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Mayor…City Attorney…City Controller…School Board – Some Help in Deciding

March 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA isn’t offering any endorsements at the moment.
(Okay, maybe one little endorsement. But we’ll get to in a minute.)

Instead, we have linked to some of the more interesting and informative articles, interviews, mini-debates and what not that we thought you might find helpful as you make your decisions:



FIRST AN OVERVIEW: SO WHO REALLY HAS THE POWER IN LA ANYWAY?

Obviously, everyone knows in general what the Mayor does, and the City Council Members, and the City Attorney. But, past the generalities, a great many of us don’t have a really firm grasp on the details of who has control over what in Los Angeles.

With this in mind, LA Magazine has put together a handy GUIDE TO POWER IN LA that explains…well….everything (or nearly so.)

We highly recommend taking a look.


WHO’S GOT WHAT ELECTIONS $$$ AND WHERE DID THE MONEY COME FROM?

KCET has a great Who’s Funding Whom Database, which you can find here.

And here’s a rundown about how to get the most out of the database.


MAYOR

Warren Olney interviews the top 5 mayoral hopefuls—and the interviews are particularly good. Here’s the link, but scroll down, for each interview.

And for individual takes on the candidates:
KPCC’s Frank Stoltze looks at Eric Garcetti and asks if the candidate is tough enough to do what needs to be done as mayor.

Gene Maddeus writes about Wendy Greuel, whom he portrays as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense fix-it woman—with strong union support, namely by the DWP’s powerful workers union, IBEW Local 18—whose backing some voters find worrisome.

UPDATE: Greuel moved to counter that fear on Thursday when she told the Daily News that there would be no DWP raises if LA has a deficit.

Dakota Smith at the Daily News looks at Jan Perry and wonders if she’s too beholden to business groups.

Similarly the LA Times’ Jim Newton wonders if Eric Garcetti is too beholden to the teachers’ union.

In terms of endorsements, the Daily News thinks Wendy Greuel is strong and gutsy enough to take on “stubborn interests”—the unions and others—who “would make L.A. proud as the first woman to lead the nation’s second most populous city.”

The Los Angeles Times goes for Eric Garcetti, whom it says is the candidate with the most potential to “rise to the occasion…” and “the power to inspire.” “He could be just what Los Angeles needs.”


CITY ATTORNEY

While we aren’t endorsing anyone, we do have a strong anti-endorsement. Here it is: ABC—anybody but Carmen. Incumbent Carmen Trutanich has good points, but the negatives greatly outweigh the positives. We went into more detail when Mr. Trutanich ran for District Attorney.

If you’d like a good one-stop-shopping destination that allows you to get a broad strokes idea of the three main candidates—Mike Fuerer, Greg Smith, and Carmen Trutanich—we recommend the on air debate, again, with Warren Olney.

We think it is fascinatingly character revealing for all three of the candidates. For some in a good way. For others, not so much.


CITY CONTROLLER

Once more we refer you to the on-air debate between the candidates with Warren Olney on Which Way LA?

As for sorting out the candidates for voting purposes: LA City Counsel member, Dennis Zine, is the best known and, as such, has a long list of endorsements from unions and elected officials. However persons like former City Controller Laura Chick—and the LA Times, the Daily News, La Opinion, the Daily Breeze and others—are going for Ron Galperin.

Not endorsing, just sayin’…


SCHOOL BOARD

For years, the teachers’ unions have poured gobs of money into the coffers of certain school board candidates whom they could then count on to vote the unions’ direction on any reform issue that the union didn’t like. And true to form, the unions’ presence is being felt in this year’s race too.

But the school board races that are up for a vote in Tuesday’s election have featured a new and muscular funding stream. The money comes from what is collectively known as the school reform movement—a coalition that does not think reform can take place if board members are forever hogtied by unions who put their own interests ahead of those of LA’s kids, with year upon year of demonstrably disastrous results. As a consequence, the the national reform movement has come up with its own big bucks, with some of the money even coming from outside the state. (Not surprisingly, the latter fact has caused controversy.)

