Thursday, December 22, 2011

Looking Forward: Confessions of a Proud Father

CityWatch, Dec 23, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 102

RETHINKING LA … AND LIFE - Three weeks ago, my wife Enci and I welcomed our newborn son, Sydney Istv├ín Box, into the world.

I’ve been led to believe that the miracle of birth is actually a common occurrence but from where I stood, it was a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime experience that rocked my world.

Sydney arrived a wee bit early, we were expecting him on the 8th, but as it turns out, no amount of planning could have prepared us for our firstborn child.
We were expecting to make some adjustments to our schedule, our priorities, our routine, and our activities but I was in no way prepared for the changes that took place within me.

I was standing in City Hall shortly after Sydney’s arrival, poised to pick off slow passersby and subject them to a few photos of my little miracle when a Councilman stopped to congratulate me, offering his insight into the journey of a first-time father.

“It doesn’t change who you are, it doesn’t change your philosophies or your beliefs, you’re still you. But ... it certainly changes your perspective and you’ll be a better man for it.”

As I look back over the past year, I realize that it’s true, Sydney has changed my perspective and I now see things just a little differently.

My campaign for a City Council seat was an exhausting experience with an outcome that left me depressed and disillusioned, but now as I look back I see a journey that was rich in new friendships, partnerships, and lessons learned that I can’t wait to share with Sydney.

Disputes between neighbors resulted in struggles with city departments over enforcement priorities and led to a campaign within City Hall for relief. While the fight is far from over, I now look back and realize that the journey to a solution resulted in new friendships, neighborhood alliances, and battle scars that all tell a story I can’t wait to share with Sydney.

Neighborhood Councils from around the city came together to work on issues, filling City Hall with the clamor of neighborhood, regional, and citywide initiatives to improve the quality of life in LA. At the time, I was overwhelmed with motions and votes but in looking back, I realize that the real action was the forging of relationships, that LA is really just another small town full of our friends and I can’t wait for Sydney to meet them all.

I recently attended three City Hall meetings in one week, just to advance a simple and long overdue Single Use Bag Ban into LA’s municipal code, a frustrating experience that is far too common but an essential part of the process. During the journey, I was inundated with advice and counsel from friends and strangers, all of it related to Sydney and my new role as his father.

It reminded me that the people of LA are much bigger than the motion on the agenda that often divides us, that we have much more in common than the debate on the floor indicates, that we collectively have enough wisdom to guide even me, the clumsy new father, as I set off on this new journey.

From the woman who whispered in my ear “Your job is to stand by your wife and encourage her. I mean it!” to the tired man with a toddler who urged me to “Nap when you can!” I have been blessed with support and insight and guidance from all quarters and my perspective has changed.

I look back over the past year and I see new relationships that came out of conflict, I see wisdom and insight that resulted from the obstacles that we encountered, I see my community expanding with new friends and allies who have clearly communicated that I can count on them.

The past three weeks have been intense, not just because Sydney joined us, but also because we have been overwhelmed with good wishes and encouragement from far and wide.

Thanks to Sydney, I’m filled with optimism and can’t wait to share my world with him. Thanks to you, I’m filled with confidence that it’s a world worth sharing and I can’t wait for you to meet him.

Merry Christmas from the Boxes!

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

LA City Council’s Plastic Bag Charade

CityWatch, Dec 20, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 101

RETHINKING LA - Faced with a choice between leading and following, LA’s City Council took another look at the proposed ordinance banning single use bags and chose to step aside, taking on the role of spectator as the issue gets studied again and again and again.

LA’s history of grappling with the issue of single use bags goes back years, an embarrassing legacy of skilled sidestepping and risk-aversion that has frustrated community members who attend meeting after meeting in the hopes that the City Council will move forward.

This past week, the issue came up in three different meetings, first in City Council where a full-house crowd was given a full 60 seconds per speaker to make their case.

Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold called out the City Council for failing to act on its prior commitments.

Friends of the LA River spoke of the immense burden on the river’s ecosystem and the incredible amount of volunteerism that is squandered in an uphill battle against plastic bag pollution.

Balancing the pro with a bit of con, employees of one of LA’s plastic bag manufacturers turned out to plead for their jobs, begging the question, what kind of industry is LA attracting and supporting?

There was tension in the air as Councilwoman Jan Perry took pains to remind the City Council and the audience that the proposed single use bag ordinance was on the agenda in her Energy & Environment Committee, a point that she drove home pointedly.

