Los Angeles Charter School Advocates Win School Board Majority

LAUSD school busCharter school advocates in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) won a major victory Tuesday as two of their candidates won seats on the school board, giving them the majority.

Steve Zimmer, president of the LAUSD – the nation’s second-largest school district – lost in District 4 to teacher and attorney Nick Melvoin. Kelly Gonez also won a tight race in District 6 over Imelda Padilla, who was backed by the teachers’ unions.

Gonez and Melvoin will join incumbents Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, creating the first-ever four-member majority of charter-school supporters on the board, reports the CBS local affiliate.

The school board races involved millions of dollars in campaign spending, the Los Angeles Times reports, with the candidates expressing frustration at times over the amount of outside spending from charter school advocate groups and unions making an impact on the campaigns.

According to the Times report:

Outside groups funded by charter advocates painted Zimmer as a charter school foe. Anti-Zimmer mailers characterized him as a gun-happy militant, a protector of pedophiles and the mastermind of the school district’s iPads-for-all debacle.

Groups bankrolled by public employee unions tried to link Melvoin, 31, to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Trump, both of whom are extremely unpopular in Los Angeles.

Neither of these portrayals were accurate. Zimmer has voted many times to approve new charter schools and Melvoin is a Democrat who has been critical of the Trump administration’s education policies.

The unions reportedly spent some $2.5 million on Zimmer’s campaign and more than $2.34 million on that of Padilla. Charter school promoters spent upward of $5.69 million on Melvoin’s campaign and $3.3 million on that of Gonez.

Charter school advocate Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings – a Democrat – donated $5 million to California Charter Schools Association Advocates, which managed much of the spending for the charter candidates.

LAUSD has the highest number of charter schools and charter students of any other school district, though charters still only represent 16 percent of enrollment.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Academia and the media have learned nothing since the L.A. riots

Los Angeles riotsAnother five-year anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, another opportunity for media glorification of racial mayhem. The New York Times outdoes itself this year with a fawning profile of one of the sadists who stomped and bludgeoned trucker Reginald Denny nearly to death on April 29, 1992, as Denny tried to maneuver his truck through the already anarchic intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central Los Angeles.

Henry Keith Watson, an ex-con who had just assaulted an Asian man, stood on Reginald Denny’s neck and head as others kicked him. Watson never served any time for his participation in this grotesque explosion of racial hatred. The Times notes admiringly that Watson apologized to Denny on a talk show.

That forced contrition — an apology was a condition of his probation sentence as well — was short-lived. “Now, 25 years later, Mr. Watson is not in the mood to say sorry,” Times reporter Jennifer Medina writes. Of course not. Why should he be? Watson “called himself ‘an angry black man’ one afternoon this week as he sat on the porch of his home,” Medina reports. “As he has done each anniversary, he is selling Florence and Normandie T-shirts and throwing a block party on Saturday” — a natural way to commemorate a conflagration that took over 50 lives and caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage. The Times does not bother speaking to any of the thousands of victims of that racial mayhem, instead foregrounding Watson’s complaints about ongoing “oppression.” “Nothing has changed, nothing,” Watson grouses. A friend of Watson’s, Nathan Smith, who was on parole in 1992, predicts that another riot is likely. Back then, Smith says, “We all felt like, ‘We’ve been telling you we’re angry and you’re not listening, so now we’re going to show you.” “Showing you” consisted of burning down businesses that have struggled to survive constant robberies and assaults on their employees and have only succeeded due to a fierce work ethic. “Showing you” also consisted of pulling drivers from their cars and mutilating them. Even if there were some legitimate “you” that is responsible for the social chaos of the ghetto, it is certainly not a Korean convenience store owner or a construction worker returning from work.

The familiar “nothing has changed” complaint embodies the entitlement mentality. Its logic is the following: “We destroy the businesses that have served us for decades; we unleash savage violence against every ethnic group other than our own. So why aren’t things better now in our neighborhoods? Government and society owe us reparations in response to our feral rage against other people’s livelihoods and lives.” But a riot is inevitably going to make the local situation worse. Mainstream businesses will be even less willing to move into a riot zone; property values, already depressed by high crime, will plummet further. Though governments usually do respond to riots with cash and programs, such intervention is not going to make any difference unless individuals in the community make better personal choices: paying attention in class, studying, not committing crime, staying in a job, and not having children out-of-wedlock.

