“The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.” – Phil Ochs
When we bought our first house in Highland Park in 1992, I used to go outside early in the morning for a cigarette and chat with the old, old-timer who lived at the top of the street. I don’t remember his name but we were amazed to discover he grew up on the same street as my mom – Peshine Avenue in Newark, NJ. I especially loved his stories about our little northeast LA street: “That house? Long ago it was the only one on the street. This whole area here? It was a little ranchero. That house’s been here since the mid-1800s. Ever wonder why all these lots are so long and narrow? (I hadn’t.) ‘Cause there used to be a redline stop at the bottom of the street. You could hop on the train on Figueroa and ride all the way to the beach.”
The news about the extension of Metro’s Expo Line this past week reminded me of my old friend. Did you hear Alan Weeks, the 84-year old retired Metro worker who had been on the last train to Santa Monica in 1953, describe the adventure? It’s hard to listen to him talk and not be optimistic about the future of Los Angeles.
And Super Bowl LV in 2021? Yay, LA!
LA CITY BUDGET: FY 2016-17
Councilmember José Huizar celebrated the passage of the budget after the recommendations of the Budget and Finance Committee were adopted by the Council on May 23:
The City Council approved its $8.76 billion fiscal year 2016-2017 budget today, which represents a 2% increase from last year’s budget as the City’s funding projections and economic growth continue to improve. Councilmember Huizar, the City Council and Mayor remain steadfast in reducing the City’s overall structural deficit, now at less than $90 million while increasing services and the City’s Reserve “Rainy Funds” to its highest level ever, at $322 million.
Highlighting the good news in this year’s budget, Huizar lists these key aspects:
More LAPD officers will be able to return to street patrols with the hiring of 300 civilians to do administrative and support services that are currently done by uniformed officers.
Increased Graffiti Removal: $1.5 million added for 13 new strike teams to help address the increased demand in graffiti removals, bringing full budget to $8.5 million.
Cleaner Park Bathrooms: Enough money for multiple daily cleanings of at least 50 of the City’s highest use park bathrooms. Normally park bathrooms are only cleaned once a day.
Community Plan updates: $1.9 million to fund two dozen positions in the Planning Department – something Councilmember Huizar, as Chair of PLUM, Council President Wesson, Mayor Garcetti and others called for recently to define and set clear zoning requirements and needs for the City’s many unique neighborhoods.
Clean Streets (citywide): The budget allocates $1.6 million to add a fourth Clean Streets team to help address unclean streets and homeless encampments and for 15 cameras to help catch illegal dumping violators, a program that was successfully piloted by Councilmember Huizar and the City Attorney’s office.
Sidewalk Program: $11 million in funding is provided for five crews to address sidewalks with accessibility challenges for the disabled and other high-liability locations. $6 million is also set aside to split the costs with property owners who want to repair their own sidewalks.
Vision Zero: The budget includes various pots of money to survey high-risk areas and design improvements, and to create 20 new pedestrian refuge islands and 20 new bus refuge islands to meet the City’s goal of zero pedestrian deaths.
Street Lighting: Funding for pedestrian lighting at 20 bus stops, lighting at mid-block crosswalks, and lighting at the top 50 schools in the Safe Routes to School program.
Tree Trimming: funding for City crews to remove dead street trees and tree-stumps and to do more tree trimming.
Of course the Councilman includes more good news for his own council district: Funds have been secured to move forward with the design of a new dog park at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center! Strong, long advocacy by all the friends of the LA River won funding for the purchase of the 40-acre G2 parcel in Taylor Yard, more good news.
As is typical, the heroic but unheralded work of the men and women who find the pennies in the City’s fiscal couch cushions – in the CLA, CAO, and department budget operations – made the magic happen. Besides finding resources for pretty much everyone’s budget priorities, the budget includes three new city (not contracted) tree crews, 12 new Park Rangers, half a million in speed humps, $1 million to implement the Comprehensive Job Creation Strategy, $125K for the new revenue commission, new and added services across a slew of city departments, and funding for a Wildlife Corridor Plan.
For your further edification and enjoyment, this year there are 113 budget memos. Budget Memo 113, for example, compares the use of full-time and part-time Traffic Officers, and, without benefit of fact or actual analysis, concludes with the CAO threatening a “decrease in citation revenue.”
