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

Taking On The Minimum-Wage Debate in L.A.

The national debate over minimum-wage increases will take center stage in Los Angeles because two efforts to raise the minimum wage face staunch opposition from the business community.

The Los Angeles Business Federation, known as BizFed, went on the offensive last week, coming out strongly against both minimum-wage proposals and the way the City Council is going about reviewing the consequences of a minimum-wage increase.

Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to see the minimum wage increased to $13.25 an hour; while advocates and some council members say that’s not enough, the minimum wage should go up to $15.25 per hour.

BizFed doesn’t think the discussion should be a competition on which higher minimum wage proposal takes effect, but whether there should be an increase at all at a time the state is raising the minimum wage — to $9 an hour in 2014 from $8; and to $10 in 2016.

BizFed made its argument against the minimum-wage increase as a way to deal with the tide of poverty that is washing over Los Angeles. Said MC Townsend, president and CEO of the Regional Black Chamber of Commerce of San Fernando Valley and chair of BizFed, “We share Mayor Garcetti’s strong commitment to reducing poverty, and that is best achieved by creating good paying middle class jobs that can actually lift individuals and families out of poverty.”

Jobs lost

BizFed leaders said minimum wage increases could cost jobs; something the city cannot afford.

While Los Angeles gained 1 million new residents over the last three decades, it lost about 165,000 jobs.

In an effort to convince the City Council to understand the effects of a minimum wage increase on the job market, BizFed has raised issues dealing with the proposals’ enforcement mechanisms, teenage workers looking for entry jobs, and that neighboring cities maintaining a lower minimum wage will draw jobs from L.A.

Convincing the mayor and council to stop a race to establish a higher and even higher minimum wage will not be an easy task. The Los Angeles City Council already approved a $15.37 minimum wage plan for hotel workers.

As I’ve written before, the council ignored a review to its hotel wage proposal – even when it asked for it:

When the Los Angeles City Council passed the minimum wage for hotel workers, economist Christopher Thornberg opined in the Los Angeles Times, after studying the matter for the council, that the results of his study ‘strongly suggest that such a steep increase in the minimum wage could result in a sharp decline in the number of jobs in the hotel industry.’

“More troubling was Thornberg’s assertion that the council didn’t bother to look at his findings. Thornberg wrote, ‘But the City Council never seemed interested in really examining the potential economic consequences of the ordinance. We got our instructions about what questions to address just two weeks before the vote, and we were surprised to learn that the council intended to vote on the day after we turned in our final analysis, which suggests none of the members spent time looking at our findings.’” 

There seem to be similar goings-on with the new debate over raising the minimum wage.

Questionable study

Mayor Garcetti used the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to study and then speak up for his minimum-wage proposal. Now, city officials wants to hire the same group to study its proposal instead of reaching out for new, independent researchers.

Apparently, city bureaucrats and some council members are not interested in second opinions, especially ones they might not agree with, as was the case with the analysis of the hotel minimum-wage proposal.

The business community has objected to this arrangement. BizFed president Tracy Rafter said the organization was “calling for a truly independent analysis of these proposals that will give policymakers credible, unbiased information to make decisions moving forward. It’s absurd for the city of Los Angeles to spend taxpayer dollars contracting U.C. Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment to tell them what they’ve already told them previously, especially when that organization has been helping advocate for the mayor’s proposal.”

With a unified effort from the business community, perhaps this time the City Council will at least listen to business concerns.

Originally published on Calwatchdog.com

L.A. Proposes Paying $4.5 Million to Plant Trees

Eric Garcetti was elected Mayor of Los Angeles on a platform of Back to Basics, reforming our Department of Water and Power, and transparency.

Unfortunately, the proposed $4.5 million tree planting deal between the politically appointed Board of Public Works and the Department of Water and Power flies in the face of these promises.

Pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) approved by the Board of Public Works at a hastily called Special Meeting on November 17, DWP will transfer $4.5 million over the next two years so that the Board of Public Works may continue its “tree planting efforts through the City Plants Initiative (formerly Million Trees Los Angeles) for the purpose of increasing the tree canopy, improving air quality, and expanding the urban forest in Los Angeles, while providing energy saving shade to buildings and communities.”

This proposed $4.5 million transfer will be over and above the $6.7 million of Ratepayer money that has already been diverted from DWP’s treasury to the City’s coffers over the last three years.  This was part of Mayor Villaraigosa’s scheme to fund generous increases in salaries, pensions, and benefits for City employees.

This arrangement is not in the best interests of the Ratepayers or our Department of Water and Power.  This is why Eric Garcetti must direct the politically appointed DWP Board of Commissioners to reject the proposed MOU at its upcoming meeting on Tuesday, December 2.

For openers, this transaction does not make economic sense since the amount of energy saved is miniscule, resulting in an almost non-existent return on investment.  Dumb deals also fly in the face of a threatened down grading of Department’s credit rating and the need for a massive rate increases to fund its infrastructure maintenance program and its numerous unfunded environmental mandates.

We also need a better understanding of the overall plan and why it costs $112 to install a $23 tree.  There must be a more efficient way to plant 40,000 trees.

While Garcetti’s goal of being the “Greenest Big City in America” is laudable, that does not mean the City has the right to use DWP as its ATM.  Planting trees, especially on an uneconomic basis, is not part of DWP’s mission to provide reliable, low cost water and power to the residents of Los Angeles.

As it is, the City and its cronies are already soaking the Ratepayers for over $1 billion a year through the 10 percent City Utility Tax, the less than transparent 8 percent Transfer Tax / Fee, the IBEW Labor Premium, the City Council’s pet projects, and the dumping of over 1,600 employees and their unfunded pension liability on DWP.

This proposed arrangement is hardly transparent.

The Board of Public Works sent an email on late Friday afternoon announcing a Monday morning Special Meeting to approve the MOU.  The supporting documentation did not even have a cost benefit analysis, just a lot of hot air and platitudes to justify to diversion of the Ratepayers’ hard earned money.

Rather than approving this uneconomic, less than transparent deal that represents the fiscally irresponsible policies of the Villaraigosa era, Garcetti should endorse Back to Basics 101 where the City conducts its business in an open and transparent manner and respects the wallets of the Ratepayers.

He should also establish policies that shine the light on all dealings between DWP and City Hall, ranging from requests by members of the City Council to any existing and future financial arrangements involving DWP and the rest of the City family.

For example, the Ratepayers deserve to have a better understanding and justification of a proposed MOU between DWP and Department of Public Works where DWP will spend $25 million over five years to pay for the relocation of existing water and power facilities that interfere with City sponsored projects.

Ratepayers also deserve to know more about the unpopular and controversial deal that is being pushed by the well-meaning Tom LaBonge where DWP would lease very valuable land around Lake Hollywood to Recreation and Parks for only a dollar a year.

While most Angelenos support the benefits of an expanded urban forest, even if it does damage our sidewalks, it does not justify the diversion of Ratepayer money. To the contrary, the perceived rip off of Ratepayers will only increase the voters’ cynicism and their distrust of our Elected Elite.  It may even result in a backlash where Ratepayers will push for a ballot measure to require a popular vote if DWP rate increases exceed inflation.

Eric, you need to honor your promise of Back to Basics, DWP reform, and transparency. Do not tree the Ratepayers. It will only come back to bite you.

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

This article was originally published at CityWatchLA.com