PLATKIN ON PLANNING--The Los Angeles Business Journal is preparing a story on the “backlash to development in the city of Los Angeles and how developers and business groups are starting to fight back.” 

As part of the Journal’s research for the article, their reporter contacted me for a take on the Neighborhood Integrity Ordinance and the amendments to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance.  I have written favorable articles on both topics for CityWatch, and apparently these and other CityWatch articles caught the Business Journal’s eye.

Slightly reworked, this is why I told them the two proposals are necessary and deserve support: 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (NII) is not opposed to private real estate projects (a more precise term than "development") per se, but to projects that are so large and tall that they conflict with both LA’s zoning code and General Plan.  The investors' business model is based on relief from zoning regulations, as well as General Plan designations, for their otherwise illegal projects.  This is why the thrust of the NII is to halt amendments to the General Plan that only apply to site-specific projects, and often to single parcels. If investors want to build according to LA’s adopted plans and zoning codes, that is their right and no one would complain.  But, when contractors and investors request generous Plan Amendments, and the City Council then dishes out these approvals with little concern for infrastructure capacity, availability of public services, or the compatibility of the proposed projects with existing neighborhood character and scale, opposition quickly snowballs. 

This is the agenda if the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and it is important to not misrepresent it as a blanket backlash to development.  It is also important to recognize that the NII is only a first step.  Even if General Plan Amendments were correctly processed, Los Angeles would still need to update most of its General Plan elements, as well as to extensively repair and upgrade the city’s infrastructure and public services.  Roping in out-sized development is only a small but important step in this direction. 

As for mansionization, the City of LA's adopted planning policies, as well as the City Planning Commission's approved planning policies, called Do Real Planning both support the preservation of single-family neighborhoods in terms of their character and scale.  The grass roots challenge has been to bring the City's zoning laws for single family homes into conformance with its adopted planning policies. The first effort was the Beverly Grove ICO (2006), sponsored by then Councilmember Jack Weiss after much foot dragging.  On purpose, however, his ordinance only stopped McMansions larger than those that the contractors intended to build.  As a result, the Jack Weiss-sponsored ICO was a total fraud.  Its only achievement was to allow the mansionization process to proceed without a blip. 

The second effort to control McMansions was the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance/BMO (2008).  By the time the City Council adopted the BMO, it contained so many loopholes that it, too, did not make the slightest difference.  In fact, it was so undermined that the Director of Planning and the President of the City Planning Commission both opposed it because of its loopholes. 

As a result of this deception, contractors are now quickly demolishing about 2000 older homes per year in order to build large, boxy, spec houses that fully comply with the BMO.  In general, these mega-houses are three times the size and price of the homes they replace.  They might be compatible with a large suburban lot, but in an existing R-1 lot these houses are far too large for the both the lot and the character and scale of the surrounding neighborhood. 

The third effort to stop mansionization is a based on a Council motion from Paul Koretz.  It directs the Department of City Planning to remove any loopholes from the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance that promoted mansionization.  City Planning’s draft is now out, and it has quickly become a political hot potato.  On one side is the McMansion-machine of investors, contractors, realtors, and some elected officials.  They want to retain as many zoning loopholes as possible, such as the continued exclusion of attached garages from square footage calculations.  While there are not many mansionizers in LA, they have a disproportionate influence at City Hall. So far they have managed to gut two ordinances that restrict McMansions, and they are now hard at work to do the same with the proposed amendments to the Baseline Mansion Ordinance. 

On the other side are most LA neighborhoods, as represented by Neighborhood Councils, homeowners and resident associations, and concerned individuals.  In their view big, boxy, ugly houses totally conflict with the character and scale of existing neighborhoods.  In general, the neighborhoods like several features of the proposed amendments, specifically the elimination of the bonuses for green building materials, which are now a mandatory requirement, and for an articulated front facade.  The neighborhoods also like the reduction in the by-right floor area for smaller R-1 lots from .5 to .45.  And, they particularly support the elimination of the exemption for attached garages. 

What the neighborhoods do not like and would like amended further is the elimination of the bonus for proportional stories and a new exemption for unlimited balconies, decks, and breezeways if they have lattice tops or no ceilings.  

The contractors and their boosters, like LA Councilmember Gil Cedillo, have dreamed up many arguments in support of the McMansion business model, but so far we have rebutted their arguments as fast they can spin them.  For example: 

  • The Councilmember claimed that restrictions on McMansions stop the construction of affordable housing.  We replied that the houses that the contractors demolish are far more affordable than the McMansions that they build in their place.  We also pointed out that the number of Angelenos in these houses, before or after, is virtually unchanged.  There is no increase in the number of housing units, much less an increase in affordable housing.   

