L.A. Needs Jobs, Not Tax Hikes, to Fight Poverty, Homelessness

 

homelessIn 2007, about a year before the economy crashed, the Gallup Poll found that 28 percent of Americans had at some point worried about becoming homeless.

It’s worse today. A new UCLA study found 31 percent of county residents worried about becoming homeless. Even among people earning between $90,000 and $120,000, 1 in 4 were afraid they would one day live on the street.

The fear is a symptom of a stagnant economy. If people felt confident that they would always be able to find a job, some kind of job to pay the bills, everybody would be sleeping better at night. Instead, there is widespread anxiety that unemployment could be imminent, devastating and at an ever-younger age, permanent.

When economic stagnation is the problem, a tax increase is not the solution. Higher taxes drain away resources needed for growth and job creation. Beleaguered businesses shrink, close or leave. Poverty spreads like water on a marble floor.

So it’s particularly depressing to see the city and county of Los Angeles plotting to raise taxes in the name of helping the homeless.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed $8.75 billion budget includes a pledge of $138 million to help get homeless people into affordable housing, but the future of Garcetti’s 10-year, $2 billion plan to house the homeless depends on persuading voters to approve a higher sales tax, more borrowing, or a new transfer tax on real estate transactions. None of those proposals reached 50 percent approval in a recent poll conducted for the city. They’d need a two-thirds vote to pass.

L.A. County’s proposed budget would spend $100 million to help the homeless, about one-fifth of what county officials say is needed. A poll on how to pay for it found 76 percent support for a half-percent tax increase on income over $1 million, about 67 percent support for a half-percent increase in the sales tax or a 15 percent sales tax on marijuana, and 47 percent approval for a $49 parcel tax added to property tax bills.

But can the problem of homelessness be solved with higher taxes?

There is reason to doubt it.

The Skid Row Housing Trust recently opened an affordable housing development to serve homeless veterans. “The Six” provides 52 units of permanent supportive housing, but it cost $16.7 million, about $321,000 per unit.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority says 46,874 people in L.A. County are without a roof over their heads. To house each of them in a place like “The Six” would cost $15 billion.

Suppose we paid it. Would Los Angeles then be free of homeless encampments? Would the sidewalks be clear for pedestrians? Would red lights be just red lights, and not a 30-second Dickens novel?

Not likely, thanks to the federal courts.

In 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the city of Los Angeles over enforcement of a section of the city code that allowed police to arrest people for sleeping on the street. The city lost. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Constitution “prohibits the city from punishing involuntary sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.”

The courts have also protected panhandling, calling it a First Amendment right. Last year, cities in Maine and Illinois were told they could not ban panhandling on the medians at intersections or in a busy downtown area.

So Los Angeles taxpayers could spend twice the city’s annual budget on housing the homeless and still have no legal way to stop a new wave of people from replacing them on the streets.

Homelessness is not one problem and it doesn’t have one solution, unless you’re a politician searching through polling data for a way to get voters to support another tax increase. Nobody likes homeless encampments? Bingo!

What’s needed in Los Angeles is a comprehensive effort to improve the business climate so people can find good jobs or run small businesses profitably. Every government policy that burdens businesses or consumers with higher costs reduces hiring, deepens poverty and puts more people at risk of living in vehicles, shelters or tents.

Sadly, our elected officials think of businesses not as engines of economic well-being, but as cash registers to be robbed by government do-gooders. They would rather have their picture taken in a homeless shelter than get out of the way and let people earn a living.

That should keep everybody up at night.

To reform DWP, L.A. should learn from other cities

DWPThe Los Angeles City Council is preparing to vote on new water and power rate ordinances that will raise DWP rates annually for the next five years. If Mayor Eric Garcetti signs the ordinances, they will start jacking up your bills within months.

The city has received over 2,000 angry letters of protest about the rate hikes. That may be why Council member Felipe Fuentes introduced a motion for DWP governance reform to be put on the ballot later this year.

