience which includes the many opportunities to share her gifts with the theatre community and the film industry. She also stands with the many artists who depend on the city's funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs.

For 20 years, the City of LA has collected $1 in taxes per $100 of hotel room charges for the Department of Cultural Affairs, an amount that is the best part of their entire $9.6 million budget. This past week, City Council President and five other council members made a written motion to repeal the guaranteed arts funding.

It took a Budget & Finance Committee meeting that went until after midnight on Monday followed by two long and focused City Council sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday to get to the moment of reckoning.

CAO Miguel Santana argued that the City Council must act decisively to avert financial disaster while Councilman Jose Huizar countered that the CAO's proposal amounted to a $15 million plan to close a $200 million gap.

When the dust had cleared, Catherine had cause to celebrate, twice.

The City Council gave the Department of Disability a reprieve and then voted unanimously to maintain the guaranteed arts funding for the Department of Cultural Affairs.

As the City Council regroups and puts their focus on increasing revenue and as the Department managers work on efficiency and reducing costs, it is imperative that the people of Los Angeles consider the core priorities of a Great City and communicate clearly to the Mayor and the City Council on the city services that are essential.

LA's character demands that we embrace and support the rich diversity and abundant creativity that makes us a destination for everybody from tourists to those who seek the land of opportunity and promise. It's now, more than ever, that we need to work together to solve our budget problems and the process must not start with the exclusion of any group of people. Everybody must have access to the process and that is a commitment that LA must not break.

If Los Angeles is to take its place as a Great City, it will be … at the very least in part … because of the work of the Department of Disability and because of the work of the Cultural Affairs Department.

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