  • The supporters of McMansions also said that people should be able to do whatever they want with their own property, and we pointed out in response that this claim violates the basic principle of zoning, which is to protect the quality of life and value of all property, not to green light real estate speculation. 
  • They also argued that zoning amendments to stop mansionization would depress property values, but we pointed out that in Beverly Grove, which has the toughest anti-mansionization ordinance in Los Angeles, exactly the opposite has happened.  Home values have increased since the City Council adopted the Beverly Grove RFA over 18 months ago.  There is an exception, however.  McMansions reduce the market value of adjacent homes by $50,000 to $100,000 since many prospective homeowners despise them.  The curb appeal of an existing house sandwiched in by McMansions barely exists. 
  • We also heard that large and multi-generational families require large houses, but we pointed out that there is not a shred of evidence that the families moving into McMansions are either large or multi-generational.  We also noted that family size is not a legitimate external hardship that justifies a variance or its equivalent. 
  • Another common argument is that the proposed ordinance would make it difficult to add several rooms to a house or a covered porch/patio. These hypothetical scenarios are contradicted by extensive home improvements in all local areas where mansionization has been restricted through Specific Plans (SP), Historical Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZ), Interim Control Ordinances (ICO), and Residential Floor Area Districts (RFA).  In these areas there are many types of legal home improvements, including additions, remodeling, and decks.  All of these improvements could continue under the proposed amendments.  Furthermore, any neighborhood that wanted still larger houses could simply request a new Residential Floor Area District since that provision will remain in the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. 

No doubt new pro-mansionization arguments will bubble-up over the next few months, usually postulating hypothetical scenarios that do not actually exist and are contradicted by reality.  Whether the venue is right here in City Watch or before the City Planning Commission and the City Council, we intend to quickly rebut them all and ask for public support in our efforts.


(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who writes on local planning issues for City Watch.  He welcomes questions, comments, and corrections at [email protected]. ) 






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

JUST THE FACTS-I find it troubling to complain about our crumbling City of the Angels. As a native Angelino, a former Los Angeles Police Officer and a 12-year member of the LA City Council, I am distressed to see what is happening to our once proud, well-managed city. 

When my former colleague and friend Eric Garcetti was elected as Mayor, I was very pleased with his “Back to Basics” agenda for Los Angeles. I imagined that, with his combined experience as a city councilmember and council president and now as Mayor, our sidewalks would be repaired, our streets would be paved and the growing homeless population would be addressed. Multiple promises involving billions of dollars and resources from state, county and local agencies have been made through repeated news conferences and press releases. 

Given the current division and separation of powers among the offices of the Mayor, the City Council and the various departments that connect the massive Los Angeles bureaucratic government, nothing is being done to correct the situation. Leadership is proposing $1.85 billion to address the homelessness situation, along with increased water and power rates to allegedly address the many social, quality of life and infrastructure issues facing the city. 

Our elected city officials must find a way to put themselves on the same page -- to once and for all “Get Back to Basics.” Without a coordinated, well-organized effort by those who’ve been elected to represent the various interests of Los Angeles, we will never overcome the multiple problems destroying LA and our many unique and diverse neighborhoods. The time is now. The agenda is clear. We must work together to make Los Angeles the city we expect it to be – clean, organized and well-run for all the people. Rich and poor, white and Black, Latino and Asian. Everyone. 

City Council should focus on quality of life issues, to stay on the same page until matters are resolved. But bouncing from one agenda item to another with no rhyme or reason has been the practice. And in the end, little if anything gets done to address the ills of Los Angeles. 

We might think about what City Controller Ron Galperin is doing to earn his salary, and what he is doing to address the management of the various city departments responsible for our streets and communities. 

On a positive note, Los Angeles County and its 58 cities, including Los Angeles, welcomed an estimated 45.5 million tourists last year. There is an increasing number of visitors coming from China as well as from Canada and Mexico. Tourism is important for our region’s economy; visitors must feel safe and secure when visiting Los Angeles, and other cities in the United States from coast to coast. 

LAX records reflect that approximately 74.5 million travelers came through our congested airport and ventured into communities throughout Los Angeles County. This has all happened with an airport still in need of major improvements that is undergoing an $8.5 billion modernization over the next many years. Unfortunately, the drive from various regions around LA County to LAX remains a frustrating experience for both drivers and passengers. If you have a 7 am flight out of LAX and live in the San Fernando Valley, you need to leave your home at 4 am to avoid gridlock along the 101 and 405 freeways and to navigate the additional security measures in place at LAX. 

As 2016 ushers in many national, state and local elections, I will be commenting on the various races, providing information to help you vote for candidates that won’t forget you and your needs once elected. For the record, I am not a Republican nor Democrat but rather one of the growing number of frustrated voters supporting a candidate and not a party.   

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo at top: LA Times. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

CONNECTING CALIFORNIA--Do you want your ham and eggs, California?

It is one of the oldest and most enduring ideas in our state: Government should provide everyone with a minimum amount of money on a regular basis. It goes back to the 1930s, when Californians narrowly rejected the so-called “Ham and Eggs” proposals to give Californians a $30 check every Thursday.

Now, this notion is back, a subject of books and op-eds and speeches, especially in the Bay Area, and with some bipartisan political momentum. Thinkers on the left have embraced it as a bulwark against poverty, inequality, and corporate power. Feminists and children’s right advocates argue that it would offer a method to pay people for the crucial work of homemaking and child-rearing. Some libertarians and conservatives like the idea as a way to consolidate the sprawling number of government programs and replace them with a cash grant. And technologists and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley see it as vital insurance against the likelihood that advances in artificial intelligence will eliminate millions of jobs and careers.