The DWP is governed by a five-member board of commissioners, but the utility is really a department of the city, controlled by the mayor. The commissioners are appointed by the mayor and may be removed at any time. The mayor even controls the board’s agenda.

Over the last 15 years, study after study has concluded that the DWP’s governance structure is a problem. There are too many layers of political control, which prevents efficient decision-making and saddles ratepayers with the costs of pet projects, as well as over $250 million per year for general city expenses. DWP salaries are significantly higher than the salaries of L.A. city workers in comparable jobs, and more than double the average salary for comparable jobs nationwide.

Real governance reform would redefine the roles of the board, the general manager and city officials. It would create clear lines of authority and accountability, and it would prevent the kind of political influence or micro-managing that interferes with day-to-day operations.

Instead, city officials have proposed replacing the volunteer board of commissioners with a full-time, salaried board. The mayor also called for more predictable rate adjustments and an overhaul of hiring and contracting practices. Garcetti said he looks forward to a “thorough public discussion” with “stakeholders across the city,” led by Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr.

Wesson sent a letter to the city’s 96 Neighborhood Councils on Feb. 19.

“Dear Neighborhood Council Leaders,” he wrote. “Today marks the beginning of an open and public conversation about making the city’s utility run more efficiently and effectively while ensuring accountability.”

Wesson asks the council leaders to “agendize this item for discussion and action” at their March and April meetings. “This is your time to shine and show the city and its residents the importance and value you bring to city government,” he wrote.

That’s not the way other cities have reformed their utilities.

In 2012, people in Austin, Texas, had some of the same problems with their city-owned utility that L.A. residents have with the DWP.

Rates were going up. Austin Energy had just spent $80 million on a new billing system which was riddled with problems. And the city required the utility to transfer $155 million a year of the money collected from ratepayers to cover general government expenses.

Austin set up a commission to figure out how to make Austin Energy run more efficiently. The commission reviewed research papers on the governance of municipal utilities around the country, studies by the University of Florida, Price Waterhouse, Navigant, the American Public Power Association and the RAND Corporation, and comparisons of utility governance in San Antonio, Denver and Jacksonville.

Sacramento is another city that reformed the governance of its municipal utility. In 2002, the board of directors of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) brought in John Carver, an Atlanta-based expert on nonprofit governing boards. Carver gave the board a presentation of a model he calls Policy Governance, which is designed to make a board effective by balancing independence and accountability.

Ultimately the SMUD board brought in another specialist in governance reform, Leading Resources Inc., to create customized policies for improved efficiency.

Between 2006 and 2011, SMUD’s electricity rates went up by 3.78 percent per year, while LADWP rates rose at an annual rate of 5.67 percent.

Colorado Springs reformed the governance of its public utility in 2011 with a wide-ranging study of reports from consultants and citizen commissions going back to 1993. Researchers looked closely at the city charter, the rate-setting authority, the governance of similar utilities, alternative governance structures, and factors affecting credit and interest rates.

But Los Angeles will reform DWP governance simply by adding it to the agenda of the Neighborhood Councils and discussing it at the March and April meetings.

That’s not how you reform the governance of the nation’s largest municipal utility if you’re serious.

That’s how you do it if you’re trying to fake seriousness just long enough to get a five-year rate increase passed.

LA Renters: How Do They Do It?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

A scroll through rental sites like Trulia or Apartments.com brings up a one-bedroom/one bath in Westwood at $3,100 per month and a studio in Miracle Mile at $2,295. Conventional financial advice is to spend no more than 30 percent of gross monthly income on rent, which translated into real terms, would mean an income of $97,160 to comfortably afford average rent in Los Angeles, according to a December 2014 analysis by Zillow.

The rental situation results from a perfect storm of single-digit vacancies, median home prices at $554,100 per Zillow, and wages that have not caught up with the rental market. Rental pricing is a function of supply demand. If few units are available, rents will rise to what the market will bear, barring rent control or other regulations.

