Will the Trickle Become the LA River? And for Whom?

GUEST WORDS-The back-story on how Mayor Eric Garcetti succeeded in winning $1 billion for the LA River Restoration is a fascinating lesson in politics. Simply put, President Barack Obama owed the mayor, and the president came through.

Back in 2007, Garcetti took a chance on Obama against the overwhelming liberal consensus on Hillary Clinton. Garcetti, while LA City Council President rode buses into the heat of Nevada to knock on doors for the long shot candidate, bringing LA volunteers with him. All that year, all over the country, Garcetti was one of Obama’s durable supporters. He repeated in 2012. Los_Angeles_River_Bridge_B&W

But when the 2013 mayor’s race came around, Obama wasn’t there for Garcetti in his battle with Wendy Greuel. Some of Obama’s best fund-raisers and top operatives did work for Garcetti while the president stayed out.

Therefore when Garcetti was elected, Obama was obligated. He opened the White House and agency doors to the young mayor, and listened attentively when Garcetti made plain his Big Ask: one billion dollars for the LA River.

Garcetti asked not once, but again and again. He called on California’s congressional delegation to weigh in. He sent hundreds of thousands of petitions. He and his team marshaled the complicated arguments over why the $500 million offered by the Army Corps of Engineers was not enough and why only $1 billion would do the job. One billion dollars for eleven miles of restoration on a dilapidated abandoned cement channel. One billion dollars amidst a political climate of austerity, at a time the president was supposedly thinking “small”.

How this agreement was navigated will be learned in the future. But two “no-drama” politicians played the political currents perfectly, setting the possible stage for one of the most important urban restorations in recent years. A legacy for Obama; a future for Garcetti.

It’s hard to imagine Los Angeles with a river running through it. The happy mayor is promising there will be “jackhammers on concrete” someday soon.

The vision and its possibilities brought emotion this week to many who fought for the vision years ago when it was considered hopeless. Poets like Lewis MacAdams; events with Mike Davis and Gary Snyder; and Judy Baca, SPARC, and kids painting The Great Wall. The community fights for parks instead of warehouses at the Cornfield and Taylor Yard. The expansion of the Santa Monica Mountains conservancy to the watershed and the birth of the San Gabriel River project. Out of the longer lost past came restored memories of the Great Park envisioned as the unifying center of Los Angeles in the 1930 Olmsted Report.

I remember campaigning on the river edge when my wife Barbara fell in back in 1997. There were many wild night car rides straight through the channel and its tunnels. Old folks could remember when they fished and inter-tubed there when they were young, before it was cemented almost to death by Public Works. In Sacramento, I had to smuggle $6.7 million into the state budget for River restoration when no one knew what it meant. Budget deals are based on compromise, and that’s how river funding began.

Los Angeles seemed doomed to be the only major North American city without a river running through it. Were we so singularly threatened by floods? That threadbare argument was replaced by stronger ones: the “cement channel” was a done deal; it was a crime and vandalism area; the marine life was beyond recovery.

The river was dead, officially. But it did not stop the restoration struggle, which became a fight for the identity of the city, against the lords of over-development who made congestion and pollution their ugly twins. Antonio Villaraigosa, while Speaker of the California Assembly, carried the bond measure that funded the early start, and campaigned all over LA promising to bring the river back from the dead. It became one of his most popular pledges while running for Mayor of Los Angeles.

Still Washington was not listening. Big “urban” projects were a hard sell in conservative times, especially with the government’s own experts belittling the river project. Even today, the $1 billion announcement does not sound possible coming from Washington, and more fights may lie ahead. The River project sounds like a small version of the New Deal, when the government helped develop so many of our parks and public buildings. Such big-spending programs were deemed unaffordable anachronisms by the billionaire real state barons.

The next stage will be difficult. Garcetti says he wants, “the good gentrification and not the bad,” but it’s inevitable that pressures of displacement will fall on the working class and poor communities who have lived along the river for decades. According to the Army Corps’ draft study, “much of Los Angeles is considered to be park deficient (with) access to parks…lowest in areas that have the highest number of families below the (household income line) of $47,331.” It would be a tragic repeat of LA’s land-use history if the small homeowners and taxpayers living along the channel’s edge are forced out to make room for a new destination zone for the affluent.

Voices in the environmental justice community, like the City Project’s Robert Garcia, are demanding a river with access to all. But it will take the same determination shown by Garcetti in fighting for the river funding in order to prevent a juggernaut of commercial and high-income development from turning the River project into a profitable bonanza when it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to green and make livable the quality of life for all Angelenos.

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice and environmental movements. This column was posted originally at The Peace Exchange.


Leave No One Behind


Obama: Why I couldn’t tell Congress

From Politico:

President Barack Obama said Friday that he decided to keep Congress in the dark about the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because pulling off the sensitive deal “required no publicity.”