The University of California’s massive diversity bureaucracy also got into the game of riot whitewash. UCLA’s Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Jerry Kang, is sponsoring a student art competition to commemorate the “social rebellion.” Students can submit performance art, poetry, or visual art to “critically examine the root causes of this historic event … and its relevance to contemporary issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Do not expect any installations featuring the charred remains of torched business. To gain “inspiration” for their art works, the competitors had to attend at least one panel in an April 28 conference on the “Los Angeles uprisings,” also organized by the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. That conference assembled ethnic studies professors and racial activists; no first responders were included.

One victim of the riots did squeak in, but only because she adopts the mandatory view of racial violence. Carol Park’s memoir of helping to operate her widowed mother’s gas station in Compton, “Memoir of a Cashier: Korean Americans, Racism, and Riots,” frankly describes the anti-Korean racism regularly directed at her and her mother. Park’s mother barely escaped unharmed from the gas station on the first night of riots. When she returned home, she told her children to do their homework but otherwise said nothing about the spreading violence. That admonition tells you everything you need to know about the “oppression” that allegedly lies at the root of ethnic economic differences. Park attributes anti-Korean hatred and rioting, however, to widespread “racial discrimination” and “governmental neglect.”

Jerry Kang moved over from the UCLA law school to become UCLA’s first Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; as a law professor, he studied “implicit bias.” Kang’s starting salary as Vice Chancellor in 2015 was $354,900, undoubtedly socked away in West Side real estate and financial instruments out of the range of looters. Today Kang busies himself with “building equity” for UCLA’s allegedly oppressed students, who, with their access to boundless academic resources, number among the most advantaged people in human history. Kang’s “equity” mission for privileged students is as delusional as celebrating riots as “social uprisings.” Instead, such violence should be denounced as murderous rampages that threaten civilization itself.

California Squashes Its Young

MillennialsIn this era of anti-Trump resistance, many progressives see California as a model of enlightenment. The Golden State’s post-2010 recovery has won plaudits in the progressive press from the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, among others. Yet if one looks at the effects of the state’s policies on key Democratic constituencies — millennials, minorities and the poor — the picture is dismal. A recent United Way study found that close to one-third of state residents can barely pay their bills, largely due to housing costs. When adjusted for these costs, California leads all states — even historically poor Mississippi — in the percentage of its people living in poverty.

California is home to 77 of the country’s 297 most “economically challenged” cities, based on poverty and unemployment levels. The population of these cities totals more than 12 million. In his new book on the nation’s urban crisis, author Richard Florida ranks three California metropolitan areas — Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego — among the five most unequal in the nation. California, with housing prices 230 percent above the national average, is home to many of the nation’s most unaffordable urban areas, including not only the predictably expensive large metros but also smaller cities such as Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo. Unsurprisingly, the state’s middle class is disappearing the fastest of any state.

California’s young population is particularly challenged. As we spell out in our new report from Chapman University and the California Association of Realtors, California has the third-lowest percentage of people aged 25 to 34 who own their own homes—only New York and Hawaii’s are lower. In San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the 25-to-34 homeownership rates range from 19.6 percent to 22.6 percent—40 percent or more below the national average.

No big surprise, then, that California’s millennials are more likely to stay at home with Mom and Dad into their thirties. Approximately 47 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 lived with parents or other relatives in 2015, according to the American Community Survey — but in California, the figure is 54 percent. California’s younger generation, particularly in the cities, seems increasingly destined to live as renters.

The biggest losers from California’s housing crisis are, ironically, the very people whom progressives claim to care about most: the poor and minorities, who also constitute most millennials. Hispanics, now approaching a majority of the state’s population, account for 43 percent of the 25-to-34 cohort. Rates of homeownership for African-American and Hispanic Californians have dropped at four times the rate of Asians and non-Hispanic whites in the last 10 years, while minority homeownership in the Golden State now lags most of the country, notably Texas and the southeast.

Much of this can be traced to California’s long-standing bias against suburban development. Reducing greenhouse-gas emissions remains an obsession. But unless the rest of the country (or the world) adopts California’s strict emissions rules, the state’s regulations are likely to have little or no impact on climate change. Recently passed legislation will make things worse by imposing even more stringent regulations on greenhouse gases, mandating a 40 percent cut from 1990 levels by 2030. This represents the ratcheting up of a regulatory regime that will slow California’s already-torpid rate of issuing building permits, which is well below the national average.