DWP “REFORM” HONING IN ON WHAT’S WRONG?
While the FY2016-17 budget includes $4.4 million for initiatives on the November ballot and all the local pols appear hell-bent on getting some sort of “DWP reform” before the people, there also appears to be a narrowing of focus on solving what’s actually broken at the utility.
Wisely, most Neighborhood Councils share the opinion and recommendations of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council:
“The ERNC calls on the City Council to revisit the recommendations of the RAND Enterprise Analysis published in 2001 titled ‘Governance in a Changing Market: The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’ and create a committee to develop a Governance Structure that adequately meets the needs of its ratepaying residents. This committee should be composed of both subject matter experts, stakeholding Neighborhood Council members, responsible employees of the utility and its unions, and the city controller’s office. The Council should propose options as starting point for discussions that need to be both transparent and extensive so that they can address the many constraints facing our communities before an initiative is drafted.”
Listening to the Rules and Elections Committee meeting that was coordinated with many Neighborhood Council leaders in the Valley on May 11, this may be about the setting of rates after all. DWP Commissioner Jill Banks Barad unwittingly admitted to violating the Brown Act as she described how “several council members” asked her how to vote on the rate increase, adding something about concerns about their upcoming elections.
On the inability of the DWP to hire customer service reps in the face of the billing crisis, Barad shared this anecdote: “…because of the call wait time, we were asking the General Manager to hire – we needed 40 more people on the phones. She [Marcie Edwards] told us, because of the civil service system and the list and all that, ‘I can’t do it – my hands are tied!’ We told her to hire from another list, maybe our own list…”
[The DWP requested 23 positions be filled at that time, according to the state audit of the billing debacle.]
Councilmember Felipe Fuentes summarized his instant thinking on what “DWP reform” means to him (now):
“…Last time we did this we got area planning and neighborhood councils…but we never seem to get to the DWP – all of the studies and audits give us more information – the utility is owned by the ratepayer, the folks paying the bills, and we want bang for our buck – not blaming the board or the employees, but it’s just not that nimble and it might benefit from a little more independence.”
What does independence bring? While the conversation may have changed, the points of emphasis going forward are these:
- Efficiency: moving items back and forth between the DWP and the City Council.
- Oversight: independence is good – are we talking complete independence?
- Board: would the board benefit from independent analysis? The Office of Public Accountability begs the question – perhaps we should strengthen that role?
- Hiring: currently the City of Los Angeles performs that work with its downtown resources – I don’t believe the department gets its money’s worth even though the utility is “flush with ratepayer dollars”
- Transfer: manifests itself as additional service – what is the proper percentage?
- Contracting and procurement: while the initial motion contemplated the elimination of civil service protections for workers, it is incumbent upon us to protect the workers who are our biggest asset – reminded that 30% of the department’s workers are eligible to retire in the text five years.
- Management: the commissioners and the GM – those questions are begged – the charter will evolve – how we govern…
Notably during the May 11 hearing, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson reminded the record that the DWP is public and therefore different from private utilities. He and other members of the committee muttered assurances that this would always be the case.
The Pat Brown Institute just issued a report following up on its March 29 DWP Reform forum and there are pictures! Personally I find comfort in the close to Raphe Sonenshein’s email: “And just remember, nothing in the Los Angeles City Charter can be changed without a formal vote of the people.”
BUTCHERS RETURNING TO LOS ANGELES THIS FALL
We love Riverside and truly enjoy living in the Inland Empire but we’re both retired
– and the grandbaby! – we’ll be moving back to LA this fall.
It is such a funny thing about Los Angeles. LA? Hate it! Ay! The traffic! The congestion! The hipsters! My neighborhood? Move here! University Hills! Atwater Village! El Sereno! How ‘bout Tujunga?
LA is its neighborhoods! Hoping we can find one we can still afford!
“Los Angeles seems endlessly held between these extremes: of light and dark – of surface and depth, of promise, in brief, of a meaning always hovering on the edge of significance.” — Graham Clarke
Afternote: Read my political endorsements for the upcoming election June 7 here, if you like – keep in mind, we still live in Riverside! Nancy Melendez for Mayor!
Originally written for LA CityWatch – May 27, 2016