The turf war over single use bags continued this past Friday, first in Committee as Perry presided over a body that acquiesced to her contention “We have questions that haven’t been answered.”

Perry wanted to know how this ban would impact low-income families, senior citizens, people without access to reusable bags. Has the CAO weighed in on any potential costs? What are the chances of a lawsuit against the City of LA? What about any CEQA requirements? Has the City of LA done an EIR?

Perry’s final blow was to ask if there was an outreach plan for the proposed ban, as if the City of LA has a rigorous standard for connecting with the community on the issues that impact the quality of life in our communities.

All this was done with a straight face and the Energy & Environment Committee allowed the proposed ban to hobble downstairs to City Council Chambers where the real charade took place.

Councilman Zine stood to challenge the proposed ban, feigning confusion between a plastic bag with handles and a plastic bag for fruit. “I just don’t get it, they’re all plastic,’ he sputtered, “how do I shop for fruit if you ban plastic?”

Zine’s Sophistry was balanced by Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s dismissal of the fictional issues and his call to action. “The City Council acted on this issue before I was elected. Since then the City Council has acted to ban plastic bags and here we are again.” Rosendahl declared “I'm tired of constantly studying this to death. It's a no-brainer that those plastic bags are toxic and cause issues to our ecosystem."

But, the die was cast, the public had been teased and three meetings had taken place, allowing Councilmembers to posture and primp and clamor for the high road, all as they allow the ordinance banning single use bags to get away, again.

Many of the single use bag ban supporters were hoping that a ban in Los Angeles would resonate, stirring support for a statewide ban, while others held out hope for a statewide ban, allowing LA to follow rather than lead.

As it turns out, neither scenario is likely at this point and it is surrounding cities such as Long Beach and Santa Monica that are following the lead of LA County with bans that rely on existing EIR work and standards that have survived legal challenges.

The ban is supported by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, 18 Neighborhood Councils and the California Grocers Association. LA’s Board of Public Works unanimously approved a report urging the Mayor and City Council to adopt a citywide ban on single-use carryout bags.

Zine’s cloud of confusion was disingenuous at best, easily addressed by a glance at the ordinance itself and existing clarification that allows for bags to hold produce and meats while requiring free reusable bags for low-income and elderly.

As the proposed ban sinks back into committee wasteland, perhaps the place to start would be a ban on single use bags in City Council chambers.

After the Councilmembers had taken turns waxing eloquent on the evils of everything from single use bags that clog our waterways to plastic manufacturing beads that litter our landscape, their actions began to speak louder than their words.

As the noontime hour approached, a city staffer delivered lunch to his boss as he sat in Council Chambers. It arrived in a single use plastic bag that held a single use Styrofoam container full of food that was eaten with single use plasticware, washed down by a beverage that arrived in a single use container.

It’s been seven years since the City of LA initiated the charade that now consumes the time and energy of the community while allowing the City Council to avoid producing real results.

This is a vivid reminder that the people of LA must pay attention to what the City Council does, not what they say!

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Fix is In: A Tale of Two Bans

CityWatch, Dec 16, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 100

RETHINKING LA - Over the past year, two groups of community activists have been aggressively drumming up support for their respective causes, one fighting for a ban on advertising in city parks while the other pursues a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Both groups have worked the neighborhood council circuit with success that allows them to argue their case before City Council while holding handfuls of resolutions of support in the air.

Both groups have aligned themselves with like-minded organizations that lend their professional non-profit advocacy seal-of-approval to the cause, joining activists at the podium with an air of credibility that is supported by data, science and objectivity.
Both groups held events around town to engage the public who signed petitions and followed organizers to commission meetings, committee meetings, and eventually to City Hall where, some charge, all is for naught because when the fix is in, the fix is in.

This past week, LA’s City Council took public testimony on the proposed plastic bag ban, prompting Heal the Bay’s Mark Gold to point out, “This body acted in 2008 and committed to moving forward with a ban on single-use plastic bags.”

The City Council responded by taking testimony from a full house of proponents and opponents before continuing any Council discussion and action on the single-use plastic bag ban issue until their last meeting of the year on Friday, December 16, 2011.

In an odd bit of Kabuki Theatre, the issue went to City Council over the objections of Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry who had the issue agendized in the Energy and Environment Committee.

Whew! Three Council hearings in one week for an issue that has languished for years.

