........................................................................Home | Books | Bio | c.v. ............................. ... ...

The Pinball Wizard of Samoa Ave.

The flackage at Curbed LA couldn't have been better for newly-minted Councilman Paul Krekorian last year:
On his very first day in office last month, new City Councilmember Paul Krekorian asked that the City Council review a density bonus the Planning Commission had given to a proposed Valley Village condo project. Neighbors have been fighting the development for years, and last week the City Council reviewed the matter and granted their appeal. Now the developer has to either go back to the drawing board or drop the project entirely.
So Krekorian came out early and strong against SB 1818, the notorious State legislation, which inspired a copycat City of LA Ordinance that was mostly gutted by a Superior Court judge a year and a half ago.

But while the law itself has lost much of its teeth, it lives on in LA, thanks to Council theater, and, in the words of one activist, "still entitles developers to rape the city as they see fit."

While Krekorian bought some early confidence in Studio City, his district has also been entertaining a 64-unit 1818-styled project in Sunland Tujunga for three years now. The Councilman has been far softer on that one, thus far content to listen rather than to lead.

Going back to Krekorian's first crush with his district as documented by Curbed, there was this key caveat:
A rep for Krekorian tells us that rather than trying to change the city ordinance that governs SB 1818, he'll look at "each project on a case-by-case basis, judging them on how best they fit in with community guidelines," and that he'll look to residents to guide his decisions.
So be it, amen, &c. In fact, what that "rep" for Krekorian's office told Curbed LA runs parallel to what Krekorian's communications director Jeremy Oberstein told me when I profiled Krekorian in April--but the implications are quite different now:
And this is how he's been able to keep the pitchfork people in his district at bay on a 64-unit 1818 development on Samoa in the City's density-despising ground zero, Sunland Tujunga. Krekorian hasn't overtly endorsed the project, but after suggesting during his campaign that elements of SB 1818 were flawed, he has sent a letter to the City's Housing Department encouraging tax-exempt status and funding. The building "isn't the typical 1818 project Paul railed against," Krekorian's communication director Jeremy Oberstein tells me, reflecting Krekorian's own sotto voce, flip-it style on thorny political matters.
The Samoa project has become big news in Sunland Tujunga. The community is solidly against it; the sentiment is unmistakeable. The neighborhood council Land Use Committee has rallied against; chair Tomi Lyn Bowling even has a YouTube video drive-by (above) demonstrating how out of synch and out of scale the project is with Sunland Tujunga.

Now there's an ad hoc committee also working against. Even local DONE darling Cindy Cleghorn, who has recused herself on the matter, is said to be privately against it.

But the City itself is highly defensive of the project--I heard that even a rep at the City Attorney's office recently implied to a community activist that resistance was unwise. If true, that would certainly be a departure from this comment of Jane Usher's a while back...

PLUM did its usual rubber stamp in April, and the project will soon come before Council. Absent an 1818-based legal challenge, the Samoa project appears to be on a fast track to get in the ground, despite the community's nearly complete objection.

Wendy Greuel used to play this Kabuki game with this community too: she would say, "I'm listening," and then when Council ultimately voted (with her protesting furiously), she would shrug, "What can I do, my hands are tied?" No, it won't be Paul Krekorian who votes for Samoa. It will be twelve other Council members, and Krekorian opposing--and that's the game they all play for each other.

If Krekorian is truly looking to "residents to guide his decisions," as someone in his office told Curbed in February of last year, he'd have to be a pinball wizard to miss the community's sentiment on this one. More likely, the Council office is hedging its bets on the Samoa project in a way it didn't on the Valley Village project, as best it can and for an unknown reason the community needs to continue to explore. If you're outside the neighborhood, grab some popcorn--this should be fun to watch.

Final Thoughts on Sunset Junction

When the City killed Sunset Junction Street Fair, the dispute was not simply about a debtor holding an unpaid bill. It was about a vindictive landlord studiously evicting a modestly delinquent family on a holiday eve.

To see so many people in civic government and local media parroting specious arguments legitimizing our City government's eleventh-hour actions killing Sunset Junction Street Fair has been nearly as disappointing as the cancelling of the thirty-year festival itself.

Despite what the neighbors say, Sunset Junction Street Fair has not suddenly become a nuisance to its residents and nearby merchants--it has always been a nuisance to these. A merchant as far away as Echo Park told me yesterday that "for decades, we've just written the weekend off." Which is fair enough, but let's not pretend that this concern about Sunset Junction is a new one. It has been a nuisance to neighbors three days a year out of 365--for three decades.

Such concerns are very small minded, indeed selfish, when laid next to the greater good brought to the wider audience. Very small minded. Neighbors to music venues around the City have far less say over far more sustained disturbance. The residents of north Vermont Avenue are deeply disturbed by the traffic the Greek Theater fetches throughout the summer. I'm sure if you even asked the Bunker Hill Towers residents if they'd like to get rid of the Disney Hall, they'd consider the nuisance it causes the neighborhood four evenings a week from October through May. The perimeter houses adjacent to the Day of the Drum and Watts Towers Jazz Festival endure the kind of temporary nuisance the neighbors of Sunset Junction do. But we see a greater good in maintaining these.