The “Ham and Eggs” idea has different names and comes in different concepts. Some proponents talk about a universal basic income, or a guaranteed minimum income, that would be a backstop so that all citizens or families have a sufficient income to live on. Conservatives often prefer to call it the “negative income tax,” since they would expand the tax system to provide supplemental pay to those who need to reach a minimum (the federal Earned Income Tax Credit does this already to a limited extent).

In the rest of America, the idea is usually dismissed as socialistic or irretrievably expensive. But in California, it has remained stubbornly strong. Why? It may persist because our boom-and-bust economic culture produces moments of real desperation for millions. It may reflect our well-known weakness for grand utopian ideas that aren’t taken seriously in the more sensible and less interesting parts of the United States. Maybe Californians have more of an appreciation for the technologically advanced future when it will take much less labor to take care of us, so we’re more inclined to decouple work from income and establish some other societal profit-sharing scheme to bankroll our leisure time.

What is undeniable is that California has long had an outsized role in promotion of social insurance schemes. It was a Long Beach doctor, Francis Townsend, who suggested the program that became Social Security. The “End Poverty in California” movement of the 1930s, which included pensions for all, provided national exposure for the idea of guaranteed income.   

And so did “Ham and Eggs”—which took its name from the concept that a $30 weekly check to Californians would guarantee them a square meal. Two statewide initiatives in 1938 and 1939 for “$30 Every Thursday” to Californians age 50 and older produced two of most contentious and violent political campaigns in California history, with organized crime, national business groups, and even President Roosevelt playing roles. The writer Carey McWilliams called “Ham and Eggs” the “most fantastic, incredible, and dangerous” movement California had produced.

Those defeats hardly discredited the idea. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong proponent. And so were voices on the right, led by the conservative economist Milton Friedman—an important California figure who advised Governor and President Reagan, backed Prop. 13, and spent the last 30 years of his life at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

Friedman designed and promoted a proposal for “the negative income tax.” He saw direct cash payments to the poor as more efficient and less distorting of markets than the government’s complicated stew of welfare programs. (The appeal is not dissimilar to the popularity of school vouchers among conservatives.) Friedman helped inspire the only president born in California, Richard Nixon, to offer his own proposal in 1969; it failed, but the concept didn’t die. The idea has been advanced every few years, often with a Californian doing the advancing. Before his disastrous tenure as mayor of San Diego, Congressman Bob Filner sponsored legislation to establish a guaranteed income.

Over the past couple of years, the idea of guaranteeing money has developed new currency in the context of growing concerns about California’s staggering inequality and the highest poverty rate of any U.S. state. Once dismissed for its high costs (estimates put the cost of providing a minimum guaranteed income to keep every American out of poverty at around $2 trillion), it now looks like a bargain compared to the massive spending promises of Bernie Sanders or the enormous tax cuts proposed by Republican presidential candidates.

We’ve seen elements of guaranteed income in proposals among liberals to double the size of Social Security, and in the successful movements in California cities for a higher minimum wage. A guaranteed income feels like the next national wave, on both left and right. Thinkers on the left, like the California-based academic Robert Reich, have come out for it. And on the right, presidential candidate Marco Rubio and new House Speaker Paul Ryan have made proposals to consolidate existing welfare programs into cash grants that would be run through states. It’s also a hot topic in academia. Economists have researched similar programs—in places like Brazil and Mexico—and found that poor people who are given cash grants usually use the money responsibly and efficiently.

But in California, the most intriguing support is centered among the technologists and venture capitalists of Silicon Valley. There, the primary arguments for basic income are twofold. First, that a guaranteed income will protect the people who lose their jobs because of California’s technological innovations. Second, that more people would have more time to create and be entrepreneurial if they didn’t have to worry about paying their bills.

“Universal basic income might be the most meaningful way we could subsidize the earliest stages of innovation,” wrote venture capitalist Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, the venture fund backed by Bloomberg LP, in the Washington Post. “It could multiply, by many factors, the amount of time people can spend creating.” Bahat told me recently that he expected basic income to be “one of the main political discussions of the next decade or two.”

California offers perhaps the most likely venue to try such an idea at the state level; we have a powerful ballot initiative system that would allow for the quick advance of such a proposal, and deep-pocketed potential backers to campaign for it. For weeks, I’ve heard rumors about Bay Area capitalists planning such an initiative, but no one involved would admit to me they were drafting such a measure.

Either way, this is one California idea that isn’t going away. Your check may soon be in the mail.

(Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.)





Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016



VOICES--On Sunday, Jan. 17th at 5:00 pm, residents from all areas of Los Angeles will be wearing black as they gather for a Candlelight Vigil in front of LA Mayor Garcetti's home (The Getty House 605 So Irving blvd, Windsor Square) in memory of all the dogs and cats dying on the streets of LA every day, and the adoptable dogs, cats and rabbits that never made it out of our city shelters. 

The failure to provide World Class leadership by Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti's appointed Animal Services General Manager Brenda Barnette has caused an already broken department to implode. 

