Friday, April 22, 2011

CityWatchLA - Streets are for People

CityWatch, Apr 22, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 32

What happens in Los Angeles doesn't stay in Los Angeles … it resonates! In fact, common wisdom holds that "As goes LA, so goes the nation." This was especially evident at this week's Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) conference in San Diego where almost 1000 traffic, public health, land use, law enforcement and advocacy professionals came together to leverage federal funding and implement safety initiatives that reduce fatalities on our streets.

Against the backdrop of LA's budget crisis and the proposed reduction of city services in an effort to close the $463 million deficit, the OTS funding, programming and partnership opportunities are all the more important.

Dr. Jeffrey Michael of the US Department of Transportation opened the conference with a big picture challenge saying "When it comes to traffic safety, we look to you for leadership in addressing distracted and impaired motorists."

Christopher Murphy, OTS Director, made it personal and challenged the conference participants to start by changing their own behavior. "It's up to the professionals to set the standard so stop multi-tasking and concentrate when you're driving."

Conference participants were presented with an array of opportunities to work together on engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation, and enforcement strategies for making our streets safer for all users.

LA was well represented at the conference and Ron Durgin, President of Sustainable Streets, said "Implementation of California's Complete Street Act is so much more likely when engineers and law enforcement and advocates all work together to make our streets safer for all modes, from peds to cyclists, from transit passengers to motorists."

For the people of Los Angeles, safe streets are much more likely if they are pursued by the local community in partnership with local advocates and City Hall.

The immediate opportunities on the horizon are the current Safe Routes to School funding, federal and state money that can be spent to improve local sidewalks and streets to encourage children on their school commutes.

For more information, visit or or email

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Councilmembers Cardenas, Alarcon Dismiss NC Budget Recommendations

CityWatch, Apr 12, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 29

As the City of LA stares down an impending budget deficit of $500 million next year, Councilmembers Cardenas and Alarcon responded to the recommendations of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates by dismissing them as naively optimistic and dangerously misleading.

“All I want to do is thank you for your efforts,” said Cardenas who then launched into a defensive diatribe that took the Budget Advocates to task for proposing the collection of unpaid debts.

While arguing for the complexity of the budget process, Cardenas revealed his greatest concern, the fear that the public will might walk away thinking “These are such simple solutions and all it took was these people with their volunteer time to tear into the budget and they did it better than the people who are paid to do it!”

Alarcon jumped on the defensive wagon with a straw-man attack, pointing out the folly of assuming that the business of collections has the potential to yield maximum returns. “At the end of the day, it’s never what it appears to be” he cautioned as he did the math and explained “debts of $200 million might only result in collections of $100 million.”

The Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates have spent the last six-months on a journey that included meeting regularly with the Mayor’s office along with department heads from throughout the city.

The NCBA recommendations were first given to Mayor Villaraigosa, then presented to the City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee which forwarded them to the City’s Administrative Officer for comments, and then to the full City Council.

Neighborhood Councils are not the only ones to confront the City of LA’s budget crisis with recommendations that are then presented to the Mayor and the City Council for consideration.

The Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE), chaired by Ron Galperin, was formed by the City Council a year ago and consists of seven members who are experienced in the fields of revenue collections and revenue enhancements. The CORE Blueprint for Reform of City Collections includes 65 specific recommendations for reform.

The Coalition of LA City Unions and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City engaged in the process with 2010 recommendations entitled “A Strong Budget for LA" which offered a $432 million plan for balancing the budget.

It should go without saying that not all recommendations will yield maximum results but that hasn’t stopped some members of the City Council from focusing on obstacles rather than solutions.

Literally everybody, including those in the Mayor’s office, the City Council, the Budget Advocates and the City Family, have all experienced difficulty in getting hard data and current information on the city’s assets, revenue, debts, and hopes of balancing the budget.

While most agree that this is no way to run a great city, the “LA is just to big!” defense continues to serve as an impediment to a comprehensive data driven journey to a balanced budget that puts the city family to work delivering the city services that the people of LA expect and deserve.

The Mayor is scheduled to deliver his proposed 2011-2012 budget to the City Council on April 20th, a deadline that is set by City Charter. The City Council’s Budget & Finance Committee will then begin budget hearings on April 27th, a process that takes weeks.
The City Charter also provides that neighborhood councils exist "to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs" and that "each neighborhood council may present to the Mayor and Council an annual list of priorities for the City budget."

BudgetLA convenes this Saturday, April 16, in Hollywood and features a “State of the Budget” program that includes Deputy Mayor Larry Frank, CORE President Ron Galperin, and Neighborhood Empowerment GM BongHwan Kim.

Julie Butcher and Paul Hatfield will offer two different perspectives on the City of LA’s labor, pensions, and healthcare obligations.

Jay Handel, Dr. Dan Wiseman and Heinrich Keifer will present the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates recommendations.

BudgetLA is "a grassroots campaign fighting to develop a sustainable budget for the City of Los Angeles" and is open to the public.