I'm sure Mardi Gras was once a pleasant little street-gathering as well. One notes that New Orleans did not shut it down because it became too popular.

The anomalies regarding the fee payments to the City are not unusual to the Board of Public Works; in fact, they are typical. Just last week, Public Works admitted to Council that it had no idea how much money it was supposed to receive from a bus bench vendor because it felt the vendor didn't submit the right paperwork through the past few years.

If the City switched vendors in that case, which they did, why did it not consider switching promoters earlier in this case, at the first sign of problems? Once again, when dealing even with an underpublicized Board, there is no consistency at all. And a source tells us that the Sunset Junction folks even signed their last contract, in 2010, under protest, potentially invalidating it as a binding document. Wouldn't that be warning sign enough?

I asked several City administrators yesterday if it was their own experience as residents of the City that the City occasionally sends out spurious bills hoping for the best, and one protested that there's an appropriate appeal process that wasn't followed in this case. Are they still expecting an appeal, then? That seems an admission that the City still doesn't know whether the bills it sent are legitimate or not. It's also worth noting that the bills were made delinquent following a Council Ordinance fashioned less than two years ago.

There's one other thing I believe that especially needs clarifying. Media have consistently repeated the same meme about Sunset Junction: that it was originally founded to allow Silver Lake's Latino and Gay and Lesbian communities to interact and forge a broader understanding of each other. Language suggesting this is found on Sunset Junction's wikipedia page--but if it's true, I sure don't remember it this way. In its earliest days--the nascent days of the AIDS epidemic--Sunset Junction Street Fair was a de facto gay and lesbian pride event that featured music and also community booths. Latinos had a presence and an involvement, and it was a proportional one, but it wasn't an especially defining one.

The reason gay and lesbian communities came to define Sunset Junction was because of the historic legacy of the Junction itself. A civil disturbance at a gay bar in 1967--two years before Stonewall--made the intersection and the term "Sunset Junction" itself a rallying cry. West Hollywood only became an incorporated City in 1984--Sunset Junction was a gay ghetto even in the 1950's.

The media's performance over these past few days, telling the story in a way that gave City government full voice while vilifying the promoters, has been as disgraceful as the City's actions itself. In the age of social media, print media especially are increasingly irrelevant to the promotion of the festival. Don't think that print media in their coverage of this civic fiasco weren't also moaning over the loss of ad revenue and allowing the fact to influence its coverage of this exasperating execution.

When the City killed Sunset Junction Street Fair, the dispute was not simply about a debtor holding an unpaid bill. It was about a vindictive landlord studiously evicting a modestly delinquent family on a holiday eve.


David Lazarus shills for the City on Sunset Junction

Garcetti, Alarcon flimflam Sunset Junction into oblivion

Alarcon asserts her authority over Sunset Junction

Will 219 NIMBYs kill Sunset Junction?
"All we need is a loan for a week"
Despite legacy, board hijacks Sunset Junction

KPCC gives the City's side on Sunset Junction

It's almost unbelievable, the hatchet job Times scribe David Lazarus did on Sunset Junction on KPCC this morning. Listen for yourself.

First, he brings in Andrea Domanick, from the LA Weekly--which used to get beaucoup ad revenue from the Fair but no longer does--and brings in nobody from the opposing side. He does insist that he tried the organizers--who were actively trying to save the event even as Lazarus was on the air.

[No, my phone didn't ring this morning, either. Much of the show was devoted to rebutting many of my complaints about the way the City killed Sunset Junction--see links below.]

Domanick proceeds to insist that the festival generates "literally millions of dollars" every year, and smug Lazarus takes her word for it.

[Note: the entry fee is $25. Sunset Junction may draw up to 10,000 people--really doubtful, but it may. But let's pretend it draws 25,000. $25 x 25,000 = $625,000. (Reports of up to 100,000 are greatly exaggerated--to see what 100,000 people look like check out the photo on the left). Given those numbers: do you really think the festival generates even much beyond one million dollars--let alone "literally millions of dollars"? And of course, the bulk of the money goes to artist fees and advertising.]

The first caller David Lazarus takes, predictably, is a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council member (see my item yesterday--these were last elected by a whopping 219 voters, total). "Rusty" says that "the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council represents the entire community of Silver Lake. Not just the merchants on the street." I wonder whose arguments he's addressing? He also admits that "the Council office was very frustrated with Sunset Junction organizers."

The second call he takes is from Dana, another neighbor complainer.

The third doesn't fit the show's script, and Lazarus argues with him.

"None of this has been paid," the fourth caller says.

Yusef Robb of Councilman Garcetti's office today tells me that these bills became "unpaid" because of a City ordinance passed less than two years ago, and promises to provide me with that Ordinance.