Optimists hold that this enthusiasm bodes well for the single-use plastic bag ban. Pessimists point out that by holding multiple meetings with public testimony, the Council can proceed with discussion and action during the last meeting of the year without the clutter of public comment.

In either case, this journey of anticipated success is in sharp contrast with the travails of those who sought a ban on advertising in city parks, an uphill battle that was made more difficult because of the potential to fatten the city’s coffers with revenue from the park advertising.

The campaign to ban advertising in city parks was mobilized when LA’s Rec & Parks Commission signed a deal with Warner Bros. that allowed signs promoting a “Yogi Bear” movie in return for $46,000.

Community activists rose to the occasion in a battle that saw LA’s City Attorney grapple with Rec & Parks Commission President Barry Sanders over the definition of advertising and the legality of park sign districts.

As the Parks Commission appeared to back down from its plan to sell advertising rights in city parks, it was a media investigation that revealed the plan that would allow the non-profit LA Parks Foundation to sell advertising in popular areas such as Griffith Park and Venice Beach.

In a clear demonstration of contempt for Griffith Park’s status as America’s largest urban wilderness park  and of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots for conservation, the Mayor looks at Griffith Park and sees a potential sign district with revenue potential.

As community activists continue to fight for a ban on city park advertising, the Mayor is pursuing an overhaul of LA’s sign ordinance that will create “innovative revenue sources” such as wilderness advertising.

When Colonel Griffith J. Griffith gifted the City of LA with the land that became Griffith Park, it came with conditions including a requirement that it remain open and free of charge, “a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people.”

Mayoral Candidate Jan Perry has defended the proposed sign ordinance revisions that would allow advertising in public parks, most recently coming under fire at the Venice Neighborhood Council when she said “It provides opportunity for funding to continue in the parks and I think we should let them do it.”

Perry alluded to “opt-out” options that she indicated she would be willing to include in the sign ordinance, saying “I’m not interested in jamming something down people’s throats that they don’t want.”

If only it were that simple!

In both cases, community activists have engaged in journeys that are exhausting, filled with meetings and hearings that turn out to be tests of patience and endurance.

Weeks turn into months which turn into years. City staff members come and go, Commission members shuffle seats, City Council committee assignments change, and through it all, the issue is kept alive by community volunteers.

It’s a “Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t!” scenario that sees activists sit for hours in the hope of delivering a compelling argument in the 60 seconds that is typically allocated to speakers when a decent crowd shows up for public comment.

Failure to attend a meeting provides “silence is consent” coverage to the City Council, allowing them to conduct the legislative sleight of hand that is the hallmark of a body that votes unanimously in predetermined outcomes 99.3% of the time.

It’s been a long year and as the City Council looks back, typically with a celebratory tally of the motions they have passed, it remains to be seen whether the single-use plastic bag ban will materialize or if LA’s parks will turn into sign districts.

One thing is for certain, the unsung heroes in these battles are the individuals who stand up and engage the Mayor and the Council in the process, however flawed it may be, and defend our neighborhoods, our communities, and our city by fighting the good fight! Even if that process inevitably leaves those heroes with a sense that the fix is most likely in.

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

LA's Scandalous Housing Authority: For Better or For Worse

Photo: KCET’s SoCal Connected/LA Weekly
CityWatch, Dec 13, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 99

RETHINKING LA - The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is the latest department to fall victim to the oversight and accountability scrum that starts when the media shines a spotlight and concludes when the public gets bored.

Along the way, the City Controller and the City Council will elbow each other out of the way in an effort to get to the press conference where they will ask "How did someone get away with this?" and they will declare “They cannot walk away and say ‘I don't know.’” and then conclude “It seems like there was no one in charge ... we need to get to the bottom of it.” (Zine, Cardenas, Greuel)

(Ed note: Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter on Monday to the Board of Commissioners overseeing the HACLA urging reform.)

There are three things wrong with the current scenario over at HACLA, in addition to the $1.2 million pay-off to the terminated GM and the ongoing investigations into corruption, malfeasance, incompetence, and failure to perform.

First, it’s old news yet the folks at City Hall react as if this behavior is unique, rare, and shocking. It isn’t. It’s business as usual in a city that allows departments that are “flush with cash” to conduct business with little, if any, interference from the Department of What-the-Hell!

It was HACLA’s current CEO, Ken Simmons, who excused the financial indiscretions of the past by explaining that the agency was “flush with cash.”