Just how significant is the problem? A nationwide study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University concluded that close to 60 percent of renters in the LA/OC metro area are “burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent, leaving less in the pot for other expenses like food and healthcare, not to mention savings and disposable income, hurting the economy and dashing hopes to eventually become a home owner.

About a third of renters (32.8 percent) are “severely burdened,” meaning they spend more than half of their income for rent and utilities, a percentage that has increased by less than half a percent this year but still reflects a growing problem.

Although rent in San Francisco/Silicon Valley and New York outpace Los Angeles, the wage gap in Los Angeles is what makes rent affordability a troubling issue in the City of Angels. Nearly 91 percent of those earning $15,000 to $30,000 need to pay 70 percent of their monthly paychecks towards housing. Among moderate earners ($30,000 to $45,000), 78 percent pay rents that exceed the 30 percent threshold. Slightly over one in four who earn over $45,000 are rent-burdened.

A study by the NYU Furman Center and Capital One concluded that L.A. has the biggest gap between rising rents and falling wages of any U.S. city. The average paycheck in the L.A. Metro area has decreased by 4 percent between 2006 and 2013, while rents increased by 11 percent.

As the price of single-family home ownership continues to increase, rising 5.2 percent during 2015, median incomes in L.A. increased by only 2.9 percent, just above the national average. Housing forecasts indicate that many Angelenos are destined to be lifelong renters, which, you’ve got it, increases demand and decreases supply. With a nod to your high school economics teachers, that means rent is bound to continue escalating.

The increasing rental market is bringing construction but vacancy rates have dropped to just 2.7 percent in hot neighborhoods like downtown. Over half of the new 5,200 rentals listed online are located downtown. Keeping in line with Mayor Garcetti’s ambitious proposal to increase units by 17,000 by 2017, more than 15,000 units are under construction all over LA.

Despite the increase in units, a third quarter rental market report by Marcus & Millichap concludes that rents are continuing to spiral upward. Rents throughout the city were up by 7.8 percent and are expected to continue the climb by more than double the rate of inflation.

Even in the (818), where renters traded in shorter commutes for affordable housing, rents are up by 7.4 percent, the highest rent increase in the Northeast Valley, where rents are up 15.1 percent. The increase in rents in the Valley may be in part due to the cooldown in construction, though 3,100 units are expected to be added to the market next year.

Central L.A. rents have outpaced the rest of the city in rents, increasing an average of 6.2 percent, with the biggest increases in Hollywood where average rents rose by 7.2 percent to $2,209 per month. Mid-Wilshire rents increased by 6.4 percent.

Downtown, rents increased by 5.3 percent, likely because of an upswing in development. Of the 2,800 units built in Central L.A., 1,900 were located downtown. The vacancy rate downtown hovers around 3.7 percent, lower than in other areas and about ten percent of apartment units offer concessions to attract renters to sign a lease.

Rents on the Westside are up 6.8 percent with Palms/Mar Vista seeing an upsurge of 10.5 percent. Average rents in Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey are now over $3,000 per month, higher than Brentwood/Westwood/Beverly Hills, where the average rent is now $2,891 per month, up by 9.3 percent since last year. About half of the new units built on the Westside are in and around Santa Monica. In 2016, over 1,000 new rental units are expected to be built, more than 700 in Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey.

Is Los Angeles destined to remain unaffordable to low- to moderate-income residents? The mayor’s ambitious proposal includes step increases of units to 150,000 units by 2025. He also hopes to increase affordable housing units close to mass transit.

Any solution to the affordable housing problem must address wages and enticements to developers and investors to develop units that are within the budget for more Angelenos, as well as zoning restrictions to curb the building of expensive housing.

This piece was originally published by CityWatchLA.com

Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

Special Interests Look to Raid Your Wallet in 2016

TaxesIn 368 days, we will be voting for the next president of the United States. In very blue California, the outcome is not in doubt.  Nor is the party of our next U.S. Senator.