Ultimately, this is just "a story about unpaid bills," Lazarus concludes. Domanack then vilifies the promoter. The End. Thirty-one years, the whole gay and lesbian legacy of Sunset Junction: gone with the wind.


Garcetti, Alarcon flimflam Sunset Junction into oblivion

Alarcon asserts her authority over Sunset Junction

Will 219 NIMBYs kill Sunset Junction?
"All we need is a loan for a week"
Despite legacy, board hijacks Sunset Junction

One percent solution discussion revs up

A One-Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

Garcetti, Alarcon flimflam Sunset Junction into oblivion

No, nothing for the gay and lesbian community today--but how about another sharrow?

Acting on the advice of a NIMBY-howling Neighborhood Council elected by no more than 219 voters, City Public Works board president Andrea Alarcon and City Council President Eric Garcetti killed the internationally renown Sunset Junction Street Fair today and then tapdanced on the grave.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose district includes Silver Lake, was on vacation Wednesday. But Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the councilman supported the board’s decision and accused festival organizers of trying to “flimflam $400,000 from the taxpayers.”

“The fact that they came up with a large sum -- not the full amount, but a large sum nonetheless -- in just 36 hours, shreds their credibility even more. They should have spent the last 12 months coming up with the full amount.”
The decedent was 31 years old. Neither the AIDS pandemic nor community moralizers nor privatization could kill the fair, which was the closest thing to a gay and lesbian pride event that the City sponsors, with deep roots extending into that community's historic LA legacy, but Garcetti and Alarcon found a way: by haggling over questionable street service bills that have increased tenfold over the past seven years.


Alarcon asserts her authority over Sunset Junction

Will 219 NIMBYs kill Sunset Junction?
"All we need is a loan for a week"
Despite legacy, board hijacks Sunset Junction

One percent solution discussion revs up

A One-Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

Alarcon asserts her authority over Sunset Junction

"No provision of waiver"--Alarcon intervew at Echo Park Patch.

"It's all over the Internet that they found the money, but at some point they need to touch base with me," Public Works Board President Andrea Alarcon told the LA Times about Sunset Junction organizers yesterday.

On Monday, she admonished organizers for not paying enough fast enough, and threatened not to permit the venerable festival if they didn't come up with more money before today.

In July and also this month, Alarcon's Public Works Department Commission received letters from the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council urging the Board to not to permit the festival unless several conditions were met. The neighborhood council, like many other neighborhood councils, is dominated by a local Chamber of Commerce and does little outreach into residential neighborhoods.


Will 219 NIMBYs kill Sunset Junction?

"All we need is a loan for a week"
Despite legacy, board hijacks Sunset Junction

One percent solution discussion revs up

A One-Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

Will 219 NIMBYs kill Sunset Junction?

Early last month and early this month, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council presented the City's Board of Commissioners of the Department of Public Works and Councilman Eric Garcetti's office two resolutions it had made on its own.

One of the resolutions, made in July, was to request that no permits be granted to the nationally-known Sunset Junction Street Fair unless previous debts and current fees be paid in full. The other resolution was to declare that the Street Fair should not be fenced off.

It was these two arguments that the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Public Works and Eric Garcetti's office fell back on when electing to not issue permits to Sunset Junction Street Fair yesterday.

Is it a case of NIMBY's intruding when a broader interest is obviously at stake, even as the representational legitimacy of Neighborhood Councils is being increasingly called into question?

The Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce had also asked several of SJ that it reported had never been answered, and, because of its inside position on the Neighborhood Council, took its complaints to the board. The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council committee also passed a resolution on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce to address some of its questions. The Fair responded, making the motion moot.

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council's Governmental Affairs Committee co-chair is Paul Michael Neuman--who is also Councilman Paul Koretz's communications director.

Speaking as a Neighborhood Council executive, Neuman told me today that "Certainly, there's a lot of conversation inside of City Hall as well as outside of City Hall." He added that "The question of paying fees is a question that affects a lot of people. It's not a simplistic matter. What is simple, though, is that money's owed."

Two-hundred and nineteen (219) people voted in the last Silver Lake Neighborhood Council election. The board's votes on both motions to kill Sunset Junction unless certain conditions are met were both unanimous.

Ironically, Neuman complained to me about Sunset Junction's "lacking efforts in community outreach."

But he was also quick to point out that he's had good concert experiences there too.

"I've seen great concerts there. I'm glad I saw John Cale there. I saw Camper van Beethoven there. You can quote me on that," Neuman told me.


"All we need is a loan for a week"

Despite legacy, board hijacks Sunset Junction

One percent solution discussion revs up

A One=Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

"All we need is a loan for a week"

Maybe you can see her down your street. Maybe not.

"People need this festival, they're counting on it for their livelihoods," Sunset Junction booker Jennifer Tefft told the LA Times yesterday. "All we need is a loan for a week. We'll have every penny of this after the festival."