California’s housing policies pose a profound long-term threat to the state’s social stability and economic viability. The state has seen a net loss of about 1.7 million domestic migrants since 2000. After slowing during the Great Recession and its aftermath, out-migration is again growing, even in the booming Bay Area. Some 29,000 more people left the Bay Area than arrived in 2016. The San Francisco metropolitan area saw net migration plunge from plus-15,000 in 2013 to minus-12,000 three years later.

Contrary to some reports, the people leaving California are not predominantly poor and uneducated. IRS data show that California’s outmigration between 2013 and 2014 was concentrated among middle-aged people with higher average incomes than households that stayed in California or moved there. This trend contrasts dramatically with Texas, arguably the state’s strongest economic competitor.

Here again, new policies will only make things worse. The Bay Area’s 2040 regional plan calls for concentrating 75 percent of new housing development on barely 5 percent of the region’s developed land mass. One alternative plan assumes that 78 percent of new housing in the Bay Area would be multi-family and 22 percent single-family (detached and attached). The regional Air Quality Agency has drawn up intrusive plans, seeking to levy tolls on all freeways, ban gas stoves, and urge less meat consumption.

Young people overwhelmingly prefer single-family houses, which represent 80 percent of home purchases nationwide for people under 35. If millennials continue their current rate of savings, notes one study, they would need 28 years to qualify for a median-priced house in San Francisco—but only five years in Charlotte and just three in Atlanta. This may be one reason, notes a recent ULI report, why 74 percent of Bay Area millennials are considering moving out in the next five years.

Regional planners and commercial chambers should indeed look to California as a model—of exactly what not to do. The state’s large metro areas are no longer hot growth spots for millennials, who are flocking to suburbs and exurbs elsewhere. Since 2010, the biggest gains in millennial residents have been in low-density, comparatively affordable cities such as Orlando, Austin, and Nashville. Ultimately, the battle for California’s future — and much of Blue America’s — will turn on how these regions meet the challenge of providing housing and opportunities to a new generation of workers and young families. A California that works only for the wealthy and well-established is not sustainable.

America’s “youth culture” was invented, more or less, in California in the 1960s, from the surfing spots of L.A. and Orange County to the countercultural hotbeds of the Bay Area. But today, California is turning on its young, with policies that ensure that most millennials will never fully “launch,” leaving many destined either to move elsewhere or become wards of an ever-expanding welfare state. The Golden State can still create an environment for growth and family formation — but only if it reclaims its historical role as the nation’s beacon of opportunity and youthful enthusiasm.

Los Angeles Seeks to Stop Oil and Gas Boom

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has introduced a motion to end oil drilling and production near public places in a measure that could kill America’s next oil and gas fracking boom.

Over the objections from the oil industry, Wesson introduced a motion on April 19 to conduct a study regarding how the Department of City Planning, with the assistance of the city attorney and the city’s petroleum administrator, could change the city’s zoning code to require a setback for oil and gas activities within public and residential facilities.

Wesson’s motion stated, “The closer oil and gas wells and storage facilities are to sensitive land uses, the higher the risk that the health and safety of nearby residents could be threatened.” And in a call to action, Wesson added, “Due to the ongoing health impacts experienced by residents from neighborhood drilling activity, it is imperative that we identify and implement a meaningful, long-term solution.”

Despite Wesson’s claims about health risks, the Center for Disease Control found that from 2003–2013 as the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry doubled the size of its workforce and increased drilling rigs by 71 percent, the annual occupational fatality rate in the industry decreased 36.3 percent, to 1,189 deaths over the decade. About 40 percent of fatalities were due to transportation accidents, and 26 percent was due to equipment accidents. The CDC found illnesses and fatalities from all environmental exposure were extremely low.

Wesson and his environmental lobbying allies claim they are only seeking a 2,500-foot setback, or about a half mile. But with California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources website revealing that there are about 3,000 active wells, tens of thousands of inactive wells, and underground pipelines running throughout the city, the proposed setback would essentially ban oil and gas activity in almost 100 percent of Los Angeles.