On the other hand, the statewide ballot measures will be a donnybrook as special interests with wads of campaign cash are looking to raid our wallets and to prevent citizens from authorizing the issuance of billions in debt on major public works projects.

The educational establishment, the teachers’ unions, and the building industry have placed a $9 billion general obligation school bond measure on the ballot. This will end up costing taxpayers an average of $500 million a year for the next 35 years, a total of $17.6 billion, including $8.6 billion in interest. The proceeds from these bonds will be used for new construction ($3 billion), modernization of K-12 public school facilities ($3 billion), charter schools ($1 billion) and California Community Colleges ($1 billion).

The “No Blank Checks Initiative” has also qualified for the ballot. This measure would require a public vote to approve any revenue bonds on state projects that exceed $2 billion. Unlike general obligation bonds that are serviced with our tax dollars, revenue bonds rely on the cash flow of the particular project which, in turn, relies on the fees paid by the citizens using the services of the particular project.

The provisions of this constitutional amendment would apply to Gov. Brown’s two legacy pet projects, the $68 billion high speed rail boondoggle connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco and the $15 billion Twin Tunnels that will convey hundreds of billions of gallons of water every year from the Sacramento River to the California Aqueduct that serves Southern California and to farms in the Central Valley.

While No Blank Checks only qualified for the ballot on November 2, the political establishment and business and labor groups are already trashing this initiative that will limit their ability to pick the pockets of the citizens of California unless they have our approval. The opposition to this citizen empowering amendment will no doubt devote huge resources to defeat this measure sponsored by Dean Cortopassi, a Stockton based farmer who opposes the Twin Tunnels.

We can also expect several other tax measures on the ballot, including efforts by the public sector unions to extend or make permanent the temporary tax increases imposed by Proposition 30 that was approved by 55 percent of the voters in November of 2012. This measure increased our sales tax by a quarter of a cent until December 31, 2018 and the marginal tax rate on higher incomes ($250,00 and up) until December 31, 2016.

Alternatively, State Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, is considering a proposal to extend the sales tax to include services in order to smooth out the revenue swings of our boom or bust tax system that relies heavily on upper income residents and a good stock market.  But under the guise of reform, Hertzberg wants to raise $10 billion in additional revenue for the State.  Otherwise, to use the $10 Billion Man’s own words, “it’s not worth the effort.”

But that’s not all folks!!!!

There is also an effort to increase our gas tax to fund the $59 billion repair bill for our highways as designated funds were diverted by our free spending Legislature to pay for ever increasing personnel costs, including ballooning pension contributions.

Other political insiders and union leaders are pushing for a “Split Roll” ballot measure where Proposition 13 would not apply to commercial properties, raising an estimated $9 billion for local governments. Of course, these proponents will fail to mention that these additional taxes will be passed along to us through higher prices for goods and services.

In Los Angeles County, Metro and the Board of Supervisors are preparing to place on the ballot yet another half cent increase in our sales tax to pay for transportation projects. Mayor Garcetti has endorsed this tax increase, in large part because the Local Return provision will kick back 25 percent of the tax revenue to our profligate city which, despite huge increases in tax revenues, still has not eliminated its Structural Deficit or made an effort to Live Within Its Means.

Prepare for barrage of propaganda and a heavily financed assault on our wallets by the fiscally irresponsible politicians, the public sector unions, self-serving special interests, and their ring kissing cronies. But until the city, county and state reform their finances and inefficient operations, we need to reject their efforts to pick our pockets.

After all, we are already one the highest taxed states in the nation, right up there with financial basket cases like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

We are not striving to be Number One. Just Say No.

Originally published by CityWatch.org

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds — www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com)

L.A. Turns to Feds for Help With Homeless

homelessStruggling to slow L.A.’s spike in homelessness, city leaders have booked an appointment with the federal government.