During last year’s budget hearings, the LADOT’s Acting GM, Amir Sedadi, defended the large number of bonuses in his department by explaining “Our contract allows it.” Forget about the staffing reductions and the dramatic budget cuts, it was business as usual in a department that was “flush with cash” that comes from parking revenue.

This sense of entitlement is the norm, not the exception, as evidenced by city employees from many different departments who appeared before City Council during the staffing cuts and proclaimed, “You can’t cut me, I’m special funded!”

Second, it’s a familiar pattern of abuse that occurs because oversight and accountability can’t find a  place in departments that get their marching orders from the Mayor, implemented by General Managers who serve at his pleasure and condoned by Kabuki Theater Commissions armed with rubber stamps.

The charade of citizen oversight allows the Mayor to reward supporters with impotent positions of honor and to fast track ambitious allies on a trail that meanders from the Taxi Commission and the Transportation Commission before hitting the lucrative Public Works Commission payday that comes with an annual salary of $123,317 plus car!

Third, it’s an example of the disparity between the “flush with cash” departments and the “general fund” departments, one that keeps the public embroiled in budget crisis triage while Airports, Ports, and Water & Power operate as if sovereign nations.

Add to the mix any department that has federal, state and county money, (Housing, Transportation, Public Works, etc) and these are the departments that are operating with Mayoral impunity, partnering with private sector in deals that benefit Mayoral allies while the public debates broken sidewalks and collapsing infrastructure.

Periodically, the public catches a glimpse of the departmental debauchery that squanders LA’s financial future while failing to deliver on the departmental mandates and the Mayor begins the sacrifices, typically starting with General Managers who have worn out their welcome.

Over the last few years, Mayor Villaraigosa has sung praises to newly appointed General Managers, only to leave town while they receive their walking papers and parting gifts, souvenirs of a tour of duty as Mayoral cannon fodder.

Ultimately, the controversy at HACLA is something that local landlords know about, they’ve been complaining of abuses at the hands of HACLA for years. Neighbors know of the problems because they watch squatters run rampant in City of LA properties while nothing is done. Residents know of the departmental failures that result in a lose-lose situation that punishes participants at every turn.

HACLA is responsible for more than a billion dollars of public money that is meant to be spent providing affordable housing options and supportive services to the people of Los Angeles.

While the City of LA continues to balance the budget on the backs of the people it serves, departments such as HACLA continue to enjoy the “For Better” side of the relationship while the people of LA suffer through the “For Worse” end.

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

Occupy LA: A Salt Lick for Bullies

CityWatch, Dec 9, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 98

RETHINING LA - When the LAPD descended from Dodger Mountain and surveyed the battlefield, they must have felt like Goliath who looked at David and bellowed in rage “Am I a dog that you send a boy with a stick?”

The 1400 LAPD were wrapped from head to toe in protective armor that still smelled of mothballs, their training in hostile enemy conflict was untested, and their supervisors had warned them of biohazard dangers and provocateurs.

As hundreds of officers in paramilitary gear surrounded City Hall Park and fought to hold back spectators, media, and folks who had arrived in support of Occupy LA, a SWAT style team descended from City Hall in search of their enemy.

They found their neighbors, peaceful protesters who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked and chanting “We  Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

At this point, the shortcomings of a training  program that focuses on war and ignores peace were revealed. The bullies embedded within the LAPD found freedom to exercise their demons, to act on the rage they felt when they were denied the opportunity to unleash their skills on a violent enemy.

Faced with a docile crowd, the LAPD gave the instructions to disperse and many of the Occupy LA crowd simply walked out of City Hall Park. Most of them made it to the far side of the LAPD skirmish lines with the exception of some who actually followed the instructions carefully, only to find themselves faced with LAPD officers who then arrested them. This can be chalked up to confusion in the fog of war.

By this time, the Occupy LA camp had been reduced to debris by the LAPD, canopies shredded, belongings scattered, tent poles broken, and the demonstration of power was underway.

The LAPD made an announcement directing those who wished to be arrested to sit on the ground and some sat while others simply walked away.

When the time came to arrest those remaining in City Hall Park, the LAPD asked them to stand and walk out of the park. These people were charged with “failure to disperse” while those who remained seated on the ground qualified for the harsher charge of “resisting arrest.”