“As I said before, the main concern was — is that we had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity,” the president said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired Friday when asked why he had not communicated with Congress. Obama’s comments follow reports this week that administration officials had told senators that the White House didn’t brief them ahead of time because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if the pending deal got out, a claim that Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein criticized and dismissed.

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Uber Sets Valuation Record of $17 Billion in New Funding

From Bloomberg:

Uber Technologies Inc. is creating a new category of hot startup: the $17 billion club. The San Francisco-based transportation service, which lets people order private town cars and other vehicles from their smartphone, has raised $1.2 billion in a new financing led by Fidelity Investments. The funding positions the company at the front of a pack of Internet startups, at a pre-money valuation of about $17 billion, up from $3.5 billion in a financing last year.

Other investors in the new round include Wellington Management, Summit Partners, BlackRock Inc., venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and existing investors such as Google Ventures and Menlo Ventures. Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick said he was keeping the round open to strategic partners that might pitch in an additional $200 million, though he declined to name possible partners.

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Immigration missing from House Republican agenda for June

From the Hill:

House Republicans will take up an extension of highway programs, tax credits and appropriations over the next month, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told lawmakers in a Friday memo. Conspicuously missing from the memo was any mention of an immigration bill.

The White House and Democrats have pressed Republicans in the House to move on immigration reform, but GOP leaders have come under heavy counter pressure from groups opposed to giving any form of “amnesty” to illegal immigrants. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has repeatedly said House Republicans don’t trust that President Obama would enforce laws to prevent illegal immigration.

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Eric Cantor

GM Recalls Even More Vehicles

In a stunning turn of events, General Motors has decided to recall another 105,000 vehicles bringing this year’s grand total up to 14 million vehicles. A statement, previously made by newly-minted CEO Mary T. Barra, claimed that experts, rather than the bottom line, would decide the necessity of a vehicle recall. GM’s last recall ended in a lawsuit which settled for a measly $35 million, or less than 1% of earnings. With such light penalties for such egregious breaches in trust, it’s easy to see why companies aren’t afraid to gamble with their customer’s livelihood. After all, it’s only a drop in the bucket. 

From NPR:300px-General_Motors.svg

A day after General Motors admitted it failed customers who owned cars with a defective ignition switch, the automaker issued a recall for 105,000 more vehicles, bringing the total number of GM recalls so far this year to 34, involving 14 million vehicles, Michigan Public Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports. The latest recall covers 57,512 heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks from model years 2014 and 2015, as well as Chevy Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon SUVs from model year 2015.

GM says: “The base radio may not work, preventing audible warnings if the key is in the ignition when the driver’s door is opened. Nor would there be an audible chime if a front seat belt is not buckled. If they had this condition, the trucks would be out of compliance with motor vehicle safety standards covering theft protection, rollaway protection and occupant crash protection. Dealers will reprogram the radio control module free of charge. GM is unaware of any crashes or injuries related to this condition.”

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Susan Rice and the Sunday show curse

From Politico:

The White House has a message for critics of National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s performance on last week’s Sunday morning TV shows: She’ll be back. Well, maybe. Rice isn’t scheduled to appear on any of the Sunday news shows this weekend, a week after she was hammered by Republicans for saying on ABC’s “This Week” that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.”

That wasn’t Rice’s first trip up on a Sunday; her characterization of the deadly attack in Benghazi in 2012 touched off even more of an uproar. Now, Republicans and even some former administration aides say the time has come to retire her as a White House weekend message maven.

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FBI agent testifies against former jail employees

From The L.A. Register:

Armed with widespread allegations of deputy violence against inmates locked in county jails, federal agents sought the help of a convicted felon to covertly gather information. The inmate, Anthony Brown, was provided a cellphone by the FBI to document deputies beating inmates and other misconduct, FBI agent Leah Marx told jurors in a U.S. District courtroom this week.

“He informed us that he wanted to have someone know what was going on in the jails because he didn’t think it was right,” Marx said Thursday during her second day of testimony. Six former department employees are charged with obstructing justice and conspiracy for allegedly attempting to hide Brown from agents to block the federal probe.

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Obama, Putin come face-to-face in France at D-Day event

From CNN:

(CNN) — A much anticipated encounter between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, came on the sidelines of a lunch held Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. But a conversation between Putin and Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko may have been more fruitful.

Putin and Poroshenko’s conversation included plans to discuss a cease-fire in the coming days, the office of French President Francois Hollande said. During their informal aside, Obama told Putin that to reduce tensions in Ukraine, Russia must recognize Poroshenko as the country’s legitimate leader and stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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Economy recovers all jobs lost in Great Recession; don’t celebrate yet

From The L.A. Times:

After adding 217,000 net new jobs last month, the U.S. economy has recovered all the positions lost during the Great Recession. But economists warned that the news Friday from the Labor Department was no real reason to celebrate.

“Things are improving, but it’s happening agonizingly slowly,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “At the pace we are currently going, it will take nearly four more years to get back to prerecession labor market conditions.”

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unemployment jobs