“Secretary Julian Castro will be in Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council members and county supervisors, HUD spokesman George Gonzalez said,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hoping for cash

Despite the crisis, which has drawn unfavorable media attention amid L.A.’s recent boom in homeless-heavy areas like the city’s downtown, expectations were set low. “No major announcement was expected to come out of the meeting. Gonzalez said it was intended as an ‘exchange of ideas’ on the state of homelessness in Los Angeles,” the Times added.

City leaders hope the agency’s concern could manifest in additional funds to fight what Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared a public emergency around homelessness, as Los Angeles city and country governments both prioritized the issue. As the New York Times reported last month, the announcement marked the first time a U.S. city had made such a proclamation. “National experts on homelessness say Los Angeles has had a severe and persistent problem with people living on the streets rather than in shelters — the official estimate is 26,000,” noted the Times.

Uncertain goals

After announcing his initiative, Garcetti said, “he received a call from Castro, who had toured Skid Row earlier this year,” as the Los Angeles Daily News reported.

“The focus on homelessness came after a count conducted this year by Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority showed that the number of homeless people in the county increased by 12 percent since 2013. More than 44,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County and about 70 percent of them live on the streets, in vehicles or in make-shift encampments.”

Questions remained as to what exactly Castro intended to accomplish through his visit. “He did indicate several times that HUD approved of the way that local elected officials were tackling homelessness,” Southern California Public Radio observed; in remarks, Castro noted that “more than anything else, I’m here […] to listen,” while insisting that “criminalizing homelessness is not the best approach. That is something that HUD has recognized very firmly.”

Despite the focus on L.A.’s significance to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, city officials appeared to place their funding hopes in the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Although former Secretary of Labor and current L.A. Supervisor Hilda Solis recently invoked the agency, the Daily News observed, its spokesman for the area covering Los Angeles threw doubt on the idea. “For homelessness, I’ve never heard that as a cause of an emergency because that’s a local social issue that would generally be handled at the city or county or state level,” he said.

A big pledge

In the interim, Los Angeles has pledged to allocate substantial sums to curbing homelessness, which has become an especially galling problem among veterans. “Members of the City Council say they are working on a $100 million plan to combat homelessness,” SCPR reported. “County supervisors this month voted to boost spending on homelessness to $100 million for the year. Earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had said he would release a blueprint to end homelessness in August.”

Garcetti’s priorities around urban issues have not been without their critics. At a recent speech in South Los Angeles, the mayor was confronted by Jefferson Park protesters, some of whom pounded on his vehicle and demanded the resignation of the current Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck. “I am disappointed that our conversation was cut short when there is so much work for us to do together to make our neighborhoods stronger and safer,” Garcetti later remarked, according to CBS Los Angeles. “I believe in our city and my commitment to our shared concerns continues stronger than ever.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Los Angeles: The City Of Whining About The Car

los-angeles-freeway-helicopter-1There was something very strange about the Los Angeles City Council debate on the day they adopted the Mobility Plan 2035.

On August 11, the council was rushing to pass a 20-year plan that called for removing traffic lanes on busy streets to make room for 300 miles of protected bike lanes. Councilman Mike Bonin told his colleagues how much safer the roads would be once traffic was slowed by the lane reductions.

“Only 5 percent of those hit by a car going 20 miles per hour die,” Bonin said. “Over 80 percent of those who are hit by a car going 40 miles per hour die.”

You don’t typically hear an elected official arguing for slowing city traffic to 20 miles per hour. And then the council members began to hint that the plan wasn’t binding on anybody.

“Every particular project will need to be vetted by you, in your district, with your constituents,” Bonin told his colleagues.

“This is a concept,” council president Herb Wesson said. “If you choose to vote on this today, it will not be put in place tomorrow.”

They called it “a vision statement,” and “an aspirational document.” And then the truth came out.