The result of the Mayor's failure to address the hundreds of complaints about the General Manager from both her staff, shelter volunteers, the animal welfare community and LA residents, has caused packs of dogs, many of them pets, allowed to roam in North and South Central, Panorama City, and Sunland. 

These hapless animals, many off leash or abandoned by their owners, create a public health hazard. Dogs get hit by cars daily, often fighting just to survive, sleeping under cars in the cold rain, and allowed to breed, as described in the Queen Latifah narrated documentary "Dogs Of South Los Angeles." 

Despite being presented with the facts, the GM has shown a total disinterest in the problem. 

Get more details and then join us next Sunday. Speak out for LA’s animals. 

Action Info: 

Candle Light Vigil 

When: Sunday, January 17th. 2016  5 PM – 7PM 

Where: 605 South Irving Boulevard in Windsor Square. 90005 The Getty House, official residence of the Mayor of Los Angeles, California. Plenty of free street parking. 

Contact Info: 

Paul Darrigo 323-244-8020 

Michael Bell 818-419-9004



(Paul Darrigo is an animal activist and lives in Los Angeles.)





Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

ROOS COLORED VIEW--Wednesday morning dawned a superlative sunrise here in LA … roseate clouds fronting exhilaratingly blue sky, a morning-after display suffused with color worthy of our news.

Not Obama’s Tuesday night swan song, nor Mayor Butts’ hyperbolic certitude regarding Inglewood’s free municipal lunch (at 5:10), but the naming of a successor for Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) hundreds of thousands of stakeholders, its children, its parents, its administrators and educators, its operatives and critics, disciples, roadies and acolytes, visionaries and venture capitalists.

Home town girl all growed up, weatherer of successive activist administrations through a battened down, pragmatic work ethic: Michelle King has surfaced to assume America’s most volatile and politically electrified superintendency – our LAUSD’s.   

I’ve heard it remarked this is LA’s Hope moment, but I do not think so. King’s promise is not of suppressed anticipatory excitement, but of commonplace relief. None of us actively engaged in public education actually wants the drama of ideology, we want schools that work, institutions anchored to our communities, giving and taking in equal measure, part and parcel of our society’s bedrock. We don’t want to be utilized as part of neoliberal capitalism where education is a sector exploited for its privatization potential. Our kid’s education is not a commodity, it’s just part of their ontogeny. We want a village that will raise our children. Correctly, adequately, properly and in exactly the same way as are Walton or Gates or Obama children.

Traveling through public spaces in town yesterday everywhere could be witnessed folks high-fiving. I stuck my hand out and high-fived innumerable strangers. I knew what they were talking about without overhearing their words: everyone’s just plain relieved. She’s come home, the board’s recovered its senses. The tempering of jittery nerves regarding LAUSD and its future was palpable. 

LAUSD’s school board made a very courageous decision in opting for the quietly competent administrative “tortoise” who has not been swinging from educational lianas, leveraging criminal racketeering into higher education diplomas. Michelle King is politically savvy perforce, and the board has satisfied its members through private conversations that her political ideology is sound enough. The prerequisites for this job are ultimately not complex, and the in-house candidate has an advantage in this politically charged climate: she is a known, knowing and competent candidate, and she demonstrably will in fact work for “the children” and not just pretend as much.

Thank you, Mes/sr.s Zimmer, Vladovic, Schmerelson, Rodriguez, Ratliff, McKenna and Garcia.

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016


FIXING LA--Disabled Angelenos are on the verge of finalizing a historic settlement that will invest heavily in repairing L.A.’s sidewalk network. Photo of 2011 rally via CALIF website  

New court filings today reveal more details about the settlement in Willits v. City of Los Angeles, a class action lawsuit over L.A.’s failure to make the public pedestrian right-of-way accessible to disabled people. Today’s documents concur with the basic outlines of the settlement revealed in April 2014: the city of Los Angeles will spend $1.4 billion dollars over the next thirty years to repair damaged sidewalks that impede access.  

According to Kara Janssen, an attorney for the Disability Rights Legal Center, “[the settlement] is now public because it has been fully executed by all parties and was filed as part of our motion for preliminary approval, which is a necessary step in class-action settlements. It is not yet in effect because the court still has to approve it once class members have received notice and had time to file objections.”

The details are primarily contained in a joint motion [PDF], exhibits [PDF], and a settlement agreement [PDF], all filed today.  

Here is the overall summary:

The proposed Settlement requires the City of Los Angeles (“the City”) to expend in excess of $1.367 billion over 30 years to make its public sidewalk and crosswalk system accessible to persons with mobility disabilities. It will require the City to install, repair, and upgrade curb ramps; repair sidewalks and walkways damaged by tree roots; repair broken or uneven pavement; correct non-compliant cross-slopes in sidewalks; install tree gates and missing utility covers; and remediate other inaccessible conditions. The proposed Settlement will also permit Class Members to submit requests for access repairs such as curb ramp installations and tree root fixes at specific locations, which the City will use its best efforts to remediate within 120 days of receiving the request. In addition, the proposed Settlement calls for the hiring of an ADA Coordinator for the Pedestrian Right of Way, and includes effective reporting, monitoring and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The city’s initial commitment will be $31 million annually for five years, gradually ramping up to $63 million annually for the final five years.