Here’s what Education Week has on the matter.

So whom does one vote for in light of all this competing campaign funding?

Well, here’s what the Daily News has to say on the subject.

And here is the LA Times’ list of School Board endorsements.

(You will note both papers’ LAUSD board endorsements are exactly the same.)

The Daily News goes on to explain how it selected its three choices and why it thinks this school board election is of real importance:

What’s at stake is more than just three faces on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The result could either confirm the slow move toward innovation and reform in the nation’s second-largest school district. Or it could reverse the course, destroying the few steps the district has taken in recent years to shake up the old, failing education structure.

For that reason, these races have attracted an astonishing amount of money – $4 million so far – as the unions and reform groups battle it out. How this election goes next week could well decide the fate of education reform in the city, state and nation.

That’s why we are strongly encouraging voters in the three districts - 2, 4, and 6 – to go to the polls and strike a victory for the students by choosing these three people:

Monica Garcia in District 2…Kate Anderson in District 4…Monica Ratcliff in District 6

We agree—most particularly about the choice of Kate Anderson. And, we don’t think the Daily News is overstating its case when it talks about how important this election is to LA’s educational future, and probably to the state’s.

So, yes, that’s an endorsement.

(Oh, and one more thing: Vote NO on Measure A.


NOTE: For more on LA’s schools, and education issues—including Tuesday’s board race—-start reading the lively, smart, and very tuned in LA School report.


BUT WHATEVER YOUR CHOICE….PLEASE VOTE ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5.

Posted in City Attorney, City Budget, City Controller, Education, elections, LA city government, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

Disasterously Faulty Forensics, Shuttered Courts and Bad Sentencing

April 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


by Taylor Walker


DID A DECADE OF FAULTY FBI FORENSICS RESULT IN HUNDREDS OF WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS?

Defendants across the U.S. were left in the dark about the DOJ’s knowledge of nine years worth of faulty FBI forensics. Justice officials defended their actions saying that they were only legally obligated to inform the prosecutors, not the numerous defendants affected.

The Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

Officials started reviewing the cases in the 1990s after reports that sloppy work by examiners at the FBI lab was producing unreliable forensic evidence in court trials. Instead of releasing those findings, they made them available only to the prosecutors in the affected cases, according to documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

In addition, the Justice Department reviewed only a limited number of cases and focused on the work of one scientist at the FBI lab, despite warnings that problems were far more widespread and could affect potentially thousands of cases in federal, state and local courts.

As a result, hundreds of defendants nationwide remain in prison or on parole for crimes that might merit exoneration, a retrial or a retesting of evidence using DNA because FBI hair and fiber experts may have misidentified them as suspects.


LA BUDGET CUTS WILL EVEN CLOSE JUDGE ITO’S COURT

At least 56 Los Angeles courtrooms (including 24 criminal courtrooms) and some departments will be shut down next month as part of California’s impending $650M budget cut.

The AP’s Linda Deutsch has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

The vast Los Angeles County court system, known worldwide for its many high-profile cases, is about to see a huge budget cut that will close dozens of courtrooms, including one used by Judge Lance Ito, its most famous jurist.

After 56 courtrooms go dark by June 30, Ito, who presided over the O.J. Simpson murder trial in 1995, will be reassigned to handle cases for which no other judge is available.

Presiding Judge Lee Edmon and Assistant Presiding Judge David Wesley announced the slashing of $30 million from the nation’s largest court system that includes laying off 100 non-courtroom employees and eliminating court reporters for civil cases.


IF YOU GET RID OF A RACIST LAW, SHOULD THE CHANGE BE RETROACTIVE?

An update to Monday’s post on Dorsey & Hill vs. US:

SCOTUS is still divided after hearing arguments Tuesday on whether Congress implied retroactivity in the Fair Sentencing Act, and even, whether Congress considered the law it superseded to be intentionally racist.

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston has the recap.