“This is a document that also helps us get a lot of money from somewhere else,” Bonin said. “This is a document that can help us get active transportation funds from the state. This is a document that can help us tap into cap-and-trade funds because it will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a smart thing to be doing.”

Sacramento has more than a billion dollars available for projects that reduce greenhouse gases, money that is pouring in from new fees on gasoline and diesel fuel that began on Jan. 1. The cash goes into a fund for politicians to hand out to anything green, or greenish.

And that’s why officials have turned Los Angeles, the city of the car, into the city of whining about the car.

“We have for too long been wedded to the single-occupancy vehicle,” Bonin intoned.

But how many people in Los Angeles want to divorce their cars?

A test is underway in Northridge, where Reseda Boulevard between Parthenia and Plummer has been declared one of the city’s “Great Streets.” It’s now the site of L.A.’s only protected bike lanes.

“People love it,” City Council representative Mitchell Englander said, “it’s brought back new vibrancy to an area that didn’t have that.”

Mayor Garcetti says the Great Streets initiative aims to create “transformative gathering places for Angelenos to come together.” So in addition to the bike lanes, the Reseda Boulevard sidewalks were given a paint job and some outdoor furniture.

But on a recent afternoon, no one was transforming or gathering on the new streetscape. The scattered furniture — yellow benches, chairs and tables styled to suggest a 1960s living room — sat empty and grimy, facing the traffic or turned toward the gritty storefronts, bolted to a sidewalk that had been painted to look like flagstones.

And on that afternoon more cyclists were riding on the sidewalks than in the protected bike lane. Alex, a CSUN student who said he rides a bike to get around the neighborhood, said the sidewalk is much safer, because cyclists in the bike lane can too easily be hit by cars near the corners, where the right-turn lane and bike lane overlap.

In a shopping center on the southeast corner of Reseda and Nordhoff, people sat at outdoor tables having coffee or dinner, and no one had anything good to say about the new street design.

“I hate it, it’s made traffic worse,” said one Northridge resident. Another said it was “much more dangerous” with parking spaces to the left of the bike lane leaving drivers to open their doors into the traffic.

Left turns into the shopping center are now illegal, so customers have to go around the block and drive north on Reseda to be on the right side of the street. “Who’s going to do that?” said a restaurant manager. “Everyone just makes an illegal left turn or goes somewhere else.”

A few yards away, customers were lined up for handmade ice cream sandwiches at a new store called Cream.

“I’d like to put in some benches,” said co-owner Mario Ramirez, indicating the walkway between his store and a row of parking spaces. “People seem to gather here.”

The early test results are in: People don’t want streetscapes and bike lanes. They want parking and ice cream.

CA Supreme Court Forces Affordable Housing on Developers

affordable housingMany Golden State developers must now include so-called affordable housing units in their sales plans. The California Supreme Court sided against the builders, who brought a contentious, high-profile suit against municipal policymakers.

“At issue was a 2010 San Jose law that requires some new residential developments to set aside 15 percent of their units for sale at below-market rates,” noted the San Jose Mercury News. “The California Building Industry Association said the city failed to justify the 15 percent requirement and should base any such quota on an assessment of possible negative effects of the market-rate housing.”

But the impact of the ruling went far beyond San Jose city limits. “The League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties estimate more than 170 municipalities have some kind of ordinance on the books,” according to KQED. Officials in Sacramento have also brought attention to the diminishing quantity of less costly urban housing. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the state’s Legislative Analyst reported months ago that California’s housing is among the nation’s most expensive.

Given the court’s protection of the laws, their continued expansion became all but certain in liberal-leaning urban areas. “The decision clears the way for Los Angeles and other cities to require developers to sell a percentage of the units they build at below-market rates as a condition of a building permit. Developers also could be given the option of paying into a fund for low-cost housing,” the Times reported.

In a statement, the Times added, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti applauded the ruling. “This gives Los Angeles and other local governments another possible tool to use as we tackle our affordable housing crisis,” he said.