There is an extensive list of types of sidewalk repairs the city will perform: 

  • Installation of missing curb ramps;
  • Repair of damage caused by tree roots to sidewalk or walkways surfaces;
  • Upgrading of existing curb ramps;
  • Repair of broken and/or uneven pavement in the pedestrian rights of way (including utility covers and repair covers) deeper and/or wider than 1/2 inch;
  • Repair of vertical or horizontal displacement or upheaval of the sidewalk or crosswalk surface greater than 1/2 inch (including sidewalk flags, curbs and utility covers);
  • Correction of non-compliant cross-slopes in sidewalks or sections of sidewalks
  • Removal of protruding and overhanging objects and/or obstructions that narrow pedestrian rights of way to less than 4 feet of accessible width;
  • Widening of pedestrian rights of way and sections thereof to provide 4 feet of accessible width;
  • Providing 4 feet of clearance to the entrances of public bus shelters;
  • Repair of excessive gutter slopes at the bottom of curb ramps leading into crosswalks;
  • Elimination of curb ramp lips on curb ramps;
  • Installation of accessible tree grates, or other compliant remediation, where such grates are missing from tree wells;
  • Installation of missing utility covers where such covers are missing from sidewalks, crosswalks or pathways; and
  • Remediation of other non-compliant conditions.

The settlement also commits the city to:

  • within one year, hire an “ADA Coordinator for the Pedestrian Right of Way” whose responsibilities will include: generating twice-annual status reports on sidewalk repair progress, and recommending city policies and procedures to overcome barriers to access.
  • within two years, create and maintain a publicly-available database listing and mapping completed and requested repairs and improvements.
  • within two years, provide an “Access Request Program” that disabled people can use to submit requests for repairs in specific locations. Initially 20 percent of the city’s annual settlement funding will be targeted to fulfilling these requests.

Though lawyers on both sides have approved the settlement, there are still a few more steps before extensive sidewalk improvements commence. The court needs to go through its steps for approval. Then the clock starts ticking for the city to act; initial city expenditures need to start within a year of final settlement approval. The city has a preliminary “fix and release” plan that has been criticized by walkability advocates and by some City Councilmembers. There are a lot of moving pieces, but it looks like help will soon be on the way for many of the city’s ailing sidewalks.


(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA.  He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.)





Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 28, 2016

The Porter Ranch methane gas leak is emerging from an 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' situation to more common knowledge, with growing governmental, media, and social focus on this continuing manmade disaster. Likened increasingly to a land-based version of BP's Deepwater Horizon, the leak has serious health implications that are leading to 1000s being moved from their homes and looks likely to have, at the end, the equivalent climate impact equivalent of over 10 years of an average coal-fired plant.* This is both a massive and slow-motion disaster: slow-motion in that capping the leak is a difficult and time-consuming engineering challenge with little ability, it seems, to do more than watch the methane leak (with special cameras) and leak and leak for month after month until is finally capped.  

There are at least four California Senate bills under consideration that call for moratoriums on new gas injections in this storage area, placing financial responsibility for the disaster on 'the polluters', and other measures. (See the material in Senate Porter Ranch Gas Leak Background and Bill Package 010816.)

An old adage is 'never let a good crisis go to waste'.  While wondering what 'good' really means, there is no question that this situation merits 'crisis' status and one question to ask, therefore, is "what can be done to help in the long term based on learning from and within the political focus on this crisis?"  Within this package of proposals, there seems to be a gap that merits filling that will help in identifying and tackling future methane leaks more rapidly, efficiently, and effectively.

In short, it is well past time to institute  more extensive, continuous (okay, frequent/iterative), public mapping of methane leaks along with the requirement to and resources for rapidly addressing leaks.  With something along those lines, California (and the California Air Resources Board (CARB)) could become leading-edge in the nation as to this underemphasized pollution issue and help drive forward the Administration's methane leakage efforts.

Methane leakage is far from only a problem at fracking sites or at major storage sites -- but leakage is a problem through the entire cycle from drilling to end user. Many (including this author) were stunned seeing the work of researchers who mapped methane leaks in Boston and Washington, DC.  As one discussion began,

Residents of Washington, DC are used to jokes about metaphorical hot air, humidity, and the swampy history of their city. But there's something they may not know about the District: it's overrun with methane, which sometimes makes manhole covers explode.

Natural gas is mostly methane, and it is carried through underground pipes to heat buildings and cook food. Those pipes are often old, and this led ecologist and chemical engineer Robert Jackson of Duke University to drive around DC over a period of two months, regularly measuring the air to take methane levels.

He and his research team found methane leaks everywhere, with thousands of places having significantly higher than normal methane concentrations, and some places reaching 50 times normal urban levels (100 ppm vs 2 ppm). A similar study in Boston last year found essentially the same results. In DC, the source wasn't the swamp on which the city was built -- it was fossil fuel.