The new city-level effort follows a failed 2014 national initiative that was led by California environmental groups including Earthjustice, California Communities Against Toxics, California Safe Schools, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Comite Pro Uno, the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, and many more.

The California sponsors attempted to have the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issue a new regulatory order under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act that would allow all oil and gas production wells and associated equipment to be listed as an “area source” of toxic pollution, if the EPA Administrator “determines that emissions of hazardous air pollutants from such wells present more than a negligible risk of adverse effects to public health” in any combined metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 1 million.

Give that the definition of “negligible” according to the dictionary.com website is: “so small, trifling, or unimportant that it may safely be neglected or disregarded,” the EPA would have been able to ban all oil and gas drilling, production and refining in the 54 combined metropolitan statistical areas in America that have a total population of at least 206 million, or about two-thirds of the entire U.S. population.

The 1,750-square-mile Monterrey Shale Formation that covers the entire Los Angeles Basin is potentially the richest shale oil reserve in the United States. Since water is key to the shale hydraulic fracturing drilling process, Breitbart News predicted that a state economic boom would take off as soon as California experienced its next cyclical rainy season.

With all California reservoirs already above historic levels, record snowpack levels in the Sierras, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting a National a very wet El Niño during the 2017-18 water year that begins on November 1, the L.A. City Council motion could kill a potential local economic boom.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Los Angeles Needs Trump’s Help To Get 2024 Olympics

OlympicsAt a time of intense bad blood between the Trump administration and the state of California, a new Legislative Analyst’s Office report stressed the importance of years of local-state-federal cooperation in preparing for a possible 2024 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is vying with Paris to host the games. Budapest, Hungary, withdrew its application a month ago, leaving the two finalists. The International Olympic Committee is meeting in September to formally award the games.

Traditionally, the ability of host cities to count on heavy support from their federal government is considered a crucial point in IOC deliberations. It’s why President Obama traveled to the IOC meeting in Denmark in 2009 in an effort to demonstrate U.S. government support for Chicago getting the 2016 Summer Olympics. The games ultimately were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, but the president’s support was considered important in the run-up to the vote.

Whether Trump will support Los Angeles’ 2024 bid – or whether Los Angeles officials would want his support – is unclear. But the LAO report notes the importance of federal support if Los Angeles succeeds with its bid. Examples:

  • It cited the need for heavy coordination of local and state public safety efforts with federal efforts which will be overseen by the Secret Service and assisted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the FBI, the Coast Guard, FEMA and the FAA.
  • It noted the importance of addressing the impact of Trump’s proposed travel ban on individuals from six nations (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen). It quoted the U.S. Olympic Committee as saying U.S. officials had promised to “ensure that athletes and officials from all countries will have expedited access to the United States in order to participate in international athletic competitions,” but not the State Department itself.
  • It cited the value to the Olympics of having the president and Congress back Los Angeles projects on the $100 billion infrastructurewish list that Gov. Jerry Brown revealed in February after the Trump administration discussed plans for a long-term $1 trillion national infrastructure program. That includes “expanding and improving the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) purple line, the Metro project to connect the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) central terminal area to the Crenshaw/LAX and green Metro line, and the orange bus rapid transit (BRT) line.”
  • It recommended that federal funding be sought to help deal with extraordinary security demands and noted that the cities of Cleveland and Philadelphia had received $50 million and $43 million, respectively, to deal with the costs of hosting national political conventions in 2016.

Worries about Trump-California friction may be premature

As Politico recently reported, so far the Trump administration has worked well with the state of California on emergency disaster declarations, so perhaps any concern about federal-state friction is premature.

There’s also the possibility that Trump doesn’t serve a second term, which is when most key Olympic preparations will be made.

But with a president as unpredictable as Trump has seemed, friction seems possible – especially given that the list of prominent California Democrats who has had harsh things to say about Trump includes Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a wide array of House members and top state lawmakers.

Most recently, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said Monday that the Trump administration’s plan to withhold Justice Department grants to immigration sanctuary cities was “nothing short of blackmail.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Veterans Live in Safer Neighborhoods in Los Angeles

veteransNational statistics on veterans are grim. As of November 2014, an average of 550 veterans return every day (that is 200,000 troops each year). They have a hard time readjusting. The unemployment rate of veterans since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is higher (11.1 percent) than non-veterans (around 8.6 percent). Twenty percent of veterans between 18 and 24 years old are unemployed. That is so even with the aggressive recruitment by federal agencies, where almost half of all new employees come from the services. It’s estimated that 1.4 million veterans are living below the poverty line.