A hands-off approach

Describing California’s paucity of cheap housing as a crisis of “epic proportions,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye went well beyond the bounds of San Jose’s set-asides to endorse broad municipal regulatory powers. Cities, she wrote, should “regulate the use of real property to serve the legitimate interests of the general public and the community at large.”

Rather than seeing itself as indulging in judicial activism, however, the court embraced city attorneys’ contentions that its powers simply didn’t extend to pricing rules. “There is no basis for the courts to second-guess the City Council’s considered judgment in adopting an inclusionary housing ordinance as a means to comply with its affordable housing aims,” they argued, according to the Associated Press.

Judicial gymnastics

Behind the hands-off approach, however, the court followed a complex line of legal interpretation. Plaintiffs claimed that San Jose’s “inclusive housing ordinance,” or IHO, amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of property. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the possibility of such a taking triggered heightened judicial scrutiny, a stricter standard of interpretation than the city’s attorneys wanted the California Supreme Court to use.

Under heightened scrutiny, a so-called “exaction” imposed by an IHO can only pass constitutional muster if regulators “can establish a reasonable relationship between the amount of a city’s need for affordable housing and the portion of that need attributable to a particular development project,” as the National Law Review noted.

The city admitted that it broke new ground in the aggressiveness of its housing regulations. As KQED noted, “the city side-stepped the usual study showing a relationship between the development of for-sale housing and the city’s need for affordable housing.”

But the court, the Review continued, ruled the set-aside in San Jose’s IHO was not an exaction at all, “because it did not constitute the payment of a monetary fee but rather simply placed a limit on the way a developer may use its property.” Rather than requiring developers to pay money or turn over its property to the public, the IHO placed “a restriction on the property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer certain units for sale.”

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Do L.A. Council Members Pay Their Gardeners, Cleaners at Least $15 an Hour?

Amid Los Angeles City Hall’s push to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020, some city lawmakers say they already are paying at least that hourly rate to the gardeners, housekeepers and baby sitters who work at their homes.

South LA and downtown City Councilman Curren Price, who co-introduced the minimum wage ordinance, employs a housekeeper and pays her more than $20 an hour, a Price spokeswoman said.

Price declined to release her name, citing privacy concerns.

On the east side of Los Angeles, City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell pays two gardeners $60 a month for about an hour’s work total at his home, an O’Farrell spokesman said.

Like Price, O’Farrell — and the other council members who responded to this news organization’s questions about outside workers — declined to release the names of the workers.

Council members earn $184,610 annually, among the highest in the country for city lawmakers.

Those making the $9-an-hour minimum wage earn about $16,000 annually, according to a UC Berkeley studycommissioned by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Asked what hourly wages council members pay for household services, about half the 15-member council declined to comment or didn’t respond to the request.

City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, has contracts with businesses that provide household services and a child care provider, all of whom he pays above $15 an hour, his spokeswoman said.

The councilman also pays for vacation and sick time, she said.

Valley Councilman Bob Blumenfield and his family also hire employees to handle home maintenance and child care-related tasks, a Blumenfield spokesman said.

Those employees “earn decent wages in excess of $15 per hour in addition to vacation, sick time, social security and other benefits,” the spokesman said.

The hourly mean wage for housekeepers and cleaners in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region is $12.17, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figure is $11.06 for child care workers.

Amid sometimes emotional debates about the minimum wage and economic inequality, several council members have cited their humble upbringings in arguing for a citywide pay hike.

At a council meeting two weeks ago, Price recalled growing up in a working-class family in South LA, while Councilwoman Nury Martinez said her father made $13,000 a year as a dishwasher.

In raising wages, Los Angeles is poised to join Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle in hiking citywide pay.

Garcetti first proposed the hike last year, telling crowds at a South LA event that the city’s $9 wage is a “poverty wage.”

Garcetti resides in the Getty House, the official mayoral residence, with his family. Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said the mayor pays any worker in his household “at least” $15 an hour.