Those leaks -- all those yellow spikes -- help show the thruthiness lie of 'natural gas has half the emissions when burned' because, well, coal doesn't disappear in the atmosphere between the mine and burning. That 'natural gas' doesn't look so great in total emissions profile if we take well to flame leakage rates seriously. If leakage rates are high enough, natural gas (methane) could actually be worse than coal because methane has roughly 80 times the climate impact of natural gas over 20 years.

Consider all those yellow spikes. Because costing money, they create risks: risks of explosions, risks to health of those breathing the molecules, and risks through worsened climate change impacts.  All those spikes merit erasing ... but can't be dealt with if they remain out of sight (and thus out of mind).

A robust mapping effort would not have to be expensive and could have significant benefits.  Very simply, California could move to put monitoring devices on public vehicles (school buses, police cars, busses).  It wouldn't be perfect coverage but would provide rather robust and frequent monitoring.  Of course, the systems wouldn't have to be limited to only methane.  Note that this has already been done.  Three Google mapping cars were equipped with Aclima monitors to provide air quality data in a test in the Denver area:  

Three Street View cars took measurements of nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, particulate matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) -- air pollutants which can affect human health or climate change. ...

(And, Google just did something similar around this methane leak.)  

Imagine constantly updated, publicly available information about the air quality of your community. Writ large, from VOCs to CO2 to other pollutants, the pollutants all around us are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  Data enables decision-making and action.  Visibility fosters support for that action.

California shouldn't let the Porter Ranch crisis go to waste. There should be round-the-clock efforts to reduce and end the leak as fast as possible. The health and safety risks to individuals and community require continuous monitoring and addressing.  There must be measures to address the very real damages that local residents and communities have occurred. Measures are required for reducing risks into the future. And, measures with broader payoff merit implementing.  California should take a lesson from Porter Ranch and act so that methane leakage is never again 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind'.

(A. Siegel is an Energy, Environmental Blogger, at … where this piece was first posted.)





Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

VOICES--It’s good to be the king. Ask Herb Wesson. Since his recent self-administered anointment, life running the City Council has been infinitely more enjoyable. Particularly with respect to City Council Rule 93, which Mr. Wesson doesn’t like but which nonetheless requires that City Council meetings be televised, gavel-to-gavel, unedited and with cameras operated “so that they are focused only on the officially recognized speaker.”   

Mr. Wesson likes focusing only on the officially recognized speaker…just not when that speaker happens to be a member of the public trying to address his or her elected representatives. A lesser municipal leader might feel compelled to obey Rule 93, simply because that kind of rule of law is what holds together our society, but not Mr. Wesson. 

He took the bull by the horns and personally directed the camera staff to show speaking members of the public only in a face-obscuring wide shot. As for his own regal visage…well, the Council President is always ready for his close-up. 

Unfortunately for Mr. Wesson, that camera doesn't belong to him, and, given the numerous admonishments he's received over the past six months with respect to his flouting of Rule 93, one might even say that he is pushing his luck. 

City council meetings are telecast for one reason--to afford all Angelenos (regardless of work schedule, car ownership, geographic proximity to City Hall, ability to pay for daycare, or any other factor) the opportunity to observe those meetings and so have a clean shot at being a fully-informed citizen. 

It is not for me or Mr. Wesson or any individual to decide which aspects of the meeting viewers should see or whether certain participants of the meeting should be pictured in close-up, or from a face-obscuring distance, or at a certain audio volume or  etc. It's self-evident, and required by Rule 93, that members of the public watching the telecast should be given a straightforward presentation of the meeting, whereby all participants are presented at the same volume and with equitable framing. 

Channel 35 is taxpayer funded so it's the public who owns the cameras and microphones and gavel with which Mr. Wesson presides over City Council meetings. 

And it's not acceptable for them to be given a telecast in which those of their fellow Angelenos who made the considerable effort to contribute a public comment in person are barely visible, while the members of the Council are without exception presented in full close-up-- a fact that has not gone unnoticed by certain members of the council currently running for office. It's good to be the king.   

Photo: As a result of Mr. Wesson’s camera policy, the author (making a public comment above left) has been reduced to the size of Councilmember Blumenfield’s nose.  


(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.)






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 18, 2016

EDUCATION POLITICS-It's hard for a proposed investigation of "teachers jail" to be taken seriously, when their unchallenged initial assumption is still that teachers are sent to teachers jail for "being verbally abusive, excessively missing work, failing to follow the rules for giving standardized tests, or sexual misconduct." Nothing could be further from the truth and they all know it. 

The vast majority of teachers sent to teacher jail are there because LAUSD will save approximately $60,000 a year in combined salary and benefits in just the first year they are gone. When they replace this falsely charged teacher with a cheap, younger teacher at a fraction of the cost, that fact is mysteriously never mentioned. How could any audit based on a false premise and half truths ever end positively?

Nowhere in this "Audit Request" is there mention that 87% of targeted teachers are over 40 and are at the top of the salary scale. Many have only a few years before they would become vested in lifetime health benefits valued at $300,000. LAUSD already has over $12 billion in unfunded benefits and this reality is forcing LAUSD into bankruptcy. However, this fact cannot be mentioned anywhere as a motive for targeting high seniority expensive teachers.