Zach Behrens, Editor of KCET, reports that fully 50% of the LAPD ranks have been hired in the last six years, an indication that the gung-ho LAPD of old is now filled with young officers who have been trained in the “constitutional policing” promise of Bratton and Beck.

That training failed to materialize, whether in the actions of those who used pain coercion tactics on peaceful protesters or in the failure of LAPD officers who witnessed their partners as they transformed into vindictive bullies who reveled in petty displays of terror.

The peaceful protesters had prepared for this moment, they had attended workshops where they learned how to communicate peace while subjected to pain and humiliation and yet they were shocked at the commitment to terror they experienced at the hands of the LAPD.

Patrick Meighan offers a well written first person account of his experience as an inner-circle protester, one who saw ankles twisted, wrenched, and then stepped on as bullies began a long evening of small violations that revealed a failure in the LAPD’s ability to train and control its troops.

Tyler Lyle had a different vantage point and his first person journal of his experience as an arrestee also reveals a dangerous and unchecked presence of bullies within the LAPD.

Many have argued that an arrest, by definition, is an uncomfortable experience that starts with the deprival of freedom. The stories of the Occupy LA arrestees are dismissed as the naive complaints of those who failed to weigh the risks when they set out to protest and to participate in voluntary arrest.

On the other hand, the law is quite clear that when an individual’s drive for satisfaction motivates them to inflict injury and pain on another, a serious law has been broken, one much more severe than failure to disperse or resisting arrest.

Was it necessary to use a bean-bag shotgun on an individual in a tree? Perhaps it was poor supervision and simply the wrong tool in the wrong hands.

Was it necessary to use hooks to pull the platform out of the tree, potentially causing protesters to fall to the ground? Again, maybe the supervisors gave bad instructions and perhaps the officers were poorly trained in the fine art of rescuing cats from trees.

Was it necessary to carry protesters out of the park and then toss them to the sidewalk face-first? Hard to dismiss this one as poor supervision, it’s starting to look like resentment and anger empowered bullies to begin acting out.

Was it necessary to zip-tie wrists so tightly that circulation was restricted, causing pain and nerve damage? This is a failure on the part of the supervisors and an opportunity for bullies to quietly inflict major pain while reveling in the cacophony of voices begging for relief.

From the arrestees left to sit in their own waste to the loud music played by the bus drivers to the petty denials of rights and the infliction of a punitive process, the first person accounts of the LAPD’s performance during the liberation of City Hall Park sound an alarm, we are surrounded by bullies in search of victims.

There is no excuse for the behavior of bullies and they have no place in a civilized society, whether at school, on the streets, in the workplace, in a park or in City Hall

Bullies are simply unacceptable.

Even worse than the behavior of bullies is the failure of witnesses to act, to stand up for the victims.

As the LAPD’s sweep of Occupy LA’s encampment took place, it is reported that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood to the side and observed the hostile arrest of a peaceful occupation, one that reportedly included the antisocial behavior of bullies.

It is on Villaraigosa’s shoulders to account for each and every bully who allowed a passive adversary to inflame their bruised ego in such a way that they acted out and intentionally caused pain and injury to satisfy their sadistic personal demons.

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

LAPD Caught Using Deadly (PR) Force

CityWatch, Dec 6, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 97

RETHINKING LA - As the dust settles on the now gated community of City Hall Park and the accolades over the LAPD’s “peaceful” engagement fade into background noise, it is apparent that the LAPD’s PR team is still working full force and with deadly force.

The first casualties occurred within the ranks of the embedded media, the “legitimate” media who were given access to the LAPD’s operations with a few strings attached. Apparently the conditions included avoiding tough questions and agreeing to act as a tool for the LAPD as the conversation continued.

LAPD media dies on the battlefield and a co-opted PR machine rises in its place.

Consider the recent LA Times report on the identities of those arrested during the removal of Occupy LA from City Hall Park. Did the LAPD feed this to the Times the way they “release” data on gang members as a mechanism for building an injunction case? Why did the data include employment information but nothing relevant such as the reason for arrest, whether charges had been filed, if the person had been released, and the bail amount?

While family members visited different jails in search of their loved ones but encountered a lack of information and a wall of “It takes time to process this many arrestees!” The LA Times was able to print a list of names on December 1, 2011 that included detail such as occupation, age, race, and location of residence.

How is the LAPD so clear when it comes to feeding the press but so confused when it comes to helping families find loved ones?