At least three City Council members — Gil Cedillo, Tom LaBonge and Bernard Parks — said they don’t hire any outside workers. Parks, who has two grandchildren, said: “I baby-sit periodically for free.”

Originally published by CityWatchLA.com

(Dakota Smith covers City Hall for the Daily News.  She can be reached  at dakota.smith@dailynews.com. Posted originally by the Daily News.)

Los Angeles Jacks Minimum Wage to $15 Per Hour

As reported by the Orange County Register

The Los Angeles City Council gave its initial approval Tuesday to raise minimum pay in the nation’s second-largest city to $15 an hour over the next five years, joining a nationwide movement to boost living standards for the poorest American workers.

“The minimum wage should not be a poverty wage in Los Angeles,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is expected to sign the ordinance once a final draft is approved by the council.

The measure, strongly opposed by city businesses, would affect more than 700,000 workers, including dishwashers, janitors, gardeners, fast-food cashiers, parking attendants and housekeepers.

Los Angeles Councilman Mitchell Englander, the lone dissenter in the 14-1 vote, predicted the raise would lead to …

Click here to read the full article

Should citizens be allowed to videotape police in action?

Faced with mounting criticism over civil liberties abuses, lawmakers in Sacramento greenlit a so-called clarification of Californians’ right to videotape and photograph police officers on the job.

Senate Bill 411, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, protects the practice so long as active bystanders are “not interfering with official duties,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

videotaping policeAccording to the bill’s language, “the fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of an executive officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not, in and of itself, a violation[.]”

What’s more, Lara’s bill set out that photographing or videotaping police in that matter would not “constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.”

Setting a trend

Passing 31-3 in the state Senate, SB411 headed to the Assembly, setting up California to become a possible trendsetter in the way citizen monitoring of police could be treated. Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.

Although settled constitutional law has recognized both a right to videotape and a right to prevent interference with policing, widespread departures from that standard have prompted state lawmakers to intervene. In Colorado, for instance, a recent bill “proposed making it a crime for police to stop citizens from filming,” as the Daily Beast observed.

But, across the country, pieces of legislation have run into trouble regardless of which side of the debate they favor. In Connecticut, for instance, a bill permitting “lawsuits against police officers who interfere with those photographing or videotaping them during the performance of their duties was blocked Monday by Republicans in the judiciary committee,”according to the Hartford Courant.

In Texas, meanwhile, a police-friendly “cop-watcher” bill drew fire from legal observers, journalists, gun owners and others:

Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba introduced HB 2918, which would make it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet — raising serious concerns that the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment and prevent individuals from holding police accountable. For Texans legally carrying a firearm, the buffer zone required would be 100 feet under Villalba’s proposal.

Halting progress

As Calwatchdog.com previously reported, Sacramento has labored to keep up with changing technology, police tactics and public opinion. In January, several Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation around the use of on-cop bodycams. By videotaping situations police entered into, the logic ran, misconduct would decrease at the same time that police gained clear evidence of proper conduct that could help prevent lawsuits or help resolve them to the departments’ benefit.

police-body-cameraAttorney General Kamala Harris, for her part, has long considered police abuses to be an important part of her political and legal agenda — a stance that could gain prominence as her bid to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer draws more potent challengers.

Despite widespread support for bodycams among Democrats, along with many libertarians and some Republicans, the policy has attracted its share of problems. In Los Angeles, where Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti blazed a path toward standardizing the equipment, concern has persisted over the use of cloud storage, as Southern California Public Radio reported:

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will present this month his proposed city budget for the coming year. It’s expected to include money for body cameras for all Los Angeles Police Department officers. But some security analysts argue the LAPD’s plan to store body camera video in the cloud could make the images more vulnerable to attack than if the department placed them on its local servers.”

As yet, the question of cloud storage for recordings of police has not yet threatened to stall the progress of SB411  in Sacramento.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com