An even more basic question is never addressed: why is it necessary to house charged teachers at all for as much as 4 or 5 years, before giving them a hearing on the bogus charges against them? 

And then, the District's expensive outside attorneys misuse the 4-year rule designed to stop stale charges from being brought against teachers by LAUSD. They bring up this rule to stop targeted teachers from defending themselves by bringing up their unblemished careers prior to being “falsely imprisoned.” 

It’s also worth noting that the LAUSD administration has never explained why it is necessary to house teachers in intimidating and coercive LAUSD offices for years instead of at home. In the past, they’ve allowed teachers to be housed in their homes while these supposed investigations are taking place -- investigations that never come to fruition in a timely manner. A jailed teacher is constantly being intimidated and coerced into signing a 6-page document of resignation, waiving the right to take all future legal actions against LAUSD. Is this supposed to bring the teacher jail nightmare to an end? 

When I hear Donald Trump use his defamatory and indefensible rhetoric against Muslims and Mexicans -- just to name a few -- I must confess I have already become accustomed to this type of hate speech. LAUSD's presumption that legally presumed-innocent teachers must be confined for the "safety of students" is the same kind of unsubstantiated unconstitutional nonsense that presupposes guilt and seeks to inflame people. It savages senior teachers, the vast majority of whom have done nothing wrong...except maybe make too much money in the eyes of the LAUSD administration.  

The most often-cited reasons for placing an employee in this condition range from being verbally abusive, excessively missing work, failing to follow the rules for giving standardized tests, or sexual misconduct. At this point, the outcome of the “Teacher Jail” process is unknown. 

This is particularly important in the case of allegations of sexual misconduct – charges that must be vigorously investigated and prosecuted. However, the need for this audit is two-fold. We must rapidly resolve issues of sexual misconduct and terminate such employees. But we must also exonerate employees who are innocent and to keep them from languishing in limbo.

Los Angeles Unified School District estimates that its average educator costs $96,176 annually in salary and benefits. This means that, in 2014, LAUSD paid out approximately $38 million to the 400 employees who were housed in “Teacher Jail.”

(Leonard Isenberg is a Los Angeles observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He’s a second generation teacher at LAUSD and blogs at Leonard can be reached at [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.




Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

DEVELOPMENT HELL-The adult mind, the educated mind, and the organized mind has no trouble figuring out that when asking for the will and money of the electorate, you don't slap that electorate in the face.  

To be certain, Mayor Garcetti is more affable, more invested, and more politically savvy than his predecessor. But all the smiles, handshakes, town halls, and political gestures doesn't take away from the reality that -- in fact, his constituents are being slapped around, shaken down, and tapped out while being asked to pay more and do more for their basic City services. 

I certainly think that Eric Garcetti cares about the plight of the average Angelino more than did his predecessor. Antonio Villaraigosa had tower fever and was more than willing to send the citizenry (and even the representative Councilmembers) straight to Hades if a developer/political donor wanted to build a mega-development with no infrastructure or environmental considerations to justify it. 

"Overriding considerations" was a Planning term we all saw used in the case of the Casden development when Expo Line supporters and opponents alike stood shoulder to shoulder in opposition to it on the Westside. This term, translated into English, is effectively a middle finger to the will of the taxpaying citizenry, environmental science, the laws of physics, and common sense -- but is still being practiced today. 

A proposed mega-development, next to the future Bundy/Olympic Expo Line station, has been insufficiently vetted, lacks consensus and appropriate mitigations, requires a slew of variances all while being shoved through Planning in the dead of the holiday night. Even local Westside Councilmember Bonin, a big fan of transit-oriented development, opposes the project as is. He was similarly caught off-guard. 

So as the insults, rape and pillage of taxpaying Angelinos continue unabated, here's a few suggestions to moor moving forward together. They are offered with  kindness, compromise, recognizing the need for all of us to stand up and do right -- and with the understanding that Majority Rule remains the law in our city, state, and nation: 

1)    Whether it's Charter Reform or Mayoral insistence to implement this practice, I am suggesting that proper fiscal dealings be done with Neighborhood Council representatives in the room. 

2)    When it involves City budgeting and resources, the NC reps should be there in equal numbers and representation along with the developers, private interests, lobbying groups, or public sector employee unions. 

3)    Measure "R-2" involves more sales taxes and spending on transportation projects. Mayor Garcetti’s excellent outreach to the South Bay, the San Gabriel Valley and to Southeast LA County Cities should be continued. Similarly, the connection of the Green Line to the Metrolink network is one that can and should be done with cooperation and funding from the local cities, as well as with Orange and Riverside County transportation boards. (And don't let Metro pass any Eastside Gold Line project until Metro Rail and Metrolink are similarly linked!)

4)    If we want to please the majority, and create a first-rate bicycle network, don't let major projects like the Expo Bikeway lose a valuable connection because of a few neighbors.  