The second casualty was the LAPD’s commitment to Community Policing, a law enforcement strategy that relies on a partnership between the community and the police.

While the LAPD claims the high-road for restraining its forces from using pepper spray and batons, the “shock and awe” display was a clear “us vs. them” approach that positions the LAPD as the liberating army, not the partners in public safety.

When it takes 1400 police officers in military grade riot gear to arrest 300 protesters who have trained publicly in non-violent protest strategies, it is evident that the LAPD has no confidence in its ability to forge relationships, negotiate a peaceful process of arrests, and treat people with respect.

It’s important to note that the Occupy LA protesters initially engaged the LAPD and other law enforcement officers with cheers of “One of us!” and “We’re all 99%!” but that faded quickly as the LAPD worked hard to offend all, including spectators and non-pool media.

Officer Escamilla is captured on video pointing his shotgun at a reporter who yelled “You just pointed your weapon at me, that’s not necessary!” The LAPD officer in riot gear responded by leaning in and saying “Don’t worry about it!”

The LAPD’s “shock and awe” approach to Occupy LA is reminiscent of the LAPD’s approach to gangs under Chief Gates, one that depended on significant force and a “gung-ho” approach to policing.

If the LAPD’s military approach to Occupy LA is any indication, the people of LA can expect them to use this recent engagement as an argument for increasing their budget, their authority and their occupation of the City of Los Angeles.

The third casualty of the Occupy LA movement was the LAPD’s memory. Ten years ago, during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, the LAPD came under fire for its handling of people arrested during everything from a bike ride, a concert, protests, and the convention itself.

The City paid out huge settlements based on the way arrestees where handled after their arrest, including the street detention, the bus trip, the multiple strip searches, the denial of access to lawyers and family, and the lengthy custody resulting in release with no charges filed.

In other words, the process becomes the punishment and the punishment comes without conviction.

The recent Occupy LA stories of the LAPD’s inability to smoothly process the detention of 300 protesters mimics the experiences of the 70 detainees during the DNC in 2000 who were awarded almost a million dollars simply based on the punitive process. And yet, the LAPD still relied on the LA Sheriff’s Department to transport the arrestees and the LAPD still concluded their engagement with no evident plan for processing the anticipated detainees.

Now that the LAPD’s PR machine has slowed down, perhaps the people of LA could share in a moment of silence as we mourn the recent casualties of the LAPD’s military engagement, including LA’s “legitimate” media, any delusions of the LAPD’s commitment to community policing, the LAPD’s connection with history and its ability to learn from the past.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy LA: The Death of Mainstream Media

Photo by Alex Thompson 
CityWatch, Dec 2, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 96

RETHINKING LA -The LAPD’s full-force eviction of Occupy LA from City Hall Park left a very crowded high road in its wake as the Mayor, the LAPD, and the occupiers all shared credit for their commitment to respect, restraint, and cooperation as the two month long occupation came to an end.

An estimated 1400 LAPD officers participated in the well planned operation to evict the Occupy LA encampment which had swelled to about 1000 participants who had prepared for the confrontation with training in nonviolent civil disobedience.

As the LAPD shed its hard core reputation and as the Occupy LA movement held to its nonviolent principles, it was the media who caved in and who were left behind as casualties on the battlefield.

Two nights earlier, the evening of the Mayor’s deadline, it was the media who drew the LAPD’s first threat of arrest when they swarmed to the Occupy LA encampment in such numbers that they prevented Commander Andy Smith from crossing the street from LAPD headquarters to City Hall.

The next night, the LAPD sent an email to the limited number of  “legitimate” media contacts in their files, giving two hour notice of a meeting where the LAPD would conduct a lottery to select the dozen media representative who would have access to the Occupy LA eviction.

While the notion of “legitimate” media is a subject worthy of great debate, it’s safe to say that the era of print, radio, and television dominance has long passed. The LAPD’s commitment to an antiquated paradigm of communication is in stark contrast to its demonstration of innovation in tactics and operations.

The LAPD participates in a notification service known as Nixle that allows the public to opt-in for law enforcement and public safety communications. Several days before the Occupy LA eviction, the LAPD sent out a message inviting the public to text “OLA999” to 888-777 in order to participate in the LAPD Occupy LA Information Messaging System.

The LAPD then sent a message on the 24th saying there would be no eviction that night and another message on the 28th asking the Media to move their trucks from Main Street.

That was it, no more, nothing.