All of the difficulties take a physical and social toll. Mental illness and substance abuse are widely reported. As of June 2011, 20 percent of all suicides nationally are veterans. Almost 20 percent of homeless people are veterans. As of November 2015, more than 10 percent of the death row are veterans.

There is cause for optimism. Looking at data from the L.A. Mapping Project, compiled by the Los Angeles Times, one can generalize that veterans who live in America’s second largest city tend to live in fairly safe neighborhoods. More so than those who live in neighborhoods with fewer veterans. For example, the three neighborhoods identified as having the highest proportion of veterans – Green Valley (19.5 percent), Elizabeth Lake (18.4 percent) and Lake Hughes (18.4 percent) – have no incidences of violent crime in 2017.

The three neighborhoods accounted for the lowest percentage of veterans – Central-Alameda (1.8 percent), Chinatown (1.3 percent) and University Park (1.0 percent) – have moderate levels of per capita violent crime (61.4, 18.4, and 38.1 incidences per 1,000 residents, respectively). The average violate crime rate in the 207 neighborhoods is 27.7 incidences per capita. Eight neighborhoods have over 100 incidences of violent crime per capita. Vermont Vista (155.1 incidences per capita and 6.6 percent veterans population) has the highest violent crime crate.

Creating a model using the data, one can observe that the more veterans there are living in a neighborhood in L.A., the lower the violent crime rate. More specifically, for every 1 percent increase in the percentage of veterans living in a neighborhood, there is a decrease of 2.6 incidences of violent crimes.

For example, 101 veterans currently live in Chinatown, the fitted model predicts that 7.1 percent of the neighborhood’s population need to be veterans (an increase of 448 veterans) for the violent crime rate to be eliminated. Gramercy Park, which has 115.5 incidences of violent crimes, needs 44.4 percent of its population to be veterans (3,179 veterans, or an increase of 2,240) to eradicate violent crimes. If Hancock Park (violent crime rate 27.2 incidences per capita, close to the city mean), wants to eradicate violent crime, the municipal government would have to see that 10.4 percent of it residents come from the veteran population. That is 822 veterans, or a 326 increase from the current 496 veterans living in the neighborhood.

But a note of caution. The causation of the two variables can run in either direction, or in both ways. A neighborhood’s violent crime rate may change because veterans moved into the neighborhood (street gangs, murderers, etc., may withhold their crime sprees out of fear of the veterans), or veterans moved into a neighborhood because they saw that it had a low violent crime rate and that it was safe. As with many social phenomena, both scenarios are possible.

This has policy implications. Veterans, like all people, prefer to live in safe neighborhoods. In L.A., neighborhoods with no recorded violent crimes in 2017 have at least 9.6 percent veterans in their populations. It is good incentive for the municipal government to lower crime rates, for example through gentrification, to create safer homes for veterans readjusting to civilian life.

Another implication is attracting veterans to neighborhoods with higher crime rates, if it is true that veterans thwart off violent criminals. The municipal government can experiment with tax breaks for veterans who move to neighborhoods that are traditionally plagued with violent crimes – for example, choosing those neighborhoods above the mean crime rate.

As with most prescriptions in public policy, introducing veterans into a neighborhood to reduce crimes should not be seen as a silver bullet solution. Crime control requires a blend of preventative measures (e.g., education, public campaigns), police mobilization and deterrence in conjunction with the criminal justice system. Veterans, by playing a part in affecting on all three factors, should be rewarded for it.

Gary Lai was the founder and director for ten years of the anti-poverty campaign TKO Poverty.

L.A. County Illegally Spending Taxpayer Money on Measure H Ads

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Today, Los Angeles County voters will decide Measure H, a proposed sales tax increase to pay for homeless programs. This tax increase will be in addition to the property tax increase to pay for bonds for homeless programs just enacted by the city of Los Angeles last November with Measure HHH.