April 16, 2011
10 am to 1 pm
First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood
1760 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90028

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

CityWatchLA - Paper or Plastic?

CityWatch, Apr 12, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 29

The City of LA’s hopes of becoming the “Greenest Big City” diminish in the wake of continued large scale promises and small scale deliveries, the County of Los Angeles, the city of Santa Monica and now the City of Long Beach confront the little steps that add up to big results. The Long Beach City Council weighs in this week on proposed legislation that simply duplicates the County of LA ban and includes the following elements:

  • Plastic carryout bags are banned at all supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, food marts, pharmacies and drug stores, which are required to provide recyclable paper carryout bags to impose a charge of ten (10) cents to a customer to cover reasonable costs associated with the ordinance.
  • Paper bags must be made from a minimum of 40% post-consumer, recycled content.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved its approved ordinance after an extensive EIR and deliberative process that considered four alternatives before approving the “Ban Plastic Carryout Bags and Impose a Fee on Paper Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County.”

The County, Santa Monica, and Long Beach have all considered the many factors involved, from the cost of not acting to the impact of the ban on plastic bags.

One of the concerns in the debate over “Paper vs. Plastic” is the damage the use of paper represents but the County of LA reports that “paper bags have the potential to biodegrade if they are sufficiently exposed to oxygen, sunlight, moisture, soil, and microorganisms (such as bacteria);...” In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) reported that the recycling rate for paper bags was triple that of plastic bags (36.8% to 11.9%) in 2007. Therefore, based upon the available evidence, paper carryout bags are less likely to become litter than are plastic carryout bags.

Even so, the proposed 10-cent fee is expected to further reduce consumer use of paper bags. The ordinance also bans biodegradable and compostable bags because there is a lack of commercial composting facilities in the County that would be needed to process compostable or biodegradable plastic carryout bags.

The people of LA County use approximately 6 billion plastic carryout bags a year with less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled, representing an enormous burden in our environment as well as a significant waste of oil and other fossil fuels used in the production of single-use bags.

While communities surrounding LA distinguish themselves as good stewards of their environment and their economy, the City of LA sits idle, confronted with the challenging question “Is Los Angeles ready for a ban on plastic bags?”

LA Green Screen addresses the issue of plastic bags with the screening of the documentary “Bag It” at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre followed by a panel discussion of the issues, obstacles and benefits of a City of LA ban on plastic bags.

LA Green Screen

Bag It

A film screening and a panel discussion
“Is Los Angeles ready for a ban on plastic bags?”

An Earth Week event
Wednesday, April 13th at 8pm
at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Hollywood

Bag It follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he navigates our plastic world. Jeb is not a radical environmentalist, but an average American who decides to take a closer look at our cultural love affair with plastics. Jeb’s journey in this documentary film starts with simple questions: Are plastic bags really necessary? What are plastic bags made from? What happens to plastic bags after they are discarded?

Jeb looks beyond plastic bags and discovers that virtually everything in modern society—from baby bottles, to sports equipment, to dental sealants, to personal care products—is made with plastic or contains potentially harmful chemical additives used in the plastic-making process. When Jeb’s journey takes a personal twist, we see how our crazy-for-plastic world has finally caught up with us and what we can do about it. Today. Right now.

A panelist discussion immediately follows the screening.

Panelists include:

• Katherine Rubin - Managing Environmental Specialist, LADWP Sustainability Programs
• Andy Shrader - Independent member of the Clean Seas Coalition, co-lead grassroots organizer for Los Angeles citywide plastic bag ban push
• Meredith McCarthy - Heal the Bay

Tickets: $5 suggested donation

Where: Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028 (come up Olive Hill through the south gate on Hollywood Blvd. just west of Vermont)

When: April 13th at 8pm (doors open at 7:30pm)

Directions and parking:
Bike accessible and bike parking available in front of the Gallery. Find your route via
Metro accessible via Sunset & Vermont Red Line Station and Rapid and Local service on Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Blvd. and Vermont Ave. Find your route via
Car accessible via 101 Freeway and Vermont Ave. Free parking available throughout the park. Carpool if possible.

Enci Box

For more movie info visit

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

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

CityWatchLA - Budget Showdown in the Garden

CityWatch, Apr 5, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 27

As theCity of LA faces a budget shortfall of somewhere between $350 million and $500 million (depending on the day and the source), the Rec & Parks Commission (RAP) is preparing to act on RAP staff recommendations to shakedown the Community Gardens family for “budget dust” in a process that demonstrates all that is upside down about the budget process.

One would think that in times of lean, the local community farmers would be supported as community assets, encouraged to teach others to turn fallow land into sources of healthy food, cultural intersections, and environmental tools for healthy communities, all run by volunteers.

But instead, the RAP Commission meets tomorrow morning and will accept a staff recommendation to raise the plot fee for community gardens on RAP land by 380%. Prior discussions have focused on the notion of “cost recovery” but now the RAP staff propose to reward the volunteers by declaring the gardens “open space” and then placing three year term limits on each gardener.