Maybe the LAPD felt so comfortable surrounded by old friends from the “legitimate” media that they went back to their “pager” notification protocols.

As the LAPD Public Information Officers (PIOs) and those media representatives selected to participate in the LAPD’s approved Media Pool surveyed the Occupy LA encampment on the evening of the eviction operation, the “legitimate” media’s tenuous grip on its Fourth Estate role weakened as most pool members agreed to abstain from phone calls and from Twitter activity.

Two members of the pool broke the Twitter embargo but @StoltzeFrankly stayed safe with tweets such as "#OccupyLA massive police operation against OLA begins.” and “#OccupyLA Police issue ten minute dispersal order.” while @AntonioNBCLA forgot the #occupyLa hashtag and has only 138 followers so his tweets failed to find an audience.

The concept of a Media Pool isn’t new, it’s often used in controlled spaces such as courtrooms and it involves selecting press representatives who agree to feed their reports to a pool so that all participants share in the information, releases, photos, video, etc.

The problem here is that the Media Pool consisted of only media outlets approved by the LAPD, an organization that was unable to explain the process for certification other than that it involved “a letter from your boss explaining why you need an LAPD Press Pass.”

The most disturbing failure of the “legitimate” media came when KCAL9’s helicopter coverage of the LAPD’s Dodger Stadium staging grounds went dark, victim to self-imposed censorship that came with the explanation "To protect the integrity of the police operation we are not showing you that shot right now."

As the anticipated battle between the LAPD and Occupy LA turned into a tightly orchestrated and well-choreographed display of professionalism and principle, the real struggle turned out to be one between the Main Stream Media and Citizen Journalism.

As the MSM kowtowed to the LAPD and traded their Fourth Estate cards for LAPD Press Passes, it was the public who fed the world with words, experiences, pictures, videos, commentary, narrative, interviews, and perspective. The tools were cell phones and mini-cams which fed Twitter, Facebook, and UStream.

The Main Stream Media television broadcasts required trucks and personnel which resulted in minimal coverage and maximum commercial breaks while reporters, tethered to their team, struggled to find the story.

The LA Times, to its credit, learned from the Citizen Journalists and rigged a UStream camera on top of their building for the night of the eviction, feeding a constant stream of video of the 1st and Spring intersection.

But, they were learning, not leading and it was individuals such as CrossXBones and Occupy Oakland Live who provided constant access to the encampment, to the police, to the spectators in the street, to the media, and to Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Beck when they stepped out onto 1st Street to recap the eviction.

Let there be no mistake, the City of LA has much to be proud of, including the LAPD which established a new standard for peaceful engagement and the Occupy LA participants who stayed true to the principles of peaceful protest.

While the issue of 1st Amendment rights continues to get debated and the issue of the 4th and 14th Amendments gets overlooked and forgotten, there is still room to celebrate the fact that the LAPD and Occupy LA both left the battlefield victorious and with no casualties.

On the other hand, the Main Stream Media fell on its sword and dealt itself a near-mortal blow that has robbed it of any claim of “legitimacy” and any hope of sympathy from the public it betrayed.

Rising to the occasion comes the Citizen Journalist, UStream hosts such as SkyAdams and Spencer, photographers such as Alex ThompsonAlfredo Hernandez, Ivan Therrien and Richie Thomassen, and countless contributors to Twitter and Facebook that kept the conversation going, even as the “legitimate” media went silent and betrayed its audience.

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

Los Angeles: Occupy Gridlock

Photo by
CityWatch, Nov 29, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 95

RETHINKING LA - Commander Andy Smith reported for duty at 8pm on the eve of the anticipated LAPD eviction of the Occupy LA encampment from LA’s City Hall lawn. As he stood in front of the LAPD headquarters and looked across the street at City Hall, he did what any self-respecting Angeleno would do, he hopped in his vehicle and began the commute across the street.He didn’t make it.

One of the first LAPD crowd control demands was directed at the media who had turned out in such numbers that they literally blocked the street, making it impossible for occupiers to occupy and police officers to police.

"Members of the media,” came the announcement from the LAPD command vehicle stuck in the traffic, “you will be arrested if you are in the street."

This amplified announcement drew protesters like a salt lick draws deer, prompting Smith to turn the threat of arrest from the media to the pedestrians.

Smith made it into the middle of the intersection of 1st and Spring before he lost the battle to gridlock, this time caused by streets overflowing with pedestrians, many who came to watch the spectacle.