Here’s a clip of interaction between Washington attny. Miguel Estrada and Justice Sotomayor:

…Justice Sonia Sotomayor told [Estrada] that, when Congress has found that a law was racially discriminatory, “we should do as speedy a remedy as we could, because it is one of the most fundamental tenets of our Constitution…that our laws should be enforced in a race-neutral way.” Why, she then asked, “shouldn’t our presumption be that the fix is immediate rather than delayed? The question, of course, had not only the effect of switching the argument’s emphasis to the racial question, but also the effect of suggesting that the Court might want to avoid those constitutional implications by finding retroactivity implicit in the 2010 law.

Estrada conceded that there had been concern about the racial impact by some in Congress, but he would not concede that Congress regarded this disparity as being the product of intentional discrimination — the kind that would itself violate the Constitution. Sotomayor, though, sought to press her point, noting that, in her 20 years as a judge, she had seen no law that created as much controversy or as much discussion of its racial impact as had the crack vs. powder disparity.

Estrada conceded that point, but argued that Congress had not rushed into changing the disparity, doing nothing for 20 years in the face of repeated requests to confront the question.

NOTE: A New York Times editorial urges the Supremes to play fair and allow the law to apply to all those sentenced after the FSA’s passage.

Also, the LA Times’ David Savage describes some of the drama of Tuesday’s arguments. Here’s a clip:

A Justice Department lawyer warned the Supreme Court on Tuesday there may be thousands of crack cocaine defendants sentenced to long prison terms under a law that Congress repealed two years ago as racially biased and unfair.

Deputy Solicitor Gen. Michael Dreeben urged the court to tell sentencing judges to use the new law, not the discredited old one, when setting prison terms for those convicted of crack offenses but not yet sentenced when the law was passed.

But by the end of an hourlong argument, it was not clear the Supreme Court would heed the request. Some of the justices said they were not inclined to apply a new law retroactively to crimes that predated it.

Posted in City Budget, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Must Reads, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Monday Must Reads: The LAPD Makes an Enlightened Move, SCOTUS Deals With Cocaine…& More

April 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker


LAPD SAYS IT WILL HAVE SEPARATE AREA FOR TRANSGENDERED INMATES IN POLICE LOCK-UP

Last Thursday night, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced a newly crafted, and hearteningly enlightened policy toward transgender people—including a separate LAPD lock-up, the first in the nation. The new policy takes a hugely significant step in healing the problem-laced relationship between the transgender community and the criminal justice system in general.

(According to a study by UC Irvine commissioned by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, nearly 60 percent of transgender inmates in California lock-ups reported being sexually assaulted by other inmates, a rate 13 times higher than for a random sample of the general inmate
population.)

The LA Times’ Sam Quinones has the story. Here’s how it opens.

Responding to incidents of violence against transgender arrestees, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to open a segregated lockup for biologically male and female suspects who identify themselves as members of the opposite sex, officials said.

By early May, a 24-bed transgender module will open at the LAPD women’s jail downtown, the first such police lockup in the nation, according to Capt. Dave Lindsay, the jail division commander.

“This is a major change,” Lindsay said. It will allow for “an environment that’s safe and secure, as there’s been a history of violence against transgender people.”

City jails are for holding people only until they are arraigned in court on the charges on which they were arrested, typically a maximum of three days; then they are transferred to the Los Angeles County Jail, run by the Sheriff’s Department. The county jail will not be affected by the changes.

Go, Chief Charlie. This is a very good thing.

HOWEVER, AFTER YOU READ THE TRANSGENDER STORY, READ THIS BY THE LAT’S JOEL RUBIN ABOUT HOW THE POLICE COMMISSION IS CRUCIALLY AT ODDS WITH PART OF BECK’S DISCIPLINE POLICY



SCOTUS WILL HEAR ARGUMENTS THAT THE FAIR SENTENCING ACT—REGARDING THE CRACK AND POWDER DISCREPANCY—SHOULD BE RETROACTIVE, AT LEAST IN PART

ON Tuesday the US Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding whether or not the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 should be, in any way, retroactive If you’ll remember, the FSA is the law that (mostly) rectified the horrific 1-100 sentencing discrepancy between the prison terms handed down for powder cocaine sales convictions and sentences for convictions for crack sales. (The FSA changed the ratio to 1-20-ish.) The problem is that the new law implied —but did not implicitly say— that it would retroactively apply to crimes committed before the act was passed—but sentenced after the act was passed.