The notion of “cost recovery” is a Mayoral directive that sounded reasonable until it was discovered that in some cases the gardens weren’t on City of LA land, in some cases there was no cost, and in some cases the associated costs are for RAP staff that don’t actually service the gardens.

The cloud of accountability at RAP prompted Commission President Barry Sanders to declare that he didn’t think the Department of Recreation and Parks should be in the business of managing gardens, a concept that resonated through the gardening community but not through the department.

Now comes the staff report that includes enough cumbersome language and troubling clauses that it clearly demonstrates the need to put more gardeners in City Hall and fewer bureaucrats in the garden.

There are dozens of community gardens throughout Los Angeles, typically established on fallow and abandoned land, now revitalized and repurposed by volunteer urban farmers. The gardens provide seniors and low income families healthy food while creating a positive environmental solution in densely populated neighborhoods. Some gardens have an educational focus, some have community space, and some focus on cultural pollination.

There are many hosts for the community gardens, ranging from the PORT of LA, the Bureau of Sanitation, the CA Department of Transportation, LA’s Department of Water & Power, the Army Corps of Engineers, and LA’s Department of Rec & Parks.

In most cases the gardens are simply admired from a distance and appreciated as a huge improvement over the alternative of empty and blighted land that would require maintenance and supervision. But in the case of the gardens on Rec & Parks land, the department sees a “cost recovery” opportunity.

The Community Gardeners argue that:

• The increased fee is excessive, it will destroy long established community facilities, and it puts the welfare of RAP staff ahead of the welfare of the tax-paying public.
• The increased fee is not only excessive, it fails to account for the financial contributions of the volunteer gardeners who pay for improvements and maintenance for land outside their garden.
• The increased fee sets a bad precedent of charging volunteers who work to improve the quality of life in their community. Who next? Neighborhood Watch Groups? Emergency Preparedness Teams? Literacy Instructors?
• The increased fee is a one-size-all solution that actually violates pre-existing land deeds and contracts, demonstrating the folly of a RAP proposal that seeks to standardize gardens to fit into their departmental structure.
• The RAP staff proposal includes elements that have nothing to do with “cost recovery” but simply justify staff participation in the ongoing operation, consuming any potential revenue.
• The RAP staff proposal recommends designating the gardens as “public space” which is a transparent staffing tactic that establishes a troubling precedent for land set aside for specific use.
• The RAP staff proposal recommends term limits, demonstrating a callousness toward both the process of gardening and the time and labor needed to develop a fruitful garden, as well as to the disruptions of community which such a term limit clause would create.
• The RAP staff proposal takes an interesting approach to moving forward, recommending the termination of agreements and permits as the beginning point of the development of “Partnership Agreements.” Cavalier at best, it fails to demonstrate a win-win approach to establishing long-term positive relationships.

Community Gardeners from around the Los Angeles will be fighting for the gardens operated on land controlled by LA’s Department of Rec and Parks. The general position of the gardening community is simple; drop the open space and term limit proposals, build partnerships before terminating relationships, and implement “cost recovery” with real data, not inflated staffing justifications.

The battle over community gardens is simply the beginning and the results will resonate through the Department of Rec and Parks and the City, laying down a foundation of “cost recovery” strategies that will have an impact throughout Los Angeles.

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

Friday, April 01, 2011

CityWatchLA - The City’s Contract with the People: “Silence Gives Consent”

CityWatch, Apr 1, 201
Vol 9 Issue 261

The City of LA’s current budget crisis puts City Hall in a “Contract vs. Contract” predicament that pits the people of LA against the employees of LA, one where the people who pay for services and the people who deliver services are both confronted with lose-lose proposals.

The City of Los Angeles exists for one very simple purpose, to deliver on its Civic Contract with the people of LA by delivering city services that are paid for by taxes collected from the people and funds collected on behalf of the people. Simple enough.

The City of Los Angeles entered into contracts with the City Family in order to deliver on its Civic Contract, agreeing to pay for the delivery of city services to the people of LA by encumbering the City of LA with financial obligations that ended up preventing the delivery of City Services. Huge complication.

Through it all, one thing that everyone can agree on is this; the City of LA’s current budget crisis is challenging the status quo and the City of LA will be going through significant structural changes that will have a dramatic impact on everybody, including the residents, the employees and the elected managers of the City machine.

While the legal concept of “Qui tacet consentiret” (silence gives consent) may only offer the City of LA thin grounds for violating its contract with the people of LA, the simple fact remains, the squeaky wheel gets the oil and the people of LA aren’t squeaking.

That will change on Saturday, April 16, 2011 when BudgetLA convenes in Hollywood, offering the people of LA an opportunity to speak up, to claim their contractual rights to the full delivery of city services, and to take action addressing the City of LA’s budget crisis and the future of Los Angeles.

BudgetLA will present an array of experts, insiders and outsiders, to address the elements of the budget crisis and the potential outcomes. All of this is in preparation for the April 20, 2011 release of the Mayor’s proposed Budget for 2011-2012 and the beginning of the City Council’s budget hearings.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

10 am to 1 pm
1760 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90028

Map of Church and Freeway

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