And so it has come to this, according to the Hollywood Reporter:

"Organizers of the Sunset Junction street fair issued a plea for donations late Monday night as they face the possibility that the Los Angeles event may be canceled, less than a week before it is set to begin."

Thus City Council, a key commission, and and a new generation of City Hall finger waggers are one day closer to shutting down Sunset Junction and embarrassing LA as a can't-do city once again.

No bands have canceled yet, but they are likely to start cancelling Wednesday if the hat-passing doesn't pan out and the City stands firm on the threat not to issue street permits to the event.

Whatever happens at Sunset and Santa Monica this weekend, the City's shakedown and prospective takedown of Sunset Junction Street Fair promoters yesterday demonstrated what lies in the hearts of a new generation of City stakeholder: an indifference not only to the festival but to the economic outcome of cancelling it too.

A communications director for one City Councilman derided PBR-toting "hipsters" and called SJ "an ironic bbq." One of Councilman Koretz's planners found it "amazing SJ cannot pay City fees...but can pay some of the most expensive attorneys, lobbyists and consultants in town to represent them"--as though that money doesn't count because it goes to people in suits. And Rachel Kane, who writes a blog exclusively devoted to bashing the merchandise of Forever 21--one of the City's most successful fashion ventures of the past three decades, and one of the few mature fashion entities that hasn't yet completely fled LA after topping a billion in annual sales--says "Sunset Junction is not some sacred cow to me. It could disappear forever and I wouldn't care."

None of these people are as old as SJ itself is, but they all are chortling at the prospect of its demise--mainly because of the steep ticket prices, which many feel are now out of reach of the general public, and also because of the distance between festival and community, which they feel has never been greater.

Especially representative of the Generation Next's anti-SJ zeitgeist is Andrea Alarcón, the Villaraigosa-appointed president of the City's Board of Public Works.

Daughter of Councilman Richard Alarcón, Alarcón hija scolded the promoters Sunset Junction from her lofty commission perch yesterday, asking them, "Do you know what that $400,000 could do for this city?"

Well, some of us do. It could pay her dad's salary for two years and two months, for instance. Or, it could extend to every man woman and child in the City of Los Angeles...a...dime.

It could pay for Raman Raj's disability, which the City continues to pay even six months after he was fired.

In fact, with a $7 billion budget, the City spends $400K every...half an hour. Even between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. With a $7 billion budget, the City spends $19 million every day.

Addressing concerns about the degree to which SJ has become a community pariah, the City and the community created the Silver Lake Jubilee two years ago, a more truly neighborhood event, allowing Sunset Junction to continue down its own raucous but economically viable path more or less independently of the community it originally serviced, and availing a Silver Lake event that local bands could headline.

If the new breed succeeds in shutting down SJ, they will have accomplished what scourges as varied and menacing as community moralizers, privatization, and even the AIDS epidemic itself was unable to do in previous decades. Unfortunately, this fresh economic insouciance looks a lot like the kind of economic shortsightedness exhibited by Councilmembers who ran so many businesses out of town over the past two decades.

To me, the City has a lot of nerve, after cavalierly spending its way into its present crisis throughout the Villaraigosa mayoralty, to now jawbone a group of private promoters who bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the City with their moderately felonious two-day fest. SJ is a headache, and an expensive one, but canceling this one would be a devastating blow to LA's image through the region and the state--again.

And even if the event now seems abundantly disconnected from its roots, it is not entirely so. It's still possible--and hopefully will remain possible this weekend--for a woman to walk down a couple of blocks, pay $25, enjoy a full afternoon, take in an evening set by kd lang--and recall, with perchance some wistfulness, what brought her to Silver Lake in the first place.

Despite legacy, Board hijacks Sunset Junction

I can't keep the festival going--but would you like another sharrow?

Alice Walton reports that the Board of Public Works has hijacked the Sunset Junction festival, slated for this weekend, threatening to cancel the whole enchilada if festival organizers don't pay what's "owed" the City.

If I may quote myself on Sunset Junction's legacy:

The neighborhood's political and literary bona fides are hallowed. The fabled Black Cat protest at Sunset Junction the neighborhood anticipated far more iconic Stonewall riot by over two years. A wikipedia footnote somewhere asserts: "The event is named for the Black Cat Bar, formerly at 3909 Sunset Blvd between Sanborn and Hyperion Avenues, a location that had been a gay bar periodically since the 1940’s."

The Sunset Junction Street Fair, aware of the legacy, commenced thirty-one years ago as a way to feature the local community's performing arts and culture, and itself became the kind of LGBT icon that the Black Cat protest never did.

Later, of course, X played Sunset Junction. Chaka Khan. The not-Diana-Ross Supremes. Ten years ago: Silver Lake icon Elliot Smith, whose memorial graffiti wall still stands nearby.