If you are wondering why Angelinos should tax themselves even more, you’re asking the right question. California is one of the most heavily taxed states in America with the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax and nearly the highest gas costs due to both the high excise tax on each gallon sold plus the additional costs embedded as a result of environmental regulations. And even with Proposition 13, California ranks in the top third among all states in per capita property taxes collected.

The inability of our political leaders to prioritize spending is driving both the state and our major cities into insolvency. If massive spending on homeless programs — assuming it does any good at all — is what the county wants to do, then it should reduce spending on other programs of a lower priority.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Elon Musk’s Tunnel to Nowhere

los-angeles-freewaysElon Musk is tired of Los Angeles traffic, so, he says, he’s going to build his own tunnel. The fact that anyone takes this statement seriously points up what’s wrong with the relationship between tech entrepreneurs and civic planners. Cities have problems, but the solutions require gradual fixes. The right approach isn’t radical revolt; it’s small-c conservatism.

Fifteen years ago, Musk made his fortune selling the PayPal money-transfer platform to eBay. He’s now busy with several other ventures. His Tesla electric-car company has plowed billions of investor dollars and government clean-energy tax credits into battery and automated-driving technology, contributing to the advancement of each. His SolarCity solar-panel manufacturing experiment in Buffalo, New York, on the other hand, depends entirely on a $750 million subsidy from Empire State taxpayers. Tesla and SolarCity merged last year. Musk’s commercial-space venture, SpaceX, suffered a severe setback last year when one of its rockets exploded, destroying a $200 million Facebook satellite.

That’s life as an entrepreneur. You win some; more often you lose some. Investors should be smart enough to know the risks. Musk’s tunnel project, though, isn’t a matter of experimenting with investor and taxpayer money. Instead, if taken literally, it’s civic anarchy. In December, Musk tweeted: “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging . … I am actually going to do this.” Last week, he reported, “Exciting progress on the tunnel front. Plan to start digging in a month or so.” He said that he’d start near his office in Hawthorne, a city in Los Angeles County. Wired.com has reported that Musk is already experimenting on his company’s own property.

Whether you’re a billionaire, a Twitter crank, or both, there are several good reasons why you can’t build your own tunnel beneath broader Los Angeles. Musk may be trying to point out the idiocy of laws and regulations that make it hard to build infrastructure, but he’s actually doing the opposite: reminding us why we adopted our laws and regulations in the first place. Building a tunnel disrupts traffic above it. Who would be responsible for the years-long traffic diversions? Tunnels require entrance-and-exit points. If Musk plans a tunnel for cars, not trains, how would smaller surface roads handle all the traffic going into and coming out of a fast-moving underground thoroughfare? If he plans a tunnel for trains, where will people enter and exit above ground, and how will the city keep all these new pedestrians safe from traffic? What if Musk miscalculates his tunnel’s ability to withstand an earthquake, as his staff miscalculated the safety of his rocket? It’s OK to blow up your own (and your customers’) equipment. It’s not OK to take the same risks with a city.

Extra road capacity often attracts more drivers. Despite the recent widening of L.A.’s 405 freeway, “congestion is as bad — even worse — during the busiest rush hours,” the New York Times reported last month. The way to reduce road congestion in the long term is to do what Los Angeles has been doing for nearly 30 years: build subways and light rail. Musk himself tweeted recently that Los Angeles’s subway is “lame, but getting better.”

Finally, if Musk can build a tunnel from his office to wherever he wants to go, why couldn’t every Angeleno with some money and an ego try the same? We live in a democracy, and democratic processes — particularly local ones — are important. Los Angeles residents may want a new tunnel built, or they may not. They may prefer a different tunnel to the one Musk proposes. They may prefer to live more densely than they do already, meaning more rail, or less densely, meaning more road construction. But the people do — and should — have a say.

USA Today reporter Nathan Bomey took Musk’s tunnel tweets seriously, noting that the entrepreneur is “one of the few people who is just rich, powerful and inventive enough to actually do something about the legendary traffic congestion in Los Angeles.” This is misplaced enthusiasm. Elon Musk may be a dreamer, but surely he realizes tunneling beneath Los Angeles without permission would get him arrested — and rightly so.