The twinned cases of Dorsey v. the United States, and Hill v. the United States are about that retroactivity issue.

Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSBLOG has a very complete rundown of the finer points of the cases and the law. While he may be a little on the wordy side for non-wonks, his post is quite fascinating and informative if you take the time.

Here are some clips:

Blacks more often got punished for buying or selling the “crack” or “rock” variety of cocaine, which can be easily processed into a smoked version; conviction carried a much heavier prison sentence. Whites more often got punished for dealing in the “powder” or “blow” version, which can be snorted; conviction carried a far more lenient sentence.

[Snip]

For cocaine, that [1986 Anti-Drug Abuse] Act required judges to punish an individual convicted of a crack crime 100 times more severely than one convicted of trafficking in the powder form. In other words, every gram of crack was treated as the same, for punishment purposes, as 100 grams of powder.

[The Fair Sentencing Act] adopted a ratio that works out to about 18 to 1, crack to powder. A crime involving 28 grams of crack would draw a five-year minimum sentence, as would a crime with 500 grams of powder. A crack crime with 280 grams would be sentenced to ten years, as would a powder crime with 5000 grams. The Justice Department has explained the choice of 28 grams as the bottom amount of crack for sentencing on the premise that wholesale distribution of crack usually involves one-ounce quantities — that is, close to 28 grams.

Although only one lawyer will appear Tuesday for the two Illinoisians, the lawyers for each have filed their own merits brief. The brief for Corey Hill (whose lawyer will be arguing) put its main emphasis upon congressional intent in 2010: “Once Congress completed its historic overhaul of crack sentencing policy,” the brief said, Congress “wanted those amendments to apply immediately….The clear implication….was that the new mandatory minimums should take effect rapidly so that the Guidelines would have a model against which to ‘conform’ and be consistent.”

[Snip]

The Dorsey-Hill cases almost certainly will revive within the Court the long-running dispute over how to read federal statutes — to stay focused only on their language, or to look at legislative history, too. If the Court were to use the former approach, it would seem that the Court-appointed amicus has the better of the argument. The 1871 law is quite specific in requiring Congress, if it wants a new criminal law to have retroactive effect, to say so explicitly; Congress did not do that in 2010. But if the Court were to take the latter approach, there is much that went on during the process of passing the 2010 law that suggests that Congress did want retroactivity to the extent being advanced by the government and counsel for the two Illinois men — not least, the removal of the anti-retroactivity provision from the bill.


BALTIMORE POLICE ABOUT TO JOIN OTHER DEPARTMENTS WHO VIDEOTAPE INTERROGATIONS

The Baltimore PD, which is the 8th largest department in the nation, plans to begin videotaping interrogations in serious cases like shootings and murders. Criminal justice advocates across the country have been pushing for the move due to the now recognized prevalence of false confessions in innocence cases. Baltimore PD’s dithering—and their determination to make the change—is emblematic of similar policy shifts taking place in agencies all over the U.S.

Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun has the story. Here’s a clip:

The department, the eighth-largest in the country, recently began using video as part of a series of reforms of its sex-offense unit. Now officials are exploring equipment options and the policy impact of videotaping homicide and shooting interrogations. Detectives are being trained on subtleties such as where to stand and how their demeanor will play to a jury.

I’m committed to doing this, and I have a bunch of really smart guys working on getting this done,” said police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who has studied videotaping since he was chief of detectives. “But it’s not as simple as going to Radio Shack and bolting a camera into the wall.”

[SNIP]

Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country now videotape interrogations, and it is required by law in several states and the District of Columbia. The shift has been spurred by increasing affordability, as well as by questions of coercion and false confessions as DNA testing has led to the release of scores of inmates.