The mass of people in the street numbered thousands, many from the Occupy LA movement and many who came to witness the showdown between the Mayor and Occupy LA.

At one point the LAPD shut down surrounding streets and established a perimeter of LAPD presence including squad cars lined up in formation and skirmish lines of riot police in full costume, including helmets, masks, batons, and shotguns.

Riot Police in formation jogged up 1st street only to find themselves outnumbered by photographers who jogged alongside in an effort to capture a photo of “the moment of reckoning.”

It never came.

Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief of Police Charlie Beck had previously announced that City Hall Park would be closed at 12:01 am on the morning of November 28, 2001 (Sunday night/Monday morning) and that any Occupy LA occupants would be subject to eviction.

As it turned out, 12:01 am was the moment when the Mayor, the City Council, the LAPD, the community as a whole and the Occupy LA movement all missed their cue.

It was the squandered opportunity.

As the world watched, the Mayor failed to show up and to embrace the high ground as common ground by establishing that the demands of the Occupy LA movement are of greater importance than a debate over turf lawn and the sustainability of the occupation.

Villaraigosa missed the opportunity to grapple with the issues and to demonstrate unique leadership by declaring “We’re all part of the 99%!” and then moving the dialogue forward by championing the issues and demonstrating his ability to think big picture while addressing local needs.

Missing from the debate was the City Council who entered the fray early in the occupation but quickly exited when it became apparent that it might require taking a position on issues a little heavier than dog licenses and curb cuts.

The exception was Bill Rosendahl who showed up 12 hours in advance of “the moment of reckoning” to declare the Occupy LA movement “Democracy at its finest” before he urged the occupiers to “respect the law and leave peacefully.” The crowd responded vehemently with chants of “No way!”

Commander Andy Smith’s “Command Vehicle” approach to crossing the street demonstrated a complete failure to embrace Beck’s Community Policing approach to building relationships, one that left the occupiers in the dark as to the identities of LAPD leadership.

After two months of City Hall Park occupation, one would expect that the occupiers would be on a first name basis with the LAPD leadership and that the LAPD would know where to find the leaders of the “leaderless” occupation.

Four million Angelenos definitely have a vested interest in issues that include the collapsing economy, home foreclosures, corporate personhood, campaign reform, homelessness, collapsing infrastructure, unemployment, dwindling city services, and yet the response to Occupy LA has ranged from approval to contempt to the worst of all, apathy and indifference.

The Occupy LA movement definitely turned the national and local dialogue to the issues of the occupation but those most greatly impacted failed to seize the opportunity to move the power from the lawn and into neighborhood councils, through City Hall, up to Sacramento, and all the way to Washington.

As the world watched, the Occupy LA movement had its closeup, one that included live helicopter coverage of surrounding streets and the LAPD deployment activities as well as the crowds in the street, the Mobile DJ who pulled up to entertain, the Media trucks that competed with the LAPD for prime parking spaces, and the spectators who were separated by LAPD skirmish lines.

The Occupy LA movement Tweeted updates with such volume that the #OccupyLA feed was difficult to follow. UStream broadcast more than a dozen live video feeds from different vantage points within City Hall Park. Chat room chatter on the Occupy LA website allowed people from around the world to participate in real time. Facebook conversations were fueled by updates from occupiers and spectators.

In stark contrast, the LAPD’s notification system was silent.

The Occupy LA movement owned the moment and when it came time to present “the message” it fumbled, failing to seize the closeup moment by stepping to the spotlight and delivering a well rehearsed, tightly crafted list of demands and a passionate call to action.

The Occupy LA movement will move forward when it is willing to let go of the lawn and move to the high ground by establishing common ground with the people of LA, reaching out to those who embrace the same desires for a new system and establishing relationships that are focused on change.

The Occupy LA movement has earned bragging rights for its enviable accomplishments at City Hall, including the creation of a “complete” community that includes health services, a library, a university, childcare, a theatre, a zero waste strategy, food service, and public works.

But creating an alternative universe in the shadow of City Hall was never the objective, it was always simply a tactic for changing a system that has been failing the people of this country for too long.

The Occupy LA movement will wither on the dusty and dead lawn of LA’s City Hall if it does not return its focus to establishing common ground by returning its focus to the systemic issues that resonate through the City of Los Angeles, the State of California and the United States as a whole.

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