But the City wants to shut down the festival this year over a piece of change that couldn't keep Eric Garcetti's staff fed for two days. If you do a cost analysis, the money truly "owed" the City in fees is applied to Public Works salaries that may ordinarily be paid to City workers anyway, whether they work setting up the festival or engage in other ordinary weekend activities. There are some extraordinary costs attached to the festival, but Public Works hasn't provided an accounting of these to the public. The real cost of the festival to the City is thought to be under $25,000.

The Times also has an earlier item up.

That's Council President Eric Garcetti, who's bringing a 90-unit insaniplex to Sunset Junction, presumably for a lot more than this piddling fee dispute will garner the City.

Austin Beutner toughs up

: Austin Beutner, a novice to politics but a veteran of many wars in private and public sectors alike, is tougher than you may know, and ready for anything in this upcoming Mayor's race.

I have to confess that even after ten minutes, he fairly shocked me. It was more like a boxing match than an interview. Not that we argued, but he was very feisty, very...tough, in a word.

I don't expect this in an Ivy League multimillionaire. I even say, very early on, "You're way tougher than I imagined."

"Well...yeah," he says.

He gets feisty right away, over his cheese plate and my macchiato at The Farm, because I ask him a question about his investor days, and I thought it was an innocent enough one: "Did you have a financial guru, and who was it?" He states a couple of names (really answering the way you'd expect of someone who is the school's best boy, first mentioning his dad, arriving on the boat, &c.) but then he quickly reminds me that he had all this civic and government work under his belt too, including work creating jobs in post-Soviet Russia for the Clinton administration.

So I ditch my notes and ask him, very early:

"Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, running for Mayor? This is going to be a really bruising campaign. Consultants are already trying this and that out on you."

Yeah, he shrugs. No problem.

"No, I see you as this polite guy. But two weeks before the election, they're going to be hitting you with ads, tv ads..."

He insists, "Yeah, doesn't bother me." He's just shrugging. "They want to do that, they can, nothing there. Won't matter." He was just unfazed at the prospect of getting roughed up.

And this is the bottom line opinion I form about Austin Beutner, candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2013: he seems half like the most confident guy in LA--just tremendous self-confidence--and half like the most politically naive guy in LA. And probably, in truth, he's very much of both, but a notoriously quick study.

Beutner's top topic, predictably, is jobs for LA. He says the real unemployment rate is likely between 18-20%. "That's a five-alarm fire," he says.

Potential civil disturbance level?

"Sure," he says. "Look what's happening around the world. We're coming up on the twentieth anniversary of the riot. We have to make sure it won't happen again."

It's natural to go from "tough guy" talk to talk about his consultant in the race, Ace Smith--a tough guy too. I ask him how frequently they talked--once a week?

"Oh, far more frequently."

Once a day?

"That's more like it."

Sure, he knows former Mayor Richard Riordan. He brings up Riordan's endorsement gladly. But don't try to identify him as a Riordan protege.

So, then, when the former Mayor went to the Wall Street Journal to say that we were on the verge of bankruptcy--did that help the City or hurt it?

"I'm sure, he was trying to help," he insists. "Have you seen the City budget, even this one they passed? It's a mess. They say it's balanced. It's not balanced. Do you know what a 'clearance rate' is?'

Beutner goes on to explain how the Police Department is using "bankable hours" that are paid out in subsequent years to balance the present budget. It annoys him.

He defends the AEG/Farmer's Field potential deal, and not just on the grounds that the City needs a football team. He tells me that a stadium with a roof will enable an NCAA Final Four to come to LA. "Those people come for a whole week, and they spend like drunken sailors," he says.

We talk a lot about financial stuff in the City, and about regional projects, transit hub stuff, transpo stuff in general. Beutner remains just as intense, no matter the topic. He is simply not a smarmy politician like Riordan, that's for sure. His language is the all-action, assertive banker's--"We've got all this transpo money, sooner or later it'll get in the ground." His conversation style is a lot like an investment banker's--someone in a hurry to prove his mettle--someone who has to outflank a prospective client on their own business--someone who has to know everything you know and a little more on top of that.

So I ask something that I try to ask a lot of civic figures. "Well, would simply borrowing a lot of money be so bad?"

Beutner says, "Yeah, it would be. We don't want to do that."

I say, "Well, New York borrowed its way out of its catastrophic debt in the '70's."

"No they didn't," he snaps back.

"They didn't? Sure they did," I say. "They borrowed from labor pension funds."

"No," he says. "Basically, they restructured their tax base."

We'll have to leave that one for the historians.

About halfway through the interview, I note to him that he doesn't smile a lot.

"Two of our last three Mayors have had big smiles," I say. "The third didn't, and lost an incumbent race."

He breaks a small smile himself and says, "Well, I do like to laugh." Later he explains that "leading LA is serious stuff."

He doesn't like to talk about the Mayor much. "You'll have to ask him," he'll say, when I ask him how the Mayor might see something. But he will acknowledge that the Mayor may have a broader role in some civic disputes than Villaraigosa was willing to take on--for instance in the Writer's strike.