Tech entrepreneurs would do better to help improve government rather than bypass it. It takes too long, and is too expensive, to build any kind of infrastructure. City planners and private-sector contractors could benefit from outside review of their work processes; automating repetitive construction work, for example, could cut costs. Unfortunately, the tech industry hasn’t shown much expertise at this in the past. Tech billionaire Michael Bloomberg was a good mayor, but he didn’t cut New York City’s personnel costs during his tenure; in fact, such costs grew significantly. Nor did he make the city operate more efficiently or build its large-scale physical infrastructure more efficiently.

Running a tech business is not the same as running a government, and it never will be. Depending on a single heroic billionaire to rescue you from the result of city-planning decisions made by millions of people over many years is the wrong way to go about basic governance.

L.A.’s Unfunded Pension Liability Explodes to $15 Billion. Leadership Nowhere To Be Found

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

LA WATCHDOG — Our enlightened elite who occupy Los Angeles City Hall tell us that pension reform is not necessary. After all, the recent actuarial report for the Fire and Police Pension Plan indicated that its $19 billion retirement plan was 94% funded as of June 30, 2016.

But as we all know, figures never lie, but liars figure, especially when it involves the finances of the city of Los Angeles.

The city will say that a pension plan that has assets equal to 80% of its future pension obligations is in good shape.  Baloney! Pension plans should aim to be 100% funded, especially in down markets. And in today’s bull market, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average is hitting record highs, the pension plan should be 120% funded so that it can withstand another bear market.

Even at the 94% funded ratio, the unfunded pension liability for the retirement plan is pushing $1.2 billion, not exactly chump change when compared to the projected payroll of $1.4 billion for the 12,800 active cops and firefighters.

But there is more bad news that is buried in the opaque actuarial reports that, when pieced together and analyzed, reveals that the overall Fire and Police Pension Plan is over $6 billion in the red and that only 75% of its future obligations are funded.

The Fire and Police Pension Plans are also responsible for Other Post-employment Benefits (“OPEB”) which covers medical benefits for retirees. But the $3 billion of OPEB obligations are less than 50% funded, resulting in an additional $1.6 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The city is also cooking the books by “smoothing” the actual gains and losses in its investment portfolio over a seven year period. This little trick is covering up a $600 million hit to its investment portfolio.

Finally, if the newly calculated liability (that includes adjustments for OPEB and smoothing) of $3.4 billion (85% funded) is adjusted to reflect the more realistic investment rate assumption of 6.5% (as recommended by Warren Buffett), the unfunded pension liability soars to $6.25 billion and the funded ratio plummets to 75%.

When combined with the $9 billion liability of the Los Angeles Employees’ Retirement System, the city’s total unfunded pension liability exceeds $15 billion. And this liability is expected to double over the next ten years based on realistic rates of return that are in the range of 6% to 6.5%.

But what are Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Council President Herb Wesson, Budget and Finance Chair Paul Krekorian, and Personnel Chair Paul Koretz doing to address the single most important financial issue facing the city?

Nothing! Absolutely nothing other than put their heads in a potato sack and hope that a robust stock market will make the $15 billion problem go away.

They have ignored the recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission to form a Committee on Retirement Security to review and analyze the city’s two pension plans and develop proposals to “achieve equilibrium on retirement costs by 2020.”

Krekorian and Koretz made the bone headed suggestion to raise the investment rate assumption to 8% so that the city would be able to lower its annual required pension contributions to the underfunded pension plans, allowing more money for union raises.

Wesson has not even created a Council File for the pension and budget recommendations of the LA 2020 Commission.

But the real culprit is Garcetti who has refused to address the pension mess that will eventually become a crisis. He has not asked his political appointees on the two pension boards to initiate a study of the pension plans and the city’s ever increasing contributions that now devour 20% of the city’s General Fund budget.  He has refused to contest the State’s Supreme Court “California Rule” which does not allow the city to reform the pension plans by lowering future, yet to be earned benefits.

Rather than look out for the best interests of the city and all Angelenos, he continues to kiss the rings of the campaign funding union leaders who are vital to his political ambitions.

The city’s lack of openness and transparency and its unwillingness to address its ever growing, unsustainable $15 billion pension liability can only be categorized as a major league cover up that should be front and center in the upcoming March election.

Where’s Eric?

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

This piece was originally published by CityWatchLA

Charters Under Attack – California’s Teachers Unions Go On The Offensive

ULTA protestFor years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools — but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue — billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools — a union front group — planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.