In Harford County, the sheriff’s department says it has long recorded interviews in major cases and recently got funding to add interrogation rooms to neighborhood precincts.

“It’s pretty much a standard for progressive law-enforcement agencies,” Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said. “People are finding out that the things Hollywood portrays really don’t take place.”


STRANGE, IMPRACTICAL MARRIAGE FOR LAPD? OR CONVENIENT HOOK-UP?

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to propose a merger between the LAPD and the General Services’ Office of Public Safety cops in his budget, to be presented Friday. The rather curious melding of the officers who guard libraries and courthouses with the LAPD may be a cost-efficient way for Villaraigosa to uphold his promise to add 1,000 officers to the LAPD ranks by the end of his mayoral term—or not.

Here’s a clip from the Daily News’ Dakota Smith’s report:

As part of his budget being released Friday, Villaraigosa is proposing to shift the Department of General Services’ Office of Public Safety into the Los Angeles Police Department, according to City Council members familiar with the proposal.

Under the proposal, some or all of the city’s 250 security officers and sworn officers who guard the city’s parks, zoo, and City Hall would move under the command of the LAPD.

City budget chief Miguel Santana is expected to release a report on the costs, advantages, and risks of moving the department to the LAPD next week.

Additionally, the LAPD is doing its own feasibility study on absorbing the department.

“There’s a lot of homework to do before this can occur,” said City Councilman Dennis Zine, adding he has questions about the plan.

For instance, Zine said the OPS and LAPD officers have different salaries and pension plans.

In any case, at this point, it’s far from a done deal.

The L.A. Times also reported on the issue.


CAN AN UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANT WOULD-BE LAWYER GET ADMITTED TO THE FLORIDA BAR?

Rafael A. Olmeda of the Sun-Sentinel has the intriguing story. Here’s a clip:

Can an immigrant without a green card get a Florida Bar card?

Aspiring lawyer Jose Godinez-Samperio, 25, a Tampa-area resident, is hoping the answer is yes.

A native of Mexico who entered the United States legally with his parents 16 years ago on a tourist visa, Godinez-Samperio is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, the valedictorian of the Armwood High School class of 2004, an Eagle Scout — and an undocumented immigrant.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners, which grants membership to the Bar, has asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether it can accept someone who is not in the country legally. The Supreme Court flagged the case as “high profile” last week.

Similar cases are pending in NY and California.


Original illustration by Scott McPherson

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Antonio Villaraigosa, Charlie Beck, City Budget, Courts, crime and punishment, immigration, Innocence, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, Must Reads, Sentencing, Supreme Court | 5 Comments »

LA City Attorney’s Reaction to Latest Budget Cuts Concerns LAPD Detectives

January 25th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


In LA’s most recent round of budget cuts last week,
the mayor’s office, the city council and the office of city attorney Carmen Trutanich, all had another $1 million cut from their respective bottom lines.

As one might imagine, no one is very happy about this newest bout of fiscal slashing.

However, Mr. Trutanich has responded to the cut with a move that critics say is designed to throw a retaliatory punch at the mayor and the city council at the expense of the needs of the city and its police force.

Specifically, Trutanich has abruptly shut down all the CA’s branch offices citywide—most notably in Van Nuys, Hollywood and San Pedro. This means that LAPD detectives from, say, the department’s various Valley and Harbor divisions, who would normally file misdemeanor criminal cases at those city attorney satellites with comparative efficiency, will have to spend hours driving to and from downtown instead— longer in rush hour traffic. To make matters worse, the detectives worry, the downtown offices will likely be plagued by a processing pile up due to the sudden centralization. Thus cops will have to add waiting time to their new extra driving time.

City Attorney Trutanich told Eric Leonard of KFI radio on Monday that, indeed, “downtown is now where all filing takes place.

“Somebody has to say – you know what - we’ve cut enough out of public safety,” Trutanich added. “It makes no sense to have 10,000 police officers and not be able to complete a prosecution.”