"Look, the Mayor's office is the biggest bully pulpit in the region. The Mayor doesn't have to take a side, but he does have to acknowledge that this is bad for the City and work to solve something like that. It was devastating [to Hollywood]."

Should he get involved in, then, say, the sale of the Los Angeles Times?

"Yeah. Here's this civic organ, the whole City has a stake in it..."

I interrupt and ask him about Sam Zell.

"He's a corporate raider..."

I start to laugh, noting Austin Beutner is calling someone a corporate raider.

"...who left behind a bankrupt business," he adds.

To me, that's audacious--doesn't he have to look to this publication for even-handed treatment?--so I read it back to him.

"You really want to say that?" I ask.

"Yeah," he says. "Look, I would call him up and tell him that." As far as political identity, he doesn't mince words about his independence either.

We talk a little about the CRA. I ask him something I've been trying to prove to editors since last year (and that they seem to have a hard time getting their arms around): that at some time in the Villaraigosa administration, the CRA transformed from a property redevelopment agency to a job creation agency.

He agrees. "It's always going to be a mix, you have to have effort in both, and sometime you need one more than the other."

So when did it start? When Essel was appointed?

"Earlier," he says. "Cecilia?" I asked. "Probably in between them," he said. Well, in between them, there was nobody. It was Antonio's agency--and Beutner's.

I try him on culture. He's on all these boards, CalArts, the Broad, &c. I ask if he has a favorite sculptor. He names an obscure one in York, Maine--Sumner Winebaum. Beutner retains ties to New England from his Dartmouth days.

I also ask him about music. This is more solid ground for him. He played cello as a teenager, then was a bassist in a jazz band in college. Cello! Tough guys play cello--who knew?

I asked him if he goes to church. Whoops. "No, I'm Jewish," he says. "I was bar mitzvah'ed, but I don't go. Oh, my wife is Protestant." He doesn't indicate he's very much involved with religion in general--though he has just arrived from a speaking engagement at a Korean Christian church.

He tells me twice that he's an enormous sports fan, and reads the sports page first every morning. TJ Simers is his favorite local voice.

Even describing his bicycle accident and trauma ward experience, he was filled with panache and toughness: "When people die, it's not The Waltons," he says, of another patient in the trauma center who arrived when he did and did not make it.

I say "I don't see you as a guy who goes much down to the Elks' Club to tell them what's up with your new venture. But now--maybe you are doing stuff like that?"

He says he actually likes retail politics.

The next appointment--two more Korean businessmen--are waiting for him, and it's time to go. He tells me to be sure to spell his name right.

I Love LA...fotos

Z-dogg and V-Doll @ Venice Beach (hours ago)

J-stien and Bud Selig at Dodger Stadium. (2009)

Bev and my wife (with bridal bouquet) at Union Station (2010).

One Percent Solution Discussion Revs Up

As CityWatch reprints my original piece on the prospect of requiring LA's neighborhood councils to garner one percent of the registered voters in a community to seat and maintain a board (as well as a counter by sententious accountant Paul Hatfield), many more long-standing neighborhood council officers have given me their opinions on the matter.

Tomi Lyn Bowling, the Land Use Committee chair of Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council writes:
What percentage of the population turns out at the presidential election, or the state, county and city elections? And those are PAID leaders, with huge budgets for campaigning. Is there a requirement for those? It is very hard to get folks participating and for the ones that are active and do participate it would take away their NCs. NCs represent the interests of the people that participate and perhaps in some communities that means a "faction" or a particular group.

In STNC's years of operation it has been a good mix of people that I have seen. So in a "required" percentage it would effectively wipe out most NCs. Well since that has been Villaraigosa's agenda from day one, it does not surprise me that this is where we're suddenly looking. Too much power that threatens the status quo so if we can't disband them all together or reduce budgets to nothing, or laden them with excessive training and administrative requirements then let's put an impossible voter turnout requirement on them that even an official election would not meet!

I'm very suspicious of anyone who claims to try to better the NC system in a way that will effectively take them away from the people.
Michael Higby, a longtime player at North Hollywood Neighborhood Council, says:
Not knowing all the mechanics, this sounds like a good idea to me. One percent I don't think is an unattainable number.

When I was on the North Hollywood Mid Town Neighborhood Council it was a constant thorn in my side that we did not utilize more resources for outreach. The efforts were token at best and straight out of 1958 (putting up a card on the bulletin board at Ralphs).

We had allocated several thousands dollars to send out mailers on the upcoming NC board elections. This dovetailed with reports that the libraries were going broke. The NC board decided instead to take that money for mailers ("no one votes anyway") and give it to the North Hollywood/Amelia Earhart library to buy books. A worthy cause no doubt but in my view a completely irresponsible move. Perhaps mailers might not have been the best tool; but one way or another that money should have been spent on outreach.

We also spent outreach money on buying cheerleading uniforms for the local high school and on paying for supplies and food for neighborhood "clean ups" and "tree plantings" in board members' neighborhoods.