5)    There are reasonable concerns and mitigations to be addressed and done, but a public right of way and public easement is just that – public -- and a lopsided battle overwhelmingly opposed by the general public should be treated as such. We already have an at-grade/street level Expo Line crossing at Overland because a few locals misguided and misled their neighbors against a proper rail bridge there; we don't need to repeat the mistake with the Bikeway. 

6)    Whether it's the Save Valley Village effort or the efforts of the rest of the Westside to avoid the rape and pillage that is going on in Del Rey, under the guise of "affordable housing." A similarly lopsided battle of the community against a few inappropriately-powered developers should also be ruled in favor of the majority. Compromise is a great thing, of course, but mitigations and right-sizing remain common sense. 

7)    Right now it's very hard for Angelenos to figure out if they should spend their money on efforts like Save Valley Village or the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative or on Measure R-2. But Planning, the City Council, and the Downtown crowd are making it easier for citizens and taxpayers to spend money on the lawyers who will actually represent their interests. 

I give Mayor Garcetti and the City Council about three months to come up with a counterproposal of decades-overdue City budgeting and planning reforms, or else the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will pass with all the intensity of the legendary Proposition 13. And Measure R-2 will be threatened if not eliminated from passing at a time when we need more money for transportation operations, new rail and bus lines, and a 2024 Olympics. 

Three months to stop slapping the bejeezus out of City (and, by extension, County) taxpayers who are seeing their taxes, their utility rates (which, in effect, are just more taxes), and user fees continue to go up while fiscal discipline and prudence go down. 

Mayor Garcetti and the Downtown crowd have done a few things right for which they sincerely deserve credit. However, if they do not pull off the right reforms within three months, they may discover that it is no longer the voters and taxpayers who are the April fools -- but rather the Downtown "leadership" who will feel like fools come this November.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

BILLBOARD WATCH-A dozen years ago, a company called MetroLights put up hundreds of unpermitted advertising signs that mimicked the legal bus shelter and kiosk signs on public sidewalks. A few years later scofflaw companies named SkyTag, World Wide Rush, and Vanguard draped buildings all over the city with multi-story “supergraphic” signs. 

Now an unknown company is blighting the landscape with unpermitted advertising signs on plywood walls thrown up around businesses, churches, and other sites. 

MetroLights, SkyTag, World Wide Rush, Vanguard and others sued the city to overturn its ban on new off-site signs, but ultimately lost those court challenges and had to remove their signs. Whether the company or companies responsible for the latest scourge of illegal signage will follow that path remains to be seen. 

At first glance, signs like those in the photo above look identical to those on fences around construction sites all over the city. But Gary Shafner, an owner of the company that puts up the construction fence signs that are legally permitted under a 2007 ordinance, said that his company, National Promotions and Advertising, is not responsible for the unpermitted signs.

The ordinance requires city permits and strictly regulates sign size, placement, and duration. The signs can only be placed around construction sites and vacant lots. 

Some of the illegal signs have been recently cited by the city. In the case of those around the church on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice, the signs were taken off the plywood fence after citations were issued, but new ones appeared a few weeks later.


(Dennis Hathaway is the president of the Ban Billboard Blight Coalition and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: [email protected]. ) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda abrams.






Vol 14 Issue 5

Pub: Jan 15, 2016

STRAIGHT SHOOTER--This is not a good week for people concerned about jail violence. First, the law enforcement liability numbers are in, and the results are worse than bad. There’s been a 43.4 percent increase in money paid by the County to deal with law enforcement liability including excessive force claims against the Sheriff’s department -- an increase of  $14.6 million over FY 2013-14 to a robust  total of $48.3 million for FY 2014-15. Second, the LA County Board of Supervisors is poised to adopt a motion this Tuesday, which will remove the last hope of the proposed Civilian Oversight Commission having any teeth or independence. 

Apparently, the Sheriff and Board-appointed Inspector General Max Huntsman are close to sort of being close to a sort of final Memorandum of Agreement which will determine the extent of any access the Commission may gain to internal records of the Sherriff’s Department. So much for unfettered access.     

To be fair, it’s not an easy task, setting up an oversight commission like the one proposed. But what’s unacceptable is that there were measures that could have been taken expeditiously, at the time that civilian oversight was first proposed by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina in September of 2013. The best example is the concept of “golden key access.” 

I will never forget the first time I heard Miriam Krinsky, now one of Sheriff McDonnell's top advisers, explaining that concept after she'd been on a fact-finding mission to New York for the CCJV. On January 4, 2016 an op-ed in the New York Times, by Michele Deitch and  Michael B. Mushlin, struck the very same note: "The awareness by prison staff that a monitor could show up at any time would check employee misbehavior. The culture of a prison changes when outsiders shine a light on its operations and conditions."    

It is inexcusable for the Board of Supervisors to delay independent oversight measures that will save the county money and keep residents safer. Sheila Kuehl, Hilda Solis and Sheriff Jim McDonnell all ran on the promise to make meaningful civilian oversight a priority and a reality. What are they waiting for?  

(Eric Preven is a Studio City based writer-producer and public advocate for better transparency in local government.  He was a candidate in the 2015 election for Los Angeles City Council, 2nd District.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.






Vol 14 Issue 4

Pub: Jan 12, 2016

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