But many of the detectives who will be the most affected by Monday’s district office shuttering strategy believe that other less harmful cuts could be made and worry that Trutanich is simply using the move to play hard ball with the city council—at the expense of public safety.

While the city attorney makes his political point, they say, a large swath of LA’s already overstretched police force is going to have to spend precious hours driving and waiting, waiting and driving—when that same time could and should be spent….you know… policing.

There are assuredly more rounds to go in this fight. So stay tuned.


NOTE #1: I began reporting this story late in the day, thus by the time I tried to call the city attorney’s office for comment, it was exactly 6:01 pm. I knew I would likely not find Mr. Trutanich’s public information officer still at work, but I assumed that—as is the policy with most other PIOs for public figures and government agencies—the city attorney’s guy would have a cell-phone number or some other after hours form of contact to accommodate reporters on deadline. Alas, he did not.


NOTE #2: LOOKING FOR AN ANTIDOTE TO THE CABLE TV TALKING HEADS WHEN YOU WATCH TONIGHT’S STATE OF THE UNION MESSAGE?

Try KCET’s SoCal Connected, which goes live at 6 pm.

The show’s anchor Val Zavala will be joined by panelists Larry Elder, Patt Morrison, and SoCal Connected correspondent Brian Rooney—a good line up.

The live broadcast will also stream in real-time at www.kcet.org/socalconnected. Viewers are invited to offer feedback online during the broadcast at KCET’s FaceBook page, plus Twitter posts will air throughout the coverage.

Sounds good to me.

Posted in City Attorney, City Budget, LAPD | 5 Comments »

Following the Gang Money: Where are the City’s GRYD Evaluations?

June 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Really, all we’re asking for is a little of the much promised transparency and accountability.

It’s a season of ongoing budgetary nightmares. LA’s libraries are losing one-third of their staff. Even the city’s firefighters are taking budget hits. However one of the few programs or agencies in all of Los Angeles that has not seen its funding slashed is the city’s $26 million plus Gang Reduction and Youth Development program—or GRYD.

This is not to suggest that the city doesn’t need every penny of that GRYD money. Even after LA’s drop in crime, Los Angeles is still the gang capital the nation. Gang violence takes lives, wrecks futures, fills prisons and causes staggering levels of measurable PTSD in school-age kids who live in gang-intense neighborhoods.

In truth, $26 million is not all that much considering the gravity and complexity of the problem.

Yet the very scarcity of funds is a big part of the reason why the community at large deserves to know exactly what we’re getting for our prevention/intervention millions now that we are two years into the mayor’s GRYD strategies—which is precisely why WitnessLA and Spot.Us have hired Matt Fleischer to find out under the banner of the LA Justice Report.

Matt’s been digging up a lot very intriguing information already. (The fruits of his labors will appear later this summer.)

But, as he digs and explores, it has been a bit vexing to find that the least cooperative people have been those in the mayor’s GRYD office.

Take for example the issue of the evaluation:

As part of its mandate, GRYD has contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation of the various GRYD programs’ for performance and efficacy—for a fee of $900,000. The gang programs were officially moved to the mayor’s office in July of ’08 and here we are in late June of 2010. Yet, thus far we can find no one outside of GRYD who has seen any part of any kind of an evaluation.

And GRYD ain’t sharing.

In fact, every time Matt asked for any information whatsoever regarding the UI evaluation city officials switched on their vague-afiers.

It was in draft form, they said, so they couldn’t give him that.

Now, granted, the evaluation is a 3-5 year project, which means that every interim report is, by definition, a “draft” until 2013 or 14 or whatever, when there will be a final report. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reports at the one year mark. Surely GRYD wants to know—and would want us to know—that they are on the right track with their $26 million worth of gang violence prevention and intervention strategies. Matt said that a draft of the evaluation would fine. Anything would be better than nothing. At this, the GRYD people remembered urgent business elsewhere and stopped replying to his requests altogether.

Just out of curiosity, I called a contact who is an insider at the LA City Council. I reasoned that since the council is responsible for approving all GRYD’s city funds, surely a well-placed person in the council offices could get some kind of interim evaluation at this point. Nope, they’d asked for it, he said. And so far, nada.