I consistently made the point that these are Rotary Club or Jaycee projects; not the purpose of the NC. It fell and deaf ears and I chose not to seek re-election when my term ended.

One other thing that bugged the hell out of me was when the staff of legislators would show up to make "reports." Frequently, the content was nothing but aggrandizement for the respective elected's pet projects i.e. Tom LaBonge's bike ride or Wendy Greuel's free hamburgers in the park day.

One time I challenged Wendy's aide de camp to share with us what policy initiatives Wendy was working on and could use our help on. I said "Surely Wendy is working on more than hamburgers?" He said "I will have to get back to you." Because we were North Hollywood, we always got the B team. When Paul K was elected I was hoping for more substance as I had been impressed with his Assembly staff. Paul put most of his top team in Sunland-Tujunga or downtown; leaving North Hollywood with the former Wendy staffers who couldn't score a controller's office job.

The whole system is one complete stinking mess. Many of these community regulars will complain about their electeds. But in reality they are in one big dysfunctional, symbiotic relationship that perpetuates the whole rotten system. Not just with the NCs, but check out the Park Advisory Boards, Community Police Advisory Boards, etc. At least the NCs have the pretense of elections, the PABs and C-PABs are hand picked by the park director and police captains respectively.
And it's worthwhile to re-print a comment from Kim VanKirk Thompson, President of Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council:
Although I hate the idea of NCs that have inadequate community interest or aren't capable of outreach, as well as the idea of Boards who do not cultivate adequate community interest in order maintain self-perpetuating Boards, I think the 1% is a bad idea. It's very unfair for the City to mandate volunteers when they don't have the capability of getting voters out.

I suppose once we find out how many registered voters live within our boundaries, we could then have a number to start from. But that goes against the idea of NCs because we are supposed to represent all stakeholders, and yet we can't count all of the baby/children/homeless/factual-based stakeholders who can't vote so it seems like a mess to me. How will they figure out that number?

Maybe if the City Clerk hadn't have taken $10,000 of our money and told us that they were going to outreach for us and then didn't, there would have been a higher turnout.

My Neighborhood Council happens to want a high turnout, so many of us actually knocked on doors and we sent a mailer to every address within our boundaries and we still only got 226 voters. We represent about 28,000-30,000 stakeholders.

I think it's pretty obvious by looking at the cumulative report from the City Clerk which NCs did outreach and which didn't. Perhaps the mandate should be the outreach, not the voter turnout. Those same NCs are probably not representing their stakeholders well either.

When we have an issue, we walk the area twice as far as the City mandates. For example, if the City says that all residents within 500 feet of a project must be notified, we are certain to inform them within 1000 feet, if not more. A NC would like us should not be written off because we can't drag another 100 people out to vote. Especially considering the percentage of the City Council and Mayoral elections. And we are all volunteers.

It cost $5000 to send a mailer to every stakeholder and ironically, the first year the City took $5000 from us, then they took another $5000 so if they decide to bring the 1% to BONC, I hope they are prepared to do a mailer or two.

Infiltrating the self-perpetuating Boards is the best way to do it but that is time-consuming.

Monitoring them is a good idea but DONE doesn't have the resources and they don't want to have the job of "policing" and some NCs resent that also so I'm putting my hope into the Peer Mentoring program that will be rolled out in September. I hope that NCs utilize it and stakeholders utilize it if they have problems with their Board.

Everyone knows that the City would jump at the chance to get rid of NCs so why give them more ammunition?


A One=Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

A One-Percent Solution for Neighborhood Councils

Photo: Mike Szymansky for Studio City Patch

Opinion: Garnering less than one percent of a community's voters in most elections, LA's neighborhood councils too often represent the interests of very narrow community factions. An idea put forth at a neighborhood council forum earlier this month might help to change that.

BongHwan Kim, General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and known to friends as "BH," tells me that he likes the idea of requiring neighborhood councils to garner one percent of the registered voters in a community to seat and maintain a board.

In an email, Kim says, "I liked the 1% minimum turnout idea and think it's worth pursuing. It could be approached in a few ways. The Commission could take up the matter since it falls within their scope of authority passing policies for the NCs. I will be recommending that the Commission spend a considerable amount of time considering ways to nudge NCs to do more outreach. I think this is the greatest potential asset or liability for the NC system overall in terms of their influence in city government."
On the same topic, a reader who serves on a Neighborhood Council board writes:
BONC/DONE are struggling with NCs because they (NCs) are basically wasteful and mismanaged enterprises created in a "ready, fire, aim" manner with an awful system of structure and oversight. Some NCs had a turnout of about 80 voters at the last election cycle. This can be attributed to one of three things.
  1. The NC has no interest in promoting the election (generally effective in maintaining self-perpetuating Boards).
  2. The NC has no skills (or interest) in doing effective outreach.
  3. All of the above.
The taxpayer cost per voter in those low turnout NC is a boondoggle at its best....