“The council gets quarterly reports,” he said, “but they don’t say much.

He reminded me that one of the selling points for moving LA’s gang dollars away from the city council and putting the money all under the single roof of the mayor’s office was to insure that the program would be more accountable and transparent than the city’s previous gang violence reduction programs had been. (cough) LA Bridges (cough, cough).

“Well, the mayor is two years into having all the money, and we’ve not seen a lot of either transparency and accountability,” he said grumpily. “They aren’t very good at collaborating either. As a result, if you as a taxpayer ask me what you’re really getting for your money, I can’t really tell you.”

Okay, we aim to change that. That’s what Matt’s reporting for WLA and Spot.Us is all about.



IMPORTANT NOTE: You can do another round of free “donations” to Matt’s investigation
for WLA the LA Justice Report by doing the following:


* going to Spot.Us

*Login/Register on Spot.Us (upper left hand side.)
* hit the EARN CREDITS button
*answer three anonymous questions about how reporters and techs might better collaborate.
*scroll down and choose the LA Justice Report when you’re prompted to select how to use your credits.
*hit the APPLY CREDITS
*Then confirm it at the prompt.

That’s it. You pay nothing, and our reporting fund gets ten bucks!

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Budget, City Government, Gangs | No Comments »

City Budget Approved With Some Resistance

May 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



The Los Angeles City Council approved much of mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s
proposed budget on Monday afternoon.

Library hours were cut, day care eliminated, 761 city positions were slashed-–with a possible road back on some of the jobs if unions will approve a five percent pay cut to their employees. For the moment, however, the LAPD is guaranteed a sworn force of 9,963 officers.

Rick Orlov reports for the Daily News:

Villaraigosa also sent a somber message to the council, praising them for their efforts, but saying more needs to be done. “We can do better than the budget I originally proposed, but we cannot do it without significant structural cost-saving measures from our labor partners,” Villaraigosa said, adding he wanted to also move ahead with pension reform. Union leaders said they were not prepared to make any further reductions in their pay, saying their workers had passed on pay raises last year and for this coming year.

City officials, however, said without concessions workers will face layoffs or 16 to 26 furlough days. Rough projections show that if all city workers, including police and fire, take a 5 percent cut, the city could save $123 million. If only civilian workers take a 5 percent reduction, it would mean $63 million in savings.

Council member Tony Cardenas and Richard Alarcon managed to find away to put back into the budget money to keep Northeast Valley Animal Shelter and to replace the $1.3 million in cuts from the city’s gang intervention and prevention funding that had been marked for slashing.

However, both Antonio Villaraigosa and some of the council members
attempted to delay the vote to allow time for further union talks. Yet the majority prevailed.

The LA Times reports about the ploys to avoid taking the vote:

Opponents of the cuts tried to circumvent the vote by adjourning the meeting ahead of schedule. That proposal failed on a 9-6 vote. Alarcon, Huizar, Hahn, Wesson and council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian voted in favor of adjournment.

David Zahniser and Phil Willon have more.

Posted in City Budget, City Government, Gangs | 1 Comment »

Fresh Picks: Faux Proms, Net Neutrality & Fiscal Motion Sickness

April 9th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Kyrgyzstan-2

THE GUTSY LESBIAN GIRL, THE CREEPY FAUX PROM, AND THE SOMEWHAT HAPPIER ENDING

A new chapter just occurred in the case of Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teenager who made national news when she was forbidden to take her lesbian girlfriend to her high school prom. (She was also forbidden to wear a tux to the prom and told she had to wear a dress—demonstrating that the school is not only mean and discriminatory, but also fashion clueless.)

Constance did not quietly go away, but challenged the school’s policy. And the ACLU backed her up. (Go, Constance!)

When faced with a possible discrimination lawsuit, Itawamba Agricultural High School got freaked and canceled the official school prom.

After a federal court ruled sorta for McMillen, saying she should have been able to bring her girlfriend, a private prom was scheduled—which then saw fit to adopt the same no-same-sex-dates-or-girls-in-tuxes rules. It too was canceled.

There was still more kerfuffle and prom three—another private prom—was scheduled. It looked like there would finally be a happy ending.

But when McMillen and friend and a couple of kids with disabilities showed up at the local country club for Prom 3, they found that they were alone. The event was a decoy prom. All the other Itawamba promsters were at Prom 4, a private, parent-organized no lesbians invited prom.

When this news broke, a number of writers found themselves thinking really mean thoughts about the kind of adults who would pull such a fantastically creepy stunt.

Finally, this Friday, the AP has reported that Constance and date are invited to a gala dinner dance in San Francisco organized by The National Center for Lesbian Rights and to be held on May 1.

The group is paying to fly Constance and date in to SF and their executive directer
has said the NCLR plans to give her “a weekend she’ll never forget. It will make all these other proms and fake proms fade into distant memory.”

Good. Hope so. She’s earned it.


THE MAYOR DITCHES THE FURLOUGHS, FINDS NEW CITY BUCKS, MAKES NICE WITH THE COUNCIL…WHILE CITY HALL WATCHERS GET MOTION SICKNESS & THROW UP ON THEIR SHOES

Is it me or are the rest of you suffering from fiscal whiplash with this latest news?

It seems that—surprise—the city doesn’t have to renege on its bills, or close itself down for four out of every seven days of the week, or dress up in thigh-high bad girl boots to solicit funds on darkened, grungy street corners. (Okay, that wasn’t literally mentioned, but close.) On Thursday the mayor looked again through his figurative sock drawer and found a wad of money stuffed way at the back corner—and we were saved! Saved, I tell you!

Or something like that.

Maeve Reston at the LA Times has the details.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has backed away from his call to shut down some city departments two days a week, using positive news about the city’s budget crisis to downplay a threat that had become increasingly difficult to sustain.

“To all of our surprise, we’ve gotten an increase in revenues of $30 million more from property tax than we expected,” Villaraigosa said Thursday, two days after announcing the move might be necessary as soon as Monday to prevent the city from running out of money.

With the unexpected revenue and the City Council’s budget-balancing moves, “We might not be out of cash after all,” the mayor said.

Uh, Mr. Mayor, we’re really glad it worked out and all that. But, given the events of the past couple of days, we also feel a little bit, you know, jacked around.

Read the rest.


THE LA TIMES WEIGHS IN ON THE FED COURT’S NET NEUTRALITY DECISION

I’ve been meaning to post on this all week. Glad the LA Times spoke up on the matter. Here’s the opening of Friday’s editorial:

A federal appeals court reined in the Federal Communications Commission this week, ruling that it overstepped its authority when it penalized Comcast for surreptitiously disabling a popular technology that let people share files online. But the ruling did not quell the commission’s interest in regulating the way Internet service providers such as Comcast manage their networks. Instead, it set up a potential fight over whether the commission’s regulatory authority should be expanded, either by Congress or the commission itself. We think the best course is for lawmakers to give the FCC clear but limited power to preserve the openness that has made the Internet not just a hotbed for innovation but also the most important communications medium of our time.

At issue is “net neutrality,” which is the idea that companies selling high-speed Internet connections should treat all legal websites and online offerings equally.

Read on. This is a vitally important issue.

Meanwhile, the FCC strikes back after the fed court decision.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Budget, Civil Rights, LA City Council, LGBT, media | 138 Comments »

The 11-hour Budget Committee Meeting Nixes Many Cuts

February 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Zach Behrens of LAist hung in
to cover Monday’s 11-hour marathon budget committee meeting and reports on what cuts the committee recommended, and which it turned down flat.

Thus far LA’s Cultural Affairs Department, which was scheduled for the ax, was thankfully spared. (The full City Council will look at the budget on Wednesday.)

But, judging by his Tweets, by meeting’s end Zach
was getting a little punch drunk. (Can’t say that I blame him.)

Posted in art and culture, City Budget | 1 Comment »