DONE / BONC talks about a lot of streamlining measures but usually fails to get any traction on them. So while a 1% threshold has probably been discussed, actually implementing it would be a surprise to me. There would be three months of debate on just how to go about measuring it.
Among Councilman Paul Krekorian's four pending motions to reform the Neighborhood Council system, none address the fact that neighborhood councils often garner minimal representation in their communities, and some board members are elected with mere handfuls of votes.

Krekorian's office says that the "one-percent solution" didn't come up during the time they were assembling input. While he does acknowledge that turnout in neighborhood council elections has been embarrassingly low, he diminishes the problem by comparing it to other disappointing election turnouts.

"You’re right about turnout not being what we would hope," Krekorian told The Planning Report, a pro-development newsletter, early last month. "We could say that that’s true in City Council elections, mayoral elections, and even presidential elections. We need to do a better job of outreach at every level of democracy."

However, the difference between neighborhood council election returns and returns in other elections is drastic: a voter in the City of Los Angeles is over twenty times more likely to vote in a Council or Mayoral election than a neighborhood council election, and over fifty times more likely to vote in a presidential election.

Community residents across Los Angeles are increasingly complaining that neighborhood councils do not represent their interests, only commercial interests, and have no true mandate to represent their neighborhoods because turnout for elections is so very low. They also note that there are no checks and balances built into the system, and that the prospective Krekorian reforms don't install any.

The City of Los Angeles gives each of its 95 neighborhood councils $45,000 a year.


Is it time to pull the plug?

Commercial trumps residential on NC boards across LA
Outreach, power under scrutiny at NC forum

Must we care?

Why is Roma such a good looking city even after 2,000 years and ours after barely 200 becoming such a pastiche of simulation and triteness?

It is ironic enough that in our own earlier days we drew from Rome for our own Coliseum and Forum--if anything, we drew well back then, and age itself has advanced these to Roma-like monument status in our weepy hearts. Now our Coliseum and Forum are mere curiosities as venues, and Dodger Stadium itself is quickly becoming one such, the second oldest park in the National League, the third oldest in baseball, and first and foremost among troubled venues in all the land.

Los Angeles in the past decade is so new to itself it barely recognizes itself, or any homespun legacy at all. There are still a few anchoring stakes in the ground, these stadia among them, that were here well before the big amorphous stucco retail tents went up. If the old only looks inconvenient to us now, it's not for want of service. But the new...looks...dreadful...

Back in the days when Los Angeles still looked like a city of the future, absorbing old forms rather than mimicking them--back when it was a place that decoded rather than a place that simulated other cities--back before the days of the likes of the Medici and the Orsini and the Grove and some "Spanish steps" and all the other Italian pastiches--we had a City Council still willing to say no to out-of-towners. In those days, we had a Library Tower, and the Library was our own; we had a Security National Bank, and the bank was our own; we had studios that weren't owned by Sony and hotels that weren't owned by islanders and newspapers that weren't owned by vulgar midwestern street-urchins, and nearly everything was our own.

We even had something of an architectural legacy--it was grown by expatriates from elsewhere, who came here and made an architectural laboratory of Los Feliz and Silver Lake, even as the institutions that grew this legacy took root right here. And we had fabricators like Malibu Tile and Franciscan pottery and Gladding McBean rounding out the roofs, niches, wainscot, edges. This was how we celebrated civic space...

Conversely, now we are looking for the right team to seal the deal on handing over to a junky bread-and-circuses developer a square mile of prime civic real estate downtown.

Yesterday, in defense of this madness, I heard Carol Schatz, the self-aggrandizing perma-boor who perpetually flogs the shadow chamber of commerce for downtown, the Central City Association, excitedly tell Larry Mantle that "two national restaurant chains" were interested to site restaurants downtown as a result of the prospect of Farmer's Field coming there.

Just think of it--two national restaurant chains! Coming right here to downtown Los Angeles! LA, hitherto a culinary capital, already with a vibrant enough restaurant scene from the Mayor's own beloved Mozza to Jonathan Gold's beloved food trucks that it is already the sensation of the US.

[To his credit, Mantle did read a letter reminding the audience regarding sobering stadium economics: in Anaheim it was found that even monster truck rallies were more profitable to the adjacent community than pro football was, and when this finding came, Anaheim began to hold the door open for the Rams to leave.]

Why is Roma such a good looking city and ours rapidly becoming such a pastiche of simulation and triteness? It is mainly because Rome, as any city worth the name, looked to itself--its own institutions, its own builders, its own Maguire Thomas Partners--and our city now rolls out the welcome mat for people who promise little more than "economic opportunity"--which we can, indeed must, certainly generate for ourselves, as we do in entertainment and apparel--and restaurants from elsewhere.

Because these days, nobody really looks at what Council is doing, no matter how we may urge them to.


Talking Statues

Council caves on stadium deal

Chargers VIP backs Greuel in LA
New Lieweke meme: "cavemen"
Lieweke to city: relax, sit back, enjoy it
"If we stand indivisible, we'll all ride the dirigible."